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Men of Harlech

In March 1461, the Lancastrian forces of King Henry VI were decisively thrashed at Towton, the Yorkist army of King Edward IV winning the day after a bitter and close-fought battle. After that, England fell into the hands of the first Yorkist king. At least, that is what Edward would have liked. In truth, repeated incursions across the Scottish borders during which castles such as Alnwick and Dunstanburgh were quickly snatched continued for some years until the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham in 1464 finally quashed Lancastrian assaults in the north.

Harlech Castle 171107 006

One place is often forgotten in the story of the Yorkist takeover of England and Wales. Harlech Castle became the last, stubborn enclave of Lancastrian influence in Edward IV’s kingdom and was not brought under his control until 1468. The siege of Harlech Castle is often cited as the longest siege in British history, but that doesn’t paint an entirely accurate picture. For most of the seven-year period from 1461-1468, the castle wasn’t under direct attack, though assaults did come sporadically. It is perhaps more accurate to consider the resistance of Harlech Castle as it being held against Edward IV for seven years.

Harlech became a crucial foothold for Lancastrians in the same way that Calais was important to the English in France. An enclave within territory otherwise belonging to the enemy was both precarious and vital. Part of Harlech’s success lay in geography that is very different to what can be seen today. Walking the open walls around the top of the castle offers a glorious view of the mountains to the north, the town to the east, the coast running away south and the flat plains to the west that lead to the sea. It is this western aspect that is substantially altered. In the fifteenth century, the sea came right up to the castle, as witnessed by the presence of the Water Gate just outside the castle’s western walls. From here, the castle could be restocked and relieved with little that the Yorkists could do about it. Jasper Tudor had been driven from the Welsh coast and was probably in Ireland at this point, providing him with the perfect vantage point from which to send supplies to Harlech and to get intelligence and rumours both in and out.

Harlech Castle 171107 034

The garrison at Harlech was commanded throughout the siege by Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion, a veteran of the Hundred Years’ War who appears to have served in Rouen. He has been linked to the forces commanded by another famous Welsh soldier named Matthew Gough, who had been killed fighting Jack Cade’s forces in London in 1450. In 1460, following the Battle of Northampton, Queen Margaret fled to Harlech Castle before escaping to Scotland and probably placed Dafydd in command at this point. Harlech became a sanctuary for dissident Lancastrians. In 1463, the Sir Richard Tunstall appeared there for about a year. A member of Henry VI’s household from a Lancashire family, Tunstall had been knighted by Henry in 1452. After his sojourn at Harlech, he headed north to fight alongside Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset at the battles of Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. After the defeats there, he found Henry and saw that he was secreted safely in Lancashire. Tunstall then returned to Harlech, perhaps recognising the importance of keeping a foothold on the Welsh coast.

The final demise of Harlech was caused by a failed Lancastrian invasion. In June 1468, Jasper Tudor landed at Barmouth a few miles south of Harlech. Edward IV had made known his intention to invade France and Louis XI’s response was to fund a Lancastrian invasion on Edward’s western flank. Jasper managed to capture Denbigh Castle, from where he held court in Henry VI’s name and launched raids further into Wales. This was enough to convince Edward to act decisively. Well, sort of. Edward planned to lead an army into Wales himself to crush the insurgency, only to delegate the task at the last moment to William Herbert. William took half the men he had raised around the mountains to attack Harlech from the north. His younger brother Richard Herbert was to approach from the south with the other half of the army, giving each brother around 4,500 men each. Richard encountered Jasper Tudor’s force south of Harlech and caused them to disperse and flee. When the brothers arrived at Harlech, a true siege began and did not take long to conclude.

Harlech Castle 171107 091

With food running short and no sign of supplies from the seas, Dafydd ab Ifan ab Einion surrendered the castle on 14  August 1468. Sir Richard Tunstall was taken into custody amongst the fifty or so prisoners seised from the fortress. Although he was taken to the Tower, Edward IV pardoned him, only for Tunstall to join the readeption government was Henry VI’s chamberlain. Tunstall was attainted when Edward IV regained power and managed to obtain the reversal of this punishment within a couple of years. He went on to serve both Edward IV and Richard III, the latter inducting him into the Order of the Garter before Tunstall was reported in the Ballad of Bosworth Field as one of four English knights to immediately join Henry Tudor when he landed in Wales in 1485. For his final victory against this remnant of Lancastrian resistance, William Herbert was given Jasper Tudor’s forfeited earldom of Pembroke.

Today, Harlech Castle is a stunning monument to Edward I’s campaign to impose himself on Wales. The sea has retreated from its w”Men alls, but it looms over the vast, flat plains left behind and still dominates the coastline to the north and south. The famous song Men of Harlech is widely believed to refer to this prolonged resistance to Yorkist rule, becoming something more like a Welsh national call to arms than a description of a long-running siege as part of a fight between two English royal houses. The 1873 version by John Oxenford romantically describes:

Echoes loudly waking,

Hill and valley shaking;

‘Till the sound spreads wide around,

The Saxon’s courage breaking;

Your foes on every side assailing,

Forward press with heart unfailing,

‘Till invaders learn with quailing,

Cambria ne’er can yield!

A modern visitor can walk the long entrance ramp that has replaced the old, open, wooden staircase into the castle and stroll the grounds at will. The walls remain open, and a pretty challenging walk as the wind blows in from the seas. If you pause for a moment there, it is easy to imagine standing there in the cold and high wind, heavy armour serving to help root your feet, but threatening to help drag you down from the walls with one false step. There can have been little romantic in August 1468 as cannon thundered from the town into the walls and food began to run short. With no hope of relief, surrender to an implacable and unforgiving enemy can only have held terror for those Men of Harlech, that last bastion of Lancastrian loyalty in England or Wales.

Harlech Castle 171107 076

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And now for the height and appearance of Edmund, Earl of Rutland….

Well, OK, I admit it, the picture right above is NOT Edmund. It’s just an image of a young knight, which is what Edmund was at the time of his death. The trouble is, what did Edmund of Rutland actually look like? Another giant like his elder brother Edward IV? Or…smaller and more delicate, like his younger brothers, George of Clarence and Richard III? Well, certainly as Richard III was, and it is now suggested that George was the same. (To read more about this, click here.)

Back to Edmund. First, a little background to his life and premature death. Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, descended paternally from Edward of Langley, youngest son of King Edward II. He was born at Rouen on 17th May, 1443 (574 years ago this month), and besides his English title, had an Irish one, Earl of Cork. His father was Richard Duke of York, Protector of England and supposed heir to the English throne. His mother, Cecily Neville, was a daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland.

I will not go into the details of York’s claim to the throne, suffice it that the House of Lancaster was seated there but King Henry VI was weak-minded and ineffectual, and York (rightly) disagreed with his right to the crown. Henry’s fierce queen, Margaret of Anjou, was certainly not weak-minded, and she had a seven-year-old son to protect, Edward, Prince of Wales. She had no intention of endangering his eventual succession, and in 1449 York was appointed Viceroy of Ireland, and thus was (for the time being) safely out of the Lancastrian way. York’s second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland and went with his father.

In July 1449, York and Edmund, together with York’s pregnant duchess (on 12th October she would give birth to George, Duke of Clarence), set sail for Howth, then the chief port of Dublin. They landed on 14th of the month. York soon gained the appreciation of the Irish, as well as the resident English, and the House of York was to retain that land’s support.

Howth-harbour-1818.jpg

Not all York’s children went with him to Ireland, for his eldest son and heir, Edward, Earl of March, was holding Calais with York’s brother-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The great Kingmaker. At that time Warwick supported York’s claims. It would not always be thus, of course.

Edward and Warwick raised an army and invaded England to defeat the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton.

capture of Henry VI at Northampton 1460

King Henry was captured, and London fell into Yorkist possession. York returned from Ireland with Edmund, and was reaffirmed as heir to the throne. The Yorkist ascendancy was soon imperilled, however, and York and Edmund found themselves trapped in Sandal Castle, near Wakefield.

Sandal-Castle-View-of-Battlefield-2010-03-02-l

Wakefield-Battlemap Military History Monthly

They and a mere 5,000 men were besieged by the Lancastrians with 20,000 men. Help was on the way from Edward, but although York was urged to stay tight, he insisted on going out to give battle. There are varying reasons given for his decision to fight, one being that he was convinced he had enough friends in the opposing army who would come over to him. If this reason is true, he was wrong. If he’d held back, we might have had a different Richard III! And our Richard III would have been Richard IV.

The following is taken from The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland: From the Earliest Times to the Reign of Queen Victoria, Volume 1, by James Roderick O’Flanagan. The illustrations are my insertions. O’Flanagan (1814-1900) wrote a great deal about Irish history, and may have had access to a source that gives the description of Edmund. Or it might be his own invention, of course. One cannot always tell with writers of the 19th century.:-

“…On the eve of Christmas, December 24, 1460, the Duke’s army marched out of the castle and offered the Lancastrians battle. By the side of the Duke fought his second son, the young Chancellor of Ireland, whose years had not past their teens, but who, under a fair and almost effeminate appearance, carried a brave and intrepid spirit. The forces of the Queen resolved to annihilate their audacious foes, and soon the duke found how little reason he had to hope of finding friends in the camp of Queen Margaret. The historian Hume says,1 ‘the great inequality of numbers was sufficient alone to decide the victory, but the queen, by sending a detachment, who fell on the back of the Duke’s army, rendered her advantage still more certain and undisputed. The duke himself was killed in the action; and when his body was found among the slain the head was cut off by Margaret’s orders and fixed on the gates of York, with a paper crown upon it, in derision of his pretended title.’

Micklegate Bar, in York, where the heads were displayed.

“…The fate of the young Chancellor was soon over. Urged by his tutor, a priest named Robert Aspell, he was no sooner aware that the field was lost than he sought safety by flight. Their movements were intercepted by the Lancastrians, and Lord Clifford made him prisoner, but did not then know his rank. Struck by the richness of his armour and equipment, Lord Clifford demanded his name. ‘Save him,’ implored the Chaplain; ‘for he is the Prince’s son, and peradventure may do you good hereafter.’

“….This was an impolitic appeal, for it denoted hopes of the House of York being again in the ascendant, which the Lancastrians, flushed with recent victory, regarded as impossible. The ruthless noble swore a solemn oath:— ‘Thy father,’ said he, ‘slew mine; and so will I do thee and all thy kin;’ and with these words he rushed on the hapless youth, and drove his dagger to the hilt in his heart. Thus fell, at the early age of seventeen, Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland, Lord Chancellor of Ireland…”

1Hume’s History of England, vol iii, page 304.

The above, in a nutshell, is the life and death of Edmund Plantagenet, the York brother who is mostly forgotten.

I am intrigued by the description of Edmund as being of a fair and almost effeminate appearance. Given the similar description of Richard III as being delicate with gracile bones, and the fact that he was certainly handsome without being rugged,  I am forced to wonder if Richard wasn’t the only brother with those attributes. I know ‘fair’ doesn’t necessarily mean blond—more likely ‘good-looking’—but ‘effeminate’ (rightly or wrongly) presents us with a definite type of appearance. Edward IV may have been 6’ 4”, but was he the only tall brother? Richard would have been 5’ 8” if it were not for his scoliosis, and that was a good height for the 15th century.

We’ve had speculation about the height of George of Clarence when compared with Richard (George may have been smaller), but what about Edmund of Rutland? Yes, he could have been 6’ 4” and still be effeminate, but I’m inclined to doubt it. Comment was made about Edward’s height. If Edmund had been like that, surely he too would get a mention? I had never seen a description of Edmund before, apart from Edward Hall’s Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre & Yorke: ‘While this battaill was in fightyng, a prieste called sir Robert Aspall, chappelain and schole master to the yong erle of Rutland ii. sonne to the aboue named duke of Yorke, scace of y age of. xii. yeres, a faire getlema, and a maydenlike person….’ Just what might ‘maydenlike’ actually mean? Young? Virginal? Like a girl? All three?

In 1476, the bodies of both York and Edmund were moved to Fotheringhay, and the magnificent church that honours so many members of the House of York.

And now a curiosity, which may or may not be actually connected with Edmund, beyond his name and title. On the other hand, perhaps it’s another indication of his physical appearance.:—hawking rings

Medieval silver vervel / Circa 1440-1460 |/ A silver hawking leg ring or vervel inscribed ‘+Earle of Rutland’ in derivative black letter script, for a female merlin or sparrowhawk (due to the youth of Edmund Plantagenet who died aged 17). Silver, 0.56g, 8.81mm.

Might a female merlin or sparrowhawk be a reference of Edmund’s looks, not simply his youth? Equally, it might not indicate any such thing, of course, but if the ring is dated to circa 1440-60 (and if the inscription is contemporary), the maker could certainly have known/seen him. But the inscription does not look 15th century to me. I’m no expert, though.

And finally, the  novelty of a ‘conspiracy theory’ about Edmund’s death (or survival!) go to https://doublehistory.com/tag/edmund-earl-of-rutland/.

 

 

 

 

Anti-history: Edward IV’s ‘Secret’ Illegitimacy

Helen Rae Rants!

As the old saying goes, it’s a wise child that knows its own father; one might add it’s a sure child that knows its own mother, if only because maternity is harder to conceal, deny or be mistaken about. So while doubts have been cast on King Edward’s paternity ever since the 15th century, it’s always been accepted that his mother was Cecily, Duchess of York – at least, until 2015, when some gobsmacking new theories were unleashed on an unsuspecting Ricardian community.

According to their author, both Edward and his younger brother Edmund were born on the wrong side of the blanket. Not, (as the usual story goes), because Cecily had been playing fast and loose in Rouen with a lowly archer called Blaybourne. No, apparently the Duchess wasn’t their mum at all; the real adulterer was her husband Richard, Duke of York, who had sired this brace of…

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