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War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (2)

Henry IV had the image of a warrior. It was just as well as no sooner was he established on the throne than he was fighting in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as beating off his internal enemies. So it will not surprise you that the country was soon bankrupt, and that Henry was busy with his Parliaments, inevitably discontented by the necessary taxation to fund all this fun.

Of course, these wars were dull, low-level affairs. There were certainly no repeats of Crecy. The nearest to that was probably the defeat of the Scots at Homildon, 1402, a victory that was largely down to the tactics suggested by the renegade Scottish Earl of March, although naturally the Percy family were prominently involved.

As many of you know, I am not Henry Bolingbroke’s greatest fan. In many ways he was a sordid little creep, and the kindest thing I can say about him is that he liked books. However, you have to, however reluctantly, admire the sheer tenacity with which he held on against all the odds. Towards the end of his reign, as Henry himself fell more and more ill with his mysterious disease, the financial pressures eased and so did the military situation. It became possible to intervene in France again.

The King of France, Charles VI, had been more or less insane since Richard’s time, and was not improving. Factions within France, on the one hand the Burgundians, and on the other the Orleanists/Armagnacs, were tearing the country apart, indeed fighting a civil war over who should govern. After some consideration (and doubtless bidding) England decided to go in on the side of the Orleans faction.

This was quite a shrewd move, financially. The English effectively took part as mercenaries. They had barely landed before the contending parties decided to make peace. So the English returned home again, somewhat enriched and bearing with them certain hostages who were not to see France again for many a long year.

As soon as Henry V acceded in 1413, he decided to build on this. Some historians think he chose war because he was on shaky ground at home. However, Henry, for some bizarre reason, seems genuinely to have believed he was the rightful King of France in God’s eyes. (How he came to believe this when he was not even the rightful King of England is a great mystery, but that’s religious bigots for you.)

The French offered quite enormous concessions as an alternative, and a remotely sane King of England would have bitten their hand off. Not Henry. Parliament, temporarily gung-ho, proved willing to finance his expedition, and off Henry went.

This led to another one of the Great Victories – Agincourt. Henry attributed his success to God, and he may have been right to do so. He was extremely lucky, in that the French seemed to have forgot all the wisdom they had learned in the late 14th Century, and charged in as they had done in their earlier losing battles. Had they simply harassed Henry on a daily basis, and not engaged in battle at all, it is extremely likely that his small and sickly army would have been destroyed piecemeal.

Nevertheless, Agincourt massively boosted English morale, and massively dented that of the French. For the English, and certainly for Henry, it looked like God had shown the green light, and that the English claim to France (or at least major chunks of it) could now be realised. This was largely a delusion, because nothing of France had yet been conquered (unless you count Harfleur) and England’s resources (and willingness to spend them) were no greater. For France, the main problem, looked at objectively, was that it remained divided in itself. Much depended on whether one faction or the other could be persuaded to throw its lot in with the English. If it could, Henry (and English pretensions) had a real chance of success. Against a united France, there was virtually none, at least in the long term.

(This post is reblogged from The Yorkist Age.)

 

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War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy

I have a theory that a lot of what we call “history” arises from the “hospital pass”. (For those who don’t know, this term comes from Rugby. It’s where the ball is passed to you at a moment or in a situation where the opposition is bound (or at least likely) to recover the situation with a violent tackle.)

A good example of this are the events arising from the Hundred Years War. Now yes, there were genuine issues arising between England and France. These mostly arose from the status of Guienne, which the kings of England held as vassals of the kings of France. (Though it is ironic that some of the issues were the very issues that the English imposed on their Welsh and Scottish* vassals.)

*To avoid response from angry Scots, during the time when the Scots accepted vassalage, for example the reign of John Balliol.

The fact remains that France had about five times the population Of England and was (almost) correspondingly more wealthy. For the English to take on France in a major war (as opposed to a small one) was always going to be a stretch.

Ah, but you say, Edward III and the Black Prince succeeded! Did they not have glorious victories at Crecy and Poitiers? Did they not actually capture the French king and impose a humiliating peace on him? (Treaty of Bretigny.)

Yes, they did, with the benefit of novel tactics, excellent leadership and, let’s be honest, some help from Lady Luck.

BUT! (And it’s a very big but.) The French were not stupid. They soon figured out new tactics to defeat the English, the most important of which was “Don’t meet the English in pitched battle.” It doesn’t sound very impressive, does it, but the effect was remarkable. The English armies that went to France in the later 14th Century did a fair bit of damage (especially to poor people and their property) but they failed utterly to enforce the treaty or cause the French government to collapse. Moreover, these campaigns were costly in cash and lives.

What is too often forgotten by English historians (who are all too apt to pleasure themselves silly over Edward III’s “greatness”) is that by the end of his reign England was practically bankrupt, in a fair degree of political chaos and under regular attacks from French raids along the south coast.

At which point poor Richard II and his advisers took over this legacy of “glory”.

The English (or more particularly their ruling class) were frankly deluded. Yep, they wanted to carry on with the war. Why, they wanted to enforce the Treaty of Bretigny. Did they want to pay for it? Did they heck as like.

So, make peace instead? What, are you a traitor, sir!

There were of course truces. As the century dragged on, these were to become more regular. But the cost of the war led to desperate measures in the treasury. Which led to the introduction of the Poll Tax. Do I need to spell out how that went down?

Richard II actually offered to lead an army to France. Yes, really. Would Parliament pay for it? Would they heck!

So we come to 1386, with the French poised to attack across the Channel. Make no mistake, this was a serious threat. Probably more of a genuine threat than anything prepared by Napoleon or Hitler, hard though that may be to believe. The King goes to Parliament to ask for money to defend the nation. Does Parliament pay up? No, it goes spare, and forces on Richard a commission to run the country for 12 months.

Now this in turn (to cut a long story short) leads on to the Appellant Crisis and the judicial murder – for that was what it was! – of many of the King’s friends and advisers and the banishment of others. Do the Appellants do a better job? Do they somehow magically cut taxation and give the French a damn good thrashing? Do they heck as like. They prove just as clueless in government – if not more clueless – than the people they replaced.

Eventually, largely because John of Gaunt comes home and supports King Richard in his policies, and after a whole lot of haggling and abortive proposals, a peace of sorts is achieved. Not until late 1396 though, and it is in fact a 28 year truce, that leaves some of the awkward issues unsolved.

You might thing people would be delighted. But many of them weren’t. No, they wanted to carry on the war that they didn’t want to pay for. It’s one of the issues that makes Richard unpopular and leads to his downfall. Next post will relate the Lancastrian aftermath.

(This post reblogged From The Yorkist Age.)

 

Five important royals who didn’t ascend the throne….

BlackPrince

Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince

Would these be your five? Or do you have other suggestions?

PS Who can spot their deliberate mistake?

Joan of Arc trained in Scotland….?

French-rooster

“…an illiterate shepherdess girl who claimed that voices from God were instructing her to take charge of her nation’s army and lead it to victory…Legend states that Joan came to Scotland to be trained in the art of warfare in a remote stretch of Argyll…”

The above is taken from this lengthy and informative article about Joan of Arc. The Scots, of course, were always ready to help anyone who was opposed to the English, so I am quite prepared to believe they welcomed Joan in this way. She apparently “hand selected Scottish bodyguards from the Stuart, Kennedy and Hay Clans, [and] in 1429 [Joan] asked Hamish Power, (French name: Heuves Polnoir), a Scotsman living in Tours, France, to design her standard. and pennon.” More, “The Scots wore the Fleur-de-Lys on their left breast to show their allegiance to France.”

So I think we can take Scottish collaboration with the French as a done deal.

The article also deals a great deal with the Templars, superstition, the Church, roosters (national symbol of France) that still roam free, signs in the sky and so on. There is too much to comment on here, so better you read it all for yourselves. And draw your own conclusions.

Joan of Arc's battle standard

Edward III, Sir John Kyriel and the French invasion that didn’t happen. . .

 

 

Edward III drawing

Edward III was a great king. No doubt about that. And a forceful leader who knew his mind. The same went for his son, who has gone down in history as the Black Prince. So it came as a surprise to me when, on glancing through my new copy of The Black Prince by Michael Jones, I came upon a little story that reveals Edward III to have not always known his mind when it came to “Should I go over to Calais in person to show the French I mean business?”

It was in the summer of 1369, there was a fear of French invasion, and Edward was still in mid-debate with himself about how to react, when his beloved queen, Philippa of Hainault, died. Her death on 15th August finally decided him not to go, and perhaps her failing condition affected Edward’s clarity of mind, because immediately before she passed away, at least one of his captains kept getting conflicting messages from him.

The following is paraphrased from the book:-

On 7th August, Kent-based Sir John Kyriel received a letter from Edward, telling him the king planned to cross the Channel, and instructing him to join the army in two weeks’ time. Edward wrote that he had decided to respond personally to the French threat “which greatly affects our dignity”.

pointing knight - 3

 

Then, on 13th August, when Kyriel would have been busy preparing his men and so on, another letter arrived from the king, countermanding the first letter because the king “had now learned for certain that the enemy intended to invade”.

pointing knight - 4

 

So Kyriel stood down, as the saying goes. At least, he began to, because the very next day, 14th August, no fewer than two royal letters plopped through his letterbox. In the morning, the first said that Edward had decided to cross the Channel after all, but wouldn’t assemble his army until the beginning of September.

royal letter

Kyriel was told to aim for that date. But in the afternoon, another one came with completely different instructions. Kyriel was ordered to proceed to Sandwich immediately because enemy galleys were planning an attack there.

Off to war

The bemused Kyriel was galvanised into action, and headed off to Sandwich without delay. Not a French ship was in sight when he got there.

14508932-confused-knights

On 15th August, the day of the queen’s death, poor Kyriel received his fifth royal letter in eleven days. Edward now wanted him to cross the Channel at once, because battle with the French was expected the following week. Kyriel did as he was told, but no such clash materialized when he got to Calais. The French had retreated, and in the process had left behind large supplies of wine and beer. So Sir John Kyriel and his men had at least some compensation.

Kyriel celebrating

 

 

 

The Prince and the Neutron Blaster

Michael K. Jones‘ latest investigation, into Edward the Black Prince, was featured on BBC1’s “Inside Out” South-East, a half-hour regional magazine programme consisting of three reports of which this was the last one.

As Jones explained, the neutron blaster is not a weapon used at the 1356 battle of  Poitiers but for present day scientific tests that Oxford’s Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory is conducting on the helm that formed part of his “achievements” at his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, to discover whether this whether it was an ornament or actually associated with the Prince in his lifetime. Apart from Jones and some scientists, Tobias Capwell was also featured in the ten-minute segment. It also quoted Froissart to explain how the teenaged Prince had fought at Crecy ten years earlier, where King John of Bohemia was among the casualties.

 

Men of Harlech

In March 1461, the Lancastrian forces of King Henry VI were decisively thrashed at Towton, the Yorkist army of King Edward IV winning the day after a bitter and close-fought battle. After that, England fell into the hands of the first Yorkist king. At least, that is what Edward would have liked. In truth, repeated incursions across the Scottish borders during which castles such as Alnwick and Dunstanburgh were quickly snatched continued for some years until the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in 1464 finally quashed Lancastrian assaults in the north.

Harlech Castle 171107 006

One place is often forgotten in the story of the Yorkist takeover of England and Wales. Harlech Castle became the last, stubborn enclave of Lancastrian influence in Edward IV’s kingdom and was not brought under his control until 1468. The siege of Harlech Castle is often cited as the longest siege in British history, but that doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture. For most of the seven-year period from 1461-1468, the castle wasn’t under direct attack, though assaults did come sporadically. It is perhaps more accurate to consider the resistance of Harlech Castle as it being held against Edward IV for seven years.

Harlech became a crucial foothold for Lancastrians in the same way that Calais was important to the English in France. An enclave within territory otherwise belonging to the enemy was both precarious and vital. Part of Harlech’s success lay in geography that is very different to what can be seen today. Walking the open walls around the top of the castle offers a glorious view of the mountains to the north, the town to the east, the coast running away south and the flat plains to the west that lead to the sea. It is this western aspect that is substantially altered. In the fifteenth century, the sea came right up to the castle, as witnessed by the presence of the Water Gate just outside the castle’s western walls. From here, the castle could be restocked and relieved with little that the Yorkists could do about it. Jasper Tudor had been driven from the Welsh coast and was probably in Ireland at this point, providing him with the perfect vantage point from which to send supplies to Harlech and to get intelligence and rumours both in and out.

Harlech Castle 171107 034

The garrison at Harlech was commanded throughout the siege by Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion, a veteran of the Hundred Years’ War who appears to have served in Rouen. He has been linked to the forces commanded by another famous Welsh soldier named Matthew Gough, who had been killed fighting Jack Cade’s forces in London in 1450. In 1460, following the Battle of Northampton, Queen Margaret fled to Harlech Castle before escaping to Scotland and probably placed Dafydd in command at this point. Harlech became a sanctuary for dissident Lancastrians. In 1463, the Sir Richard Tunstall appeared there for about a year. A member of Henry VI’s household from a Lancashire family, Tunstall had been knighted by Henry in 1452. After his sojourn at Harlech, he headed north to fight alongside Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. After the defeats there, he found Henry and saw that he was secreted safely in Lancashire. Tunstall then returned to Harlech, perhaps recognising the importance of keeping a foothold on the Welsh coast.

The final demise of Harlech was caused by a failed Lancastrian invasion. In June 1468, Jasper Tudor landed at Barmouth a few miles south of Harlech. Edward IV had made known his intention to invade France and Louis XI’s response was to fund a Lancastrian invasion on Edward’s western flank. Jasper managed to capture Denbigh Castle, from where he held court in Henry VI’s name and launched raids further into Wales. This was enough to convince Edward to act decisively. Well, sort of. Edward planned to lead an army into Wales himself to crush the insurgency, only to delegate the task at the last moment to William Herbert. William took half the men he had raised around the mountains to attack Harlech from the north. His younger brother Richard Herbert was to approach from the south with the other half of the army, giving each brother around 4,500 men each. Richard encountered Jasper Tudor’s force south of Harlech and caused them to disperse and flee. When the brothers arrived at Harlech, a true siege began and did not take long to conclude.

Harlech Castle 171107 091

With food running short and no sign of supplies from the seas, Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion surrendered the castle on 14  August 1468. Sir Richard Tunstall was taken into custody amongst the fifty or so prisoners seised from the fortress. Although he was taken to the Tower, Edward IV pardoned him, only for Tunstall to join the readeption government was Henry VI’s chamberlain. Tunstall was attainted when Edward IV regained power and managed to obtain the reversal of this punishment within a couple of years. He went on to serve both Edward IV and Richard III, the latter inducting him into the Order of the Garter before Tunstall was reported in the Ballad of Bosworth Field as one of four English knights to immediately join Henry Tudor when he landed in Wales in 1485. For his final victory against this remnant of Lancastrian resistance, William Herbert was given Jasper Tudor’s forfeited earldom of Pembroke.

Today, Harlech Castle is a stunning monument to Edward I’s campaign to impose himself on Wales. The sea has retreated from its w”Men alls, but it looms over the vast, flat plains left behind and still dominates the coastline to the north and south. The famous song Men of Harlech is widely believed to refer to this prolonged resistance to Yorkist rule, becoming something more like a Welsh national call to arms than a description of a long-running siege as part of a fight between two English royal houses. The 1873 version by John Oxenford romantically describes:

Echoes loudly waking,

Hill and valley shaking;

‘Till the sound spreads wide around,

The Saxon’s courage breaking;

Your foes on every side assailing,

Forward press with heart unfailing,

‘Till invaders learn with quailing,

Cambria ne’er can yield!

A modern visitor can walk the long entrance ramp that has replaced the old, open, wooden staircase into the castle and stroll the grounds at will. The walls remain open, and a pretty challenging walk as the wind blows in from the seas. If you pause for a moment there, it is easy to imagine standing there in the cold and high wind, heavy armour serving to help root your feet, but threatening to help drag you down from the walls with one false step. There can have been little romantic in August 1468 as cannon thundered from the town into the walls and food began to run short. With no hope of relief, surrender to an implacable and unforgiving enemy can only have held terror for those Men of Harlech, that last bastion of Lancastrian loyalty in England or Wales.

Harlech Castle 171107 076

What I’m Reading: An Interview with Historian Matthew Ward….

Matthew Ward

Matthew Ward

 

“Matthew Ward is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, researching “The Culture of Loyalty in Fifteenth-Century England.” The project constitutes the first major attempt to define and understand political loyalty to the crown and secular lords in England, 1400-1500: how it was manifested; how it developed and how it was discussed in political and social discourse. It focuses on a significant period in the evolution of the concept of loyalty: the end of the Hundred Years War, the instability of the Wars of the Roses, and attempts by the Yorkist and early Tudor regimes to increase the crown’s authority in the localities. His book, The Livery Collar in Late Medieval England and Wales: Politics, Identity and Affinity was published by Boydell & Brewer in 2016…”

The Livery Collar

What makes this interview such a pleasant change is that this historian does not go for Richard’s jugular, indeed, Richard is his favourite monarch!

And he says that his favourite history book “…has to be Paul Murray Kendall’s Richard the Third. Richard III has always fascinated me and he has to be my favourite monarch. Although the book was first published in 1955 it is still read widely today. The author’s prose is fantastic and although it contains elements of fiction, his portrayal of the young Richard travelling through the landscape of Wensleydale is one of many evocative passages in the book…”

What is Matthew doing next? “…For the next three years I’ve been awarded a British Academy Research Fellowship and am researching ‘The Culture of Loyalty in Fifteenth-Century England’. I’m interested in the way in which loyalty to the crown and secular lords was manifested, particularly through visual and material culture. My book The Livery Collar in Late-Medieval England and Wales: Politics, Identity and Affinity (Boydell & Brewer, 2016) asked what wearing an item actually meant to medieval contemporaries. This led to me think about what loyalty meant in the fifteenth century, particularly during the Wars of the Roses. The research will result in a book and several seminar papers and events. I am co-organising a conference on ‘Loyalty to the British Monarchs, c.1400-1688’ at the University of Nottingham in January 2018…”

I’m looking forward to reading it!

To see the article from which I have taken the above photograph and extracts, go here.

 

 

Murrey and Blue interviews Michael K. Jones

  • Which of the Black Prince’s military achievements is the most impressive and why?

The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’

The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.

Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.

In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’

Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.

It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.

  •  Do you think the Black Prince would have made a good king?

 The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’

Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.

The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt.  A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.

  • Was any part of Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ justified?

Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.

The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

  • In the fifteenth century, did the Yorkists or the Lancastrians have a better claim to the throne?

 The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.

However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.

  • Did Margaret Beaufort consistently plot to put her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne, or was she – initially at least – trying to engineer his return to England, and a position within the Yorkist realm?

It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.

Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).

For Michael Jones’s author website see: www.michaeljoneshistorian.com

James Tyrrell’s Ancestor

You may know or suspect from a previous post in Murrey and Blue, that Sir James Tyrrell, Richard’s henchman, was a direct descendant of Sir Walter Tyrrell, the ‘Killer Baron’, who fled during a hunting expedition with King William II (Rufus) after shooting him with an arrow. It is not known whether this was an accident or murder on the orders of Rufus’ brother, Henry!

But you may not know that he is also a direct descendent of Sir John Hawkwood, through Hawkwood’s daughter, Antiochia, (by his first wife, whose name is unknown for sure but who was probably English). He was Hawkwood’s 2 x great grandson. You can see this on the family tree below (you may have to enlarge it to see clearly).

Tyrell family tree

 

So, who was Sir John Hawkwood? Well, he was reportedly the second son of a tanner from Sible Hedingham in Essex, Gilbert Hawkwood. However, it seems Gilbert was actually a land owner of some wealth. John Hawkwood was apprenticed to a tailor in London, but obviously wasn’t content with that career and became an archer, a longbowman, in the Hundred Years War under Edward III, and it is thought he participated in both the battle of Crécy and the Battle of Poitiers. He may have been knighted by the Black Prince but there are no written records and it is possible he was just styled a knight by convention in Italy at the time.

A little later, when free companies of soldiers began to form, Hawkwood joined the largest, The White Company or The Great Company, a gang of mercenaries who fought for various factions in France and collected bribes, ransoms and booty as they went. After two years, Hawkwood rose to be their commander and proved an expert in pillaging, blackmailing and duplicity. Eventually they arrived in Italy, where there were many city-states who were always in conflict with each other. This proved to be rich pickings for Hawkwood and his Company, as over the next thirty years he fought both for and against the Pope, Florence, Milan, Pisa, Siena and Perugia. He extracted huge bribes from all of them and such was Hawkwood’s military reputation that he never lacked for clients. This was even though over the years he betrayed them all!

Detail of fresco of Sir John HawKwood

(Image – Public domain)

He eventually signed a contract with Florence and remained there in a mainly defensive role for the rest of his career. He died on 17th March 1394, just before he could return to England as he was planning to do. Florence granted him an elaborate funeral and there is still a fresco there which commemorates him.

Fresco of Sir John Hawkwood

Image credit: By Paolo Uccello (Italian, 1397–1475) (Jastrow, own picture) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard II requested that his remains be returned to England and this was agreed, though there is no written record of his remains being actually buried in the Church of St Peter’s in Sible Hedingham, where there is also a monument to him.

Pic of St Peter's Church, Sible Hedingham

Image credit: Robert Edwards [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikim

Hawkwood’s reputation was one of ruthlessness, guile and intelligence. He was obviously a clever tactician as witnessed by his success and he must have been courageous to lead that sort of life. However, he did have a reputation for brutality and deviousness. He was known to have had two wives as well as several mistresses and illegitimate children, as many men did in that occupation. Conversely, he had Mass said before his campaigns. He is also described as showing honesty and fidelity. I wonder whether his 2 x great-grandson inherited any of these traits?

 

 

 

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