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Thomas Langton: Richard III’s Character Witness

RICARDIAN LOONS

Amongst the glories of Winchester Cathedral, there is a chantry chapel of outstanding beauty and magnificence. The man who is buried there, and for whom the roof bosses provide a rebus clue, is Thomas Langton, who died of plague in 1501 only days after being elected by Henry VII as Archbishop of Canterbury. Earlier, he had served as the Bishop of Winchester (1493-1501), Salisbury (1484-93) and St. David’s (1483-84), and acted as a servant to three — or four, depending on how you count — English kings. As the information plaque at Winchester Cathedral succinctly announces, Langton had been a chaplain to Edward IV and Richard III, and Ambassador to France and Rome.

Although his death came as a surprise in his 70th year, he did have the opportunity to make an extensive will, showing he died a very wealthy man. It runs to over 100 items, and contains…

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An award for masochism?

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The 1538 plot first saw Sir Geoffrey Pole arrested that autumn and compelled, by a threat to torture his servants, to give evidence about the activities of his exiled brother Reginald and other relatives. Henry Pole Lord Montagu and Henry Courtenay Marquess of Exeter were arrested next, together with Montagu’s son Henry the Younger and brother-in-law Sir Edward Neville, Exeter’s wife Gertrude Blount and their son Edward. Montagu was, of course, George of Clarence’s grandson and Exeter was Edward IV’s. Reginald and Henry the Younger had both been considered as husbands for Princess Mary.

Henry Pole the Younger and Thomas Courtenay are both likely to have been under age in 1538 because almost all of the adult prisoners here – Montagu, Neville and Exeter – were attainted and executed, as was Montagu’s mother the Countess of Salisbury, eventually. Gertrude Blount was released, as was Sir Geoffrey Pole, but unlike Henry Pole, who disappeared by the end of 1542, Edward Courtenay was held until Mary’s accession. In some ways, the most interesting phase of his short life was about to start.

On his release from the Tower after almost fifteen years, Courtenay was restored to the family’s Earldom of Devon. He was in favour with Mary and may have been another suitor In the following year, he was returned to the Tower along with Princess Elizabeth, the Queen’s sister, for suspected complicity in the Wyatt rebellion and he is thought to have planned marriage to her. Both were soon released: she to a form of house arrest and he to exile in Padua, Venice.

Mary finally married Phillip II of Spain later in 1554. She only lived for four more years and Thomas died mysteriously without issue in 1556, although he is rumoured to have found a bride in Padua: one Laurana de Medici. He was probably not thirty, being the younger son of parents married in 1519, and had lived half of that time in the Tower of London. He could have married either of Henry VIII’s daughters but was probably fortunate to have failed in this respect.

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