The Traitor’s Arms?

In 1840 workmen carrying out repairs to St Bartholomew’s Church, Ashperton, Herefordshire were collecting stones from the ruins of a nearby manor house when they discovered a heavy stone plaque, carved with an elaborate coat of arms, among the rubble. The stone was taken to the church for safekeeping and has hung on the wall of the north transept ever since .

The carved arms consist of a central shield measuring 13 x 19 inches, topped by a helm and crown with elaborate foliate mantling, giving overall dimensions of 30½ x 36 inches . “The stone is a medium grey, pale grey weathering calcareous mudstone, or very impure limestone” which occurs locally and could well have come from the nearby quarry at Putley .

The carving is worn and faded but the heraldry of the shield clearly shows an historic form of the royal arms of England reversed along the vertical axis, with three lions passant guardant in the first and fourth quarters and three fleur-de-lys in the second and third quarters. Moreover, the lions do not conform to the traditional lion/leopard depiction with smiling faces and tongue hanging out, instead they are showing not their tongues but their teeth. Although the carvings are now faded it is clear that these would once have been threatening, not friendly lions . The reversed royal arms are surmounted by a basic, unadorned helmet in profile, without eyeholes or grille in the closed visor .

Above the helm the crown is closed by triangular arches with an infill which resembles straw. It has a cross pattée at its apex and the circlet is unadorned. Mantling surrounds the shield and is composed of swirling acanthus leaves, interspersed with twelve flowers and several animals , one of which lies on its back in a lascivious pose leading more than one observer to suggest that the animals are satirical caricatures .

The numerous anomalies carved into the Ashperton monument give the impression that the bearer of these arms is being mocked and derided. It became known locally as the “Defiance” on the assumption that royal arms were carved in reverse as an act of rebellion against an unpopular monarch. It was generally supposed that the “defiant” arms were commissioned to hang on the walls of the fortified manor house where it was found.

Ashperton manor was granted to William Grandison by Edward I’s brother, Edmund Duke of Lancaster and crenelated in 1292. William, a Savoyard knight who came from Grandson on the shores of Lake Neuchatel (now Switzerland), served Edward I three times in the wars of Gascony, four times in Scotland and was present at the fall of Acre in 1291. On his retirement from active service, William married Herefordshire heiress, Sybil de Tregoz and their six children were born in Ashperton. Their son, John Grandison became Bishop of Exeter and their daughter Catherine became Countess of Salisbury on her marriage to William Montacute in 1320[1]. However, by the mid- fourteenth century the family were no longer living in Ashperton and when John Grandison died in 1369 the property, which was returned to the house of Lancaster under the terms of his will, was described in the inquisition as being “worth nothing”[2].

Thus, Ashperton manor was occupied for around 50 years during the reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III and any artefact found on the site might be expected to date from this period. As Mrs Rose Troup observed “the only relic of the ancient building is an oval stone carved with the arms of Edward I, once, doubtless, surmounting an entrance archway”[3]. The royal arms reversed on the Ashperton plaque are not however, those of Edward I as royal arms of this monarch and those of his son, Edward II, were without fleur-de-lys. Following the accession of Edward III (1327) and in recognition of his claim to the French throne, the fleur-de-lys were included on his arms in 1337. According to the heraldic expert, A. C. Fox-Davies: “Upon his new Great Seal (made in the early part of 1340) we find his arms represented upon shield, surcoat, and housings as: ‘Quarterly, 1 and 4, azure, semé-de lis[4]… The Royal Arms thus remained until 1411, when upon the second Great Seal of Henry IV the fleur-de-lys in England (as in France) were reduced to three in number.”[5]

Fox-Davies states that these arms remained unchanged until the accession of James I (James VI of Scotland) to the English throne in 1603, when the arms of Scotland and Ireland were included. A study of contemporary royal arms shows that the Plantagenet monarchs, both Lancastrian and Yorkist, of the 15th century, generally displayed arms in which the lower of the three fleur-de-lys was larger than the two above it while in Tudor coats of arms the three fleur-de-lys are more often of an equal size[6]. There are, of course, numerous exceptions as artistic styles seldom conform to a precise cut-off date. It is, however, more likely that royal arms with unequal sized fleur-de-lys are Plantagenet than Tudor.

Although the reversed heraldry of the shield is that of the 15th or 16th century English monarchy, the Woolhope Club, who examined the Ashperton Arms in 1941 concluded that “the character of the carving undoubtedly dates it somewhere about 1700”[7]. They suggested that an older form of royal arms had been displayed in reverse on the shield because “the mason copied the example of the plaster mouldings such as were used to decorate the ceilings in Elizabethan houses and which frequently occur in reverse”[8]. However, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I it became the practice to encircle the shield with a belt bearing the motto of the Order of the Garter, “Hon Y Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” and there is no such motto on the Ashperton shield. It also seems unlikely that a mason working on such a large and important commission would have made such a basic error as to reverse the shield, rather he would have taken particular care to complete the work to his patron’s specifications, especially as carving the royal arms in reverse could be construed as treason with dire consequences for the craftsman.

In 2003, when some restoration work was being carried out on the monument, the Ashperton Parish Council wrote to various experts inviting their opinions with regard to the origins of the carving. Geoffrey Fisher of the Courtauld Institute of Art replied that “on stylistic grounds I would assign this object to quite late in the 17th century… The shape of the shield is old-fashioned for the period of the relief, as it is a shape which goes back to the time of Henry VIII… The fact that the arms are not the official royal arms in use at the time it was carved suggests that it was not made for a church or an official building… one is left with the possibility of a private domestic commission, though it is difficult to think of a position in a house that such a thing might have occupied”[9]. It is particularly difficult to imagine the Ashperton Arms hanging in a private house as there is no such grand residence, or even ruins of a 17th century mansion in the vicinity.

Despite the improbability of this theory, Geoffrey Fisher is not alone in assigning 17th /18th century provenance to a carving which displays the royal arms of the 15th century. Art Historian, Richard Morris wrote “I would judge the date of the carving… to be Elizabethan or Stuart, say 1570-1670”[10]. A Herald from the College of Arms added that “it is not a great rarity because there must be innumerable versions of this coat of arms in existence”[11]. There are indeed innumerable examples of the 17th century Stuart arms extant as it became customary for royal arms to be displayed in churches following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. However, they vary markedly from the Ashperton Arms. Not only are the shield quarterings quite different[12] but during the 17th century the shield shape changed to fill the encircling band and was frequently represented as circular and in the case of carved relief, was often convex.

The only animals to appear on the royal arms of the 17th /18th century were the lion and unicorn supporters whereas on the Ashperton Arms numerous animals are depicted, above or encircled by the foliate mantling. The mantling on the royal 17th /18th century arms is composed of a lambrequin extending upwards behind the helm whereas the mantling on the Ashperton Arms encircles the shield almost to its base and is composed of stylised acanthus leaves.

Evidently the Ashperton Arms have very little in common with the royal arms of the Stuart monarchs. It is possible that in assigning 17th/18th century provenance to the Ashperton monument the various experts are thinking not of royal arms but of the numerous arms which were commissioned by the nobility in this period. With the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 members of the nobility were at liberty to take pride in their pedigree and numerous arms were commissioned to hang in stately homes. The fashion soon spread to the more humble houses of the gentry.

It was also in this period that it became fashionable for the sons of noble households to embark on the grand tour, returning with their minds full of continental ideas in art and architecture. Artists and craftsmen also travelled and brought back foreign designs based on those of the European Renaissance. These ideas were reflected in the coats of arms which were produced in England from the latter half of the 17th century, many of which copied a style of armorial bearings from the Renaissance Quattrocento. The development of this style of heraldry owed much to the 15th century renaissance monarch René of Anjou[13] who was a poet, painter, founder of his own Order of the Crescent[14] and father of Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou. “René had always taken a very active interest in all aspects both of chivalry and of the related sciences of heraldry and para-heraldry. He was the author both of a chivalric romance (Le Livre du Coeur d’Amour épris) and of what quickly became the standard handbook to the holding of tournaments (the Livre des Tournois)”[15].

In the Livre des Tournois, dated 1460, arms similar to the Ashperton Arms are displayed above the main doors of the tournament pavilions. Interestingly, above the other doors, the arms of the lesser nobles, competing in the tournament, are displayed with the shield at an angle to the helm and are similar in style to the 15th century Garter Plates in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Other examples of arms from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Poland, France and Sweden[16]show that this style was in general use throughout Europe by the middle of the 15th century.

However, while recognising that there are “fifteenth-century parallels for the mantling and the proportions of the shield in continental Europe”, heraldic experts from the College of Arms “find these features of the object very unlikely for England at the same date”[17]. It could be argued that, as England did not exist in cultural isolation, any features found in continental heraldry would be likely for England at the same date. It is also worth noting that the English College of Arms was not founded until 1484 so prior to that date, and in the absence of any rules and regulations, artists were free to depict whatever style of arms they chose, whether borrowed from English or foreign sources.

England had been subjected to continental cultural influences at least since the Norman Conquest of 1066. Many of England’s medieval monarchs were either born in France, had French mothers or were married to French princesses[18]. French was the language of the court until the 15th century and continues to be used in the language of heraldry to the present day. English artists, craftsmen and architects have frequently found inspiration in continental art forms and the English aristocracy patronised foreign artists whose work was displayed in English homes.

In Herefordshire, the county where the Ashperton Arms were presumably carved, the continental influence on the Herefordshire School of stonemasonry has long been recognised[19]. Furthermore, the Savoyard Bishop, Peter D’Aquablanca is credited with the rebuilding of Hereford Cathedral along the lines of Charlemagne’s Imperial Cathedral in Aachen and during his period in office (1240-68) his fellow Frenchmen held 20 of the 30 canon’s posts. The French influence on the See continued to be exercised by his successor John le Breton (1269-75) and by Hereford’s most famous Bishop and Saint, Thomas de Cantilupe (1275-82) who was educated in Paris and Orléans. The influence of continental ideas was not confined to ecclesiastical stone masonry. William Grandison of Ashperton’s fellow countryman, Master Jacques de Saint-George was the architect responsible for the design of Edward I’s Welsh castles which are of the same architectural style as the contemporary castles of Savoy. The exchange of cultural and artistic ideas can only have increased during the period of the “Hundred Year War” (1337-1453) with the constant cross-channel traffic necessary to maintain an English presence in France and there are numerous examples of French artists working on commissions for English noblemen during this period[20].

Under the terms agreed by Henry V in the Treaty of Troyes (1420) the French throne passed to the English monarch upon the death of Charles VI. Thus, Henry VI became King of England upon the death of his father in August 1422, and King of France two months later upon the death of his maternal grandfather, Charles VI in October 1422. The son of the French princess, Catherine of Valois, Henry VI was crowned King of France in Notre Dame de Paris in 1431 and in 1445 married his French bride, Margaret of Anjou. The continental influence on Henry VI’s court is reflected in the composition of the Knights of the Order of the Garter enrolled under this monarch. “In most years the number of foreigners admitted [to the Order of the Garter] was quite small (ranging from two to six), but under Henry VI, who reigned for some years as king of northern France as well as of England, their number rose to nearly a third of the total”[21].

The French College of Arms had been founded in 1407 and French heralds like Jean Courtois (d.1436) and Jean Le Fevre (c.1395-1468) were in the forefront of the development of the heraldic art in Europe. As the French knights admitted to the Order of the Garter by Henry VI bore arms of French design, it cannot be supposed that the continental style of arms was unknown in England in the 15th century. However very few examples of 15th century English coats of arms survived the subsequent centuries for comparison with the Ashperton Arms.

Research indicates that during the medieval period 25% of the nobility died every 25 years leaving no male heir[22] to maintain their arms. Wars at home and abroad together with the Black Death saw the extinction of 49 noble lines between 1425 and 1479[23]and more families suffered extirpation under the Tudors. The numbers of the old aristocracy were further depleted by the Civil War of 1642-49 when the tomb sculptures of the nobility and their coats of arms were destroyed in their hundreds, if not thousands, by Puritan iconoclasts.

As Nigel Saul explains: “The process of large-scale destruction (of tomb sculpture) began in the mid-sixteenth century with the Dissolution of the Monasteries… Stone monuments were plundered for building materials, while brass memorials were sold off… In the seventeenth century a fresh wave of destruction was unleashed by the forces of the Puritan Revolution”[24]. Not surprisingly, very few English examples of 15th century arms have survived while, by contrast, there are numerous examples of 17th /18th century arms which copy the earlier style.

Recognising the problem of distinguishing between original 15th century arms and later imitations, Fox-Davies suggests that genuine 15th century arms can be identified by reference to the helm. “The artists of those periods (Plantagenet and Tudor) were accustomed to the sight of real helmets … Artists of Stuart and Georgian days knew only the ceremonial helmet, and consequently adopted and stereotyped its impossible shape.”[25]

The rounded helmet on the Ashperton Arms bears little resemblance to the ornate, crested, ceremonial helms of 17th /18th century coats of arms. It is rather a helmet which was designed to be worn, with a curved base[26] shaped to accommodate the wearer’s shoulders. Similar helmets are portrayed in contemporary paintings of 15th century battles[27] but are seldom seen on coats of arms.

The Ashperton Arms have been examined by a number of authorities including stonemasons Alun Teagle and James Shepherd [28] who both concluded that it was the work of a skilled master mason. The Woolhope Club however disagree, stating that the arms are: “the work of an unskilled and no doubt local monumental mason …” and that “for the helmet and mantling he (the mason) copied the arms on a gentleman’s tombstone”[29]. Unfortunately, they do not support this assertion with any evidence. There is no such tombstone in the locality, as might be expected if the arms had been carved by a local craftsman. This was confirmed by Angela Golding (who conducted the autopsy) who led a 30-year project recording all the church monuments and gravestones in the county and had never seen a similar helmet. Furthermore, extensive research has so far failed to discover any carved stone helm, whether 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th century of which the Ashperton helm might be supposed to be a copy.

The Ashperton helm is not that of a nobleman but rather a utilitarian helmet of a type produced by European manufacturers in the 15th and 16th centuries and bought by the lowest ranks of combatants from travelling salesmen[30]. “Every person of position must necessarily have possessed one (a helmet) throughout the Plantagenet period… they were so general and so little out of the common that they possessed no greater value than any other article of clothing”[31]. Evidently there would have been no shortage of examples of 15th century helmets for a contemporary stone mason to copy. However, to place such a helmet above the royal arms is, to say the least, unusual.

The autopsy on the Ashperton Arms (see appendix I) revealed a further incongruity in the helmet which sets it apart from other helmets whether utilitarian or heraldic. The helmet has no grille, holes or slits and its wearer would be effectively imprisoned in the airless dark. The mason paid sufficient attention to detail to place a thin, decorated collar around the neck of the helmet and a lynch pin for the solid visor but he omitted the most essential feature of every helmet which allows its wearer to see and breathe. It is possible that this simply represents a mason’s mistake, but it is also possible, and perhaps more probable that the omission was deliberate and the purpose allegorical.

The putative gentleman’s tombstone is also cited by the Woolhope Club to explain the foliate mantling which surrounds the shield. Once again, extensive research has, as yet, failed to discover similar mantling on any 17th or early 18th century arms. “The heraldic mantling was, of course, originally the representation of the actual ‘capeline’ or textile covering worn upon the helmet, but many early heraldic representations are of mantlings which are of skin, fur or feathers, being in such cases invariably a continuation of the crest drawn out and represented as the lambrequin… The hacking and hewing of battle would show itself plainly upon the lambrequin of one accustomed to a prominent position in the forefront of a fight, and the honourable record implied by a ragged and slashed lambrequin accounts for the fact that we find at an early period after their introduction into heraldic art, that mantlings are depicted cut and ‘torn to ribbons’”[32]

Thus, the trailing mantling widely employed by heraldic artists in the 15th century, as seen on the arms of René of Anjou in his Book of Hours, is composed of ribbons as a symbol of their bearer’s courage. With the heraldic revival in England which followed the restoration of the monarchy, the style was duplicated in numerous coats of arms where ribboned mantling can be found. Examples of foliate mantling are relatively rare in 15th century heraldry but can be found in continental Europe[33] and among the 15th/early 16th century Garter Plates in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor[34]. However, none of these are sufficiently like the Ashperton mantling to have served as a model for the stone mason to copy.

The stylised acanthus leaves which surround the shield on the Ashperton monument suggest that the artist sought inspiration in the pages of medieval manuscripts which frequently use similar designs in page borders. The Italian Master of the Brussels Initials is credited with introducing this style to Paris in the first decade of the 15th century and it was taken up and copied by manuscript artists including the Egerton Master, the Bedford Master, the Talbot Master and can also be seen in the work of the Limbourg Brothers and Barthélemy van Eyck who collaborated on the Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry. This exquisite volume formed part of a collection inherited by the Duc de Berry’s nephew, René of Anjou who studied painting under Barthélemy van Eyck and incorporated many of the artistic elements of manuscript painting in the numerous coats of arms he designed for himself. By 1448 when he founded his own Order of the Crescent, René had “adopted and discarded more versions of his quarterly arms and more badges and devices than most contemporary princes ever thought of employing”[35]. It is certainly a style with which Henry VI’s queen, René’s daughter Margaret, would have been familiar.

Manuscripts were both an expression of the prevailing currents in 15th century European art and an inspiration to artists working in different media. In the manuscripts which formed part of the royal collection and were commissioned by the English nobility, the page borders are often decorated with stylised acanthus leaves surrounding a heraldic shield, like those carved on the Ashperton Arms and animal figures frequently appear entwined in foliage[36]. The Woolhope Club notes the inclusion of flowers in the mantling but they make no mention of the animal figures represented on the Ashperton monument[37]. Few other visitors to the church have failed to notice them and historian Roy Clews writes that he “was greatly entertained by the mantling of stylised leaves, flowers and animals surrounding the shield. I perceived the animals to be satirical caricatures. The squirrel seemed to be very watchful, the bear with an expression of disbelief, the rat smugly satisfied”[38]. Seen in this satirical light, the figure of the recumbent rat to the left of the shield is particularly reminiscent of the rodent dressed in a friar’s cowl depicted in the Book of Hours, Use of Rouen[39].

Although the arms are those of a 15th century monarch, the helm is that of a 15th century combatant and the mantling conforms to the style of 15th century manuscript art, there is one feature of the Ashperton Arms which seems to deny 15th century provenance. This is the crown which an expert at the College of Arms described as “absolutely impossible for the 15th century”[40]. As the crown of an English monarch the crown on the Ashperton Arms is “impossible” for any century. As the autopsy notes “the band of the crown itself is plain” whereas the English crown had featured three or more fleur-de-lys since the coins of King Stephen (1135-54)[41] and the absence of fleur-de-lys on the Ashperton crown suggests that the subject of these arms had no claim to the French throne. The cross-pattée which surmounts the Ashperton crown was first used to decorate the English crown during the reign of Henry VI[42].

In the closed crown of the English monarch, introduced in the 15th century, and in the crowns of subsequent monarchs, the arches are thin bands of unvarying width. On the Ashperton Arms the bands are wider at the base than at the apex and, unlike the monarchs’ crown of the 17th century, to which it has been compared, there is no cushioned infill but rather the appearance of straw[43]. The Ashperton crown most resembles a simple form of paper crown (made by cutting elongated triangles in a paper band and joining their points) which was used to crown the “King of Fools” or “Lord of Misrule” in medieval Christmas celebrations[44]. The impression that the carving is meant to represent a paper crown would seem to be reinforced by a close examination of the shield which was also carved to represent paper. As the autopsy observes “The top of the shield is straight with the corners sloping down to end in a scroll on each side. The outer edges of the shield meet at the bottom and are terminated in two further scrolls”[45].

It is generally accepted that a paper shield with reversed arms had a particular significance in medieval heraldry as it was used to denote a traitor. Heraldry expert

Fox-Davies states that this symbolic representation of the traitor’s disgrace was used when he was “drawn upon a hurdle to the place of his execution, they (his arms) are said to have been painted reversed upon paper, which paper was fastened to his (the traitor’s) breast”[46]. There is, however, disagreement as to when this practice was introduced and how often it was used. For example, a number of sources assume that this form of punishment was employed as early as 1322 when the Earl of Lancaster was executed, for rebelling against Edward II, following his defeat at Boroughbridge. However, according to the Dunstable Chronicle, his humiliation did not involve reversing his arms, rather he was “first disposed of his armour, and then clothed in a robe of raye that had belonged to his esquire”[47]

Similarly, it has been suggested that Hugh Despenser the younger bore his arms reversed to his gory execution in Hereford in 1326. Historian Roy Martin Haines writes that “Despenser’s clothes were removed and a tunic substituted with his arms reversed”[48]. However, from the direct translation of the contemporary chronicles it seems more likely that his tabard was reversed, that is worn back to front, following his capture when he was mounted on the most scrawny horse that could be found and paraded to Hereford where, following a mock trial, he was stripped naked, biblical phrases were scrawled on his body, and he was crowned with a band of nettles as he was led to his hideous death.

The forms of humiliation inflicted on condemned traitors were varied and inventive. When, for example, Sir Ralph Grey was attainted for treason under Edward IV he had his “spurs stricken off by the hard heels, by the hand of the Master Cook” and it was ordained that he should see the King of Arms and Heralds and have his Coat of Arms torn off his body (although this was omitted on account of the good deeds of his grandfather)[49]. The earliest recorded evidence I have been able to find of the reversed arms of a disgraced traitor being employed in England was after the Cornish Rebellion in the reign on Henry VII, in 1497, when “The Lord Audley was committed to Newgate, and from thence drawn to Towerhill in his coat-armour, (painted on paper) reversed and all torn”[50]. The practice was, however, used on the continent where the exiled Henry VII had spent much of his youth, learning the ways of the French court where René of Anjou was at the forefront of the development of the heraldic art (as will be further discussed below).

The material evidence that Arma Reversata drawn on paper or stitched into clothing, while being recorded, has long since disappeared. As Boutell rightly points out “who would voluntarily accept insignia of disgrace, and charge and display them upon his Shield, and transmit them to his descendants?”[51] No official monument to the traitor’s disgrace would be necessary as his head would be mounted on a stake and his limbs distributed to be similarly displayed as a warning to others. Nevertheless, it is beyond question that the Arma Reversata were used and would have been recognised as a symbol of a traitor’s humiliation and degradation by the medieval crowds who assembled to hurl abuse and projectiles at the condemned man on his way to execution.

While accepting that Arma Reversata were used to denote a traitor, heraldic experts have suggested that the arms would have been turned upside-down (inverted) rather than reversed along the vertical axis as is the case of the Ashperton Arms. A source at the College of Arms writes that “the usual interpretation of ‘reversed arms’ is, as far as we understand, of a coat of arms shown upside down, rather than mirrored around its vertical axis”[52]. If this was the case it is difficult to understand Fox-Davies’ statement that the arms were “painted reversed upon paper” which was then pinned to the traitor’s breast. Surely the arms would have been painted correctly or an existing copy of the traitor’s arms used and simply pinned upside down. Unfortunately, Fox-Davies does not give a source for this statement but clearly “reversed” meant something other than “upside-down” as can be seen by word substitution which gives us: “they [the arms] are said to have been painted upside down on paper which was then fastened to his breast”. It is possible that the idea that a traitor’s arms were inverted is the result of a mistranslation of the original French, in which the word “l’inverse” can be translated as either upside-down, inside-out or back-to-front[53].

Inverted arms were used throughout the medieval period to denote the death of a king, as can be seen in the border illustrations of Matthew Paris’ Historia Anglorum (1250-9)[54] and “in fifteenth century France it was the practice at a king’s funeral for the royal arms to be inverted by one knight, who then left them upside down until the next knight came along and re-inverted the shield to symbolise ‘the king is dead, long live the king’”[55].

Heraldry is a most precise art so, given that an inverted shield was used as a mark of respect and reverence for a departed monarch, it seems, at best, unlikely that the same symbolism was used to mark the dishonour, disgrace and death of a traitor. In the absence of contemporary illustrations or descriptions we can only speculate on the nature of the reversal of a traitor’s arms but we cannot dismiss the possibility that this is what the Ashperton Arms represent.

The alternative explanation for the Ashperton Arms, offered by the Woolhope Club among others, is that they represent a 17th /18th century stone mason’s mistake, or rather, series of mistakes: The arms are 17th /18th century but represent the arms of 15th century monarchs; The arms are reversed along the vertical axis; The helm, in profile with visor down, is that of a gentleman rather than a king; The helm has no grille or eyeholes; The crown is not that of an English monarch and should not be seen above a gentleman’s helm; The lions on the shield have bared teeth instead of lolling tongues; The mantling is composed of foliage rather than a ribboned lambrequin; The animals are not supporters and neither a lion or a unicorn are represented.

Members of the College of Arms “do not find it remotely inconceivable that an expert stonemason should make mistakes in heraldry”[56] but it is surely unlikely that a master mason would have made so many mistakes in one piece of work. Moreover, one might expect the stonemason to take particular care in fashioning a royal coat of arms where a mistake, such as the reversal of the royal arms, could result in a charge of treason. Historical experts have dismissed the idea that the Ashperton Arms represents a “defiance” of a reigning monarch on the grounds that to have deliberately carved the royal arms in reverse would mean a traitor’s death for the nobleman who commissioned it and the stonemason who carved it. Similarly, fear of execution would presumably have led medieval stonemasons to take great care to avoid potentially treasonous errors when carving the royal arms. A medieval stonemason who valued his life would only have dared to deliberately carve the royal arms in reverse if he was undertaking a royal commission.

The Ashperton monument is a large and finely executed piece of work and would have been a costly commission[57]. “The carving on this tablet is beautiful, and it is far from the truth to say it is the work of an unskilled mason…the workmanship is that of a skilled carver”[58]. Nonetheless, the Woolhope Club assert that the arms were copied from a plaster moulding and the helm and mantling “copied the arms on a gentleman’s tombstone”[59]. It is highly unlikely that a commission carried out in this ad hoc manner could have resulted in the harmonious design and balanced symmetry of the Ashperton Arms.

The explanation advanced by the Woolhope Club rests on their identification of the arms as 17th /18th century. To support this hypothesis, they are forced to dismiss the individual elements of the arms which do not conform to 17th /18th century heraldic examples as “mistakes”. However, the number and variety of “mistakes” which they identify renders this explanation unconvincing. Moreover, this argument does not explain why the arms were carved, what purpose they were supposed to serve or give any clue as to why they might have been found in the ruins of a 13th/14th century manor house/castle.

Although Pevsner overlooked the arms completely in his original guide to the county, the 2012 edition of his work, updated by Alan Brooks, says that the arms have been “deliberately antiquated”. As they have not been tampered with (beyond stop-gap restoration) since they were found 1840 this must be assumed to have happened before they were buried under the stones of the ruined castle. This could only be the case if some late 17th century gentleman commissioned the arms for his distant mansion, had them “deliberately aged” then transported some many miles across difficult terrain, and across a moat, to be hidden under the stones of a ruined castle. One has to ask, why? Simply to mystify future generations of historians? An elaborate hoax indeed. A simpler solution is that they were not “deliberately antiquated” in the 17th century but were made at an earlier date.

Perhaps a more convincing explanation of the nature and purpose of the Ashperton Arms may be arrived at by examining the evidence of the heraldry inscribed in the stone. As the noble art of heraldry was devised to record individual and dynastic honour, it is possible that the Ashperton Arms, with its many ignoble features, was devised to record dishonour. If this is the case, it should be possible to identify the individual commemorated in the arms from the heraldry.

According to archaeologist, Richard Stone, “It is to be expected that Arms would be contemporary with the Arms’ period of validity rather than being retrospective”[60]. As the Ashperton Arms are the reverse of those of the 15th century English monarchs we can conjecture that they date from the 15th century and that the subject of the arms was probably a Plantagenet. The satirical nature of the animal figures, the blind and dumb helmet and the paper crown, together with the reversed arms give the impression that the arms represent some kind of political satire and that their owner is being mocked.

“Medieval culture was intensely visual”[61]. The lay public was largely illiterate and prior to the invention of the printing press, there was little for them to read, so political messages had to be conveyed in a pictorial language which could be widely understood. Every medieval villager owed allegiance to a lord he may never have seen and a monarch whom he knew only by his coat of arms. Nonetheless he could be called on to fight and die for those arms in any one of the many battles which marked the politically turbulent period of the English civil war which would become known as the Wars of the Roses. At a time when there were no standing armies and foot soldiers wore no uniforms, recognition of shields and banners was particularly important[62]. The royal arms inverted would have been taken as a sign that the king was dead and this is not the message that the Ashperton Arms was commissioned to convey.

In the Ashperton Arms symbolism has been used to present the subject in a negative light. As art historian Veronica Sekules writes: “Allegory and symbolism were considerably deployed and extended in the Middle Ages as a means of representing complex ideas”[63]. Where the royal arms invoke respect, reverence and loyalty their reverse invites opprobrium. At a time when the myth of the anti-Christ was widely circulated the reversed arms may have been intended to represent the anti-king. That is to say a pretender to the English throne.

Historian John Watts points out that the use of allegory and symbolism in 15th century art was more popular with continental rulers than with their English counterparts. However, he writes that: “now and again one gets the sense of a commissioned work with a particular intended resonance, as perhaps in the case of Henry VI’s series of vices and virtues or his set of Lancastrian portraits”[64]. It is surely no coincidence that English art and culture should exhibit the signs of continental influences when the French princess, Margaret of Anjou, sat on the English throne.

The artistic and heraldic evidence thus suggests that the subject of the Arms was alive during the reign of Henry VI; that he was a member of the royal family with a claim to the English, if not the French, throne; and that he was condemned as a traitor but escaped execution, necessitating the commissioning of a memorial to his disgrace in the absence of his severed head. The obvious candidate for this dishonourable position must be Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York.


The pre-eminent English nobleman during the reign of Henry VI was Richard Plantagenet (1411-1460), Duke of York, who was condemned as a traitor in 1459. The son of Anne Mortimer and Richard of Conisburgh, third Earl of Cambridge, Richard of York was descended from Edward III’s third son Lionel of Antwerp through his mother and Edward III’s youngest son, Edmund Langley, through his father. Henry VI (1421-1471) traced his descent through Edward’s fourth son John of Gaunt[65], Duke of Lancaster, and owed his crown to his grandfather, Henry IV’s usurpation[66].

Henry IV seized the English throne from Richard II in 1399 but it was the martial prowess of his son, Henry of Monmouth, later Henry V, which gave legitimacy to Lancastrian rule. When Henry V died on 31st August 1422 the crown passed to his nine-month-old son, Henry VI. During his son’s minority Henry V’s surviving brothers, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and John Duke of Bedford together with their half-uncle, Cardinal Henry Beaufort, shared the task of governing his realms in England and France. Humphrey became Lord Protector; John was appointed Regent of France while Henry controlled the king’s council.

The army commanded by John Duke of Bedford had considerable success in securing Henry VI’s French possessions, despite the nationalist opposition to English rule, led by Joan of Arc and sponsored by Yolande of Aragon. On 30th May 1431 John presided over the execution of the Maid of Orléans and arranged for the coronation of the ten-year-old Henry VI in Paris on 16th December 1431. John, who had married first a Burgundian and secondly a Luxembourg princess, spent most of his life in France and died in Rouen on 14 September 1435 at the age of 46. Richard Duke of York was appointed to succeed him as Lieutenant in France the following year[67], as a short-term measure, until Henry VI came of age. However, when Henry VI was declared of age in 1437, shortly before his sixteenth birthday, he showed no desire to follow in his father’s military footsteps.

Henry VI was a man of peace and in this he was supported by his great uncle Henry Beaufort. The politically astute Cardinal realised that an English retreat from France was inevitable after the Franco-Burgundian alliance established by the Treaty of Arras. His policy was to devise the most favourable terms under which the so-called “Hundred Year War” could be brought to an end. In this he was opposed by his nephew Humphrey of Gloucester and Richard of York, who was charged with defending Henry’s possessions in France between 1436-37 and 1440-45.

Henry’s unwillingness to personally engage in warfare did not endear him to his subjects who had taken pride in his father’s famous victories. The contemporary chronicler John Whethamstede wrote that Henry was “his mother’s stupid offspring, not his father’s, a son greatly degenerated from the father, who did not cultivate the art of war… a mild-spoken pious king, but half-witted in affairs of state”[68]. Even before his first mental collapse in 1453, many of Henry’s contemporaries thought him insane: It is recorded that, in 1442 “a Kentish yeoman was indicted in the court of the King’s Bench for saying that ‘the king is a lunatic’; a London draper, in 1447, was alleged to have remarked not only that Henry had a child’s face but also that he ‘is not as steadfast of wit as other kings have been before’; in 1450, two Sussex husbandmen were charged for declaring that ‘the king was a natural fool’ and ‘no person able to rule this land’; and in 1453, two Southwark men apparently described Henry as ‘but a sheep’ who has ‘lost all that his father won and would God he had died soon after he was born’”[69].

Other observers attributed Henry’s unworldliness to his extreme piety. John Blacman who was, for many years, one of Henry’s chaplains, wrote of Henry’s devotion to the study of holy books and his annoyance when his devotions were disturbed by affairs of state: “The king himself once complained heavily to me in his chamber at Eltham, when I was alone there with him studying his holy books, and giving ear to his … sighs of his most deep devotion, [concerning] a knock on his door by a certain mighty duke of the realm: the king said, ‘They so interrupt me that, whether by day or night, I can hardly snatch a moment for reading holy scripture without disturbance’”[70]. While such devotion would have been admirable in a monk it was hardly appropriate in a medieval monarch.

“Henry VI, whose virtues were ‘charity, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance’, clearly lacked the qualities required for successful kingship”[71]. Realising that Henry was unsuited to the royal role dictated by his birth, Cardinal Beaufort set about arranging a marriage between Henry and a strong-willed princess who could be expected to make up for her husband’s shortcomings. “It is said that he [Cardinal Beaufort] met Margaret for the first time at Chinon in 1442… the Cardinal was impressed by her obvious strength of character. He felt she would be the perfect counter-balance for the irresolution and other weaknesses of his great-nephew”[72].

It may seem surprising that Margaret, who would have been only 12 at the time of this encounter, could have so impressed the Cardinal that he would have forwarded the marriage which would bring no dowry to the English coffers. But Margaret was an unusually precocious princess, even by the standards of her age: “… a young lady exceeding others of her time, as well in beauty as wisdom, imbued with a high courage above the nature of her sex”[73].

Margaret of Anjou, youngest surviving daughter of René of Anjou and his first wife Isabella Duchess of Lorraine, was born in Pont-a-Mousson, Lorraine on 23rd March 1430. During her childhood her father succeeded to the titles Count of Piedmont, Duke of Bar (1430), Duke of Lorraine (1431), Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence (1434), King of Sicily and Naples, titular King of Jerusalem (1434). But none of these titles was uncontested and René was forced to fight for his inheritance. Between 1431-32 and 1435-37 he was imprisoned by the Duke of Burgundy leaving his wife, Isabella to manage his estates and campaign on his behalf. It was said of Margaret’s formidable mother that “within the body of a woman the Duchess carries the heart of a man”[74] and while she laid claim to her husband’s Italian inheritance, her mother-in-law, René’s redoubtable mother, Yolande of Aragon took care of Margaret’s upbringing. “Yolande of Aragon was at the heart of the diplomatic and military campaigns that united 15th-century France”[75]. One of the most politically important figures of her day, Yolande took personal command of the Angevin army which defeated the English at Saumur on 21st March 1421 and continued to oppose English rule through her support for the House of Valois and sponsorship of Joan of Arc[76].

Yolande is credited with providing Joan of Arc with the education she demonstrated in her responses to the inquisition which condemned her. Yolande would have ensured that her granddaughter Margaret was at least as well educated as the Maid of Orléans.

“Margaret came directly under the influence of this exceptional woman [Yolande] from the time she was five years old until the age of thirteen. She lived in a disciplined household where men of all ranks obeyed her grandmother’s orders without question, and during these years she absorbed, from the troubadours, from the works of Boccaccio and from the tournaments held in the district round about, all sorts of ideas about chivalry, feudalism and hereditary rights…[when, on the death of his elder brother, René became titular King of Sicily, Jerusalem and Naples in 1434]…Margaret became a princess, and her grandmother insisted that she be taught to conduct herself as such … and to have a proper understanding of all that ‘royalty’ implied”[77].

At the court of Yolande, Margaret would have learned to admire and revere Joan of Arc who, after leading French armies to victories over the English, was captured and burnt at the stake on 30th May 1431. Joan was not beatified until 1909 (canonised 1920) but she was considered by many to be a saint from the moment of her martyrdom. Cardinal Beaufort, who had been instrumental in her conviction, is alleged to have regretted his actions almost immediately and ordered that her ashes be thrown in the Seine so that “the world might have no relic of her of whom the world was not worthy”[78].

Tales of Joan’s courage and military successes inevitably made an impression on the youthful Margaret. The extent of her identification with the saint would become evident when she took personal command of the Lancastrian armies and addressed her troops in the following terms: “‘I have often broken their battle line. I have mowed down ranks far more stubborn than there are now. You who once followed a peasant girl [Joan of Arc] now follow a queen… I will either conquer or be conquered with you’. All marvelled at such boldness in a woman, at a man’s courage in a woman’s breast, and at her reasonable arguments. They said that the spirit of the Maid, who had raised Charles [VII of France] to the throne, was renewed in the queen”[79]. This passage not only shows Margaret’s desire to emulate the martial saint but also suggests a certain arrogance and insensitivity. Given that she was addressing an English army it was somewhat tactless to invoke the memory of their erstwhile enemy.

Margaret had learned to revere Saint Joan at her grandmother’s court where she also learned to despise Yolande’s enemies: John Duke of Bedford who had tried and executed the Maid; and Richard Duke of York who succeeded him as Lieutenant of France in 1436. Her enmity towards Richard did not diminish after marriage to his cousin Henry VI and the way she responded to the threat that Richard posed was conditioned by her upbringing. Historian Sharon L. Jansen writes that: “Margaret of Anjou’s role in England was not only a response to the political crisis in that country: the role she assumed as queen and mother had been shaped by the political circumstances of her own childhood and by her own experience of women’s abilities and capabilities. As Margaret’s biographer J.J. Bagley notes: ‘Politics, war and administration seemed to be the natural vocations of women in her family’”[80].

Yolande’s son, René had been unsuccessful in his military campaigns and in 1442 he abandoned his attempt to establish his reign in Italy, although he kept his title of King of Naples until his death. In the same year Yolande died and Margaret went to live with her parents in the court they established in Angers. War was a costly business and René’s coffers were depleted but he still managed to maintain a magnificent court, befitting of his rank. He realised the importance of “putting on a show” and, if he could not provide a dowry for his daughter, he could provide a regal backdrop which would show her to the world as worthy of the most illustrious suitor. “With her striking looks, long reddish-gold hair… graceful figure, and quick mind she [Margaret] was now one of René’s most valuable assets. She was aware of her own value as a princess in a world in which marriage was the seal of treaties and alliances”[81].

René was the model of a Renaissance ruler: a patron of the arts; owner of a magnificent library; a politician, poet, and painter; romance writer, humanist and defender of the chivalric tradition. “His small but brilliant court attracted all kinds of talented people seeking patronage. Most of all it was famed for its tournaments, which René raised to an art form, and for its artificial creation of a pastoral idyll inspired by the new humanism sweeping across Europe”[82]. During Margaret’s time under her father’s roof he was making plans to establish his own chivalric order, the Ordre du Croissant (founded 1448)[83], preparing his seminal work on the conduct of tournaments and working on designs for his coat of arms. René was also, no doubt, getting to know his daughter who he had hardly seen since her early childhood and she would have spent time with her artistic, long-absent father in his studio while he worked on his various projects. It is natural to suppose that René would have encouraged any of his daughter’s artistic endeavours and that he would have taught her to paint and to understand heraldic symbolism, its significance and potency[84].

Margaret also spent time at the French court of René’s childhood friend and brother-in-law, her uncle, Charles VII. René wielded considerable power in his position on the king’s council and, according to the Milanese ambassador, was “‘the one who governs this entire realm’… But René’s ancestral territories of Maine and Anjou were still in the hands of the English, and when he learned of Henry VI’s interest in his daughter, he saw a means of getting them back”[85].

René was a student of genealogy and as proud as any other medieval monarch of the purity of the blood, untainted by bastardy, which ran through his veins. Margaret, aware of her own importance as a bearer of the Angevin bloodline, would have understood that her marriage would be a political/dynastic, rather than a romantic union. Nonetheless it would be interesting to know how she reacted on learning that her marriage to the king of the hated English was being negotiated. “Like most of her immediate family she probably detested the English, and with good reason as most of the problems experienced at the French and Angevin courts during her short lifetime could be traced back to them”[86].

No doubt René helped reconcile his daughter to the idea of marriage to the English king by pointing out that Henry was as much French as English: Henry’s mother, Catherine de Valois was the sister of Charles VII, the monarch whom Yolande and René had helped establish on the French throne. René’s sister, Marie of Anjou was the wife of Charles VII. Thus, Henry and Margaret shared a common uncle in the King of France. Moreover, Henry was a Plantagenet, descended from the counts of the first house of Anjou through Henry II, the first Angevin King of England. Margaret was a daughter of the second house of Anjou so her marriage to Henry would unite the two Angevin dynasties. Margaret may have detested the English foreigners but in marrying their king she would be marrying one of her own.

Margaret had little choice in the selection of her spouse but the same cannot be said for Henry who had his pick of a number of European princesses: “Commissioners were appointed to manage the business. They were to open negotiations and obtain portraits… The King was very particular in the instructions which he gave to the commissioners in respect to the portraits, with a view of securing, if possible, perfectly correct and fair representations of the originals”[87]. It was important to Henry that his bride’s appearance should conform to his romantic ideal as, unlike many of his contemporaries, who often married solely for political or financial advantage, he would never take a mistress. According to a contemporary observer “he avoided the sight and conversation of women, affirming these to be the work of the devil and quoting from the Gospel, ‘He who casts his eyes on a woman so as to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart’. Those who knew him intimately said that he had preserved his virginity of mind and body to this present time, and that he was firmly resolved to have intercourse with no woman unless within the bounds of matrimony”[88].

Henry had received a strict and sheltered upbringing under the supervision of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who was appointed guardian to the six-year-old king in 1428. Henry’s uncles, who ruled the king’s council, took all the necessary precautions to prevent the young king from forming any undesirable attachment which might advance a rival family or present an obstacle to any future, diplomatically desirable, royal match. Henry was further denied female companionship after his mother, Catherine de Valois, left the court, eloping with Owen Tudor when Henry was about ten years old[89].

At twenty-one, chaste Henry was more than ready to fall in love, and rival lords competed to provide a successful candidate for his hand and heart. Cardinal Beaufort, keen to outmanoeuvre Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and secure a lasting peace with France, forwarded Margaret as his candidate, extolling her virtues and making light of her father’s poverty, which would not enable him to provide a dowry. Beaufort was successful and Margaret married Henry by proxy in the chapel of St. George in the ducal palace at Nancy in March 1445[90] with William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk standing in for the bridegroom.

“The bride, (was) taken to the altar by her father and her uncle the king (Charles VII of France) … Prominent among the ladies-in-waiting surrounding Queen Marie and Queen Isabelle was the lovely Agnes Sorel… in a suit of silver armour encrusted with jewels”[91]. Agnes, who had been a maid of honour to Margaret’s mother Isabelle, had become Charles VII’s mistress four years earlier, when she was twenty. Her presence at the ceremony would have served to remind Margaret of the important political role that could be played by a beautiful woman if she held a king’s affections, particularly if the woman was strong and the king was weak. Agnes’ relationship with Charles had been encouraged by his mother-in-law, Margaret’s grandmother Yolande, as Charles suffered from depression (like his father Charles VI and his nephew Henry VI) and needed the support of a strong woman to establish and maintain his rule. By wearing a suit of armour to the wedding Agnes, the greatest beauty of her age, evoked the memory of Saint Joan who had led the campaign to rid France of English rule. It was clearly expected that Margaret, now married to the English king, would use her influence to the same end.

Margaret arrived in England in March 1445 and “Henry adopted a chivalric tradition in her family by paying her a visit in disguise, dressing up as a squire to deliver a letter to her that he had written. While Margaret was busy with the letter, she paid him no attention and apparently dismissed him afterwards, none the wiser. Upon learning somewhat later of her letter-bearer’s actual identity, Margaret was said to be mortified that she had kept him on his knees… If, as seems likely, she did suspect he was the king, the visit and her overt response involved a kind of play-acting that emulated the characters and conventions of chivalric romance”[92]. Henry was indulging in chivalric play-acting for the first time, but the sophisticated fifteen-year-old Margaret was more experienced. At the age of thirteen “she had an admirer in the courtly tradition: Pierre de Brézé, Seneschal of Anjou, [who] had conceived an entirely proper and chivalrous passion for her, and carried her colours at jousts, calling himself her ‘Chevalier Servant’”[93]. The gallant Pierre would continue to feature in her life after her marriage.

Margaret was crowned in Westminster Abbey on 30th May 1445. “The pageants that were then staged as the queen made her way into the city from Southwark, the emblems that were displayed, the themes stressed and the addresses delivered, all descanted on the theme of peace and the hope that the Anglo-French conflict would soon end. Queen Margaret was identified as the dove of concord”[94]. Henry’s desire for peace coincided with Margaret’s desire to see French lands returned to the French – namely her father and uncle – and she was soon lobbying for this cause. A letter from Henry to his uncle Charles shows that, in the first year of her marriage she was already exerting pressure on her husband to advance the peace process by surrendering Maine: “our most dear and well-beloved companion the queen, who has requested us to do this many times”[95], he wrote. This is confirmed by Margaret’s own letter to her uncle in which she confided that “we will, upon our part, stretch forth the hand, and will employ ourselves herein effectually to our power in such wise that reason would that you, and all other, ought herein to be gratified. And as to the deliverance which you desire of the county of Maine… we will do for your pleasure the best that we can do, as we have always done”[96].

In a footnote in her biography of Margaret, Helen Maurer notes that a number of historians have concluded that, in the diplomatic arena, Margaret was an “unwitting tool because of her inexperience…[and they] doubt her real influence because of her youth”[97] and Griffiths talks of her exerting “girlish pressure on her husband”[98]. Margaret was indeed only fifteen when she married Henry, however, in an age when life expectancy was short, young people assumed an adult role at an early age. As historian Ian Mortimer, writing as a time traveller in the middle ages, states: “Half of all adults die before they reach fifty…Life expectancy at birth can be as low as eighteen… the majority of medieval people are relatively young. Between thirty-five and forty per cent [are] under fifteen… A woman is in her prime at seventeen, mature at twenty-five and growing old by her mid-thirties”[99].

As an example of precocious medieval youth Ian Mortimer cites the Black Prince (Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales) who commanded a battalion at the Battle of Crécy when he was only sixteen. Further examples can be found among Margaret’s contemporaries: her husband had reached his majority at fifteen; Margaret Beaufort gave birth to the future Henry VII when she was thirteen; the future Edward IV was a battle-hardened warrior of eighteen when his victory at Mortimer’s Cross brought him the English crown; and Joan of Arc’s impressive career ended with her death at the age of nineteen.

By her own admission, the adolescent Margaret did her best to exert her influence over her malleable husband and played her part in the cession of Maine, which was eventually returned to the French, despite fierce opposition from Henry’s English subjects, in March 1448. Before this could be accomplished it was necessary to remove Henry’s uncle, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester from his position of influence with the king. “Brash, opinionated and demagogic [Humphrey] refused to admit the weakness of the English in France”[100] and was strongly opposed to a policy of appeasement. Following Margaret’s arrival at the English court Humphrey found himself increasingly marginalised. According to the later chronicler Polydore Vergil: “This woman [Margaret], when she perceived the king her husband to do nothing of his own head but to rule wholly by Duke of Gloucester’s advice, (determined) to take upon herself that charge and little by little, deprive the duke of his great authority. (For she feared) she also might be reported to have little wit if she allowed her husband… to remain under another man’s government”[101]. Humphrey was arrested for treason on 20th February 1447 and died in custody three days later.

Richard Duke of York, who presented another obstacle to peace, was not reappointed lieutenant of France when his commission expired in 1445. He was replaced by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset who was appointed lieutenant of France in December 1446 while Richard was ordered to Ireland. “His [Richard’s] appointment as King’s Lieutenant in Ireland in 1447 was one which he had to accept only with reluctance and regarded as tantamount to banishment”[102]. Richard was further marginalised by the promotion of other members of Henry’s extended family. “Through marriages and noble creations, Henry VI advanced members of the Beaufort, Holland and Stafford families to positions of favour, and chose to ignore the Duke of York as a possible heir to the throne”[103].

Richard delayed his departure for Ireland until 1449, no doubt hoping for a change in the political situation in England. However, once there he showed himself to be an able administrator and politician, earning the respect of the local Irish and the Anglo-Irish earls. His popularity in Ireland would stand him in good stead when he was forced to take refuge there following the Yorkist retreat from Ludford Bridge in 1459. “His supporters controlled the country, and the Irish parliament ordered the arrest and execution of a royal messenger who arrived with writs against Richard”[104].

Cardinal Beaufort’s death, just over a month after the untimely demise of his nephew, Humphrey of Gloucester, relieved Henry and his young French wife of the burden of experienced council. Margaret was free to use her influence to promote favoured lords to more prominent positions. William de la Pole who had acted as the king’s representative in the betrothal/marriage celebrations in France was created Earl of Pembroke in 1447 and Duke of Suffolk in 1448. He was also appointed Chamberlain and Admiral of England.

As Suffolk’s power grew, he became increasingly unpopular with the English people. He was held responsible for the unfavourable and costly French marriage, the loss of English territory in France and the death of “Good Duke Humphrey”. “In February 1450 mounting discontent at failure in France and misgovernment at home resulted in the impeachment of Suffolk by the Commons in Parliament and … he was duly condemned… he was only saved from almost certain execution by the king hastily sentencing him to five years’ banishment instead. While in the very act of sailing into exile at the beginning of May, however, Suffolk’s ship was intercepted, the duke seized and his head peremptorily lopped off…Soon afterwards, as rumour spread through the county that, at Saye’s [Baron Saye and Sele, Lord High Treasurer] suggestion, Kent was to be turned into a ‘wild forest’ in retaliation for Suffolk’s death, rebellion once more broke out there”[105].

Jack Cade’s rebellion began in early June 1450 when “50,000 men of Kent rose in rebellion, choosing as their captain the most impudent and clever man calling himself John Mortimer”[106]. The name Mortimer was evidently chosen to symbolise the rebels’ support for Richard of York who was descended from Edward III’s third son through his mother Anne Mortimer. The rebels proclaimed a list of grievances and demanded that: “the king should take about his noble person men of his true blood from his royal realm, that is to say, the high and mighty prince the Duke of York, exiled from our sovereign lord’s presence by the machinations of the false traitor the Duke of Suffolk and his affinity”[107].

The rebels occupied and looted London, taking bloody revenge on those they deemed oppressors[108] and terrorising the citizens for a few days, before running out of steam and dispersing on the promise of a pardon. During the rebellion Margaret sent Henry to safety in the midlands[109] while she remained in her palace at Greenwich and took command of the situation. In a shrewd move, worthy of the granddaughter of Yolande of Aragon, Margaret interceded on the rebels’ behalf and is presented as a peacemaker in the pardon’s preamble. The pardon secured; the rebels dispersed – thirty-four of them were subsequently executed. Jack Cade/John Mortimer was killed on 12th July, while resisting arrest and his severed head displayed on London Bridge.

There is no evidence that Richard, who returned from Ireland in September 1450, was involved in Cade’s Rebellion, or in the murder of his enemy Suffolk, but rumours to this effect were widely circulated and no doubt believed by Margaret. “Not surprisingly Margaret regarded the duke askance. She wanted to limit his influence and identified in his actions malign intentions that perhaps did not exist”[110]. Richard was not allowed to profit from Suffolk’s death as the position of royal favourite was now occupied by Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Somerset was, like Suffolk, identified with Henry’s unpopular policy towards France, which had led to the significant loss of English territory. Nonetheless, after Christmas 1450 “the Duke of Somerset became captain of Calais and most familiar with the king, so that he controlled everything, both within the royal household and outside it”[111].

Kept from the king’s presence by a mistrustful queen, Richard remained marginalised and overlooked in Henry’s administration, and his supporters did nothing to allay Margaret’s suspicions: In May 1451 “Thomas Young of Bristol, apprentice at law, moved that, because the king as yet had no offspring, it would promote the security of the kingdom if he openly established who was his heir apparent. And he nominated the Duke of York. For this reason, he was afterwards committed to the Tower of London”[112].

Thomas Young had highlighted the problem which threatened the survival of the Lancastrian dynasty: In 1451, six years after their marriage, Henry and Margaret were still childless and the throne was without an heir. As historian Diana Dunn points out:

“The essential duty of a queen was to produce a male heir as quickly as possible to ensure the continuity of the dynasty”[113] and in this Margaret had singularly failed. The elaborate celebrations surrounding their nuptials presaged a golden future for Margaret as a mother of kings but without a son her position was precarious. To make matters worse the union of Richard of York and Cecily Neville had proved particularly fertile. Cecily bore a total of twelve children[114] and her remarkable fecundity cannot have helped reconcile Margaret to her childless state. She could, however, console herself that Cecily’s children had bastard blood in their veins. The royal blood line was sacred, it determined a monarch’s divine right to rule and any taint of illegitimacy rendered the line impure. Richard’s royal credentials were impeccable but Cecily’s were not. Cecily’s mother was a Beaufort and the Beauforts were the children of the adulterous relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford which had been the cause célèbre of the late 14th century.

John of Gaunt and Katherine had begun their affair in the early 1370s around the time of his “dynastic marriage” to his second wife, Constance of Castile. Katherine had probably been widowed shortly before they embarked on their relationship; nonetheless, scandalised contemporary commentators accused the couple of double adultery[115]. His elder brothers having pre-deceased their father, John was Edward III’s eldest surviving son and second in line to the throne when the king died and John’s ten-year-old nephew, Richard II, ascended the throne in 1377. In the early years of Richard’s reign John wielded considerable political power which inevitably made him unpopular, to the extent that he became the main target of the mob’s anger during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. The “contentious relationship” between Gaunt and Katherine “had formed a significant part of the rebels’ issue with Gaunt, whom they chastised for being weak and blinded by desire”[116]. Consequently, Gaunt broke off the relationship, while providing for Katherine and their four acknowledged children, who were given the surname Beaufort. The couple kept their distance until the death of Gaunt’s wife, Constance, enabled them to marry in 1396.

The following year the Beaufort children were legitimised by the Pope and the English parliament and were thenceforth recognised as members of the royal family. The eldest son, John, now in his mid-twenties, was immediately created Earl of Somerset and Henry was able to embark on his glittering career in the church. Thomas was welcomed to court and given a grounding in military and diplomatic affairs which would enable him to play a leading role in the successive administrations of his half-brother Henry IV and nephew, Henry V. Joan Beaufort, the youngest of John and Katherine’s children, was seventeen when her parents finally celebrated their nuptials on 13th January, 1396. By December she too was married to the powerful lord of the northern marches, Ralph Neville who was created the 1st Earl of Westmorland in September the following year.

Advantageous marriages were arranged for all Joan Beaufort and Ralph Neville’s children: their eldest son, Richard Neville became Earl of Salisbury by his marriage to Alice, daughter and heir of Thomas Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, and his son, Joan’s grandson, Richard (kingmaker) acquired his title from his marriage to Anne, daughter and heir of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Joan and Ralph’s second son, William Lord Fauconberg had his title from his marriage to the daughter of Thomas, Lord Fauconberg, who had been declared an idiot from birth[117]. Three other sons “secured heiresses to baronies, becoming Lords St Maur, Latimer and Bergavenny while four daughters were contracted to the Dukes of Buckingham, Norfolk and York and the Earl of Northumberland… Robert, the churchman of the family became first Bishop of Salisbury and then Bishop of Durham”[118].

After Henry IV deposed his nephew and seized the throne in 1399 his Beaufort half-siblings continued to prosper. Their legitimacy was confirmed by a further Act of 10th February 1407. Although this repeated the wording of the original Act, three important words were added to the text: “excepta dignitate regali, or except to the royal dignity”[119], thus, while legitimised, the Beauforts were barred from the royal succession. Everyone knew that the Beauforts had been born out of wedlock and this exclusion could be used by their opponents to question the purity of their royal blood. Margaret who, like her father, took an immense pride in her royal bloodline would inevitably use the issue of the Beauforts’ legitimacy to slander York’s heirs[120], particularly after the legitimacy of her own son was questioned by Yorkist propagandists. It is ironic that the last “Lancastrian” claimant, Henry “Tudor”, could only claim royal descent through the Beaufort line, as the great-grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford’s eldest son[121].

With her Yorkist rivals establishing a dynasty, it is unsurprising that Margaret should have cast aspersions on Cecily’s bloodline, especially as Richard of York’s royal pedigree made him next in line to the throne should Margaret not produce an heir.  Richard, who had been orphaned by his father’s execution in 1415, was brought up by Joan Beaufort in the Neville household and betrothed to her daughter in 1424 when he was 13 and Cecily was nine. Like all the marriages Joan arranged, it was a good match as Richard had inherited the lands and title of his paternal uncle Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York who died at Agincourt in 1415. On the death of his maternal uncle, Edmund Mortimer, in 1425, Richard also inherited the Earldom of March, making him the richest and most powerful noble in England. As heir to the Mortimer and Cambridge claims to the throne, Richard might have been expected to hold a prominent position on the king’s council but he was overlooked in favour of Somerset who, as a descendant of the Beaufort line which had been barred from inheriting the throne, did not represent a direct threat to the Lancastrian monarchy.

“York remained a political outsider… Early in 1452, having failed to make progress by constitutional means … Richard of York resorted to armed force and Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset was clearly his prime target… York marched towards London. Denied entry to the capital on the king’s orders, he made for his estates in north Kent and, at the beginning of March, drew up his army at Brent Heath, near Dartford… Probably realizing he was seriously outnumbered… York promptly entered into negotiations and apparently believing Somerset would now be committed to custody and required to answer charges of incompetence and mis governance in both France and England, came to the king’s tent and surrendered: however, not only did Somerset remain at liberty but York, finding himself virtually a prisoner, had to swear a solemn and public oath of allegiance of Henry VI at St. Paul’s on 10 March, promising never again to ‘make any assembly of your people without your command or licence’”[122].

York once again found himself in the political wilderness but he was not alone in his dislike and mistrust of Somerset and in 1453 he formed an alliance with his powerful in-laws, the Nevilles: Cecily’s older brother, Richard Earl of Salisbury and his son Richard Earl of Warwick. Another member of this alliance was John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk who was married to Cecily’s older sister Katherine. At the November 1453 parliament the Duke of Norfolk presented a petition demanding Somerset’s impeachment for the loss of Normandy and Gascony, and Somerset was sent to the Tower. This time Henry could do nothing to shield his one-time favourite as the king had suffered his first attack of cataleptic insanity, in August 1453, just two months before Margaret gave birth to their only son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales on 13th October 1453.

“One may imagine her [Margaret’s] concern at the utter helplessness of the king’s condition and the threat which this posed not only to Somerset, but also to herself as a French-born consort and, even more important, to her son, on whom alone rested the future of the dynasty. Steeled in the matriarchal society of the Angevin court, where her mother and grandmother had at times assumed power in default of the males of the family, and familiar perhaps with the French habit of appointing queens as regent, Margaret resolved to lay claim herself to the regency of England”[123].

Margaret’s petition to have the “hole reule of this land”[124] was rejected and on 3rd April 1454 Richard was appointed “protector of England during the king’s illness or until Prince Edward came of age”[125]. His brother in law, Salisbury had become chancellor the day before. Richard’s first protectorate lasted less than a year during which time he proved to be an effective ruler, intervening in disputes between powerful members of the nobility and providing an effective administration. Somerset remained in custody and Richard exacted no revenge on his enemy, showing a level of restraint which would be in marked contrast to Margaret’s vindictive behaviour when their positions were reversed.

On Christmas Day 1454 Henry recovered his sanity. On 9th February 1455 he ended Richard’s protectorate. The Chronicon Angliae records that once the king “recovered his physical and mental health, and resumed the government of the kingdom, he immediately released the Dukes of Somerset and Exeter, and the Earl of Devon, from prison [as a result of which] Richard Earl of Salisbury resigned the chancellorship. The king, on impulse, created Thomas Bourchier Archbishop of Canterbury chancellor of England. The Duke of York, and the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury, finding these changes unacceptable, left the royal household and council without either permission or formality, determined not to obey the king’s commands until such time as they had enough forces and supporters to oust those lords so much higher in royal favour (than they)”[126].

Having gathered their forces, York, Salisbury and Warwick assembled at St. Albans on 22nd May 1455 where they confronted the king’s army led by Somerset and the Duke of Buckingham. In the subsequent skirmish Somerset, and a number of his supporters were killed and the wounded king was effectively taken prisoner. Protesting their loyalty to the king, York, Salisbury and Warwick accompanied him back to London. Henry was still king, only his advisors had changed. The malleable monarch having played the puppet for, in turn, Gloucester, Cardinal Beaufort, Suffolk, Somerset and always for Margaret, was now in the hands of York and the Nevilles.

Henry went into decline and in November 1455 Richard resumed his office as protector of the realm, Salisbury was reappointed chancellor and Warwick became captain of Calais. Margaret removed the court to the midlands, where Henry had given her manors and estates on her arrival in England as a dowerless bride, and where she enjoyed considerable support. She was joined by the sons of the nobles killed at St. Albans; among them the 19-year-old Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset who had been wounded on the battlefield where his father met his death and 20-year-old John Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford who would become better known as Black-faced Clifford and The Butcher after his murder of York’s young son, the Earl of Rutland, at the battle of Wakefield in 1460.

Margaret was now surrounded by nobles who thirsted for revenge. “The king may have forgiven them and parliament whitewashed them for St. Albans, but others had not and were not to be denied vengeance… The heirs of the dead lords, the new Duke of Somerset, Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford now wanted revenge for their fathers’ deaths”[127]. An anti-York/Neville alliance had been formed with Margaret at its head. Historian Anthony Gross opines: “That the fundamental intention of Margaret… was the outright destruction of those who had engaged in treasonable activity by accroaching the royal power there is, of course, no doubt”[128].

Contemporary chronicler, Thomas Gascoigne noted that: “When the duke of York was appointed protector of the realm, Queen Margaret laboured so much herself and through other lords, who were considered the bad lords in the realm, that the duke gave up his authority”[129]. Richard’s second protectorate lasted only three months and “on 25 February 1456, perhaps at Margaret of Anjou’s urging, Henry VI came to Parliament in person and formally dispensed with his [York’s] services”[130].

Richard was soon employed at the head of the king’s army in the north of England. In May 1456 James II of Scotland renounced the truce he had made with England and began raiding over the border. York’s success in dealing with the incursions served to increase his popularity. “In a society that associated kingliness with martial prowess, York’s military presence in the north and his bellicose posturing demonstrated nothing so much as his own fitness in contrast to the unprepossessing Henry”[131].

To counter York’s growing popularity Margaret and Henry, together with their young son, Edward of Westminster, embarked on a tour of the midlands which was conducted as public relations exercise on behalf of the house of Lancaster. The tour took in Herefordshire, a county where York and Warwick had considerable land holdings, as did the queen. The court’s “sojourn upon the Welsh borders had an excellent effect, the burgesses and gentlemen about Hereford all declaring themselves ready to take the King’s part unless peace were made”[132]. Herefordians would fight on both sides in the coming hostilities.

Margaret had learnt the importance of “putting on a show” from the master of pageant and display, her father René. The court’s progress, a grand spectacle symbolising royal power and authority, ended in Coventry in September 1456 where pageants were staged which employed religious allegory to underline the divine right of kings. But it was the queen and her young son who were at the centre of the display whose “theme was a celebration of powerful queenly motherhood… [and] compared Margaret and her son explicitly to the Virgin Mary and Christ”[133].

The Yorkists responded to the propaganda offensive by spreading propaganda of their own. The aura of divine majesty which Margaret evoked for her cause rested on her son’s legitimacy and impeccable royal blood-line. York’s supporters spread rumours that Edward was not, in fact Henry’s son – a rumour which was given weight by Henry’s declaration on first seeing his son “that the boy must be the son of the Holy Spirit”[134]. The English Chronicle recorded that “The queen was defamed and denounced, that he who was called prince was not her son but a bastard conceived in adultery”[135].

The rumours did nothing to improve Margaret’s popularity with the discontented population in the south east but, moving the court to Coventry, she set about reasserting royal authority in a manner familiar to French kings and members of her family: with pomp and intrigue. In the years following the first battle of St. Albans, Margaret “deliberately sought to build up political support for the Lancastrian dynasty there [the midlands] and in the north-west, perhaps with the central aim of eliminating the Yorkist lords (not compromising with them). At a council held in Coventry in October 1456, a considerable and sustained verbal attack was launched on Richard of York, several moderates were dismissed from office and replaced by hardliners whose prime loyalty was to the queen and, arguably, what amounted to a political coup by the queen and her supporters ensured that York and his Neville allies became even more isolated than before”[136].

Not only were the Yorkists isolated, their lives were in now in danger. Following the Coventry council York and Warwick narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of Somerset and Clifford. Discretion being the better part of valour, York retired to his estates around Ludlow and Warwick took up his post as Captain of Calais “which the Court had left to him as the furthest Royal estate from the heart of England’s governance”[137].

Further confrontation between the queen and the Yorkists now seemed inevitable and Margaret began marshalling her forces. It was only natural that she should turn to her French relations for assistance. The small French entourage Margaret had brought with her to England, as a dowerless bride, had been augmented over the ensuing years and she numbered several Angevins among her ladies in waiting[138]. Through them she discretely maintained contact with her old friends and family in France and by 1457 she “was hoping to arrange a new peace treaty with France, so that she could call on her uncle, Charles VII, for military aid if necessary”[139].

Margaret’s father, René, was fully aware of the problems his daughter was facing and the threat posed by the Yorkists to his grandson’s inheritance. According to the contemporary Picard chronicler, Mathieu d’Escouchy: “The king of Sicily [René] and… Charles count of Maine [René’s brother] persuaded king Charles to put together a great army to go into England to help the king of Scotland against York who coveted the English crown”[140].

On 28th August 1457 a force of four thousand men, under the command of Margaret’s old admirer, Pierre de Brézé attacked Sandwich, overwhelming the defenders, raping and killing the inhabitants, looting and finally setting fire to the town. To add insult to injury the French were seen playing tennis in the smouldering ruins. The English were outraged and it was widely rumoured that Margaret was behind the unprovoked attack. It does indeed seem unlikely that de Brézé, the admirer of Margaret’s youth and ever a faithful servant of the house of Anjou, who would serve as Margaret’s chief military commander in 1460s, would have undertaken the raid if he had not believed he had Margaret’s support.

If Margaret had hoped that the French attack would cow her enemies into submission, she had miscalculated as she was to do time and again in her dealings with her English subjects. After twelve years on the English throne Margaret remained a French princess with little understanding of the culture and character of the people she ruled, who were outraged by the unprovoked attack on Sandwich. “The humiliation, as much as the material loss, hurt English pride and the involvement of the Queen and the supineness of the Home Fleet of which the Duke of Exeter [Henry Holland], leading Lancastrian and Lord High Admiral, was nominally the leader did much to harm the cause of the Court”[141].

Perhaps Margaret had hoped that the attack on Sandwich would discredit Warwick who, as Captain of Calais, did nothing to prevent the French raid, but once again she had miscalculated. Warwick escaped criticism and a couple of months later, in October 1457 he was appointed Keeper of the Seas by the king’s council. On his arrival in Calais the previous year he had found the garrison sorely in need of funds and when none were forthcoming, he had taken to the seas and embarked on a career as a pirate. In the summer of 1458, he successfully attacked three foreign fleets and his victories, against apparently overwhelming odds, did much to restore national pride after the sacking of Sandwich. It also earned him a martial reputation and gained more supporters to the Yorkist cause.

While Warwick set about replenishing the Yorkists’ coffers through piracy, Margaret built up a Lancastrian army in anticipation of the coming confrontation. “The Queen introduced conscription; a measure hitherto employed in Western Europe only by the kings of France. That December [1457] she dispatched commissions of array to every shire, empowering the sheriffs to demand that every village, township and hamlet, according to its population and wealth, and as soon as she gave the command, provide the King with a number of able-bodied archers at its own expense, in order to defend the realm against the Yorkists”[142].

Civil war seemed inevitable but Henry, indulging in possibly the only independent action of his reign, finally took steps to avert confrontation. Summoning York, Salisbury and Warwick to a council at Westminster he made them agree to compensate the Lancastrian lords for their losses at St. Albans. Then, on 25th March 1458, Henry led the rival lords in a “Loveday” procession to St. Paul’s. It was a pantomime of peace and few could have seriously have believed that the rapprochement would last.

The Lancastrian lords and their queen were still plotting their revenge on York and the Nevilles and saw their chance when Warwick overstepped the bounds of “legitimate” piracy and attacked the Hanseatic salt fleet on July 29th 1458. “The Hanse merchants naturally complained to the council, which in November, 1458, ordered Warwick to resign his captaincy, intending to replace him with the incapable duke of Somerset. The earl came to London to answer the charges and, proving adamant, was set on by retainers of Wiltshire and Somerset as he left the council chamber; his opponents described it as an accident but Warwick was doubtless more nearly right in calling it attempted murder”[143].

Warwick had now narrowly escaped two assassination attempts and could be in no doubt about the queen’s intentions. His experience at court led him to remark that: “our king is stupid and out of his mind; he does not rule but is ruled. The government is in the hands of the queen and her paramours”[144]. He returned to Calais “pausing only to send news to York and his father of what had occurred and warning that they would doubtless be the next targets of the Queen’s malice”[145].

From this time the Yorkists were completely excluded from government. Warwick was in Calais, engaged in negotiations with the Duke of Burgundy; his father, Salisbury was defending his northern lands against the incursions of the Lancastrian Percys from his stronghold of Middleham; and Richard of York was holed up at Ludlow with his family. Margaret, having showed her hand by Warwick’s attempted murder, was now preparing for war: “Late in 1458 she left London and during the following months travelled through Cheshire and Lancashire, cultivating support among the nobility and gentry and recruiting men”[146].

Margaret realised that it would be difficult to whip up support for her unprepossessing husband who had retreated from the political arena and was increasingly devoting himself to prayer and piety. Instead she rallied Lancastrians to her son, Edward Prince of Wales. Making the five-year-old prince the focus of support, Margaret distributed his personal livery of the swan to anyone who would swear loyalty to Edward. “By implication livery indicated adherence to the cause of that person or house. Worn by large numbers it could present a dramatic visual expression of political force. When Margaret of Anjou… made her son, Edward Prince of Wales, distribute livery blazoned with the Lancastrian swan badge… it was in the firm, but misguided hope that it would rally support for him and actively strengthen her political aims”[147].

By choosing a swan for her son’s badge, Margaret evoked the memory of his illustrious ancestors. Henry IV, Edward’s great-grandfather, who had seized the throne for the house of Lancaster, had adopted the swan as a heraldic cognizance on his marriage to Mary de Bohun in 1380. The swan was the emblem of the de Bohun family who were earls of Hereford. The emblem passed to Henry IV’s son: “The Prince of Wales had two swans, statant, collared and chained, and each holding in its mouth an ostrich-feather, fixed in a scroll. These swans are placed on either side of the shield, and have been cited as the earliest examples of royal ‘supporters’”[148].

Prince Edward’s father, Henry VI, had adopted a chained antelope and spotted panther as his ‘supporters’. However, Margaret chose the swan as the emblem for their son, identifying him as heir to his grandfather, Henry V, the hero of Agincourt, rather than his pious and inept father. The swan was thus a potent symbol and, while the use of badges to distinguish noble or royal retainers was not new, such a large-scale distribution of a heraldic emblem had never before been seen in England. Margaret had learnt the value of heraldic symbolism from Prince Edward’s other grandfather René who, a decade earlier, had founded the Order of the Crescent as a means of maintaining control over of the scattered territories which comprised his apanage[149]. Margaret now enrolled supporters into the livery of the swan in a propaganda offensive in defence of her son’s inheritance which she was convinced was under threat[150].

Margaret’s mistrust and hostility had effectively exiled York and his Neville supporters from the court and, following her successful recruiting campaign in the midlands, she judged the time right to move against them and secure the Lancastrian succession. To this end she arranged for a great council to meet at Coventry in June 1459. York and his supporters were pointedly excluded and “there, at the urging of the queen, all the absent lords were indicted”[151]. It was recorded in a contemporary chronicle that “the Duke of York and the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury saw that the governance of the realm was exercised mostly by the queen and her council, while the great princes of the land were not called to the council but set apart. [Also] it was proclaimed through the realm that these lords should be destroyed utterly… for it is here to be noted that no lord in England at this time dare disobey the queen, for she ruled all that was done about the king, who was a good, simple and innocent man”[152].

With York and his Neville in-laws now officially in disgrace, bands of Lancastrians began to raid their estates with impunity. Richard with his wife and family, under direct threat at Ludlow castle, sent word to his brother-in-law, Salisbury and nephew Warwick appealing for assistance. While Salisbury mustered his army and marched south to the rendezvous, Warwick crossed from Calais with 600 men, leaving his uncle, Lord Fauconberg in charge of the garrison.

Warwick landed in Kent in August and proceeded to London where he issued a proclamation declaring his loyalty to the king. He then marched his forces to the midlands, narrowly missing a confrontation with an army led by the Duke of Somerset at Coleshill. Warwick’s father, Salisbury was not so fortunate on his march south and on 23rd September found himself facing the queen’s army at Blore Heath.

Salisbury, a sixty-year-old veteran of the French wars and numerous campaigns on the Scottish border, was at the head of a large force of 3-4000 men but was outnumbered by the queen’s army of 6-12,000 under the command of James Touchet Lord Audley and Lord John Dudley. Salisbury took up a defensive position, setting his men to work digging trenches and drawing up the baggage wagons. He then encouraged the queen’s army to attack, across the boggy ground of Wemberton brook, by feigning a retreat. His patient strategy paid off as the impetuous Audley charged into a hail of arrows. Audley was killed and his followers fled causing confusion among Dudley’s troops who were advancing to assist Audley. Dudley was captured as a number of the queen’s troops deserted to Salisbury’s camp. “With Dudley wounded and captured, the discipline of Lancaster’s arms collapsed and the men of York enjoyed a pursuit lasting until dark, raising the eventual death-toll to 2,000 with many Swan Liverymen numbered amongst them, including five newly-dubbed Knights of the Order”[153].

Salisbury’s cautious strategy had won him a victory against the superior Lancastrian army and earned him the respectful nick-name “Prudence” among Yorkist propagandists and balladeers[154]. He continued to exercise caution, leading his army from the battlefield under cover of darkness, entrusting his cannon “to an Augustinian friar, who agreed to fire them off intermittently throughout the night, leading the Lancastrians to believe that the Yorkists were still encamped on Blore Heath. They did not discover the truth until the next morning, when the King and Queen rode over at the head of their army, determined to surprise Salisbury’s force. All they found was the deserted camp, the frightened friar, and the battlefield strewn with corpses”[155].

Salisbury led his army south and rendezvoused with Warwick and York at Worcester, where they attended mass in the cathedral and signed an indenture in which they re-confirmed their loyalty to the king while binding themselves “by faith to aid and succour one another… A copy of the indenture was taken to the king by the prior of Worcester cathedral… not so much to threaten Henry as to warn him of the desperate measures the Yorkist lords were compelled to take for their own protection in the face of the intense hostility from those who ruled the kingdom”[156]. A further message was carried to the king by the Garter King-of-Arms while the Yorkists retreated to Ludlow to await the king’s response.

Henry pursued them slowly, at the head of a formidable army of around 40,000 men[157]. By October 9th he had reached Leominster and it is reasonable to suppose that some of the Lancastrian tenantry of Ashperton, fifteen miles distant, were among the recruits who flocked to the royal standard. With the Yorkists in retreat, plans were made for their ultimate destruction and a decision taken to summon a parliament to Coventry on 20th November where York and his supporters would be attainted as traitors. The king and his army then moved on to Ludlow.

On the road to Ludlow the king gave his response to the Yorkists’ appeal by offering a pardon from which Salisbury was excluded. The terms were humiliating and the proposed pardon a token gesture; with it the king made a show of magnanimity while the terms, no doubt dictated by the queen, made it impossible for the Yorkists to accept. They were left with no alternative as armed confrontation now seemed inevitable. On 12th October, 1459 York deployed his army at Ludford Bridge outside Ludlow and dug in to await the arrival of the king’s army.

In addition to his Neville relatives, York was joined by his two eldest sons, seventeen-year-old Edward Earl of March and sixteen-year-old Edmund Earl of Rutland, and his sister’s sons, John and Edward Bourchier. The Yorkist army was greatly outnumbered by the Lancastrians who had the additional advantage of fighting under the royal standard. Understanding his troops’ reluctance to take up arms against the king, York is said to have circulated a rumour that the king was dead but this failed to boost morale and on the night of 12th October 600 men under the command of the captain of the Calais garrison, Andrew Trollope, deserted to the king’s army.

A Yorkist defeat was now inevitable and rather than face certain death the leaders slipped away: York and Rutland to Ireland; Salisbury, Warwick and March to Calais. “When day came the leaderless men surrendered and most of them were pardoned”[158]. The Yorkist town of Ludlow bore the brunt of the frustrated Lancastrian army’s aggression. According to the contemporary English Chronicle: “The toune of Ludlow, longyne thanne to the duk of York, was robbed to the bare walles, and the noble duches of York, unmanly and cruelly was entreted and spoyled”[159].

It is unlikely that the mild and gentle king ordered the sack of Ludlow and it would have been totally out of character for him to condone the mistreatment of York’s wife. Clearly Margaret now ruled in the king’s name and had little sympathy for Cecily’s plight. Margaret was convinced that it was York’s aim to usurp the throne and make himself king and this would make Cecily queen. Consequently, Margaret viewed Cecily as a rival and following her ordeal during the sack of Ludlow, York’s wife was kept under constant surveillance. Cecily and her younger children were committed to the care of her brother-in-law, the Duke of Buckingham while Margaret made preparations for the Coventry Parliament where Cecily would be forced to witness the dispossession and utter humiliation of the house of York.

The “Parliament of Devils” which met in Coventry from 20th November to 20th December 1459 was composed entirely of Lancastrian supporters and its principal function was to pass a bill of attainder against the Yorkists. As Professor Griffiths points out, this represented “the culmination of three years of political and military planning by Queen Margaret and the court she dominated. Her burning desire to humble the Yorkist lords and ultimately treat them as rebels and traitors was about to be fulfilled”[160].

An exhaustive list of charges against the Yorkists was drawn up by Margaret and a committee of staunch Lancastrians. “The forms of law were observed in full, but the presence on the drafting committee of [Sir Thomas] Tuddenham’s crony John Heydon betrays the partisan spirit in which it was framed”[161]. York was charged with conspiring with Jack Cade “to get himself advanced to the crown”[162]; raising an army against the king at Dartford; forming a confederacy with the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury; and refusing the king’s pardon. Salisbury was charged with taking up arms against the king’s men and killing Lord Audley at Blore Heath. York, Salisbury, Warwick, March, Rutland and York’s nephews John and Edward Bourchier and a number of other knights were charged with assembling to do battle against the king at Ludford and York was further charged with making a pretence to his army that the king was dead. “For these and many other causes the said Duke, Earls and others were attained of Treason by Parliament, and noted Traitors to the king and kingdom… And all and singular hereditaments &c. of the said duke, and others, attainted, in Fee or Fee-Tail were adjudged to be forfeited to the Crown; and the Heirs disinherited to the Nineth Generation”[163].

Cecily was forced to witness the utter destruction of her family as her husband, two eldest sons, her elder brother, and three nephews[164] were declared traitors and her other children disinherited. The Yorkists had lost everything and their lives were forfeit. The disinheritance of their heirs to the ninth generation was particularly severe and effectively extinguished the house of York. Had they been present they would each have suffered a traitor’s death and their severed heads would have been displayed on the city walls. But York and Rutland were in Ireland, Salisbury, Warwick and March in Calais and Margaret would have to wait till York’s defeat at Wakefield on 30th December 1460 for her bloody trophies[165].

Margaret was triumphant and vindictive. It is inconceivable that the daughter of the master of the art of visual propaganda, René of Anjou, would not have sought to commemorate York’s disgrace and her victory with some kind of monument. She had already demonstrated her understanding of heraldic symbolism when she adopted the swan badge for her son, and it is more than likely that she would have chosen heraldic symbolism to mark York’s disgrace. At a time when the nobility valued their coats of arms as highly as their family name[166] an ignoble coat of arms would be the perfect monument to York’s defeat. The heraldic symbolism of the Ashperton Arms strongly suggests that it was carved for this purpose: to commemorate Margaret’s victory over the house of York in December 1459.


Herefordshire was a divided county during the English civil war of the 15th century. To the north-west lay the Yorkist strongholds of Wigmore and Weobley, while to the south-east Ashperton formed part of the Duchy of Lancaster. The village of Ashperton was a staging post on the major trade route which had linked England and Wales since Roman times (now the A417), and it was down this road that Richard might have been expected to return from exile in Ireland.

There could be no doubt the Yorkists would return. The terms of the attainder passed against them by the Parliament of Devils left them with no alternative but to fight for their children’s inheritance[167]. Henry had reserved the right to issue pardons to the “traitors” but it was clear that Margaret’s enmity could only be assuaged by their deaths. From the safety of their strongholds in Ireland and Calais[168] the Yorkists were indeed making preparations for their return and Margaret was determined that the Lancastrian forces would be ready to meet them.

The day after the Parliament of Devils broke up, on 21st December 1459 commissions of array were issued and pamphlets distributed justifying the proscription of the Yorkists[169]. Margaret was waging a propaganda offensive against her enemies which, in the absence of their severed heads, would have naturally extended to the commissioning of monuments to their disgrace. The carvings would have been completed three months later when “a second flurry of commissions primarily involving the southern and midland counties authorized their recipients ‘to call together and lead all persons … able to labour… to resist the rebels’ as soon as they entered the realm”[170].

Various experts[171] have stated that the Ashperton Arms would originally have been brightly painted or enamelled in the style of Margaret’s father’s Stemma of René of Anjou, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A colourful monument mounted on the village green, at the side of the road, where a cross now stands, would have acted as a warning to travellers that they were entering Lancastrian territory where the Yorkists’ lives were forfeit. It would also have acted as a rallying point for Lancastrian villagers who would have recognised the heraldic symbolism it employed and, no doubt, laughed at the mocking caricatures of the Yorkist nobility.

Over half a millennium later it is difficult to interpret all the symbols inscribed in the monument but the central figure can be identified as Richard Duke of York: The reversed arms are Plantagenet, except that the lions are menacing. According to historian Helen Maurer, Richard had adopted the surname a few years after Margaret’s marriage to Henry. “Since it formerly had been used by Geoffrey of Anjou, the father of Henry II, its allusions to a superior royal descent ‘must have been particularly offensive to Margaret of Anjou’”[172]. Margaret had her revenge by reversing the royal arms, which Richard had presumed to adopt, to show that he had been condemned as a traitor.

The royal arms on the Ashperton shield are reversed along the vertical axis as, to a 15th century audience, upturned royal arms would have symbolised the death of the king. The presence of a living king at the head of his army had secured Lancastrian victory at Ludford after soldiers deserted from the Yorkist ranks, unwilling to take up arms against their monarch. Henry, despite his general incompetence, was such an important figurehead that York (according to the charges for which he was condemned): “made a pretence to the army that the king was dead, for whose soul mass was said publicly in the said Duke’s camp”[173]. Clearly, a widespread belief in Henry’s death would do irreparable damage to the Lancastrian cause. His son was still a child and, despite Margaret’s extensive public relations campaign on his behalf, it was evident that the six-year-old Prince Edward would not command the same level of support as his father. For a piece of visual propaganda to be effective its meaning must be unambiguous and, in the case of the Ashperton shield, this could only be achieved by reversing the Plantagenet arms, which Richard and Henry shared, along the vertical axis.

Richard’s Plantagenet arms were differentiated from the king’s arms by “a label of three points argent each charged with three roundels gules”[174] which are not included on the Ashperton Arms for two reasons: Firstly, “since the time of Henry V, the eldest son of the sovereign of these realms has always differenced the Royal Shield with a label of three points, arg.[175]. Thus, from the birth of Prince Edward in 1453, Richard shared the three-pointed label with Margaret’s son. Richard’s additional charge of three rondels might pass unnoticed in a brightly coloured shield resulting in a misinterpretation of the shield’s message, especially in light of the rumours which still circulated regarding the prince’s legitimacy. Secondly, Richard’s arms had been forfeited by the attainder which deprived him of all titles and offices. He had been stripped of the label which distinguished him as an heir to the Plantagenets and was now to be represented simply as a false king.

The Ashperton Arms was most probably one of many such monuments marking York’s disgrace which would have been mounted on Lancastrian lands after parliament had passed the attainder. With its mocking crown and reversed royal arms it presented York as the anti-king at a time when belief in the Antichrist was widespread. Margaret must have assumed that Richard, having been left with little alternative, would return with the intention of usurping the throne and, in this, the carving predicted York’s actions.

On 26th June, 1460 Warwick, Salisbury and March crossed from Calais and on 10th July the Yorkist army defeated the Lancastrian forces at Northampton and Henry was taken into custody. The way was clear for Richard to return from exile and, landing at Chester early in September he made his way south to Hereford, passing a few miles to the west of Ashperton. According to Professor Griffiths, during Richard’s leisurely progress “he posed as a king preparing for his crowning… displaying the arms of Lionel of Clarence, and unfurling as he approached London a banner with the arms of England undifferenced”[176]. A contemporary chronicler noted that he had given “banners charged with the arms of England to trumpeters and, commanding his sword be borne upright before him, [he] rode to King Harry’s palace at Westminster, and there claimed the crown of England”[177]. This presumption took even York’s supporters by surprise and Richard was forced to settle for a compromise enshrined in the Act of Accord which was passed on October 25th 1460. Under this act Henry retained the crown for his lifetime but Richard and his heirs would succeed. Margaret’s son was thus disinherited. York had confirmed the queen’s worst suspicions by claiming the crown for himself and his heirs and could be said to have justified the symbolic representation of him as a false king which had been carved into the Ashperton Arms less than a year earlier.

Richard is further identified in the carving by the utilitarian closed helmet which surmounts the shield and symbolises his relegation to the ranks by the attainder. The symbolism of the absence of slits in the helmet, to enable the wearer to see and breathe, is self-evident. The collar, which encircles the helmet’s neck, fastens under the chin and the autopsy on the Ashperton Arms noted that the collar is “indented with small holes running along its length”[178]. These holes, which appear regularly right round the collar, cannot indicate buckle holes but could well have been the centres of individual roses, whose petals have now faded away. Numerous examples of the livery collars of the Lancastrians, decorated with the letter “S”, have survived but there are few examples of Yorkist livery collars of the same date. Charles Boutell identifies the Yorkist Collar as being “formed of suns and roses”[179] however the sun was a symbol adopted by the son of York, Edward IV after the parhelion (triple sun) presaged his victory at Mortimer’s Cross (2 February 1461). The sun and roses motif was also adopted by Richard III but would obviously not have been included in Yorkist livery collars when the attainder was passed against them in November 1459, at which time the collars would have been decorated with white roses. This surmise is confirmed by historian Linda Clark who notes that “another collar, that of white roses (without suns), was apparently used by Edward IV’s father, Richard duke of York” as evinced by a York will of 1466 which mentions a “collar of white roses”[180].

Livery collars did not, however, usually fasten under the chin, as in the Ashperton Arms, and it can only be supposed that this represents another detail of the complex allegory, showing the Yorkist collar tied round the traitor’s neck as a noose, signalling that his punishment when apprehended would be to be hung, drawn and quartered. The central figure of the Ashperton Arms with his blind helm and paper crown was a condemned traitor and a false king. This message is reinforced by a slight alteration to the royal arms on the shield, the six heraldic lions, normally displayed with their tongues out, are instead menacing with bared teeth[181]. These are not noble beasts but dangerous creatures, symbols of the flawed Yorkist branch of the Plantagenets and they are not to be trusted.

If the reversed Plantagenet arms of the Ashperton monument predicted Richard’s attempted usurpation, the paper crown which surmounts the helm anticipated his fate. Once the Act of Accord had been passed, Richard was granted powers which amounted to a resumption of his protectorate while Henry remained in Yorkist captivity. Margaret and her son were, however, still at liberty and determined to release the imprisoned king. Margaret, hoping to secure Scottish support for the Lancastrian cause, travelled north of the border to meet with James II’s widow, Mary of Guelders who was acting as regent for her young son. Meanwhile, Margaret’s commanders, the Earls of Northumberland and Devon, the Duke of Somerset, the Baron of Greystoke, the Lords Clifford, Latimer, Neville, Dacre and Roos[182] assembled in Hull and began a campaign of harassing York and Salisbury’s tenants and destroying their property. On 9th December York, accompanied by Rutland and Salisbury and 800 men[183], rode north to confront the Lancastrians, arriving at York’s castle of Sandal near Wakefield shortly before Christmas.

The ranks of Richard’s army had grown as men joined him on his march north and by 30th December the castle’s provisions were exhausted. Foraging parties were sent out and returned with news of the approach of the formidable Lancastrian army. Richard, hoping to break through the Lancastrian lines before a siege could be established, led the charge out of the castle, down the hill and into the main body of his enemies. In the ensuing battle and its aftermath Richard and his 17-year-old son Edmund Earl of Rutland were killed, while Salisbury was taken prisoner and executed by the mob at Pontefract the following day[184]. Their severed heads were displayed “on various gateways at York. And also, in contempt, they crowned the head of the Duke of York with a paper crown”[185].

The brutal deaths of Rutland and York are described with considerable poetic licence by Shakespeare in Henry VI Part III. In Act I Scene III Rutland appears as an “innocent child” fleeing the battle with his tutor. Rutland is captured and, after pleading for his life, is butchered by Clifford. In the following scene Richard is apprehended and brought before Margaret who tells him of his son’s death and taunts him with a napkin stained with Rutland’s blood. Richard is made to stand on a molehill and Margaret places a paper crown on his head. Shakespeare’s prime source for the play was Edward Hall’s The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrate Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (published 1548) but his account of York’s final humiliation owes more to Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (published 1587)[186]. Raphael Holinshed had, in turn taken his version from John Whethamstede’s chronicle, written shortly after the battle in which he states that the Lancastrians “took the two lords (York and Salisbury) alive in the battle and treated them with great mockery, especially the Duke of York. They stood him on a little anthill and placed on his head, as if a crown, a vile garland made of reeds, just as the Jews did to the Lord, and bent the knee to him, saying in jest: ‘ Hail King, without rule. Hail King, without ancestry. Hail leader and prince, with almost no subjects or possessions’”[187].

While some historians[188] doubt this colourful account of York’s humiliation, it can be said to symbolise the Lancastrian attitude towards Richard as a false king who had to be punished for his presumption, an attitude which is encapsulated in the imagery of the reversed arms of the Ashperton monument. “As the Milanese ambassador to the French court remarked a month later, York ‘seem(ed) rather to have been slain out of hatred for having claimed the kingdom than anything else’”[189].

Shakespeare’s version of events at Wakefield, which has been endlessly repeated with subtle variations in subsequent histories, has Margaret taunting York on the battlefield. However, Margaret was still in Scotland when news was brought to her of York’s demise and by the time she arrived in York, Richard’s severed head, “bearing a crown of paper and straw”[190]  was already mounted on Micklegate Bar. This appears to have been the only time in English history when the paper crown of the Lord of Misrule has been placed on a traitor’s severed head and, despite her absence, it is an act associated with Margaret of Anjou. This may be because Margaret had already illustrated her intentions with regard to York in the carving of a paper crown which surmounts the helm on the Ashperton Arms, which would have been carved a year earlier. The autopsy on the stone identified some rough stonework in the space between the helmet and the crown which could represent straw. The similarities between the crown on the Ashperton Arms and the fool’s crown which adorned Richard’s severed head are sufficiently striking to suggest a connection.

If the central figure on the Ashperton Arms is Richard Duke of York one would expect the other members of the Yorkist triumvirate who were condemned as traitors in 1459, Salisbury and Warwick, to feature prominently among the animal caricatures which appear in the foliate mantling around the shield[191]. The carving is worn but the two animals which flank the helm have been identified by most observers[192] as a squirrel and a bear. The bear’s head is to the right of the helm (from the spectator’s point of view) and would have been easily identified by the 15th century Lancastrian villager as representing the Earl of Warwick (kingmaker). A bear with a ragged staff was the emblem of the Earls of Warwick which the kingmaker used as his badge. When used as a heraldic device the bear implies boldness and courage but the bear on the Ashperton Arms is unthreatening, with a broad grin and comical expression. Warwick, the great general and popular pirate is portrayed, in the time-honoured strategy of war propaganda, as a foolish figure of fun and an object of mockery.

The bear’s head faces the back of the helmet while the squirrel, on the left of the carving, is positioned slightly above and facing the blind casque. In the middle ages the squirrel was regarded as a symbol of the devil[193] and numbers of squirrels were burned on Easter bonfires in medieval Europe[194]. In this context the squirrel can be seen as the symbolic representation of evil offering false counsel to the Duke of York, and this in turn suggests that the squirrel represents Salisbury who, being ten years older than York, had more political and military experience than his less prudent brother-in-law. Salisbury was the head of the Neville-Beaufort family[195] and his younger brothers and sons followed his lead in taking up arms for York. Salisbury’s wife Alice was the only woman attainted by the Coventry Parliament and Salisbury alone had been excluded from the king’s offer of pardon on the eve of the confrontation at Ludlow in October 1459.

The artist had an additional reason for representing Salisbury as a squirrel on the Ashperton Arms and this involved the use of a pun or cant, a play on words which is often used in heraldic charges. In fifteenth century allegorical art, a squirrel represented “prudence”[196] and Prudence was Salisbury’s nickname, as can be seen in this extract from a contemporary Yorkist ballad:

Edward the Earl of March, whose fame the earth shall spread,

Richard Earl of Salisbury, named Prudence,

With that noble knight and flower of manhood

Richard Earl of Warwick, shield of our defence,

Also little Faulconbridge, a knight of grete reverence

Jesu! Restore them to the honour they had before![197]

Salisbury’s younger brother, William Lord Fauconberg is the third important Neville commander mentioned in this rhyme. In 1457 Fauconberg had joined the Calais garrison as Warwick’s deputy and taken part in his nephew’s piratical exploits which had enriched the Yorkist coffers and won the perpetrators the admiration and respect of the English people. In 1459 Fauconberg was left in charge of Calais when his nephew crossed to England and he held the important Yorkist base until Warwick’s return after the flight from Ludford. In June the following year Fauconberg would be in the vanguard of the successful Yorkist campaign which resulted in the defeat and capture of the king.

Fauconberg was not present at Ludford and, as he had not taken up arms against the king, he could not be included in the attainder. Margaret and her Lancastrian supporters were however well aware of Fauconberg’s importance to the Yorkist cause and for this reason he was included among the caricatures on the Ashperton Arms where he is represented by a fish/whale or sea monster which swims down the far-right side of the carving, its tail uppermost, blending with the acanthus leaves of the mantling. Once again, the artist has made use of a play on words as Fauconberg’s cognizance was a fishhook[198] and in the carving he becomes a fish or a sea monster which may also be a reference to his piratical activities of which Margaret strongly disapproved.

The Fauconberg fish on the outside of the arms appears to swim around a horse’s head[199] which is positioned on a level with the large, lower fleur de lys in the second quarter of the shield. This horse looks to the right, away from the shield while, below it, another horse’s head faces left, its eyes on a level with the middle lion in the fourth quarter of the shield. The bridled horse was associated with the Bourchier family[200] into which Richard’s sister Isabel married in 1426. With her husband Henry Bourchier she had at least eleven children and six sons were still alive in 1459. Two of Isabel’s sons, John and Edward Bourchier, were with the Yorkists at Ludford and condemned as traitors by the Coventry Parliament[201] so they are represented by the horses’ heads on the Ashperton Arms.

Around the horses heads and the sea monster are four flowers. There is another group of four flowers on the left of the shield, around the rodent, and four further flowers behind the squirrel and the bear, at the top of the carving. The autopsy notes that “The flowers are all incomplete with some of the petals of each flower concealed behind another flower, foliage or figure”[202]. The distribution of the visible petals suggests a five petaled flower with a round centre, which conforms to the mintmark symbol for the rose as used during the reign of Henry VI[203] and through the reigns of the subsequent Yorkist monarchs, until Henry VII introduced the double row of petals, combining the roses of York and Lancaster in the Tudor arms. The roses on the Ashperton Arms conform to the early examples of the heraldic rose where “the small inner leaves [also known as barbs] are omitted”[204].

The rose of England was first employed as a badge by Edward III’s sons, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster who used the red rose and Edward of Langley, Duke of York who used the white rose[205]. From that time the white rose was the principal badge used by the house of York while for the house of Lancaster “the red rose was merely one of the insignia that members of that house employed over the years”[206]. There is no evidence that Henry VI ever used the red rose badge[207] and during the war between the two houses Lancastrian supporters were generally identified by the collar of esses or white swan badge as discussed above. “The ‘Wars of the Roses’ therefore, existed, and could exist, only as a figment of retrospective imaginations. The dynastic civil wars to which the misleading label came to be applied were not in fact fought between supporters of rival symbols: they did not kill or were killed for the sake of rival roseate badges”[208].

In short, during the 15th century English civil war the five petaled rose (without inner leaves or barbs) which is found on the Ashperton Arms was exclusively used by the house of York[209]. The presence of 12 roses in the mantling of the arms indicates that it is a monument (albeit disrespectful) to the house of York while the positioning of the roses suggests an additional significance. Edward and his brother Edmund had both been condemned as traitors by the Coventry Parliament. Their younger brothers, George (aged 10 in 1459) and Richard (aged 7 in 1459) had also been disinherited under the terms of the attainder. Richard’s eldest son Edward was known as the Rose of Rouen (see Ballad of Towton above) and so he is depicted here with his three younger brothers all represented by roses. Thus, the four roses at the top of the arms can be identified as representing the four sons of York who were alive when the attainder was passed[210].

In 1459 the house of York had numerous heirs while there was only one direct heir to the Lancastrian throne, Henry VI’s son, Edward Prince of Wales. With Edward still a child, Henry’s survival was vital to the Lancastrian cause but this was not the case for the house of York. When Richard died on the battlefield at Wakefield the Yorkist standard would be taken up by his eldest son and in 1459 he had three other sons in reserve (his second son, Edmund died at Wakefield in 1460 with his father). His sister’s six surviving sons were also heirs to the house of York: John and Edward Bourchier were attainted and are represented as horses while their brothers Henry, Humphrey, William and Thomas are represented by the York roses which are grouped around them.

There are four further flowers on the left of the carving arranged around the figure which is generally identified as a rodent[211]. The rat/mouse/vole lies on its back, its head resting on one flower while it sits on the other three. If the flowers represent York’s eldest son Edward, the Rose of Rouen, and the other heirs to the house of York, then the four flowers around the rodent represent York’s four dead sons: Henry, William, John and Thomas, who all died in infancy[212]. Their positioning around the rodent suggests that this animal represents their mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. The lascivious pose of the recumbent rodent has been remarked on by a number of observers, leading some historians[213] to suggest that it alluded to Edward II’s lover Hugh Despenser (as discussed above). Indeed, in contrast to the other animals the rodent appears either effeminate or feminine. Women were frequently represented as rodents in 15th century illustrations[214] where animal caricatures peep from acanthus-leaf foliage, as they do in the Ashperton Arms. In medieval art a rodent was used to symbolise feminine frailty with rats and mice representing death, disease, fecundity and lechery[215] all of which are displayed in the carving of the wanton rodent lying on her dead offspring.

“Female fertility was one of York’s major political assets… In contrast to the impoverished Lancastrian dynasty, Richard of York and Cecily Neville had twelve children between 1441 and 1455”[216]. Queen Margaret waited for seven barren years to conceive a child and while her maternal desires remained unfulfilled Cecily, the queen in waiting, bore eight sons and three daughters[217]. Each son a potential heir to the house of York and candidate for king. Cecily’s remarkable fertility must have rubbed salt in Margaret’s wound and she cannot have felt much sympathy when four of those boys subsequently died. In this context the rodent and the flowers carved in the Ashperton Arms are a cruel commentary on Cecily’s immoderate fecundity.

Following the birth of her son in 1453 Margaret had been slandered by rumours that Edward was not Henry’s son but a bastard conceived in adultery. The rumours had persisted to such an extent that the Coventry Parliament deemed it necessary to take the unprecedented step of affirming Margaret’s son’s legitimacy. The sixty-six peers who swore an oath of allegiance to the king on 11th December 1459 were also required to pledge their loyalty to Prince Edward “twice identified as Henry’s first-begotten son, and [they] promised to accept his succession and that of his lawful heirs of the body”[218]. This was not enough to stop the rumours which continued to circulate in Yorkist ballads[219] and which were repeated by the Yorkist generals themselves. In March 1460, shortly before Warwick led the Yorkist invasion he is said to have told the Bishop of Terni that Henry was “a dolt and a fool who is ruled instead of ruling” adding that royal power lay “in the hands of his wife and those who defile the king’s chamber”[220].

By contrast, no one at this time questioned Cecily’s fidelity[221]. York’s sons were unquestionably the legitimate children of his marriage to Cecily but her royal lineage was tainted. Cecily’s mother, Joan Beaufort, was a child of the adulterous relationship between Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, and the children of their union “had been legitimized by Richard II in 1397, but in 1407, when Henry IV had renewed their patent of legitimization, he had added a clause disbarring them from the succession to the throne”[222]. For this reason, the Beauforts had prospered during Henry’s reign as they presented no threat to his rule. The complex allegory of the carving suggests that Cecily’s sons should also be considered unworthy of the throne by reason of their tainted blood. It also represents a response to the Yorkist slanders which questioned the queen’s virtue and the legitimacy of her son.

The Ashperton Arms are thus not only a monument to a disgraced traitor and his military commanders, but a record of the disgrace of a family which had been disinherited to the ninth generation under the terms of the attainder passed by the Coventry Parliament. According to historian Michael Hicks, by 1459 “treason was presented as so horrible and shameful that the blood of traitors was corrupted – attainted – so that not only were their lands forfeit, but they could not be inherited by their heirs”[223]. The attainted traitors who appear on the arms as animal caricatures are related by blood to York’s sons. The number and relative maturity of York’s sons represented a greater threat to Margaret’s son than York himself who was ten years older than Henry and could be expected to predecease him. Margaret’s fears would be realised when Henry named York and his sons as heirs to the throne, disinheriting her son, by the Act of Accord (1460). In 1459 Margaret could only anticipate this outcome and employ propaganda such as the Ashperton Arms to comment on the impure and corrupted blood of York’s heirs and their consequent ineligibility for the throne.

York’s royal credentials were impeccable but his sons were tainted by their Beaufort ancestry[224] and this point is underlined in the Ashperton Arms by the satirical carving of Cecily’s mother, Joan Beaufort, who died in 1440, to the left of the two fleur-de-lys in the third quarter of the shield. This section of the carving is badly worn but it is possible to discern a grotesque head peeping from a shroud of foliage. The head is reminiscent of gargoyles, daemons and ghosts carved in the stonework and misericords of medieval cathedrals and churches and, with its bulging eyes and bulbous nose, it is remarkably similar to the head of the sheela-na-gig in Kilpeck church, Herefordshire[225]. The positioning of the “grotesque” beneath the rodent has a further allegorical significance as “Medieval authorities held that mice as well as other vermin were spontaneously generated out of mud”[226]. In the carving Joan is the mud, the soiled offspring of an adulterous relationship, who spawned the fecund vermin, Cecily.

This section of the carving, which pillories York’s wife and deceased mother-in-law, strongly suggests that the stone was carved according to Margaret’s design. Henry was ever chivalrous in his treatment of women and it would have been totally out of character for him to approve such a scurrilous satire on a noble lady, especially given that he was well acquainted with Cecily, who had been a member of his household during the years prior to her marriage.

After her husband fled to Ireland, leaving Cecily to be taken in Ludlow, she was held in the custody of her brother in law, Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, a loyal Lancastrian who was “said to have treated her with great severity”[227]. Gregory’s Chronicle records that Cecily went to Coventry to submit to the king[228], presumably in answer to a royal summons. Since her capture at Ludlow, Cecily’s movements had been dictated by the king, or rather by his queen who evidently wanted her “prolific dynastic rival”[229] to witness her family’s humiliation[230]. Cecily, a “princess of spotless character”[231] with three young children[232], abandoned by her fugitive men folk, mistreated by the Lancastrians at Ludlow and subjected to strict captivity, could not fail to be an object of pity, whom parliament would be loath to condemn on a charge of treason, the penalty being immediate execution. Despite their bloodless victory at Ludlow, Lancastrian pre-eminence was not assured and the queen was evidently persuaded that to bring a charge of treason against Cecily could undermine support for Margaret’s husband and son.

Cecily’s sister-in-law, Alice Countess of Salisbury was condemned in her absence for “procuring and aiding the Treasons”[233]. It has been suggested that “the Countess of Salisbury was an heiress in her own right and therefore an attractive victim for attainder”[234]. It is however doubtful whether the numerous Yorkist lords who put their signatures to the attainder[235] would have been willing to deprive the countess of her lands and life had she been present when sentence was passed. Fortunately, their conviction of her guilt was not put to the test as Alice fled to sanctuary with York in Ireland and was later conveyed by her son Warwick to Calais, to be reunited with her husband[236]. The court party had its revenge on the countess through the redistribution of her forfeited lands and her enforced exile.

By comparison Cecily got off lightly. After making her submission to the king, she was provided with 1,000 marks annually for life “for the relief of her and her infants’ who had not offended against the king”[237] and she regained her liberty[238]. The duchess had been brought to Coventry to be humiliated but had left the beneficiary of Henry’s mercy and generosity[239], thus depriving the queen of her revenge. In this context the caricature of the rodent and the ghost on the Ashperton Arms suggests that Margaret found another way to humiliate her rival. It is unlikely that any of the Lancastrian lords who thirsted for York’s blood would have sought to humiliate his wife for fear that their wives might become the object of similarly scurrilous Yorkist smears. Moreover, a number of the Lancastrian nobles or their heirs had Beaufort blood in their veins[240] and would have been unlikely to approve, let alone commission a carving which highlighted the Beaufort illegitimacy. In short, only Margaret had an interest in designing a carving which cast a slur on her rival and questioned the legitimacy of York’s heirs.

It might be expected that René of Anjou’s daughter would choose to design an irreverent coat of arms to mark her victory over the house of York. As we have noted above, René designed numerous elaborate and highly symbolic arms for himself and his family, ornamenting “the walls of his garden with heraldic designs carved in marble”[241] and extending the art form beyond the confines of simply recording family honour and achievement. René even used his arms to express his emotions when he participated in a tournament at Razilly in June 1446 shortly after the death of his son Louis. It is recorded that his “armour and the trappings of his horse were all in black and his shield was covered in tears”[242]. Where René displayed his grief in the design of his tournament arms, Margaret displayed her triumph in the design of the Ashperton Arms. She may even have consulted her father on their design as they remained in contact throughout her reign[243]. It is unlikely that Margaret only commissioned one monument to York’s disgrace and it is reasonable to assume that arms, similar to those discovered in Ashperton, were displayed at the roadside elsewhere on Lancastrian lands where they bordered Yorkist territory[244].

Margaret’s triumph was to be short-lived. The following summer the Yorkists returned, captured the king and took over the reins of government. The first act of their new parliament was to “cassate and annul that terrible Bill of Attainder which was carried against them in that Parliament [Coventry] And so effectually they did it, that the Acts and Statutes of the Parliament of Coventry have no Place or Mention in our Statute Books, except in the Repeal”[245]. The proclamations, pamphlets and ballads circulated by the Lancastrians following the Coventry Parliament were destroyed and all trace of York’s dishonour expunged from the records. Once York and his sons had been named as Henry’s heirs by the Act of Accord the scurrilous carving which commemorated his previous disgrace became not only obsolete but dangerously treasonous. The Yorkists would have destroyed any monuments to their disgrace that were still standing when they returned to power. It must be assumed that the Ashperton Arms survived because the villagers had the foresight to take it down and hide it before York returned from Ireland to claim the throne.

Vengeful Yorkists could be expected to wreak havoc on any village which displayed the scandalous arms but the arms were royal property which the villagers would have been reluctant to destroy. In the fluctuating fortunes of the civil war a Lancastrian return to power was no doubt anticipated by the Ashperton villagers who evidently decided to conceal rather than destroy the arms. The best place to hide a carved stone is in a pile of stones and the ruined castle, a few minutes’ walk from the roadside where the arms were mounted, proved a good hiding place. The arms remained undiscovered by the marauding Yorkists who combed the countryside in search of defeated Lancastrians after the battle of Mortimer’s Cross (20 miles to the north-west of Ashperton) on February 2nd, 1461. This Yorkist victory, just a month after Richard’s death, secured the throne for his eldest son, Edward Earl of March, proclaimed King Edward IV on 4th March 1461.

Concealed in the ruins of Ashperton manor the monument awaited the return of the Lancastrians. But when this came the Duke of York was dead and Warwick had joined the Lancastrian cause. The kingmaker had made peace with Margaret and the dishonourable arms in which she had cruelly caricatured Warwick, his father and uncle would have been an unwelcome reminder of their previous enmity. Henry was briefly restored to the throne (3rd October 1470 – 11th April 1471) but Warwick’s death at the Battle of Barnet (Easter Day, 14th April 1471), followed by the Lancastrian defeat and the death of Margaret’s son at the Battle of Tewkesbury (4th May 1471) returned the crown to the house of York. For the next fourteen years the sons of Richard Duke of York, Edward IV and Richard III, ruled England and the treasonous monument to their family’s previous disgrace remained hidden.

With the death of Margaret’s son, the Lancastrian claim to the throne passed to Henry VI’s nephew (the son of his half-brother Edmund Tudor) Henry Tudor who defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field (22nd August 1485). It is recorded in the Parliamentary History of England that “The title to a Crown by Conquest must be allowed a very strong one; but Henry VII would not trust to that, nor solely to the lame Pedigree he pretended to claim from John of Gaunt, the Source of the Lancastrian Stream, knowing well that it was so obstructed in the way by a Bar of Bastardy… the best Title he had was by Marriage with the Princess Elizabeth, eldest Daughter to King Edward IV… he distained a Power that would then be more Matrimonial than Regal, and so resolved to rest upon the Title of Lancaster as chief and … to use the other two of Conquest and Marriage as supporters to it”[246]. Under these circumstances any allusion to the Beaufort bastardy or reminder of the disgrace of Queen Elizabeth’s family would not have been tolerated by the founder of the Tudor dynasty. In the Ashperton Arms Margaret had questioned the right of Beaufort descendants to rule. It is ironic that, largely as a consequence of her actions, Beaufort blood has run in the veins of every English monarch from Edward IV to the present day.[247]

By the time the arms were discovered in 1840 the scandal of the Beaufort illegitimacy was a distant memory and the origin and the purpose of the monument a mystery. Nonetheless Ashperton villagers were quick to recognise that it was a derogatory and disrespectful monument, calling it the Defiance on the assumption that the central figure was a king. The reversed royal arms suggested that the monument could be treasonous and led one visitor to comment that “it may be necessary to place a Notice of Disclaimer underneath the shield, proclaiming that the people of Ashperton are loyal to the Monarch”[248]. Perhaps considerations of this kind led Pevsner (1963) and the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Herefordshire (1934) to omit any mention of the arms from their respective reports on St Bartholomew’s Church. The arms have hung in a prominent position in the church since their discovery so it is surprising that these authorities failed to mention them. It also raises the possibility that other examples of the “Traitors Arms” exist which have been similarly overlooked and remain unrecorded.

The Ashperton monument is probably unique[249] and thus cannot be identified on the basis of comparison with other artworks, which is the method usually employed to establish age and provenance of historical artefacts. Superficial similarities between the arms and 17th/18th century English copies of arms of the continental Quattrocento style led the Woolhope Club and others to suggest that the arms were carved in the age of the late Tudor or Stuart monarchs. However, in order to make the facts fit the theory they were obliged to overlook those features which suggest an earlier date, such as the 15th century royal arms (reversed). Moreover, the animals in the mantling, which have been remarked on by most other observers and are noted in the autopsy, are omitted from their analysis and they offer no explanation as to the purpose of the carving or why it should have been hidden in the ruins of a 13th/14th century manor house. Other anomalies are explained as craftsmen’s errors. Any identification which can only be sustained on the assumption that the master mason made not one, but a number of disparate mistakes, must be suspect. It would indeed be a remarkable coincidence if a series of errors on the part of 17th /18th century craftsman had resulted in a coat of arms which so exactly corresponded to the composition and situation of the house of York in December 1459.

When examined without preconceptions, there is no need to explain away any aspect of the carving of the Ashperton Arms as an error, and an impartial reading allows the stone to speak for itself. The style of the design; the heraldic symbolism of the shield, helm and crown; the correspondence between the satirical animal caricatures and the family of the Duke of York; and the location of the monument’s discovery all strongly suggest that the monument is “Traitors Arms” commissioned by Margaret of Anjou to mark her ascendancy and York’s disgrace following the Parliament of Devils. As such the arms offer a unique insight into this turbulent period of English history and must be considered an invaluable resource for serious students of the conflict between the houses of York and Lancaster. It is hoped that the historical importance of the Ashperton Arms will be recognized and serious steps will be taken to preserve this extraordinary and apparently unique monument.

Posy Hill



I would like to thank all those who have taken an interest in this research, whose insights and critiques have helped with the identification of the Ashperton Arms. Particular thanks go to Angela Golding for carrying out a painstaking autopsy of the Arms and Pam Benstead for her support, encouragement and meticulous editing.

Appendix I

Coat of Arms – St Bartholomew’s Church, Ashperton, HR8 2SW



Conducted by Mrs Angela Golding, Projects Co-ordinator, Monumental Inscriptions for the Herefordshire Family History Society on 9th February, 2010

The worn, circular, carved stone monument is located on the wall of the North Transept of the Church. It is 30½ inches wide and 36 inches tall and has a flat bottom which could rest on a floor or plinth. The design consists of a central shield, helmet and crown surrounded by foliage decorated with flowers and figures/animals.

The Shield is 19inches long by 13 inches wide. The top of the shield is straight with the corners sloping down to end in a scroll on each side. The outer edges of the shield meet at the bottom and are terminated in two further scrolls.

The shield is divided into quarters. The top right and bottom left quarters show three fleur de lys. The top left and bottom right quarters show three lions.

The fleur de lys each consist of three vertical stems crossed by a single horizontal band. On each fleur de lys the central stem forms a diamond shaped tip and the two outer stems are rounded at the tip. Underneath the band the three stems remain separate and the middle stem is split in two, resulting in four distinct ends. In each of the two quarters where they are displayed the two upper fleur de lys are smaller than the third, lower fleur de lys. The upper fleur de lys each measure 3¼ inches tall while the lower ones each measure 4 inches tall. The bands holding the fleur de lys appear blank although the top two (smaller) fleur de lys in the top right quarter of the shield have wavy edged bands and the right hand one appears to have dots in it although this may due to imperfections in the stone. Both the larger, lower fleur de lys bands are straight edged.

The lions are shown one above the other with their heads to the right, facing forward, tails erect and curved to follow the line of the lions’ backs, front left leg raised for each. The lions face forward, their teeth plainly visible. Some have eyes, on others the eyes have faded but indentations in the stone indicate that they were once present. The lions are facing the wrong way.

The Helmet sits on top of the shield and consists of a rounded helmet with closed visor, facing left. There is no grille in the visor which is solid and unindented, neither are there any eye-holes or breathing holes in the helmet. The base of the helmet is curved with the front being lower than the back. There is a thin collar round the neck of the helmet, fastened under the chin and indented with small holes running along its length. Size is 7 inches long and 5½ inches wide from visor tip to back of helmet.

The Crown is positioned above the helmet. In the space between helmet and crown there is some rough stonework which could possibly represent fur. The band of the crown itself is plain and lacking in ornamentation of any kind. The crown is closed by four bands which are wider at the base than at the apex. The two outer bands are wider than the two inner bands and are the shape of curved triangles. The crown is open sided, and you can look up through the bottom circle of the crown through, i.e. no infill in any portion sides, or bottom. The crown is topped by a square cross (similar to that on the Imperial Crown of the British Crown Jewels) with an irregular shaped (could be rectangular or ovalish) object suspended from it.

The Mantling is composed of foliage which starts behind the helmet, level with the visor and extends to the base of the shield. Flowers are interspersed among the mantling and, on closer inspection, possible animal figures.

These Figures/ Animals are entwined in the mantling and the outlines are very worn so they are difficult to make out. It would be necessary to understand the purpose for which the monument was commissioned and the historical background to give an accurate identification of the figures. In certain sections of the carving it is only possible to guess that a figure is outlined because there is an alteration in the design of the foliage. The figure which most resembles an animal is to the left of the upper half of the shield. The creature which could be a vole, mole or fox lies on its back, open mouthed with a flower at its head and three at its feet. Above the shield on the left, between the helmet and the crown is a figure composed of two roughly rectangular shapes which could be a squirrel with a bushy tail. Opposite this figure, to the right of the helmet there are two semi-circles on top of a large semi-circle which could represent ears with a long deliberate curve beneath which could be the mouth of a large animal head such as a dog or bear. To the right of the shield there are further worn markings which could represent figures: pointed ears possibly belonging to a dragon’s head and on the outside of the carving there could be an upright sea horse.

The Flowers are all incomplete with some of the petals of each flower concealed behind another flower, foliage or figure. From the visible petals the flowers vary the quantity of petals showing 3-4 petals of incomplete flower. Each flower has an indented round centre encircled with a raised circular band. The flowers are positioned as follows: 2 above the mantling top right; 2 top left; one on either side of the top of the shield just below the scrolls; 2 either side and just below the central bar of the shield, near the outer edge of the stone with possibly a third above each pair which are “hidden” in the foliage (there is certainly a central, circular hole, similar to the other flowers, but there is no raised band around the hole). Giving a total of 10 or 12 flowers.


As Projects Co-ordinator Monumental Inscriptions for the Herefordshire Family History Society, since 1988 either on my own or with a group I have personally visited 114 of the approx 300 churches in the county of Herefordshire for the purpose of recording the Monumental Inscriptions inside and out.

I do not recall ever having seen anything like to the stone currently fixed to the wall at Ashperton Church. When our group are trying to record an heraldic design, and it’s usually me and another who help out the person looking at it, we try to describe what we see but do not use heraldic terms. We assume people will want to visit the church to look at it for themselves after they have read our description. In all these 22 years I do not recall seeing anything quite like this, although it is always possible that similar examples have been overlooked.

Although I suppose the shield does give family lineage, it is probably further back than most family historians have been able to reach. I should imagine the stone at Ashperton could be unique, and particularly as I understand it was found in the grounds of a long extinct local castle and probably wasn’t originally hanging in the church. It would be a shame for it to disintegrate through damp, etc., and perhaps it might be worth approaching the Mappa Mundi trust to see if they might like to ‘adopt’ it, providing this was acceptable to the church authorities and local inhabitants.

Angela Golding                                                                         14th February 2010

Projects Co-ordinator,

Monumental Inscriptions for the Herefordshire Family History Society

Appendix II

The Ashperton Arms with details of the shield, helm, crown, mantling and flowers roughly outlined in accordance with the autopsy. The animals identified in the above text have also been sketched in and are identified below from the viewer’s perspective.

(Clockwise from noon) Crowned Helm = Richard Duke of York; 4 roses at the top of shield = Edward, Edmund, George & Richard (Richard’s sons); Bear = Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (York’s nephew); Fish = William Neville, Lord Fauconberg (Richard’s brother-in-law); Horses = John and Edward Bourchier (Richard’s nephews); 4 roses on right side of shield = William, John, Edward & Thomas Bourchier (Richard’s nephews); Grotesque = Joan Beaufort (Richard’s mother-in-law); Rodent = Cecily Neville (Richard’s wife); 4 roses on the left side of the shield = Henry, William, John & Thomas (Richard’s dead sons) Squirrel = Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury (Richard’s brother-in-law).

R.G. Hill 5.1.11

[1] According to legend, the Order of the Garter was established after Catherine Grandison, Countess of Salisbury dropped her garter at a ball and Edward III picked it up with the words ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’.

[2] Inquisition at Marcle before Henry de Prestwode, Escheator, 11th September 32 Edward III, Hereford Record Office in which Ashperton manor is valued as follows: “Capital messuage worth nothing beyond the sustenation of the buildings, a garden with curtilage worth 12d. 1 carucate of land – 30s etc. a water mill worth only 13s 8d. because of the repairs required.”

[3] Mrs Frances Rose-Troup Bishop Grandisson, Student and Art-lover (W. Brendon & Son, Printer 1929) p.7.

[4] Having a design of numerous small fleur-de-lys “scattered” in the two quarters of the arms.

[5] A. C. Fox-Davies A Complete Guide to Heraldry (Wordsworth Editions 1996) p.274.

[6] For further elaboration of this point, with illustrated examples see my article in The Heraldry Gazette, June 2010 p.9.

[7] Transactions of the Woolhope Club 1955-57 p.110.

[8] Woolhope Club Ibid.

[9] Geoffrey Fisher, Courtauld Institute of Art, letter to the Ashperton Parish Council 18.2.2004.

[10] Dr Richard K. Morris, letter to R. G. Hill 5.7.2008.

[11] College of Arms, letter to Mrs F. Helme, Ashperton PCC 17.2.2004.

[12] The Arms of Charles II from Wikipédia: Quarterly, I and IV Grandquarterly, Azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland).

[13] The British Library – The arms of René d’Anjou 1442-43, from his Book of Hours (Egerton MS 1070).

[14] D’A. .J. D. Boulton The Knights of the Crown – The Monarchical Orders of Knighthood in Later Medieval Europe 1325-1520 (Boydell Press 1987) p.610.

[15] Boulton Ibid.

[16] Numerous examples of continental armorials are reproduced in Heraldica Nova · Published 01/01/2014 Updated 15/11/2019 (accessed 23.5.20)

[17] Private correspondence dated 14.11.2009.

[18] Stephen born Blois; Henry II born Le Mans; Richard II born Bordeaux; Edward IV born Rouen. Stephen married Matilda of Boulogne; Henry II m. Eleanor of Aquitaine; Richard I m. Berengaria of Navarre; Henry III m. Eleanor of Provence; Edward I m. (Eleanor of Castile &) Margaret of France; Edward II m. Isabella of France; Edward III m. Philippa of Hainault; Richard II m. (Anne of Bohemia &) Isabella of Valois; Henry IV m. (Mary de Bohun &) Joan of Navarre; Henry V m. Catherine of Valois; Henry VI m. Margaret of Anjou.

[19] The work of these stonemasons, as seen in Kilpeck church, was inspired by the carving style they encountered on their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela between 1131 and 1143.

[20] For example:  One of the few contemporary paintings of Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England 1445-61 and 1470-71 shows her being presented with the Shrewsbury Book. The British Library’s online catalogue for this picture notes that “The Talbot Master (fl. in Rouen, c. 1430-1460) is named after John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the English army leaders in France at the end of the Hundred Years War. Talbot commissioned this manuscript as a gift to Margaret of Anjou upon her marriage to the English king Henry VI in 1445. He also commissioned two books of hours in an unusual tall, narrow format (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MSS 40-1950 and 41-1950) for himself and his second wife, Margaret Beauchamp, one illuminated by the Talbot Master, the other by a follower of the Bedford Master who also contributed to the Shrewsbury Book. A third book of hours ordered by Talbot with miniatures by the Talbot Master is produced in the same unusual tall, narrow format (National Library of Scotland, MS Deposit 221/1 in Aberdeen, Blairs College). The Talbot Master’s style, marked by emphatic outlines and surface patterns, is derived directly from the Fastolf Master. His less elaborate work is easily recognizable by pursed ruby lips and stiff gestures. Unlike the Fastolf Master, he did not cross the Channel with the English after the surrender of Rouen in 1449”. (accessed 26.3.2020).

Similarly “The Bedford Master (fl. in Paris, c. 1405-1435/40) is named after John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, who was English Regent in France from 1422 to 1435; he owned three of the artist’s major works” (accessed 26.3.2020).

[21] Boulton Op. Cit. p.134.

[22] Joel T. Rosenthal Mediaeval Longevity: and the Secular Peerage, 1350-1500 in Population Studies Vol.27 No.2 July 1973.

[23] K. B. MacFarlane, The Nobility of Later Medieval England, (Oxford University Press 1973) quoted in Terence Wise and G. A. Embleton The Wars of the Roses (Osprey Publishing 1983) p.4.

[24] Nigel Saul English Church Monuments in the Middle Ages; History and Representation (OUP 2009) p.48/9.

[25] Fox-Davies Op. Cit. p.304.

[26] Autopsy Op. Cit.

[27] See for example The Battle of Barnet, Ghent manuscript, a late 15th-century document (source: Ghent University library, MS236). Phillip Haigh The Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses, (Sutton Publishing 1995) dust-jacket illustration.

[28] Teagle Op Cit. James Shepherd cited in Letter from Roy Clews Op. Cit. The Ashperton Arms are not, however, mentioned by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England in their 1932 description of the church or by Pevsner in the 1963 edition of his work, as is discussed further below.

[29] Woolhope Club 1955-57 p.110.

[30] Stephen Slater Illustrated Book of Heraldry (Hermes House 2006) p.19.

[31] Fox Davies Op. Cit. p.304.

[32] Fox Davies Op. Cit. p.384 and p.383.

[33] See for example the illustration Joute de Bruges 1392 in René d’Anjou’s Livre des Tournois (Bibliothèque Nationale de France – Français 2693. fol. Bv-c).

[34] See for example the arms of Lancastrian knights John de Vere (appointed Knight of the Garter 1486) George Talbot (appointed 1488) and Rhys ap Thomas (appointed 1505).

[35] Boulton Op. Cit. p.613.

[36] See for example The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, Paris 1406-8 or 1409. Cloisters Collection.

[37] Since the discovery of the arms in 1840, almost everyone who has viewed them, from the local villagers to stonemasons, art historians and the expert who carried out the autopsy have seen the animals in the mantling of the carving. The exceptions being the Woolhope Club members, Rouge Dragon and some of his colleagues at the College of Arms and Mr Wheeler of the Richard III Society, who are all unable to see the animals. (As far as I am aware, the Woolhope Club members were the only ones to examine the monument in situ and they do not mention animals in their report) This inability to see the animals in the mantling can best be explained as an example of  “confirmation bias” which is defined as “an irrational tendency to search for, interpret or remember information in a way that confirms preconceptions or working hypotheses” (see Miller, Vandome, McBrewster: Confirmation Bias 2009). Recent studies in this field have shown that experts are more likely to fall victim to this phenomenon as they will see things as they expect to see them from their experience. This is known as “inattentional blindness”, where the brain filters out stimulants and fills in the scene as the “expert” expects to see it. Geoffrey Fisher of the Courtauld Institute provided an excellent example of this when replying to a letter from the Secretary of the Ashperton PCC. The letter was headed “Reversed Coat of Arms” and it was stated again, that the arms are reversed, in the text but despite this, Mr Fisher assumed that the photo of the arms had been developed in reverse and spent most of his reply explaining how to develop a photo the right way round. His experience told him that the reverse arms could only be explained as an error in photographic development so he overlooked the written description of the arms in an act of “inattentional blindness”. This must cast doubt on expert analysis of any unique monument and would prove a fascinating area of study, beyond the scope of this paper. It does however go some way to explain the inability of some experts to see the animals in the mantling.

[38] Clews Op. Cit.

[39] Book of Hours, Use of Rouen, The Visitation, France, Rouen, c. 1470 The Workshop of the Master of the Échevinage de Rouen. Philadelphia illuminated manuscript collection.

[40] Private correspondence dated 14.11.2009.

[41] Cyril Davenport F.S.A. quoted in Fox Davies Op. Cit. p. 354.

[42] “On his first seal for foreign affairs, on which occurs the English shield, (he) uses above it a crown with three crosses-pattée … this being the first distinct use of the cross-pattée on the English crown” Davenport F.S.A. Ibid.

[43] Autopsy Op. Cit.

[44] See for example François Laroque Shakespeare’s Festive World (Cambridge University Press 1993) p.378.

[45] Autopsy Op. Cit.

[46] Fox-Davies Op. Cit. p.73.

[47] Dunstable Chronicle MS.Harl.24 quoted in A Complete View of the Dress and Habits of the People of England (Tabard Press 1842).

[48] Roy Martin Haines Edward II (McGill-Queen’s University Press 2003) p.185.

[49] Encyclopaedia Metropolitana p.637.

[50] Richard Polwhele The History of Cornwall Vol.4-7 (Michael & Co.1816) p.53.

[51] Boutell Op. Cit. p.213.

[52] Private correspondence dated 4.11.2009.

[53] Early 19th century law books define Arma Reversata as a punishment for a traitor without describing the nature of the reversal. The earliest reference I have been able to find which defines Arma Reversata as inverted arms is contained in the London Encyclopaedia, edited by Thomas Curtis in 1839. Written centuries after the practice was discontinued it is possible that this definition is incorrect.

[54] British Library MS Royal 14.C.VII, 358 x 250mm, ff 232. Matthew Paris also “painted the shields of deceased knights upside down in the margin [of his chronicle] close to where their deaths are recorded in the text” Compton Reeves Pleasures and Pastimes in Medieval England (Sutton Publishing 1997) p.88.

[55] Clews Op. Cit.

[56] Private correspondence 4.11.2009.

[57] Based on comments made by stonemason Alun Teagle.

[58] The Rev E. Charles, Vicar of Stretton Grandison with Ashperton and Canon Frome. From the Ledbury Reporter, cutting supplied by Mrs Audrey Alford.

[59] Woolhope Club Op. Cit. 1955-57 p.110.

[60] Richard Stone, Marches Archaeology letter to Ashperton PCC 4.11.2003.

[61] Peter Coss & Maurice Keen eds. Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England (Boydell Press 2008) overview.

[62] Robert W. Jones Bloodied Banners: Martial Display on the Medieval Battlefield  (Boydell Press 2010)

p.11 “… most historians have agreed the root function of heraldic display (was) on the battle-field… That heraldic display was being used by the medieval warrior for the purpose of identification is undeniable”.

[63] Veronica Sekules Medieval Art (OUP 2001) p.119.

[64] John Watts in Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England Op. Cit. p.258.

[65] John of Gaunt is often referred to as Edward III’s third son as his elder brother William of Hatfield only lived for two weeks (born 16 February 1337 died 3 March 1337). When John was born in 1340, he had only two surviving elder brothers, Edward and Lionel. Similarly, Lionel was Edward III’s third but second surviving son.

[66] As Richard declared when he made his claim to the throne in October 1460 “…as son to Anne, daughter of Roger Mortimer Earl of March, son and heir to Philippa, daughter and heir to Lionel, third son of King Edward III, the right, title, royal dignity and estate of the crowns of the realms of England and France, and the lordship of Ireland, or right, law and custom appertains and belongs, before any issue of John of Gaunt, fourth son of the same King Edward.” Rotuli Parliamentorum, Vol.5 p.375 quoted in Keith Dockray Henry VI, Margaret of Anjou and the Wars of the Roses, A Source Book  (Sutton Publishing, 2000) p.23.

[67] J. R. Lander Government and Community: England 1450-1509 (Harvard University Press 1981) p.177.

[68] Whethamstede’s Register p.415 quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.6.

[69] Dockray Op. Cit. p.xxiii.

[70] John Blacman, quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.8.

[71] Dockray Op. Cit. p.xxv.

[72] Jock Haswell The Ardent Queen – Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrian Heritage (Peter Davies Ltd. 1976) p.34.

[73] Polydore Vergil, quoted in Dockray p.14.

[74] Etienne Pasquier quoted in Haswell Op. Cit. p.26.

[75] Margaret L. Kekewich History Today January 2009 Volume: 59 Issue 1 p.32.

[76] “There is a splendid story that Yolande, losing patience with Charles’s inertia and excuses, had herself buckled into the armour she had worn at Baugé and then strode, or possibly clanked, into his quarters demanding to know why the King of France skulked in his castle while his enemies wasted his lands. Since he apparently had no honour and no shame, she personally, inspired by this remarkable peasant girl, was prepared to lead his armies in the field. Under the pressure exerted by his mother-in-law and his wife, Charles bestirred himself and Jeanne was allowed to play her part in the relief of the besieged city of Orleans.” Haswell Op. Cit. p.22.

[77] Haswell Op. Cit. p.28-9.

[78] Andrew Lang, The Maid of France (Kessinger Publishing 1908), p. 275.

[79] Pope Pius II’s Commentaries: An Anecdotal Report of a Speech by Margaret of Anjou to Her Captains, and Their Reactions quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.16.

[80] Sharon L. Jansen The Monstrous Regiment of Women: Female Rulers in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan 2002) p.37. While most of Margaret’s biographers recognise that the extraordinary political careers of Yolande of Aragon and Isabella of Lorraine’s must have served as an example for Margaret, Helen E. Maurer is dismissive of their achievements: “she [Margaret] came from a line of strong women, accustomed to wielding power when necessity dictated. It is important to emphasize the word necessity.” Margaret of Anjou: Queenship and Power in Late Medieval England (Boydell Press 2003) p.23. It is doubtful whether any male historical actor of similar political importance would be so casually dismissed.

[81] Haswell Op. Cit. p.31.

[82] Alison Weir Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (Vintage 2009) p.108.

[83] Boulton Op. Cit. p.398.

[84] According to Haswell, the only authentic portrait of Margaret known to exist is a miniature painted by René in his Livres des Heures Haswell Op. Cit. Caption to Illustration 1 p.144 this claim is, however disputed.

[85] Quoted in Weir Op. Cit. p.108.

[86] Margaret L. Kekewich The Good King: René of Anjou and Fifteenth Century Europe (Palgrave Macmillan 2008) p.81-2.

[87] Jacob Abbott History of Margaret of Anjou: Queen of Henry VI of England (Harper & Brothers 1861) p.79.

[88] Piero da Monte, papal collector in England quoted in R. A. Griffiths The Reign of King Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1981) p.235.

[89] The exact date of Catherine and Owen’s marriage is unrecorded. According to Griffiths Ibid. “Katherine had lived in the king’s household until 1430 and it is unlikely that she married Owen then… the marriage may have taken place round about 1431-32” p.61.

[90] Haswell Op. Cit. p.44-45. Some historians have raised doubts about the marriage having taken place, as described, with Suffolk acting as proxy bridegroom and suggest that descriptions of the wedding actually refer to the magnificent betrothal of Margaret and Henry VI which was celebrated in the cathedral of St. Martin, Tours in May 1444. “Margaret of Anjou, honoured as queen of England, arrived at Nancy in February 1445. She was not, according to Bonita Cron, going to Nancy to participate in another proxy ceremony with Suffolk but to attend the wedding of her sister Yolande to Ferry of Vaudemont. Cron has persuasively contradicted the claim of many authorities, both medieval and modern, that Margaret and Suffolk went through a proxy marriage in March 1445. There was plenty of scope, however, for confusing accounts of the betrothal in the previous year with Yolande’s wedding”. Kekewich Op. Cit. p.97.

[91] Haswell Op. Cit. p.45. As stated in the previous footnote this description could apply to the betrothal in 1444 where “William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, stood proxy for the king and the glittering group of French royalty who attended demonstrated the importance of the ceremony”. Kekewich Ibid. p.80.

[92] Maurer Op. Cit. p.40.

[93] Weir Op. Cit. p.108. Pierre de Brézé would remain Margaret’s devoted servant, fighting for “the Lancastrians in the northern campaigns of the early 1460s” Wagner John A. Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses (ABC-CLIO 2001) p.37.

[94] Griffiths Op Cit. p.488.

[95] Stevenson quoted in Griffiths Op. Cit. p.255.

[96] Letter from Margaret to Charles VII quoted in Kekewich The Good King Op. Cit.  p.111. Kekewich notes that:  “Helen Maurer interprets this letter, not as a declaration of Margaret’s commitment to the aims of France and Anjou, but as a kind of mediation between two parts of her family at a delicate stage in negotiations…but there is a difference between what was actually written and what an apologist for the queen wishes to infer from it.”

[97] Maurer Op. Cit. ff.43 p.31-2.

[98] Griffiths Op. Cit. p.255.

[99] Ian Mortimer The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England (Vintage 2009) p.35-7.

[100] Lander Op. Cit. p.178.

[101] Dockray Op. Cit p.14.

[102] John Smith Roskell Parliament and Politics in Late Medieval England Vol.2 (Continuum International Publishing Group 1981) p.176.

[103] Carroll Hilles in New Medieval Literatures Vol.4 eds. Wendy Scase, Rita Copeland, David Lawton (OUP 2001) p.200.

[104] John O’Beirne Ranelagh A Short History of Ireland (Cambridge University Press 1994) p.44.

[105] Dockray Op. Cit. p.41.

[106] Benet’s Chronicle quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.44.

[107] Proclamation of Jack Cade quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.49.

[108] Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer and his son in law “were tried and convicted of treason by the rebels and then executed; and their heads were cut off, and fixed on poles, and finally set up on London Bridge, having been made ‘to kiss one the other at every street corner’ Stow’s Chronicle quoted in Norfolk Archaeology Vol.2 (Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society 1849) p.39.

[109] Maurer Op. Cit. p.70-71.

[110] Michael Hicks Warwick the Kingmaker (Wiley-Blackwell 2002) p.130.

[111] Annales Rerum Anglicarum quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.57.

[112] Annales Rerum Anglicarum Ibid. p.57-8.

[113] Diana E. S. Dunn War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Britain (Liverpool University Press 2000) p.143.

[114] Children of Cecily Neville and Richard of York: Anne (1439-76); Henry (1441); Edward (1442-83); Edmund (1443-1460); Elizabeth (1444-1503); Margaret (1446-1503); William (1447); John (1448); George (1449-1478); Thomas (1451); Richard (1452-85); Ursula (1455). There is some dispute among historians as to the order/dates of the York children’s births. What is not in dispute is that Richard and Cecily had a total of 12 children, 8 of whom were boys but only 4 sons survived infancy.  John Ashdown-Hill The Private Life of Edward IV (Amberley Publishing 2016) p. 24.

[115] The Paston Letters Vol 6 p.82 Quoted in Nathen Amin The House of Beaufort (Amberley Publishing, Stroud 2017) p.23

[116] Amin Ibid p.27

[117] George Poulson The History and Antiquities of the Seigniory of Holderness… Volume 1 (R. Brown, 1840) p.403.

[118] David Baldwin The Kingmaker’s Sisters (The History Press 2009) p.20.

[119] Amin Op.Cit. p.82

[120] It is interesting to note that Henry VI-Part II Act V Scene I William Shakespeare has Margaret describe York as a “traitor” but refer to his “bastard boys”. Shakespeare was not an historian but as a playwright he would have used references his audience would understand. Margaret’s propaganda against York’s heirs had been so effective that the meaning would have been clear to playgoers 150 years after the event. It has been suggested that the use of this phrase is simply derogatory, rather than referring to the actual illegitimacy of York’s offspring. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (accessed 30.6.20) “the earliest evidence of bastard as a term of abuse (was) in a work of 1675” (eighty years after the play was written). Moreover the “bastards” who appear in Shakespeare’s plays like Thersites (Troilus & Cressida) or Edmund (Lear) are called, or call themselves “bastards” because they have been born out of wedlock.

[121] This would lead his adversary, Richard III, the youngest of York’s heirs to declare “in a proclamation first issued on 7 December 1484, and later repeated on 23 June 1485, that his foe had been born of ‘double avowtry gotyn’” Amin Op.Cit. p.23

[122] Dockray Op. Cit. p.53-4.

[123] Griffiths Op. Cit. p.722.

[124] From a letter written by John Stodeley to the duke of Norfolk quoted in Douglas Biggs, Sharon D. Michalove, Albert Compton Reeves Traditions and Transformations in Late Medieval England (BRILL 2002) ff.11 p.112.

[125] Benet’s Chronicle quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.66.

[126] Chronicon Angliae quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.68-9.

[127] Michael Hicks Warwick the Kingmaker (Wiley-Blackwell 2002) p.130.

[128] Anthony Gross The Dissolution of the Lancastrian Kingship (Stamford 1996) p.47 quoted in Hicks Ibid.

[129] Thomas Gascoigne Loci e Libro p. 204 quoted in Maurer Op. Cit. p.128.

[130] Dockray Op. Cit. p.66.

[131] Maurer Op. Cit. p.131.

[132] James Gairdner ed. Paston Letters 1422-1509 (1872) p.cxxx.

[133] J. L. Laynesmith The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1503 (OUP 2005) p.139-40.

[134] Ibid. p.138.

[135] An English Chronicle quoted in Dockray p.16.

[136] Dockray Op. Cit. p.80.

[137] Geoffrey Richardson The Lordly Ones (Baildon Books 1998) p.32.

[138] Kekewich Op. Cit. p.122-125.

[139] Weir Lancaster and York (Vintage 2009) p.217.

[140] Mathieu d’Escouchy quoted in Kekewich Op. Cit. p.202.

[141] Richardson Op. Cit. p.34.

[142] Weir Lancaster and York Op. Cit. p.218.

[143] V. H. H. Green The Later Plantagenets (Edward Arnold Ltd. 1955) p.331.

[144] Earl of Warwick quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.7.

[145] Richardson Op. Cit. p.35.

[146] Weir Lancaster and York Op. Cit. p.221.

[147] Peter R. Coss & Maurice Hugh Keen Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England (Boydell Press 2003) p.95.

[148] The Gentleman’s Magazine Vol.173 (F. Jefferies 1842) p.596.

[149] “The name of territories given by French kings to their sons and brothers. They enjoyed extensive powers of government within such lands” Kekewich Op. Cit. p.4.

[150] This suspicion which would prove to be justified as Richard would persuade parliament to pass the Act of Accord in 1460 which removed Edward from the succession.

[151] Benet’s Chronicle pp.223-4 quoted in Dockray p.86.

[152] Brut Chronicle p.526-7 quoted in Dockray p.88.

[153] Richardson Op. Cit. p.40.

[154] “Richard Earl of Salisbury, named Prudence” From a fragment of an anonymous ballad hung at the gate at Canterbury quoted in Frances Warwick Warwick Castle and its Earls Part I (Kessinger Publishing 2005) p.160.

[155] Weir Lancaster and York Op. Cit. p.226-7.

[156] Griffiths Op. Cit. p.818.

[157] According to Benet’s Chronicle “The king and his lords, with 40,000 men arrayed for war and banner unfurled, advanced towards them (the Yorkists)” Quoted in Dockray Op.Cit. p.86

[158] Griffiths Op. Cit. p.822.

[159] An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI, Written Before the Year 1471 ed. John Silvester Davies (Camden Society 1856) p.83.

[160] Griffiths Op. Cit. p.822.

[161] R. L. Storey The End of the House of Lancaster (Alan Sutton Publishing 1986) p.187 .Sir Thomas Tuddenham had served as Suffolk’s minister and held the post of Steward in the northern territories of the duchy of Lancaster. He and his attorney John Heydon were sworn enemies of the Duke of York. (Storey passim).

[162] Great Britain Parliament The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England Vol. 2 (printed for J. & R. Tonson, A. Millar & W. Sandby 1762) p.305-6.

[163] Ibid. p.306.

[164] Cecily’s husband – Duke of York; sons – Edward, Earl of March; Edmund Earl of Rutland; brother – Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury; nephews – Richard Neville, Earl Warwick; Edward Bourchier; John Bourchier (sons of Richard of York’s sister Isabel). Also attainted: John Clinton, Lord Powys, Sir John Dynham, Sir William Oldhall, Sir William Stanley and Sir John Wenlock. Cecily’s sister-in-law, Alice, Salisbury’s wife was also attainted. Alice was an heiress in her own right and her property was forfeited to the crown and subsequently distributed among the Lancastrian faithful.

[165] Following their defeat at Wakefield York, Salisbury and Rutland were executed and their severed heads displayed at Micklegate Bar, York.

[166] Mortimer Op. Cit. p.87.

[167] “All were declared guilty of treason, liable to death and the disinheritance of their heirs. If the rights of those heirs were to be protected, therefore, their fathers must fight for them. For the great medieval lord, with the blood of great ancestors coursing in his veins, no call could be more imperative than that” Edmund King, Medieval England (Phaidon Press Ltd. 1988) p.254.

[168] Warwick had been relieved of his command of the Calais garrison before the Coventry Parliament and Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset appointed to replace him. Following the retreat from Ludford Bridge, Warwick crossed to Calais, fortified the garrison and prevented Somerset from taking up his post. Margaret mustered reinforcements for Somerset at Sandwich. “To pre-empt this attack, Warwick sent his two best sea-captains, Sir John Dynham and Sir John Wenlock… to make a surprise attack on Sandwich… This raid was entirely successful and Dynham and Wenlock returned, bringing the main vessels as prizes into Calais and, with them, [Lord] Rivers and [Sir Anthony] Woodville who had been captured aboard their flagship” Richardson Op. Cit. p.44.

[169] Storey Op. Cit. p.187.

[170] Maurer Op. Cit. p.173-4.

[171] Teagle Op. Cit., Clews Op. Cit. et al.

[172] Maurer Op. Cit. p.82.

[173] Great Britain Parliament Op. Cit. p.306.

[174] Douglas Richardson, Kimball G. Everingham Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (Genealogical Publishing Co. 2004) p.795.

[175] Charles Boutell Heraldry, Historical and Popular (Kessinger Publishing 2005) p.190.

[176] Griffiths Op. Cit. p.867.

[177] Gregory’s Chronicle quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.94.

[178] Autopsy Op. Cit.

[179] Charles Boutell Heraldry, Historical and Popular (Richard Bentley 1864) p.339

[180] Linda Clark The Fifteenth Century XIII: Exploring the Evidence: Commemoration, Administration and the Economy Boydell & Brewer 2014 p.44. See also Albert Hartshorne The Gold Chains, the Pendants, the Paternosters and the Zones of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and Later Times in The Archaeological Journal vol. 66 (1909) p.77-102.

[181] I am grateful to Mrs Golding for noting this detail in the autopsy and for Mickie O’Neill from the Richard III Society Worcestershire Branch for pointing out that the bared teeth made the lions menacing.

[182] From the Annales Rerum Anglicarum and Gregory’s Chronicle quoted in Keith Dockray and Richard Knowles The Battle of Wakefield (The Ricardian Vol.9 No.117 June 1992) p.8.

[183] English Chronicle quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.102.

[184] “The Earl of Salisbury was taken alive, and led by the said Duke of Somerset to the castle of Pomfret, and for a great sum of money that he should have paid had grant of his life. But the common people of the country, which loved him not, took him out of the castle by violence and smote off his head” English Chronicle pp.106-7 quoted in Keith Dockray and Richard Knowles The Battle of Wakefield (The Ricardian Vol.9 No.117 June 1992) p.14

[185] Annales Rerum Anglicarum quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.102.

[186] This point is elaborated by Francis Berry The Shakespeare Inset (Routledge 2005) p.59.

[187] Whethamstede’s Register quoted in Dockray Op. Cit. p.100.

[188] See for example Dockray Ibid. p.92.

[189] Maurer Op. Cit. p.191.

[190] Complete Peerage (York Section) cited in Thelma Anna Leese Blood Royal: Issue of the Kings and Queens of Medieval England, 1066-1399: the Normans and Plantagenets (Heritage Books 1996) p.158.

[191] It is evident from Yorkist propaganda of the period that some members of the nobility were identified by animal nick-names which often related to their coat of arms or badges. “Verses on the Battle of Towton” (March 29th 1461) features the following animals which would have been recognised as representing Yorkist lords: “The bridled Horse, Greyhound, Hertes Hede, Black Ram, Wolf, Dragon and Griffon”. Quoted in John Hewitt Ancient Armour and Weapons in Europe (1855) p.436.

[192] A number of visitors including Roy Clews, Michael C. Munckton, John Shepherd, Marion Smith et. al. have commented on the squirrel and bear and the autopsy tentatively confirms this observation: “Above the shield on the left, between the helmet and the crown is a figure composed of two roughly rectangular shapes which could be a squirrel with a bushy tail. Opposite this figure, to the right of the helmet there are two semi-circles on top of a large semi-circle which could represent ears with a long deliberate curve beneath which could be the mouth of a large animal head such as a dog or bear.” (Appendix 1). The animals have been roughly sketched over the arms to show their positions in Appendix II.

[193] Norbert Schneider Still Life (Taschen 2003) p.200.

[194] James Frazer The Golden Bough (Penguin Books 1996) p.739 & 787.

[195] Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland had nine children by his first wife, Margaret daughter of Hugh 2nd Earl of Stafford and 14 children by his second wife Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. From Ralph’s death in 1425 the two branches of the family were involved in numerous disputes and inevitably took opposing sides during the Wars of the Roses. See Baldwin Op. Cit., Storey Op. Cit. and Richardson Op. Cit. passim.

[196] Examples can be found in Andrew Graham Dixon Renaissance (University of California Press 1999) p.132 and John T. Paoletti and Gary M. Radke Art in Renaissance Italy (Laurence King Publishing 2005)  p. 353.

[197] From a fragment of an anonymous ballad hung at the gate at Canterbury quoted in Frances Warwick Warwick Castle and its Earls Part I (Kessinger Publishing 2005) p.160.

[198] Ellen J. Millington Heraldry in History, Poetry and Romance (Chapman & Hall 1858) p.275.

[199] In her autopsy (appendix 1) Mrs Golding states that with regard to the animals “It would be necessary to understand the purpose for which the monument was commissioned and the historical background to give an accurate identification of the figures”. She none the less notes the pointed ears of the horse’s head.

[200] Charles Knight The Popular History of England: An Illustrated History of Society and Government from the Earliest Period to Our Own Times, Volume 2 (Bradbury & Evans 1857) p.147

Knight’s identification of the Bridled Horse as a Bourchier emblem is based on the interpretation of a contemporary poem which lists the leading participants in the Battle of Towton. There is some dispute about this identification: Writing in The Battle of Towton (1994) A. W. Boardman identified the Bridled Horse as Sir William Herbert, not Lord Bourchier’s son. This identification is repeated by Fiorato, Boylston & Knusel in Blood Red Roses (2000) and Philip Haigh in From Wakefield to Towton (2001). Boardman et al cite the source of this identification as the contemporary poem reproduced in Archaeologica (sic.) XXIX p.347 (1842). The poem does indeed appear in this edition of the journal, but there are no brackets after the name the Bridled Horse and while the author does identify some of the nobles by their emblems, giving their names in brackets, he says nothing about the Bridled Horse. The identification of William Herbert as the Bridled Horse by Boardman et al is neither justified nor explained, it is simply stated. Interestingly, the earliest of the sources (C. Knight 1857), who identifies the Bridled Horse as Bourchier, and was presumably copied by later sources which repeat this identification, cites the same article in the same journal as Boardman. It seems that this is a matter of contention between historians which an in-depth study of the Ashperton Arms, including the latest raking light techniques, might help resolve and be of use to battlefield historians.

The Bridled Horse does not appear in the Bourchier coats of arms, however it is not listed as an emblem employed by Sir William Herbert either. According to Burke, Herbert’s arms were “Per pale az. And gu. Three lions ramp. Ar. Crest – A blackamoor’s head couped sa. Wreathed about the temples ar. And gu”. Herbert’s badge and standard was a green dragon, or occasionally a draught or pack horse (which could be mistaken for a bridled horse) but this horse badge was adopted after the Battle of Towton, which the poem describes, when he was created Earl of Pembroke. I might suggest that “The Dragon cam fro Glowcestre” could be a candidate for Sir William, a Welsh nobleman, who had connections in Gloucester and might have raised a contingent from the county. There was no Earl of Gloucester in 1461 and Richard (the future Richard III) was only eight at the time and presumably did not participate, being created Duke of Gloucester (in November 1461) after the battle, so the poem is speaking of deployments rather than titles. In this regard the disposition of the Water Bouget (Henry Bourchier’s symbol) and the Bridled Horse together on the battlefield suggests that they had arrived together, as might have been expected of a father and son, leading their contingent to the battlefield and proposing to fight alongside each other as was often the case. As Bourchier’s two eldest sons (Richard of York’s nephews who would have both been in their 30s by 1461) had been mentioned in the attainder and were considered prominent Yorkists, it is likely that they were at Towton and that they would have displayed different banners from that of their father. Their being referred to as the Bridled Horse(s) might be the result of some form of word-play which, like Salisbury’s nickname, Prudence, had no connection to their coats of arms, and whose meaning has been lost in the intervening centuries.

[201] Great Britain Parliament Op. Cit. p.306.

[202] Autopsy Appendix 1.

[203] Coins of England – Standard Catalogue of British Coins (Spink and Son 2000) p.197.

[204] Boutell Heraldry, Historical and Popular Op. Cit. p.75.

[205] Hugh Clark An Introduction to Heraldry (H. Washbourne 1829) p.203.

[206] David S. Areford, Nina A. Rowe, Excavating the Medieval Image: Manuscripts, Artists, Audiences – Essays in Honor of Sandra Hindman (Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 2004) p.116.

[207] Chrimes (1966) p.xiii quoted in Areford et al. Ibid.

[208] Chrimes Ibid. p.xiv.

[209] The rose-en-soleil is a variation of the York rose which was adopted by Edward IV after his victory at Mortimer’s Cross (2nd February 1461) which was presaged by the apparent appearance of three suns in the sky – an atmospheric phenomenon termed a parhelion.

[210] There is possibly a further symbolic significance to the positioning of the four roses behind (sheltered by) the two great Neville lords, as represented by the squirrel and bear, their uncle and cousin, Salisbury and Warwick.

[211] Roy Clews, John Shepherd, Marion Smith among others are of the opinion that the creature is a rat or mouse. The autopsy identified this creature as follows: “The figure which most resembles an animal is to the left of the upper half of the shield. The creature which could be a vole, mole or fox lies on its back, open mouthed with a flower at its head and three at its feet”.

[212] Caroline A. Halsted Richard III as Duke of Gloucester and King of England (Carey & Hart 1844) p.37. The positioning of the flowers suggests that three of York’s sons died in infancy (positioned close to the rat’s womb) and a fourth (positioned by the rat’s head) died in childhood.

[213] For example, Michael C. Munckton’s letter to Daphne Webster 23rd January 2005.

[214] “In the marginal arts, above all in margins of manuscripts, prints and misericords, women are depicted as shrews, fighting men for power over them, destroying their virility and everyone’s honour in the process” Christa Grössinger Picturing Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art (Manchester University Press 1997) p.xiii.

[215] See for example Hope B. Werness The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art (Continuum International Publishing Group 2006) p.285; Sandra D. Stahl Literary Folkloristics and the Personal Narrative (Indiana University Press 1989); Katharine M. Rogers The Cat and the Human Imagination (University of Michigan Press 2001) p.17.

[216] Carroll Hilles in New Medieval Literatures Vol.4 eds. Wendy Scase, Rita Copeland, David Lawton (OUP 2001) p.200.

[217] Children of Cecily Neville and Richard of York: Anne (1439-76); Henry (1441); Edward (1442-83); Edmund (1443-1460); Elizabeth (1444-1503); Margaret (1446-1503); William (1447); John (1448); George (1449-1478); Thomas (1451); Richard (1452-85); Ursula (1455). The exact dates of birth of the York daughters is disputed by historians but the birth dates of the sons are accepted. There is no question that at the time the attainder was passed the Yorks had four live and four dead sons.

[218] Maurer Op. Cit. p.173.

[219] “filii scelarati have broughte it in dystresse. This preveth fals wedlock and periury expresse, Fals heryres fostred, as knowethe experyence, Unryghtewys dyherytyng with false oppresse” English Chron. Quoted in Maurer Ibid. p.176.

[220] Laynesmith Op. Cit. p.138.

[221] Rumours of Edward IV’s illegitimacy first surfaced in 1469. See J. L. Laynesmith Cecily Duchess of York (Bloomsbury Academic 2017) p.125

[222] Anthony Tuck Crown and Nobility: England 1272-1461 (Wiley-Blackwell 1999) p.251.

[223] Michael Hicks Warwick the Kingmaker (Wiley-Blackwell 2002) p.170.

[224] This would also prove a problem for Henry Tudor who claimed the throne by plea of descent through his mother Margaret Beaufort, when he became Henry VII. He was aware that this was “not tenable” due to the Beaufort illegitimacy and in his will “rests his claim to the English throne upon the right of conquest” Emma Roberts Memoirs of the Rival Houses of York and Lancaster, Historical and Biographical (Harding & Lepard 1827) p.625.

[225] Photograph illustrating article by Simon Jenkins Observer Sunday 5th April 2009.

[226] Werness Op. Cit. p.285.

[227] Carole Rawcliffe The Staffords: Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham 1394-1521 (Cambridge University Press 1978) p.26.

[228] Gregory’s Chronicle quoted in Maurer Op. Cit. p.172.

[229] Dominic Janes, Gary Waller Walsingham in Literature and Culture from the Middle Ages to Modernity (Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 2010) p. 106.

[230] Weir Lancaster & York Op. Cit. p.232.

[231] Horatio Walpole quoted in Archaeologia:or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity Vol.13 (Society of Antiquaries of London 1807) p.11.

[232] In 1459 Cecily’s youngest surviving children were Margaret (aged 13), George (ten) and Richard (seven).

[233] Great Britain Parliament Op. Cit. p.307.

[234] J. G. Bellamy The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press 2004) p.203. See also R. A. Griffiths The Reign of King Henry VI Op. Cit. p.825.

[235] Of the peers who signed the attainder “Archbishop Bourchier and ten lay peers appear to have been Yorkists” James Henry Ramsay Lancaster and York: A Century of English History ( 2002) p.219.

[236] Richardson Op. Cit. p.45.

[237] Anne Crawford The Yorkists: the History of a Dynasty (Continuum International Publishing Group 2007) p.15.

[238] In the spring of 1460 she was reported to be living at “Sir John Fastolf’s town house in Southwark” Crawford Ibid. p.16.

[239] In the attainder Henry demonstrated his forgiving nature by insisting on a final clause which “reserved the king’s right ‘to shewe such mercy and grace as shall please his Highnes’ John Watts Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge University Press 1999) p.58.

[240] Henry’s principal military commander, Henry Beaufort, 3rd Duke of Somerset was the grandson of John Beaufort, the eldest of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford’s four children. The prominent Lancastrian peer Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham was married to Cecily’s sister Anne Neville so their ten children all had Beaufort blood in their veins.

[241] Agnes Strickland, Elisabeth Strickland Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest Vol. 1-3 (Lea and Blanchard 1852) p.202.

[242] Kekewich The Good King Op. Cit. p.113.

[243] Kekewich Ibid. p.123.

[244] From the map of Lancastrian and Yorkist England reproduced V. H. H. Green The Later Plantagenets Op. Cit. p.333 it might be expected that monuments to York’s disgrace would have been displayed in Sussex close to the border with Yorkist Kent; in Dorset and Hampshire, bordering Yorkist Wiltshire and Somerset; and in Cheshire bordering the Yorkist territories of West Shropshire.

[245] Great Britain Parliament Op. Cit. p.313.

[246] Great Britain Parliament Ibid. p.413.

[247] The Stuarts were descended from Joan Beaufort (1404-1445), the daughter of John of Gaunt & Katherine Swynford’s eldest son John Beaufort, who married James Stuart and was the mother of James II of Scotland. Further Beaufort blood was injected into the Stuart line through the marriage of Henry VII’s daughter Margaret (1489-1541) to James IV of Scotland. William of Orange was descended from the Beauforts through his mother Mary Princess Royal (1631-1660), eldest daughter of Charles I. George I was descended from the Beauforts through his mother Sophia of Hanover (1630-1714) who was the granddaughter of James VI of Scotland I of England.

[248] Munckton Op. Cit.

[249] Autopsy Appendix I Op. Cit.



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