The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir


  Meanwhile Parliament, at the King’s wish, had reversed the attainder on Somerset, restoring his titles and estates to him. Edward himself was making a point of cultivating Somerset’s friendship and accorded him a place of honour at court, hunting and feasting with him and taking him with him on his travels around the kingdom. ‘The King made much of him, insomuch that he lodged with the King in his own bed many nights’, and tournaments were held in his honour. For a time it seemed as if Edward had succeeded in making the Duke forget those whom he had betrayed.

  Early in June, suspecting that Louis XI was going over to the Yorkists, Margaret of Anjou appealed to Philip of Burgundy for aid; she had learned that a peace conference between England, France and Burgundy was due to take place on 24 June at St Omer, and was worried in case Philip signed a truce or alliance with England and France that would leave her politically isolated and without the support of a European ally. On the day the conference began, Philip sent her a token gift of 1000 crowns, which greatly encouraged her; she did not realise, however, that it was a sop to keep her quiet and – hopefully – away from St Omer.

  During the conference Edward IV and Louis XI, through their envoys, concluded a truce and agreed that they would not succour each other’s enemies, which effectively closed France to the Lancastrian exiles. Margaret was now desperate to cross the Channel and see Philip face to face, to pre-empt him from entering into any agreement with France or England. Although they had never been friends, Philip now represented her last hope.

  Warwick was hoping to consolidate the new amity between Edward and Louis by negotiating his master’s marriage to a French princess. Louis’s own daughter was too young, and he offered instead Bona of Savoy, sister of his queen, Charlotte, while Philip, fearing that such an alliance posed a threat to Burgundy, countered the offer by offering Edward one of his nieces. Edward did not respond to either, though he was inclined towards friendship with France.

  In June, Lord Montague repelled a Lancastrian attack on Newcastle, and ships from France, laden with supplies for the Queen, were intercepted by sailors loyal to the King. This was a blow to Margaret as Louis was not now likely to replace what had been lost. At that time the Lancastrians were besieging Norham Castle, which stood on the banks of the Tweed and was owned by the Bishop of Durham. They were assisted by the Scots, who stood to gain more advantage from the capture of the castle than the Lancastrians, but the Queen wanted Scottish aid and had no choice but to be accommodating. The siege lasted eighteen days until Warwick arrived and, with the help of Montague and a force of local people, put both Scots and Lancastrians to flight.

  The Queen and her party, hotly pursued by their enemies, fell back on Bamburgh. During their flight, one of the most famous and romanticised episodes of the Wars of the Roses took place. Many modern historians dismiss it as mere legend, but the fact remains that the chronicler Georges Chastellain heard it from the Queen herself later in the year.

  On the road, the Queen and her son were separated from the rest; suddenly, a gang of robbers sprang from nearby bushes, seized her baggage, pulled off her jewellery, then dragged her with brutal violence and menacing threats before their leader. He grabbed her by her robe, wielding a drawn sword in readiness to cut her throat, threatening her with indignities and tortures, whereupon she threw herself on her knees and, with clasped hands, wept and cried for mercy, imploring him to have pity on her and not to mangle or disfigure her body and so prevent it from being recognised after death. For, she said, ‘I am the daughter and wife of a king, and was in past time recognised by yourselves as your queen. Wherefore if you now stain your hands with my blood, your cruelty will be held in abhorrence by all men in all ages.’

  Her words wrought a curious change in the man. Perhaps he had been a Lancastrian soldier and had once fought for her. Now he fell on his knees before her and swore to die rather than harm or forsake her or the Prince. He told her he was known as Black Jack, and led them by a secret route to a cave beside a stream in Deepden Woods, which is still to be seen and still known as the ‘Queen’s Cave’. Here they sheltered for two days until Brézé and his squire, Barville, who had been searching for the Queen and Prince, found them. After bidding farewell to Black Jack and pardoning him for the offences he had committed, the Queen and Brézé rode to Carlisle and thence across the Scottish border to Kirkcudbright.

  While she was there, an English spy called Cork devised a plan to kidnap her and take her to Edward IV. He paid his men well, and one night they laid hands on Brézé and Barville and forced them into a small rowing boat, where they were bound and gagged. After that, it was an easy matter to capture the unguarded Queen and her son, drag them on board and put to sea. There they remained all night, but in the light of dawn the Queen recognised Brézé and surreptitiously helped him to loosen his bonds. Freed, he was able to knock Cork senseless and seize the oars. For some hours the boat was tossed in the choppy waters of the Solway Firth before being beached at Kirkcudbright Bay, a wild and desolate place. Brézé carried the Queen ashore and laid her down on the sand to recuperate, while Barville joined them with the Prince. When they had recovered they all walked to a nearby hamlet and begged shelter. Brézé sent Barville to Edinburgh – a hundred miles away – to enlist the help of Queen Mary. He came back with a message that Mary would see Margaret, but only in private, and that the betrothal between the Prince and Margaret Stewart had been broken at Burgundy’s request. Perplexed and angry, Margaret made her own way to Edinburgh, but could not prevail upon the embarrassed Scottish government to change its mind. All the Regent would do was help her return to her friends in Northumberland.

  Margaret was now in desperate straits, being so poor that she was obliged to borrow a groat from a Scottish archer to make an offering on the feast day of her patron saint, St Margaret. As she made her way back with Brézé towards Bamburgh, she met up with her husband and son, but their food supplies quickly ran out and, according to Chastellain, they ‘were reduced to such abject misery and destitution that for five days they had but one herring between the three and not more bread than would have sufficed a day’s nourishment’.

  Meanwhile the activities of the Lancastrians in the north had rebounded on Somerset, who had in no way been involved. There were many at court who resented his appointment as captain of the garrison at Newcastle, and who could not forget the support given to the Lancastrians by himself and his family, and in late July the King sent him away from court for his own safety; the Duke appears to have gone to one of the royal castles in Wales.

  Margaret of Anjou was now determined to make a personal plea to Burgundy for help, especially after July 1463, when she learned that Warwick was marching north with a great host, and knew she had no hope of holding out against him. After bidding farewell to Henry VI at Bamburgh, promising that she would be back in the spring with a new army, the Queen sailed with Brézé, Exeter, Fortescue, Morton and 200 men in four fishing vessels, while Henry then made his way to Berwick.

  On 31 July, after enduring violent gales lasting twelve hours, the Queen’s vessels were obliged to put in at Sluys in Flanders because they were too damaged to sail further. Margaret was destitute, having no money, no royal robes, and no possessions of value – they had been sold to finance her military ventures. All she had to wear was the short red gown that she stood up in, cut to the knee like a peasant woman’s. Her retinue was reduced to just seven women attired as poorly as their mistress. She was totally dependent on Brézé for money and food, even though he himself was in extreme poverty, having spent all he had – 50,000 crowns – on serving her.

  Margaret was trusting in an out-of-date safe-conduct issued by Philip years before to guarantee her safe passage through his territories, yet her welcome in Sluys was frosty. The people were loyal to their duke and they remembered that this woman had been his mortal enemy in the days of her prosperity, and made many ‘savage comments’ on her misfortunes. It was, wrote Chastellain, ‘a piteous thing truly to see, th
is high princess so cast down and laid low in much great danger, dying of hunger and hardship because she was forced to throw herself on the mercy of the one in all the world most set against her’. Yet, despite her lack of resources and the hostility of the Flemings, the Queen was resolved to see Philip and sabotage the peace conference at St Omer. She was full of hope that her plight would move Philip to succour her,

  As soon as she came on shore, Margaret sent a messenger to the Duke to request an audience, saying she came ‘in humility and poverty to seek of his greatness a refuge for herself and her child, which she trusted he was too proud to deny her’. Philip was sympathetic, but he was also anxious to conclude a treaty of friendship with Edward IV and so preserve the trade links between England and Burgundy, and did not want the Lancastrian queen embarrassing him in front of the English envoys. He therefore played for time, pleading sickness, while hoping that she would go away, then sent to say he had gone on pilgrimage to Our Lady of Boulogne and, as English-owned Calais was nearby, it was too dangerous for her to join him. Margaret told his messenger, ‘I will go in quest of him, whether it imperil me or not. Were my cousin of Burgundy to go to the end of the world, I would follow him.’

  The messenger hurried back to Philip and told him that nothing on earth could deflect the Queen from her purpose and ‘see him she would’. Philip said he would see her if he had to, at Boulogne – no doubt he hoped that the English might capture her on the way. Then his chivalry and good manners prevailed and he sent a message informing Margaret that he would meet her at St Pol. By the time he got there the English ambassadors would have departed.

  When the meeting took place, previous differences were glossed over by a veneer of courtesy. The Duke told the Queen that she was welcome in Burgundy and that he was sorry for her misfortunes, but he did not commit himself further than to say that in his dealings with Edward IV he would have an eye to her interests. After he left St Pol he sent Margaret 2000 gold crowns and a diamond ring, a hundred crowns for Brézé and a hundred crowns each for the Queen’s ladies. In September he sent his sister, the Duchess of Bourbon, and her daughter, who was married to Margaret’s brother John of Calabria, to be companions for the Queen. A warm friendship sprang up between the two women, and Margaret told the Duchess that no parallel to her adventures could be found in books, recounting in detail the sufferings she had endured. The Duchess observed that, if a book were to be written on the troubles of royal ladies, Margaret would be found to excel them all in calamity.

  In September Margaret went to Bruges, where she was royally entertained by Philip’s son Charles, Count of Charolais. At a banquet given in her honour, the Queen, whose royal dignity and manners had not been impaired by her penury, indicated that Charolais should use the fingerbowl before herself and the Prince. But he, following the example of his father, who always insisted on paying due reverence to crowned heads, absolutely refused to come forward, saying that the son of a duke ought not to wash with the son of a king. The affair almost provoked a diplomatic incident. The Burgundian court, where great attention was paid to matters of etiquette, was a-buzz with consternation in case some offence had been given, and messengers were even sent to the Duke to ask his advice on the question of precedence. He agreed that Charles had acted properly and preserved the honour of Burgundy.

  Margaret met the chronicler Georges Chastellain in Bruges and at his request recounted her adventures, which he related in detail in his chronicle. His imagination was stirred by her beauty and her misfortunes, and he was grieved to hear her say that she had several times thought of killing herself, ‘but happily the fear of God, and His restraining grace, had preserved her from so deadly a sin’.

  Enriched with a gift of 12,000 crowns from Philip, Margaret rode on to Nancy to see her father, King René. Realising the hopelessness of her cause and knowing that it would be dangerous for her to return to Scotland, he persuaded her to remain in France for the present, and lent her his castle of Koeur-la-Petite in the duchy of Bar. Here she set up a small court of exiles, who included Sir John Fortescue, Dr John Morton, Sir Robert Whittingham, and George Ashby, her clerk of the signet. René allocated her 6000 crowns a year, but this did not cover her expenses and for most of her exile she lived on or near the breadline. This drove her to pay long visits to various relatives, including her grandmother, Yolande of Aragon, her brother, John of Calabria, and her aunt, the Dowager Queen Marie of France at Amboise. From time to time she went to Paris to try to revive King Louis’s interest in her cause, but in vain. She also tried to enlist the support of the Emperor Frederick III, the King of Portugal and Charles of Charolais, but met with no better success.

  All her hopes for the future rested on her ten-year-old son. She was now able to devote some time to his education, and appointed Fortescue his chief tutor. Fortescue wrote a treatise on the laws of England – De Laudibus legum Angliae – for the boy, and schooled him well, probably with the help of George Ashby. Edward flourished under his guidance and doubtless benefited from this more settled existence. His mother taught him courtesy and social skills, and he received the customary military training considered mandatory for a boy of his rank from the men of her household.

  Early in December 1463, King Edward’s prolonged negotiations with the Scots bore fruit in the form of a truce, one of the conditions of which was that James III undertook not to give any further help to the Lancastrians. This caused the Scots no heart-searching, for they believed by now that Henry VI’s cause was irrevocably lost. On 8 December, Henry VI crossed the border with his small court and again took up residence at Bamburgh Castle, where for the next few months he would rule what remained of his kingdom – the Northumbrian castles.

  For some time Somerset had suffered mounting frustration at King Edward’s failure to pay him the pension promised a year earlier. He may also have felt guilty about abandoning Henry VI. In December 1463 he finally deserted Edward IV, riding from Wales to Newcastle, having sent ahead to instruct his men there to open the gates. In an inn near Durham he was recognised and, being awakened in the dead of night by footsteps outside his room, he was obliged to escape via the window wearing only his shirt and no shoes. Meanwhile, the Yorkist garrison at Newcastle had learned of his coming and put his retainers to flight. The Duke was therefore obliged to leave England and make his way to Margaret of Anjou’s court at Bar, where he begged her forgiveness for his disloyalty and the Queen, glad to have him at her side once more, readily made her peace with him.

  Edward IV was bitterly hurt by Somerset’s defection, especially after he had shown the Duke such friendship. Worse still, Somerset’s desertion heralded a new Lancastrian conspiracy against the King, for in Wales, Pembroke was doing his best to rouse the people in support of Henry VI, and during the early months of 1464 the deposed king’s supporters were very active in the north. Somerset and Sir Ralph Percy were stirring the commons to rebellion, and a raiding party from Alnwick ventured into Yorkist territory and seized Skipton Castle in Yorkshire. Henry VI rode south as far as Lancashire to raise support, and before long the Lancastrians had sufficient strength to launch successful raids against the castles at Bywell, Langley and Hexham. There were minor risings in support of Henry VI in East Anglia, Gloucestershire, Cheshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire and Wales, but all were suppressed by King Edward with ruthless thoroughness. Sir William Tailboys was found hiding in a coalmine near Newcastle with 3000 marks, which had been destined as pay for Lancastrian troops, but were now seized by Lord Montague’s men and distributed among them.

  Queen Margaret was at this time trying to interest the Duke of Brittany in supporting the Lancastrian cause. Pembroke persuaded him to give ships and men for an invasion of Wales, and was allowed to gather his fleet at St Malo, whence he sailed in March, under the command of Alain de la Motte, Vice-Admiral of Brittany. But news of the suppression of the Lancastrian risings in England made Pembroke turn back, and the projected invasion of Wales never took place.

  Neverthele
ss, information wrung out of captured Lancastrian agents convinced the government that something important was afoot. On 1 April the renowned Humphrey Neville of Brancepeth, ignoring his pardon from King Edward, rode to Bamburgh and offered Henry VI his sword. Despite the setbacks he had received in recent weeks, Henry was in an optimistic mood, believing that his restoration was imminent.

  Warwick had advised King Edward that the only way to establish order in the north was to convert the truce with the Scots into a permanent peace. The Scots were willing to parley, and in April the King sent Montague north to escort their envoys to York. But Somerset, Roos, Hungerford, Humphrey Neville, Sir Ralph Grey and Sir Ralph Percy set a trap for him, concealing eight men with spears and bows in a wood near Newcastle to prevent him from reaching the envoys at Norham. Montague had been warned and neatly avoided the ambush, pressing on only to find Somerset and his companions with 500 men-at-arms confronting him on Hedgeley Moor between Morpeth and Wooler on 25 April. A brief but fierce battle took place. Roos and Hungerford, realising that their side was losing, withdrew from the mêlée, but Sir Ralph Percy fought on to the end, when he was mortally wounded and died in the field alongside most of his men. His death was a serious blow to the Lancastrian cause: many north countrymen had supported it out of loyalty to him.

 
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