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.