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Did Edward IV’s daughter Bridget have an illegitimate child….?

Oil painting on canvas, Princess Bridget Plantagenet (1480-1517) dedicated to the Nunnery at Dartford, by James Northcote, RA (Plymouth 1746 – London 1831), signed and dated: James Northcote pinxt. 1822. Four full-length figures. The Princess is standing in the centre as a child, full length, full face, in white, with her mother kneeling holding her on the right. The Abbess is standing, on the left, bending over her and gesturing to heaven with her right hand ; in the right background the Prior can be seen standing with a crosier. In the left-hand corner is an open book with the royal arms and York roses inscribed with the story and signed ‘James Northcote – pinx, 1822’. Petworth Collection.

We all know that Edward IV’s youngest daughter, Bridget (born 10th November 1480), became a nun…or at least, entered the Dominican priory at Dartford at the age of ten. Not as a nun then, of course, because she was too young, but maybe she was always intended for the Church. And Dartford was a priory with aristocratic and family connections, including her paternal grandmother, Cecily, Duchess of York. Not your average House of God, I think.

Dartford Priory

If you go to this article you will find the following intriguing paragraph:-

“…. A new theory has come to light. One source believes she [Bridget] gave birth to an illegitimate child, a girl named Agnes, in 1498. Pregnancies were obviously very unusual at a priory and the cause of great scandal, though they did happen. There are no confirmed births to any of the nuns of Dartford. Still, this girl supposedly became a ward of the priory, her expenses paid by the queen. She was called Agnes of Eltham, a reference to the palace where Bridget was born….Agnes later left the Priory and was married Adam Langstroth, the head of a landed family in Yorkshire (the ancestral home of the Yorks and refuge of York loyalists in the early Tudor period) with ‘a considerable dowry….”

A rather unflattering likeness
of Bridget of York

Now, the source of this story is, apparently Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir, but where she got it I don’t know. Agnes’s financial needs were provided for by Elizabeth of York until the latter’s death in 1503. This might indicate that the story of Bridget and Agnes is true, for Agnes could well have been Elizabeth’s niece. The sources for Elizabeth’s involvement are The Life and Reign of King Henry VIII by Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury (London, 1649) and Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth-Century England by Kathy Lynn Emerson (1984). I have found these references, but not actually read the publications concerned, but I imagine that they do indeed confirm the financial connection with Elizabeth of York.

An Adam Langstroth and his family can be traced to Arncliffe (and Cosh) both villages to be found in Littondale, Yorkshire. Whether or not he married Bridget’s daughter Agnes I cannot say, but he does seem to have had an Agnes as his wife.

Arncliffe, Littondale

A little further digging about Adam Langstroth reveals that he was a retainer of the 10th Lord Clifford, son of the 9th Lord, who is said to have killed Edmund of Rutland at Wakefield in 1460. It is believe that the 9th Lord Clifford acted out of revenge for the killing of his father (8th Lord Clifford) by the Yorkists at the 1455 Battle of St Albans. Langstroth was with the 10th Lord Clifford at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.

Flodden Field, 1513

Today is New Year’s Day, and so I raise a glass to Agnes, and hope that she lived happily ever after, with lots of presents every Christmas season!

King Edward IV’s Last Christmas….

Reconstruction of Christmas at Eltham 1482Historic England (illustration by Peter Urmston)

In the 14th century it became a royal tradition to spend Christmas at Eltham, and by 1482, Edward IV also held his Christmas there.

Antique Print of Eltham Palace

The top picture is an imagined scene of this Christmas in the great hall (pictured immediately above) with Edward, his queen and perhaps some of his sons and daughters at the dais.

It is hard to say from the 1482 scene whether or not there is anything unusual about Edward’s attire, but, according to Edward the Fourth by Laurence Stratford, 1910:-

“….Christmas 1482 was spent at Eltham, where the King ‘kept his estate all the whole feast in his great chamber, and the Queen in her chamber, where were daily more than 2000 persons served.’ (Stowe, Annals, London 1619)  A contemporary writer has left us a graphic account of the prosperous appearance of the Court at this season:  ‘You might have seen, in those days, the royal Court presenting no other appearance than such as fully befits a most mighty kingdom, filled with riches and with people of almost all nations, and (a  point in which it excelled all others) boasting of the most sweet and beautiful children,’ (The Continuators of the Croyland Chonicle (translated and edited by H. T. Riley in Ingulph’s Chronicles, published Bohn) the issue of the King and Queen….

“….One of the guests appears to have been Andrew Palaeologus, a member of the fallen house of Constantinople. (Ramsay, Lancaster and York, 1892, ii. p 448) The King appeared ‘clad in a great variety of most costly garments, of quite a different cut to those which had been usually seen hitherto in our kingdom. The sleeves of the robes were very full and hanging, greatly resembling a monk’s frock, and so lined within with most costly furs and rolled over the shoulders as to give that Prince a new and distinguished air to beholders, he being a person of most elegant appearance, and remarkable beyond all others for the attraction of his person.’ (Cont. Croyland, pp 480-1)….”

Oh, if only the colours and fabrics had been described! I have some difficulty in picturing how, exactly, these clothes were so startlingly new and different. However, this certainly doesn’t sound like a man whose health would deteriorate so much that he would die only four months later, on 9th April 1483. I always thought his decline was long and slow, aided and abetted by obesity and years of riotous living. Surely such a man could not have been described as ‘a person of most elegant appearance’ at Christmas 1482?

Eltham Palace, showing the moat and position of the great hall

The History of Eltham Palace….

copyright Historic England - illustration by Peter Urmston - Eltham Palace

Copyright Historic England, illustration by Peter Urmston.

While browsing around, looking for a particular illustration of a medieval great hall, I happened upon the above picture, which is an imagining of the hall at Eltham Palace toward the end of the 15th century. I think, but can’t be sure, that the king seated splendidly at the far end is Edward IV. But it could be Richard III, or even (heaven forfend) Henry VII. The likelihood seems to be Edward.

This link will take you to an English Heritage site all about Eltham. It contains some wonderful illustrations, showing Eltham from the outside, and this view of the great hall. The whole site is well worth saving somewhere in your myriad files.

Richard at Eltham Palace - reduced

Of course, being a Ricardian, I am certain there is something essential missing from the gathering. So here it is again (mirrored for artistic reasons) with Richard himself to make it complete!

 

 

How one mediaeval thing leads to another….

plan-of-eltham-palace

It’s the old, old story again – while looking for one thing, I came upon something else. A Google search turned up a detailed plan of Eltham Palace. I followed the link, and came to a Pinterest page (Traveling Ruygt) with links to other pages, all concerning palaces, castles, etc. from our period of interest. Granted there is a lot of Tudor in there – even Elizabeth I’s stays! – but equally, buildings that existed for the Tudors, had existed previously. Not even Henry VII dared to pretend they appeared magically the moment Bosworth was won! Anyway, I found it very interesting, and hope you do too.

Click Traveling Ruygt’s link below to find all sorts of goodies.

 

 

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

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