Lost in Southampton: Richard of Conisbrough
Richard of Conisbrough was Richard III’s grandfather on the paternal side. He is a shadowy figure, the last son of Edmund of Langley and his wife Isabella of Castile. Even his date of birth is uncertain, varying in different accounts by up to ten years. His father left him no inheritance, and there were rumours that Edmund and his eldest son suspected that Richard was not Langley’s child, but that of John Holland, with whom Isabella of Castile was known to have had an affair. (Some have suggested that this may account for the y-Dna mismatch between Richard and the current Beauforts, and this is a possibility, although it is far more likely it occurred somewhere in the past 16 Beaufort generations.)
At any rate, Richard was known to be the ‘poorest Earl’ due to his lack of income; he was his mother’s heir but monies due to be paid him came only irregularly after Richard II was deposed and Henry IV came to the throne. In 1408, he married Anne Mortimer in secrecy, without parental permission. It appears to have been a love match as Anne came with no particular wealth. With Anne, he had three children, the latter of whom was named Richard— he eventually became Duke of York, and the father of Edward IV and Richard III
When Anne Mortimer died in 1411, Richard of Conisbrough married the heiress Maud Clifford and swiftly had a daughter Alice.
Then in 1415, he fell in with a plot against the reigning Henry V shortly before the King was meant to sail to France for Agincourt. Along with Lord Scrope of Masham and Thomas Grey, he plotted to replace Henry with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, Anne’s brother, who also had a strong claim to the throne. However, Edmund himself informed Henry, and the conspirators were arrested in Southampton after they had made several meetings. They seemed to have expected mercy, with a heavy fine…but no mercy was forthcoming from the stern Henry.
All three men were executed; Grey hanged, drawn and quartered; Scrope decapitated and his head sent to York; and Conisbrough executed by the headsman but allowed to ‘keep his head’ with him after death due to his royal ancestry. He was buried without ceremony in the tiny St Julien’s church, which formed part of the God’s House hospital. Dating from 1185, this chapel still stands in the shadow of a massive towered gateway, although it is in private hands and can only be viewed from the exterior.
So one may think Richard got his just dues for plotting against King Henry. But how serious was this plot? Was there even a plot at all? Professor Anne Curry has doubts as to its veracity as does historian T.B. Pugh. It is just as likely that Henry was simply removing a few disgruntled lords (Conisbrough had some reason to be disgruntled—he had been charged a 10,000 mark marriage fine) and sending a harsh warning to anyone who thought to defy him when he was away on campaign in France. The three plotters were not terribly organised and their supposed plots vague at best, and none of them seemed particularly supportive or loyal to Edmund of Mortimer, which may make it unlikely that they truly wanted him as king—apparently, they called him a hog and a pig!
So whatever the case, Conisbrough lost his life aged somewhere between the ages of 30 or 40, but luckily, because he was not attainted, he was able to pass on his estates to his orphaned son, four year old Richard. Shortly thereafter, Conisbrough’s elder brother died at Agincourt, and in due time young Richard was acclaimed as his heir and inherited his titles and lands.
Conisbrough is rather a forgotten figure, except as dealt with in a Shakespeare play. Despite the possibility he had done very little against Henry V other than grumble a bit with a few other northern lords, no one seems to mourn his execution overmuch…unlike, for instance Anthony Rivers, executed for treason by Richard III in 1483. There is certainly just as much if not more evidence that Rivers was plotting against the Duke of Gloucester on behalf of his Woodville kin; the fact that no one spoke up for him after his arrest speaks volumes. They had weeks to do so. But it seems, alas, Conisbrough did not have Rivers’ charisma…or write poetry.
Anne Curry: Agincourt-A New History
TB Pugh: Henry V and the Southampton Plot of 1415