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THE ROAD FROM FOTHERINGHAY-New Novel about Richard III’s Childhood

Richard’s childhood frequently gets some coverage in novels of his life, but THE ROAD FROM FOTHERINGHAY is the only novel, to my knowledge, that is ONLY about Richard’s youngest years, set against the wider backdrop of The Wars of the Roses. It is also one of only two in which the story is told from young Richard’s first person perspective. THE ROAD FROM FOTHERINGHAY is a prequel to the well-received I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET series but can be read purely independently.

The novel begins with Richard’s earliest days at Fotheringhay and the death of his youngest sister, Ursula, the first of many losses in his life. Then there is the move west to Ludlow and the Marches, which here is described as happening earlier than in the normal sequence of events we are used to reading. The author explains why in the notes; looking at the isotopic analysis of Richard’s teeth it shows, after a more ‘eastern Midlands’ signature very early in life, that this is followed by a more  western signature. For such chemical banding to be determined, he must have been in a westerly region for longer than a few weeks; if not actually at Ludlow with his oldest brothers Edward and Edmund, then perhaps at another of the Mortimer castles. (Usk, for instance,  has an unusual legend that he was born there…)

The sack of Ludlow follows and Richard’s first vision of the horrors brought by war–and imprisonment in the stronghold of the Duke of Buckingham, Humphrey Stafford, and his wife Anne–who is the sister of Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville. It is a fairly soft imprisonment for the youngest York children, Richard, George and Margaret,  which comes to an end when  the Battle of Northampton is fought and Buckingham  killed. Richard goes with his family to London where they are eventually reunited with first Edward, flush with the victory at Northampton, then the Duke of York himself, returned from brief exile in Ireland. Things look brighter for the future, with Richard’s father installed as King Henry’s heir…but then the Duke heads into the troubled North and is slain outside Sandal Castle, along with Richard brother Edmund, age just seventeen.

Duchess Cecily hastily sends Richard and George to Burgundy for their own protection. It is a gamble; the Duke of Burgundy does not want to seem to be favouring the Yorkists in any way. He grudgingly accepts the boys but not at his court;  they are shoved into a backwater instead, possibly Castle Duurstede, near Utrecht, which was undergoing renovation at the time.

But not for long. Word comes of the battles of Mortimer’s Cross and Towton. Edward IV is now King, Duke Phillip of Burgundy holds a huge feast with the two youngsters attending as esteemed princes, and Richard and George finally  return home, no longer penniless exiles but  brothers of a King  who are soon to be made Royal Dukes.

And when the Earl of Warwick takes Richard into his household at Middleham, the young boy at last begin to find a sense of his place in the world.

But the Wheel of Dame Fortune is forever spinning…

I RICHARD PLANTAGENET THE PREQUEL PART 1:

Kindle and print editions: THE ROAD FROM FOTHERINGHAY
(PART 2, AVOUS ME LIE,  due out  later in the year)

I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET SERIES: I, RICHARD BOOK SERIES

 

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If things had been different, might Richard and George have been buried at Fotheringhay….?

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

It occurs to me to wonder if Richard intended to be lain to rest at Fotheringhay with his father, the 3rd Duke of York, and brother, Edmund of Rutland. Wouldn’t he think he belonged with them – no matter how fond he was of his beloved Yorkshire?

Of course, things changed radically when he became king, because kings were (in general) buried at Westminster. Richard’s brother, Edward IV, was to start a new fashion for burials at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which he himself had completed. I know there are other exceptions to Westminster, e.g. John at Worcester and Edward II at Gloucester, but perhaps Edward, once he became king, wanted to start a new trend—which he did, because there are now ten monarchs in St George’s Chapel.

The tomb of Edward IV, King of England and Elizabeth Woodville at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, England (circa 15th century) from the Works of William Shakespeare. Vintage etching circa mid 19th century.

But do we know what George of Clarence really wanted? If he’d been a good boy and survived his considerable transgressions against Edward, would he still have picked Tewkesbury? That was where his wife Isabel was buried, but would he have wanted her to remain there when he himself died?

Entrance to vault of George of Clarence, Tewkesbury Abbey

Might he have wanted her to be moved to Fotheringhay, where they could lie together again? Moving remains around to suit later interments was quite common, as shown by the Duke of York and Edmund of Rutland being brought south to Fotheringhay. And Richard himself moved Henry VI from Chertsey to St George’s, Windsor. Maybe this latter act was an indication of what Richard Intended for himself? Who knows? He didn’t leave instructions, and so it is still a mystery to this day. All we do know is that he wouldn’t have chosen Leicester, because he had no connection with that city. He lies there today because at the time of his death it was the closest suitable place to the battlefield.

 

Tomb of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral of Saint Martin.

And from thinking all this, my musings wandered to whether or not Richard would think George wished to remain in Tewkesbury. On the instructions of Edward IV, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, had originally escorted the remains of his father and second eldest brother south from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, and that experience must have been a hugely emotional and important time for him. Fotheringhay was surely the place he too expected to eventually be lain to rest? After all, he didn’t know that for the last two years of his life he would be king.

York Minster

York is always put forward as his inevitable choice, but we don’t know for certain. Once he was crowned, no doubt he felt he had to conform. He’d buried Anne at Westminster, and maybe, had he lived, there would have been a tomb there for them both, and for their son, who’d have been brought from wherever he was laid to rest. We still do not know where little Edward of Middleham was buried, all record has been lost.

Or maybe Richard too would have chosen Windsor, after all, that was where he’d moved Henry VI. Perhaps he intended his wife and son to go there too? The guesswork is infinite. Oh, for his fifteenth-century iPhone, and a casual note left on Medieval Messenger on the eve of Bosworth. Not that Henry Tudor would have honoured such a wish anyway.

Tomb of Henry VI, St George’s, Windsor.

If Edward had lived on, and Richard had never become king, what would have happened to the remains of both Richard and George? Let’s imagine they died before Edward, leaving him the only surviving brother. Even if they had specified their choice of burial place, I have a feeling that he’d have laid them to rest at Fotheringhay, with their father and other brother. And surely he’d have had Anne and Isobel and their children moved to lie with them? Or is that just too simple and neat a solution?

Edmund, Earl of Rutland, a life cut short.

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Fotheringhay Church and  Yorkist Mausoleum 1804.   Watercolour by unknown artist.  

A link here to an excellent article on Edmund, Earl of Rutland.  The History Geeks can be found on Facebook:

The article also give a plausible reason as to why Edmund’s christening ceremony at Rouen was much more opulent than his brother Edward’s earlier one – which has led to much debate and speculation that Edward was illegitimate.

I think Edmund may have become a dependable and worthy member of the Plantagenets  and his early death, at the age of 17, leads to a ‘what if?’.  Everything may well have been so different.  But it was not to be and its easy to imagine the grief that must have overwhelmed his mother, when the news was broken to her of the terrible outcome of Wakefield.  Not only did she lose Edmund but her husband, who must have been her rock throughout most of her life.  However Cicely was to carry on and to suffer even more tragedy later including the judicial murder of another son, Clarence,  and the violent death of her youngest surviving son Richard at Bosworth. But that is another story.

To focus back on Edmund –  his early life which he shared much of with his oldest brother Edward – is covered in the article as are the delightful letters written by the pair of them while at Ludlow to their father  which alway make me smile.  Assuring their ‘Lorde and Fader’ of their ‘wilfare’ at the writing of the letter, they tell him ‘We were in good helth of bodis thonked be God’ and ‘beseche your good Lordeschip that hit may plaese yowe to sende us Harry Lovedeyne grome of your kechyn whose svice is to us ryght agreable And we will sende yowe John Boyes to wayte on your good Lordeschip’ (1)!  Nice try boys!..sadly we dont know if it worked..

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Edmund’s and Edward’s signatures on a letter to their father June 1454.

But  the  madness  that become known as the Wars of the Roses was to end Edmund’s life in the cruellest way. Edmund fought along side his father and maternal uncle at the Battle of Wakefield – 30th December 1460 – and its hard to read the suggestion that, had Edmund had travelled west with his brother Edward, he may have survived. But stay with his father he did – and died – after a failed attempt to flee, murdered some say by Lord Clifford or at the very least on his orders.

After the battle Edmund and his father’s heads, together with that of his uncle Richard Earl of Salisbury, which had been detached ty a mob, were placed upon Micklegate Bar, York. A further heartache no doubt for Cicely but an act which spurred the Yorkists on. Determined to avenge his father and brother’s deaths, but three months later, Edward finally crushed the Lancastrians at Towton. One of his first actions was to have Edmund buried with his father at  the Cluniac Priory of St John in Pontefract. Later in 1476, they were both ceremoniously reburied at Fotheringhey in St Mary’s Church, York in the chancel, but it remains unclear whether Edmund was buried in the same vault as his father or in the Lady Chapel. When Cicely’s time came she was, presumably, buried in her husband’s vault according to a request in her will. Richard and Cicely’s bodies were moved into a joint tomb in 1573 on the instructions of Elizabeth I, where they rest to this day. The Lady Chapel was destroyed and it is not known whether Edmund was found and  re-buried with his parents – no mention of it was made – or found and lost again or still remains undiscovered. It would appear, sadly, that his remains were forgotten about at the time and are now lost (2). I do hope very much that, whether his remains were found or not, they still lay not far from his parents.

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The tomb of Richard Duke of York and Cicely Neville Edmund’s parents.  It is unknown whether Edmund was reburied with his parents.  Tomb erected at the instruction of Elizabeth Ist.

  1. Excerpta Histórica: Or, Illustrations of English History p9, Samuel Bentley.
  2. Creating and Recreating Yorkist Tombs in Fotheringhay online article Sofija Matich and Jennifer S Alexander.

THE STRANGE LEGEND OF USK CASTLE

In a tiny town in Wales, a ruined castle stands on rising ground amidst a haze of dark trees. An atmospheric round tower, cracked  by time; shattered walls, the remains of hall and chapel. Privately owned, a garden drops down the hillside before it, to an old house  which appears to contain much castle stonework. Modern statuary of gargoyles peep out from a tangle of flowers as birds fly from their nests in the towers toward the town beyond, with its grey church, once an ancient priory.

This is  Usk Castle, and it has an interesting history, and a legend that might contain a grain of truth. A Roman fort once stood nearby and the castle itself may be situated on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort. The first castle was likely  built in Norman times by  Richard de Clare and William the Conqueror’s banner-bearer,  Tristram Fitz Rolf . Later, around  1120,  the Marcher Lord,  Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare strengthened the castle’s defences, perhaps building in stone for the first time. His tenure there was long so long; Iorwerth Ap Owain killed  him in an ambush in a dark, wooded pass called ‘the ill way of Coed Grano.’ The place today still contains a commemorative marker known as the ‘Stone of Revenge.’ Later still,  Usk was held by William Marshal and then returned to the de Clare family with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hereford (son of Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I), who was slain at Bannockburn in 1314.

The last events of high drama at the castle seem to have taken place in 1405,  when Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr attacked the town of Usk and the garrison gave battle, capturing Owain’s  son.

The rest of the 1400’s may have been quieter in Usk, but just as interesting. For a time, Usk Castle was held by Edmund Mortimer, earl of the Marches,  and from him it eventually passed to Richard, Duke of York, whose mother was Anne Mortimer, granddaughter of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, Edward III’S third son. The Duke of York was also patron to nearby Usk Priory, today the parish church. William Herbert (senior) was  the Duke’s steward in the area. When Edward IV came to the throne, Usk became a crown possession, and of course it was also subsequently held by Richard III.

Several references of the 1800’s (earliest 1828) to the York family at Usk are rather noteworthy. They state the Duke of York spent ‘considerable time’ at the castle, and that both Edward IV and Richard III were born there. Now, it is known for a fact that Edward was born in Rouen, France and Richard at Fotheringhay, in Northamptonshire, but could there be something in this old tale, which was repeated in more than one source? Is there some sliver of folk memory here, recalling that the Duke’s sons had been in residence in Usk at some time? Edward was not all that far far away at Ludlow with Edmund as a youth, but what about Richard?

It is interesting to look at the stable isotopes detected on Richard’s teeth. They showed that his earliest childhood was spent in a geographic  area of England that would correspond with Fotheringhay; then the isotopes appear to indicate he spent some time in a wetter environment more consistent with western Britain. We know he was with his family at Ludlow at the time of the Battle of Ludford Bridge and the subsequent sacking of the town. Could he have spent some time prior to that at Usk? Was Duchess Cecily in residence there for a while with her younger children?  I somehow doubt  the Duke would have  his wife and children ride all the way from Fotheringhay to Ludlow with hostilities about to break out in the area, so it only makes sense to assume they were already dwelling somewhere in the region.  Perhaps they were at Usk and the Duke ordered them to Ludlow, which had a larger, stronger, more  defensible castle. The distance between Usk and Ludlow is around 50 miles, a much shorter distance than  that between  Fotheringhay  and Ludlow. That latter route would also have taken in more of the Lancastrian dominated areas in the Midlands. Certainly, the possibility is there and many legends are not just pulled from thin air.

Vintage article on the castle:

USK CASTLE FROM VICTORIAN HISTORY BOOK

 

USK CASTLE:

 

 

The Nuns Of Fotheringhay

English Medieval Monasteries 1066-1540 by Roy Midmer states that a foundation of Cluniac nuns was founded at Fotheringhay by Simon de St. Litz (aka Simon de Senlis) Earl of Huntingdon circa 1141. The nuns “soon” moved to Northampton (Delapre). However they “retained their church and endowments” until the foundation of the College by the 2nd Duke of York in 1411.

This implies that the original church was built in 1141, although it is entirely possible (perhaps probable) that it incorporated earlier work. Presumably the Delapre nuns had the advowson.

It also seems reasonable to assume that the nunnery buildings would have been on the site later used by the College, immediately adjacent to the church, between it and the river.

What means the 2nd Duke of York used to persuade the nuns to give up their property so he could develop his College is not clear. Were they “bought off” or were they simply “told”? The College had a charter from Henry IV so that may have been the decisive factor.

 

 

 

 

Retracing the 1476 funeral procession of Richard, Duke of York….

Battle of Wakefield and Richard, Duke of YorkRichard, Duke of York, was killed at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 but later, in 1476, exhumed by his son, Edward IV. The body was taken with great ceremony from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, resting each night at Doncaster, Blyth, Tuxford le Clay, Newark, Grantham, Stamford and finally being reburied at Fotheringhay. Among the mourners on the journey was the duke’s youngest son, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. A huge funeral feast for 15,000 people followed.

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Richard, 3rd Duke of York

In 2010 Wakefield Historical Society retraced that journey on the anniversary dates of 21st-29th July to commemorate the 550th anniversary of Richard’s (York’s) death. Each day included visits to places of interest and a chance to walk some stretches of the original route. Each evening included a performance of a medieval Vespers of the Dead, in the church where the body rested, as well as a talk by an invited lecturer.

Although this event took place in 2010, it’s well worth going to here . Use the list on the top left to follow exactly what happened, the route and so on.RII funeral procession, drawn in 1468The above illustration is of Richard II’s funeral procession, which followed much of the same route. The picture was executed in 1468, and so is probably an accurate depiction of how the Duke of York’s procession might have appeared.

 

If Edward IV didn’t dispose of Henry Holand, 3rd Duke of Exeter, who did….?

I must state from the outset that I could not find any contemporary likenesses of Henry Holand, so the above is of him as played by an actor unknown to me.

The life of Henry Holand, 3rd Duke of Exeter—*actually 4th Duke, by my calculations, see below—has never been of particular interest to me, but I did think that he was murdered at sea, and his body dumped in the water. It was believed that as he was a tiresome Lancastrian, he fell victim to Yorkist retribution. Specifically, the retribution of his former brother-in-law, Edward IV. At least, that was my impression. Apart from that, I also understood that Henry Holand was a very unpleasant person.

Henry Holand’s coat of arms
Tower of London by Wenceslaus Hollar

Henry was born in the Tower of London on 27th June, 1430. At his baptism he was carried from the Tower to Coldharbour, and then taken by barge to St. Stephen’s Westminster, where he was christened. (I mention this because we all know Coldharbour, and its Ricardian connections.)

Coldharbour
Anne of York

Henry Holand married Anne of York, who was born in 1439 at Fotheringhay. She was the elder sister of Kings Edward IV and Richard III, and it was her mitochondrial DNA that proved the remains discovered in Leicester were those of Richard III.

When Henry was aged 19, in 1449, he became 3rd Duke of Exeter and Lord High Admiral. The Holands had started as Ricardians—Richard II—but had then Lancastrian supporters of Henry IV. Henry Hoiland supported Lancastrian Henry VI when the Yorkist Edward IV came to the throne. The duke was thus attainted after the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461, and fled to exile in Scotland.

The Lancastrians were routed at the Battle of Towton

His estates had been forfeited, but Holand regained many of them when Henry VI was returned briefly to the throne. But then the estates were forfeit again when Edward IV surged back to power.

Meanwhile, Holand’s wife had managed to obtain all his estates for herself. Such are the perks of being Edward IV’s sister. An Act of Parliament passed in 1464 meant that “such gifts and grants that the king made to Anne, his sister, wife of Henry, Duke of Exeter, were to all intents good in law to the only use of the said Anne.” (Tower Records). Edward granted her the Holand castles, manors, etc. in Wales, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Wilts to herself for life, with the remainder to her daughter by the Duke of Exeter.

Henry Holand returned to England in 1469, still supporting Lancaster, and was wounded at the Battle of Warwick.

Reenactment of the Battle of Warwick, 1469

Then, on 14th April, 1471, he fought at the Battle of Barnet, at which the Lancastrians were beaten, and the great Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, was killed.

Sir James Ramsey, in his book, Lancaster and York, vol. ii, p. 370, states that Henry Holand was in the Tower of London until June of 1475. On 21st June, 1471, a bill of 6s. 8d. was paid to William Sayer, purveyor to the Tower of London to feed “Henry, called Duke of Exeter”, for seven days from 26th May, and again 6s. 8d. for the week beginning 31st May. Rymer, vol. xi, p. 713. 

Anne of York and Sir Thomas St Leger

Henry Holand and Anne had parted in 1464, and were divorced on 11th December, 1467. They had one child, a daughter, also named Anne. Then the Duchess Anne married Yorkist Sir Thomas St Leger in 1474-ish. Another daughter was born of this second match, on 14th January, 1476, and they called her Anne as well! So, we have Anne of York, Lady Anne Holand and Lady Anne St Leger.

On learning that his wife was pregnant, St Leger engineered a legal settlement that would enable his child, Anne St Leger, to inherit everything in the event of his wife’s death and the death (without issue) of Lady Anne Holand. I’ll bet Henry Holand appreciated that!

Henry must have been a brooding presence for his ex-wife. In 1475, around the time that she realised she was expecting St Leger’s child, Henry Holand had redeemed himself enough with Edward IV to volunteer (and be accepted) by that king for an expedition/invasion of France. This venture began at around the time Anne realised she was expecting St Leger’s child.

Edward IV’s fleet leaving for France

It was on the return voyage from France that Henry’s body was found bobbing in the Channel (or on the beach at Dover, according to another version).

Dover in the 16th century

Everyone scratched their heads and spread innocent hands as to what had befallen him. Edward IV may or may not have had a tiresome Lancastrian eliminated—he wasn’t above such things—but there was someone else with a good reason to dispose of Henry Holand.

Thomas St Leger was also on the expedition to France, and had been prominent in the proceedings. “St Leger played a key role in ending the Hundred Years’ War when he signed the Treaty of Picquigny with Louis XI on 29 August 1475.” At this time he knew he was to be a father, and had accomplished the settlement that could so greatly benefit his child’s future. Thanks to his foresight, little Anne St Leger might one day inherit the entire Holand fortune!

Edward IV and King Louis of France meet prior to the signing of the Treaty of Picquigny, which effectively bought Edward off.

But while Henry Holand was still alive, there was a chance he’d return to complete favour, remarry and produce more legitimate offspring. Perhaps male. And that the king might decide he should have his inheritance back. The way politics were at that time, heaven knows who might occupy the throne? Another Lancastrian, perchance? Oh, no, I don’t think Thomas would have relished that scenario. So, as the English forces were returning to England from France, St Leger could have found an opportunity to see that Henry Holand was despatched to the hereafter. Heave-ho, over the side you go!

Well, that’s my theory. Far-fetched? I don’t think so. It’s a possible explanation for Henry’s immersion in the Channel.

Yes, there were others who loathed the very sight of Henry Holand, a man who seems to have signally lacked the famous Holand charm. But St Leger’s situation was different. He had a very personal reason to want Holand out of the way for good and all. Of course, let it not be forgotten that St Leger himself would one day become a treacherous brother-in-law. In 1483 he rebelled against Richard III, and paid the price. 

Here is another link https://thehistoryjar.com/2017/02/07/duke-of-exeter-was-he-murdered-or-did-he-slip/ that will take you to a version of Henry Holand’s life and rather dodgy demise. And another, that tells the story from Anne’s perspective. https://rebeccastarrbrown.com/2018/03/03/the-divorce-of-anne-of-york-duchess-of-exeter/

By a curious coincidence, just after writing this post, I happened upon the following https://twitter.com/liz_lizanderson/status/1016611053394976768, which shows part of the wheatear badge of Henry Holand, as found by “mudlarks” on the Thames foreshore.

*And I haven’t forgotten the asterisk at the beginning of this post. Why do I regard Henry Holland as the 4th Duke of Exeter? Because it is my belief that his grandfather’s (John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter, d. January 1400) eldest son, Sir Richard Holand, who died at the end of 1400, survived the 1st Duke’s death long enough to be considered of age, and had thus inherited the right to his father’s titles—as much as Edward IV’s eldest son was Edward V! I know the 1st ~Duke had been demoted and attainted at the time of his death, but the title was resurrected and then given to his second son, another John. I still think this would have made the 2nd Duke actually the 3rd. OK, so I’m an amateur and don’t know what I’m talking about!

Talbot Country

There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.

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The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth

The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.

Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.

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The Shrewsbury Book, presented by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.

For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.

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The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon

For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.

The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?

Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.

Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.

Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.

Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?

There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).

It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.

The Rise of the Clans

Neil Oliver‘s

latest history series has been shown through December on Monday evenings (BBC1 Scotland) and twenty-four hours later on BBC4.

The first part, of three, showed how the power vacuum caused by the sudden deaths of Alexander III and his granddaughter was resolved through the clan system and John Balliol’s abdication so that alliances were formed behind the remaining claimants Robert Bruce and John “Red” Comyn, culminating in a brawl in the Dumfries Greyfriars, during which Comyn was fatally stabbed. Robert I’s reign, including his strategic triumph as he unexpectedly arranged a pitched battle at Bannockburn is also explored.

The second part explores how, after the reign of David II, Robert I’s son, Clan Stewart evolved from a branch of the (Norman) Fitzalans, who are now Dukes of Norfolk through their Howard marriage, to supply every Scottish monarch from 1371 and every English monarch from 1603, now through the Bohemian marriage of James VI and I’s daughter. The reigns of the first three Stewarts were narrated, the weaknesses of Robert II and Robert III, the absence and the authoritarian – Lancastrian? – royal style of James I together with the conflict between Robert III‘s sons were used to show how James’ assassination and the ensuing executions, organised by his widow Joan “Beaufort”, resolved this before the end of 1437. Gradually, from James I’s time, the Stewarts succeeded in gaining power from the MacDonalds, who held the Lordship of the Isles.

Finally, we focus on Mary, simultaneously the last Stewart and the first Stuart, through her marriage to Henry, Lord Darnley (of the Lennox Stuarts), and his mysterious death at Kirk o’Fields, up to her dethronement and exile. The clan chieftains played a significant part in her initial downfall, as they plotted to reverse Knox’s organic Reformation that had taken place during her absence. At this time, her half-brother the Earl of Moray allied himself to the Earl of Morton, the leading Douglas. Then, after marrying the (Hepburn) Earl of Bothwell, Mary fled south – and her life ended at Fotheringhay where Richard III’s had begun.

As usual, this evocative series features realistic dramatisations in which Oliver appears almost as a witness in some scenes. The detail exceeds that of his A History of Scotland and, as usual, nobody featured in the episodes is beyond reproach.

A gin for Richard….

fotheringhay gin

I know that gin is the tipple at the moment. Wherever you go, the selection of gin that is available is really quite astonishing. Oh, dear, can’t stand the stuff myself.

Anyway, it now seems that Fotheringhay, Richard’s birthplace, is to launch a special gin in his honour in Fotheringhay Village Hall on 30th November, from 11am–4pm, where orders will be taken.

It is described as follows here:-

“Created by renowned artisan gin distillery Warner Edwards in Northamptonshire, this premium gin is flavoured with a tapestry of carefully chosen herbs and flowers that King Richard’s Plantagenet family would recognise. These include local linden blossom, quince – beloved by the King and served at his wedding – and the rose known as the White Rose of York. The rose adds floral top notes, while a hint of incense reflects Fotheringhay church, a building Richard knew very well. All the botanicals were sourced and harvested by local residents.”

Well, I cannot argue with the statement that quinces were served at Richard’s wedding, I wasn’t there! Nor can I quibble that the fruit was a favourite of his. But if it was, it’s the first I’ve known of it. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m sure the new gin will go down a treat with gin-lovers everywhere. I trust they all drink a Christmas toast to our king!

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