Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wiltshire and Ormonde

I have just noticed a contradiction in my sources as to the execution site of James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde. In a previous post I implied he had died at Cockermouth, but since then I have discovered (according to Charles Ross) he was beheaded in Edward's presence at Newcastle. I may as well frankly admit that I don't know for sure which account is correct, though I should be surprised if Ross is mistaken. I shall look into this and get back to you, but for the time being please assume he was captured at Cockermouth and beheaded at Newcastle, as I suspect that's what happened.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Trouble in t'North

Although Edward's policy, after the executions following Towton, was one of conciliation and pardon, there were still a large number of irreconcilable Lancastrians at large, not least those in exile in Scotland or lying low in the far north of England. The King did not see fit to deal with this problem himself - admittedly he must have had many other matters on his plate - but was content to leave it to his Neville kinsmen, especially Warwick and Warwick's brother, John, Lord Montagu.

Margaret of Anjou, meanwhile, had concluded an alliance with Queen Mary of Guelders, the Scottish regent, on the basis that the Scots would receive Berwick in return for military assistance. Edward himself had been trying to come to terms with Scotland, but the offer of Berwick effectively outbid him. For the time being his enemies, including Henry VI and Margaret, had a secure base.

Edward's reaction was to make use of the Earl of Douglas and his brother, Scots lords exiled in England, to make approaches to other discontented Scots with a view to a little regime change across the border. This had little immediate effect and in June a combined Scottish/Lancastrian force made an attempt on Carlisle. John Neville rapidly raised the siege, if siege it could be called.

Later the same month Henry VI himself, backed by Lord Roos and other Lancastrian nobles, came to Brancepeth Castle, where they raised the standard of revolt. Again, this incursion was easily suppressed, this time by the Bishop of Durham who had evidently decided that his loyalties now lay with Edward IV.

In late summer Warwick managed to establish Yorkist control over much of Northumberland, taking Alnwick and Dunstanburgh Castles, the former a Percy stronghold, the latter a windswept outpost of the Duchy of Lancaster. Sir Ralph Percy, brother of the Northumberland killed at Towton, was allowed to continue as Constable of Dunstanburgh. This may have been part of the general policy of conciliation; equally it may simply be the case that no one else was available who had both Yorkist sympathies and local clout.

Yorkist control of the area remained tenuous. A few months later a Lancastrian force under William Tailboys was able to recapture Alnwick, while Lord Dacre of Gisland took up residence in his own castle of Naworth, near Carlisle, and offered defiance to the government. There was still a great deal of fighting to be done.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Aftermath of Towton - King Edward on Tour

It was perhaps no more than common sense for Edward to remain at York for some weeks after Towton. The North was strongly Lancastrian in sympathy, and he had to at least try to reconcile its people to his rule. (It must be remembered that, apart from Warwick's immediate family and their supporters most of the northern nobility and gentry had been engaged against him at Towton. Many husbands, fathers, sons and brothers had died there, and there was no doubt considerable bitterness against him, as well as uncertainty about the future. Moreover, the leadership of northern society had been - in some cases literally - decapitated.)

Edward moved on to Durham (22 April) where he appointed the Bishop, Lawrence Booth, as his confessor. This was an act of conciliation as Booth had previously been associated with Queen Margaret. He then progressed to Newcastle, where he witnessed the execution of James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde, who had escaped the rout at Mortimer's Cross but now paid the penalty for being too prominent a member of the Lancastrian establishment. This execution was perhaps something of a show of force, because the Yorkist hold on the far north was tenuous at best. The strong local loyalty to the Percy family was never successfully overcome and was to lead eventually to the reinstatement of the Percy heir.

The King did not linger in this area but returned south by way of Lancashire and Cheshire. Again, it was useful to 'show the flag' in these counties, which were very far from being Yorkist in sympathy. He then moved into the north midlands, where the Lancastrian element was also strong. I think it's a safe bet that Edward used all of his personal charm, and was to an extent successful in winning 'hearts and minds'. His coronation was being arranged in London, but Edward was in no hurry to arrive there or to take charge of the Westminster machinery of government. Instead he made his way to Norwich.

Norfolk was, in contrast to much of the tour, pretty much Yorkist territory. The dukes of Norfolk (especially) and Suffolk were Edward's men while the Earl of Oxford, the other local magnate, was a moderate Lancastrian who suffered from ill health that had certainly been bad enough to keep him from Towton.

Edward would therefore have received a good welcome in East Anglia. Here I turn to speculation. The Duke of Norfolk had a son, John, Earl of Warenne, whose wife was Elizabeth Talbot. Her sister, Eleanor, Lady Butler, was already a widow at this time and quite possibly living in Norfolk's household under Elizabeth's protection. She had legal problems with her lands that needed the King's favour to resolve. Was this when they met? It's impossible to say, one way or the other. All we can say is that Edward was to prove that he had an eye for a good-looking widow.

More on this another day. Whatever delights he found or did not find in Norwich, duty eventually called him away. On Friday, 26 June he made his state entry into London.