Archive for February, 2011

This was one of the saddest and most tawdry events in the Wars of the Roses. It ended with the duke of Clarence and the earl of Warwick racing first to Exeter to collect the duchess of Clarence, then to Warwick castle to collect the countess of Warwick and Anne Nevill and fleeing across the Channel. The short cycle of treason, rebellion, pardon and reconciliation was broken – Edward IV could no longer pretend that his brother and cousin were anything other than “his saide rebelles.”

My focus here won’t be solely on Warwick and Clarence, or the king, but on the tragic figures of Robert Welles, lord Willoughby, and his father Richard, lord Welles. For the sake of brevity, I’ve posted an important document separately and linked it to this – otherwise the reader would require not only a packed lunch but a stout pair of hiking boots and, possibly, a bottle of O2. And I know that the bulk of what follows happened in March 1470, but it began towards the end of February, and I’ve started it now, so I mean to go on.

Edward IV first got wind of serious trouble when, in February 1470, Robert Welles, apparently acting on his own behalf, went into Lincolnshire and began to raise an army.  According to The Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire, he “called himself grete capten of Linccolne shire, had doo made proclamacions in all the churchez of that shire … in the king’s name”.

The king summoned Lord Welles and others, including Thomas Dymoke, to London. Here Welles took sanctuary, but was persuaded out on promise of pardon.

The Wellses and the Willoughbys were staunch Lancastrians. Richard Welles was the son of Joan Willoughby, who was the daughter of Robert lord Willoughby, who had been the first husband of Maud Stanhope, later married to Warwick’s brother, Thomas. Joan Willoughby was already married by the time of her father’s marriage to Maud. There’s no record of what kind of relationship she might have had with her young stepmother nor, subsequently, whether Maud had any ongoing contact  with her first husband’s grandson. Maud, Joan and Richard were all around the same age.

These tenuous connections might mean nothing, but the writer in me is more than a little intrigued that our Ms Stanhope seems to have been, at the very least, peripherally connected to a great many events and people of the Wars of the Roses. Forget the confection spun around Isobel Ingoldisthorpe – if there’s a poster girl for torn loyalties and changing fortunes in the WoR, it’s Maud Stanhope!

Back to the rebellion…

Edward was at Royston when he received a letter from his brother, Clarence, saying that he and the earl of Warwick were on their way to join him. He sent both men commissions of array.

Richard Welles was ordered to write to his son “commaunding hym to leve hys felaship and humbly submitte hym, or elles thay for theire seide treasons shulde have dethe, as they deserved.”

Meanwhile, Warwick and Clarence were still waiting in the west of England for word from Welles to complete their plans for rebellion and regime change, all the while continuing to assure Edward that they were on their way to support him. All of this went out the window when Welles, intent on rescuing his father, gathered his men and headed for Huntington in Cambridgeshire, where his father was being held. With Edward at Fotheringhay, young Welles fancied his chances.

Edward, along with “alle the lordes, noblemen and othere that tyme being in his oost”, decided that “it nott according with his honoure ne surtie that he shulde jeoparde his most roialle person upon the same to leve the fadre and the saide sir Thomas Dymmoke of live that suche treason had conspired and wrought”, and so they were executed. He then turned his attention to the son, now arrayed and ready for battle.

“Where it is soo to be remembred that, at suche tyme as the battailez were towardes joyning, the kyng with [his] oost seting upon [the rebels], and they avaunsyng theymself, their crye was, A Clarence! a Clarence! a Warrewike! that tyme beyng in the feelde divers persons in the duc of Clarence livery, and especially sir Robert Wellez hymself, and a man of the dukez own, that aftre was slayne in the chase, and his casket taken, whereinne were founden many marvelous billez, conteining matter of the grete seduccion, and the verrey subversion of the king and the common wele of alle this lande, with the most abhominable treason that ever were seen or attempted withinne the same, as they be redy to be shewed; and in the same chase was taken the late sir Thomas Delalande. This victorie thus hadde, the king returned to Stanforde late in the nyght, yeving laude and praising to almighty God.”

So decisive and swift was Edward’s victory, and so afraid were those turned and running in rout for their lives, that they removed their coats as they ran, thus giving the battle its nickname of Losecote Field.

More letters were sent to Warwick and Clarence (now in Coventry) and more were sent back to the king. Edward gave them no sign that their part in the rebellion was known to him, perhaps in an attempt to beat them at their own game of reassurance and dissimilation. He took especial care, however, to inform them of  “the victorye that Gode hadde sent hym”.

Uppon the wednisday and thursday the xiiij and xv day of Marche, the king being at Grantham, were taken and brought thidre unto hym alle the captaynez in substance, as the saide late sir Robert Welles, Richard Warine and others, severally examined of there free willez uncompelled, not for fere of dethe ne other wyse stirred, knowleged and confessed the saide duc and erle to be partiners and chef provacars of all theire treasons. And this plainely, theire porpos was to distroie the king, and to have made the saide duc king, as they, at the tyme that thei shulde take their dethes, openly byfore the multitude of the kynges oost affermed to be true.

The confession of Robert Welles:

About last Candlemas a chaplain of my lord of Clarence called master John Barnby and with him John Clare, priests, came to my lord my father and me at Hellow with letters of credence given to the said master John which he revealed in this way. My lord of Warwick was at London with the king, whereupon for the safety of both of them he prayed us in both their names to be ready with all fellowship that we could or might make and assemble of the commons whensoever my said lord of Clarence should send us word. Nevertheless he willed us to tarry and not stir until such time as my lord of Warwick should come again from London, for fear of his destruction. And soon afterwards my lord of Clarence sent me a patent of the stewardship of Cawlesby in Lincolnshire by the said John Clare.

The cause of our great rising at this time was grounded upon this report raised amongst the people that the king was coming down with great power into Lincolnshire, where the king’s judges would sit and hang and draw a great number of the commons. Wherefore with as many as we might collect by all possible means we came to Lincoln upon the Tuesday; and upon the Wednesday a servant of my lord of Clarence, called Walter _______, a yeoman of his chamber, by his commandment told us the same, and that the gentlemen of the countryside would judge us in such a way that necessarily a great multitude of the commons must die, thereupon desiring us to rise and proceed in our purpose, as we loved ourselves. And as my father was in London and perhaps would be endangered there, which he did not wish, he would go himself to London to help excuse my said lord my father and to delay the king’s coming forth.

The said Walter ______, servant of my lord of Clarence, went with me to the field, and took a great share in guiding our host, not departing from the same to the end. And before that, as soon as I came to Lincoln, I sent sir John Clare to my lord of Warwick, to learn from him how he would have us guided forwards; but as he seemed to us to tarry long, we sent hastily after one John Wright, of Lincoln, for the same cause; and thereupon I departed with our host towards Grantham. And in the way, about Temple Brewer, sir John Clare met me, saying on my lord of Warwick’s behalf, that he greeted us well, and bade us be of good comfort, for he and my said lord of Clarence would raise all the people they could in all haste, and come towards us…

The following Sunday John Wright came to Grantham and brought me a ring from my said lord of Warwick, and desired me to go forward, bidding me and us all to be of good comfort, for he was raising all that he could persuade, and would be at Leicester on Monday night with 20,000 men, and join with us…

Also when my lord my father went to London, he charged me that if I understood him to be in jeopardy at any time I should come to his help with all might that I could muster.

Also, my lord of Clarence’s servant, Walter ______, that came to us at Lincoln, exhorted and urged our host many times and in many places, that when the matter should come near the point of battle they should call upon my lord of Clarence to be king, and to destroy the king who was thus about to destroy them and all the realm; to such an extent, that when the king was before us in the field, he took a spear in his hand, and said that he would run with it as freely against the king as against the mortal enemy of himself and his master.

Also, I have well understood by many messages, as well from my lord of Clarence as of Warwick, that they intended to make great risings, to such a degree as ever I could understand, that they intended to make the Duke of Clarence king; and so it was often and loudly reported in our host.

(Camden Miscellany, I (1847), 21-3; S Bentley, Execerpta Historia (1831), 282, from BM Harl MS 283, f 2 [English])

Subsequent to this, Welles was swiftly executed.

Meanwhile, Warwick and Clarence took to the road, ostensibly to join the king.

…they departed, with alle theire fellaship, towardes Burton-uppon-Trent; and when the saide John Down remembred theym that hym semed they toke not the right way towardes the king, theire aunswsere was, that they toke that way for certein fotemen were byforce theym, with whom they wolde speke, and curtesly departed from theyme, to thentent thay shulde be the more redy and the better-wele willed to doo hym service hereaftre; and undre colour thereof they went to Burton, and sithen to Darby, for to gadre more people unto theym, to enforce theym self ageyinst the king in all that they couthe or myght soo ever, continually using theire accustumed false dissimilacion.

Edward sent the following to his brother , the duke of Clarence:

Brothere, we ben enfourmed by sir Robert Welles, and others, how ye labowred contrarie to naturalle kyndeness and dutie of ligeaunce divers matiers of grete poise; and also how proclamations have be made in your name and owre cosyn of Warrewike to assemble oure iege people, noo mencion made of us. Furthermore, letres missive sent in like maner for like cause. How be it we wolle foryete that to us perteynethe. And that is to calle you to your declaracion on the same, and to receyve you thereunto, if ye wolle come as fittethe a liege man to com to his soveraigne lorde in humble wise. And if ye soo doo, indifference and equite shalbe by us wele remembred, and soo as no reasonable man goodly disposed shalle more thinke but that we shalle entrete you according to your nyghenes of oure bloode and our lawez. Wherefore, our dispocicion thus playnly to you declared, we wolle and charge you, upon the feithe and trouthe that ye naturally owe to bere unto us, and upon payne of your ligeaunce, that ye, departing your felaship, in alle hast aftre the sight hereof addresse you to our presence, humbly and measurably accompayned, and soo as it is convenient for the cause abovesaid, leting you wite if ye soo do not, but contynue that unlefell assmble of our people in perturbacion and contempe of our peas and commandement, we most procede to that we were lothe to doo, to the punyshment of you, to the grevous example of alle othere our subgettes, uppon the which if there flowe eny effucion of Christian bloode of our subgettes of this our realme, we take God, our blissid Lady, saynt George and all the saints to our wittenesse that ye be only to be charged with the same, and not we. Yeven undre our signet, at Newerke, the xvij day of Marche, the x yere of our reign.

A similar letter, under the king’s privy seal, was sent to the earl of Warwick. Neither man was inclined to take the chance, however, nor give up their scheme. After some attempts to raise more men in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and after Scrope (not, according to Gough, Scrope of Bolton or Scrope of Masham), John Conyers and some others submitted to Edward in York, and further, after Thomas Stanley in Manchester refused to supply the support he’d promised, they took to their heels, collecting the duchess from Exeter, the countess and Anne Nevill from Warwick castle and headed for the coast and thence to Calais.

Edward issued this proclamation.

Richard Welles and his son, Robert, both staunch partisans of Henry VI, had tied their coattails to the less disinterested and altruisitic cause of Warwick and Clarence. Their separate attempts to ensure the other’s life had led to the collapse of the rebellion and the deaths of both men. Robert Welles’s despair when he heard that he was too late and that his father had been executed has always touched me, even when I read the driest account of this time. His confession is unself-pitying and straightforward. Reading it leaves no room for any doubt as to the treason of Warwick and Clarence. Welles’s cause was lost, his father dead and the two men he’d risked so much for  made no move to come to his aid. I don’t know when Robert Welles was born, but he couldn’t have been much above 20 when he died.

All extracts are taken from The Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire, edited by John Gough Nicholls and published by the Camden Society unless otherwise stated.

Rex Viceconti Warwicensi et Leicestrensi salutem. Praecipimus tibi firmiter injungentes, quod statim, post receptionem praesentium, in singulis locis infra ballivam tuam, tam infra libertates quam extra, ubi magis expediens videris, ex parte nostra publicas proclamations fieri facias, in haec verba:

Forasmuch as it hath pleased God of his goodness and grace to send to our Sovereign Lord the victory of his Rebels and Traitors of his shire of Lincoln, late assembled in great numbers, levying war against his Highness, contrary to their allegiance and duty; Our said Sovereign Lord, therefore, not willing his subjects, other than such as now attend upon his most Royal Person, to be put to charge, labour and business, by virtue of his commissions of array, and other writing, [of] late addressed to divers shires, cities and towns, for the resistence of the malicious and traitorous purposes of the said Rebels, wills, and in the most strait wise chargeth, that none of his subjects presume, nor take upon him, to raise nor make any assembly, or gathering, by reason of any of the said commissions, or writings, nor by money, stirring, writing or commandment made, or hereafter to be made, by any person, or persons, of whatestate, degree or condition soever he be of, less than it be by the King’s commission, Privy-seal, or writing under his signet, of new to be made after this the thirteenth day of March.

And if any person, or persons presume, or take upon them, or him, to do the contrary hereof, our said Sovereign Lord will repute, and take him, and them so doing, as his Enemies and Rebels, and will proceed to their lawful punishing, in the [most] straitest wise, according to his Laws and Statutes in such case ordained. . . .

Rex Vicecomiti Eborum salutem. Praecipimus tibi firmiter injungentes, quod statim, post receptionem praesentium, in singulis locis infra ballivam tuam, tam infra libertates quam extra, ubi magis expediens videris, ex parte nostra publicas proclamations fieri facias, in haec verba:

Howbeit the King our Sovereign Lord granted unto George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Earl of Warwick, his pardon general of all offences committed, and done against him, before the feast of Christmas, last passed; trusting thereby to have caused them to have shewed unto him their natural love, allegiance and duty; and to have assisted his Highness, as well in subduing [the] insurrections and rebellions, late made against him in the county of Lincoln, as in all other things concerning the surety of his person; and, in trust that they so would have done according to their promises to him made, his said Highness authorised them by his commission under his great seal to assemble his subjects in certain shires, and them to have brought to his said Highness, to the intent aforesaid; yet the said Duke and Earl, unnaturally, unkindly and untruly intending his destruction, and the subversion of his realm, and the commonweal of the same; and to make the said Duke King of this his said Realm, against God’s law, man’s law,and all reason, and conscience, dissembled with his said Highness, and, under colour thereof, falsely and traiterously provoked and stirred, as well by their writings as otherwise, Sir Robert Welles, late calling himself Great Captain of the Commons of the said shire of Lincoln, to continue the said insurrections and rebellions, and to levy war against him, as they, by the same, so did with banners displayed, advancing themselves in plain battle, until the time his said Highness, by the help of God, put them to flight; wherein the said Duke and Earl promised to the said Sir Robert and Commons to have given them their assistance to the uttermost of their powers, and so would have done, if God had not given unto him the said victory, as the same Sir Robert Welles, Sir Thomas De la Lande, Richard Warren and others have openly confessed; and shewed before his said Highness, the Lords of his blood, and the multitude of his subjects attending upon him in his host at this time; which Sir Robert Welles, and the said other petty captains, affirmed to be true at their deaths, uncompelled, unstirred or undesired so to do; and as by the confession of the said Robert Welles, made under his writing and sign manual, it appeareth. And after that the said Duke and Earl, understanding and seeing that this their said labours would not serve to the performing of their false and traitorous purpose, before declared, laboured by their writings and messages sent into Yorkshire unto divers persons there, them straitly charging to [do] make open proclamations in their own names, without making mention of his said Highness, that all manner [of] men upon pain of death should come unto them, and give them their assurance in resisting of him; whereupon his said Highness sent unto the said Duke and Earl, by Garter, King of Arms, summonition and warning of their said accusations under his privy seal, straitly charging them to come unto his said Highness, reasonably accompanied according to their estates, and degrees, to answer unto their said accusations; which to do they presumptuously refused, and withdrew themselves, and fled with their fellowship into Lancashire; so as his said Highness with his host for lack of victual might not follow them, to the intent that they might gather his subjects in greater number, and to be able to perform their said false, and traitorous purpose, and intent; for the which causes they have deserved to be published, as false traitors and rebels, and to have the uttermost punition of the law; yet never the less, our said Sovereign Lord considering the nighness of blood, that they be of unto him, and the tender love, which he hath afore time borne to them, were therefore loath to lese [lose] them, if they would submit them[selves] to his grace, and put him in surety of their good demeaning hereafter.

Wherefore our said Sovereign Lord will, and in the [most] straitest wise chargeth, the said Duke and Earl, that they, in their persons, come in humble and obeisant wise, and appear before his Highness, the twenty eighth day of this present month of March, Wednesday next, or before, wheresoever he then shall be, to answer unto the said accusations; which if they will so do, and come [and] declare themselves not guilty, his Highness will be thereof right glad, and have them in his grace and favour; and if they refuse thus to do, then our said Sovereign Lord reputeth, taketh and declareth them as his rebels and traitors, willing and straitly charging all his subjects to do the same, and that none of his subjects from that time forth receive them, nor either of them aid, favour, nor assist with meat, drink, nor money, nor otherwise, nor none other person which, after the said Duke and Earl have refused to come to our said Sovereign Lord as is aforesaid, abideth with them, or aideth them, or assisteth in any wise; but that every[one] of the King’s subjects put him[self] in effectual [en]deavour to take the said Duke and Earl, and all others so abiding with them, or aiding or assisting them, as is abovesaid, and them surely bring to his Highness upon Reward for pain of death;  And he that taketh and bringeth the said Duke or Earl shall have for his reward; to him and his heirs, a hundred pounds worth of his land of yearly value, or a thousand pounds in ready money, at his election; and for a knight twenty pounds worth of his land, or a hundred marks in money; and for a squire ten pounds worth of his land, or forty pounds in money; and over that cause our said Sovereign Lord to have him and them, so doing, in the more tender favour of his good grace at all times hereafter.

Et hoc sub periculo incumbenti nullatenus amittas. Teste Rege apud Eborum 24 die Martii.

from The Chronicles of the White Rose of York

Margaret Nevill (c 1444 – 15 November 1506) was the youngest child of the countess and earl of Salisbury. John de Vere (8 Sept 1442 – 10 March 1512/3) was the second son of John de Vere, earl of Oxford, and Elizabeth Howard. By the time they married, in 1465, both families had had their share of triumph, tragedy and turmoil. In their forty one year marriage, Margaret and John were to face a good deal of their own.

In the ordinary course of events, it is unlikely that John would have succeeded to his father’s title. His older brother, Aubrey, was married to Anne Stafford (daughter of the duke of Buckingham). They had no children but, had his life been allowed to run its natural course, children would have been expected in the not too distant future. However, in February 1462, both he and his father were executed for treason. This did not endear young John to the new Yorkist regime. Despite this, Edward IV seemed to have had few questions about his loyalty as, on 18 January, he was allowed to succeed to his father’s title and, some time the following year, he and Margaret were married. Quite apart from winning a title for his sister, the earl of Warwick (along with the young king, Edward IV) may have seen this match as a means of encouraging, if not ensuring, young Oxford’s loyalty.

The young couple would have been based at Castle Hedingham in Essex, and were among the pre-eminent families in East Anglia. The only mention I have of any children is, in my view, rather dubious. In Kingmaker’s Sisters, David Baldwin says: “Margaret had a son, George, who was living in 1478 but who is said to have died in the Tower during his father’s exile.” He gives no source, and there is no mention of any offspring in either John or Margaret’s entry in A quick search has turned up no George de Vere (born between 1465 and 1471, dying after 1478) who Baldwin may have given to the Oxfords in error. If anyone out there does have a source for this child’s existence, I’d be most awfully pleased to see it!

In 1468, just three years into their marriage, Oxford took his first tentative steps into opposition. He was implicated in a plot to restore Henry VI and briefly consigned to the Tower. He confessed all that he knew and was quickly pardoned and released. Within three months, he’d joined his brother-in-law, the earl of Warwick, and the duke of Clarence in rebellion. He may even have been in Calais for the wedding of Clarence and Isobel Nevill on 11 July 1469. It he was there, it seems unlikely that his countess accompanied him.

He was with Warwick and Clarence when they returned to England and took a prominent role during the Readeption of Henry VI. As Constable of England, he had the satisfaction of pronouncing sentence of death on John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester – the man who had ordered the deaths of Oxford’s father and brother some nine years earlier.

Apart from a few tiny glimpses, we have no real clue as to the state of the Oxfords’ marriage. Twice in letters – one to Margaret and one to John Paston – Oxford indicates that he is prepared to rely on her to carry out his wishes. Margaret may have been involved in a (much later) attempt by her husband to escape from imprisonment in Hammes castle – she certainly sought, and received, a general pardon around this time. After Bosworth, the couple resettled into their old life at Hedingham. Margaret had suffered through years of straitened finances and made no attempt to end their marriage – despite her cousin Anne, duchess of Exeter’s, fine example. Even after an (albeit shortlived) second marriage after her death, Oxford chose to be buried with his first wife. While very scant and circumstantial, all this, to me, adds up to a couple who were, at the very least, determined to make the best of an increasingly bad situation and remain true to each other and to their union.

For a fuller exploration of Oxford’s career, I’d check this out.

While her husband was adventuring on the continent and in Scotland, menacing shipping in the channel and withstanding what started out to be a rather half-hearted siege at St Mary Mount in Cornwall, Margaret was (according to Fabyan) living without financial support “but as the people of their charites would gyue her, or what she myght get with her nedyll or other such conynge as she excersysed.” Help may have come from her sisters Katheryn and Alice (Alianor died in 1472), but it doesn’t seem she was as close to either of them as they were to each other. With Alice looking after the fortunes of her own family after the death of her husband, she may not have been in the position to support the wife of an unreconstructed traitor of Oxford’s calibre.

After Barnet, Oxford fled to Scotland and Margaret went into sanctuary in St Martin’s. She sought, and obtained, a general pardon for herself in March 1474, but just when, and under what circumstances, she emerged from sanctuary, I don’t know. I’ve also yet to establish just where she lived between this time and her husband’s return to England in 1485.

Despite the complete failure of the final Lancastrian push for the throne, the defeats at Barnet and Tewkesbury and the death of Henry VI, the nature of Oxford was irrepressible. He conspired with George Nevill, archbishop of Canterbury, some time Chancellor of England and sole surviving Nevill brother, which led to Nevill’s arrest and imprisonment in France.

A year later, Oxford was reported to be sailing for Scotland. John Paston II declared in a letter to his brother (16 April 1475) “I mystrust that werke”. Like his late brother-in-law, Warwick, for a time he turned to piracy then, suddenly, in company of his brothers George and Thomas and Viscount Beaumont, he took possession of St Mary Mount in Cornwall.

It has been speculated that this was somehow connected to the plots and plans of George duke of Clarence, and in anticipation of wider action. Margaret may well have been supporting him in some way. I would imagine that the two were in fairly regular communication throughout Oxford’s exile and subsequent imprisonment. Whatever the reason for the seizure of St Mary Mount, it failed and Oxford eventually surrendered, brokering the best deal he could for himself and his brothers – pardon of their lives. Oxford was sent to Hammes castle and the archbishop was allowed to come home.

In 1478, either in a suicide attempt (which to me seems doubtful) or a desperate bid to escape (far more in keep with Oxford’s character and previous actions), he jumped from the walls of Hammes castle into a water filled ditch. He was retrieved and returned to confinement. As Margaret was granted a further general pardon the following year, she may have been involved in a later stage of this escape attempt which, obviously, never came to pass.

Finally, in February 1481, she was granted an annuity of 100L for her husband’s lifetime. After his accession to the throne in 1483, Richard III renewed this.

In a bid to keep him away from the temptation to join in Henry Tudor’s plots to invade England, Richard intended to return Oxford to England. He was, however, too late and, Oxford having made friends with his long time gaoler (James Blount), the pair had already left the castle to join Tudor in France.

Oxford commanded Tudor’s van at Bosworth. After his victory, he was reunited with his wife after some sixteen years apart. They once more took up residence at Hedingham and slipped back into their old role as the dominant power in East Anglia.

Margaret died on 15 November 1506 – the last of the Nevill sisters. Oxford married Elizabeth Scrope, widow of William, viscount Beaumont, sometime 1508/9. He died in 1513 and was buried with Margaret.

Oxford seemed to be able to rely on his wife to carry out what must have been, at times, quite difficult requests. Or he at least had the confidence in her ability to carry such out as best she could. In either 1468 or 9 he wrote the following to John Paston, (my italics):

“RIGHT worshipfull, and my especiall true hertid frende, I commaunde me un to you, preying you to ordeyne me iij. horsse harneys as godely as ye and Genyn kan devyse, as it were for yourselfe; and that I may have thyme in all hast, ordere. Also Skerne saith ye wolde ordeyne ij. standarde stavys; this I pray you to remembre, and my wife shalle deliver you silver,—and yit she most borowed it; vj. or vij//. I wold be stowe on a horsse harneys, and so Skerne tolde me I might have. The Lord Hastings had for the same price, but I wolde not myne were lik his; and I trust to God we shalle do right welle, who preserve you. Wreten at Canterbury in hast, the xviij. day of Juyll.”

And, in the dark days immediately following the battle of Barnet, he sent this (in my view) quite extraordinary letter to her:

“Right reverend and worshipful lady, I recommend me to you, letting you weet that I am in great heaviness at the making of this letter, but thanked be God I am escaped myself, and suddenly departed from my men; for I understand my chaplain would have destrayed me; and if he come into the country let him be made sure &c.

Also ye shall give credence to the bringer of this letter, and I beseech you to reward him to his costs; for I was not in power at the making of this letter to give him, but as I was put in trust by favour of strange people &c.

Also ye shall send me in all haste all the ready money that ye can make; and so many of my men as can come well horsed, and that they come in divers parcels.

Also that my horse be sent, with my steel saddles, and bid the yeoman of the horse cover them with leather.

Also ye shall send to my mother, and let her weet of this letter and pray her of her blessing, and bid her send me my casket by this token; that she has the key thereof, but it is broken.

Also ye shall send to the Prior of Thetford and bid him send me the sum of gold that he said that I shoud have, also say to him by this token that I showed him the first privy seal, &c.

Also let Paston, Felbrig and Brews, come to me.

Also ye shall deliver the bringer of this letter an horse, saddle and bridle.

Also ye shall be of good cheer, and take no thought for I shall bring my purpose about now, by the grace of God, whom have you in keeping.”

As Baldwin says, “Oxford was clearly one of life’s optimists”.


Scofield, Clara L, The early life of John de Vere, 13th earl of Oxford
Baldwin, David, The Kingmaker’s Sisters, The History Press, 2009

Ok, I’m setting aside the earl and countess of Oxford just long enough to bring you this…

John Paston, lawyer, husband, father, takes his job seriously and expects his family – wife included – to do the same. But in one letter – just one tiny (rather long, actually, but thats beside the point) letter, we catch a glimpse of Paston-the-romantic.

Here’s the background. John has been in London for some time. He has heard news from home that his wife, Margaret, is not well. He writes this (13 July 1465):

“John Hobbs telleth me that ye be sickly, which me liketh not to hear; praying you heartily that ye take what may do your ease and spare not, and in any wise take no thought ne too much labour for these matters, ne set it not so to your heart that ye fare the worse for it … And in case I come not home within three weeks, I pray you come to me; and Wykes hath promised to keep the place in your absence…”

On 14 September, her son (John III) writes to her in London.

And on 20 September, her no-nonsense husband writes this:

“Mine own dear sovereign lady, I recommend me to you, and thank you of the great cheer that ye made me here, to my great cost and charge and labour.”

There follows the usual pages and pages and pages of the usual instructions and ends with this:

“Item, I pray you remember and read often my bill of errands and this letter till it be done, and all such matters or articles as ye speed hereof, cross them that ye may know them from tho that not be sped; and send me answer of your good speed… Though I write right certainly, if ye look them lightly and see them seld they shall soon be forgot.

“Item, I shall tell you a tale:
Pamping and I have picked your mail
and taken out pieces five,
for upon trust of Calle’s promise we may soon unthrive.
And if Calle bring us hither twenty pound
ye shall have your pieces again good and round;
or else, if he will not pay you the value of the pieces there,
to the post do nail his ear,
or else do him some other sorrow
for I will no more in his default borrow;
and but if the receiving of my livelode be better plied
he shall [have] Christ’s curse and mine clean tried.
And look ye be merry and take no thought,
for this rhyme is cunningly wrought.
My Lord Percy and all this house
recommend them to you, dog, cat and mouse,
and wish ye had be here still,
for they say ye are a good gill.
No more to you at this time,
but God him save that made this rhyme.

By your true and trusty husband, JP”

After twenty odd years of marriage, this letter must have come as something of a shock to poor Margaret! Still, rather self-affirming to know that she still had IT!

Such giddiness is never repeated.