Here is the second in my series of Top 10’s. This one is focussing on Dominic Mancini’s account of the events of 1483. It’s a hugely problematical source, both in terms of Mancini himself, who spoke no English, had no grasp of English politics and very limited sources, and in terms of the current translation in use which often chooses weighted words to make Mancini’s account darker.
It’s a negative source, without a doubt, written for a French audience hostile to England and Richard III and gripped by their own minority succession crisis, but it’s also misused and misunderstood. Mancini explains that he has had his arm twisted by Angelo Cato to write the account, which he had not wished to commit to paper. Cato worked at the French court, so had his own agenda is seeking to make Richard and his England seem like a land of murderous monsters.
More than this, Mancini admits, when complaining about being brow beaten into writing his account, that he knows almost nothing for certain. He wrote ‘I indeed decided that I ought not to expatiate so freely in writing as in talking, for, although on your account I did not shrink from pains, yet I had not sufficiently ascertained the names of those to be described, the intervals of time, and the secret designs of men in this whole affair.’ He adds ‘Wherefore you should not expect from me the names of individual men and places, nor that this account should be complete in all details; rather shall it resemble the effigy of a man, which lacks some of the limbs, and yet a beholder delineates for himself a man’s form.’
If Mancini had visited Torquay in the 1970’s, he might have given Manuel a run for his money.
It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)
Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.
By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)
Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.
Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.
Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)
This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.
Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.
In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.
King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.
Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.
It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.
Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)
The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.
In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)
By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)
In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.
Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)
That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably to unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)
York quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.
His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)
This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.
However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.
York encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI’s sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country’s liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI’s attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.
Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.
As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.
Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.
(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273
(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.
(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.
(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.
(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.
(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.
(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.
Putting aside the mystery of what ultimately happened to Edward IV’s two sons, one enduring difficulty for a student of history is whether Richard III used the proper legal procedure in having them declared illegitimate because of their father’s precontracted marriage to Eleanor Talbot. The most (and only) significant defect appears to be the failure to refer the issue to a church court for determination. But it seems no one has fleshed out how an ecclesiastical tribunal would have litigated such an extraordinary and unprecedented matter, let alone identified which church court would have had authority to hear it.
As a retired litigator of 20 years, I undertook the challenge of researching medieval English church court procedures and precedent cases to answer four questions: Which church court would have decided the precontract issue? How would it have conducted the litigation? What evidence would it have heard? How conclusive would…
I have just watched a truly aggravating documentary from this 2014 series. In particular the episode called “Secrets of Westminster”.
It starts with the tomb of Edward the Confessor…for which they show the correct tomb, yes, but then include a lot of lingering close-ups of the tomb effigy of Richard II. The implication is, it seems, to inform the viewer that what they were seeing was the Confessor.
Then there was a section about Henry III…erm, showing Edward III. Again, no mention of Edward, to keep the viewer properly informed. Just the same hint that the tomb was Henry III’s.
The last straw for me was when they showed the wonderful roof of Westminster Hall, of which they spoke in glowing terms as being 11th-century. There was no mention at all of the hammerbeams, angels and so on actually being the 14th-century work of Richard II, who remodelled and improved the entire hall.
So I cannot recommend this awful programme, even though it was interesting in many other respects. The trouble was, I could not help wondering how many other bloopers there might be? Could anything be trusted, and taken at face value? Did Guy Fawkes really try to blow-up Parliament? Was Charles I really executed? Or were both stories muddled up. Maybe Charles was the one who tried to blow-up Parliament? And Guy Fawkes marched into the Commons and started the English Civil War? Who knows?
So don’t bother to watch it, unless you want to sit chucking missiles at the screen. You take your chances with the other episodes in the series. I won’t be viewing them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
We tend to have rather a negative view of Sir Richard Rich, or Baron Rich of Leez as he became in February 1547, nowadays. In this, we are somewhat influenced by Robert Bolt’s portrayal of him, as a “betrayer” of More, together with the history of Trevor-Roper. One Bolt line, memorably delivered by Paul Scofield as More, was “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but Wales?”, as Rich (John Hurt) becomes Attorney-General for Wales a few (film) minutes before More is executed. More is also quoted as saying that Parliament could make Rich King if it so wished.
Rich, a lawyer, protege of Wolsey, Colchester MP, Speaker and Solicitor-General, was certainly involved in many of the events of the mid-“Tudor” period such as the prosecution of More and Fisher, accounting for Catherine of Aragon’s assets at Kimbolton Castle, supporting Cromwell in the Dissolution, quite possibly a personal hand in Anne Askew’s (unprecedented and illegal) torture, executor of Henry VIII’s will, the attempted prosecution of Bonner and Gardiner and the Seymour brothers’ fatal division. He then resurfaced under Mary I as an enthusiastic persecutor of heretics in Essex, before dying, nine years into the next reign, at Felsted where he donated money to the church and famous school in the village.
His descendants were granted the Earldom of Warwick and were heavily involved, on both sides, in the Civil War – one great-grandson, the Earl of Holland, fought for the Crown at the 1648 Battle of St. Neots and was beheaded the following March with the Duke of Hamilton (captured at Preston) and Lord Hadham (taken at Colchester).
One hears about the dreadful expense occurred by the nobles who played host to various monarchs. But grand houses weren’t the only destinations for our perambulating kings and queens. For instance, in January 1398, on his way to Parliament in Shrewsbury, Richard II travelled with his young French wife, five dukes, four earls, three bishops, and a French chamberlain.
If the queen was with him, then so too would be her ladies, and the ladies and servants of the noblemen. And heaven knows how many others in the household of all these personages. To say nothing of all the men-at-arms, archers and so on.
Not Richard II, I know, but it gives an idea of the never-ending column.
This enormous horde descended upon Lilleshall Abbey after dinner on 24th January. (Phew, good timing—one less expense at least!) They stayed all the following day, and departed for Shrewsbury on 26th. I wonder if the abbey food stores echoed with emptiness? And long would it take to replenish the shelves and cellars left bare by this army of blue-blooded gannets?
Let’s hope, for the abbey’s sake, that it was a long time before a monarch descended upon it again!
It is important to remember that medieval governments could not issue paper money. Ultimately, everything had to be paid for in hard cash, although it was commonplace for creditors to be made to wait, in some cases for a very long time.
The English royal government was not outstandingly rich. Its sources of income were (1) the royal estates. No king (or queen) ever made a good job of the running the estates. Partly because they were far too busy with other stuff. Moreover, in the middle ages there was no real tradition of “improvement” to estates. The usual assumption was that if a property was worth £5 in 1200 (or whenever) it was (or should be) still worth that now. (2) customs duties, especially tunnage and poundage. These duties were usually granted to the sovereign at the beginning of the reign, and if Parliament felt generous, for the term of the sovereign’s life. (3) feudal incidents, for example the money arising from wardship and marriage of heirs, the very occasional feudal aids, money that came from a bishop’s temporalities during a vacancy. This flow of income had many random aspects and some of the feudal dues were routinely evaded. (4) income from justice and other traditional payments. These would include forfeitures for treason and other serious crimes.
Taken together, these various cashflows just about covered royal expenditure in a time of peace. It should be borne in mind that they did not just pay for the king’s household and court, but for diplomacy, defence, justice and all the assorted departments of medieval government. They were quite inadequate for the prosecution of any but the most brief, small and profitable of wars.
If you wanted more, the options were to borrow – and borrowings had eventually to be paid back from revenue – or to secure a Parliamentary grant of additional taxation. These were normally based on a rather theoretical assessment of the cash value of a person’s goods, and usually came in a grant of a tenth (for towns) and a fifteenth (for everyone else.) Kings sometimes asked for two or three subsidies at once, but on the other hand Parliament not infrequently offered a half subsidy. The clergy made a similar payment via grants made by their Convocations. The clergy were just as awkward as Parliament when it suited them. Parliament would often ask for redress of grievances as a quid pro quo for any grant, and the king usually had to at least make a show of making concessions. If he was in a weak position politically, the concessions might be substantial.
Henry IV had the image of a warrior. It was just as well as no sooner was he established on the throne than he was fighting in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as beating off his internal enemies. So it will not surprise you that the country was soon bankrupt, and that Henry was busy with his Parliaments, inevitably discontented by the necessary taxation to fund all this fun.
Of course, these wars were dull, low-level affairs. There were certainly no repeats of Crecy. The nearest to that was probably the defeat of the Scots at Homildon, 1402, a victory that was largely down to the tactics suggested by the renegade Scottish Earl of March, although naturally the Percy family were prominently involved.
As many of you know, I am not Henry Bolingbroke’s greatest fan. In many ways he was a sordid little creep, and the kindest thing I can say about him is that he liked books. However, you have to, however reluctantly, admire the sheer tenacity with which he held on against all the odds. Towards the end of his reign, as Henry himself fell more and more ill with his mysterious disease, the financial pressures eased and so did the military situation. It became possible to intervene in France again.
The King of France, Charles VI, had been more or less insane since Richard’s time, and was not improving. Factions within France, on the one hand the Burgundians, and on the other the Orleanists/Armagnacs, were tearing the country apart, indeed fighting a civil war over who should govern. After some consideration (and doubtless bidding) England decided to go in on the side of the Orleans faction.
This was quite a shrewd move, financially. The English effectively took part as mercenaries. They had barely landed before the contending parties decided to make peace. So the English returned home again, somewhat enriched and bearing with them certain hostages who were not to see France again for many a long year.
As soon as Henry V acceded in 1413, he decided to build on this. Some historians think he chose war because he was on shaky ground at home. However, Henry, for some bizarre reason, seems genuinely to have believed he was the rightful King of France in God’s eyes. (How he came to believe this when he was not even the rightful King of England is a great mystery, but that’s religious bigots for you.)
The French offered quite enormous concessions as an alternative, and a remotely sane King of England would have bitten their hand off. Not Henry. Parliament, temporarily gung-ho, proved willing to finance his expedition, and off Henry went.
This led to another one of the Great Victories – Agincourt. Henry attributed his success to God, and he may have been right to do so. He was extremely lucky, in that the French seemed to have forgot all the wisdom they had learned in the late 14th Century, and charged in as they had done in their earlier losing battles. Had they simply harassed Henry on a daily basis, and not engaged in battle at all, it is extremely likely that his small and sickly army would have been destroyed piecemeal.
Nevertheless, Agincourt massively boosted English morale, and massively dented that of the French. For the English, and certainly for Henry, it looked like God had shown the green light, and that the English claim to France (or at least major chunks of it) could now be realised. This was largely a delusion, because nothing of France had yet been conquered (unless you count Harfleur) and England’s resources (and willingness to spend them) were no greater. For France, the main problem, looked at objectively, was that it remained divided in itself. Much depended on whether one faction or the other could be persuaded to throw its lot in with the English. If it could, Henry (and English pretensions) had a real chance of success. Against a united France, there was virtually none, at least in the long term.
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.