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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…

 

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The Greatest Knight and Richard III

I have previously posted about my family history connections with Richard III here and I have since found out more interesting links.

One such is William Marshall. Called by some the greatest ever knight, he is one of my direct ancestors and also the direct ancestor of Richard III.

William had an eventful life. He was born in 1146 or 1147 and, as a young boy, he was used as a hostage by King Stephen when William’s father, who was supporting Matilda against Stephen, was besieged by the king in Newbury Castle. William’s father, John, when told that William would be hanged if he didn’t surrender, was reported to have said: “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!” The King made as if he was going to fire the young William at the castle from a pierrière (a type of trebuchet), but could not bring himself to harm the boy and he survived.

Photo of a Pierrière

Pierrière

Later, he was sent to Normandy to learn the business of becoming a knight, to be brought up in the household of William de Tancarville, a great magnate and cousin of young William’s mother. He was knighted on campaign in Normandy in 1166 and the next year was taken to his first tournament where he found his true calling. In 1168 he was injured in a skirmish and captured, but one of his captors aided him by smuggling  clean bandages (for the wound in his thigh) to him inside a loaf of bread, which may have saved his life. He was ransomed by Eleanor of Aquitaine, remaining a member of her household for the next two years.

A supporter of Young King Henry, son of Henry II, he travelled with him to Europe where they participated in knightly tournaments. From 1176 to 1182 both Marshall and the Young King gained prestige from winning tournaments. These were dangerous, often deadly, staged battles in which money and prizes could be won by capturing and ransoming opponents, their horses and armour. Marshall became a legendary champion in the lists: while on his deathbed, he claimed he had beaten five hundred knights during his tournament career.

Picture of mediaeval jousting

When the Young King died on 11th June 1183, he asked Marshall to fulfill the vow he (the Young King) had made the year before, to go on a crusade to the Holy Land, which William did, returning two years later and vowing to join the Knights Templar on his deathbed.

He rejoined the court of Henry II and aided him when Henry’s son, Richard, rebelled against him. Marshall unhorsed Richard in a skirmish and killed his horse to demonstrate that he could have killed the man. He was said to have been the only one ever to have unhorsed Richard, later to become Richard I, the Lionheart. Richard nevertheless welcomed Marshall to his court, after he became king, knowing his legendary loyalty and military prowess would be useful to him.

Richard fulfilled his father’s promise to Marshall of the hand in marriage and estates of Isabel de Clare and the marriage happened in August 1189, when William was 43 and Isabel just 17. He acquired great wealth and land from the marriage, including the castle of Pembroke, becoming one of the richest men in England. He also became the Earl of Pembroke eventually and the couple had five sons and five daughters.

Marshall was part of the council of regency for Richard while the king was on crusade and later supported King John although there were many fallings out over the years. However, he remained loyal to him despite their differences and was one of the few English earls to remian loyal to John during the first Barons’ War. King John trusted him to ensure the succession of his son, Henry III, and it was Marshall who was responsible for the kings’ funeral and burial at Worcester Cathedral. He was named as protector of the young king Henry III, who was aged nine, and acted as regent for him. He was now about seventy but he still fought for the young king at the head of his army and defeated Prince Louis and the rebel barons at the Battle of Lincoln.

When he realised his health was failing and he was dying in 1219, he called a meeting and appointed the Papal Legate, Pandulf Verraccio, as regent. In fulfillment of his vow, he was invested into the order of the Knights Templar on his deathbed and is buried in the Temple Church in London, where his tomb can still be seen.

Photo of the tomb of William MarshallTomb of William Marshall

During his life he served under five kings and lived a rich and full life. He founded Cartmel Priory and there is a memorial to him there:

Memorial in Cartmel Priory

Through his daughter, Isabel, William is ancestor to both the Bruce and Stewart kings of Scotland. Through his granddaughter Maud de Braose, daughter of his daughter, Eve, William is ancestor to the last Plantagenet kings, Edward IV through Richard III, and all English monarchs from Henry VIII right up to the present day queen. Actually, William is also the ancestor of Richard et al through another, older, daughter, Maud. See the family trees below. I have marked all the descendants of William Marshall with a green dot – you can see that Richard FitzAlan, the father of Lady Alice FitzAlan, was descended from Marshall on both sides.

Family tree of Richard

Family tree of Richard 2

Richard family tree 3

I wonder whether Richard inherited some of his heroic qualities from his illustrious ancestor – what do you think? And do you notice some other things they had in common?

 

 

Picture credits:

Pierrière by Jean-noël Lafargue (Jean-no) (Self-photographed) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Jousting [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of William Marshall by Richard Gough (Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain. Vol 1.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sign at Pembroke Castle by Andrewrabbott (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Anne de Beaujeu

We bring you an excellent article by Susan Abernethy about the Regent of France through most of Richard’s reign. Note the different constitutional arrangements to Richard’s appointment as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm but France adhered to a Salic Law meaning that neither Anne nor her descendants could ever reign:
http://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2015/11/13/anne-de-beaujeu-duchess-of-bourbon-and-regent-of-france/
For a comparison of the arrangement, try:
https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/richard-duke-of-gloucester-as-lord-protector-and-high-constable-of-england/

Of course, France’s hypothetical monarchy, through the principal claimants, still does adhere to a Salic Law. That may explain why it remains hypothetical.

DUKE RICHARD THE 3RD DUKE OF YORK (2): ‘…the king’s true liegeman…?’

How now? Is Somerset at liberty?

Then, York unloose thy long-imprisoned thoughts

And let thy tongue be equal with thy heart.

Shall I endure the sight of Somerset?

(Shakespeare: Henry VI part 2)

On his return from service in Normandy, duke Richard was the king’s true liegeman and an obedient servant of the Lancastrian establishment: or so it seemed. If he blamed the government for his enormous debts incurred on the king’s service, he did not show it. If he resented the preferment of John Beaufort and two other Lancastrian earls, he did not show it. If he was angry at the loss of Anjou and Main as part of the queen’s marriage settlement, he did not show it. In fact his reticence was a remarkable display of sangfroid in the face of his worsening financial, dynastic and political situation. Whether this reflected his true feelings or not is doubtful. Although there was now a fracture in his bond of loyalty to the Lancastrian government, he could not afford a public show of pique. He was politically weak and only harm could come to him from making a fuss now. Discretion is indeed the better part of valour; York was keeping his own counsel and biding his time.

In this essay, I examine the circumstances (albeit briefly and by way of context only), which widened the fracture of 1445 into the schism of 1455. I also develop my ideas about York’s motivation, and the constitutional, political and legal issues arising. Obviously, I cannot cover every point, so I have structured this piece around four major factors, which I believe influenced York’s attitude: his personal grievances, the Cade rebellion and its aftermath, the Dartford incident of 1452 and the first protectorship.

Personal grievances

In 1440 York’s financial position was sound; by 1445, it was dire. His debts were so crushing that he could not make ends meet without selling his property and borrowing money. This was primarily due to the government incompetence. He was owed £38,667 in unpaid grants for years four and five of his appointment in Normandy. It was an enormous sum then, and a far from trifling amount today. Consequently, he borrowed money at interest to pay the wages of his troops and civil servants in Normandy. The government’s parsimony was such that he was forced to write-off about a third of the debt for the promise of prompt payment of the balance, which never materialised.   Any bitterness that York may have felt would be understandable on this point alone. However, things were to get worse for him. In 1446, he was accused of peculating public funds while in Normandy. We can infer from the petition he presented to the king that he was irritated. In it, he complained of the “scandalous language” used about him and begged leave to defend himself before Parliament[i]. Ultimately he was vindicated, but the accusation left a sour taste and the suspicion that it was a deliberate attempt to discredit him, by William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk.

More disturbing from York’s perspective were the promotions of John Beaufort from earl to duke of Somerset (1443), Thomas Holland to duke of Exeter (1444) and Humphrey Stafford to duke of Buckingham (1444). Both Beaufort and Holland were of royal descent from John of Gaunt and closer in blood to the king than York. It was such an obvious threat to his position in the line of succession that he would have been super-human not to be worried. It’s true that there were legal and constitutional impediments to each of these men succeeding to the throne, but what one king can proscribe another can prescribe. York was a proud man, conscious of his own title to the crown. It is probable that he saw this as a direct challenge to the Yorkist right of succession should the king die without issue.

The Jack Cade rebellion 1450: aftermath.

It was the failure of the king and his government to maintain the rule of law at home and English rule in France that caused Kentish men to rebel during the late spring of 1450. Their ‘rebellion’ was short, sharp and brutal. Inevitably, they were crushed and their leader killed. However, while it lasted, the rebellion shook the Lancastrian regime to its very core. The king fled from London, his household panicked and gave-up a few defenceless scapegoats to the rebels, and four hundred royal soldiers were defeated in the Kent Weald. Cade occupied London and in a series of quasi-judicial tribunals meted out rough justice to those whom he regarded as traitors. Alas the dispersal of the rebels and Cade’s death was not the end of the matter for the government. The rebellion was supported by a broad cross section of English society from powerful landowners to rural peasants, and they had put their grievances in writing. The ‘Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent’ and “The Articles of a Captain of Kent’ are distinguished by their intelligent articulation of local and national grievances and for their proposals for reform[ii]. The rebels’ grievances are neatly summarised thus: “…the king had false counsel for his lands are lost, his merchandise is lost, his commons destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, himself so poor that he may not have his meat or drink…[iii]. It is clear that they did not blame the king for this situation. They blamed his advisors, and they saw York as the natural leader of a reforming movement. Unfortunately, the rebellion had absolutely no effect on the government after it was quashed

The catalyst for York’s involvement in English politics was the government’s continuing inability to maintain law and order. By the time he arrived from Ireland (where he was sent for ten years as Lieutenant General in 1447), both the nature of the debate and the environment in which it flourished had been decided. The notion that things are so bad that ‘someone must do something’ is a dangerous one; it breeds desperation, leading to mistakes. Nonetheless, it was the realisation that something had to be done that bought the duke back. The big question is whether this was a blatantly opportunistic attempt by York for popular support or the dutiful response of the senior royal duke and heir presumptive to a situation going from bad to worse.

Despite his dynastic importance, York did not hold a formal constitutional position within the realm. He was not a member of the king’s inner circle of advisors, nor did he have a natural line of communication to the king. He was also facing the constitutional doctrine, then current, that whilst the king has an obligation to rule in the common interest of all his subjects, the royal authority to do that was vested personally and absolutely in the king. If the king was competent, there was no conflict of interest between these principles. Such a king took advice, made prudent decisions, and gave just and lawful judgements. However, if the king was incompetent there could be difficulties. No matter how bad he was or how flagrant his misrule, it could not be corrected without accroaching his royal authority. Constitutionally, the king’s position as head of state was impregnable without committing treason.

This tricky situation was actually even more complex than it first seemed, since the competence of the king was not being questioned. What Cade and York were challenging was the improper influence of the king’s advisors on the application of royal authority. It is difficult to regard this as anything other than a tactic intended to prevent the imputation of treason against them. In York’s case he embellished his complaints with the inference that the king was the innocent victim of evil councillors. It was a situation from which York — the king’s true and loyal subject — would recue him; thus, allowing him to rule properly as was always his intention. The problem is that this simplistic approach flies in the face of the evidence and raises the much profounder question of the king’s fitness to rule. It is questionable whether the king’s failure to exercise royal authority was a symptom of the improper influence of his advisors, or the cause of that impropriety. The king’s piety appeared to be more suited to a monastery than the monarchy. His ‘innocence’, his failure to assert his royal authority and his indifference to governing the realm all called into to question his fitness to rule. However, that was a question that nobody — least of all York — was prepared to consider at this stage.

Aware of the public nature of this debate, York also put his complaints in writing to the king[iv]. First and foremost, he wanted royal acknowledgement of his loyalty. This was the foundation of his subsequent attacks on the traitors who advised the king. The king’s reply was a clever and timely assertion of royal authority. He reminded everyone of his duty to take representative advice: “We have determined in our own soul to establish a sad and substantial council, giving them more authority and power than ever we did before this, in which we have appointed you (that is York) to be one” [v]. He also made it clear that he did not need a protectionist Yorkist regime. He and his council could manage quite well by themselves. It was a devastatingly effective response, which gave the impression of a vigorous king exercising his royal authority. Any further complaints by York would be seen as the traitorous outpourings of a troublemaker.

Nothing daunted, York changed track. He wrote another private bill to the king and his councillors. Basically, it was a repetition of his earlier missive and was intended to persuade the king’s Councillors of the need to take action against ‘low borne’ advisors who were having an improper influence over the king. York’s appeal was in vain; he failed to gain support. The reason is obvious, the men he was complaining about still exercised power and influence at the centre of government. Anyway, everyone thought the government was in the capable hands of a forceful, competent king. York’s position was now impossible. By accepting the authority of the king and his council he had lost his right to complain. He must bow to their will or face being dealt with as a traitor.

The Dartford incident 1452

The hostility between York and Somerset, which had been an undercurrent in English politics from the late 1440’s, became dominant in 1451. Their mutual dislike had matured into a personal and intense hatred. Most worrying from York’s perspective was that whilst his power and influence waned that of Somerset waxed. He was, however the author of his own misfortune to some extent. A clumsy and ill-judged petition by the commons in Parliament to have York formally adopted as Henry’s heir was particularly damaging. Thomas Young, one of York’s own councillors, was the sponsor of this petition but it is inconceivable that the duke himself did not encourage him. The petition was ill-judged because at that time the succession was a particularly sensitive and complicated issue for the king.

York was the only legitimate heir to Henry. Although Somerset and Exeter were closer in blood to the king, there were impediments to their succession. York’s concern seems to have been that these impediments could easily be removed should the king so wish. Henry, on the other hand, was already worried by York’s popularity and he certainly didn’t want him as his chief advisor; neither, did he want to encourage any notion that there had been a constitutional settlement on York. By challenging the king to make his attitude public York invited a rebuff, which he duly got. Henry rejected the petition, arrested Young and dissolved Parliament. York had only succeeded in getting himself excluded from the council chamber. His acceptance of the government’s legitimacy made him a hostage to fortune if the king and the council were obdurate: which they were. It was his unwillingness to step outside his self-publicised image as the king’s loyal subject that prevented him from reaping the full advantage of his popular support.

Violent disturbances continued throughout the year, together with real or imagined conspiracies against the king. There was and is a suspicion that York was behind these plots, for which the evidence is ambiguous to say the least. However, it is unlikely that York condoned efforts by his supporters to remove the king.   He wanted to rescue the king from the clutches of his evil advisors, not replace him.

It was a dispute in Somerset that most inflamed the situation. The on-going quarrel between the duke of Devon, the Lords Moleyn and Cobham, and the earl of Wiltshire and Lord Bonville had reverted to open warfare. Richard rode at the head of two thousand men to quell the violence and prevent further bloodshed. It is possible that he simply could not resist the opportunity to ‘beard’ Somerset in his own county. The king outraged at such a blatant breach of the peace summoned all those involved, including York, to appear before him. York and Devon ignored the king’s summons. The king was not impressed and he arrested one of York’s servants on a trumped-up charge of plotting to kill him. He also made known his displeasure with York. This had potentially serious consequences for York, his family and the realm, which could not be ignored.

Early in 1452 York devised a two-pronged strategy for getting rid of Somerset once and for all. First, he made an unequivocal public oath of his loyalty to the king. This was a necessary pre-requisite to direct action. Second he wrote to the City of Shrewsbury (copying it widely in Kent and the South East), declaring his intention to get rid of Somerset’s influence forever for plotting ”…my undoing and to corrupt my blood, and to disinherit me and my heirs…”[vi]. He began to assemble his retainers near Northampton.

When challenged by the king, York denied it was an insurrection. He said he was only targeting ‘traitors’.   The king’s mobilisation arrangements appear to have been more efficient than York’s. He commanded the loyalty of the great barons and lords whose combined forces were larger than York’s and better placed to intervene. York tried to seize the initiative by moving directly on London. However, the probability that the Londoners would to resist him forced York to cross the Thames at Kingston. He moved into Kent, where he soon came face to face with the king’s army near Dartford. He was outmanoeuvred and overmatched.

The chronicles vary about what happened next. However, the upshot was that negotiations commenced between York and the royalists. York was allowed to present his grievances against Somerset, which the king received. Following this and in good faith, York dispersed his force before going to the king’s tent. There he found Somerset free at the king’s side, arrogant and aggressive. It was a trap! York was taken to London virtually under close arrest, with no hope of saving face. Even his life was at stake. In London, he was forced to eat humble pie by swearing an oath of loyalty and obedience to the king. He had little choice but to conform since it preserved the fiction that his actions did not amount to insurrection. In return, the king agreed to an arbitration of the quarrel between York and Somerset and a general pardon for York’s followers. It seems obvious with hindsight that York lacked the political acumen to realise the weakness of his position. He did not have the broad support of the Lords. Suffolk’s death had removed their obvious cause of discontent and they did not yet blame Somerset for the misgovernment at home .

Somerset’s position was now seemed unassailable. An English recovery in France, the death of the earl of Douglas, which secured the English border, with Scotland and the queen’s pregnancy, had steadied the country. Even Talbot’s death at the battle of Castillon did not result in calls for York. He was too isolated now to pose a threat to the duke of Somerset.

York’s first protectorship

Any euphoria that Somerset may have felt about his defeat of York was short-lived. The king was ill. We know nothing about the illness except that it caused mental incapacity, and it was kept a secret until after the birth of king’s heir on the 18 October 1453.   Just prior to the birth, a Great Council meeting was called, from which York was excluded. Nevertheless, with Somerset away on business, a group of peers decided to send for duke Richard. It was the king’s men who sent for York and their decision was a non-partial one made on the grounds of his legitimate right to be involved in the discussion about the governance of the realm. It seems that their hope was that York and Somerset would be able to work together and with the Great Council in the public interest: some hope! York arrived in London post haste accompanied by the duke of Norfolk. Somerset was still absent. Norfolk surprised everyone by demanding the impeachment of Somerset for treason. York added to the pressure on the Great Council by demanding the release of his chamberlain Sir William Oldhall who had been arrested for plotting the king’s downfall. The absence Somerset and many members of his affinity made those present unwilling to do more than rubber stamp the essential business of government. They agreed to suppress the widespread lawlessness whilst keeping the crown’s routine business ticking over. This allowed the case against Somerset to be fudged, which was no good to York. Any delay allowed Somerset to re-join the fray. Cardinal John Kemp, the Chancellor and an experienced civil servant was the main obstacle to Yorks more ambitious agenda for the council. On the 29 January 1454 the queen presented her own parliamentary bill seeking full regency powers and financial provision for the king and herself, and for Prince Edward. It is almost certain that she saw York as a dynastic threat to her husband’s throne and her son’s inheritance. The implication that the Lancastrian dynasty itself was threatened changed the whole situation. These were tense times.

The death of John Kemp on the 22 March 1454 gave York his opportunity. A medical report was presented to Parliament, which confirmed the king’s continuing incapacity. It forced the Lords to consider a regency government in the interim. Without Kemp or Somerset to stop it, York’s appointment as Lord Protector was agreed. York was, I believe, only posing as the reluctant, humble Protector. In reality he was probably well pleased to be in the perfect position to crush Somerset and introduce good government. However, his powers were constrained by Parliament, who reserved to themselves the right to be final arbiters of what or was not in the public interest, and to sack him. They also prescribed his role as Chief Councillor; his was a purely personal appointment with special responsibility to the defence of the realm from enemies and rebels.

York’s performance as Lord Protector was characterised by prudence and good sense. His most immediate problem was the violent disorder in the shires. He personally restored law and order to the north where the lawlessness of the Percys and the Nevilles was rife. He was less effective in the West Country, where the duke of Exeter was stirring-up trouble; though he was able to keep the situation under better control He also introduced some much-needed fiscal discipline into government expenditure and the cost of the royal household. However, his other major problem was resolving the fate of Somerset and in this he failed. The treason case bought by Norfolk stalled because of a lack of evidence and the political will to pursue it vigorously. York’s unavoidable absence restoring the rule of law resulted in a loss momentum in the case. When he returned, Parliament was still debating what, if anything, they should do. Thankfully, they had demurred at releasing Somerset but it was clear that the Lords were not convinced of the merit of Norfolk’s allegations against him. York’s failure to limit the Beaufort influence, and also the political machinations of the queen and the royal household would come back to haunt him

His inability to get to grips with the Somerset issue was worrying, but there was no doubt that could turn the tables on him in time. But time was something he did not have. By the end of 1454, the king had recovered his wits sufficiently to resume royal authority. The protectorship was over. Within a month, York had resigned his post; three months later Somerset was released and then acquitted. On the same day, York was sacked as Captain of Calais. The speed with which York was relegated and Somerset rehabilitated was astonishing. It was a sign to York (if he needed it) that his dispute with Somerset was mortal, which could only end when one had annihilated the other.

Somerset was well aware that his power over the king was transient. He took steps in April 1455 to make permanent arrangements for a regency government should Henry’s mental capacity relapse. A meeting of the Great Council was arranged from which York and the Neville’s were excluded. The situation now for the Yorkists was dire; if Somerset succeeded in his plan, there was no way back for them. In the absence of an effective royal authority that could impose a compromise on the estranged dukes a military solution was inevitable. Both sides could see this and began preparing for it. After some manoeuvring, the two sides faced each other across a ditch at St Albans on the 22 May 1455.

The tragedy of St Albans is that nobody really wanted a battle. However, neither York nor Somerset could submit to a compromise; for them this was a death struggle. Tragically, in the face of such obduracy Henry lacked either the moral courage or the strength to ‘bang the two dukes’ heads together’. He sent Buckingham to negotiate but it was hopeless. York wrote to the king and the Chancellor but it made no difference.

The Yorkists outnumbered the royal army and were drawn up in three divisions commanded by York, Salisbury and Warwick respectively. York and Salisbury were positioned opposite the ditch and palisade protecting the Holywell- St Peter’s Street entrance to the town. Warwick’s division was deployed in the meadow between them. On York’s signal   the Yorkists attacked the palisade. The fighting was fierce and the fixed defences and relatively narrow frontage prevented Yorkists from deploying their full power. However, they pressed the defenders so hard that they drew in Lancastrian reserves from other parts of the perimeter. Warwick, who was uncommitted, saw an opportunity to attack a less well-defended part of the perimeter. On his own initiative and using classic fire and manoeuvre tactics he led his division on a flanking attack, which succeeded in breaking into the town: thereafter it was a slaughter. The defenders in St Peter’s Street were taken in the rear and soon swamped by the combined weight of the Yorkist army.

Fighting in a built up area is brutal in any age and first St Albans was no different; however, it was relatively short, lasting from about 10am until the ‘early afternoon’. When it was over, Northumberland and Clifford lay dead in the Market Place. Buckingham was wounded but escaped; Wiltshire was unwounded but fled. The king, grazed by an arrow, stood under the Royal Standard where his men had abandoned him. Somerset was hunted down and cornered. He fought with the courage of despair, taking four Yorkists with him before being hacked to pieces by the remainder. Having re-established the discipline of his troops, York was soon at the king’s side, anxious to get him to safety and to see his wound tended[vii].

As he looked down upon Somerset’s naked, bloodied and (doubtless) mutilated body, York may have savoured his moment of victory. If so, it was a fleeting moment. The battle had not settled York’s dispute with the Lancastrian regime; it had made it worse.

To be continued….

References

[i] P A Johnson: duke Richard of York (Oxford 1991 edition) at page 52. Johnson quotes directly from York’s petition. See also [i] British Library MS Add 48031A ff122-123v/ ‘Articles of the duke of York refuting allegations made by Bishop Moleyns, with the bishop’s replies 1446’, which is helpfully reproduced in Politics of fifteenth century England – ‘John Vale’s Book’ (Margaret Lucille Kekewich and others (Eds) – Alan Sutton Publishing 1995) at page 180.

[ii] British Library MS Add 48031A f135-v/116r-v ‘Complaints of the commons of Kent and causes of their assembly at Blackheath,1450; and f136/117. ‘Articles of the Captain of Kent,1450’. Both of these documents are reproduced in ‘John Vale’s book at pages 204 – 206

[iii] Trevor Royle: the Wars of the Roses (Abacus 2009) at page 196

[iv] Just how many ‘bills’ York wrote and there sequence is unclear. It used to be thought there were two; however, Johnson at pages 104 and 104 argues that there were four, and Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs in ‘John Vales Book’ at page 186 make a case for five; however they are not all extant. Three bills, together with two of the king’s replies can be found at pages 189-193 of John Vales book. Stow’s annals contain different versions of the bills.

[v] John Vales Book page 190; ibid

[vi] Johnson at pages 108-109

[vii] Paul Murray Kendall: Warwick the Kingmaker (George Allen and Unwin 1957) pages 26-29. I have extrapolated most of my account from Kendall’s longer and more colourful description of the battle

“The poor dare not speak so”: The populist political rhetoric of the Yorkists

“For though I dare myself speak what seems to me to be the truth, the poor dare not do so.” – Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in a statement to Henry VI, 1440

The Yorkists seem unique, almost tantalizingly modern, in their use of populist rhetoric during the Wars of the Roses. Of course, they were not populists themselves, as Richard Duke of York would never have approved of Cade’s Revolt or the ruffians who came to London in 1450 and created mayhem, vandalizing and looting property. Nevertheless, the shift in tone of political rhetoric is quite remarkable in its appeal to the average person, and the wrongs committed upon them by the Lancastrians and their style of governance. This shift in tone can be traced directly back to an earlier Duke of Gloucester: Humphrey, that most “noble, valiant and true prince”, younger brother of Henry V, a patron of Italian humanism, and famous for the collection of books he left to Oxford University.

Humphrey was not so honored during his life. Dying an ignominious death in 1447, either from stroke or political assassination, he lived his last years ostracized from the center of power at Henry VI’s court, then dominated by William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk. Earlier, in 1441, Humphrey’s wife Eleanor Cobham had been tried for treason and witchcraft, and made to do penance in the most publicly humiliating manner. Thus, the political life of Humphrey essentially ended in 1441.

It may be said, however, that in death Humphrey became far more influential than in life. Humphrey’s ideas and populist appeal played a significant role in shaping the rhetoric of political dissent in the following decade. The Kentish peasants who joined Cade’s Revolt in 1450, declared: “Item. We say our sovereign lord [Henry VI] may understand that his false council has lost his law, his merchandise is lost, his common people is destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, the king himself is so set that he may not pay for his meat nor drink, and he owes more than ever any King of England ought, for daily his traitors about him where anything should come to him by his laws, anon they take it from him.”[1]

These complaints mirror Humphrey’s declaration of 1440, which is striking in that it was possibly made publicly, during the preceding Parliament. Although framed as a pointed attack against Cardinal Beaufort and other cronies who surrounded the king, Humphrey uses this as an opportunity to bemoan the state of affairs in England, and to plead the case for the common people:

“Also, my right dread lord, it is well known that it was not possible for the said cardinal to have acquired such great wealth except by such [corrupt and deceptive] means. For from his church it might not arise, and inheritance has he not. Wherefore, my right dread lord, since there is need of much goods at this time, for the welfare and salvation of your realms, and your highness understands the poverty, necessity, bareness, and need of your liege people, may you please to consider the great wealth of the said cardinal and the great deceit by which you are misled by the labour of him and of the archbishop of York. Both in your realm [of England] and in your realm of France and duchy of Normandy, there might be had neither office nor livelihood nor captaincy, except by the gift to him of much wealth. And this is the reason of a great part of all the losses there sustained…

“And furthermore, it is to be considered greatly how the said cardinal forfeited all his goods because of Provision, as the statute made on the matter can more plainly show; but because he had the rule over you, my lord so dread, he purchased for himself a charter of pardon, in great defrauding of your highness. Which moneys, had they been well disposed of, might have sustained your wars for many a year without any tax on your poor people….

“Wherefore, considering that the said cardinal and archbishop of York claim the government of you and of your realm, may it please your highness, my full dread lord, to expel them from your council…. For though I dare speak what seems to me to be the truth, the poor dare not do so.”[2]

What is so striking about Humphrey’s plea is not so much his full-frontal attack on Cardinal Beaufort’s corruption of royal favor, but the way he presents the impact on the common people, who are made to suffer oppressive taxes for a disastrous French war policy, and who find no “good lordship” in the king’s ministers.

The Commons in parliament, too, were emboldened by Humphrey’s rhetoric. Its petition of November 1450-January 1451 excoriated the Henry VI for continuing to surround himself with “misbehaving” personnel who continued to impoverish his realm and to pervert the rule of law. They sought formal condemnation of Suffolk, his widow, and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who now occupied the position left vacant by Suffolk. The Commons demanded Suffolk be held accountable for the “final destruction of the most noble, valiant and true prince, your right obedient uncle the duke of Gloucester”.[3] The redemption of Humphrey’s reputation became a motivating force to those who wanted the Duke of York to play a more prominent role in the king’s government.

The Duke of York and his adherents also invoked Humphrey’s rhetoric, especially in the years leading up to and after the first battle of St. Albans in 1455. York’s bill of October 1450[4] and his address to the burgesses of Shrewsbury of February 1452[5] maintain a vehement attack on “traitors” who surrounded the king, namely Somerset. This line of attack became more provocative while York remained the heir apparent and rumors were circulating that he sought the throne. York perhaps saw in Humphrey a parallel role: loyal to the king but unfairly isolated; desirous of sound economic policy; a protector of the common weal against onerous taxation; and a reformer of corrupt practices in the administration of the royal estate and the legal system.[6] However, with such a populist flavor, this also served to embolden Henry VI and his queen to become more entrenched in their positions.[7] The tensions erupted in violence at St Albans, and continued thereafter to give grist to the mill of discontent that fomented civil war.

Humphrey’s populist rhetoric continued to be a tone expressed by Edward IV and later Richard III. One of the most caustic of Yorkist proclamations was made in 1460, when Edward was still Earl of March. Here, he is joined by his father the Duke, and the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury, in decrying the abysmal state of affairs for the “common weal” caused by the king’s favorites, notably Somerset and the Earls of Shrewsbury and Wiltshire. Note the reference, again, to Humphrey:

“First, the great oppression, extortion, robbery, murder and other violence done to God’s church and to its ministers, against the laws of God, and man.

“[The king’s] laws have been directed with partiality, and those whom should most love and cherish his law have most favoured oppression and extortions. In general, all righteousness and justice are exiled from the land, and no man is afraid to offend the laws.

“Also, the commons have often been greatly and astonishingly charged with taxes and tallages, to their great impoverishment. Out of this, little good has accrued either to the king or to the land…. They cannot end there; and they now begin new impositions and tallages on the people, never before borne.   That is to say, every township is to find men for the king’s guard, following in this the example of our enemies and adversaries of France. If this imposition and tallage are to be continued to our heirs and successors, they will be the heaviest charge and worst precedent that ever grew up in England. And the aforesaid subjects and their heirs and successors will be in such bondage as their ancestors never were.

“Also, continually, since the piteous, shameful murder at Bury, cause of sorrow to all England, of that noble, worthy and Christian prince, Humphrey duke of Gloucester, the king’s true uncle, there have been activities, plots, and conspiracies, to destroy and murder the said duke of York and the issue which it pleased God to send me of the royal blood. Also [the same] against us, the said earls of Warwick and Salisbury. There was no other reason except the true heart which God knows we have ever borne, and bear, for the profit of the king’s estate and for the common weal and defence of same realm.” [8]

The concern for “the common weal” was one way Edward IV justified the deposition of Henry VI and his accession to the throne. (Of course, he also had a strong hereditary claim that he took great pains to publish.) Moreover, Edward took care that his accession should be premised upon a petition from the Commons, literally at the request of the people, which was recorded by the clerk as follows:

“Commendation made by the Commons to the King: The commons thanked God for the king’s victory, and asked that the following be enrolled: Edward had redeemed the realm from the persecution of its enemies. He had defeated them at Mortimer’s Cross. He had saved London from Margaret. In the third place, it had pleased him to take upon himself the rule of the realm ‘to which you are rightfully and naturally born’. He had been victorious, with God’s help, over rebels, Scots and French. The commons proceeded to refer to Edward’s courage, beauty, and wisdom, and to his devotion to the common weal.”[9]

Richard III, like his brother, rooted his accession to the throne in the Commons, which presented a petition for him to take the throne. In language that is remarkably similar to that used by Humphrey and Edward IV, we find the following in his 1484 Parliamentary Roll:

“First, we consider how, hitherto in times past, for many years this land stood in great prosperity, honour and tranquility, because the kings then reigning used and followed the advice and counsel of certain lord spiritual and temporal, and other people of demonstrable gravity, prudence, astuteness and experience, fearing God and having tender zeal and affection for the impartial administration of justice, and for the common and politic weal of the land. Then our lord God was feared, loved and honoured; then there was peace and tranquility within the land, and concord and charity among neighbors; … by which things listed above the land was greatly enriched, so that merchants and artificers, as well as other poor people who labour for their living in various occupations, earned enough to maintain themselves and their household, living without miserable and intolerable poverty.

“But afterwards, when those who had the rule and governance of this land, delighting in adulation and flattery and led by sensuality and concupiscence, followed by counsel of insolent, vicious people of inordinate avarice, despising the good, virtuous and prudent people … the prosperity of this land decreased daily, so that felicity was turned into misery, and prosperity into adversity…. As a result of which many calamities and misfortunes ensued, such as murders, extortions and oppressions, particularly of poor and powerless people, so that no man was sure of his life, land or livelihood, or of his wife, daughter or servant, with every virtuous maiden and woman standing in dread of being ravished and defiled.”

Amongst the great evils to the common weal and people were Edward IV’s benevolences, and here again, Humphrey’s populist rhetoric is taken up:

“The king [Richard III] remembers how the commons of this realm have been put to great thralldom and unbearable charges and exactions by new and unlawful inventions and inordinate covetousness, against the law of this realm, especially by a new imposition named a Benevolence. By this, in diverse years, the subjects and commons of this land have paid great sums of money, against their will and their freedom and almost to their utter destruction. By occasion of it, many and diverse worshipful men of this realm were compelled by necessity to break up their households and to live in great penury and wretchedness. Their debts were unpaid and their children had no preferment. Such memorials as they had ordained to be done for the profit of their souls were brought to nought and annulled, to the great displeasure of God and to the destruction of this realm.”[10]

So, we’ve traveled from 1440 to 1484 – almost 50 years and we see how Humphrey’s appeal on behalf of the common people becomes a full-throated expression of populist political ideas. Many have observed that not only were Richard III’s statutes the first to be inscribed in English, but they also represent the first real platform for the reformation of laws and problems that dogged the common man. Even detractors of Richard III like Sir Francis Bacon in Stuart times, admitted he was “a good law-maker, for the ease and solace of the common people”. H.G. Hanbury, professor of law at Oxford, following his analysis of the public statutes enacted during Richard III’s parliament, concludes that they reveal him to be “a singularly thoughtful and enlightened legislator, who brought to his task a profound knowledge of the nature of contemporary problems, and an enthusiastic determination to solve them in the best possible way, in the interests of every class of his subjects.” [11]

The baton was handed through the ages from Humphrey to Richard III. It is a rather nice symmetry, being that they were both Dukes of Gloucester.

CITATIONS:

  1. Cade’s Proclamation of Grievances, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1450jackcade.asp
  2. Gloucester’s letter attacking the king’s advisors, dated 1440, from B. Wilkinson, Constitutional History of England in the Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (London, 1964), pp. 52-56.
  3. Petition of the Commons, in the parliament of November 1450, prorogued on 18 December until 20 January 1451, from Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 113-114.
  4. York’s “bill” attacking traitors, dated 6 October 1450, from Wilkinson, supra, at p. 112.
  5. Richard of York’s address to the burgesses of Shrewsbury, 3 February 1452, from Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 114-116.
  6. Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the constitution in England, c. 1437-1509 (Cambridge 1997), p. 118-120.
  7. According to the Paston Letters, the Queen on 19 January 1454 formally made a claim to the regency by submitting a bill of five articles, requesting the powers of a regent. Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 117-118.
  8. Yorkist Manifesto of 1460, from Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 134-136.
  9. Rolls of Parliament, Rot. Parl., V, 420, cited in Wilkinson, supra, pp. 176-177.
  10. Richard III’s Act against Benevolences, from Wilkinson, supra, at p. 192.
  11. G. Hanbury, The Legislation of Richard III, American Journal of Legal History, vol. 6, p. 95 (1962).

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