The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross took place on February 2, 1461. Here, in a Herefordshire field, 18 year old Edward earl of March, gazed up and saw the phenomena known as the Parhelion, the three suns, rising in the sky. His men were frightened but Edward turned the situation to his advantage, telling his army of approx 5000 that the three suns represented the Trinity and were an indication that God was on his side.
Edward’s remit was to defeat the Lancastrian forces of Jasper and Owen Tudor, and thus keep them from joining with the main Lancastrian army of Queen Margaret. Owen Tudor tried to encircle the Yorkist forces with his battalion but he was driven back and routed; when this occurred, Jasper Tudor’s centre also collapsed. The Lancastrians were chased as far as Hereford, where Owen Tudor was captured and beheaded in the town square.
One month later, Edward entered London and was declared Edward IV of England.
Despite the importance of this battle of the Wars of the Roses, it seems there has been little archaeology done on the battlefield. As with so many of these medieval battles, even the exact location of the fighting is debatable. (Some say it took place in the valley with the river Lugg at Edward’s rear, but Gregory’s Chronicle describes a ‘fair plain.)
However, some of these mysteries may well be resolved in the near future. The Heritage Lottery Fund has granted £84,000 to investigate the battlefield, which may contain the mass graves of fallen soldiers.
In the summer of 1450, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, threw in his appointments in Ireland to return to England to assert his rights as heir to the throne of the inept Lancastrian king, Henry VI. The ensuing confrontation with poor Henry, who really was too gentle to be king, led to Parliament being called for 6th November, 1450.
From then began the relentless slide into the thirty years of civil strife, now known as the Wars of the Roses. And the event that prompted York’s return was, I believe, the Kent rebellion of that summer, led by a mysterious figure known to us as Jack Cade.
Before I go on, it is necessary to explain York’s strong claim, which came through two sons of Edward III. One was Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, who was Edward’s fourth surviving son. The other—much more importantly—was Edward’s second son, Lionel, 1st Duke of Clarence, albeit through Lionel’s daughter and only child, Philippa. She married Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, and their children therefore had a strong claim to the throne. Lionel’s was the premier surviving branch. His elder brother, the Black Prince, only produced Richard II, who died childless. The only trouble was, Philippa was not a man. If she had been, the whole matter of the succession would have been cut and dried.So the blood of Lionel’s daughter Philippa was far senior to that of the children of Edward III’s third son, John of Gaunt, from whom descended the line of Lancastrian kings that had usurped the throne from Richard II in the first place.
So, Richard, Duke of York, had the blood of Lionel and Edmund, 2nd and 4th sons of Edward III, whereas the Lancastrians had the blood of Gaunt, the third son. All in all, York rightly considered himself to have the superior claim. And he pushed for recognition.
Henry VI was not unpopular in himself, he was too mild and pious for that, but his government, his queen and her favourite, Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Earl of Oxford (widely suspected of being the queen’s lover and the father of boy born suspiciously long after the royal marriage) were exceedingly unpopular. There was no justice for any man unless he had influence, and influence was mostly corrupt and ruthless. The Lancastrian government and its friends rode roughshod over the people, and conspired to see the troublesome York appointed Lieutenant of Ireland, safely out of the way.
Then at the end of May 1450, along came Jack Cade, who was also known as John Amend-All, on account of his rallying cries that he would right all the many wrongs committed by Henry VI’s regime. But he called himself John Mortimer, and as Captain of Kent began rousing the men of that county to march on London. Cade’s army at one point numbered 40,000 men, so it was not a meagre little uprising that didn’t warrant much attention. Declaring that he was the Captain of Kent, Cade even held London, and on his way to take possession is said to have passed the London Stone in Cannon Street, which he struck with his sword and proclaimed that now Mortimer was lord of the capital.
By choosing the name Mortimer, he conjured York to people’s minds. Mortimer indicated the premier right to the crown of England, and Cade was pushing the fact. So…who was he? An agent of the Duke of York come to claim his crown? Or a real Mortimer—the line of which was believed extinct—come to follow his own destiny?
A real Mortimer was what Cade claimed to be, presumably from the wrong side of the blanket. The last Mortimer Earl of March was Edmund, the 5th Earl, who died in 1425. Edmund married a daughter of Owain Glyndŵr in 1402—was Cade the result of this union? If so, he was descended from Llewellyn the Great. He also had a claim not only to the title and lands of the Mortimers, but to the throne now occupied by Henry VI.
According to The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, there was at around that time, i.e. 1425, an enigmatic Welsh poet named Sion O’Caint, which translates as ‘John of Kent’”. John Cade? Caeade (pronounced Cade) means ‘covered over’ in Welsh. Was it a play on words that actually referred to ‘covered over’ or hidden Mortimer blood? Did this Sion O’Caint have anything whatsoever to do with Cade? Who can say?
Was the Duke of York involved up to this point? He does not seem to have been, even though his Yorkist followers clearly regarded Cade’s cause as their own. Among the articles and requests Cade submitted to the king was a demand for the return to England of the Duke of York, and by now it was clear that many of the king’s men were in sympathy with the rebels. In fact, it was clear that a great part of the realm wanted York to come home.
Over the following days there were disturbances and deaths, both noble and common, and among those executed at Whitechapel was one John Bailey, who was “supposed to have known too much about [Cade’s] antecedents”. His head was displayed on London Bridge. Then the government fought back and there was a full-scale attack on London Bridge, which was held by the rebels.
The struggle went on all night, until the Bishop of Winchester, William of Waynflete, sought an armistice. He had a meeting with Cade, and offered pardons—Cade’s was to be under the name John Mortimer.
This was to spell the end, because under the name John/Jack Cade, he was still a hunted man. He was pursued and mortally wounded, dying when being conveyed back to London. His body was exhibited for identification, and then quartered and beheaded. The head was exhibited on London Bridge, probably while John Bailey’s was still there.
What was it about Cade’s background that Bailey might have known? We will never know.
Meanwhile, in Ireland, the Duke of York had been following events with great interest, and was very well aware that the country had risen for the name Mortimer. The time had come for him to assert himself, and his rightful claims. So he left Ireland and came to London.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Humphrey Duke of Gloucester from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book
A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.
Greenwich Palace, or Placentia as it is often known, was built around 1433 by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, who named it Bella Court after he had been granted the Manor of Greenwich by his nephew Henry Vl. There had been been an even older palace on that site, perhaps dating from the reign of Edward l. Henry lV dated his will from his ‘Manor of Greenwich January 22nd 1408′ and the palace appears to have been his favourite residence. However, the grant in 1433 of 200 acres of land was for the purpose of enclosing it as a park. It would seem that Humphrey was pleased with the spot because 4 years later he and his ill-fated wife, Eleanor Cobham, obtained a similar grant and in that, licence was given for the owners to ’embattle and build with stone’ as well as ‘to enclose and make a tower and ditch within the same and a certain tower within the part to build and edify’ (1)
Part of the drawing of Greenwich Palace by Anthony van der Wyngaerde 1558 with Duke Humphrey’s tower on top of the hill.
Accordingly soon after this Humphrey commenced building the tower within what is now the site of the Royal Observatory which was then called Greenwich Castle, and he likewise rebuilt the old palace on the spot where the west wing of the Royal Naval College now stands which he renamed from its agreeable situation, Pleazaunce or Placentia although this name was not commonly used until the reign of Henry Vlll.
Another view of van der Wyngaerde’s drawing of Greenwich Palace c 1558
Upon Humphrey’s death the palace was granted to his nemesis, Margaret of Anjou. Margaret added embellishments including terracotta tiles bearing her monogram, filled the windows with glass and built a landing stage and treasure house (2)
A view of Greenwich Palace from a print published by the Society of Antiquaries 1767
Later Edward IV enlarged the park, stocked it with deer and bestowed it as a residence upon Elizabeth Wydeville. Greenwich has been mentioned as one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and it certainly crops up regularly in Edward’s itinerary (3). A joust was held there on the occasion of Richard of Shrewsbury’s marriage to Anne Mowbray and it was there at Greenwich on the 19th November 1481 that Anne tragically died at the age of just 8 years old and a few short months later, Edward and Elizabeth’s own daughter, the 15 year old Princess Mary also died on either the 20th or 23rd May 1482. The manuscript covering Mary’s death says she died ‘in the town’ but it is probable this meant the palace and presumably she would have ‘lain in the chapel of the palace with appropriate services and perhaps the attendance of her parents'(3). A week after her death, on the 27th May, Mary’s body was taken to the parish church of Greenwich on the first stage of the final journey to St Georges Chapel, Windsor. Mary may have been visited by her father, Edward lV, a few days before her death. He was at Canterbury on the 17th and back in London on the 23rd which may have been the day that his daughter breathed her last so clearly if he did indeed visit he did not linger. Numerous Wydeville ladies were conspicuous among the mourners including Jane, Lady Grey of Ruthin, sister to the queen and Jacquetta, another sister’s daugher, Joan Lady Strange, wife of George Stanley. Another niece, Lady ‘Dame’ Katherine Grey, possibly the daughter of Jane Wydeville was also present. Dinner for the funeral group was at the palace after which Mary’s body was taken from the church and begun its last sad journey to Windsor. Mary’s funeral is more than adequately covered in The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor by Anne F Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs. It may well be that sisters-in-law Anne and Mary knew each other well and that perhaps Greenwich Palace was being used as a royal nursery in much the same way as Sheriff Hutton was later to become, although the age gap would surely have prevented them from being actual playmates.
The Royal Window, Canterbury Cathedral. Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters. Mary is shown as the last figure on the right hand side. Greenwich was one of Elizabeth’s favourite homes and where her daugher Mary died in 1482.
Greenwich Palace conveniently came into Henry Tudor’s hands when Elizabeth Wydeville was, ummmmm, retired to Bermondsey Abbey on an altogether frivolous charge. It is true to say that Tudor heavily rebuilt the palace between 1498 and 1504, renaming it Placentia, (the pleasant place), and the result of which is that any reference to Placentia usually finds it referred to as a Tudor palace but it is the earlier years of the palace with its Lancastrian and Yorkist links that I find the most intriguing.
Modern plaque commemorating the ‘building’ of Greenwich Palace by Henry Tudor. Visitors could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking , with no mention made of the earlier palace, that Tudor was reponsible for the building of Greenwich Palace from the onset.
Later in its long history the palace was to see many important events including the birth of Henry Vlll in 1491. Henry jnr spared no expense in beautifying Placentia and his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was solemnised there on the 3 June 1509. Many sumptious banquets, revels and jousts were held there – in Henry’s ‘Manor of Pleazaunce’ – and both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth were born there. Details of these and other less salubrious events such as the arrest of Anne Boleyn are readily available to anyone who is interested in the Tudors and their shenanigans and I will not cover them here. The Tudors were emulated by the Stuarts in choosing Placentia as a favourite residence until Charles ll, finding the old palace greatly decayed, ordered it to be taken down and yet another new palace to be built. Thus Greenwich or Placentia – whichever name you prefer arose, phoenix like from the ashes and a new chapter in its long history commenced.
As a footnote to Greenwich Palace and its rich history, much excitement has been created by the discovery by archaeologists working on the painted hall at the Old Royal Naval College of the discovery of two room, thought to have been used as kitchen or laundry rooms from the old palace. One of these rooms featured a lead-glazed tiled floor and wall cavities which may have been used to store food and drink or even ‘bee boles’ which would have housed beehive baskets or ‘skeps’ during the winter when the bee colonies hibernated.
The cavities from Greenwich Palace believed to be for storing food, drink or even ‘bee boles’.
Edward, Prince of Wales, the eighteen-year-old son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, was killed in the Battle of Tewkesbury, 4th May 1471. He became the subject of an exclusive posthumous cult.
The chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey tells of the Prince’s death in battle and of his burial ‘in the mydste of the covent quiere in the monastery ther’; the short paragraph describing his death ends with the words ‘for whom god worketh’, a reference to miracles performed at the tomb, which is now lost. The plaque in the floor of the abbey merely marks that he rests somewhere close by. A little like the tomb of Queen Anne Neville in Westminster abbey. The quire is in the western part of the chancel, between the nave and the sanctuary, which houses the altar and tabernacle. In 1911, flowers were still being laid on the site of the grave.
Further evidence of interest in the Prince includes an annual commemoration, bequests at his tomb, and pilgrimage to it. Queen Elizabeth of York offered, in March 1502. ‘to Prince Edward 5s’, though it was not indicated where exactly she offered them. There was a cult of the prince’s father, the saintly Henry VI, and Elizabeth offered three times at his shrine in Windsor. Henry VII must have granted his permission for these offerings.
In 1508 Edward, Duke of Buckingham (died 1521) visited the prince’s tomb in Tewkesbury. Danna Piroyansky, author of Martyrs in the Making – Political Martyrdom in Late Medieval England, considers he may have been hoping to advertise his Lancastrian connections, which made him a potential claimant to the throne, but I cannot go along with that. Advertise his closeness to the throne when Henry VII and then Henry VIII were reigning? It would amount to something close to a death wish.
To return to Prince Edward. He is believed to have fallen in battle, and the story of him being caught fleeing could be a Yorkist attempt to ridicule the Lancastrian heir’s courage, and thus contrast him unfavourably with the ‘courageous and manly’ Edward IV. It has to be considered. As does the other story that he was murdered by Richard of Gloucester to clear the way to marriage with Anne Neville, whose husband the prince was. This latter tale strikes me as another calculated Tudor fib to blacken Richard’s name.
I digress. After the battle, Edward IV attempted to check the much more important cult that swiftly arose around Henry VI, but there is no evidence that he did the same in the case of Prince Edward. Maybe because it was a number of years after Tewkesbury—1502—when his cult began to develop. And 1502 is when we have Elizabeth of York offering 5s ‘to Prince Edward’.
Now, there was more than one Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, of course. Another was the elder of Elizabeth’s two brothers, who was briefly King Edward V, and had been famously ensconced in the Tower with his younger brother. No one knows what happened to the boys, and everyone likes to blame Richard III. Failing that, they blame the Duke of Buckingham, Margaret Beaufort and Henry VII. The disappearance of Edward IV’s sons might have suited a number of people.
There is a question mark over the claimant Perkin Warbeck, who led Henry such a merry dance. Many believe he really was who he said he was, the younger boy from the Tower, Richard, Duke of York. If that is true, then what happened to the older of the boys, the lost King Edward V? If the little Duke of York had survived to manhood, why would he, not his elder brother, come back to haunt Henry VII? Maybe because Edward V—Prince Edward—died of natural causes?
If so, where might King/Prince Edward be buried? Presuming he died in England, of course. Perhaps a suitably secret place was one that was really quite obvious – the tomb of another Prince Edward. Elizabeth of York’s uncle and aunt, George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville, his duchess, were already buried in Tewkesbury Abbey, so the abbey may have seemed a good idea because of them as well.
Above is Clarence House, Tewkesbury. Might it have once had something to do with George of Clarence? He was granted Tewkesbury, had a bridge built there, and was buried in the abbey, so it is clear he had a lot to do with the town. This might have been his residence.
Would Elizabeth of York have to go to Tewkesbury in person to offer? Or could she send someone? There is no record (as far as I know) of her visiting Tewkesbury, so I think she would have delegated. Thus she could honour her lost brother right under her husband’s nose, in the guise of commemorating Edward of Lancaster.
Too far-fetched? Well, I am a novelist, but I do not see this as being so far-fetched as to be impossible. I have no doubt that those of you who think it is wildly unlikely will soon tell me so!
PS: A third Prince Edward, another Prince of Wales, was Richard III’s little son, about whose death and whereabouts there is still such a mystery. I will not pamper the novelist in me by wondering if Tewkesbury might be his resting place as well. With his uncle, George, Duke of Clarence. A temporary interment, while Richard prepared a much grander tomb for himself, his queen and his son. But then Bosworth put a stop to any plan poor widowed Richard may have had.
Well, OK, I admit it, the picture right above is NOT Edmund. It’s just an image of a young knight, which is what Edmund was at the time of his death. The trouble is, what did Edmund of Rutland actually look like? Another giant like his elder brother Edward IV? Or…smaller and more delicate, like his younger brothers, George of Clarence and Richard III? Well, certainly as Richard III was, and it is now suggested that George was the same. (To read more about this, click here.)
Back to Edmund. First, a little background to his life and premature death. Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, descended paternally from Edward of Langley, youngest son of King Edward II. He was born at Rouen on 17th May, 1443 (574 years ago this month), and besides his English title, had an Irish one, Earl of Cork. His father was Richard Duke of York, Protector of England and supposed heir to the English throne. His mother, Cecily Neville, was a daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland.
I will not go into the details of York’s claim to the throne, suffice it that the House of Lancaster was seated there but King Henry VI was weak-minded and ineffectual, and York (rightly) disagreed with his right to the crown. Henry’s fierce queen, Margaret of Anjou, was certainly not weak-minded, and she had a seven-year-old son to protect, Edward, Prince of Wales. She had no intention of endangering his eventual succession, and in 1449 York was appointed Viceroy of Ireland, and thus was (for the time being) safely out of the Lancastrian way. York’s second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland and went with his father.
In July 1449, York and Edmund, together with York’s pregnant duchess (on 12th October she would give birth to George, Duke of Clarence), set sail for Howth, then the chief port of Dublin. They landed on 14th of the month. York soon gained the appreciation of the Irish, as well as the resident English, and the House of York was to retain that land’s support.
Not all York’s children went with him to Ireland, for his eldest son and heir, Edward, Earl of March, was holding Calais with York’s brother-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The great Kingmaker. At that time Warwick supported York’s claims. It would not always be thus, of course.
Edward and Warwick raised an army and invaded England to defeat the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton.
King Henry was captured, and London fell into Yorkist possession. York returned from Ireland with Edmund, and was reaffirmed as heir to the throne. The Yorkist ascendancy was soon imperilled, however, and York and Edmund found themselves trapped in Sandal Castle, near Wakefield.
They and a mere 5,000 men were besieged by the Lancastrians with 20,000 men. Help was on the way from Edward, but although York was urged to stay tight, he insisted on going out to give battle. There are varying reasons given for his decision to fight, one being that he was convinced he had enough friends in the opposing army who would come over to him. If this reason is true, he was wrong. If he’d held back, we might have had a different Richard III! And our Richard III would have been Richard IV.
The following is taken from The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland: From the Earliest Times to the Reign of Queen Victoria, Volume 1, by James Roderick O’Flanagan. The illustrations are my insertions. O’Flanagan (1814-1900) wrote a great deal about Irish history, and may have had access to a source that gives the description of Edmund. Or it might be his own invention, of course. One cannot always tell with writers of the 19th century.:-
“…On the eve of Christmas, December 24, 1460, the Duke’s army marched out of the castle and offered the Lancastrians battle. By the side of the Duke fought his second son, the young Chancellor of Ireland, whose years had not past their teens, but who, under a fair and almost effeminate appearance, carried a brave and intrepid spirit. The forces of the Queen resolved to annihilate their audacious foes, and soon the duke found how little reason he had to hope of finding friends in the camp of Queen Margaret. The historian Hume says,1 ‘the great inequality of numbers was sufficient alone to decide the victory, but the queen, by sending a detachment, who fell on the back of the Duke’s army, rendered her advantage still more certain and undisputed. The duke himself was killed in the action; and when his body was found among the slain the head was cut off by Margaret’s orders and fixed on the gates of York, with a paper crown upon it, in derision of his pretended title.’
“…The fate of the young Chancellor was soon over. Urged by his tutor, a priest named Robert Aspell, he was no sooner aware that the field was lost than he sought safety by flight. Their movements were intercepted by the Lancastrians, and Lord Clifford made him prisoner, but did not then know his rank. Struck by the richness of his armour and equipment, Lord Clifford demanded his name. ‘Save him,’ implored the Chaplain; ‘for he is the Prince’s son, and peradventure may do you good hereafter.’
“….This was an impolitic appeal, for it denoted hopes of the House of York being again in the ascendant, which the Lancastrians, flushed with recent victory, regarded as impossible. The ruthless noble swore a solemn oath:— ‘Thy father,’ said he, ‘slew mine; and so will I do thee and all thy kin;’ and with these words he rushed on the hapless youth, and drove his dagger to the hilt in his heart. Thus fell, at the early age of seventeen, Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland, Lord Chancellor of Ireland…”
1Hume’s History of England, vol iii, page 304.
The above, in a nutshell, is the life and death of Edmund Plantagenet, the York brother who is mostly forgotten.
I am intrigued by the description of Edmund as being of a fair and almost effeminate appearance. Given the similar description of Richard III as being delicate with gracile bones, and the fact that he was certainly handsome without being rugged, I am forced to wonder if Richard wasn’t the only brother with those attributes. I know ‘fair’ doesn’t necessarily mean blond—more likely ‘good-looking’—but ‘effeminate’ (rightly or wrongly) presents us with a definite type of appearance. Edward IV may have been 6’ 4”, but was he the only tall brother? Richard would have been 5’ 8” if it were not for his scoliosis, and that was a good height for the 15th century.
We’ve had speculation about the height of George of Clarence when compared with Richard (George may have been smaller), but what about Edmund of Rutland? Yes, he could have been 6’ 4” and still be effeminate, but I’m inclined to doubt it. Comment was made about Edward’s height. If Edmund had been like that, surely he too would get a mention? I had never seen a description of Edmund before, apart from Edward Hall’s Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre & Yorke: ‘While this battaill was in fightyng, a prieste called sir Robert Aspall, chappelain and schole master to the yong erle of Rutland ii. sonne to the aboue named duke of Yorke, scace of y age of. xii. yeres, a faire getlema, and a maydenlike person….’ Just what might ‘maydenlike’ actually mean? Young? Virginal? Like a girl? All three?
In 1476, the bodies of both York and Edmund were moved to Fotheringhay, and the magnificent church that honours so many members of the House of York.
And now a curiosity, which may or may not be actually connected with Edmund, beyond his name and title. On the other hand, perhaps it’s another indication of his physical appearance.:—
Medieval silver vervel / Circa 1440-1460 |/ A silver hawking leg ring or vervel inscribed ‘+Earle of Rutland’ in derivative black letter script, for a female merlin or sparrowhawk (due to the youth of Edmund Plantagenet who died aged 17). Silver, 0.56g, 8.81mm.
Might a female merlin or sparrowhawk be a reference of Edmund’s looks, not simply his youth? Equally, it might not indicate any such thing, of course, but if the ring is dated to circa 1440-60 (and if the inscription is contemporary), the maker could certainly have known/seen him. But the inscription does not look 15th century to me. I’m no expert, though.
And finally, the novelty of a ‘conspiracy theory’ about Edmund’s death (or survival!) go to https://doublehistory.com/tag/edmund-earl-of-rutland/.
And to cap it all, we even have Kittens in the Tower!
Oh, for heaven’s sake!
Right, there is a famous “story” about one of our 15th-century princes of Wales, specifically Edward of Lancaster (or Westminster), seven-year-old son and heir of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. The fame goes that after the 2nd Battle of St Albans, which his side won, his mother asked him to decide the fate of two opposition knights who had been found guarding his father, the captive, rather weak-minded Henry VI. Little Edward chose to have their heads lopped off, even though his father protested. The prince was to eventually come off worst at the Battle of Tewkesbury, at the age of eighteen. (There are various versions of how he died, and at whose hand.)
Royal boys had armour in those days, and there are examples in the White Tower. Was Edward wearing something like this at the time of his supposed seven-year-old bloodthirstiness?
Well, of course, no one knows if the story is true. If it is, the adjective “bloodthirsty” is well earned where Edward of Lancaster is concerned. If it’s untrue, well, he is exonerated. But, given all the ferocious training young aristocratic and royal boys had to go through from the age of seven, he would certainly have already been faced with the brutal reality of medieval warfare. They all were. They learned to handle weapons that could kill, and were shown exactly how to put an end to an opponent. Some idea of this can be seen at http://www.lordsandladies.org/knighthood-training.htm and the following illustrations show more.
Imagine our little boys being confronted with such an armoury, and told they will be expected to be master of it all before they’re even men. Imagine them even being sent away to strangers to start learning how to shed blood. Unthinkable.
Like Edward of Lancaster, Richard of Gloucester (the future Richard III) is another example of this same rigorous knightly tuition from the age of seven, and learned every battle skill he might ever need. And he was very good at it. By seventeen he had his own independent command, and took part in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. It was expected of him, and he met the challenge.
The boys in the Tower were Richard’s nephews. The elder was another Edward, Prince of Wales of questionable legitimacy (there are considerable doubts that Henry VI was Edward of Lancaster’s father), and was coming up for thirteen when he and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury (aged ten) were ensconced in the royal apartments of the Tower in 1483, after their father’s unexpected death. Both boys would have been well into their training.
They were princes of the blood. They were educated, conditioned with a sense of their superiority and importance, and learning the hows and ways of defending themselves in battle. So, in my opinion, big-eyed, clingy, vulnerable, little golden angels they were not. Yet all we see are paintings that follow the same melted-marshmallow theme.
Do we ever see similar gushing illustrations of little eight-year-old Richard of Gloucester, in exile, clinging to his not-much-older brother George of Clarence after the deaths of their father and another elder brother, Edmund? No. Why? Because there are Tudor pawmarks all over the advent of the nauseating chocolate-box images. For the advent of everything concerning the boys of 1483, in fact. There is no evidence that they were killed at all, let alone by their wicked Uncle Richard. And they weren’t in a dungeon in the tower, they were in the royal palace apartments. Theories of their fate abound, of course, but that is not of concern here. And—whisper it loudly!—the Tudors themselves weren’t without good motive for despatching the boys.
Anyway, if I never see another sugary portrait of these yucky little angels, I will be well pleased.
(On another note entirely, there is another Murrey and Blue post about how portraits can influence us. See https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/can-a-picture-paint-a-thousand-words/)
Towton is regarded by many historians as the worst battle to ever be fought on English soil in terms of the number of combatants, casualty figures, conditions on the day and treatment of those captured during the rout.
It is always extremely difficult to gauge the reality of the medieval battlefield due to a number of factors. There were other, more ancient battles that were recorded in annals and chronicles which talk of massive numbers of combatants and bloody routs – Boudicca’s last stand on Watling Street in 60-1 AD, the Battle of Brunanburgh in 937 AD and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 for example but how reliable were the figures recorded at the time or later by chroniclers and historians?
Without reliable eye witness accounts and archaeological evidence of mass grave pits, it is difficult to establish exactly how many troops were present, how many were actually killed…
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The Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471 was to prove decisive for the reign of our first Yorkist king. The opponents were Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians, versus King Edward IV and the Yorkists. Margaret was defeated, and her heart and spirit was broken by the death in battle of her only son, Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales.
This article is concerned with what happened immediately before the battle, when there was a game of hide and seek between the foes. Margaret set off north from Bristol, intending to cross the Severn at Gloucester, which was the first bridge over the dangerously tidal river. Edward had been thrown off the scent, but suddenly realized what she was doing, and set off north on a parallel route, up on the drove road along the edge of the Cotswold escarpment, while Margaret’s exhausted army trudged the wetter alluvial road in the vale of the Severn.
It was clear to Edward that she planned to enter Gloucester and cross the bridge, the only access to which was through the town. The main road to the west crossed three branches of the Severn and low-lying meadows by a series of bridges and a long causeway.
Edward sent a swift rider ahead to order the governor of Gloucester, Sir Richard Beauchamp, to close the gates against the Lancastrians and hold the town. Sir Richard was the son of a staunch Lancastrian, but was now loyal to Edward, and did as he was commanded.
Margaret could have taken Gloucester by force, but it would have been time-consuming, and she did not dare to risk Edward’s forces coming up behind her. She decided to march on north for the town of Tewkesbury, where there was a ford over the Severn at Lower Lode. The next bridge over the river was further north again, at Upton-on-Severn. The ford was impassable, Edward was almost upon her, and so Margaret prepared to make a stand. The rest, as they say, is history.
If you visit Gloucester today, it is hard to associate anything with the Gloucester of 1471. Oh, there are four main streets that form a crossroad in the heart of the city: Southgate, Northgate, Eastgate and Westgate. But the gates themselves have long since gone, and the streets are now pedestrianised. There are medieval buildings, if one knows where to look, but a great deal of wanton 1960s damage was done to Gloucester’s soul. The cathedral remains, however, and is still (in my opinion) the most handsome of all our cathedrals. But perhaps I’m biased.
What has also gone forever is the castle from where Sir Richard would have commanded his men as Margaret’s host banged at the gates. First it was dismantled until only the keep was left, and this was used as a gaol. Then that too was pulled down, and HMP Prison Gloucester was built. That is also no more, and in excavations they have found the remains of the old castle keep. What goes around, comes around.
The original castle nestled in the south-western curve of the old city walls, beside the river and quay, and would have been able to overlook the approach to the South Gate. This is surely the way Margaret would have come.
The land on the floor of the Severn vale is flat Severn clay, which after rain is like thick half-set glue. Whether it had been raining or not I don’t know, although I imagine that the impassable ford at Lower Lode meant there had been a quantity of rain in recent days. Well, there had been somewhere upstream on the Severn, if not in Gloucestershire. Or, of course, there was the Severn bore to consider, with the notoriously hazardous wave sweeping well inland. I have been told that it was not unheard of for it to sweep all the way to Worcester. There is a weir at Gloucester now, to stop it, but in 1471 Tewkesbury was well within reach. And spring tides are high in March, April and May.
If these conditions prevailed, Margaret’s men would have been even more disheartened. More than that, the land south of Gloucester was marshy anyway back then, the river would spread out of its bed. Thus the main road from Bristol was on another causeway. Not the ideal landscape and conditions for a medieval army that was already weary. (The land had been drained a great deal by the time the illustration below was drawn.)
Map of 1712 showing South Gate and Castle (middle, bottom, just above river)
With the gates closed firmly against them, Margaret marched on north, and Sir Richard Beauchamp’s men came out behind her army and harried the rear, capturing some guns. He was to be knighted after the battle.
An artist’s impression of Margaret of Anjou being taken away in defeat
In a beautiful, sleepy Oxfordshire village stands the church of St Mary the Virgin. Once this village was a much busier place, with ornate Almhouses known as ‘God’s House’ (now partly a school) and a lavish manor house that was near enough a palace. Other than a wall of the old dairy, not one trace of the manor now remains above ground, but in the 15th century this was the home of Alice de la Pole, wife of William de la Pole, Earl and later Duke of Suffolk.
Alice was the grand daughter of one of the most famous English writers of all time, Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame.Her father was Thomas Chaucer and her mother Maud or Matilda Burghersh who are both buried in the church in an altar tomb set with fine brasses and covered in the wheel symbol of the de Roets and the leopards of the Plantagenets. Alice was married three times, first to Sir John Philip, then Thomas Montagu Earl of Salisbury, and finally to William de la Pole. Her son, John de la Pole, married Elizabeth of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, and John’s son, Alice’s grandson, was John Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard III made his heir after the death of Edward of Middleham.
Alice’s husband William was murdered when his ship was intercepted by a huge royal warship called ‘Nicholas of the Tower’ while crossing the Channel as he went into exile. Immediately he knew doom had befallen him; he had been told years before by the astrologer Stacey that he must ‘beware the Tower.’ Taken on board the enemy ship, he was beheaded with ‘many blows’ from a rusty sword and his body displayed for all to see upon the sands at Dover, his head stuck upon a stake.
Alice inherited many lands and manors from her husband and as she loaned a considerable amount of money to the Crown, the lands and titles were not placed under attainder. At one point she was constable of nearby Wallingford castle and as such custodian of both the ill-fated Henry Holland Duke of Exter (later to suspiciously ‘fall off’ a ship and drown after Edward IV’s French campaign) and Margaret of Anjou in the aftermath of Tewkesbury. Years before, Alice had been one of Queen Margaret’s ladies in waiting.
Alice died in 1475 at the age of 71. She has a large and elaborate alabaster tomb of exceedingly fine workmanship. On top lies the effigy of a strong-featured but peaceful-looking woman wearing a coronet; below the top, in a recess, lies a macabre memento mori monument of the Duchess as a decaying corpse, a grim reminder of the transience of life.