Richard of Conisbrough was Richard III’s grandfather on the paternal side. He is a shadowy figure, the last son of Edmund of Langley and his wife Isabella of Castile. Even his date of birth is uncertain, varying in different accounts by up to ten years. His father left him no inheritance, and there were rumours that Edmund and his eldest son suspected that Richard was not Langley’s child, but that of John Holland, with whom Isabella of Castile was known to have had an affair. (Some have suggested that this may account for the y-Dna mismatch between Richard and the current Beauforts, and this is a possibility, although it is far more likely it occurred somewhere in the past 16 Beaufort generations.)
At any rate, Richard was known to be the ‘poorest Earl’ due to his lack of income; he was his mother’s heir but monies due to be paid him came only irregularly after Richard II was deposed and Henry IV came to the throne. In 1408, he married Anne Mortimer in secrecy, without parental permission. It appears to have been a love match as Anne came with no particular wealth. With Anne, he had three children, the latter of whom was named Richard— he eventually became Duke of York, and the father of Edward IV and Richard III
When Anne Mortimer died in 1411, Richard of Conisbrough married the heiress Maud Clifford and swiftly had a daughter Alice.
Then in 1415, he fell in with a plot against the reigning Henry V shortly before the King was meant to sail to France for Agincourt. Along with Lord Scrope of Masham and Thomas Grey, he plotted to replace Henry with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, Anne’s brother, who also had a strong claim to the throne. However, Edmund himself informed Henry, and the conspirators were arrested in Southampton after they had made several meetings. They seemed to have expected mercy, with a heavy fine…but no mercy was forthcoming from the stern Henry.
All three men were executed; Grey hanged, drawn and quartered; Scrope decapitated and his head sent to York; and Conisbrough executed by the headsman but allowed to ‘keep his head’ with him after death due to his royal ancestry. He was buried without ceremony in the tiny St Julien’s church, which formed part of the God’s House hospital. Dating from 1185, this chapel still stands in the shadow of a massive towered gateway, although it is in private hands and can only be viewed from the exterior.
So one may think Richard got his just dues for plotting against King Henry. But how serious was this plot? Was there even a plot at all? Professor Anne Curry has doubts as to its veracity as does historian T.B. Pugh. It is just as likely that Henry was simply removing a few disgruntled lords (Conisbrough had some reason to be disgruntled—he had been charged a 10,000 mark marriage fine) and sending a harsh warning to anyone who thought to defy him when he was away on campaign in France. The three plotters were not terribly organised and their supposed plots vague at best, and none of them seemed particularly supportive or loyal to Edmund of Mortimer, which may make it unlikely that they truly wanted him as king—apparently, they called him a hog and a pig!
So whatever the case, Conisbrough lost his life aged somewhere between the ages of 30 or 40, but luckily, because he was not attainted, he was able to pass on his estates to his orphaned son, four year old Richard. Shortly thereafter, Conisbrough’s elder brother died at Agincourt, and in due time young Richard was acclaimed as his heir and inherited his titles and lands.
Conisbrough is rather a forgotten figure, except as dealt with in a Shakespeare play. Despite the possibility he had done very little against Henry V other than grumble a bit with a few other northern lords, no one seems to mourn his execution overmuch…unlike, for instance Anthony Rivers, executed for treason by Richard III in 1483. There is certainly just as much if not more evidence that Rivers was plotting against the Duke of Gloucester on behalf of his Woodville kin; the fact that no one spoke up for him after his arrest speaks volumes. They had weeks to do so. But it seems, alas, Conisbrough did not have Rivers’ charisma…or write poetry.
Anne Curry: Agincourt-A New History
TB Pugh: Henry V and the Southampton Plot of 1415
‘O for pity!–we shall much disgrace
With four or five most vile and ragged foils,
Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous,
The name of Agincourt. Yet sit and see,
Minding true things by what their mockeries be.’
I have always been fascinated by the battle of Azincourt since I first watched the grainy images of Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film version on a wet afternoon off school sick as a child. What I found so compelling about the film was the layer on layer interpretation of Shakespeare’s play. Olivier set the action in The Globe theatre of 1600 with his actors wearing Elizabethan dress and contemporary hair styles but then as the camera moved through a gauzy curtain as he took the action to Southampton the viewer was transported back to August 1415 and the costumes changed to elaborate and very beautiful copies of C15th dress as he left the confines of…
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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.
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…
In all my travels to England, I had yet to visit Fotheringhay, the place where Richard III was born on October 2, 1452, and where his grand-uncle, father, mother and brother Edmund are buried. So, when planning our latest trip this past October, I made it a high priority that my husband and I should visit this important Yorkist site; my main goal was to set eyes on the carved Boar that dates from Richard III’s lifetime. My interest in the boar was because Richard had adopted the white (or silver) boar as his personal badge while he was a young teenaged (or preteen) duke of Gloucester. It is located within St. Mary and All Saints church, only a few hundred yards from the castle remains. Much to my surprise, many visitors overlook the carved boar because it is not easy to locate, and it is not even mentioned in the church’s guidebook.
We were traveling by car from Leicester to Bury St. Edmunds, and Fotheringhay was an easy detour along our route towards East Anglia. It was our first foray into Northamptonshire, and we were excited to be visiting the place where not only the Yorkists had a major family home, but also the place where the Woodvilles had their home base. We were planning visits to other places historically significant to the Wars of the Roses: Ely Cathedral; Croyland Abbey; Cambridge; and Bury St. Edmund. But, for me, the boar was the paramount thing.
Many writers have described the pleasant perspective that greets the eye when approaching Fotheringhay, and they were not wrong. The church is situated in a very large field, at the top of a hill. From miles away, one can see the octagonal lantern at the top of its tower, and can catch a glint of gold from the falcon-in-a-fetterlock flagpole.
The fetterlock-and-falcon symbol was adopted by Edward III’s fifth son, Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York, and became perhaps one of the more predominant cognizances of the house of York, even to the point that Langley used it for the groundplan for his renovation of Fotheringhay Castle.
It was Langley who projected a college at Fotheringhay, and it is believed he built a “large and magnificent” choir adjoining the ancient parish church in the town that huddled close to the castle, near the River Nene. Langley’s son, Edward of Norwich, second Duke of York, obtained a charter in 1412 for its endowment, to include a master, 8 clerks, and 13 choristers. In 1415, the duke obtained a royal license to enlarge the foundation, but did not live to see it built. It was his nephew, Richard, third Duke of York, who carried his uncle’s designs into execution and on the 24th of September, 1435, he signed by commission a contract with William Horwood, freemason of Fotheringhay, for the rebuilding on a scale and in a style exactly corresponding to those of the choir erected by Langley.
Edward IV carried on his father’s interest in the church, and gave it new windows of stained glass to the cloisters, along with the windows in the college which were ornamented with shields of arms. He also gave it a new charter, 300 acres of land, and various privileges and liberties, amongst many grants of income from estates and lands in surrounding communities. The goal was straightforward: it was to be a Yorkist shrine of a grand scale and suitable for the remains of his father and brother Edmund when they were reinterred here in July of 1476.
The lavish scale of the shrine is exemplified by the design of the hearse delivered to Fotheringhay to anticipate the final resting place of the Duke of York and the Earl of Rutland. It was originally designed in 1463. “The hearse and its many pennons and banners were mainly the work of John Stratford, the king’s painter. He made the ‘majesty cloth’ of Christ sitting in judgment on the rainbow, a symbolic scene which was to hang over the effigy [of the duke] before the ‘eyes’ of the dead man.” [Sutton/Visser-Fuchs] The hearse was decorated with 51 gilded wax images of kings and 420 gilded wax images of angels. As if that were not grand enough, the hearse was “dusted” with painted silver roses, over which a gilded single great sun, Edward IV’s personal badge, dominated.
The church at Fotheringhay must never have seen a grander day than that of 29 July 1476. This is when an enormous procession led by the king’s youngest brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester, arrived with the funeral cortege. It must have been quite a colorful sight, as a multitude of banners were carried, many depicting religious subjects, such as the Trinity, Our Lady, St. George, St. Edmund and St. Edward – the saints revered by the house of York. Also depicted were heraldic symbols of importance to York: the white hart, the white lion, the falcon-in-fetterlock, and the white rose.
Behind Richard, who was chief mourner, came several distinguished magnates: Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland; Thomas, Lord Stanley; Richard Hastings, Lord Welles; Ralph, Lord Greystoke; Humphrey, Lord Dacre; and John Blount, Lord Mountjoy. The bodies of the dead were accompanied by 3 kings of arms (March, Norroy, Ireland); 5 heralds (Windsor, Falcon, Chester, Hereford); and 4 pursuivants (Guisnes, Comfort, Ich Dien, Scales). Scores of nobles and their household officers on horseback formed a long cortege, and 400 “poor men” on foot carried torches. According to financial records, tents erected outside the church, could accommodate seating space for 1,500 people. And guests attending could expect to be fed very well by the King’s generosity, as this was an opportunity for him to display his munificence to the subjects of his realm. [Sutton/Visser-Fuchs]
When we entered the church last month, it was with this history in mind. As I walked to the north porch entrance, I imagined the spectacle of all the tents and the hundreds of people being fed. I imagined cups of small ale being raised in honor to the Duke, perhaps people telling stories about his life, and how the surviving children resembled their father in looks or deed.
But my goal was to see the boar. I had read about it in David Baldwin’s text, and he described it as being near or within the pulpit. It’s impossible to miss the pulpit, as it is remarkably colorful and elaborate, when contrasted to the rather plain white walls of the interior:
In 1821, H.K. Bonney, archdeacon, made the following observation about the pulpit during his site survey of Fotheringhay, which was undergoing renovations at the time: “The pulpit is original and in good preservation. It is hexagonal, supported on one pillar, and adored with carved panels inserted in a border of tracery. Above are the remains of the canopy, which probably was surmounted by a high crotcheted pinnacle; but which has, since the reformation, given way to a large sounding board. On examining the canopy, whilst it was under repair, some of the ancient gilding, that covered this part of the pulpit, was discovered.”
According to an 1841 treatise by John Henry Parker, the pulpit was presented by Edward IV “as his arms and supporters are carved upon it”. These were carefully cleaned and restored by Archdeacon Bonney in 1821, “whose zeal in antiquarian researches is deserving of the gratitude of this [the Oxford] Society” he wrote. In 1890, C. A. Markham wrote that the pulpit at Fotheringhay was a good example of a paneled oak pulpit of the Perpendicular style, albeit of a design uncommon in Northamptonshire. Markham asserted the pulpit was “erected soon after the year 1440, when the body of the church was built”.
At first I walked around the pulpit several times, admiring the painted panels, but I did not see any carvings as described by these men. After my fifth go-about, I finally realized I had to walk up the pulpit steps in order see the carvings. So glad I did so, because it is there that I found the object of my search:
No doubt, this was the panel described by Markham as the shield of arms bearing France and England quarterly, surmounted by an imperial crown, and supported on the dexter side by lion rampant quadrant for the Earldom of March, and a bull for Clare; and on the sinister side by a hart, showing the descent from Richard II who took that device, and by a boar for the honour of Windsor possessed by Richard III, the silver boar being his badge.”
I have been researching the use of the boar badge for several months now, and I’ve always been curious about the statement that it was originally from the honour of Windsor. I have yet to locate any confirmed usage of a boar associated with Windsor. Some heraldic experts suggest that the boar was one of the badges of Edward III. Again, I have yet to confirm that. The oldest surviving Garter stall plate at St. George’s, by coincidence, does depict a boar’s head as a crest, but not the full creature.
Also, I think it odd that Markham would conclude the carving dated to the early 1440s under the supervision of the third Duke of York, Richard III’s father. That does not make sense to me since I am not aware of the house of York employing the boar as one of its badges. Yet, it is uncontested that Richard, his son, chose the boar probably when he was in his early teens or pre-teen, and was charged with arraying troops. (Badges were depicted on standards to identify the lord commissioned with the array.) So, the first confirmed Yorkist use of the boar would be somewhere in the mid-1460s, and that coincided exactly with when initial designs for the hearse had been made, in anticipation of the reinterment.
That the boar was designed and made during Edward IV’s reign would lend important information about its iconography. The message conveyed here seems to be that the King announces his descent from the Mortimer line which held the earldom of March and used the cognizance of the white lion. Edward IV is also announcing his claim to be Richard II’s legal heir by depicting that deposed king’s well-known hart cognizance. The black bull of Clarence flanking the dexter side would represent Edward IV’s brother, George, who employed that device as one of his badges. And Edward IV included his youngest brother, Richard, by portraying his badge of the white boar. It’s as though the three sons of York are illuminated here, and they are shown within a unified scheme, with the brothers’ badges being of equal size and support. At the time of the reinterment in 1476, this may have seemed literally true; sadly, only two years would pass, much would change with George’s execution. How times change.
Much to my surprise, I discovered recently that there had been yet another carved boar in the church at Fotheringhay that also dated to the 15th century. The choir that had been built there by the third duke was dismantled and its furniture sold to various purchasers in 1553, during the reign of Edward VI. Some of those choir stalls still exist in the neighboring church of Hemington. According to written accounts, those stalls had misericords depicting a falcon-inside-fetterlock, a rose, a feather issuing from a ducal coronet, a grotesque, and a boar.
Although I wasn’t aware of the Hemington boar when we were at Fotheringhay, I was able to find a photo of the boar on-line:
So, perhaps Markham was right that there was a boar carving in Fotheringhay in the 1440s. And possibly, one could speculate that Richard III as a young lad, might have first set eyes on the boar while he lived there during his first 7-8 years of life, and possibly was impressioned with its symbolism well before he was arraying troops. It would make for an interesting story.