If Edward IV didn’t dispose of Henry Holand, 3rd Duke of Exeter, who did….?
I must state from the outset that I could not find any contemporary likenesses of Henry Holand, so the above is of him as played by an actor unknown to me.
The life of Henry Holand, 3rd Duke of Exeter—*actually 4th Duke, by my calculations, see below—has never been of particular interest to me, but I did think that he was murdered at sea, and his body dumped in the water. It was believed that as he was a tiresome Lancastrian, he fell victim to Yorkist retribution. Specifically, the retribution of his former brother-in-law, Edward IV. At least, that was my impression. Apart from that, I also understood that Henry Holand was a very unpleasant person.
Henry was born in the Tower of London on 27th June, 1430. At his baptism he was carried from the Tower to Coldharbour, and then taken by barge to St. Stephen’s Westminster, where he was christened. (I mention this because we all know Coldharbour, and its Ricardian connections.)
Henry Holand married Anne of York, who was born in 1439 at Fotheringhay. She was the elder sister of Kings Edward IV and Richard III, and it was her mitochondrial DNA that proved the remains discovered in Leicester were those of Richard III.
When Henry was aged 19, in 1449, he became 3rd Duke of Exeter and Lord High Admiral. The Holands had started as Ricardians—Richard II—but had then Lancastrian supporters of Henry IV. Henry Hoiland supported Lancastrian Henry VI when the Yorkist Edward IV came to the throne. The duke was thus attainted after the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461, and fled to exile in Scotland.
His estates had been forfeited, but Holand regained many of them when Henry VI was returned briefly to the throne. But then the estates were forfeit again when Edward IV surged back to power.
Meanwhile, Holand’s wife had managed to obtain all his estates for herself. Such are the perks of being Edward IV’s sister. An Act of Parliament passed in 1464 meant that “such gifts and grants that the king made to Anne, his sister, wife of Henry, Duke of Exeter, were to all intents good in law to the only use of the said Anne.” (Tower Records). Edward granted her the Holand castles, manors, etc. in Wales, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Wilts to herself for life, with the remainder to her daughter by the Duke of Exeter.
Henry Holand returned to England in 1469, still supporting Lancaster, and was wounded at the Battle of Warwick.
Then, on 14th April, 1471, he fought at the Battle of Barnet, at which the Lancastrians were beaten, and the great Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, was killed.
Sir James Ramsey, in his book, Lancaster and York, vol. ii, p. 370, states that Henry Holand was in the Tower of London until June of 1475. On 21st June, 1471, a bill of 6s. 8d. was paid to William Sayer, purveyor to the Tower of London to feed “Henry, called Duke of Exeter”, for seven days from 26th May, and again 6s. 8d. for the week beginning 31st May. Rymer, vol. xi, p. 713.
Henry Holand and Anne had parted in 1464, and were divorced on 11th December, 1467. They had one child, a daughter, also named Anne. Then the Duchess Anne married Yorkist Sir Thomas St Leger in 1474-ish. Another daughter was born of this second match, on 14th January, 1476, and they called her Anne as well! So, we have Anne of York, Lady Anne Holand and Lady Anne St Leger.
On learning that his wife was pregnant, St Leger engineered a legal settlement that would enable his child, Anne St Leger, to inherit everything in the event of his wife’s death and the death (without issue) of Lady Anne Holand. I’ll bet Henry Holand appreciated that!
Henry must have been a brooding presence for his ex-wife. In 1475, around the time that she realised she was expecting St Leger’s child, Henry Holand had redeemed himself enough with Edward IV to volunteer (and be accepted) by that king for an expedition/invasion of France. This venture began at around the time Anne realised she was expecting St Leger’s child.
It was on the return voyage from France that Henry’s body was found bobbing in the Channel (or on the beach at Dover, according to another version).
Everyone scratched their heads and spread innocent hands as to what had befallen him. Edward IV may or may not have had a tiresome Lancastrian eliminated—he wasn’t above such things—but there was someone else with a good reason to dispose of Henry Holand.
Thomas St Leger was also on the expedition to France, and had been prominent in the proceedings. “St Leger played a key role in ending the Hundred Years’ War when he signed the Treaty of Picquigny with Louis XI on 29 August 1475.” At this time he knew he was to be a father, and had accomplished the settlement that could so greatly benefit his child’s future. Thanks to his foresight, little Anne St Leger might one day inherit the entire Holand fortune!
But while Henry Holand was still alive, there was a chance he’d return to complete favour, remarry and produce more legitimate offspring. Perhaps male. And that the king might decide he should have his inheritance back. The way politics were at that time, heaven knows who might occupy the throne? Another Lancastrian, perchance? Oh, no, I don’t think Thomas would have relished that scenario. So, as the English forces were returning to England from France, St Leger could have found an opportunity to see that Henry Holand was despatched to the hereafter. Heave-ho, over the side you go!
Well, that’s my theory. Far-fetched? I don’t think so. It’s a possible explanation for Henry’s immersion in the Channel.
Yes, there were others who loathed the very sight of Henry Holand, a man who seems to have signally lacked the famous Holand charm. But St Leger’s situation was different. He had a very personal reason to want Holand out of the way for good and all. Of course, let it not be forgotten that St Leger himself would one day become a treacherous brother-in-law. In 1483 he rebelled against Richard III, and paid the price.
Here is another link https://thehistoryjar.com/2017/02/07/duke-of-exeter-was-he-murdered-or-did-he-slip/ that will take you to a version of Henry Holand’s life and rather dodgy demise. And another, that tells the story from Anne’s perspective. https://rebeccastarrbrown.com/2018/03/03/the-divorce-of-anne-of-york-duchess-of-exeter/
By a curious coincidence, just after writing this post, I happened upon the following https://twitter.com/liz_lizanderson/status/1016611053394976768, which shows part of the wheatear badge of Henry Holand, as found by “mudlarks” on the Thames foreshore.
*And I haven’t forgotten the asterisk at the beginning of this post. Why do I regard Henry Holland as the 4th Duke of Exeter? Because it is my belief that his grandfather’s (John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter, d. January 1400) eldest son, Sir Richard Holand, who died at the end of 1400, survived the 1st Duke’s death long enough to be considered of age, and had thus inherited the right to his father’s titles—as much as Edward IV’s eldest son was Edward V! I know the 1st ~Duke had been demoted and attainted at the time of his death, but the title was resurrected and then given to his second son, another John. I still think this would have made the 2nd Duke actually the 3rd. OK, so I’m an amateur and don’t know what I’m talking about!