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So who did Anne Mowbray take after….?

GENEALOGICAL TREE

What is one of the first things we say on seeing a new baby? Something along the lines of how much the new arrival takes after his/her father/mother/uncle/aunt/grandfather etc. etc. For those of us with a great interest in history, it is almost irresistible to compare various historical figures in the same way. For instance, we think of Edward IV, 6’ 4”, handsome, glamorous and so on. Then we think of his grandson, Henry VIII, who was much the same. And the looks of both deteriorated abysmally as they aged. Birds of a feather.

Edward IV and Henry VIII

Edward IV and Henry VIII

I won’t even mention Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who were completely interchangeable!

Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort

The very proper Lady Eleanor Talbot was a well-connected widow for whom it seems the young King Edward IV fell so heavily that he was prepared to promise marriage in order to get her into his bed. It was the only way he’d have his wicked way. But when he consummated this promise, he made it a marriage in fact. Edward must have thought he had this inconvenience covered. His vows with Eleanor were exchanged in secret, and the whole clandestine marriage was kept under wraps afterward. Then he fell for another attractive widow, Elizabeth Woodville, who, the legend goes, waylaid him on the highway, wearing black, her arms around her fatherless sons. She would not give him what he wanted either, unless he married her. Aha,  the incorrigible Edward no doubt thought, I’ll pull the same trick as before. This time, however, he chose the wrong lady. Elizabeth Woodville and her large family were a whole new ball game, as the saying goes.

Elizabeth Woodville waylays Edward IV

Edward came clean about this dubious marriage, probably to spite the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker). Eleanor, the injured wife, said nothing, even though she lived on for four years after this unlawful second marriage. Elizabeth Woodville was never any more than Edward’s mistress, and all her children by him were illegitimate. The rest, they say, became England’s history.

I was asked to take two portraits—apparently reliable likenesses created by modern science—of two particular medieval ladies, Eleanor Talbot and her niece, Anne Mowbray (see The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, figs. 5-6)—to see if such a swap-over brought out any family likeness. Well, this particular tweaking was beyond my capabilities because the angles of the faces were too different. So my next thought was to see if these ladies bore any likeness to other members of their families. By examining their families, I mean parents and grandparents. If I try to go further, far too many of England’s aristocratic lines will be drawn into the equation. And what with there being so many remarriages and half-families, it can very quickly get out of hand.

I am very conscious, too, that all of these people can only be assessed from contemporary descriptions, tomb effigies, portraits or drawings. The first portrait of a king of England that is known to be a true likeness, is that of Richard II in Westminster Abbey. We know it’s accurate because he wanted it to be, and approved the result, complete with those strange, heavy-lidded eyes. Richard’s tomb effigy is therefore accurate as well, because the same features are there.

Richard II

The Westminster Abbey effigy of his grandfather, Edward III, was clearly taken from a death mask, and shows his mouth with the droop that indicates a stroke. Accuracy, it seems. But what of Edward III’s eldest son, Richard II’s father, Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince? Well, we have his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral, but it seems stylised. . .except, perhaps for the same heavy-lidded eyes? Or am I seeing something that isn’t actually there? Edward III does not seem to have resembled his grandson at all.

Edward III and the Black Prince

Edward III and Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince

But these are royalty, with a capital R. Just how much accuracy was involved amid the nobility in general is impossible to assess. However, being a game lass, I’m prepared to have a go at detecting the all-important family likeness when it comes to Eleanor and Anne Mowbray, and Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor’s full sister and Anne’s mother.

Elizabeth, Eleanor and Anne

left to right: Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor Talbot and Anne Mowbray

Let us discuss what is known of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s appearance. Eleanor appears to have been striking, with a large nose, longish face, slanting eyes and small chin. She has been given almost black hair and eyebrows. To me, Elizabeth has the same shape of face as Eleanor. Her portrait is from a medieval stained glass window, but there is, of course, no way of knowing if the creator of that window was attempting to produce a true likeness. The long face appears in turn to have been inherited from their father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. His tomb effigy, although damaged, seems to depict the same facial structure as Eleanor and Elizabeth. The only thing that can be said is (provided the effigy is meant to be accurate) he had a long face and fairly strong chin. Unless, of course, the chin is actually meant to be a small beard. I cannot tell, having only seen photographs.

The Tomb of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury

One thing we do know about him is that he had dark, almost black hair. Here are three other likenesses of him that show this, albeit his hairstyle being that awful crop worn so unflatteringly by Henry V. By the time of John Talbot’s death, his hair was long again, or so his effigy suggests. Of the three images, the two smaller ones show the long face. The large one does not. Two out of three? I’ll go with the long face.

Three images of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury

Subsequent Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury were of the half-blood to Eleanor and Elizabeth, descending from their father’s first marriage. Trying to work out which illustrations are of these earls, or more of the 1st earl, has proved most unsatisfactory. I thought I’d found the 2nd and 3rd earls, only to discover the same illustrations elsewhere claiming to be of the first John Talbot. So I left well alone, and stuck to likenesses that I know are of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s father, the 1st earl.

All in all, I feel it very likely that Eleanor—and maybe Elizabeth too— had John Talbot’s dark hair. Not necessarily, of course. My mother had very dark hair, and my father was blond. I am blonde. And Lady Anne Mowbray had red hair. Where did that come from? Eleanor and Elizabeth’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp? Or her own father, John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk? Or somewhere else entirely, after all she had Plantagenet blood too. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a reliable likeness of Margaret, but There is one source that shows us almost certainly the appearance of Margaret’s father, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick. I refer to his amazing chapel at St Mary’s in Warwick.

Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick - his tomb in Warwick

So, was he a prime example of the Beauchamps in general? Did they even have a “look”? Maybe they were all different. In his tomb effigy, we see him with that dreadful cropped hairstyle (albeit with curls) made famous by the best known portrait of Henry V. In Beauchamp’s case it’s hard to tell if it’s the cut that gives him a high, wide forehead, or if he did indeed have a high, wide forehead. His chin is small, his mouth thin and straight, and his nose small and pointed, but he too has rather heavy-lidded eyes. Or so they seem to me. And what colour was his hair? Red, perhaps? If there is a likeness between the 13th Earl of Warwick and little Anne Mowbray, it seems unlikely that her looks have anything to do with her Talbot or Mowbray blood, but come from her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp. Yet who knows? The case is unproven.

mourners around Richard Beauchamp's tomb

Some of the mourners that surround Richard Beauchamp’s tomb

Warwick married twice, and Margaret Beauchamp was the offspring of his first wife, Elizabeth Berkeley. What was she like? Hard to say. There are a number of mourners depicted on Warwick’s tomb, little figures swathed in robes. Is Elizabeth Berkeley one of them? They are not named, except for two, one being Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and the other his sister. Both were the children of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury. She was the wife of Richard Beauchamp’s son and heir, Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, whose early death brought greats riches and titles to her brother, the Kingmaker, who was married to Richard Beauchamp’s only other child, Anne Beauchamp.

Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and his wife, Cecily. Mourners on the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, and his sister Cecily Neville, who became Duchess of Warwick.

Anne was the only child of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and on his unexpected and early death, she became a great heiress. Was it from him, not Richard Beauchamp (or both) that she gained her red hair? I cannot find a portrait of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, but this is a representation of another John Mowbray (the 2nd Duke) that seems fairly reliable as being him. It is from Doyle’s ‘Official Baronage,’ after an engraving by W. Hollar, from a window in St. Mary’s Hall, Coventry. There is no way of knowing if he typifies the Mowbray “look”, and I do not detect him in Anne’s likeness.

John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Anne attracted the avaricious interest of Edward IV, who had had been her aunt’s husband. Eleanor Talbot had passed away in 1468, a few years before Anne’s birth. Edward IV decided to snap Anne up for his younger son, Richard, Duke of York (who would became one of the so-called “Princes in the Tower”. Both were still small children when they became husband and wife. She died shortly afterward, and Edward IV held on to her entire inheritance for her widower, Richard. The following illustration is imagined, of course!

marriage anne mowbray and richard duke of york

Her Plantagenet kin are well-known to us all, of course, and I can’t say I look at her and think of any of them.  In the picture below, one of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV and Richard III. I do not see any of these ladies as resembling Anne Mowbray. But then maybe these likenesses are run-of-the-mill, not serious attempts at portraits.

One of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville.

The next illustration is of Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley, who was Eleanor and Elizabeth’s maternal grandfather. His nose looks rather obviously repaired (invented, even) so his looks cannot really be assessed. He and Lord Lisle, one of the Talbots, were at each other’s throats for a long time, until he finally defeated and killed Lisle at the Battle of Nibley Green on 20th March 1469/70. Incidentally, Lisle was the brother of Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his tomb effigy looks like a carbon copy of the Black Prince’s at Canterbury.

left, Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley,, and, right, John Talbot, 1st Lord Lisle

left, Sir Thomas Berkeley, and right, John Talbot, 1st Lord Lisle

Below is a drawing from the tomb of Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex, who was the son of William Bourchier, 1st Count of Eu and Anne of Gloucester. He was, therefore, Anne Mowbray’s great-uncle (I think!) Again, if there is a likeness that has passed down to Anne, I cannot perceive it.

henry-bourchier

Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex

So here is my conclusion. If there is a resemblance between Anne Mowbray and her aunt Eleanor, it is not evident to me. They do not seem in the least alike. Eleanor and her sister Elizabeth are Talbots through and through. Little Anne Mowbray is not a Mowbray or a Talbot, but a Beauchamp. I see a definite resemblance to her maternal great-grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.

I see no likeness between Richard Beauchamp and his granddaughters, Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his echo surely sounds strongly in little Anne. In Richard and his great-granddaughter I see the same high, wide forehead, small nose and chin, and general similarity, albeit between adult male and female child.

Anne Mowbray and her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick

I anticipate that many who read this will disagree with my assessment, and I look forward to seeing comments. There will be no argument from me, because I know it all has to be conjecture.

 

 

 

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Cecily Neville

As we mentioned here, Ashdown-Hill’s biography of Richard’s mother was published in April. Whilst his latest, to which we shall return later, was released today, we shall concentrate on Cecily here.

This is the book that summarises Cecily’s life by delineating her full and half-siblings, demonstrating that portraits (right) previously assumed to be of her and Richard, Duke of York, are of other people. Ashdown-Hill then lists her pregnancies and shows where each of her children were probably born – there is no mention of a Joan but there is further evidence about the birth date of the future Edward IV and Cecily’s ordeals during the first peak of the Roses battles. He deduces how much she knew and how she probably felt about Edward’s bigamy and the Wydevilles, together with the part she played, as a Dowager Duchess, in Richard III’s coronation, but also her years living under Henry VII and a “between the lines” interpretation of her will.

In all, the eighty years of Cecily’s life, survived only by two of her daughters are described in great detail in a book that demonstrates further painstaking research by an author who clearly knows even more about the fifteenth century than he did two years ago.

Now on to this one (right) …

 

Uncle Richard?

richard-iii-huffington

A long time ago, I posted a short article about one of my ancestors, Thomas Snellgrove, who was a portrait artist and painted an actor portraying Richard III. Here is the link.

Portrait of actor playing Richard by Snellgrove

George Frederick Cooke playing Richard III by T.W. Snellgrove

I have been researching my family history for over thirty years and it used to be a very slow and painstaking process. The internet has obviously made things easier and quicker in many ways and I now have some other interesting Ricardian links to report.

I found a probable direct ancestor called Sir Henry Vane, the Younger – I had not heard of him, but discovered that he was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War and was beheaded on Tower Hill after Charles II returned to the throne. Interesting, so I started tracing his family back further and came upon a Vane who had married a lady called Joan Haute. As you probably know, there was a Katherine Haute to whom Richard gave an annuity of £5 and this was considered suggestive of her having been his mistress and mother of one or both of his illegitimate children. I did find a Katherine, married to a James Haute, brother of my ancestor.

I carried on further and found that Joan Haute’s grandfather, Richard, was married to an Elizabeth Tyrrell, sister of James Tyrrell, one of Richard’s henchmen, accused of murdering the ‘Princes in the Tower’ on his orders. It was odd to think I had recently visited the Tyrrell chapel at Gipping and seen the memorials for the Tyrrell family in the church at Stowmarket – how strange that these could be my relatives!  James was executed at the Tower too, by Henry VII.

And Richard Haute’s mother was a Woodville, sister to Richard Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s father. Elizabeth, as we know, was Richard’s sister-in-law (or at least was thought to be until it was found the marriage was invalid).

Sir Henry Vane’s wife was Frances Wray, and I next followed her line back. Her father married Albinia Cecil, great granddaughter to William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. One of his sons (half-brother to my presumed ancestor, Thomas Cecil) was Robert Cecil, who was thought to be the ‘model’ for Shakespeare’s Richard III; he was an unpopular politician of the time and also a hunchback.

Pic of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Thomas Cecil meanwhile was married to a Neville! This was Lady Dorothy Neville, descended from George Neville, brother to Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother! This would make Richard my 1st cousin 17 times removed.

It’s not all good though; there are four connections to the Stafford family, two of which are direct lines to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard and was called by him ‘the most untrue creature living’ – another executed ancestor.  And, of course, via the Nevilles, I would also be related to Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor through the John of Gaunt line. ☹

Another not-so-good link is to the Percy family and thence to Henry Percy, who was lynched by a mob when he tried to raise taxes in Yorkshire, for not supporting Richard at Bosworth.

Yet another is to the Brandon family via the sister of William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s Standard Bearer, whom Richard personally killed at Bosworth. He would be my 16 x great uncle.

Other significant names that I haven’t fully explored yet are: Howard, Harrington, De Vere, Zouche, Somerset, Bourchier and  Clifford.  I haven’t found any Stanleys yet!

One of the Stafford links also leads to Margaret, daughter of George of Clarence and there is another to Margaret Courtenay, whose mother could be Katherine of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (her father married twice and it isn’t known which wife Margaret was born to – the second one was descended from John Neville, brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). These connections would make Richard also my 16 x great uncle. This would mean that one 16 x great uncle (Richard III) killed the other (William Brandon)!

Graham Turner painting of Richard III at Bosworth killing William Brandon

The Battle of Bosworth (Richard III killing William Brandon) by artist Graham Turner, copyright Graham Turner. N.B. Prints and cards of this and many other Ricardian scenes are available – click on the picture above to see.

How convoluted and complicated were the relationships in those days. But it just reveals how, if you can just find one key link into the nobility, you are basically related to them all!! It is also said that nearly all English people are descended from Edward III, so going by my experience (and Danny Dyer’s!) it could be true. I encourage anyone to have a go at researching their family – it is fascinating.

One caveat if you use the internet to do your research though – you have to be careful not to replicate others’ mistakes – I have found Cecily Neville given as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and someone getting married before they were born – I know they married young in those days, but really!

 

 

Cecil image credit: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

English kings, queens and ladies of the late 15th century and their books….

On a whim, I acquired a copy of The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, edited by Marion Glasscoe. It concerns the papers that were the proceedings of the Exeter Symposium IV: Dartington 1987. And the first of these papers concerns The Mystics and the Early English Printers, and is by George R. Keiser.

I confess this is not my usual territory, but I found it all very interesting. The objective of this particular paper is to argue about points regarding Wynkyn de Worde’s significance in printing in England. Wynkyn was a Dutch emigrant who first worked with Caxton, but in 1500 set up on his own to approach printing from his own perspective. Caxton was apparently not much inclined to print in English, but Wynkyn de Worde did just that.

That is not my interest here, because my Ricardian leanings take me down a side road. By that I mean, a little delve into the literacy, or lack of it, of the royals of the late 15th century.

Edward IV - Caxton

edward_iv_signature

Caxton had done well under the Yorkist kings. There is a famous Victorian painting of Edward IV and his family visiting Caxton’s printing press, and according to Weiser, it is generally accepted that the kings who preceded Henry VII were well educated and prepared for their royal role. According to me, this is especially true of Richard III, Edward’s youngest brother, who was particularly literate.

Richard's Books

Strangely, he doesn’t get a mention. I know he only reigned for two years, but that is no excuse for eliminating him, so I will rectify the omission by directing you to http://www.richardiii.net/2_1_0_richardiii.php where the section on his books reveals him to have been unusually steeped in literature. So, far from having little to do with printing, he was quite clearly very interested and involved. And he possessed a copy of the Bible in the English language.

Flourishing under the Yorkists meant life was not so easy after Bosworth, of course, and both Caxton and Wynkyn rather cannily approached Margaret Beaufort, who, whatever we may think of her, was a very literate woman. Wynkyn eventually styled himself “Prynter vnto the moost excellent Pryncesse my lady the Kynges mother”. She and Elizabeth of York were often approached together, and appear to have commissioned a number of book editions to give to their friends. It is not so well known how literate Elizabeth of York was, but there is, apparently, a surviving print book that contains the signatures of both ladies.

That the printers approached the ladies rather than King Henry VII might be explained by the following passage from Keiser’s paper: “…The new king had apparently come to the throne without the education and training that his predecessors had enjoyed (Chrimes Henry VII). Whether he had the literary, chivalric and devotional interests that might have inspired his patronage of the press remains an unanswered question; so too does the question why the new dynasty did not seize the opportunity to exploit the press for propaganda purposes…”

Huh??? Henry missed a chance for more propaganda? Hard to believe.

But I must be fair to Henry regarding his literacy. He spoke a number of languages, and was a highly intelligent man! Mind you, I must say that it is easier to speak a language than to write it. Even so, I have always regarded him as well educated, if not exactly well prepared to be king.

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, (mother of Edward IV and Richard III, and grandmother of Elizabeth of York, and Henry’s grandmother-in-law) was particularly distinguished for her pious life and collection of devotional writings which she bequeathed to various granddaughters.

So the royal ladies of the late 15th century were educated and literate, a fact that is often overlooked. The men are credited with being as deft with the quill as they were with the sword, while the women did nothing in particular. Is that not the usual image with which we are presented?

Finally, a rather favourite of lady of mine; indeed, the lady after whom I called myself ‘viscountessw’. Cicely, Viscountess Welles, was Elizabeth of York’s next sister in age, and therefore another daughter of Edward IV. She became the wife of John Welles, Viscount Welles, who was Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother. Thus Cicely was also Henry VII’s sister-in-law…and his aunt by marriage was well! A very highly connected lady.

Cecyll the kyng's dotther - 2

 

Cicely alone again.3

Above is an example of her signature, which has been described as ‘barely literate’. It has always grieved my modern self to think this description might indeed be appropriate. However, today, in this newly acquired book, I found the following:- “…A book-list preserved in British Library MS. Royal 15.D.2 attests that yet another of her [Cecily Neville’s] grand-daughters, Cicely Welles, had an extensive library of chivalric and devotional writings, some of which must have been printed books…”

Here is a transcript of the BL MS:-

“…Origin: England. Lionel de Welles (b. c.1406, d. 29 March 1461), 6th Baron Welles, perhaps owned by him (see M. Hamel, ‘Arthurian Romance’, Modern Language Quarterly, 51(1990)). John Welles, Viscount Welles (d. 1499), soldier and administrator, perhaps belonged to him: a list of woods sales mentioning John’s property in Well (now Welle Park, Lincolnshire) and other places in the proximity of his properties in Well and Belleau, including a reference to a personal property ‘a nacur in my nawn manour in modurwode [Motherwood, near Alferd]’, (f. 215v) (see Egbert, ‘The So-called “Greenfield” La Lumiere as lais’, Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 446-48); and a list of books in English, written probably in the same hand, including the present manuscript: inscribed, ‘In primus a boke in France clakld pokelypse / A boke of knghte hode / A boke of Caunturbere tlase / A boke of Charlman / A boke þe lyfe of our ladys lyfe / A boke the sheys of Thebes / A boke cald vita mixta / A boke cald þe vii poyntes of true love / A boke cald þe sheys of Jherusalem / A boke cald mort Arthro / A boke cald dyuys et paupar / A boke cald cronackols / A boke cald legend aure / A boke cald facekelus temporum [perhaps a text by the Carthusian Rolevink, printed in 1475]’, end of the 15th century (f. 211r).Cecilia Welles (d. 1507), daughter of Edward IV, king of England, wife of John Welles: inscribed with her name ‘Ciecyl Welles’ (now effaced…”

Well, the above paragraph does not say all the books were inscribed with Cicely’s name…or does it? I’m not quite sure. And yes, she may simply have liked looking at them, but on the other hand, perhaps she could read them perfectly well. I hope so. She became very close to Margaret Beaufort, which perhaps would not have been the case if Cicely had been an uneducated nitwit.

 

 

 

DUKE RICHARD OF YORK (1) : the man who would be king

On the 10th of October 1460, Richard Plantagenet 3rd duke of York walked into Westminster Hall wearing the full arms of England undifferenced. After a moment, he put his hand on the empty throne. When asked if he wished to see the king, he replied “I know of no one in the realm who would not more fitly come to me than I to him”. With those words, he declared to all those present that duke Richard had finally renounced his allegiance to king Henry VI and claimed the English crown by right of strict inheritance. York’s motive has puzzled historians ever since. Was it really his ‘natural disposition’ to champion the public interest, or was it the notion that he was the rightful king all along that stirred his ambition? This is the first of three essays in which I hope to explore that question from a personal perspective. I should add for the avoidance of doubt, that I have no intention of considering the validity duke Richard’s title: that is for another time. Neither is this a potted biography; I have included a few details of what I believe are some relevant friction points in his life for purely contextual reasons.

Background

Richard of York was the only son of Richard Earl of Cambridge, a Yorkist who was executed for plotting the overthrow of the Lancastrian Henry V. He was also the nephew of a Yorkist. His maternal uncle was Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, who, arguably, had a superior title to the crown than the king. Richard himself became the Lancastrian government’s severest critic.  In the circumstances, it’s easy to overlook the fact (as some historians do) that whilst he was born into a Yorkist family and died pursuing his Yorkist birthright, he was actually raised a Lancastrian.

The execution of his father in 1415 left the infant Richard in a perilous situation. As the orphan of a traitor he could expect little favour from the king. Furthermore, the death of his paternal uncle Edward 2nd duke of York at Agincourt left him without any obvious relative to take interest in his welfare. Fortunately the king treated young Richard fairly. Perhaps it was the memory of Edward’s loyal service and sacrifice that softened Henry’s attitude towards a Yorkist brat: who knows? In any event he was made a royal ward and allowed to succeed to the duchy of York, an inheritance that protected him from the full effect of his father’s attainder. Richard was given into the custody of Sir Robert Waterton, a stern and devoted Lancastrian, under whose tutelage he remained until 1423. In that year Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland — another Lancastrian adherent — purchased Richard’s wardship for 3000 marks. The high price reflected Yorks potential as a royal duke and the only heir to the vast Mortimer inheritance.

By 1424 Richard was betrothed to Cecily Neville who was Westmorland’s daughter by Joan Beaufort: she was nine and he was thirteen. It was a prestigious match and a lucrative one for the Neville’s. It was also a useful union from the king’s perspective. York was the heir to Edmund Mortimer; he would inherit Mortimer’s vast estates and his title to the throne. Lancastrian concerns about York’s title were never far from the surface throughout his minority. It represented an implied threat to the Lancastrian dynasty, which could not be ignored. One way to neutralize this threat was to attach him to a staunchly Lancastrian family and draw him ever closer into their affinity. York was knighted in 1426; two years later he took up residence in the royal household. In 1430, he and his retinue (twelve lances and thirty-six archers) accompanied the king on his coronation expedition to France. In 1432 whilst still a minor he was granted the livery of his estates. The ultimate accolade came the next year when Richard was made a knight of the Order of the Garter, a mark of royal favour and surety to his loyalty. Richard of York was raised to be a useful Lancastrian peer and he seems to have concurred with that for most of his life.

The king’s Lieutenant General in Normandy

His first experience of the vicissitudes of public service occurred between 1436 and 1445, during which time he served two tours as Lieutenant General for Normandy. It was his experiences and achievements during these tours that confirmed his Lancastrian loyalty whilst indicating his eventual Yorkist destiny. His appointment in 1436 was in succession to John duke of Bedford whose death the previous year had triggered a crisis.   York’s brief was simple: to provide good government, to preserve the military status quo and not to make any permanent decisions. The appointment was for one year only, until the king reached his majority and made a permanent appointment. Despite his inexperience, Richard’s performance was creditable. He worked well with John Talbot who drove the French from northern Normandy and he did useful work addressing the grievances of his subjects where he could. By the end of his tenure in 1437 the military situation was slightly better; Normandy was returned to English authority and he had done nothing to limit the king’s future freedom of action. The English conquests in France were regarded as the legitimisation of the Lancastrian dynasty; York, by his service had acknowledged that legitimacy.

He was sent to Normandy again 1440, arriving by the summer of 1441. The English situation remained critical and the resources insufficient. The task was still to maintain the status quo. The only things that had changed were York’s powers and the English policy. York had been given the full military and civil powers of a governor but now the king’s peace policy was official and York was expected to fight a holding campaign that would encourage the French to the negotiating table. The peace policy was remarkably divisive in England and I will deal separately with its ramifications for York.

In a brilliant opening campaign York and Talbot drove the French back to Paris, almost capturing Charles VII. Unfortunately, without a substantial reinforcement of men and material Normandy continued to be vulnerable. The English could not sustain their effort and by the spring of 1442 the French had recovered the lost ground. The ultimate humiliation occurred in the autumn of 1442, when York was commanded to ‘sue for peace’. It was part of the king’s increasingly desperate search for peace in the face of a disintegrating military situation, especially in the south. In the circumstances, Normandy was considered expendable. The following month, Talbot’s failure to re-take Dieppe was the nadir of York’s governance. Eventually, York managed to achieve a stalemate of sorts. This was due to a relaxation of pressure by the French who had their own reasons for engaging in peace talks with the English.

In April 1443 the Garter King of Arms visited York, he told him of the Council’s new plan. The Council were “aware of the threat to Normandy and Gascony had appointed John Beaufort duke of Somerset to lead an army via Cherbourg and south of the Loire and give battle to the French.” At Somerset’s request Garter emphasised that this expedition was not detrimental to Yorks command in Normandy.

The plan was for Somerset to seek out and defeat Charles VII and his main force. This was a fundamental change of policy from a defensive war to an aggressive one. Given its inevitable impact on York’s mission, it important to understand the circumstances.   The Council’s realisation that they could not afford to defend Normandy and Gascony, coupled with French intransigence, had prompted this volte-face. The concept of a single force organised and equipped to find and defeat the enemy’s main force was militarily sound; if successful, it promised decisive results. However, there were risks if — as was the case here — it was an all or nothing gamble. It was important to stop Charles VII ranging throughout France at will demonstrating that he was the actual king of all France. It was also an opportunity to relieve Gascony and provide a shield for York in Normandy.

Another factor that may have affected the Council’s thinking was their disappointment at York’s performance. The view in London was that despite the men, money and material invested in Normandy, York ‘had done precious little’ since 1441’. It’s difficult to know what York thought about this since he showed no outward animosity.   Doubtless he was worried about the possible impact of Somerset’s expedition on his own mission, particularly if king Charles VII moved north, as was his intention. Somerset was bound to follow, which could result in him intruding into Normandy, with the inevitable confusion about who was in command. If York knew of the criticisms of him at home, he might well have been resentful, and doubtless anxious about his own position if Somerset was successful.

Historians seem mostly concerned about how all this affected York’s relationship with Somerset. It is possible that it heralded the irreconcilable differences between York and the Beaufort’s that were to bedevil the future. The general opinion of John Beaufort was poor; he was not admired for either his military or his personal qualities and we have no reason to doubt that York shared that opinion.   Nonetheless, we cannot date the breach from this time. Even if York was resentful we have no reason to believe that he was anymore resentful of the Beaufort’s than any other member of the Council.

The expedition was a military and diplomatic disaster. Somerset dragged his heels getting started; he attacked the Bretons instead of the French (The Bretons were England’s allies.). He sacked the Breton town of La Guerche and, according to duke Francis of Brittany, acted like a ‘conqueror’. Once the Council had managed to smooth over the diplomatic furore, Somerset was commanded to desist from attacking the king’s friends.

Somerset’s stupidity didn’t just provide Charles VII with a good laugh; more seriously, it reduced the English options and levers for securing peace on their terms. The unpopular William De le Pole, 1st duke of Suffolk had the unenviable task of securing a favourable peace from a position of weakness.   Suffolk was well aware of the problems and the risk to his reputation if things went wrong. He demurred, pointing out his unsuitability for such a task. His objection, however, was overruled; he had to go.   Fortuitously, duke Francis of Brittany was still prepared to act as an intermediary between Henry and Charles, which alleviated Suffolk’s problems to some degree. Also, it also suited Charles’ purpose at this time to make peace with the English, due to his own domestic problems.

Margaret of Anjou

No one knows who suggested that Henry VI should marry Margaret, the daughter of Renee duke of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar. Discussions had been taking place for some time without progress and it is possible Margaret was first mentioned then. It is also possible that the idea came from the French who understood the benefits of such a match. From the English perspective the benefits were not so obvious. Margaret was only a junior royal (she was niece to the French queen); furthermore, she was not an heiress and came with a small dowry. She was also an inconsequential match for the king in diplomatic terms. The marriage secured with major territorial concessions from the English and only a two-year truce. The reaction in England was likely to be anxious at best and hostile at worst.

As the king’s leading advisor Suffolk was committed to peace. A tougher envoy less dedicated to peace may have been able to drive a harder bargain than a limited truce, the loss of Anjou and Maine, and the miserly dowry given for the future queen of England. Suffolk was right to warn the king about his unsuitability for this task. Following the truce, York was supernumerary in Normandy. All he had to do were routine administration and the settlement of his own affairs. In the summer of 1445 he was recalled from Normand never to return.

At this stage, York seemed to support the king’s desire for peace, and also his proposed marriage to Margaret of Anjou. In fact the duke tried hard to secure a suitable marriage for his own son Edward. He was negotiating for the hand of Joanna a daughter of Charles VII. It suited Charles’ purpose to engage in discussions with York (Although, he suggested that his daughter Madeleine was a more suitable match.) and they seemed to be going positively until York’s recall to England. If a suitable marriage could be arranged, it would place the duke’s family closer to the French throne than the king. He was still keen on the idea even after his return to England and intended to raise the issue with Henry. However, nothing came of it.

Assessment of York’s achievement

It is difficult to assess York’s performance objectively as contemporary opinions were often biased. One contemporary domestic commentator thought he was “ impressionable and ineffective”. A foreign chronicler writing after York’s death considered he was an effective, determined and honourable governor. According to PA Johnson, York’s biographer, he left Normandy “…very much as he found it. In a rough and ready way it could be defended. In a rough and ready way it was governable”.

We need not be too critical of him. He was given essentially defensive missions with insufficient resources, some of which he lost for Somerset’s ruinous expedition. As governor of Normandy York did what he was instructed to do. When he left it was defensible. It was not as defensible as he or others would have liked, and he could possibly have done more; however, his efforts were undermined by some hare-brained policies from Westminster. He also displayed the positive side of his character: a genuine concern for the welfare of those he governed and personal courage: moral and physical.

York was about to set out on a new chapter in his life, which would transform him from a loyal, dutiful Lancastrian into a rebel Lancastrian.

To be continued…

An overheard Conversation

‘Edward,’ said the Duchess of York, in her sad-but-angry voice, ‘it is high time we had words. This ridiculous marriage you say you have made is simply the last straw. What sort of king marries in secret? And to someone, I may add, of no particular distinction of birth! You should be ashamed of yourself, letting us all down like this.’

King Edward IV sighed. He could always tell when his mother was really angry, because she stopped calling him ‘Ned’. And her curtseys became ironic. She was an awkward sort of person at the best of times, and wasn’t called ‘Proud Cis’ for nothing! And she was the only person in the whole kingdom who still dared to talk to him as though he was an errant schoolboy with his hose down for a birching. ‘Elizabeth is a widow,’ he said, attempting a winning smile, ‘and I am a bachelor, and we both have children. So you see, dear Mother, we have excellent hope of heirs. And besides, I love her.’

‘LOVE!’ Cecily almost screamed. ‘What the flipping flip does flipping love have to do with marriage among people like us?’ She didn’t actually use the word ‘flipping’ at all, but a somewhat stronger alternative. Edward was shocked. It wasn’t every day that his mother came out with rude words like that. Indeed it was a distinct novelty. He hadn’t realised that she even knew such language.

‘Mother!’ he said soothingly. ‘I beg you not so loud. The servants will hear.’

‘I don’t give a flipping sugar if every servant from here to Peterborough hears! In fact I hope they do, and that they repeat it to all their friends, with a few additions to make it more interesting. You stupid, stupid, little man! Call yourself King of England? You’re not fit to be the squire of Chipping Sodbury. I have scraped more kingly material off my shoes after a particularly prolonged visit to the kennels. Secret marriages, indeed! I wouldn’t mind, but it isn’t even the first time. Oh, yes, do you think I don’t know about Eleanor Talbot? I had her mother, Lady Shrewsbury, banging on about it to me for five solid hours. I thought it was a lie, and sent her on her way. But it wasn’t a lie, was it?’

The King looked as sheepish as a king possibly can without actually being a sheep. ‘Well,’ he admitted, ‘not exactly.’

Not exactly,’ she repeated impatiently. ‘I should have thought that even a mentally-challenged baboon would have realised that a Christian man cannot be married to two women at the same time. So this Elizabeth isn’t really your wife at all! And what does that make your future children?’

‘No one will ever find out, Mother. Eleanor Talbot is a very reasonable sort of woman, and has kept her mouth shut on the subject.’

No one will ever find out?’ Cecily shook her head, so sharply that the elaborate veiling descending from it shook like a sail split asunder by the wind. ‘The trouble with you, my boy, is you think that everyone in the world, except you, is stupid. This time you have gone too far. I wish I could say you were not my son, but unfortunately I remember the several hours of agonising pain all too well. I am tempted to tell everyone that you were fathered by the Archer Blackburn – or Blaeburn as we called him in the affected French accent we used during our time in Rouen. I liked the Archer Blackburn, and he was tall like you, and if he really was your father it would explain your total lack of nobility.’
Edward let out an awkward laugh. ‘Mother, no one would ever believe that you, of all women, would lie with a common archer.’

‘Would they not indeed?’ Cecily snorted. ‘You’d be surprised! Did you know that your birth came at a funny time? You were either very late or very early, and there was all manner of gossip in Rouen, especially when we only gave you a cheap baptism.

‘But I am York’s son?’

‘Probably.’

Probably?’ It was King Edward’s turn to become exasperated. ‘What sort of answer is that?’

‘A better one than you deserve. Can you imagine what people will say about you in the future? What they will write in their chronicles. Because I can, and it isn’t a pretty picture; a man who had it all when he came to the throne, and threw it all away because he couldn’t keep it inside his codpiece. Not that that in itself would particularly matter – if you had made a decent marriage first!

‘To somewhat like Bona of Savoy, I suppose? How on earth can a King of England marry someone called “Bona”? What a ridiculous name to put on a tomb! Or perhaps Isabella of Castile?’

‘Either would at least have been a respectable choice. At least compared to a Lancastrian widow, whose name no one seems to know how to spell.’

‘Mother, you have forgotten. I’m already married to Eleanor Talbot. If it does come out, the Woodvilles won’t be able to do much very about it. But a princess of France or Spain! Can you imagine the scandal? It would be casus belli.’

Cecily snorted. ‘I think that’s possibly the worst case of “making the best of a bad job” I’ve heard of in my entire life. I wash my hands of you – you bastard!

Just outside, a little man smiled to himself as he made a careful note with a stylus on a wax tablet. He worked for the Duke of Clarence. So far he had had very little to report, but this was going to mean a bonus. He studied his writing to be sure he had got the wording right. ‘On two separate occasions,’ it said, ‘the Duchess of York declared in my hearing that King Edward was a bastard. She said the gossip in Rouen was that he was the son of an archer called Blayburn.’

The Double Standards of the Cairo residents

“I think we have to change things by going after those who continue to slew the historical evidence at every possible opportunity. When a writer refers to Richard raising an army against a defenceless Woodville entourage in 1483 we need to respond with the evidence that he did the exact opposite and that it was the Queen’s party who raised a small army to escort Edward back to London and Richard who kept his men to a minimum. When Richard is accused of bullying the Countess of Oxford we need to point out that she was funding her son’s treasonous activities abroad and therefore searching her lodgings and cutting off the income streams that funded his enterprises were actually quite reasonable in the circumstances. She paid the price for being Lancastrian to the core in the same way that Cecily Neville was bullied by Marguerite’s troops at the Sack of Ludlow as the wife and mother of ‘traitors’. When Sir Thomas More is quoted as a reliable contemporary source we should counter with the facts that he was a child in 1485, raised by Richard’s implacable enemy Bishop Morton and used him as a key source for his writing during the Tudor period and is therefore neither reliable nor contemporary to events. We do not need to create a saint, far from it. We need to break the cycle that portrays Richard’s actions as anything other than understandable in the context of his world. Moral judgement through C21st eyes is a nonsense in relation to the reality of life in C15th yet almost every historian who approaches Richard’s life falls back on either championing or castigating him at a deeply moral level. It is not that this doesn’t apply to other historical figures, we can think of many other individuals who are treated like this by history. We seem unable to move beyond the eternal questions of justifying or condemning which is ultimately a great hindrance to appreciating the wider picture. Richard will never be understood until we can truly embed him into his own times.”

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