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.