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.


Judy said...

Brian- this post makes the early 1400's make more sense to me. I like meeting ancestors of WOTR heavies. Thank you.

Brian said...

Hi Judy,

The remarkable thing about Richard of Conisbrough and Anne Mortimer is that they were utterly insignificant in their life times. Yet their marriage 'made' they House of York and every monarch from Edward IV on (except Henry VII) descends from them.

Medieval Girl said...

Yet the Yorkists kings did have more Lancastrian blood than people think. Their maternal grandmother was Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt. So a relationship to Tudor there.