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What really happened in 1385, when the Earl of Stafford’s son and heir was killed on a Yorkshire road…?

from Shutterstock

On Sunday, 16th July 1385 (maybe 18th) there was an incident at Bustardthorpe, which is south of York on the road to Bishopthorpe, where King Richard II was staying at the (arch)bishop’s palace. A large portion of his army and nobles were encamped close by because the English were en route for Scotland, intending to sort out (or try to!) those pesky folk beyond Hadrian’s Wall. The English encampments were spread across the fields south of York.

From Roman du Roy Meliadus de Leonnoys, c. 1360, British Library

 

Bishopthorpe Palace on the Ouse, where Richard II was staying

Richard II’s half-brother, Sir John Holand (aged thirty-three or so, his actual date of birth isn’t known for certain) was camped with his portion of the English forces at a place called Catton, six miles east of York across the Ouse (and across the Derwent) from Bishopthorpe. On 18th July he was responsible for the brutal death of 18-year-old Ralph Stafford, son and heir of the Earl of Stafford (whose actual birthdate isn’t known either). Many call it murder, but it’s always sounded more like manslaughter to me, something done in the heat of a violent quarrel. This notorious incident almost brought the king’s expedition against the Scots to an end before it began.

Old OS Map showing Catton, top right, where John Holand had camped. At mid-left is Bustardthorpe, where Ralph Stafford was killed, and at bottom left is Bishopthorpe, where the king and most of the army was encamped.

According to my research, two of Holand’s men (supposedly his favourite squires) were murdered by two of the Earl of Stafford’s men (or variations of this theme) and maybe a foreign knight was involved as well. Some say the initial murders took place at Beverley Minster, where the earl’s men promptly took sanctuary. What did or didn’t happen at Beverley is really beside the point, because Holand’s knee-jerk reaction—he had a very short fuse—culminated in the sword-thrust that put an end to the earl’s son and heir.

Beverley Minster from Crump’s Timberyard

When Holand learned of his esquires’ murders, he fell into a red rage, and set off to seek vengeance. He took around ten of his men, probably all armed, and he himself was certainly armed, for he had the fateful sword with him. If the murder had been at Beverley, that wasn’t the direction he took. Instead of going south-east, he went west for the area of York, Bustardthorpe and Bishopthorpe on the west/opposite bank of the River Ouse.

Bishopthorpe Palace bottom left, showing flat land on both sides of the Ouse

Maybe he knew that the Earl of Stafford’s camp was close to the king? And maybe, to be fair to him, his initial purpose was to seek redress from his half-brother, King Richard II. He wanted the earl to pay dearly for his men’s misdemeanors. If this was his intention, the audience didn’t cool his fury, which was still raging afterward, when he encountered Ralph at Bustardthorpe.

Whether he went first to the king and was on his way back toward York, or was still on his way to the king from York, halfway along the road, at Bustardthorpe, he apparently didn’t at first recognise Ralph, yet he must have known the young man well. Ralph had been in Richard II’s household since childhood, and had always been around at court. Holand was older, of course, so he’d certainly have witnessed Ralph growing up alongside the king. Maybe the encounter at Bustardthorpe took place in the dark? Maybe there was a mist from the Ouse? Whatever, there was a violent set-to-which must have included an argument of some sort. Maybe Ralph even sneered that Holand’s men had deserved what they got? Whatever, it ended with Holand drawing his sword and running Stafford through.

I doubt very much if either man was in armour or even helmet, so the main illustration above gives a false impression. It’s much more likely that both were dressed a little like this photograph below, of James Purefoy as Mowbray, from the Richard II episode of The Hollow Crown, and therefore the same period as the incident in 1385.

It’s always possible, of course, that the two men didn’t like each other anyway, which would add an extra edge to the confrontation. One wrong word from Ralph would ignite Holand’s already smouldering blue touchpaper, and that would be that. Afterward, when his alarmed men told him who he’d just killed, Holand is reported to have said he’d rather have killed the earl’s firstborn son than any number of the earl’s men, because it was fitting recompense for the loss of his favourite squires. Then, like the Earl of Stafford’s men before him, he too fled for Beverley Minster’s sanctuary, thirty or so miles away to the south-east.

The Killingwoldgraves Cross beside the York road (A1174) Wikimedia Commons

Ralph was buried temporarily at Blackfriars in York, and Richard II attended the funeral. Then Ralph’s remains were removed to King’s Langley Dominican Priory. His father went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem shortly afterward, but died at Rhodes before reaching his destination.

The only thing we can be sure of in this whole sorry affair is that Sir John Holand did indeed kill Ralph, and did indeed haul his guilty hide to Beverley. His actual words in the heat of the moment of killing Ralph can never be known. I have to concede though, that given what I’ve gleaned about Holand’s temperament, it wouldn’t surprise me if the sentiments reported were accurate.

Right then, now you have the bare bones of the matter. The impression is always given that Holand heard what had happened in Beverley, leapt on to his horse, dashed to seek revenge, bumped into Stafford, killed him and that was that. All virtually in the blink of an eye. But his actual route from Catton to Bustardthorpe had to be more involved.

Catton, from Old OS Map

Catton is on the east bank of the Derwent. The nearest bridge—wooden with stone piers—is a mile or so upstream at Stamford Bridge. This was once the tidal reach of the Derwent, and was originally a ford, where Roman roads converged. I understand that the name Stamford originates from “stone-paved ford”.

The 1727 bridge at Stamford Bridge, from Britain Express

But now I’ve discovered that according to the Petworth House Archives “…Catton village stands along a single street roughly parallel with the Derwent. From its northern end a lane runs towards the river and the church. On the other side of the manor-house site Wath Lane formerly led to the river bank where there was once a ford…”

Google aerial view showing Wath Lane leading to the Derwent

So Catton had a ford too! This means that if Holand’s camp was on the Catton village side of the river, he could simply have ridden across the ford and then on toward the Ouse. Or maybe his encampment was already in the meadows to the west. Whatever, we can discount the Derwent as being a hurdle. All he had to do was cross it on horseback, ride like the wind the six miles or so over the flat land to the Ouse. Now, to cross the Ouse by a bridge, he’d have to go to the old stone bridge in York, then south on to the road to Bustardthorpe and Bishopthorpe.

The six-arched masonry bridge of c.1155, as it was in 1564. From https://ffhyork.weebly.com/uploads/8/2/0/5/8205739

Well, it’s perfectly possible that this was the route Holand chose, but it involved two sides of a triangle, whereas the crow flew along only one side. Rivers can be forded (he’d already forded the Derwent) and maybe the Ouse could be too, when the conditions were right, of course. Even the mighty Severn Estuary was once forded by a man who walked chest-high in the water. Completely nuts! But it goes to show that if a large, rather wild estuary, with the second highest tidal reach in the world, can be forded at the right time by a single man, on foot, then surely the Ouse could be too? The weather of 1385 was perhaps helpful in this respect. According to my research, January and February were unusually wet, February to July was unusually warm, and June to July was unusually dry.

The Harvesters, 1565 – Pieter Bruegel the Elder 

One source states quite specifically that the summer of that year was “one of excessive heat from May to 5th September (the Nativity of the Virgin)”. I imagine the heavens must have really opened on 5th September for a note to be made of it!

Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Fall of Princes
taken from https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/01/i-cant-stand-the-rain.html

If the summer was indeed warm and dry, it would mean that the Ouse was probably lower than usual too, and perhaps it was known among the locals that the Ouse could be ridden across quite easily in various places in such conditions. I rather think this would appeal to Holand, who was impatient to seek redress. He was hot-tempered and justifiably so in this case. His men had been killed, and he wasn’t about to take it lying down! He was nothing if not loyal to his men and would want to make a beeline to complain to the Earl of Stafford, not a tiresome meander around the countryside.

But I don’t even really know if I have the right Catton, only the nearest one that I can find. Yorkshire isn’t a county I’m well acquainted with (a weekend stay at Leyburn in 1959 is my limit!) I even managed to confuse myself today by muddling this Catton with another one on the banks of the River Swale, further north. A friend has now told me there are Cattons all over the county – well, not all that liberally, of course, but certainly more than just the two I’ve mentioned. Someone else has suggested that Catton might actually be a medieval contraction of Catterton, which is some five miles or so west of Bishopthorpe. Maybe it is.

What would really make my day would be for some long-forgotten Catton to be in the close vicinity of Bishopthorpe and on the same western bank of the Ouse. After all, Bustardthorpe has now virtually disappeared. On Google Maps it’s only detectable by some allotments that bear its name. To see a realy interesting zoomable view of the allotments, go to https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidhopley/26438359595. There used to be a cross at Bustardthorpe, paid for by Holand, saying that it was the place of Stafford’s violent death, but the cross too has gone. (BTW, does anyone know what happened to it? It was once important regarding marking the boundary of Micklegate) The cross is recorded as follows: “…In the early eighteenth century this cross, quaintly described as the ‘Staffherd’ Cross, still helped to mark the boundary of Micklegate Ward. Though the cross has disappeared, it is possible to locate its original site reasonably accurately. From Skaife, ‘Extracts from the House Books of the Corporation of York’, p.  448; Royal Commission, South-West of the Ouse, p. 118…” The Stafford Cross is mentioned in the text.

Bustardthorpe Entry in English Place Name Society vols for the West Riding (Vol 33 p229) 
Showing Bustard Lane marked in red – from https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/city-of-york/pp311-321

In the aftermath of Ralph’s death, Richard II promised the outraged Earl of Stafford that he’d punish Holand as if he were a common felon, but then time went on a little, Holand returned to court, did penance, paid for a memorial cross at the place of Ralph’s death, endowed a chantry for Ralph’s soul and so on. But he went on to become Earl of Huntingdon, marry John of Gaunt’s daughter, be raised to Duke of Exeter. Then he was reduced to Huntingdon again by his brother-in-law Henry IV, against whom he then took part in the Epiphany Rising of 1399, intending to restore Richard II to the throne. Holand fled when the rebellion failed, was captured on the storm-swept coast of Essex, hauled off to Pleshey Castle and summarily executed, watched by the late Earl of Arundel’s sister and son. Holand had witnessed the late Earl of Arundel’s execution, and had also been present at Pleshey when the king’s uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, had been arrested (to be done away with shortly afterwards in Calais). So for John Holand it was time to pay the ultimate price.

Pleshey Castle reconstruction

He was a passionate man who led a fiery life, and history condemns him as a violent murderer of little worth, but he was of considerable consequence, and possessed of a fatal charm. One of the top jousters of the day, he could be guaranteed to not only win but provide a theatrical display second to none, and the ladies certainly liked him. He was never boring, and he’s a major character in my wip (which threatens to go on forever, and I’m more than content to let it do so!) I certainly don’t see him in quite the same light as all the historians. Ah, but then I see Richard III in his true light as well.

We all have our favourites, and John Holand, sinner or not, is one of mine.

Joust of Betanzos in 1387 between Reginald de Roye and John Holland, which took place in Spain before John of Gaunt; illustration from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques
From Wiki Commons

Late 1400’s portrayal of a joust between John Holland and Regnault de Roye in 1386-7 Jean Wavrin, Chronique d’ Angleterre; BM, MS Royal 14 Ed. IV, f. 293v.

PS: I wish to thank the many members of the British Medieval History group for their help regarding the Yorkshire locations in this article.

Did Richard III prefer to travel his realm by land, river or around the coast. . .?

King Edward III's cog, Thomas

Here is a question that has bugged me for some time now. If, during medieval centuries, a journey could be made around the English coast, rather than across country, was the sea option likely to be chosen?

I will take a particular example. It’s from the 14th century, but could be from the 13th or the 15th. A high-ranking aristocrat, who was accustomed to sailing (he was at one time Admiral of the Fleet in the Western Seas – I think that is the correct title) wished to go from London to Dartmouth on the south coast of Devon. It was a journey he would have made fairly frequently, because his country seat in Devon was his favourite residence, some of his children were born there and he clearly like to escape to its peaceful acres.

cog and boat of fugitives

RII embarks for Ireland, 1394

Now, medieval journeys fascinate me, and I wonder what governed the choice of route. For instance, when Richard II made his two visits to Ireland, he travelled across country and then along through Glamorgan and Pembroke to Haverford, from where he set sail for Ireland. The voyage took two days. But many of his men/ships/horses/equipment and so on were sent by ship from Bristol.

Bristol Castle in 14th Century

Why didn’t Richard leave from Bristol as well? It would certainly have been easier than all the way through South Wales. Was it simply to show himself to the people of Wales and the southern Marches? He went from castle to abbey to castle and so on. Quite a long way to be in the saddle. Yes, all medieval aristocrats and royalty showed themselves around the country, but they liked their comfort too, and surely a few extra days’ voyage from Bristol would be preferable to a couple of weeks on indifferent roads?

medieval fleet - 3

Which brings me back to my particular nobleman in Devon. When he joined the king in Ireland in 1394, he sailed from Bristol on 7th March. He certainly didn’t go up to Gloucester, across the Severn and then all the way through South Wales to Haverford. No indeed. But why not from Dartmouth, which was only a few miles from his residence? His wife had just given birth to a son there, and it seems fairly certain (not confirmed) that her husband had been there with her just prior to leaving on the Irish campaign?

dartmouth_castle_engraving

Back to London. Let me provide a particular scenario. There has been a lot of rain and the roads are appalling, but the weather is otherwise calm. Would he choose to labour to Devon by road? Or take a vessel and sail along the south coast?

It seems to me that surely he would prefer to go by sea, but apart from international travel, or travelling along navigable rivers, I have yet to come across a definite reference to sailing around the coast from one part of the mainland to another. Sometimes there is simply a statement that one town was left and another reached. If the towns are in the middle of the country, then it’s obvious the journey was by road. But if close to the coast…? What then? Traders did it, of course, but did other travellers do the same?

Postscript:
Since I first composed this article, I have come upon the interesting thoughts of prominent historian, Ian Mortimer, on the very subject of whether travel would have been by water or road. In Appendix Five of The Fears of Henry IV, he ponders the speed of Henry’s movements around the country, and whether or not roads would have been the natural route. As places like Nottingham and Pontefract are mentioned, it makes me wonder about some of Richard III’s journeys. I have always imagined that he travelled by road, but might he have actually gone by river?

Here is an extract from Mortimer:

“The distances. . .all presume Henry travelled by road, and it needs to be stressed that some of the journeys were probably by water. In fact, Douglas Biggs has suggested that Henry moved mostly by water in 1407.* With regard to his journey from York (5 September 1407) to Beverley (11 September): he sailed down the River Ouse, pausing at Faxfleet, and up the River Hull to Beverley. Similarly Henry could have travelled by water from Nottingham to Pontefract (via the rivers Trent and Calder), and from Bishopthorpe to Cawood (via the Ouse). However, he did not always move by water. His journey from Nottingham to Pontefract via Newstead and Worksop. . .must have been by road, and his presence at Kilham indicates that, although he probably sailed from Beverley to Bridlington, he returned to Bishopthorpe by road.”

* Syllabus: T.D. Hardy (ed.), Syllabus. . .of Rymer’s Foedera (3 vols, 1869-85). Vol ii, p.544. Also Douglas Biggs. ‘An Ill and Infirm King: Henry IV, Health and the Gloucester Parliament of 1407’ – paper delivered at Nottingham 2006).

What did Richard do? Did he always ride on horseback or take to his barge or cog? Over to you, ladies and gentlemen.

Is this narrated by a computer…?

Right, for this little exercise one needs observant ears. Yes, ears. You see, whoever—or whatever—narrates this small video has a very strange way of doing it. His/its diction is oddly mechanical, to say the least and some of the words are barely comprehensible. Yet it is English, I’m sure of that!

Apart from the above, the whole thing is very boring. And I say that as one very interested in John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter . If you listen to the end, you’ll deserve a medal.

 

Richard III wasn’t the only dog to be given a bad name….

We all know how Richard III’s reputation has been besmirched over the centuries. He was turned into a monster because the likes of More and Shakespeare pandered to the Tudors’ need to justify their seizure of the throne. Thus he became a creature of misshapen body and mind, capable of putting his own child nephews to death, and disposing of righteous opponents who only stood up for the truth.

Hmm, yes. Well, in this present day and age, people are becoming more enlightened about Richard, who has an army of supporters prepared to stand up and be counted on his behalf.

King John is another monarch with a bad reputation, although in his case it is more deserved, I think. Yet something that first happened in his reign has come down in history as being the work of a 14th-century nobleman, John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter, half-brother of King Richard II. What was this horrible crime? The instigation of the bloody sport of bull-running in the Lincolnshire town of Stamford.

Stamford 2015

Bull-running was a St Brice’s Day (13th November) fixture in the town for centuries, although it has disappeared now, ending up as a colourful nod toward something akin to a carnival.

Records state quite categorically, that it originated in the 12th century, in the time of King John. So how did King Richard II’s 14th-century half-brother get the blame? Simply because John Holand is another bogeyman. It is almost a tradition to point accusing fingers at him and denigrate him, à la Richard III. If there is a connection between John Holand and Stamford, it appears to be the burial of his parents at Greyfriars, i.e. Princess Joan of Kent and Sir Thomas Holand, 1st Earl of Kent.

 

Gatehouse of Stamford Greyfriars

John Holand had his faults, and in his youth was a hothead, passionate and hasty, but that appears to have only applied to his youth. Later on he was a steadfast supporter of Richard II, and eventually lost his life in the first half of January 1400 (the actual date of his summary and illegal execution isn’t known) while rebelling in Richard’s favour against the Lancastrian usurper, King Henry IV.

 

John Holand is said to be one of the two riders on the right

There are two murders in which his name is involved, that of a Carmelite friar who was tortured most cruelly because of a supposed plot against the king. The other, in 1385, occurred when Richard II’s army was moving north toward the Scottish border. One of John Holand’s favourite squires was murdered during a quarrel with men of Sir Ralph Stafford, son and heir of the Earl of Stafford. John Holand’s mercurial temper burst forth, and he took some men to ride to be avenged on Stafford’s men. On the way, in the dark, he came up against Stafford himself. What happened next is uncertain, except that the outcome was Stafford’s death at the end of John Holand’s sword. Some accounts say he simply killed Stafford without warning, others that there was an argument that got out of hand. Whatever the truth, John Holand fled into sanctuary at Beverley.

‘Beverley Minster, (across the rooftops)’ by Ian Appleyard

He was eventually received back at court, and obliged to make abject apologies, etc. etc. But one sad result of the whole incident was said to have been the death of Joan of Kent, who could not withstand the state of affairs when one of her sons (Richard II) swore to severely punish another (John Holand, who was said to be Joan’s favourite, perhaps because he reminded her so of the husband she had loved so much – but that’s another story).

 So, these are the two bloodthirsty crimes that have come down through history to attach to his memory. I defend neither of them. He didn’t or couldn’t control his temper. Today he’d receive treatment for anger management. But, to his credit, he does seem to have overcome this flaw in his character, for I have found no further evidence of it.

His other sins appear to be have been of an amorous nature. He is said to be the actual father of Richard of Conisburgh, from whom the House of York descended. And he seduced John of Gaunt’s daughter, Elizabeth of Lancaster, putting her in the family way, as the quaint expression goes. They were married hastily, and bundled off to Castile with John of Gaunt’s expedition to claim the crown of that land.

John Holand was a fiery but devastatingly charming man who was said to have been charismatic, and I am prepared to believe this describes him well. He was also a famous and flambuoyant jouster, a regular rock star of the tournament circuit, who always put on a great display of skill and theatre.

But as for introducing bull-running to Stamford. . . Well, it had been going on for a century or more before he came along, so it would be a miracle indeed if he had anything to do with it. Yet, he has been given the blame. So, like Richard III, he has been given a bad name. Yes, he was a sinner at one time, which Richard III never was, but even so, he’s being castigated for things he couldn’t have done.

For further examples of John Holand being accused of starting the bull-running, go here, here and here.

Why bury a chest of books….?

Here is a puzzle, circa 1400. Why would a usurped king’s half-brother bury a chest of books in the ground at the church in his Devon estate? The usurped king was Richard II, the half-brother John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon (had been Duke of Exeter), the Devon estate Dartington.

Dartington - for Chest of Books buzz

This was just before Holand joined the Epiphany Rising against Richard’s murderer and usurper, Henry IV – a rebellion he, Holand, did not survive. The titles of the books are not known, but apparently the key to the chest is still in existence.

JH'S CHEST OF BOOKS

The 15th century tower is all that remains of the church, which is adjacent to Dartington Hall, only a few steps from Holand’s private apartments in the main house.

I learned of this strange activity in “William called Long Will” by Michael Bennett:-

“More intriguingly, he [Holland] was the owner of a chest full of books that, prior to the conspiracy that led to his execution in 1400, he hid in the ground in Dartington church.63

63The titles of the books are not recorded. The label to the key to the chest is extant in the exchequer records (Clavis de quadam cista plena diversis libris qui fuerunt Iohannis nuper comitis de Huntingdon in terra absconditur in ecclesia de Dartyngton in comitatu Devonie): Kew, TNA, E 101/699/25.”

If anyone has any ideas – other than Holand’s desire to prevent the books from falling into other hands – please comment. It doesn’t seem that he buried other valuables at the same time, just the books.

What happened to Coldharbour on Richard III’s death. . . .?

Coldharbour

Yes, another post about Coldharbour (above) which stood  in Upper Thames Street, London. But this time it concerns an apparent omission in ownership. It is a known fact that after Bosworth, Henry VII turfed the College of Heralds out of Coldharbour and handed the property over to his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Isn’t it? I mean, there’s no doubt about this?

Heralds_at_Garter_Service

Heralds in procession to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle for the annual service of the Order of the Garter

Well, while following up another trail, I found myself in British History Online, specifically Old and New London: Volume 2. Pages 17-28, published originally by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878. Even more specifically, the section deals with Upper Thames Street, and thus the mansion known as Coldharbour, which has strong connections with Richard III.

The name of the house changed and was given different spellings over the years, but the house itself remained there at least from the time of Edward II until it was pulled down by the Earl of Shrewsbury who was guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Here is the relevant extract:

“Among the great mansions and noblemen’s palaces that once abounded in this narrow river-side street, we must first of all touch at Cold Harbour, the residence of many great merchants and princes of old time. It is first mentioned, as Stow tells us, in the 13th of Edward II., when Sir John Abel, Knight, let it to Henry Stow, a draper. It was then called Cold Harbrough, in the parish of All Saints ad Fœnum (All Hallows in the Hay), so named from an adjoining hay-wharf. Bequeathed to the Bigots, it was sold by them, in the reign of Edward III., to the well-known London merchant, Sir John Poultney, Draper, four times Mayor of London, and was then called Poultney’s Inn. Sir John gave or let it to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, for one rose at Midsummer, to be given to him and his heirs for all services. In 1397 Richard II. dined there, with his halfbrother John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon, who then lodged in Poultney’s Inn, still accounted, as Stow says, “a right fair and stately house.” The next year, Edmund, Earl of Cambridge, lodged in it. It still retained its old name in 1410, when Henry IV. granted the house to Prince Hal for the term of his life, starting the young reveller fairly by giving him a generous order on the collector of the customs for twenty casks and one pipe of red Gascony wine, free of duty. In 1472 the river-side mansion belonged to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. This duke was the unfortunate Lancastrian (great-grandson of John of Ghent) who, being severely wounded in the battle of Barnet, was conveyed by one of his faithful servants to the Sanctuary at Westminster. He remained in the custody of Edward IV., with the weekly dole of half a mark. The duke hoped to have obtained a pardon from the York party through the influence of his wife, Ann, who was the king’s eldest sister. But flight and suffering had made both factions remorseless. This faithless wife obtaining a divorce, married Sir Thomas St. Leger; and not long after, the duke’s dead body was found floating in the sea between Dover and Calais. He had either been murdered or drowned in trying to escape from England. Thus the Duke of Exeter’s Inn suffered from the victory of Edward, as his neighbour’s, the great Earl of Worcester, had paid the penalties of Henry’s temporary restoration in 1470. Richard III., grateful to the Heralds for standing up for his strong-handed usurpation, gave Cold Harbour to the Heralds, who, however, were afterwards turned out by Cuthbert Tunstal, Bishop of Durham, whom Henry VIII. had forced out of Durham House in the Strand. In the reign of Edward VI., just before the death of that boy of promise, the ambitious Earl of Northumberland, wishing to win the chief nobles to his side, gave Cold Harbour to Francis, the fifth Earl of Shrewsbury, and its name was then changed to Shrewsbury House (1553), six days before the young king’s death. The next earl (guardian for fifteen years of Mary Queen of Scots) took the house down, and built in its place a number of small tenements, and it then became the haunt of poverty. . .”

Cuthbert Tunstall 1474–1559, Bishop of Durham, 1530–1559

Cuthbert Tunstall (1474–1559), Bishop of Durham (1530–1559)

Poor Cuthbert, he doesn’t look a happy man! But I digress. Ignoring the unworthy comment about Richard’s so-called ‘strong-handed usurpation’, there is, for Ricardians, a glaring omission in all this. What happened to Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort? The College of Heralds were turned out of Coldharbour before the Bishop of Durham ‘done the deed’ in the reign of Henry VIII. Yes?

Any comments, ladies and gentlemen? Is it just an error by the author of Old and New London?

 

 

When, exactly, was Elizabeth of Lancaster’s first marriage dissolved….?

Elizabeth of Lancaster

A source at the National Archives says that John of Gaunt’s daughter Elizabeth was married to the boy, John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, on 24th January 1380. She was about 17, he was about 8. She then “disagreed” with the marriage, because of her husband’s youth and inability to consummate the marriage, and the source says that the marriage was dissolved on 24th February 1383. A very specific date.

The source was The Account Rolls of the Household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399) ([These] were found acting as backing to the Waleys Cartulary [MS. GLY/1139] when this was repaired. They consist of items from various classes of household accounts and were placed haphazardly when employed as backing. Each roll of the cartulary had ten membranes, which were heavily mutilated in their secondary function.):-

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/c36349b9-701c-4cb2-94b3-96329c78ebed (4) Mon. 1-31 [July 1381]. Roll A.7. This “Mentions the Countess of Pembroke. Lancaster’s daughter Elizabeth married John, Earl of Pembroke, on 24 Jan. 1380 and the marriage was dissolved on 24 Feb. 1383.”

John Hastings, Third Earl of Pembroke 

However, on 24th September that same year, 1383, she was still terming herself Countess of Pembroke:

Proof of EofL's continuing use of Pembroke title

So, would she still do this even though the marriage had been ended? In other words, would she remain Countess of Pembroke until she remarried? Or, were proceedings to disagree with and dissolve the marriage commenced in the February of 1383, but not finalised until after the September?

There is a LOT of confusion about the ending of Elizabeth of Lancaster’s first marriage, with talk of passionate seduction, pregnancy, and a shotgun wedding to swiftly hitch her to her seducer. This was Sir John Holand, Richard II’s colourful half-brother, the future Earl of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter; a man to whom Lady Caroline Lamb’s opinion of Lord Byron could be applied, i.e. that he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. He was flambuoyant, passionate and capable of cold-blooded killing, but he was also devastatingly charming. This second marriage took place in Plymouth on 24th July 1386. (24th again?)

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Sir John Holand being led into tournament

 

It’s always claimed that the annulment of her first marriage had to take place hastily so that she could marry the father of her unborn child. But the dates above suggest she was no longer married to Pembroke when she was seduced by Holand, who was fervently in love with her. And, presumably, she with him.

How did this widespread story of marital infidelity and hasty remarriage come about? Because she was still called the Countess of Pembroke, and assumptions were made that she was still married to Pembroke? Or because the sources I have quoted above are wrong? Should I ignore the dates that contradict the salacious traditional tale of adultery and a “shotgun wedding”?

Being a Ricardian, I am always mistrustful of “traditional” tales….

PS: There is also a very strong suggestion that Sir John Holand was the father of Richard of Conisbrough. father of Richard, 3rd Duke of York…and thus the grandfather of Edward IV and Richard III. Sir John is believed to have had an affair with Richard of Conisbrough’s mother, Isabella, Duchess of York, wife of Edmund of Langley. No one knows for sure, of course, but Edmund of Langley left Richard of Conisbrough out of his will, and it was down to Isabella to do all she could to protect her son. It does indeed smack of Richard of Conisbrough not being York’s offspring. Good Sir John Holand certainly seems to have left his mark on history!

He was reputedly very tall and handsome…might this be why Edward IV was too? Just a thought.

 

 

Edmund Mortimer 5th Earl of March

Edmund Mortimer, later 5th Earl of March, was born on 6 November 1391. His parents were Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (1374-1398) and his wife, the well-connected Alianore Holland, daughter of Thomas Earl of Kent. In the view of many people, including the Westminster Chronicler, and the Welsh poet Iolo Goch (c1320-1398) Earl Roger was the rightful heir to King Richard II. Under current inheritance doctrine he certainly would be, but it was far less clear at the time. Ian Mortimer believes – on the basis of reasonably compelling evidence – that Richard selected his uncle, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York to succeed him. In the event, of course, Richard was succeeded by his Lancastrian cousin, Henry IV. Whether this would have happened so smoothly had Earl Roger not died the previous year is a moot point.

After Earl Roger’s death, Countess Alianore received a dower valued at £1,242 a year (the rough equivalent of the minimum income for two earldoms!) and the remainder of the Mortimer lands were partitioned in wardship between the dukes of Aumale (Edward of York), Exeter (John Holland) and Surrey (Thomas Holland) and the Earl of Wiltshire. This arrangement did not last long due to fall of Richard II and the consequent deaths of Exeter, Surrey and Wiltshire. Countess Alianore was allowed the custody of her daughters, but her sons, Earl Edmund and his brother, Roger, were kept in King Henry’s hands under the charge of Sir Hugh Waterton, a Yorkshireman of Henry’s extensive following.

It is certain that not everyone in England accepted Henry IV’s dubious title to the throne. Among those who did not was the King’s own cousin, Constance of York, Lady Despenser, who contrived to extract the boys from Windsor Castle in the middle of a February night 1405. Her intention was apparently to take them to Owain Glyndwr in Wales, their uncle, Sir Edmund Mortimer, having already defected to Glyndwr after Henry’s failure to ransom him. The fugitives were recaptured near Cheltenham; had they managed the few extra miles to the other side of the Severn, English and Welsh history might have been different. It was only after the failure of Constance’s plot that Glyndwr, Edmund Mortimer and Northumberland came up with the Tripartite Indenture, a scheme to divide England between them; a proposal which probably cost them at least as many supporters as it gained.

Meanwhile, the young Earl of March and his brother were transferred to Pevensey Castle, where for a few months they were joined by Constance’s brother, Edward, Duke of York (the erstwhile Aumale) who was imprisoned for his part in her scheme. In February 1409 the two boys were transferred to the household of Henry, Prince of Wales, the future Henry V. The fall of Harlech Castle, Glyndwr’s last stronghold, and the death in the siege of their uncle, meant that the Mortimers were now much less of a political threat. The Prince of Wales was also given the custody of a large portion of the Mortimer lands.

Soon after Henry V’s accession, March was given livery of his lands, as he was now of age. He chose to marry Anne Stafford, daughter of that Earl of Stafford who was killed at Shrewsbury (1403) and granddaughter of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. Henry V imposed a massive marriage fine of 10,000 marks. Now to be quite clear, Henry was entitled to levy the fine, but the amount was wholly excessive and unreasonable. In another king it would be called tyrannical. To make matters worse, to meet the cost of following Henry to France and service his own large debts, March was obliged, in 1415, to mortgage a large part of his Welsh lands plus no fewer than 45 English manors. He was never able to restore himself to solvency, and the burden was eventually passed on to his successor. It should be borne in mind that the Welsh lands had been devastated during the Glyndwr rising, and much reduced in value, while the whole inheritance had suffered some 17 years of wardship, during which a degree of asset-stripping was almost inevitable.

In the circumstances, it is not wholly surprising that March was drawn into the Southampton Plot led by his former brother-in-law, Richard of York, Earl of Cambridge. The exact nature of that plot is still a mystery to historians. It was certainly aimed at Henry V, but not necessarily at killing the King or overthrowing his government. Whatever the ultimate intentions of the conspirators, their ideas seem only to have been half-formed when March, perhaps in a panic, decided to betray them to the King.

By doing so March saved his own life, but made it unlikely that anyone would trust him ever again, He obtained a royal pardon for all treasons and other offences and went to France with Henry, only to be invalided back from Harfleur. It is likely that he contracted dysentery. Between 1416 and 1422 he was involved in other military actions in France without any obvious advantage either to his fortunes or his reputation. Henry gave him no share in the lands conquered in Normandy.

After Henry’s death March served on the Council but soon attracted the hostility of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who in 1424 claimed that March was keeping too great a household and offering too much in the way of hospitality. The activities of March’s kinsman, Sir John Mortimer, who escaped from the Tower twice before being executed in 1424, cannot have helped his case.

In May 1424 March was made Lieutenant of Ireland, and effectively banished there. His term of office did not in fact last long, as like his father he died in the Emerald Isle. In Edmund’s case, on 18th January 1425. His marriage was childless, but his widow went on to have children with her second husband.

The effect of this was (since Edmund’s brother had died some years earlier) that the vast Mortimer estates passed to his nephew, Richard, Duke of York. Without this “merger” – so to speak – it is most unlikely that the House of York would ever have had sufficient landed clout to put itself on the throne. It is worth mentioning that this was also the cause of the white rose badge transferring to York. Previously it had been a Mortimer symbol.

Sources:

Henry V and the Southampton Plot, T.B. Pugh.

Complete Peerage (March)

The Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer.

1415, Ian Mortimer.

Frustrated Falcons, Brian Wainwright.

 

 

 

 

 

An angelic Tudor mystery in Devon….

The great hall at Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon, is a magnificent example of 14th-century architecture, but there is a little oddity that not everyone will notice. It concerns the supporting figures on the corbels supporting the five-bay hammerbeam timber roof.

The figures are angels holding the heraldic shields of the families that have owned the Hall. The lord who built the hall in the 14th century was John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, Duke of Exeter. He was the younger of Richard II’s two half-brothers, and his angel is displayed on the left above. All the other angels (bar one), are the same, including those of Margaret Beaufort, who owned the Hall from 1487-1509, but is not thought to have ever visited it. The estate then reverted to the Crown.

Sir Arthur Champernowne gained possession of Dartington Hall in 1554 (he exchanged other properties with Thomas Aylworth, Lord of Dartington) and his descendants owned the property until 1925, by which time it was derelict. The Champernownes were of Anglo-Norman descent, and influential, especially in the West Country.

Now for the oddity. At some point, perhaps under the auspices of Sir Arthur, one of the angels in the great hall was altered. It is on the north side of the roof, and yes, like its fellows, it displays a coat-of-arms (that of the Champernownes) but the figure holding the shield is no longer an angel. Instead it has been changed into a Tudor serving man, with his wings severely chopped. (See illustration on above right.) Now, I am not the one claiming the figure is a Tudor servant, it is described as such by Anthony Emery, who has written a large work on Dartington Hall.

Why has this angel been changed? Emery states that the Champernownes cut back this corbel, but gives no reason. Was it an attempt by Sir Arthur to show that he was a loyal servant of the Tudors? I cannot think of any other reason. Can you?

What goes around, comes around….

sir-john-holand-tournament

In January 1400, after the failure of the Epiphany Rising that was intended to remove Henry IV from the throne and restore Richard II, John Holand, Earl of Huntingdon, the younger of Richard’s half-brothers, fled from London. The weather was foul, and time and again his vessel was driven ashore. Eventually he gave up, and took to the land again in Essex. To shorten the story, he was captured and summarily beheaded by his enemies at Pleshey.

As I’ve said, Holand was Richard II’s half-brother, but he was also Henry IV’s brother-in-law. He chose to stand by his blood kinsman, and it cost him his life. Holand was not an angel, but he was a renowned tournament knight, a great showman in the lists, and always put on a star-quality performance. Other knights on the famous tournament ‘circuit’ knew he was a force to be reckoned with. He always delivered the goods as far as his audience was concerned, and must have been quite something to watch, so how very sad the shabby fate he was to meet that New Year in Essex.

The thing is…what is the January weather like in Essex today? Well, Holand might have recognised it, what with high winds, floods, storm surge warnings and the like. It seems that all these centuries later, when it comes to weather, nothing much has changed in that neck of the woods. It was vulnerable then, and still is.

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