The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir

  Queen Katherine, denied by the provisions of her husband’s will any political role in the regency, was at least allowed to have her son with her during his early years. After Henry V’s funeral she took the baby to Windsor, remaining there in seclusion with him for a year. Thereafter, they frequently stayed either at Hertford Castle or Waltham Palace, residing at the Palace of Westminster only on state occasions. Katherine played the part of Queen Dowager to perfection. She never involved herself in politics and was in turn accorded all the honours due to her rank. Her roles were purely domestic and ceremonial.

  Gloucester and the Council were concerned about her future, for she was still an attractive girl in her early twenties, and it was inconceivable that she would not wish to remarry at some stage. The difficulty lay in whom she would marry when the time came. There was no precedent for a queen dowager remarrying in England, and if Katherine married an English lord he would almost certainly have political ambitions and influence over the young King. Her marrying abroad could cause equally serious political complications. Fortunately, as yet, the Queen was preoccupied with her son and showing no inclination to remarry, so the problem could be shelved for the time being.

  The regency Council was made up of about twenty lords and bishops. One of its unofficial priorities was to safeguard aristocratic interests, and members were rewarded by occasional grants and the voting of substantial salaries. Apart from this, there was comparatively little corruption. Most members were genuinely concerned that the kingdom should be governed properly and that the King’s prerogative be preserved. The Council, in a bid to unite the nobility and commons, did its best to maintain the policies of Henry V, and enjoyed some success. Nevertheless, the minority of the young king provided an ideal opportunity for an already powerful aristocracy to expand its power-base even further, and divisions on the Council itself were reflected in the formation of noble factions, rivals greedy for the rewards of high office.

  The Council was dominated by Gloucester and Beaufort, whose squabbles were to influence English politics for the next twenty-five years. The rivalry between these two men was intense and deadly: each tried to bring the other down by cunning or force, and their bitter divisions had by 1424 split the Council. Gloucester was convinced that the war with France should be continued, but Beaufort, prompted by the success of French armies led by Joan of Arc and financial constraints at home, was convinced by 1430 that an honourable peace was the best solution. Bedford tried to arbitrate between Gloucester and Beaufort when he was in England, but without much success. Most councillors, however, tried not to let the rivalry between the two men interrupt the normal functioning of government, and were anxious to have the Council present a united front. Many were also concerned about law and order, which was declining at a local level, though this was not yet the major problem it would later become. When the Earl of March quarrelled with Gloucester, in the interests of unity he was hastily moved out of contention’s way to Ireland, where – like his father and grandfather before him – he served as the King’s Lieutenant, at the exorbitant salary of 5000 marks per annum.

  The minority was therefore an unexpectedly peaceful period. No voices were raised to challenge the King’s title, nor were there any rebellions. Given the problems it faced, the regency Council governed responsibly and fairly well.

  Early in 1423, the redoubtable and respected Richard de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, was appointed the King’s legal guardian. On 21 February, Dame Alice Butler, a lady described as ‘expert and wise’, was appointed his governess, and the Council, in the King’s name, gave her ‘power to chastise us reasonably from time to time’ because ‘in our tender age it behoves us to be taught and instructed in courtesy and nurture and other matters becoming a royal person’. Nor would Dame Alice be ‘molested, hurt or injured’ in years to come for beating her sovereign.

  Henry VI’s first public appearance was at the opening of Parliament in November that year, when he was nearly two. On Saturday 13 November Queen Katherine brought him from Windsor and lodged at Staines for the night. On Sunday morning, Henry was carried out to his litter which was waiting to take him to Kingston, but ‘he shrieked, he cried, he sprang, and would be carried no further. Nothing the Queen could devise might content him.’ He was yelling so much she thought he was ill. At length, ‘they bore him again to the inn and there he abode all day. On the Monday he was borne to his mother’s car [litter], he then being merry or glad of cheer, and so they came to Kingston.’

  On Wednesday 16 November ‘he came to London, and with merry cheer, on his mother’s lap in the car, rode through London to Westminster, and on the morrow was so brought to Parliament’, again on his mother’s lap on a movable throne drawn by white horses. ‘It was a strange sight, and the first time it was ever seen in England, an infant sitting on the mother’s lap, before it could tell what English meant, to exercise the place of sovereign direction in open Parliament. Yet so it was – the Queen illumined that public convention of estates with her infant’s presence.’

  This account, which appeared in a London chronicle of c. 1430, was later used as evidence of Henry VI’s early inclination towards sanctity, for it was believed that his refusal to travel on a Sunday betokened incipient holiness. Modern parents might well describe his behaviour as a temper tantrum typical of a two-year-old, but people in the fifteenth century were more apt to see portents in such things.

  In January 1425 the Earl of March died of plague at Trim Castle in Ireland, aged thirty-three. His body was brought back to England and buried in the collegiate church at Stoke Clare in Suffolk, near the tombs of his forbears. He was the last of the male line of the Mortimers and had left no legitimate issue, therefore his claim to the throne, his wealth and estates, and the earldoms of March and Ulster should by right have been inherited by his sister Anne’s son, Richard of Cambridge, now fourteen years old. However, the Council, on 22 May 1425, resolved to grant custody of March’s lands to Bishop Beaufort and entrust Baynard’s Castle to Queen Katherine. As Richard’s father had been attainted there was nothing he could do about this, and the Mortimer inheritance remained in the hands of the Crown for some years to come. The other – and more dangerous – prize that Richard ought to have inherited from his uncle, the Mortimer claim to the throne as heir-general of Richard II, was not acknowledged by anyone, nor would it be for many years to come.

  However, from 2 February 1425 Richard was allowed to style himself Duke of York, as heir to the uncle who had died at Agincourt. By this time, the young Duke was already a married man. Some time before 18 October 1424 (the exact date is not known) he had married Cecily Neville, the youngest daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland by Joanna Beaufort. Cecily had been born in 1415 at Raby Castle in County Durham, and because of her good looks was popularly known as ‘the Rose of Raby’. She was her father’s twenty-second child, and many of her brothers and sisters had married well; thus by virtue of his marriage York found himself closely related to most of the great magnates of England, which in the future would prove useful for building up a powerful affinity.

  Cecily’s father had had to purchase Richard’s marriage from the Crown, which held him in wardship, at a cost of 3000 marks. In December 1423 Richard had gone to live at Raby Castle with Westmorland’s younger children, which enabled him to become well-acquainted with his bride. His father-in-law paid out 200 marks a year for his maintenance, and presumably considered this money well spent because Richard was a great matrimonial prize by virtue of his birth and hoped-for inheritance. The Council doubtless felt that the Earl was the right man to be entrusted with the upbringing of York, since Westmorland had been a loyal supporter of the House of Lancaster since 1399 and would ensure that his charge was raised in such a way as to prevent him from getting any ideas about his own dynastic status.

  In April 1425 the Queen once again brought the King to London. When the procession stopped at St Paul’s, Gloucester lifted Henry down from the litter and then he and Exe
ter led the three-year-old to the high altar, where he dutifully said his prayers and looked gravely about him. He was then carried out into the churchyard and, to the people’s delight, placed on a horse and taken in procession through the city. Two days later he went with his mother to open Parliament. So appealing did he look that the crowds watching cried out their blessings, saying that he appeared to be the very image of his famous father, and expressing hopes that he would grow up to display the same martial zeal.

  Around this time, the Council decided that the King needed some companions of his own age, and decreed that all noble boys in royal wardship should be brought up with Henry at court. On 19 May 1426 the King was knighted by Bedford, then he in turn conferred knighthood on some of his young companions and Richard of Cambridge, who on that same day was formally restored to the dukedom of York. Later that year, the Duke of Exeter, who had been responsible for the King’s upbringing, died.

  In 1427, Henry’s first ‘master’ was appointed. He was John Somerset, a monk in Gloucester’s service, but he died when Henry was nine, after teaching him French and English and inspiring him with a love of the Christian faith, so that he could recite all the divine offices by heart. Many books were bought for the boy, including devotional treatises, Bede’s History of the English Church, and a work entitled On the Rule of Princes, which set out how a king ought to behave and how he should set a moral example to his people. Henry was not the only boy to benefit from such instruction, for each of the royal wards in his household was appointed a schoolmaster of his own, thus forming an exclusive and privileged school.

  In 1427, as he approached his sixth birthday, the young King was removed from the care of women. He now resided in turn at the castles of Windsor, Berkhamsted, Wallingford or Hertford, and saw his mother only infrequently, though the bond between them remained close. He never failed to choose pretty gifts for her at New Year, such as the ruby ring given him by Bedford, which he presented to her in 1428.

  On 1 June 1428 the King’s guardian, the Earl of Warwick, was also appointed his Governor and Master, with sole charge of the young sovereign and orders from the Council in the King’s name to instruct him in good manners and courtesy, letters and languages. Like Alice Butler before him, Warwick was authorised ‘to chastise us from time to time, according to his good advice and discretion’. Warwick did not spare the rod, but Henry VI had the advantage of being educated by one of the finest minds of the age.

  Warwick was the son of one of the Lords Appellant who had rebelled against Richard II in 1388. He had rendered distinguished service as one of Henry V’s foremost generals during the Normandy campaign, and remained in France after the death of his master, serving Bedford with similar loyalty and brilliance. The Emperor Sigismund, who had met Warwick in England, was so impressed by his chivalry that he dubbed him ‘the Father of Courtesy’. Courtesy was certainly one of the disciplines he instilled in the young Henry VI, along with kindness and piety, for which the Earl was renowned, having made the challenging pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

  The Rous Roll, written by the antiquarian John Rous in the 1480s to commemorate the deeds of the earls of Warwick, has a line-drawing of Henry VI’s governor in full armour, with the child king sitting on his arm. Warwick was indeed a man to be respected, and he believed in discipline and character training. Henry’s upbringing was strict but fair, and it was not long before he began, for awe of his tutor, ‘to forbear the more to do amiss and intend the more busily to virtue and learning’. From Warwick he learned literacy skills and languages, as well as the knightly training in horsemanship, swordplay, tilting, self-defence and military strategy – all of which the Earl was well qualified to teach him. Henry was to show little interest in these accomplishments later on, though the precepts taught by Warwick would remain with him all his life, giving him the strength to face adversity and humiliation.

  Some time between 1425 and 1429, Queen Katherine formed a romantic attachment to a Welshman called Owen ap Maredudd ap Tewdwr (Tudor). Their affair is surrounded in mystery. Little is known of Katherine’s personal life, although she and her retinue lived in the King’s household until at least 1430, and during this period she seems to have borne Tudor at least one child. However, concealing a pregnancy might not have presented such a problem because women’s gowns of the period were high-waisted with full gathers in the front.

  Many later chroniclers claimed that Katherine had actually married Tudor in secret; indeed, it was not until the seventeenth century that the legitimacy of their union was questioned, and then on spurious grounds. What is likely is that the wedding had to be kept private because in marrying a man so far below her in rank the Queen had ‘followed more her own appetite than her open honour’, according to the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall. The earliest reference to the marriage appears in ‘Gregory’s Chronicle’ for 1438, where it is stated that the common people knew nothing of it. The Council and the King were almost certainly aware of the union but left the couple unmolested so as to avoid scandal attaching itself to the royal house.

  The Tewdwrs, or Tudors, as they later became known, were a prosperous gentry family from Anglesey, north Wales. They had supported Glendower’s rebellion and had consequently been dispossessed of all their lands. A senior branch of the family eventually had the estate at Penmynydd restored to them and, taking the name Theodore, lived there in obscurity until the seventeenth century, ignored by their more famous relatives.

  Owen Tudor saw service in France in the retinue of Sir Walter Hungerford, who later became steward of Henry VI’s household. It may have been through him that Tudor acquired the post of Keeper of the Wardrobe to Queen Katherine. Hall describes him as ‘a goodly gentleman and a beautiful person, garnished with many gifts of nature’, though ‘Gregory’ calls him ‘no man of birth, neither of livelihood’. He was never knighted, and his income was at most £40 per annum. He was naturalised in 1432 and treated thereafter as an English subject of Henry VI, but he did not adopt the anglicised version of his surname – Tudor – until 1459.

  Many fanciful and unsubstantiated tales have attached themselves to the love affair between Katherine of Valois and Owen Tudor. Most are romantic, some lurid, and nearly all are probably apocryphal, but what does emerge from them is that Katherine, who is said to have been stirred by carnal passion, took the initiative, ignoring all the warnings of her ladies that Tudor was no suitable match for her. It is impossible now to substantiate later tales that he fell into her lap while dancing, or she watched him swimming nude; the truth of their relationship is obscured by a veil of legend.

  What is certain is that Katherine bore Tudor several children, and that those who survived infancy became staunch supporters of the House of Lancaster. The eldest child was Edmund, born around 1430 at Much Hadham Palace in Hertfordshire, a brick-built twelfth-century manor owned for eight hundred years by the bishops of London which still stands today. The second son was Jasper, born in approximately 1431 at the Bishop of Ely’s manor at Hatfield in Hertfordshire. In 1432, Katherine’s third pregnancy was near term when she visited the King at Westminster, but her labour began prematurely and she was obliged to seek the help of the monks of Westminster Abbey, where she was delivered of a son, Owen. The baby was taken from her at birth and reared by the brethren; Vergil says he became a Benedictine monk at the Abbey, where he seems to have been known as Edward Bridgewater. He died and was buried there in 1502. Vergil also mentions a daughter who became a nun, but no other source refers to her.

  Throughout the 1420s the war with France had continued under Bedford’s direction. In 1423 the English were victorious at the Battle of Cravant, and again in 1424 at Verneuil. By the end of 1425 they were in control of Maine and Anjou.

  In 1428, the Earl of Salisbury defied Bedford’s warning and took the offensive against the Dauphin’s forces, laying siege to the city of Orléans. Bedford was uneasy because he was aware that, despite government propaganda aimed at raising popular support for the war, fewer Engli
shmen than ever now wanted to fight against the French, and Parliament was refusing financial support for the war because resources were scarce.

  Hitherto, the Dauphin had controlled that part of France which was south of the Loire and outside the English-owned duchy of Aquitaine. By 1428 his fortunes were at a very low ebb and his people were demoralised. At this moment there appeared at his court a peasant girl, Joan of Arc, who claimed to have heard angelic voices instructing her to free France from English rule. At length, the Dauphin was persuaded to allow her to lead the defence of Orléans. What followed was a resounding victory for the French, which marked a turning point in their fortunes while, conversely, the English could date the decline of their hold on France from the appearance of Joan of Arc. Their defeat at Orléans in 1429 was the first major setback they had suffered since the death of Henry V. Worse was to follow.

  After another victory at Patay in 1429, Joan led the Dauphin to Rheims. There, in the cathedral which had seen the hallowing of his royal ancestors, he was anointed and crowned King Charles VII on 18 June in her presence. Even now perhaps the English could have retrieved the situation. They did not, for the simple reason that their war effort was hampered by bitter squabbling between the nobles on the Council.

  In England, too, there was a coronation, on 5 November, when Henry VI was crowned in Westminster Abbey. It was a long ordeal for a child not yet eight, but Henry bore it well and with gravity, for all that the crown was too heavy for him to wear with comfort. Few celebrations marked the event; in London, the conduits did not run with free wine, as was customary, because the Council was worried that the King might see drunken people in the streets. Instead, wine was distributed by the cup to each person. Despite this, there were such huge crowds lining the streets that several people were suffocated. Some pick-pockets ended the day in prison, and there was even alternative entertainment at Smithfield, where a heretic was burned at the stake.

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