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The Tantalising Childhood of Richard, Duke of York

In 1416, Richard, Duke of York was just four and a half years old when, in March, he was placed into the care of Robert Waterton. Richard’s mother, Anne Mortimer, had died shortly after he was born and his father, Richard of Conisburgh, had been executed a year earlier for his part in the Southampton Plot. Richard became something of a problem for Henry V’s government when his uncle, Edward, Duke of York was killed at Agincourt. As he had no children, Richard was Edward’s heir. The son of a traitor had suddenly become one of the most important figures in England.

Robert Waterton was a stalwart of the Lancastrian government having been keeper of the king’s horses and dogs but it was in his role as keeper of problem people that he is most interesting. After the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V returned to England with a long line of prominent French prisoners in tow. Waterton acted as gaoler for many of these prisoners, though in reality their confinement was a comfortable affair with a degree of freedom.

A mandate for payment of Waterton’s expenses in 1423 noted that he was responsible for Richard, Duke of York but also listed the French prisoners still under his care. The list included Charles, Count of Eu, Arthur de Richmont, son of the Duke of Brittany, Perrin de Luppe, Guichard de Sesse and, most notably of all, Jean le Maingre, better known as Marshal Boucicaut.

Boucicaut had passed away in Yorkshire in 1421, but he was one of the most famous knights in Europe and was a tower of chivalry. He was Marshal of France at the time of Agincourt and travelled to England as a prisoner following the battle. Robert Waterton was responsible for some of the most important figures captured in France alongside his young English ward.

Whilst no evidence of any fraternising remains, it is tantalising to consider whether a young Richard, Duke of York might have met and spent time with some of France’s finest knights, representing the pinnacle of French chivalry. What would the boy have made of these famous and accomplished knights who had ended up as English prisoners? If they did spend any time in each other’s company it may well have been an experience that helped to shape the man that this young boy would become.

Charles d’Orleans was possibly the most notable of Waterton’s charges. He was a grandson of Charles V of France and lived until 1465 after his years as a prisoner. He was a senior figure in French politics and although only in his early twenties when he entered Waterton’s care, he had seen first-hand the devastation caused to a proud kingdom by the rule of a weak and incapable king. He was a prisoner in a foreign land, snatched from his dukedom and all but ruined in the prime of life because his king was not a strong leader capable of governing. His experience was almost prophetic of Richard’s later life. It is tempting to wonder what lessons Richard, even as a young boy, saw in the fate of these men and what words of wisdom they may have offered him.

Richard, Duke of York: King By Right is released on Friday 15th April 2016 by Amberley Publishing. It is a fresh examination of a figure who towers over fifteenth century history but who frequently appears in his later years at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. By looking at his formative years and the world around him as he grew up a very different man emerges who was not the ambitious, war-mongering man history remembers him as. Richard as a very real man will emerge from this book to demand a fresh look at his actions throughout the 1450s.

You can buy Richard, Duke of York: King By Right from Amazon now.

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