Pavia, a battle that changed Europe
The Battle of Pavia, 1525 (Bretwalda Battles)
Author: Stephen Lark
Published by Bretwalda Books, April 2014
For me, this little book’s initial attraction was that it features the rise—and eventual fall—of the noble de la Pole family of England, centring specifically on the sons of John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister of both Edward IV and Richard III. It is the youngest son, Richard de la Pole, known to history by the sobriquet White Rose, who is of consequence here. Well, he is if the reader is, like me, deeply immersed in the Ricardian aspects of these events. But from the White Rose I have been lured into the broader, more intricate political wheeler-dealering in Europe that culminated in the famous battle at Pavia in Italy. A long way from home for poor Richard de la Pole, the last Yorkist claimant to the throne of England.
The de la Poles owed their political importance to a believed decision made by Richard III in 1485. Widowed and without a legitimate child, the king is said to have chosen his eldest nephew, Lincoln, as his heir. This changed everything for the de la Pole brothers. From the moment of King Richard’s bloody demise at Bosworth Field, the Earl of Lincoln became the rightful king, with a claim far greater in blood and legitimacy than that of the usurper, Henry VII, who set about ridding himself of the de la Poles, one by one.
On seeing the fates of his elder brothers, Richard de la Pole wisely skipped to France and stayed there. He fell in with the French King, Francis I, and became widely regarded as the true King of England. Francis saw in him a very useful weapon with which to prod and threaten the Tudors, who always feared a Yorkist challenge. Francis intended to aid the White Rose in an invasion of England, but first had other things to attend to.
France had designs upon parts of Italy which she believed were her property. Richard de la Pole joined Francis in this, and the scene was set for what was to come, including the swift and inexorable advance of the Renaissance. Everything, from religion and printing, to art and science, and much more, seemed to coalesce in a short period. Add this to the Italian wars, and the powder keg is primed.
The Spanish Habsburgs were powerful across Europe, and their army, joined by the garrison of Pavia, confronted the French outside the city on a February morning in 1525. The French were decimated, and Richard de la Pole, the White Rose, was left dead on the field. With him died the de la Pole claim to the English throne. There is no doubt that had he lived, he would have endeavoured to return to England in the hope of applying a Yorkist crowbar between the throne and the tenacious Tudors. But it was not to be. Pavia put paid to everything.
All this is related precisely in this book, and yet in full detail. I was impressed by the depth of the author’s knowledge. Not only does he write compellingly, but commands a wealth of invaluable research about the lead up to, and outcome of, the Battle of Pavia, which conflict is the undoubted star of the show.
And being Stephen Lark, he starts his book with a tantalising ‘hook’ concerning the marriage of a mysterious lady, Marguerite de la Pole-Suffolk. Then he leaves us wondering . . . until, at the very end, he explains a little more about her, offering the fascinating and exciting information that not only was she— Ah, but I think to tell more would be a spoiler. All I will say is that I venture to hope the author might delve a little more into Marguerite’s story
I am not a historian, but enjoy history, especially when it concerns events that touch in some way upon King Richard III. This book comes with my recommendation. I hope other readers enjoy it as I did . . . and that afterwards they realize how very much more they know than before they started. As I do.