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


  Margaret made the most of the financial advantages of her position. Despite the state of the treasury, she did not lack for material comforts, although she spent comparatively little on herself. She wasted no time in obtaining a licence to export wool and tin wherever she pleased, thereby evading customs duty and the strict rules of the Merchants of the Staple at Calais. As the Paston Letters confirm, ‘she spareth no pain to sue her things to an intent and conclusion for her power’. She did, however, attempt, with some success, to boost England’s wool trade by importing skilled craftsmen from Flanders and Lyon, and she also tried to introduce silk weaving into England, bringing in foreign weavers, encouraging women to join the trade, and becoming patron of the Sisterhood of Silk Women, a guild based in Spitalfields, London.*3 Margaret also paid for the fitting out of English merchant ships destined for ports in the Mediterranean.

  The Queen’s Wardrobe Book for the year 1452-3 survives. It shows that she did not lavish large sums on clothes. The only items she bought were bolts of silk and cloth of gold, which were imported from Venice and cost £72.12s.6d. (£72.62½), and jewellery and items of goldsmiths’ work amounting to £125.10s.0d. (£125.50). These were, of course, luxury items, but a queen was expected to attire herself in a manner worthy of her rank, for it was an age that set much store by outward appearances.

  Margaret attended Mass daily and offered 4d on each occasion, unless it was a holy day or royal anniversary, when she gave more. She patronised many charities and gave liberally to them, as well as giving financial help to members of her household who were ill or getting married, or to those who had suffered bad luck, such as the two Newmarket men whose stable had burned down during a royal visit; to them, she gave £13.6s.8d. (£13.33).

  Margaret is often credited with being the foundress of Queen’s College, Cambridge, but this is not strictly true. The college was founded in 1446 as St Bernard’s College by Andrew Docket, Rector of St Botolph’s, Cambridge, who urged Margaret to become patroness the following year. Margaret petitioned the King to grant a new charter to the college and rename it Queen’s College. In 1448 Henry did this, donating a sum of £200, but it was Docket who bore the lion’s share of the cost of the foundation. There is no evidence that the Queen gave any financial endowment, although she certainly took an interest in the college, sending her chamberlain, Sir John Wenlock, to lay the foundation stone of its chapel in 1448.

  Wenlock is listed in Margaret’s Wardrobe Book as the head of her household, earning £40 per annum. The Queen maintained a large establishment, but found it hard to meet the cost of it because she was generous to those in her service and assiduous in obtaining promotion for them. Those members of her household in holy orders could realistically hope to be preferred to a prebend or deanery if they gave good service; two brothers, William and Laurence Booth, became successive archbishops of York thanks to the Queen’s favour.

  There were other officers in the Queen’s household – the Clerk of the Closet, the Private Secretary, the Clerk of the Signet and the Clerk of the Jewels, while two Knights of the Board (table) earned forty marks per annum each. Margaret had five female attendants; one was Dame Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Sir Richard Wydville and wife of Sir John Grey; none could have then predicted that Elizabeth would one day be Queen of England. Another attendant was Elizabeth, wife of the powerful James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire, one of the foremost members of the court faction and a great admirer of the Queen.

  In the lower ranks of the Queen’s servants were ten ‘little damsels’, two chamberwomen, grooms, pages of the robes, pages of the beds, pages of the bakery, scullions, kitchen staff who worked in the buttery and pantry, the Queen’s gardener – who was paid 100s. (£5.00) per annum – twenty-seven esquires whose salary bill was £143.4s.4d. (£143.22) annually, and twenty-seven valets at £93.15s.6d. (£93.77½) a year. The Queen paid £7 a day to the treasurer of the King’s household for the maintenance of her own household, although she often found to her dismay that some of the money due to her as part of her dower, the income settled on her by the King through Parliament, was paid late. She therefore had to stretch such resources as she had to the limit.

  Margaret’s influence made the court once again the hub of fashionable society. In the year of her marriage Henry VI ordered that the Queen’s apartments at Eltham Palace be rebuilt with a new hall, scullery and range of lodgings for the Queen to use prior to her coronation. In other royal palaces his wife’s apartments had to be renovated as they had not been used for more than a decade. In these refurbished apartments Margaret entertained royally and encouraged a livelier atmosphere at court. She hunted frequently, ordering that the game in her forests be preserved exclusively for her use, and that bloodhounds be especially trained for her.

  Margaret’s chief mentor after her marriage was Suffolk, though rumour soon had it that they were lovers, and Gloucester later accused Cardinal Beaufort of turning a blind eye to the fact and even encouraging such wickedness. But no contemporary chronicler, however hostile, ever hinted that there was anything improper in the relationship.

  When Suffolk met Margaret he was forty-eight and she fifteen. He was a suave, experienced man of the world with cultivated charm, while she was a young, untried girl about to leave her family and the land of her birth for a strange husband and a new life. Suffolk was kindly and avuncular, and made no secret of his admiration; she was flattered and susceptible to his warmth. His party had arranged her marriage and therefore she supported it.

  Suffolk even saluted Margaret in romantic verse:

  How ye lover is set to serve ye flower . . .

  Mine heart is set and all mine whole intent

  To serve this flower in my most humble wise

  As faithfully as can be thought or meant

  Without feigning or sloth in my service.

  For wit thee well, it is a paradise

  To see this flower when it begin to spread

  With colours fresh enewed, white and red.

  This poem is a typical example of the kind of courtly doggerel that was then fashionable, it being socially acceptable for knights and lords to write in such terms of a lady whose rank precluded any closer relationship. Nevertheless, the enemies of Margaret and Suffolk made political capital out of their friendship and spread scurrilous rumours about it.

  Suffolk used Margaret’s confidence and loyalty to his own and his party’s advantage, and in return protected her from criticism, keeping her in ignorance of public opinion and dissident voices in Council and Parliament. Together they made a formidable political team, for the court faction headed by Beaufort and Suffolk controlled both King and government; Suffolk even manipulated his adherents so as to ensure that important decisions were taken independently of the Council.

  On Friday, 28 May 1445, the Queen rode from Eltham Palace to Blackheath, where she was officially welcomed by the Lord Mayor of London, his aldermen and sheriffs, all clad in scarlet and attended by guildsmen in blue gowns with embroidered sleeves and red hoods. Gloucester, attended by four hundred retainers, then escorted her to his palace of Placentia at Greenwich.

  On the following day, Margaret made her state entry into London, coming up river by barge to Southwark and entering the city by London Bridge, above which was a device representing ‘Peace and Plenty’. She then processed through the streets of the capital, which were decorated with a profusion of marguerites in her honour, beneath triumphal arches, and alongside fountains sprouting ale and wine. At several points the cavalcade halted so that the Queen could watch miracle plays and pageants, with verses composed by Lydgate. Although she made a fine sight in her white damask gown and coronet of gold, pearls and precious stones, seated in a chariot pulled by two white horses caparisoned in white damask, some of the people were less than enthusiastic about their new queen, for Gloucester’s supporters had already stirred up anger among them over Margaret’s lack of a dowry. Others greeted her merrily, though, sporting daisies in their caps or hoods.

&n
bsp; On Sunday, 30 May, Margaret was crowned at Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Stafford. The coronation was followed by a splendid banquet in Westminster Hall and three days of tournaments.

  Parliament now conferred upon the Queen a dower of land worth £2000 per annum and an annuity of £4666.13s.4d. (£4666.67), the same amount as had been assigned to Katherine of Valois. The money was to come from the revenues of the duchy of Lancaster and the duchy of Cornwall, customs dues and the Exchequer.

  On 2 June, Suffolk announced to Parliament that a French embassy would shortly arrive for the purpose of discussing a permanent peace to supersede the truce, which was due to expire in April 1446. There was, of course, a hidden agenda, of which Parliament knew nothing, and when the embassy arrived on 13 July it brought the predictable request that Henry VI cede Maine and Anjou to King René without delay, as provided in the Treaty of Tours. Now that the marriage was completed, Henry was expected to fulfil his part of the bargain. Henry prevaricated and dithered, even when the envoys produced letters from King Charles to him and the Queen, urging him to honour his promise, and saying this would be the best means of achieving a permanent peace. Henry played for time, and the only benefit to result from the meeting was an extension of the truce for three months, until July 1446.

  Meanwhile, Gloucester was making his anti-French views known, much to the King’s embarrassment, and when he saw the ambassadors again on 15 July, Henry spoke contemptuously of his uncle, while Suffolk informed them that the King no longer had any regard for the Duke. Thus Henry publicly dissociated himself from Gloucester’s policies.

  In the late summer of 1445 Henry recalled York from Normandy, since the Duke’s five-year term of duty was at an end and there was apparently no question of him serving a further one. York’s enemies had been busy: Waurin says that, despite York’s obvious qualities,

  envy reared its head among the princes and barons of England, and was directed at the Duke, who was gaining in honour and prosperity. What is more, he prospered far too much for the liking of those who did not devote themselves loyally to the benefit of the King and his country. Above all, envy prompted Somerset, who despised the Duke of York and found a way to harm him. Somerset was well-liked by the Queen. She worked on King Henry, on the advice and support of Somerset and other lords and barons of his following, so that the Duke of York was recalled to England. There he was totally stripped of his authority to govern Normandy, which he had done well, and for some time, and despite his having acted commendably throughout the whole English conquest of France.

  The way the tide was turning had been made clear to York earlier that year with the appointment of Sir Thomas Hoo, a member of Suffolk’s affinity and hostile to York, as Chancellor of Normandy.

  York returned in the autumn. The Crown still owed him £38,677; he was a wealthy man, but even he was crippled by the loss, and his financial problems only exacerbated his feelings of bitterness. To make matters worse, he now learned that Somerset was to replace him in France, an appointment that amounted to a slap in the face to one who had carried out his duties responsibly and effectively and who would have welcomed a second term of office. The appointment was also catastrophic from a military point of view, for Somerset was not nearly as experienced a commander.

  York believed he could have achieved more in Normandy had he received adequate support from the government in England, though it would not have been in the interests of the peace party at court to have him making conquests in France. Waurin says that Somerset and Margaret had pointed out to Henry VI that ‘Normandy was costing him a lot to maintain in wages to the soldiers that he was keeping there’, and they even recommended that the duchy ‘should be handed back to the French in order to avoid all these expenses’. Henry was not yet prepared to concede that much, but he certainly did not want York winning golden opinions.

  Despite his just grievances, York met with scant sympathy or support in England. Most people at court were openly supportive of the King’s peace policy and preferred not to identify themselves with a man who had backed Gloucester’s call for a more aggressive stance in foreign policy. Out in the cold once more, York fell back on the support of his small circle of loyal friends, men who had served him well in Normandy and who were angry that he was so badly treated by a King and Council who should have been grateful to him.

  But worse was to come. In Parliament Bishop Moleyns accused York of misgovernment and financial malpractice in Normandy. The court party did not want him at court or in the Council, interfering in politics, and were now so confident that they dared to accuse the man who was technically second in line to the throne of such crimes. York himself believed that Suffolk was behind the plot to disgrace him; placed as he was, he could hardly have been unaware of it, and from that time on relations between York and Suffolk, which had been quite friendly in France, grew icy.

  York defended himself ably against Moleyn’s accusations, summoning officials from Normandy who testified that the Bishop had offered bribes to York’s soldiers to complain about his failure to pay them. Against all expectations, York was cleared of suspicion. Nevertheless, he now knew that while the court party controlled the King he could never expect preferment.

  In October 1445, René of Anjou wrote to Henry VI, urging him to surrender Maine and Anjou. That same month a second French embassy arrived in London in response to Henry’s request for a further extension of the truce.

  Urged by her father and uncle, Queen Margaret began to exert pressure on Henry to do as they wished and honour the treaty. First she pleaded and cajoled, then she nagged, raged and threw tantrums; still Henry prevaricated. On 17 December, Margaret wrote to King Charles and promised to do all she could to obtain Henry’s compliance. Whatever wiles she employed had their effect, for on 22 December the King himself gave Charles a solemn written undertaking to cede Maine and Anjou to René by 30 April 1446, this undertaking being given ‘to please the King of France and at the request of his wife’.

  Characteristically, Henry did not bother to inform his officers who were stationed in Maine and Anjou of what was to happen, nor did he wait for the approval of the Council. But somehow rumours of his secret arrangement leaked out, unleashing a storm of protest. His subjects, from Duke Humphrey downwards, considered they had been betrayed. Yet it was Suffolk upon whom most of the opprobrium fell, for it was he who had arranged the Treaty of Tours.

  Henry ignored the storm and did nothing until the last minute. Then on 30 April, knowing that he could delay no longer, he sent orders to the governor of Maine and Anjou to evacuate the provinces, preparatory to ceding them to the French. This confirmation of the rumours sparked a further wave of protests, and when the governor defied the King and refused to obey there was general jubilation. Such was the mood of the people that Henry dared not force the issue.

  Margaret was not so timid. In May she reminded the King of his promise to Charles VII, begging him to keep his word. He would not listen, being too fearful of his subjects’ reaction. Margaret was being subjected to a barrage of pressure from the French king, but she could do nothing to move her husband, and negotiations with France over Maine and Anjou dragged on throughout the rest of the year without reaching a conclusion satisfactory to either side. King Charles became increasingly exasperated by Henry VI’s dilatoriness, and in the winter made efforts to force him to surrender the territories, dangling the carrot of extending the truce until January 1448. Still Henry dithered.

  Margaret, meanwhile, hoping to cement further the truce between England and France, had proposed a marriage between York’s four-year-old heir, Edward, Earl of March, and Madeleine, daughter of Charles VII, but although Suffolk gave the proposal his backing, nothing came of it. Nevertheless, the suggestion was a tacit acknowledgement of the dynastic importance of York, and may well have been intended also as a means of diverting the Duke’s interests towards French politics.

  In December 1446, an incident occurred which gave the court party cause to wonder whe
ther York might be secretly plotting to seize the throne. York’s armourer, John Davies, had as an apprentice a villein, William Catour, who claimed to have heard Davies say that the crown belonged by right to York. Suffolk had the man hauled before the Council to repeat his accusation, while York, who realised that others might believe – or try to allege – that he himself was implicated in Davies’s treasonable assertion, demanded that the armourer be brought to justice and punished. Davies denied having said any such thing, but his judges decreed that he and Catour should undergo trial by combat, using single sticks. The trial took place at Smithfield, in the presence of the King, the Queen and the whole court. Catour was victorious, and it was therefore deemed that God had given His verdict. Davies was hanged and his body burnt. From now on, the Queen and her party would be suspicious of York and his dynastic intentions.

  When Gloucester had found out that Suffolk had, seemingly without consulting Council or Parliament, secretly promised to cede Maine and Anjou to the French, his anger had known no bounds, and his violent and vociferously expressed opposition to the court faction’s policies had won him much popularity among a disenchanted populace who regarded him as their champion. Those who knew that it was not against Suffolk but the King that Gloucester’s fury should have been directed were therefore concerned to curb ‘Good Duke Humphrey’s’ public speeches, lest he should unleash a scandal that would compromise the throne itself.

  Gloucester, far from heeding warnings to temper his criticisms, became ever more outspoken, and by December 1446 the King and the court party knew that something would have to be done to silence him, lest he discover and broadcast the truth. He had also incurred the enmity of the Queen, who regarded his censures as insults to herself which could not be forgiven or forgotten, and he had fallen out with most of his fellow councillors. Gloucester seemed unaware of the peril in which he stood. Abbot Whethamstead of St Albans states that ‘satellites of Satan’ had poisoned Henry’s mind against his uncle, who was ‘so respected and loved by the people and so faithful to the King’.

 
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