I thought I’d share part of my research and writing process, using Richard Welles as an example. It goes something like this:
• There’s this person whose name crops up from time to time in connection with one or other of the Nevills;
• I know nothing or next to nothing about them;
• I think ‘Oh, well, they’re not really all that important at this point, so long as I get the bits I do know right”.
• They keep cropping up in more and more contexts, until finally…
• I find myself asking awkward questions I can’t answer.
In Welles’ case the current awkward question is: “If, as they did, Welles and his wife, Maud Stanhope’s stepdaughter, harried her out of her dower lands, and as this affected her second husband, Thomas Nevill, how on earth did the Nevills and the Welles’ end up being so close?” Close enough for Welles to have a substantial role in the Archbishop of York’s enthronement feast; and close enough for Welles and his son, Robert, to lead the Lincolnshire rebellion on Warwick’s behalf and, sadly, both lose their lives as a result.
Maud did get her dower lands back and she and Thomas both lived there for a time (as she did with her third husband, Gervase Clyfton). The only thing I can find that tells me this is a reference in official records that mentions Thomas as ‘Sir Thomas Nevill of Eresby’ in 1459. (Eresby being where Maud’s dower lands were.) In 1460, Richard Welles, up until then a staunch supporter of Henry VI, swore himself to Edward IV. Five years after that, he was acting as carver at George Nevill’s big feast. Four years after that, he was executed after confessing his part, Warwick’s and Clarence’s in the Lincolnshire rebellion.
I don’t know anything about the state of Maud’s relationship with her stepdaughter, beyond Maud being forced from her dowerlands. While that might suggest that the two weren’t particular friends, it could also have been a case of ‘nothing personal’. I recently came across an intriguing few snippets referring to an ongoing property dispute between Henry Fitzhugh and his sister Joan, wife of lord Scrope of Bolton. Seems there was a garden in York that each swore their father had given, bestowed upon or left them. I’ve found nothing that suggests any ill feeling between the Fitzhugh siblings, or between Henry and John Scrope. I haven’t followed the story through to whatever the outcome might have been. That’s a task for another time.
Maud’s first husband, Robert Lord Willoughby, died in July 1452. In January the following year, Maud was granted her dower lands. From the relevant Privy Council Proceedings:
To the escheator in Lincolnshire. Order to take of Maud who was wife of Robert Wylughby knight an oath, etc., and in presence of Joan daughter and heir of the said Robert, or of her attorneys, to assign dower to the said Maud.
To Geoffrey Fyldyng mayor of the city of Lincoln and escheator therein. Order to assign dower to the said Maud, of whom the king has commanded the escheator in Lincolnshire to take an oath etc.
Some little while after this, Maud was forced to flee Eresby for sanctuary with her uncle, Ralph Lord Cromwell, at Tattershall.
The best I can say at the moment is that some time between her marriage to Thomas Nevill in August 1453 and 1459, Maud did enter into her dower lands and from then until his death in December 1460, that was Thomas Nevill’s principle place of residence.
In December 1454, Maud’s mother died at Tuxford in Nottinghamshire. Though I don’t have a firm record of this, Maud and her husband may have attended the Inquisition Post Mortem. As subsequent events would show, Thomas wasn’t known for sitting back and waiting for officials and executors to sort things out. He tended to take a more proactive approach. So I’m left, failing any firm evidence, with conjecture to fall back on: a meeting between the two men, the tentative beginnings of a friendship, a level of rapprochement between Maud and her step-son-in-law, steps taken towards getting the property at Eresby back into Maud’s hands. And the foundations of a friendship between the two men that, after Thomas’s death and Welles coming to terms with the new Yorkist king, was easily transferred to the earl of Warwick. Given Maud’s later dealings with John Nevill (which I’m not going to tell you about here – I have to hold something back!), any connection forged between her and Welles during her second marriage could have possibly acted as a layer of glue holding the two families together. Of course, Maud alone couldn’t have been responsible for the closeness of the ties between Welles and Warwick that allowed, at great peril to himself, Richard Welles Lord Willoughby and his son, Robert Lord Welles, to stir and lead a rebellion on Warwick’s behalf.
What I’d really like to find (and I’ve hunted for it, trust me!) is a clear reference to when Maud and Thomas got control of the Eresby lands. I don’t mind Making Crap Up if I have no choice, but I’d rather not have to. So, until I don’t have to, I’ll be doing the best I can with what little I have.