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Cecily Neville

As we mentioned here, Ashdown-Hill’s biography of Richard’s mother was published in April. Whilst his latest, to which we shall return later, was released today, we shall concentrate on Cecily here.

This is the book that summarises Cecily’s life by delineating her full and half-siblings, demonstrating that portraits (right) previously assumed to be of her and Richard, Duke of York, are of other people. Ashdown-Hill then lists her pregnancies and shows where each of her children were probably born – there is no mention of a Joan but there is further evidence about the birth date of the future Edward IV and Cecily’s ordeals during the first peak of the Roses battles. He deduces how much she knew and how she probably felt about Edward’s bigamy and the Wydevilles, together with the part she played, as a Dowager Duchess, in Richard III’s coronation, but also her years living under Henry VII and a “between the lines” interpretation of her will.

In all, the eighty years of Cecily’s life, survived only by two of her daughters are described in great detail in a book that demonstrates further painstaking research by an author who clearly knows even more about the fifteenth century than he did two years ago.

Now on to this one (right) …

 

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The meeting of the three Estates, 25 June 1483

It was not the first time that a Convention Parliament had effectively determined the succession. We might look, for example, the precedent of 1399, when just such an assembly deposed Richard II and (in effect) elected Henry IV, who was not even Richard II’s right heir. (He was the heir male, but strangely enough did not claim on that basis.) Of course, in 1399 Henry’s very large army was in place in the London area, and it would have been difficult for the Parliament to have rejected him, even had it wished to do so.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had no equivalent army in London when the Three Estates met. It is worth remembering that Parliament could reject claims to the throne it did not care to approve. The obvious example is that of Richard’s own father, Richard, Duke of York, who had his very strong claim rejected in 1460. Peers did not show up at Parliament unattended, and if they had strongly objected to Richard’s claim they could easily have mobilised their forces against him, if necessary. The fact is, they chose not to do so.

It seems certain that evidence of Edward IV’s bigamy was presented to the Estates. Sadly, we do not know the details and never will. But it is certain that among the bishops there were no shortage of theologians, any one of whom could have stood up and protested against the accession of Gloucester at very little personal risk to themselves. True, they might conceivably have been imprisoned, but what is that to a senior churchman when the immortal soul is at risk? In 1399, the Bishop of Carlisle objected openly to Richard II’s deposition, and was imprisoned for it, but he survived. There is no evidence of any bishop speaking up for Edward V.

Finally, it is sometimes argued that the legitimacy of Edward V was a matter that ought to have been determined by a Church court. However, the idea that the Parliament of England in the late fifteenth century would allow the succession to be determined by one or more bishops, or even by the Pope, is rather naive. It was, after all, only half a century later that Thomas More and Richard Rich agreed between themselves that Parliament had the power to make Richard Rich king, if it chose to do so.

 

How and why the House of York laid claim to the throne….

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

Here is an article from English Historical Review, 1st June 1998, telling of how and why Richard, 3rd Duke of York, laid claim to the throne of England. The root cause was an entail to the will of Edward III, who was admittedly in his dotage at the time. The entail, which excluded a female line from ascending the throne, spoils that otherwise excellent king’s legacy as far as I’m concerned. But then, I’m a modern woman who doesn’t hold with the denying of rights simply because the ones being denied are the female of the species! Or the denial of anyone’s true and honest rights, come to that. True and honest being the operative words.

The mastermind behind this entail was Edward’s 3rd son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who sought to eliminate any claim from the descendants of his 2nd eldest brother, Lionel. Those descendants were, of course, through the female line, which line happened to be the one from whom Richard, 3rd Duke of York, was descended. Gaunt’s purpose was to see that his own line took precedence. It did in the end, but not in a way old Edward III could have foreseen, and not through the entail. Instead it took the form of Gaunt’s son and heir usurping and murdering his first cousin and rightful king, Richard II, heir of the great Black Prince. Gaunt’s son took the throne and became Henry IV, the first Lancastrian monarch.

John of Gaunt

So it seems that gallant Gaunt leaned on his dying father to achieve his own ambitious ends. But that’s the House of Lancaster for you! And it was Gaunt’s double-dealing chicanery that eventually led to Richard, 3rd Duke of York, claiming the throne that was his by right. And it all led to what we know as the Wars of the Roses.

However, there just might be some doubt about the entail’s existence. According to Penny Lawne’s biography of Joan of Kent: “…In preparation for his [Edward III’s] death he drew up his will, one of the witnesses being Sir Richard Stury, and in an entail specifically designated Richard (II) as his successor…” There is no mention of excluding any female line, but then, Lawne is very pro-Gaunt throughout, so I suppose the nitty-gritty of such an entail was better omitted. Unless, of course, all the entail ever really did was designate Richard of Bordeaux as the old king’s successor. In which case, where did the story of Gaunt’s pressure and interference come from? Ah, well, later in her book, Lawne lays the blame at the feet of Walsingham, who “held Gaunt in particular contempt, convinced he wanted the throne for himself, and repeated virulent gossip and rumours current about the duke…” Walsingham, it seems, even went so far as to portray Gaunt trying to persuade the Commons to discuss the succession, and was so intent upon removing opposition that he requested a law be passed to forbid a woman from inheriting the throne, “which would obviate the claim of Lionel’s daughter Philippa, who arguably held the most legitimate claim to the throne after the prince’s son”. So, this business of excluding females’ claims was due to Gaunt browbeating the Commons, not to Edward III’s entail?

Well, not being a fan of John of Gaunt, I am quite prepared to believe he put the screws on his dying father, in order to ensure the House of Lancaster becoming heir to Richard II’s throne, in the event of Richard childless demise. But I can also believe he’d go to work on Parliament. Gaunt was ruthless when it came to furthering his own family, and how better to achieve this than paving the path to the throne? Either way, he tried to see the succession go to the House of Lancaster.

Richard, 3rd Duke of York, quite rightly, did not think the House of Lancaster had any business wearing the crown. He was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and truly believed his (senior) line had precedence. I believe so too. Maybe it was through the female line, but it was perfectly legitimate, and until the demise of Edward III and that pesky entail (or Gaunt’s other forceful activities), there had not been a bar on women taking the throne. Yes, they had to stand back while their brothers took precedence, but if those brothers died, then they themselves had every right to be crowned. Lionel of Clarence only had one child, a daughter. His right passed to her, not to his conniving next brother, Gaunt.

Richard of York WAS the rightful king.

Now, of course, it has all been changed, and women can take precedence even if they have a younger brother(s). The line goes through age, not gender. And about time too!

ANNE MORTIMER AND RICHARD OF CONISBURGH , A LOVE MATCH?

IMG_4798.jpgTHE TOMB THAT  IT IS BELIEVED ANNE MORTIMER SHARES WITH HER IN-LAWS, EDMUND OF LANGLEY AND ISABELLA OF CASTILE…CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS, KINGS LANGLEY

Some time during the month of May 1408 , were married Richard III’s paternal grandparents, Anne Mortimer and Richard of Conisburgh. She was just 16 and he was in his 20s, it being thought that he could have been born circa 1375 but there is some uncertainty about this and it could have been later.  It must have been a love match for it was without parental consent but validated by papal dispensation two years later on the 23 May.   There was certainly no material gains from the marriage for either of them as Anne and her sister, Eleanor, were both living in straitened circumstances and being described as ‘destitute’ on the death of their mother..  Conisburgh was destined to suffer on going cash flow problems being described at the time as ‘the poorest of all the earls’ and struggling to maintain the lifestyle appropriate for his rank (1) when he was promoted to Earl of Cambridge in 1414.

Sadly the marriage was short-lived, Anne dying shortly after giving birth to Richard III’s father, Richard of York on the 22 September 1411 at Conisburgh Castle.  The future was to bring about the execution of Conisburgh as a result of the Southampton plot in 1415 leaving their small son an orphan.

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CONISBURGH CASTLE

But I digress , and returning to Anne, it is believed that she was finally reburied once again with her paternal inlaws, Edmund of Langley and Isabella of Castile in All Saints Church, Kings Langley after their original burial place, Convent Chapel, Kings Langley fell into disrepair after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.    In 1877, this tomb and its contents were examined by  Dr George Rolleston.     In a third lead coffin was found the remains of a woman of ‘about’ 30 years old with some of her auburn hair still remaining.  These are believed to have been the remains of Anne Mortimer.

Kings_Langley_Palace_ruins.jpg

Some of the remains of Kings Langley Palace, home to Edmund Langley, are thought to have been incorporated in this old farm building.

Here is a link to an interesting article on  “Anne Mortimer, the forgotten Plantagenet”

1) Richard Duke of York, King by Right p35 Matthew Lewis.

The 10 greatest medieval royal romances? Some, maybe….

John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster

Well, my opinion only, of course, but where are John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford/de Roët? I don’t believe his first wife, Blanche, was his greatest love. That honour went to Katherine, for love of whom he went to extraordinary lengths, enduring scandal and opprobrium, but eventually making her his third duchess. And managing to legitimize his Beaufort children by her.

As for Edward II and Piers Gaveston. No, they don’t warrant inclusion, I’m afraid. Not because it was gay, but because it became dangerously spiteful, petty, posturing and not a little ridiculous. It ultimately destroyed all concerned. Then Edward II showed even less judgement by moving on to the dreadful Despensers. There was nothing great or romantic about his conduct in allowing his favourites such enormous power. I find his reign fascinating, but always want to shake him until his royal teeth rattle.

Edward II and Piers Gaveston

Edward with Gaveston

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn? Hmm. That gross man always thought with his codpiece, not his heart. The same goes for his maternal grandfather, Edward IV, the contents of whose codpiece appear to be overactive in the extreme.

Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor? I have grave misgivings about this one. I believe she was more interested in Edmund Beaufort, 4th Earl of Somerset, and that when she became pregnant and he wouldn’t/couldn’t marry her, lowly Owen Tudor was hastily drummed up to “do the honours” of claiming to be the unborn child’s father. Maybe Owen already had a good and understanding relationship with Katherine? This might have made him acceptable to her in her hour of need. I may be wildly wrong about this, of course, but (once again) it’s my opinion.

Edward III and Philippa of Hainault? Yes. The Black Prince and Joan of Kent? Yes. Richard, Duke of York, and Cecily Neville? Yes. Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon? Yes. Edward I and Eleanor of Castile? Yes.

Who else is missing, apart from Katherine Swynford? Well, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Theirs was another political royal match, but they fell deeply in love. He was utterly distraught when she died suddenly.

Richard III and Anne Neville

Richard III and Anne Neville

Richard III and Anne Neville? George of Clarence and Isabel Neville? I think both couples are strong contenders. Whatever else may be said, about the brothers only wanting the Warwick inheritance, and so on, it seems to be an irrefutable fact that the Neville sisters won their York husbands’ hearts. Maybe it can be argued that their father’s inheritance was a great big carrot to both men, but the fondness/love that eventually came into being was real enough. Both men were heartbroken by their wives’ deaths, and George could not cope with Isabel’s loss. Richard, perhaps stronger emotionally, was equally as broken, but did not fall apart as George had done. Am I misjudging these marriages as well? No. I stick to my opinion!

No doubt, you will stick to yours too!

https://e-royalty.com/articles/the-ten-great-medieval-royal-romances/

 

 

BLOOD OF ROSES (A Novella of Edward IV’s Victory at Towton)

Richard, Duke of York and his second son Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield at the bitter end of  1460. Within weeks, the Duke’s eldest son Edward was on the road with a mighty army, seeking revenge–and a crown.

The novella BLOOD OF  ROSES by J.P. Reedman covers the period  from the Duke’s death to Edward’s Coronation on June 28 1461. Edward’s early battles are curiously sidelined  in most fiction, despite their importance, while his amorous pursuits often seem to take the fore! This ‘slice of life’ fiction book tries to redress that balance slightly.

In February 1461 Edward fought the first of his battles for the throne at Mortimer’s Cross, where the parhelion, the Three Suns, appeared  in the sky. Edward sensed the fear and doubt growing in his men at the sight of this phenomena, and, aged only 18, showed great cleverness in convincing them it was a GOOD omen–the sign of the Holy Trinity. The battle went decively for the Yorkists, with Jasper Tudor’s father Owen being executed in Hereford’s town square. Legend says a deranged lady took his head and sat on the market cross crooning to it as she brushed its hair…

With Edward were the Croft family of Croft Castle, which is on the Welsh borders. This is the family made famous by the letter sent from Ludlow to the Duke of York by his young sons, Edward and Edmund, asking for bonnets and other items. At first reading, one section of the letter seems to  be against bullying behaviour by the Croft sons, who were also at Ludlow, but is in fact, on second reading,  against the ‘odious and demeaning’ treatment of them, a fact recently noted by Dr John Ashdown-Hill. Richard Croft went on to serve Edward IV (so clearly no  friction there!), then Richard III and Henry Tudor.

Mortimer’s Cross was a great victory but there was then a distinct setback when the Earl of Warwick was defeated by the Lancastrians at St Albans, and King Henry, until then a Yorkist prisoner, taken  to rejoin his wife, Margaret of Anjou. Nonetheless, Edward entered London and was proclaimed king, although he sworehe would not wear the crown until he had defeated his enemies utterly. Gathering his army, he began a hard march north.

At Ferrybridge, the Lancastrians attacked the Yorkists over the damaged bridge crossing the Aire, in a night-raid led by Lord Clifford, the presumed murderer of Edmund of Rutland, who had appeared suddenly with his ‘chosen’ men, the Flower of Craven. At first the Yorkists were thrown into disarray, with Lord Fitzwalter being hewn down the moment he stepped from his tent to see what the commotion outside was about. Luckily, William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, the most experienced commander of the Yorkist host, took the lead and crossed near Castleford to attack the Lancastrian flank. Fauconberg was a small-framed man, often described as ‘little Fauconberg’ who had a long military career, having served in France, including at the famous Siege of Orleans. He was an uncle of Edward, being the third son of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and his wife Joan Beaufort (Edward’s maternal grandparents.) Fauconberg  made short work of Clifford’s Flower of Craven, and Clifford himself was killed, mostly like by an arrow when removing his gorget.

Then the Yorkist army pushed on to Towton, fought on Palm Sunday and in a fierce snowstorm. Some have questioned the possibility of a  snowstorm that late in the year, but looking at our recent March weather, it is not impossible at all that there was indeed heavy snow! The bad weather was advantageous to the Yorkists, with the worst of the weather being at their backs and driving into the faces of their enemies. The Lancastrian archers were at a distinct disadvantage with the strong wind blowing their arrows astray.

The battle was hard fought, nevertheless, as the Lancastrian forces far outnumbered those of the Yorkists. However, when the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent arrived, led by John Howard, the battle finally turned in Edward’s favour. A rout ensued and the battlefield became a killing field. The waters of nearby Cock Beck ran red with blood and filled with bodies. The area was afterwards called Bloody Meadow.

It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English’s soil, with figures as high as 28,000 stated for the casualties. Even given the exaggeration of the chroniclers of the day, it was undoubtedly a huge amount of slain. In recent years some of the remains of the fallen have been recovered, mostly around Towton Hall, where archaeologists recently found the remains of Richard III’s chapel to the fallen soldiers subsumed into the inner fabric of the hall. The skeletons recovered showed the terrifying brutality of medieval warfare–shattered skulls, slashing injuries, facial mutilation, slicing marks that may have been the removal of ears…

Chivalry died a death upon this field of blood. But England had a new king–Edward of York, the Sunne in Splendour.

BLOOD OF ROSES IS AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PRINT FROM AMAZON

BLOOD OF ROSES

 

Might Richard have become Archbishop of Canterbury….?

 

Richard as Archbishop - WordPress

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.

 

How Edward IV ascended the throne of England….

 

The Wars of the Roses did not commence, à la Bard, with white and red roses snatched and brandished in a garden by opposing lords, but they were foreshadowed at the turn of the fifteenth century when Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, usurped and murdered Richard II.

Bolingbroke was the son and heir of Richard II’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, through Gaunt’s first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. It was through Blanche that the dukedom came to Gaunt. Bolingbroke was therefore the undisputable heir of the House of Lancaster.

But Gaunt had other children by other women, especially a nest of illegitimate Beauforts by his liaison with Katherine de Roët/Swynford, who had been governess to his children by Blanche. Gaunt wanted the Beauforts to be legitimized, and Richard II eventually agreed. Letters Patent were issued in 1397.

When Bolingbroke stole the throne and murdered Richard, he also made sure that his half-siblings, the Beauforts, could not succeed to the throne. He did this by adding a clause to the original Patent of legitimation. This was popularly regarded as valid, but maybe it was not, because the original patent had received parliamentary sanction.

The Lancastrian line held power until the reign of Bolingbroke’s grandson, the weak, ineffectual Henry VI. At first childless, Henry had to decide on an heir. If the Beauforts were set aside, the next legitimate heir to the throne was Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who descended from Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. But, York was also descended, through his Mortimer mother, from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, who was an older brother of Gaunt’s. Not the oldest, of course. That honour went to the Black Prince, father of Richard II.

Gaunt and the Lancastrians did their utmost to insist that rights to the throne could not descend through a female line. They were wrong. For instance, Henry II’s claim came through his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose opponent, Stephen, also claimed through his mother. So, the Lancastrians were good at dealing from the bottom of the pack. Gaunt himself laid claim to the throne of Castile in right of his second wife! And he had gained the incredibly wealthy and important dukedom of Lancaster through his first wife. But that was different, of course. Oh, of course. So, they were hypocrites.

This was the situation when Henry VI needed an heir. York felt, rightly, that he was the legitimate heir. He did not claim that the House of Lancaster had no right to the throne, only that he was the next heir. Then, miraculously (or by the divine intervention of the Beaufort Earl of Somerset) Henry VI’s queen provided the much-needed son. In the nick of time, eh? Poor Henry believed he was the father, but a lot of people saw hanky-panky at work…and Somerset’s Beaufort fruitfulness.

York’s claims went quiet again. But as the years passed, Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, grew fearful that York’s designs on the crown would be at the expense of her son. She was aided and abetted in this by the powerful Duke of Somerset. York realized that he and his House were in danger of extinction, and chose to stand up for his rights.

Thus began the Wars of the Roses, a tussle that went on for decades and resulted in the crown going from Lancaster to York, and then back to Lancaster….if Henry Tudor can be described as a Lancastrian. He was descended through the Beauforts, who, according to Henry IV, could not succeed to the throne. But that is yet another story. So, too, is the fact that if the claim to the throne could descend through the female line, then Philippa, one of Gaunt’s daughters by Blanche of Lancaster, and thus full sister of Henry IV, had to be considered. She had married the King of Portugal, and had sons. Philippa’s younger sister, Elizabeth, had married the Duke of Exeter, but their line was not considered either. Besides, Philippa was the older sister, and her line not only legitimate, but secure. However, as far as I can ascertain, her claim does not appear to have been even vaguely considered.

By this time York was the father of four sons: Edward, Earl of March (Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). The first two were old enough to fight. Another of York’s great assets was the Earl of Warwick, who is now known to us as the “Kingmaker”.

With Margaret determined to protect her son’s rights, battles commenced, and fortunes swung. Then York and his second son, Edmund, were slain by treachery (the same fate as that suffered by the last of the sons, the brave Richard III) at the Battle of Wakefield. York and Edmund’s heads were displayed on the gate of York city. At least Richard III did not suffer that.

Now York’s eldest son, Edward, the new Duke of York, became the figurehead of the Yorkist cause. Bitterly angry about the fate of his father and brother, he took up the cudgels and, with Warwick at his side, triumphed over the Lancastrians to take the throne. He was proclaimed king on 4th March 1461. After a few years there was a hiccup, and he was forced to flee the country with his younger brother, George and Richard. Henry VI was reinstated. Edward returned, and after another bout of battles (and quarrelling with and alienating Warwick, to say nothing of having George switch sides more than once) Edward finally demolished Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. He gained victory with his brothers fighting at his side. Somerset was captured and beheaded. Margaret of Anjou’s son, the Prince of Wales, was also slain, and Margaret’s will finally broken. Days later, Henry VI, died in the Tower of “melancholy”. Hmm. Let’s just say that his survival would have been inconvenient to Edward, who wouldn’t want him returning to the throne again.

 

And so England had her first Yorkist king for the second time. If you see what I mean. The above is clearly somewhat condensed, and many of the finer points have had to be omitted, but it’s the gist of how handsome, dashing, charming Edward, Earl of March, became King Edward IV.

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler: A Visit to King’s Cliffe Church and its Fotheringhay Artifacts

Although the entire eastern portion of St Mary and All Saints Church in Fotheringhay was demolished in 1573, it is still possible to see original woodwork and painted glass from the Yorkist Age.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

My husband and I had the good fortune to spend two weeks in England and Wales in October, 2017. I had been asked to moderate a conference about Richard III and 15th century warfare at the Leicester Guildhall, sponsored by the Richard III Foundation. During our stay in Leicester, we drove into Northamptonshire in order to explore a small parish church at King’s Cliffe that purported to have a number of objects from Richard III’s birthplace of Fotheringhay. What we discovered surpassed all our expectations.

Scene of Destruction: St Mary and All Saints Church

Like many tales of discovery, this one begins with a tale of loss. The year was 1566. Queen Elizabeth I was on progress through her realm, having already occupied the throne for 8 years. Her itinerary took her to Fotheringhay Castle, a short distance from the parish church…

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Murrey and Blue interviews Michael K. Jones

  • Which of the Black Prince’s military achievements is the most impressive and why?

The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’

The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.

Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.

In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’

Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.

It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.

  •  Do you think the Black Prince would have made a good king?

 The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’

Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.

The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt.  A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.

  • Was any part of Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ justified?

Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.

The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

  • In the fifteenth century, did the Yorkists or the Lancastrians have a better claim to the throne?

 The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.

However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.

  • Did Margaret Beaufort consistently plot to put her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne, or was she – initially at least – trying to engineer his return to England, and a position within the Yorkist realm?

It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.

Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).

For Michael Jones’s author website see: www.michaeljoneshistorian.com

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