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Talbot Country

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

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The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth

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

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

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

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

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

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

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

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The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who did Anne Mowbray take after….?

GENEALOGICAL TREE

What is one of the first things we say on seeing a new baby? Something along the lines of how much the new arrival takes after his/her father/mother/uncle/aunt/grandfather etc. etc. For those of us with a great interest in history, it is almost irresistible to compare various historical figures in the same way. For instance, we think of Edward IV, 6’ 4”, handsome, glamorous and so on. Then we think of his grandson, Henry VIII, who was much the same. And the looks of both deteriorated abysmally as they aged. Birds of a feather.

Edward IV and Henry VIII

Edward IV and Henry VIII

I won’t even mention Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who were completely interchangeable!

Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort

The very proper Lady Eleanor Talbot was a well-connected widow for whom it seems the young King Edward IV fell so heavily that he was prepared to promise marriage in order to get her into his bed. It was the only way he’d have his wicked way. But when he consummated this promise, he made it a marriage in fact. Edward must have thought he had this inconvenience covered. His vows with Eleanor were exchanged in secret, and the whole clandestine marriage was kept under wraps afterward. Then he fell for another attractive widow, Elizabeth Woodville, who, the legend goes, waylaid him on the highway, wearing black, her arms around her fatherless sons. She would not give him what he wanted either, unless he married her. Aha,  the incorrigible Edward no doubt thought, I’ll pull the same trick as before. This time, however, he chose the wrong lady. Elizabeth Woodville and her large family were a whole new ball game, as the saying goes.

Elizabeth Woodville waylays Edward IV

Edward came clean about this dubious marriage, probably to spite the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker). Eleanor, the injured wife, said nothing, even though she lived on for four years after this unlawful second marriage. Elizabeth Woodville was never any more than Edward’s mistress, and all her children by him were illegitimate. The rest, they say, became England’s history.

I was asked to take two portraits—apparently reliable likenesses created by modern science—of two particular medieval ladies, Eleanor Talbot and her niece, Anne Mowbray (see The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, figs. 5-6)—to see if such a swap-over brought out any family likeness. Well, this particular tweaking was beyond my capabilities because the angles of the faces were too different. So my next thought was to see if these ladies bore any likeness to other members of their families. By examining their families, I mean parents and grandparents. If I try to go further, far too many of England’s aristocratic lines will be drawn into the equation. And what with there being so many remarriages and half-families, it can very quickly get out of hand.

I am very conscious, too, that all of these people can only be assessed from contemporary descriptions, tomb effigies, portraits or drawings. The first portrait of a king of England that is known to be a true likeness, is that of Richard II in Westminster Abbey. We know it’s accurate because he wanted it to be, and approved the result, complete with those strange, heavy-lidded eyes. Richard’s tomb effigy is therefore accurate as well, because the same features are there.

Richard II

The Westminster Abbey effigy of his grandfather, Edward III, was clearly taken from a death mask, and shows his mouth with the droop that indicates a stroke. Accuracy, it seems. But what of Edward III’s eldest son, Richard II’s father, Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince? Well, we have his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral, but it seems stylised. . .except, perhaps for the same heavy-lidded eyes? Or am I seeing something that isn’t actually there? Edward III does not seem to have resembled his grandson at all.

Edward III and the Black Prince

Edward III and Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince

But these are royalty, with a capital R. Just how much accuracy was involved amid the nobility in general is impossible to assess. However, being a game lass, I’m prepared to have a go at detecting the all-important family likeness when it comes to Eleanor and Anne Mowbray, and Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor’s full sister and Anne’s mother.

Elizabeth, Eleanor and Anne

left to right: Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor Talbot and Anne Mowbray

Let us discuss what is known of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s appearance. Eleanor appears to have been striking, with a large nose, longish face, slanting eyes and small chin. She has been given almost black hair and eyebrows. To me, Elizabeth has the same shape of face as Eleanor. Her portrait is from a medieval stained glass window, but there is, of course, no way of knowing if the creator of that window was attempting to produce a true likeness. The long face appears in turn to have been inherited from their father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. His tomb effigy, although damaged, seems to depict the same facial structure as Eleanor and Elizabeth. The only thing that can be said is (provided the effigy is meant to be accurate) he had a long face and fairly strong chin. Unless, of course, the chin is actually meant to be a small beard. I cannot tell, having only seen photographs.

The Tomb of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury

One thing we do know about him is that he had dark, almost black hair. Here are three other likenesses of him that show this, albeit his hairstyle being that awful crop worn so unflatteringly by Henry V. By the time of John Talbot’s death, his hair was long again, or so his effigy suggests. Of the three images, the two smaller ones show the long face. The large one does not. Two out of three? I’ll go with the long face.

Three images of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury

Subsequent Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury were of the half-blood to Eleanor and Elizabeth, descending from their father’s first marriage. Trying to work out which illustrations are of these earls, or more of the 1st earl, has proved most unsatisfactory. I thought I’d found the 2nd and 3rd earls, only to discover the same illustrations elsewhere claiming to be of the first John Talbot. So I left well alone, and stuck to likenesses that I know are of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s father, the 1st earl.

All in all, I feel it very likely that Eleanor—and maybe Elizabeth too— had John Talbot’s dark hair. Not necessarily, of course. My mother had very dark hair, and my father was blond. I am blonde. And Lady Anne Mowbray had red hair. Where did that come from? Eleanor and Elizabeth’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp? Or her own father, John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk? Or somewhere else entirely, after all she had Plantagenet blood too. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a reliable likeness of Margaret, but There is one source that shows us almost certainly the appearance of Margaret’s father, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick. I refer to his amazing chapel at St Mary’s in Warwick.

Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick - his tomb in Warwick

So, was he a prime example of the Beauchamps in general? Did they even have a “look”? Maybe they were all different. In his tomb effigy, we see him with that dreadful cropped hairstyle (albeit with curls) made famous by the best known portrait of Henry V. In Beauchamp’s case it’s hard to tell if it’s the cut that gives him a high, wide forehead, or if he did indeed have a high, wide forehead. His chin is small, his mouth thin and straight, and his nose small and pointed, but he too has rather heavy-lidded eyes. Or so they seem to me. And what colour was his hair? Red, perhaps? If there is a likeness between the 13th Earl of Warwick and little Anne Mowbray, it seems unlikely that her looks have anything to do with her Talbot or Mowbray blood, but come from her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp. Yet who knows? The case is unproven.

mourners around Richard Beauchamp's tomb

Some of the mourners that surround Richard Beauchamp’s tomb

Warwick married twice, and Margaret Beauchamp was the offspring of his first wife, Elizabeth Berkeley. What was she like? Hard to say. There are a number of mourners depicted on Warwick’s tomb, little figures swathed in robes. Is Elizabeth Berkeley one of them? They are not named, except for two, one being Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and the other his sister. Both were the children of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury. She was the wife of Richard Beauchamp’s son and heir, Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, whose early death brought greats riches and titles to her brother, the Kingmaker, who was married to Richard Beauchamp’s only other child, Anne Beauchamp.

Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and his wife, Cecily. Mourners on the tomb of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick

Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, and his sister Cecily Neville, who became Duchess of Warwick.

Anne was the only child of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and on his unexpected and early death, she became a great heiress. Was it from him, not Richard Beauchamp (or both) that she gained her red hair? I cannot find a portrait of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, but this is a representation of another John Mowbray (the 2nd Duke) that seems fairly reliable as being him. It is from Doyle’s ‘Official Baronage,’ after an engraving by W. Hollar, from a window in St. Mary’s Hall, Coventry. There is no way of knowing if he typifies the Mowbray “look”, and I do not detect him in Anne’s likeness.

John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Anne attracted the avaricious interest of Edward IV, who had had been her aunt’s husband. Eleanor Talbot had passed away in 1468, a few years before Anne’s birth. Edward IV decided to snap Anne up for his younger son, Richard, Duke of York (who would became one of the so-called “Princes in the Tower”. Both were still small children when they became husband and wife. She died shortly afterward, and Edward IV held on to her entire inheritance for her widower, Richard. The following illustration is imagined, of course!

marriage anne mowbray and richard duke of york

Her Plantagenet kin are well-known to us all, of course, and I can’t say I look at her and think of any of them.  In the picture below, one of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV and Richard III. I do not see any of these ladies as resembling Anne Mowbray. But then maybe these likenesses are run-of-the-mill, not serious attempts at portraits.

One of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville.

The next illustration is of Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley, who was Eleanor and Elizabeth’s maternal grandfather. His nose looks rather obviously repaired (invented, even) so his looks cannot really be assessed. He and Lord Lisle, one of the Talbots, were at each other’s throats for a long time, until he finally defeated and killed Lisle at the Battle of Nibley Green on 20th March 1469/70. Incidentally, Lisle was the brother of Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his tomb effigy looks like a carbon copy of the Black Prince’s at Canterbury.

left, Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley,, and, right, John Talbot, 1st Lord Lisle

left, Sir Thomas Berkeley, and right, John Talbot, 1st Lord Lisle

Below is a drawing from the tomb of Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex, who was the son of William Bourchier, 1st Count of Eu and Anne of Gloucester. He was, therefore, Anne Mowbray’s great-uncle (I think!) Again, if there is a likeness that has passed down to Anne, I cannot perceive it.

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Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex

So here is my conclusion. If there is a resemblance between Anne Mowbray and her aunt Eleanor, it is not evident to me. They do not seem in the least alike. Eleanor and her sister Elizabeth are Talbots through and through. Little Anne Mowbray is not a Mowbray or a Talbot, but a Beauchamp. I see a definite resemblance to her maternal great-grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.

I see no likeness between Richard Beauchamp and his granddaughters, Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his echo surely sounds strongly in little Anne. In Richard and his great-granddaughter I see the same high, wide forehead, small nose and chin, and general similarity, albeit between adult male and female child.

Anne Mowbray and her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick

I anticipate that many who read this will disagree with my assessment, and I look forward to seeing comments. There will be no argument from me, because I know it all has to be conjecture.

 

 

 

Another helping of SHW

 

BLOOD OF ROSES (A Novella of Edward IV’s Victory at Towton)

Richard, Duke of York and his second son Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield at the bitter end of  1460. Within weeks, the Duke’s eldest son Edward was on the road with a mighty army, seeking revenge–and a crown.

The novella BLOOD OF  ROSES by J.P. Reedman covers the period  from the Duke’s death to Edward’s Coronation on June 28 1461. Edward’s early battles are curiously sidelined  in most fiction, despite their importance, while his amorous pursuits often seem to take the fore! This ‘slice of life’ fiction book tries to redress that balance slightly.

In February 1461 Edward fought the first of his battles for the throne at Mortimer’s Cross, where the parhelion, the Three Suns, appeared  in the sky. Edward sensed the fear and doubt growing in his men at the sight of this phenomena, and, aged only 18, showed great cleverness in convincing them it was a GOOD omen–the sign of the Holy Trinity. The battle went decively for the Yorkists, with Jasper Tudor’s father Owen being executed in Hereford’s town square. Legend says a deranged lady took his head and sat on the market cross crooning to it as she brushed its hair…

With Edward were the Croft family of Croft Castle, which is on the Welsh borders. This is the family made famous by the letter sent from Ludlow to the Duke of York by his young sons, Edward and Edmund, asking for bonnets and other items. At first reading, one section of the letter seems to  be against bullying behaviour by the Croft sons, who were also at Ludlow, but is in fact, on second reading,  against the ‘odious and demeaning’ treatment of them, a fact recently noted by Dr John Ashdown-Hill. Richard Croft went on to serve Edward IV (so clearly no  friction there!), then Richard III and Henry Tudor.

Mortimer’s Cross was a great victory but there was then a distinct setback when the Earl of Warwick was defeated by the Lancastrians at St Albans, and King Henry, until then a Yorkist prisoner, taken  to rejoin his wife, Margaret of Anjou. Nonetheless, Edward entered London and was proclaimed king, although he sworehe would not wear the crown until he had defeated his enemies utterly. Gathering his army, he began a hard march north.

At Ferrybridge, the Lancastrians attacked the Yorkists over the damaged bridge crossing the Aire, in a night-raid led by Lord Clifford, the presumed murderer of Edmund of Rutland, who had appeared suddenly with his ‘chosen’ men, the Flower of Craven. At first the Yorkists were thrown into disarray, with Lord Fitzwalter being hewn down the moment he stepped from his tent to see what the commotion outside was about. Luckily, William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, the most experienced commander of the Yorkist host, took the lead and crossed near Castleford to attack the Lancastrian flank. Fauconberg was a small-framed man, often described as ‘little Fauconberg’ who had a long military career, having served in France, including at the famous Siege of Orleans. He was an uncle of Edward, being the third son of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and his wife Joan Beaufort (Edward’s maternal grandparents.) Fauconberg  made short work of Clifford’s Flower of Craven, and Clifford himself was killed, mostly like by an arrow when removing his gorget.

Then the Yorkist army pushed on to Towton, fought on Palm Sunday and in a fierce snowstorm. Some have questioned the possibility of a  snowstorm that late in the year, but looking at our recent March weather, it is not impossible at all that there was indeed heavy snow! The bad weather was advantageous to the Yorkists, with the worst of the weather being at their backs and driving into the faces of their enemies. The Lancastrian archers were at a distinct disadvantage with the strong wind blowing their arrows astray.

The battle was hard fought, nevertheless, as the Lancastrian forces far outnumbered those of the Yorkists. However, when the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent arrived, led by John Howard, the battle finally turned in Edward’s favour. A rout ensued and the battlefield became a killing field. The waters of nearby Cock Beck ran red with blood and filled with bodies. The area was afterwards called Bloody Meadow.

It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English’s soil, with figures as high as 28,000 stated for the casualties. Even given the exaggeration of the chroniclers of the day, it was undoubtedly a huge amount of slain. In recent years some of the remains of the fallen have been recovered, mostly around Towton Hall, where archaeologists recently found the remains of Richard III’s chapel to the fallen soldiers subsumed into the inner fabric of the hall. The skeletons recovered showed the terrifying brutality of medieval warfare–shattered skulls, slashing injuries, facial mutilation, slicing marks that may have been the removal of ears…

Chivalry died a death upon this field of blood. But England had a new king–Edward of York, the Sunne in Splendour.

BLOOD OF ROSES IS AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PRINT FROM AMAZON

BLOOD OF ROSES

 

ANNE MOWBRAY – DUCHESS OF NORFOLK – HER REBURIAL IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY

 

some of the original tabernacle work of the alter.jpg

St Erasmus in Bishops Islip’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey by Joseph Mallord William Turner c.1796.  The  original chapel of St Erasmus, built by Elizabeth Wydeville,  was the site of Anne Mowbray’s first burial and after recovery of her coffin she was reburied in the rebuilt Chapel.  

Anne Mowbray, Duchess of Norfolk, was born in Framlingham Castle, Suffolk on Thursday 10 December 1472.  John Paston wrote ‘On Thursday by 10 of the clock before noon my young lady was christened and named Anne’ (1).  Anne died, just 8 years later and a few weeks short of her 9th birthday at Greenwich Palace,one of  her mother-in-law’s,  Elizabeth Wydeville,  favourite homes,  on the 19 November 1481, where presumably she was being raised.   Anne was the sole heiress of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who died suddenly on the 14 January 1476 when Anne was three years old.  This left her as one of the most sought after heiresses of the time and ‘ten days later it was known that Edward lV was seeking her as a bride for his younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York'(2).   Agreement was eventually reached between King Edward and Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot, the Duchess of Norfolk that the Duchess, with the Duchess agreeing ‘to forego a great part of her jointure and dower lands in favour of her daughter and little son-in-law, Richard, Duke of York.  This act settled also settled the Norfolk lands and titles on the Duke of York and his heirs should Anne Mowbray predeceased him leaving no heirs’ (3) which is precisely what transpired.  Nothing has survived of Elizabeth Mowbray’s personal thoughts on this.   The children were eventually married on the 15 January 1478 in St Stephens Chapel, Westminster, with the bridegroom’s uncle-in-law, Richard Duke of Gloucester leading her by the hand  and Anne is perhaps best known for being the child bride of one of the ‘princes’ in the Tower.

FullSizeRender 2.jpgFramlingham Castle, Suffolk.  Home to the Mowbrays and where Anne Mowbray was born Thursday 10 December 1472.  

Her father-in-law sent three barges to escort her body back to Westminster, where she lay in state in the Jerusalem Chamber before being buried in the Chapel of St Erasmus in Westminster Abbey which had been built recently by Elizabeth Wydeville, the funeral costs amounting to £215.16s.10d.  This chapel was pulled down in 1502 to make way for a new Lady Chapel built by Henry Vll.  When the chapel was demolished Anne’s coffin was removed to the convent of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate, where her mother,  Elizabeth Mowbray, in the interim,  had retired to.   It was believed that Anne had been reburied, along with others in the new chapel, dedicated to St Erasmus by Abbot Islip who had managed to rescue the Tabernacle from the old chapel and set it up in the new chapel which is now known as the Chapel of our Lady of the Pew.

It is intriguing to remember that Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot was the sister to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.   So ironically Anne’s aunt, Eleanor, was her father-in-law’s true wife, the irony of which surely would not have been wasted on King Edward unless he was suffering from selective amnesia!  Her mother’s privy thoughts on this matter, assuming Eleanor had told of her secret marriage to Edward,  are unrecorded as are her thoughts on the ‘unjust and unacceptable'(4)  division of the Mowbray inheritance.  The explanation of this rather unsavoury treatment of the Mowbray inheritance is rather complex and I wont go into it here suffice to say anyone interested in finding out more should read Anne Crawford’s article, The Mowbray Inheritance (5) which covers the matter more than adequately.

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Elizabeth Mowbray nee Talbot.  Her portait from the donor windows in Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk.

Anne, the nature of her final illness eludes us, would no doubt have gently receded and become forgotten in the mists of time had not her coffin been discovered by workmen on the 11 December 1964  and she was propelled into front page news leading to her descendant, an outraged Lord Mowbray, protesting in the strongest possible terms about the treatment of her remains.  This quickly led to the matter being swiftly resolved, and Anne’s remains, surrounded by white roses, were once again laid in state in the Jerusalem Chamber, as they had been nearly 500 years previously.  Anne was reburied in the Chapel of St Erasmus, with erroneous and histrionic reports stating that she had been interred ‘as near as possible’ to the remains of her young husband, Richard, whose purported remains lay in the infamous urn in the Henry Vll Chapel.  Later Lawrence Tanner, Keeper of the Muniments and Librarian of Westminster Abbey (and in a position to know) was to debunk this myth writing that he, himself, had suggested that Anne’s remains be reinterred ‘very near to the probable site of her original burial place’ which was what duly happened(6).

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Anne’s lead coffin with latin inscription, with her ‘masses of brown hair’.

So what happened from the time of the discovery of Anne’s lead coffin to her reburial in the Abbey?  The story is taken up by Bernard Barrell, a former member of the Metroplitan Police, who was now an ‘unofficial police contact’ whenever a coffin was unearthed in the area.  According to Mr Barrell, in December 1964 workmen using a digging machine opened up a deep void in the ground revealing a brick vault filled with rubble, wherein they found a small lead coffin.  A police constable being called to the scene the coffin was transferred to Leman street Police station.  When Mr Barrel was called to the police station he was able to identify where the coffin had been discovered as the site of the former convent and was medieval in date.  After satisfying the Coroners office that the burial was medieval and of archaeological interest he was instructed that if  he was ‘unable to dispose of the coffin to a bona fide claimant’ within 24 hours it would be buried in a common grave in the City of London Cemetery, Manor Park.  In the nick of time Mr Barrell noticed a plate attached the upper surface of the coffin which had been damaged when removed from the ground and stood upright.  On cleaning the plate with a wet cloth, Mr Barrell revealed a medieval ‘black letter’ text in Latin which was difficult to decipher however he could make out two words ‘Filia Rex’ (Son of the king).  Realising this was no ordinary burial but that of someone of high station a medieval latin scholar was summoned to the station who deciphered the whole text. The coffin was then taken by police van to the museum of London, where the remains were examined, the coffin conserved and repaired. (7)

Lawrence Tanner then takes the story over.

‘I saw the body a few days after the coffin had been opened and a very distressing sight it was and after again, after it had been cleaned and beautifully laid out in its lead coffin.  She had masses of brown hair’.  Tanner as already explained, suggested that a grave be made as near to where she was previously buried.  And ‘There on a summer evening, after having laid in state covered by the Abbey Pall in the Jerusalem Chamber, the body of the child duchess was laid to rest.  It was a deeply moving and impressive little service in the presence of a representative of the Queen, Lady and Lord Mowbray, Segrave and Stourton (representing Anne’s family),  the Home secretary, the Director of the London Museum and one or two others (8)

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Anne’s lead coffin surrounded by white flowers and candles, lying in state in  the Jerusalem Chamber, on the Westminster Pall.

And so, on the 31 May 1965,  Anne was reburied in an honourable place, with tenderness, love and care.  It has been said that her coffin,  at the Minories,  had been forgotten and the intention was for her to be reburied when the new chapel was completed.  But I’m unconvinced.  Although as far as I can ascertain it was never mentioned in Elizabeth Talbot’s will, only that she be buried near to Anne Montgomery,   I believe that the widowed Duchess of Norfolk, then living in retirement at the convent, requested that Anne, her little daughter be returned to her,  finally,  with the intention  that when her time came,  she would be buried near to her  daughter.  John Ashdown-Hill has written that ‘The remains of Elizabeth Talbot,  Duchess of Norfolk, must have been lying quite close to those of her daughter…they were apparently not noticed, or any rate, not identified when Anne’s body was found’ (9)

The epitaph on the coffin may be translated as Here lies Anne, Duchess of York, daughter and heiress of John,late Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, Earl of Nottingham and Warenne, Marshal of England, Lord of Mowbray, Segrave and Gower.  Late wife of Richard Duke of York, second son of the most illustrious Prince Edward the Fourth, King of England and France, and Lord of Ireland, who died at Greenwich on the 19th day of November in the year of Our Lord 1481 and the 21st year of the said Lord King”.

  1. Philomena Jones, Anne Mowbray, Richard lll Crown and People p.86
  2. Ibid p.86
  3. Ibid p.88
  4. Anne Crawford The Mowbray Inheritance, Richard lll Crown and people p.81
  5. ibid p.81
  6. Lawrence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary p192
  7. Charles W Spurgeon The Poetry of Westminster Abbey p.207, 208, 209
  8. Lawrence Tanner, Recollections of a Westminster Antiquary, p192.
  9. John Ashdown-Hill The Secret Queen Eleanor Talbot The Woman Who Put Richard lll on the Throne p.248

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward IV – no pussycat!

I find it – interesting, shall we say – that some people are so keen to hate Richard III that they tend to play down the fact that his brother, Edward IV, was at least as ruthless, if not more so. This does no service to Edward, who in some narratives seems to be a virtual cipher in the hands of Evil Richard. Edward was no man’s puppet, as a certain Earl of Warwick discovered to his cost.

Some examples of Edward IV’s ruthlessness:

Dragging the Lancastrian leaders out of the sanctuary of Tewkesbury Abbey and having them beheaded. (Oh, sorry, that was Richard, wasn’t it? Edward wanted to let them off with a warning.)

Murdering the anointed king, Henry VI, who was a harmless simpleton. (Oh, sorry, that was Richard again wasn’t it? Silly me. Edward was planning to send Henry to a comfortable retirement home in Bognor Regis.)

Pinching various families lands for the benefit of his own family. (Oh, there I go again! It was Richard who wanted the Countess of Warwick’s land split between Clarence and himself, and I’m sure that, for nefarious reasons of his own, he was behind the grabbing of the Holland (Exeter) and Mowbray inheritances as well, even though these benefited the Woodvilles.) By the way, the last King of England before Edward to do significant land grabs was Richard II, and he gets torn to bits about it by historians.

Throwing the Duke of Exeter overboard. (Though it was probably either an accident or done by Richard.)

Murdering his own brother, Clarence. (Oh sorry, it was either a lawful execution and/or Richard did it anyway.)

Do you see a theme here? Whenever Edward does something ‘bad’, there’s always someone who pops up and puts at least some of the blame on Richard. One is tempted to misquote Charles II. ‘My words are my own, but my deeds are Richard’s.’

Anyway, here is one ruthless deed that no one has pinned on Richard yet. According to Speed, a citizen of Chepe was hanged for treason in Edward’s reign for saying he would make his son heir to the Crown. (He meant the Crown public house, but Edward wasn’t laughing.) Of course, this is an obvious lie. The execution must surely date from 1483-1485 as that sweet fellow Edward would never have done such a thing.

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

Treason and plots – a tale of 1468

Lady Eleanor Butler (born Talbot) probably knew that she was dying. In the early months of 1468, she transferred the lands that were hers to transfer to her sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk. Where these lands came from is something of a mystery. John Ashdown-Hill has demonstrated that they were not dower lands, could not have been inherited, and were almost certainly not bought by Lady Eleanor, as she lacked the resources. The most probable origin of this mysterious land is that it was a gift from Edward IV. As King Edward was not in the habit of gifting land to random females this is suggestive of a connection between them. Of course, some people have pointed out that the land was not particularly valuable. Oh, well that makes it OK then! The point is that land –  even small amounts of it – was not just handed out for no reason. No one has satisfactorily explained where the land came from if it did not come from the King.

Anyway, no sooner was this sorted than King Edward appointed Duchess Elizabeth to go to Burgundy with his sister, Margaret of York, on the occasion of the latter’s wedding. This involved the Duchess being in charge of the whole female side of things – no mean responsibility when around one hundred women and girls were attached to Margaret’s train. The reason for Elizabeth’s selection was probably that she was the most senior English lady who was not either a member of the royal house or a Woodville, or both. It may also have been intended as a mark of favour to her husband, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who, although apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long way, was at least a loyal Yorkist.

So off they popped to sunny Burgundy, to the celebration and pageantry that John Paston felt there were no words to describe. Elizabeth’s brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot, went with her. The unfortunate Eleanor was left behind in Norfolk to die without any of her birth family around her, although one would like to think that Norfolk himself visited with the occasional bunch of flowers. She was buried in the house of the White Carmelites at Norwich.

Elizabeth had scarcely set foot back in England (round about July 1468) when two of her servants John Poynings and Richard Alford, were charged with having treasonable dealings with the agents of the Lancastrians in Kouer-La-Petite. Brought to trial, they were found guilty and were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Now, as I mentioned above, Elizabeth’s husband, Norfolk, was a loyal Yorkist. So why should his servants have been suspected of intrigue with the Lancastrians? It makes no obvious sense. Elizabeth herself – though one of the most charming individuals to appear in the Paston Letters – was in no position to do anything of significance for the Lancastrian cause even if she was that way inclined. She did not control her husband’s retainers, or his castles, or anything helpful.

One of the Lancastrian exiles present in Flanders was, however, Somerset, Elizabeth’s first cousin, and brother to her good friend Lady Anne Paston. It is possible that she sought to pass on family news to him – but if this is the explanation, the treatment of her servants was extremely severe.

So was this a shot across the bows, to warn Elizabeth to keep her mouth shut about – certain matters? Who knows.

What can be said is that on 8 December 1468 the Duchess took out a pardon for all offences before 7 December. It is quite unusual for a married woman to take out a pardon without the inclusion of her husband. In civil matters she had no separate legal standing, she was under coverture. It may simply have been an insurance for any errors or omissions committed while serving in the office of Margaret’s Principal Lady-in-Waiting. There was, after all, potentially a lot to go wrong, jewels to go missing, whatever. But it could also indicate something more sinister.

On 28 January 1469, the Duchess’ brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot also received a general pardon.

It looks to me as if in the autumn/early winter of 1468, Elizabeth and Humphrey were under royal suspicion for something. The question is, was it something they did, or something they knew?

 

 

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