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.

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Henry VII and the House of York

By Nathen Amin

When the subject of Henry VII is often raised, attention inevitably turns to the allegedly draconian, even tyrannical, way he treated the Yorkist relations of his wife Elizabeth. The accusation goes that once Henry, the great Lancastrian hope, captured the throne from Richard III, he set about vanquishing the remnants of the House of York, securing the victory of the Red Rose.

The reality is, as with most things with the Wars of the Roses, far more complex. The Wars of the Roses cannot, and should not, ever been seen in binary – it was not ever as simple as Red Rose vs White Rose, or Good vs Bad. It has sometimes been referred to in recent years as the Cousins’ War, but even that doesn’t provide enough inside into just how intermarried the key figures in the Wars were. We all know that Warwick the Kingmaker, for example, was not only a cousin to the Yorks, but also the Beauforts against whom he waged such brutal war. But even the lesser nobles were often connected to the men who killed them.

So to return to Henry VII and the House of York. A key thing to consider is that Henry, although portrayed as the ‘Lancastrian’ heir, came to the throne on a tide of Yorkist support. After the death of Edward IV and the ascendancy of Richard III, what comprised the Edwardian Yorkist household effectively splintered. Some stayed loyal to Richard, and those who suspected he had killed the princes of their former master, fled to Brittany and France into the awaiting embrace of the unknown entity Henry Tudor. Their allegiance to the Tudor cause, rather than the Lancastrian cause, had as much to do with their opposition to Richard than their support for Henry. Therefore, at Bosworth and thereafter, the court and household of Henry VII had a distinctive Yorkist air to it. It was by no means a Lancastrian takeover.

With that in mind, from the outset, Henry did not, nor could he, simply vanquish the House of York as an entity, as a living, breathing, movement. He needed the allegiance of the remaining members, whether grudging or not, and more importantly required the assiduous service of their influential, and experienced, servants. Of those surviving children and grandchildren of Duke Richard of York, therefore, it becomes clear that Henry was far from heavy-handed, at least until given cause. Let’s take a look at what became of the House of York during the reign of Henry VII.

Children of Edward IV

We are unsure of the fate of the Princes in the Tower, although I am satisfied to believe they were disappeared in the summer of 1483 as seems the likeliest fate. Elizabeth obviously became queen of England through her marriage to Henry VII, and despite claims to the contrary, was treated well by a devoted husband, with both touchingly consoling one another after the death of Prince Arthur. But what of the other children of Edward IV that survived into Tudor rule? Were they wiped out by a vengeful Henry VII? Well, no.

Cecily of York had been contracted with marriage to Ralph Scrope, a member of Richard III’s northern affinity, but that union was annulled upon Henry’s accession. In 1487, she was married to the king’s half-uncle, John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles, a man of unquestionable loyalty to the king, and an astute choice in rendering any Yorkist-descended children from the union politically irrelevant. Any accusations that Cecily was harshly treated need to be discounted; Henry marrying his sister-in-law to a royal favourite of minor importance was the same tactic Richard had taken, and there is a suggestion Cecily enjoyed a happy marriage. The Viscount’s will in February 1499 makes reference to his ‘dere beloved lady and wife’, who he trusted ‘above all oder’.

Cecily of York remained around the royal court, and participated in the several Tudor royal ceremonies, even carrying Prince Arthur at his christening and then bearing the train of Catherine of Aragon at the prince’s wedding. She only found disfavour with the king when she impetuously married for a third time to an obscure squire named Kyme. This took place without the king’s permission, and Cecily was banished from court for a short time in disgrace, although the compassionate intervention of Lady Margaret Beaufort allowed her to eventually return. She passed away without surviving issue in 1507.

Like Cecily, Anne of York was also betrothed by Richard III to one of his supporters, in this case Thomas Howard, whose father and grandfather fought for Richard at Bosworth. Despite the potential threat of a Yorkist-Howard child eventually making a play for the throne, Henry VII allowed the married to go ahead in 1495. unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the Tudors when you consider Howard’s later actions in the reign of Henry VIII as 3rd Duke of Norfolk, the couple had no children surviving to adulthood. Like Cecily, Anne was treated as befitted her status as a royal princess, albeit Yorkist. She carried the chrisom at the christening of Prince Arthur and Princess Margaret, and was a regular around court.

Katherine of York was put forward in 1487 as a potential bride to the duke of Ross, a second son of James III of Scotland, by Henry, using her Yorkist blood to try to procure an alliance, although the death of the Scottish king a year later ended discussions. She was later married to William Courtenay, a royal commander and heir of the Earl of Devon, a supporter of Tudor at Bosworth. William proved to be untrustworthy, however, and was attainted in 1504 by Henry VII for joining a conspiracy with Edmund de la Pole, the duke of Suffolk. He would eventually be restored to his estates after the king’s death.

Unlike Cecily or Anne, Katherine did have surviving issue with her husband; Henry Courtenay, possibly named for the king, was born in 1496 and eventually became Marquis of Exeter under Henry VIII. His Yorkist blood would, however, become an issue during the 1530s and he was accused of colluding with his Pole cousins to overthrow his other cousin, Henry VIII. He was beheaded in 1538. Nonetheless, events 30 years after the death of Henry VII hardly make him culpable in the destruction of Exeter. Henry VII may have forseen such issues when marrying a Yorkist princess to a peer of the realm, but he nonetheless didn’t forbid such a union. This seems hardly in keeping with his alleged desire to destroy the House of York. Why not just force her to marry a nobody?

The last legitimate child of Edward IV to survive into the Tudor reign was Bridget of York; she caused Henry far less issues, for Bridget was prepared for a religious life, becoming a nun at Dartford priory. She remained in contact with her royal kinfolk, and survived until 1517, leaving no issue due to her vow to God.

Edward IV was a notoriously promiscuous man, and had at least one acknowledged heir, named Arthur Plantagenet. Presumably protected by his illegitimately, although something which could be overturned with the cooperation of a friendly parliament, Arthur prospered under Tudor rule. By 1501 he was part of his half-sister Queen Elizabeth’s household, and part of Henry VII’s after her demise, suggesting he was trusted enough by the Tudor king to be in his inner circle. Arthur’s rise accelerated in his nephew Henry VIII’s reign, becoming Viscount Lisle and Constable of Calais before finally falling foul of an increasingly tyrannical king in 1540.

Children of George, Duke of Clarence

The children of George, Duke of Clarence, suffered a considerably different fate under the Tudors than their uncle Edward’s offspring, although Clarence’s eldest surviving child, Margaret, shared a similar path to her female cousins during the reign of Henry VII. Having been retrieved from Sheriff Hutton Castle after the king’s accession, where she had been placed by her uncle Richard III, in 1487, Margaret was married to a Welshman named Richard Pole, whose St John mother was a half-sister to Margaret Beaufort, the king’s beloved mother. It seems likely the match was intended to lessen the chances of her being used as a figurehead for a Yorkist rebellion, particularly so soon after one was crushed at Stoke Field that same year, but although Shakespeare’s Henry callously uttered that Clarence’s daughter ‘meanly have I match’d in marriage’, she was nonetheless wed to one of Henry’s closest, and most trusted relations.

Richard Pole was not a wealthy magnate, and certainly not someone who may have anticipated marrying a niece of a king and a daughter of a duke, but he did rise high in his cousin’s court, becoming a Knight of the Garter in 1499 and entrusted with the position of Great Chamberlain of Prince Arthur’s household at Ludlow, receiving significant power in north Wales in the process. Margaret’s prospects dimmed somewhat after the death of the prince in 1502, when her own role as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon ended, followed by the demise of her husband in 1504, causing her to seek refuge with the nuns at Syon Abbey. She had five children with Richard, and although she and her sons would become bitterly opposed to the Tudor regime later in the sixteenth century, at the time of Henry VII’s death in 1509, there is little evidence of activity either way during the period in question.

Margaret’s brother Edward, Earl of Warwick, suffered a tragic fate under Henry VII, one which possibly marks the lowest point in the king’s reign from a moral standpoint, although conversely a demise which arguably secured the Tudor dynasty on the throne. Edward was ten years old when Henry won at Bosworth, but the child’s bloodline was unquestionably a threat to the king’s fledgling dynasty. Whilst true that his father Clarence’s attainder in 1478 technically barred Warwick from the crown, a technicality that cleared the way to Richard III to claim the throne in 1483, it was nevertheless very possibly he could become a focus for disaffected Ricardian Yorkists, prompting his imprisonment in the Tower of London. It wasn’t that the boy had done anything wrong himself, but rather that other’s may do wrong on his behalf, as ultimately happened.

It is unlikely Warwick’s imprisonment was a harsh one, and in 1490 he was even confirmed by the king as earl. It is unclear what his long-term prospects were, but Edward’s fate was sealed in 1499 during the negotiations for the king’s son Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. It was claimed that a plot was uncovered which implicated the earl in planning to escape the Tower with Perkin Warbeck, and on 21 November 1499, Edward was found guilty by his peers and executed on Tower Hill a week later. It was an extrajudicial murder that left a stain on Henry VII’s reign, an undoubtedly ruthless act but one, unfortunately, which was probably done at the bidding of the Spanish monarchs before they entrust their daughter Katherine into the care of the Tudors. Edward had to die for the Tudors to survive. Perhaps through guilt, Henry paid for Edward’s head and body to be buried at Bisham Abbey.

Children of Richard III

Richard III’s son and heir Edward famously died whilst his father was on the throne, a bitter blow to a monarch struggling to maintain his grip on a crown he had wrested so controversially from his nephew. Richard did leave two illegitimate heirs, however, who are known to have lived in the reign of Henry VII. John of Gloucester was Captain of Calais during his father’s lifetime, but was removed after the Tudor accession, it presumably deemed unwise to have Richard’s son in charge of the largest royal garrison. John wasn’t completely ostracised, as there is evidence he was granted an annuity of £20 by Henry VII in March 1486. After this, however, John, contemptuously known as John of Pontefract, disappears somewhat from records. There is no evidence whatsoever what happened to him, and to suggest he was executed by Henry based on a dubious 17th century reference is an unqualified leap.

John’s half, possibly full, sister Katherine was another illegitimate child of Richard III, who married William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, during her father’s reign. She didn’t live long under Tudor rule, however, passing away before the end of 1487 when her husband was referred to as a widower. Neither John nor Katherine had any known children.

Other Yorkist Descendants

Anne of York was a daughter of Richard, duke of York and therefore a sister to king’s Edward IV and Richard III. She was married at a young age to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter and an implacable Lancastrian who drowned in unclear circumstances in 1475, possibly even murdered on orders of Edward IV. Anne was divorced from Exeter in 1472 and remarried two years later to one of Edward’s followers, Thomas St Leger, later executed by Richard III as one of the Edwardian Yorkists who turned from Richard to support the Buckingham-Tudor conspiracy. Anne died in 1476, but her Yorkist blood endured in the daughter she had with her second husband, Anne St Leger.  The orphaned Anne was around nine years old at the time of the Tudor victory, and eventually married in her teenage years to George Manners, and another close companion of Henry VII and who became Baron de Ros in 1511. The Manners’ had numerous children together, including Thomas Manners, who rose to become 1st Earl of Rutland and a notable favourite of Henry VIII, dying peaceably in 1543. Other St Leger daughters made reasonably prosperous marriages into the English gentry during the sixteenth century, escaping any notable attention from the Tudor regime.

Margaret of York was another daughter of Richard of York, and her life took a different path to her siblings, married abroad in 1468 to the Duke of Burgundy, becoming duchess until her husband’s death in 1477. Although childless, with her stepdaughter becoming her father’s heir, Margaret remained in Burgundy, where she proved to be a thorn in Henry VII’s side until her death in 1503. Margaret’s sister Elizabeth succeeded where her sibling failed, giving birth to several York-blooded heirs with her husband John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk. The duke fought for his brother-in-law Richard at Bosworth, but after the Tudor victory, submitted to the new king and became a loyal royal servant until his death in the early 1490s. Unlike the rest of the Yorkist affinity, his children proved difficult for the Tudors. The eldest, John de la Pole, created Earl of Lincoln by Richard III and probably intended to be his uncle’s eventual heir, initially submitted and served as part of Henry VII’s council. Lincoln’s sudden rebellion in 1487 however ended in his death at the Battle of Stoke Field, where it is probable he was using the pretender Lambert Simnel to mask his own attempt to seize the throne.

Lincoln’s position as potential Yorkist heir was assumed by his brother Edmund de la Pole, who eventually inherited his father’s dukedom of Suffolk. Edmund’s head was turned, however, particularly after his demotion to earl in 1493. In 1501, Suffolk fled the kingdom, seeking refuge with the Burgundians, arguably a treasonable act and unquestionably a malicious move. He was forcibly returned to England in 1506 as a result of a new treaty between Burgundy and Henry VII, and remained imprisoned in the Tower of London until the king’s death in 1509. Suffolk would be executed four years later.

Humphrey de la Pole did not follow his brothers, entering the church instead, although William de la Pole, whether willingly or otherwise, found himself dragged into the conspiracies of his brothers. Whilst Edmund escaped abroad, William was deemed untrustworthy and imprisoned in the Tower in 1501. He would remain there for the entirety of Henry VII’s reign, eventually dying, still a captive, in 1539. The youngest de la Pole brother, Richard, also proved troublesome for the Tudors, although still a minor throughout Henry VII’s lifetime. He joined his brother Edmund in exile around 1504, and remained abroad for the remainder of the king’s lifetime, eventually dying fighting for the French in 1525.

Conclusion

As can be clearly determined from the, admittedly simplified, biographical accounts given above, the House of York was not systematically or cruelly destroyed by Henry VII during his 24-year-reign. Of the females, most were married to men close to the Tudor regime, and whilst marriages to comparatively low-born men has been interpreted as an act of callousness, none were slaughtered, killed, imprisoned or ruined. All were taken care of, and some raised families of their own, spreading the York blood through English society.

The de la Poles suffered under Henry VII, yet much of that was self-inflicted. The Duke of Suffolk was welcomed into the king’s circle after Bosworth, and there is every chance his York-blooded sons would have followed suit. Lincoln’s defection in 1487 put paid to that, as did the questionable choices of his brothers. The hand of peace had been extended to them, as Edward IV had done to his enemies in a previous generation, but it was smacked away. That is not Henry VII’s fault.

As mentioned, the execution of Edward, earl of Warwick, is regrettable, although one must acknowledge these were tough times where often the ‘ends justified the means’. That end was the consolidation of the Tudor dynasty on the European stage through a Spanish alliance. It was a small price to pay for such a large reward. Henry VII would not be the first, nor the last, king to approve such a tactic.

So, in conclusion, during the reign of Henry VII – one Yorkist heir was killed, albeit in accordance with the law of the land, and another died during a battle, having rebelled against the crown and denounced a traitor in the process. The rest survived the reign, and whatever happened thereafter, was clearly not Henry VII’s responsibility. Henry Tudor – the butcherer of York? The reality differs considerably from the myth.

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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,  is scheduled for release in the summer of 2017. He is the founder of the Henry Tudor Society and has featured discussing the Tudors on BBC radio and television, as well as in print and online media across the UK. He has a degree in Business and Journalism and now lives in York, where he works as a Technical Writer.

Book Review – The First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson

By Nathen Amin

First of the Tudors is the latest offering from best-selling author Joanna Hickson, and follows on somewhat from her previous books, The Agincourt Bride and The Tudor Bride, released to critical acclaim in recent years. Her latest offering recounts the story of Jasper Tudor, son of the aforementioned bride and half-brother of the unstable king, Henry VI. Jasper was the product of a lengthy liaison between Katherine de Valois and the Welshman Owen Tudor, and occupied a curious position in 1451, when the story commences, as one of the king’s closest relations, albeit without the English blood royal.

The narrative is interesting, as Hickson uses two characters to deliver the story – Jasper, and a young Welsh maid Jane, who gradually becomes the protagonist’s lover. Despite regularly switching back and forth between the two voices, with their own interpretation of events, the flow isn’t interrupted and it adds another facet to the story. Jasper is wise, determined and compassionate, whilst the beautiful Jane, albeit headstrong and impulsive, is kind and devoted to her man. Two more likable characters you could not find. You will root for them throughout the book, especially as danger rears its end on more than one occasion.

Hickson’s use of the English language is clever, and emotive; her account of Henry Tudor’s birth is particularly descriptive and gripping, and even accounting for prior knowledge of what happened, still leaves the reader with a sense of dread as to the outcome. The story shifts between London and Wales, the latter an oft-overlooked setting for such books, and provides a whole new level of places and people for Hickson to explore, much to the reader’s benefit. It is what sets the book apart from others in the genre. It is a readable tome that you will put down at the end of one episode, then find yourself quickly returning to pick up the story.

15542094_1279307785470154_3069932482731460548_nIt is always a concern with historical fiction that the author will bastardise the facts to such an extent, the real people and real events become an afterthought. Hickson avoids falling into this trip; her book IS fiction, with invented speech between characters and even the main relationship between Jasper and Jane having no historical basis, yet, as anyone who has studied the period in depth will attest, nothing she has put to paper is outlandish, or even unlikely. I read this book, and believed in what she had to say. It was how I imagined the life and times of Jasper Tudor, and his young nephew Henry, was during the tumultuous years of the 1460s.

Jasper has a strained relationship with his elder brother Edmund, for example, and again, whilst historical evidence for this is lacking, it’s hardly unbelievable for there to have been some degree of gentle animosity between a set of brothers, as has been the case throughout time. Jasper places Margaret Beaufort on a pedestal, which again could have been the case; this is not a book where Jasper has an affair with Margaret, or any other preposterous invention. Hickson hasn’t gone out of her way to make things up for entertainment, as, quite frankly, there isn’t a need to when it comes to the Wars of the Roses. Everything has an air of believability to it, even for those coming to the text with detailed knowledge of the real story.

Essentially, Hickson’s evocative book is a classic ‘Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back’ production, but set in the tumultuous world of the Wars of the Roses. A classic theme set in a captivating period that works well. My only regret? The book ended.

Was Edward of Warwick a Threat to Henry Tudor?

By Samantha Wilcoxson

The young son of George of Clarence is not often mentioned, but, when he is, it is often as a pitiful aside in the drama of Perkin Warbeck. Opinions on Edward vary, some believing he was mentally disabled and others taking the same evidence to indicate that he was simply as uneducated and unsophisticated as anyone would be who had spent their formative years within the walls of the Tower of London. He was executed because he was seen as a threat to the Tudor throne, but was he?

Edward was executed in 1499 because he had allegedly conspired with Perkin Warbeck to escape the Tower. It is not farfetched to believe that Henry VII set the pair up by providing them with guards who were amiable to their goals and gave them false hope. Whether they really did plot or Henry wanted everyone to believe they did, both were put to death in order to clear the way for the marriage of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon.

Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Katherine’s parents, clearly saw Edward as a threat based upon their insistence on his removal. Henry was undoubtedly reluctant to execute his wife’s cousin when she had already lost so many to the Wars of the Roses, but, in the end, he decided that the favorable match was worth the loss of one more Plantagenet son. Maybe Edward did present a greater threat than we often give him credit for.

Edward is often referred to as the son of George of Clarence, but let us not forget that his maternal ancestry is no less impressive. Isabel Neville was the daughter of the infamous Kingmaker, and the house of Neville had been powerful enough to sway the Wars of the Roses in whichever direction they chose to place themselves upon. Should Edward have determined to make a claim for himself, he had deep roots of family ties to call upon that Tudor would have been challenged to compete with.

It is for this reason that Edward was initially imprisoned, despite the fact that he was a child. Henry understood that if he allowed this young man to grow and thrive, making the most of these family connections, he would almost certainly become a threat. Henry had learned many lessons from watching the houses of Lancaster and York decimate each other. One of those lessons was to not allow a seemingly innocent threat to become stronger.

York had held Henry VI of Lancaster prisoner for years before they finally put him to death and spread the story that he had died of melancholy. Richard Neville of Warwick, Edward’s grandfather, had not been able to take that step with Edward of York, and the deposed king returned from exile to have his vengeance. Henry Tudor was not going to leave room for the possibility that Edward of Warwick would become one of these stories.

Others saw a child imprisoned in the Tower, but Henry saw the last hope of York neutralized. When rumors had spread in October 1485 that Henry had been a victim of the plague, men began to proclaim Edward king. During uprisings in the spring of 1486, men were heard calling out, ‘A Warwick, A Warwick!’ Tudor had not become king when so many other men had died by ignoring clues such as these. Few would hesitate to make Edward king if Henry died early in his reign without an heir.

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However, Edward was not executed at that time. Henry was content to keep him under lock and key where the boy could not become a rallying point. The king would soon discover that Edward’s physical presence was not required for his name to be utilized in the gathering of troops.

By the end of 1486, whispers of another uprising were heard, and Henry moved against the Warwick holdings. Warwick’s lands were restored to Edward’s grandmother, Anne Beauchamp, leaving Edward heir only to the Montague estates that would later be removed from him under the 1499 attainder.

When a boy who claimed to be Edward of Warwick was used to rally troops to Stoke in 1487, doubters were forced to concede that Henry’s suspicions had been well-placed. Yorkist John de la Pole certainly knew that Lambert Simnel was not the young earl, but he used him as a figurehead nonetheless. Whether de la Pole planned to stake his own claim to the crown or support the real Warwick is unknown since he died in that fateful battle.

Though he had not been involved in any way, Edward remained imprisoned. The power of his name was too much to allow him freedom. Did the boy, who would have been twelve when the Battle of Stoke occurred, have any idea what was happening in his name or any desire to press his claim to the throne?

Probably not, and Henry likely did not really think so either.

Warwick was purposefully kept not only imprisoned but undereducated. Henry had so successfully kept Edward separate from events of his early reign that he could consider reestablishing him in 1488, after what Henry would have likely seen as the last York rebellion had been safely and unequivocally put down. He did take the step of confirming Edward as Earl of Warwick in 1490, but did not go any further toward restoring the boy. Henry’s queen, Elizabeth, would never speak against her husband in public but it makes sense that she would have privately lobbied for Edward’s release.

Unfortunately for Edward, negotiations for the marriage of Henry’s heir also began about this time, and it quickly became clear that his freedom was not worth the trouble it would cause. Even if Edward had no treasonous ideas of his own – and we have no idea if he did – there would always be those to fight in his name and attempt to draw him into conspiracy and foreign powers who would doubt the strength of the Tudor claim with a York prince at large.

By the 1490s, another threat put the proverbial nail in Edward’s coffin. Initial news trickled in that another was claiming to be Edward of Warwick. The fact that Perkin Warbeck made his claim to the throne in the name of Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower, would not save Edward from the repercussions of his name being tied to treason once again. This pretender was able to gain support from many European leaders, some believing his claim to be Richard and others simply wishing to provide a thorn for Henry’s side, proving to Henry that he would never be able to set Edward free.

The fight to control or capture Warbeck continued for the remainder of Warwick’s life until the two were both residents of the Tower. Did Edward truly conspire with Warbeck to escape? Was he an innocent, blindly led to his own execution? We may never know, but we do know that in name, if not in deed, Edward of Warwick was a threat to Henry Tudor. With his death, the legitimate male line of the Plantagenets was extinguished.

Additional Reading:

Margaret Pole: Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541 by Hazel Pierce

Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

Elizabeth of York: A Queen and her World by Alison Weir

Last White Rose: The Secret Wars of the Tudors by Desmond Seward

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Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers series, which begins with Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York. The second novel features the sister of Edward of Warwick in Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole. The trilogy will be complete with the release of Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.

You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, or Booklikes.

http://SamanthaWilcoxson.blogspot.co.uk

http://www.twitter.com/carpe_librum

http://www.goodreads.com/samanthajw

http://carpelibrum.booklikes.com

Book Review – Jasper, Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty by Debra Bayani

By Nathen Amin

Jasper Tudor, the greatest man you have never heard of, until now.

A hero of the Wars of the Roses, as the only noble to be present at the first and last battles of the thirty-years long internecine conflict, Jasper was, as the title of Debra Bayani’s insightful book, the ‘Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty’. Without him, there wouldnt be Henry VIII or Elizabeth I.

51ZX7+JqvgLA book on Jasper has long been overdue, and Bayani’s well-researched work serves to finally bring this forgotten hero of the fifteenth century out of the shadows. She covers all aspects of the earl’s life, from his secret birth in the 1430s to a former queen of England and her Welsh lover, through to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses and his lengthy exile. Particularly pleasing is the final chapter, Jasper’s legacy, which perfectly captures just why the life of this man deserves a wider audience

From her words and her pictures, which are plentiful, it is clear Bayani has travelled extenisvely in the footsteps of Tudor, which manifests itself in her account of his life. The book is footnoted and contains a helpful appendix feature a wide collection of Welsh poems about Jasper which have been translated into English, as well as will. As both a leisurely-read and an academic-text, the book holds it ground. The cover, featuring a 19th century depiction of Jasper from Cardiff Castle, is amongst one of most beautiful covers created for the genre, and the book inside doesn’t let it down.

Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke: Edward IV’s ‘Master Lock’

By David Santiuste

Sir William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was a prominent Yorkist during the Wars of the Roses. His service to King Edward IV of England brought him power, status and wealth. Herbert came from a family of Welsh gentry – not a great noble house – yet by the end of his life he was one of the foremost men in Edward’s realm. Nevertheless, as was the case for so many of his peers, his time in the sun was short; he was ultimately executed as a ‘traitor’, following his defeat in battle. This article provides a brief insight into his tumultuous career.

Early Years

Herbert was born in 1423 at Raglan in the Welsh Marches. He was a son of Sir William ap Thomas and his second wife, Gwladys, meaning that he was of Welsh descent on both sides. Herbert and his siblings were the first members of his family to adopt an English-style surname – we cannot be certain about the reasons for this choice – although his kinsmen had already established a proud record of service to the English kings. His father was a veteran of the Hundred Years War. His maternal grandfather, Dafydd Gam (‘the lame’) was also a celebrated warrior. Dafydd died fighting for Henry V at Agincourt, and he is traditionally regarded as the model for Shakespeare’s Fluellen.

With this background in mind, one might have predicted that Herbert would also seek fame and fortune in the French wars. By the late 1440s he had risen to become captain of Carentan, where he shared command with the formidable Matthew Gough (another Welsh veteran). His time in France must have provided valuable military experience, although by this point there were fewer opportunities to gain advancement or renown; the tide had long since turned in the favour of the French. In any case, Herbert’s service in France came to an abrupt end in 1450, when he was captured at the Battle of Formigny. He was ransomed, however, and swiftly returned home.

In the years that followed Herbert devoted himself to local affairs. He had inherited his father’s influence as well as his lands (the elder Sir William died in 1445), and he now began to assert himself more strongly in the south-east of Wales. Fifteenth-century Wales was a turbulent place, not least due to simmering Welsh resentment in the wake of Owain Glyndŵr’s revolt. In much of Wales, responsibility for maintaining law and order lay with the powerful marcher lords, but they often resided elsewhere. This meant the Marchers needed to find local men to whom they could delegate authority. Herbert earned the trust of several lords. By 1453 he was the Earl of Warwick’s sheriff of Glamorgan. He also developed strong ties with Richard, Duke of York, who held extensive estates in the Marches.

A fifteenth-century gentleman could achieve a great deal via service to magnates or the crown, but he also needed to maintain effective relations with his peers. It is probably within this context that we should seek to explain his marriage to Anne Devereux, a member of another local gentry family. Their wedding took place in 1449, shortly before Herbert’s last campaign in France. Their union cemented an alliance that would become increasingly important to both of the families involved.

Anne was reputedly a beautiful woman, but aristocratic marriages were only rarely driven by romantic passion. Nevertheless, Herbert does appear to have respected his wife – he appointed her, for instance, as an executor of his will – and there is some tantalising evidence which suggests he might have felt more. A fifteenth-century signet ring has been found near Raglan which bears the initials W and A, as well as the inscription ‘to yow feythfoull’. While the couple inevitably spent long periods apart, in time they would become parents to nine children (of whom several survived to be adults). It must be said that Herbert also fathered at least five illegitimate children, although his relationships with their mothers are thought to have been youthful affairs that predated his marriage to Anne.

York or Lancaster?

As the 1450s progressed, local and national politics became increasingly fraught, as civil war loomed. It might be assumed that Herbert would have been an instinctive Yorkist, given his closeness to the Duke of York, but he also established connections with the Lancastrian court; he was knighted in 1452 by Henry VI, alongside the king’s half-brothers Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Even so, by 1454 Herbert had already aligned himself explicitly with York, stating that he was ‘no man’s man’ but the duke’s. It is possible that Herbert fought for York at the first Battle of St Albans, in 1455. In the following year he joined a group of Welsh gentlemen who resorted to further violent action on the duke’s behalf, seizing control of two important Welsh castles. Edmund Tudor was captured, contracted an illness (probably plague) and shortly afterwards died.

Herbert was outlawed by the royal authorities and briefly imprisoned, but he somehow obtained a pardon. For the rest of the 1450s he maintained a distance from York, as well as his allegiance to Henry VI. Herbert was conspicuous by his absence at the ‘Rout of Ludford’, in October 1459, when the Duke of York and his closest followers were driven into exile. It was also around this time that Herbert commissioned a splendid book, including Lydgate’s epic poem about the Trojan War, which was probably intended as a gift for Henry. (The beautiful illuminations include a depiction of Herbert and his wife kneeling before the king.) Nevertheless, when the Yorkist lords returned to England, and defeated the royal forces at Northampton (10 July 1460), he threw himself irrevocably behind the Yorkist cause.

The Duke of York was killed at the Battle of Wakefield (30 December 1460), but this, of course, was not the end of the matter. Leadership of the Yorkist faction now passed to his eldest son, Edward, Earl of March. At the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross, on 3 February 1461, Edward defeated Jasper Tudor and announced himself as a great military commander. Herbert was at Edward’s side.

On 3 March the Yorkists were admitted to London, where Edward was acclaimed as England’s new ruler. On 29 March Herbert fought at the Battle of Towton, where the main Lancastrian army was destroyed. Now that his title was secure, the young king rewarded his supporters. Although we can only speculate about the strength of their personal relationship, it is clear that Edward already valued Herbert’s service. When Edward chose to confer important offices in South Wales upon Herbert, in preference to his chief ally the Earl of Warwick, this confirmed the Welshman’s status as a prominent member of the new regime. Herbert was ennobled after Edward’s coronation, which took place in late June, and in the following year he became a knight of the Garter.

Detail of a miniature of a king enthroned surrounded by courtiers with Sir William Herbert and his wife, Anne Devereux kneeling before him, wearing clothes decorated with their coats of arms. (British Library)
Detail of a miniature of a king enthroned surrounded by courtiers with Sir William Herbert and his wife, Anne Devereux kneeling before him, wearing clothes decorated with their coats of arms. (British Library)

The ‘Master Lock’

The Battle of Towton was a great victory for the Yorkists, but their opponents did not give up the struggle. The Lancastrian resistance was strongest in Northumberland, where King Henry’s supporters continued to hold important castles, but there was also resistance in Wales; this owed much to the efforts of Jasper Tudor, whose major role in the Wars of the Roses has only recently begun to be fully recognised. Edward IV completely delegated the direction of military affairs in Wales to Herbert, a charge he exercised with vigour.

Ably assisted by his younger brother Richard, Herbert gained a series of victories. Pembroke Castle quickly fell to the Yorkists, and Jasper’s nephew Henry, the future king, was captured. (Henry Tudor would go on to spend his formative years in Herbert’s household, and there were later plans for him to marry one of Herbert’s daughters.) In October 1461 Herbert defeated the elder Tudor at the Battle of Tŵt Hill, near Caernarfon, compelling him to seek refuge overseas.

By May 1462 only Harlech Castle remained in Lancastrian hands. Incredibly, Harlech’s garrison continued to defy the Yorkists for several more years, but when Jasper Tudor returned to Wales in 1468, with French support, Herbert responded with a determined and brutal campaign. Tudor was once again forced into exile, and Harlech finally surrendered on 14 August.

As a reward for his capture of Harlech, the last Lancastrian stronghold in the British Isles, Edward created Herbert Earl of Pembroke (a title previously held by Jasper Tudor). This was the pinnacle of Herbert’s career, although it must be seen as the culmination of a series of rewards. Assisted by a network of people who were tightly bound to him by ties of kinship and service, Herbert effectively ruled Wales on Edward’s behalf.

With greater responsibilities came greater wealth, and Herbert diverted vast sums into a spectacular building programme at Raglan. The castle’s best known feature remains its imposing great tower, which was constructed for Herbert’s father, but over the course of the 1460s there was a massive expansion of the site. There was an emphasis on comfort and luxury, as the workmen created well-appointed apartments that were flooded with light. The castle was set within an extensive managed landscape, including gardens, orchards, and a park well stocked with game. During Herbert’s lengthy absences it fell upon his wife to supervise the day-to-day running of the project; records suggest she played a vital role. By the end of the 1460s the Herberts had transformed Raglan into a palatial home.

The architects at Raglan incorporated the latest fashions from England and the Continent, but Herbert did keep sight of his roots. He offered hospitality to Welsh bards, following the ancient traditions of native lordship, and in return they celebrated his achievements. Recounting stories of Herbert’s martial exploits, Lewys Glyn Cothi described his ‘frame ablaze on prancing steed, and his eyes glistening like glowing embers’. It was the same man who gave Herbert his famous soubriquet: Edward IV’s ‘master lock’. But the bards’ support was not unconditional. Now that Herbert was undisputed master of Wales, Guto’r Glyn urged him to use his power for the benefit of the Welsh people; ‘and should England resent it, Wales will rally to your side!’

Herbert and ‘the Kingmaker’

Herbert’s activities were by no means restricted to Wales, however. He sometimes attended the English court, as a trusted member of Edward IV’s council. Yet as Herbert’s power continued to grow, he also made powerful enemies. The most significant of these was the Earl of Warwick, whose own relationship with the king was steadily deteriorating. Warwick’s ire was principally directed at the Woodvilles, the family of Edward’s queen, but there can be no doubt that he also resented the influence of Herbert – his former servant – whom he regarded as an upstart.

There was mutual hostility. In October 1467 Herbert captured a Lancastrian messenger. When the messenger implicated Warwick in Lancastrian plots Herbert sensed a chance to destroy his great rival. He sent the prisoner to the king, along with a full account of the messenger’s allegations. On this occasion Edward chose to accept Warwick’s denials – which were probably sincere – and this led to a thaw in their relationship. Warwick returned to court, following a self-imposed exile in the north, and Herbert himself was publicly reconciled with Warwick. But tensions remained. Warwick continued to oppose Edward’s pro-Burgundian foreign policy (the former favoured an alliance with the French). We must assume that more personal issues were also unresolved.

In the summer of 1469 disturbances throughout the country convinced Warwick that the time was ripe for rebellion: he was now determined to put forward his own policies by force of arms. Warwick devised a two-pronged strategy. In the north, a prominent member of the earl’s affinity raised rebellion under the guise of ‘Robin of Redesdale’, an obscure figure associated with an earlier revolt.  But when Edward was lured northwards, calling for Herbert and the Earl of Devon to join him en route, Warwick was quietly preparing a rebellion in the south. The rebels included Edward’s own brother, George Duke of Clarence, who had grown dissatisfied with his position within the Yorkist regime. Herbert cannot have been aware of the full scale of the threat, but he quickly assembled his men and hurried to Edward’s aid.

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Raglan Castle

The Battle of Edgecote

On 9 July Edward reached Newark. Thinking he was to deal only with local disturbances, his progress northwards had been leisurely. By the following day, however, he became aware that the rebel army was no common rabble, and that ‘Robin’ had raised a vast host. Edward retreated southwards to Nottingham in the face of the rebels’ advance, where he presumably hoped to combine his forces with those of Herbert and Devon. But Robin outflanked the king, speeding south towards a rendezvous with Warwick and Clarence (who were now openly in arms to the south). This led to an encounter with Herbert’s own forces at Edgecote near Banbury.

By this time Herbert had already joined the Earl of Devon, but all of the sources agree that the Yorkist forces became separated, which meant that Herbert and his Welshmen were left to face the northern rebels alone. Why this division occurred is unclear. According to Warkworth’s Chronicle and Hearne’s Fragment, the Yorkist lords ‘fell to variance over lodgings’; the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall, perhaps attempting to enliven his sources, tells us that Herbert and Devon quarrelled over a woman at an inn. The work of Jean de Wavrin, a Burgundian chronicler, offers a more prosaic explanation; he believed that poor reconnaissance was to blame. Whatever the cause, the separation was crucial because Devon’s contingent is said to have included most of the Yorkist archers.

On the evening of 25 July the opposing armies – Herbert’s Welsh forces and the northern rebels – camped on either side of the River Cherwell. Next morning there was a struggle to secure the river crossing, in which the northerners were worsted. The bards may have coloured the Welsh exploits, but it seems clear there was fierce fighting. The northerners experienced heavy casualties. Of the nobility and gentry, Sir Henry Neville and Sir John Conyers’ son, also called John, were killed; Robert, Lord Ogle died later of his wounds.

The rebels’ morale was shaken, but late in the day the northerners were reinforced by an advance party from the Earl of Warwick’s army. Sir Geoffrey Gate and Sir William Parr persuaded the rebels to attack again. Now Herbert was outnumbered and his forces overwhelmed.

Herbert and his brother were both taken prisoner. On the following day they were taken to Northampton, where Warwick presided over their summary execution. The Welsh bards lamented Herbert’s death, which they saw as a national catastrophe. As Guto’r Glyn put it, ‘my nation is destroyed, now that the earl is slain’.

Bereft of Herbert’s support, Edward IV was taken by surprise and captured. Warwick’s triumph was short-lived, however, and Edward quickly regained power. Warwick later joined with the Lancastrians, but he was defeated and killed at the Battle of Barnet. A further Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury ensured that Edward’s title was never seriously challenged again. Herbert’s son, also called William, was therefore able to inherit his father’s title – at least for a time – although he never achieved his father’s influence. But through his granddaughter, Elizabeth, Herbert became the ancestor of the dukes of Beaufort: a noble dynasty that survives to this day.

Further Reading

Ian Dawson, ‘Anne Herbert: A Life in the Wars of the Roses’, The Historian (Spring 2014).

H.T. Evans, Wales and the Wars of the Roses (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1998, c. 1915).

R.A. Griffiths, ‘Wales and the Marches’, in The Fifteenth Century, ed. S.B. Chrimes et al (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1972).

D.H. Thomas, The Herberts of Raglan and the Battle of Edgecote 1469 (Enfield: Freezywater Publications, 1994).

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David Santiuste teaches history at the Centre for Open Learning, University of Edinburgh. He is the author of two books: Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses and The Hammer of the Scots. He is also the creator, with Rae Tan, of the website Reflections of the Yorkist Realm (yorkistrealm.com). You can follow him on Twitter @dbsantiuste.

You can view David’s Amazon Page here

NB: An earlier version of this article appeared in Hobilar, which is published by the Lance and Longbow Society.

Book Review – Richard, Duke of York; King by Right by Matthew Lewis

By Nathen Amin

In recent times there have been biographies aplenty in the Wars of the Roses, a trend that shows no signs of abating. Henry VII, Jasper Tudor, Edward IV and Richard III have received plenty of attention from historians in the last few years, to add to the Social Media groups and blogs dedicated to such luminaries of the fifteenth century.

Oddly, such a biography or study had yet to be written about the man who, in the eyes of many, initiated the brutal internecine conflict, Richard, Duke of York. It is true that he features as a major character either in works about others or general Wars of the Roses tomes, but for such an important figure however, a dedicated biography has been long overdue. Thankfully this is something Matthew Lewis has finally supplied.

Apart from being a highly influential fifteenth century figure deserving of modern analysis, Lewis outlines his motivation for the work to be an attempt to push aside the veils of myth and legend that surround the duke of York and to challenge the image of Richard as a man whose insatiable ambition dragged his nation into a civil war. Did Richard, after all, have a ‘burning ambition and unquenchable desire for the throne’ or was he merely acting in the general interest of the kingdom?

Lewis’ book begins with Edmund of Langley, a son of Edward III and the first duke of York; the narrative helps outline the importance of pedigree to Richard of York’s story, quickly zipping through the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V until we come to Richard’s early life. It is these early years that is often missing from other accounts in which Richard plays a part; most works feature Richard in his later life as a divisive magnate connected to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, so it is refreshing to read his early years where Lewis reveals details about where he was based and the development of early connections.

51IZwV6HEuL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_A typical insight into this often unexplored period of his life Lewis’ inclusion of a letter written by King Henry VI to a 16 year old Richard in 1428. The king addresses his ‘dear and beloved cousin’ and requests his presence to join the king’s household. ‘Do not delay in any manner, but know that your arrival we shall provide for you so well in household for your residence that you will be very pleased and content with this’. This is where Lewis’ book has worth – regular readers of the genre will be aware of the caricature of Richard towards the end of his life, but here we are provided evidence of his early life, on the cusp of adulthood.

Elsewhere, I noted that Lewis openly acknowledges the use of propaganda by the House of York, a dark art which was certainly used before the Tudors acceded the throne. It has become clichéd in recent years to castigate the Tudor Dynasty for their use of spin tactics in establishing their supremacy, but with Lewis recognising and revealing Yorkist use of similar methods, it only serves to show this is not a book built on bias to its subject, albeit one primarily from the duke’s point of view.

An example of this can be seen how the author doesn’t dodge the controversial question of the paternity of Edward IV, Richard’s son. Accusations by anti-Yorkists have long been levelled that Edward was not the son of Richard, but rather of an English archer. This supposition is based on the fact that Richard was possibly not with his wife at time of conception. Rather than rejecting this as a fanciful story designed to ruin the duke’s reputation, Lewis pays notice to the rumours rather than dismissing it out of hand, and whilst ultimately concluding that this controversy cannot be answered either way in the absence of DNA testing, it’s a logical and rational answer to a topic often treated emotionally. His later assertion that Richard wouldn’t have bothered seeking a prestigious match for a son he thought was not his, as well as the fact the duke always acknowledged his son, particularly resonate as a collected summary of the controversy.

The book is easy to read, with an engaging narrative merging gently with original sourced material in the form of chronicles and patent rolls. Richard, Duke of York, is a figure who ‘towers over late medieval history in England’ and this is a handy and much-needed biography of his life and times. The fact that I spent every work lunchtime over the last two weeks reading the book, and not feeling that I had wasted that time, speaks volumes for the writing style and content. A good addition to Wars of the Roses genre that is even-handed if sympathetic, detailed if concise and enjoyable to read.

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Matthew Lewis is the author of two histories and two historical fiction novels about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses. The medieval period is a particular passion of his, which he hopes to spread through his blog. He is dedicated to teaching and discussing this period, operating two history podcasts and providing bite-sized facts to his Twitter and Facebook following. Wars of the Roses, the Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy, Medieval Britain in 100 Facts and Richard, Duke of York; King by Right are all available on Amberley Publishing.