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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

The Welsh Rebellion that Henry VII Lost to Richard III

To win against these two, you had to hit ‘em where it hurt the most. And never give up, never surrender.

To win against these two, you had to hit ‘em where it hurt the most. And never give up, never surrender.

While reading Michael K. Jones’ dry, if detailed, study of the life of Margaret Beaufort[1], I was amazed to learn about a small but significant Welsh rebellion conducted against Henry VII and his hagiographic mummy that I’ve never heard mentioned anywhere else.

It appears that Henry and Margaret were thwarted on at least one occasion, and not just by pesky York which, after all, could only be expected to rise up against the Welsh usurper because of the duke of Gloucester’s (aka Richard III) good lordship to York and their loyalty to him, no matter he was dead. It also appears that some Welshmen were prepared to cast aside military tactics in favor of thumping the king and his mummy where they knew it would hurt the most – and in such a way that John de Vere (13th earl of Oxford) couldn’t run in and save Henry’s visually disabled, skinny derrière as de Vere did at the Battle of Redemore (aka Bosworth) and the Battle of Stoke.

This, kiddies, is the Brecon Rebellion I’ve never heard mentioned in any “We loves us the Tudorz” documentary — and pray let it be remembered that author who revealed it is not a Richard III devotee, yet he still documented this cold, unfriendly historical fact that has been pretty much ignored in a “La la la, can’t hear you” sort of a way because it’s not favorable to Team Tydder.

The complicated details are thus:

  • On 2 November 1483, Richard III chopped off Henry Stafford’s (2nd duke of Buckingham) head directly after Stafford led a failed rebellion against the king.
  • On 22 August 1485, French pikemen enabled Henry “Tudor” to win the battle of Redemore (aka Bosworth). Henry subsequently and retroactively declared himself king from 21 August 1485, the day before the battle.
  • On 7 November 1485, Katherine Woodville (the duke of Buckingham’s widow and younger sister to Elizabeth Woodville) married Jasper “Tudor” (uncle to the new king, and the newly minted 1st duke of Bedford).
  • On 3 August 1486, Henry VII gave Margaret Beaufort wardship of Edward Stafford (the 3rd duke of Buckingham, and the oldest son of Catherine Woodville-Stafford-“Tudor” and the beheaded duke). The king also gave his mummy custody of all the lands belonging to Edward, with the exception of the lordships of Newport, Thornby, and Tonbridge because Catherine Woodville had joint ventures on those. Happy 8th birthday, Edward!

The paperwork transferring Edward Stafford’s lands may have been done by Henry’s clerks in August 1486, but Henry retroactively declared his Mummy had the right to revenues reaching back to September 1485.

Given that Henry had the unmitigated gall to date his reign from the day before the battle of Redemore, I’m sure he saw no problem backdating his mother’s grant. She was, after all, working as his agent (that is, his collection agency) as well as in her own interests. So why not let a stroke of the royal quill create an instantaneous 13-month retrospective profit for both their coffers? It’s nothing personal and certainly not greedy; it’s just good business – at least from the crown’s point of view.

Margaret obtained direct control of the following estates, among others:

  • English estates centered around Maxstoke, Stafford, and Holderness.
  • The Welsh lordships of Brecon and Caurs.

These lands had the following financial obligations:

  • Revenues to Jasper “Tudor” for his wife’s dower.
  • 500 marks per year to help maintain the Stafford brothers. (Edward had a younger brother named Henry.)
  • £1000 per year to help maintain the royal household.

The English estates cooperated and paid up. The Welsh estates did not.

Why not? As Michael Jones puts it: “In Brecon, Lady Margaret’s authority was much weaker than in the English lordships,” and, “Margaret’s officers had massive problems in trying to collect revenue.”

Whatever could have been the problem? Oh, you know…the usual general administration difficulties in the Welsh marches. Every king had ‘em, didn’t they?

It’s strange that England cooperated, but Wales did not, especially since Margaret did a marvelous job of changing the accounting system for her English estates. She centralized all the receipts and had the final say on fees and wages. She appointed her own receiver-general (and changed him frequently), slashed local costs, and wasn’t afraid to eliminate whole offices — like the bailiff feodary (i.e., feudal vassal) of Staffordshire. So if administrative difficulties had been the only ones she encountered in Wales, she should have had no problem in solving those difficulties.

Alas, the Welsh of Brecon had other ideas. Other loyalties. And they weren’t about to let the usurping “Tudor’s” Welsh pretences, or his pushy mother, have their way.

You see, the more serious problem that Henry and Margaret faced was that Brecon had previously supported Richard III.

Way back in October 1483, Brecon locals had made clear their fury and contempt after Henry Stafford (the same 2nd duke of Buckingham whom Richard III subsequently beheaded) threw in with the supporters of Henry “Tudor” (which supporters included his mummy). At that time, the Welsh attacked and sacked Buckingham’s castle of Brecon. Afterward, Richard rewarded Welsh loyalty by giving back Brecon farms and reducing their rents.

So the Welsh of Brecon liked Richard III, and they liked his rewards. As a consequence, and as Jones understates it, “There was as a result considerable unrest early in the reign of Henry VII.”

What forms, exactly, did this unrest take against the Welsh usurper?

  • “Various rebels moving against the king” narrowly failed in their attempt to take Brecon and its castle.[2]
  • The porter of the castle gate deliberately let escape prisoners sympathetic to Richard III.
  • Henry was forced to garrison 140 soldiers at Brecon to guard against future attacks.
  • Henry fined those who had supported the rebels.

Jones writes that “amidst the disorder and uncertainty, Margaret’s officers faced massive problems trying to collect revenue,” but it sounds like the Welsh were anything but disorderly in their intentions or uncertain in their actions. To put it simply, they liked the king they’d had before, and they weren’t about to let the Tydder raise their rents after Richard III had lowered them. Or, as a contemporary source says, “No man would take an increment above the old rent or would pay it.”[3]

Henry and his mummy had other troubles with Brecon as well:

  • No man wanted the office for the “great farm.”
  • Margaret couldn’t get any income from the agistment (i.e., the feeding or pasturing of livestock for a fee) because Richard had also granted the Welsh free passage to the forest.
  • The drastic drop in overall receipts wasn’t a one-year wonder; it was an ongoing financial rebellion on the part of Brecon’s Welsh for years.

Tenants usually paid a fee to be excused from the duty of attending great sessions in Brecon. In 1488, those receipts dropped from 2060 marks to 760. So to spite the Tydder, the tenants preferred to attend the sessions rather than pay to not attend them.

Eight years later in 1496, the “I want to be excused from the sessions” fee raked in 1100 marks for Margaret. But this was still less than half the total she anticipated, and her son took 800 marks of it into his coffer.

What about the matter of the rents? Did Margaret raise them over time? Did the Welsh end up paying what the crown demanded?

No.

A measly £300 was the total income in 1494 from the lordship of Brecon — little more than a third of its actual value.

This means that Brecon’s Welshmen had been tweaking the royal nose for eight years, which makes me wonder what “Do what we want and pay up, and we won’t hurt you…much” tactics Margaret and her avaricious son tried on Brecon that have been lost to history. Eight years is a long time to tolerate losing that much revenue, so we’re missing much of the story.

Obviously, this sort of behavior from the unwashed could not continue to be tolerated by the anointed. And so it was that Margaret sent three new men to deal with the uppity Welsh of Brecon.

  • William Bedell – Margaret’s new receiver for the Stafford lands.
  • David Philip – A most trusted servant of the king’s mummy.
  • John Gunter – An experienced royal auditor.

The mandate from the king and his mummy? “Collect the debts.” Privately, that mandate may have been something more like, “Collect the #@! debts from the #@! Welsh, would you?”

Now, in the usual heartless, greedy scheme of the “Tudor” regime, Henry “the winter king” VII usually got what he wanted. So the three officers bled the Brecon Welsh dry and returned with sturdy oak chests filled with bags simply bursting with coin, yes?

No.

The Brecon Welsh refused to let Henry and Margaret bleed them as they did others. We don’t know the financial-battle tactics the Welsh used. We only know that the king and his mummy had no choice but to write off Brecon’s one-year deficit of £2095.[4] What, I wonder, did they have to write off for the other years, past and future?

The Welshmen of Brecon knew their true value – Richard had told them. They rebelled against Henry VII. And they won.

__________

[1] Jones, Michael, the King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond & Derby, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1992, pp 108-110.

[2] British Library, Egerton Roll, 2192.

[3] Public Record Office, E101/414/6, folio 103v.

[4] Public Record Office, SC6/Hen. VII/1652.m.5v: Rawcliffe, C., The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham, 1394-1521, Cambridge, 1978, p. 128.

Will the real Harry Stafford stand up please…?

Cousins - Richard III and Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham

I recently posted a picture I’d made of Henry “Harry” Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, armoured and mounted, being thwarted by the flooded River Severn, and thus unable to complete whatever his intention was in the autumn of 1483.

We all know he wanted to crowbar his cousin, Richard III, from the throne, but to what end? To try for the vacant position himself? Or was there something else going on that we don’t know about? Maybe he thought Henry Tudor & Co were going to help him to the crown? Perhaps he was going to help put Henry Tudor on the throne?

Hmm, hardly the latter, I think. Buckingham had a far better claim to the crown of England than Henry. Alas, we will never know the full facts. Shortly after the Severn fiasco, his treasonous head was parted from the rest of him, and he disappears from history.

It was commented about my Severn picture that he was in full armour, visor lowered, and therefore completely hidden. Well, yes, that’s true, but then Harry Stafford was a hidden man. He suddenly burst on the scene in 1483, like a firework, to support Richard III, proceeded to betray him, even though Richard showed him great favour, and was promptly convicted of rebellion and treason. The firework fizzled out immediately afterwards in Salisbury. Serves him right.

The portrait of him that is usually found shows a rather plump, disagreeable man who looks much older than Harry’s twenty-eight years and two months. However, variations on the same portrait turn up for his son, Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham. Which duke it actually portrays I do not know. Or, of course, they could have been like peas from the same pod. Mix and match portraits.

All of which leaves me curious to know what Harry really did look like. Here is my version of him. No doubt others will not agree, but I want to ‘picture’ him in my mind’s eye, and take away the anonymity of the mounted knight in armour by the Severn.

So, this is how I imagine Harry to have been. Proud, fashionable, arrogant, with a dashing attitude and rather sensuous features. I feel he would have been blond—dark honey colour—and his eyes blue. That said, that other likeness might have been spot-on. Did he possess great charm? Yes. Was he trustworthy? NEVER! A snake of the first water!

Poor Richard. He would be double-crossed again and again, until finally . . . at Bosworth. And he was an infinitely better man than all the vipers around him.

PS – The background drawing is by Herbert Railton of The Coronation Chair. In Richard’s time the chair did not have the “lion” feet it has now, so I found a more suitable representation. The picture of Richard is taken from Edmund Blair Leighton’s “The Call to Arms” and is much altered. “Harry” is from a Rogier van der Weyden portrait of an unknown gentleman.

PPS – Yes, I admit it, I love doing these pictures. Any excuse, and I’ll post one.

Quite an unfortunate family

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, cannot be called unlucky. The story of his revolt against Richard III, ending in Salisbury at the start of November 1483 is so well known that even Shakespeare has the right end of this particular stick. However, his family suffered fates that they didn’t always deserve so obviously:
1) His son Edward, the 3rd Duke, was beheaded in May 1521 having expressed the view that he was a claimant to the throne, Henry VIII being almost childless at the time. Despite Shakespeare’s portrayal, evidence that he was engaged in a plot of any kind is very thin on the ground.
2) His granddaughter, Margaret Bulmer *, was burned in May 1537. Together with her late husband, Sir John, she had been involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace and a later revolt.
3) His great-grandson, Thomas, was beheaded in May 1557 as the ringleader of the Scarborough Rebellion.

After Thomas’ time, the Stafford surname became somewhat safer. His nephew Sir William rebelled against Elizabeth I but was merely imprisoned. The Stafford barony was restored in 1548 and it eventually passed to one of the last remaining members of the family, Mary. As a ward of the Howard family, taking a ninety year enforced holiday from their Norfolk duchy, she was married to William Howard, descended from Edward Stafford’s daughter, who was created Viscount Stafford. On the third last day of 1680, as one of five Catholic peers arrested over the “Popish Plot”, the aged Viscount met his death at Tower Hill although none of the other four were actually convicted. Mary Stafford was created a Countess five years later, which didn’t quite compensate her adequately.
The final example came just over a century later – the victim didn’t bear the Stafford surname even by marriage and he wasn’t executed in England.  William Jerningham was posthumously agreed to have been a Baron Stafford and Frances, nee Dillon, his Baroness. General Arthur Dillon, her brother, was an English-born Irish officer in the French army and was beheaded in April 1794 as an alleged counter-revolutionary.

* Stephanie Mann on Lady Bulmer:
http://supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/ladys-not-for-hanging-margaret-bulmer.html

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