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Another take on Richard de la Pole

Here, the American blogger Samantha Wilcoxson writes about Lord Richard’s life in DSC06658

his capacity as the last free son of John, 2nd Duke of Suffolk, and as an exile from the England of the first two “Tudors”, before dying at Pavia and being buried in the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro there (right).th (7)

From Lord Richard’s Wikipedia page, it appears that someone else has noticed the coincidence between his early exile in Hungary and the Hungarian guests at Marguerite‘s 1539 marriage, so it possibly isn’t a coincidence. Marguerite’s fecundity and long life testify to her youth in that year, although they still don’t quite prove her paternity. Perhaps her mother has finally been identified?

The Nanfans and the shadow of Raggedstone Hill….

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It was a member of the Nanfan family of Birtsmorton Court in Worcestershire (Sir Richard Nanfan, Deputy Lieutenant of Calais) who told tales to Henry VII about Sir James Tyrell giving succour to the fugitive Yorkist de la Pole brothers, Edmund and Richard. Tyrell had done this knowing full well that the elder brother, Edmund, planned to take the throne from Henry. Nanfan’s action led to Tyrell’s eventual execution, after the so-called confession that he murdered the boys in the Tower on the orders of Richard III.

However, it is not this aspect of the Nanfan family’s history that I am about to relate here, rather is it the dreadful curse that is supposed to have been cast upon one of Sir Richard’s ancestors, a Sir John Nanfan (there was more than one, and I cannot say exactly which it was).

Birtsmorton Court

The Nanfans originated in Cornwall, but occupied Birtsmorton Court for about 300 years all told. As you will see from the photograph above, the moated house has to be one of the most beautiful in the realm. Weddings are held there now, and such a spectacular setting cannot help but make it sought after. The house nestles in the eastern shadow of the Malvern Hills. Oh, how frequently we use that expression, “in the shadow of”. It generally means nothing sinister, but in the case of the Nanfans of Birtsmorton, it  had supposedly fatal consequences.

North-west of Birtsmorton, just a little closer to the hills, is Little Malvern Priory, and it was one of the monks from here who cursed the Nanfans. It began when Sir John Nanfan enclosed land on Raggedstone Hill (one of the spine of the Malvern Hills that can be seen from three counties – see photograph at the top of this page) that the priory believed was its property, not his. One November day, Sir John found one of the monks on this disputed land and ordered him away. The monk stoutly insisted that the land didn’t belong to the Nanfans, and that if Sir John persisted in trying to steal it, God’s wrath would descend upon him.

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The summit of Raggedstone Hill showing how it deserves its name. Photograph from geography.org.uk

Well, Sir John wasn’t going to be spoken to like that, and told the monk what he could do with his threats. The monk calmly excommunicated him and warned that whenever the shadow of Raggedstone Hill fell upon Birtsmorton Court, the oldest son of the family would die within a year. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the shadow fell thus that very day. Nor was it a coincidence that Sir John’s son and heir died in the allotted time.

Supposedly the shadow of the hill can only fall on the house on a certain November day, and if the sun isn’t shining at the time, i.e. is hidden by cloud, no prophesy can come true.

According to the legend, Nanfan heirs did indeed die within a year of Birtsmorton Court being darkened by the shadow of the hill. Roy Palmer, in Herefordshire Folklore, lists that one fell from a horse, another was a casualty in the Civil War (the only royalist to die in a skirmish in the Leadon Valley), and yet another died in a duel after the Restoration. When the elder branch of the Nanfans withered, the malediction transferred to a junior branch, and so on.

It has to be conceded that the Nanfans do not have the legend to themselves. Another version is that it was the Druids who from the hilltop cursed the Romans down below.Duids cursing the Romans

Is any of it true? Well, there will be some incident at the heart of it, a confrontation, and maybe someone wished something nasty on someone else, but that will be the end of it. I do not believe in curses. Um, well, not really….

 

A PRINCESS OF DEVON

After the battle of Bosworth, Henry VII married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. What happened to Edward’s other daughters? Bridget, the youngest, went to a nunnery. Anne married the younger Thomas Howard (which was the marriage proposed for her by Richard III; Thomas Jr’s father Thomas still desired the marriage for his son and eventually permission was granted by Henry Tudor). Cecily’s current marriage was dissolved, and Tudor married her instead to John Welles, Margaret Beaufort’s half brother, tying her into his own family.

That only left Catherine of York.

Catherine was born in August 1479 at Eltham Palace, one of Edward’s later children. Soon after her birth Edward began to arrange a royal marriage for her to the son of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile; however, he died before the proposal was finalised.

Catherine, then a child of less than four years of age, went into sanctuary with her mother and many of her siblings, as the dramatic events of 1483 unfolded. Later, she emerged with her family in March 1484, when Richard III promised their safety, and proclaimed that Edward’s daughters would be treated as honourable kinswomen and eventually be married to gentlemen of birth, giving to each an estate valued at 200 marks. (He also gave Elizabeth Woodville 700 marks to live on, a little more  than her own son in law, Henry Tudor.)

Catherine remained unmarried during Richard’s short reign, although her sister Cecily was given to Ralph Scrope and  plans were being made for Elizabeth to marry Manuel, Duke of Beja. Under Henry Tudor, it was proposed Catherine would marry into Scottish royalty, taking the Duke of Ross, James Stewart, as her husband. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, would at the same time be given in marriage to the Scottish king, James III. However, when King James was killed in battle, his successor never bothered to pursue the prospective  English alliances.

So in 1495, aged around sixteen, Catherine instead married William Courtenay, son of Edward Courtenay. The Courtenay family had always been staunch Lancastrians but had not fared particularly well in the dynastic battles of the Wars of the Roses. Thomas Courtenay was taken in battle at Towton and beheaded at York, while his brother Henry was executed for treason in Salisbury marketplace in 1469. Another brother, John, was slain at Tewkesbury. Hugh Courtenay, from a junior branch of the family,  also was executed after Tewkesbury; it was his son Edward who then became Earl of Devon, and Hugh’s grandson, William, who married Catherine of York. We do not know if the marriage was a happy one, but together William and Catherine had three children.

However, things turned ugly  for the family in 1504. Henry VII found out that Courtenay had been supporting the claims to the throne of Edmund de la Pole, the last Yorkist heir.  William was attainted and thrown into the Tower of London, where he remained throughout the rest of Henry Tudor’s reign.

When Henry finally died, his son, Henry VIII, seemed ready to give his imprisoned uncle a rare second chance.  Henry was said to be very fond of Catherine from early childhood (it is claimed she loved children and played with him when at court) and he considered her his favourite aunt. He released William from the Tower and allowed him to resume his role in society, even carrying one of the swords of state at  Henry’s coronation. A year or so later,  he gave William back his title as Earl of Devon—although unfortunately William died only a month or two later, so never got to enjoy it.

Eager to avoid another arranged marriage, Catherine promptly swore an oath of chastity before the Bishop of London, and then retired to her Devon estates. She lived quietly in Tiverton Castle, and also at the remote Bickleigh castle, with its rare thatched Norman chapel.

Catherine died at Tiverton on November 15 1527, aged 48, and was buried in the parish church of St Peter, which stands by the castle ruins. Her arms are still visible above the door, amongst unusual carvings of sailing ships and monkeys. Unfortunately, the chantry dedicated to the Courtenays, which would probably have contained her tomb, no longer exists. She was perhaps fortunate not to lived have seen the execution of her only surviving son, Henry, in 1538–he was beheaded due to his correspondence with Cardinal Reginald Pole.

Catherine is presumed the last of  Edward IV’s children with Elizabeth Woodville to die, though of course without knowing the actual fate of the ‘princes’, this may not be the case!

Tiverton Castle can be visited on certain days throughout the summer, and Bickleigh Castle is now an attractive hotel. St James church in Tiverton is well worth a visit and open most days.

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St James, Tiverton

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Bickleigh Castle

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Tiverton Castle

HENRY VIII: THE EVEN HANDED PERSECUTOR

Some folks out there have recently been trying to justify the long list of people executed by Henry VIII  because ‘at least they had a trial’ or ‘because it was over religion, and there were always beheadings, pressings, burnings over religion.’

Well, surprisingly, I must agree with them on one thing. Henry sure could be fair and evenhanded.

He dealt out his brand of ‘justice’/punishment to both Catholics and Protestants, peasant and nobles, strangers and relatives, men  and women, and young and old alike!

From the Protestant side, the list of victims  include twelve clergymen, 3 monks, 2 lawyers, a courtier, several servants, an apprentice, a leatherseller and a tailor, a player and a musician, a painter and a mercer. Poignantly, there is also listed a poor artificer and a poor labourer, a  wife, a man called Valentine Freese alongside his wife, a child under 15 called Richard Mekins, and an ‘aged father.’ All were burnt at the stake save for the ‘aged father’ who had his brains bashed out prior to the fire taking hold. (I presume this was meant to be merciful.)

From the Catholic side, we have a list of well over 200, mostly priests and monks, but also the Nun of Kent, and some laymen and laywomen, including  67-year-old Margaret Pole, who was charged with nothing but faced death because her son was out of vengeful Henry’s reach.

Of the ‘rich and famous/infamous’ there are approximately 25 executed nobles and some ordinary folk  connected with the  supposed nobles’ misdeeds,  such as  Mark Smeaton, who was tortured into confessing a fling with Anne Boleyn.  The executed include Edward Stafford, son of Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham (who raised rebellion against Richard III) , Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, de la Poles and Poles (including a young boy who was imprisoned in the Tower and was never seen again…he might be there still*!), a Courtenay and a Hungerford (both  of these families had helped Henry’s father to his throne), Jane Boleyn, and of course wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

As we can see,  Henry was a very even handed chap indeed. No one got favouritism. No one got out alive.

* https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/whatever-happened-to-henry-pole-the-younger-2011/

CatherineExecution

Here it is, in black and white …

Many of you will remember this post from before Christmas, about the “Lincoln Roll”, supposedly compiled for the Earl of Lincoln but clearly updated at least twenty-six years after his death, to cover his brother’s execution:
http://www.johnashdownhill.com/johns-blog/2015/12/21/the-henry-tudor-society-death-certificates

In it, you will note that Dr. Ashdown-Hill corrects a troll, who claimed that it showed Edward IV’s elder sons both died in childhood (“iunie“, which means something else), demonstrating that the Roll actually used the term “iuve” (short for “iuventute” or “in his youth”).

So what exactly is meant, in either the classical or late Mediaeval era, by “youth”? According to A Latin-English Dictionary (1868, ed W. Smith) , this is between the ages of twenty and forty, which seems reasonable. Richard of Shrewsbury, Edward IV’s middle son, the sometime Duke of York and (in jure uxoris) of Norfolk, was born on 24 August 1473. “Perkin Warbeck”, who may well have been Richard of Shrewsbury, died on 23 November 1499 at Tyburn, in the presence of several witnesses.

So the Roll, whichever de la Pole it was actually compiled for, which I think we can deduce, is wholly consistent with “Perkin” being who he claimed to be.

Juventus FC, most of whose players are aged between 20 and 40

Juventus FC, most of whose players are aged between 20 and 40

"Perkin Warbeck" who, if he was Richard of Shrewsbury, died at 26.

“Perkin Warbeck” who, if he was Richard of Shrewsbury, died at 26.

William de la Pole – the most hated man in England

As the sun rose on the morning of 2nd May 1450, it revealed a grisly sight on Dover beach. A headless body lay on the sand, dried blood staining the butchered neck. Beside the body, atop a stake, the vacant eyes of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk stared out over the sea where he had met his fate, a fate that many felt he deserved. His family had risen from humble beginnings, a fact that had contributed to the odium that caused those of more noble families to turn their noses up at them. From such a height, the fall was devastating.

In the mid 14th century, William de la Pole, great grandfather of this duke, was a successful and wealthy wool merchant, lending money to the crown under Edward III. His sons enjoyed favour at the court of King Richard II, the eldest, Michael, becoming Chancellor on 1383 and being elevated to the peerage as Earl of Suffolk in 1385. Michael’s younger brother Edmund served in the prestigious position of Captain of Calais.

The family’s star was in the ascendant, but was closely aligned now with that of King Richard II. As his popularity plummeted, Michael took the brunt of the hatred as a figurehead of his government. Criticising God’s anointed king was not an option, and so his closest advisors must take the wrath of a nation. In 1387 the Lords Appellant accused him of treason and before the Merciless Parliament sat in February 1388, Michael fled to Paris, where he died the following year aged about 60.

Michael’s son, another Michael, father to our duke, was 22 when his father died and found himself without the lands and title that his father had been stripped of. He was more closely aligned to the Lords Appellant, which left him out of favour with Richard II. He fought for the restoration of his lands and properties over the years that followed his father’s death, finally being restored as 2nd Earl of Suffolk in 1398, shortly before Richard II fell. Although Michael heeded the Duke of York’s call to arms to defend the kingdom from Henry Bolingbroke, he eventually embraced the cause of Henry IV.

As a part of Henry V’s campaign in France, Michael died of dysentery in September 1415 at the Siege of Harfleur, not yet 50 years of age. Michael had been blessed with five sons and three daughters but the king’s efforts in France were to decimate his family after claiming his life. His oldest son, Michael, had travelled to France with his father and was one of the few notable English casualties at the Battle of Agincourt. Aged only 19, he had been 3rd Earl of Suffolk for only a month before his death.

Coat of Arms of William de la Pole

William de la Pole became 4th Earl of Suffolk on his brother’s death. His other brothers were all to perish over the next two decades in France. Alexander was killed in 1429 at the Battle of Jargeau, the first encounter with a resurgent France led by Joan of Arc. John died a prisoner in France in the same year and Thomas perished while acting as a hostage for William.

When he returned to England, William grew ever closer to the meek and peaceable King Henry VI. By this time William was nearing forty and had been fighting in France for most of his adult life, almost twenty years. It would be interesting to know what this old soldier thought of his king, son of the Lion of England, but described as a lamb who had an acute distaste for war. Whatever their differences, Suffolk grew close to his king and, as his grandfather had done, he was soon to find his fortunes all too closely tied to a failing king.

King Henry VI

Suffolk’s first major contribution to English politics was to organise a marriage for King Henry VI in 1444, by which time the king was 22. Suffolk selected Margaret of Anjou in a match that was to cause outrage. The king’s uncle Humphrey was dismayed that he intended to ignore the contracted union to the Duke of Armagnac’s daughter. Grafton wrote that “Humfrey Duke of Gloucester, Protector of the realme, repugned and resisted as muche as in him lay, this newe alliaunce and contrived matrimone: alleging that it was neyther consonant to the lawe of God nor man, nor honourable to a prince, to infringe and breake a promise or contract” (Grafton’s Chronicle (Richard Grafton) (1569) p624).

Baker wrote of the problems that this match created for Suffolk. “In the mean time the Earl of Suffolk, one of the Commissioners for the Peace, takes upon him beyond his Commission; and without acquianting his fellows, to treat of a Marriage between the King of England, and a Kinswoman of the King of France, Neece to the French Queen, Daughter to Rayner Duke of Anjou styling himself King of Sicily and Naples: In which business he was so inventive, that it brought an aspersion upon him of being bribed” (A Chronicle of the English Kings (Baker) p187). It was soon to be revealed that, due to the poverty of Margaret’s father, not only was there no dowry for the marriage, but Suffolk and the king had agreed to hand a quarter of England’s territory in France back by ceding Maine and Anjou. For his part in the arrangements, William was further elevated as Marquess of Suffolk.

After the death of John, Duke of Bedford in 1435 and the emergence of Henry VI’s personal distaste for fighting, the campaign in France had ground to a halt, frequently deprived of funding and commitment. It is possible that this situation led to Suffolk’s negotiation. Marriage to Margaret of Anjou, a niece of the French king Charles VII, would bring the peace that Henry craved. Giving back Maine and Anjou would sweeten the deal and might also have been intended to make English territory in France more manageable. If that was the intention, it was to fail spectacularly. The effect of the handover of the vast tracts of land was to embolden the French and lead them to seek to drive the English from France altogether. Suffolk was blamed for opening the door through which the English would be expelled from France so that within a few years only Calais remained in English hands.

The king’s uncle Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester died in 1447, with many believing that he had been murdered at the queen’s behest. Gloucester had been Protector during Henry’s minority and his loss saw the end of an era as the last son of King Henry IV passed. Suffolk, it seems, stepped into the void quite willingly, but suspicion grew all about him, not least that he had been the instrument of Humphrey’s destruction. By 1448 William had been created Duke of Suffolk, reaching the pinnacle of the nobility and attaining a title previously reserved for princes of the royal blood. His ascendancy was complete, and that brought him enemies.

One writer tells how “Many now recollected how stoutly the duke of Gloucester had stood up against the surrender of those provinces from which the king of France had made his attack” (History of England Volume II (A Clergyman of the Church of England) (1830) p524), further accusing Suffolk “of plotting to get the English crown into his own Family, by marrying his infant ward, Lady Margaret Beaufort, to his own son;- she being, they observed, the presumptive heiress of the royal house of  Lancaster, as long as the king had no children.” William had married his son to the Beaufort heiress Margaret. Although the marriage was annulled by Henry in 1453, it drew accusations that by promoting Margaret as a potential heir to the throne while Henry remained childless, he was seeking to see his son made king. The unlikely scenario of her accession though suggests that the attraction may have been the same financial one that saw Edmund Tudor marry her soon after the annulment.

By 1450, Suffolk was unable to fend off the charges of treason any longer. He was accused of meeting with the French in an attempt to have England invaded. Baker wrote “That he had Traiterously incited the Bastard of Orleance, the Lord Presigny, and others to levy War against the King to the end that thereby the King might be destroyed; and his Son John who had married Margaret Daughter and sole Heir of John Duke of Somerset, whose Title to the Crown the said Duke had often declared, in case King Henry should die without issue, might come to be King.” (A Chronicle of the Kings of England (Baker) p189). Henry could no longer protect his favourite and even the indomitable queen could not save him. He was arrested and charged with treason. Before Parliament, a long list of charges were laid before him, each of which he denied fervently. But his defence was never going to prevail.

At this point, Henry intervened on behalf of his favourite, exercising his prerogative to deal with the matter personally in the same way as Richard II had intervened on behalf of the duke’s grandfather. Henry refused to find Suffolk guilty of treason but found against him on some other more minor charges. Henry sentenced Suffolk to banishment for a period of five years, beginning on 1st May 1450. As he tried to move to his London home Suffolk was mobbed in the streets. Driven from London by the furious crowds, he retired to his manor at Wingfield. His son John was now 8 years old. William, fearing that he was to miss the formative years of his only son, wrote him a letter before he left which is filled with the kind of fatherly advice that Shakespeare’s Polonius was to employ. He counselled John as follows;

My dear and only well-beloved son,

I beseech our Lord in heaven, the Maker of all the world, to bless you, and to send you ever grace to love Him and to dread Him; to the which as far as a father may charge his child, I both charge you and pray you to set all your spirits and wits to do and to know His holy laws and commandments, by which ye shall with His great mercy, pass all the great tempests and troubles of this wretched world.

And also that weetingly ye do nothing for love nor dread of any earthly creature that should displease Him. And whereas any frailty maketh you to fall, beseech His mercy soon to call you to Him again with repentance, satisfaction, and contrition of your heart, nevermore in will to offend Him.

Secondly, next Him, above all earthly things, to be true liegeman in heart, in will, in thought, in deed, unto the King, our elder, most high, and dread Sovereign Lord, to whom both ye and I be so much bound; charging you, as father can and may, rather to die than to be the contrary, or to know anything that were against the welfare and prosperity of his most royal perity of his most royal person, but that so far as your body and life may stretch, ye live and die to defend it and to let His Highness have knowledge thereof, in all the haste ye can.

Thirdly, in the same wise, I charge you, my dear son, always as ye he bounden by the commandment of God to do, to love and to worship your lady and mother: and also that ye obey alway her commandments, and to believe her counsels and advices in all your works, the which dread not but shall be best and truest for you.

And if any other body would steer you to the contrary, to flee that counsel in any wise, for ye shall find it nought and evil.

Furthermore, as far as father may and can, I charge you in any wise to flee the company and counsel of proud men, of covetous men, and of flattering men the more especially; and mightily to withstand them, and not to draw nor to meddle with them, with all your might and power; and to draw to you, and to your company, good and virtuous men and such as be of good conversation and of truth, and by them shall ye never be deceived nor repent you of.

Moreover, never follow your own wit in any wise, but in all your works, of such folks as I write of above ask your advice and counsel, and doing thus, with the mercy of God, ye shall do right well, and live in right much worship and great heart’s rest and ease.

And I will be to you, as good lord and father as mine heart can think.

And last of all, as heartily and as lovingly as ever father blessed his child on earth, I give you the Blessing of Our Lord, and of me, which in his infinite mercy increase you in all virtue and good living and that your blood may by His Grace from kindred to kindred multiply in this earth to His service, in such wise as after the departing from this wretched worlde here, ye and they may glorify Him eternally amongst His angels in Heaven.

Written of mine hand,

the day of my departing from this land,

Your true and loving father

SUFFOLK.

Wingfield Manor

With that, Suffolk took ship to head into exile on 1st May 1450, the date appointed for the beginning of his five year expulsion. As his boat crossed the channel a huge ship of the royal fleet, The Nicholas of the Tower, intercepted him. William Lomner wrote to John Paston on 5th May that men of the Nicholas boarded Suffolk’s ship and “the master badde hym, ‘Welcom, Traitor,’ as men sey”. He described Suffolk’s fate, continuing “and thanne his herte faylyd hym, for he thowghte he was desseyvyd, and yn the syght of all his men he was drawyn ought of the grete shippe yn to the bote; and there was an exe, and a stoke, and oon of the lewdeste of the shippe badde hym ley down his hedde, and he should be fair ferd wyth, and dye on a swerd; and toke a rusty swerd, and smotte off his hedde withyn halfe a doseyn strokes” (The Paston Letter 1422-1509 Volume II James Gairdner 1904 Ed).

It was an ignominious end for a duke, a man whose family had risen in four generations from merchants to the height of England’s nobility. Perhaps the only consolation that William could have taken was that his son seemed to have heeded his words. John became 2nd Duke of Suffolk and has been nicknamed The Trimming Duke, perhaps for his ability to trim his sails to suit the prevailing political winds. He married a sister of the Yorkist King Edward IV and lived into the Tudor era without ever finding himself in any trouble. It was not to last though. John’s son, the Earl of Lincoln was appointed heir to Richard III and rebelled unsuccessfully against Henry VII. Another son, Edmund, 3rd Duke of Suffolk, took up the cause of the White Rose. He was imprisoned by Henry VII and finally executed by Henry VIII in 1513. Edmund’s youngest brother, Richard de la Pole continued the fight from the continent until he was killed fighting at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 to the delight of Henry VIII. The brother between Edmund and Richard, Sir William de la Pole holds a most dubious record. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1502 and remained there for 37 years until his death in 1539. No one else has remained imprisoned in the Tower for longer in all of its history.

It is hard to determine whether William, Duke of Suffolk acted out of greed or well meant service, doing what he determined was best in spite of the consequences. As with most things, I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the space between the two extremes. His letter to his son has been cited as proof of his good character, yet a man can be a father, a warrior and a politician without any of his facets overlapping. There is no room for the contemplative advisor of his letter on the field of battle, yet I suspect that a man would need something of the warrior about him to survive the politics of Henry VI’s court, particularly if his background allowed others to sneer upon him.

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk stood at the apex of his family’s power. It took four generations of work to get to where he was. In two further generations the family was destroyed. As his empty eyes stared out across the Channel toward the land where his fortune had been made, he would never again look upon the country that had turned its back on him, nor would he see the bitter civil war that followed. His place was swiftly filled by Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and it is this, and the conflict it was allowed to breed, that lays the blame for the fate of so many at the clasped, praying hands and bowed head of the Lamb of England, King Henry VI.

War was on that horizon that William gazed upon without seeing.

The “Lincoln Roll” and the desperate sandbagging of the Cairo residents

You have probably heard of the “Lincoln Roll”. It resides at the John Rylands Institute of the University of Manchester. It shows the strength of the de la Pole claim to the throne (John of Lincoln being of that family) and the weakness of the “Tudor” claim, having been featured in Dr. Thomas Penn’s BBC2 “Winter King” documentary last year.

You have also probably noticed the progressive and accelerating collapse of the traditional fairy tale about Edward IV’s sons but the denialists are trying to resurrect it. Just last year, Amy Licence tried to link Richard III’s visit to a shrine in Canterbury with a guilty conscience for a particular “crime”, forgetting Richard’s heightened religious mindset. So her headline was “Shock as deeply religious King visits shrine”, along the lines of “Dog bites man” and “Exclusive: Pope is a Catholic”.

The latest sandbag is the attempt by one David Durose, a soi-disant “Tudor”ist, to interpret the Roll to prove that Edward’s sons died in c. 1483. There are just a few problems here:
Sloppy or convenient (Armstrongesque) translations of the Latin – if I had sons of twelve and ten, it would be very premature to call them youths. It also bypasses them through their illegitimacy.
It is clearly written in two different hands, much like the Croyland Chronicle was by a succession of writers. Much of the second part post-dates Lincoln’s death in mid-1487, detailing Henry VII’s children (of whom only Arthur had been born) and possibly even citing Edmund of Suffolk’s 1513 execution.

The “Lincoln Roll” was surely drafted, quite possibly on the continent, to publicise the claim of his younger brother, Lord Richard, who planned an invasion from France in the years before his death at Pavia in 1524-5. One of Richard of Shrewsbury’s possible subsequent identities, “Perkin”, was long dead by then but neither he nor his brother were relevant to Lord Richard. Having said that, this is the same Durose who wrote of Catherine de Valois addressing Parliament about her “remarriage”, many years after she died and centuries before a woman actually addressed Parliament about anything.

Another sandbag fails. Back to square one?

The Mysterious Saga of Sir James Tyrell

Sir James Tyrell was a trusted supporter of the House of York, and Richard III in particular. More’s account of his introduction to Richard by a unnamed page is too risible to mention, except that it exhibits yet another flaw in More’s account, that fine work of literature, roughly equivalent to – well, name the modern novel of your choice, although some have been written with greater accuracy – which is still inexplicably regarded as a source by many of Richard’s critics, including some who do not merely claim to be historians, but possess serious academic qualifications in the field.
Tyrell’s father was one of those executed in 1462 with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, on the basis of a supposed plot against King Edward. The evidence for the plot was rather thin and the trials rather brisk and summary, but as this was during the reign of Edward IV, no great fuss is made by those who spend so much time bewailing the plight of such innocents as William Hastings and Anthony Woodville.
James Tyrell was allowed to have his father’s lands, once he came of age, and perhaps sensibly decided to side with King Edward at the Battle of Tewkesbury, where he was knighted. According to Rosemary Horrox he soon after joined the affinity of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was, of course, in the process of securing Anne Neville’s hand and setting himself up as Lord of the North. At some point, presumably after he was granted Glamorgan in the aftermath of Clarence’s fall, Richard appointed Tyrell Sheriff of Glamorgan and Constable of Cardiff. The importance of Glamorgan is little understood or recognised in Ricardian studies, but this was certainly a key job, and one of the most important at Richard’s disposal. The practical effect – given that Richard was mainly occupied either in the North or at King Edward’s court – was that Tyrell was his deputy in one of the greatest – if not the greatest – of the Marcher Lordships. It was a position of considerable power, and almost certainly considerable income.
Later Tyrell fought with Richard in Scotland and was one of those whom Richard saw fit to advance to the rank of Knight Banneret in July 1482. This was as far as Richard could advance him – only the King could give him the Garter or elevate him to the peerage. So it seems certain that Richard saw Tyrell as a valuable ‘member of staff’ who was useful in a number of roles and well worth keeping on board.
Once Richard became king, he granted Tyrell a number of additional offices including Knight of the Body, Master of the Horse and Chamberlain of the Exchequer. Taken together with his existing appointments this made him a man of considerable importance, both at Richard’s court and in the country. Unlike many of Richard’s followers, Tyrell was not a northerner, but hailed from Gipping in Suffolk. This may actually have been an asset to his career, given that so much emphasis is put on the unpopularity of Richard’s Yorkshire supporters in the southern shires.
If Richard had wanted to dispose of the Princes – a very big if in my opinion – then Tyrell would indeed have been a plausible candidate to arrange it; a loyal supporter, who was both trusted and competent. However, we can safely say it would not have required some random page to call him to Richard’s mind. Nor, as we have seen, could Richard have knighted him for performing the deed as Tyrell had been knighted long before. Of course, what Richard could have done was raise him to the peerage, a modest reward for so foul a deed. But he did not. Tyrell remained plain Sir James.
In 1484, Sir James was chosen as High Sheriff of Cornwall. This may be seen as another case of ‘transplantation’ of Richard’s followers into areas of dubious loyalty, although in this instance of course the incomer was not a northerner.
According to Annette Carson (Richard III the Maligned King pp. 162-63) Tyrell was sent to Flanders on a covert mission, for which payment was issued in January 1485. Whatever this mission was, it must certainly have been of importance for such an influential agent to be employed. Also in January 1485, Tyrell was appointed to command the important castle of Guisnes in the marches of Calais. Here he received a very large and unexplained payment of £3000. (Carson, op.cit, plus Harleian MS 433, vol 2, p191.)
Tyrell’s appointment to Guisnes served him well, as his duty there meant that he was not present at Bosworth, and could not be attainted for following his lawful king into battle. At first Henry VII deprived him of certain offices, but on 16 June 1486, and again on 16 July of the same year, Tyrell received a royal pardon for all offences he might have committed. (Bertram Fields, Royal Blood, pp.197-198.) The reason for his receiving two pardons so close together is unknown, although the possibility of an administrative error should perhaps be considered.
Be that as it may, Tyrell was now apparently in Henry’s favour and was allowed to continue in charge at Guisnes. Given Henry’s deeply suspicious nature and the key importance of Guisnes in securing Calais, this is rather hard to understand. Henry would have been well aware of Sir James’ high standing under King Richard. It seems almost incredible that such a man should have been left in so important a role unless Henry had good reason to believe in his loyalty. The new King surely cannot have had the least suspicion of Tyrell as a possible murderer of the Princes; and yet, this is the very time when one might have expected Henry to make a thorough investigation of the whole issue, in his own interests. You might think that at a minimum he would have had the Tower staff questioned, and that if Tyrell’s name had been mentioned Henry would have wanted to ask awkward questions of him as well. Instead he left him in charge of a very important garrison.
Tyrell attended the Coronation of Elizabeth of York, and fought for Henry at the Battle of Dixmunde in 1489. Given his apparent closeness to Richard, he had made the transition better than most, and looked as if he was accepted as a loyal supporter of the new regime. But in 1502, Sir James made the mistake of giving the fugitive Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, temporary refuge at Guisnes. By this time, Suffolk was the most promising of the available Yorkist heirs, and Henry ordered Tyrell’s arrest. This, as far as it goes, is quite understandable. Tyrell, who was in a position to hold Guisnes for a long time, was tricked into surrendering by a false promise of safe conduct. Once taken prisoner he was removed back to England and in May 1502 was privately executed on a charge of assisting Suffolk. Subsequently, in 1504, he was attainted, although his son, who was arrested with him, was subsequently pardoned and his attainder was later reversed.
According to Thomas More’s account, Tyrell confessed to murdering the Princes, as did a man called Dighton. But the strange thing is that Tyrell’s attainder makes absolutely no mention of the crime. You might think that a little matter of regicide, or murder of the present King’s brother-in-law (depending on whether you believed Edward V to be a lawful king or not) might just receive a line or two in Tyrell’s attainder. Moreover, conveniently, Tyrell’s actual confession is not extant. And even More admits that the man Dighton was still alive at the time when he wrote his account. Really? A common fellow, who committed regicide, or at least murder, one who had actually confessed to it at that, allowed to walk free by that lover of justice Henry VII? It beggars belief.
Thomas More was of course writing some years after these events. It is just possible he was privy to written records that no longer exist, or that he was relying on the word of some informant. (In this case it cannot have been Morton, who died in 1500.) It may even have been decided, at some point after Tyrell’s death, to pin the deed upon him. But the gap in the attainder on this matter, and Dighton’s alleged survival are very hard to explain.
Sir Francis Bacon, writing many years later, claims that this was the account the King ‘gave out’. But if Henry did tell such a story, he must have done so only to a select few, as even Bacon states that Henry did not mention the matter in any of his formal announcements. It seems a very odd way for a king to behave, when in possession of information that could only damage his enemies, and prevent the possibility of any more ‘Perkin Warbecks’ popping up in Flanders.
In addition neither Bernard André, Henry’s personal biographer, or Polydore Vergil, mentioned Tyrell’s confession. Indeed Vergil states that the exact means of the Princes’ death was not known.
While we must make allowances for the fact that Henry VII was a very strange and secretive man, who did not always act logically, the most likely explanation seems to be that Tyrell’s alleged confession simply did not exist. And if it did not, More’s account of the murder must be regarded as pure fiction.

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