James Touchet, Lord Audley, was born about 1398. He was not in the first rank of magnates but nevertheless had significant estates, notably Heighley Castle, near Madeley in Staffordshire, and the Red Castle (Hawkstone) in Shropshire, as well as two small Marcher lordships in Wales.
His first marriage was to Margaret Roos, daughter of Lord Roos of Helmsley, and may have been made as early as 1415. Margaret was descended from, among others, King Henry III and the Arundel family. Together they had at least three children, John, Elizabeth, and Anne Touchet.
Margaret Roos died at some point before 1430. Audley then married Alianore Holland, daughter of Edmund Holland and Constance of York. Through her mother, Alianore descended from King Edward III, and through her father, from the ‘Fair Maid of Kent’ and King Edward I. She also happened to be the half-sister of the Countess of Warwick, and for that matter was a first cousin to Richard, Duke of York.
Audley and Alianore seem to have gone immediately to the bishop’s court in an attempt to assert her legitimacy. What their evidence was we do not know, sadly. It would be very interesting to see their proctor’s brief. As it was, Kent’s heirs, led by Margaret, Duchess of Clarence, took a petition of their own to Parliament – note, not the spiritual court! – and effectively had the matter quashed. What the verdict of the spiritual court was, if any, we do not know; but it is certain that Alianore Holland was not allowed any inheritance from her father.
James and Alianore had a significant brood of children, who generally went by the name of Audley, rather than Touchet; though not, it seems, invariably. Surnames were not quite as rigid in their application back then. The Fitzalan family may be cited as an example. In the late 14th Century, they certainly preferred to use the surname ‘Arundel’ rather than Fitzalan. For example, it was Archbishop Arundel, not Archbishop Fitzalan.
In 1459, at a time when Margaret of Anjou and her son were touring the area handing out livery badges to all comers, Audley found himself given command of a small army tasked to halt the Earl of Salisbury who was on his way from his lands in Yorkshire to Ludlow, where the Yorkist lords were concentrating their forces. They met at Blore Heath on 23 September 1459, where Audley’s men made three charges at the outnumbered but entrenched Yorkists. In the second of these charges, James, Lord Audley was killed.
He was far from alone. The day took a heavy toll on the gentry of Cheshire who had taken the Swan livery and stood with Audley. Audley’s daughter from his first marriage, Anne Touchet-Dutton was particularly hard hit, losing her father, her husband and her eldest son all in one day. One can barely imagine such sorrow.
James’ eldest son, John, born of his first marriage, now became Lord Audley and was at first a Lancastrian like his father. However, he was one of those captured in a Yorkist raid on Sandwich and carried off to Calais. Unlike his companions, he immediately defected to York, and as well as fighting at Mortimer’s Cross, Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury on Edward’s side, he became a firm favourite of Edward IV. Indeed, he was one of those to whom Warwick took exception, along with the Woodvilles and Lord Herbert, which says much about his political position.
His half-brother, Sir Humphrey Audley of Swaffham, chose a different path; possibly because he had married into the Lancastrian Courtenay family. He attached himself to Margaret of Anjou’s Lancastrian army in 1471, fought at Tewkesbury, and after the battle was beheaded in the town. He lies in Tewkesbury Abbey, close to the Duke of Somerset, and not very far from some of his half-blood Despenser relatives.
Another brother, Edmund, entered the Church and gained his first bishopric from Edward IV, later receiving two further translations from Henry VII to end as Bishop of Hereford. In our terms, he was probably a career civil servant.
To return to John, Lord Audley – he transferred allegiance to Richard III readily enough, and, despite possibly falling under some suspicion at the time of Buckingham’s revolt, became Richard’s Lord High Treasurer in 1484. With Lovell, he was sent to the south coast to resist the anticipated invasion by Henry VII in 1485 and almost certainly was not present at Bosworth. He was not attainted and died peacefully in his bed in 1490.
He was succeeded as Lord Audley by his eldest son James. (A younger son, John, married Isabel Mylbery, who may have been an illegitimate daughter of Edward IV.) James was born about 1463 and married Margaret Darrell daughter of Richard Dayrell of Lillingston Dayrell, Buckinghamshire. His second wife was Joan Bourchier. He had children with both wives.
It seems Audley became unhappy with Henry VII’s heavy financial exactions, and possibly he also felt undervalued, as he did not receive any significant patronage. In any event, he joined the 1497 Cornish Rebellion and became its leader, no doubt because he was the only nobleman to adhere.
Following the defeat of the rebels, Audley’s fate was inevitable. He was beheaded and attainted. The Audley title was restored to his eldest son in 1512, but not until 1533 was a full restoration of the family lands achieved.
The James Touchet, Lord Audley killed in 1459 has numerous descendants to this day, although some family trees falsely claim descent from his second wife rather than his first. Both wives are in fact amply represented among us. His most eminent descendant is perhaps Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, but there are many more.