Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Edward 2nd Duke of York - part two

As the 1390s progressed, Edward of York gradually acquired more offices and more gifts of land, and despite his relative youth was clearly one of Richard II's most favoured advisers, being chosen to represent the King on a number of key diplomatic missions abroad, including those to negotiate Richard's marriage to the (very) young French princess Isabella of Valois. He accompanied the King on the successful military expedition to Ireland in 1394, and enjoyed an independent command during operations against Richard's Irish enemies.

Edward was one of those selected to 'appeal' the Duke of Gloucester and the earls of Warwick and Arundel in the Parliament of 1397 - in other words publicly to accuse them of treason. This process led to the deaths of Gloucester (uncle to the King and to Edward) and Arundel, and the imprisonment of Warwick. All their lands and offices were forfeited and Edward received a handsome share of the proceeds. Not least of his rewards was to be made Lord High Constable of England in succession to Gloucester. He was also created Duke of Aumale.

Gloucester seems to have been murdered (or privately executed if you prefer) at Calais, and it was later alleged that Edward sent one of his squires across the Channel to see to it that the deed was done.

A few months later, Edward's cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, the son and heir of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, accused Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk of treasonable words. Both these men had sided against Richard in 1387-1388 and with him in 1397, and it seems likely that despite fresh honours (dukedoms) laid upon them they were both worried that Richard might at some point take revenge against them for their earlier actions. Edward was one of those who stood surety for his cousin, Bolingbroke.

Since the quarrel could not be resolved by normal legal processes, because of a lack of witnesses, it was eventually referred for trial by mortal combat. Edward, in his role as Lord High Constable, presided over the trial, but as is well known, the King decided to stop it before it came to blows, and instead banished both men.

Before this event Edward had made what was (for a man in his position) a most unusual marriage. Given that he was at the peak of his political power, and had lately been suggested as a husband for another very young French princess, the most likely explanation for his choice is that he fell in love. His bride, Philippa Mohun, was at least ten years his senior and already been widowed twice. She had only a life-interest in modest dower lands and no history of successful child-bearing. As it happens, she was destined not to give Edward children either. The matter of children apart, some may see a congruence with the decision of Edward's great-nephew, Edward IV, to marry Elizabeth Woodville.
When John of Gaunt died in 1399, Richard decided to extend the term of Henry Bolingbroke's exile to life, and took the Lancastrian inheritance into his hands. Although many nobles, including Edward and his father, received custody of elements of the Lancastrian estates, there is no evidence that Richard intended the confiscation to be permanent. He continued to send his exiled cousin handsome sums of cash for his maintenance, apparently unaware that Henry (currently based in France) was planning to invade England.

On the other hand, Ian Mortimer, in The Fears of Henry IV, sets out the theory that Richard II intended to exclude the Mortimers and the Lancastrians from the succession, and appoint Edward of York as his heir. There is some evidence to support this, quite apart from the strange fact that Richard referred to Edward in his grants as 'the King's brother' and not, as was correct, 'the King's kinsman.)

Anyway, such was the King's confidence in his security that he now undertook a second expedition to Ireland. Edward of York, having been given certain tasks on the Scottish March, was late to join this expedition, and it has been suggested (particularly in the French chronicles) that he was already plotting against the King. This seems unlikely.

Edward's father, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, was left in charge as Keeper of England, and when Henry landed in Yorkshire, Langley's attempts at resistance were feeble. It is true that many of the nobility, and perhaps even York himself, sympathised with Henry and were reluctant to fight him. York's forces eventually capitulated at Berkeley Castle, in Gloucestershire, with scarcely a blow struck. (The Bishop of Norwich, Henry Despenser, was among those who did fight, but they had no chance against the formidable force Henry had gathered.)

Meanwhile, Richard had landed in Wales. He made no urgent effort to advance, and seems to have waited for news. When it reached him, it was to the effect that York had gone over to his rebellious cousin. The King seems to have been struck by panic and misled by rumours of plotting. He abandoned his army and made his way to North Wales at the head of a small, picked band of followers. Edward was one of those left behind, doubtless because of his father's surrender.

Edward promptly made his way eastward and submitted to Henry in his turn. As a result, when King Richard was eventually run to earth at Flint Castle, he was in the victorious Henry's company. Nevertheless, he immediately lost several of his most important offices, including that of Lord Constable, and it must have been clear to him that he did not enjoy Henry's trust. Nevertheless, during the next few months he and Henry were to save each other's lives.

(Part Three to follow)

1 comment:

  1. According to what I have read about Richard II he seems to have used the successsion as something of a political tool- making advances towards John of Gaunt and the House of Lancaster when they were in his favour, and to the Mortimers when they were not.

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