Book Review – Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor by Phil Carradice

By Nathen Amin

‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’ is part of Pen & Sword’s ‘Following in the Footsteps’ series, which has so far followed historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell, the Princes in the Tower, and Edward II, with the promise of more to come, no doubt. This Henry Tudor edition has been penned by Welsh author Phil Carradice, a veteran of more than two dozen books and a native of Pembroke, and follows the first Tudor king through eleven chapters from his birth at Pembroke to his victory at Bosworth.

Carradice astutely notes in his introduction that when one considers Henry Tudor, or Henry VII as he’s become known, it is “hard to know where the truth stops and the stories begin”, for his early life before becoming king was one “shrouded in mystery and confusion”. Considering “for years he has been overshadowed by his children and grandchildren”, a scenario “both oversimplistic and unfair”, a book uncovering these early years of Henry then makes much sense for such a project.

The result is eleven chapters, the first of which includes a curious fictional account of Henry Tudor’s return to Wales in 1485 after fourteen years in exile. Though not in keeping with what is a non-fiction book, it is nevertheless one of the finest written passages I’ve read on the matter, and suggests to me this is where the author’s talent truly lies; if Carradine was to produce a full-length fiction book on Henry Tudor, I’d certainly pick up a copy without hesitancy.

The remainder of the book follows a traditional non-fiction narrative, with separate chapters covering Henry Tudor’s birth and childhood, his exile and return, the march through Wales and England, and the battle of Bosworth with a brief analysis of his time as king. Each chapter is presented in a simple, easy-to-read format that serves as a suitable introduction to the topic for the beginner. Those well-versed in the life and times of Henry VII, however, may find the basic overview somewhat too simplistic as Carradice tries to cover over 50 years in just 121 pages. The odd typo has slipped into the book (mixing up the white rose with the red, for example, or attributing the Richmond greyhound to the Woodvilles) but nonetheless it serves as an adequate springboard to learn the basics of the subject ready to delve into deeper research in future.

Two interesting aspects stand out; the first is Carradice’s intriguing argument that, contrary to several centuries of tacit acceptance, that Henry Tudor did not land at Mill Bay, but rather elsewhere on the Pembrokeshire coast. This is the one aspect of the king’s life that Carradice goes into fair detail, being otherwise restricted by the limited nature of the book. His employment of a modern geologist and personal knowledge of the coast area make for a compelling analysis that deserves some further examination. The other unusual approach Carradice takes is to include the memories of someone who personally followed in Henry Tudor’s footsteps in 1985 by walking from Pembrokeshire, through the heart of Wales, and on to Bosworth Field, gaining a unique perspective on this period in the would-be king’s life. The gentleman in question, Peter Lewis, provides us personal testimony such as the following, which is certainly new information to this reviewer:

“It was lonely up there on the hills. Every five or ten minutes a car would pass or speed towards me but mostly I was alone, staring out at the grass, the rocks and watching the buzzards and kestrels. Back in 1485 those soldiers would have seen nothing, no passing traffic. It must have been mind blowing. I know that by the end I was in poor shape. God knows what Henry’s soldiers must have felt like.”

It is not a contemporary source, but nevertheless allows the reader a moment to really visualise what the march must have been like. In a well-trodden subject, it’s certainly a different way of looking at old history. In short, ‘Following in the Footsteps of Henry Tudor’ is not, nor was it intended to be, a comprehensive account of the life and times of the first Tudor king, but it does provide a readable overview of events between 1457 and 1509, and should prove a useful introduction to the topic for the casual reader looking to learn more about the Welshman who became king of England. For the more seasoned reader, you will lose nothing by having this on your bookshelf. And Carradice should certainly consider penning a full-length fictional novel on the topic.

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Book Review – Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me by Matthew Lewis

By Nathen Amin

Of all the monarchs in English history, not many commands more interest than Richard III, and indeed very few have more biographies written about them than this last Plantagenet king of England. There is a certain irony in the fact that whilst scores complain this particular monarch is overlooked or maligned, it does appear to this reviewer that more books exist on his life and times, many revisionist in nature, than all other kings and queens combined, Henry VIII and his flock of wives excepted. Certainly, since the astonishing rediscovery of his remains in 2012, there have been several books on the subject of Richard III with each passing year, a fact which may lead one to wonder why there is a need for yet another biography of a king who barely ruled these lands for two years.

Matthew Lewis himself opens his work ‘Richard III; Loyalty Binds Me’ in acknowledgement of his, noting that king ‘has perhaps been the cause of more spilt ink’ than any other domestic figure over the last five hundred years. He justifies his own attempt to capture the enigma that is Richard by intending to ‘place an authentic man in the complex context of his times’, to try and produce a biography that looks at the entirety of the king’s life and not just the final years, and to do so by providing ‘a measured and balanced opinion’.

Whether the authors intend to or not, books on Richard III can often be so replete with bias and agenda, whether for-Richard or anti-Richard, that they become unreadable to the casual reader with little interest in confirming to prejudices they may not possess. As such, the real Richard, the Richard who lived and breathed, is often regrettably concealed by the Saint Richard or Tyrant Richard caricatures of his modern supporters and critics.

Despite his humble assertion that as a staunch Ricardian this work is naturally sympathetic to his subject, and will perhaps be considered revisionist, Lewis does not fall into the trap of sanctifying Richard III as many of his ilk have done before him. For him, Richard was ‘neither victim nor evil mastermind’.

The eminent historian GM Trevelyan once wrote “Since history is our interpretation of human affairs in the past, it could not exist without bias. But with a wrong bias, it can be gravely distorted”. This book does not, in my opinion as someone who has been critical of Richard’s actions, possess a wrong bias, and the result is an exceptionally readable, deeply engrossing, and valuable resource for the shelf of any medieval enthusiast or curious novice.

Written chronologically from cradle to the grave, Lewis’s book covers all aspects of Richard’s life, and often seeks to place the boy, duke, protector and then king into the context of his time and surroundings. Despite the wealth of books on the subject, such an extensive project has rarely been produced, preferring to focus only on parts of Richard’s life such as his brief reign. Yet to understand the king, you must know the background. Lewis does not shy away from the controversial aspects of his subject’s 32 years on this earth, and whilst he does, at his own admission, often assume a sympathetic reading of events, the author always provides valid reasons for his deductions whilst acknowledging the counter-arguments that may often be the default positions.

This final point is important – it ensures we do not have a partisan propagandist preaching at the reader with every paragraph, a refreshing change when it comes to this particular king. The reviewer does not always concur with Lewis’s conclusions, but does see validity in the arguments presented.

Despite claims to the contrary, nobody can say, with absolute certainty, that Richard III was guilty or innocent of many crimes he has allegedly committed, and if they do, they do a disservice to the study of history. Lewis, to his credit in a difficult subject which often demands an uncompromising stance is assumed, often presents his case like a courtroom lawyer and leaves it to the jury, in this case the reader, to make their judgement.

Where required, the author goes into great detail to examine key events in the life of Richard III, and in particular the thorough investigation into the demise of Henry VI and the likely culprits was impressive, with extensive use of primary sources and how each must be judged on its own merit and motivation before arriving at a conclusion. This section has educational value in how to assess and use various sources to reach a conclusion, and as he shows you his process, it enables to reader to agree or disagree with his findings.

In short, Lewis’s ‘Richard III’ book succeeds where many before him have failed – he doesn’t seek to hoodwink the reader, or foist upon them a disingenuous depiction of Richard that a cursory glance at the sources renders nonsense. He does advance a sympathetic interpretation of those sources, but not to the extent it becomes overly generous, whilst working hard to expose the failures of previous historians who have sought to create a monster from a man. The result is a book that at no point in time did I slam down and walk away from, a rarity when one deals with the delicate subject of Richard III.

I fall short of calling this book the definitive Richard III biography, as I feel such a lofty title is simply not possible about such a complex, controversial and divisive figure, but regardless Lewis’s effort is a highly recommended addition to one’s library that is far more worthy than many similar studies which have preceded it. ‘The study of history is the asking of questions’ writes Lewis, and in this fine book that will likely stand the test of time, he has asked many fair questions of Richard’s reputation that must no longer be ignored. This is the story of Richard the man, not Richard the myth.

Who were the Landsknechte?

By Heather R. Darsie

In the 16th century there existed powerful groups of soldiers-for-hire in the Holy Roman Empire called “Landsknechte,” which literally means “country servants.” The singular form of the word is, “Landsknecht.” The word was frequently Anglicized into “lance knights” and Gallicized into “lansquenet.” These mercenaries developed into formidable, well-trained soldiers in the late 15th through early 16th centuries.

The Landsknechte were formed due to the need of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I to maintain control over his dominions, including Burgundy which he acquired by the right of his marriage to Mary of Burgundy. Georg von Frunsberg is considered the Father of the Landsknechte. Georg von Frunsberg was born 24 September 1473 in Memmingen, Germany. At the age of roughly 26, Frunsberg was part of the Landsknechte who fought the Swiss knights-for-hire, the Reisläufer, in 1499. Frunsberg also went to Milan to protect the duchy from French invasion. Frundsberg rose to the rank of commander, and participated in campaigns against the Empire’s enemies in 1504, 1509, 1513, 1514, 1521, 1522, and 1525. He passed away on 20 August 1528 in the same place he was born, Mindleheim Castle in Memmingen, Germany.

Maximilian I was elected King of the Romans-Germans on 16 February 1486 and almost immediately set to work gathering Landknechte mercenaries. These foot soldiers were equipped with halberds, pikes, and swords. A small percentage of each regiment was equipped with harquebuses and two-handed swords. They would fight in phalanxes, repelling cavalry attacks. The Landsknechte were trained by Swiss Reisläufer who Maximilian I was able to hire for such purposes.

The mercenaries themselves came from all different backgrounds. Some were criminals, others peasants or nobles, all with different motivations stemming from enjoying the adventure to being forced into action by their lord. The Landsknechte had loyalty to no one. They fought for whoever paid them, even if it meant attacking their place of origin. Anyone hiring the Landsknechte always risked mutiny or abandonment if payment was not timely. On top of that, the Landsknechte were known to pillage the victims if they were unhappy with their pay, or force sieges and battles before their money ran out.

The Landsknechte traveled in large groups of attendants and women, often wearing flamboyant clothing because the Landsknechte were exempt from sumptuary laws. It is thought that the style of dress adopted by the Landsknechte influenced European fashion to an extent. The women were an important part of each Fahnlein, or 400-man company, and carried out specific tasks. The women acted as laundresses, seamstresses, cooks, midwives, and money-handlers. The women were assigned hard labor as well, which included digging trenches. The women participated in pillaging, too.

The Landsknechte were very well-organized in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A Landsknechte regiment was comprised from ten, 400-man Fahnlein, making a regiment approximately 4,000 persons. Each Fahnlein was made up of multiple Rotten, the number of which depended upon the types of soldiers in each Rotten.  Each regiment was led by a colonel, who received his commission from the local lord. A contract was drawn up between the colonel and the lord, spelling out the pay for the soldiers and what the duties of the hired Landsknechte were. Each unit had a leader, and the Landsknechte were known to dispense their own justice amongst their ranks.

The Landsknechte were at their most formidable during the Sack of Rome in 1527. A mutinous force led by the Duke of Bourbon, the pitiless mercenaries chose to march on Rome after not being paid by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for their role in his 1525 victory at Pavia. The Landsknechte entered Rome on  6 May 1527 through St Peter’s and the Borgo Santo Spirito, and they with other groups of mercenaries murdered everyone in sight. It did not matter whether the victims were soldiers or civilians. Pope Clement VII barely escaped St Peter’s Basilica for the safety of Castel Sant’ Angelo. This Swiss guard tasked with protecting St Peter’s lost a substantial number of their force in the carnage. Allegedly most of the Swiss Guard were murdered on the high altar within St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Clement eventually surrendered to Charles V in June 1527.

The Landsknechte continued to be a threatening force throughout the mid-16th century. By the end of the 16th century, the Landsknechte were no longer as well-regulated. Due to lack of work and other economic factors, the numbers wishing to join the Landsknechte grew while the utility of mercenary troops fell because of the advancement of gunpowder, cannon, and firearms. The mercenaries devolved into little more than roving groups of bandits and sellswords before finally petering out at the end of the 16th century.

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Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ by Heather R. Darsie is released 15 April in the UK and 1 July in the US. If you live in the US and cannot wait until July, you can order a hardcover from the UK Amazon.

The book can be purchased here:

UK Hardcover: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister/dp/1445677105/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=darsie&qid=1553980680&s=gateway&sr=8-1

UK Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister-ebook/dp/B07PNQKR77/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1553980680&sr=8-1

US Hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1445677105?pf_rd_p=1cac67ce-697a-47be-b2f5-9ae91aab54f2&pf_rd_r=3N5CGT7W6TPG1X0AF7PZ

US Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Anna-Duchess-Cleves-Beloved-Sister-ebook/dp/B07PNQKR77/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Darsie, Heather R. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’. Stroud: Amberley Publishing (2019).
  2. The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Georg von Frundsberg.” Published 20 September 2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Georg-von-Frundsberg Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  3. The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Landsknecht.” Published 2 December 2015. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Landsknechte Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  4. Bunting, Tony. “Sack of Rome.” Published 23 May 2018. https://www.britannica.com/event/Sack-of-Rome-1527 Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  5. Erben, Wilhelm. “Maximilian I. Und Die Landsknechte.” Historische Zeitschrift116, no. 1 (1916): 48-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27603166.
  6. Rabe, Georg, Sigmund Feyerabend und Weygand Hanen Erben. Herrn Georg und Herrn Caspar von Fründsberg. Frankfurt am Main (1568).

Book Review – John Morton: Adversary of Richard III and Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

By Nathen Amin

John Morton may not be a name familiar to the casual observer of English history, but few men were as integral in establishing the Tudor Dynasty upon the English throne as this son of Dorset who rose steadily through the church ranks to become an archdeacon, bishop, archbishop, and finally in 1493, a cardinal.

In his introduction to this fascinating project ‘John Morton, Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors’, Dr Stuart Bradley declares the subject of his biography to have been ‘a man of immense ability’ whose story deserves to be brought ‘from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden’, and by the end of this concise study, it is clear to the ready he has done exactly this.

Morton was born around 1420, and received his first appointment of note when he was made a Rector of Shellingford, Berkshire, in 1453. Within two years, however, this rising churchman’s career was impeded by the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, and having pledged his support towards the Lancastrian cause, was captured by the Yorkists in 1461. Though he escaped captivity and fled into exile, by 1471 Morton was reconciled to the House of York under Edward IV, and served this king until his death in 1483.

Opposing the rise of Richard III, during whose reign he became an ‘agent provocateur and master spy’, Morton played a ‘major role in coordinating the rebellion and ongoing subversion throughout Richard’s reign and in the machinations that resulted in the accession of Henry VII’. It was thus Morton became the ‘power behind the Tudors’ as described in the book’s subtitle. One of the few men the new king had utter trust in, Morton ‘gritty doggedness’ thereafter, as Archbishop, Cardinal and Chancellor, helped establish the fledgling dynasty, refilling the royal coffers and, with pen and parchment rather than sword and shield, helping fend of repeated challenges to the Tudor ascendancy.

The book is clearly the work of an author who really understands the period he is writing about, with extensive use of source material such as chancery documents, diplomatic correspondence and chronicler accounts, with insightful analysis to bolster his argument – an unusual but appreciated inclusion is the occasional use of tables within the text to support a claim, for example on page 38 which shows a breakdown of the amount of Patent Rolls issued for each month between 1476-1485, allowing the reader to really see for themselves how the conflict of the day affected government business. Rather than just make the point, Bradley invites the reader to see just how he arrived at this deduction.  The level of research is not lacking, either; chapter 6, for example, has 123 instances of endnotes.

It was the opinion of the 17th century antiquarian George Buck that Morton was ‘a stern and haughty man, odious at court and more generally so in the country’, an ‘evil spirit transformed into an angel of light and wearing the habit of religion’; any reader will put Bradley’s work down full informed this caricature of the cardinal was not a fair statement, and does not stand up to scrutiny. As the author himself declares, ‘the arguments of Ricardian apologists are difficult to reconcile with the evidence’, and that particular king exempted, Morton was nothing other than ‘the exponent of faithful loyal service’ to the other kings he served, namely Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VII.

I am presently unaware of any other biography of Morton, certainly not a modern publication, so Dr Bradley’s book is a welcome addition to 15th century study, bringing, as he intended, this intriguing royal servant out of the shadows. Though only 135 pages (with another 75 as an appendices), it is not long, but covers everything that is known about Morton’s life, using all surviving source material and commendably avoiding the common trap of merely padding out a biography with semi-relevant fluff that may or may not be pertinent to the study at hand. Bradley never loses sight of his subject, and the result is truly a scholarly study with a fresh angle. Morton was ‘a man whose story deserves to be told’, and here, Bradley has made a highly admirable attempt to do so.

Book Review – The Tudor Crown by Joanna Hickson

By Nathen Amin

Joanna Hickson is one of the most popular fiction scribes currently producing work on all things 15th and 16th century, a position well-earnt by her consistently entertaining and insightful writing. Already a multiple best-selling author through her previous critically acclaimed work The Agincourt Bride and The Tudor Bride, The Tudor Crown follows on from last year’s triumphant release First of the Tudors, a captivating tome which followed the life and struggles of Jasper Tudor.

Hickson’s latest release features Jasper as a background character, continuing this hardy adventurer’s story somewhat, but the narrative has switched to his young nephew Henry Tudor, and the boy’s redoubtable mother, Margaret Beaufort. This manoeuvring mother-and-son team, separated by the English Channel and living in the precarious world of their dynastic enemies, the Yorks, work tirelessly towards the end goal – the place Henry upon the throne of England, an unlikely scenario that gradually hurdles towards reality as you race through the book.

The tagline of the Tudor Crown is ‘She’ll betray her king to crown her son’, though there is much more to Margaret’s story than mere betrayal – as her real-life inspiration, it’s about responding to external factors and seizing the opportunities presented her with remarkable determination. It is refreshing to see this resolute woman portrayed in a positive light rather than as a villain, as has depressingly been the case in recent times. She is a good person trying her best in a ruthless world, though unquestionably tough, and willing to do whatever it takes – “I quashed my Lancastrian pride and thought of my son’s future; I would kneel at my enemy’s feet”.

The book is written in the first-person, albeit from the eyes of two protagonist, namely the aforementioned mother-and-son. The chapters alternate between the two, reflecting their unfolding story as one battles through the world of the York court in England, and the other struggles and strives abroad in exile. The result is almost two different books in one, with two distinct perspectives from two unique individuals – and yet this premise works well as we are catapulted from one intrigue to another, their stories bonded only by the letters regularly exchanged between our two heroes. We see Margaret grow bolder in her schemes, and the resilient Henry grow from reluctant youth into a regal pretender, and naturally we find ourselves rooting for a pair who are scrapping against the odds for a positive outcome to the dreary hand life has dealt them.

Though the outcome is one of the most famous episodes in British history, Hickson calls on her full evocative repertoire to make us feel as though we are alongside Margaret and Henry for their turbulent journey, living the drama with them and uncertain of our destiny. She must be commended for this, as it’s not easy to maintain tension writing towards a finale already known by most readers. Hickson captures the hopes and dreams of the pair well through their story, clouding our mind with the same frustrations and worries her sympathetic characters experience several times over during their tribulations. Meanwhile enough names of real-life figures are mentioned for one to note the research Hickson has undertaken, as well as provide breadcrumbs for further research.

The mentioned finale is a masterpiece of fiction writing – the detail leading up to the fabled Battle of Bosworth almost transports the reader to the very field in question, through the eyes of the victor Henry Tudor himself – “The next hour was the most dreadful I had ever known…those clashing lines of screaming, swearing, charging men consisted of fathers and husbands, uncles and sons and I had led them into this hellish maelstrom of blood and guts and madness”.

In short – this author with a growing repertoire of excellent books has produced yet another winner. Oh, and the cover alone is beautiful. One hopes Hickson continues the story of Jasper and Henry into the successful twilight of their life.

 

Silenced at Sea; The Lancastrian Duke and his Yorkist King

By Nathen Amin

The Wars of the Roses were a notoriously violent feud in which faction warred with faction and family destroyed family, all against the backdrop of a tussle over the most significant prize in the kingdom – the throne of England.

Whether aligned with Lancaster or York, both sides inflicted atrocities on the other across three decades as a myriad of strong personalities sought to advance the cause of themselves, and the faction to which they had pledged their loyalty. Very few were faultless, as men such as Richard of York, Warwick the Kingmaker, Edward IV, the dukes of Somerset, Clarence and Buckingham, and the earls of Northumberland, Pembroke, Oxford, Salisbury and Devon, each engaged in internecine conflict.

In recent years, however, a narrative has developed which portrays the House of Tudor, who acceded to the throne in 1485 after Henry VII usurped the crown from Richard III (who depending on your viewpoint may or may not have himself usurped the throne), as unusually bloodthirsty in their supposedly relentless yearning to wipe out all Yorkist rivals. Henry VII, it is claimed, would stop at nothing to eliminate his competition, contrary to the fact that the first Tudor was, in fact, merely responsible for just the one, dubious, execution of potential White Rose adversary in a 24-year reign.

The various misdeeds of Edward IV, meanwhile, seem oddly disregarded, which is astounding when one considers that he too was not averse to wiping out those he perceived to be a threat, including Henry VI and his own brother George, Duke of Clarence, both bumped off in the Tower of London during the 1470s, and a fate that would conceivably have been shared by young Henry Tudor had he fallen into Yorkist possession. Rarely mentioned, or at least skimmed over, is the fate that befell the man who was arguably the most senior Lancastrian heir after the deaths of Henry VI, Prince Edward of Westminster and the two Beaufort siblings in 1471; Henry Holland, 2nd Duke of Exeter.

Henry was born on 27 June 1430 as the only son John Holland, then Earl of Huntingdon, and his first wife Anne Stafford. His father was the eldest surviving son of another John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, who was prominent towards the end of the fourteenth century as the elder half-brother of King Richard II. The 1st Duke rose high in favour of his sibling, but after Henry IV usurped the throne in 1399, his status was diminished, his title demoted, and after he led a rebellion known as the Epiphany Rising in which it was alleged he planned to wipe out the fledgling Lancastrian royal family, he was executed. Despite his anti-Lancastrianism, the 1st Duke had actually married into the family as husband of Elizabeth of Lancaster, a daughter of John of Gaunt, making his namesake son a great-grandson of Edward III. The younger John proved faithful to his Lancastrian relations, serving notably at Agincourt in 1415. He was captured by the French in 1421 and spent four years in captivity, but after his release continued his service until he was eventually restored to his father’s dukedom of Exeter in 1443, enjoying precedence below only Richard, Duke of York.

Henry Holland, therefore, from the age of 13 was suddenly raised to heir of a mighty dukedom, in title if not income, and also could boast of royal descent on his maternal side as a great-grandson of Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester and youngest son of Edward III. When he acceded to his father’s title and estates in 1447 at just 17, he was recognised as one of the foremost nobles in the land, royally descended and high in the line of succession to the as yet childless king, his cousin Henry VI.

Frustration over the poor financial state of his inheritance, and a haughty disposition that spilled over into questionable behaviour, Holland quickly attracted trouble during the 1450s. He fraudulently seized the lands belonging to a fellow lord, meddled needlessly in the escalating Neville-Percy rivalry in the north, lay claim to the Duchy of Lancaster during Henry VI’s first mental breakdown, and even courted the Scots to cause issues in England to his own benefit.

Most notably, despite his marriage to the duke’s young daughter, Exeter opened a feud with Richard of York after the latter was named protector in 1453, perhaps slighted that despite his tender age, he was overlooked for the post by virtue of his lineage. He was tersely warned to desist from his troublesome behaviour in the north by York, and when he refused to heed the message, was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle. Though released when Henry VI resumed control of his faculties, when the Wars of the Roses erupted in 1455, the headstrong duke of Exeter rallied to the Lancastrian cause, directly opposing his estranged father-in-law, York, and thereafter the latter’s son, Edward.

Exeter fought against York at the Battle of St Albans, for which he was briefly imprisoned in Wallingford Castle during York’s second ascendancy, and later commanded men in the Lancastrian victories at Wakefield in 1460, during which died York, and the Second St Albans in 1461. He was also present for the traumatic defeat at Towton a month later, which placed the Yorkist Edward IV upon the throne, and sensing the winds of change, fled into Scotland and thence France, his title subject to attainder and his lands seized.

A decade later, during the brief Lancastrian readeption which existed for several months in 1470 and 1471, Exeter returned to England, and commanded part of the royal army which faced off with his Yorkist brother-in-law at the battle of Barnet. The chronicler Warkworth noted that Exeter ‘faught manly ther that day’ but was ‘gretely despolede and woundede’ in the loss, ‘and lefte nakede for dede in the felde’. He was eventually rescued from the field, having lain there injured until 4pm, and fled into sanctuary at Westminster to recover from his wounds.

At the battle of Tewkesbury a few weeks later, at least three people in the Lancastrian line of succession were killed, namely Prince Edward, and the Beaufort siblings Edmund and John, and shortly thereafter occurred the suspicious killing of Henry VI in the Tower of London. With the senior male-line of Lancaster wiped out, the astute Milanese ambassador observed that Edward IV had coldly ‘chosen to crush the seed’ of his rivals.

Yet, Henry Holland remained, much to the Yorkist king’s chagrin, one imagines. Henry Tudor, another Lancastrian claimant, had succeeded in fleeing into exile, but Holland remained within Edward’s reach. The duke was therefore forcibly removed from Westminster Abbey, and kept thereafter under close supervision in the Tower, ominously where Henry VI met his end. His loveless marriage to the king’s sister Anne of York was dissolved in 1472, with much of his estates passing into her control, and his situation appeared bleak until 1475 when the duke was suddenly invited to accompany Edward IV on his upcoming military expedition to France. Perhaps the king did not want to leave a potential claimant to his throne behind in the kingdom, preferring to keep a close eye on his rival, or he felt the duke deserved an opportunity at reconciliation. Either way, Henry Holland would never return alive.

During the Channel crossing between Dover and Calais, in uncertain circumstances that have never been ascertained, this formidable duke with the most preeminent Lancastrian claim to the throne, fell overboard and drowned. Chronicles written within England are vague in their recollections of his mysterious demise. Polydore Vergil noted that Exeter had, ‘contrary to promyse’, been ‘taken sooddenly owt of the way’, whilst Robert Fabyan recounted how the duke had been ‘founden deed in the see atwene Dover and Calays’ before adding ‘but how he was drowned the certaynte is nat knowne’. The entry in the Chronicles of London, meanwhile, simply reported how the duke was ‘found deed, as it was said, bitwene Dovyr and Caleys’. The Croyland Chronicle, on the other hand, perhaps the most informed of the period’s sources and written by someone close to Edward’s regime, is unusually silent on the matter.

It was left to a source outside the influence of Edward IV, or his son-in-law Henry VII, who had no capital to gain from disparaging his wife’s father, to lay blame at the feet of the Yorkist king for the death of a Lancastrian rival. The Milanese ambassador to Burgundy, Giovanni Pietro Panicharolla, wrote to the Duke of Milan on 4th December 1475 from Nancy, describing how Edward IV ‘had the Duke of Xestre thrown into the sea, whom he had previously kept a prisoner’. The ambassador added that the duke had resented his captivity, and its possibly he had been making this known, further incurring the wrath of his king.

So was Henry Holland thrown into the sea, deliberately murdered by, or on the orders of, Edward IV. In light of more concrete evidence, it is difficult to confirm categorically, thought one can’t deny the death of the duke was convenient for the House of York. If 1471 was the year Edward had chosen to crush the seed, then four years later it is likely he continued crushing. As demonstrated three years later with the execution of his own brother, Edward was not a man unwilling to rid himself of a threat, real or perceived. It made perfect sense to Edward’s security for Exeter to meet an unfortunate end.

Ultimately, of course, the removal of Henry Holland only served to bolster the tenuous Lancastrian claim of Henry Tudor, who remained in exile from 1471 through to 1485, when he eventually returned to England to make real that claim. It was exactly a decade after the untimely, and suspicious, demise, of the doomed Duke of Exeter, the forgotten Lancastrian pretender silenced by the sea.

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Nathen Amin grew up in the heart of Carmarthenshire, West Wales, and has long had an interest in Welsh history, the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. His first book Tudor Wales was released in 2014 and was well-received, followed by a second book called York Pubs in 2016. His third book, the first, full-length biography of the Beaufort family, the House of Beaufort,  was released in the summer of 2017 and quickly became a #1 Amazon Bestseller for Wars of the Roses.

Book Review – La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters

By Nathen Amin

It is never easy to emerge from the considerable shadow of Henry VIII, but it’s fair to say that during her brief life, the mighty king’s younger sister Mary tried her damndest to seize at least some of the attention. Unlike Elizabeth Woodville, as recent fiction work might have you believe, Mary Tudor truly was known as the White Queen during her lifetime, referred to by the French for the colour of her mourning clothes after the death of her husband Louis XII in 1515, and it is this particular Tudor queen that author Sarah Bryson chooses to explore in her latest work ‘La Reine Blanche; Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters’.

The author notes in her introduction that the Tudor age was a period dominated by men, but there were nonetheless many strong, independent and intellectually gifted women, one of which she asserts was Mary, the youngest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. As this book, a chronological biography, progresses, it is difficult to argue otherwise with Bryson’s opinion.

La Reine Blanche covers Mary’s life, and in fact pre-life in the case of the opening chapter exploring the origins of the Tudors, following her early life as part-princess, part-martial pawn, including a commendably detailed look at her childhood betrothal to Archduke Charles, before exploring her brief tenure as Queen of France after she was married at eighteen to the elderly Louis XII in October 1514. The union was part of a treaty between Mary’s brother Henry VIII and her new husband, but the French king only lived three more months. Mary, however, was proud of her rank as Queen of France, and in fact, Bryson tells us, she never stopped referring to herself as such, despite a subsequent marriage.

That remarriage was her controversial decision to wed Charles Brandon, her brother’s close friend and the parvenu Duke of Suffolk, shortly after King Louis’ death, behind the back of the English king to whom they were forced to beg for forgiveness after the fact. What does this impulsive act say about Mary Tudor, a renowned beauty? Bryson tells us it proves it was an “opportunity to show the strong, self-willed, determined woman she had always been”, and this is an understatement. It was a remarkable decision, followed by a fascinating period in which she was forced to beg her brother’s forgiveness through a series of letters.

It is these letters where Bryson’s book has particular worth. Too often narrative history books only carry the odd line or two of contemporary sources, and often even then it is a famous excerpt that is repeated across the board. Bryson has utilised scores of letters written to and from Mary, or involving matters relating to her, and more often than not has included them the source in full, which is refreshing in allowing the reader to formulate their own opinion on the topic in question. In short, we are treated not only to Mary’s story in Bryson’s words, but also Mary’s story in Mary’s words.

We also discover, through these letters, just how wise Mary was, conjuring up all her wiles to convince her brother to forgive her marriage to Brandon, flattering him until he submitted. Bryson is astute when she notes that Mary “was able to manipulate the men around her, to convince them of her loyalty and to gain her heart’s desire by playing the weak female. She wept, she feared for her life, she worried and played herb role perfectly, all the while manoeuvring the men to her purpose; a marriage of her own choosing”. Tudors more often than not got their way, and Mary was no different, even when the person she was up against was her own flesh and blood. How many others went against Henry VIII and lived to tell the tale?

In short, La Reine Blanche is a passionate and detailed account that is a welcome addition to the Tudor genre, in which Sarah Bryson does justice to the extraordinary life and times of Mary Tudor. Essential reading to gain a fresh perspective of the early years in the most famous royal court in English history.

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Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.