Sir Gervase Clifton – an irritatingly elusive figure

Posted: January 30, 2011 in Gervase Clifton, Maud Stanhope, Lady Willoughby

I have ore information about Gervase now. See here for an updated version.

Following up on my January calendar of Nevill-related events (or Nevents), I present to you the little I’ve been able to unearth about Sir Gervase Clifton, staunch Lancastrian, third husband of Maud Stanhope and an utterly elusive character. It’s one of the joys (and frustrations) of historical research – stumbling on a minor figure who turns out to be far more important than I thought at first glance, only to end up scrabbling for any tiny piece of information in order to flesh out their character and their lives. This is what happened with my very dear Henry Fitzhugh – he’s gone from a peripheral Warwick brother-in-law to (hopefully) the star of his very own book! I don’t think Gervase is likely to enjoy the same meteoric rise, but he’s pushed himself into the foreground, sending me on sporadic journeys through the internet and my own (small) library in search of more. But even his wikipedia entry is sparse.

Here’s what I know: Gervase Clifton, of Clifton Hall in Nottinghamshire. Some sources, following the wikipedia entry, have him born in 1415, others put his birth (probably more reliably) c 1426. I’ve just found another genealogy that puts his birth at 1405. While most internet sources correctly place his death after the battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, some genealogies have him fighting at Bosworth on the side of Richard III and dying in 1491. This is clearly an error. Gervase is a persistent Clifton forename, and this could well be the source of genealogical confusion. According to some sources, he was born at Clifton Hall, others say he was born in Derbyshire.

The Complete Peerage has no marriage for Clifton before his marriage to Maud Stanhope, at least one genealogy gives him a first wife (Isobel Herbert Finch) and one, possibly more, children. That particular family tree has Gervase’s sister Avelina marrying an Edward Stanhope, which would suggest that a connection between the two families already existed. This is an example of those tantalising little glimpses that may or may not reflect reality! If this information is correct, while it doesn’t quite answer the burning question (Why did Maud Stanhope, widow of a core-Yorkist, marry Gervase Clifton, a dyed-in-the-wool Lancastrian?), it may, along with several other equally tantalising factors, help me to formulate a sort of answer that might not be entirely incorrect.

If a sister of Clifton was married to a relative of Maud’s, that gives three points of connection between the couple. 1. If I’m right about Maud and Thomas Nevill’s principal home being at Rolleston in Nottinghamshire, they were fairly near neighbours. (Rolleston is about 38km from Clifton Hall). 2. Just at the moment, I don’t know how sir Edward was connected with Maud, but both the Cliftons and the Stanhopes were well established Nottinghamshire families, and probably had long standing ties. 3. If David Santuiste’s intriguing little hint is correct (and Clifton would seem to have had some connection with Calais c 1450), then Clifton and the Nevills – or at least Warwick – may have crossed paths in early 1460… 15 January, to be precise!

Here’s what Santuiste says: “In December a fleet was assembled at Sandwich to go to Somerset’s aid. Lord Rivers and Sir Gervase Clifton were in command.” (Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses, p26)

He doesn’t go on to say whether Clifton was dragged out of bed and taken over the Channel to be rated by the Calais earls.

I’m wondering whether Warwick made attempts to win Clifton over to his side, and if – along with the other confluence of relationships – that was a factor in Maud’s decision to take Gervase Clifton as her third husband. There’s no need for it to be, of course, but it throws up some interesting possibilities. If this was Warwick’s hope, it failed spectacularly.

In his 2003 Essential Histories volume, The Wars of the Roses, Michael Hicks has this to say of Maud Stanhope (here called Marjorie): “Fear for second husbands, the Lancastrians Sir Oliver Manningham and Sir Gervase Clifton, who were again exposed to treason charges, was used to induce the war widows Eleanor Lady Hungerford and Marjorie Lady Willoughby to surrender their own inheritances which were not actually liable to forfeiture to protect their husbands.” (p 79)

While there doesn’t have to be one single reason Maud married Clifton, I feel that I need to explore three broad possibilities:

1. the decision was based entirely on personal preference without any consideration whatsoever given to politics;

2. Maud’s predominant loyalty was to Henry VI – her marriage to Thomas Nevill predated the family’s support of the duke of York and his son – and her marriage to Clifton reflected this;

3. Though by no means under any obligation to do so, Maud was at least encouraged by her late Nevill in-laws to marry Clifton as part of a program to bring him (and that part of the fleet he commanded) into their sphere of influence.

I could, of course, just write Maud out of the picture after Thomas’s death – it would make my life so much easier – but there’s something about her third marriage that keeps drawing me back.

Apart from brief mentions of the marriage (January 1462) and Clifton’s death, little else turns up in the history books about this couple. After Clifton’s execution in 1471, Maud didn’t attempt a fourth marriage, though she was still relatively young, being somewhere around 40. Her first marriage (to Robert lord Willoughby) had lasted no more than five years, her second (to Thomas Nevill) seven and her third (to Clifton) nine. Maud eventually secured her uncle Ralph Cromwell’s baronetcy and recovered at least some of her inheritance. There were no children from any of her marriages and little likelihood of a later-life miracle should she attempt a fourth. Maud is as intriguing a character as Clifton and even more difficult to pin down.

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Comments
  1. siris says:

    Your blog is fantastic. I recently purchased Clifton Hall and read with great interest.
    Thank you

    Regards
    Siris

  2. could you email me please

  3. Mark Hinsley says:

    I’ve discovered your excellent Blog in the course of my researches into Blore Heath, in which Thomas Neville (of Middleham) figures prominently.

    You have probably discovered this already given the age of this post, but the Thomas Neville of Rolleston, b ~1405 d 1482 was from a junior branch of the Neville family (of which there are several) the South Leverton line. He married Elizabeth Babington and had several adult children by 1459. I’ve discovered nothing to suggest that Thomas Neville of the Middleham branch had any connection to Rolleston or that the Nevilles of Rolleston had much, if anything to do with their illustrious cousins. There is an excellent write up on Thomas Neville of Rolleston in the “Plantagenet Ancestry, Douglas C Richardson and Kimball G Everingham”

    Keep up the good work !

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