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.

St Julien’s, resting place of Richard of Conisbrough

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


  1. It’s a great pity that we know so little about Richard of Conisbrough. He and his wife are possibly the most obscure members of the 14th/15th century royal house, and yet all sovereigns from 1461 (bar Henry VII) descend from them.


  2. Well, I don’t know if one could say that “he got what he deserved” if he really was involved in a plot to kill and depose Henry V and replace him with the descendant of Lionel, Duke of Clarence. It’s hardly that simple when the king’s father came to the throne through usurpation and subsequent murder of a king, also skipping the senior line of succession (that of Lionel, Duke of Clarence). So, the plot would essentially have been aimed at restoring the rightful heirs of Richard II and deposing the usurping dynasty. It’s no different really from De La Poles rebelling against Henry VII, is it?

    What I find particularly surprising is that no one ever seems to talk about him in context of how his execution may have influenced the later life of his then 4 year son Richard, even when someone discussing or writing about the Wars of the Roses does decide to talk a bit about Richard, Duke of York at all (taking a break from arguing about Richard III, the Woodvilles, Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII). How did he feel about his father’s death and his memory/legacy? Was he in any way haunted by the fact that his father was executed as a traitor – and for supposedly pursuing a claim to the throne that, if considered just, would mean Richard, Duke of York was the rightful king? The supposed plot was about pursuing the same claim to the throne that Richard, Duke of York finally decided to pursue in 1460, and that his son Edward IV subsequently pursued when he crowned himself.


  3. Ian Mortimer believes that Richard II had chosen Edmund of Langley as his successor, and there is indeed some evidence that the King wanted Richard’s elder brother, Edward to be king after him. The said Edward was also after the throne of Castile, circa 1414. The York family were an ambitious lot (Edmund of Langley apart) but what hampered them was lack of resources. Richard of Conisbrough, in terms of wealth/property, was never more than a reasonably prosperous knight. At best. At worst, he was utterly broke. Even Edward Duke of York had financial problems. They simply did not have the ‘kick’ to get to the next level. In football terms they were West Brom., not Manchester City. Indeed Richard was more like Oldham Athletic.


  4. King Edward IV in the Parliament of 1461 annulled the sentence on his grandfather Richard Earl of Cambridge as irregular and unlawful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A small correction if I may: it was Edmund Mortimer who was smarting under the fine of 10,000 marks, not Richard of Conisborough. Richard was certainly heavily involved in the plot and was guilty. It is arguable of course that had it been exposed at a different time Henry’s judgement may not have been so harsh. The really unlucky one was Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham whose involvement in the plot was, if anything, tangential, but he lost his head in August 2015.
    My book about these characters and the events – 1415: The Plot, was published last year.


  6. Actually, as someone who has read Pugh cover to cover, he does seem to suggest there was something in the Plot. Another good source is Juliet Barker, who devotes about half a chapter to it in her masterful ‘Agincourt’. Mr Dunleavy’s book is good, but the dearth of sources means that he repeats a lot of what other historians have written on the subject.

    There is also the older book on Henry V by J.H.Wylie. Personally, I think it makes perfect sense that the Plotters were planning to kill King Henry V. It was only reported that one of them referred to Mortimer as a ‘Hogge’- that was Grey in his Confession.
    Either way, there could not be two Kings, for Mortimer to have been secure, Henry and his brothers would have had to die, and I doubt the plotters would have been unaware of that.
    The likelihood is that they tried to negate their guilt in the hope of getting away with lesser sentences, by confessing to lesser offences. Confessing that they were trying to kill the King would have done them no favours at all. If any of the confessions is damning, it is Grey’s. Its likely that he implicated many of the others, because he did not want them to get away with the crime he realized he would die for.

    By the way, there is very little evidence for Cambridge’s daugter Alice. Maud makes no mention of her in her will, which would seem strange if she lived to adulthood, as the one or two sources that do mention her suggest.


  7. “Dunleavy suggests that gap was in the Male line between Richard III and Edward III- not the Beauforts, who were only related to Richard in the female line, through his mother Cecily Neville and Grandmother, Joan Beaufort”

    Uh, no. You don’t seem to understand the findings at all. The Y chromosome of Richard III was followed only through the male lines, naturally, since that’s the only way the Y chromosome can be traced. And they traced it by comparing the Y chromosome of Richard III with the Y chromosomes of descendants of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset, the eldest son of John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roet. Yep, he is related to them, too, through the male line, it’s just more removed than the female line. There are 19 generations between Richard and the two Beaufort descendants (there’s a break between Richard and them, but there’s also a break in male line between those two Beaufort descandants, so that’s at least 2 breaks). Technically, it could be anywhere: in the 5 generations between Edward III and Richard III, or in the 14 generations between Edward III (via John of Gaunt) and the Beaufort descendants, but statistical probability would be that it’s in the latter.

    “Most interstingly, it would mean that they were in fact more closely related to John of Gaunt then Lionel of Clarence, through their mother and grandmother seperated by only three to four generations, intead of the five to six that seperated them from Lionel of Clarence.”

    Huh? We already know that they were more closely related to John of Gaunt than Lionel of Clarence, because there were fewer generations in between. They knew that as well. And that’s relevant, how? Succession goes by seniority, not by who’s more closely related to whom, or else younger sons and daughters of kings would have a stronger claim to the throne than their grandsons by their first son. That would have made John of Gaunt very happy, as he’d have had a stronger claim to the throne than Richard II, but alas, that’s not how the succession laws work.

    I’m amused by this eagerness on the part of you, our resident Lancastrian fan to believe in Connigsbrough’s illegitimacy, but I have to tell you: I think that it’s entirely possible that he was Holland’s son, and he may as well have been Edmund’s son, but 1) a whole bunch of people from that time period may have been bastards, and we can’t know that, nor we probably ever will, 2) it doesn’t make any difference now. Not just because the primary Yorkist claim came from Anne de Mortimer and Lionel, Duke of Clarence, which would not be affected at all by the hypothetical illegitimacy of Anne’s husband, but also because nobody seems to have ever brought up this supposed illegitimacy or believed in it at the time, and it played no role whatsoever in the dynastic conflicts. And, most importantly, what mattered to the succession was LEGAL status, not DNA. Someone being perhaps a biological son of someone else meant nothing if he was legally the son of this or that duke or king. (Which is why people going on about whether Connigsbrough, Edward of Westminster or Edmund Tudor were biological sons of their legal fathers is fun, but utterly irrelevant.)
    Unless you actually believe in nonsense such as “superior bloodlines” and the impotance of DNA in succession. People in the 14th and 15th century may have believed that, but we don’t, so whatever we find out about their DNA now is also irrelevant to their struggles over succession 600 years ago. All that matters is what they knew and what they believed.


      1. Quite. As we posted last year or even 2014, all of these suggested false paternity events are a priori equally probable. Thus if only one event applies, it is about 80% likely to be in the line from Edward III to the Georgian Duke of Beaufort, one of whose descendants is no such thing.
        Of course, only one event involved a married woman and her partner during her husband’s lifetime.


  8. Dear Lady of Winchester, I don’t see your comments here, though I got them in my e-mail, so I’m going to quote them in full, because I found them so amusing.

    “Oh, the typical response of the feather-ruffled Yorkist/Ricardian, hurling their newfangled insult of ‘You’re a Lancastrian!’ at anyone who questions them. It does get tiresome.
    The point is that the illegitimacy of Richard of Conisburh has some very interesting implications for the Yorkist Kings- implications that certain parties do not seem to want to consider. Why?
    Lets talk about what ‘people at the time believed shall we’ since out resident Bunny is so adamant that there ‘none of the people at the time’ believed the above. The affair is widely held to have been alluded to in Chaucer’s ‘complaint of Mars’- and at least one the Chronicler remarked upon Richard’s mother Isabella’s weakness for ‘the carnal desires of the flesh’. In other words, she had a reputation….and there is far more evidence for her extra-curricular activities then those of Margaret of Anjou, rumours of which were spread by her political enemies.
    Then there was the small fact that neither father or brother mentioned him in their will.
    One might also look at the small fact that Richard II never officially nominated Roger Mortimer as his successor- or at least it was never enrolled in the official records.
    Finally, the only people one hears harping on about ‘superior bloodlines’ are the modern day Yorkists and Ricardians. The idea that their darlings might have been ‘bastards on both sides’ with only one legitimate grandparent of the royal blood, and in the male line nothing more than bastard descendats of Thomas of Woodstock is clearly deeply offensive to them. Yet that does not stop them hurling the accusation of illegitimacy at anyone they regard as the ‘enemy’ or ignoring that fact that a claim to the throne through one’s grandmother’s grandmother is only marginally less tenious than one through one’s moter and the half-brother of a King.”
    “….and it makes absolutely do difference if Charles Somerset was illegitimate- oh- hang on a mo- we already know he was illegitimate. His parents weren’t married, and he was never even considered for the throne. It does not make a fig of difference if Edmund Beaufort was not his dad.
    Of course, one will expect that the favoured target will actually be John Beaufort 1st Duke of Somerset, and father of the favoured Scapegoat for all the ills of the world, Margaret Beaufort (not that they’re remotely biased). Because of course, its more the style of the Yorkist ilk, and the hero of Ricardianism, John Ashdown-Hill to make accusations of illegitimacy to discredit the foes of York without a shred of genetic evidence, and on the basis of heraldry and naming patterns.
    Seems they are less prepared to tolerate any suggestion that the scions of the santified bloodline of York were up to naughtiness, unless it suits them to exonerate St Dick…..then they will happily drag the name of even his mother through the mud.
    Then they wonder why people consider them to be ranting fanatics without much knowledge of the period as a whole. Oh dear, does that make me a ‘Lancastrian’- or is questioning their favourite authors the current requirement? ”

    Oh dear, where do I even start?

    I’m really baffled as to what the bulk of these two posts is even about, or what it’s in reply to. I’m pretty sure that nobody here has brought up Charles Somerset, or Margaret Beaufort, or her father John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset. I sure have not. I can also assure everyone that I’m not John Ashdown-Hill – we don’t even have the same gender, age or nationality, and you can see from my picture here that I don’t look like him. I also don’t think he’s been posting here. So, I’m really amazed at these diatribes that have absolutely nothing to do with anything I’ve said or brought up, and which are apparently directed at some sort of a “Yorkist/Ricardian” hive mind. Lady of Winchester seems to constantly be arguing with some absent, hypothetical Yorkists/Richardians about things that are not the subject of current discussion at all. Or maybe she thinks “Yorkists/Ricardians” are something like a Borg collective, so it doesn’t make a difference who she’s talking to, about what, and what they have actually said.

    As to the few things brought up in these posts that have some link to what was actually discussed:

    – There is contemporary evidence that Isabella had an affair with John Holland. There is, however, no contemporary evidence that anyone in that time period suspected or believed Richard of Conisbrough to be the biological son of John Holland rather than Edmund of Langley, Duke of York. All the speculation about it comes from modern historians. If someone did think so, there certainly is no evidence that anyone ever brought it up, not even the rivals and enemies of Richard, Duke of York, either to discredit him, diminish his claim to the throne, or contest his claim to the Duchy of York, which he had inherited from his uncle when he was still a child. Which is odd, if this was something that was widely believed, especially knowing how popular claims of false paternity were in propaganda attacks on rivals/enemies. So, either this wasn’t something that anyone actually believed at the time, or it was considered irrelevant/politically not useful to the Lancastrian or Beaufort cause. Maybe they thought that spreading that slander couldn’t get them anywhere, and might only enrage the Duke of York enough to decide to assert his undeniable claim to the throne through his mother and her descent from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, which the Lancastrians were very happy and eager to ignore? Who knows. In any case, contemporary Lancastrians and Beauforts apparently didn’t bring up the supposed illegitimacy of Richard of Conisbrough, whether they believed it or not, so it seems pretty irrelevant of their modern fans to do so.

    “One might also look at the small fact that Richard II never officially nominated Roger Mortimer as his successor- or at least it was never enrolled in the official records.”|
    Or one might also look at the small fact that succession in England at the time normally went by seniority, and that the line of Lionel, Duke of Clarence was the senior one.

    – I’m not sure why I even have to point this out: the biological paternity of the people in question (those in the supposed unbroken male line from Richard III to the modern Somerset descendants) are very relevant – to the Y chromosome research results. That’s how biology works.
    And speaking of how biology works: no, I never mentioned Margaret Beaufort’s father John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, because he is not relevant to the issue of the Y chromosome results. His line is the senior Beaufort line, but not the unbroken male line, since it goes through his daughter. And while Margaret may have been an amazing woman in many ways, the one thing she most definitely wasn’t able to do was pass a Y chromosome to her son, since she didn’t have one herself.
    No, the (supposedly) unbroken male line goes from Edward III through John of Gaunt through John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (Margaret Beaufort’s grandfather, 1371-1410) through his younger son Edmund, 2nd Duke of Somerset, through many generations of Somerset family, to the anonymous modern donors of DNA whose Y chromosome was compared to Richard’s.

    This is why John Beaufort’s, Earl of Somerset was mentioned – to explain the Y chromosome research findings. I can understand the confusion on Lady’s part regarding father and son who had the same name and similar titles, geneologies of English royals and nobility can be quite complicated. What I’m finding harder to understand is how my mention of John Beaufort in this context qualifies as an attack on him, his son or his granddaughter, or what the purpose was of that lengthy diatribe about Margaret and the evil Yorkists. It would be really nice if Lady of Winchester could stop arguing with people who aren’t here and aren’t participating in the discussion.

    Finally, I’m just going to repeat a few of quotes by Lady of Winchester:

    “The reluctance to admit that the Gap might be accounted for by Cambridge’s paternity on the part of modern Ricardians and self-identified Yorkists is not surprising.”
    “Oh, the typical response of the feather-ruffled Yorkist/Ricardian, hurling their newfangled insult of ‘You’re a Lancastrian!’ at anyone who questions them. It does get tiresome. ”
    “Finally, the only people one hears harping on about ‘superior bloodlines’ are the modern day Yorkists and Ricardians”
    ” Because of course, its more the style of the Yorkist ilk…”
    “Oh Ricardians and their distortions of the facts to suit their bias. ”
    “Then they wonder why people consider them to be ranting fanatics without much knowledge of the period as a whole.”

    Indeed. I’m just going to enjoy the irony. It’s quite funny.


  9. The Westminster Chronicle, written during the 1390s when all these people were alive states quite clearly that the Earl of March was heir to the throne and goes out of his way to stress that Gaunt was not. This Chronicler, not sat in an obscure Fenland marsh but right at the seat of power (with Richard II regularly dropping by) was in a position to know.

    (I recommend study of the Westminster Chronicle as it is a very detailed account, unlike some I could name.)

    As to the matter of being left out of Wills, I believe that Edmund of Langley did not figure in his father’s will either, and the only mention in Gaunt’s will is to exclude any liability for Edmund’s Portuguese expedition. (As Langley conducted this expedition mainly on Gaunt’s behalf – albeit it was a fiasco – this says more about Gaunt’s character than it does about Langley.)

    However, does this omission from wills prove Edmund of Langley was illegitimate? I think not.


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