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.