The ‘Lost Years’ of Lord Henry Fitzhugh

Posted: April 7, 2011 in Alice Fitzhugh, Henry Fizhugh

Between the battles of Blore Heath (23 November 1459) and Towton (29 March 1461), Lord Henry Fitzhugh, son-in-law of the earl of Salisbury and, until then, staunchly loyal retainer, remained in the army of Margaret of Anjou. He was present at the Parliament of Devils in December 1459, where he took the oath of loyalty along with the other lords. He listened as his wife’s father, brothers and mother were attained for treason and he benefited financially from the forfeitures that followed.

While family loyalty wasn’t always the most pressing concern during the Wars of the Roses, especially given the convoluted connections by both blood and marriage amongst the nobility, the major families did tend to take their retainers and supporters with them. Fitzhugh might not have been unique in this regard, but as a prominent northern lord connected to the most prominent northern dynasty, he does rather stand out. His marriage to Salisbury’s daughter, Alice, wasn’t an alliance between strangers (like those of her sisters Alianor and Katheryn – both of whom married young men their father was keen to attach to his affinity), but a marriage between two young people who’d known each other all their lives. Fitzhugh was of an age with her brothers Thomas and John, and more than likely received a good deal of his knightly training at Middleham. Even if my speculation about their early relationship is wrong (and it probably is), Fitzhugh’s attachment to the Nevills was much stronger than either Thomas Stanley’s or William Bonville’s. Yet Bonville was the one who stayed loyal to his father-in-law – at the cost of his life.

It isn’t really possible to look at Fizhugh’s actions (or lack thereof) during those years without also looking at those of Ralph lord Greystoke, also a Nevill retainer and also during this time, at least ostensibly, loyal to Henry VI. According to Pollard, after Towton, Greystoke was swiftly rehabilitated. Fitzhugh had to work at it.

There’s an implication that Greystoke was playing a double game. Both he and Fitzhugh were certainly under suspicion from time to time. If Greystoke was secretly working for the Yorkists, he must have been a cool customer indeed not to have blown his cover after Wakefield, and I can’t imagine Fitzhugh dealt with the death of his brother-in-law, Thomas, and the murder of his father-in-law, Salisbury, without so much as blinking. Only one source puts them at Wakefield (Benet’s Chronicle). If they were there, they were either kept or kept themselves out of the fighting. Someone in Margaret of Anjou’s camp doubted their trustworthiness at least. At the council of war in York in January 1461, “they suffered much trouble, and they swore an oath to be loyal to the queen and her son”. (This is taken from a source that I’m having difficulties accessing – Letters and Papers illustrative of the wars of the English in France during the reign of Henry VI. All the online copies I can find are a) not in text format and b) in French. Added to this, the table of contents isn’t detailed. This makes it difficult for this very unfluent and slow reader of French to find what she’s looking for!) Just what ‘trouble’ is being referred to can only be guessed. Given the closeness of both men to the late earl of Salisbury, it might have been assumed that they’d either change sides at the first opportunity or somehow work to undermine the Lancastrian cause. There’s no evidence that either men did either thing. However, for the remainder of their time in Margaret’s army, neither man took the field.

Whether Greystoke was actively working on Fitzhugh, or it was just his family connections to the Nevills that placed him under suspicion, I can’t even guess. As the program of childbirth Fitzhugh and his wife had embarked on was uninterrupted during these years, it would seem he managed to make several visits to his home in Ravensworth. I’ve mused before this on the possible tensions in the Fitzhugh household at this time and, though her primary loyalty would now be to her husband, I can’t imagine Alice would have let his ‘disloyalty’ to her late father pass unremarked.

Another thing that needs to be factored in to any speculation regarding Fitzhugh is his behaviour during Warwick’s period of rebellion (1468-71). At that time, he was four square behind his brother-in-law. As Warwick’s initial plans didn’t include restoring Henry VI, it’s unlikely that Fitzhugh was a ‘secret’ Lancastrian for the ten years of Edward IV’s first reign. When Nevill next went up against a king of England, Fitzhugh’s choice was swift, irrevocable and, ultimately, disastrous. He may have learned his lesson about local and family loyalty, but his ability to pick the winning side hadn’t improved. His entire family under a cloud of treason, his rebellion in disarray, he fled to Scotland in 1470.

Assuming for a moment that it wasn’t in Greystoke’s plans to somehow slip away from the royal army and join Warwick at either St Albans or Towton, the question that arises is: why didn’t Fitzhugh? He was certainly there or thereabouts for both battles, making his peace with Edward IV after Towton. Both men may have been kept under close watch, their value as non-combatants greater than their potential contribution in the field, given the chance that that might have been for them switching sides. (And, incidentally, if Greystoke was working for the Yorkists, he didn’t do Warwick’s cause much good at the second battle of St Albans, though he might conceivably have been trying to get word to him of the army’s movements.) I’ve not come across any reference, even vague or veiled, that Fitzhugh was under any overt threat, or that his family were in some way being held hostage to his continued loyalty. That doesn’t mean that these aren’t possibilities. I’ve been trying to find details of either (or preferably both) of Fitzhugh’s pardons, but so far with no success.

It seems to me that Fitzhugh’s first order of business after Towton was achieving his restoration and rehabilitation in the eyes of the earl of Warwick. He was much nearer to him than was the king – both physically and familially. Once Warwick and Montagu had finalised their grip on the north of England, they were far more important allies, masters and patrons to someone in Fitzhugh’s position than the king.

So, there are several questions that I need to answer:

1. Why did Fitzhugh stay so long with the royal army?

2. Just how were he and Greystoke viewed by their Lancastrian allies?

3. Why did neither of them engage in any of the battles from Wakefield to Towton?

4. Was Greystoke acting as a fifth columnist? If so, was he working on Fitzhugh?

5. What effect did any of this have on Fitzhugh’s wife?

6. Just how were Fitzhugh’s initial approaches to Warwick after Towton received?

I don’t know the actual answers to any of these questions… But I’m fairly sure I’m starting to get a handle on my interpretation of events – and the answers that I want to give.


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