Death of the Earl of Salisbury

Posted: December 31, 2010 in Henry Fizhugh, Richard Nevill, Earl of Salisbury, Wakefield

Again, this is not a factual post about the death of the earl of Salisbury, at Pontefract castle, at the hands of the mob (possibly more directly at the hands of the Bastard of Exeter). What I want to do here is explore ways of portraying this in my Nevill wip – from the pov of lord Henry Fitzhugh, Salisbury’s son-in-law and retainer.

I’m still trying to get to grips with what Fitzhugh was doing (apart from managing to father four children with his wife, Alice Nevill – who I am calling ‘Ailie’ to distinguish her from her mother) between the first battle of St Albans and Towton, where he (through the agency of his brother-in-law, the earl of Warwick) finally made a commitment to the Yorkist cause and submitted to the new king, Edward IV. Mind you, as Fitzhugh was solidly behind Warwick in his later rebellion, I have to wonder whether his support of Edward was quite as wholehearted as it seems. My view here is that it’s Warwick more than Edward who Henry swears himself to. As traumatising as the events at and after Wakefield must have been for the Nevills, Henry’s perspective is, I think, both unique and valuable.

I gripe quite regularly, on and offline, about the dearth of information about Fitzhugh, but that can sometimes work in my favour – if I don’t know where he was or what he was doing, then I can be the one making the decisions! And what follows are my decisions, based very carefully on what little information I have to date.

This time can’t have been easy for Henry and his wife, Ailie. Henry would have grown up with the Nevill boys, being of an age with Thomas. It’s possible (though I haven’t found anything to support or refute this) that, after his father’s death, he was Salisbury’s ward. Certainly, as the pre-eminent Wensleydale family, it’s likely that he received a good deal of his knightly training at Middleham. I’ve already explored one possible explanation for the anomalous birth of a child to Ailie and Henry when she was was fourteen or fifteen, and that, too, is based on the premise that Henry spent a great deal of his young life with the Nevills. He had no brothers of his own, though he had seven sisters, and it would seem that the Nevill brothers and John Scrope of Bolton (who married his sister Joan) filled this gap in his life.

According to Hicks (various sources), Fitzhugh was with the royal army at Wakefield, but didn’t fight. Whether this was to prevent him from potentially changing sides (as Johnson, in his biography of York, speculates he was at least contemplating at this point) or he himself somehow managed to avoid engaging, we don’t know. Nor do we know if he was at Pontefract castle to witness the murder of his father-in-law. Though he may well have tried to return home at the earliest opportunity, it is more likely in my view that he kept himself close to Pontefract, not quite in the hope of rescuing Salisbury, perhaps, but to assure himself that all was well.

The affect of all this on the Fitzhugh marriage is again very speculative. My view is that Ailie and Henry had a strong and affectionate marriage, based on a more or less shared childhood. If Henry was, in fact, a staunch supporter of Henry VI during this time, and this would be despite his obligations to Salisbury, one would expect there to be some discomfort in the Fitzhugh family home at Ravensworth castle – trouble, perhaps, in paradise? Still, children Margery, Richard, Thomas, and perhaps the very beginnings of John, made their appearance in these years, so it can’t have been too bad…

Henry would have been able to do nothing to save Salisbury’s life in the end, though he might well have tried. Perhaps he witnessed it. If he did, it must have been difficult to say the least. It would have been a grief stricken, maybe shellshocked, Henry who made his way home to his wife. Though he didn’t declare himself for York until after Towton (where again he didn’t take the field), the deaths of his father-in-law, brother-in-law, Thomas, and young William Bonville, must have weighed heavily on his heart.

I can’t imagine that Henry beat the news home. Ailie would have been waiting for him, knowing of the deaths of those close to her and knowing that her husband hadn’t been on their side. In my mind, they have a very difficult night ahead of them.

In my version of the story, sex is a hugely important motif for Henry and Ailie. Lovers since she was 14 and he was 18, their physical closeness is a barometer for their deeper feelings (which develop over time). Henry confirms the confused and frightening news that Ailie has been hearing from messengers and survivors. In her grief and anger, she blames him and shuts him out. Henry tries to take comfort from their children, but he needs his wife. My Ailie has a very personal relationship with God, and in her rooms she engages in a dialogue, the upshot of which is that she is offered the lives of her father and brother back in exchange for Henry. As sad as it makes her feel, she can’t accept this. For all the love she feels for her family, Henry has become more important to her than anyone. She finds him asleep on the floor outside her door. (He has, perhaps, been hammering on it and fallen into exhausted sleep.)

Once they are together in the dark, Ailie undressing him as she always does, they both know it’s their need for each other, the family they’ve created together and the friendship of a lifetime, that’s going to get them through this. They are both still deep in grief and, to some extent, guilt. Lying together in Ailie’s bed, the crisis passes.

Towton still lies ahead, and I have to find out (or work out) why he’s still officially with the Lancastrian army at this point…

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