Archive for the ‘William Bonville, Lord Harrington’ Category


Battle of Wakefield.

Richard duke of York and his son Edmund, earl of Rutland are killed. Thomas Nevill, son of Richard Nevill earl of Salisbury is killed, as are William Bonville lord Harrington, husband of Salisbury’s daughter, Katheryn, and Edward Bourchier, son of York’s sister Isabel.



Birth of Cecily Bonville, only child of Katheryn Nevill and William Bonville lord Harrington. She was six months old when her father was killed at the battle of Wakefield.

Cecily married Thomas Grey marquis of Dorest, son of Elizabeth Wydeville by her first marriage.

This was one of the most eagerly awaited books in my collection, as real, careful, scholarly work on the battle of Wakefield is very thin on the ground. For a battle with such profound consequences, there is very little in primary sources and most of the secondary sources can’t be taken at face value. Cox had done a good job sifting through all. Her greatest achievement in this book is addressing the various myths surrounding the battle. Her own conclusions about the battle cover a disappointing sixteen pages and, unfortunately, left me unconvinced. Not, I hasten to add, the substance of it, but rather some of the speculative detail. (I want to stress that Cox herself sets out her conclusion in terms of “conjecture, theory and speculation” (p74).)

It’s a slim volume, almost more a long journal paper than a book, but it packs quite a wallop for its size. The first two chapters are given over to a brief account of the background to the Wars and, more specifically, the lead up to Wakefield. It left me a little breathless, but certainly did its job! As the likely readers of this book would fall into two camps – WoR tragics like me and battle tragics – there was certainly no need to go into excruciating detail here. The first group of readers should be assumed to have at least a working knowledge and the second group might be assumed to want to get straight into the meat of it – the battle itself. Either way, the introductory chapters are quite sufficient in this regard.

Chapter 3 was, for me, by far the most interesting, useful and valuable. Cox takes the myths surrounding the battle – the various purported reasons for York’s catastrophic defeat – and knocks them down one at a time. She takes as her starting point the idea that York was no fool militarily and builds from there, making extensive use of both primary and secondary sources, as well as taking into account the topography of the battlefield and the (scant) archaeological record. My own preferred hypothesis was demolished along with the rest! This is something I have surprisingly few regrets about.

One mystery snippet – the so-called battle of Worksop – was very nicely cleared up in this chapter as well. When I first heard mention of it, I was puzzled, thinking that something so important as an actual battle slipping through my radar unnoticed was a sad indictment on me and my powers of perception. Detail about this event is so limited that that in itself is a clue Cox uses to put it into perspective. All told, chapter 3, Dispelling the myths, does exactly that, clearly and concisely.

Briefly, Cox credits the Lancastrian victory to the treachery of lord John Nevill (Salisbury’s nephew). This isn’t a startling new theory and, of those considered in the chapter on myths, is by far the most convincing. What I had questions about, as I read, was more precisely how this was carried out. With bad blood between lord John (one of the Wrong Nevills) and his uncle, it seems to me that, had Nevill turned up at Sandal days before the battle pledging his support (through York) to Henry VI (it shouldn’t be forgotten that, since the Act of Accord, rightly or wrongly, Margaret of Anjou and her armies were now the rebels and York was the upholder of the king), it would be Salisbury who needed convincing rather than York.

Another important consideration in this is that Cox quite clearly states that John Nevill, lord Montagu, was present at the battle and (needless to say) survived. Few others do, and I think there’s very good reason for that. Had such a high profile Yorkist fought and survived, we’d know a great deal more about Wakefield than we do. While I don’t quibble at all with the core of Cox’s conclusion – it’s by far the most likely – I do have questions about some of the detail. Treachery the depth of lord Nevill’s (rather than an in the field change of sides, akin to Grey of Ruthyn’s at Northampton, or even Stanley’s at Bosworth) would not have gone unremarked by Montagu, had he been there. While (most likely) Grey and (definitely) Stanley  communicated their intentions ahead of time, the conspiracy espoused by Cox is, I think, rather unnecessarily complicated. The closer to the actual battle Nevill appeared, the less time Salisbury would have had to question or challenge his presence. In fact, the longer Nevill was around, the more likely tension or conflict would develop between him and Salisbury. The bitterness between the two branches of the family cannot easily be overstated. Cox quite rightly states that if he was issued a commission of array from Sandal, it would have left him with no time to raise troops, and therefore he already had his men with him. York would also have been able to work this out. I think it’s more likely that Lord Nevill showed up some time very close to 30 December, when York was no doubt aware that he was outnumbered. Salisbury may have expressed doubts, but there wasn’t sufficient time to inspect the teeth of this particular gift horse and whatever pledges he might have made, to Henry VI or otherwise, Nevill was welcomed, perhaps over Salisbury’s doubts and protestations.

The remainder of the book deals with the aftermath of the battle, the fates of various surviving participants and a last word about history’s view of various dukes of York.

Lastly (and I don’t want to be overly critical of this book) there’s what might be considered a fairly minor point but one which, given my focus on the Nevills, is a little perplexing. In all the texts in which they’re mentioned (and they’re by no means mentioned in all of them) the William Bonvilles (father and son – who both lost their lives in the battle) are listed with the Yorkists. Cox has them fighting for the Lancastrians. For purely personal reasons, I really do need to pin this down!

All in all, this is a very useful book and an important contribution to our understanding of a battle about which so little is known. The myth demolition chapter alone is worth the price of admission! Cox’s exploration is holistic and thorough. While I’ve been deeply disappointed in the past with eagerly awaited books, I wasn’t disappointed with this one, though I hoped for a little more about the battle itself. Given the scant information available, I was probably asking for too much! A Wars of the Roses collection without this book is incomplete.

This is quite a sketchy post, more a commemoration than anything particularly useful, as I have yet to undertake the required deep research into this battle.

The battle of Wakefield, 30 December 1460, like the first battle of St Albans some five years earlier, both helped to change the nature of the conduct of the Wars of the Roses and escalated the violence, both in and post-battle. One of the overriding images, for a lot of people, is that of the row of heads on Micklegate Bar in York, the duke of York’s wearing a paper crown.

No-one knows why York engaged the larger Lancastrian force that day and it seems sometimes that individual interpretations of events are based on partisanship and – in one case at least – on perceptions of York coloured by perceptions of his son, Richard duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

In his video presentation of Sandal Castle, John Fox suggests that York would never have made such a fundamental mistake as riding out to rescue stranded foragers because he was a seasoned soldier who didn’t make fundamental mistakes.  As Fox is a strong advocate for the rehabilitation of Richard III, and as it would seem he is of the school of thought that identifies the young Richard strongly with his father, his reluctance to allow York to be fallible may be based in this. Fox prefers the hypothesis that York was betrayed by one of his men.

Others, who are not particularly fond of the duke of York, subscribe to the idea that he was lured out of the castle by taunting Lancastrians.

In the only detailed exploration of this battle that I currently have (Dockray and Knowles articles in the Richard III Society offprint The Battle of Wakefield) each scenario is discussed but no firm conclusion is reached.

For me, the story of the stranded foraging party makes by far the most sense.

However it happened, York, his son Edmund, earl of Rutland, sir Thomas Nevill, the young lord Harrington, William Bonville, (husband of Thomas’s sister Katheryn) and his father, also William Bonville, amongst many others, fell in battle. The earl of Salisbury survived the day and was taken to Pontefract castle where he was, the following day, beheaded.

York’s widow, Cecily Nevill, never remarried, dying in 1495. The countess of Salisbury, Alice Montacute, died in 1462. Maud, lady Willoughby, widow of Thomas Nevill, married sir Gervase Clifton the following year, only to lose him to a violent death in 1471. He was executed after the battle of Tewkesbury. Lady Harrington, Katheryn Nevill, mother of Bonville’s only child, married William lord Hastings in 1462. He was beheaded by Richard duke of Gloucester in 1483.

This ought to be a short one…

Katheryn Nevill’s first marriage lasted barely two years. I haven’t managed to find out a great deal about it, as her second marriage to William Hastings, seems to eclipse it in all the literature.

We do know that her husband, William Bonville (later lord Harrington on his grandfather’s death) was born in Chewton Mendip in Somersetshire, that they were married in Salisbury and that their daughter, Cecily, was born at Shute Manor in Devon on 30 June 1460.

We also know when, how and where young William died, but of the marriage itself there is little mention.

Both Katheryn and William were born around 1442, so were 16 at the time of their marriage. William’s father and grandfather (William lord Bonville) had a connection with the Nevills, supporting them and the duke of York during the first protectorate in 1454, more specifically during the rebellion of Henry Holland duke of Exeter. William sr, along with Thomas Stanley (Alianor Nevill’s father-in-law) had been commissioned to help keep the peace in Lancashire and Yorkshire. Discussions regarding a marriage between young William and Salisbury’s daughter may have begun around this time. The marriage itself, conducted in Salisbury, took place in 1458 (though some genealogies say 1457).

Also in 1458, William’s maternal grandfather, lord Harrington, died and he inherited the title (his mother having died some time before this.)

The young couple then took up residence at Shute Barton. Here their daughter Cecily was born. (I have previously said that Katheryn was 16 when her daughter was born, but I didn’t have my Simple Maths head on – she and William were both 18.) The property was part of young Cecily’s inheritance and passed into the control of her husband (Thomas Grey) after their marriage. When her great-granddaughter, Lady Jane Grey, was executed in 1554, the property was given to the Poles, who still own it today.

William remained a loyal supporter of his father-in-law. In 1460, he and his father joined the duke of York at Sandal Castle. Both Bonvilles lost their lives at the battle of Wakefield. (William’s grandfather was later executed after the second battle of St Albans. This particular act has often been cited as an example of the cruelty of Margaret of Anjou, but I think that’s more to do with the reason for the execution than the death itself. Bonville was guarding the captive Henry VI at the time, and was executed on Margaret’s orders for allowing the king to be captured – by Margaret’s forces. This sort of thinking was not uncommon at the time, but this particular example does seem to have touched a chord.)

Cecily Bonville was six months old when her father died.

Katheryn was only one of a number of widows after Wakefield. Her mother, Alice Montacute countess of Salisbury, her aunt, Cecily Nevill duchess of York, and her sister-in-law, Maud Stanhope, all lost their husbands on the same day. Alice and Cecily, from what I can work out, were in London at the time, Maud was at her home in Nottinghamshire and Cecily was probably at Shute Barton. It was an uncertain time for all of them, and rumours of the deaths of both Katheryn’s brother, the earl of Warwick, and cousin Edward earl of March (later Edward IV) wouldn’t have made things any easier. As we have no idea how Katheryn and William felt about each other, it is impossible to say whether deep personal grief added to this stress.

Katheryn later married William Hastings but that, as they say, is a whole nother story.