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Treason among the Roses….or….Who betrayed whom at Wakefield….?

treason among the roses

The scene above is fictitious, with roses being brandished nobly, but the strife known to posterity as The Wars of the Roses was full of treachery. Turncoats abounded, loyalty could be non-existent, and men’s names dragged down. Not always dragged down, of course, because if the traitor defected to the ultimately winning side, he did very nicely, thank you very much.

The Battle of Northampton, 10th July 1460, for instance, was won by the Yorkists because the Lancastrians were betrayed by the commander of their own vanguard, Edmund Grey, Lord Grey of Ruthin. It was a prearranged plan, with the Earl of Warwick’s Yorkists told not to attack anyone in Grey’s colours. Grey’s reward was to be made Earl of Kent.

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Edmund Grey, Lord Grey of Ruthin

But five months later, on 30th December that same year, was fought the Battle of Wakefield, at which the tables were turned and York lost to Lancaster, in the process forfeiting the lives of the Duke of York himself, his prominent supporter the Earl of Salisbury, and York’s 17-year-old second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland.

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Impression of Sandal Castle, near Wakefield

York was trapped at Sandal Castle near Wakefield, with (it is estimated) round 5,000 men compared with the (equally estimated) 20,000 of the Lancastrians. Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury (not his namesake, the Earl of Warwick) was at York’s side throughout. The Nevilles were one of the great families in the north, but were divided because Salisbury’s cadet branch had risen above the senior branch, which was led by his great-nephew, the Earl of Westmorland. Westmorland was ill, and his younger brother, John Neville of Raby, had a great deal to gain by the destruction of both York and Salisbury.

Raby Castle

Raby Castle

The Percys were another great northern family, who, resentful of the jumped-up Nevilles, opposed York and Salisbury. John Neville of Raby was soon colluding with the Percys and other Lancastrians. A plot was hatched by the northern veteran Andrew Trollope to fool the Duke of York into coming out to join battle, when he should have stayed safely in Sandal Castle, waiting for the help that was on its way from his son and heir, Edward, Earl of March, the future Edward IV, and from the Earl of Warwick.

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Sir Andrew Trollope

Trollope had been a Yorkist, but changed sides after feeding York with false information about the strength of the Lancastrians. Then, after concealing most of the Lancastrian army in the woods surrounding the intended battlefield in front of the castle, Trollope marched a much smaller contingent into the open to challenge York and deceive him into thinking the opposition was much smaller than it really was.

It would also seem that the scheming John Neville of Raby further fooled York with false colours, so that he thought some Yorkist reinforcements had arrived from Warwick. Another version is that Neville pretended he would raise men for York, but raised them for Lancaster instead. Either way he was a lying turncoat. And all this went on while a Christmas truce was in force! Not very honourable or chivalrous.

Oh, sneaky, sneaky Lancastrian traitors, yet York appears to have had faith in these men. Certainly it is thought he believed that if he gave battle, a large portion of the Lancastrian army would come over to his side. He was strongly advised to stay in the castle and just wait for his son Edward and real allies to arrive to save him, but something convinced him to march out and not only be confronted by the Lancastrians he could see, but surrounded too by the greater numbers hidden in the woods. Was he incredibly brave and sure of his cause? Or deluded and a complete fool? As we do not know what was in his mind, we will probably never know. All we do know is that he was betrayed by so-called friends.

The battle was short. York, Salisbury and young Edmund were all slain and beheaded, and their heads displayed ignominiously on Micklegate Bar in York. York’s head was ridiculed with a paper crown, and a notice: York overlooks the city of York.

richardyorkdeath

It was a disaster for the Yorkist cause, but now Edward of March took over as head of the House. He triumphed, became Edward IV, and after one brief blip when he had to flee to his sister in Burgundy, he returned to vanquish Lancaster and reign for twelve peaceful years. He passed away at a relatively young age, but death came in his bed, not on a battlefield.

Of course, being a Ricardian, I have to think of Bosworth, where the greatest betrayal of them all brought about the brutal death of the Duke of York’s youngest son, Richard III. The name Stanley is all I need to say. Back-stabbing and fence-sitting was their game. The Stanleys benefited greatly from their shameful treachery. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

As I have commented elsewhere (https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2017/05/22/and-now-for-the-height-and-appearance-of-edmund-earl-of-rutland/) if only York had stayed put in Sandal Castle, how different might things have been. Would he, not his youngest son, have become King Richard III? Edmund could have lived to marry and perhaps have progeny. George of Clarence might never have rebelled and been condemned for treason. And if York had been around, might his eldest son Edward have been prevented from making the disastrous Woodville “marriage” that was to eventually lead to the horror of Bosworth? Bosworth, where it might have been King Richard IV who was hacked to death.

Who knows? Without the Woodville marriage, there wouldn’t have been a King Richard to die at Bosworth. There wouldn’t have been a Bosworth, because Richard, Duke of Gloucester, would probably have happily lived out his days as Lord of the North, maintaining a peaceful balance between the Nevilles and the Percys.

Richard's standard at Bosworth

 

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Careless talk really does cost lives

axeandblockToday in 1461, at Hereford marketplace, Owain Tudor was executed and buried in the local Greyfriars. It appears that, although he had commanded Lancastrian troops at Mortimer’s Cross and been captured, he was not expecting this fate. He may well have foreseen himself being ransomed instead until he saw the block.

Perhaps he was executed because he was thought to have married the widowed Catherine de Valois and fathered some children by her, although there is no real evidence at the time and that such a marriage would have been precluded by the 1427 Act, as Ashdown-Hill reminded us in Royal Marriage Secrets. A royal stepmother could not remarry until her son came of age, which Henry VI did not during Catherine’s lifetime.

After her death in January 1436/7, it seems that rumours, including the legend of her watching a naked servant bathing, arose and were exploited for propaganda purposes so as to use him – and his “sons”, Edmund and Jasper – to bolster Henry’s fragile regime as a counterweight to the Duke of York and his cohort. Doubtless Owen played along and boasted about these rumours.

Eight years after his end, the words “This head that shall lie on the stock that was once wont to lie on Queen Catherine’s lap” were attributed to him, although the phraseology varies. Perhaps he should have kept quiet or restricted himself to the facts.

The True History of King Richard III (Part IV)

The sack of Ludlow 1459


Richard’s first teacher was Lady Mortimer, who taught him handwriting and country dancing. As Lady Mortimer’s late husband had been on the very fringe (almost dropping off the end) of Richard’s family tree, she also taught him something of genealogy, and he discovered that he was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, which made him senior in the succession to Henry VI himself! It turned out that when the Lancastrians (who were descended from John of Gaunt, Lionel’s younger brother) had stolen the throne in the early fifteenth century they had forced the York family to pretend that they were only descended from Edmund of Langley (Gaunt’s younger brother.)

This injustice set Richard seething, but he was also delighted to find that he was much nearer to the (rightful) possession of the crown than he had previously imagined.

Richard’s studies continued under the Reverend Doctor Stiffkey (of Stiffkey in Norfolk) who taught him Latin and Canon Law. George shared these lessons, but although he was Richard’s elder he was a dull pupil who was often reduced to copying from his brother’s book.

George and Margaret played together, as they were close in age, but Richard only had his pet pig, Henry. (Naturally he was already planning to turn Henry into sausages when Henry got big and fat enough.) It was having this pig that persuaded Richard to choose the White Boar as his personal badge. He also learned from Doctor Stiffkey that Ebor was York in Latin, so it was a pun as well, which Richard found amusing.

Margaret of Anjou called a Parliament to which neither York nor his friends were invited. This made York very suspicious so he sent for all his friends to join him at Ludlow with their soldiers. This led to at least one battle (Blore Heath) as Salisbury forced his way through from the north. Warwick came all the way from Calais and brought much of the garrison with him.

Margaret had an even bigger army, which she marched all the way to Ludford Bridge, just outside Ludlow. The even had Henry VI with them, and the sight of Henry’s banner was enough to make many of York’s followers desert, as the Lancastrian army was so much bigger they thought they might lose and then be executed as traitors.

This led to an urgent family conference. York, and his elder sons, Edward and Edmund, Salisbury and Warwick all slipped away in the night, taking only their hand luggage. Duchess Cecily, with only George and Richard and a pimply lad called William Hastings to protect her, walked down to Ludlow market cross, in the hope of picking up a lift to Fotheringhay,

The Lancastrian army arrived soon after dawn. The Duchess, drawing herself up to her full five foot eight plus hennin, told her children to be brave, and William Hastings waved a white flag as vigorously as he could.

The leaders of the Lancastrian army were in a foul mood, and they were just about to do terrible things to the Duchess and Margaret when they caught sight of the expression on Richard’s face. As one man, they stepped back in fear, and several of them, including Lord Clifford, actually soiled themselves, which was very inconvenient given that they were all wearing armour. The Duchess, who had closed her eyes to think of England, believed ever afterwards that the Holy Trinity had saved her, but it was actually her youngest son, already by far the scariest person in the land.

Henry VI himself showed up – he was far too holy to be scared, but he pardoned the Duchess and those with her on the spot and put them under the guard of trusted men, which, in the circumstances, was quite unnecessary.

There then took place what is known as the ‘sack of Ludlow’. This incident has been grossly exaggerated by Yorkist propaganda, much of it undoubtedly put about by Richard himself. In truth, no women were raped, no houses plundered to the bare walls. The Lancastrian soldiers merely knocked politely on doors and asked for contributions to ‘Lancastrians In Need’ which was a charity lately set up by Henry VI. The odd penny, or perhaps a loaf of bread, was all they wanted. The only real casualty was Henry the pig, who was slaughtered so that everyone could have a bacon sandwich.

TREASON 2 – The Parliament Of Devils, 1459

Introduction

This is the second of two articles I have written about treason. In the first article, I wrote about the Merciless Parliament of 1388 at which eighteen of king Richard II’s closest advisors and friends were tried by parliament and condemned as traitors, against the king’s wishes. In this article I am writing about the ‘Parliament of Devils’ (1459) at which twenty-nine of the kings subjects were attainted and condemned as traitors at the king’s command. Although both parliaments took place against a background of agitation for political reform, there is  an important difference between them. In 1388 there was an identifiable judicial process to determine guilt before sentence was passed; whereas in 1459, the Yorkists were condemned as traitors without any previous judicial procedure.  The judgement of the parliamentary lords had been replaced by the act of attainder.

 

Parliament had been the venue and the tribunal for hearing state trials since the reign of Edward I. In cases of high treason it was necessary to try the accused and obtain the judicial judgement of parliament as the kings high court. However, the deposition of Richard II changed all that. From the beginning of the fifteenth century, the judicial procedure all but disappeared.

 

The Attainder

An act of attainder is a pronouncement of sentence without a judicial determination of guilt. Although attainders have political connotations and were frequently, if not exclusively, used for political ends, the concept is not political in origin. The attainder has its provenance in the common law doctrine of ‘notoriety’. For example, the offence of levying war against the king would be considered notorious if many people had seen it in a battle. In such a case, notoriety acted as an instant conviction.[1] However, by the second half of the fourteenth century, notoriety no longer acted as an instant conviction. It was now considered to be the crown’s indictment, setting out the basis for a prosecution. By the turn of the fifteenth century, the use of notoriety had ceased altogether; the procedure having further changed into the act of attainder.[2] It was the Treason Act of 1351 that drove this process by changing the legal framework. In particular, it had given parliament the power to declare non-statutory offences as treason. That is what happened in 1388, where the grounds for conviction were basically ‘notoriety’. Parliament used its power to ‘declare’ treason as a prelude to a trial and the seizure of the traitors’ estates. Even though this was an unintentional consequence of the act, it set a precedent for others to follow

 

The sophistication and use of attainders developed by degrees during the first half of the fifteenth century. The act of attainder made against the rebel Jack Cade after his death is a landmark since it was felt necessary to extinguish his civil rights after his death. His offences of ‘imagining the king’s death’ and ‘traitorously levying men’ were not declared treason in 1451; it was simply asserted that they were treason. In 1453, this breach of procedure was remedied by a formal declaration in parliament.

 

The attainder of the deceased duke of Suffolk was another important case since it was bought by the lords and then by the commons, and resisted on both occasions by the king. Originally, the lord’s attempted to commit Suffolk for misprision in public office. However, this was defeated because the charges were too vague. The commons took on the case by bringing specific allegations of treason, which the king refused to accept on the basis that “treason was neither declared nor charged”.[3] Eventually, the king was forced to accept Suffolk’s impeachment on charges of misprision, but he used his prerogative to save Suffolk’s life. Notwithstanding Suffolk’s subsequent murder at sea, parliament further petitioned for a declaration of treason and forfeiture on the grounds that he had failed to make sufficient response to the impeachment. Although the king refused the petition, he took note of parliament’s formula and showed his own willingness to adapt and use it in 1459. From that date we see a distinct change in the nature and process of attainder. The context for that change was the disaffection caused by the king’s government during the 1450’s.

 

Context

When the duke York and the earls of Warwick and Salisbury fought the king’s army at St Albans in 1455 they committed treason. Only victory saved them from the consequences of their actions that day.   However, the battle left a legacy of bitterness and hatred between the queen, the sons of the Lancastrian lords killed in the battle, and the duke York and his faction. It was a vendetta that neither Lancastrian nor Yorkist ideology was capable of settling for sixteen years.

 

Six months after St Albans the king had a mental breakdown. Owing to Henry’s incapacity, York was appointed Lord Protector. It was a short appointment as the king recovered his wits within three months. York resigned his position and retired to his northern stronghold. Meanwhile, Queen Margaret took the king, the court and the government administration to Coventry in the Lancastrian heartland. Given the enmity between the queen and York, the task of restoring effective government and preserving a workable balance of power fell on the unaligned nobility. They did their best to preserve loyalty to the king’s royal authority, whilst compromising wherever they could in the interests of unity. However, this became increasingly difficult as the queen’s grip on the king tightened[4]. Gradually, the feeling grew that the queen’s governance, no matter how partisan, was preferable to re-fighting St Alban’s: or worse.

 

Queen Margaret saw York as a threat to the throne, and an incorrigible rebel and traitor whom she was determined to crush. Eschewing any attempt to heal the wounds created by the rift, she prompted the Lancastrian regime to take an increasingly aggressive stance against York and his supporters. The loss of the protectorship had left York politically isolated, a situation that deteriorated further during 1456-57. First, the queen replaced the Chancellor, the Treasurer and the Lord Privy Seal with her own men. Next, she moved quickly to re-assert royal authority in South Wales at York’s expense. By 1458, York’s exclusion from mainstream English politics was almost complete. His standing as the senior royal duke and second in line to the throne was unsustainable unless he could curb the queen’s power. In March 1458, Henry returned to Westminster from Coventry, ostensibly to address the dissention and division in the realm. Unfortunately, his attempt to arbitrate the differences between Yorkists and Lancastrians  was biased. It succeeded only in making matters worse. The subsequent ‘loveday’ at which York and Margaret walked from St Paul’s hand-in-hand was a futile sham. The queen was determined to destroy the Yorkists and they were determined to confront the king with their grievances

 

On the 24 June 1459, the king held a great council at Coventry. York, Warwick and Salisbury were summoned but did not attend.[5] Such was their mistrust that they would not attend in the absence proper guarantees of their safety. This mutual mistrust was at the heart of the country’s problem leading to war[6]. When the Council did meet, the three Yorkists were indicted for their absence at the instigation of the queen; however, the implication that they had committed treason is obvious.

 

Queen Margaret had been preparing for outright war in the king’s name for some time. By September 1459 the preparations were almost complete. The king was at Kenilworth with the main body of his army.[7] The queen was recruiting in Cheshire with the Prince of Wales. The military advantage was undoubtedly with the king’s forces. They were strong in numbers and concentrated in a central position; whereas, their opponents were weak in numbers and widely dispersed. York was at Ludlow on the Welsh Marches. Salisbury was two hundred miles away at Middleham in the Yorkshire Dales. Warwick was even further away across the English Channel in Calais. In theory at any rate, the royal army was well placed to manoeuvre on interior lines and defeat the Yorkists in detail. Sensing their peril, the Yorkist arranged to unite their retinues in the west midlands[8] and to put their case directly to the king from a position of relative security, if not strength.[9]

 

Blore heath and Ludford Bridge

The earl of Warwick landed at Kent in September. He was in a hurry with no time for recruiting sympathetic Kentishmen. Consequently he entered London on the 20 September with only ‘a few hundred’ professional soldiers from the Calais garrison.[10] The next day he left for Warwick and a rendezvous with his father and uncle[11]. Meanwhile; the earl of Salisbury with about five thousand men was on his way from Middleham. York was at Ludlow, nearest to the rendezvous. It is possible that Warwick’s march was ‘shadowed’ by the duke of Somerset’s retinue coming from the southwest and he (Warwick) was ‘forced north of the town and onto Ludlow’ having narrowly avoided a clash of arms with Somerset in the streets of Colehill near Coventry.[12] It may be, as Johnson insinuates, that Somerset was afraid to engage Warwick’s veterans[13].

 

While Warwick was in London, or soon after, Salisbury’s contingent was approaching Nottingham.[14] Warned of his approach, the king re-deployed his army to cover the Trent crossing, thereby, forcing Salisbury to change course westward towards Ludlow.  The proximity of the king’s army and the enforced change of direction had put Salisbury in a tight spot since he was now between the queen/Prince of Wales with the Cheshire levies in front, and the main body of the royal army to his left rear. On the 23 September, Salisbury’s scouts spotted a large Lancastrian force marching to towards them.[15] The queen had detached Lord Audley with ten thousand men to block the Yorkist’s  path. Salisbury tried to negotiate a peaceful way out of his  difficulty but was unsuccessful. Battle was joined at 1pm and lasted for four hours. It was bitterly fought: however, many of Audley’s troops were green and no match for Salisbury’s northerners, hardened by years of skirmishing on the Anglo-Scottish border. Audley was tricked into leaving his strong defensive position to attack the Yorkists. He mounted two cavalry assaults and one infantry assault, all of which were repulsed. In the last infantry melee, Audley was cut down and the battle lost. Two thousand Lancastrians died in the battle and the close  pursuit. Despite his victory, Salisbury was still in danger of being trapped; the king was closing in behind and the Prince of Wales’ remaining levies were nearby. Instead of pressing on to Ludlow immediately, Salisbury dallied on the battlefield. Luckily, the king’s tardiness enabled the Yorkists to slip away under cover of their artillery, which was fired by a lone friar.[16]

 

Although there was no fighting or politicking for the next fortnight, it would wrong to suggest, as Johnson does, that nothing much was happening. Both side were manoeuvring for an advantage. We can follow the royal army’s southward movements from the king’s itinerary for this period.[17] After combining his forces near Market Drayton (probably on the 25 or 26 September), the king marched it south towards Worcester via Walsall and Coleshill. According to the Parliamentary Roll this was arduous campaigning for Henry. He spent thirty days ‘in the field “…not resting two nights in the same place, except on Sundays’, and sometimes ‘resting in a bare field two nights in a row…in the cold season of the year[18].

 

For their part, the Yorkists lords joined forces at Ludlow as soon as possible after Blore Heath: possibly on the 26 or 27 September. What they did next is certain. Their first joint action was to march the army from Ludlow to ‘the neighbourhood of Worcester’. Why they did this, is not so certain. They may have intended to block the king’s  advance southward, which threatened their communication with the Southeast, where the most of their sympathisers were. Professor Goodman speculates that they took up a blocking position between Kidderminster and Worcester. [19]  However, as soon as the king appeared at the head of his army and ’in guise of war’ (with his banner displayed), the three lords withdrew to Worcester. It wasn’t simply that they were outnumbered; the Yorkists were loath to fight the king’s army, as that would be treason. As if to emphasise their dilemma of whether to fight or not, York and his Neville relatives swore an oath of fellowship in Worcester Cathedral that — saving only their allegiance to the king — they would come to each other’s aid in time of need. They also took the opportunity to further reaffirm their loyalty and to compose an indenture of their grievances. The indenture was sent to the king through Garter King-At-Arms. Whether, the king saw the indenture we cannot say; however, his next action was unequivocal. He ordered the royal army to resume its advance on Worcester

 

York had no choice now but to retreat southwards.[20] He still baulked at fighting the king and it was necessary to maintain some distances between the two armies. However, York’s decision to cross the river Severn at Ledbury was the defining moment in this campaign since it meant abandoning any hope of escape to the south and the acceptance that he may have to fight for his life. The increasingly fragile Yorkist morale may have forced him to take refuge in the more defensible terrain around Ludlow and the Welsh border. If he had to fight the king then it would be on ground of his own choosing. By the 9 October the Yorkists were at Ludlow and the king was at Leominster, a few miles away. The next day, the Yorkist wrote an open letter to the king protesting their innocence and setting out their case in detail[21] It was a last desperate plea to reason, but it was useless. By now, the fighting spirit in York’s army was non-existent. The king had offered pardon to those who surrendered to his grace within six days; nobody wanted to fight the king. It was the defection of Andrew Trollope who commanded the Calais garrison troops together with most, if not all, of his men (and with valuable intelligence about York’s battle plan) that decided the outcome at Ludford Bridge. York and Rutland fled to Ireland, Warwick, Salisbury and March fled to Calais. Their soldiers and the remainder of York’s family were left to the mercy of the king and queen.

 

From a military point of view it was a miserable campaign, notable only for the fact that neither side achieved their objective. Despite their numerical superiority and central position, the king’s army failed to defeat the Yorkists in detail, or to prevent the concentration of their retinues. Worse still, they allowed the Yorkist leaders to escape abroad. For their part, the Yorkists failed to convince the king — or anybody else — of their loyalty and good intentions, and were forced to flee ignominiously. However, from professor Bellamy’s point of view ’this pattern of events is of more than antiquarian interest’, since it explains the legal aspects of war. According to the international usages of war, the presence of a king at the forefront of his army with his banner displayed is tantamount to a declaration of war[22]. The Lancastrian keenness to get the monk-like Henry into harness, mounted on a warhorse at the front of his army, with the royal banner displayed was probably inspired by their knowledge of the law. Once these things were in place on the battlefield any attempt by the Yorkists to engage the royal army in battle would be treason (levying war against the king). It would enable the Yorkists’ possessions to be forfeit to the crown without the need for legal process. The sentence of attainder and forfeiture would extend to the Yorkists’ heirs in perpetuity. York’s refusal to stand and fight at Worcester and at Tewkesbury may also have been prompted by his knowledge of the law; it was consistent with his personal position throughout the 1450’s.

 

The Parliament of Devils

Parliament was summoned to meet at Coventry on the 20 November in anticipation of completing the annihilation of the House of York and the Yorkist cause. Queen Margaret must have thought that after three years of military and political preparations, her plans were about to bear fruit. York and his confederates were within her grasp; their capture or death in battle would ensure Lancastrian hegemony. Even though her enemies had escaped to fight another day, there was still much to play for. The parliamentary attainder of the Yorkists and the forfeiture of their estates would bring unprecedented wealth and power into the royal coffers, which could be exploited for the king’s benefit.[23]

 

The Coventry Parliament was packed with loyal Lancastrians to ensure royal success.[24] Nothing had been left to chance. The petition for attainder, which was presented to the king, was a carefully worded document in two parts. In all probability, it was drafted by the king’s own lawyers.[25] The first part contained an indictment of Yorkist disloyalty dating back to the beginning of the decade. First, York was accused of stirring Jack Cade to defy the king’s will and to incite rebellion in the realm, and of accroaching royal authority (1450). Second, York was forsworn; he broke his most solemn oath of loyalty and obedience to the king sworn at St Paul’s in 1452. Third, York conspired with the earls of Warwick and Salisbury to levy war on the king at St Albans and despite the king’s clemency he persisted with his wrongdoings. Fourth, the earl of Salisbury with several (named) confederates levied war on the king at Blore Heath. Finally, York and his (named) confederates levied war on the king at Ludford (1459).[26]

 

On the face of it, the government’s case seems a good one, which Johnson thinks has never been successfully refuted[27]. In truth, the facts are largely against York; he did break his oath of 1452 and he did fight a battle against the king’s army at St Alban’s. It is unlikely that he was behind Cade’s rebellion, but he exploited it to further his own political agenda. Furthermore, his constant criticism of the Henry’s advisors and of their appointment was a direct challenge to the royal prerogative, which possibly amounted to accroachment. Even so, the crown’s case was very far from being irresistible. First, the decision to proceed against the Yorkists by way of parliamentary attainder rather than using the king’s other proscriptive powers, suggests that the government had doubts about the strength of their case. It is a common misconception that the king needed a parliamentary attainder in order to seize the rebels’ possession. As professor Bellamy points out “ It was not the act [of attainder] that supplied the crown with its rights to the rebels’ possessions but the ancient royal prerogative which operated in time of open war.”[28] Bellamy is referring to the king’s power to convict the rebels in a state trial ‘on the king’s record’. That is to say, on the king’s testimony, without the need for corroborative evidence. Under this power, forfeiture would follow as part of the court judgement. The fact that the government did not follow this process raises questions about whether in law, a state of open war existed in 1459. The king was not present at Blore Heath, nor was the royal army engaged in battle at Worcester, Shrewsbury or Ludford. Moreover, the courts of justice remained open during September and October (In the past, the closing of the courts was taken as a sign of open war.). The Yorkist persistent declarations of their loyalty to the king were also problematic, since they struck a cord with those (and there were many) who were sympathetic to the York’s call for political reform but nonetheless demurred at using armed force against the king. These doubts raised the possibility in Lancastrian minds that at some point in the future any judgement obtained ‘by the kings record’ may be challenged, with concomitant wrangling and litigation over the disposal of forfeited estates. This risk would be avoided by a parliamentary declaration of treason and an act of attainder. This particular attainder was actually a clever legal document, which was not open to legal challenge and provided comprehensive provisions for the forfeiture of the Yorkists’ estates.

 

Another indication of Lancastrian anxiety is found in a contemporary manuscript entitled Somnium vigilantis.[29] The Somnium is a highly stylized narrative of a fictitious court case at which a Yorkist and a Lancastrian argue about justice and mercy. It was written prior to the Coventry parliament by a Lancastrian sympathiser and is partisan. And yet, it provides an insight into the issues exercising the minds of the good and the great at this time. The Yorkist is characterised as arrogant and boorish, bursting into court and demanding clemency. The Lancastrian, who is ‘courteous and just’, allows him a hearing. The Yorkists’ defence is put forward on several grounds. First, mercy is a necessary attribute in a king. That is true and probably explains why there is a subtext of justice and mercy in the Parliamentary Roll account of proceedings and why Henry saw fir to preserve his prerogative to deal with the rebels mercifully, as he saw fit. Second, the realm needed the nobility. I presume that this point is allied to the Yorkist’s third point, that the cause of reform was honourable. These two points together could be construed as arguing the necessity for nobility as a check to a tyrannical monarch. Of course, in the fifteenth century such a view was political dissent. Fourth, there were no specific charges against the Yorkists. This is a good point and may have been legally embarrassing for the crown: but it was not a case winner. Fifth, in view of the threat of a foreign invasion, this was not a good time to destroy those nobles favoured by the people to defend them. These grounds do scant justice to the actual Yorkist position and, predictably, the Lancastrian representative has no trouble crushing them to his own satisfaction. However, the amount of time and ink expended by the author in arguing that the cause of reform, whilst honourable, was an inadequate defence to insurrection suggests Lancastrian nervousness about the strength of their case.

 

Although the Yorkists were unable to defend the charges against them in parliament, their defence is well known to posterity, having been argued in extant correspondence, bills and indentures produced by them over the course of a decade. The bill published by Warwick on his way over from Calais and the open letter sent by the Yorkists to the king on the 10 October were simply the latest iterations of Yorkist complaints that hadn’t changed in substance since 1450 and which were always carefully drafted to avoid any imputation of treason.[30] Their defence was simple and had the benefit of consistency. The problems of the realm were caused by the king’s evil councillors and not by the king. He was innocent, and was being prevented from ruling, as he would have wished, by these same evil councillors. Ultimately, the Yorkists were compelled to act in the way they did by the intransigence and aggression of the king’s evil councillors. Kendall’s implication that the Yorkists approach had not changed since 1455 does scant justice to the longevity of their argument, which, in fact hadn’t actually changed since 1450. Kendall’s other point, that the repetition of the same narrow pattern of factional armed protest was not enthusing the general population to flock to the Yorkists’ banner, is more substantial.[31] As John Watts has pointed out, it was not that York and the Nevilles lacked imagination so much as the fact that the old arguments still seemed valid.[32] The dispute had not changed in nine years. York continued to blame the ministers and not the king, and the government continued to regard any discussion of its performance as treason. Furthermore, the queen could no more exercise royal authority on behalf of an ineffective king than could York during two protectorships. The underlying problem that the king in his innocence was unfit to rule, was rising to the surface with dangerous consequences for everyone. It would be irrational for York to suppose that he could change the outcome by using the same argument and the same method of protest, He must eventually realise that his problem was insoluble while Henry remained on the throne.

 

The second part of the attainder contained the provision for forfeiture of the Yorkists’ estates. It was the nub of the document, which in the words of York’s biographer “… bought all of York’s property into the king’s hands”.[33] That is not to mention all the property belonging to the earls of March, Warwick, Salisbury and Rutland, and all the property belonging to the twenty-four other Yorkists who were attainted, all of which fell into the king’s hands. This included property held in fee simple (which was usual) and property held in fee tail (which was unusual).[34] The severity of the forfeiture is an indication of the government’s determination to destroy the Yorkists and their cause. Insofar as the king was merciful, he extended his prerogative to Lord Powis, Walter Devereux and Sir Henry Radford by rejecting the claim for their lands and pardoning them. He also refused a request to attaint Thomas, Lord Stanley for his betrayal at Blore Heath.[35] However, he had no intention of pardoning York or the four earls. They had not submitted to the king’s grace and their destruction was to be permanent.

 

Little was granted away in fee simple or in fee tail; neither were many leasehold grants made and then only for short periods. The vast bulk of the forfeited estates were put in the charge of royal stewards who were given lifetime appointments and expected to produce a high income for the royal coffers (That is a clear indication of the permanence of the arrangements.). The estates of York and the Nevilles were absorbed into the royal demesne along with, in a few cases, their existing servants. Generally, established administration procedures were respected; although, some rationalization was necessary. For example, the estates of York and Salisbury in Essex and Suffolk were put in the charge of a single royal steward.[36] Despite the care of these arrangements the changes of ownership did not always go smoothly. There was some natural resentment of the new Lancastrian overlords, and the stewards did not all receive a warm welcome when they arrived at the forfeited estates. Johnson believes that, generally, the arrangements for the takeover were honourable; the ducal estate was not dismembered and in theory could be resurrected in the future. Moreover, whilst a pardon for York was unthinkable, Duchess Cicely did receive a maintenance grant from the king for her and her younger children. It was unfortunate for the royal party that the effectiveness of these arrangements was undermined by the fact that the Yorkist leaders were at large and expected to return to England.

 

Epilogue  

The events of the summer and autumn of 1459 changed the course of English history. The Yorkist notion that the king was an innocent victim of his evil councillors was no longer tenable. Regardless of whether he was prevented from reforming the government or was simply unwilling to do so, Henry’s incapacity was obvious; he was unfit to rule. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that this was probably the moment when the duke of York became convinced that he must claim the throne to survive and to bring good governance to the realm. It was a course of action that involved the deposition of an anointed king and the disinheritance of his heir[37]. A protest for political reform was about to become a dynastic civil war.

 

The Parliament of Devils also had a constitutional importance in its own right. It provided a template for the destruction of the king’s political enemies that upset the balance of power between the king and the three estates of parliament. Since the twelfth century, the cohesion of the English lords had been a relatively effective counter to any royal tendency towards tyranny. Nevertheless, the lords had not themselves succeeded in transforming the government into an oligarchy, though they had tried to do so. And the commons were incapable of creating a democracy; although neither the king nor the lords could ignore them. In the words of professor Bellamy: “The late medieval law of treason was both a cause and a result of this balance and when it was tampered with there was a serious danger to constitutional government.” [38]

 

Acts of attainder were a method for popular participation in the ‘legal’ process. The lords or the commons could sponsor them, or the king could introduce them. Those bills put forward by the lords and by the commons were not always successful (e.g. the impeachment of Suffolk, 1450) those introduced by the king were never unsuccessful. The Parliament of Devils confirmed that royal power was paramount. The attainted Yorkists’ protest that they had not been allowed to answer the charges against them was unique. There is no evidence that either the lords or the commons opposed a bill of attainder by the king. From 1459, the attainder process was dominated by the royal prerogative: “It was openly acknowledged as a much surer way of getting a conviction for treason than by [the] common law and for this reason was used as often as possible. It is a form of treason in which the magnates and people play no part except when they were the victims.”[39]

[1] JG Bellamy –The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge 1970) pp.177-179.

[2] Bellamy p.180

[3] Bellamy p.187; see also James Gairdner (Editor) -The Paston Letters 1422-1509 (Constable 1900) Vol 2, p.99 and EF Jacob – The Fifteenth Century 1399-1485 (Oxford1987) p.493

[4] JS Davies (Editor) – An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI (Camden LXIV 1856) p.79 http://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/cme/acv5981.0001.001  Bertram Wolffe – Henry VI (Yale 2001 edition) pp.302-318. Wolffe disputes the conventional view that Henry was a saint-like innocent in the hands of his vengeful queen and her Lancastrian ‘gallants’. Facets of his character identified by Wolffe are: unforgiving, vindictive credulous, divisive, vacillating but stubborn and lacking political acumen. He argues that Henry was simply a bad king, who knew what he was doing: “if he was manipulated by the queen…he was manipulated willingly” (318). For a contrary opinion see RA Griffiths – The Reign of Henry VI (Sutton 1980): “ The [Yorkist] lords accurately divined that whatever his personal inclinations were…[Henry] was powerless in the hands of the queen and her advisors and it was they who were pursuing the vendetta against York and his Neville allies.” (819).

[5] Alison Hanham – John Benet’s Chronicle 1399-1462: an English translation (Palgrave Macmillan 2016) p.44: according to Benet, in addition to the absent Yorkist lords, the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of Ely and of Exeter, the earl of Arundel, Lord Bourchier and others failed to attend. All were indicted ‘ as a result of the advice of the queen’.

[6] Wolffe, p.317; Griffiths p.817

[7] Anthony Goodman – The Wars of the Roses: military activity and English society 1452-97 (Routledge and Kegan Paul 1981) pp.30, 237 note 57. Goodman cites Dr Colin Richmond (The Nobility and the Wars of the Roses 1459-61; Nottingham Medieval Studies, 21 [1977]). The following were rewarded for their service against the Yorkists: the dukes of Buckingham and Exeter, the earls of Arundel, Devon, Northumberland, Shrewsbury and Wiltshire, Viscount Beaumont and ‘at least ten barons of parliament’. In addition, the king had Somerset’s retinue arriving from the south-west, plus the remainder of Northumberland’s northern contingent (Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont and the earl of Westmorland). The queen was recruiting troops in Cheshire and Lancashire with the Prince of Wales (nominally commanded by the infant Prince but actually commanded by the queen.).

[8] PA Johnson – Duke Richard of York 1411-1460 (Oxford 1991 edition) p.186 and Goodman p.26.

[9] Wollfe pp.316-319; Griffiths p. 817 and Johnson p.188

[10] Griffiths (pp. 817, 847 note 275) puts the figure as ‘variously 300-500 men’; Johnson (p186) says he had a significant force’. It is difficult to know what Johnson means by ‘significant’ but with the benefit of hindsight we can see that Warwick’s retinue was probably counted in three figures. However, their significance may have been their military quality and not their numbers. Goodman (p.26) credits Warwick with ‘a few hundred men’.

[11] Goodman (p26). This is plausible; nevertheless, it is only conjecture.

[12] ‘Gregory’s Chronicle: 1451-1460’, in The Historical Collections of A Citizen of London in the Fifteenth Century, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1876), pp. 196-210. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/camden-record-soc/vol17/pp196-210 [accessed 19 March 2016].

[13] Johnson p.187 and Goodman p.236 note 35. Goodman finds it difficult to account for Warwick’s presence in Coleshill. He might have been acting independently against the king as Goodman suggests; though, it seems unlikely since he was weak in numbers and in the midst of the king’s army. It is also possible (I put it no higher) that he was looking for the quickest way out of a trap, with the intention of making his way across country to Ludlow. By now he would have realised the impossibility of the Yorkists’ meeting at Warwick.

[14] Goodman p.236, note 40, provides a useful summary of the contemporary estimates of Salisbury’s numbers, which I need not repeat. I personally think he had between 3000 and 5000 men, with an artillery train. His contingent was probably the most effective fighting force at the Yorkists disposal.

[15] Goodman p.236, note 40 lists the various chronicle estimates of the comparative size of the respective armies. Suffice to say that Salisbury was outnumbered, perhaps by 2:1

[16] Gregory’s Chronicle, ibid: see also David Smurthwaite – The complete Guide to the Battlefields of Britain (Michael Joseph Ltd 1984) p.101.

[17] Wolffe, p.371: Wolffe’s biography has been much criticised; however, the royal itinerary he has constructed from the kings signet correspondence, household accounts, privy seal documents and royal warrants was invaluable in helping me to understand these events.

[18] Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 12 p.459

[19] English Chronicle pp.80-81; Benet p.44 and Goodman p.29: for a different interpretation see Trevor Royle- The Wars of the Roses (Abacus 2010) pp. 242-243. Royle reverses the roles: he suggests that it was the king who intercepted the Yorkists on their march to London. Once York saw the king’s army in position and the way blocked, he retreated to Worcester. It is not an impossible scenario, but it is unlikely. I can think of no good reason why York would march his army north towards the king’s host, if he was actually trying to escape to the southeast. Goodman’s analysis seems far more plausible to me.

[20] Johnson p.188 thinks it is ‘odd’ that York retreated to Ludlow via Tewkesbury since it implied he was trying to escape to the south, a manoeuvre that Henry successfully blocked. My interpretation of Yorks reasoning is slightly different. First, Henry was obviously not in close pursuit of York; we have no record of skirmishing between the forces; moreover, Henry’s whole command had been ‘sluggish’. His failure to concentrate his forces quickly had allowed Salisbury to escape the trap at Blore Heath. Second, York may well have been trying to escape southwards, but changed his mind in light of his army’s fragile morale (The Yorkist soldiers were wary of fighting their anointed king and the offer of a pardon was tempting.). Ludlow offered a good position if the Yorkists had to fight.

[21] English Chronicle pp. 81,82; this sets out Yorks letter in full, which I would not repeat here, as the Chronicle is freely available on line for anybody interested to read.

[22] Bellamy p.201

[23] Griffiths pp. 825-826 It was never a realistic prospect that this wealth would be used to support the public exchequer or frittered away on injudicious grants to royal friends. Given royal impecuniosity this vast wealth was more likely to find its way into the king’s purse.

[24] Griffiths p.823; “ Among the 169 members whose identity is reasonably certain (out of 260), one has to search long and hard to find a single servant of either York or Neville”. In Griffiths’ opinion the election was engineered in favour of known loyalists (an opinion echoed by Bellamy (p.147). Nevertheless, Rosemary Horrox doesn’t believe it was an aggressively partisan assembly. She ‘deduces this from the care taken to justify the severe measures taken’ (PROME p.448).

[25] See Bellamy at p.197 and Griffiths at p.824; the authorities disagree as to who precisely drafted the act of attainder.

[26] Even though, York and the other leaders fled, the Yorkists ‘fired their guns at the king’.

[27] Johnson p. 189

[28] Bellamy p.204

[29] Johnson p.190; PROME p.450 both citing JP Gilson – A defence of the proscription of Yorkists in 1459 (H.E.R 26, 1911)

[30] Margaret Kekewich and others (Eds) – The Politics of 15th Century England: John Vale’s Book (Sutton Publishing and the Richard III & Yorkist History Trust 1995) P.27. The Articles if the earl of Warwick on his way from Calais to Ludlow, 1459 (British Library Manuscript Additional 48031A ff. 137-138) is published for the first time at pp. 208-209. See also, Gregory’s Chronicle, ibid: Johnson p.188, and Griffiths p. 817

[31] Paul Murray Kendall – Warwick the Kingmaker (George Allen & Unwin 1957) p.53

[32] Kekewich and others;ibid

[33] Johnson p.192

[34] The SOED, 5th edition (2005); Fee simple’ is defined as the ‘Tenure of a heritable estate in land etc. forever and without restriction to any particular class of heirs. Fee tail is defined as ‘Tenure of a heritable estate entailed or restricted to some particular class of heirs of the person to whom it is granted’.

[35]. The king ordered Thomas Lord Stanley with his northern retinue to join the queen/Prince of Wales’ levies in Cheshire; but Stanley, who was in secret correspondence with Salisbury, prevaricated and did not arrive in time to fight at Blore Heath. His northern troopers were sorely missed by the green Lancastrians and it is clear that feeling against Stanley ran high in royal circles. However, in typical fashion he managed to rehabilitate himself with the king so that he was not included in the attainder. The king refused to grant a separate petition for Stanley’s attainder; probably, because his support in the northwest was essential after York escaped to Ireland. William Stanley who fought with Salisbury at Blore Heath was attainted. The Stanley’s did  not just ‘sit on the fence’; they  straddled both sides of it.

[36] Almost all of this section is taken from Griffiths (p.826) and Johnson (pp.192-194).

[37] My opinion about York’s intention is conjecture; though his subsequent attempt to claim the throne suggests it is plausible. Unfortunately, as the events of 1460 were to show, York had misjudged the mood of the country. Even though there was dissatisfaction with the government’s performance, there was  little  appetite for Henry’s deposition.

[38] Bellamy p.206

[39] Bellamy p.212

 

The True History of King Richard III (Part 2)

The Battle of St. Albans, 1455.

Having been two years in the womb, Richard was naturally a forward child, and in no time at all he was not only walking but wearing a little suit of armour. The Duke of York had this made for him by the village blacksmith,  an advanced craftsman who doubled as the castle armourer. This meant it could easily be adjusted as Richard grew.

Richard was not yet strong enough to lift what we call a two-handed sword, or a poleaxe, but he could manage what is politely described as a kidney dagger, and rapidly became an expert with it, through long hours of practice with the dagger in one hand and a rusk in the other.

The King at this time was Henry VI. As he was a Lancastrian he was obviously a very good man, but more than that he was saintly, so saintly that at times he didn’t know who he was or where. His wife, Margaret of Anjou, was by this time doing most of the heavy lifting. People didn’t like Margaret, even though she was Queen, as she was also French, and a woman, and had too much to say for herself. She also favoured men who weren’t the Duke of York, especially the Duke of Somerset, who hated York and was also grossly incompetent. This team had already comprehensively lost the war with France, and the Government owed the Duke of York a lot of money. This made York very cross.

York got together with his brother-in-law, Salisbury, and his wife’s nephew, Salisbury’s son, the Earl of Warwick. (It’s easier to refer to these two by their titles as the were both called Richard Neville, which was confusing even at the time.) There were other lords there too, but these men were less important and it might confuse you if I gave them names. Just imagine them grunting agreement in the background.

York and his friends had a few beers and they decided they must go to the King and tell him to get rid of Somerset. As the King had lots of people about him they didn’t trust, this meant that for safety’s sake they had to take an army with them.

York decided to take his youngest son Richard with him as a sort of mascot. The idea was that Warwick would hold little Richard’s hand and lead him onto the battlefield before things started, to exchange pennons with the King’s mascot.

However, when they got to St. Albans and met the King’s army, it soon became apparent that none of this was going to happen. The King wasn’t prepared to negotiate and he certainly wasn’t ready to hand over Somerset. He and his men were well dug in behind barricades in the centre of the town, and York and his friends were at something of a loss.

Then little Richard suggested to Warwick that if they (and Warwick’s men) sneaked around the back alleys and gardens, they could take the enemy in the flank and surprise them, And because no one had any better ideas, that’s what they did.

The plan worked wonderfully, and soon Warwick, Richard and a host of followers were cutting their way through the Lancastrian leadership. As they charged they cried ‘A Warwick! A Warwick!’ which confused the Lancastrians, who thought they were in St. Albans – as they were.

Richard, of course, was very small, but he was just the right size to run between men’s legs and stab them in the groin through the gaps in their armour. In no time at all he had killed the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, and the Duke of Somerset in just this fashion. Whereupon the enemy lost heart and surrendered, much to Richard’s disappointment. He had really enjoyed stabbing those lords and now wanted to stab Henry VI.

His father forbade this. York was now quite content because Somerset was dead, and he and his friends were in a position to force the King to allow them to form his government. When Richard had a tantrum over this decision, York gave him a severe ticking-off and sent him to bed without supper.

Interlude


It is now time for a little housekeeping and explanation. The political situation between 1455 and 1459 is too boring and complicated to go into here. Suffice it to say that sometimes the Duke of York was in power, and sometimes the Duke of Somerset and Queen Margaret were. Of course, this Somerset was not the one Richard had killed, but his son, who most confusingly had the same title. Similarly King Henry VI was sometimes insane, and sometimes what passed for ‘normal’ in the case of Henry VI. In other words, he wasn’t actually catatonic, and gave the impression that he was merely unworldly, and in fact quite holy. Had he been a friar, he’d quite possibly been made a saint while he still lived, but as a king he was more in the way of an inconvenience, often signing things he was not supposed to sign, and quite frequently granting the same thing to two different people.

Richard had a number of brothers and sisters alive at this time. The eldest was Anne, who was no longer at home, being married to the Duke of Exeter. The idea of these arranged marriages was to build alliances with other noble houses, but unfortunately Exeter hated both Anne and her father, the Duke of York. (This is no reflection on Anne or York. as Exeter hated everyone except Lord Egremont, and was always going around annoying people and getting thrown into the Tower.)

The next eldest were Edward and Edmund. Everyone knows Edward, who was later to become King Edward IV. He was very tall and good looking, and all the ladies liked him, so he always got extra chips on his plate when he lined up for dinner. Eventually, as a direct result, he became rather fat. No one knows much about Edmund, though he was probably similar to Edward, but nicer. These two lived in their own establishment, which may have been at Ludlow, where they were mercilessly bullied by a boy named Croft. Or, as they called him, Bonzo. Later this same Croft became a faithful servant, which probably proves something about bullies.

Next was Elizabeth, who was married to the Duke of Suffolk. If you’d met Suffolk in the street, you’d have thought him a moderately prosperous turnip farmer with no more wits than he needed for the job. But he was in fact a duke, and Elizabeth must have loved him as they had lots of babies together.

Then there was Margaret, of whom little needs to be said except that she was exceptionally tall. Had the House of York put out a ladies’ football team, Margaret would have played centre half. Then there was George, who shouted a lot and tried to be a bully. Then Richard himself. These three were in the nominal care of their mother. However the Duchess Cecily was very devout. She spent most of her time kneeling in the chapel, praying for the souls of her deceased children and also praying that she would have no more, just in case it turned out to be a three year pregnancy.

They were not always at Fotheringhay. Sometimes they would move to Ludlow, or to Berkhampstead, or to Baynard’s Castle in London, which must not be confused with Barnard Castle, a place they did not own. Occasionally they even went to Sandal, which is in Yorkshire, although not very deep into the county. Although the Duke of York had ‘York’ in his title, he actually owned very little of Yorkshire. Indeed, much of the county belonged to Henry VI (in his role as Duke of Lancaster) or to various other nasty Lancastrian persons, like Lord Clifford for example. This had been set up just to confuse foreigners.

 

A New Theory about Richard III’s Boar Badge

RICARDIAN LOONS

Richard III fascinates people because his story has so many profound mysteries.  Take, for instance, the case of the disappeared Princes in the Tower.  Or the execution of William, Lord Hastings.  These two events have filled up hundreds of pages of speculation in books, have spawned endless social media threads, and remain the subject of heated debates in historical societies.  They’re like the two giant elephants in the room whenever the topic of Richard III crops up.

Nevertheless, there are certain facts that are known about Richard.  One of those is that he adopted the White Boar as his personal badge while he was Duke of Gloucester, a title given to him at age 9.  We don’t know exactly when he adopted it, but it would be reasonable to assume that he would have had to pick a badge (or several) as soon as he was retaining men into his…

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12 surprising facts about the Wars of the Roses

Thanks to Matt Lewis:

http://www.historyextra.com/article/military-history/12-facts-wars-roses?utm_source=Facebook+referral&utm_medium=Facebook.com&utm_campaign=Bitly

DUKE RICHARD THE 3RD DUKE OF YORK (3): heir to the throne

The she-wolf of France, but worse than wolves of France

Whose tongue more poisons than an adders tooth

How ill beseeming it is in thy sex

To triumph like an amazon trull

(Henry VI Part 3)

St Albans and its significance

The first battle of St Albans represents a landmark in the dispute between York and Lancaster; not as the first battle of a civil war, since it was not that, or as their biggest or bloodiest battle, since it was not that either. Its importance lay in the fact that it represented the ultimate expression of York’s change of tack from being the king’s champion to being the realm’s champion.

Throughout the 1450’s York had represented himself as the ‘king’s true liegeman’ intent only on rescuing him from the tyranny of his ‘evil’ advisors. Whether or not he was genuine is immaterial. He had to take this approach to avoid imputations of treason and to retain his popularity with the commons who, despite the oppression of the government, did not want to replace the king. Yet, it was an approach that constrained York politically and legally. First, it implied an acceptance of the legitimacy of the king’s absolute ‘royal authority’. In practical terms this meant that whilst York could ask the king to take action against his ‘evil’ counsellors, if he chose not to do so his decision was final. It had to be accepted with good grace; to do otherwise, might be considered treasonable. York was also bound personally by an oath of allegiance and obedience to the king, which he had sworn in 1452 following the Dartford fiasco. The other constraint was that York’s approach was founded on the presumption that he was acting in the king’s best interest. The problem was that the battle came about precisely because the king had failed to take effective action against Somerset and others, who were considered to be traitors by the Yorkists. Furthermore, such was the hostility between the two factions that a compromise was impossible. Having said that, it is doubtful whether making war on the king can be said to be acting in his best interest.

York’s solution to this dilemma can be seen in the letter he wrote to the king just before the battle. In it he emphasises yet again that he and his followers are the kings true liegemen ready to live and die in his service, and (this is the significant bit): “…to do all things as shall like your majesty to command us, if it be to the worship of the crown and the welfare of your noble realm (my emphasis).” [1] York is putting conditions on his obedience. And he is also making a clear distinction between the institution of ‘the crown’ and the person of the king, and between them both and the rights of the realm (of England). What I think York means is that although ‘royal authority’ is vested personally in the king, he must behave in accordance with the accepted norms of English monarchs as expressed in the coronation oath, which of course binds all our monarchs and was not personal to Henry. York is also introducing the concept of the ‘realm’ of ‘England’ as a political entity distinct from the monarchy. It has its own rights to which the crown is ultimately responsible. This is more than a device to overcome accusations of treason or ‘oath-breaker’; it represents a fundamental tenet of England’s constitution, which we see put most forcibly in Magna Carta. The implication for Henry is obvious. It is not disloyal or disobedient to correct a king who brings the crown into disrepute and acts against the public interest: by force of arms if need be. John Watts puts the matter concisely: “so far had the crown strayed from what was just that only an independent tribunal of freemen (the Yorkists) or God (in battle) could provide for the satisfaction of right. Once the king had agreed to this temporary delegation of prerogative of justice, the Yorkists would return to full and normal obedience”[2]. In fact, that is what happened after the battle.

The difficulty all-along was the government’s refusal to discuss its performance. Their doctrine, which was devised in the wake of Cade’s rebellion, was simple: the government is not answerable to the public. All the king’s subjects owed him a duty of loyalty and obedience. Anybody who failed in that duty was a traitor. Furthermore, the royal prerogative gave the king an absolute right to choose his advisors; he could not be compelled.   The government’s response went much further than just refusing to debate its conduct. By declaring Cade a murderer and a thief and York as tendentious, the government was able to attack the integrity of its critic and sidestep the public interest argument.

Interregnum 1455-1459

Even though no battles were fought between 23 May 1455 and the 22 September 1459, the realm was not at peace. The quarrel between the Lancastrian/royalist and Yorkist factions became even more embittered. Oppression, violence and lawlessness continued unabated in the shires and the bulk of the English nobility continued to distrust York’s motives and intention. To this toxic mix must be added the burgeoning influence of Queen Margaret. She was a far more dangerous and implacable enemy to York than a whole regiment of Somerset’s. Yorks attempt to impose good government foundered on two things: his lack of a formal constitutional position and his failure to command the support of the bulk of the English nobility. The second protectorship was tainted by the suspicion that it was inspired by him in order to gain personal control of the king. Nonetheless, It might still have succeeded in steadying the ship-of-state, with careful handling. Unfortunately, York’s mishandling of the Resumption Act caused his downfall. Almost all the Lords were against it; so much so, that the king refused even to read it much less sign it. York’s position was hopeless and his resignation followed swiftly. York was well aware of the danger to him; his power base was narrow and the vengeful Lancastrians were obviously intent on destroying him and his. The ‘she-wolf of France ‘ wasted no time in purging any Yorkist influence from around the king or in the council chamber. She removed the king from London to Coventry. It was not a sensible move since it removed the source of royal authority from the seat of his government; it was inefficient, contributed to the collapse of the English polity and promoted factionalism.

 

By the autumn of 1456 all Yorkist influence was expunged from the government. The king was in a piteous state. He was completely under the control of the queen who had a much firmer grip on her husband than either Suffolk or Somerset managed. He took little interest in affairs in public or in private. His passiveness was a cause for concern. He was and is generally recognised as a ‘simple’ man: generous, compassionate, forgiving and pious. Nonetheless, He had affectively abandoned his royal responsibilities; whether this was through mental incapacity or apathy we cannot now say.   The queen was the antithesis of her husband: miserly, heartless and merciless. Dr Thomas Gascoigne, the Chancellor of Oxford University said this in 1457: “…all the affairs of the realm were conducted according to the queens will by fair means of foul”[3].  Whatever the general opinion of her, she was a useful reference point for those on government unable to get much response from the king. However, the weakness in he position was that without a formal constitutional position, she could no more exercise ‘royal authority’ than York could. Only the crowned and anointed king could authorise policy actions and he was incapable or unwilling to do that. All the time the nature of royal power was unconvincing the issue between York and the Lancastrians persisted. Neither York’s good intentions, nor the queen’s dynamism were a substitute for the king’s ‘royal authority’.[4]

 

The years 1457 and 1458 the factional struggle continued unabated, with York loosing on points. The queen’s co-ordinated plan to bring York down was briefly interrupted by the king’s genuine but futile attempt to reconcile his warring nobles in a ‘love day’ (24 October 1458). This was followed by the king’s belated award’ of compensation to the sons of those killed at St Albans. The whole episode was a demonstration of York’s weakness and his political isolation. The lords maintained their loyalty to Henry and York had no choice but to submit to these ‘awards’.

The ‘love day’ was followed soon after by preparations for war. The queen’s faction armed themselves against ‘certain misguided and seditious people’. York and the Neville’s were summoned to present themselves at Coventry to explain their actions to the council. Fearing for their safety, the Yorkist lords ignored the summons and began to mobilize their forces. York was at Ludlow, Salisbury was in Yorkshire and Warwick was still in Calais. The Lancastrians were concentrated in their midland heartland. On the 23 September 1459 Lord Arundel and a force of about 9-10,000 soldiers intercepted Salisbury on his way to join York. The Yorkists were outnumbered two to one. The battle at Blore Heath was a hard-fought Yorkist victory; however, it was not decisive. About three weeks later on the 12 October 1459, the King’s army, operating on interior lines was able to catch the Yorkists (now reinforced by Warwick and Calais garrison troops) at a disadvantage at Ludford Bridge, near Ludlow. The Yorkists were outmatched and their force low in morale. In particular, they were loath to bear arms against the king, who had now displayed his banner. A trickle of desertions to the king’s side soon turned into a flood culminating in the loss of Andrew Trollope and his garrison troops. The Yorkist lords had no option but to flee for their lives. York went to Ireland. Warwick, Salisbury and Edward earl of March went to Calais. Somerset, made two attempts to remove Warwick from Calais but he failed abysmally.   The scene was now set for a full-blown civil war[5].

 

The Dublin meeting, March 1460

York was safe in Ireland. He able to make his plans uninterrupted and he also had Irish support for his actions in England[6]. The cost was the surrender of royal authority in Ireland, albeit short of independence. It was a price he was prepared to pay. The English enclave of Calais was just as important to the Yorkist cause because it provided the means whereby they could recover their position in England. Warwick’s control of the sea around Britain was amply demonstrated by the ease with which he was able to join York in Ireland to discuss the way forward. The content of this discussion and decisions made are important in informing our understanding of York’s intentions and his actions once he returned to England. Even though we do not have a record of what was said, there are some plausible inferences we can draw from the Yorkists’ subsequent actions. It seems obvious that the leaders agreed on the details of their invasion. These arrangements were fairly basic. They would seek more support from the English nobility and then mount a co-ordinated invasion. Warwick would land in Kent where Yorkist support was strong. York would land in the north once the circumstances were right. It was a sound strategy, which prevented the royal army from concentrating against a single threat, whilst allowing the Yorkists to recruit from those areas where their support was strongest. Important as these details are, they also had to consider what was to happen to the government once the invasion was successful. Judging by York’s regal bearing on his return to England, it seems that he expected to succeed to the throne. His provocative entry into London wearing the royal arms of England with his sword held upright before him and his determined march to the throne at Westminster could well have been discussed and agreed in Dublin: or York at least believed it was agreed. This is, of course, speculation but at least it is plausible speculation.

The most difficult problem was what to do with the king, the queen and Prince Edward. Everyone knew that the queen was the power behind the throne but she could not be dealt with like Suffolk or Somerset. It was equally clear to everybody that she would not submit willingly to the diminution of her dynastic right or that of her son. Unless they were dead or in close captivity a civil war was inevitable, and that might involve the French. There were several possibilities open to the Yorkists:

  1. Remove the king’s advisors and dominate the government.
  2. Depose the king and disinherit his son Prince Edward. York succeeds to the throne (This is based on the precedent set in 1399)
  3. Allow Henry to reign for his lifetime with York to succeed him and disinheriting Prince Edward (This was based on the precedent of the Troyes Treaty of 1422, whereby Henry VI inherited the French throne)
  4. The king dies in battle and York succeeds. Prince Edward is disinherited.

From the Yorkist point of view, option 1 would be the easiest to sell to the English people. They dare not risk saying that their intention was to depose the anointed king and to disinherit his heir. Option 3 was the worst of all worlds. It guaranteed prolonging the conflict with no assurance of any benefit to York, who was ten years older than the king and likely to predecease him anyway.   It seems unthinkable that these issues were not discussed in Dublin. In my personal it is a distinct possibility that the deposition of Henry was discussed and Warwick gave York his support; though afterwards he had doubts, as we shall see.

Northampton 1460

By June 1460, the Yorkists were ready. The Lancastrians, who had been prepared for an invasion since late 1459, were waiting for them. On the 26 June 1460, Warwick, Salisbury and March, with 1500 soldiers from Calais landed at Sandwich in Kent. Within a week, they were at the gates of London, their ranks swollen by recruits. After reassuring the Londoners of their intention, Warwick entered the City at the head of his army. He produced a ‘Manifesto’ of their complaints and demands. The importance of this document is that it is the only evidence we have of Yorkist intentions. It contained a number of clauses based on Cade’s manifestos of a decade earlier. There were accusations of peculation and corruption, the loss of France and misgovernment at home. However, it fudged the issue of succession; an indication perhaps that the Calais lords were not now sure what to do. They did however reaffirm the legitimacy of the king’s royal authority and their personal loyalty to him. It seems that this was a pre-requisite to their entry into London. The natural sympathy Londoner’s felt for York did not translate into support for the king’s deposition.   Warwick left London with his army on the 5 July 1460. Within 5 days, he had destroyed the Lancastrian cause at the battle of Northampton.  Buckingham, Shrewsbury and Egremont were slain The king was captured in his tent, where yet again, the Yorkists pledged their loyalty to him on their knees.  While all this was happening, York himself remained in Ireland.

Warwick was quick to organise the government of the realm. However, things did not look promising with so many dangerous Lancastrians at large: the queen and her son, Somerset, ‘Black hearted’ Clifford[7], and Exeter. Several commentators at this time have noted the passivity of the king. He was a pale shadow of a monarch, lacking ‘wit and spirit’. Although he had all the trappings of royalty he had none of the substance[8]. The Yorkists’ difficulties were particularly apparent outside London and the Home Counties. However, their lack of vindictiveness, suggests a genuine desire for peace and stability under an authoritative regime.

York’s arrival in England on the 9 September 1460, though not unexpected betrayed a possible dissonance between his agenda and that of his Calais colleagues, including his own son.   York is out of touch with reality at this point.[9] Warwick, aware of the widespread sympathy and support for the king (though not for his Lancastrian ministers or his queen), had modified his view. Deposition was not an option anymore. York, however, still clung to his ambition to succeed, and his progress through England towards London was both measured and regal.   It was within a few days of his landing, whilst at Chester, that according to Professor McFarlane he renounced his allegiance to the king. If that is true, then his intentions cannot have been a closely guarded secret. Whether Warwick knew of York’s intention is arguable. The pro- Warwick chroniclers Waurin suggests he did not (It would not do for an English hero to be seen as an oath breaker) but that has the smack of propaganda and is implausible.   A more likely scenario is one of the following (i) York and Warwick discuss deposition in Dublin and disagree. Warwick, unable to change the duke’s mind leaves; (ii) Warwick encouraged York to be more open about his ambition and agreed to go ahead and prepare the way by organising some ‘ we want York for king’ type receptions. There is good reason to think that York genuinely believed Warwick was drumming-up support for him. If not, it makes nonsense of his ‘royal’ progress, his ostentatious entry into London and his actions at Westminster. If Waurin is right, then York’s actions were (in Johnsons words) examples of ‘extreme stupidity’.

 

 

York claims the throne

York’s comment in Westminster Hall, when asked if he wanted to see the king: “I know of no one in the realm who would not more fitly come to me than I to him”, was met by a stunned silence. Nobody moved; nobody said anything. York was perplexed but not dismayed. Symbolically, he took-up lodgings in the queen’s chamber and he made it clear that the throne should never have been denied him. He planned his coronation for the 13 October 1460, just three days away. Although York had armed men to back his claim he had nothing else. There was no public support for the deposition of Henry and the English peerage as a group were dead set against it. On the 11 October, the Londoners complained to Warwick about York’s entrance to London, which had upset everyone. On the 12 October the lords met in council at Blackfriars. The discussion was heated and the conclusion certain; the deposition of king Henry VI was unthinkable. The bishops of Rochester and Ely were sent to York to explain. There had been many oaths and pledges of loyalty already given to the king; Furthermore, the deposition of the anointed king would be unpopular in London. York met the lords’ objections point-by-point and continued with the preparations for his coronation the next day. The lords resumed their meeting early on the 13 October; they sent Thomas Neville to talk sense into York. Their message was blunt. The lords did not support York’s claim to the throne. It must be assumed that the Calais lords acquiesced with that decision, at least for the time being.   Reluctantly, York agreed to stop the preparation for his coronation and to be guided by the council.

In view of this, it is presumably with the lord’s agreement that a few days later (16 October 1460) that York presented a written claim to the throne, setting out his grounds and title. To buy time, the lords submitted the claim to the King’s Justices for an opinion. However, the judges declined jurisdiction on the grounds that the royal succession was an issue beyond their competence. It remained a matter for parliament.

Parliament debated the issue from the 22 until the 25 October 1460. They accepted the superiority of York’s title but declined to give it effect. Henry was still king but the rest was uncertain. This constitutional impasse had to be resolved, and on the last day of October a compromise was settled. Unfortunately, it was the worst of all worlds for the king, for York and for the realm. Henry was to retain his throne for his lifetime, when he was to be succeeded by York. Prince Edward the king’s son was disinherited. It was a compromise that guaranteed a civil war. Nobody in their right mind could possibly have believed that Queen Margaret or the Lancastrian lords would accept it.  York’s clumsy attempt to get the king to abdicate didn’t work, but is indicative of the pressure on York from his own side.

On this construction of events[10] it is clear that the plan agreed between York and Warwick in Dublin had misfired. The lord’s refusal to co-operate was the stumbling block. Once their opposition became obvious, Warwick backed away; If he hadn’t, the civil war might have started there and then in London. York’s problem was that without Warwick’s support he could not possibly win, and he knew it.   Viewed in that light the compromise might have been an effective way to avoid an immediate civil war. The underlying cause of York’s failure was that he had failed to establish any personal failure in the king. Unlike Edward II and Richard II, his predecessors, Henry VI was not a demonstrably bad king. His subjects sympathised with him. Moreover, it seems unlikely that on such an important issue as the crown not too many men were swayed by York’s academic, legal argument. Whilst York’s hereditary succession was a strong point in his favour, it was overmatched in peoples’ minds by the longevity of the Lancastrian dynasty thus far, and also their sentimental attachment to the son of a great English warrior king. They might have come around to York’s way of thinking in time. Unfortunately, he did not give them time. Whereas, in1399, Bolingbroke allowed the lords weeks to acclimatise to the change, York gave them days. All this made little difference to York since he only survived his humiliation by a couple of months. He died in an unnecessary battle on the penultimate day of the year at the hands of his nemesis, Queen Margaret.

Personally, I do not think York planned to take the throne until the situation in 1459 made it plain that he must succeed or perish. The obduracy of the government, particularly the queen made it impossible to achieve political reform without removing the king, the source of royal authority. This was the constitutional weakness in the notion of absolute personal rule. An English monarch could only be removed by committing treason against him.

[1]. ‘The Remembrance of the firste batell of Seint Albanis’: see British Library MS Adds 48031A ff127v— 129 reproduced at pages 191-193 of Margaret Lucille Kekewich and four others (editors) –The Politics of Fifteenth Century England: John Vale’s Book (Allan Sutton Publishing 1995) [John Vales Book]

[2] Kekewich at page 22: this quote is part of an assessment of Yorkist ideology by John Watts (Polemic and Politics in the 1450’s) published in John Vale’s book.

[3] Trevor Royle- The Wars of the Roses (Abacus 2010) at page 237; Royle is quoting Dr Thomas Gascoigne the chancellor of Oxford University writing in 1457 (‘Loci e libro veritatum, J E T Rogers (editor) (Oxford 1881) at pages 203-206. See also Griffiths at page 776 who describes Dr Gascoigne as ‘embittered’.

[4]. RA Griffiths -The Reign of King Henry VI (Sutton 1987 edition); see pages 773-785 or a useful analysis of the Lancastrian government between 1456 and 1460, and especially page 776 for an assessment of Queen Margaret.

[5]. Griffiths at pages 823 and 824; it is clear from his detailed analysis that the Acts of Attainder passed on the Yorkist lords were intended to destroy them utterly. They were permanent, with no hope of pardon unless the king so wished. Griffiths concludes that lawyers (very likely) including John Morton drafted the acts.

[6]. P A Johnson – Duke Richard of York 1411-1460 (Oxford 1991 corrected edition) at pages 195 to 200; Griffiths at pages 855 and 856; and Royle at page 251. The Yorkist leaders met at Waterford and then moved to Dublin. There is no record of what they discussed; though, it seems obvious that they were concocting their plan for returning to England. What seems to have been agreed is that they would seek greater support from the English lords and mount a co-ordinated landing in England: Warwick in Kent and York in the north at the appropriate time.

[7] So called for his oft expressed desire for vengeance for the death of his father at first St Albans

[8] Griffiths page 864; it should be noted that he was in the hands of strangers; men he had neither selected nor knew. It is not surprising he was downcast.

[9] Johnson at pages 213 to 216 quotes at length from an undated and anonymous letter to John Tiptof , earl of Worcester that suggests that York’s intention was to depose king Henry VI and have himself crowned on the 13 October 1460.

[10]. See Johnson at pages 210 to 218 for a detailed account of events during October 1460. I have taken the liberty of lifting this account almost verbatim from Johnson.

C17 deja vu all over again

Consider the following coincidences:

1) The Mortimer-York army in 1458-60 was led by the Duke of York, two sons, a brother-in-law and a nephew. Charles I’s principal commanders were himself, two sons and two nephews.
2) Richard of York had four healthy sons, one named after himself who became King. Charles I had three healthy sons, one of whom bore his own name and eventually succeeded him.
3) Richard III was crowned because his nephews (and nieces) were illegitimate, as was James VII/II.
4) Henry of Buckingham’s revolt was apparently coordinated with that of his cousin, Henry “Tudor”, as was James of Monmouth’s with the Earl of Argyll.
5) “Tudor” sought to land in Dorset, which Monmouth actually did.
6) Autumn 1483 and summer 1685 were both exceptionally wet, hindering the revolts.
7) Buckingham and Monmouth both went into hiding but were eventually captured.

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