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!

The famous Edward of York biscuit tin

This biscuit tin has been in my family for a while now, but it was relatively recently that I realised it depicted Edward, 2nd Duke of York. So, in the interests of illustration, here it is.

It represents Henry V and his chums on their way to bash the French. The figure on the rear castle, holding a sword and wearing a crown on his head, is the King. Right next to him, and also wearing a crown, is Edward Duke of York. (You can identify him by his heraldry, at least on the original.

The first banner of the lower deck, at the left hand side, is Edward's. It's England and France with a white label of three points, each of which has three red balls. (OK Mr Herald, I know that's not the right way to describe it, but it'll do.)

I won't try to name all the banners (I couldn't anyway!) but they include Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Warwick, Salisbury, Oxford, Westmorland and Suffolk, as well, of course, as the King. Why the standard of Edward the Confessor (used by Richard II) is being flown, I'm not sure. (It's the left hand one on the rear castle.) The Earl of March's shield is first on the left, just below Edward's banner.

Edmund of Langley and Edward of York - did they look like this?

I have found a couple of pictures on the web, and as they are said to be 'public domain' take the opportunity of reproducing them here. The one above is supposed to be Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York. Quite a handsome fellow, I think. Presumably this is where Constance got her good looks.

Needless to add, the second one is of Edward of York, at various times Earl of Rutland, Duke of Aumale, and second Duke of York. Would you buy a used destrier from this man?

I'd not bet above 1p (one new penny) that these images are authentic; at best they might be based on a lost original. More likely they came out of some Victorian's imagination. But I suppose they are better than nothing - just.

Edward of York's claim to Castile

If Edward, Duke of York, were better known, more people might be aware that he tried to claim the throne of Castile!

Towards the end of Henry IV's reign, Edward found himself part of an expedition led by Thomas, Duke of Clarence (Henry's second son) to Gascony, where the idea was they would aid the Orleanists (or Armagnacs) against the Burgundians in line with current English policy. In the event the two parties in the French civil war had second thoughts, and made a truce with each other. The English were paid to go home - though not wholly in cash. (Hostages were taken and some of these remained in England for a very long time.)

Anyway, instead of going straight home to Philippa, Edward started an intrigue with the King of Aragon and certain discontented Castilians with the intent of making himself King of Castile!

Castile already had a king - Juan I (or John) the son of Edward's double first cousin, Katherine of Lancaster, who was also still very much alive. You may remember that Edmund of Langley and his wife Isabel had long since signed over any claim they had to Castile to John of Gaunt and Constanza, Isabel's elder sister, and thus to Katherine and her children.

Edward's interest in Castile inevitably fizzled away to nothing. John of Gaunt himself had failed in a similar attempt, and he had multiple times Edward's resources. It may be that the Duke of York simply hoped to extract some 'nuisance money' from his Castilian cousins. Whether he would have taken the matter further if he'd managed to survive Agincourt is something we can never know.

However the claim clearly lived on in the heart of the York family as may be seen in the very prominent Castilian heraldry that is displayed in the Edward IV Roll.

The best source for Edward's claim to Castile is the Wylie and Waugh tome. It's rarely mentioned anywhere else.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Henry IV - a valediction

It's almost time to say goodbye to Henry IV, and I do so with mixed feelings. One author passed lightly over his time as 'a sick king and a dull reign' whereas I think it was one of the most interesting periods in our history. How can a reign with Glyndwr and Hotspur in it be called dull?

Henry's tragedy was that he did not come to the crown by right - if he had, I think he might have been a great king. Instead his popularity - admittedly artificially boosted by the effect of the huge Lancastrian retinue who depended on his prosperity - dropped like a stone almost from the moment he was crowned.

Up until around 1408/9 he was forever grappling with one conspiracy or another, to say nothing of successive armed insurrections, notably the extremely persistent one in Wales. He also had to struggle with royal finances that were in total disarray, a problem that led to further discontent among his nobles.

It's a miracle he survived. He was almost killed at Shrewsbury in 1403, and if he rather than Hotspur had got an arrow through the head it would have been the end of his dynasty. In 1405 his enemies simply failed to get their act together. Had they been better organised he could not have defeated them in detail as he did.

All this broke his health, although historians are not sure what was wrong with him. Anything from ergotism to depression has been suggested. There were periods in his latter years when a virtual regency was in operation, with Henry little more than a figurehead, and there were rumours he was planned to abdicate. He was however able to take over the government once more, and towards the end of his reign the financial position improved and he began to take (and doubtless enjoy taking) an aggressive line with the French.

His achievement was, in fact, that he survived and died in his bed. But he was not much mourned, and a minority of his subjects still thought that their rightful King Richard II was alive and well and living quietly in Scotland.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Henry IV/Henry V Bibliography

I think it's about time for a Henry IV bibliography, and I've decided to include Henry V as well because I don't think I'll be saying much about his reign, or about him as a king. Partly because I dislike the guy.

Please check out the Richard II bibliography as well because some of those books are relevant, and I'm not going to repeat them here - unless I forget I've already quoted them.

Factual Books - Henry IV

Henry IV, Bryan Bevan - Easy read, summarises the reign but lacks full detail. Has the annoying habit of quoting Shakespeare.

Hotspur, Henry Percy, Medieval Rebel, A.W. Boardman. Focuses on Hotspur's military career, not much on his political or personal sides.

Owen Glyndwr, A G Bradley. Published 1901, but still useful.

The Usurper King, Marie Louise Bruce. Very useful if you want to know about Henry's early life; it does not cover his kingship.

Henry IV, J D Griffith Davies. Published 1938 and rather old-fashioned, but does have some useful quotes from primary sources.

The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr, R.R. Davies. Much quoted by me and simply invaluable.

Henry IV of England, John Lavan Kirby. Useful, but nothing spectacular.

Owen Glendower, J. E. Lloyd. Published 1931 and regarded as the classic account.

Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights, K B Mc Farlane

Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer. Very pro-Henry, but worth reading. Mortimer is an excellent writer.

History of England under Henry the Fourth, J. H. Wylie. Four volume Victorian work, lots of data but very poorly edited. More to refer to than to read at a sitting. However, if you're interested in Henry IV, you need it. (Parts at least are on the internet.)

Factual Books - Henry V

Henry V, Christopher Allmand. The best and most comprehensive of the modern accounts.

Henry V and the Invasion of France, E F Jacob. Published 1947.

Henry V The Cautious Conqueror, Margaret Wade Labarge. Good account, albeit a bit brief.

Henry V and the Southampton Plot, T B Pugh. Another much quoted by me, and more useful than the title might suggest, particularly for the early history of the York family. Albeit, he does not rate Constance at all!

The Reign of Henry V, J H Wylie and W T Waugh. A massive three volume work, this is much better edited than Wylie's Henry IV work.


Rather a thin crop for Henry IV, but check out the Richard II bibliography as several of the novels there cover both, or even all three reigns.

Royal Sword at Agincourt, Pamela Bennetts. Read this years ago, but don't recall much about it.

Azincourt, Bernard Cornwell. Anyone who has read Cornwell will know what to expect. One error is that the Duke of York is called 'Thomas'.

Good King Harry, Denise Giardina. A remarkable novel. The hero, Henry V, is as noxious as I find the real king, so the author must have got him about right. Among other things, Giardina's Henry has an affair with Anne Mortimer and comes over as a proto Welsh nationalist. (This latter would have come to a surprise to the Welsh people he spent several years burning out and hanging but, hey, it's fiction.)

Harry the King, Brenda Honeyman. About Henry V but starts in Richard II's reign. Constance, Edward and Richard of Conisbrough appear as minor characters. Packs an awful lot into 192 pages.

Crown in Candlelight, Rosemary Hawley Jarman. Mainly about Katherine of Valois (Henry V's queen) but also has some weird Welsh stuff in it. Our own dear Philippa, Duchess of York, puts in a guest appearance as a minor character.

He Rides in Triumph, Philip Lindsay. A family of Lollards in Henry V's time, and a plot to kill the king.

Falstaff, Robert Nye. Not a book you would wish your wife or servants to read. In fact if you are offended by bad language and lurid sex, or just easily offended, period, you should not touch it with an extended barge pole.

A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury, Edith Pargeter. About the Percy rising of 1403 - rather romantic in tone. Hotspur is idealised in this even more than Ian Mortimer idealises Henry IV.

Owen Glendower, John Cowper Powys. Heavy-going but incomparably the best novel yet available about Owain.

A Servant of Ambition, Ian C Sharman. Henry IV's reign - contender for the worst novel I've ever read award.

The Captive Crown, Nigel Tranter. Although mainly set in Scotland, Henry IV's court is visited. Tranter changes history by reversing the outcome of a joust that actually happened! For me, this spoiled the book.