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A PRINCESS OF DEVON

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

That only left Catherine of York.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St James, Tiverton

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Bickleigh Castle

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Tiverton Castle

Tutbury Castle and its Yorkist Connections

Recently, it was announced that Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire discovered a connection to King Richard III – he stayed at the castle for five days – and it will be revising its guidebooks and signage to include this bit of information. http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/King-Richard-III-visited-Tutbury-Castle-just/story-29307109-detail/story.html

Tutbury castle (courtesy Burton Mail)

Tutbury castle (courtesy Burton Mail)

Had they read Rhoda Edwards’ The Itinerary of King Richard III 1483-85, they might have learned of this connection decades ago when it was published in 1983! In any case, it is gratifying to see the enthusiasm with which the staff have embraced the castle’s Ricardian ties.

Tutbury Castle has a link not only to Richard III but also to his brother, George, Duke of Clarence. And in some historians’ minds, it played a critical role in influencing the actions of “false, fleeting, perjur’d Clarence” in his 1471-74 dispute with Richard over the Warwick Inheritance.

Just short of his seventeenth birthday, Clarence attained the age of majority, set off for his lordship of Tutbury, and was “at once immersed in administrative reform and litigation”. (M.A. Hicks, False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence, pp. 26-7) Tutbury was part of the Duchy of Lancaster and thus owned by the crown since the accession of Henry IV in 1399.   Clarence came to possess it by a grant from his brother Edward IV in the early 1460s, and it, along with Warwick Castle (Warwickshire) and Tiverton (Devon), became one of his principal residences. (Hicks, pp. 183-4)

Like many Duchy estates, it was managed by a steward, reeves, bailiffs and parkers – all generally from the local gentry and appointed by the king. When Clarence set off for Tutbury in 1466, he encountered a common fiscal dilemma in local Duchy administration. Many of the castle’s officers withheld the revenue they had collected; others misappropriated property or abused their power. “At Tutbury, where they had been accustomed to treating the estate as their own, Clarence had to resort to the courts not only to secure his revenue, but also to curb large scale poaching of his game.” (Hicks, 184) Every autumn thereafter, Clarence’s ministers would assemble for the purpose of auditing their accounts. (Hicks, 184)

Tutbury, however, would be on the bargaining table when Clarence defected to the Kingmaker’s campaign to put Henry VI back on the throne. Henry VI, his queen and his son, as well as the Lancastrians who were attainted and fled England after the Battle of Towton in 1461, demanded the return of confiscated estates to them once Lancastrian rule was restored in 1470. Tutbury had been used to dower Queen Margaret of Anjou, so what would happen to it once Henry VI re-occupied the throne? According to the Treaty of Angers, which was confirmed by Henry VI and presumably executed by Parliament, Clarence agreed to give up the honor of Tutbury, in exchange for the Duchy of York and full compensation for the loss of his other Duchy holdings. (Hicks, 88-97)

Following the restoration of Edward IV in 1471, Clarence came to re-possess Tutbury by a grant from his brother. However, he would lose it again in the dispute over the Warwick Inheritance with his brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester. In 1473, Parliament passed an Act of Resumption which had the effect of nullifying all grants the king had made to Clarence. A year later, in 1474, Parliament passed a statute dividing the Warwick Inheritance between the two brothers. Clarence received other properties from the king to soften the blow of losing Tutbury.

Michael Hicks asserts that Clarence’s loyalties to Edward IV were weakened when he lost Tutbury during the division of the Warwick Inheritance in 1473. Yet, puzzlingly, Clarence had agreed to lose Tutbury without compensation in the Treaty of Angers of 1470, when he was negotiating with Henry VI and the Lancastrians. Tutbury had been a significant source of revenue for Clarence. It yielded forty per cent of his income. Its loss reduced his revenues to the levels received by Henry V’s brothers and made him dependent on the Warwick Inheritance. (Hicks, 193) While George still remained one of the wealthiest nobles in the realm, the loss of Tutbury injured his status and underscored the erosion of his “pride of place” in the Yorkist hierarchy. Thereafter, he was observed to have withdrawn from the royal court and later became so estranged from Edward IV’s favor that he was executed for treason in 1478, at the age of 28.

In 1484, Richard III stayed at Tutbury Castle for five days in October, where he issued a warrant to the auditors to perform an accounting of how funds had been used in a significant construction project there.   One wonders if he thought about his brother Clarence, who had been executed six years earlier and who had so valued Tutbury as a principal residence and source of income, albeit for only a few fleeting years.

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