Book Review: Hotspur by Andrew W. Boardman

This is an extremely well-written book about one of those enigmatic heroes who was so well depicted by Shakespeare that we’ll never entirely shake loose from the vision he gave us. I think the author has done a remarkable job trying to remove fact from fiction, considering that historical Northumberland is pretty much a foreign country to us. We see Hotspur as a personification of the ideal knight as understood by his contemporaries, rather than an anomaly: “Thousands of dead, pillaged lands, war crimes against civilian populations and a number of other ‘unchivalrous’ deeds give us cause to question the medieval knight’s habitual need to prove himself through violent action; but this is exactly what it meant to live and breathe the code in a world where, like today, it was perfectly acceptable to destroy a country’s infrastructure and dismiss civilian deaths as collateral damage. In the medieval world, this WAS chivalry in its purest form…” It was Hotspur’s motivation to be the best, most chivalrous knight in the world and he pushed himself to extremes in order to achieve his goals. Naturally restless, he craved action and preferred dangerous assignments to boring garrison duty. And apparently he was very good at his job, which is why the Scots gave him his nickname.

We get a good feeling for what life was like on the marches between England and Scotland, and how violence and raiding was a part of life they understood all too well. The Percies were a law unto themselves, and ruled the north almost as kings; only a man born and raised in such an environment could control the tempestuous Scots. In this book, plenty of attention was given to Hotspur’s impetuous father, Henry Percy 1st Earl of Northumberland as well as his uncle, Thomas Percy—warrior, diplomat and politician—who served as Richard II’s Steward of the Household before deserting to Bolingbroke. Both men were influential in Hotspur’s life. His father, to all appearances, was autocratic and kept young Hotspur under his thumb for much of his son’s adult life. Chafing under his father’s harsh authority could have been one of the reasons Hotspur broke away on occasion and made his own decisions—often with disastrous results. His uncle Thomas was more puzzling; his decision to rebel against Henry IV at Shrewsbury has never been satisfactorily explained. Even the king was caught by surprise, so successful were his pursuits up to that point. Apparently Thomas was a family man first and foremost and supported Hotspur to the end, even as Earl Henry mysteriously failed to show up at the fatal battle of Shrewsbury. In the end, Hotspur was defined by the predatory age he lived in, “Cradled in war, and trained in all respects to deal with local border raiding, his main obligation was to hold by force that which his ancestors had previously won.” It is a fascinating story about a character out of legend.

Book Review: The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin

I always knew of the Beauforts as John of Gaunt’s illegitimate children by Katherine Swynford, and I knew about Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, but everything that happened in between was kind of fuzzy to me. Luckily, Nathen Amin shines a light on this deserving dynasty. This book covers three generations (and a little more) of Beauforts, each with its own superstars to keep the family in the forefront of politics. Much of the action takes place in France during the 100 years’ war, for our Beauforts produce a few spectacular commanders—though a few bumblers also slip through. It seems that each generation gets a little watered down, until by Henry VI’s time they do more harm than good, managing to extinguish themselves in the male line. But for a while, they shine very brightly indeed. They came into their own after Henry IV became king, and throughout the Beauforts knew that their fortune—and future—were linked to the crown:

“By 1403 the Beauforts had unquestionably established themselves as a core part of Henry IV’s inner circle, devoted to his cause as the king struggled to maintain control of his crown. Henry recognized the necessity of ensuring his half-brothers were satisfied in their positions, while the Beauforts acknowledged those same positions were only held courtesy of the king’s good grace. It was to the mutual benefit of both parties that this relationship remained in place for the foreseeable future.”

And indeed it remained in place for decades, notwithstanding a few slip-ups during the complicated Wars of the Roses. Their hold over young Henry VI was absolute for much of his minority, though at the same time it was a Beaufort that nearly lost France for England. They were good at landing on their feet, however. The steadying influence (as well as bountiful financial contributions) of Cardinal Henry Beaufort—from the first generation—kept the family in power and the crown afloat until he died in 1447 (by then, Henry VI was 26 years old). The cardinal wasn’t always appreciated, but his unfailing dedication to the “cause” kept his enemies at bay.

Alas, as usual the Beauforts were not very creative at naming their children, and the plethora of Johns, Henrys, Thomases, and Edmunds were mind-numbing. We were given one very simple family tree at the beginning, but it was not enough—especially since their titles were passed on as well, and not necessarily father to son. And of course, the generations overlapped, so it was hard to remember who was the brother of King Henry and who was the nephew. I made my own cheat sheet but by the Wars of the Roses I gave up trying to keep everyone straight. Also, to keep the page numbers down, the font was incredibly small and it was hard to read for my middle-aged eyes (not the author’s fault, I understand). There was a tremendous amount of information in this book and I tip my hat to Nathen for taking on such a project. I admit I found it a struggle to get through all the way to the end. This is not the kind of book you will read for entertainment, but as a resource it is invaluable.

An Author’s Journey: Heir To A Prophecy

Before I even realized Historical Fiction was a genre, I was fascinated with MACBETH and the witches’ prophecy. If you recall, after they told Macbeth he would be king hereafter, Banquo wanted to know what they had to say about his future. They answered:

“Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.”
“Not so happy, yet much happier.”
“Thou shalt ‘get kings, thou be none.”

Just what kings were they talking about? And what happened to Fleance after he escaped from Banquo’s murderers? I can only suppose Banquo’s legacy was common knowledge to the Elizabethans, for Shakespeare dropped the Fleance subplot, leaving later generations to puzzle over its meaning.

Shakespeare’s story of Macbeth, taken from Raphael Holinshed (who took it verbatim from Hector Boece 1465–1536), was a legend, not real history. Macbeth did NOT kill King Duncan in his bed; King Duncan was killed in battle. In fact, Macbeth was considered by historians to be a good king who reigned fourteen years. But really, who would want to give up such a juicy tale?

I knew none of this at the time—when I started this novel a good 35 years or so ago (some first novels take a long time to mature). In the early ’80s—when the internet wasn’t even a twinkle in Al Gore’s eyes—I only had access to books in my local libraries, and in St. Louis that was a severe handicap. Once I moved to New York and discovered the NY Public Library, my research venue improved considerably. I was surprised to discover that Banquo was thought to be the ancestor of the Stewarts, and James I had only mounted the throne of England a couple of years before this play was written. Shakespeare was giving a nod to James I’s ancestry—and his work on demonology—while showing his audience that killing the king was a really bad idea. It wasn’t until much later—only recently, as a matter of fact—did I discover that MACBETH was written in response to the gunpowder plot of 1605. As it turns out, Shakespeare’s family had some disconcerting connections to the conspirators, and it is thought that the great bard wrote Macbeth to clear himself of any guilt-by-association; the play was first performed nine months after the gunpowder plot was foiled.

But I digress…

Portrait of James VI and 1, c. 1606, by John de Critz (Source, Wikipedia)

 

As it turns out, connecting Banquo to King James Stewart was the whole purpose of the witches. So when the weird sisters told Banquo “Thou shalt ‘get kings”, they were talking over 500 years into the future! The witches, such an integral part of the play, were already embedded in Shakespearean society; much of that can be attributed to King James (also James VI of Scotland) who was pretty much responsible for the witch burning craze that infested Scotland in 1597. To this day I still don’t understand why this would be a good plot device for Shakespeare. In fact, it is popularly thought that James was so displeased he banned the play for five years, though I can’t find any credible documentation to support this speculation. However, it has also been suggested that the weird sisters (or wyrd sisters) were a manifestation of the Norns—the Norse goddesses who controlled our destiny, much like the Greek Fates. What did Shakespeare have in mind? Considering that paganism was alive and well in the 11th century, it’s not really all that far-fetched. And indeed, this is the interpretation I chose for my novel. It was the Norns who set up a chain of events that placed the Stewarts on the throne. It made so much sense to me!

I discovered a history called Cambria Triumphans, written by Percy Enderbie in 1661; it referred to the old legend, and from this came the plot of my novel. He told us about Fleance and “during his residence in the Welsh court, he became enamoured of Nesta, the daughter of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn; and violating the laws of hospitality and honour, by an illicit connection with her, she was delivered of a son who was named Walter.” Aha! I struck gold. Little did I realize (until I was deep into my research) how many historical figures were actually related to Walter; on his mother’s side he was grandson of Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, Prince of Wales and Ealdgyth, daughter of Aelfgar, Earl of Mercia (and future queen of England); on his father’s side he was grandson of Banquo. He was a distant relation to Alain le Rouge, Count of Brittany and future Earl of Richmond. And, to fulfill his destiny, Walter was created the first Steward of Scotland, a hereditary post. Walter’s quest to unravel his legacy took him through many historical events like the Battle of Dunsinane, the Battle of Hastings, and Malcolm III’s court, and gives us a rare look at eleventh century Scotland as well as King Malcolm’s relationship with William the Conqueror.

I hadn’t planned to write a historical novel, but by the time I figured it all out, my course was already charted. While researching this book I became fascinated with Earl Godwine and his family, which inspired me to write my “Last Great Saxon Earls” trilogy. All three books overlap this one, and Walter even makes a cameo appearance in “The Sons of Godwine”. This year I was able to regain my rights and publish a revised edition of “Heir To A Prophecy”. It was great fun to revisit my old friend.

Thomas Mowbray, Bolingbroke’s adversary

Richard II makes Thomas Mowbray the Earl Marshal, BL Cotton MS Nero D VI, f.85r.

Considering that Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham (and later 1st Duke of Norfolk) participated in almost every major event of Richard II’s reign, it’s surprising that he’s been given so little attention by historians. It is evident that Thomas had a checkered career, in favor then out of favor then back again until his final outlawry. He is often depicted as a slippery character, though it’s not clear whether he was motivated by ambition, jealousy, or was he driven by circumstances? It’s hard to say, considering how difficult it was to maintain one’s equilibrium during Richard II’s tempestuous reign.

Orphaned at age two, Thomas and his elder brother John were  brought up in the royal court alongside future rival Robert de Vere (another ward). All became close friends with Prince—soon to become King—Richard. John died in 1383, passing on the title Earl of Nottingham to Thomas, who was elected knight of the Garter in the same year. Two years later he was granted the title of Earl Marshal for life. Not bad for a nineteen year-old. He even had an apartment all his own at Eltham, the royal palace—reserved, naturally, for high-ranking nobles.

Nonetheless, trouble was brewing. Robert de Vere had managed to capture Richard’s affection and Thomas was increasingly left out. Rather than fight a losing battle he went over to the opposite court faction and married Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel. I would assume he couldn’t have found a wife more calculated to alienate the king, though Richard did “distribute liveries of cloth to the earl’s wedding guests in 1384” (1). Nonetheless, Mowbray’s  association with Arundel put him squarely in the Lords Appellant camp, just in time to march against Robert de Vere who was attempting to bring a force from Cheshire to protect the king against his rebellious nobles. Alas, de Vere was no general and his army made a pitiful showing at Radcot Bridge, eventually surrendering with very little loss of life. Robert fled to the Continent; that thorn in Mowbray’s side was removed forever.

Robert de Vere fleeing Radcot Bridge, from Gruthuse Froissart, BN FR 2645, fol.245V

By then, Henry of Bolingbroke (future King Henry IV) had joined forces with the Lords Appellant, making their number five. After Radcot Bridge the victors confronted King Richard in the Tower, forcing their agenda down his throat and threatening to depose him. Cowed after three days’ isolation in the Tower, the king agreed to call parliament. It met in January of 1388, ushering in the worst year of Richard’s life.

Bolingbroke and Mowbray, the junior Appellants, mainly kept quiet during the Merciless Parliament, only asserting themselves against their elders when it came time to condemn Richard’s beloved vice-chamberlain, Sir Simon Burley. By now, the Merciless Parliament had become a bloodbath and the senior Appellants knew that unless their purge was total, the survivors would demand retribution. Too bad for them that the king himself would take on the mantle of avenger ten years later.

But Richard had noted Mowbray’s reticence and decided to bring him back into the fold. In 1389 he made Mowbray Warden of the East March toward Scotland; later Thomas became Captain of Calais and royal lieutenant in the north-east of France.  He accompanied the king to Ireland in 1394 and was credited with many successful assignments;  he even came within a hair’s breadth of capturing Art MacMurchadha abed with his wife. Shortly thereafter, Mowbray went to France to negotiate a truce and Richard’s marriage to Princess Isabella.

But Mowbray’s uneasy favor with Richard was sorely tested in 1397 when the king launched his tardy retribution against the senior Lords Appellant. Conniving with his new affinity of noble supporters (including Mowbray), Richard initiated a new Appeal against Gloucester, Warwick, and Arundel. Capturing Warwick was easy; the king invited all three to a formal dinner and Warwick was the only one who showed up. A polite, entertaining evening ensued, at the end of which the king ordered the unwary Warwick’s arrest. Immediately afterwards, Arundel was persuaded to give himself up. Richard dealt with Gloucester in person. Collecting a large retinue including Mowbray, the king rode all night to Gloucester’s Pleshy residence, dragging the sick duke out of bed and arresting him as well. Gloucester was placed into Mowbray’s charge and taken to Calais where he was imprisoned in the castle.

The king was adamant; he did not dare appeal Gloucester in person in front of parliament. Politically, that was too volatile. But he needed proof of the duke’s guilt relating to the Merciless Parliament of 1388. A lot of suspicious activities took place in Gloucester’s prison under the unwilling direction of Thomas Mowbray, Captain of Calais. Eventually a confession was extracted from the duke, and shortly thereafter a sullen Mowbray announced before parliament that Gloucester was dead. No further explanation was forthcoming and after the confession was read Gloucester was condemned as a traitor in absentia. But naturally rumors abounded and Mowbray was implicated beyond a doubt.

After the Revenge Parliament, as it came to be called, the king created a slew of dukes to reward his supporters—sneeringly called “the duketti” by contemporaries. Even Mowbray was created Duke of Norfolk. But it wasn’t enough to reassure Thomas. After all, he was one of the five Appellants; now that the king was finished with the instigators he was bound to cast his vengeful eye on the remaining two. From then on, Thomas feared for his own life and stayed away from court as much as he could.

The Challenge of Mowbray and Bolingbroke from Froissart Chronicles, BnF ms. Francais 2646, fol.295

But he finally broke under the stress. In December that same year, Mowbray caught up with Bolingbroke on the road to London. He wasted no time in getting to the point. “Henry, we are about to be undone!” he is said to have declared. When Henry asked him why, he replied, “for what was done at Radcot Bridge”.(2) Pretending astonishment (or was he pretending?) Bolingbroke objected: look at the honors Richard showered them with; they had all received pardons. But Mowbray believed none of it. He even told Henry there were men plotting the destruction of him and his father. He hoped Henry would help devise a plan for their mutual defense.

But poor Mowbray had badly miscalculated. Far from allying himself with his former Appellant, Bolingbroke made a report to the king (or he told his father who went to the king). Then followed a series of accusations and denials, counter-accusations and further denials. Unable to settle this argument amicably, the court of chivalry decided on a trial by combat. It was to be the event of the decade. Held at Coventry, the tournament was attended by knights from as far away as France, and the two challengers went to great lengths to acquire the very best and most expensive armor and trappings. But all was for naught. As depicted by Shakespeare, as soon as Mowbray and Bolingbroke started their charge, King Richard threw in his baton and halted the fight. After discussing the matter with his council, the king declared that Bolingbroke would be exiled for ten years and Mowbray for life.

It was a devastating decision for the Duke of Norfolk. He took his leave shortly thereafter with a small retinue, forbidden to make any contact with Bolingbroke—not that he was very likely to. One wonders if he would have been recalled to England after Henry became king, but we’ll never know. He died in Venice just a year later, somewhere around the 22nd or 27th of September in 1399—just a few days before Richard was forced to abdicate. His young son, another Thomas, was not permitted to assume his father’s titles and soon involved  himself in political turmoil, finally joining the ill-fated revolt of Archbishop Scrope in 1405, where he was beheaded alongside the prelate.

  1. “The Politics of Magnate Power” by Alastair Dunn, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 40
  2. “Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400” by Chris Given-Wilson, p.86

Who—and What—were the Lords Appellant?

Arundel, Gloucester, Nottingham, Derby, and Warwick, Before the King Source: Wikimedia

When I first bumped into the Lords Appellant I was confused because as far as I knew, an appeal was filed after a court conviction in an attempt to reverse the decision. But as it turns out, in the fourteenth century an appeal was the starting point—an indictment or an accusation against someone, initiating a legal procedure. What made the case of the Lords Appellant so special was that this was the first time the appeal was introduced into Parliament; up until then, it was used in common and civil courts.

When you see the words Lords Appellant capitalized, it refers to those involved in the first legal crisis of Richard II’s reign. Their case was against Richard’s friends, counselors, and officers who were accused of giving the king bad advice—misleading and deceiving him. Most historians agree that the Appellants were driven by resentment, ambition, and dissatisfaction. Here they were, some of the most powerful magnates in the realm, shut out of Richard’s inner circle. No influence with the king, no power, no opportunities to reward their retainers—all these obstacles put them in a bad position. However, they weren’t powerful enough to go after Richard directly; there was no popular swell of discontent as in the case of Edward II. The second best solution was to eliminate the king’s despised supporters and get him under their control.

The only person that stood between the Appellants and the king was John of Gaunt, the eldest surviving son of Edward III and a stickler for protocol. However, in 1386 when he sailed for Spain to pursue a crown of his own, his absence left Richard exposed to his enemies. They immediately went on the offensive and the young king was too inexperienced to know how to deal with them. Nonetheless, the Lords Appellant had a problem. If they went through the courts, the rulings wouldn’t be permanent enough. The only way to completely destroy their enemies, take away their titles, lands—even their lives—and dispossess the heirs was through Parliament. Not only were their motives questionable, but the whole process had no legal basis from which to act, and the Appellants were forced to make up the rules as they went along, twisting the system to accommodate their self-serving objectives.

Woodstock receives King Richard from Froissart Chronicles BL MS Harley 4380, f.117

The driving force behind the Lords Appellant was Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester (the youngest son of Edward III). One would think that the king’s uncle would not be his worst enemy, but Gloucester was a bitter, aggressive man. He reminds me of John Lackland because he, too, came out on the losing end of land distribution after all his siblings were taken care of. He only became duke two years before all this unpleasantness started, and even so he was dependent on the exchequer for his revenue. If it weren’t for his wife, one of the great Bohun heiresses, he would have had nothing at all. His only hope of prominence would have been from the French wars like his brother the Black Prince and his father Edward III; but here, too, the king disappointed him. There was to be no major campaigning in this reign, and Gloucester became the spokesman for warmongers amongst his peers. As the Appellants gained the upper hand, Gloucester even went so far as to put himself forward as a possible replacement (after having deposed Richard), but young Henry of Bolingbroke put an end to that scheme. There were stronger claimants to the throne, himself included.

Richard Fitzalan, from Froissart Chronicles, Getty MS Ludwig xiii, fol.311v.

In almost total accord with Gloucester, Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel was a stout collaborator. He was an experienced, if unexceptional warrior and served under John of Gaunt, mostly as admiral. Although he won brief popularity by sharing a year’s worth of wine with all of England at rock-bottom prices (from 100 captured Flemish vessels), his brusque and overbearing personality made him few friends. From the beginning of Richard’s reign he was on the council of regency, and in 1381 he was appointed co-councilor in constant attendance upon the young king, ironically alongside his future victim Michael de la Pole. Although Richard warmed up to Michael he found Arundel detestable, which I suspect contributed to the crisis.

Thomas Beauchamp (Luminarium.org)

The third original Appellant was Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick. He was the son of the famous Thomas Beauchamp known for his bravery at Crecy and Poitiers. Rather mediocre and undistinguished, Thomas never lived up to his father’s reputation. But he was, after all, a noble from a great family and hence valuable as an ally. He pretty much went along with everything Gloucester said and didn’t rock the boat.

The three Appellants originally appealed five of Richard’s supporters: Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and chancellor of England, Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford and Richard’s closest friend, Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Sir Nicholas Brembre, wealthy London magnate and former Mayor, and Alexander Neville, Archbishop of York. After the Lords Appellant made their formal appeal, Richard arranged for Neville, de la Pole, and Tresilian to slip away, and secretly sent Robert de Vere to Cheshire to raise an army to defend him. Brembre stayed put, certain of his innocence, and sought to gain support in London for the king (he paid for that with his life).

Once the Appellants discovered that de Vere was putting together an army, the last two “junior” members came on board. Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (son of John of Gaunt and the future Henry IV) posted himself at Radcot Bridge and succeeded in blocking de Vere from crossing the Thames; the royal army dispersed after a brief and pathetic battle and de Vere escaped over the Channel. Why did the non-political Bolingbroke join the Appellants? He later claimed he needed to protect this father’s interests. It’s also difficult to discover the motives of Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, 1st Duke of Norfolk (great-great grandson of Edward I and son-in-law to Arundel). He could have been driven by jealousy of Robert de Vere, who supplanted him in Richard’s esteem. His early friendship with the king had definitely cooled, especially after he married Arundel’s daughter; I imagine his father in-law put pressure on him to join the party of resistance. These last two Appellants tended to take a back seat, so to speak, and never wholeheartedly agreed with all the knavery that attended these trials. Nonetheless, they were committed and so the three became five.

Queen Anne Intercedes for Sir Simon Burley, from A Chronicle of England (Source: Wikimedia)

From besieging the king in the Tower of London to the Merciless Parliament of 1388, the Lords Appellant pursued a bloody campaign against the king’s supporters, culminating in the outrageous execution of Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s vice-chamberlain and lifelong mentor. (By then they had gone way beyond their initial condemnations.) Bolingbroke and Mowbray publicly objected to Burley’s conviction, as well as the Duke of York, Gloucester’s brother; even Queen Anne got on her knees and begged Gloucester for Burley’s life, to no avail. In the end, eight of Richard’s supporters were executed—for no good reason. Three more fled to permanent exile, and over forty others were ejected from court (some returned later as Richard took back his authority). The king was reduced to a figurehead and withdrew to lick his wounds. For one year the three original Appellants tried to run the government their way (Bolingbroke and Mowbray had lost interest by then), but it soon became obvious that they were doing no better than before. Worse, actually: it was under their watch that the disastrous Battle of Otterburn was lost and Henry Hotspur taken prisoner along with his brother Ralph. Their ransom was a huge hit to the already depleted exchequer, which had been obliged to pay the Lords Appellant 20,000 pounds to reimburse them “for their great expenses in procuring the salvation of the realm and the destruction of the traitors”.

When Richard declared his majority in 1389, he was able to take over and dismiss his enemies without a protest. But, though Richard was obliged to “forgive and forget” on the surface, in reality his anger festered for ten years until he was strong enough to wreak revenge on the men who humiliated him.

You can read more about the Lords Appellant in my novel A KING UNDER SIEGE.

Where, Oh Where Has Tostig Gone?

by Peter Nicolai Arbo, source, Wikipedia

Tostig left England in November of 1065 after the disastrous Northumbrian rebellion. While waiting for Harold to set everything straight, it soon became clear that his brother was not going to stand up for him, fight for him, or even defend him in counsel. Harold gave in to every rebel demand including Tostig’s exile from the earldom and even the country. Tostig felt betrayed, Edward was despondent, and the queen shed a great many tears. Although the king did not agree with the outlawry—he even insisted they call out the Fyrd to put down the rebellion—his wishes were disregarded. In the end Edward acquiesced to the forces set against him, and he unwillingly sent Tostig off with gifts and words of regret.

Historian Ian Walker tells us that Tostig was outlawed “apparently because he refused to accept his deposition as commanded by Edward”. However, historian Emma Mason said “Tostig did go into exile, but this was his own decision.” So from the very beginning of his exile, Tostig’s actions were debated.

He may have paid a farewell visit to his mother in Bosham, but by Christmas he had landed in Flanders with his family and close associates. Earl Baldwin, his brother-in-law, received them graciously and settled Tostig at St-Omer with a house and an estate, revenues, and even a contingent of knights to command. This wasn’t such a bad state of affairs for an exile, but it was only temporary, used as a base to gather information and collect mercenaries.

King Edward’s rapid decline has been associated with Tostig’s exile; he may even have had a stroke when he discovered that his rule was breaking down in the north. I would imagine that Tostig was shocked by the king’s death, but was he shocked also to learn that Harold took the crown? Did this alter his plans any, or did he always intend to force his way back? After all, Godwine was successful in doing this very thing in 1052 (with Harold’s help); Earl Aelfgar regained his earldom twice by invasion. Tostig was just following a successful strategy to retrieve his fortunes; perhaps he would have expected Edward to acquiesce. On the other hand, with Harold as King his motives took on a more sinister cast.

Death of King Edward, Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.iii.59 Source, Wikimedia

In the opening months of 1066, King Harold had much on his mind, not the least of which was the unrest in Northumbria. He was even obliged to travel to York (in the winter), to convince the recently pardoned rebels that his motives were unchanged. It’s entirely likely that he chose this high-profile visit to marry the sister of Edwin and Morcar at York Cathedral. Apparently the new king won over the suspicious Northumbrians, and by spring he returned to Westminster for Easter Court. Harold was famed for his diplomacy, but in all this maneuvering I can find no mention of any effort to reconcile with Tostig. Nonetheless, if Harold thought to hold England together by accepting Edwin and Morcar’s control over the north, he was destined to find that losing his brother’s support made things infinitely worse.

What was Tostig doing all this time? It is possible that his first step was a visit to Duke William, who was probably already deep into his plans to invade England. I can’t image what he could have offered the Duke aside from a small fleet supplied by his father-in-law, but it does seem like the most onerous insult he could have offered Harold. Whether he made this visit early in the year or in late spring, it seemed that Duke William didn’t have any particular use for him (though perhaps he encouraged Tostig to cross over in May as a kind of forward movement).

Conversely, Tostig may not have visited Normandy at all. It’s not impossible that he used the winter months to cultivate likely allies in the north. As the popular story goes, Tostig first went to Sweyn Estridsson’s court in Denmark and tried to talk his cousin into invading England. After all, the Danish King was the grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard, so he was in line to the throne of England. But after 15 hard years of conflict with Harald Hardrada, Sweyn was exhausted and so was his treasury. He offered Tostig an earldom in Denmark, but Tostig spurned his suggestion and the two parted company with hard feelings on both sides.

Disappointed, Tostig went on to Norway and gave Harald Hardrada such a pep talk that the formidable king was chomping at the proverbial bit. According to Snorri Sturleson in HEIMSKRINGLA, Tostig assured Harald “If you wish to gain possession of England, then I may bring it about that most of the chieftains in England will be on your side and support you.” This sounds a little delusional considering recent events, but how was Hardrada to know the difference? But Tostig wasn’t finished; he had some diplomatic skills of his own. He added: “All men know that no greater warrior has arisen in the North than you; and it seems strange to me that you have fought fifteen years to gain possession of Denmark and don’t want to have England which is yours for the having.” What self-respecting Norseman could resist that line of reasoning?

Snorri has this conversation take place in the winter, which gave Hardrada the spring and summer to raise his army. However, not all historians agree with this scenario. The venerable Edward A. Freeman concluded that there wasn’t enough time for Tostig to make the voyage and for Hardrada to raise an army. He concluded that Hardrada had planned the campaign on his own and Tostig joined up with him after he made his move. It has also been suggested that Tostig sent Copsig, his right-hand man in his old earldom, as an ambassador to Norway to plan the invasion and didn’t meet Harald in person until later.

Regardless, Tostig was ready to make his own move in May. Was his purpose to draw Harold out before he was fully prepared? Or was he simply making his own bid for power? The timing seems odd, but he certainly caused a stir. Gathering his little fleet of Flemish and possibly Norman mercenaries, he sailed across the Channel and landed on the Isle of Wight. Here he collected supplies and is said to have forced many of the local seamen to join him with ships. Thus reinforced, he proceeded to plunder eastward along the coast as far as Sandwich, where he expanded his fleet to sixty ships, either voluntarily or by coercion. But by then, King Harold was on his way to stop him, so Tostig made haste to sail off and try his luck farther north along the coast.

Intent on plunder, Tostig entered the Humber and ravaged the coast of Lindesey in Edwin’s earldom of Mercia. But the northern earls were ready for him and drove his little fleet away. At this juncture, most of his allies (volunteers or impressed into service) melted away, and he limped off with only twelve of his original sixty boats in tow. Apparently this setback took the heart out of Tostig’s enterprise—for the moment—and he took refuge with his good friend and sworn brother Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. Always happy to cause trouble on his southern border, Malcolm offered Tostig his protection for the whole summer of 1066. Presumably Tostig sent messages back and forth from there to Hardrada, and he may have attracted some Scottish mercenaries to his cause.

Battle of Fulford from The Life of King Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris Source: Wikimedia

Whether Tostig went to Norway in 1066 or not, historians agree that he spent the summer at King Malcolm’s court in Scotland and joined up with Hardrada after Harald dropped off his queen in the Orkneys and came south with the Orkney Earls. Some think Harald stopped at Dunfermline where Malcolm and Tostig waited. William of Malmesbury thought that Tostig joined Hardrada and pledged his support when the Norwegians reached the Humber, which is very late in the story. Regardless, by that point Harald Sigurdsson was clearly in charge of the expedition, and Tostig was his subordinate.

The first resistance was from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, a town built into the hills that faced the ocean. The locals put up a stout resistance and seemed to drive the invaders away. False hope! Hardrada landed farther down the coast and made his way to the top of the cliffs overlooking the town. The Nowegians put together a huge bonfire and began tossing flaming brands onto the roofs of the houses. Before long many of the buildings were on fire, and the populace surrendered, to no avail. It’s possible that this and other coastal incursions triggered the messages for help that made their way to King Harold; the timing would have been around the second week of September.

The Battle of Fulford was fought on the 20th of September. At this late date (right before the battle) it’s also possible the first messages were sent south. By then, presumably, Tostig’s presence in the Norwegian force was detected, and Harold would have been informed of his brother’s treachery. I wonder how he took the news? Or was Tostig’s behavior a forgone conclusion? Only the historical novelist is free to make that guess, and I am tackling this scenario in my upcoming novel, FATAL RIVALRY.

 

Sources:

Harold, The Last Anglo-Saxon King by Ian Walker, 1997

Heimskringla: The History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson, 1964

History of the Norman Conquest of England by Edward A. Freeman, 1875

The House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty by Emma Mason, 2004

Richard II and John of Gaunt

John of Gaunt with his coat of arms attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock source: Wikipedia

Richard’s relationship with his uncle, John of Gaunt was fraught with uncertainties and misunderstandings, though throughout it was bound by strict royal precepts. In retrospect, historians have noted that Gaunt’s behavior showed he would never have done anything against the king’s prerogative, no matter how he felt about him personally. But contemporaries—including the king himself—believed otherwise.

This misunderstanding went back to the reign of Edward III. In the old king’s dotage, Gaunt increasingly took on his father’s responsibilities in Parliament, though unlike Edward III, his conduct was overbearing and threatening. The magnates were so afraid that Gaunt might seize the throne for himself that on Edward’s death they hurriedly crowned the 10 year-old Richard rather than risk a regency.

It’s true that John of Gaunt was interested in a crown, but it was the crown of Castile he coveted, in right of his wife Constance. Ever since his marriage to her in 1371 he took on the title of King of Castile and León, and in 1386, circumstances permitted him to go to Spain and make a bid for his crown. He failed, but succeeded in a different way: John married his eldest daughter Philippa to the King of Portugal and his younger daughter Catherine to the future King of Castile. In return for giving up his claim to the Castilian throne, Gaunt accepted a huge payoff of 600,000 francs of gold which was paid in full over the next three years.

But before he took his family to Spain, John had some unpleasant run-ins with young King Richard. In 1384, there was the infamous scene where a Carmelite friar gained access to the king and told him that John of Gaunt was plotting to kill him. In a fit of rage, Richard ordered his uncle’s execution and was only restrained by the urging of his wife and favorites. When an astonished Gaunt stumbled into this frantic scene he forcibly denied the accusation, giving Richard pause and turning all the attention onto the friar. No one ever found out what prompted this accusation, because the Carmelite died under torture that night. But for Richard, his own conduct cast serious doubts on his judgment. Some months later, after a bungled murder plot against Gaunt (planned by the king’s friends), the duke confronted Richard in person and castigated him for permitting such despicable behavior in his court; he stopped short of accusing the king of involvement. Luckily, Richard’s mother Princess Joan was still alive and able to smooth things between them.

The following year, there was a big ruckus between Richard and Gaunt over the upcoming campaign into Scotland. John wanted the king to invade France, but under heavy resistance from the chancellor and Richard’s counselors, his advice was ignored. At first John stormed out of the council, exclaiming that he would have no part of the Scottish campaign. But he soon relented and brought a huge retinue with him, though the antagonism between him and the king would soon rise to the surface again. They fought bitterly once they reached Edinburgh and discovered that the Scots had withdrawn and ravaged Cumberland instead. John wanted to pursue them and Richard stoutly proclaimed that he wouldn’t expose his army to hunger and deprivation for a pointless venture. It didn’t help that his friend Robert de Vere implied that Gaunt hoped the king would meet with an accident along the way. Chase them if you want, Richard told his uncle, you have enough men. I’m going home. Once again, Gaunt gave in and assured the king he was his faithful servant and would follow where Richard would lead. It must have been very difficult for him to swallow his pride.

John of Gaunt arriving in Spain, from Chronique d’Angleterre, BL Royal MS 14 E IF, f.236r

When the opportunity arose for Gaunt to try his luck in Spain, Richard was so thrilled he gave his uncle a royal send-off, presenting the Duke and Duchess with gold crowns. Finally, his uncle would be out of the way and Richard could rule on his own! Little did he realize that the Duke of Lancaster was the only power propping up his throne. Once Gaunt’s formidable presence was removed, disgruntled magnates—led by Richard’s youngest uncle, Thomas of Woodstock—quickly took his place. There was nothing to hold them back and they immediately went after Richard’s advisors—starting with his chancellor, Michael de la Pole. Over the next two years, powerful nobles known as the Lords Appellant conspired to rid the king of his “bad counselors” and forced him to give up control of his government and accede to their leadership in all things. The judicial murder, outlawry, and dismissal of his friends and advisors left him completely alone and at their mercy. Luckily for the king, the Appellants failed to follow up on their victory. After a year, once it was evident that England was no better off than before, Richard was able to take back full control in a quick coup, reminding the Council that he was well past his majority.

One of the first things he did was recall Gaunt from the continent; Richard had learned his lesson and he needed his uncle’s protection. Although the Duke of Lancaster still had much to accomplish, he obliged his nephew and returned to a hero’s welcome from the king; never again would there be any serious antagonism between them. At the same time, Richard was forced to swallow any antipathy he might have felt against his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, who was one of the Lords Appellant, albeit an unenthusiastic one. Any retribution against Henry would have to come later, after his father was dead.

It took several years for Richard to feel comfortable enough to launch his retribution against the Lords Appellant, and when it finally came about in 1397 it all happened like a cyclone. Richard’s primary targets were Thomas of Woodstock the Duke of Gloucester (and Gaunt’s younger brother), Richard Earl of Arundel, and Thomas Beauchamp Earl of Warwick. John of Gaunt, as Lord High Steward of England, presided over the Parliamentary trials of the king’s great enemies. He was spared the litigation against his brother; Gloucester died mysteriously while in prison at Calais and Gaunt seems not to have made a fuss over it—at least not in public. Arundel, on the other hand, was a bitter enemy of Gaunt. Although he put up a lively defense, he was treated most harshly by the Duke of Lancaster. Bolingbroke threw in his two cents as well, reminding Arundel of treasonous statements—even though ten years previously he had been on Arundel’s side.

Richard visits Gaunt on his Deathbed, Watercolor by Alexandre Bida, Folger Shakespeare Library

But Henry of Bolingbroke would not escape the king’s retribution. The following year Bolingbroke faced his fellow Appellant Thomas Mowbray in trial by combat at Coventry. This is another story, but suffice it to say that when the king interrupted the tournament (as portrayed by Shakespeare), he decided to exile both parties—Henry for ten years, and Mowbray for life. Richard made this announcement after consulting with his Council for two hours; Gaunt was among their number and gave his assent. Why did he do this? Some said he disapproved of his son, but I find little verification of this in his biographies. Perhaps he thought to send his son safely away from all the scheming and back-stabbing in Richard’s court. Perhaps he had no choice. Regardless, Henry left the country with a heavy heart, for he knew he would probably never see his father again. And so it was; Gaunt died just a few months later.

It was said that King Richard visited Gaunt just before his end. Shakespeare had him gloating over the sick old man, but I don’t think it happened that way. At least on the surface, he and his uncle had an amiable relationship the last several years. Once Gaunt was back on the scene, there was no way the Lords Appellant could start up their trouble-making again, and Richard knew it. I do believe he was waiting for his uncle to pass on before moving to his next agenda: eliminating the threat of the overpowerful Lancastrians. But that, too, is another story.

Bolingbroke and Mowbray Trial by Combat

Lancelot 1440 BN Manuscript français 120, folio 118 Source: Wikipedia

I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid mesmerized by jousting knights, though I never gave the practice much thought. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that Trial by Combat, at least in the 14th century, was a strictly regulated function of the Court of Chivalry, which was the household court of the constable and marshal of England (also known as the Curia Militaris, the Court of the Constable and the Marshal, or the Earl Marshal’s Court). In Richard II’s day, the position was held by Thomas of Woodstock, the Duke of Gloucester and the King’s uncle. He even wrote a treatise on the duties involved with this office.

In court, if evidence in an appeal (accusation), whether of treason or any other offense, was insufficient or unprovable—no witnesses, for example, nor tangible evidence—the case would often be settled by judicial battle. (As far as I can determine, this is the only circumstance where Trial by Combat was invoked.) Some think of this as a precursor to the duel (of honor) fought in later centuries. The most famous trial by combat in the fourteenth century was between Henry of Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) and Sir Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Of course, the combat never took place; the King stopped it at the last minute. But the ceremony and protocol were all there; we get a colorful description in the Chronicque de la Traison et Mort de Richart Deux Roy Dengleterre (the author was probably an eye-witness).

The tournament, to be held at Coventry, was announced far and wide. It was the event of the year; the Duke of Albany’s son came from Scotland; the Count of St. Pol and other nobles came over France. Preparations were extensive; the King’s armory was placed at their disposal. Bolingbroke was sent armorers from the Duke of Milan, and Mowbray engaged armorers from Germany or Bohemia.

According to la Traison, “The lists were to be sixty paces long and forty wide; the barriers seven feet high. The sergeants-at-arms were not to let the people approach within four feet of the lists… the penalty for entering the lists, or making any noise, so that one party might take advantage of the other, was the loss of life or limb, and also of their castles, at the pleasure of the King.” This was serious stuff! Bolingbroke entered the lists on a white charger followed by six or seven knights on white horses, his was caparisoned in blue and green velvet embroidered with swans and antelopes. Mowbray’s horse wore crimson velvet, embroidered with lions of silver and mulberry trees. There was an exact wording the contestants were required to state (I remember it well in Shakespeare): Bolingbroke said, “I am Henry of Lancaster, Duke of Hereford, and am come here to prosecute my appeal in combating Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who is a traitor, false and recreant to God, the King, his realm, and me.” The constable opened Henry’s visor to determine he was the man he supposed to be, “the barrier was then opened, and he rode straight to his pavilion, which was covered with red roses, and, alighting from his charger, entered his pavilion and awaited the coming of his adversary.”

Richard II presiding at a tournament, from St. Alban’s Chronicle. Source: Lambeth Palace Library, MS6 f.233

At this point, the King arrived, accompanied by a great retinue. Once they were settled, his herald announced, “Oez, oez, oez… It is commanded  by the King by the Constable, and by the Marshal, that no person, poor or rich, be so daring as to put his hand upon the lists, save those who have leave from the King and council, the Constable, and the Marshal, upon pain of being drawn and hung… Behold here Henry of Lancaster, Duke of Hereford, appellant, who is come to the lists to do his duty against Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, defendant; let him come in the lists to do his duty, upon pain of being declared false.” At once, Mowbray came forward and swore the same oath as Bolingbroke then went to his own pavilion. The constables measured the length of the lances and the two squires presented them to their knights. According to la Traison, “The weapons allowed by the marshal and constable were the “Glaive”, long sword, short sword, and dagger. The long sword was straight, and called by the French “estoc”, whence estocade, a thrust.” The King ordered that they take away the pavilions and “let go the chargers, and that each should perform his duty”. Apparently Bolingbroke first advanced a few paces when the King threw his threw his staff (warder) into the list, crying, “Ho! Ho!”

For the King to interfere in the duel was not unheard of, though it seems that the crowd was bitterly disappointed to be denied their entertainment; never mind that the fight was to the death. Apparently there were no other amusements on the agenda. The contestants were equally skilled in tournament fighting, and by no means was the result a foregone conclusion. The king withdrew with his council—including Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt—and discussed the matter for two hours while the attendees waited. Finally it was announced that Bolingbroke was to be exiled for ten years and Mowbray for life. From most accounts, the crowd was incensed at Bolingbroke’s treatment; after all, he had done nothing wrong. Few seemed to object to Mowbray’s fate; was he guilty until proven innocent? Nonetheless, everybody went home unhappy, not least of all the main contestants. Both were promised large annuities and given a few weeks to put their affairs in order.

Trial by combat seems to have died out by the 15th century, and I haven’t found anything quite as dramatic as this contest. The amount of preparation for such a non-event is staggering. If you happened to be versed in medieval French, you can learn more about tournament ceremonies in this book, reproduced in Google Books: “Ceremonies des gages de batailles selon les constitutions du bon roi Philippe de France”.

Manorial Courts Guest Post by April Munday

British Library MS Royal 2.VII

The manorial courts were one step up in law enforcement from the tithings that we looked at last week. Each manor had a court and the court governed the lives of everyone who lived on the manor, even determining when they could plant and when they could harvest. It fined them if they allowed their animals to stray onto the lord’s demesne, and it was where they took their claims against one another to be judged.

The manor was made up of the lord’s demesne as well as the land that he leased to tenants. The demesne was the farm that the lord kept for his own benefit.  The people who worked the manor’s land were both freemen and serfs (cottagers, smallholders or villeins). The manorial court dealt with the serfs’ issues, while the freemen were able to go to other courts, which we’ll come to later.  It was also able to create new bylaws for the manor.

Some lords had more than one manor and could not look after all of them closely, or they were away at war or absent for some other reason. The manorial court was one of the ways in which the manor could be managed whether the lord was there or not. He had a steward, who looked after his interests in his absence, but it was the village officials (reeve, hayward and beadle amongst others) who made sure that things happened as they should.

The manorial court decided the land boundaries and the days on which animals could graze in the fields. The steward presided over the court, but the village elected the officials from among themselves. The steward could not tell the court what to do and the court could appeal to the lord if necessary. Usually the business transacted by the court had no direct reference to the lord’s own affairs since it dealt with village problems such as loans not being repaid; men not turning out to work on the lord’s demesne; theft; the erection of a fence in the wrong place; or one villager injuring another.

The court was run by the rich villeins who provided the jurors and officials. The court was supposed to meet every three weeks, but some met less often. All the serfs in the village had to attend. Those who did not were fined. The court was often held in the nave of the church, the part that ‘belonged’ to the village. There were not many places in the village large enough to hold the court and many were simply held in the open air, often in the churchyard. Some manorial courts met in the hall of the manor house itself.

The jurors pronounced judgement on their fellow villagers (and occasionally on the lord) and this was sometimes put to the rest of the village as well for their assent. When making a judgement they had to take into account what they knew of the law, the customs of the manor and the manor’s bylaws. All the jurors and everyone else in the court knew both parties in every case that was brought before them, which was supposed to make it easier to come to a correct judgement. The system of justice was mostly based on the way in which society worked. People lived in small communities where everyone knew everyone else’s business and character. If you, as a villein, were asked whether your neighbour, Peter, had stolen from another neighbour, John, you would know the characters of both men and could assess whether John was making a false claim against Peter or whether Peter was a known thief. You did not have to have seen the (alleged) crime take place in order to be able to work out what had happened, nor did you need any evidence.

Villagers had to pay a fee to the lord get their case heard. The lord of the manor benefited from any fines issued by the court and the court was often the source of a large part of the lord’s income. The manorial court also required payments to the lord on all kinds of occasions – death, inheritance and marriage all had their appropriate fee. When these things happened part of the lord’s land was transferred from one person to another and the fee was to obtain the lord’s permission for that transfer. The court could generate a lot of income for the lord, and fines and fees tended to increase after the Black Death when there were fewer tenants to pay rents. The steward’s clerk recorded the cases and any fines or fees. As well as fines which went into the lord’s coffers, the court could also award damages to be paid by the guilty party in a case to the injured party.

One of the commonest cases to come before a manorial court was the accusation that someone was selling ale before it had been tasted by the ale taster. Ale was brewed at home and sold to the neighbours, who came to the brewer’s house to drink it. The ale taster’s rôle was to ensure that a consistent quality and price were maintained.

It is thanks to the surviving manor court rolls that so much is known about everyday life in the Middle Ages in England. What they show, however, is the things that went wrong and not the things that happened exactly as everybody thought they should.

 

Sources:

England in the Reign of Edward III – Scott L. Waugh

Medieval Lives – Terry Jones

Life in a Medieval Village – Frances and Joseph Gies

Making a Living in the Middle Ages – Christopher Dyer

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer

 

APRIL MUNDAY is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

 

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Heirs-Tale-Soldiers-Fortune-Book-ebook/dp/B075KQ3HX4/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heirs-Tale-Soldiers-Fortune-Book-ebook/dp/B075KQ3HX4/

 

 

Website: https://aprilmunday.wordpress.com/

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Sir Simon Burley, Richard’s unfortunate chamberlain

Queen Anne Intercedes for Sir Simon Burley, from A Chronicle of England (Source: Wikimedia)

Sir Simon Burley is one of those unfortunate historical personages who is better remembered for his death than for his life. He is a bit if an enigma to us, if only because he was able to inspire extremes of love, friendship and hate all at the same time. Although he was of humble origin, through his exceptional abilities and loyalty to the royal family, he rose to be Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, Constable of Dover Castle, and Knight of the Garter. He was also tutor and vice-chamberlain (acting chamberlain) to Richard II, and in this role he inspired so much envy and resentment that he paid for the privilege with his life.

Born around 1336, Simon and his older brother John were brought up in court alongside young Edward (the Black Prince); Simon served Edward throughout the Prince’s life. When Edward returned to England a sick man, Burley became chamberlain of his household and served as tutor to young Richard. In 1377, ten year-old Richard became king; Burley carried the king’s sword at the coronation procession, and after the ceremony he carried the exhausted child on his shoulders—where Richard infamously lost one of his ceremonial slippers. Burley transferred his service to Richard’s chamber and was given the posts of Master of the Falcon and Keeper of the Mews. Then he was appointed constable of Windsor Castle for life and given a residence on Thames Street and grants of land in Gloucester and Kent. In 1384, he was appointed constable of Dover Castle the wardenship of the Cinque Ports. Not bad for an up-and-coming knight!

We first hear grumbling against him during the Peasants’ Revolt. In Rochester, a villein was seized while living in town and imprisoned in the castle. (This was a common imposition on an escaped laborer from the lord’s manor; if he could survive in town for one year without capture, he became a free man.) In this case, the villein was a popular man, and provided the excuse for the peasants to overwhelm the castle and spring him from jail. Simon was blamed for imprisoning the man, even though at the moment he was on the continent; it must have been his servants who created such a ruckus.

And what was Burley doing on the Continent? Nothing less than negotiating the marriage between King Richard and Anne of Bohemia. He missed the Peasants’ Revolt altogether, returning with the bride-to-be in December. By now, just turning 15, Richard wanted to reward his closest adherents but had no resources to distribute. Consulting his lawyers, the King managed to pull some strings and get his hands on the Leybourne inheritance—a considerable endowment willed by Edward III to his favorite religious houses. Through some clever shenanigans, Richard was able to grant Burley several manors, from which he immediately ejected the resident canons and took possession. (Burley wasn’t the only recipient of Edward III’s illegally appropriated endowments.) He was to hang onto his ill-gotten gains until his death in 1388.

As vice-chamberlain, Burley had great influence over Richard. He was accused by some of being the power behind the throne. He controlled access to the King, most certainly advised him; his was a position that easily inspired antagonism. By 1386 there had grown two clear political factions: the court party and what was to become known as the Appellant party, controlled by Richard’s uncle the Duke of Gloucester, the powerful Earl of Arundel, and the Earl of Warwick. Henry Bolingbroke (future  Henry IV) and Thomas Mowbray joined the Appellants later.

Although Simon was of the court party, he wasn’t immediately challenged. The Lords Appellant had bigger fish to fry. Gathering an army, they confronted the King and appealed (accused) five men of treason. Richard sent his favorite, Robert de Vere to collect a force from Chester and the two armies met at Radcot Bridge. Alas, de Vere was not a soldier and his army was easily overcome, leaving the King isolated and alone. Victorious, the Appellants confronted the King and appealed a second batch of men, Burley among them; they wanted to make sure their palace coup was complete. Richard refused and they threatened his crown—actually, it appears they informally deposed him for three days but couldn’t agree on a successor! Beaten, Richard acquiesced to their demands.

Froissart Execution from BL Harley 4379 f. 64

The Merciless Parliament of 1388 was a nasty affair, and by the time it was over all of Richard’s adherents, from earls to knights, were either killed or outlawed. Burley’s trial was prominent because of the incredible resistance that was raised. He was well respected by many of the magnates who vociferously objected to his treatment. Even the Duke of York created a public row in front of Parliament with his brother Gloucester, threatening him to a duel; their argument was broken up by the King.  Bolingbroke and Mowbray publicly objected to Simon’s sentence. Richard refused to sign the warrant and the wrangling went on for weeks. In a back room, the King and Queen begged for mercy; she even went down on her knees to Gloucester and reportedly stayed there for three hours. It was all to no avail. The Appellants were unrelenting.

The only thing that broke the deadlock was the people of Kent. According to reports, the populace of his own estates marched on London demanding his execution, threatening to start another riot too reminiscent of the Peasants’ Revolt to be ignored. The opposition caved in and Richard reluctantly signed Burley’s death sentence; he insisted that Burley be beheaded instead of the full traitors’ punishment and the Appellants benevolently agreed. What did they care? They got what they wanted. But the King never forgave the Appellants for their brutal and humiliating treatment of him and his friends; in the end, retribution would be his.