Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  Westminster was really an amalgam of three palaces: the Great Palace, which was the official seat of government; the Privy Palace, which housed the royal apartments; and the Prince’s Palace, where the royal family normally lodged. These were all stone buildings, probably two storeys in height. Courtiers and servants are thought to have been accommodated in adjacent timbered dwellings. In front of the palace stood thirteen stone statues of the kings of England, from Edward the Confessor to Richard II, the latter having commissioned them. Richard had also erected a new gateway with marble pillars and a campanile.

  There were two halls: the White Hall, which housed the Court of Chancery, and Westminster Hall, which, along with the fourteenth-century Jewel Tower, is all that survives today of the mediaeval palace, most of which was burned down in Henry VIII’s reign. Originally there had been a Great Hall, built by William Rufus in the Romanesque style and covered with murals. Richard II had rebuilt this as Westminster Hall, employing the great architects Henry Yevele and Hugh Herland, who designed and executed the magnificent hammerbeam roof which may still be seen today, as well as the high windows. This new hall, one of the biggest in Europe, was decorated with Richard II’s emblem of the white hart, and was the ceremonial centre of the palace.

  Richard II had carried out improvements to the royal residences on a vast scale, having them painted, gilded and modernised. The walls of the royal apartments at Westminster, Windsor and the Tower of London were painted with heraldic or allegorical designs in brilliant colours. Sadly, few of these murals survive, and then only in fragments. Richard also modernised Eltham Palace in Kent, a favourite residence of English queens since the early fourteenth century. Here he built a bath house, a painted chamber and a dancing chamber, while the windows were of stained glass and the surrounding gardens had been laid with turf. Richard had also built a range of apartments for visiting magnates, along with new domestic offices, including a spicery and a saucery, and a lower court beyond the moat.

  Henry VI loved Eltham, and built there a study library where he could keep his treasured books. This room had seven great windows fitted with 42 square feet of stained glass depicting birds and monsters. In 1450, however, in the early evening of a February day, a lightning bolt struck the palace and destroyed a substantial part of it, including the hall, a store-room, a kitchen, and other rooms. Henry’s study seems to have survived.

  In the royal apartments in the Tower, Richard II had installed 105 square feet of glass painted with fleurs de lys and the royal arms of England, as well as floor tiles depicting heraldic leopards and white harts, and murals of popinjays and fleurs de lys worked in gold and vermilion.

  By the end of the fourteenth century tapestries were being hung on the walls of royal and noble residences, sometimes to block draughts, but usually to add colour and luxury to masonry or plaster. The most popular subjects commissioned by the purveyors of tapestries were battles, scenes of heroism, allegorical and mythological characters, courtly pastimes or religious subjects.

  Henry V owned tapestries depicting Edward the Confessor, the Arthurian legends, the Emperor Charlemagne, the Roman Emperor Octavian, Pharamond – a legendary King of France – a tournament, allegorical subjects such as ‘The Life of Love’ or ‘The Tree of Youth’, a lady in a tent, the Annunciation, the Five Joys of Our Lady, and the Three Kings of Cologne. These tapestries were almost certainly still hanging in the palaces of Henry VI.

  Each year, there were several religious festivals at which the King kept great state, and on these occasions hundreds of nobles, gentry, knights and squires would come up from the country to see him wearing his crown and feasting in public. All would be fed and lodged at the Crown’s expense. Those who wished to gain access to the King might wait for weeks, for the sovereign was at the centre of an intricate web of patronage manipulated by predatory nobles and besieged on every side by those seeking appointments, redress in law or some other mark of favour. His courtiers tended to group together in factious cliques that produced an atmosphere of suspicion, jealousy and intrigue.

  The court customarily set trends in codes of manners, dress and taste, and it was normally the monarch who was the arbiter of such fashions, but Henry VI considered himself above such worldly vanities, preferring to encourage public morality and private piety. He did extend his patronage to literature, music, art and architecture, but his court could not be described as the centre of culture or learning as later courts were.

  Henry VI’s household was large, unwieldy and corrupt. Its officers abused his patronage and wasted the Crown’s resources, with catastrophic consequences for the economy, earning themselves great unpopularity among the magnates, most of whom were excluded from this privileged circle. In 1433, during the minority, it had cost £13,000 a year to run the royal household; by 1449 the annual cost was £24,000. Even in 1433, the household was £11,000 in debt, and that figure rose steadily over the years. Complaints were made by the Commons in Parliament about the bad influence exerted over the King by his household, that he was unduly extravagant in his gifts to household officers, and that his favour to them was destroying the impartiality of royal justice. Henry, however, paid little heed. As long as he had sufficient money for his foundations, he was content. From time to time he would put pressure on the Exchequer to relieve his household from its mounting debts, but he had little incentive to do more because he himself had a private income drawn mainly from the duchy of Lancaster. Parliament was concerned, however, and in 1440, responding to a petition from royal servants whose wages had long been unpaid, it announced that £10,000 a year would be made available for the next five years through taxation, to help clear the debts of the royal household. The King’s subjects, who had to foot the bill, were not best pleased.

  One night in January or February 1438, Owen Tudor, with the help of a priest, escaped from Newgate gaol, ‘hurting foul his keeper’ in the process. In March he was recaptured and returned to prison. However, by July he had been moved to the custody of the Constable of Windsor Castle. He remained there two years before being released on a huge bail of £2000 in July 1439, on condition that he agreed not to attempt to go anywhere near Wales. On 10 November the King was ‘moved by special causes’ to grant him a general pardon for all offences committed before the previous October; again, his original offence was not specified.

  From then on, Owen Tudor never looked back. The King, ‘by especial favour’, granted him a pension of £40 per annum out of his own privy purse, and Tudor settled down to a life of comfortable obscurity for the next twenty years. Lodged in the royal household until around 1455, he was treated with respect and kindness by the King, his stepson, who made him several grants of land and in 1459 increased his annuity to £100. In February 1460 he was appointed Keeper of the King’s Parks in the county of Denbigh, and we may assume that by this date he had been allowed once more to take up residence in his native Wales.

  In 1459 an unnamed Welshwoman bore Tudor a bastard son, David Owen, at Pembroke Castle. When Owen Tudor’s grandson, Henry Tudor, invaded Wales in 1485, David joined him and was knighted; after Henry became King Henry VII a few days later, Sir David Owen grew in prosperity, married an heiress and probably settled in Sussex, where he is buried in the priory church of Easebourne, near Midhurst.

  As well as providing for his stepfather, Henry VI also took care of his half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor. Sometime after March 1442 he arranged for them to be brought from Barking Abbey to live at court. Here, says Blacman, Henry was at great pains to do his best for ‘the Lords Edmund and Jasper in their boyhood and youth, providing for them most strict and safe guardianship, putting them under the care of virtuous and worthy priests, both for teaching and for right living and conversation, lest the untamed practices of youth should grow rank if they lacked any to prune them’. It was a dull régime for two lively boys, and the sources do not even record that they received any knightly training, although they must have had some, since both were later given responsi
ble military commands. The King’s obvious concern and affection communicated itself to Edmund and Jasper, and fostered fraternal bonds that would endure for life.

  From the time Henry VI assumed control of the government in 1437 Cardinal Beaufort and his family prospered. Never before had a king been so generous to his relations. By 1441, eleven members of the Beaufort family had been appointed to the office of sheriff, thus dispersing their influence through eleven English shires. The Cardinal’s ally, Suffolk, who was being groomed as his political heir, also benefited from this largesse, for during those years his wealth and influence increased enormously.

  Gloucester, who had campaigned to continue the Hundred Years War throughout the 1430s, now found himself and his supporters in a minority on the Council. Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the King, Beaufort’s views had prevailed, and Gloucester was left virtually in political isolation, his influence with his nephew diminishing daily. It was now obvious to most of his fellow Council members that Gloucester’s policies were too unrealistic to be successful, and that since the Treaty of Arras England’s hopes of conquering France were nil.

  Beaufort’s first peace embassy to Charles VII, in 1439, ended in failure. The Cardinal concluded that England had to offer better terms and greater concessions, and that a royal marriage should be negotiated in order to seal the peace. That year, as a temporary replacement for Warwick, the Cardinal’s nephew, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, was appointed Lieutenant General of France, and awarded the exorbitant salary of £7200 per annum.

  In 1440, Charles of Valois, Duke of Orléans, who had been held a prisoner in England since being captured at Agincourt in 1415, was released by the English in the hope that his liberation would predispose the French to discuss peace terms once more. Gloucester saw through this ploy and asked the Council if Henry V would have released the Duke without an enormous ransom.

  York supported Gloucester, being already disillusioned with the faction fighting in England and angered by the way in which the government had let matters deteriorate in France. With the Duke’s support, Gloucester accused the Cardinal and his party of influencing the King against him and York, but his protests were in vain. The Council was now dominated by Beaufort and his cronies – Suffolk, John Kempe, Archbishop of York, Adam Moleyns, Bishop of Chichester, and the earls of Northumberland, Stafford and Huntingdon – while the King had little time for the outdated policies of his uncle of Gloucester.

  York, at any rate, could be disposed of. On 2 July 1440, the Council once more appointed him Lieutenant General of France for a period of five years, with expenses of £20,000 per annum. York was perhaps the only man of stature and rank who could fill Warwick’s place. He had gained some experience of governing France during his previous tenure, and was also aware of the difficulties involved. Whatever his personal views on the Cardinal’s policy, his brief was to come to terms with Charles VII and work towards the negotiation of the desired peace treaty. At the same time he would have to cope with the rapidly deteriorating situation in the English-occupied territories with only minimal support from home. His expenses never arrived.

  Somerset, however, was reluctant to relinquish his lucrative position to York, and for some time after the latter’s appointment he continued to draw his salary. As York did not take up his appointment until 23 June 1441, there was no official objection to him doing so, and by the time York arrived in Normandy with 500 soldiers Somerset had resigned his commission and left for England without waiting to hand over formally to his successor.

  During his time in office York governed admirably and, says Waurin, ‘had many honourable and notable successes over the French. Everything he did was highly commendable, not only for himself but also for the honour and furtherance of the Crown of England and for the exaltation of his master the King, whom he served with due reverence and loyalty.’ To bolster his position in France, York built up an affinity of influential supporters, men such as Sir William Oldhall, who had served under Bedford and were prepared to offer their loyalty to his successor, men who, above all, were disgusted at the way in which the war had been handled by the government in London, and who were convinced that, even now, the situation was not irretrievable.

  At home, their ally Gloucester’s vociferous protests were proving an embarrassing obstacle which, if reported in the wrong quarters, might well jeopardise the expected peace talks. Something had to be done to silence him, it was felt, or at least to undermine his credibility.

  The plot to discredit the Duke was almost certainly the brainchild of Cardinal Beaufort, his ancient enemy, who was supported by most of his party, including Cardinal Archbishop Kempe, and – above all – the King. The outcome of the plot proved just how vindictive Henry VI could be when his prerogative was challenged.

  Gloucester’s marital history had been complicated. He had entered into a bigamous union with the already-married Jacqueline of Hainault, who bore him no children, then, when he tired of her, he obtained an annulment and married his mistress, Eleanor Cobham, who was a mere knight’s daughter and had already presented him with two bastards. Beaufort’s plan was to attack Gloucester through his duchess, whose reputation was such that people would easily believe the worst of her. Eleanor seems to have played right into the Cardinal’s hands. Not content with being Duchess of Gloucester, she was all too aware that, if the King died, her husband would ascend the throne and she would be Queen of England. She had dabbled dangerously in witchcraft, having her horoscope cast to predict what her future held – a practice much frowned upon by the Church – and, far worse still, made a wax image of the King and melted it in a fire.

  In June 1441 Eleanor was attending a dinner in London when she was arrested on a charge of witchcraft. She was tried in an ecclesiastical court along with several accomplices, and all were found guilty. Eleanor’s clerk, Roger Bolingbroke, was hanged, drawn and quartered, while Margery Jourdemain, known as the Witch of Eye, was burned at the stake. Eleanor herself escaped relatively lightly, being sentenced to perform three public penances. However, when these had been carried out a secular court condemned her to perpetual imprisonment for treason. She was incarcerated first at Chester, then at Kenilworth Castle, a luxurious royal residence, and later on the Isle of Man. She died either in 1446 or 1457, still in captivity.

  Gloucester, knowing how precarious his own position was, and guessing his enemies would swoop upon him as an accomplice if he openly supported his wife, kept silent throughout Eleanor’s trial and condemnation, even though he must have realised who was responsible for it.

  Although there was never any evidence that Gloucester had been involved in his wife’s crimes, his political credibility and influence were radically diminished after her conviction. His position on the Council was irrevocably weakened, and he only attended meetings infrequently thereafter. He was not sufficiently crushed as to cease criticising the King’s peace policy, but his was now a discredited voice. After twenty years, Beaufort had finally vanquished his rival.

  7

  ‘A Queen Not Worth Ten Marks’

  With Gloucester chastened and quiescent, Cardinal Beaufort was free to concentrate all his energies on procuring the desired peace with France, a project he worked on ceaselessly throughout 1442. But by the spring of 1443, the prospect still seemed remote, for negotiations had again broken down and there seemed little hope of reviving them. This unhappy state of affairs was mainly due to the dogmatic insistence of the English on Henry VI being recognised as the lawful king of France, even when it was obvious that the French were gaining the ascendancy in the war. King Charles’s ultimate objective was to reconquer the territories taken by the English, but in the meantime he was insisting on them being held of him, as overlord, and that was not acceptable to Henry VI.

  At this point Charles and his son, the Dauphin Louis, invaded the province of Gascony, part of the duchy of Aquitaine. The English had been expecting an attack on Normandy and were so preoccupied with preparing its defences
that when they realised what was going on they were too late to halt the French in the south. In April 1443, the Council appointed Somerset Lieutenant and Captain General in Aquitaine without reference to York, who was furious at the snub, for his command extended to the whole of France. To make matters worse, Somerset’s military career had so far been a non-event. He had been captured at the Battle of Baugé in 1421 and had spent seventeen years as a prisoner of the French. He had therefore had little experience of warfare or politics, and proved to be an amateurish and incompetent commander.

  In August 1443 Somerset was created Duke of Somerset and Earl of Kendal and given command of an expeditionary force which he was to lead into Gascony, again with no reference to York. Somerset attempted to mollify the Duke, sending him word that he would be a shield ‘betwixt him and the adversary’, and assuring him it was not his intention ‘to do anything that might prejudice in any wise the power that my cousin of York hath of the King in this country of France and Normandy’. Nevertheless, it appeared that York had been deliberately slighted, and to crown it all, while York was receiving very little financial help from London, Somerset’s expedition was generously funded.

  Worse was to come. York was expecting much-needed reinforcements in Normandy, but he soon learned they had been diverted to Gascony where Somerset’s campaign ended in ignominious failure, although not before he had managed to anger England’s ally, the Duke of Brittany. He was forced to return to England in shame without having accomplished anything.

 
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