A couple of posts ago, I shared with you a letter written by George Nevill, archbishop of York to the papal legate, Coppini. This letter was written after a series of battles, some of which went well for the Yorkists and some of which when horrifically wrong. In the space of three months, there were five military engagements; three (possibly four if Hall is correct) members of the Nevill family killed, along with others with close connections; one was captured; two battles lost, a skirmish and two battles won; and three heads of loved ones had only recently been removed from public display. George’s letter, though of course showing the situation in the best possible light, is quite openly emotional. The letters I want to share and discuss here, from the earl of Warwick to Pope Pius II and Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, are shorter, less emotionally honest but no less optimistic. They weren’t written to express the earl’s grief, but his assurances that he had the situation in England – and England itself – under control.
During this time of confusion, a whole flurry of letters crossed Europe, some trying to make sense of the situation in England, some attempting to win support. This first, written on 11 January 1461 (just 11 days after the death of his father), is a valiant attempt at presenting a united and confident front to the Pope in the hope of gaining his support and imprimatur.
In her Lady of the Roses, Sandra Worth has Isobel Ingoldisthorpe, John Nevill’s wife, comment critically on the wording of these letters, which clearly shows that their intent was either genuinely or deliberately misunderstood by the author. The use of the word kinsmen in the first doesn’t, in my view, distance Warwick from the deaths, but is used to encompass the whole gamut of relationships he had with these men – son, brother, nephew, cousin and brother-in-law.
Both these letters are from the Venice papers.
From Richard Nevill Earl of Warwick to Pope Pius II
Your Holiness must not be troubled if you have heard of the events in England, and of the destruction of some of my kinsmen in the battle against our enemies. With the assistance of God and of the King, who is excellently disposed, all will end well. We shall obtain either a fair and sure peace or victory, especially if you confer the long-expected promotion of your Legate. The people will then see that our adversaries, who daily spread lying reports, are false and not true men, for they scorn your authority and the Legate’s, and say the latter has no power and is no legate, adding marvellous falsehoods to make him unpopular, to the detriment of the Church and the King. If, according to your former letters, you value my allegiance and the allegiance of those who are conscientiously aiding the King and the Legate (in conformity with the statement of Dom Antonio della Torre, his Majesty’s ambassador), it will be necessary so to deal with us and the Legate that all may know such to be the fact, and that he may bear the [legantine] cross which you sent him, without envy and opposition on account of our two Archbishops and Primates, as Dom Antionio, the bearer can inform you. Be pleased to give him full credence, and do not desert me and the others you formerly received as sons, for eventually you will see us end well and devoutly. The King sends his recommendations and desires certain concessions, which Antonio will declare.
London 11 Jan 1461
(signed) Your said Holiness’s most devoted son and subject, R Earl of Warwick
I think the phrase ‘destruction of some of my kinsmen’ may raise an eyebrow or two when first read. I can understand that, he’s talking about (amongst others) his father and brother. But the purpose of the letter is not to express personal grief. We can’t know how badly that affected him, though unless one is prepared to see him as a cold hearted monster, I think it has to be assumed that he did in fact grieve. He wasn’t in a position, however, to wallow in grief, as he had a cause to salvage and a country to run. In fact, the phrase actually minimises the impact of the deaths, not to imply that any of the dead were inconsequential, but to suggest that those who were still alive were more than capable of getting the job done. In a very short letter, Warwick mentions the king (in this case still Henry VI) four times, this cannot be accidental, and the final sentence referencing the king suggests strongly that Warwick is still very much in his confidence.
The second letter, to the duke of Milan, is even shorter.
Richard Nevill Earl of Warwick to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan
Probably you have already heard from the Legate certain news from these parts with regret, from the good will you bear us all and our state. You may notwithstanding be of good cheer, for we hope doubtless to remedy everything, especially if the Legate be promoted by the Pope, as we trust. This would confound the malice of our enemies, who from lack of other means circulate among the people a thousand rogueries and lies against the authority of the Pope and the Legate. On this and other business we are again sending Dom Antonio della Torre to the Pope and to you, and beg credence for him. The promotion of the Legate is indispensable, if the Pope mean to aid the state of the Church and our just cause. We are devoted to the Pope and to the commonweal of his Majesty and the realm, which our adversaries endeavour to destroy. They will be prevented doing so if the expected favour be granted by the Pope.
London, 11 Jan 1461
Your Excellency’s son and kinsman, Richard Nevill, Earl of Warwick
To me, these are both clearly business letters and one wouldn’t necessarily expect them to contain news of a personal nature. Authors who use these letters to bolster a point of view that Warwick was somehow coldhearted, uncaring and mercenary are guilty of dishonesty and (at the very least) misunderstanding his position and the dire need he and his party had for outside support and to promote the appearance of internal cohesion.