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THE CARMELITE FRIARY OF NORWICH KNOWN AS WHITEFRIARS – BURIAL PLACE OF ELEANOR TALBOT

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COWGATE NORWICH, DAVID HODGSON c.1860.  WHITEFRIARS STOOD ON THE EASTERN SIDE BETWEEN THE CHURCH OF ST JAMES POCKTHORPE (SEEN ABOVE) AND THE RIVER A SHORT DISTANCE AWAY..NORWICH MUSEUM

On this day, 30 June, died Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.  Eleanor came from an illustrious family.  Her father was the great John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, her mother, Margaret Beauchamp’s father was Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.  Richard Neville Earl of Warwick known as ‘The Kingmaker’ was her uncle by marriage.   Eleanor’s sister, Elizabeth, was to become the Duchess of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, child bride to Richard of Shrewsbury.  Eleanor was a childless widow, her husband, Sir Thomas Butler, heir to Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, having died around 1459 and possibly of injuries sustained at the battle of Blore Heath (1)

It would seem that the young widow caught the eye of the even younger warrior king Edward IV, who fresh from his leading the Yorkists to victory  at Towton and the overthrow of Henry VI,  found himself swiftly propelled onto the throne of England.  No doubt he was giddy with success because quite soon after, having met the young Eleanor, he married her in secret, an amazingly stupid action, and one which would come back to haunt him, and his bigamous “wife” Elizabeth Wydeville with all the subsequent and tragic  repercussions for his family.  The relationship was doomed to be one of short duration,  the reasons for this being lost in time.  Much has been written on this subject and I would like to focus here on the Carmelite Friary known as Whitefriars, Norwich, where Eleanor was later to be buried.

Whitefriars had been founded in 1256 by Philip de Cowgate, son of Warin, a Norwich merchant who settled lands there upon William de Calthorpe ‘upon condition that the brethren of Mount Carmel should enter and dwell there without any molestation for ever and serve God therein’.  Sadly much later Henry Vlll was to have other ideas.  However returning to  Philip de Cowgate- his wife having died and growing old ‘took upon him the the Carmelite habit and entered the house of his own foundation’ dying there in 1283.  The building of Whitefriars was not completed until 1382 and so begun its long journey through history.  The notable persons being buried there are too numerous to mention as are the many benefactors but the various highs and lows make interesting reading.  Notable incidents include:

1272, 29 June ‘On the feast of St Peter and Paul in the early morning when the monks rise to say the first psalms, there was an earthquake’.

Further problems for the friary occurred later on that year –

1272, 11 August   ‘….the citizens of the city attacked the monastery and burnt a large part of the building’

1450  John Kenninghale built a ‘spacious new library’

1452 A group of people begun to cause disturbances in the neighbourhood.  ‘Item xl of the same felechep came rydyng to Norwiche jakked and salettyd with bowys and arwys, byllys, gleves , un Maundy Thursday, and that day aftyr none when service was doo, they, in like wise arrayid, wold have brake up the Whyte Freris dores, where seying that they came to here evensong, howbeit, they made  her avant in town they shuld have sum men owt of town’.  However …’the Mayer and alderman with gret multitude of peple assembled and thereupon the seyd felischep departid’.

1468, end of July – Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot,  daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and sister to of the Duchess of Norfolk, born c.1436 died 30 June 1468 was buried in the friary.

1479 – ‘The great pestelence in Norwich’

1480 – ‘The great earthquake upon St Thomas nyght in the month of July’

1485 – King Richard III confirmed all the houses, lands and privileges of the Carmelites

1488/9 – ‘In the langable rental of the fourth of Henry the seventh, these friars are charged two-pence half-penny for divers tenements which they had purchased’.

1538, 2l Sept – The duke of Norfolk wrote to Thomas Cromwell ‘intended yesterday to have ridden to Norwich to take surrender of the Grey Friars, but was ill and so sent his son of Surrey and others of his council who have taken the surrender and left the Dukes servants in charge.  Thinks the other two friars should be enjoined to make no more waste.  The Black Friars have sold their greatest bell’.

1538 Sept ‘The house of friars (Whitefriars) have no substance of lead save only some of them have small gutters’

1538 7 Oct  Letter from the Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell – ‘The White and Black Friars of Norwich presented a bill, enclosed, for Norfolk to take the surrender of their houses, saying the alms of the country was so little they could no longer live.   Promised ‘by this day sevennight’ to let them know the kings pleasure: begs to know what to do and what to give them.  They are very poor wretches and he gave the worst of the Grey Friars 20s for a raiment, it was a pity these should have less'(2)

The Friary was finally dissolved in 1542 and its lease granted to Richard Andrews and Leonard Chamberlain.  Shortly after which the land was then divided into many different ownerships.  The rest is history….

But back to the present – in 1904 foundations were discovered and in 1920 six pieces of window tracery were found and built into a wall at Factory Yard, these were to be cleared away when Jarrolds, the printers,  extended their works.  Thank to the intrepid George Plunkett who took photographs of old Norwich between 1930-  2006 we can see this tracery before it disappeared forever.Whitefriars Cowgate Factory Yard tracery [1651] 1937-05-29.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate Factory Yard tracery.  Photographed in 1937 by George Plunkett.

Mr Plunkett also took photos of the now famous Gothic arch as it was in 1961 after it had recently been opened out.  Sadly he reported that ‘a dilapidated flint wall adjoining the bridge was taken down as not worth preserving – a modern tablet identified it as having once belonged to the anchorage attached to the friary’ (3).Whitefriars Cowgate flint wall [3187] 1939-07-30.jpg

The flint wall before demolition – photograph by George Plunkett c1939Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway W side [4615] 1961-07-07.jpg

Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway west side uncovered in 1961 it stood adjacent to the anchorage.  Photograph by George Plunkett

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Whitefriars Cowgate friary doorway East side 1988.  Photograph by George Plunkett.

Up to date views of the friary doorway.  With many thanks to Dave Barlow for permission to use his beautiful photos….

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All that remains above ground on the site of the the once magnificent Whitefriars – photos courtesy of Dave Barlow

However….

THE ARMINGHALL ARCH

An important Whitefriars relic, no longer  in its original position, survived and went on  to become  known as the Arminghall Arch.  This 14c arch has experienced a number of moves since it was taken down in the Dissolution.  It was first of all erected at Arminghall Old Hall. There it remained until the Hall was also demolished.  It was acquired by Russell Colman who transferred it to his grounds at Crown Point.  From there it has now finally been installed at Norwich Magistrates Court, just across the bridge from its original position.

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‘ARMINGHALL OLD ARCH’ 14th century arch removed from Whitefriars at the time of Dissolution. Now in Norwich Magistrates Court. 

Such is progress……

l) The Secret Queen, Eleanor Talbot p74 John Ashdown Hill

2) The Medieval Carmelite Priory at Norwich, A Chronology Richard Copsey, O.Carm, accessible here.

 

3) George Plunkett’s website, particularly this map.

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Today in 1461, Lady Eleanor Talbot married Edward IV, either on her Warwickshire lands or in Norfolk. As Ashdown-Hill has shown, she was older than Edward, a widow, from a Lancastrian background and the ceremony took place in secret during the spring, five factors that also apply to Edward’s bigamous marriage almost three years later.

It has been suggested that the marriage may have required a dispensation because the bride’s father (John, Earl of Shrewsbury) was the godfather of the groom’s sister (Elizabeth of Suffolk), a relationship that might fall under the doctrine of affinity. This would not have been possible for a secret ceremony of which only Lady Eleanor, Edward and (possibly) Canon Stillington knew at the time.

However, Barnfield has conclusively shown that, although Shrewsbury became part of Elizabeth’s family through this connection and she of his, his family and hers did not merge as a whole. Their nearest common royal ancestor was still Edward I (p.21, Eleanor). In other words, affinity does not beget affinity.

Eleanor, as the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughter, was a person of some distinction in fifteenth century, for Shrewsbury had been a famous and much-admired warrior, whose reputation was about as high as a reputation could be. Moreover, quite apart from any personal charms she may have had, she was a well-connected lady who was, among other things, first cousin to the Duke of Somerset, whom Edward was trying to conciliate. It is quite possible that Edward saw this as a “marriage of the roses”, intended to take the wind out of certain hostile sails.

It is equally possible that Edward simply could not resist this attractive widow and discovered – as she had a strong reputation for piety – that the only way to get into her bed was to go through a form of marriage with her.

Many people discount the possibility that Edward married Eleanor, and cling to the view that it was something Richard III dreamed up one afternoon in his spare time. The problem with secret marriages (and this is why the Church deplored them) was that by their very nature there was no certain proof. There might or might not be witnesses, but if there were they would certainly have been few in number. It must be appreciated that for even the most formal marriages, celebrated in church, no written record, no certificate was kept. The only “proof” was the word of the parties concerned and of those who witnessed the event.

However, sufficient proofs were submitted to persuade Parliament that the event took place. What proofs these were we can never know, but just because no written evidence is extant, we should not assume that it never existed.

 

Joan of Arc and Les Soldats

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A doodle of Joan of Arc drawn by Clement de Fauquemberque of the Parliament of Paris.  The only contemporary drawing we have of her.

 

 

Today marks the 587th anniversary of the death of Joan of Arc, burned at the stake at Rouen, France.  As the flames engulfed her, she clutched a cross made of sticks to her bosom, fashioned by an ordinary English solder.  “Jesus!”  was her last word.  She was 19 years old.  In 1920, almost 500 years after her death, she was finally canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Everyone in the West knows Joan’s story from the novels of Mark Twain to Thomas Keneally, from filmmakers Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson to Otto Preminger, from playwrights George Bernard Shaw to Jean Anouillh.  In recent years, she has been taken up by multiple video games based on the Hundred Years War.  One of her greatest biographers is undoubtedly the French medievalist Regine Pernoud who has written 3 highly readable, deeply researched books on the subject, relying on the Latin transcripts of her trial and rehabilitation trial of 1455-56 to bring Joan into 21th Century relief.

While everyone knows the story of the peasant girl called by Sts. Catherine, Margaret and Michael the Archangel to rid France of the English and their Burgundian enablers, and crown the dauphin Charles Valois king, not many people know her companions-in-arms.  The most famous captains of the French army during the latter part of the 100 Years War were Jean Dunois, The Bastard of Orleans, Etienne de Vignolles nicknamed “La Hire” (The Anger) and Gilles De Rais, the Marshal of France.  Along with several others, these are the men who rode into battle with her, camped with her and lifted the siege of the city of Orleans that led to Charles’ coronation.  These two events would lead to the end of one of the most brutal European civil wars.

JEAN DUNOIS

Jean Dunois called The Bastard was born in Paris in 1402.  He was the illegitimate son of Louis d’Orleans, Duke of Orleans and a long time supporter and campaigner for the House of Valois (the Armagnac Party) in the 100 Years War.  Prior to meeting Joan, he fought as a Captain with Etienne de Vignolles in various engagements at Le Mans, Baugé, Cravant, Verneuil and the Siege of Montargis.  Like most Armagnac commanders, he was captured by the Burgundians and held for 2 years (his own father being held for 25 years after Agincourt) before the actions at the Siege of Orleans.

Undoubtedly, his fame has been secured through his association with Joan, his public devotion to her and his steadfastness in warfare.  Using the sometimes limited man power and short bursts of violence that characterized this war, he engaged with some success the legendary English commanders of fact and fiction:  Sir William Glasdale (Classidas), Sir John Falstaff (Fastolf), Thomas, Lord Scales, William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk (Suffort) and Sir John Talbot.

 

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Jean Dunois the Bastard of Orleans

From the above portrait alone, it is easy to see why the Bastard has been presented in film and stagecraft as the silky, handsome negotiator between Joan and the dubious and profane officers of the French forces.  During the Christmas seasons, with his typical elan and ingrained sense of chivalry, he had his minstrels play for the English and on one occasion delivered fish to Talbot for his evening meal.  Some historians have argued that it was this lassitude on the part of the French aristocracy that prolonged the war against the despised “goddams”; nevertheless, Dunois was a brave and wily adversary against the English.

In March of 1429, the French army was encamped at Orleans along the south bank of the Loire River far from the English situated on the north by the gatehouse Les Tourelles.  The French commanders were expecting to meet a spiritual adviser* and instead were greeted by an impatient warrior who immediately tore up their battle plans, accusing them of  traitorous deception.  She demanded to know why the army was on the “wrong side” of the river and did not cross over and engage the enemy.  Gently remonstrating, Dunois suggested they wait for better weather and a more friendly wind direction.  Joan was having none of it:  “In God’s name, the counsel of the Lord your God is wise and safer than yours.  You thought to deceive me and it is yourself above all whom you deceive, for I bring you better succor than has reached you from any soldier or any city; it is succor from the King of Heaven.  (He) has taken pity on the town of Orleans, and will not suffer that the enemies have the bodies of the lord of Orleans and his town.”  At that moment, in one of many weird circumstances that would baffle Joan’s friends and enrage her enemies, the wind switched direction, allowing the French captains to raise sail and cross over into the city. Dunois later described his feelings:   “It seems to me, that Joan in battle and in warfare, was rather of God than of men.”  He became her fervent friend and defender.

In the days to come, Joan, protected by Dunois, attempted to speak to the English and warn them to retreat.  A message sent by arrow towards the fortified gatehouse predicted that William Glasdale, the commander of the remaining bridge over the Loire, would die a watery death if he did not decamp.  Instead, Glasdale rained down angry curses on her head, calling her “cowgirl,” “witch,” and “bitch.”    The Bastard relates:  The moment she was there the English trembled with terror; and the (French) King’s men regained their courage and began to climb, delivering their assault against the bulwark and not meeting with the least resistance.  Then that bulwark was taken, and the English who were in it had fled.  But they were all killed, among the rest Classidas and the other principal English captains of this bastille, who intended to retire into the bridge tower but fell in the river and were drowned.  This Classidas had been the man who had spoken most foully and in the basest and most infamous language against the Maid.

Glasdale’s body was not recovered.

It was recorded that Joan cried tears of rage and sorrow over the senseless loss of English lives that day.  She attempted to nurse the dying and had the last rites administered to many of the soldiers.  This sudden and unexpected loss led the English to completely abandon the Loire Valley although Joan and Dunois followed in hot pursuit.  They fought several more skirmishes before they escorted Charles VII to his coronation on July 17, 1429.

After her capture at Compiegne, Dunois led an unsuccessful bid to free her. Despite this failure, he continued to fight against the English for the remaining years of the war.  It is unclear if he was at her rehabilitation trial or wrote a lengthy document testifying to her saintliness and patriotism.  His testimony is well worth reading and is one of the few direct accounts we have the Siege of Orleans and Joan’s participation in it.

He married twice, was  honored in his own lifetime, and died in 1468 at the age of 66.

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Beautiful medieval image of the Siege of Orleans.  Les Tourelles (the gatehouse) is clearly shown.

 

ETIENNE DE VIGNOLLES (LA HIRE)

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Three fascinating presentations of La Hire from the medieval period to today – although he seems to be morphing into Falstaff!  (This last is from a video game where La Hire is a popular character.  There is no contemporary image of him.

Etienne de Vignolles was also known as “La Hire”.  There is controversy whether his nickname means  “The Anger” or “The Prickly One” or “The Hedgehog” but one thing is clear:  it was a byword for fear and terror not only to the English “goddams” but to the people of France as well.  La Hire brought Total War to the countryside long before William Tecumsah Sherman made the concept infamous.

In the wake of the Black Death, the 100 Years War was one of devastating consequence to the rural medieval society.   Unlike the War of the Roses in England, plundering, murder, rapine, torched homes, farms and cattle were considered justifiable acts to these French guerrilla forces.   Up until he met and was influenced by Joan of Arc, La Hire was very much a man of his time and place.  It is no wonder that he became a prime villain in violent 21st Century video games:  “War and Warriors:  Joan of Arc,” “Age of Empires 2:  The Age of Kings” and “Blade Storm:  the Hundred Years War.”  In the latter, he appears as an amusing Hulk-like ogre when, in fact, he may have been a much smaller man.   What history does relate is that he cursed so badly during military councils that a shocked Joan immediately set out to put a stop to it.  She forced him to the sacrament of Confession and encouraged him to replace foul language with prayer.  She banned excessive brutality and cracked down on camp followers who were purposefully ignored by military leaders.  She went so far as to smack her sword against a whore’s buttocks and chase her from the field.  La Hire supported her in these reforms.  He cursed out of earshot and long after The Maid’s death, he prayed before a battle, kneeling upon the ground and intoning a witty supplication:  May God do for La Hire what God would have La Hire do for Him if God were La Hire and La Hire were God.

Etienne de Vignolles was born in southern France in 1390 and was not of high birth.  He was apparently a lifelong soldier, who may have began his career at Agincourt.  He rose through the ranks to become commander of the French forces and was instrumental in lifting the Siege of Orleans.  As part of that campaign and prior to Joan’s arrival, La Hire was in charge of provisioning the army.  This led to the failed Battle of the Herrings in which he warred against Sir John Fastolf.

We do not know exactly why or when he converted  from reprobate and skeptic to true believer in the Maid.  All we do know, is that he eventually came to believe that she was a surprisingly good strategist and tactician in warfare and was open to all her advice.  (Joan, as always, maintained that any plans she put forward came directly from Michael the Archangel.)  After her capture, he attempted two separate rescue attempts at Rouen.  During the second, he too, was captured by Burgundians and imprisoned.  In typical fashion, he was back in action by 1432, several years after Joan’s death.  He died, perhaps killed by that most notorious illness of the soldier great or poor – dysentery – in southern France at the age of 53.  His image is said to be the Jack of Hearts figure on the French deck of cards.  In examining his signature, he appears to have been almost as illiterate as Joan:

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GILLES DE RAIS LAVAL


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An early 19th century depiction of Gilles de Rais.  There are no contemporary portraits.  Perhaps they were all destroyed.

 

Gilles de Rais Laval, Baron and Marshall of France, is probably the most famous (or infamous) of Joan’s companions.  He inspired the French fairy tale “Bluebeard” – the story of a man who dyed his beard blue and murdered his wives.  We do know that in reality Gilles de Rais did not murder his rich wife (he simply kidnapped her) instead concentrating on torturing and murdering over 100 children at his castles in Champtoché  and Machecoul over a period of 10 years.  For these crimes – as well as the crime of heresy – he was executed at Nantes in 1440.

This aristocratic and immensely wealthy Breton was born in either 1404 or 1405, the son of two rich clansmen, Guy de Laval and Marie de Craon.  Orphaned at about 10 years of age, he was nevertheless cocooned in excessive luxury and indolence by his maternal grandfather and swaddled in affection by his doting nurse.  His excellent private education was in military matters and Catholic morals.  The latter didn’t leave much of an impression but his training was such that in that era of indifferent cruelty he became a highly effective soldier.  He was considered a brilliant and handsome young man by most who knew him.  He spoke and wrote fluent Latin and was a patron of the arts.

By 1427, well into his military career, he had personally raised 5 companies of knights beautifully clad and richly paid to fight for the Armagnac Party.  He employed salaried spies to scour the countryside for information to be used against the English and Burgundian enemies.  His vast choir of young boys must have raised amused suspicion among the more cynical soldiers but it was reported to be the finest in all the kingdom.

According to British author, Jean Benedetti, who took much of his information from “The Chronicles of the Siege of Orleans” by the eminent 19th century French historian Jules Quicherat, Gilles was with Dunois and Vignolles at Orleans while waiting for the arrival of Joan in the spring of 1429.  At a hastily gathered council, it was decided that Gilles would travel to the town of Blois to meet with representatives of the King and raise further provisions for the army.  He, therefore, missed her magnificent entrance into the town on her white charger with her raised banner of fleurs de lis on one side and the Archangel Michael on the other.  When one of the many banners decorating the town accidentally caught fire and risked a chance of spreading, she gallantly rode forth and snuffed it out with her gauntlet.  The crowd went wild in jubilation.

Once he returned, Gilles twice rescued Joan from various sticky situations during the Siege and helped her to safety when she was struck with an arrow above her breast.  He offered a bit of necromancy in an attempt to heal her which she hastily declined.  From there, he accompanied her in all her campaigns as well as attending the Coronation.  He was with her again at the failed Siege of Paris when she was struck in the thigh by a bolt from a crossbow.  She was dragged screaming from the fight.  Exhausted by the war, and secretly plotting to buy peace at any cost, Charles VII declared the battle lost and entreated Joan to withdraw.  She would not return to battle until the following year when she rode to relieve to city of Compiegne.  Wearing a long tunic over her suit of white armor, a Burgundian soldier grabbed it and pulled her from her horse.  She was then sold to the English and imprisoned to await trial and execution on charges of heresy and witchcraft.

For all his help in securing the crown for Charles, Gilles de Rais was showered with many honors, including being created the Marshall of France.  Having secured his throne, Charles now retreated into safety and security leaving Joan abandoned to her many enemies and Gilles de Rais to his dark fate.  He retired from the army and returned to his many properties, beginning his descent into madness and vast criminality .

He indulged in wild extravagance – the building of homes and chapels (one ironically named The Chapel of the Holy Innocents), lavish theatrical events, experiments in alchemy and black magic, acquisition of fine clothing as well as furniture and paintings – all of which began to erode his vast fortune.  His family, the Montmorency-Lavals, were forced to appeal to the King and the Pope to put a stop to his expenditures; a royal edict was issued in which no one was allowed to enter into a contract with him.  Then the children of the towns of Champtoché and Machecoul and various other areas began disappearing.  Mothers, who had allowed their children to work in the kitchens on the estates of Gilles De Rais had suspicions but feared retribution from this most powerful prince.   Hungry, homeless children who wandered the landscape were particularly vulnerable to Gilles’ henchmen.  Kidnapped, they were taken into hidden rooms in the castles where they were subjected to beastly sexual torture before being killed by stabbing and beheading and their bodies thrown into fire.

In the late 1430s, the Bishop of Nantes Jean de Malestroit began to investigate the accusations against Gilles brought by both the nobility and commoners.  In July of 1440, the Bishop issued a summons against him and he was arrested at the castle at Machecoul and imprisoned at Nantes.  He was tried by both an ecclesiastical and secular court on charges of property theft, murder and heresy.  During the testimony, the flustered and horrified scribes switched from impersonal Latin to vernacular French to better describe his awful crimes.  Gilles, meanwhile, alternated between pitiable submission to the courts and loud arrogance and denunciation of the proceedings.  It was only when shown the instruments of torture that would be used to extract a confession, he realized the jig was up.  He swiftly admitted guilt and gave a long, grisly recitation of his crimes.  He endured excommunication and reconciliation with the Church and was condemned to die by hanging and fire.  He met his fate with notable calm.

From there, he would pass from mortal man to the Bluebeard of French children’s nightmares.

 

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*Joan was said to fulfill a prophecy that “France would be ruined through a woman and afterwards restored by a virgin.”  The woman in question has often been said to be the profligate and conniving mother of Charles VII, Isabeau of Bavaria.  Charles VII doubted his royal parentage because of his mother’s promiscuous behavior and her open questioning of his legitimacy.  It is said that the famous secret Joan revealed to him at Chinon was that she knew he prayed to God to reveal who his father was.  Joan assured him that he was the true son of the mad King Charles VI.  The dauphin cried at the revelation and allowed Joan to escort the army to Orleans.

Bibliography:

The Retrial of Joan of Arc, the Evidence for Her Vindication by Regine Pernoud

Joan of Arc by Herself and Her Witnesses by Regine Pernoud

Joan of Arc Her Story by Regine Pernoud and Marie-Veronique Clin

The Real Bluebeard The Life of Gilles de Rais by Jean Benedetti – an excellent and painful study of the Marshall of France.

The Maid and The Queen by Nancy Goldstone

Suggested reading:

All of the above.

Blood Red, Sister Rose by Thomas Keneally.  The great Australian novelist’s story of Joan’s military career.

Falstaff by Robert Nye.  The poet’s brilliant and libidinous novel of John Falstaff and his poignant and brief encounter with La Pucelle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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William “Waste-all” Berkeley, the lord who out-Stanleyed the Stanleys at Bosworth….!

Berkley_Castle_by_Jan_Kip_1712Here is the story of yet another lord who betrayed Richard III at Bosworth. Oh, but wait a moment, this one betrayed Henry Tudor as well, now there’s a feat!

The man in question was William, eventually Marquess of Berkeley, but nicknamed “Waste-all”. He was 43 when he won the Battle of Nibley Green, which was fought on 20 March 1469 or 1470, depending upon which calendar one uses. The battle is famous now because it was the last to be fought in England by private feudal armies. William “was of an unusually haughty and headstrong disposition, and made himself so much feared by all around him that for several years before his father’s death none of the tenants would accept any lease without William’s joining in it”. Not an endearing character.

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The village of North Nibley, Gloucestershire

He had an even more famous feud with Margaret Beauchamp, Countess of Shrewsbury (1404–14 June 1468) was the eldest daughter of the 13th Earl of Warwick, and by her marriage to the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, as his second wife, she was the mother of Lady Eleanor Talbot, Sir Humphrey Talbot, and Lady Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, all names Ricardians will know well. But by her first marriage, she was the grandmother of Thomas Talbot, 2nd Baron Lisle , 2nd Viscount Lisle (c.1449-20 March 1470), who was aged 20 or 21 at the time of Nibley Green.Margaret Beauchamp, Countess of Shrewsbury (1404-1467) by James Basire the younger (London 1769 ¿ London 1822)

Margaret was a truly formidable woman who always fought tooth and claw what she considered to be hers and her children’s. She pursued years of feud with the equally formidable William Waste-all. They were “”two merciless natures not unevenly encountering”, as Smyth, the Berkeley family biographer and steward, recorded. The dispute was over manors and lands, including Berkeley Castle itself, which the Countess regarded as hers. Waste-all, needless to say, did not agree. One of the disputed manors was Wotton, not far from Berkeley, which Waste-all said the countess was occupying illegally. The dispute was not confined to legal means, including petitioning King Edward IV, but also by predatory attacks on each other’s territories, and fights between their servants and tenants. It was quite some quarrel, even by the standards of the day.

Berkeley (left) and Lisle (right)

Then, on 14 June 1468, the Countess Margaret died, and her estate—and the great dispute—passed to her grandson, the young Lord Lisle, who was eager to take up the cudgels. He plotted against Waste-all, using a treacherous Berkeley servant who then turned coat again and told Waste-all everything. The latter was monumentally furious. Lisle was livid. Letters were sent, threats made, and a challenge issued on 19 March 1469. The confrontation was set to take place the following day at Nibley Green, halfway between Wotton and Berkeley.

Re-enactment of Battle of Nibley Green

Re-enactment of the Battle of Nibley Green

Waste-all maintained a garrison at Berkeley Castle, which gave him an advantage over Lord Lisle. They faced each other at Nibley Green, 1000 men to 300 or so. It was an unequal conflict from the outset, and because his visor had not been lowered, hot-headed Lisle was shot with an arrow on the left side of his face. One of Waste-all’s supporters, named Black Will of the Forest of Dean, finished off the wounded man with a dagger. Lisle’s force fled, pursued by Waste-all’s. There was chaos as the latter and his great numbers descended on Wotton. Such was the ordeal for Lisle’s young wife, that sixteen days later she was brought to bed early of a stillborn son, thus ending her husband’s line.

All this took place as Warwick the “Kingmaker” was turning upon Edward IV. A few months later, Edward himself was a fugitive and Warwick had returned the displaced Lancastrian, Henry VI, to the throne. Then, the following year, Edward IV returned to overthrow Warwick and Henry VI at the Battle of Barnet. On 6 October 1473, the case was settled in favour of Waste-all, who must have thought it was all done and dusted.

However, he became mixed-up with Sir Edward Grey, brother-in-law (through her first husband) of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s manipulative queen. Grey married the sister of the late Lord Lisle of Nibley Green, and decided to take up the Lisle claim through his wife. William Waste-all was on shakier ground now, with Elizabeth Woodville obviously set on upholding her brother-in-law’s side of it. Edward IV was always one for a quiet time in his marriage – if marriage it was, considering he was first married to the old Countess’s daughter, Lady Eleanor Talbot, who selfishly stayed alive for four years after he’d uttered his vows to Elizabeth! Oh, tangled webs… In due course Sir Edward Grey would indeed be created Lord Lisle by Richard III.

In the meantime, anxious to stay in favour with Edward IV, Waste-all had conveyed many manors and lands to the king’s younger son, the little Duke of York (soon to be one of the boys in the Tower). When Richard III came to the throne, and the Duke of York (and his elder brother, known as Edward V) were declared illegitimate because of the Eleanor Talbot marriage, everything returned to Waste-all. Did he dance a jig? Probably.

But it was now that he really earned his nickname, Waste-all. After subsequently gaining 68 Mowbray manors and other property across the realm, he set about giving or granting everything away in order to gain honours and distinctions. He conveyed 35 manors to Richard III, in return for the title Earl of Nottingham, and when Richard faced Henry Tudor at Bosworth, it was said that William Waste-all out-Stanleyed the Stanleys, by supporting one side with men, the other with money. Henry Tudor won, and returned the 35 manors to William Waste-all. Was fate hell-bent on helping the fellow?

Next Waste-all conveyed two castles and 28 manors to Sir William Stanley, and then parted with many more to Sir William and others. In his will he entailed Berkeley Castle and all remaining family possession on the Tudor king, reserving only a life interest in them. In return he was created Marquess of Berkeley. He ended up as Great Mareschal of England, but by the time he died, on 14th February, 1492, he had disinherited his entire family. What a Valentine. Small wonder he gained the soubriquet Waste-all!

berkeleycastle

But there is a postscript. Waste-all had no legitimate children, and so his heir was his younger brother, Maurice, whom Waste-all considered to have married beneath his rank and thus brought shame on the family. What nerve, considering his own antics.

Was Waste-all giving everything away in order to punish Maurice, who eventually inherited the title, with nothing to go with it? If this is true, it was a terrible act of spite from nasty old Waste-all, who wasn’t exactly a dazzling adornment to the title of Berkeley.

You will find much more about him and the Battle of Nibley Green at

https://www.rotwang.co.uk/hob_chapter_05.html

 

 

Edward de Wigmore existed, and left descendants….

 

stamford-main_14

Stamford, Lincolnshire

The general consensus is that there never was an Edward de/of Wigmore. Indeed, many say that his supposed parents were never an item at all, let alone married. The parents are, of course, Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Talbot. Their marriage is the mysterious pre-contract, the revelation of which in 1483 catapulted Richard III to the throne, and led to another mystery, that of the boys in the Tower and what happened to them.

I’m Richard’s supporter to the end, so do not believe he did away with his nephews, illegitimate or not. Nor do I agree with the statement in the following extract from Snow’s book below that “…There would have been no one whom those three monarchs [Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII] would sooner have seen out of their way to the throne than Edward IV’s eldest son [Edward de Wigmore] and any descendants of his, granted the validity at the end of the fifteenth century of precontract marriages…”

If Edward de Wigmore had existed, and survived, Richard would have regarded him as Edward IV’s rightful heir and the coronation being arranged for the elder of the two boys in the Tower, Edward V, would have been transferred instead to this other Edward. I have no doubt of this whatsoever. But, the situation did not arise, because the existence of Edward de Wigmore never came to light. The closest I can get to a possibility of his existence is that some believe he died not long after birth. (NB: Alison Weir claims that Edward de Wigmore was known as Giles Gurney before taking his more generally known name. I do not know her source for this.)

So, imagine my surprise when looking for something else (ah, those hallowed words!) Google took me to the publication A Time of Renewal by Philip Snow, published 1998. The book concerns Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow, CBE (15 October 1905 – 1 July 1980) who held several important positions in the British Civil Service and briefly in the government. Philip Snow, the author of the book from which I have taken the following passage, was C.P. Snow’s brother, an author and cricketer, who died in 2012.

Extract from A Time of Renewal:

[The story of Edward de Wigmore, possible son from Edward IV’s clandestine] “…marriage in 1462 to Lady Eleanor Talbot, widow of Lord Boteler (or Butler), daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and granddaughter of the Duke of Buckingham, never ceases to occupy us. But we fear we are up against Richard III and Henry VII and their bludgeoning supporters in our attempts to prove or establish direct [family] links with Edward de Wigmore, who reputedly survived by sanctuary in a convent (where Lady Eleanor died as a recluse) not too far from Stamford and demolished by Henry VIII…

“…There would have been no one whom those three monarchs would sooner have seen out of their way to the throne than Edward IV’s eldest son and any descendants of his, granted the validity at the end of the fifteenth century of precontract marriages. A subsidiary title of Edward IV was Lord of Wigmore. A Wigmore of the mid-eighteenth century living in Stamford where Edward IV frequently stayed—he was also Lord of Stamford—had drawn up a tree showing ancestry back to this first son of Edward IV, Edward de Wigmore, but there are still a couple of gaps which so far, not unexpectedly, defy filling in, except perhaps by some determined and diligent pedigree scholar, before achieving something no less sensational…

“…Charles was always amused by the thought of our possible descent from Edward IV but when Garter King of Arms was researching all the branches of the family for his baronial coat of arms Charles did not wish to spend the money necessary to have him look into the Plantagenets of around 1460. (I must say that Garter King of Arms did seem reluctant to upturn the stones along that particular path: it might have been more than his job was worth.) This was to the natural disappointment of his relatives who had done as much research as their resources and leisure allowed.”

Has anyone ever heard this version of events before? I thought Eleanor died (probably childless) in Norwich and was buried there, not that she lived and died in Stamford and left a hearty son behind. As for Edward de Wigmore eventually living there, openly presumably, and left children of his own… Oh, how interesting it would be to see the “tree” that the 18th-century Wigmore had drawn up.

This story makes me think of Richard’s son, John of Gloucester, who ultimate fate is not known for certain. What if he too had lived on, and like his cousin Edward de Wigmore, left a family from whom more generations descended. We will never know.

Opinions please?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A simple statement of fact …

… as shown at Sudeley Castle.Sudeley

A Time for Truth, a Time for Lies…or for Pretended Obliviousness and Bullying Tactics

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

 My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.

An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard

A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.

The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.

There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.

I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.

In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.

It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.

Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.

Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research

If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this article and go read Annette Carson’s blog post entitled, “Proof … evidence … report … gossip … rumour,” and then get thee a copy of her Richard III: The Maligned King.

Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:

I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.

Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”

If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”

I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.

I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.

Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.

All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:

  1. What is contemporary source material and what is not
  2. How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
  3. How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
  4. Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
  5. Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.

Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.

Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel

If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.

If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.

If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]

You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:

  1. Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
  2. Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
  3. Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
  4. Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
  5. The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
  6. Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
  7. One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
  8. If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
  9. There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
  10. I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.

Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.

Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.

Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.

The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.

The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.

The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.

We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.

Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock

Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?

In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:

  1. Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
  2. Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
  3. Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
  4. Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.

The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:

I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…

So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am
.[iii]

More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?

Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?

Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]

There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.

What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.

This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.

That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.

Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise

Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.

What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?

My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.

“Do you think he did it?” I asked.

“Probably.”

That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.

I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.

__________

Notes

[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:

http://www.richardiii.net/6_3_1_the_ricardian_archive.php

or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/Ricardian/2006_vol16_ashdown_hill_lady_eleanor_talbot.pdf

[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.

[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.

DUKE RICHARD THE 3RD DUKE OF YORK (2): ‘…the king’s true liegeman…?’

How now? Is Somerset at liberty?

Then, York unloose thy long-imprisoned thoughts

And let thy tongue be equal with thy heart.

Shall I endure the sight of Somerset?

(Shakespeare: Henry VI part 2)

On his return from service in Normandy, duke Richard was the king’s true liegeman and an obedient servant of the Lancastrian establishment: or so it seemed. If he blamed the government for his enormous debts incurred on the king’s service, he did not show it. If he resented the preferment of John Beaufort and two other Lancastrian earls, he did not show it. If he was angry at the loss of Anjou and Main as part of the queen’s marriage settlement, he did not show it. In fact his reticence was a remarkable display of sangfroid in the face of his worsening financial, dynastic and political situation. Whether this reflected his true feelings or not is doubtful. Although there was now a fracture in his bond of loyalty to the Lancastrian government, he could not afford a public show of pique. He was politically weak and only harm could come to him from making a fuss now. Discretion is indeed the better part of valour; York was keeping his own counsel and biding his time.

In this essay, I examine the circumstances (albeit briefly and by way of context only), which widened the fracture of 1445 into the schism of 1455. I also develop my ideas about York’s motivation, and the constitutional, political and legal issues arising. Obviously, I cannot cover every point, so I have structured this piece around four major factors, which I believe influenced York’s attitude: his personal grievances, the Cade rebellion and its aftermath, the Dartford incident of 1452 and the first protectorship.

Personal grievances

In 1440 York’s financial position was sound; by 1445, it was dire. His debts were so crushing that he could not make ends meet without selling his property and borrowing money. This was primarily due to the government incompetence. He was owed £38,667 in unpaid grants for years four and five of his appointment in Normandy. It was an enormous sum then, and a far from trifling amount today. Consequently, he borrowed money at interest to pay the wages of his troops and civil servants in Normandy. The government’s parsimony was such that he was forced to write-off about a third of the debt for the promise of prompt payment of the balance, which never materialised.   Any bitterness that York may have felt would be understandable on this point alone. However, things were to get worse for him. In 1446, he was accused of peculating public funds while in Normandy. We can infer from the petition he presented to the king that he was irritated. In it, he complained of the “scandalous language” used about him and begged leave to defend himself before Parliament[i]. Ultimately he was vindicated, but the accusation left a sour taste and the suspicion that it was a deliberate attempt to discredit him, by William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk.

More disturbing from York’s perspective were the promotions of John Beaufort from earl to duke of Somerset (1443), Thomas Holland to duke of Exeter (1444) and Humphrey Stafford to duke of Buckingham (1444). Both Beaufort and Holland were of royal descent from John of Gaunt and closer in blood to the king than York. It was such an obvious threat to his position in the line of succession that he would have been super-human not to be worried. It’s true that there were legal and constitutional impediments to each of these men succeeding to the throne, but what one king can proscribe another can prescribe. York was a proud man, conscious of his own title to the crown. It is probable that he saw this as a direct challenge to the Yorkist right of succession should the king die without issue.

The Jack Cade rebellion 1450: aftermath.

It was the failure of the king and his government to maintain the rule of law at home and English rule in France that caused Kentish men to rebel during the late spring of 1450. Their ‘rebellion’ was short, sharp and brutal. Inevitably, they were crushed and their leader killed. However, while it lasted, the rebellion shook the Lancastrian regime to its very core. The king fled from London, his household panicked and gave-up a few defenceless scapegoats to the rebels, and four hundred royal soldiers were defeated in the Kent Weald. Cade occupied London and in a series of quasi-judicial tribunals meted out rough justice to those whom he regarded as traitors. Alas the dispersal of the rebels and Cade’s death was not the end of the matter for the government. The rebellion was supported by a broad cross section of English society from powerful landowners to rural peasants, and they had put their grievances in writing. The ‘Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent’ and “The Articles of a Captain of Kent’ are distinguished by their intelligent articulation of local and national grievances and for their proposals for reform[ii]. The rebels’ grievances are neatly summarised thus: “…the king had false counsel for his lands are lost, his merchandise is lost, his commons destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, himself so poor that he may not have his meat or drink…[iii]. It is clear that they did not blame the king for this situation. They blamed his advisors, and they saw York as the natural leader of a reforming movement. Unfortunately, the rebellion had absolutely no effect on the government after it was quashed

The catalyst for York’s involvement in English politics was the government’s continuing inability to maintain law and order. By the time he arrived from Ireland (where he was sent for ten years as Lieutenant General in 1447), both the nature of the debate and the environment in which it flourished had been decided. The notion that things are so bad that ‘someone must do something’ is a dangerous one; it breeds desperation, leading to mistakes. Nonetheless, it was the realisation that something had to be done that bought the duke back. The big question is whether this was a blatantly opportunistic attempt by York for popular support or the dutiful response of the senior royal duke and heir presumptive to a situation going from bad to worse.

Despite his dynastic importance, York did not hold a formal constitutional position within the realm. He was not a member of the king’s inner circle of advisors, nor did he have a natural line of communication to the king. He was also facing the constitutional doctrine, then current, that whilst the king has an obligation to rule in the common interest of all his subjects, the royal authority to do that was vested personally and absolutely in the king. If the king was competent, there was no conflict of interest between these principles. Such a king took advice, made prudent decisions, and gave just and lawful judgements. However, if the king was incompetent there could be difficulties. No matter how bad he was or how flagrant his misrule, it could not be corrected without accroaching his royal authority. Constitutionally, the king’s position as head of state was impregnable without committing treason.

This tricky situation was actually even more complex than it first seemed, since the competence of the king was not being questioned. What Cade and York were challenging was the improper influence of the king’s advisors on the application of royal authority. It is difficult to regard this as anything other than a tactic intended to prevent the imputation of treason against them. In York’s case he embellished his complaints with the inference that the king was the innocent victim of evil councillors. It was a situation from which York — the king’s true and loyal subject — would recue him; thus, allowing him to rule properly as was always his intention. The problem is that this simplistic approach flies in the face of the evidence and raises the much profounder question of the king’s fitness to rule. It is questionable whether the king’s failure to exercise royal authority was a symptom of the improper influence of his advisors, or the cause of that impropriety. The king’s piety appeared to be more suited to a monastery than the monarchy. His ‘innocence’, his failure to assert his royal authority and his indifference to governing the realm all called into to question his fitness to rule. However, that was a question that nobody — least of all York — was prepared to consider at this stage.

Aware of the public nature of this debate, York also put his complaints in writing to the king[iv]. First and foremost, he wanted royal acknowledgement of his loyalty. This was the foundation of his subsequent attacks on the traitors who advised the king. The king’s reply was a clever and timely assertion of royal authority. He reminded everyone of his duty to take representative advice: “We have determined in our own soul to establish a sad and substantial council, giving them more authority and power than ever we did before this, in which we have appointed you (that is York) to be one” [v]. He also made it clear that he did not need a protectionist Yorkist regime. He and his council could manage quite well by themselves. It was a devastatingly effective response, which gave the impression of a vigorous king exercising his royal authority. Any further complaints by York would be seen as the traitorous outpourings of a troublemaker.

Nothing daunted, York changed track. He wrote another private bill to the king and his councillors. Basically, it was a repetition of his earlier missive and was intended to persuade the king’s Councillors of the need to take action against ‘low borne’ advisors who were having an improper influence over the king. York’s appeal was in vain; he failed to gain support. The reason is obvious, the men he was complaining about still exercised power and influence at the centre of government. Anyway, everyone thought the government was in the capable hands of a forceful, competent king. York’s position was now impossible. By accepting the authority of the king and his council he had lost his right to complain. He must bow to their will or face being dealt with as a traitor.

The Dartford incident 1452

The hostility between York and Somerset, which had been an undercurrent in English politics from the late 1440’s, became dominant in 1451. Their mutual dislike had matured into a personal and intense hatred. Most worrying from York’s perspective was that whilst his power and influence waned that of Somerset waxed. He was, however the author of his own misfortune to some extent. A clumsy and ill-judged petition by the commons in Parliament to have York formally adopted as Henry’s heir was particularly damaging. Thomas Young, one of York’s own councillors, was the sponsor of this petition but it is inconceivable that the duke himself did not encourage him. The petition was ill-judged because at that time the succession was a particularly sensitive and complicated issue for the king.

York was the only legitimate heir to Henry. Although Somerset and Exeter were closer in blood to the king, there were impediments to their succession. York’s concern seems to have been that these impediments could easily be removed should the king so wish. Henry, on the other hand, was already worried by York’s popularity and he certainly didn’t want him as his chief advisor; neither, did he want to encourage any notion that there had been a constitutional settlement on York. By challenging the king to make his attitude public York invited a rebuff, which he duly got. Henry rejected the petition, arrested Young and dissolved Parliament. York had only succeeded in getting himself excluded from the council chamber. His acceptance of the government’s legitimacy made him a hostage to fortune if the king and the council were obdurate: which they were. It was his unwillingness to step outside his self-publicised image as the king’s loyal subject that prevented him from reaping the full advantage of his popular support.

Violent disturbances continued throughout the year, together with real or imagined conspiracies against the king. There was and is a suspicion that York was behind these plots, for which the evidence is ambiguous to say the least. However, it is unlikely that York condoned efforts by his supporters to remove the king.   He wanted to rescue the king from the clutches of his evil advisors, not replace him.

It was a dispute in Somerset that most inflamed the situation. The on-going quarrel between the duke of Devon, the Lords Moleyn and Cobham, and the earl of Wiltshire and Lord Bonville had reverted to open warfare. Richard rode at the head of two thousand men to quell the violence and prevent further bloodshed. It is possible that he simply could not resist the opportunity to ‘beard’ Somerset in his own county. The king outraged at such a blatant breach of the peace summoned all those involved, including York, to appear before him. York and Devon ignored the king’s summons. The king was not impressed and he arrested one of York’s servants on a trumped-up charge of plotting to kill him. He also made known his displeasure with York. This had potentially serious consequences for York, his family and the realm, which could not be ignored.

Early in 1452 York devised a two-pronged strategy for getting rid of Somerset once and for all. First, he made an unequivocal public oath of his loyalty to the king. This was a necessary pre-requisite to direct action. Second he wrote to the City of Shrewsbury (copying it widely in Kent and the South East), declaring his intention to get rid of Somerset’s influence forever for plotting ”…my undoing and to corrupt my blood, and to disinherit me and my heirs…”[vi]. He began to assemble his retainers near Northampton.

When challenged by the king, York denied it was an insurrection. He said he was only targeting ‘traitors’.   The king’s mobilisation arrangements appear to have been more efficient than York’s. He commanded the loyalty of the great barons and lords whose combined forces were larger than York’s and better placed to intervene. York tried to seize the initiative by moving directly on London. However, the probability that the Londoners would to resist him forced York to cross the Thames at Kingston. He moved into Kent, where he soon came face to face with the king’s army near Dartford. He was outmanoeuvred and overmatched.

The chronicles vary about what happened next. However, the upshot was that negotiations commenced between York and the royalists. York was allowed to present his grievances against Somerset, which the king received. Following this and in good faith, York dispersed his force before going to the king’s tent. There he found Somerset free at the king’s side, arrogant and aggressive. It was a trap! York was taken to London virtually under close arrest, with no hope of saving face. Even his life was at stake. In London, he was forced to eat humble pie by swearing an oath of loyalty and obedience to the king. He had little choice but to conform since it preserved the fiction that his actions did not amount to insurrection. In return, the king agreed to an arbitration of the quarrel between York and Somerset and a general pardon for York’s followers. It seems obvious with hindsight that York lacked the political acumen to realise the weakness of his position. He did not have the broad support of the Lords. Suffolk’s death had removed their obvious cause of discontent and they did not yet blame Somerset for the misgovernment at home .

Somerset’s position was now seemed unassailable. An English recovery in France, the death of the earl of Douglas, which secured the English border, with Scotland and the queen’s pregnancy, had steadied the country. Even Talbot’s death at the battle of Castillon did not result in calls for York. He was too isolated now to pose a threat to the duke of Somerset.

York’s first protectorship

Any euphoria that Somerset may have felt about his defeat of York was short-lived. The king was ill. We know nothing about the illness except that it caused mental incapacity, and it was kept a secret until after the birth of king’s heir on the 18 October 1453.   Just prior to the birth, a Great Council meeting was called, from which York was excluded. Nevertheless, with Somerset away on business, a group of peers decided to send for duke Richard. It was the king’s men who sent for York and their decision was a non-partial one made on the grounds of his legitimate right to be involved in the discussion about the governance of the realm. It seems that their hope was that York and Somerset would be able to work together and with the Great Council in the public interest: some hope! York arrived in London post haste accompanied by the duke of Norfolk. Somerset was still absent. Norfolk surprised everyone by demanding the impeachment of Somerset for treason. York added to the pressure on the Great Council by demanding the release of his chamberlain Sir William Oldhall who had been arrested for plotting the king’s downfall. The absence Somerset and many members of his affinity made those present unwilling to do more than rubber stamp the essential business of government. They agreed to suppress the widespread lawlessness whilst keeping the crown’s routine business ticking over. This allowed the case against Somerset to be fudged, which was no good to York. Any delay allowed Somerset to re-join the fray. Cardinal John Kemp, the Chancellor and an experienced civil servant was the main obstacle to Yorks more ambitious agenda for the council. On the 29 January 1454 the queen presented her own parliamentary bill seeking full regency powers and financial provision for the king and herself, and for Prince Edward. It is almost certain that she saw York as a dynastic threat to her husband’s throne and her son’s inheritance. The implication that the Lancastrian dynasty itself was threatened changed the whole situation. These were tense times.

The death of John Kemp on the 22 March 1454 gave York his opportunity. A medical report was presented to Parliament, which confirmed the king’s continuing incapacity. It forced the Lords to consider a regency government in the interim. Without Kemp or Somerset to stop it, York’s appointment as Lord Protector was agreed. York was, I believe, only posing as the reluctant, humble Protector. In reality he was probably well pleased to be in the perfect position to crush Somerset and introduce good government. However, his powers were constrained by Parliament, who reserved to themselves the right to be final arbiters of what or was not in the public interest, and to sack him. They also prescribed his role as Chief Councillor; his was a purely personal appointment with special responsibility to the defence of the realm from enemies and rebels.

York’s performance as Lord Protector was characterised by prudence and good sense. His most immediate problem was the violent disorder in the shires. He personally restored law and order to the north where the lawlessness of the Percys and the Nevilles was rife. He was less effective in the West Country, where the duke of Exeter was stirring-up trouble; though he was able to keep the situation under better control He also introduced some much-needed fiscal discipline into government expenditure and the cost of the royal household. However, his other major problem was resolving the fate of Somerset and in this he failed. The treason case bought by Norfolk stalled because of a lack of evidence and the political will to pursue it vigorously. York’s unavoidable absence restoring the rule of law resulted in a loss momentum in the case. When he returned, Parliament was still debating what, if anything, they should do. Thankfully, they had demurred at releasing Somerset but it was clear that the Lords were not convinced of the merit of Norfolk’s allegations against him. York’s failure to limit the Beaufort influence, and also the political machinations of the queen and the royal household would come back to haunt him

His inability to get to grips with the Somerset issue was worrying, but there was no doubt that could turn the tables on him in time. But time was something he did not have. By the end of 1454, the king had recovered his wits sufficiently to resume royal authority. The protectorship was over. Within a month, York had resigned his post; three months later Somerset was released and then acquitted. On the same day, York was sacked as Captain of Calais. The speed with which York was relegated and Somerset rehabilitated was astonishing. It was a sign to York (if he needed it) that his dispute with Somerset was mortal, which could only end when one had annihilated the other.

Somerset was well aware that his power over the king was transient. He took steps in April 1455 to make permanent arrangements for a regency government should Henry’s mental capacity relapse. A meeting of the Great Council was arranged from which York and the Neville’s were excluded. The situation now for the Yorkists was dire; if Somerset succeeded in his plan, there was no way back for them. In the absence of an effective royal authority that could impose a compromise on the estranged dukes a military solution was inevitable. Both sides could see this and began preparing for it. After some manoeuvring, the two sides faced each other across a ditch at St Albans on the 22 May 1455.

The tragedy of St Albans is that nobody really wanted a battle. However, neither York nor Somerset could submit to a compromise; for them this was a death struggle. Tragically, in the face of such obduracy Henry lacked either the moral courage or the strength to ‘bang the two dukes’ heads together’. He sent Buckingham to negotiate but it was hopeless. York wrote to the king and the Chancellor but it made no difference.

The Yorkists outnumbered the royal army and were drawn up in three divisions commanded by York, Salisbury and Warwick respectively. York and Salisbury were positioned opposite the ditch and palisade protecting the Holywell- St Peter’s Street entrance to the town. Warwick’s division was deployed in the meadow between them. On York’s signal   the Yorkists attacked the palisade. The fighting was fierce and the fixed defences and relatively narrow frontage prevented Yorkists from deploying their full power. However, they pressed the defenders so hard that they drew in Lancastrian reserves from other parts of the perimeter. Warwick, who was uncommitted, saw an opportunity to attack a less well-defended part of the perimeter. On his own initiative and using classic fire and manoeuvre tactics he led his division on a flanking attack, which succeeded in breaking into the town: thereafter it was a slaughter. The defenders in St Peter’s Street were taken in the rear and soon swamped by the combined weight of the Yorkist army.

Fighting in a built up area is brutal in any age and first St Albans was no different; however, it was relatively short, lasting from about 10am until the ‘early afternoon’. When it was over, Northumberland and Clifford lay dead in the Market Place. Buckingham was wounded but escaped; Wiltshire was unwounded but fled. The king, grazed by an arrow, stood under the Royal Standard where his men had abandoned him. Somerset was hunted down and cornered. He fought with the courage of despair, taking four Yorkists with him before being hacked to pieces by the remainder. Having re-established the discipline of his troops, York was soon at the king’s side, anxious to get him to safety and to see his wound tended[vii].

As he looked down upon Somerset’s naked, bloodied and (doubtless) mutilated body, York may have savoured his moment of victory. If so, it was a fleeting moment. The battle had not settled York’s dispute with the Lancastrian regime; it had made it worse.

To be continued….

References

[i] P A Johnson: duke Richard of York (Oxford 1991 edition) at page 52. Johnson quotes directly from York’s petition. See also [i] British Library MS Add 48031A ff122-123v/ ‘Articles of the duke of York refuting allegations made by Bishop Moleyns, with the bishop’s replies 1446’, which is helpfully reproduced in Politics of fifteenth century England – ‘John Vale’s Book’ (Margaret Lucille Kekewich and others (Eds) – Alan Sutton Publishing 1995) at page 180.

[ii] British Library MS Add 48031A f135-v/116r-v ‘Complaints of the commons of Kent and causes of their assembly at Blackheath,1450; and f136/117. ‘Articles of the Captain of Kent,1450’. Both of these documents are reproduced in ‘John Vale’s book at pages 204 – 206

[iii] Trevor Royle: the Wars of the Roses (Abacus 2009) at page 196

[iv] Just how many ‘bills’ York wrote and there sequence is unclear. It used to be thought there were two; however, Johnson at pages 104 and 104 argues that there were four, and Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs in ‘John Vales Book’ at page 186 make a case for five; however they are not all extant. Three bills, together with two of the king’s replies can be found at pages 189-193 of John Vales book. Stow’s annals contain different versions of the bills.

[v] John Vales Book page 190; ibid

[vi] Johnson at pages 108-109

[vii] Paul Murray Kendall: Warwick the Kingmaker (George Allen and Unwin 1957) pages 26-29. I have extrapolated most of my account from Kendall’s longer and more colourful description of the battle

DUKE RICHARD OF YORK (1) : the man who would be king

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.

Background

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…

A Little Piece of Alternative History

Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk, is a good height for a woman, but not tall – only her headdress make her seem so. As a recent widow, she is clad entirely in black, from head to foot, her furred gown made of the finest wool damask London mercers can supply. She is a handsome woman – some go so far as to call her beautiful – and on her lovely face there is an expression of sheer resolution. Nonetheless, she is calm, almost relaxed, nodding graciously in response to the bows and curtsies the lesser courtiers make as she passes.

Behind her by a single pace is her brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot. He is a knight, and an English gentleman, and so outwardly he also appears calm. In truth, he is close to shitting himself, because he knows what the Duchess is about to do. They have discussed it again and again, but he has failed to change her mind. However, as a knight and an English gentleman, he is still there to back his sister. He can do no other. Honour commands him, and it is as good a day as any other on which to die. The courtiers think she is here to attend the wedding of her little daughter to King Edward’s little son. Humphrey knows better. They are about to find out that Elizabeth is truly old Shrewsbury’s daughter, afraid of nothing on this earth.

The King is seated on his throne, a welcoming smile on his pudding-like face. He is very tall, and increasingly very fat. People still call him handsome, but those that do are relying on memory. These days he lives on charm, and when that fails, on threats and terror. He has lately thrown his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, into the Tower on very dubious grounds. No one doubts that Clarence is to die, though no one knows exactly what it is that he is supposed to have done. None dare question Edward on the matter. One does not question the King of England, and certainly not this particular King; a man ready to kill his own brother, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

He is a petty tyrant too. When he arranged, or rather ordained, the marriage for Elizabeth’s daughter, he forced Elizabeth to accept a reduced dower, so that his son would be the richer. The Duchess remembers that fact keenly. If you conversed with her you would find her an amiable woman, but she does not like to be cheated.

Around the King stand his leading men: His younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester looks to be in pain, because he is. He has been standing a long time, and his back is giving him agony. But he is a knight, and an English gentleman, and so he does his best to ignore it. Then there is Hastings, the King’s Chamberlain and life-long friend. All smiles, Hastings; everyone likes him, from the King to the lowest scullion of the court all will tell you what a splendid fellow he is. No one will tell you that he buys and sells favours, that his chief loyalty is to himself, and that he introduces whores to the King’s bed as part of his job. Next to him is Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, the Queen’s eldest brother. A cultured man, Rivers, who writes poems and takes part in formal jousts, pleased because Clarence, whom he hates, is locked away and likely to have his head cut off. He flatters himself that this is because of his advice, and that of his sister. So he is the image of complacency and satisfaction. Even the Duke of Suffolk is here, the King’s brother-in-law, who rarely strays from his own manors. Well, there is a Parliament, and this is also a family occasion, so that is his excuse. He has the look of an over-dressed pig farmer, and Elizabeth recalls he has manners to match. Then there are the clergy; on this occasion Bishop Russell of Rochester and John Morton, Archdeacon of Leicester. They stand slightly in the background, their smooth, assured faces like masks. She is glad the Queen is not present. She does not enjoy cat-fights, and there is no telling how that ill-bred woman will react to her announcement.

Elizabeth advances, making the prescribed three curtsies along the way. If anyone notices they are not as profound as they might be, they put it down to her rank. Rank has its privileges at court. A duchess can get away with things a mere gentlewoman might not. They are only surprised when the duchess speaks without waiting to be spoken to.

‘Edward Plantagenet,’ she says, and her voice is surprisingly loud, given that she is a woman and that this is a very large room, ‘I am a Talbot by birth and a Mowbray by marriage, and my blood is as good as anyone in this presence, yours included. I have decided that I am not willing that my daughter shall be married to your bastard.’

 

A strange sound seems to echo about the great chamber, the result of collective intakes of breath. No one can quite believe his ears. King Edward’s mouth – surprisingly small and rosebud-like in that great moon of a face – falls open, but no sound emerges except a gentle choking. He gets a taste of the eels and white wine he had for breakfast, but no words form.

Before he can even find his anger, the Duchess goes on. ‘In the first year of your reign, the year of Our Lord 1461, you contracted an irregular marriage with my sister, a widow at that time, Lady Eleanor Butler. You swore her to secrecy, but nonetheless you consummated the marriage. And by that very act, made it binding. You eventually grew tired of her – perhaps, because there was no child, perhaps because you never intended anything more than to seduce her. It matters not. You were still married to her when you made your subsequent, purported marriage with Dame Elizabeth Grey.’

Anthony Woodville, furious with what he perceives to be an insult to his sister and his family, takes a step forward, but Gloucester holds him back before he can make a fool of himself by physically attacking a lady who is not even his wife. For which, under court etiquette, there is no excuse.

‘You have no proof of this, my lady,’ says William Hastings. His smooth tongue is the first to recover, and his voice brims with confidence. ‘What womanish fancy is this that you bring before us? Beware, lest you be accused of treason.’

Elizabeth looks at him as if he is something unpleasant she has stepped on. ‘Oh, I have proof enough my Lord Chamberlain, and now I am a widow, and free from my husband’s commands, I’m free to bring it forth. First, my sister was devout, and Shrewsbury’s daughter – no light woman. She told me all – swore to it. As far as I am concerned, that is proof enough in itself. Yet there is more. Bishop Stillington can vouch for the tale. Not long after the marriage he became Lord Chancellor, no doubt because of his merits. Yet now he has fallen from favour, and is lodged in the Tower, for speaking some words against the King. One wonders what those words were. Perhaps we can fetch him here and ask him. There are other proofs too. A whole box of them, which I shall be happy to place before Parliament.’

All eyes go to the King. Everyone expects him to explode with anger, but in fact Edward has his head in his hands. He is actually weeping.

Hastings persists. ‘Your sister died in 1468 did she not? Even if what you say is true, the King could remarry – indeed he could already have remarried, for all you know.’

Elizabeth smiles. It’s a very special smile, that of someone who has all the cards. ‘Do you think I came here without doing research? Without consulting men learned in the law? I have news for you all. You cannot repeat the sacrament of marriage without a dispensation. Next, you cannot get a dispensation for bigamy. Not even the Pope has that power. Thirdly – and this is the biggie – the relationship between the King and Dame Elizabeth Grey is what canon lawyers call ‘polluted’ by the bigamy. They can never make a valid marriage. Not. Ever. Did you get all that? I know it’s a lot to take in – especially when you’ve only got a little woman’s brain like mine. If anyone is interested, I’ve got it all written up. My clerk Helmholz has even put it into Latin.’

‘It’s true!’ Edward’s voice is practically a squeal. ‘It’s all true. She’s got me bang to rights, and it’s a fair cop. I done it all. And what’s more I took advice too – I’m not stupid – and all that stuff about getting married again is exactly what I was told. I just hoped it would go away. But I can’t live with it on my conscience any more. I’ve let you all down so badly.’ He turns to Anthony. ‘I’m sorry, Tony. I didn’t plan it like this. I never, ever thought it would come out. Now I just want to put it all right.’

‘You can make a start,’ says Elizabeth, ‘by releasing your brother Clarence and Stillington from the Tower.’

‘I agree,’ says Richard of Gloucester. ‘It makes eminent sense. In fact, Ned, I suggest that George acts as Regent until this unpleasant mess is sorted out. It seems to me that a lot of questions need to be asked.’ He gives Hastings a suspicious glance. ‘For example, which other people were involved in keeping this secret.’

The King, still weeping softly, pulls off a ring and passes it to his brother. ‘No time for a proper warrant, Dickon, but this will do. Go and get them. I just hope George hasn’t already drowned himself.’

Gloucester rushes off. After he has gone, everyone just stands in silence, waiting.

‘I suppose the wedding’s off then,’ Suffolk says into the silence. He has a booming voice. ‘Pity, I bought them a present and everything. Hey, Duchess, what about marrying your girl to one of my sons?’

No one answers him. Rivers squats on his haunches. He tries to formulate a poem, perhaps one about disaster, but nothing he can think of quite cuts it. He is ruined. His whole family is ruined. His sister is going to go mad! The only good thing is that no one wants to execute him.

Fortunately, they’ve all been trained in the art of keeping quiet and standing still. The hours go by, or at least it seems that way. Until at long last there is the sound of footsteps ringing on the tiles. Richard is back, with his brother, George Clarence and the rather shabby-looking Bishop of Bath and Wells.

‘George,’ says the King, his voice very low and his head even lower, ‘I’ve been a fool. I’m going to step down for a while – it’s only right. You can be Protector and Defensor, and all that stuff. Dickon will help you – in fact he suggested you for the job. I’m just so glad you didn’t drown yourself.’

Clarence was a broken man when he was imprisoned, but being rowed up the Thames from the Tower has cleared his head nicely. ‘Thank you, Ned,’ he says, in his usual informal way. ‘I had no intention of suicide, although I suppose that big butt of Malmsey in my room was your idea of a subtle hint.’ He turns to Elizabeth. ‘And thank you too, my lady. You have saved me, and saved England. And you have proved that our long tradition of free speech, liberty and the rule of law is not just an idle boast. My first act as Protector will be to introduce the law of Habeas Corpus even though I am not entirely sure what it means. There will be no more tyranny, no more cases of people being hanged, drawn and quartered just for saying the wrong thing. What’s more, we shall restore your dower lands in full. Won’t we Ned?’

‘Indeed,’ says the King, who by this time is recovering himself a little. ‘It is the least we owe to you, Duchess. Without your courage and example, I might have died with this hideous sin still on my conscience. Now I shall leave you all, and go to my closet to pray. Before I do, dear, brave lady, is there anything else you want?’

‘Just one thing,’ says Elizabeth. She beckons to the Archdeacon, whom she knows slightly through her family connection with Margaret Beaufort. She points accusingly at the King. ‘Book him, Morton. Bigamy One.’

It is, after all, an offence under church law. As the King is led away, Clarence stares at the Duchess in admiration.

‘Madam,’ he says, ‘you are the most amazing lady I have ever met, or even read about. I thought my mother was tough, but compared to you, she is a lamb. As you know, I am a widower, and you are a widow. Will you marry me?’

Everyone applauds, except Rivers, who is too upset, and Hastings who has gone off to look for a consoling cup of wine.

Elizabeth looks at George. He is really quite handsome, just a bit, well – eccentric. No one in the English aristocracy objects to that. ‘I will tell you my answer next Tuesday, Your Grace. For now, I just want to go outside into the air, and give my dear brother Humphrey a high five. I think I can say – without fear of contradiction – that we Talbots rock.’

 

Questions for Readers Groups

 

  1. This is a piece of Alternative History. Things did not really happen this way. However, when discussing the story, please assume that Eleanor Talbot really did marry Edward IV. (After all, even the 19th Century historian James Gairdner thought she did and the marriage was confirmed by Act of Parliament.) Can you think of any reasons why the secret did not emerge in reality until 1483, after Edward’s death?
  2. What do you think would have happened to the real Elizabeth if she had behaved this way?
  3. Do you think Humphrey Talbot, or Bishop Stillington, being men, would have fared better or worse?
  4. If you had lived in those times, as an ordinary person, would you have revealed the secret, and what do you think would have happened to you?
  5. How many people do you think would have known the secret, directly or indirectly.
  6. Do you know of any evidence that Edward IV had a conscience? Give examples.
  7. Taking into account your answers to the above, do you still find it strange the secret did not come out while Edward was alive?

 

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