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Edmund of Langley

 

                                          Edward III tomb – Westminster Abbey

Today marks the anniversary of the death in 1402 of Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, an undervalued and almost forgotten prince. Edmund deserves his place in history. Without him the House of York itself would never have existed, and its later members, who everyone finds so interesting, would never have been born.

It is worth remembering that Edmund had little in the way of landed property. Much of his income came from exchequer grants. Now, I am not suggesting he would have been better off as a brewer, or a pig farmer, but by the standards of 14th Century dukes he was virtually a pauper. (His son-in-law, Thomas Despenser, not even an earl until 1397, had a larger landed income.) Even if he had been a political genius, Edmund could never have matched his brother, John of Gaunt, in terms of impact. To be blunt, Gaunt had thousands of swords at his back, and Edmund had not. Indeed, in a world where Lancaster livery was all but ubiquitous, York’s retainers were few and far between.

It has been suggested that Edmund preferred hunting and hawking to politics. I am not sure this would necessarily be a bad thing if true, but the reality is that he was a frequent attender of Councils and witness of Charters, certainly in the second half of Richard II’s reign. His influence may have been quiet, but not necessarily absent altogether.

Nor was he lacking in spirit. At the time of the Merciless Parliament he quarreled with his other brother, Gloucester, then all-powerful, over the fate of Sir Simon Burley. Not only was this done in the Lords’ Chamber, before all, but Edmund actually challenged his brother to mortal combat. That it came to nothing, and that Burley eventually was executed, does not negate Edmund’s courage in bringing matters to such a head.

In his later years, Edmund was high in the favour of Richard II, heaped with honours, and possibly (per Ian Mortimer) selected as Richard’s legal successor. When Richard left for Ireland in 1399, York – not for the first time – was left behind as Keeper of England, and he loyally mustered what men he could to resist the invasion of Henry Bolingbroke. It’s almost certain that he did so with a heavy heart, for like many other nobles, he believed Bolingbroke had been wronged.

Eventually pinned down at Berkeley Castle by Bolingbroke’s much larger force, York had little choice but to negotiate and effectively surrender. From then on – possibly because it was the only realistic path – he was a constant supporter of Bolingbroke up to and beyond his usurpation. Indeed, it has been argued that he was instrumental in establishing Henry as king.

Be that as it may, it appears that he then retired from court and front-line politics. He was not in the best of health and may well have wanted to live out his days in peace. He died on 1st August 1402, and was buried at King’s Langley, his birthplace. (His tomb survives, although moved from its original location.)

He fathered three children, all of whom had fascinating careers in their own way. They were all born to Isabelle of Castile, daughter of King Pedro “the Cruel” or “the Just”, his title depending on which version of history you prefer. After her death in 1392 he married Joanne Holland, the very young daughter of the Earl of Kent. Joanne was Richard II’s niece of the half-blood; by her marriage she became his aunt as well. Joanne outlived Edmund by many years, took three more husbands, but had no children by any of them.

In passing, I might mention that Edmund was the only one of his brothers never to marry an heiress, something which contributed to his relative poverty. His marriage to Isabelle was largely a matter of tying up loose ends for Gaunt, who had of course married her elder sister and claimed Castile on her behalf. There is no evidence that Edmund received any compensation in return.

 

The Epiphany Plot of 1400

Following the deposition of Richard II, his leading supporters among the nobility were put on trial before Henry IV’s first parliament. Well, all apart from the Earl of Wiltshire who had – in plain terms – been murdered at Bristol on Henry’s orders before Henry became king. (As a Lancastrian, Henry was of course allowed to do this sort of thing without receiving any criticism from historians.)

Some brief pen-pictures of the men in question may be helpful, since they will be unfamiliar to many readers:-

Edward, Duke of Aumale, highest ranking of the accused, was the elder son of the Duke of York, and was thus first cousin to both Richard II and Henry IV. Despite his relative youth (26 in 1399) he had been high in Richard’s counsels since the early 1390s and had received an astonishing array of offices from the king, being, among other things, at one point both Lord High Constable and Lord High Admiral. A devious man of considerable ability, described by one chronicler as a ‘second Solomon’, his contribution tends to be underrated by historians. He was also a survivor. Despite involvement – or alleged involvement – in several plots against Henry IV, he was to survive long enough to be the leading English casualty of Agincourt. Nevertheless, in the Parliament of late 1399 he had a most torrid time. It is likely that Richard II intended Edward to be his heir.

John Holland, Duke of Exeter was King Richard’s half-brother – they shared the same mother, Joan of Kent. He was married to Henry IV’s sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster. Exeter was at this time in his late 40s. He had not always been a strong supporter of Richard, and had at one point been quite closely associated with his father-in-law. However, during the 1390s he had become increasingly important as a member of Richard’s inner circle.

Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey was Exeter’s nephew, the eldest son of Thomas Holland, late Earl of Kent. Another relatively young man, he had recently replaced his deceased brother-in-law, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (killed 1398) as Lieutenant of Ireland. He had also replaced Aumale as Lord High Admiral.

John Montagu (or Montacute) Earl of Salisbury, who was in his late 40s, had only succeeded to his uncle’s earldom in 1397, having been for many years merely Sir John Montagu. His uncle had alienated many of the family estates – there was bad blood between them – and Salisbury was by some way the least wealthy of the accused. Nor had he received any particular rewards in land from King Richard. Acting as Richard’s ambassador to France, he had been unfortunate enough to earn Henry Bolingbroke’s personal enmity because of the message he had brought to Charles VI on Richard’s behalf – which was essentially that Henry should be treated as persona non grata. Salisbury was known to be a Lollard – an early Protestant – and attracted some hostility for that reason. King Richard himself was generally hostile to the Lollards but nevertheless tolerated Salisbury and a few other followers of that movement at his court.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester was married to Constance of York and was thus Aumale’s brother-in-law and the Duke of York’s son-in-law. 26 years old at this time, he had commanded King Richard’s rearguard in the 1399 campaign in Ireland and been one of the king’s strongest supporters during the upheaval of 1397. Even without the rewards given to him in 1397, he was a very wealthy man, in terms of landed income much more so than his father-in-law. The jewel in his crown was the very valuable Marcher Lordship of Glamorgan.

They had all served as ‘counter-appellants’ in 1397, when Richard II had taken his revenge on his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick. All, except Salisbury, had received generous grants of forfeited lands. All except Despenser (Gloucester) and Salisbury had also participated in the partition of the Lancastrian estates earlier in 1399. As a group, they were very much Richard’s ‘Party’ and it cannot be denied that most of them had been very handsomely rewarded for their loyalty. Apart from Salisbury they were all closely linked to Richard by blood or marriage or both.

The outcome of the trial – to cut a long story short – was that the accused lost the lands granted to them in 1397 and those who had received upgraded titles (everyone except Salisbury) lost them and reverted to their pre-1397 status. For the purpose of this article, I shall continue to refer to them by their Ricardian titles, to avoid unnecessary confusion.

The group were placed into the temporary custody of the Abbot of Westminster, who was a Ricardian himself. It appears that they immediately began to conspire against Henry, although on the face of it the King meant to rehabilitate them fairly quickly. With the exception of Salisbury – against whom Henry maintained a rather obvious grudge – they were, for example, very quickly restored to the Council. Edward of Aumale even received confirmation of some valuable land grants, including the Lordship of the Isle of Wight. Of course, Edward was rather a special case, being the King’s cousin, and perhaps more importantly, York’s son. The Duke of York (who had been Richard’s Keeper of England during the King’s absence in Ireland) had given Henry quite strong support, almost from the minute he surrendered to him near Berkeley Castle a few months earlier.

In addition, Edward had not been aligned politically in quite the same way as the others. Richard divided his army in Ireland – allegedly on Edward’s advice – sending the smaller portion to North Wales under Salisbury while returning himself to South Wales with the remainder. When Richard broke up his army near Carmarthen he actually left Aumale behind, possibly fearing that his cousin was no longer reliable in view of the defection of the Duke of York at Berkeley. It seems likely that this defection was a principal cause – if not the main cause – of the King’s panic and his decision to join Salisbury in North Wales. (This decision led to the collapse of his cause and his eventual capture by Bolingbroke.) The other lords involved were all with the King to the bitter end.

A note on sources. The main sources for the Epiphany Rising are Walsingham and Traison et Mort. Both have their issues. Walsingham (though used as a principal source for the reign) is hopelessly biased against Richard II, and frequently reports rumours, however ridiculous, if they tend to Richard’s discredit. He can not infrequently be caught out in direct falsehoods. Traison, on the other hand, was written by a French member of Queen Isabelle’s household. He is heavily biased towards Richard, tends to blame Edward of York for the King’s downfall, and reports details of matters of which he cannot possibly have had direct knowledge, such as the manner of Richard’s death.

The key to the plot was an attempt to assassinate Henry IV (and perhaps his sons) at Windsor Castle. The great army that Henry had assembled to place himself on the throne had, for the most part, gone home. Therefore the King was vulnerable to an attack from a small force, which was all the conspirators could assemble. (Many of their retainers had found alternative patrons by this time, or were otherwise unreliable, and in any event, for obvious reasons, only the most loyal could be trusted in a scheme of this kind.)

At the same time, a number of risings were to be provoked across England, and King Richard was somehow to be released. (His exact location was almost certainly not known to the conspirators.) Richard was to be represented, in his absence, by his clerk and double, Richard Maudelyn, who was probably either a half-brother or cousin of the deposed monarch.

By one means or another, the plot was revealed to Henry at the last moment. Traison blames Aumale, who accidentally revealed the plot to his father, York. The pair of them then hurried to warn the King, Edward being immediately pardoned. Walsingham merely says that Henry was ‘forewarned’ but does not disclose the method. Another source, Continuatio Eulogii, says that one of the King’s squires picked up the intelligence from a prostitute who had previously slept with someone involved in the plot. A final possibility must be that Elizabeth of Lancaster got wind of her husband’s dealings and sent warning to her brother.

Most modern historians tend to dismiss Aumale’s ‘serious’ involvement in the plot. Even so, it is hard to see how he, with his connections, could have remained innocent of what was going on. On the other hand, it must be recognised that many in England (and even more in France!) were deeply suspicious of his motives throughout, and accusations or mutterings of treason against him continued regularly for some years. It is hard to discern how much of this was smoke and how much fire.

Be this as it may, the fact remains that Henry and his sons escaped from Windsor with only hours to spare, so whatever warning was received came at the last minute, in true dramatic style.

The King’s escape was, in effect, equivalent to the defeat of the conspiracy, as the rebels did not have the forces to match those which Henry was soon to raise from London and the surrounding counties. According to Traison they held the bridge at Maidenhead for some hours, which was probably as good a fight as they could make of it. They also sought to recruit from the various towns and villages they passed, and according to Walsingham also visited Queen Isabelle (Richard’s very young wife) at Sonning, seeking her support and that of her household.

Unfortunately, the news that Henry was not far behind them with a large and growing army could not be long concealed, and tended to put a damper on recruitment. The rebels’ retreat rapidly turned into flight, which came to an end at Cirencester, where, exhausted, their ‘army’ camped in the fields while the lords took up lodgings in various inns. What happened next is unclear, but it appears the inhabitants of the town realised that the lords were fugitives, and besieged them in their lodgings. A fire started, and Surrey and Salisbury surrendered, and were initially lodged in the abbey. However, when the townsfolk of Cirencester grasped the measure of the damage done to their town by the fire, they dragged the two lords out again, and summarily executed them without legal authority. Walsingham states that Salisbury, who was a Lollard, refused to make confession before his death.

The mystery of Exeter and Gloucester.

According to Traison these two lords were at Cirencester, escaped their burning inn by climbing out of the window, and fled in different directions. In the case of Exeter in particular this seems most unlikely. Walsingham states that he remained in London, which makes sense if his role was to raise the Ricardian element among the citizens. Such men were in a minority, but they certainly existed, and if Henry had not escaped they might well have put themselves forward. Exeter was eventually captured in Essex. He was also murdered by the local population without lawful authority, at Pleshey Castle, seat of the late Duke of Gloucester, the uncle Richard II had (possibly) had murdered in 1397. The location was, of course, highly significant.

Had Exeter been in Cirencester, he would surely have been wiser to flee towards Devon, where he had extensive land holdings, than eastward, directly into the teeth of Henry’s forces. I therefore conclude it is most unlikely he was at either Windsor or Cirencester. Though, as an experienced warrior and tough fighter he would have been something of an asset if he had been.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester, is barely mentioned by Walsingham at all, except in the matter of his escape and capture. Again, there is at least a possibility he was not at Windsor or Cirencester and that he never left Cardiff. Indeed, it may be he was guilty of nothing more than misprision of treason at worst. Hearing that the King’s men were on their way to arrest him, he took ship from Cardiff, carrying a considerable amount of portable wealth. However the ship’s captain refused to take him anywhere but Bristol, where the citizens chose to prove their loyalty to Henry by murdering him.

If Despenser was indeed innocent of any active involvement in the plot, it might help explain his widow’s bitter hatred of Henry, which culminated in her plot, in 1405, to remove the Mortimer heirs from Windsor Castle and place them in the protection of Owain Glyndwr.

Many of the lesser supporters of the plot were assembled at Oxford for trial. Maudelyn, Sir Bernard Brocas and William Feriby were brought to London, to be hanged and beheaded at Tyburn. Sir Thomas Blount and twenty-five others from Cirencester were hanged, drawn and quartered at Oxford. Another thirty-seven received pardons, and at least one, Salisbury’s stepson, was actually acquitted. Roger Walden (the deposed Archbishop of Canterbury), the Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Westminster were all imprisoned for a short time, and Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, fell beneath an uncomfortable level of suspicion, but was not proceeded against.

A number of small risings broke out across England in support of the plot, but all subsided with little fuss. The one in Chester was perhaps the most serious and led to a brief siege of the castle. Ironically the man who put it down, the Bishop of St. Asaph, was soon to number among Henry’s enemies as a firm supporter of Owain Glyndwr.

As for the widows, Henry treated Elizabeth of Lancaster and Constance of York with considerable generosity – of course they were his sister and first cousin respectively. These two remained very rich ladies indeed, and did superbly well compared to the widows of ‘traitors’ in the Tudor period or even the Yorkist era. The other widows had less kindly provision, although the worst treated of all, the Countess of Wiltshire, had suffered from Henry murdering her husband before he even became king, and had no connection to the plot.

In the aftermath of the plot it appears that Henry (and almost certainly his Council) decided that King Richard’s life should be cut short to discourage any further rebellions in his favour. Richard died at Pontefract on 14th February 1400. Various explanations are given, but the most likely seems to be that he was starved to death. Despite this, and the public display of his body in St. Paul’s, rumours that he had escaped and was alive and well in Scotland continued to plague Henry – and indeed his son. That a ‘Richard’ was living at the court of Scotland is an undoubted fact – whether he was the real Richard is quite another matter.

Sources

The most useful source by far is Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400 by Chris Given Wilson.

Other sources:

The Usurper King – Marie Louise Bruce

Fears of Henry IV – Ian Mortimer

Richard II – Nigel Saul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haunted by the Headless Earl….!

headless-horseman-speedy-by-jonake920

This marvellous illustration is called Headless Horseman Speedy by Jonake920

I love a ghost story on New Year’s Eve, and so here is one to send some shivers down your back. No, it is not a sample of my fiction-writing—well, not quite—but is actually said to have happened back at the end of the 14th century.

It began on Friday, 21 September 1397, the Feast of St Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist, when Richard Fitzalan, 4th/11th Earl of Arundel, was executed at the Tower. At least, that’s when the eerie part of the tale commenced, but of course there had been events beforehand. Briefly, King Richard II was son and heir of Edward, the Black Prince, who died before his father, King Edward III. So, at the age of ten, Richard succeeded his grandfather. From the outset he was belittled and ruled by his uncles, especially John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. This was all very well when Richard was a child, but as he grew up, the reins were pulled remorselessly, and he was constantly constrained by tutors, guardians…and uncles!

He began to form friendships with the young men of his class, and their extravagance—plus the dazzling titles and honours he heaped upon them—caused resentful, disapproving rumbles among the older nobles, eventually resulting in the outright opposition of five aristocrats in particular.

lords-appellant-arundel-on-left

Arundel is on the left.

They were called the Lords Appellant, and included Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, with whom Richard had never got on. They were chalk and cheese, and it has to be conceded that Arundel was tactless and could be unfeeling, such as when he arrived late at the funeral of Richard’s queen, and then asked to leave early. Much as I like Arundel, and I do, I’m on Richard’s side for thumping him one and drawing blood! Arundel was one of the wealthiest lords in the land, a gallant, hot-tempered, popular man, but he simply did not like Richard II.

The Appellants were ruthless with Richard’s friends and supporters, and much blood was shed. The shackles around Richard were tightened, and—not unreasonably—he resented it. He bore malice, and bided his time. Eventually the day came when he could reassert himself and take a bloody revenge.

The royal net closed around them, and they were eliminated one by one—including Richard’s own uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. Plus, of course, the Earl of Arundel, who did not go meekly or fearfully. He was not a man to take anything lying down. A successful admiral, whose exploits had gone down very well with the populace, Arundel was the one aristocrat the commons lauded, so when he was misled by Richard into coming to court, where he was immediately arrested for treason, the people did not like it. To them it was a shabby trick by a shabby king. An increasingly unbalanced king at that, for by this late period of his reign, Richard was undoubtedly ill in some way, mentally, not physically. Well, that is my opinion, anyway, and he has my sympathy.

But so does Arundel, who was brought before the king in a special hall that had been purpose-built at Westminster Palace. There Arundel was confronted by a court that included lords who had now formed a new set of Appellants, to appeal against the original Appellants. The charge was treason.

Richard, his long-awaited moment of revenge upon him at last, was seated in splendour on a throne, with a considerable number of his infamous Cheshire archers massed around him. Arundel was clad in scarlet robes, with a belt around his waist, and the first order from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who led the prosecution, was to have both his robe and belt removed, to signify his disgrace.

Arundel protested that he was not a traitor, and that the king had previously granted him a full pardon for all that had gone before, but Richard now revoked it. It was a shocking and shameful  move, and what followed was a grotesque parody of the earlier court that had condemned Richard II’s friends.

richard-on-throne

But if the king thought he would intimidate Arundel, he was very much mistaken. Richard Fitzalan was the very personification of chivalrous courage, and he got the better of every verbal exchange with John of Gaunt and the king, much to their fury. I will not go into details. Suffice it that Arundel had been pardoned, and was therefore in the right. Richard, having wrongfully revoked that pardon, was in the wrong. Arundel was found guilty of treason and condemned to immediate execution.

richard-ii-and-his-archers

Richard II accompanied by his Cheshire archers

Treated cruelly by Richard’s Cheshire archers, the earl was trundled ignominiously through the streets of London toward the Tower, with crowds of people lining the way, cheering him and cursing his enemies. His hands had been bound, and he asked if they could be freed so that he could distribute the gold in his purse to the people. His bonds were loosened, but not freed. He maintained his dignified, courageous composure all the way, not showing any sign of weakness or fear. ‘…no more shrinking or changing colour than if he were going to a banquet…’

st-john-altarpiece-arundels-execution

“Sharpen well your axe,” he instructed the executioner, then knelt, ready for death. The executioner raised the axe, and….and this is when a strange and miraculous thing was said to have happened, because as the earl’s head was severed with one stroke, his body rose of its own accord and stood there. A great hush fell over the awe-struck gathering, the archers fell back, terrified, and a priest recited the Lord’s Prayer. Arundel’s blood-stained, headless body remained there, only falling when the last Amen was uttered.

“A miracle!” someone cried. Someone else shouted that Arundel was a true martyr, and the word was taken up. There was a great furore as the brutal archers scrambled to put the earl’s head and body in a rough coffin on a cart, and took it away to the Church of Augustinian Friars in Bread Street.

Arundel was laid to rest as hastily as possible, but if Richard thought that would be the end of it, he had another shock awaiting. The people began to flock to the tomb, and more miracles were said to have taken place. A cult came into being, and there were calls for the earl to be sanctified. Such were the crushes of pilgrims at the church that the friars could hardly keep control.

Then a new, even more astonishing story began to circulate…that Arundel’s head had re-attached itself to his body. This reached Richard, who was already unnerved by the public’s disapproval of what had been done to the earl. He was suffering terrifying nightmares, in which Arundel’s ghost came to berate him.

The tenth night after,  Richard woke again in a sweat, his heart pounding with dread, and could bear it no more. He had to know if the earl’s head was indeed attached again. He sent for his nephew, Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey, and instructed him to go to the church and have the tomb opened. Holland obeyed, although with a sinking heart, because he too had heard of the miracles. He had no wish to anger the Almighty by tampering with the grave of a man who might soon be a saint.

 

exhuming-arundel

What Surrey found was that, yes, the earl’s head was re-attached to his body, but it had been sewn in place. Who would do such a thing? Who would dare? And how? For the tomb had not be tampered with. The wild claims were dashed, and Richard issued a proclamation that quashed the whole story. He hoped.

proclamation

The king was still afraid, and still beset by nightmares and visions. He ordered Arundel’s body to be removed from the tomb and buried elsewhere, anonymously, beneath paving. No one knew where Richard Fitzalan had been finally laid to rest. Gradually the adulation subsided, although no one forgot the gallant Earl of Arundel. Least of all Richard II, who remained haunted by him until the day he died. Which was sooner than his expected span, because two years later Richard’s throne was usurped by his Lancastrian cousin, son of the by then dead John of Gaunt. Richard himself died mysteriously at Pontefract Castle and his body was brought south to London.

richard2funeral3

The usurping cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, the new Duke of Lancaster, had been one of the original five Appellants but survived to tell the tale. While Gaunt still lived, Richard did not dare to do too much to Gaunt’s son and heir, but the moment the old duke died, Richard banished Henry and seized the immense Lancastrian estates. Henry came back to England with an army, and Richard was captured without much trouble. Henry then “obliged” Richard to hand over the crown before being imprisoned at Pontefract. Henry then became became King Henry IV, the first monarch of the House of Lancaster.

coronation-henry-iv

(viscountessw: No, I do not necessarily accept that anything supernatural really happened when Arundel was beheaded, but it was widely believed at the time. And if it did happen, what a heart-stopping sight it must have been. Small wonder that a cult grew around the miraculous and popular Richard Fitzalan, 4th/11th Earl of Arundel.)

 

 

 

 

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