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


  The King then reasserted his authority and ordered substantial alterations to York’s Act of Resumption, adding to it a long list of exemptions. Many members of his household were relieved to learn that grants made to them over the years were not to be withdrawn after all. Although York could not approve of this, Lancastrians and Yorkists nevertheless co-operated in Council and Parliament during the next few months, and the Yorkists for a time retained a fair degree of influence, with York himself remaining the dominant voice on the Council. An uneasy peace would prevail for the next two years, thanks in no small measure to the moderating influence of the Duke of Buckingham.

  London was no longer sympathetic towards the House of Lancaster; the merchants in the city had had enough of Henry VI’s misrule and Queen Margaret’s interference with their traditional privileges, and had come out strongly in support of York. When a riot occurred in London, the Queen, ignoring the fact that the city lay within the Lord Mayor’s jurisdiction, sent in troops under Buckingham and Exeter, who were armed with a royal commission enabling them to try the ringleaders. The citizens were incensed by this usurpation of their rights and forcibly prevented the dukes from setting up their court. Bitter criticisms were levelled at the Queen, who had dared to challenge their fiercely protected privileges.

  In the spring of 1456 Margaret, whose dislike of the hostile Londoners equalled theirs of her, left London with the Prince. In April she stayed at Tutbury, and was in Chester by the end of May. She then took up residence at Kenilworth, all the time canvassing support for her husband against the Yorkists. During the spring and early summer Henry remained in the south in the company of Pembroke – in June, Pembroke was the only lord in attendance on the King at Sheen. Henry had come to rely heavily on his half-brother and to value his unquestioned loyalty.

  With the Queen away, the King was also much under the influence of York at this time. On 20 April Henry appointed Warwick Captain of Calais, an office described by Commines as ‘Christendom’s finest captaincy’, and it would be in this capacity that the Earl would gain his heroic reputation as a fine and dashing commander. York was behind the appointment; for he had long wished to reward Warwick for his crucial support at St Albans, and although the court party had tried to secure the post for their candidate, young Somerset, York had pre-empted them.

  Securing Calais was a great achievement for the Yorkists. The Captain, or Governor, was the King’s representative in the town. His was basically a military appointment, but he also enjoyed considerable judicial authority. The captaincy of Calais was the most important military command in the King’s gift, and of such strategic importance that one is tempted to wonder why Henry VI allowed himself to be persuaded to bestow it on Warwick. Calais, in the years to come, would provide the Yorkists with a foreign base and a substantial garrison, whose loyalties were first and foremost to Warwick. Calais was also excellently placed for invading England or policing the Channel, and under Yorkist rule it would effectively become the seat of the opposition. Initially, Warwick had to win the confidence of the powerful Merchants of the Staple, who dominated the town and its wool trade, but by using financial inducements he achieved this with little effort, aided by the fact that those same merchants were heartily relieved that it was Warwick, and not Somerset, who had been placed in command.

  After Warwick had left for Warwick Castle to prepare for his new duties, York rode north to Sandal Castle. It was now time for Henry VI to set out on his progress, and he and the Queen were reunited at Chester. In August they began a leisurely tour of the Midlands, ending up at the beginning of September at Coventry, where the King was accorded a warm welcome, with pageants mounted in honour of him and the Queen, who was lauded as the mother of England’s heir. With Henry successfully wrested from York’s clutches, Margaret had no intention of allowing the King to return to London, and had already persuaded him to remove his court to the Midlands, the Lancastrian heartlands.

  Thus Coventry became the seat of government for a time, and its castle the premier residence of the sovereign. Here, Margaret would create a centre of patronage, surrounding herself with artists, musicians and scholars in an attempt to recreate the splendours of former courts based in the palaces of the Thames valley. The citizens of Coventry, proud to be so honoured, were generous with gifts; on one occasion the mayor presented the Queen with oranges especially imported from Italy, a rare delicacy. Although Coventry Castle was the King’s official residence, he himself preferred to stay in a nearby priory, while the Queen often lodged at the house of Richard Woods, a rich merchant. The royal couple may also have stayed at the manor of Cheylesmore, once owned by the Black Prince. Moving the seat of government caused endless administrative problems, since most of the great departments of state were based in London, but it served Margaret’s purpose; on 24 September her chancellor, Laurence Booth, was entrusted by the King with the privy seal, thus allowing the Queen complete power over the administrative machinery of government.

  Throughout the summer York waited to see what her next move would be, ‘and she waited on him’. While York held back and the Queen played for time and moved her pawns, England went more or less ungoverned. London was the scene of riots and violence, particularly against Italian merchants who had been given preferential treatment and privileges by the court party. Trade suffered, there was a further deterioration of law and order in the shires, and French raids on the south coast of England.

  In London the tension was palpable, and there were unfounded rumours that another battle had taken place, resulting in Warwick being ‘sore hurt’ and a thousand men slain. Placards were pinned to church doors bearing ballads that savagely attacked the government. According to ‘Gregory’s Chronicle’, ‘some said that the Duke of York had great wrong, but what wrong there was no man dared say’. York himself had realised by now that he had a new rival, the young Duke of Somerset, who was much favoured by the Queen and being groomed to fill his father’s shoes.

  The Queen was also cultivating the support of members of the royal household, and soliciting the favour of the people by promoting trade and industry, founding hospitals and schools, and displaying her young son in public wherever she went, earning herself unwonted popularity in the process. She made it a priority to win over with promises of future rewards the known enemies of the Yorkist lords, especially in Cheshire and Lancashire, and she was even intriguing with England’s enemies, the Scots. Rumour had it that she had offered them the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Durham in return for aid against York and his allies, and although there may have been no truth in this, it shows what many people believed the Queen capable of. Her negotiations with the Scots dragged on fruitlessly for two years; in 1457 she attempted to arrange marriages for Somerset and his brother with two Scottish princesses, but without success. Indeed, her concentration on building up her party, to the exclusion of all else, took precedence over the government of the country, which suffered accordingly.

  Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, had for several months been protecting King Henry’s interests in Wales. For generations the Tudors and the House of Mortimer had been sworn enemies due to territorial rivalries in the principality. Nevertheless, Richmond had given his support to York because he believed that the latter’s reforms could only benefit the King. But York was heir to the Mortimers, and his affinity in South Wales had recently taken it upon themselves to reassert his authority there. In the spring of 1456 the Queen had ordered Richmond to move against them.

  Initially, the Earl enjoyed some success against the rebel Gruffydd ap Nicholas, who had now allied himself with York’s supporters and seized and garrisoned several royal castles. Richmond wrested Carmarthen Castle from him and restored the authority of the King to the surrounding region. However, York himself was constable of Carmarthen Castle, and may well have resented Richmond’s occupation of it, for in the summer of 1456, the Duke’s adherents, Sir William Herbert, Sir Walter Devereux, and men of the Vaughan family, marched on Carmar
then, seized the castle, and took Richmond prisoner.

  At this time, however, the King had good reason to be grateful to York, for on 15 August the King of Scots, taking advantage of the political situation, had invaded England with – according to Benet – ‘100,000 men, and burned twenty villages, but he was routed by the Duke of York’. Soon afterwards the King sent for York and Warwick to join him on his progress, and Benet says they ‘were received most graciously’ by Henry, ‘though the Queen loathed them both’. Margaret was about to prove to York that she held the upper hand.

  Once the King and Queen had settled at Coventry they summoned a great council of nobles to meet there. All the Yorkist lords were invited but, mistrustful of the Queen, having presented themselves in council, they withdrew and left Coventry without delay, ‘in right good conceit with the King, but not in great conceit with the Queen’. York went to Ludlow, Salisbury to Middleham, and Warwick to Calais.

  Margaret now persuaded Henry to dismiss York’s partisans from office and replace them with men of her own party. On 5 October Henry Bourchier, York’s brother-in-law, was replaced as Treasurer by Shrewsbury, who had recently quarrelled with Warwick and made an enemy of him. On the 11th Archbishop Bourchier was dismissed from the chancellorship, which was given to William Wayneflete, Bishop of Winchester, a prominent member of the court faction. News of these changes must have angered the Yorkists and aroused their anxieties, though the Queen as yet had made no move against her real adversaries. At his wife’s behest, Henry VI summoned Parliament to meet at Coventry, so that the measures planned by the Queen’s party could be implemented, a reassertion of the authority of the Crown as exercised by Margaret of Anjou.

  That autumn, Richmond was released from captivity in Carmarthen Castle, although he remained in the castle, free to come and go. But he did not long enjoy his liberty. On 1 November he died, aged only twenty-six, probably of natural causes and possibly in an epidemic, although he may have succumbed to the effects of wounds received earlier in the year. There were even whispers of murder at the time, but no evidence exists to substantiate such claims, nor were any charges laid by the Lancastrians at the trials of Herbert, Devereux or the Vaughans, which took place some months later. Richmond was buried in the nearby church of the Grey Friars at Carmarthen; in 1536, in the reign of his grandson, Henry VIII, his remains and monument were removed to St David’s Cathedral. Today, the shields, brass and inscription on the tomb are nineteenth-century replacements of the originals.

  Pembroke was at court when he learned of his brother’s death, and he immediately left for Wales to take his place and set his affairs in order. Edmund’s death meant that all the properties jointly owned by the brothers came to Jasper, whose annual income was now increased to perhaps as much as £1500. Jasper was an honourable man, one of the King’s most trusted counsellors, and he now realised he could no longer support York and remain loyal to the King. He therefore took steps to dissociate himself from the Duke, for the rest of his life devoting his services to upholding the right and authority of the House of Lancaster in Wales.

  Pembroke was concerned about Richmond’s thirteen-year-old widow. The late earl had not scrupled to consummate his marriage to one so young, and Margaret Beaufort was now six months pregnant. Jasper offered her a safe refuge at Pembroke Castle, and would be a tower of strength to her and her child for the next half century.

  Both the Tudor brothers were held in great affection by the Welsh, and their deeds were commemorated in song by the bards, who sang of how a grief-stricken Jasper had taken Edmund’s widow and unborn child under his protection and how he healed the terrible wounds, both emotional and political, that Edmund’s untimely demise had caused. They voiced the feelings of their people when they compared Wales, bereft of Edmund, to a land without a ruler, a house without a bed, a church without a priest. The Welsh had great hopes of Jasper; he was never to let them down.

  On 28 January 1457, Margaret Beaufort gave birth to her ‘only beloved son’ at Pembroke Castle. As his father’s posthumous child, the infant was styled Earl of Richmond from birth. According to Welsh tradition, Jasper wanted him christened Owen after his grandfather, but the Countess insisted that he was to be named Henry after the King. No one dreamed that this obscure scion of the royal house would one day become the founder monarch of the magnificent Tudor dynasty.

  Margaret was still only thirteen at the time of Henry Tudor’s birth ‘and of very small stature’, according to her funeral sermon, delivered by Dr John Fisher. ‘It seemed a miracle that of so little a personage anyone should have been born at all.’ The baby was sickly and his survival of infancy was due only to his mother’s diligent care. For the first five years of his life, he would live at Pembroke Castle in the care of his devoted parent and his uncle Jasper.

  Early in 1457 Pembroke cultivated a friendship with Buckingham, both men uniting to defend their Marcher properties, and in particular the lordships of Newport and Brecon, from the depredations of men of York’s affinity. In March, Pembroke and Margaret Beaufort were Buckingham’s guests at his manor of Greenfield, near Newport, and it was probably on this occasion that plans were formulated for Margaret to marry Buckingham’s younger son, Henry Stafford. This marriage, which took place about two years later, would cement the friendship between the two families and provide a secure home for the young widow, while Pembroke continued his efforts to establish a lasting peace in south Wales.

  Meanwhile, disorder in England was escalating. The great magnates had now taken to paying pirates to plunder foreign shipping. The pirates – and the magnates – got away with it, but the English merchants suffered as a result because many foreign traders refused to send goods to England or charged more for them. In London, there were further riots against Lombard merchants, and many had their houses sacked or burned down.

  Yet still the court remained in the Midlands. The Queen was more preoccupied with consolidating her power than with ruling England. In January she had ordered a vast stock of arms and ammunition to be delivered to the royal castle at Kenilworth, and she had also replaced Shrewsbury as Treasurer with Wiltshire, while the notorious Thomas Tuddenham had been made treasurer of the royal household. The household itself had now extended its web of corruption to the shrievalty of England. No less than sixteen sheriffs were in its pay, receiving regular wages as if they were on the royal pay-roll. In return they were expected to favour those who supported the Queen’s party. Other sheriffs found themselves faced with demands for money in a kind of royal protection racket.

  In April, Pembroke was appointed constable of the castles of Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Carreg Cennen, in place of York. He carried out his new duties with diligence and success, even bringing to heel his old adversary, Gruffydd ap Nicholas, who would now remain faithful to the House of Lancaster for the remaining three years of his life.

  Throughout the early months of 1457 the Queen’s agents were busy hunting for Sir William Herbert, who had dared to seize Carmarthen and imprison Richmond the previous year. Herbert had remained at large throughout the winter, harrying the countryside of south-east Wales and undermining the King’s authority. When he was at last captured, the Queen had him cast into the Tower of London. She wanted him executed, and York too, for she believed that Herbert had been acting on York’s orders, although there was no proof of this. Buckingham, ever the peacemaker, dissuaded her, and York was sent back to Dublin to resume his duties as Lieutenant of Ireland.

  At the end of March 1457, Herbert and his accomplices stood trial at Hereford in the presence of the King, the Queen, Buckingham, Shrewsbury and, possibly, Pembroke. Although all were found guilty and sentenced to be attainted for treason, Herbert received a royal pardon in June and the other attainders were reversed in February 1458. Herbert’s pardon was enough to make him turn his coat, and for a time he and his brother Richard offered their loyalty to the Queen. His position was not easy, for most of his neighbours in south-east Wales were Yorkists, but he managed to
balance the interests of all the parties, retaining the friendship and trust of the Queen as well as that of his former allies.

  Warwick, meanwhile, had established himself in Calais, and had been made aware of the problems of piracy in the Channel, and its effect on the London merchants. He had also found out that these problems were unlikely to be dealt with by the King since Henry’s navy comprised at that time just one ship. Warwick owned about ten ships, which he was soon using to good effect against French and Burgundian pirates; he also destroyed a hostile Spanish fleet.

  Warwick was sensitive to the Londoners’ feelings about the Italian aliens in their midst, and when he learned that three Italian ships had been granted a special royal licence to load their vessels at Tilbury with unlimited English wool and woollen cloth, he sent a small flotilla across the Channel and up the Thames estuary to capture them. His deeds were regarded by the Londoners as nothing less than heroic, and won him tremendous popularity. Here, at last, was someone ready to champion the cause of the merchants, who were the source of much of England’s wealth yet were ignored and slighted by the Lancastrian government.

  The Earl, who now spent much of his time travelling back and forth across the Channel, was at present building up a lavish establishment in London, where he kept open house, his aim being to court popularity by dispensing extravagant hospitality. When he was in residence there, six oxen were roasted every day at breakfast ‘and every tavern was full of his meat, for whoever had any acquaintance in his household could have as much roast as he might carry upon a large dagger’. Waurin says that Warwick

  had in great measure the voice of the people because he knew how to persuade them with beautiful soft speeches. He was conversible and talked familiarly with them – subtle, as it were, in order to gain his ends. He gave them to understand that he would promote the prosperity of the kingdom and defend the interests of the people with all his power, and that as long as he lived he would never do otherwise. Thus he acquired the goodwill of the people of England to such an extent that he was the prince whom they held in the highest esteem and on whom they placed the greatest faith and reliance.

 
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