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Agnes Lancecrona and Robert de Vere

Robert de Vere (1362-1392) Earl of Oxford, found great favour with Richard II and was elevated first to the title of Marquess of Dublin and then in October 1386 to the dukedom of Ireland. This was the very first dukedom awarded outside the immediate royal family, and was, in effect, a “fingers up” to Richard’s many critics and opponents, the great majority of whom resented what they saw as the excessive influence de Vere had over the King.

Richard was often criticised at this time for the youth and low birth of his closest advisers, but really this was a canard. As will be seen from the bare facts of the matter, de Vere was neither young (by medieval standards) nor low born; indeed his was one of the oldest earldoms in the kingdom, albeit one of the least well endowed.

In addition, de Vere was married to the King’s first cousin, Philippa de Coucy, who was the daughter of the King’s late aunt, Isabel of England. Unfortunately, de Vere, for whatever reason, was not happy with Philippa, possibly because her inheritance had never been properly secured or perhaps for more personal reasons. At any rate, he decided to annul their marriage. This was seen as a great affront by the lady’s uncles, the dukes of York and Gloucester, who quite probably had concerns for the futures of their own daughters. The Duke of Lancaster would probably have been equally offended had he been in the country.

To make matters worse, de Vere proposed to replace Philippa with the Queen’s Czech (o possibly German) waiting-woman, Agnes Lancecrona. This was clearly a love match (at least on de Vere’s side) as Agnes had no money or land and no prospect of getting any. Agnes’ social status is obscure. One chronicler described her as the daughter of a saddler, another as a washerwoman, but she appears to have been a Lady of the Bedchamber, with the responsibility for caring for Queen Anne’s jewels. It is highly unlikely that the daughter of a saddler could have risen to such eminence, while the very idea of a washerwoman doubling up as a lady-in-waiting is too absurd to contemplate. Having said that, we really do not know who her parents were. To the English of the time, even more xenophobic than their descendants, it was probably bad enough that she was a foreigner and an immigrant.

It appears that de Vere, by giving false evidence to the Pope secured a dissolution of his marriage. He certainly gained possession of Agnes, but whether with her consent is less clear. Two of his retainers were later accused of abducting her and taking her to Chester, where de Vere was residing in the summer of 1387. They may or may not have undergone a form of marriage.

De Vere was defeated by his King’s enemies at the Battle of Radcot Bridge (20 December 1387) he fled abroad and was never able to return during his life. It is not clear whether Agnes followed him, or what happened to her. She simply disappears from the record. De Vere died in a hunting accident in 1392 before Richard could recall him.

In 1389 the dissolution of the marriage was revoked. Duchess Philippa seems never to have lost her status in practice, though for a time she was sheltered by de Vere’s rather formidable mother, who took Philippa’s side against her son. She had an annuity of 300 marks a year after her husband’s death, and was granted dower in 1398. She lived on until 1411, but chose to remain single.




Richard III and Robert Cecil (Part II)

In a previous post, we explored the theory that Shakespeare’s Richard III was actually based on the Elizabethan politician, Robert Cecil.

Picture of Robert Cecil

Here is another discussion of the subject, Richard III and Robert Cecil, with references to the hypothesis that Shakespeare was actually the 17th Earl of Oxford, a descendant of the previous Earls of Oxford who were such thorns in the side of the Yorkist kings and one of whom was a major factor in Richard’s defeat at Bosworth. If this is true, it is no wonder that ‘Shakespeare’ was happy to blacken Richard’s name.

There are a few misconceptions in the linked article, notably the assertion that Richard executed the 12th Earl and his oldest son; since Richard was only nine years of age on the date Oxford was executed (26th February 1462) this is obviously erroneous and it was, in fact, John Tiptoft who would have presided over Oxford’s execution, being Constable of England at that time (a position he occupied until 1469).

Such distortions of age and timing also occur in Shakespeare, of course, placing Richard at the first battle of St Alban’s, when he would only have been two and a half years old! In fact, he took part in neither of the St Alban’ s battles.

Also, the article states that the most recent attempt to refute the Shakespearean portrayal of Richard’s character was Josephine Tey’s ‘Daughter of Time’. Although this is probably the most famous such work there have, in fact, been countless more recent ones attempting the same thing, such as ‘The Sunne in Splendour’ by Sharon K Penman, ‘We Speak No Treason’ by Rosemary Hawley Jarman, ‘I, Richard Plantagenet’ by J P Reedman and my own ‘Richard Liveth Yet’.

Livery colours, badges, and the Battle of Barnet…


Once again, I have been rambling around the internet, seeking information about livery colours. In the process I came upon the following site, which has an abundance of interesting information about many aspects of the medieval period.

The link deals with one area of interest, but the main site covers a lot more. One passage on this page particularly caught my attention, because it mentions livery colours and badges, and describes why the Lancastrians lost the Battle of Barnet. Yes, we all know Barnet was to do with confusing Edward IV’s Sun in Splendour with the Earl of Oxford’s Star, but I found this extract particularly clear and interesting.

Here is the passage, which I have broken up into smaller paragraphs, to make it easier to read:-

“Referring to the Black Book of Edward IV – it’s drawn from his own household accounts, so the limits to the retainers allowed are the limits Edward himself set. Remember that Edward had only managed to get, hold, then regain the throne by force-of-arms but he was very well aware that the nobles had their own retainers and that it was possible to lose the throne again. Warwick had a huge number of retainers, well into the hundreds. The limitations on the numbers of retainers were an attempt to control the issue of lords having private armies as large as they could afford and attacking each other if they disagreed with something.

“As for colours – lords had their own livery. For example, the House of York, in the person of the Duke of York (father to Edward IV and Richard III) used murray (a sort of deep burgundy-red) and blue. There might also be a sigil and a coat-of-arms. Richard III’s personal emblem was the White Boar, but his brother Edward’s was the “Sunne in Splendor” – a sort of star-burst. The lord himself would use his colours and his sigil. His employed retainers – the men employed directly by himself to be his armsmen – would probably wear his colours – so for example, a heavy padded jacket made up of four sections of cloth in two of the lord’s colours, with the diagonal-opposites being in matching colours. They would also likely wear his sigil (eg White Boar) sewn onto their breast. During battle, they would start grouped together under a banner displaying the colours and/or the sigil.

“However, over time, the lower lords didn’t always have a standing army – it was expensive. So they would either hire professional arms-men when they needed them or they would gather (volunteers or strong-armed) peasants in from the villages they controlled. These peasants would have an arming/padded jack (heavyly padded jacket) if they were lucky. They would be very unlikely to have the lord’s colours. So in a small skirmish between two small lords, you have your two sigil banners and other than that, very little way of telling who fought for whom. In larger battles, you might have a mix of peasants in their own gear/mercs who might have put the sigil on for ease and would have decent gear/liveried retainers. Where your higher lord needs back-up (perhaps to bring his own strength up to a level required by HIS higher lord), he will send to the lower lords to provide their men. So you have groups of peasants under their manorial lord’s banner standing in larger groups headed by the liveried retainers of the upper lord under HIS banner with the upper lord’s own peasants in the mix.

“Most Middle Ages battles were bloody messes, in part because of the difficulty in determining friend and foe. Not helped by confusion over banners: at the Battle of Barnet (wars of the Roses) in poor weather, the Earl of Oxford’s men (Lancastrian) attacked the men of Lord Hastings (York) and chased them off the field. In the time it took Oxford to get his men back under control, the battle-line veered around. As he returned, he unknowingly came up behind his own side, right behind the position held by John Montagu. Montagu’s men mistook Oxford’s banner of a “streaming star” for Edward IV’s “Sunne in Splendor” and attacked Oxford. As Montagu had been on Edward’s side at one point, Oxford’s men assumed Montagu had turned sides again. They called “treason” and panic spread through the Lancastrian side. Edward attacked, Montagu was killed and the Lancastrians were utterly defeated, including the death of Montagu’s older brother the famous Earl of Warwick.

“This defeat, with the deaths of the two brothers, led almost directly to the following defeat of the Lancastrian Prince Edward and the death of Henry VI, leaving the future Henry VII as the only Lancastrian with any chance of the throne. So the fact that English troops fought without any ready identifiers, and the fact that knowing your enemy very often relied on whether or not you recognised their badge, had a very large bearing on the rulership of England. Had Edward IV lost at Barnet, Henry VI would probably have been put back on the throne and Henry VII would perhaps never have ruled, as Henry VI had a son and heir.”

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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