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Some notes on Henry Pole the Younger

These are taken from Pierce’s biography of his paternal grandmother Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, we have some sinister clues to his fate. Our witness is Charles de Marillac, French ambassador from 1538-43, whose correspondence with Francois I is copiously quoted in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.

de Marillac wrote on 1 July 1540 that “Edward Courtney is more at large than he was and has a preceptor to teach him lessons, a thing that is not done towards the little nephew of Cardinal Pole, who is poorly and strictly kept and not desired to know anything” (L&P XVI, no.1011)

In June 1541, shortly after the Countess’s execution, her cousin Lord Leonard Gray, son of Eleanor St. John and Thomas Marquess of Dorset, was beheaded “for aiding and abetting the escape of his nephew Gerald, 11th Earl of Kildare. It was with Reginald, in exile, that Kildare found refuge and the Cardinal arranged his education and settled an annuity of 300 crowns upon him.” (B. Fitzgerald The Geraldines, an experiment in Irish Government).
Among the accusations against Grey was that he employed the services of a page who had been in Lord Montague’s service for 4 or 5 years and used him as a messenger in his treasonous intrigues. Moreover in 1538, as deputy of Ireland, he reputedly left all the king’s artillery in Galway ready to put at the disposal of the Pope of the Spaniards should they invade “as a report that Cardinal Pole, with an army would land about that time” (L&P XV no.830, pp.398-9; L&P XVI no.304 (iii)).

The last payment was made for Pole’s diet some time in 1542 (L&P XVIII no.880 f.436).

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Keeping it in the family

You will have seen him if you have been to Richard III’s final resting place. There are eight small statues on the main entrance (the Vaughan Porch, left) of St. Martin’s Cathedral but only one of them is wearing a doublet and hose, showing him to have lived a century later than the others. This is Lord Henry Hastings, as he was during his education alongside Edward VI and participation, with Northumberland’s daughter Lady Catherine Dudley in the triple marriage of May 1553. He was still Lord Henry as he served in the household of his great-uncle Reginald Cardinal Pole, travelling to Calais and Flanders and escorting Phillip II to England for his marriage to Mary I, whose succession had been aided by Lord Henry’s father, Francis, despite the family’s overt Protestant beliefs.

In 1562, two years after succeeding to the Earldom of Huntingdon, he was considered by some for the throne had Elizabeth I not recovered from a bout of smallpox. By 1576, on the death of his mother Catherine (nee’ Pole) he was the senior post-Plantagenet, barred from the succession maternally only by the Clarence attainder but he had a junior claim through his grandmother Anne Stafford, whose father and brother both had their attainders posthumously reversed.

From 1572 to his death in 1595, Huntingdon was Lord President of the Council of the North, a position previously held by Richard as Duke of Gloucester and then by the Earl of Lincoln, in which he ruled the part of England north of the Trent from the King’s Manor (above), formerly home to the Abbot of York. During this tenure, he re-established royal authority in the region after the Northern Earls’ Rebellion failed, attended Mary Stuart’s trial, ensured good relations with James VI and his regents, the Earl of Morton in particular, also helping to prepare defences against the Armada. For his long service for more than half the reign of the last “Tudor”, Huntingdon deserves to be remembered alongside Lord Burleigh and his brother-in-law the Earl of Leicester, although his Calvinist beliefs set him apart from them and their Queen. During his time, in 1586, the recusant Margaret Clitherow was pressed to death at York.

As Claire Cross points out in her iconic biography The Puritan Earl, Huntingdon took his role as head of the family seriously. We can read how his assets shrank during his lifetime and how his 42 year marriage was childless, such that his brother Sir George succeeded him as Earl, with senior descendants still alive in Australia, as Jones has shown. He died eleven days before Christmas 1595 and was connected to all four later “Tudor” monarchs but his strongest connection was to Elizabeth I. Just like her, he had been imprisoned at the outset of Mary I’s reign, probably because he was Northumberland’s son-in-law, although his father’s loyalty soon extricated him from this.

Might Richard have become Archbishop of Canterbury….?

 

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An oft-asked question arose again the other day. Had Richard been originally intended for the Church? He was the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of York, and the Church was the fate of most aristocratic youngest sons. It has been suggested to me that such early training would explain his beautifully precise handwriting. After all, his letters and signature make his peers look uneducated!

Yes, his piety is frequently remarked upon, but then they were all pious in those days. Outwardly, at least. Richard’s piety seems to be have deeper, because the purity of his private life is also remarked upon. He does not seem to have strayed from the marriage bed, which was surely very unusual. He was a young king, and good-looking. His scoliosis wouldn’t been seen because good tailoring would hide it, so none of the awful lies perpetrated by Shakespeare would have applied. He would have been a prime target for female advances. These advances do not seem to have been welcomed. At least, if they were, post-marriage he hid it well! Before marrying Anne, he fathered illegitimate children and acknowledged them all, so he was red-blooded.

Was he a reluctant temporal lord? Was his brilliance on the battlefield, enjoyment of sumptuous fashionable clothes and penchant for lavish festivities a smokescreen? Would he much rather have been Archbishop of Canterbury? That might have depended upon which point in his life it was decided he should not enter the Church after all. When might that have happened? What might have prompted it?

I do not know the finer points of such things, and for all I know the precise proof of it all is known to exist, but if so, I am ignorant of it. So, simply looking on the surface, I would guess a decision to change his destiny was maybe made after Wakefield. The deaths of his father and brother Edmund might have decided the eldest brother, Edward, Earl of March, who would become King Edward IV, that his youngest brother would be better employed as a soldier, “going forth and multiplying” for the benefit of the House of York.

Richard (then eight years old) and his slightly older brother George were children at that time, and exiled safely to their aunt in Burgundy. After the soon-to-be Edward IV’s subsequent victory at Towton, they were brought home. Is that when and why it was agreed that Richard and the Church should no longer be an item? Richard was thus created Duke of Gloucester, and George, for whom the Church was not a consideration, became Duke of Clarence.

So, is it possible that until being sent into exile in Burgundy, Richard had been trained and prepared for the Church? I can remember how, at that same age of eight, I absorbed education like blotting paper. I read books by the score, and everything that was drummed into me at school was taken on board, as modern parlance has it. In the 15th century, when strictness and volume of tuition would have far exceeded that of the 20th century, Richard (being studious by nature) would have been much higher quality blotting paper! For instance, if the Church was involved, he’d have been be well on the way to a thorough knowledge of Latin. It nearly happened to his nephew and did happen to his great-nephew.

I’m sure there are those who will read this and have more informed thoughts and explanations. If so, I hope they will share them.

 

Illustrated by SHW …

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Today in 1538-9, Henry Pole Lord Montagu, was beheaded for treason, after the “plot” involving his brother, Reginald, later a Cardinal. It was previously thought that Reginald was a sub-deacon for many years, was only properly ordained in late 1536 and thus could have married at any time before this. However, it is now clear that he had undertaken a clerical career many years earlier, culminating, from an English perspective, as Dean of Exeter (1) for the decade from 1527. This demonstrates that he would have been required to observe celibacy from the outset, which sets a different light on Henry VIII’s reaction to the plot.

As you will have observed from our previous posts, those arrested in November 1538 included: Montagu, Sir Geoffrey Pole (also his brother), Henry Pole the Younger (his teenage son), Sir Edward Neville (uncle of his late wife, Jane) (2), Henry Courtenay Marquis of Exeter (cousin) and Thomas (Exeter’s teenage son, later Earl of Devon). All of these adults, except Sir Geoffrey, were executed in early December or January and only Sir Geoffrey and Thomas Courtenay emerged alive from the Tower. Henry VIII’s proclamation refers to the “plot” involving a marriage to Princess Mary and we can now confidently state that the putative husband was definitely either Henry Pole the Younger or Thomas Courtenay, thereby explaining their arrest.

(1) The ODNB, as cited by the author’s correspondence with Exeter Cathedral.
(2) Also an ancestor of Colonel Richard Neville (Royalist commander) and George Washington, inter alia.

The Grundisburgh martyr

Today in 1558, Alice Driver and Alexander Gooch were burned on the Cornhill in Ipswich. Her trial record, particularly her testimony, shows that Alice Driver freely admitted not sharing certain Roman Catholic beliefs and this was sufficient to convict her. Both are commemorated on this monument in Christchurch Park (left) and Driver by a road in her home village.

These executions happened only thirteen days before both Mary I and Cardinal Pole died and the next monarch repealed de heretico comburendo, the law under which Driver and Gooch were put to death, such that it was last used in Canterbury on the 15th of that month. For comparison, the third Duke of Norfolk was scheduled for beheading in January 1547 but reprieved when Henry VIII died a few hours earlier.

Another posthumously mobile Bishop?

We do know that Edmund Bonner , born in Worcestershire in about 1500, died in the Marshalsea Prison, today in 1569 and was buried secretly in St. George’s, Southwark. Rather like the head of Cardinal Morton, however, we cannot be certain that he remains there. As Bishop of London under Mary I, he (along with Cardinal Pole and Bishop Gardiner) had been significantly responsible for applying her policy of de heretico comburendo. London, the south-east and East Anglia had seen most of the persecution .

Not surprisingly, he was unpopular with her successor, being deprived and imprisoned later. Our old friend Strype, in his Ecclesiastica Memoria, actually suggests that Bonner’s father was actually Rev. George Savage of Cheshire. Illegitimacy, if known, could have made Edmund ineligble for ordination. Having lived occasionally in CopfordEssex, it is rumoured that he was reburied here, particularly as a suitable , named, coffin was found there in 1809. He seems to have added his name to the lexicon of a county further north, with a new name for a ladybird.

 

Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership by Hazel Pierce.

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Those looking for an in-depth assessment of the life of Margaret Pole need look no further. Hazel Pierce has more than adequately supplied it in her biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 Loyalty Lineage and Leadership.  Covering Margaret’s life from early childhood – orphaned at five years old,  Margaret’s earlier needs were catered for by her uncle Edward who supplied her with the necessities – well –  it was the very least he could do under the circumstances – her marriage to Sir Richard Pole – Pierce opines this was a happy one – her widowhood  – the restoration to her  of her brother Edward’s Earldom of Salisbury  by Henry Vlll and finally, her violent death at the hands of an inept axeman aged 67.

 

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George Duke of Clarence – Margaret’s father ‘a myghty prince semley of person and ryght witty and wel visaged’.  At her birth in 1473 he stood third in line of succession to the crown of England.

I must confess that on reaching the end of the book my view of Margaret had changed slightly and not perhaps for the better.  I was left slightly  confused – was she merely obstinate, stubborn and hardheaded,  foolishly pressing Henry’s buttons to the limits – unwisely as it transpired – or was she driven by the rememberance of her noble lineage, indeed more noble than Henry’s,  the present occupier of the throne?   Did she feel honour bound , even duty bound,  after the judicial murder of her brother, Edward the Earl of Warwick, to fight Henry tooth and nail over property matters, a fight that raged for 10 years?  Did this lead to Henry nurturing a dislike for her which would later influence the decision to execute her?  Undoubtedly she infuriated Henry when she encouraged his daughter, the rebellious  Mary,  aiding and abbeting her in her refusal to return her jewels when her father needed them for his new wife, Anne Boleyn.  Margaret seems to have suffered from a nervous breakdown when she and Mary were forcibly parted but later regained her strength and resolve when standing up to the most strenuous of interrogations ,  her courage shining  through in the comments made by one of these interrogators,  Sir William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, who according to Pierce was sympathetic to Margaret’s younger son Geoffrey, but disliked Margaret.  He later wrote ‘we have dealid with such a one as men have not dealid with to fore us,  Wee may call hyr rather a strong and custaunt man than   a woman

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William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein.  The face of the man who interrogated Margaret over 2 days.

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Warblington Castle, Hampshire,   Margaret’s principal residence where she was interrogated by  Sir William Fitzwilliam and Thomas Goodrich Bishop of Ely.

Fortunately for Pierce – and for us – plentiful records have survived that cover Margaret and her sons’ lives ( had the human shredders from the reign of Henry Vll long since departed this mortal coil?)  that have enabled Pierce to write a cracking good book and her meticulous attention to detail must be applauded.  I found it difficult at times to put this well researched and balanced book down.

Margaret’s eldest son, Henry Montague seems the most sensible of the lot although prone to letting his mouth run dangerously away with him from time to time.

Geoffrey, the youngest,  is perhaps the one that took after his maternal grandfather, the mercurial George Duke of Clarence, a loose cannon, but at the same time likeable and charming , with friends  that tried to save him, but perhaps lacking the courage of George. He tried to suffocate himself with a cushion, which,  not surprisingly failed, and his wife was terrified that he might reveal too much if interrogated –  indeed he feared this very thing himself.

Reginald – ah Reginald! – he was the fly in the ointment, safely on the Continent, he managed to survive assassination attempts on his life and was complicit, via his writings, in the downfall of the Pole family.  Reginald survived to become a Cardinal and later Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary Tudor.  For me a further question arises over Reginald’s rather cavalier attitude to his family back in England.  Opposed to Henry’s religious changes in 1537 he sent a message warning that if his mother supported these opinions  ‘mother as she is myne, i wolde treade appon her with my feete”    Reginald seems not to have  give a flying fig over the survival and fates of his family.  If so why?  Perhaps a grudge of some sort, an axe to grind?  Pierce added that Reginald’s actions are so well known that they do not need including in her book.  So that is another story.

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Margaret’s son, Reginald Pole, consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556.

And so around spun the fickle wheel of fortune, until they, with the exception of Reggie, were totally undone,  disaster and tragedy overtaking them all , with even Montgue’s young son, Henry Pole the Younger, disappearing from sight forever once he entered the Tower of London with his father and grandmother.  Poor little blighter.

Although this book does answer many question about Margaret and her family it does leave me with one – did the Poles contribute to their own demise, all in some way stretching Henry’s patience to the limit OR was it always inevitable that Henry would in the end,  annihilate the last of those who had the royal and noble Plantagenent blood coursing through their veins?

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The Salisbury Chantry, Christchurch Priory, Dorset.  Margaret’s intended resting place.  Margaret was in eventuality buried in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, at the Tower of London alongside Henry’s other victims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squaring the Circle

Writing The Survival of the Princes in the Tower was an enormously enjoyable project. The book, due out in Autumn 2017, considers the evidence that one, or both, of the sons of Edward IV survived well beyond 1483, when they are traditionally considered to have been murdered by their uncle Richard III. My problem with this almost universally accepted view has always boiled down to one irreconcilable dichotomy. Richard, we are told by writers from Sir Thomas More onwards, killed his nephews to secure his throne and prevent them from being a threat. Then, he kept it secret, so that no one knew they were dead. The fatal flaw in this argument is that unless Richard publicised the deaths of his nephews, the threat did not go away, as Henry VII would find out. If Richard killed them, he did it to prevent them being used as a threat, but unless he made it widely known that they were dead, they did not cease being a potential source of opposition and so the murders were rendered utterly pointless.

If a leap of faith is taken and it is accepted for a moment that the boys were not killed, many otherwise incomprehensible events begin to make more sense. What if Elizabeth Woodville emerged from sanctuary in Westminster Abbey with her daughters in March 1484 because the Princes were not dead? Why else would she write to her oldest son Thomas and advise him to come home? Why, many will ask, is there no trace of them in the historical record? Well, there wouldn’t be, would there? It was in Richard’s and Henry VII’s interests to keep their location and maybe even their survival, particularly in Henry VII’s case, a secret, so why would records be left lying around that would point to them? What may be surprising is just how many snippets that just might hint at their survival do remain. There is nothing conclusive, of course, but the clues are there.

Part of the problem becomes the number of different version of the fates of one or both Princes that can be found. They can’t all be true. This is a particular problem in relation to the younger Prince, Richard, Duke of York. There are three theories amongst those relating to Richard that are, at least superficially, mutually exclusive. The career of the young man remembered as Perkin Warbeck is perhaps the most famous example of a pretender to Henry’s throne. It is an important distinction that a ‘pretender’ is very different from an ‘imposter’. A pretender, in this context, is a name derived from the French ‘pretendre’, ‘to claim’, whilst an imposter is a fraud claiming an identity that does not belong to them. In the same way, it is applied to James Stewart, son of James II, who is known as the Old Pretender, the term does not necessarily imply an imposture. There was never any doubt of James’ identity and the term does not infer that Perkin was an imposter either.

There are two other stories of Richard’s survival that are prominent. Jack Leslau’s theory has fascinated me for years. It is very detailed and the evidence is examined in the book, but essentially it asserts that Richard, Duke of York survived as Dr John Clement, a prominent physician and a member of Thomas More’s inner circle. If true, it means that his survival was an open secret at the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII and alters More’s motives in his creation of the story of the Princes’ murder. David Baldwin’s The Lost Prince details a further theory that Richard may have survived at Colchester, where he trained as a bricklayer. A Moyle family legend tells of a bricklayer employed by Sir Thomas during the rebuilding of Eastwell Place who was caught reading a Latin book. After much cajoling, the elderly man identified himself as an illegitimate son of Richard III. He was given a plot of land on which to build a house and live out his retirement and on his death, his name was recorded in the parish register as Richard Plantagenet. Since Richard III recognised his two known illegitimate children, it has been suggested that Richard of Eastwell was, in fact, Richard, Duke of York.

These are just three of the theories, but it raises the question of how they can be reconciled to one another, even if one accepts any of them might be true. It is not impossible, though. There is intriguing evidence that Perkin might have been far more genuine than tradition allows, not least that the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella believed that he really was Richard, Duke of York. There are also contemporary suggestions that Perkin and his wife, Lady Catherine Gordon, had one child and possibly more.

What if Perkin really was Richard, Duke of York? What, then, if one of his sons was raised as Dr John Clement, an identity, based on University records, that might have been meant for his father and was simply transferred to the son? Could the bricklayer at Eastwell have been another son, who added to his age and secured a comfortable retirement with his version of the truth? This is just one possible explanation that allows three of the prominent stories of Prince Richard’s survival to exist alongside each other. There is more detail in the book, which I have no doubt will cause some waves.

One thing became clear as I was writing: All that is required to accept the survival of the Princes in the Tower is a belief that Richard III was not a reckless and disorganised enough monster to kill his nephews and then fail to see his motive realised by keeping it all a secret, that Henry VII was similarly averse to killing his brothers-in-law and possibly their young children for the love of his wife if for no other reason and that Henry VIII, at the beginning of his reign, was self-confident and assured enough to allow Plantagenet relatives to live in peace. None of these is hard to accept. Richard III did not harm Edward, Earl of Warwick or any of his other nieces and nephews. Henry VII did not execute Warwick until adulthood and only under pressure from the Spanish to complete the match between Arthur and Catherine of Aragon. As for Henry VIII, the teenager was very different from the older man. He created Warwick’s sister Margaret Countess of Salisbury, paid for the education of at least one of her sons, Reginald Pole, and was close to his uncle Arthur Plantagenet, an illegitimate son of Edward IV, until his paranoia ran wild.

I hope that the book will cause some to at least pause and consider the possibilities, to question why it is that there is a belief the Princes were killed at all and what it might mean if they did survive. The belief in their murders would be the ultimate propaganda victory of the Tudor era but might also have left them with a threat that lingered almost as long as the Tudors themselves did.

The Priory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John at Clerkenwell.

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The Great South Gate, now known as St John’s Gate, from an engraving by Wenceslaus Holler

On this day, 30 March 1485,  which fell on a Wednesday (1),  King Richard lll stood in the great hall of the Priory and denied in a ‘loud and distinct voice’ he had ever intended to marry Elizabeth of York (2).  The rest is history and it is the Priory which is my subject here today.

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Steel engraving of St John’s Gate by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd 1829-83.  Note the inscription as described by Stow appertaining to the rebuilding completed by Prior Docwrey 1504.

The original Priory  founded about 1100, by Jorden Briset (3)  on a site which covered 10 acres of land, had  a chequered  history,  being burnt down by a mob in the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt , who caused it to burn for seven days allowing noone  to quench the flames,  being  rebuilt,  and  not being finished until 1504.    However it must have been sufficiently grand enough in 1485  for Richard to hold  his  council there.   The Priory’s troubles were not yet over,  later being  suppressed by order of Henry Vlll.   Still,  according to Stow   the priory church and house were ‘preserved from spoil of being pulled down’ and were ’employed as a storehouse for the kings toils and tents for hunting and wars etc.,’ (4) .  Don’t hold your breath though,  for moving on,  in the third year of Henry’s son,  Edward’s reign, ‘the church for the most part, to wit, the body and the side aisles, with the great bell tower, a most curious piece of workmanship, graven, gilt and enamelled, to the great beautifying of the city, and passing all other I have seen, was undermined and blown up with gun powder.  The stone thereof was employed in the building of the Lord Protector’s house at the Strand (me: the first Somerset House and also the porch of Allhallows Church, Gracechurch Street, which sadly was lost in the Great Fire of London)  That part of the choir which remaineth, with some side chapels, was by Cardinal Pole, in the reign of Queen Mary, closed up at the West End and otherwise repaired.  Sir Thomas Tresham, knight, was then made lord prior with restitution of some lands” (5).    Unfortunately this revival of fortunes did not last as the priory was again suppressed in the first years of Elizabeth l’s reign.

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An engraving by Joseph Pennell 1860-1926 in which some the vaulting of the gateway can be seen.

As late as 1878  some of the remains of Prior Docwra’s church had survived in the south and east walls and the capitals and rib mouldings underpinning  the pews (6)  The church was gutted by bombing in 1941 and what we see today is more or less after that date being rebuilt in the 1950s.    The outline of the original round church,  consecrated in 1185,  is marked out in St John’s Square in front of today’s church(7)

Hollar-Church-1053x658.jpgThe priory church of St John from an engraving by Wenseslaus Holler

 

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Outline of the old church which stands in front of today’s church

Today all that  remains of this once magnificent  range of buildings are the Grand South Gate now known as St John’s Gate,  largely reconstructed in the 19th century  and the crypt which has survived beneath the nearby parish church of St John.

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St John’s Gateway as it is today.

So sadly we may not be able today to  stand in the Great Hall as Richard did when his voice, strong and steady, rung out to deny the insidious rumours – for we now know they were indeed just rumours as plans were afoot for him to marry a Portuguese princess and Elizabeth a Duke – but we can most certainly walk through the Great Gateway which Richard rode through that day.

(1) The Itinerary of King Richard lll Rhoda Edwards p34 Mercers Court Minutes pp 173-4

(2) Croyland p.499

(3 ) Stow A survey of London p363

(4)  Stow A Survey of London p 364

(5)  Stow A Survey of London P364

(6)  Prior Thomas Docwra or  Thomas Docwrey as spelt by Stow, was the Prior who            completed the rebuilding in 1504.

(7) St John Clerkenwell Wikipeda

 

A PRINCESS OF DEVON

After the battle of Bosworth, Henry VII married Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York. What happened to Edward’s other daughters? Bridget, the youngest, went to a nunnery. Anne married the younger Thomas Howard (which was the marriage proposed for her by Richard III; Thomas Jr’s father Thomas still desired the marriage for his son and eventually permission was granted by Henry Tudor). Cecily’s current marriage was dissolved, and Tudor married her instead to John Welles, Margaret Beaufort’s half brother, tying her into his own family.

That only left Catherine of York.

Catherine was born in August 1479 at Eltham Palace, one of Edward’s later children. Soon after her birth Edward began to arrange a royal marriage for her to the son of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile; however, he died before the proposal was finalised.

Catherine, then a child of less than four years of age, went into sanctuary with her mother and many of her siblings, as the dramatic events of 1483 unfolded. Later, she emerged with her family in March 1484, when Richard III promised their safety, and proclaimed that Edward’s daughters would be treated as honourable kinswomen and eventually be married to gentlemen of birth, giving to each an estate valued at 200 marks. (He also gave Elizabeth Woodville 700 marks to live on, a little more  than her own son in law, Henry Tudor.)

Catherine remained unmarried during Richard’s short reign, although her sister Cecily was given to Ralph Scrope and  plans were being made for Elizabeth to marry Manuel, Duke of Beja. Under Henry Tudor, it was proposed Catherine would marry into Scottish royalty, taking the Duke of Ross, James Stewart, as her husband. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, would at the same time be given in marriage to the Scottish king, James III. However, when King James was killed in battle, his successor never bothered to pursue the prospective  English alliances.

So in 1495, aged around sixteen, Catherine instead married William Courtenay, son of Edward Courtenay. The Courtenay family had always been staunch Lancastrians but had not fared particularly well in the dynastic battles of the Wars of the Roses. Thomas Courtenay was taken in battle at Towton and beheaded at York, while his brother Henry was executed for treason in Salisbury marketplace in 1469. Another brother, John, was slain at Tewkesbury. Hugh Courtenay, from a junior branch of the family,  also was executed after Tewkesbury; it was his son Edward who then became Earl of Devon, and Hugh’s grandson, William, who married Catherine of York. We do not know if the marriage was a happy one, but together William and Catherine had three children.

However, things turned ugly  for the family in 1504. Henry VII found out that Courtenay had been supporting the claims to the throne of Edmund de la Pole, the last Yorkist heir.  William was attainted and thrown into the Tower of London, where he remained throughout the rest of Henry Tudor’s reign.

When Henry finally died, his son, Henry VIII, seemed ready to give his imprisoned uncle a rare second chance.  Henry was said to be very fond of Catherine from early childhood (it is claimed she loved children and played with him when at court) and he considered her his favourite aunt. He released William from the Tower and allowed him to resume his role in society, even carrying one of the swords of state at  Henry’s coronation. A year or so later,  he gave William back his title as Earl of Devon—although unfortunately William died only a month or two later, so never got to enjoy it.

Eager to avoid another arranged marriage, Catherine promptly swore an oath of chastity before the Bishop of London, and then retired to her Devon estates. She lived quietly in Tiverton Castle, and also at the remote Bickleigh castle, with its rare thatched Norman chapel.

Catherine died at Tiverton on November 15 1527, aged 48, and was buried in the parish church of St Peter, which stands by the castle ruins. Her arms are still visible above the door, amongst unusual carvings of sailing ships and monkeys. Unfortunately, the chantry dedicated to the Courtenays, which would probably have contained her tomb, no longer exists. She was perhaps fortunate not to lived have seen the execution of her only surviving son, Henry, in 1538–he was beheaded due to his correspondence with Cardinal Reginald Pole.

Catherine is presumed the last of  Edward IV’s children with Elizabeth Woodville to die, though of course without knowing the actual fate of the ‘princes’, this may not be the case!

Tiverton Castle can be visited on certain days throughout the summer, and Bickleigh Castle is now an attractive hotel. St James church in Tiverton is well worth a visit and open most days.

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St James, Tiverton

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Bickleigh Castle

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Tiverton Castle

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