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Why did Richard III allow Elizabeth of York such liberty at his court….?

 

Medieval Court – detail of a 15th-century miniature. (Royal 16 F II, f. 1) British Library

Today, 10th August, is my birthday, and on this date in 1485, the last Yorkist king, Richard III, was in Nottingham preparing for the imminent invasion of his realm by his Lancastrian foe, Henry Tudor, who didn’t have much of a blood claim to the throne but touted himself as the last remaining heir of the House of Lancaster.

Published by John Player & Sons, after Unknown artist.
Colour relief halftone cigarette card, 1935

Richard hadn’t had an easy time since coming to the throne, in fact he’d been through some harrowing experiences. His only legitimate son, 10-year-old Prince of Wales, had died on 9th April 1483, closely followed in March 1485 by Richard’s much-loved queen, Anne Neville. He’d had to repel an earlier invasion by Tudor, which had been aborted at the last minute, and put down the Buckingham rebellion. He’d endured many unpleasant rumours about murdering his nephews, aged twelve and nine, and also of having incestuous/marital intentions toward his own niece.

Richard III, Queen Anne and their son, Edward, Prince of Wales from Rous Roll

All this on top of his eldest brother Edward IV’s sudden death in April 1483, the revelation that his, Edward’s, marriage had been bigamous and that consequently Richard himself was the rightful king. He and Anne were crowned on 6th July that same year. Now he was alone, a grieving widower and father, with another invasion imminent. Small wonder he took some time out at Nottingham to go hunting with friends at Bestwood (Beskwood, as it was called then) just north of the city.

from Livre de La Chasse by Gaston Phoebus

It was while there that he heard of Tudor’s landing in Wales, and therefore the battle was fast approaching. On 22nd August 1485 the two armies met at Bosworth, where treachery brought about Richard’s violent death. He was only thirty-two, and was killed while fighting mightily to get at Tudor himself. Perhaps Richard was glad to go, to be with his wife and son again in a better place.

Henry Tudor’s arrival at Mill Bay 7 August 1485, by Graham Turner

My purpose today is to discuss something that happened over a year earlier a month before his son’s sudden death….the March 1484 appearance at his court of the illegitimate daughters (and possibly their mother) of his late brother, Edward IV. The 19-year-old eldest girl, Elizabeth of York, was the one Richard was soon to be accused of wanting in a way no uncle should.

Elizabeth of York and her sister Cicely/Cecily

When Richard died he left behind some mysteries that consume us to this day. First and foremost, of course, is what happened to Edward IV’s two sons, Edward V, aged twelve, and Richard of York, aged nine. On their father’s death, Richard became Lord Protector and took Edward V into his custody. The younger boy had always been with his sisters and mother, Elizabeth Woodville, in sanctuary at Westminster, where they’d fled when the Woodville plot against Richard failed—she had a large family in high places thanks to Edward IV’s indulgence—and the new boy king fell into the Lord Protector’s hands while en route to London. The Woodvilles had intended to seize Edward V, rush his coronation and keep him under their control. Richard would have been assassinated, so Elizabeth Woodville had good reason to fear him. Fleeing into sanctuary probably seemed her only option. As did taking a lot of crown treasure with her! It’s understood she had a hole broken in the sanctuary wall in order to haul all the loot through.

The boy Richard of York was eventually given into Richard’s keeping, to join his lonely brother in the apartments of state in the Tower in May 1483 (it was a palace as well as a fortress). They both seemed to disappear from history after late summer that same year, but had been seen practicing archery and playing in the Tower grounds. And Richard was still issuing writs in Prince Edward’s name as late as 16th September. Richard has always been blamed for their deaths (the usual accusation is that he had them smothered) even though no bodies/remains have ever been found. No, they are not in that urn in Westminster Abbey! Many of those bones are from animals.

The Princes in the Tower. Cigarette card, from series on Famous Boys, published by Godfrey Phillips, early 20th century

At the time it suited the Tudors, Lancastrians and Woodvilles—and still suits Tudorite historians to this day—to trumpet that Richard was the original murderous Wicked Uncle. If he was, why on earth didn’t he dispose of other awkwardly legitimate nephews and nieces too? The two boys weren’t the only Yorkists with claims to the throne. His other brother, George of Clarence, had a son and daughter too, but they were barred from the throne by their father’s treason and attainder. Attainders could be reversed, so these children were dangerous to Richard, if he wanted to view them that way. He could have binned the whole lot, his sisters’ offspring too, had he wanted, but he didn’t. It was left to the blood-drenched Tudors to rid the world of just about every Yorkist they could think of, women and all. Yet Richard is always accused as if he was a mass killer on a jaw-dropping scale.

Every single Tudor is much more deserving of being called a mass murderer. They even executed George of Clarence’s children, who had survived safe and well under Richard. The hero of Bosworth trumped up a charge against the by then 24-year-old Edward, Earl of Warwick, and chopped his head off. He beheaded Richard’s illegitimate son, John of Gloucester, as well. Among others. Henry VIII condemned to the block George of Clarence’s daughter, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who was sixty-eight. But then, the delightful ‘Bluff King Hal’ liked to chop off his wives’ heads for good measure. Including the one for whom he’d caused such upheavals in the Church, leading to the religious bloodbaths of the following reigns.

Tudor propaganda also spouted that, to secure his nephew’s throne for himself, Richard falsely declared Edward IV’s children illegitimate (this was thanks to evidence provided by Bishop Stillington in 1483 that Edward IV had been married to someone else before his bigamous union with Elizabeth Woodville). Well, the children of bigamy couldn’t inherit the throne. Period. Then it was said that once Richard became a widower (having poisoned his now-infertile wife, Anne, of course) he intended to marry his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York.

It would seem that her illegitimacy didn’t bother Uncle Richard as much as it was to bother Henry Tudor, who turned legal cartwheels in order to make her trueborn again. Henry  even tried to suppress/expunge all legal evidence of her illegitimacy by destroying royal and parliamentary documents. Indeed, if a copy of Richard’s right to the throne, known as the Titulus Regius, hadn’t survived, we might never have known what really happened. The Tudors were nothing if not thorough when it came to hiding their bloody tracks. See http://www.richardiii.net/2_7_0_riii_documents.php.

Extract from Titulus Regius

The warning signs were there from the moment Richard breathed his last at Bosworth, because Henry promptly declared his own reign to have commenced the previous day. Thus he branded traitor every man who had supported their anointed king, Richard III. It was a dangerous precedent to set, and ever afterward Henry remained jittery about suffering  the same fate. Serves him right. But he’d set the guidelines for the Tudor prospectus and it should have alerted everyone who’d supported him that they’d made a monumental mistake! But England was to suffer over a century of the gruesome House of Tudor.

Richard III had every true claim to the crown of England. He was Edward IV’s only surviving brother and had a son and heir of his own whose destiny was to follow his father on the throne. The latter wasn’t to happen, of course, but at the time Titulus Regius was drawn up, Richard’s queen and son were still very much alive.

Contrary to an intention to marry Elizabeth, on being widowed Richard embarked on arranging royal Portuguese matches for himself and his niece. He had no option but to marry again because kings needed heirs to secure their thrones. So these Portuguese matches were purely practical matters. He was still a young man and had no reason not to hope for more children through a much more acceptable and conventional marriage, so why risk a dangerously incestuous match, the very idea of which was anyway bound to be abhorrent to him? He was conventionally pious. Conventional in every way. Marrying his niece would be a line across which he would never tread.

There was, of course, a now-lost letter supposedly written by Elizabeth to Richard’s friend, cousin and ally, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, begging him to intercede with Richard on her behalf. When referring to Richard, this letter was couched in what appeared to be rather inappropriately affectionate terms. Whether the letter ever existed, I don’t know, but it’s certainly lost now. Maybe Elizabeth did have improper feelings for her uncle (Richard was a handsome young man and had been kind to her), but I doubt very much if he returned those sentiments. When he at last felt compelled to deny publicly that he had intentions toward his niece, he was definitely telling the truth. We’ll never know what Elizabeth thought of Richard, except that she didn’t once speak out against him. Nor for him either, of course. She stayed silent. I’m sure Henry Tudor would have loved her to accuse Richard of all sorts crimes, but she held her tongue. In public, at least.

Picture by viscountessw

I know you’ve read all the preceding before and have concluded that if anyone really needed to marry Elizabeth of York, it was Henry Tudor, whose success at Bosworth was solely due to the two-timing Stanley brothers, one of whom pulled a sickie to avoid the battle . The other turned Judas and set his men on Richard at a pivotal moment. With allies like them, who needed enemies? But mere conquest wasn’t enough to make Henry safe. You’ll probably be relieved to learn that I don’t intend to drone on about his Beaufort antecedents. The heir of the House of Lancaster? Give me a break. Richard’s supporters weren’t about to take Bosworth lying down, and Henry’s blood-claim to the throne was gossamer thin.

It was this very tenuousness that meant he had to do something to secure for good the support of the countless disaffected Yorkists swarming around his stolen realm. They’d given him their aid at Bosworth solely because they wanted Edward IV’s blood on the throne again, and he had vowed to marry Elizabeth. Should she have died, then he’d marry the most senior surviving daughter instead. If he didn’t keep his word, his reign was going to be as brief as Richard’s, if not briefer. And the good old unreliable Stanleys were just as likely to switch sides again. They were great at watching their own backs and stabbing everyone else’s.

Sir William Stanley places Richard’s crown on Tudor’s head

The younger of the brothers, Sir William Stanley, who’d struck the decisive blow against Richard, was said to be the man who found Richard’s crown in a bush and placed it on Henry’s head. I don’t think he stayed happy with the consequences, because he eventually turned coat again to join a Yorkist plot against Henry. Sir William believed the claimant Perkin Warbeck really was the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of York, and wanted Edward IV’s proper line back on the throne. Henry’s exertions with Elizabeth of York in the marriage bed weren’t enough for Sir William. Their offspring weren’t proper Yorkists, whereas Perkin was the Real McCoy! Hey-ho, what goes around comes around.

Perkin Warbeck

To return to the main narrative. Henry had realized before leaving exile in Brittany and France to invade England (France was financing him) on this, his second bid for the crown, that marrying Elizabeth of York was a necessary evil. Without her the clarion calls to the banners of the White Rose would soon echo across the countryside, and the lord regarded as Richard’s chosen heir, his sister’s eldest son, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had rather selfishly survived Bosworth.

Henry was to dither about Lincoln, at first trying to win him over (what a trophy he’d have been for Richard’s killer!) But Lincoln couldn’t stand Henry or what he embodied, and so the dithering eventually led to the last true battle between the warring houses of York and Lancaster. The Battle of Stoke in 1487 saw the end of Lincoln, and Henry dared to give a small sigh of relief. But the battle only went Henry’s way because Lincoln’s men believed (rightly or wrongly at that precise moment) that Lincoln had been killed. They fled the battlefield, and at some point Lincoln was indeed mown down, which didn’t please Henry, who wanted him alive to be “worked upon” for information..

Henry’s respite wouldn’t last, of course, the shadows and ghosts would always follow him. Lincoln (who had a number of brothers) was probably the reason why Henry began to systematically eliminate the remnants of the House of York, and why the succeeding Tudors continued the bloodfest.

Anyway, to return to 1485. As Henry prepared to sail with his army of English traitors, Frenchmen and other foreign mercenaries, he took a solemn vow in Rennes Cathedral that he would marry Elizabeth and through their children bring the warring factions in England together at last. Noble sentiments, but he just wanted the crown, make no mistake of that.

Rennes Cathedral

First, however, Elizabeth had to be legitimized again. Henry was in a delicate enough position already, without adding to it by marrying a baseborn queen, even if she was Edward IV’s eldest daughter. He had to be a legitimate king with a legitimate queen. But he made sure to have himself crowned first on 30th October 1485. He wasn’t about to be dubbed Elizabeth’s consort, so he didn’t marry her until 18th January 1486.

Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty

Elizabeth’s own coronation didn’t come until 25th November 1487, after she’d done the right thing and presented him with a son in the September. Hm, yes, the maths are a little iffy. The baby was a bouncing eight-monther. It was said to be a happy marriage, and that he didn’t stray from the marriage bed even once. I’d like to know how they can be sure of that!  Was he followed 24/7?

What Henry didn’t need was his wife’s tiresome brothers, whose claim to the throne had become legal and vastly superior to his own from the moment he legitimized her. The boys’ whereabouts were unknown, of course. They certainly weren’t in the Tower, because one of the first things Henry did on reaching London after Bosworth was instigate exhaustive searches. No one knew anything at this point…and so Henry crossed his fingers, but if he had found the boys in the Tower you can bet your bottom dollar he’d have them disposed of. Hellfire, their claim to the throne was going to be infinitely better than his own because he was going to legitimize their big sister in order to marry her and produce the vital half-York, half-Tudor offspring!

 So, if any such murdering of boys did go on in the Tower, my money would have been on Henry in the very early days of his reign. But there was no proof they died at all, let alone were murdered. It was all smoke and mirrors. Henry ordered the further spreading of rumours that Richard had done away with his nephews, but the Tudor fingers remained very tightly crossed. Richard murdered them! Richard murdered them! The mantra worked, in a great part because Richard had failed to produce the boys to refute the charges. Down through the centuries the same chant can still be heard by rote. And we all know Shakespeare’s part in the lies. But then, he did want to please a Tudor!

If Elizabeth knew that her brothers were still alive, she couldn’t have told Henry before she travelled south from Sheriff Hutton after Bosworth. They’d never met before then. Perhaps she did tell him—he was going to make her Queen of England, so it was in her interest to hitch her waggon to his. But by then he’d already set the ‘Richard was Evil’ ball rolling. And as he hadn’t found any bodies or any sign of where the boys were, he would ever afterward be angst-ridden that they were going to come after him for their throne. If Richard had set out to torment Henry from beyond the grave, he succeeded brilliantly!

Now, to my main point. (At last, did I hear you cry?) For me, Edward IV’s daughters appearing at Richard’s court presents an important and intriguing indication about their brothers. Two of the three youngest girls were children under Richard but made good marriages as Henry’s sisters-in-law. The youngest girl, Bridget, was little more than a baby in 1483, and became a nun. As for the two eldest girls, Richard not only welcomed them to his court, but treated them well—and he probably welcomed their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who’d schemed against him and whose family had almost certainly intended to assassinate him before he even reached London immediately after Edward IV’s sudden demise. Whether she returned to court or not isn’t quite certain, but she certainly accepted Richard, gave her younger son into his care in 1483 and permitted her two eldest girls to go to his court.

Elizabeth Woodville

Would a woman like Elizabeth Woodville have all done that if she really believed Richard murdered her sons? I think not. She had reason to fear Richard, having worked against him, but she apparently came to trust him. It was to be her sour Tudor son-in-law who’d steal her property and kick her off to the wilds of Bermondsey Abbey for the rest of her days. Under Richard she—or at least her daughters—enjoyed the luxury, privileges and entertainments of court life.

Nevertheless, her two senior daughters, Elizabeth and Cicely had presented Richard with a problem. Or so it seems to me. Even though they were illegitimate, they were still a magnet to ambitious enemies (Henry, for one—and if Elizabeth had died, he had his eye on Cicely instead), and what’s more, they were not only marriageable, but of beddable age too. In less than a year they could produce annoyingly legitimate sons whose calculating eyes would soon slide pensively toward the throne. Henry should know, for hadn’t his eyes turned to someone else’s throne?

Edward IV

It seems that Richard solved the Cicely problem first, by marrying her to Ralph Scrope, younger brother of one of his northern supporters, Thomas, 6th Baron Scrope.  It wasn’t a particularly grand union for a king’s daughter, even though she was baseborn, nor was it particularly lowly, but it still surprises me. To begin with it was low-key…its very existence was only discovered recently. Perhaps it was a lovematch? Perhaps they married behind Richard’s back? We’ll never know, and anyway, as soon as Henry stepped up to the throne, with Elizabeth of York safely tucked up as his wife, he had the Scrope marriage annulled. Cicely  was the second surviving daughter of Edward IV, and had to be plucked from a dangerously Yorkist marriage and placed in the custody of a safe Lancastrian relative. Take one pace forward his dependable half-uncle, Sir John Welles (Henry’s mother’s half-brother), who was rewarded by elevation to the rank of Viscount Welles.  And so Cicely became the first viscountessw! ☺

Cicely/Cecily of York, second surviving daughter of Edward IV

Thus, if we discount Cicely as being married to Ralph Scrope during Richard’s reign, and the three youngest girls as being too young, there remained the most important one of all, Elizabeth of York. There she was, beautiful, charming and desirable, welcomed by Richard and Anne, and wandering freely around court. Her importance would have been enhanced still more if Richard really had done away with her brothers. So, I have to ask, would he really have permitted her such freedom and access to court if her brothers were indeed dead?

Not everyone believed Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, nor did everyone want Richard on the throne. Yet Richard and Anne treated her and her sisters with overt generosity and kindness. Why? Simply because he was a benign uncle? Well, maybe—even probably —but I think he had an ulterior motive as well.

One of the first questions always asked is, if the boys were still alive why on earth didn’t Richard simply produce them and put a stop to the rumours? Why indeed. My feeling is that he couldn’t show them because they were no longer in the Tower or indeed in his personal care. No, they weren’t dead, rather do I think he’d sent them somewhere to safety very early on in his reign, well away from Lancastrians to whom they were a grave impediment to Henry’s ambitions…and from Yorkists who wanted Edward IV’s line back on the throne, illegitimate or not. But something eventually happened to the boys, I don’t know what, but believe it was after Richard’s death. Were they hidden with Richard’s sister, their aunt Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy? Did they die of some pestilence? Accidents? It could have been anything. Margaret—Yorkist to her elegant fingertips—loathed Henry, and certainly wouldn’t announce their deaths. She’d want him to stew in his own juice. Which he did.

Margaret of York, Duchess of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III

Without her brothers, Elizabeth would be the Number One of Edward IV’s children, in the eyes of many the true Queen of England, and Richard would have had to keep a very tight grip on her. But what does he do instead? He promises publicly to do all he can for them and provide for their future, and to always treat them well. Thus he entices them from sanctuary into his care. But he wasn’t saying and doing this under false pretenses. No, he meant every word. He would take good care of them. And they were delighted to go to him. They trusted him, and so enjoyed the complete liberty of court, new clothes, fine company, dancing, music…Oh, how they must have been missing all that when they were banged up in sanctuary.

It’s my contention that after his treacherous cousin Buckingham’s unsuccessful rebellion in October 1483, Henry’s aborted invasion of the south coast at the same time (it seems a two-pronged attack was intended, Buckingham from Wales and the west, Henry from the south, Devon and Dorset) as well as the ever-louder whispers about the murders of the boys in the Tower, Richard felt he had to do something to deal with the rumours and let Henry know that even if a second attempt at invasion were successful, the path to the throne wasn’t quite as pretty and primrose as he hoped. The boys stood in his way.

Richard knew his ploy had to be subtle—guileful even—to persuade at least some Lancastrians, Woodvilles and Edwardian Yorkists not to be too hasty about throwing in their lot with the Lancastrian upstart. Bringing the girls out of sanctuary would certainly give pause for thought in the relevant circles. Surely Richard wouldn’t let Edward IV’s daughters wander freely at court if they were their father’s principal heirs. Therefore their brothers had to be alive and well, and still in Richard’s care.

Henry wasn’t deterred from invading again—I think he’d gone too far to back out—but he was convinced the boys still lived and so scoured the Tower for them after Bosworth. He had to get rid of them, and maybe he managed to do just that. But his subsequent behaviour suggests he hadn’t a clue where they were. They’d vanished. Impasse. Where were they? Safe in some Yorkist haven, soon to grow to manhood and return to claim their rights?

If Richard really had been a murdering monster, he’d have killed and buried the boys and then imprisoned the girls before burying them as well. But he wouldn’t be able to stop there. He had other nieces and nephews, and they were legitimate. They were to die once Henry got hold of them, but they all lived happily while Richard was king, including John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who subsequently became useful as a temporary heir when Richard’s son and then his queen died. Richard obviously expected to have new heirs of his own when he remarried and didn’t for a moment think Lincoln would really become King John II, but if the worst happened, Lincoln was a man grown, experienced and a truly loyal Yorkist. He’d make a fine king.

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln – well, not really, there are no portraits of him. This picture has been adapted from Portrait of a Man with a Red Hat, Titian (15th century) by viscountessw in the 21st century!

There was no dark side to Richard III. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty monster or child-killer, but an honest man who in 1483 found himself in an impossible position. He would have become a great monarch if he’d lived long enough to prove it, but Henry got his way, stole the throne and married Elizabeth of York…having first made sure his coronation was safely over. He wasn’t about to be labelled her consort! He was kingy, and she had to wait to be his queeny. But he remained haunted by the missing boys throughout his reign. He dreaded their return. Maybe Perkin Warbeck was indeed the younger of the boys, Richard of York…in case he was, Henry sliced his head off. But there was still the older brother, the more important Edward V, who would have succeeded his father had his illegitimacy not come to light.

Is it a flight of Ricardian fantasy for me to perceive in Henry’s death mask the dying horror of seeing vengeful Yorkists coming for him at last? Yes, probably too much fantasy.

So there you have it. In my opinion, the arrival of Elizabeth of York at her uncle’s court suggests to me that Richard was letting his opponents know her brothers were still alive and under his protection. It was a risk, not least because Henry’s scheming mother, Margaret Beaufort, was also at court, and doing everything she could to support her son. Margaret was very definitely the enemy within, and there were others too, but Richard thought it worth the risk. And, as far as I’m concerned, it worked to some extent. But thanks to Tudor indoctrination, his not having actually produced the boys had the unwelcome side-effect of marring his reputation through the centuries.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour from a mural that was destroyed by fire at Whitehall Palace

Now I don’t doubt that many will disagree with this theory, and will probably say so. There may be holes in my reasoning, but I see these events as a strong indication that the boys in the Tower were still alive and remained so right to the end of Richard’s reign.

And for Henry, Richard’s ghost—and those of his nephews—always waited in the shadows, taunting the first Tudor king. Taunting the entire House of Tudor throughout its ascendancy.

The Battle of Bosworth fought again in the sky by ghostly armies
illustration by viscountessw

 

Lancastrians unfairly condemn another King Richard….

 

taken from the article referred to below

The article that prompts this post is the first of three concerning the history of the House of Lancaster. There are some sweeping statements that are eminently challengeable, but then it’s Lancastrian about Lancastrians, so bias is bound to be present.

The first Lancastrian monarch usurped the throne of his first cousin, Richard II, whom he then had murdered, and he had to justify this dreadful act for the rest of his life. There was, of course, a later Henry (VII) who represented the House of Lancaster and killed the incumbent king, Richard III by treachery in battle. So Lancastrian Henrys seemed to specialise in taking thrones by ridding themselves of the Richards who were already the anointed kings. Biased? Moi? Well, it goes with the territory if you happen to support the other side.

The article claims that Richard II and his cousin, Henry (to be IV) formed a “strong bond” as boys. Well, they were first cousins, but I don’t think they were ever that close. Henry was forever being held up as a shining example of manly strengths and virtues etc, whereas Richard was “…pampered…the coming saviour…compared himself to Christ…had a mean streak…[and] ever inflating ego”. Furthermore “…whilst Richard swanned about court with his young councillors pandering too him, Henry Bolingbroke was fighting in tournaments, learning the art of war, building his prestige”.

Right, well that’s Richard neatly encapsulated as a self-centred weirdo par excellence!

Apparently “Within four years of his reign thousands of angry peasants, led by the rebel leader Wat Tyler, stormed London.” This was Richard’s fault? No, he was a boy of fourteen, it was the magnates and royal advisers who were in charge. Especially Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who was loathed across the land. But mustn’t mentioned that.

Anyway, this is a flavour of the article, which goes on to rip Richard apart while raising Henry on an ever higher pedestal. Like Richard III, Richard II is almost always bad-mouthed by historians, but I don’t think he was the dangerous, tyrannical prat he’s made out to be. On the contrary, there was far more to him than meets the casual eye, and his motives have been misunderstood. He tried hard to change the status quo in England, but in the end he failed. And he deserves better than this pro-Lancastrian article.

One thing. A typo, I trust. “Henry was popular, a military leader and willing to listen to the ascent of parliament, he was everything Richard wasn’t.” One wonders exactly how high Parliament ascended….

 

 

Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

The April activities of the usurping House of Lancaster….

Edward IV

Richard II was ‘hugely unpopular’? Hm, there speaks a fan of the usurping House of Lancaster, methinks.

And “….The tragic and short rule of Edward V started on April 9th 1483 on the death of his father, Edward IV. Young Edward would never really exercise power – within weeks, he had been taken into ‘protective’ custody by his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester and found himself in the Tower of London. He was never seen alive outside its walls again….” Hm, he wasn’t seen dead either, so no one knows what happened to him. Edward’s disappearance was as likely to be another work of the usurping House of Lancaster! I doubt very much if it was Richard III.

I also find fault with “….The man who would claim the throne left wobbling by the death of Edward IV also passed away on an April day. Henry VII had ruled since 1485 when he seized power at the Battle of Bosworth. His reign had brought stability once more but his suspicious character had made him respected if not popular….” What’s to complain about? That the throne was ‘left wobbling’ until Henry Tudor usurped it. Richard III was the rightful king and would have reigned very well indeed…were it not for the treachery of those who decided to serve the House of Lancaster – to which I send cordial Boos!!!!!!

However, here’s another Royal Central offering, this time about April events that took place through history.

Were the Houses of York and Lancaster true Plantagenets or not….?

This illustration is from the history of Liverpool
(don’t bother, it’s traditionalist fare masquerading as funny-ha-ha).

When reading the Yorkshire post I came upon the following sentence: “It’s thought that the white rose was adopted as a symbol in the 14th century, when it was introduced by Edmund of Langley, the first Duke of York and founder of the House of York, a dynasty related to the Plantagenet kings.”

Related to the Plantagenet kings? Well, yes, they were all related, but the implication seems to be that they weren’t Plantagenets themselves. As far as I’m concerned, the House of York was Plantagenet, as was the House of Lancaster. They were two parts of the House of Plantagenet, fighting each other.

But there is a school of thought that considers the true House of Plantagenet to have ended with the death of Richard II, who was, of course, the last king of the senior line of descent. He was the only surviving son of the Black Prince, who was himself the senior son and heir of Edward III, who was in turn the senior son of Edward II, etc. etc. It begins to sound like the Bible, with all the “begats”.

Coronation of the boy king, Richard II, from Chroniques de France ou de St Denis. End of 14th century

The Black Prince pre-deceased his father, and his brothers startled jostling for control of Richard, who was only a boy at that time. When Richard was married to Anne of Bohemia it was expected that he would produce an heir, thus continuing the senior line. But he and Anne were childless, Cue more jostling from the increasingly ambitious uncles. Especially John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who out-ambitioned the lot of them. Because he married the elder daughter of the King of Castile, Gaunt thought he had a right to the throne of that land, and demanded that he be addressed as “My Lord of Castile”. Gaunt also wanted the English succession to go to him and his line, should Richard die without issue, and he is believed to have persuaded/cajoled/forced the senile, failing old Edward III into agreeing to an entail that would ensure this. It is also believed that in due course Richard II disposed of this entail.

John of Gaunt receiving a letter from the King of Portugal – Chronique d’ Angleterre (Volume III) (late 15th C), f.236r – BL Royal MS 14 E IV.png

Then Anne of Bohemia died, and instead of taking another wife of a suitable age to have children, Richard married a little girl, Isabella of France. Not a wise move, because it would be years before she’d be considered old enough to consummate the marriage. Richard put peace with France above his own succession.

Richard II, Isabella, and King Charles VI of France, Isabella’s father. Richard was 22 to Isabella’s mere 6 years. The marriage was political.

Richard’s rule was not popular among the nobility, and when Lancaster died, his son Henry Bolingbroke became duke. Well, Richard and Henry had never got on, in fact they loathed the sight of each other (or so it seems to me, even though they were thrown together as boys) and Richard banished Henry into exile (a long story). Richard then confiscated the entire Lancaster inheritance, which was yet another very unwise move, because Henry came back with an army. He caught Richard (whose next exceedingly unwise move had been to go off to Ireland with all his friends – he specialised in being unwise) on the hop, and disposed of him. Henry then usurped the throne as Henry IV. Thus the House of Lancaster took the crown.

I can’t imagine the scene was quite like this, or that Richard II was willing, maybe even eager, to be rid of the crown that was his birthright.

Henry IV’s coronation sealed the moment the Plantagenets split, but they all remained Plantagenets. There were plenty of people in England who didn’t believe Henry, descended from Edward III’s third son, had any right to the throne, because there were descendants (the Mortimer Earls of March) from Edward III’s second son, Lionel of Clarence. Lionel had passed away some time before, leaving a daughter. The Mortimers would eventually be blood descendants of Edward III’s fourth son, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. Therefore the 5th Earl of March, who was a mere child, was deemed to have a stronger claim than Henry IV, who had usurped Richard II’s throne and probably seen to that unhappy king’s murder, and was only descended from Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt. But slick Henry could easily see off an opponent who was less than ten years old!

And so the rebellious rumbles began and did not go away. They were still around when the House of Tudor eventually held the throne.

But did this dichotomy in the Plantagenet family make Henry IV any less of a Plantagenet than Richard II had been? I think not. They were both grandsons of Edward III as well as being first cousins, I cannot see that Henry suddenly ceased to be a Plantagenet and became solely a Lancastrian. The bloodline remained the same, the difference being that Henry was from Edward III’s third son, whereas Richard had been from the first and senior line.

Then, in due course, Henry IV died and his son Henry V came and went, until his son, Henry VI, a mere baby, ascended the throne. Henry VI reigned a long time, but was a disastrous king, far too weak and impressionable to rule England. He drifted in an out of mental illness, eventually requiring a Protector to be appointed to safeguard the realm. Along came the 3rd Duke of York, who was directly descended from the fourth son of Edward III, but also from the second son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, through Lionel’s only child, a daughter. It was from her marriage to a Mortimer that in many eyes made the then Earl of March the rightful king when Henry IV usurped the throne. A subsequent marital union between York and March thus gave the 3rd Duke of York a very strong case indeed.

York felt (rightly in my opinion) that he had a better claim to the throne than Henry VI, but his ambitions were thwarted by the convenient (after years of barren marriage to Margaret of Anjou) arrival of Henry VI’s son. It was widely believed that Henry (who had been mentally ill at the time of the child’s conception) was in reality made a cuckold by his wife’s affair with Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset. Somerset was also descended from John of Gaunt, albeit through an originally illegitimate line, the Beauforts. Perhaps he and Queen Margaret decided he was close enough in blood for it to be OK? Who knows. Perhaps it was just passion.

Killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury, aged 17

York therefore encountered effective opposition from Margaret, Somerset and others at the Lancastrian court, even though he was better qualified for the crown. Thus he rebelled, and the so-called Wars of the Roses began. You either supported York, or Lancaster, or kept your head down and hoped to survive unnoticed.

The above paragraphs illustrate the very basics of what prompted the Wars of the Roses: the white rose for York and the red rose for Lancaster. We had three Lancastrian kings, then two (three if you count Edward V) Yorkist kings in Edward IV and Richard III.

Henry VII receives Richard III’s Crown from the traitorous Stanley

Then came Bosworth, in which Richard III was cruelly betrayed by the Stanleys, who turned traitor mid-battle to support Richard’s opponent, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), whose actual blood claim to the crown of England was dodgy to say the least. Little more than right of conquest. His descent came through the Beauforts, who were the result of John of Gaunt’s extra-marital affair with Katherine Swynford and thus baseborn. Well, Gaunt managed to persuade Richard II to legitimize them, but when their half-brother Henry IV swiped the throne from Richard, he made sure to exclude the Beauforts from any claim to the throne. The line of succession would descend through his offspring, not his half-blood siblings.

This made Henry VII a mere Beaufort through his mother Margaret Beaufort, whose father was John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, the eldest of Gaunt’s Beaufort brood. But, it is thought Henry VII was probably also a Beaufort on his father’s side. There had been an affair between Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois (who died today in 1437), and the self-same Edmund Beaufort (third son of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset) who was thought to have fathered Henry VI’s son and heir! Edmund was a busy boy between the sheets. I know that posterity has Owen Tudor as Catherine’s only love after the death of Henry V, but Edmund Beaufort is far more likely, as Harriss and Ashdown-Hill , inter alia, both said. It was also thought so at the time, and hasty moves were made in Parliament to regulate remarriages for queens of England. And Catherine’s first son, supposedly by Owen Tudor, was named Edmund. A coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

from http://www.ssqq.com/travel/london2017history04.htm
Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor – maybe she was already with child by Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset? Was Owen a convenient reputation-saver? Or was it a true lovematch, and the Beaufort story a fabrication?

Let’s face it, Henry VII’s probable total descent through the Beauforts wasn’t much to brag about when it came to parking his behind on the throne with any real authority. He was not a Plantagenet, and that particular parking lot was not built on solid, unchallengeable ground. So he married Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, who was a Plantagenet, and thus managed to make himself more secure on the throne by “uniting” the two warring Plantagenet houses. Not entirely secure, for there were pretenders throughout his reign, but he survived, dropped the pretence of being a Beaufort/Lancastrian, and instead set up the House of Tudor, which gave us a truly charming sequence of monarchs, I think you’ll agree. The only one worth her salt was Elizabeth.

So there you have my version of the bare bones of English Plantagenet history from Richard II to Richard III. To my mind, all the kings (between and including those two) were Plantagenets. They didn’t cease to be Plantagenet and suddenly morph into York or Lancaster. They all claimed direct descent through the many sons of Edward III, and thus to all the Plantagenet and Angevin Kings of England who’d gone before.

Is my reasoning correct? Or do you disagree? Please feel free to comment. To help you sort out all these different monarchs, here is a tree from https://www.britroyals.com/plantagenettree.asp.

 

The wrong Lady Anne….!

For Honour and Fame - Nigel Saul

Having just acquired Nigel Saul’s For Honour and Fame, about chivalry in England from 1066 to 1500, one of my first actions was (as always!) to go to the pages that refer to Richard III. Well, it’s second nature to any Ricardian, I think.

So, on page 279, I read:

“. . .A generation later there was to be another, still greater, heiress who was to play a role in the preservation of specifically chivalric memory. This was Anne Neville, daughter of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, and sister and heiress of his son Henry, duke of Warwick, who died young. Anne’s self- appointed task in the last years of her life was to cherish and protect the memory of her late father, one of the Lancastrian monarchy’s greatest captains. . .”

Um. . .eh? For a moment the penny didn’t drop, and I couldn’t fit Anne Neville with such a claim. Then I realized it was one of those banes of all writers, a monumental blooper. It was not Anne Neville who was meant, but her mother, Anne Beauchamp.

Phew!

So, the mix-up of Lady Annes is an error by either Nigel Saul, or his publisher, Bodley Head. Oh, and the book then goes on to mention Richard III’s “seizure of the throne”, which did not impress this incurable Ricardian. He has two further, brief, mentions. So, if you’re looking for books that deal in any meaningful way with Richard III, give this one a miss.

Why I dislike John of Gaunt….

Wycliffe on Trial, by Ford Madox Brown

As Ricardians, we know very well now, history can be twisted to suit. The matter of those strawberries and what happened next, for instance. I mean, the different versions are legion, even to the point of whether or not Thomas, Lord Stanley was ever present at all, let alone injured in a scrap and obliged to hide under a table. So delightful and worthy an image.

Anyway, while researching an earlier event (1377) I have come upon another did-he?/didn’t-he? scenario, this time involving the Duke of Lancaster/King of Castile, John of Gaunt. He from whom the Beauforts, the House of Lancaster and the Tudors are descended. I have never been very fond of him, not even after reading Anya Seton’s Katherine.

To me, at this 1377 point in history, he was a scheming heap of double standards, arrogance, blatant dishonesty and unworthiness. (Don’t hold back viscountessw, tell it how it is!) He was bungling, a lousy military commander, and quite determined to prevent the bloodline of the sole female offspring of his older brother, Lionel, from getting anywhere near the throne. Oh, no, dear John of Gaunt wasn’t having any of that! A right to the throne through a woman? Heaven forfend. Besides, Johnny-boy wanted the throne for himself and his own descendants, even though he was lower in the pecking order than Lionel had been. What a hypocrite! He himself was claiming the throne of Castile through his second wife! And he was even Duke of Lancaster in right of his first wife. Yet, suddenly, the throne of England had to be different. No female intrusions, pul-eeze!

Edward III was no better, because he claimed the throne of France through his mother, but he developed a very convenient memory when he was persuaded by Gaunt to sign an entail that excluded women from the succession. Mind you, I do wonder if Edward would have signed any such thing if he had not been put under extreme pressure by Gaunt. Edward was elderly at the time, perhaps in his dotage, and very, very tired. He was a mere shadow of the great king he had once been, and still bereft from the loss of his beloved queen, Philippa of Hainault. He was now becoming doddery, and was reliant for comfort on his disliked mistress, Alice Perrers, whom it suited Gaunt to support because she gave him more access to his father. Some might say Edward III was a sitting duck when it came to Gaunt’s overweening ambition.

Edward III, tomb effigy

In early 1377, Gaunt was strongly suspected of wanting the throne for himself, and old rumours were resurrected (presumably by his supporters) that called into question the legitimacy of Joan of Kent’s marriage to the Black Prince. And therefore also questioning the legitimacy of her son by the prince, the future Richard II. The Black Prince was not known by that name then, of course, he was Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales (or, as I’ve recently seen him identified, the Prince of England). Joan had a chequered history, it’s true, but she was lawfully married to the Black Prince.

Joan of Kent and her son, Richard II
Tomb of the Black Prince, Canterbury Cathedral

 

Well, the Pope said Joan was the Black Prince’s wife, so she had to be, right? I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of her story, just that legally, at this point in time, she was the wife/widow of the Black Prince, and her little son by him, Prince Richard, was trueborn. Anyway, two-faced Gaunt was prepared to secretly sponsor attacks her reputation one day…and the next rush off to seek her protection when a mob was (justifiably) out for his blood. If I’d been her, I’d have thrown him to the wolves!

I believe it was with all pips squeaking that Gaunt swore to protect his nephew, the boy who would become Richard II. Protect the child? Hmm. Back in those days the lives of youngsters were notoriously delicate and at risk, and I do not doubt that Gaunt’s fingers were crossed behind his back as he made his vow. With Richard out of the way, or childless—although waiting for such to prove the case was an unknown risk, and could mean a long period of impatient thumb-twiddling and foot-shuffling for Gaunt and his family—and Lionel’s Mortimer descendants forbidden the crown, there would be no argument when a Lancastrian backside was plonked upon the throne. Which, of course, happened in due course when Gaunt’s eldest son stole Richard II’s crown and probably murdered him.

Old St Paul’s Cathedral

Where is all this invective leading? Well, simply to a scene at St Paul’s, at the trial of Gaunt’s friend and protégé. Wycliffe/Wyclif (and other spellings) who was believed by many to be a heretic. Or verging on it. There was a confrontation between Gaunt and the man who had hauled Wycliffe before a Church trial, William Courtenay, Bishop of London, who was also a son of the Earl of Devon.

John of Gaunt and the Bishop of London arguing at St Paul’s.

The Church had been provoked by some of Gaunt’s activities, and did not like the rumours, so another rumour (or an old one resurrected) began to circulate, that Gaunt was a changeling. It was claimed that his mother, Philippa of Hainault, had confessed as much to William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, telling him to only let the truth be known if it seemed Gaunt was about to become King of England. Gaunt, needless to say, was livid, and deprived Wykeham of all manner of things. Mind you, in Gaunt’s place, I’d have been livid, too, but handsome is as handsome does, and (to use the language of the school playground) he started it! Courtenay and the bishops were intent upon getting at Gaunt through Wycliffe—punishing the duke himself being out of the question.

Wycliffe was escorted to the trial by Gaunt and the Earl Marshal, Henry Percy, who was a man capable of putting force before common sense. He angered the onlookers outside St Paul’s by clearing the way through them with much more strength than necessary. The trial opened with Courtenay telling Wycliffe to stand throughout the proceedings, and Gaunt declaring Wycliffe should be allowed to sit. Gaunt and Courtenay couldn’t bear the sight of each other, and the disagreement got out of hand. When Gaunt was heard to mutter something about dragging the bishop out by his hair, there was uproar that would to lead to the riots from which Gaunt had the brass neck to expect Joan of Kent to save him.

The above is the gist of the ‘facts’ as I have always understood them, but now, in a book entitled Lady of the Sun (a biography of Alice Perrers, by F George Kay) I find a much more colourful account of the flashpoint in St Paul’s:-

“…Gaunt lost his temper, knocked off the Bishop of London’s cap and started to drag him out of the way by his hair…”

Um, that’s slightly different from a mere heated exchange of words and a sotto voce threat. So, which is the right version? Something muttered? Or a violent laying-on of ducal hands?

F George Kay goes on to say that:-

“…The onlookers surged to the rescue of the Bishop. Gaunt and Percy [Earl Marshal and Gaunt’s sidekick, whose heavy-handedness had started the proceedings on the wrong foot] fled for their lives…and went by boat to Kennington. [Where Joan of Kent was residing with the little prince.]…)

Even with the missing words, this account implies that Gaunt and Percy fled from the scene of the trial, across the Thames and into Joan’s protection in one fell swoop. They knew she was popular with the people, and respected. The presence of the little prince was an added plus. One fell swoop? Not quite true. After the scene involving the Bishop of London’s hair, Gaunt and Percy went on their way in their own time, taking Wycliffe with them. The onlookers in the streets were shocked and angered by the quarrel, but were not, as yet, a rampaging mob.

It was the next day that things escalated and the rioting began, when London was informed that Percy had high-handedly imprisoned a man at the Marshalsea prison in Southwark for (apparently) no good reason. This imprisonment was the touch-paper.

When the mob went into action, Gaunt and Percy were sitting down to dine at the inn of a friend, a rich merchant named Sir John d’Ypres.

Small medieval dinner

The hors d’oevres had just been served (neat touch in the account of the eternally spiteful Walsingham) when a frightened messenger arrived to tell them the Marshalsea had been attacked and prisoners (or the prisoner) freed, Next, Percy’s house in Aldersgate had been ransacked as the mob looked for him (presumably with some dire punishment in mind). From Percy’s abode, the dissatisfied, frustrated, even angrier mob marched upon Gaunt’s fortress-like palace, the Savoy, broke in, and began another ransacking. Had either Gaunt or Percy been found, would they have been killed there and then? I don’t know, but it seems likely. What a difference to English history Gaunt’s early demise would have made!

Marshalsea Prison, Southwark, newly built in 1373
The house of Henry Percy, Earl Marshal, was somewhere near here.
The Savoy, Gaunt’s palace on the Thames

Anyway, on learning the awful news, Gaunt and Percy took to their highborn heels, bolted from d’Ypres’ house for the Thames, and then took a boat across the river to Kennington to throw themselves on her mercy. Joan was clearly nobler than them, because she took them in and defended them! Eventually—and no doubt very smugly—it was William Courtenay, Bishop of London, who calmed the mob and dispersed them. And he still had his hair!

Kennington Palace, but later than 14th century

So, here is another famous occasion for which the accounts are mixed. Maybe February 1377 isn’t of as much interest to Ricardians as anything that went on between 1483 and 1485, but I find it fascinating that such different slants can be extracted from brief accounts. Historians then adopt their preferred version, and claim it as the truth.

Oh, and F George Kay doesn’t say Gaunt allowed the rumours about Joan’s marriage to be spread, he says that Gaunt stood up in Parliament and suggested the succession should be discussed! Parliament was shocked. What was there to discuss? Until then they’d all been satisfied that the succession would go to Prince Richard. Gaunt was clearly reminding them all about the doubts concerning the Black Prince’s marriage. Did Gaunt really make such a suggestion? Would he do it? Would he stand there and publicly dig up doubts and questions about the marriage of the heir to the throne, and the legitimacy of the next king? He was already very unpopular, and widely suspected of having designs on the throne. Well, I am perhaps not the best person to ask. I’m not exactly unbiased! But then, nor was Gaunt. And Parliament’s response was to invite the prince to come before them, so they could acknowledge him and see that all his father’s estates, etc. were bestowed upon him forthwith. This was, perhaps, not what Gaunt had planned. Certainly it was a very public a rejection of any designs and ambitions he nurtured for himself.

It will by now be very clear that I have no time for John of Gaunt. Maybe he became a steadying influence in later years, but at the time of which I now write, he was a dangerously ambitious, scheming magnate who was prepared to do whatever it took to get his own way. He didn’t give a fig who he hurt, or about family loyalty—except when it suited, and especially when it came to sucking up to and manipulating his elderly, worn-out father, Edward III. He ‘persuaded’ Edward to disinherit his son Lionel of Clarence’s daughter, and her son (Roger Mortimer, the future Earl of March) from the succession, in order to insert himself in the nicely cleared slot. And he wasn’t above permitting his supporters to spread whispers about the Black Prince’s marriage and the legitimacy of the future Richard II.

If you wonder what did happen with the succession, read Appendix Two of Ian Mortimer’s The Fears of Henry IV, which explores and explains it all in great detail. Throughout Richard’s reign, Gaunt endeavoured to persuade him to name Gaunt’s son, Henry, as heir presumptive. Richard resisted, and seemed to regard the Earl of March’s son as heir. Richard made an entail of his own, superseding that of his grandfather, Edward III. In the end, of course, the entails were useless, because Gaunt’s son and heir usurped the crown and did away with Richard. Job done. Except that Gaunt never knew how successful his line finally became, because he died before Richard, and thus before Henry’s Lancastrian backside graced the throne.

I don’t just dislike Gaunt, I loathe him! His machinations were the root cause of the bloody Wars of the Roses. But I know that he has many supporters, and they will not agree with anything I’ve said. They will probably regard me as being guilty of the very things I’ve commented on: fake news and twisted facts!

Shakespeare? Tudor propaganda? How about some Yorkist propaganda instead….?

The Tudors were past masters with propaganda, and there just wasn’t much of it being used against them. So how about we expunge them from history? How about we produce proof that Richard III was the victor at Bosworth….? Good idea, I think! You saw it here first, folks – and just to make sure there is no doubt, here is a photograph of Richard III’s 1485 Christmas address. It was the first of many, many more.

And what triggered the above sentiments? Well, it is this book Not because of its opinion of President Trump, but because of its analysis of how and why Shakespeare depicted the history of his, Shakespeare’s, England. And why certain kings, disapproved of by the Tudor regime, were subjected to vicious and vile propaganda in order to lessen their claims and reinforce what legitimacy the Tudors and Lancastrians had. Which was very little. The House of Tudor became legitimate in the end, simply because possession is nine tenths of the law, not because they had always had the right to the throne.

Tyrant - Greenblatt - 1

 

 

The Rise of the Clans

Neil Oliver‘s

latest history series has been shown through December on Monday evenings (BBC1 Scotland) and twenty-four hours later on BBC4.

The first part, of three, showed how the power vacuum caused by the sudden deaths of Alexander III and his granddaughter was resolved through the clan system and John Balliol’s abdication so that alliances were formed behind the remaining claimants Robert Bruce and John “Red” Comyn, culminating in a brawl in the Dumfries Greyfriars, during which Comyn was fatally stabbed. Robert I’s reign, including his strategic triumph as he unexpectedly arranged a pitched battle at Bannockburn is also explored.

The second part explores how, after the reign of David II, Robert I’s son, Clan Stewart evolved from a branch of the (Norman) Fitzalans, who are now Dukes of Norfolk through their Howard marriage, to supply every Scottish monarch from 1371 and every English monarch from 1603, now through the Bohemian marriage of James VI and I’s daughter. The reigns of the first three Stewarts were narrated, the weaknesses of Robert II and Robert III, the absence and the authoritarian – Lancastrian? – royal style of James I together with the conflict between Robert III‘s sons were used to show how James’ assassination and the ensuing executions, organised by his widow Joan “Beaufort”, resolved this before the end of 1437. Gradually, from James I’s time, the Stewarts succeeded in gaining power from the MacDonalds, who held the Lordship of the Isles.

Finally, we focus on Mary, simultaneously the last Stewart and the first Stuart, through her marriage to Henry, Lord Darnley (of the Lennox Stuarts), and his mysterious death at Kirk o’Fields, up to her dethronement and exile. The clan chieftains played a significant part in her initial downfall, as they plotted to reverse Knox’s organic Reformation that had taken place during her absence. At this time, her half-brother the Earl of Moray allied himself to the Earl of Morton, the leading Douglas. Then, after marrying the (Hepburn) Earl of Bothwell, Mary fled south – and her life ended at Fotheringhay where Richard III’s had begun.

As usual, this evocative series features realistic dramatisations in which Oliver appears almost as a witness in some scenes. The detail exceeds that of his A History of Scotland and, as usual, nobody featured in the episodes is beyond reproach.

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (4)

It was fortunate for Henry V that someone on the Orleanist side of politics decided to murder the Duke of Burgundy. This persuaded the new duke, Philippe the “Good” to take Henry’s side, a development which led to the Treaty of Troyes and Henry’s marriage to fair Catherine of France. Henry had by this time conquered a fair chunk of Normandy, but this had stretched his resources considerably. Thanks to the new alliance he could paint himself as the legitimate ruler of France, and some Frenchmen, like Burgundy, were willing to come over to his side.

At the same time, although the cause of the Dauphin and the Orleanists looked bleak, the fact remains that they were in possession of the majority of French territory and the resources that went with it. Henry would need to conquer this, castle by castle, town by town, and every new garrison needed more soldiers and the means to supply them with necessaries.

The bright spot was that the conquered territories did provide a source of revenue. The bad news was that the English Parliament was increasingly of the view that the war was “nothing to do with us, guv.” In short, they saw the conquest as Henry’s conquest rather than England’s, and, in their view, it was up to Henry to defeat his “rebels” at the expense of the Kingdom of France.

That a typical Englishman of this time had his chest swelled with pride at the thought of English military glory, but at the same moment did not want to pay towards the costs should not really surprise us. It was a characteristic of the English almost all the way through.

Henry V’s early death in 1422, with nothing really resolved, was another good example of the “hospital pass”. To Henry V, the glory, to Henry VI the criticism for failing to do the impossible.

It was fortunate for the English that the management of their position in France fell to John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s next surviving brother, who just happened to be one of the most able men to grace the entire middle ages, let alone the fifteenth century. Bedford won a stunning victory at Verneuil (1424) which was, if anything, more impressive than Agincourt, though rather less famous.

After that, though, the Anglo-Burgundian position slowly but surely began to deteriorate. There were a number of reasons for this, and one was certainly that Philippe of Burgundy was never 100% committed, except to his own interests. Another key factor was that French gradually improved their military establishment, not least by investing heavily in artillery. But above all, the limitations of English resources in terms of both men and cash became increasingly apparent as the years went by.

As I have remarked before, what is astonishing about Lancastrian France was not that it fell when it did, but that it lasted so long. The Treaty of Arras (1435) detached Burgundy from the English side, and that should have been the end. As it was, the English were not finally expelled from Normandy until 1450, while the last English intervention in Gascony failed in 1453. The tactics of Agincourt no longer worked. The French had developed a well-organised, well-equipped, professional army, while England struggled to raise field armies of any size at all.

Much of this prolongation of the war was down to English pluck and determination, to say nothing of good fortification, but it was really a hopeless cause. If Henry VI had been a more talented ruler – which would not have been hard – or if some of his generals (notably the first Duke of Somerset) had been a bit more inspired than they were, then maybe, just maybe, the disaster might have been stretched out a little longer. Alternatively, if certain English statesmen – notably Humphrey of Gloucester – had been more realistic and less deluded, then something might have been saved of the English possessions in France. As it was, a losing fight against overwhelming odds could only have one end.

The effect on England, as a nation, was disastrous. The self-image of a country that was a great military power was shattered. The treasury was not only empty, but massively in debt, despite years of war taxation. The King’s government was feeble at best, and disorder was commonplace, even to the extent of outbreaks of fighting between rival families. Of course, it must be admitted that Henry VI was one of our least effective monarchs, and that his tendency to favour the incompetent Beauforts over the (relatively) competent Duke of York did not help. The political crisis began long before the final defeat in France, but that defeat added a whole new level to it.

Since all attempts at political compromise failed, it was all but inevitable that what we now call the Wars of Roses should break out, even though the first “battle” (St. Albans 1455) was little more than an unseemly squabble. But the root of political instability in England was the disastrous policy of war with France.

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