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Elizabeth Hopton, Countess of Worcester, died 1498.

Elizabeth Hopton happens to be the present author’s 14th Great Grandmother, which prompted an interest in her. I think it is fair to say she is little-known. Of course, she did not (to our knowledge) involve herself in national politics, become the King’s mistress, murder the Princes in the Tower or get in trouble for witchcraft so perhaps this is not entirely surprising, No one has ever bothered to write a romantic novel about her, either.

Elizabeth’s parents were Sir Thomas Hopton and Eleanor Lucy of Shropshire. She is believed to have been born about 1427. Her ancestors, if you went back far enough, included the inevitable Rannulf, Earl of Chester and the even more inevitable King Henry I. She was also descended from Henry III via the Mowbrays, to say nothing of the French and Spanish royal houses. Her more recent ancestors included several leading Shropshire families.

Her first husband (married before 1448) was Sir Roger Corbet of Moreton Corbet near Wem. He was about 10 or 12 years her elder. Between them they had two sons and four daughters altogether. However, Sir Roger died in June 1467.

Her next marriage was more distinguished in rank – not that Sir Roger Corbet was insignificant in Shropshire society. It was to the rather notorious Sir John Tiptoft KG, Earl of Worcester and Constable of England. Tiptoft was of a similar age to Elizabeth, but had had two previous wives. Elizabeth seems to have married him soon after Corbet’s death, but of course the marriage did not last long as Warwick had Tiptoft executed in October 1470. During that brief time Elizabeth bore Tiptoft a son, Edward, who became 2nd Earl of Worcester but sadly died in 1485, unmarried.

Elizabeth did not long remain a widow. Before December 1471 she married Sir William Stanley, at this point a loyal Yorkist and one of the victors of Tewkesbury. She had a daughter, Jane, with Stanley, and also a son, William Stanley Esquire, who died about 1498. Both had children in their turn.

However, as is well-known, after a period of great prosperity, gained (in part) by first supporting Richard III and then betraying him at Bosworth, Stanley fell from grace and Henry VII had him beheaded in 1495.

To have one husband beheaded might be a misfortune. but to lose two in this way looks like carelessness.

Some sources claim that Elizabeth married again, to one William Brews. If she did, it was right at the end of her life, as she died on 22 June 1498, no doubt reflecting on an “interesting” time on earth and, one can hope, surrounded by at least a proportion of the children she had brought into the world.





Were the Wars of The Roses an Inevitability?

In my spare time I have been reading Henry IV by Chris Given-Wilson. It’s a massive book, full of information, probably the most complete work on Henry since Wylie’s four-volume effort in the 19th Century. Frankly, I’m finding it hard going. Not because it’s a bad book (it isn’t) or because Given-Wilson is a bad writer or a poor historian (the very opposite is true) but because, quite frankly, I find Henry a deeply unsympathetic character, and the more I learn about him the less I like him.

One of the interesting snippets I have picked up from this book is that in the 1390s Henry spent over £400 in legal fees chasing up various land claims that he thought he was entitled to pursue. OK, £400 does not sound much in 2020, maybe a Solicitor’s hourly rate; but in the 1390s 1000 marks (about £667) was the basic annual income qualification for an earldom. An ordinary person would consider themselves well paid on 6d a day (2.5p modern money) or 3 shillings (15p) a (six day) week. A woman working in agriculture was often only paid a third of that. And no one was paid for the numerous religious holidays – for the ordinary person, they were time off without pay. So a good annual income was maybe £4 or £5 at best. Many would have received far less. So £400 was a heck of a lot of money.

Now, you may say, and it’s true, that pursuing legal claims for land (often dubious) was pretty much a national sport for the nobility and gentry of the late middle ages. Look at the Pastons, for example. They were always chasing up some claim or other, or someone was chasing them.

But the Pastons, in the 15th Century, were barely established as gentlefolk. They had recent ancestors who had been actual bondmen. So it’s not surprising their grip on their property was tenuous, and that they had to scrap for every penny. Similarly, it’s not hard to understand some impoverished baron trying to expand his holdings a bit – the value of land was not what it had been before the Black Death and tenants – and even labourers – had that little more edge than they had had previously.

Henry of Bolingbroke, by contrast, was heir to what was undeniably the greatest inheritance ever brought together under one roof. What’s more, he had married a very wealthy heiress. OK, he had had to share the de Bohun inheritance with Uncle Gloucester (how sad!) and his mother-in-law was still alive and inconsiderately drawing her dower, but the lordship of Brecon alone was worth £1,500 a year!

So, to be blunt, Henry was a greedy so-and-so. He was suing his Uncle Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick, and various other people, because he was not satisfied with his enormous slice of the pie.

Here’s the rub – his father, John of Gaunt, was no better, despite being incomparably the richest private individual in England. (By several streets.) Through the 1390s he persuaded Richard II to confer further sweeteners on him. For example, the duchy of Lancaster was given its special status on an hereditary basis, instead of for life. Then there was the little matter of the grant of the Duchy of Aquitaine. (This latter was in part entangled in the very complex peace negotiations with France, but did Gaunt really need another great duchy?)

Richard II was rapidly running out of things to give – England’s resources were strictly limited – but there really is no indication that the Lancaster family would ever have been satisfied.

Some people will say – “Ah, but Richard II was a lousy king.” Well, for a start, he was rather more effective than is often realised. A lot of the negative stuff is pure Lancastrian propaganda, much of it invented after Richard’s deposition. (How familiar!) The reality is though that even a sovereign with the talents of Elizabeth I and Henry II rolled together would have struggled to succeed with a cuckoo in the nest as large as the Lancasters were. Remember the problems Warwick gave Edward IV? Compared to John of Gaunt – and even more to Bolingbroke post-inheritance – Warwick was a mere country squire.

Richard II had to do something about the Henry Problem. If his chosen solution failed, it was because it was, in fact, too generous, too mild, too humane. When their positions were abruptly reversed, Henry made no such mistake. Objectively, one of them was sure to be the death of the other, it was just a matter of time.

That being the case (and the same would have been true had matters gone the other way) there was set up in English politics a turbulence that was always going to cause problems sooner or later. To a point, the impact was seen straightaway. Henry IV’s reign was extremely troubled because many of his subjects simply did not see his kingship as valid. He was not, after all, Richard II’s right heir, and he had obtained his position by illegitimate force. It took him until at least 1405 (maybe 1408) to resolve matters and secure his crown. It was done by painful attrition, and with a bit of luck along the way. But it only really postponed the issue for a generation.

Henry V did his best (at the very start of his reign) to conciliate his father’s remaining enemies – such as were still alive plus their heirs – and to a very large extent this succeeded. He was further helped by his remarkable successes in France, the more or less complete inability of his obvious dynastic rival, the Earl of March, and by the fact that the third Duke of York was still a little boy.

However, it only took the failure of Henry VI’s kingship to bring the dynastic issue back on the table, and then set the whole structure of Lancastrian kingship tumbling down. Could it have been avoided? Probably not, except in a magical world where Henry VI is much more effective as a ruler and finds the cheat button that releases unlimited resources to enable the French war to be won. In the real world, there was not a chance.




The advantages of marrying young

Although the medieval practice of child marriage seems strange to us, if not repulsive, there were advantages that arose from it, particularly for the bride.

For example, Anne of Gloucester, Richard II’s cousin and daughter of Thomas of Woodstock married the Earl of Stafford at a very early age. He died while she was still far too young for the marriage to be consummated. Nevertheless, she was granted dower, one third of his lands for life.

You might have thought that with the marriage not being consummated it would have been classed as null and void. After all, any Church court was ready to void an unconsummated marriage between adults. However, this is one of those areas where the English Common Law took a hand, and it took the view that even so young a “wife” as Anne was entitled to her marital dower lands in the event of her husband’s death.

The advantages of child marriage, where substantial lands were concerned, are therefore quite obvious from the point of view of the bride’s parents. Of course the snag was that she had no say in the choice of bridegroom, but then again, at this level of society in this era she rarely would have done anyway. (Fond parents did sometimes allow a girl to reject a marriage she found repulsive, but this is not at all the same as having free choice.) It is worth pointing out – for this is sometimes forgotten – that the male partner, if under age, had no choice either.

Anne subsequently married her first husband’s brother, who did grow up to young manhood. Their marriage was duly consummated. When he died, still only young, at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, Anne received in compensation yet another third of the Stafford lands in dower. As she was also her father’s sole heiress (her surviving sisters having become nuns) she had inherited his lands too, as well as those of those of her mother, co-heiress of the Bohun family.

In 1405 Anne married (presumably her own choice this time) William Bourchier, later Count of Eu.) When he died in 1420 she received dower from him too.

Anne herself lived into 1438, and died a very wealthy woman indeed.









King Henry VII – an ugly abomination

In the late 1930s it became fashionable for railways to “streamline” steam locomotives. The Great Western Railway could not be bothered to do a proper job, but as a gesture towards the trend modified one of their existing locomotives to the incredibly ugly condition seen above.


The engine chosen? King Henry VII.

Clearly someone high up at Swindon Works was a closet Ricardian with a sense of humour.

My Questions About Richard III.

If Richard was planning to seize the throne all along why did he a.) start by getting everyone in Yorkshire to swear allegiance to Edward V and b.) set off south with only a modest retinue of 300 men? Given that he was in a position to raise most of the north in arms, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to do just that?

If we accept that Richard did not initially plan to seize the throne what made him change his mind? a.) An attempted ambush by the Woodvilles/Wydevilles? b.) The realisation that he ‘couldn’t work’ with Edward V? c.) The discovery of the precontract? d.) Or did he just wake up one morning and think ‘**** it, I’ve not got any supporters down here but I’ll take the throne anyway!’

Why did Elizabeth Woodville run off into sanctuary, given that the Woodvilles were (supposedly) innocent of any wrong-doing? As a woman and a Queen, no one was going to kill her, and by staying out and standing her ground, could she not have made Richard’s work a lot more difficult to achieve?

Why did Richard only send for his supporters when things had already kicked off and when it was actually too late for them to get to London to help him? Was he really that bad a planner or is it more likely that he was taken by surprise by some development?

Why did Anthony Woodville send off for an exemplification of his powers to recruit troops in Wales just at this particular time? Did he think Owain Glyndwr had come back or had he some other purpose for raising armed men?


(Reblogged from The Yorkist Age)

A Naughty Anchorite

Isolde de Heton, a widow, retired to a hermitage attached to Whalley Abbey with the intention of living as an anchorite. Henry VI appointed her to the position during 1437-38. Isolde, besides having a roof over her head, was to receive a weekly food allowance that included twenty-four loaves of bread and eight gallons of beer. She was also to have a weekly cash allowance and two servants to look after her, with access to the abbey kitchens.

This is not quite the austere lifestyle one might imagine an anchorite enduring. Indeed, many modern widows would be glad of such generous support!

Nevertheless, Isolde evidently received a “better offer” perhaps a chance to live with a man (or woman) of her choice. The Abbot of Whalley, John Eccles, petitioned Henry VI during 1440-41 to close the hermitage due to Isolde having broken her vows. She had been absent for “two yere and more” and was showing no intention of returning and making amendment. Moreover, her women servants had been “misgovernyd” and “gotten with chyld” within the hallowed space.

Presumably these servants had some assistance in making babies, but the abbot did not bother to identify the male culprits. Perhaps they were too close to home.

Henry VI obliged by dissolving the hermitage and replacing it with a chantry for the benefit of the soul of Henry, Duke of Lancaster. Chantry priests were, of course, most unlikely to become pregnant.

Sadly we do not know what became of Isolde and her servants. Certainly, they lost their secure provision.

Source: The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy by John A. Clayton, pp. 203-204




Knights Banneret

A Knight Banneret must not be confused with a Baronet – the latter title did not come into use until the 17th Century and was (and is) in effect an hereditary knighthood.

In the Middle Ages a Banneret was a senior knight, either by experience or wealth, but more likely the latter. He was marked by entitlement to a rectangular banner, as opposed to the pennons carried by lesser knights – technically “knights bachelor”. The qualifying income seems to have been £200 a year, although many were much richer. Kings who wanted to promote a knight with an inadequate income to the rank of Banneret would often give them a money grant to make up the difference.

A Banneret would have a larger retinue than an ordinary knight, and the retinue might well include lesser knights in its composition. He was also paid double the war wages of an ordinary knight.

In the 14th Century, it was common for Knights Banneret to receive an individual summons to Parliament. Where they did, it is hard to distinguish them from a parliamentary baron, who normally received an identical summons. (The first barony by letters patent was not created until 1387.)

The distinction seems to be that a Knight Banneret’s individual summons  was not usually passed to his heir. If it was, in effect, a parliamentary baronage was created. Nigel Saul (1) gives the examples of Sir Roger Beauchamp (summoned between 1363-1379), Sir Richard Stafford (1371-1379) and Sir Guy Brienne (1350-1389). These men’s heirs were not summoned. It is tempting to think of them as Life Peers, but this is anachronistic.

In the fifteenth century the distinction between gentry on the one hand and peerage on the other became much clearer. This is at least in part because all new peerages were now created by letters patent. An effect of this was to limit the inheritance of peerages to heirs male, except in the case of the earlier creations, because letters patent almost invariably excluded female inheritance.

(1) Knights and Esquires: The Gloucestershire Gentry in the Fourteenth Century, Nigel Saul. Page 8.




An Obscure Lady of the Garter

Recently, for the purposes of writing fiction, I had cause to check who was admitted to the Garter in 1387. (This is the sort of weird stuff I do all the time and helps explain why for me to write a book takes aeons.)

Anyway, the simple answer is Edward of York (later 2nd Duke of York) and Dame Katherine Swynford. Two very familiar names. And appointed for very obvious political purposes. To give favour to the father of one (Edmund of Langley) and the “close personal friend” of the other (John of Gaunt.) Note Katherine S was not languishing on her Lincolnshire muck-heap at this point, she was joining the most exclusive club going in the England of 1387.

But there was also someone called “Lady Gomeneys”. Who the **** was she? I had literally no idea, but being me I had to find out. And with a fair bit of scrabbling around, I did. At least to a point.

Anne, Lady Gomeneys was the widow of someone called William de Graux, who had been accused of treasonable doings with the French, but had later been pardoned. So it looks very much as if Richard II felt that this woman had been hard-done by and wanted to make amends, not least by giving her the Garter! So this obscure widow got to sit with a carefully-chosen bunch of Plantagenets, high-born ladies, and widows and wives of distinguished English soldiers. She certainly had no discernable political heft, and this is at a point where Richard needed everyone he could bribe. It is notable, for example, that Henry Bolingbroke’s wife did not get her Garter until the following year, when everything was very different politically.

On 13 November 1389 Anne Gomeneys was granted an annuity of 100 Marks, apparently as a further recognition of her innocence.

The surprising thing is that in 1409 Henry IV (who was not generous with these honours) granted Anne Gomeneys Garter robes again.

I would love to know more, but I suspect it would take a lot more searching than I can do from this desk.

(Reposted from The Yorkist Age.)



The Mortimer Succession.

It used to be suggested that Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, was nominated as Richard II’s successor in the Parliament of 1385, but this was questioned by historians due to lack of supporting evidence.

It appears that March was in fact so nominated in the Parliament of 1386. (Source – (Ian Mortimer, ‘Richard II and the Succession to the Crown’, History, vol. 91 (2006), pp. 320–36.) This explains why the Westminster Chronicle (written in the 1390s) is quite clear that March, not Lancaster, was heir.

The Parliament of 1386 – the Wonderful Parliament – busied itself by being extremely critical of Richard’s government. It impeached the Chancellor (the Earl of Suffolk) and caused the removal from office of the Treasurer. It also set up a Commission which pretty much took over the government for 12 months. So in other words “the opposition” was in charge. This may explain why the Mortimers were not elevated in any way, because Richard II may not have approved of the nomination. Of course only he, personally, could give promotion within the peerage or in terms of precedence. There is no suggestion that March ever took precedence of the dukes of Lancaster, York and Gloucester. Indeed, from what I can make out he had only the precedence due to him as Earl of March and nothing more.

Late in Richard’s reign March fell from favour – just before he, March, died. Ian Mortimer has stated that he believes Richard intended Edmund of Langley to succeed him at this point, and this seems likely given the alternatives.

It is worth noting that no “rules” governing the succession were in place at this time, and in the absence of a direct heir it was not absolutely clear who had the right to determine the succession. The King? Parliament? However the very fact that the 1386 Parliament felt competent to make this determination suggests strongly that even this early in history the role of Parliament was decisive. Had Richard reigned longer, would he have produced a succession statute, or Letters Patent to determine the matter? Sadly, we can only speculate.




The Nuns Of Fotheringhay

English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1540 by Roy Midmer states that a foundation of Cluniac nuns was founded at Fotheringhay by Simon de St. Litz (aka Simon de Senlis) Earl of Huntingdon circa 1141. The nuns “soon” moved to Northampton (Delapre). However they “retained their church and endowments” until the foundation of the College by the 2nd Duke of York in 1411.

This implies that the original church was built in 1141, although it is entirely possible (perhaps probable) that it incorporated earlier work. Presumably the Delapre nuns had the advowson.

It also seems reasonable to assume that the nunnery buildings would have been on the site later used by the College, immediately adjacent to the church, between it and the river.

What means the 2nd Duke of York used to persuade the nuns to give up their property so he could develop his College is not clear. Were they “bought off” or were they simply “told”? The College had a charter from Henry IV so that may have been the decisive factor.





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