Category Archives: Battles in Britain

The Resurrection of King Richard III: February 2013

Exactly a week ago today, on 4th February 2013, we had the electrifying news that the skeletal remains discovered in a Leicester Car Park were those of King Richard III, the last ‘medieval monarch of England’. Experts from the University of Leicester confirmed that DNA from the bones matched the DNA of Richard’s descendants.

(A) The  Enduring Fascination of King Richard III.

(1) Richard III reigned for only two years (26th June 1483 to 22nd August 1485); yet he is one of the most famous monarchs in British History. Richard III is one of the few British monarchs to have a society named after him. ‘The Richard III Society’, founded nearly 90 years ago in 1924, is today a flourishing society. There is also a ‘Richard III Society’ in the USA, founded over 50 years ago in 1961.

A major function of both these societies is has been to rehabilitate the posthumous reputation of King Richard III. Shakespeare effectively executed a ‘hanging job’ on the last Yorkist monarch in his famous play:’ The Tragedy of King Richard III’ (written in 1593). In Shakespeare’s complete canon of cads only Iago exceeds Richard in criminal conduct. In his play, ‘The Third Part of King Henry VI (1591), Shakespeare portrays Richard as exultingly murdering the ‘saintly’ King Henry VI: “Down, down to hell; and say I sent thee thither.” [Act V, Scene VI.] However, Shakespeare was not alone in damming Richard III’s reputation. Another ‘saintly’ historical character, Sir Thomas More, did much to blacken Richard’s reputation in his ‘History of Richard III’ (written between 1512 and 1519). More’s account was little more than political propaganda. As Professor Hicks remarked about twenty years ago: “How was More’s  Richard III ever regarded as objective?” [M.A.Hicks, page 39, in ‘The Wars of The Roses’, Macmillan, 1995.] More is still often regarded as a very upright historical character. In the year 2000, More was even glorified by Pope John Paul II, who declared More to be the Patron of Catholic Politicians.

(2) The other reason for Richard III’s enduring fascination is the question of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. On 9th April 1483, King Edward IV died, only 41years old. Edward IV’s premature death caused a constitutional crisis, as his two male heirs were both minors: Edward, Prince of Wales (12 years old) and Richard, Duke of York (just over 9 years old).

Immediately after his father’s death, Edward Prince of Wales became King Edward V, but he was never crowned. Both Edward and Richard were effectively removed from the monarchy, and their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, became King Richard III. Both princes were lodged in the Tower of London, but both soon disappeared from public view, and, within a few months, were presumed dead. This is not the place to go into a long analysis on the sad fate of the two young princes; but Richard III must be counted as one of their potential ‘murderers’. If the princes had survived Richard III’s coronation, it was in Richard’s self-interest to exhibit the princes, if only to head off potential unrest.  He might therefore have given the order for their execution. However, there are two other possible ‘murderers’ who also might have ordered the princes’ murder.

(i) Henry Tudor (King Henry VII)

Like Richard III, Henry Tudor was a usurper. He had a weak claim to the English Crown (mainly through his mother, Margaret Beaufort). After he took the throne in August 1485 (by defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth), Tudor made sure he eliminated any rival claimants to the throne. Chief among these was Edward, Earl of Warwick (Richard III’s nephew). Henry Tudor ordered his execution in 1499. One feels that Tudor would have been equally prepared to have the two young princes executed after his accession to the Crown.

(ii) Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

A devious character, he played the key role in helping Richard accede to the English Crown in 1483. In recognition for Buckingham’s ‘Kingmaker Role’, King Richard III showered Buckingham with rewards, especially in Wales. (On this matter, Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ is simply erroneous).

Having been amply rewarded by Richard III for helping him  accede to the Crown in the summer of 1483, Buckingham then turned against Richard in the following autumn. Buckingham’s reasons for his sudden change of allegiance are still uncertain; but Professor Carpenter has suggested: “Possibly Buckingham had some idea that a rebellion in favour of Henry Tudor might remove Richard and culminate in his (i.e. Buckingham’s) ascent to the throne.” [Christine Carpenter, ‘The Wars of the Roses’, page 212, Cambridge, 1997.] Extending this line of argument, Buckingham would have had no scruples in having the two princes murdered in the Tower after Richard’s accession in June 1483.

(B) Richard III’s Fall From Power 1483-1485

  • Richard’s usurpation engendered opposition from those Yorkists who supported the young King Edward V. This culminated in a major rebellion against Richard in southern England, led by the Duke of Buckingham in the autumn of 1483, and involving Henry Tudor. Even so, Richard crushed this rebellion with ease, so one feels that Richard’s ultimate overthrow, in August 1485, was not primarily linked to the circumstances of his usurpation. Richard’s very short tenure as King of England was due to a combination of long run factors and chance events.
  • Long Run Factor: Richard III’s Narrow Power Base.

Richard’s power base was the north of England. Richard had remained loyal to his elder brother, King Edward IV, when Edward had temporarily lost the English Crown in 1470. After Edward IV’s dramatic recovery of the English Crown in 1471, he rewarded Richard for the latter’s loyalty (especially in the north of England). In 1471, Richard was appointed High Sheriff of Cumberland and granted the lordship of Middleham. From 1471 onwards, Middleham Castle (in North Yorkshire), became Richard’s power base.

In the following year, 1472, Richard was appointed President of the Council of the North. This was King Edward IV’s experiment in devolution, and was designed to strengthen Yorkist government in the north of England, in an era of restricted communications. Richard seems to have successfully governed North England. According to one contemporary chronicler, Domenico Mancini:  “He (Richard) kept himself within his own lands (Northern England) and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. [EHD, Volume IV, edited A.R. Myers, page 330.]

Richard’s policies in the North of England were very successful in the 1470s. Together with the Percies in Northumberland, Richard virtually ruled Northern England.  Richard’s crowning glory occurred in August 1482 (six months before Edward IV’s death). In that month, Richard led a northern English Army that re-captured the key fortress of Berwick upon Tweed. This military triumph protected northern England against Scottish incursions, thereby increasing Richard’s popularity in Northern England,

In a sense, Richard was a northern king imposed on a largely hostile south of England, including London. This meant that Richard’s power base was narrow, and it became even narrower after the southern Rebellion against him in the autumn of 1483 (The Buckingham Rebellion). The Rebellion was ended by Buckingham’s execution for treason. Richard signed the death warrant , not in London; but at Grantham (a Yorkist borough enfranchised by King Edward IV in 1463). Richard’s response to this southern rebellion was to dispossess disloyal southern magnates. This was understandable. What was less sensible was to replace them by ‘planted’ northerners. This mistake meant that Richard passed up the opportunity of broadening his narrow power base by getting southern support.

Thus, when Richard faced Henry Tudor’s invading Army at Bosworth in August 1485, his Army was mainly commanded by northern magnates; one of whom was to prove disloyal (Lord Stanley), the other was to prove indifferent (Lord Northumberland)

  • Short-Term Factors: Chance Events.

Historians have tended to play down the importance of chance events as major factors influencing historical change. Chance events tend to be very specialised. They fit into the Karl Popper mode of unique events: they cannot be replicated. As they are so varied, they do not  easily fit into the pattern of the ‘Hierarchy of Causes’, so beloved of historians. I may say that my personal instinct is to favour long run causes, which can be tabulated in importance. For example, in my recent, January Blog, on the internal weaknesses affecting Henry VI’s Lancastrian Regime, I focussed on economic factors. That is, I was applying a neo-Marxist analysis to the weaknesses of the Lancastrian Regime in the mid-Fifteenth Century. I am perfectly happy with this line of argument, as historical experience does show some linkage between economic pressure and political conflict. In other words, economic factors are significant in the hierarchy of causes. Similarly the extent and nature of a political power base is an important long run factor explaining the retention (or loss) of government. (For example, the British Labour Party’s power base in northern England in 2013 is like Richard’s power base in 1483 – too narrow to retain government.)

However, perhaps we need to pay more heed to chance factors in explaining historical events, including Richard’s loss of power. There were at least two major chance events that collectively may explain Richard’s brief two year reign.

(i) Family Tragedies: 1483 and 1485.

On 9th April 1484, Richard’s only son(and heir), Edward of Middleham, died, aged only ten years old. This was a great personal tragedy for Richard, who received the sad news whilst in Nottingham (again, not London). On a practical level, it meant that Richard had no direct heir (he then designated his nephew, Lord Lincoln, as his heir). Just as bad, Richard’s own wife, Anne Neville, died on 16th March 1485. This was an ‘unlucky death’, as Queen Anne was then only 29 years old. It is thought that this chance event, a double tragedy, made Richard more reckless as a monarch. In particular, it might explain Richard’s headstrong actions at Bosworth, when he threw caution to the winds in his desire to personally eliminate Henry Tudor (instead of retiring northwards to re-group his forces, as his commanders advised).

(ii) Opposition of France 1485

It is not generally realised how much Henry Tudor depended on French help at the battle of Bosworth (certainly not mentioned by Shakespeare). Estimates of the size of the French forces vary, but 3,500 seems about right, and this clearly  was a major factor explaining Tudor’s ultimate triumph, especially as the French forces had superior weaponry. Not only that, but Tudor’s invading force was conveyed to Wales in French ships.

It seems that this determined French support for Henry Tudor was simple ‘bad luck’ for Richard, the result of a series of chance events and coincidences.

To begin with, in 1483, in France, as in England, a minor became king . In France, Charles of Valois became King Charles VIII of France on 30th August 1483 (he was then thirteen years old). The Regent was Charles’s elder sister, Anne of Beaujeu.  However, young King Charles VIII was threatened by his uncle, Louis, Duke of Orleans: just as King Edward V had been threatened by his uncle (Richard). The Regent Anne decided to oppose Richard (the Duke of Orleans was pro-Richard).

(C) Conclusion.

King Richard III remains a figure of controversy.  Even his skeletal remains are a cause of debate. It is absolutely right that Richard III receives an honourable interment; but the actual place of interment is today a matter of some dispute. One feels that Richard himself would prefer his final resting place to be in the North of England (York Minster would be an obvious resting place). However, it seems that Leicester Cathedral will have the honour of harbouring Richard’s remains, despite the fact that Leicester was a Lancastrian stronghold in the Wars of the Roses. Still, one feels that Richard would appreciate this irony; perhaps it is for the best.

(D)Conclusion.

King Richard III is one of the few medieval kings to lose his crown by losing his life in battle. Name two other medieval monarchs who similarly lost their thrones by losing their lives in battle.

 

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Curtain-Up on the Wars of the Roses: The Battle of Wakefield (1460)

Cast your mind back over 550 years.

You have arrived in Wakefield. It is Tuesday, 30th December 1460. It is only mid-afternoon; but darkness comes early at this time of the year.

In the gathering gloom, you walk the short distance to Wakefield Green, Between Sandal Castle and the River Calder. Wakefield Green is sadly littered with many dead bodies. Sandal Castle, lately occupied by Richard Duke of York, is strangely silent. Over by the River Calder, you espy a crowd of foot-soldiers loitering on Wakefield Bridge.  Plucking up your courage you wander across to the soldiers. They are gruff; but not unfriendly. They are retainers of Lord Clifford, the well-known Lancastrian supporter.  They tell you that they are guarding the place where earlier in the day Lord Clifford killed a prominent Yorkist leader, Lord Rutland. You are surprised and saddened by their news, as Lord Rutland is only 17 years old. A Renaissance Prince has been cut down in his prime. How could such an outrage have been allowed to happen?

The Battle of  Wakefield. 30th December 1460

  • In 1460, the forces of King Henry VI had been furiously engaged with the supporters of Richard, Duke of York, in what is commonly known as the Wars of the Roses. By December, Richard had taken part of his forces (about 9,000 soldiers) to his castle at Sandal, near Wakefield. Richard’s commanders included his own son, Edmund (Earl of Rutland) and Richard (Earl of Salisbury). Richard’s strategy was aimed at overpowering King Henry’s forces in Northern England.
  • However, the Lancastrians had called Richard’s bluff. They had secretly assembled an army twice the size of Richard’s force in West Yorkshire. This Lancastrian Army was commanded by Henry Beaufort (3rd Duke of Somerset), Henry Percy (3rd Earl of Northumberland) and Henry (9th Lord Clifford).
  • Having previously reached Sandal Castle on 21st December, Richard’s army had then quit the safety of the castle nine days later. Historians are still uncertain why Richard of York made such a strategic mistake. There are several theories:-

(i)                Richard’s Army was growing short of supplies, and so his army needed to forage for provisions.

(ii)              Only part of the Lancastrian Army was visible on Wakefield Green, at the foot of Sandal Castle. The rest were hidden in nearby woods. Richard of York therefore thought that his forces were not at risk.

(iii)            There is a possibility that both sides had agreed a temporary truce. Truces were very common in medieval warfare, and were virtually always respected.

  • Whatever the reason, Richard of York‘s decision was a blunder. Although daylight hours were restricted in late December, the Lancastrian Army, 18,000 strong, soon overwhelmed the Yorkist Army (only half the Lancastrian strength). In this military rout, virtually the entire Yorkist leadership was eliminated. Richard of York was killed in battle; Edmund Of Rutland (wounded and defenceless) was hacked down on Wakefield Bridge. The Earl of Salisbury did escape from the battlefield, only to be executed the following day.

Impact of the Battle of Wakefield

Historians regard the Battle of Wakefield as marking a decisive step in the Wars of the Roses. As Professor Michael Hicks has written, the Battle of Wakefield “raised the stakes yet further…….From Wakefield on, every victorious side systematically despatched any opposing leaders who fell into their hands, thus making the results more decisive.”  [‘The Wars of the Roses’, by Michael Hicks (2010), page 160].

The Lancastrians had certainly raised the stakes by killing young Rutland. They went even further after the battle. They beheaded the bodies of Richard of York, Edmund of Rutland and Richard of Salisbury. They also beheaded the bodies of Sir Thomas Neville and William, Lord Harrington. The former was the fourth son of Richard of Salisbury: the latter was Salisbury’s son-in-law. The Lancastrians then had these severed heads placed on the various gateways of York.

A contemporary chronicler, added: “The head of the Duke of York they also in contempt crowned with a paper crown.” [EHD, Volume IV, edited A.R. Myers, page 286

Conclusion

I entitled this Blog: ‘Curtain-Up on the Wars of the Roses’, and this title is deliberate. Shakespeare used the Wars of the Roses as the backcloth to his cycle of  three plays on the reign of King Henry VI. Shakespeare clearly knew his historical sources, including the contemporary source above mentioned, which is referred to in his play: “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good Henry the Sixth” {3 Henry VI}.  In Act 1, Scene 4 of this play, Shakespeare creates a magnificent inter-play between the captive Richard of York and Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI’s queen). In a famous speech, Margaret humiliates Richard of York. She finishes by putting a paper crown on Richard’s head:

“A crown for York, and lords, bow low to him.

Hold you his hands whilst I do set it on.

Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king,

Ay, this is he that took King Henry’s chair,

And this is he was his adopted heir.”

 

The rhyming couplet that concludes Margaret’s dramatic actions again reveals Shakespeare’s historical knowledge. Two months before the Battle of Wakefield, King Henry VI had agreed to Parliament’s Act of Accord, by which Henry had ‘adopted’ Richard of York as heir to his throne.

Finally, the ‘Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary’ defines the term ‘curtain-up’ as “the beginning of something which is very exciting or dramatic”.  My 2013 Blogs (regular and monthly) will focus on a key period of the Wars of the Roses between 1450 and 1461. This explosive period in English History was full of dramatic personalities and exciting events. I hope my readers  will find my historical  jottings  equally exhilarating and theatrical.

Question.

In the above Shakespearean Scene, what famous appellation does Richard of York bestow on Margaret?

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Sibling Strife Part 1 : King Henry I and Duke Robert of Normandy 1101

Just over 900 years ago today, on 20th July 1101, Duke Robert of Normandy landed at Portsmouth with an invading army from Normandy. Though numerically smaller than his father’s mighty invasion force had been in 1066, Robert’s invading army still posed a major threat to Henry I, King of England. What had caused this political and military crisis in England?

  • Duke Robert and King Henry I were both sons of King William I: Robert being the eldest son and Henry the youngest son. King William I’s middle son was also called William (nicknamed Rufus). Robert and William had shared out the territorial spoils when their father, William the Conqueror, died in 1087. Robert succeeded to the Dukedom of Normandy, while William became King William II of England. Henry, the youngest son, had to make do with a massive payoff; maybe as much as three thousand silver marks. Henry’s two elder brothers had excluded him from political power: their cavalier treatment of Henry in 1087 perhaps sowed the seeds of the later sibling strife between Henry and Robert.
  • As it was, for the next dozen or so years, Henry had to wait in the political wings, while Robert and William enjoyed the prestige that went with political office. Sexual liaisons seemed to have totally occupied Henry. Indeed, Professor Judith Green estimates that Henry fathered the amazing total of 19 illegitimate children between 1086 (when he was knighted) and 1100 (when he became King of England).* Henry was catholic in his choice of mistresses: Ede, Ansfrida and Edith were all well-born Anglo/Saxon ladies. Ansfrida was clearly more than just a passing fancy for Henry, as the couple had three children (their liaison began after Ansfrida had been widowed). Another of Henry’s mistresses, Nest, was a Welsh Princess; while yet another mistress, Isabel, was a well-born Norman lady (daughter of Count Meulan).
  • Even so, it would be incorrect to dismiss Henry as merely a sexual adventurer. As the very reliable contemporary chronicler, William of Malmesbury, remarked about Henry: “He was early instructed in the liberal arts, and so throughout imbibed the sweets of learning that no warlike disturbance and no pressure of business could ever erase them from his noble mind.” [EHD, Vol. II, page 319] It seems likely that Henry had always closely followed political events in England and Normandy, to see how he could further his own interests. His chance finally came in August 1100, when William II died in an accident whilst hunting in the New Forest (see my forthcoming August Blog). The political situation in early August 1100 was uniquely favourable to Henry: William II of England had just died, while his elder brother, Robert, was still many miles away, returning from his participation in the First Crusade. Henry took his chance, seizing the English Crown. Why did Henry not also try to appropriate the dukedom of Normandy in August 1100? The answer seems to be that he initially needed to consolidate his position as King of England; as Professor Carpenter has sagely remarked about King Henry I: “he knew when to stop.” **
  •  Duke Robert returned to Normandy in the autumn of 1100. He immediately set about making plans to invade England, to dispossess Henry I of the English Crown. In February 1101, his cause was greatly aided by the arrival in Normandy of Ranulf Flambard. Flambard had been William II’s chief administrator. Henry I had imprisoned Flambard after his accession to the Crown in August 1100. Flambard now took his revenge against Henry, helping Robert, Duke of Normandy, to mastermind the Norman Invasion of England, which finally took place in July 1101.
  • Duke Robert’s invasion Force posed a supreme challenge to King Henry I. To begin with, Duke Robert had assembled an invasion fleet of at least 200 ships. Secondly, Flambard bribed Henry’s English seamen to allow Duke Robert’s invasion fleet to land on English soil unopposed – which they did, at Portsmouth, on 20th July 1101. Finally, once Duke Robert and his invasion army had set foot on English soil, many of Henry’s Tenants-in-Chief began to desert him. It looked as if an action-replay of the 1066 Hastings Campaign, fought thirty-five years earlier, was about to happen. The then Duke of Normandy was successful in 1066: the question was would the new Duke of Normandy be equally successful in 1101?
  • Yet King Henry I probably had more acumen than King Harold. To begin with, Henry had the unswerving support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the justly renowned Anselm. Anselm privately stiffened the loyalty of any magnates who were uncertain whether or not to support Henry. Secondly, Henry sensibly used all means at his disposal to maximise the size of his army. Like all Norman monarchs, he demanded that his tenants-in-chief (those that were still loyal) fulfil their feudal obligations to provide him with mounted knights. In addition, Henry utilised the Anglo/Saxon fyrd. He summoned his Englishmen to muster at Hastings (possibility deliberately invoking memories of 1066). The fact that Henry, alone of William the Conqueror’s sons, had been born in England (possibly in Selby), and that he had married an Anglo/Saxon Princess (Queen Edith Matilda) doubtless encouraged English troops to muster in the fyrd. Finally, Henry himself was a talented leader. Back in 1066, at the Battle of Hastings, King Harold had failed to properly discipline the English shield wall against William the Conqueror’s invading army. King Henry displayed no such military shortcomings. As the fyrd gathered at Hastings in July 1101, Henry himself repeatedly passed through the assembled ranks of the English soldiers. He personally instructed them how to repel a cavalry charge by maintaining their shield wall, and returning their enemies’ blows. Here indeed was a leader in action.
  • The result was a military stand-off between the two armies; yet such a stalemate would ultimately favour Henry, as it would mean that the political initiative would return to him. That is what happened. With the help of mediators, Henry and Robert agreed to make peace, enshrined in the ‘Treaty of Alton’, which was formally ratified at Winchester on 2nd August 1101. It cannot have been lost on contemporaries that this was exactly a year since the death of King William II, close to Winchester, in the New Forest. The Treaty of Alton was a major boost for Henry I. By this Treaty, Robert formally renounced the English Crown. In return, King Henry I had to pay Robert a huge pension, possibly as much as £2,500. The latter tribute smacked of Henry imitating the Anglo/Saxon King Aethelred a hundred years earlier when the latter monarch paid the Danegeld; but such a comparison would be false. It is true that Henry gained a much needed breathing space by the Treaty of Alton; but he aimed to use the respite by further consolidating his regime in England, and then make his own bid for Normandy. That this was probably the case is supported by the fact that although Robert renounced the English Crown at the Treaty of Alton. Henry for his part was careful not to renounce his claim to the Dukedom of Normandy.

 

Conclusion

It seemed that by the Treaty of Alton, the sibling strife between Robert and Henry had given way to brotherly bliss; yet their rivalry remained. This Blog entry is the first of a trilogy of Blogs concerned with Henry I’s accession and retention of power between 1100 and 1106. The final sibling struggle was to be acted out on the playing fields of Tinchebrai, in Normandy, in 1106 (the subject of my September Blog entry). There, King Henry I sealed his triumph, becoming Duke of Normandy, as well as King of England. By 1106, Henry had effectively staked out his claim to be the most successful son of King William the Conqueror, a claim he was to make good in the thirty or so years after 1106.

Question

Henry’s fecundity in fathering illegitimate offspring is still relatively unknown. What British monarch traditionally has ben regarded as being the father of numerous illegitimate children?

 

*Henry I by Judith Green. CUP. 2006

 

**The Struggle for Mastery by David Carpenter. Allen Lane. 2003

 

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A Tale of Two Cities: A Tale of Two Matildas

(1) The Empress Matilda and Matilda of Boulogne: Marriage and Children

(i) Just under 900 years ago today, on 17th June 1128, The Empress Matilda married Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, in Le Mans, chief city in the province of Maine  (in northern France). The Empress Matilda was the daughter, and the only surviving legitimate heir, of King Henry I of England. Matilda’s title, “Empress” was derived from her first marriage to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. Matilda had been betrothed, and later married, to the Emperor Henry between 1114 and 1125. Henry had died in 1125, the royal couple having had no surviving children.

In contrast to her childless first marriage, Matilda’s second marriage to Count Geoffrey of Anjou was more fruitful. The Empress Matilda had three sons by her second husband:-

  • Henry, later Duke of Normandy and King of England. Born in the city of Le Mans, 5th March, 1133.
  • Geoffrey, later Count of Nantes. Born in 1134.
  • William, later Count of Poitou. Born in 1135.

(ii) Matilda of Boulogne was probably born in 1105, just three years after the Empress Matilda. Matilda’s own royal ancestry was astonishingly similar to the Empress. Like the Empress Matilda, Matilda of Boulogne was a grand-daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland, and his Anglo/Saxon wife, Queen Margaret. Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Matilda were therefore cousins; and their close kinship probably sharpened their later rivalry

Matilda’s sobriquet comes from her father, Eustace III, Count of Boulogne, who had married Mary of Scotland. In 1125, Matilda of Boulogne married Stephen, Count of Mortain. This marriage gave Matilda of Boulogne a link to the English monarchy, because Stephen was the nephew of King Henry I. Matilda and Stephen had several children, including two surviving sons: Eustace and William.

(2) The start of their rivalry

(i) After William the Atheling’s premature death in 1120 (see my November 2011 Blog), the Empress Matilda was Henry I’s only legitimate heir. However, her gender was against her, even though King Henry I had taken great steps to get his Tenants-in Chief to recognise the Empress Matilda as his successor.

When King Henry I died in December 1135, Stephen moved quickly. Displaying rare qualities of resolution, Stephen declared himself King of England. His monarchical ambitions were probably encouraged by his wife, Matilda of Boulogne. Matilda may well have lacked the merciless streak of Lady Macbeth; but she certainly shared that aristocratic diva’s ambition. Matilda’s reward was to be crowned Queen Consort of England, on 22nd March, 1136.

(ii) The Empress Matilda was equal to this challenge.

Displaying mature political insight, the Empress realised that the possession of Normandy would be the vital factor in thwarting Stephen, and furthering her own claims to the English Crown. In reaching this decision, Matilda was very much imitating her father; as it was Henry I’s great victory in 1106 in Normandy (Tinchebrai), which really consolidated his rule in England. The Empress delegated the conquest of Normandy to her husband, Geoffrey of Anjou. This decision was totally vindicated. By 1144, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, had effectively annexed Normandy (Rouen had been captured in January 1144). Geoffrey then arrogated to himself the title ‘Duke of Normandy’. Exhibiting adroit political judgement, in 1149 Matilda and Geoffrey transferred the title to their eldest son, Henry, then sixteen years old. As Duke of Normandy, Henry presented a formidable challenge to Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne, a challenge that ultimately they were unable to resist.

(3) Matilda of Boulogne and The Empress Matilda at odds in England: 1141

The struggle between these two formidable royal Amazons perhaps reached its zenith in 1141.

  • Leaving her husband to conquer Normandy, The Empress crossed the Channel to England in 1141, to take the fight directly to Stephen & Matilda of Boulogne. Landing in England, The Empress rallied the Angevin forces, aided by her half-brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester (a formidable warrior).
  • However, Matilda of Boulogne was not idle in support of her husband, King Stephen. Matilda called up troops from Boulogne, and besieged Dover Castle.
  • The struggle reached its climax in February 1141, in the important city of Lincoln. The forces of the Empress, commanded by Earl Robert, overwhelmed Stephen’s Army in Lincoln. Part of Stephen’s Army deserted him (especially the King’s cavalry). In the laconic phrasing of the contemporary chronicler, Henry of Huntingdon; ”so King Stephen was left alone with his infantry in the midst of the enemy.” [EHD, Volume II, page 33]. Like Shakespeare’s tragic king Macbeth, Stephen bravely fought on; however, in contrast to Macbeth, ”the king was taken prisoner.”
  • At least, King Stephen was still alive; but there was little else to encourage his supporters. Arriving in London, The Empress Matilda began to act as the de facto ruler of England. As befitted a monarch, the Empress began to issue writs and charters. One such charter, to William de Beauchamp, restored to him the shrievalty of Worcestershire. The Empress was sensibly trying to build up her power in Worcestershire, at a time when Waleran, Earl of Worcester, favoured Stephen and Matilda of Boulogne. The wording of this charter was particularly significant. It began: “Maud the Empress, daughter of King Henry, and Lady of the English, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justicars, sheriffs and all her liegemen, both French and English, of the whole of England.”[EHD, Vol II, page 468].  The very wording of this charter suggests that the Empress was already fairly confident of her success.
  • If so, the Empress’s confidence was misplaced. Faced with the daunting prospect of Stephen’s imprisonment, a lesser queen would almost certainly ‘have thrown in the royal towel’. Matilda of Boulogne was made of sterner stuff. Far from being demoralised, Stephen’s capture spurred Matilda to take up the royal cudgels on behalf of her failing husband. Henry of Huntingdon takes up the story: “The empress was recognised as ruler by the whole people of England except in Kent, where the Queen and William of Ypres continued to fight against the empress with all their might;”  (my italics)  [EHD, Vol II, page 334].  When the Empress Matilda’s forces tried to capitalise on their success by besieging Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henry of Blois, in Winchester, Queen Matilda of Boulogne and her forces raised the siege. Their military success was enhanced by the capture of Earl Robert of Gloucester, effectively the commander of the Empress’s Army. Matilda of Boulogne’s triumph led to the release of her husband King Stephen, in exchange for Earl Robert.

(4) The End of the Struggle: 1143 to 1153

The determination and resolution of the two Matildas ensured that the struggle would be protracted. At length, in 1148, the Empress Matilda recognised the existing stalemate, and returned to Normandy, to re-join her husband, Count Geoffrey. By then, the Empress’s banner was effectively being defended by her eldest son, Henry, Duke of Normandy. Even this dynamic Angevin champion found it hard going against the stubborn resistance of Queen Matilda of Boulogne (and King Stephen). Only after Queen Matilda’s death, just over 860 years ago, on 4th May 1152 (probably of fever), did Stephen’s royal curtain start to come down in the English monarchical theatre.

At least death spared Queen Matilda of Boulogne from witnessing the  demise of her elder son, Eustace in August 1153 (when he was only twenty-four years old). The death of his heir also knocked out any stuffing that  remained in King Stephen; and in November 1153, he reached a compromise with the Angevins in the Treaty of Winchester.

By this important Treaty, Stephen “established Henry, Duke of Normandy, as my successor to the Kingdom of England and have recognised him as my heir by hereditary right, and thus I have given and confirmed to him and his heirs the Kingdom of England.” As the political curtain finally came down on this ruinous English Civil war, the stage was set for the triumphs of the Angevin political theatre.

(5) Conclusions

  • On one level, the Empress Matilda had won ‘the Battle of the Two Matildas’. The Empress outlived Matilda of Boulogne by fifteen years. Dying on 10th September 1167, the Empress was to witness the great successes of her son Henry II’s reign.
  • However, Matilda of Boulogne had greatly prolonged Stephen’s reign, after the disaster of the battle of Lincoln. Though her son Eustace died early, at least her younger son, William, succeeded to the title of Count of Boulogne.
  • Both Matildas are linked to two cities: Le Mans & Boulogne. The Empress Matilda married in Le Mans (1128). Her eldest son and heir, King Henry II, was born there (1133). Finally, when he knew he was facing death, in 1189, King Henry II retired to Le Mans. King Stephen’s wife, Queen Matilda, was always associated with Boulogne. Her father, Eustace III, was Count of Boulogne. Her younger son William inherited his grandfather’s title in 1153. Even when he died, in 1159, the link with Boulogne was retained, as Queen Matilda’s daughter, Marie, became Countess of Boulogne in her own right.
  • Both the Empress Matilda, and Matilda of Boulogne, are justifiably part of the 12th Century pantheon of vigorously effective female governors (along with Queen Edith Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine). Such capable and successful female rulers were a key reason explaining the political and economic progress of that dynamic century.

(6) Postscript

As we have seen, the Empress Matilda confirmed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1141. Amazingly, he was still Sheriff of Worcestershire thirty years later. In 1170, in King Henry II’s ground breaking ‘Inquest of Sheriffs’, William de Beauchamp was still entered as Sheriff of Worcestershire [EHD, Vol II, page 470]. As far as I know, William de Beauchamp holds the record for the longest continual shrieval tenure In England. However, it seems that his tenure was too long, because it had evidently led him into corrupt practices. In 1170, King Henry II dismissed William de Beauchamp as Sheriff of Worcestershire. Perhaps the fact that Henry’s mother, the Empress Matilda, had died three years earlier, in 1167, meant that Henry felt he could dismiss de Beauchamp when Henry returned from his four year sojourn in France in 1170.

(7) Questions

i) This Blog has been entitled ‘A tale of Two Cities’. What is the link with that title and the year 2012?

ii) Why can 2012 be described as ‘A Tale of Four Matildas’?

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King Henry I and the turbulent Church: The Council of Gloucester 2nd-4th February 1123

The Feast of Candlemas (2nd February) is an important church festival, signifying the end of the Christmas period, as it falls exactly 40 days (inclusive) after Christmas Day. Perhaps that is why King Henry I summoned a great council to meet at Gloucester exactly 889 years ago, on 2nd February 1123. An alternative name for Candlemas is the Festival of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which was especially appropriate for the summoning of the Great Council at Gloucester, as there was a need to present a new Archbishop of Canterbury to the English nation.

In October 1122, Ralph d’Escures, Archbishop of Canterbury, had died. The position of Archbishop of Canterbury was obviously a very important one, and so Henry I acted with his customary vigour, and immediately ordered writs to be sent out to all the important lay and spiritual magnates, summoning them to attend a council at Gloucester in early February 1123.

The Assembly that met on 2nd February 1123 was an impressive one, consisting of all the important magnates in England, both lay and spiritual. It even included Thurstan, Archbishop of York, who was as determined as ever to resist the claims of Canterbury to ecclesiastical primacy in England; but here lay the problem for King Henry I: rivalry and dispute within the Church.

When the Council met, the spiritual delegates immediately divided into two warring factions. The first faction was the ‘Monastic Party’, headed by the Canterbury monks, who wanted a monk for archbishop. The rival church faction was the ‘Episcopal Party’, consisting of the leading bishops, who refused to accept a monk as archbishop. The ‘Monastic Party’ attracted some support from the lay magnates, and so this intra-church dispute presented Henry I with a serious problem. Two days of tortuous negotiations followed, between 2nd and 4th February; but in the end, Henry sensibly supported the ‘Episcopal Party’. The fact that Bishop Roger of Salisbury was a leading member of the ‘Episcopals’ undoubtedly influenced Henry I’s choice, as Bishop Roger was effectively Henry’s Justicar; but even so, one feels that Henry I made the correct choice.

To spare the ‘Monastic Party’ from humiliation, Henry I came up with an ingenious face-saving solution, whereby the monks could select the archbishop – but from a list of four royal sponsored candidates. The monks selected William of Corbeil as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. King Henry I displayed all his administrative skills at the Gloucester Council. He had got his way, and his decision won him the approval of Archbishop Thurstan of York, Bishop Roger of Salisbury, and the other bishops. At the same time, the ‘Monastic Party’ could hardly complain, as William of Corbeil was a regular canon, and thus a monk in all but name.

However, Henry I still had to contend with the chronic rivalry within the church that was to constantly bedevil church/state relations in the 12th century, and was to perhaps reach its apogee with Archbishop Becket’s quarrel with his fellow-bishops and the monarchy nearly fifty years later. After William’s consecration as Archbishop of Canterbury, the simmering rivalry between the ecclesiastical provinces of Canterbury and York for episcopal primacy in England once more flared up. The Canterbury/York dispute dragged on for the remainder of Henry I’s reign, involving such vital issues as whether Thurstan of York could have his cross-bearer in the royal chapel. The two archbishoprics co-existed uneasily over the next fifty years: it was effectively a 12th century ‘Cold War’ – except of an ecclesiastical kind.

As it happened both Archbishop William of Canterbury and Archbishop Thurstan of York survived Henry I. Archbishop William died on 11th November 1136 (aged about 66), nearly a year after Henry’s death. In terms of personal longevity, Archbishop Thurstan had the final victory. Archbishop Thurstan died aged of 70. He died, ironically, on 6th February 1140, almost exactly seventeen years after the famous Council of Gloucester.

Final Thoughts

  • Before his death in 1140, Archbishop Thurstan of York rendered his last great assistance to the English monarchy when he personally led the English resistance to the Scottish invasion of Northern England in 1138. Under the prompting of Archbishop Thurstan, an English army was mustered at Northallerton in North Yorkshire. This English Army decisively defeated the invading Scots at the Battle of the Standard, on 22nd August 1138. The Battle of the Standard gets its name from a special banner that Thurstan had created before the battle. Thurstan’s Standard had as its motif a ship’s mast in a cart. The banners of St. Peter of York, St. John of Beverley, and St. Wilfrid of Ripon hung on the ship’s mast.
  • Ironically, it was the present day Bishop of Ripon & Leeds who just over a week ago put forward an ill-considered amendment in the House of Lords, to exempt child benefit payments from the government-proposed £26,000 annual cap on household benefits. In 1138, when the English government faced a severe military crisis, the clerics of Ripon Cathedral came to its aid. In contrast, when the present government grapples with a severe financial crisis, the authorities of Ripon Cathedral perhaps seem a little insensitive to the Government’s problem!

And one final comment . . .

This morning, Thursday 2nd February, 2012, I attended the Consecration of the Venerable Peter Burrows to be Bishop of Doncaster, in York Minster. The Consecration was conducted by the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr John Sentamu, the Lord Archbishop of York, Primate of England and Metropolitan. It is pleasing to note the continuity in the consecration of Bishops between 1123 and 2012.

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Anglo-Scottish Relations in the Angevin Empire: a model for the 21st Century

Yesterday was the 837th anniversary of the English defeat of the Scots in the Battle of Alnwick (Northumberland), 13th July 1174. In the summer of 1174, King  William I of Scotland threw in his lot with the other protagonists hostile to King Henry II in the ‘Great Rebellion’ of 1173-1174. William’s allies included Henry II’s three elder sons, Louis VII of France and dissident English earls such as the Earls of Chester and Norfolk. In other words, William I’s invasion of northern England in 1174, was not simply an Anglo/Scottish conflict. The combined impact of this unholy alliance was to give Henry II a major challenge to his authority.

In May 1174, William’s Scottish Army invaded Cumbria, while William’s younger brother, David secured control of the Earldom of Huntingdon. To meet the challenge of William’s invasion, Robert of Estouteville, Sheriff of Northumberland and Yorkshire raised an army to combat the Scots. Interestingly, Robert was assisted by the former sheriffs of Northumberland (William de Vesci) and Yorkshire (Rannulf de Glanville). We know quite a lot about the Scots invasion because of the account of a contemporary chronicler, William of Newburgh. William of Newburgh wrote his chronicle in the 1190s, and is generally thought to be a reliable writer.

William of Newburgh relates how Robert of Estouteville, de Vesci and de Glanville acted promptly to raise a force to counteract the Scots invasion. Indeed, as the chronicler relates; ”the occasion was so urgent that they had no time to collect their infantry.” [English Historical Documents, Volume II, page 377]. Arriving at Alnwick under cover of mist, the English force espied the “King of Scots with a squadron of sixty horsemen” [ ibid, page 378]. Taken completely by surprise, the English force captured King William, on 13th July, 1174. With William’s capture, the remainder of the now leaderless Scots Army “were at first thunderstruck . . . and soon after, as if goaded by the Furies, they turned against each other with the sword.” [ibid, page 379]. The Scots invasion was over, and, a fortnight after the Battle of Alnwick, on 26th July 1174, King William I was delivered to King Henry at Northampton, King William’s legs being pinioned beneath his horse, to signify Henry’s triumph. The defeat of William’s invasion heralded the wider defeat of the Great Rebellion.                                                                                                                          Perhaps today this medieval Anglo-Scottish battle at Alnwick conjures up the apparently increasingly extreme  feelings of English/Scottish nationalism which seem increasingly common in 2011.  Increased intense sporting rivalry between England and Scotland, combined with  separatist political developments have seemingly  begun to engender a fervent patriotism (especially in Scotland), which threatens to undermine the shared heritage of both countries within the UK. Such zealous appeals to nationalism inevitably make spurious entreaties to History, in order to justify the misguided policies of political separation which are increasingly in evidence within the UK in 2011.

It might therefore be the case that modern-day nationalists could use the Anglo/Scottish conflict of 837 years ago in the north of England to glorify their ill-advised policies of political separation, on the ‘Braveheart’ model. In fact, Scotland did rather well within the Angevin Empire; and Anglo/Scottish co-operation was as much a feature of Anglo-Scottish relations in the Angevin Empire as conflict – if not more so. The key element governing relations between England and Scotland in the Angevin period between 1154 and 1216 was delimiting the Anglo-Scots border, within the Empire. The policies pursued by the Angevin kings towards Scotland differed. Henry II pursued policies which effectively amounted to favouring Scottish devolution within the Angevin Empire. In contrast, his successor, Richard, seemed to favour Scots independence. It is my contention that Henry’s policies of devolution were in reality more realistic for Scotland:-

  • In 1157, King Henry II and King Malcolm IV of Scotland agreed that all the English territory the Scots had obtained under King Stephen would be restored to England. It is true that this co-operation reflects some bullying by Henry, who was anxious for a foreign policy success to cement his recent accession to the English throne; but Malcolm was not humiliated, as he was granted his father’s old earldom of Huntingdon in England, as well as the territory of Tynedale in Northumberland.
  • In December 1174, after his abortive invasion of northern England, King William I of Scotland was released from custody, after agreeing to the Treaty of Falaise. By this treaty, Henry II took possession of the Scottish castles of Berwick, Edinburgh, Jedburgh, Roxburgh and Stirling. This may again at first sight seem like Henry bullying the Scots, rather than genuinely negotiating with them, but this would be a mistaken view. Henry was punishing William for his rebellion – he was making a political point, rather than trying to dominate Scotland. Henry believed that the Scots should rule themselves, within the Angevin Empire. Henry never garrisoned Stirling, and returned Edinburgh to William in 1186, after William had demonstrated his trustworthiness.

In contrast, Richard was prepared to countenance Scots independence. Soon after his accession, In December 1189, Richard and William signed the ‘Quit Claim of Canterbury’. This agreement ostensibly favoured Scots independence because, by abrogating the Treaty of Falaise, it effectively conceded Scots independence from the Angevin Empire. However, on second sight, it does not appear that Scotland benefitted unduly from the Quit claim. To begin with, William had to ‘buy’ Scots independence; for the not inconsiderable sum (for a poor country) of £6,666. In addition, Richard had certainly not abandoned designs on Scotland. Richard schemed to make Otto of Brunswick (his nephew) King of Scotland after William’s death. This would be achieved by getting Otto to marry Margaret, William’s daughter and heir. In fact, this scheme came to nothing; but only because in 1198, William had a son, the future Alexander II of Scotland.

King Alexander II imitated his father in October 1215 by invading northern England, at a time when the last Angevin monarch, John, was facing opposition from all sides. The invasion did Alexander no good, as John’s forces expelled the Scots from northern England in January 1216.

Conclusions

(1)  The final chapter in Anglo/Scottish relations was concluded by King Alexander II of Scotland, and King John’s son, King Henry III. In September 1237, the two monarchs signed The Treaty of York, by which King Alexander quitclaimed all his hereditary rights to the northern English counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland. That settled the Anglo-Scottish border dispute once and for all; but by then, the Angevin Empire had itself disintegrated. Scotland was by then gradually developing the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, which was in reality a euphemistic phrase masking Scotland’s increasing subservience to France. France effectively duped Scotland in the later Middle Ages, by using it as a pawn in its struggles with England. For all its support for France in the later medieval period, Scotland received hardly any tangible rewards.

(2)   It is my contention that Scotland really prospered within the Angevin Empire under King Henry II, under the latter monarch’s enlightened policy of effectively supporting Scottish devolution. Here, surely, is the parallel for Scotland to follow in the 21st century: a devolved Scotland, prospering within the UK, rather than following spurious independence outside of it, on the model of the medieval  ‘Auld Alliance’.

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Towton Revisited: rescuing the country from Lancastrian misrule!

Before I launch into this month’s blog on the Angevin Empire, I must take time to remind my readers that yesterday, 29th March 2011, was a major historical landmark. It was the 550th anniversary of the battle of Towton. As I live not too far from Towton, this important armed confrontation is of especial consequence; but of course, Towton’s real historical significance is twofold. To begin with, it is the greatest battle ever fought on British soil. Estimates of the size of the rival Lancastrian and Yorkist armies will always vary; over thirty years ago, the  late Professor Ross suggested that perhaps the total number  of men  involved in the battle may have been as high as 50,000. This is an amazing figure, particularly so when one considers that the total population of England in the mid-fifteenth century could not have been much higher than 2.75 million, if that.                                                                                    Secondly, the glorious victory at Towton helped to consolidate the position of the newly crowned Yorkist king –King Edward IV. Edward IV’s first reign as king of England, between 1461 and 1470, was not without its problems; but at least the national finances recovered, after the depredations of Henry VI’s reign. Edward IV fought in five major battles in the Wars of the Roses: Northampton, July 1460; Mortimer’s Cross, February 1461; Towton, March 1461; Barnet, April 1471; and Tewkesbury, May 1471. All five battles were Yorkist victories. Few kings share Edward IV’s enviable military record. Yet there is more to Edward IV than simply military success, and, as Christine Carpenter has suggested: “He should be acknowledged as one of the greatest of English kings.” (Christine Carpenter: ‘The Wars of the Roses’, Cambridge University Press, (1997), page 205.)

Wreaths of red and white carnations or roses are still regularly placed on the site of the battle at Towton; but the battlefield itself is all used by local farmers for growing a variety of crops. The site of another great civil war battlefield is geographically close to Towton: Marston Moor. Marston Moor, fought in 1644 between royalist supporters of King Charles I and the forces of Parliament, was quite probably the military turning-point in the Civil War of 1642-1646. One feels that, with two great battles in such close proximity, a proper museum should be built within the locality, commemorating both great battles. Such a museum would probably be a prime tourist attraction, as well as having obvious potential for school visits. I suppose that the present financial stringency would make such a scheme unlikely – but, as it says in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Chapter 2, Verse 17). I hope I can put myself in the position of having a vision of a museum being built in the near future, to commemorate these two great civil war confrontations.

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