Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Fetterlock Opens - Edward IV becomes King

Warwick and what was left of his army met up with Edward's army on 23 February near Burford - Warwick territory. They must have had a fairly interesting talk about political and military strategy, and at least at first they must have been uncertain about whether or not the Lancastrians had taken London.

The Yorkist march on London was probably inevitable in any case, but one imagines that the departure of Queen Margaret and the Lancastrian army to the north was not exactly bad news. Edward entered London on 28 February (or 26 or 27, depending on which source you choose to believe) and was very well received; he may have chosen to overlook the fact that the city fathers had been preparing to proclaim him a traitor only a few days earlier. Such are the strange chances of politics, although it appears that the bulk of the city population were Yorkist or Warwick supporters in any event.

Over the next few days there was a concerted propaganda exercise. The nub of it was that Henry VI had reneged on the settlement that had been enshrined in the Act of Accord. Now, given that poor Henry was practically a cipher by this time, controlled by whoever had hold of him, this was a little harsh on the King. However, some pretext was needed to justify Edward taking the throne and in the circumstances this spin is understandable.

Many of the citizens were gathered at St.John's Fields Clerkenwell on Sunday 1 March, where they were addressed by clerics, probably Thomas Bourchier the Archbishop of Canterbury and certainly Warwick's brother, George Neville, Bishop of Exeter. The crowd, reacting no doubt to some excellent speeches, rejected Henry VI and called for Edward of York to take the crown.

This 'election' by the people was reported to Edward and supported by the (relatively) few nobles present, of whom the most important were the Duke of Norfolk and Warwick himself.

Edward, still only eighteen years old, was apparently more than happy to take the crown on these terms. He almost certainly thought it was his by hereditary right in the first place. Now, unlike his father a few weeks earlier, he had Warwick onside.

On Wednesday 4 March there was a slightly more formal mass meeting outside St.Paul's Cathedral at which Edward himself was present. The Bishop of Exeter preached a sermon which dwelt on Edward's ancestry and other good points. Would the people have him as their King? Those people present (less than a representative sample it must be granted) said 'Aye!'

Edward accepted the job at once and went in procession (probably a very long and undignified one) to Westminster where he sat on the King's Bench and formally took possession. He was to date his reign from this day.

This was all very 'revolutionary' - but in such circumstances law offers little guidance. Edward was the legitimist King, Henry the statutory one, and you paid your money and took your choice. I don't think there was a 'right' or a 'wrong'.

There was of course no time for a coronation. Henry and his supporters were in the north and Edward IV's first task was to march north, defeat them in battle, and so make his kingship 'real'. The London merchants showed their faith in his cause by lending him large sums to meet the cost. It was to prove a sound inverstment.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Margaret turns back from London

London now lay completely at the mercy of Margaret of Anjou and her Lancastrian army. The citizens had no thought of resistance and sent out a team of noble female negotiators to secure terms. It was led by none other than Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, mother of Dame Elizabeth Grey. Another great lady, Cecily, Duchess of York, was meanwhile busily engaged in packing her younger sons, George and Richard, off to the safety of Burgundy.

The Mayor had asked for a guarantee from pillage. Ordinary Londoners were ordered to stay behind doors, and, as a further attempt to placate the Lancastrians a convoy of food was prepared. This was pillaged by a mob of angry Yorkist fans as it attempted to pass out of the city via Newgate, and it appears the 'lower orders' rejected the official city policy and manned the defences. Margaret and her army - which it must be remembered included many Scots, to say nothing of Northerners - were not widely trusted.

On the face of it, Margaret could have overwhelmed the city by force of arms. However, it appears she had no siege equipment, while some of the Scots were already making their way home with their booty. There was also the little matter of the Yorkist army undefeated in their rear. It would have been extremely inconvenient to be trapped between the city defences and Edward of York.

It is not too hard, therefore, to understand why Margaret and her advisers chose to retreat to Yorkshire, though in some ways in was a missed opportunity. The strategic importance of holding London can scarcely be exaggerated. If the Lancastrians had taken possession of the city, it would have made Edward's next step much more complicated.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Warwick and the 2nd Battle of St Albans

While Edward was thus occupied in the Marches, Warwick was faced with the task of defending London from the oncoming Lancastrian horde. Much has been written about Margaret of Anjou and her terrifying army of Northerners and Scots, and much of this is ultimately based on the comments of the Croyland Chronicler, whose mother was obviously scared by someone from Yorkshire. (Unfortunately my copy of the CC is out on loan so I can't quote it.) My feeling is that the general impression that this Lancastrian Army was a sort of cross between Atilla the Hun and the Waffen SS is exaggerated. But it was a medieval army, probably not outstandingly well disciplined and several towns including Stamford, Grantham, Peterborough and Royston are reported as having been pillaged.

Warwick was outnumbered. He had with him his brother, John Neville, Lord Montagu and the Duke of Norfolk. He also had Henry VI in the camp, and since Henry was of little value militarily this was almost certainly to demonstrate that the 'Yorkists' were actually the official 'Lancastrian' army, representing the lawful government - meaning that the other lot were rebels.

Margaret of Anjou would not have seen it that way. She was with her army and is often said to have commanded it; I suspect her role was actually political rather than military, setting the policy rather than deciding on tactics. With her, among others, were Somerset, Northumberland and Clifford, all these relatively young men keen to avenge the deaths of their fathers at the first St. Alban's.

Warwick took up a position blocking the road north of the town. He strengthed his position with various defensive devices such as calthrops - multi spiked pieces of metal designed to repel cavalry - and cannon and (in modern parlance) 'dug himself in'. He has been criticised for this, but it is not unreasonable to fight defensively against a superior enemy and, it should be noted, it was very much in the English tradition to do so. Many victories against the Scots and French had been based on defensive tactics.

Warwick's troops were rather thinly spread over something like four miles, and communication was far from perfect. The earl himself either had insufficient intelligence as to the whereabouts of the enemy or he was confused by the reports coming in. These were the real roots of his difficulty.

Unfortunately for Warwick, Margaret arrived from an unexpected direction. Her army overwhelmed a small defence at Dunstable (led by a butcher and so probably a purely local arrangement) and then (moving by night) attacked the town of St. Alban's itself at dawn of 17 February 1461, thus getting behind Warwick's fixed position. Warwick had left a small garrison in the town, mainly archers. These put up a stubborn defence, especially considering they were isolated, and were not dealt with until noon.

Montagu, nearest to the scene, seems to have thought that the Lancastrians were merely mounting a diversion and was quite late to figure out this was a main attack. When the penny dropped he shifted his position and sent word to Warwick for support. In the interim he faced an attack by the main body led by Somerset and Trollope.

Warwick was slow to react, for whatever reason. Allegedly he had a traitor in his camp, one Lovelace, who gave bad counsel, but he himself may have been uncertain about what was going on and reluctant to abandon his carefully-prepared position. By the time he advanced to help Montagu, it was too late. He withdrew in good order in the falling darkness taking 4000 men with him. Whatever his errors, this feat alone should not be underestimated. (A total rout was more usual in such circumstances.)

Henry VI had supposedly been left in the care of Lord Bonville and Sir Thomas Kyriell. These men were executed along with a captain named Gower. On the other hand, Montagu's life was spared. It is alleged that the Prince of Wales ordered these deaths, but as he was only 7 he was clearly under instructions even if he did. It's also said that Henry wanted to spare Bonville and Kyriell but was over-ruled. Equally it's said Montagu was spared at Henry's request! Propaganda obviously plays its part here and the objective truth is anyone's guess.

This was a Lancastrian victory of some importance, and yet not nearly as complete as it looked. The advantage was soon to be lost.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Bosworth Sunday

Most people will be aware that today, 22 August, is the Anniversary of Bosworth Field - or whatever it should be called given its relocation - where King Richard III met his end. Let us remember the brave of both sides.

I shall leave my analysis of the battle for a (much) later post.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Mortimer's Cross

It always puzzles me why Edward continues to be known as Earl of March after his father's death. Surely he immediately became Duke of York, and Regent, as well as in effect becoming Prince of Wales?

Another interesting quibble is that although Mortimer's Cross is usually stated to be a York v Lancaster fixture, Edward, the Rose of Rouen, was technically the accredited representative of Henry VI's government at this point.

Anyway - no one is sure exactly where Mortimer's Cross was fought, although it was obviously somewhere around Mortimer's Cross. It was a relatively small contest, essentially a defence of England from a predominantly Welsh force led by Jasper Tudor (aka Uncle Jasper) Earl of Pembroke, Owen - or Owain - Tudor, his father, and the Earl of Wiltshire and Ormond. The objective of the Tudor force - maybe for simplicity I should just go with the flow and call them Lancastrians - was undoubtedly to join up with Somerset's main army.

No one knows the details of what happened, except that Edward won, fairly decisively. Jasper Tudor and Wiltshire ran off and survived to fight another day but many of the other leading Lancastrians, including Owen Tudor, were taken off to Hereford and executed. A woman, generally described as mad, reportedly combed Owen's head, washed away the blood and lit over 100 candles around it. A point often missed is that she must have been a wealthy 'madwoman' as wax candles in this era did not come cheap.

Edward has been criticised for his ruthlessness, but the context must be borne in mind. He had recently lost his father, brother, uncle and cousin to Lancastrian violence and he undoubtedly wanted revenge. Although Warwick sometimes is seen as the more ruthless, Edward was no soft touch as he was later to prove on numerous occasions, not least in executing his own brother!

Edward and his army now moved east, with the intention of joining the Earl of Warwick and dealing with the main body of Lancastrians.

(I should mention that the battle is still re-enacted on a regular basis. See this link)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

York rides North (and to his death)

The threat posed by the Lancastrian peers in the north was too large to be ignored. In addition, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke was organising resistance in Wales, and there were various rumours about Queen Margaret. (She had actually sailed from North Wales to Scotland to conclude an alliance with the Scots, one that involved the transfer of Berwick to Scotland. Contrary to Shakespeare, she was not at the Battle of Wakefield, any more than Richard of Gloucester (aged 3) was going around axing people at the first Battle of St. Alban's.

The Earl of March (soon to be Edward IV) was sent off to Shrewsbury to hold Pembroke in check. He was well placed to recruit from the (former) Mortimer lands and undoubtedly attracted support from a range of local gentlemen who feared what they perceived as a 'Welsh' invasion.

His father gathered a force from Kent and the Cinque ports, to which was added some followers from his own southern estates. On 2 December 1460 he left London accompanied by the Earl of Salisbury and his own second son, Edmund of Rutland.

Warwick remained in London to run the shop, no doubt assisted by his intellectual brother Bishop George, the Chancellor. The Yorkists were spread quite thinly, though, and neither York nor March was able to prevent the Earl of Devon moving up from his own country to join the Lancastrian forces in Yorkshire. As far as I can discern, they didn't even try.

York eventually arrived at Sandal on 21 December, having recruited some modest additional support from his supporters among the northern gentry. However he discovered (and he should not really have been that surprised) that his lands and those of the Nevilles in the area had been thoroughly spoiled and plundered by the enemy. He faced superior forces that were in control of Yorkshire and held (among other places) York itself and the powerful stronghold of Pontefract.

To make matters worse he was short of supplies and Sandal had not been stocked against his arrival. It is hard to deny that York seriously underestimated the opposition and made a strategic blunder by attempting to take them on with such a meagre force. (Hindsight makes for great commanders, but it might have been better to take out Devon on his route north, join with March and the Mortimer tenants to settle Pembroke and then attack the main Lancastrian force.)

York was under effective siege at Sandal. There are various accounts of how he was tempted out, and it is sometimes claimed he had negotiated a truce with the Lancastrians, which Somerset broke. In any event, given that he had a supply problem, it's hard to see how he could simply have sat in Sandal indefinitely.

What can be said for sure is that York made a sortie on 30 December and was comprehensively defeated. He and Rutland were killed in the battle and Salisbury, taken alive, was executed at Pontefract next day. (He was unpopular in the area.) Another important casualty was Salisbury's son, Sir Thomas Neville.

It has been suggested that John, Lord Neville of Raby (Exeter's brother-in-law) changed sides at Wakefield, appearing as a reinforcement for York then turning on the duke in the battle. This cannot be ruled out, and might explain York's emergence from the castle. However it is also possible that Neville's colours and badges were mistaken for other Neville reinforcement, perhaps even Warwick. We cannot know, though we can have as many theories as we like. If John Neville was a traitor, he soon paid the price, being one of very many killed at Towton a few weeks later.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Act of Accord

First of all, an apology to Elizabeth. I tried to publish your comment, but somehow the system lost it. If you want to make your point again, please do, and I will have another go at making it visible.

On 25 October 1460 the peers, speaking through the Chancellor, George Neville (Warwick's brother if anyone is in doubt) offered a compromise. Henry was to remain King until death, unless he chose to abdicate. However, the succession would go to York.

Henry, perhaps surprisingly, accepted this arrangement. Bertram Wolffe in his Henry VI suggests that the King may have been influenced by the Legate, Coppini. On the other hand he may simply have been influenced by his own taste for peace and a quiet life.

York and Edward, Earl of March renewed their oaths of allegiance and Henry bound himself by indenture to keep the arrangement. The succession statute of 1406 was repealed and York was endowed with the titles and inheritance of the heir and protected by the treason statute. Royal officers were commanded to give York the same obedience as Henry himself, and York effectively became Protector.

There was one very large and very obvious fly in this ointment. The same Act that gave lands and titles to York took them away from Prince Edward of Lancaster, and his mother and the many important peers who supported her were not willing to accept that, law or no law. The moment they resisted York they were technically rebels, but what choice did they have? No specific provision had been made for Prince Edward, not even the right to inherit the duchy of Lancaster. The Queen and her supporters faced political oblivion at best - it was inevitable that they would fight.

Richard Duke of York claims the throne

Richard, Duke of York arrived at Westminster from Barnet on 10 October 1460. The Commons had just elected their Speaker, and the new Parliament was all ready to go.

York (now, as you will recall, displaying the undifferenced arms of England, not those of Edmund of Langley) had a reported 800 mounted followers with him, a useful but by no means overwhelming armed force. At ten o'clock in the morning he entered the palace with his sword borne upright before him. Entering the parliament chamber he stood by the throne, laid his hand upon it - a la mode Bolingbroke - and apparently expected to be acclaimed King. Instead he was met with a bewildered silence.

The situation was not as it had been in 1399. Perhaps most importantly of all, York was not in command of an unchallengeable army - his own followers were relatively few and he was heavily dependent on the Nevilles, who were allies rather than dependents. In addition, although Henry VI's government was shambolic and unpopular, the lords and gentry were generally not hostile to Henry himself. Indeed there was a strong sense of personal loyalty to the King.

There was now a political crisis. York occupied the King's apartments - Henry for some reason having taken up his lodgings in Queen Margaret's suite - and squatted there like a man who was not to be moved. Frantic negotiations began behind the scenes.

It must be remembered that while all this was going on Queen Margaret and the lords of her faction were far away in the north country, undefeated and ready to take military action when the time was right.

On 16 October York's legal counsel formally submitted his claim to the peers. His claim was on the basis of superior hereditary right to that of Henry VI. As far as it went, this was unanswerable, providing inheritance through the female line was accepted. (Given that this was the basis of England's claim to France, well...)

The lords referred the matter to Henry himself, who ordered them to find means to oppose it. The question was then sent to the judges, who said it was too high a matter for them to rule upon. So the Kings sergeants (barristers) and attorneys were tried next. They said that if it was too high a question for the judges it was certainly too high for them.

The lords eventually wheeled out the following objections:

1. Their oaths of loyalty to Henry VI.
2. Henry IV's succession statute.
3. York's use of Langley's arms - as opposed to those of Clarence, one supposes.
4. The mass of general legislation passed under the three Henries.
5. The Crouchback legend. (Interesting, given that Ian Mortimer seems to think that Henry IV never seriously invoked it.)

York brushed all this aside, as well he might. It was, he said, irrelevant in the face of his claim by the divine right of inheritance. The fact he had let his claim lie all these years by no means invalidated it.

Everyone went away to think again.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Richard Duke of York comes home

York landed near Chester about 9 September 1460. (By this time the River Dee had silted up and it was often necessary for large vessels to tie up at places on the Wirral, for example Redbank.)

He is known to have been at Chester on 13 September and then moved via Shrewsbury to Ludlow. He was in no particular haste. For one thing he needed to reassure his many tenants in the area that he was back in business to protect them and avenge their wrongs. (They had certainly had a hard time of it since his hasty departure from Ludlow.) Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, was a potent threat in North Wales, based in what had been York's own castle at Denbigh, and the Duke was doubtless well aware of this threat to his flank. He started recruiting additions to his retinue as soon as he landed, probably glad of every extra sword.

Some authorities believe that York renounced his allegiance to Henry VI at Chester, and began displaying the undifferenced arms of England, an effective claim to kingship. (The arms of Edmund of Langley, which he had used up to this point, were only superficially different, but that subtle difference had massive implications.) It is known for a fact that by the time he reached Gloucester (2 October) he was issuing retaining indentures without the usual saving reference of loyalty to King Henry.

By 17 September news of York's landing had reached London and on 23 September Duchess Cecily set out to meet her husband. (She had been under the supervision of the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham - the Duchess being her sister, Anne - but the supervision does not seem to have been restrictive.) In addition Warwick (already in the Midlands) rode to meet York at Shrewsbury and stayed with him for four days. It is unlikely that they used this time to discuss the price of fish. Warwick then went directly to London. York went on to Ludlow and spent several more days in the Marches before heading for the capital himself.

It is sometimes suggested that York's claim to the throne was a big shock to Warwick and the rest of the Yorkist Party, and that they all stood back in amazement as York did his imitation of a bull in a china shop. This really cannot be true. I suspect that the political wind was in a different direction to the one they had imagined, and that Warwick was quicker in trimming his sails to it. It is of course also possible that during their discussions at Shrewsbury the two men disagreed as to the way forward, and they parted still in disagreement; but it's beyond belief that Warwick was unaware of York's intention to claim the throne.

Friday, 30 April 2010

A New Government is Formed

Although King Henry was in Yorkist hands, Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward were still inconveniently at large, and were (eventually) to form a focus of Lancastrian opposition, thus becoming even more inconvenient. The Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde had fled from Nothampton, as had Bishop Wayneflete and Bishop Booth. Somerset was still besieged in Guisnes and Northumberland was in the north. Devon (at one time a Yorkist but now firmly Lancastrian) was in his own shire.

It was necessary to form a new government and it was more or less as narrowly based as the last Yorkist administration, heavily reliant on Nevilles and Bourchiers. George Neville (Warwick's brother) became Chancellor. Viscount Bourchier (York's brother-in-law) was made Treasurer.A certain Robert Stillington was made Keeper of the Privy Seal. Parliament was summoned with a view to achieving a new settlement, Richard Duke of York naturally receiving a summons even though technically still under attainder.

The Tower (18 July) was taken. It was on this occasion that for some reason Warwick had certain members of Exeter's household executed, though most of the garrison - including Scales - were allowed to toddle off where they would. Scales was subsequently murdered by a mob, but this was not Warwick's fault.

Most of Henry's jewels and ready cash had been stolen during July, so the government was even more penniless than usual. Warwick negotiated the surrender of Guisnes - which involved letting Somerset go free but at least secured Calais and thus London's trade with the continent. However the regime remained weak pretty much everywhere outside the South East and its control over the far West, the North and most of Wales was more nominal than actual.

The House of Stewart Takes Sides

The following post is by Stephen Lark, and all credit belongs to him. Thanks for the contribution, Stephen!

Three weeks after Northampton, a Scottish army gathered in the grounds of Roxburgh Castle, determined to add to Lancastrian woes. The castle had been in English hands almost continuously since Edward I’s time, although it was not in good condition. James I had attempted to take it on several occasions but his assassination in 1437 halted the strategy due to the minority of his son.

James II came of age at the end of the following decade and determined to recapture Roxburgh and other Border castles. Henry VI’s difficulties aided James in this as his armies took Abercorn and Threave in 1455, formerly held by the Earls of Douglas. James’ character was passionate – hinted at by a prominent facial birthmark and an interest in guns. 1457 saw him order “Mons Meg”, a particularly large cannon.

James’ army lay siege to Roxburgh as July 1460 gave way to August. “Mons Meg” had already misfired once, killing its skilled French gunner but it was repaired as the English army remained inside the castle. On August 3, James took the decision to test-fire his cannon again – Neil Oliver suggests that this was a grand romantic gesture for his queen, Marie of Guelders – with fatal effects. The cannon shattered, a shard severed James’ leg, he died almost instantaneously - and the garrison surrendered.

Roxburgh Castle was soon demolished and a wooden structure added to the site in the 1540s, but not for long. A “James II Holly” marks the spot where a Scottish King died, at his moment of long-planned triumph, in the grounds of the C18 Floors Castle, still the home of the Dukes of Roxburghe. Kelso lies to the east - James III was crowned a week later at its Abbey, his mother serving as Regent until her death in 1463. Either side of the site are the Teviot and Tweed. “Mons Meg”, reconstructed again, sits in Edinburgh Castle.

2010 marks the 550th anniversary of the end of the siege – and August 2 will be a Bank Holiday in Scotland.


The Lancastrian army was drawn up in the grounds of Delapre Abbey behind a prepared defence of ditch and palisade and on the face of it was in a very strong position. On the other hand they had the River Nene at their back, less than an ideal tactical situation. Presumably they were confident their defences were likely to withstand the Yorkist attack because no sensible person wants to retreat across a river in the immediate aftermath of a defeat.

The morning of 10 July was spent in fruitless negotiation. Warwick kept finding ways to ask for an interview with Henry VI and Buckingham (Lord Constable and Henry's military commander) kept finding ways of saying 'no.' Whether discussion would have achieved anything is questionable, but maybe the Lancastrian leaders feared that Henry would settle for some compromise and were confident of victory.

It is one of the curiousities of the Wars of the Roses that the side that attacked boldly tended to win over the one holding a defensive line. At two o' clock in the afternoon the Yorkists went forward in heavy rain - well, it was England in July! The Lancastrian cannons did not appreciate the weather and worked poorly and it may be that the archers' effectiveness was also reduced, as bow-strings were very vulnerable to water. (Archers usually hid their strings under their hats if marching in wet weather.)

However the key factor was the decision of Lord Grey de Ruthin, on the Lancastrian flank, to change sides. It is highly unlikely that this was a spur of the moment decision, although how exactly the defection was arranged is unknown. (I can only assure you that Alianore Audley was not involved.)

Anyway, instead of fighting Grey's men assisted the Yorkists over the ditch and stakes, and then joined them. The Lancastrian flank was thus cruelly exposed and rolled up. Within half an hour the battle was over.

Acting on orders, the Yorkist soldiers were particularly keen to hunt down and kill the enemy nobles, knights and gentlemen, while disregarding the escaping common soldiers. Buckingham, Shrewsbury, Egremont and Beaumont were all killed. Henry VI was captured in his tent and treated with due respect.

(Grey de Ruthin's grandfather, as readers of Within the Fetterlock will recall, was a strong supporter of Bolingbroke, and his mother, Constance Holland, was Henry IV's niece. It is perhaps surprising that a peer with such an impeccable Lancastrian background should defect, but he became a staunch Yorkist and was created Earl of Kent by Edward IV in 1465. He outlived the Yorkist dynasty, surviving until 1490.)

Monday, 26 April 2010

Warwick's Invasion of England

It is sometimes said that England has never been successfully invaded since 1066. This is of course complete cobblers - Warwick's successful invasion of June 1460 was neither the first since that date nor the last.

Nevertheless the invasion of England is not an easy task and requires command of the sea, which Warwick possessed. He has often been criticised for his military shortcomings but he was a very able admiral and popular with his sailors, many of whom had defected from Henry VI's forces to join him.

The Yorkists published a manifesto from Calais which was a pretty standard late medieval proposal of rebellion, promising loyalty to the King but attacking his advisers especially, in this case, Shrewsbury, Wiltshire and Beaumont. (The Queen and Prince were not mentioned; more surprisingly nor were Exeter and Pembroke.)

Lord Fauconberg (Warwick's uncle) led an advance party to secure a bridgehead at Sandwich, and on 26 June Warwick, Salisbury and March landed there, accompanied by the Papal Legate, Francesco Coppini, who was accredited to Henry VI. They were received by no less a person than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier, later to crown Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII in his long career. They recruited heavily in Kent, a strong area of Yorkist (and more particularly Neville) support. London fell to them on 2 July without resistance, although the Tower held out under Lord Scales.

The Yorkists had already given Coppini a written pledge of their loyalty to Henry VI, and given the Kentishmen/Men of Kent the same line. Warwick now swore a public oath of loyalty at St. Paul's, although he used the occasion to set out their principal grievances once more. It is likely that the Londoners were sympathetic, but they would also have been keen that the Kentish Brigade should not get out of hand (as they had at the time of Cade's Rebellion, 1450) and the leadership at least probably feared to burn all their bridges with Henry VI. The oath was politically convenient all round.

Salisbury remained in London to conduct a siege of the Tower, but Warwick, March and the bulk of the army marched north. A very considerable royal army was in the field to meet them and on 10 July the forces met at Northampton.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Richard, Duke of York in Ireland

I am no expert on Ireland in the Middle Ages, but I am doing my best here. Essentially there were three main groups: 1. The English - these people were new or relatively new immigrants, thought of themselves as English and tended to live in the area round Dublin (the Pale) where the English government had some sort of control. 2. The Anglo-Irish - this group included some very powerful families who controlled large chunks of Ireland. They were of English (or Norman) descent but did not necessarily have much regard for the English government. Some of the families were in a state of semi-permanent feud with one another. 3. The Gaelic or 'Old' Irish. Mainly descended from the indigenous population they generally had no regard for the English government at all, except when under duress. Warriors had particularly high status among this group and they often fought among themselves, as well as with the other sectors.

Elements of all these groups formed temporary alliances with one another as it suited them, and the hold of the English government was actually quite tenuous. Few English kings showed any interest in Ireland - Richard II was a very rare exception - and it was no longer even a source of net revenue.

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably the unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York had spent several years in Ireland, and it seems his political skills came to the fore, particularly in his relationships with the great Anglo-Irish families, without whom it was impossible for him to function effectively as Lieutenant. He was also generally successful in the field against the Gaelic Irish, which strengthened his position, and after his flight from England he encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI's sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country's liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI's attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

In March 1460 Warwick left Calais with a fleet of twenty-six ships and sailed to Waterford to consult with his party leader. The conference quickly moved to Dublin, where an attempt was made to produce a strategy for the invasion of England. The intention was for the landings to be co-ordinated, Warwick in Kent, York in the north. However, for whatever reason, York was delayed, and by the time he arrived home the fighting was over - for the time being.

The next post will deal with Warwick's successful campaign.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

A Note on the Attainders

Bertram Wolfe in Henry VI points out that the attainders included entailed lands. This was, he says 'in gross violation of the currently accepted practice of English common law that entails were sacrosanct, even against treason, a convention ominously last flouted by the tyrannous Richard II in 1398.'

Well, it was 1397, actually. And, like many critics of Richard II, Wolfe ignores the fact that the proceedings of 1397 deliberately mirrored the harsh treatment of Richard's friends by the Appellants in 1388. So it was the Appellants who were 'tyrannous'.

Anyway, the seizure of entailed lands was harsh. But the treatment of the womenfolk was generous and the Yorkist lords only had to 'humbly submit' to be guaranteed pardon. So I'll leave it to you out there to decide for yourself whether the treatment was 'tyrannous' or not.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch...

A Parliament was held at Coventry (November 1459) and the leading Yorkists (and eventually some lesser ones) were attainted. One attainder passed was against Alice, Countess of Salisbury. Now don't run this past your history professor without checking but I believe she was the first woman ever to be attainted, so we may see this Parliament as one of the steps on the long road to gender equality.

Alice had considerable property in her own right - she was heiress of her family, the Montagus or Montacutes or whatever you wish to spell them as. This may have been the reason for attainder, but then again the Countess of Warwick was substantially richer in her own right and she was not attainted. So maybe, just maybe, Alice was a political animal and really involved in Yorkist conspiracy. Or maybe Margaret of Anjou just plain didn't like her.

Unusually the attainders included a clause promising pardon for humble submission, and one is left wondering what would have happened if York and Co. had humbly submitted. The jointures of wives were protected and Duchess Cecily (or Cecille if you prefer her own version) who had no jointure received 1000 marks a year. This was relatively generous and certainly more so than similar arrangements in the Yorkist and Tudor eras.

The forfeited estates were not dismembered, but some parts of them were granted out on lease to various Lancastrian supporters. These included the Duke of Exeter, the Duchess of Somerset, the earls of Wiltshire and Pembroke, and Lords Dudley and Egremont. There was resistance to the forfeitures, particularly in the Welsh Marches where certain castles, including Denbigh (prop. R. York), were held against the Government forces.

Another good centre of resistance was York's town of Newbury. In June 1460 Wiltshire, with Lords Scales and Hungerford, visited in the role of justices of oyer and terminer in response to a revolt against taxation. Several local men were hanged while seventy-five others were imprisoned in Wallingford Castle.

This made for good propaganda, and Warwick (in particular) was just the man to use it.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Audley Family

Recent discussion about this family reminded me that there is a very useful Audley Family History Site out there for anyone who is interested.

They were, among other things, a good example of a family divided by the Wars of the Roses.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Escape Abroad

Richard, Duke of York and Edmund, Earl of Rutland escaped to Ireland, where York was remarkably popular by the standards of English Lords Lieutenants. More about Ireland in a later post.

Meanwhile Warwick, Salisbury and Edward, Earl of March (soon to be better known as Edward IV) made their way to Calais. They did not go directly to Calais, nor did they collect their £200. No, it appears they originally planned to go to Ireland too, but somehow found their way to the Channel Islands. To what extent this was a matter of navigation as opposed to a matter of prevailing winds - given that there were no steamships back then - I cannot say. One account has them going by way of Devon, which makes a certain sense, but how exactly they got to Devon is not clear.

By 2 November Warwick was in Calais, and in command of it. This tends to get taken for granted, but when you recall that a substantial chunk of the Calais garrison had deserted him at Ludlow Warwick must have arrived there in some doubt as to his reception.

Somerset had been appointed Captain of Calais in Warwick's room, but when he arrived there he was not admitted. He did manage to capture the fortress of Guines in the Calais March, but was promptly besieged in it. Since Warwick's fleet controlled the Channel it proved impossible to reinforce or supply Somerset and eventually (August 1460) the young duke was forced to capitulate.

Warwick's command of the seas was such that in January 1460 he was able to launch a pre-emptive assault on the town of Sandwich, under the command of Sir John Dynham. A Lancastrian force was based here to discourage a Yorkist invasion but its leaders, Richard, Lord Rivers, his son Anthony Woodville, and Lord Audley were captured and taken across to Calais. Here the Woodvilles were reportedly abused by Warwick and March on account of their 'low' origins and thrown into prison. I suppose they were lucky not to have their heads cut off. Audley - this is John Touchet, Lord Audley*, son of the Audley killed at Blore Heath - may have received kinder treatment. Anyway, he decided he was now a Yorkist.

Some may question whether the Woodvilles were low-born, given that Anthony's mother, Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford had a very impressive continental pedigree and was (under the Lancastrian dispensation) second-ranking lady after the Queen. The point is they were perceived as being low-born and jumped-up by Warwick and those who thought as he did. Richard Woodville had been born a squire and his wife's fancy foreign relations, to a 15th Century English mind, did not count for a hill of beans. Woodville had been 'made by marriage'.
The fact that Warwick, Salisbury and even York's father had been 'made by marriage' was neither here nor there. They belonged to 'good' English families you see, and their fathers had all been earls.

* Familiar to some of you as Alianore's kindly elder brother in The Adventures of Alianore Audley.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


A Parliament had been summoned, (to meet at Coventry in November) to which the Yorkist lords were not invited. This in itself suggests it was intended to attaint them there.

There was now a period of what might be called negotiation. The Yorkist lords rejected pardons - because they did not see themselves of having offended - but on the other hand they took a solemn oath in front of Garter King of Arms at the high altar of Worcester Cathedral that they were loyal to the King. They also sent a letter to the King via Garter that explained their position. In a nutshell they argued that Henry's supporters were incompetent and wanted to seize their lands and offices. Therefore they were not able to come into the King's presence except under the protection of an armed force.

From their point of view this attitude was understandable, but it did not cut much ice with Henry and would have allowed their opponents (the Queen, Somerset et. al.) to cast serious doubt on their good faith.

From Worcester they moved to Tewkesbury (very much on Warwick's Beauchamp/Despenser territory) but then retreated to Ludlow. The pattern of movement suggests they were trying to break out - perhaps to the London/Kent area where they had significant support - but found themselves outmanoeuvred by the Lancastrian forces.

The strategy was presumably to negotiate from behind strong defences, or if necessary fight. However the position of the Yorkists was quite desperate, and the King was marching against them with a very substantial army. Resistance was treason, at least if they were defeated. Defeat was quite likely, given the odds against, and, although the leadership allegedly made rallying speeches, there was an undoubted collapse of morale.

The King had offered a general pardon, still in force at this point (October 1459) and many of the Yorkist rank-and-file decided to defect and accept it. The best known of these is Sir Andrew Trollope who took with him most, if not all, of Warwick's force from the Calais garrison. However it appears other soldiers may have gone as well. This was not heroic behaviour, but it was understandable in the circumstances.

The position at Ludlow was now untenable, and York, his two elder sons (the earls of March and Rutland), Salisbury and Warwick slipped out of the back door and into Wales, leaving Duchess Cecily with her younger sons (George and Richard) and any daughters who were at home (Margaret?) to stand famously at the market cross of Ludlow and beg for mercy and protection. This was granted to them but the town, not being noble, was sacked. Many other prominent Yorkist supporters (including the future William, Lord Hastings) were granted pardon, though in some cases this was for life only in the first instance.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Things come to a head...

First an apology for the increasingly intermittent nature of these posts. I have simply been finding other things to do. I do actually have a life away from the 15th century, hard though some may find that to believe.

Queen Margaret and her faction remained suspicious of York and his, and doubtless the feeling was mutual. What seems to have troubled the Queen most was Warwick's entrenched position in Calais. Winkling him and his supporters out of there would be no small task. It was a fortress, and a naval expedition against such a place was fraught with hazard, to say nothing of expense.

At a Great Council held in Coventry in June 1459, it appears York, the Nevilles and their leading supporters were arraigned on unspecified charges. Sorry to be so vague, but the only account of this is in Benet's Chronicle. In response to this (or if Benet's Chronicle is wrong, in response to something) York and his allies decided to concentrate their forces, at this time split between Calais, the Welsh Marches and Yorkshire.

Warwick, having landed from Calais and persuaded the Londoners to admit him (no great challenge given that they were pro-York) headed for Warwick (the place) but was tracked by Somerset and forced to avoid 'home' and go directly to Ludlow, where York was based. Warwick's father, Salisbury, marched down from Yorkshire and was confronted by Lord Audley and a Lancastrian army (much of it comprising the men of Cheshire) at Blore Heath. There was fierce fighting and although Audley was ultimately defeated it was at some cost to the Yorkists. For example, Warwick's brothers, Thomas and John Neville - the latter eventually Marquis Montagu - were captured near Acton Bridge, Cheshire, presumably trying to find their way around the enemy or maybe even trying to escape north.

The bulk of Salisbury's army moved on to Ludlow, and the Yorkist concentration was complete.

James, Lord Audley, killed at Blore Heath married (as his second wife) a daughter of no less a person than Constance of York. By his two wives he had many children and is the ancestor of legions of people. His eldest son, John, (by his first wife) converted to the Yorkist cause and was a staunch supporter of Edward IV and, to a lesser extent, Richard III. On the other hand at least one of his younger sons, Sir Humphrey, was a strong Lancastrian and died for the cause at Tewkesbury.

The Stanley family's behaviour at Blore Heath was 'typical'. Sir William Stanley fought in Salisbury's army. His elder brother, Thomas, Lord Stanley, was nominally part of Audley's army but in fact stood off, indeed was not even at the battle. For this he was accused of treason (against the Lancastrians) but, needless to say, he got off!!!!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


On the face of it, the main bone of contention between Yorkists and Lancastrians (if we can use these convenient labels, because labels are all they are) was the death of many prominent Lancastrian nobles at St. Albans. As will be seen from the last post most of the Lancastrian leaders were sons of these men. The knightly class were not brought up to suffer such events with Christ-like patience and forbearance. Indeed they were taught to resent the most trivial offence against their honour and avenge it with violence.

King Henry VI seems to have believed that if he could somehow pacify the resentments over the events of St Albans he could resolve the whole issue and achieve peace. This was a commendable attempt on Henry's part, but it overlooked the underlying political issues that had led up to the present circumstances. The King was probably too optimistic is believing that anything short of death could make the individuals 'forgive and forget'.

A Great Council was arranged for Westminster on 27 January 1458. York lodged in London and the Lancastrians, some of whom did not appear until well into February, outside. At an early stage there was an unsuccesful attempt to ambush York and Salisbury as they rode to Westminster, and the King withdrew, first to Chertsey, then to Berkhampstead. The distance may have been intended to show impartiality, but Henry did receive Somerset, Exeter, Clifford and Egremont on 23 February.

On 9 March there was a failed attempt to ambush Warwick on his way to Westminster. (These Lancastrians seem to have little imagination for new tactics and little skill in undertaking ambushes.)

On 16 March Henry returned to Westminster and led a public procession for peace. He then instructed the Archbishop of Canterbury to act as go-between, the good prelate meeting the Yorkists at Blackfriars in the mornings and Somerset and Co. at Whitefriars in the afternoons. By 23 March an agreement had been patched and financial bonds entered into by the parties.

The agreement provided for cash recompense for the bereaved (noble) families of St. Albans plus the setting-up of chantries for the dead paid for by the York/Neville faction. However, as the payments were to be in tallies and as York was granted various financial arrangements for the reduction of the arrears owed to him by Henry, it was not quite as one-sided an agreement as at first appears.

A service of thanksgiving was held at St Paul's from which York emerged hand in hand with the Queen, Warwick with Somerset, and so on and so forth. One can only imagine what thought bubbles a medieval Private Eye would have set above the procession.

Henry probably thought he had achieved peace, but he was soon to be sharply disillusioned.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Lancastrian Leadership

I was almost tempted to put 'leadership' in quotes but that would look like blatant author bias. However some of these guys were ultimately more useful to the Yorkists than they were to Margaret.

Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (1436-1464)

This youngish man, son of the Somerset killed at St. Albans, was one of Margaret's better bargains, comparatively skilled in military and political matters. He had two younger brothers, Edmund and John, both of whom were eventually to die for the cause. His problems were his relative lack of land (as discussed in previous posts) and his limited experience. His advantages included a wide range of family connections, notably to the Earl of Shrewsbury and the rest of the Talbot clan. These links were by no means to be sniffed at.

Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland (1421-1461)

Northumberland's father had also been killed at St.Albans. He seems to have been rather mediocre as leader of his family and had scant control over his younger brothers - though, admittedly, nor had his father before him. He had enormous influence in the north, but very little in the south, where it was perhaps more important. He was hampered by enormous debts run up during his father's time, not least as a result of the Percy/Neville feud which his younger brothers had inflamed.

Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter (1430-1475)

I have mentioned Exeter in an earlier post. Suffice it to say that even the Lancastrians had good reasons for doubting him and not all the time he spent in the Tower was at York's behest. He was very good at quarrelling with people though. He even tried to claim the duchy of Lancaster for himself which, given that Henry VI and his son were alive at the time, was the next thing to treason.

James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde (1420-1461)

Alleged by some to be the Queen's lover, Wiltshire seems to have been singled out for particular hatred by the Yorkists. He was high in favour under the Lancastrian regime and related to Somerset by marriage. His Wiltshire title was new (1449) but he was 5th Earl of Ormond with considerable lands and influence in Ireland. This may have been a factor in his getting across York and York's powerful Irish faction.

Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont (1422-1460)

Irresponsible and violent by nature, the kindest thing that can be said about Egremont is that he was probably a good chap to have next to you in a fight. He was Northumberland's younger brother. He was a leading light in the Percy-Neville feud that preceded his father's death at St Albans. He involved himself in Exeter's witless quarrels and for a time was locked up in London. Needless to say he escaped and eventually became one of Margaret's military supporters.

John, Lord Clifford (1435-1461) aka 'Butcher' Clifford.

He is famed for killing Edmund, Earl of Rutland after the Battle of Wakefield, apparently in revenge for his own father's death at St. Albans. Clifford was a ferocious fighter and quite prominent in Margaret's counsels. His killing of Rutland arguably stepped up the bitterness of the conflict and helps account for Edward IV's pretty ruthless killing spree after Towton. On the other hand, it was no worse than some of the other events of these wars and Rutland was no less a combatant than say the Lancastrian Prince of Wales at Tewkesbury.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Sent to Coventry...

In case I did not spell it out sufficiently, it was no longer deemed practicable for the King (or rather Margaret) to rule from Westminster as London was too volatile and pro-Yorkist. This is a remarkable indictment of the Lancastrian government in itself. OK, it was commonplace in the middle ages for the court to go on progress, but generally they didn't go that far from the Thames Valley and they always ended up back in the environs of London.

One or two kings (Richard II springs to mind) got sufficiently cheesed off with the Londoners to punish them by temporarily moving the effective capital elsewhere (York in his case) for a time, but for a government to be effectively driven out is a horse of another colour.

For the Lancastrians the West Midlands had its attractions. They had a lot of property in the area, including a large and powerful castle at Kenilworth, and this added up to the potential of armed support. Coventry was deemed a loyal city, and councils were held there instead of at Westminster.

It was really now only a matter of time before armed hostilities broke out. On 5 November Exeter, Somerset and Shrewsbury attempted to ambush Warwick on his way to London and on 1 December, in Coventry itself, York was attacked by Somerset. Warwick and York survived but (given that the government was now in the Queen's hands) they can hardly be blamed if they felt uneasy and looked for ways to defend themselves.

There was a Great Council held at Coventry in 1457. Records of it are lost but it appears some attempt was made to pin the Herbert-Devereux disturbances on York. The peers were evidently not convinced. York was granted an annuity of £40, supposedly to recompense him for the loss of three Welsh Castles to Jasper Tudor, and his patent as Lieutenant of Ireland was renewed. In the summer he was also granted, among other things, the right to hold a market at Fotheringhay.

Margaret of Anjou redux

One or two people have told me that they disagree with my analysis of Margaret and that her son was a bastard. Fair enough, they're entitled to their opinion, and barring the exhumation of his body and a spot of scientific analysis no one can be sure. By the way, according to W.E. Hampton his body could not be found in its supposed location at Tewkesbury and may be in the common pit.

For myself I've come around to the quite radical position on Margaret - that she was more sinned against than sinning. And that even if she did do some naughty things, she certainly paid for them, in her lifetime.

I have got a whole hill of Yorkist-era books for Christmas and am still trying to digest them. Some of them are as difficult to get down as week-old turkey I'm afraid.

And I,--like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rends the thorns and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way and straying from the way;
Not knowing how to find the open air,

If you get the picture...