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.