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How many wives did Sir Simon Burley have….?

Plaque showing location of scaffold on Tower Hill
“Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury 1381 Sir Robert Hales 1381 Sir Simon de Burley, K.G. 1388 Richard Fitzalan, 3rd Earl of Arundel 1397 Rev. Richard Wyche, Vicar of Deptford 1440 John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford 1462 John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester 1470”

Sir Simon Burley, childhood friend, tutor and magister of Richard II, was executed today, 5th May, in 1388. He was the son of a Herefordshire knight, was brought up with the Black Prince, and rose to be one of the most powerful men in the land when he ruled the king’s household. Richard adored and revered him; relied on him. But such a dazzling career, built from nothing but his wits and the sheer childhood good luck that thrust him close to the Black Prince, ensured that he had dangerous enemies. Magnates found themselves excluded increasingly from access to young King Richard (unless they went through Simon) and they didn’t like it one little bit. They wanted great changes in the royal household, formed the group that is known to posterity as the Lords Appellant, and eventually succeeded in having Simon beheaded on Tower Hill, even though Richard II and Anne of Bohemia (on her knees) pleaded for mercy.

The Lords Appellant confront Richard II
Anne of Bohemia begs for the life of Sir Simon Burley

Whether Simon was a good man and good influence on Richard, or a grasping, over-ambitious example of malignity is rather beside the point for the purposes of this article, because I am concerned with the complexities of his marital affairs. Affairs as in the marriages themselves, not what he may have been up to outside his vows.

Many sources say he wasn’t married at all, and therefore had no children. The first part of that sentence is incorrect, the second part correct, because he doesn’t seem to have left any issue. No legitimate issue, that is. For all I know he could have populated a small village.

I came upon Sir Simon’s private life when deciding to include him in the book I’m writing that’s set around the reign of Richard II. I wasn’t going to feature him too much, but then decided I had to. So I needed to know what was what with him, commencing in 1375. From there it was an uphill toil all the way…. 😕

Nigel Saul covers Simon’s marriages in his biography of Richard II (Yale version, p 114). It seems that when Simon was serving in Aquitaine under the Black Prince, he met a lady named Marguerite de Beausse, widow of the seigneur de Machecoul. At least, I imagine this was when they met, and Saul appears to think so too. It may not be so, of course, but there is a mention of Marguerite in French records of the period. My old French isn’t too good, but the gist appears to be that when Marguerite died, there were problems involving her husband Sir Simon Burley and how/what she bequeathed to whom. This eventually required Charles V to make a judgement in July 1369. So we can be sure that Marguerite was Simon’s wife and that she died before that date.

The next we hear of Simon is that he’s married to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, daughter of Ralph Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford.

BUT, hang on there, if you look at the genealogical tree below, you will see that this is an error. Beatrice Stafford wasn’t married to Simon, but to his nephew, Sir Richard Burley. This is certain from other sources, as I will soon show

Burley Pedigree – Anecdotes of Sir Paul Pyndar

So, was Simon married to another Stafford lady? It’s also strange that his next supposed wife was a daughter of Lord de Roos. After all, Richard’s Beatrice Stafford was the widow of a Lord de Roos. Maybe uncle and nephew married two Stafford ladies at the same time? Two ladies also associated in some way with this Lord de Roos? Or Simon had one Stafford wife and one de Roos? Whatever, I can only find confirmed references to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, marrying Sir Richard Burley. It is she who definitely links the names Burley, Stafford and de Roos.

This I know from Dugdale (pp102-103) who gives illustrations of a tomb in old St Paul’s (destroyed in Great Fire) which was erroneously attributed to Simon but was actually that of Richard and Beatrice. She obtained a royal licence to build it, and financed it all, eventually joining her husband there. Another source is the Memorials of the Order of the Garter, Beltz, page 293, which gives details of the same “Simon Burley” tomb and explains that it was actually the resting place of Richard and Beatrice.

Notice on tomb in Old St Paul’s
from Dugdale
Tomb of Sir Richard Burley and Beatrice Stafford, Old St Paul’s
from Dugdale

I learn from London Remembers that in 1392 King Richard and John of Gaunt built a tomb [for Simon] in the presbytery of the abbey church of St Mary Graces on Tower Hill. See the Museum of London.

St Mary Graces, also known as Eastminster, 1543
by Wyngaerde

So, who were the other ladies who may or may not have married Sir Simon? Did they ever actually exist at all – or are they simply confused with his nephew’s wife? Did Simon only ever marry Marguerite de Beausse?

If you know the truth about the occupants of his puzzling marriage bed, please let me know, because the mystery is driving me to distraction!

Eleanor: A reminder of the evidence

I know some people in Cairo are a little slow on the uptake, but there are several independent sources, as shown by the Revealing Richard III blog. In a recent series of articles in the Ricardian Bulletin, the team cite:

  1. Titulus Regius, as composed from the petition to the Three Estates on 26 June 1483;
  2.  Richard III’s letter to Lord Mountjoy, Captain of Calais, two days later;
  3. The Crowland Chronicle, which independently confirmed the above letter;
  4. Phillippe de Commynes‘ (above left) contemporaneous (1483) reports to Louis XI;
  5. Eustace de Chapuys‘ (below left) 1533-4 letters to Charles V, showing that Henry VIII had a lesser dynastic claim to the English throne than Catherine of Aragon, his patron’s aunt;
  6. A 1486 Year Book, detailing Henry VII’s attempts to persuade Bishop Stillington to confess so that Titulus Regius could be annulled and not just destroyed unread.
    The last three all name Stillington or refer to the “Bishop of B”, such that only Bath and Wells fits that description in England during 1483-7. Birmingham, Blackburn, Bradford and Bristol didn’t have Bishops in those days.

In fact, by building on John Ashdown-Hill’s decade of painstaking research, the Revealing Richard team even link to the text of Titulus Regius. These points don’t even mention Stillington’s imprisonment, the Desmond executions, Clarence’s imprisonment and execution, Catesby’s execution, Lady Eleanor’s land dealings and testament together with Lord Sudeley’s adverse treatment and More‘s “Lady Lucy” false trail.

Henry VI’s Bed-Chamber Tutor?

There’s a new book on Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou coming out, in which historian Lauren Johnson surmises that the over-pious Henry VI may have had a few problems in the bedroom department and hence had  attendants who would ‘guide’ him in the ways of  love. Henry was a notably prudish man who once erupted in shocked fury when some female dancers arrived at court wearing gowns that ‘exposed their bosom.’ He also suffered some kind of serious mental health issues, even becoming catatonic for an extended period, an illness inherited through his mother, Catherine of Valois, whose father Charles had also suffered severe mental illness (he thought he was made of glass), as did several other members of the extended family.

It was about 8 years before Henry  and Margaret produced a child, Edward of Westminster, and the baby was born during one of the King’s bouts of illness; the monarch did not respond or acknowledge his child, even when the Duke of Buckingham placed the baby in his arms. Later, he did come round but promptly exclaimed that the baby must have ‘been brought by the Holy Ghost’.

As one might expect, rumours went around that the child was not his, but was the son of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

In his play Henry VI, Shakespeare had Margaret have a passionate fling with William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk but that does not seem to have been a contemporary rumour–however, it is interesting to note that one of the figures who was supposed to be helping Henry out in the ‘bedroom department’ was none other than the…Duke of Suffolk. Maybe the Duke decided to be a little TOO helpful on occasion… The other ‘attendant’ of note happens to be Ralph Botiller–that would be Eleanor Talbot‘s father-in-law, Lord Sudeley–although no one has ever accused him of having an affair with Margaret of Anjou. Her image, however, is on the exterior of the chapel he built at Sudeley, along with that of Henry.

 

HENRYVI

Article on Henry VI Sex Coach!

When the English ruled the Bastille….!

Historical reconstruction showing the moat below the walls of Paris (left), the Bastille and the Porte Saint-Antoine (right) in 1420

Historical reconstruction showing the moat below the walls of Paris (left), the Bastille and the Porte Saint-Antoine (right) in 1420

We all know about the storming of the Bastille on 14th July, 1789, resulting in the continued annual celebration of the occasion throughout France. But the Bastille was a medieval fortress, and we, the English, had a hand in its history. In fact, we were the reason it was built in the first place.

During the Hundred Years’ War, there was a perceived threat to Paris, especially from the east, where it was vulnerable to English attack. After France was defeated at the Battle of Poitiers, and King John II was captured and imprisoned in England, it was decided by the Provost of Parish, Étienne Marcel, that the Paris defences had to be considerably strengthened.

Among these new defences were two fortified gates, each flanked by high stone towers. These gateways were of a type known as a “bastille”. But the capital’s defences were still deemed unsatisfactory, and it was decided that a much larger fortification should be built to protect the city’s eastern flank at the Porte Saint-Antoine. “Work began in 1370 with another pair of towers being built behind the first bastille, followed by two towers to the north, and finally two towers to the south. The fortress was probably not finished by the time Charles V died in 1380, and was completed by his son, Charles VI. The resulting structure became known simply as the Bastille, with the eight irregularly built towers and linking curtain walls.” The whole was encircled by ditches that were syphoned from the Seine.

View of the porte Saint-Antoine and the Bastille (detail from Turgot's 1739 map of Paris)

View of the porte Saint-Antoine and the Bastille (detail from Turgot’s 1739 map of Paris)

The 15th century saw more danger from the English, culminating in the capture of Paris by Henry V of England in 1420, and the garrisoning of the Bastille. This was the state of affairs for sixteen years. The Bastille had already been used as a prison by the French, and the English continued to use it this way.

Henry V

Henry V

Paris was eventually retaken by Charles VII in 1436, but was then seized by the Burgundians in 1464. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that for all its power and strength, it was less a defender of Paris than a stronghold for its enemies!

Its eventual downfall came during the French Revolution, and it is for this that the great fortress is really known now. Of course, the sneaky English might say the French burned the place down before it was lost again to the Rostbifs across La Manche! No, no, my French friends, I’m only joking…. Happy Bastille Day!

The Storming of the Bastille - de Launay 1740-1789

The Storming of the Bastille – de Launay 1740-1789

The Tantalising Childhood of Richard, Duke of York

In 1416, Richard, Duke of York was just four and a half years old when, in March, he was placed into the care of Robert Waterton. Richard’s mother, Anne Mortimer, had died shortly after he was born and his father, Richard of Conisburgh, had been executed a year earlier for his part in the Southampton Plot. Richard became something of a problem for Henry V’s government when his uncle, Edward, Duke of York was killed at Agincourt. As he had no children, Richard was Edward’s heir. The son of a traitor had suddenly become one of the most important figures in England.

Robert Waterton was a stalwart of the Lancastrian government having been keeper of the king’s horses and dogs but it was in his role as keeper of problem people that he is most interesting. After the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V returned to England with a long line of prominent French prisoners in tow. Waterton acted as gaoler for many of these prisoners, though in reality their confinement was a comfortable affair with a degree of freedom.

A mandate for payment of Waterton’s expenses in 1423 noted that he was responsible for Richard, Duke of York but also listed the French prisoners still under his care. The list included Charles, Count of Eu, Arthur de Richmont, son of the Duke of Brittany, Perrin de Luppe, Guichard de Sesse and, most notably of all, Jean le Maingre, better known as Marshal Boucicaut.

Boucicaut had passed away in Yorkshire in 1421, but he was one of the most famous knights in Europe and was a tower of chivalry. He was Marshal of France at the time of Agincourt and travelled to England as a prisoner following the battle. Robert Waterton was responsible for some of the most important figures captured in France alongside his young English ward.

Whilst no evidence of any fraternising remains, it is tantalising to consider whether a young Richard, Duke of York might have met and spent time with some of France’s finest knights, representing the pinnacle of French chivalry. What would the boy have made of these famous and accomplished knights who had ended up as English prisoners? If they did spend any time in each other’s company it may well have been an experience that helped to shape the man that this young boy would become.

Charles d’Orleans was possibly the most notable of Waterton’s charges. He was a grandson of Charles V of France and lived until 1465 after his years as a prisoner. He was a senior figure in French politics and although only in his early twenties when he entered Waterton’s care, he had seen first-hand the devastation caused to a proud kingdom by the rule of a weak and incapable king. He was a prisoner in a foreign land, snatched from his dukedom and all but ruined in the prime of life because his king was not a strong leader capable of governing. His experience was almost prophetic of Richard’s later life. It is tempting to wonder what lessons Richard, even as a young boy, saw in the fate of these men and what words of wisdom they may have offered him.

Richard, Duke of York: King By Right is released on Friday 15th April 2016 by Amberley Publishing. It is a fresh examination of a figure who towers over fifteenth century history but who frequently appears in his later years at the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. By looking at his formative years and the world around him as he grew up a very different man emerges who was not the ambitious, war-mongering man history remembers him as. Richard as a very real man will emerge from this book to demand a fresh look at his actions throughout the 1450s.

You can buy Richard, Duke of York: King By Right from Amazon now.

Doubts about Edward IV’s marriage – in the age of Henry VIII!

While browsing Royal Blood by Bertram Fields I noticed the following remarkable passage, (pages 116-117):

“…during the reign of Henry VIII, Charles V’s ambassador to England reported that people ‘say’ that Charles had a better claim to the English throne than did Henry VIII, since Henry could only claim through his mother and she ‘was declared by sentence of the Bishop of Bath [Stillington] a bastard, because Edward had espoused another wife before he married the mother of Elizabeth of York.”

This demonstrates that despite the suppression of Titulus Regius at least some people of England were still aware of the true basis of Richard III’s claim. Moreover, far from thinking it spurious, they were sufficiently impressed by its truth to pass the story to the Spanish Ambassador, despite the obvious risks associated with doing so. I think we can also assume that the informants were persons of some weight – not mere gossips in the London street – or the ambassador would scarcely have wasted his master’s time with such a report.

Royal Blood is an interesting and useful book, although not without its occasional faults of misunderstanding. I recently read a criticism of it that stated that the author spent too much time ‘attacking’ Alison Weir. In a sense, this is actually praise of Weir, as it demonstrates how influential her book has been in forming opinion, in that points made in it need to be addressed by those who take a contrary view. However, it is scarcely an ‘attack’ to rebut errors, as Royal Blood does on several occasions. It is indeed the very nature of historical debate.

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