Tuesday, 19 January 2010


On the face of it, the main bone of contention between Yorkists and Lancastrians (if we can use these convenient labels, because labels are all they are) was the death of many prominent Lancastrian nobles at St. Albans. As will be seen from the last post most of the Lancastrian leaders were sons of these men. The knightly class were not brought up to suffer such events with Christ-like patience and forbearance. Indeed they were taught to resent the most trivial offence against their honour and avenge it with violence.

King Henry VI seems to have believed that if he could somehow pacify the resentments over the events of St Albans he could resolve the whole issue and achieve peace. This was a commendable attempt on Henry's part, but it overlooked the underlying political issues that had led up to the present circumstances. The King was probably too optimistic is believing that anything short of death could make the individuals 'forgive and forget'.

A Great Council was arranged for Westminster on 27 January 1458. York lodged in London and the Lancastrians, some of whom did not appear until well into February, outside. At an early stage there was an unsuccesful attempt to ambush York and Salisbury as they rode to Westminster, and the King withdrew, first to Chertsey, then to Berkhampstead. The distance may have been intended to show impartiality, but Henry did receive Somerset, Exeter, Clifford and Egremont on 23 February.

On 9 March there was a failed attempt to ambush Warwick on his way to Westminster. (These Lancastrians seem to have little imagination for new tactics and little skill in undertaking ambushes.)

On 16 March Henry returned to Westminster and led a public procession for peace. He then instructed the Archbishop of Canterbury to act as go-between, the good prelate meeting the Yorkists at Blackfriars in the mornings and Somerset and Co. at Whitefriars in the afternoons. By 23 March an agreement had been patched and financial bonds entered into by the parties.

The agreement provided for cash recompense for the bereaved (noble) families of St. Albans plus the setting-up of chantries for the dead paid for by the York/Neville faction. However, as the payments were to be in tallies and as York was granted various financial arrangements for the reduction of the arrears owed to him by Henry, it was not quite as one-sided an agreement as at first appears.

A service of thanksgiving was held at St Paul's from which York emerged hand in hand with the Queen, Warwick with Somerset, and so on and so forth. One can only imagine what thought bubbles a medieval Private Eye would have set above the procession.

Henry probably thought he had achieved peace, but he was soon to be sharply disillusioned.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Lancastrian Leadership

I was almost tempted to put 'leadership' in quotes but that would look like blatant author bias. However some of these guys were ultimately more useful to the Yorkists than they were to Margaret.

Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (1436-1464)

This youngish man, son of the Somerset killed at St. Albans, was one of Margaret's better bargains, comparatively skilled in military and political matters. He had two younger brothers, Edmund and John, both of whom were eventually to die for the cause. His problems were his relative lack of land (as discussed in previous posts) and his limited experience. His advantages included a wide range of family connections, notably to the Earl of Shrewsbury and the rest of the Talbot clan. These links were by no means to be sniffed at.

Henry Percy, 3rd Earl of Northumberland (1421-1461)

Northumberland's father had also been killed at St.Albans. He seems to have been rather mediocre as leader of his family and had scant control over his younger brothers - though, admittedly, nor had his father before him. He had enormous influence in the north, but very little in the south, where it was perhaps more important. He was hampered by enormous debts run up during his father's time, not least as a result of the Percy/Neville feud which his younger brothers had inflamed.

Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter (1430-1475)

I have mentioned Exeter in an earlier post. Suffice it to say that even the Lancastrians had good reasons for doubting him and not all the time he spent in the Tower was at York's behest. He was very good at quarrelling with people though. He even tried to claim the duchy of Lancaster for himself which, given that Henry VI and his son were alive at the time, was the next thing to treason.

James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde (1420-1461)

Alleged by some to be the Queen's lover, Wiltshire seems to have been singled out for particular hatred by the Yorkists. He was high in favour under the Lancastrian regime and related to Somerset by marriage. His Wiltshire title was new (1449) but he was 5th Earl of Ormond with considerable lands and influence in Ireland. This may have been a factor in his getting across York and York's powerful Irish faction.

Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont (1422-1460)

Irresponsible and violent by nature, the kindest thing that can be said about Egremont is that he was probably a good chap to have next to you in a fight. He was Northumberland's younger brother. He was a leading light in the Percy-Neville feud that preceded his father's death at St Albans. He involved himself in Exeter's witless quarrels and for a time was locked up in London. Needless to say he escaped and eventually became one of Margaret's military supporters.

John, Lord Clifford (1435-1461) aka 'Butcher' Clifford.

He is famed for killing Edmund, Earl of Rutland after the Battle of Wakefield, apparently in revenge for his own father's death at St. Albans. Clifford was a ferocious fighter and quite prominent in Margaret's counsels. His killing of Rutland arguably stepped up the bitterness of the conflict and helps account for Edward IV's pretty ruthless killing spree after Towton. On the other hand, it was no worse than some of the other events of these wars and Rutland was no less a combatant than say the Lancastrian Prince of Wales at Tewkesbury.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Sent to Coventry...

In case I did not spell it out sufficiently, it was no longer deemed practicable for the King (or rather Margaret) to rule from Westminster as London was too volatile and pro-Yorkist. This is a remarkable indictment of the Lancastrian government in itself. OK, it was commonplace in the middle ages for the court to go on progress, but generally they didn't go that far from the Thames Valley and they always ended up back in the environs of London.

One or two kings (Richard II springs to mind) got sufficiently cheesed off with the Londoners to punish them by temporarily moving the effective capital elsewhere (York in his case) for a time, but for a government to be effectively driven out is a horse of another colour.

For the Lancastrians the West Midlands had its attractions. They had a lot of property in the area, including a large and powerful castle at Kenilworth, and this added up to the potential of armed support. Coventry was deemed a loyal city, and councils were held there instead of at Westminster.

It was really now only a matter of time before armed hostilities broke out. On 5 November Exeter, Somerset and Shrewsbury attempted to ambush Warwick on his way to London and on 1 December, in Coventry itself, York was attacked by Somerset. Warwick and York survived but (given that the government was now in the Queen's hands) they can hardly be blamed if they felt uneasy and looked for ways to defend themselves.

There was a Great Council held at Coventry in 1457. Records of it are lost but it appears some attempt was made to pin the Herbert-Devereux disturbances on York. The peers were evidently not convinced. York was granted an annuity of £40, supposedly to recompense him for the loss of three Welsh Castles to Jasper Tudor, and his patent as Lieutenant of Ireland was renewed. In the summer he was also granted, among other things, the right to hold a market at Fotheringhay.

Margaret of Anjou redux

One or two people have told me that they disagree with my analysis of Margaret and that her son was a bastard. Fair enough, they're entitled to their opinion, and barring the exhumation of his body and a spot of scientific analysis no one can be sure. By the way, according to W.E. Hampton his body could not be found in its supposed location at Tewkesbury and may be in the common pit.

For myself I've come around to the quite radical position on Margaret - that she was more sinned against than sinning. And that even if she did do some naughty things, she certainly paid for them, in her lifetime.

I have got a whole hill of Yorkist-era books for Christmas and am still trying to digest them. Some of them are as difficult to get down as week-old turkey I'm afraid.

And I,--like one lost in a thorny wood,
That rends the thorns and is rent with the thorns,
Seeking a way and straying from the way;
Not knowing how to find the open air,

If you get the picture...