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How many wives did Sir Simon Burley have….?

Plaque showing location of scaffold on Tower Hill
“Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury 1381 Sir Robert Hales 1381 Sir Simon de Burley, K.G. 1388 Richard Fitzalan, 3rd Earl of Arundel 1397 Rev. Richard Wyche, Vicar of Deptford 1440 John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford 1462 John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester 1470”

Sir Simon Burley, childhood friend, tutor and magister of Richard II, was executed today, 5th May, in 1388. He was the son of a Herefordshire knight, was brought up with the Black Prince, and rose to be one of the most powerful men in the land when he ruled the king’s household. Richard adored and revered him; relied on him. But such a dazzling career, built from nothing but his wits and the sheer childhood good luck that thrust him close to the Black Prince, ensured that he had dangerous enemies. Magnates found themselves excluded increasingly from access to young King Richard (unless they went through Simon) and they didn’t like it one little bit. They wanted great changes in the royal household, formed the group that is known to posterity as the Lords Appellant, and eventually succeeded in having Simon beheaded on Tower Hill, even though Richard II and Anne of Bohemia (on her knees) pleaded for mercy.

The Lords Appellant confront Richard II
Anne of Bohemia begs for the life of Sir Simon Burley

Whether Simon was a good man and good influence on Richard, or a grasping, over-ambitious example of malignity is rather beside the point for the purposes of this article, because I am concerned with the complexities of his marital affairs. Affairs as in the marriages themselves, not what he may have been up to outside his vows.

Many sources say he wasn’t married at all, and therefore had no children. The first part of that sentence is incorrect, the second part correct, because he doesn’t seem to have left any issue. No legitimate issue, that is. For all I know he could have populated a small village.

I came upon Sir Simon’s private life when deciding to include him in the book I’m writing that’s set around the reign of Richard II. I wasn’t going to feature him too much, but then decided I had to. So I needed to know what was what with him, commencing in 1375. From there it was an uphill toil all the way…. 😕

Nigel Saul covers Simon’s marriages in his biography of Richard II (Yale version, p 114). It seems that when Simon was serving in Aquitaine under the Black Prince, he met a lady named Marguerite de Beausse, widow of the seigneur de Machecoul. At least, I imagine this was when they met, and Saul appears to think so too. It may not be so, of course, but there is a mention of Marguerite in French records of the period. My old French isn’t too good, but the gist appears to be that when Marguerite died, there were problems involving her husband Sir Simon Burley and how/what she bequeathed to whom. This eventually required Charles V to make a judgement in July 1369. So we can be sure that Marguerite was Simon’s wife and that she died before that date.

The next we hear of Simon is that he’s married to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, daughter of Ralph Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford.

BUT, hang on there, if you look at the genealogical tree below, you will see that this is an error. Beatrice Stafford wasn’t married to Simon, but to his nephew, Sir Richard Burley. This is certain from other sources, as I will soon show

Burley Pedigree – Anecdotes of Sir Paul Pyndar

So, was Simon married to another Stafford lady? It’s also strange that his next supposed wife was a daughter of Lord de Roos. After all, Richard’s Beatrice Stafford was the widow of a Lord de Roos. Maybe uncle and nephew married two Stafford ladies at the same time? Two ladies also associated in some way with this Lord de Roos? Or Simon had one Stafford wife and one de Roos? Whatever, I can only find confirmed references to Beatrice Stafford, widow of Lord de Roos, marrying Sir Richard Burley. It is she who definitely links the names Burley, Stafford and de Roos.

This I know from Dugdale (pp102-103) who gives illustrations of a tomb in old St Paul’s (destroyed in Great Fire) which was erroneously attributed to Simon but was actually that of Richard and Beatrice. She obtained a royal licence to build it, and financed it all, eventually joining her husband there. Another source is the Memorials of the Order of the Garter, Beltz, page 293, which gives details of the same “Simon Burley” tomb and explains that it was actually the resting place of Richard and Beatrice.

Notice on tomb in Old St Paul’s
from Dugdale
Tomb of Sir Richard Burley and Beatrice Stafford, Old St Paul’s
from Dugdale

I learn from London Remembers that in 1392 King Richard and John of Gaunt built a tomb [for Simon] in the presbytery of the abbey church of St Mary Graces on Tower Hill. See the Museum of London.

St Mary Graces, also known as Eastminster, 1543
by Wyngaerde

So, who were the other ladies who may or may not have married Sir Simon? Did they ever actually exist at all – or are they simply confused with his nephew’s wife? Did Simon only ever marry Marguerite de Beausse?

If you know the truth about the occupants of his puzzling marriage bed, please let me know, because the mystery is driving me to distraction!

From Sir Simon Burley to Leadenhall, and a renowned gander named Old Tom….!

When looking for information about a residence associated with the ill-fated Sir Simon Burley (executed by the Lords Appellant in 1388) I had cause to investigate the properties around London’s Leadenhall Market. It seems Leadenhall stems from a mansion on the site, owned at the beginning of the 14th century by Sir Hugh Neville, which had a lead roof, and was thus called Leaden Hall/Leadenhall.

Anyway, Sir Simon and his brother possessed a residential property in the grounds of Leadenhall mansion. But that is by the by, because the search lead me to the fascinating 19th-century tale of a gander called Old Tom. If you want to read about this valorous bird, who survived to the age of 37 in a market where poultry was sold (!) go to this article.

He passed away of natural causes on 19th March 1835, and his obituary was published in The Times:-

In memory of Old Tom the Gander.
Obit 19th March, 1835, aetat, 37 years, 9 months, and 6 days.

‘This famous gander, while in stubble,
Fed freely, without care or trouble:
Grew fat with corn and sitting still,
And scarce could cross the barn-door sill:
And seldom waddled forth to cool
His belly in the neighbouring pool.
Transplanted to another scene,
He stalk’d in state o’er Calais-green,
With full five hundred geese behind,
To his superior care consign’d,
Whom readily he would engage
To lead in march ten miles a-stage.
Thus a decoy he lived and died,
The chief of geese, the poulterer’s pride.’

And he has a bar named after him!

Joan, Lady Mohun.

Joan, Lady Mohun was the daughter of Sir Bartholomew Burghersh, Lord Burghersh and Elizabeth de Verdun. Her brother, another Sir Bartholomew Burghersh, was the father of the heiress Elizabeth Burghersh who married Edward, Lord Despenser. It is not know exactly when Joan was born but a date somewhere in the 1320s seems likely. (Her brother was born in 1323.)

in 1341 (or thereabouts) Joan married Sir John Mohun of Dunster Castle in Somerset, (Lord Mohun of Dunster.) This may have been because John (born 1320) was in the wardship of Joan’s uncle, Bishop Burghersh of Lincoln, having inherited his estates at the age of ten.

The couple had at least three daughters. Elizabeth, who married William Montagu, Earl of Salisbury (after his divorce from Joan of Kent.) Maud, who married John Strange, Lord Strange of Knockin. Philippa, who married successively, Walter Fitzwalter, Lord Fitzwalter; Sir John Golafre; and Edward of York, who was at the time of their marriage Duke of Aumale, but later 2nd Duke of York. Some sources suggest there was a fourth daughter who became a nun.

Philippa was at least ten years older than Edward of York – Pugh is unkind enough to suggest that she was old enough to be his mother. However, no firm date of birth can be established and one can but guess.

John Mohun was a founder member of the Garter, and served in the French wars – almost inevitably given his status and generation. He died in 1376, and left his widow nicely provided for with a jointure in the whole of the extensive Mohun lands. Joan (who presumably considered that her daughters were adequately settled with their marriage portions) fairly promptly sold the reversion of the estates to the Lutterell family. This meant that she would have plenty of money herself but that there would be no legacy of land to her heirs.

In his book The Court of Richard II Father Gervase Mathew stated that Joan, Lady Mohun was one of the more influential ladies of Richard II’s court. This seems likely to be true, if only because the Appellants banished her from court in 1388 – they’d scarcely have bothered if she’d just been sitting there quietly producing embroidery, would they? She had an annuity of £100 for life from Richard II which she later exchanged for the Lordship of Macclesfield (Cheshire.)  She was also given the Garter in her own right in 1384. Clearly a lady in high favour.

One of Anne of Bohemia’s last acts was to grant Lady Mohun Leeds Castle, in Kent for life. Not a bad Christmas present you may think!

Joan Mohun was also on good terms with John of Gaunt, who placed his daughter, Catherine of Lancaster with her in 1380, and exchanged New Years gifts with her from 1380-1382. In 1392 he also purchased from her the marriage of a cousin, Matilda Burghersh, the daughter of Sir John Burghersh. This Matilda (or Maud), an heiress in her own right, was subsequently married to Thomas Chaucer, son of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer and Philippa Roet.

Joan lived until 1404 and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. Her tomb survives, and although it is now in poor condition must have been very splendid in its day. It was also in a particularly coveted location, which demonstrates her wealth and influence. Her will is online and is of of some interest, although it is far from clear what the ‘rubrum’ left to Philippa might have been.

There was an attempt to regain the daughters’ landed inheritance from the Luttrells, but it failed.

As an aside, ‘Mohun’ is apparently pronounced ‘Moon’ and ‘Burghersh’ seems to be along the lines of ‘Burwaish’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trial by combat attended by the King of England….

Rory Kinnear as Bolingbroke, and James Purefoy as Mowbray. From The Hollow Crown.

On 16th September 1398, at Gosford Green near Coventry, there was a tournament involving a trial by combat between Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Almost the entire nobility of England attended this event, including the king, Richard II, who had ordered the trial to settle a dispute (concerning treason) between the two magnates. It was to be a glittering occasion, everything our modern minds think of when it comes to medieval pageantry and jousting.

Medieval tournament

The two lords would appear in their most dazzling armour and colours. Mowbray’s armour was German, and his horse was “barded with crimson velvet embroidered richly with silver lions and mulberry trees”. His shield was the white lion of Mowbray on red ground. Bolingbroke’s armour was from Milan, and he was “mounted on a white courser, barded with green and blue velvet embroidered sumptuously with golden swan and antelopes. But all this glamour was beside the point, because danger was the order of the day, and death was to be the arbiter.

From the Tournament Book of King Rene of Anjou

But first, some background. Thomas Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, died in Venice in 1399. His full clutch of titles was 1st Duke of Norfolk, 1st Earl of Nottingham, 3rd Earl of Norfolk, 6th Baron Mowbray, 7th Baron Segrave, Knight of the Garter and Earl Marshal (I know of no more) and he was born on 22 March 1366, making him 32 in 1398. His activities during the later years of the reign of RII contributed to the eventual downfall of that unfortunate king.

Thomas Mowbray’s arms as Earl Marshal, 1395

Mowbray had once been close to Richard, a favourite, but became estranged, even going over to mix with the king’s enemies, known as the Lords Appellant. It is thought that his defection was born of jealousy over Richard’s clear preference for another favourite, Robert de Vere, Duke of IrelandMarquess of Dublin, and 9th Earl of Oxford, also a Knight of the Garter. De Vere raised an army for Richard against the Appellants, and was trounced at the Battle of Radcot Bridge. He fled into exile, and died on 22nd November 1392, in Leuven in what is now Belgium. Richard was distraught.

Battle of Radcot Bridge, by the Thames in Oxfordshire,
19th December 1387

Mowbray had found himself on thinner and thinner ice, and then a quarrel arose between him and the king’s first cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, son and heir of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the greatest magnate in the realm.

The Arms of Bolingbroke

Bolingbroke (once a Lord Appellant himself) was 31, and would, of course, eventually see to Richard II’s downfall (and probably his demise as well). He would usurp Richard’s throne for himself, as Henry IV.

The gauntlet is thrown down in front of the King

The two men accused each other in the King’s presence, and Richard ordered a trial by combat. Bolingbroke was generally reckoned to be the innocent party, and received more support than Mowbray. The protagonists were to meet in single combat on Monday, 16th  September, 1398, at Gosford Green, near Caludon Castle, which was Mowbray’s Coventry residence.

Artist’s impression of Caludon Castle in the 16th century.
By English Heritage artist, Pete Urmston
.

Richard II was generally frowned upon for allowing the matter to reach such a point, and his closest advisers felt that great ill could result if it went ahead. But, it seemed, the king was determined to let the two lords slug it out in the lists.

The following is paraphrased from the Chronique De La Traison Et Mort De Richart Deux, Roy Dengleterre, 1846 translation by Benjamin Williams:-

At daybreak on the 16th September, Mowbray took leave of the king and after hearing three masses at the Carthusian monastery of St Anne’s, near Coventry, rode to his tent, near the lists at Gosford Green.,

Part of the original St Anne’s Monastery, Coventry

The world and his wife would be present, for it was an amazing occasion, news of which had been proclaimed far and wide.

Proclamation of a Tournament 1843
antique engraved hand-coloured medieval print

At the tent, his esquire, Jacques Felm of Bohemia, began dress him in his armour.

by Jan Provoost, 1515
Gosford Green still exists. Picture taken from Stoke Property Guide

The Constable and Marshal, with 20 followers, all armed and wearing livery of short doublets of red Kendal cloth, with silver girdles bearing the motto: “Honniz soit celluy qui mal pense”. They entered the lists at eight o’clock, together with many who can come from overseas to witness the duel.

Mediaeval Marshal – origin of image not known

At nine o’clock, Bolingbroke arrived, with followers on six chargers. He presented himself at the barrier of the lists, and the Constable and Marshal went to meet him, to formally request that he identify himself. He replied that he was the Duke of Hereford, come to prosecute his appeal in combatting the Duke of Norfolk, who ‘is a traitor, false and recreant to God, the King, his realm, and me’.

Jousting at Calais in the 1390s

The Constable and Marshal required him to swear an oath, and asked if he would enter the lists at that point. He said he would and ‘placed forward’ his shield, silver with a red cross, like that of St George. Then he closed his visor, crossed himself, called for his lance, and rode through the opened barrier to his pavilion, which was covered with red roses. Then, as was the custom, he alighted and went inside to await his opponent’s appearance.

Next, Richard II arrived, accompanied by all the nobles of England, Archbishop Walden of Canterbury, and the Count of St Pol. The king had with him full 20,000 archers and men-at-arms in great number.

Henry VIII arriving at the Field of Cloth of Gold, 1520

The king ascended to the royal stand, which was very handsomely adorned in royal array, and once he was seated, the king of the heralds cried out, ‘Oyez, oyez, oyez! Behold here Henry of Lancaster, Duke of Hereford, appellant, who is come to the lists to do his duty against Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, defendant; let him come to the lists to do his duty, upon pain of being declared false.’ This proclamation was called out three times.

Herald, from the Tournament Book of King Rene of Anjou

When this was done, the Constable and Marshal went to Mowbray, who had made his appearance before the barrier of the lists. He was sworn to his oath, they opened the barrier and he entered the list, saying ‘God speed the right!’

A very unlikely long-haired, thick-bearded Richard II presiding at a tournament. From the St Albans Chronicle

It was ordered that the contestants’ lances be brought and checked, to be sure they were the same length. When the lances had been returned, it was announced that the men’s chargers should be loosed, and that each man should perform his duty. Bolingbroke advanced seven or eight paces, but Mowbray remained motionless.

from Froissart

At that breathless, heart-stopping moment, the King rose and cried a halt. This amazing snapshot-in-time is a favourite subject for artists.

The crowds cried out in astonishment as he ordered the bemused contestants to their seats. There they remained for two hours, until it was decreed that although both men had appeared valiantly, prepared to defend their honour, the King had decided that Bolingbroke should quit the realm for ten years. There was uproar, but eventually it was also announced that Mowbray was to be banished from England for the rest of his life.

Mowbray and Bolingbroke before Richard II
from The Hollow Crown

Unlike the above illustration, the two men were not permitted to meet, but had to come separately into the King’s presence, where they swore to obey his command. And obey they did, which is how Mowbray came to die in Venice. Bolingbroke hadn’t long left the country when his father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster died, and Richard seized all Lancastrian property lands. Thus he gave Bolingbroke a cast-iron reason to come back to England and demand the return of his heritage. Then he, Bolingbroke, took all Richard’s lands…and his crown, throne and life as well.

Richard II is forced to abdicate

So, those far-off events on 16th September 1398 had far-reaching consequences, and led to the usurpation of the House of Lancaster.

Coronation of Henry IV, from BL Royal 18 E II, f. 404

When is a tilde not a tilde…?

 

How clever are you when it comes to the precise use of English, grammar, punctuation and so on? My query here is about the use of a tilde, that is a ~, on top of an “h” in the confession of Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, on the eve of his grisly death, 8th September 1397.

I cannot imagine its significance in this instance, because I know that a ~ generally means “approximately” or similar, and that in this example, “knowlech” means “knoweth”, means “know”. So, why the tilde?

This puzzle (to me, at least) was found in the book Fourteenth Century Studies, by M.V. Clarke. In particular, the chapter dealing with ‘The Deposition of Richard II’. The snippet below was taken from a pdf version online.

 

If anyone can help me with this, I’ll be grateful.

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy

I have a theory that a lot of what we call “history” arises from the “hospital pass”. (For those who don’t know, this term comes from Rugby. It’s where the ball is passed to you at a moment or in a situation where the opposition is bound (or at least likely) to recover the situation with a violent tackle.)

A good example of this are the events arising from the Hundred Years War. Now yes, there were genuine issues arising between England and France. These mostly arose from the status of Guienne, which the kings of England held as vassals of the kings of France. (Though it is ironic that some of the issues were the very issues that the English imposed on their Welsh and Scottish* vassals.)

*To avoid response from angry Scots, during the time when the Scots accepted vassalage, for example the reign of John Balliol.

The fact remains that France had about five times the population Of England and was (almost) correspondingly more wealthy. For the English to take on France in a major war (as opposed to a small one) was always going to be a stretch.

Ah, but you say, Edward III and the Black Prince succeeded! Did they not have glorious victories at Crecy and Poitiers? Did they not actually capture the French king and impose a humiliating peace on him? (Treaty of Bretigny.)

Yes, they did, with the benefit of novel tactics, excellent leadership and, let’s be honest, some help from Lady Luck.

BUT! (And it’s a very big but.) The French were not stupid. They soon figured out new tactics to defeat the English, the most important of which was “Don’t meet the English in pitched battle.” It doesn’t sound very impressive, does it, but the effect was remarkable. The English armies that went to France in the later 14th Century did a fair bit of damage (especially to poor people and their property) but they failed utterly to enforce the treaty or cause the French government to collapse. Moreover, these campaigns were costly in cash and lives.

What is too often forgotten by English historians (who are all too apt to pleasure themselves silly over Edward III’s “greatness”) is that by the end of his reign England was practically bankrupt, in a fair degree of political chaos and under regular attacks from French raids along the south coast.

At which point poor Richard II and his advisers took over this legacy of “glory”.

The English (or more particularly their ruling class) were frankly deluded. Yep, they wanted to carry on with the war. Why, they wanted to enforce the Treaty of Bretigny. Did they want to pay for it? Did they heck as like.

So, make peace instead? What, are you a traitor, sir!

There were of course truces. As the century dragged on, these were to become more regular. But the cost of the war led to desperate measures in the treasury. Which led to the introduction of the Poll Tax. Do I need to spell out how that went down?

Richard II actually offered to lead an army to France. Yes, really. Would Parliament pay for it? Would they heck!

So we come to 1386, with the French poised to attack across the Channel. Make no mistake, this was a serious threat. Probably more of a genuine threat than anything prepared by Napoleon or Hitler, hard though that may be to believe. The King goes to Parliament to ask for money to defend the nation. Does Parliament pay up? No, it goes spare, and forces on Richard a commission to run the country for 12 months.

Now this in turn (to cut a long story short) leads on to the Appellant Crisis and the judicial murder – for that was what it was! – of many of the King’s friends and advisers and the banishment of others. Do the Appellants do a better job? Do they somehow magically cut taxation and give the French a damn good thrashing? Do they heck as like. They prove just as clueless in government – if not more clueless – than the people they replaced.

Eventually, largely because John of Gaunt comes home and supports King Richard in his policies, and after a whole lot of haggling and abortive proposals, a peace of sorts is achieved. Not until late 1396 though, and it is in fact a 28 year truce, that leaves some of the awkward issues unsolved.

You might thing people would be delighted. But many of them weren’t. No, they wanted to carry on the war that they didn’t want to pay for. It’s one of the issues that makes Richard unpopular and leads to his downfall. Next post will relate the Lancastrian aftermath.

(This post reblogged From The Yorkist Age.)

 

Magna Carta and King Richard II….

Richard II under arrest

Here is the opening paragraph of an intriguing article by the excellent Professor Nigel Saul:-

“As increasing numbers of early copies of Magna Carta are identified in fourteenth- and early fifteenth century registers and cartularies, so we are becoming more aware of the close interest taken in the document by lawyers and political actors in the late Middle Ages. Of especial interest in this connection are the copies of the Charter made at two Gloucestershire monasteries at the end of the fourteenth century. Both copies attest to the revival of interest in the Charter at a time when Richard II’s bold autocracy was raising vital questions about how royal authority might legitimately be constrained and how such constraint might be maintained in the long term….”

Enter another Duke of Gloucester who was also the king’s uncle. In this instance, Thomas of Woodstock, youngest son of King Edward III. In his article, Professor Saul deals with the reasons why a new copy of Magna Carta was created in 1397, at a point in Richard’s reign when he, like King John, was being confronted by his angry barons (who are known to posterity as the Lords Appellant).

Professor Saul is always immensely readable, and he certainly knows his stuff when it comes to Richard II and the 14th century. The article is well worth reading, not least for the subtle political machinations of the Lords Appellant.

 

STATEMENT IN STONE

Most old castles will have graffiti both old and new pecked into their stonework somewhere. People like to leave A symbol for posterity (often unfortunately.) Very few ancient buildings, however, have the owner’s name graven into them for for eternity.

Not so at Caldicot in Wales. If you walk around to the back of the castle, you will clearly find the name ‘Thomas’ carved into one of the stones low in the arch of the postern gate. This Thomas happens to be Thomas of Woodstock (born 1355), 1st Duke of Gloucester, Earl of Buckingham and youngest son of Edward III.

Thomas was married to Eleanor de Bohun; Eleanor’s name is also on the door frame, although not as prominent as her husband’s. Her sister was Mary de Bohun, who married Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV. The sister were co-heiresses of the huge Bohun inheritance.

Thomas was one of the Lords Appellant who rose against Richard II, who was Thomas’s nephew. Thomas had early on showed disrespectful behaviour to the young king, bursting into his presence unannounced and speaking to him in a manner deemed improper. He was involved in a rebellion in 1388, which weakened Richard’s reign, and participated in the ‘Merciless Parliament’ which curbed Richard’s powers to rule.

However, when Richard married his second wife and began to forge continental alliances, Thomas became wrathful and angry once more. He complained bitterly to one of his knights that the king should have been invading France, not making a marriage with a French princess. He scorned the king as being indolent and only interested in food and drink instead of war and glory.

Soon after, he approached Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the grandson of Lionel of Clarence, and tried to involve him in a plot to depose and imprison the king and his new young wife. Roger, uneasy, made his excuses and vanished over to Ireland.

Word of Woodstock’s potential plot reached the king and Thomas was arrested in the presence of the king himself, who had ridden out with him, pleasantly enough it seemed, from Thomas’ castle  at Pleshey–then suddenly galloped on before him, leaving the guards to deal with Woodstock, who was hustled out of England on a ship and taken to Calais Castle. There, two months after his capture and just after giving his ‘confession,’ he died suddenly–rumours says he was strangled or suffocated by a mattress on or around September 8..

Thomas’s claim to Caldicot Castle was through Eleanor; it was part of the Bohun inheritance.He did not get to spend much time there but did order much building–the Woodstock Tower and the massive gatehouse with its vast apartments and unusual ornamentation.

The castle passed to his daughter Anne of Gloucester, who married, as her second husband, Edmund Stafford, later killed fighting at the Battle of Shrewsbury. They had a son, however, called Humphrey, who became the 1st Duke of Buckingham; a loyal Lancastrian, he died for their cause at Northampton. Humphrey’s grandson, of course, was the notorious Henry Stafford, suspect in the disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and a rebel who lost his head in Salisbury on November 2 1483…

 

Murrey and Blue interviews Michael K. Jones

  • Which of the Black Prince’s military achievements is the most impressive and why?

The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’

The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.

Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.

In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’

Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.

It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.

  •  Do you think the Black Prince would have made a good king?

 The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’

Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.

The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt.  A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.

  • Was any part of Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ justified?

Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.

The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

  • In the fifteenth century, did the Yorkists or the Lancastrians have a better claim to the throne?

 The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.

However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.

  • Did Margaret Beaufort consistently plot to put her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne, or was she – initially at least – trying to engineer his return to England, and a position within the Yorkist realm?

It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.

Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).

For Michael Jones’s author website see: www.michaeljoneshistorian.com

Beads of gold with buckles….?

thomas-beauchamp-11th-earl-of-warwick

Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, KG, from the Bruges Garter Book, 1430/1440, BL Stowe 594.

This started out as my first crie de coeur of 2017, and things did not bode well from the outset because I muddled my Thomas Beauchamps. Father and son, both Earls of Warwick, but it turns out to be the father I must refer to, not the son. As I now know thanks to the kind help of Susan Troxell.

Thomas Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick is perhaps most famous to the layman because of his portrait as a Knight of the Garter. It is not a true likeness, of course, because this renowned sequence of drawings dates from the 15th century. His real appearance is a mystery, but we do know he was very close to King Edward III, and served loyally during the Hundred Years War.

My quest concerning him arose because I was puzzled by a passage on page 1 of Goodman’s The Loyal Conspiracy: The Lords Appellant under Richard II:-

“…In 1369 Earl Thomas bequeathed ‘an ouche [clasp/brooch], called the eagle, which the Prince [Black Prince] gave me…” and then “…a set of beads of gold with buckles which the Queen [Philippa] gave me…”

The eagle clasp/brooch I can picture, but not the set of beads of gold with buckles. I sought help from my friends on Facebook, and among the many who replied (thank you to them all) was Susan, who (with her husband) not only realized I was chasing the wrong earl (that’s me all over, I just can’t leave earls alone!) but was of the opinion that the buckles would be the gold filigree around each bead, fastening it to the next.

The crux of it is, of course, what the beads actually were. Rosaries are referred to as beads, and the wills of both Thomas Beauchamps mention “rosaries with buckles”, the son being more specific with “a pair of paternosters of coral, with buckles of gold”. Might this be the answer?

Erik Michaelson has very kindly sent me Lambeth Palace Archive links to the wills of both Beauchamps:-

http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=V%2FA%2F6Whittlesey%2F110

http://archives.lambethpalacelibrary.org.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=V%2FA%2F9Arundel1%2F179a

Maybe someone can read them? I cannot, I fear, but if the translation is at the heart of the matter, it might be very interesting to find out what, exactly, their wills specified.

Over to you, ladies and gentlemen…

 

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