Today marks the anniversary of the death in 1402 of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, an undervalued and almost forgotten prince. Edmund deserves his place in history. Without him the House of York itself would never have existed, and its later members, who everyone finds so interesting, would never have been born.
It is worth remembering that Edmund had little in the way of landed property. Much of his income came from exchequer grants. Now, I am not suggesting he would have been better off as a brewer, or a pig farmer, but by the standards of 14th Century dukes he was virtually a pauper. (His son-in-law, Thomas Despenser, not even an earl until 1397, had a larger landed income.) Even if he had been a political genius, Edmund could never have matched his brother, John of Gaunt, in terms of impact. To be blunt, Gaunt had thousands of swords at his back, and Edmund had not. Indeed, in a world where Lancaster livery was all but ubiquitous, York’s retainers were few and far between.
It has been suggested that Edmund preferred hunting and hawking to politics. I am not sure this would necessarily be a bad thing if true, but the reality is that he was a frequent attender of Councils and witness of Charters, certainly in the second half of Richard II’s reign. His influence may have been quiet, but not necessarily absent altogether.
Nor was he lacking in spirit. At the time of the Merciless Parliament he quarreled with his other brother, Gloucester, then all-powerful, over the fate of Sir Simon Burley. Not only was this done in the Lords’ Chamber, before all, but Edmund actually challenged his brother to mortal combat. That it came to nothing, and that Burley eventually was executed, does not negate Edmund’s courage in bringing matters to such a head.
In his later years, Edmund was high in the favour of Richard II, heaped with honours, and possibly (per Ian Mortimer) selected as Richard’s legal successor. When Richard left for Ireland in 1399, York – not for the first time – was left behind as Keeper of England, and he loyally mustered what men he could to resist the invasion of Henry Bolingbroke. It’s almost certain that he did so with a heavy heart, for like many other nobles, he believed Bolingbroke had been wronged.
Eventually pinned down at Berkeley Castle by Bolingbroke’s much larger force, York had little choice but to negotiate and effectively surrender. From then on – possibly because it was the only realistic path – he was a constant supporter of Bolingbroke up to and beyond his usurpation. Indeed, it has been argued that he was instrumental in establishing Henry as king.
Be that as it may, it appears that he then retired from court and front-line politics. He was not in the best of health and may well have wanted to live out his days in peace. He died on 1st August 1402, and was buried at King’s Langley, his birthplace. (His tomb survives, although moved from its original location.)
He fathered three children, all of whom had fascinating careers in their own way. They were all born to Isabelle of Castile, daughter of King Pedro “the Cruel” or “the Just”, his title depending on which version of history you prefer. After her death in 1392 he married Joanne Holland, the very young daughter of the Earl of Kent. Joanne was Richard II’s niece of the half-blood; by her marriage she became his aunt as well. Joanne outlived Edmund by many years, took three more husbands, but had no children by any of them.
In passing, I might mention that Edmund was the only one of his brothers never to marry an heiress, something which contributed to his relative poverty. His marriage to Isabelle was largely a matter of tying up loose ends for Gaunt, who had of course married her elder sister and claimed Castile on her behalf. There is no evidence that Edmund received any compensation in return.
THE TOMB THAT IT IS BELIEVED ANNE MORTIMER SHARES WITH HER IN-LAWS, EDMUND OF LANGLEY AND ISABELLA OF CASTILE…CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS, KINGS LANGLEY
Some time during the month of May 1408 , were married Richard III’s paternal grandparents, Anne Mortimer and Richard of Conisburgh. She was just 16 and he was in his 20s, it being thought that he could have been born circa 1375 but there is some uncertainty about this and it could have been later. It must have been a love match for it was without parental consent but validated by papal dispensation two years later on the 23 May. There was certainly no material gains from the marriage for either of them as Anne and her sister, Eleanor, were both living in straitened circumstances and being described as ‘destitute’ on the death of their mother.. Conisburgh was destined to suffer on going cash flow problems being described at the time as ‘the poorest of all the earls’ and struggling to maintain the lifestyle appropriate for his rank (1) when he was promoted to Earl of Cambridge in 1414.
Sadly the marriage was short-lived, Anne dying shortly after giving birth to Richard III’s father, Richard of York on the 22 September 1411 at Conisburgh Castle. The future was to bring about the execution of Conisburgh as a result of the Southampton plot in 1415 leaving their small son an orphan.
But I digress , and returning to Anne, it is believed that she was finally reburied once again with her paternal inlaws, Edmund of Langley and Isabella of Castile in All Saints Church, Kings Langley after their original burial place, Convent Chapel, Kings Langley fell into disrepair after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1877, this tomb and its contents were examined by Dr George Rolleston. In a third lead coffin was found the remains of a woman of ‘about’ 30 years old with some of her auburn hair still remaining. These are believed to have been the remains of Anne Mortimer.
Some of the remains of Kings Langley Palace, home to Edmund Langley, are thought to have been incorporated in this old farm building.
Here is a link to an interesting article on “Anne Mortimer, the forgotten Plantagenet”
1) Richard Duke of York, King by Right p35 Matthew Lewis.
Yet again the rumour about whether or not Edmund of Langley was the father of Richard of Conisburgh. The following article tells a fascinatingly true story of love, betrayal, treachery, revenge and just about everything else of that nature. How anyone cannot be riveted by 14th-15th century England, I really do not know.
The “official” version of Richard II’s death is straightforward. After his deposition he was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, and, following a rebellion of his followers in early January 1400, starved to death. The date of death is usually given as 14th February 1400. His body was subsequently taken by stages to London, being publicly exhibited (as is the tradition for deposed, dead kings in England) culminating in a final display in St Paul’s Cathedral prior to a relatively obscure burial at King’s Langley, Hertfordshire. However, rumours persisted that he was still alive, and the promise of his return was often, if not invariably, attached to the various conspiracies of Henry IV’s reign.
Although Richard’s body was displayed, only part of his face was actually visible, and he was presented on a high catafalque. This may have led to some suspicion that the corpse had been substituted as it would have been impossible for anyone to study the King’s features with any degree of thoroughness.
Richard II had a known “double”, his clerk, Richard Maudelyn, the son of no less a person than Hawise Maudelyn, sometime waiting-woman to Katherine Swynford, mistress and later third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The family resemblance suggests that Maudelyn’s father may well have been John of Gaunt himself, or perhaps one of the other royal uncles, and it is reasonable to assume that Maudelyn was at the least a cousin to Richard II, and maybe rather closer in blood to Henry IV.
Maudelyn was used by the January 1400 conspirators to impersonate Richard II in the hope of drawing out support. This suggests that the resemblance was at least strong enough to deceive country gentlemen and the like, if not people who knew Richard really well. Maudelyn was captured and executed by the usual method of hanging, drawing and quartering. It seems improbable that his body could have been used as a substitute for Richard’s, unless this was decided upon almost immediately and the remains embalmed. One might expect the bones of Maudelyn would show signs of his violent execution. As far as I am aware, no such signs were discovered when (what is presumed to be) Richard II’s body was examined in the 19th century.
The “Scottish Richard II” was found wandering about on the island of Islay, of all places. He was “recognised” by a woman who claimed that she had seen him while visiting Ireland the previous year, and following this was conveyed to the Scottish Court, where he lived out his life as a pensioner of the Scottish Crown.
Islay is a small and relatively remote island off the west coast of Scotland, nowdays best known for the production of the incomparable Laphroaig whisky. Assuming that Richard II escaped from Pontefract, is it likely that he would make his way to such an obscure place? Surprisingly, the answer is – yes, he might.
Richard saw himself primarily as emperor of the British Isles, and his complex diplomacy in the 1390s had as one of its principal objectives the detachment of Scotland from the Franco-Scottish alliance and its subordination to England. This proved impossible because of the attitude of the French, and the Scots were eventually included in the 28 year truce concluded in the autumn of 1396. However, as part of his diplomacy Richard had secured an alliance with the semi-independent Lord of the Isles, valuable in strategic terms for both his Scottish and Irish pretensions. (Since the Lord of the Isles came close to destroying the Scottish Crown’s forces at Harlaw, 1411, it seems likely that the Lord of the Isles plus England would have been able to complete the job!)
Therefore Richard had some reason to expect help in the Western Isles. That the supposed imposter should turn up there is surely significant.
The Grey Friars in England were persistent in spreading the rumour that Richard II was alive, and several were executed for their trouble. Several nobles are known to have received letters from “Richard II”, bearing one of his authentic seals, which had somehow been carried away to Scotland. And in 1403 the Percys – in effective alliance with Scotland – promised the men of Cheshire that Richard II would appear at their rendezvous at Sandiway, Cheshire. Needless to say he did not, and the Percys were defeated, but the rumours of his survival went on.
Bolingbroke claimed that the “Scottish Richard II” was one Thomas Warde of Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, and continued to execute those foolish enough to spread the word that Richard was alive. (It is not explained how Thomas Warde came to be on Islay.) As late as 1415 the Southampton Conspirators were still talking of bringing “Richard II” back from Scotland while in December 1417 Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, refused to recognise the authority of his judges “so long as his liege lord King Richard was alive in Scotland.”
Thomas Warde was a real person. His few acres of land in Trumpington were forfeited in 1408. However the evidence to prove he was the same individual as the Scottish Richard II no longer exists, if it ever existed in the first place.
It appears that the man responsible for many, if not all, of the rumours of Richard II’s survival was William Serle who had been a minor member of Richard’s household. When captured he admitted he had stolen Richard’s seal and forged a number of letters. Of course it entirely possible that this confession was extracted by torture so it is not necessarily conclusive. Bolingbroke, who was rarely generous to traitors unless they shared his blood, had Serle half-hanged several times in different locations before his eventual execution.
When the “Scottish Richard” died at Stirling in 1419 he was buried with full honours close to the High Altar of the Blackfriars. Whether he was the “real Richard” we shall probably never know, but it remains a fascinating possibility.
(Reblogged from English Historical Fiction Authors).