Sometimes, those of us interested in the Wars of the Roses take sides: Team York and Team Lancaster. Then there’s Team Plantagent and Team Tudor. As should be clear by now, I’m a firm member of Team Nevill. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’ll admit to being on Team Percy.
The ‘perfidious Percies’ as I noticed them described recently. No-one much likes them, it seems. The deep irony of this is that, as a titled and land rich family, they’ve survived when so many others haven’t. This survival seems to have hung, in the 15th century, from a very slender twig. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland… That they were *all* called Henry can get a little confusing, but we just have to learn to live with that.
The list of Percy dead during the Wars is as impressive as it is tragic.
First to die was Henry Percy, son of Hotspur, father of the belligerent Egremont who was so fond of feuding with our very own John Nevill. He was killed at the first battle of St Albans. Possibly targetted by one or other of the Nevills. His death added a level of ferocity to his sons’ actions. Egremont, in particular, seems to have developed a thirst for revenge. He, along with others, including young Somerset whose father also fell at St Albans, tried several times to ambush one or more Nevill. My name is Thomas Percy. You killed my father. His older brother, Henry (Lord Poynings, later earl of Northumberland) kept himself out of it, though he can’t have had much love for his cousins.
Egremont himself was killed at the battle of Northampton. His younger brothers Richard and Ralph, partners in his feudic crimes, were also killed in battles – Ralph at Hedgeley Moor and Richard (along with Henry, the earl) at Towton.
Henry’s son (Henry – whoda thought!) was captured and kept prisoner by Edward IV, his titles and lands forfeited, until the King realised that he needed him. He was restored to his titles (which John Nevill had been keeping warm) but didn’t do a great deal to show his gratitude to Edward, except, by happenstance, keep Nevill from preventing him land at Ravenspur in 1471.
Ricardians often partly blame the 3rd earl of Northumberland for the defeat at Bosworth in 1485, but his actions may not have been deliberate treason – he might have been too far away to get there in time. But, as the Percies are clearly perfidious…
The next Percy who rates any kind of mention is the one who didn’t marry Anne Boleyn and is therefore held responsible for her execution. And, apparently, in punishment for this, he was rendered impotent.
The Nevill-Percy feud is still being fought, it would seem, though few people are actually on the side of the Nevills. They just stand in as kind of proxies for the real heroes – Edward IV and Richard III. Interestingly, by the time of the Revolt of the Northern Earls in 1569, the Nevills (the earl of Westmorland) and Percies had put aside their differences and now worked together to topple a queen. They failed.
The Percies lost a good deal between Hotspur’s actions in the early 1400s and the 1569 rising. Three generations, five men killed in battle and one imprisoned in the Tower, suffered during the Wars of the Roses. It might be time to cut them a little slack.