Guest Post: The Elusive Life of Francis, Viscount Lovell by Monika E. Simon

Today it is a pleasure to welcome back Monika E. Simon to the blog, with a second guest blog post. This time we are looking at Francis Lovell, close friend of Richard III who seems to have disappeared after the 1487 Battle of Stoke and the defeat of the forces of pretender Lambert Simnel. Monika’s debut book, From Robber Barons to Courtiers: The Changing World of the Lovells of Titchmarsh, is out at the end of the month. 

The elusive life of Francis, Viscount Lovell

On 24 May 1487 a young boy was crowned Edward VI in Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin by William FitzSimon, Archbishop of Dublin. A large number of Irish bishops, abbots, and priors attended the ceremony, as well as many Anglo-Irish nobles, including by Garret Mor FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, and a contingent of English noblemen who had never accepted the Henry VII as king or who had abandoned him later. Most notable among these group were John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln and Francis, Viscount Lovell, the nephew and best friend of the previous king Richard III, respectively.

Francis Lovell had been chamberlain of Richard III and was lampooned in William Collingbourne’s often-quoted doggerel, alongside William Catesby and Richard Ratcliffe:

“The catte, the ratte, and Louell our dogge,

Rulyth all Englande vnder the hogge”

Slanderous as the rhyme is, it is also quite memorable and probably one of the most famous quotes of this period.

Bosworth
(Daveleicuk, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Francis Lovell is without doubt the most famous member, not to say the only famous member of his family. However, despite his fame he is a ‘shadowy presence’ to us, to use my favourite description coined by J.M. Williams. The information that can be gathered from the existing records leaves us with huge gaps in our knowledge of his life and not only where one would expect them. While it usual that there are no records of his birth, it is surprising that for three years after coming of age and gaining full possession of his estates in 1477 Francis Lovell is not mention in governmental records. Nobleman like Francis Lovell were normally involved in the administration of the country and individual counties, where their estates were situated. It was not until 1480 that his name appears in the Patent Rolls, when he was appointed to a commission of array in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

Thanks to the fortunate survival of the Paston Letters we know Francis Lovell was married in 1466, at the age of about ten, to Anne FitzHugh, daughter of Henry FitzHugh and Alice Neville, the sister of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘the Kingmaker’. Interestingly, it was only a year later, on 19 November 1467 that his wardship and marriage was granted to the Earl of Warwick. Francis Lovell’s father had died more than two years earlier, on 9 January 1465 and his mother a year later and a half later, on 5 August 1466. It is possible that in the period between his father’s death and the grant of his wardship to the earl of Warwick, Francis Lovell had remained a ward of the king, but the fact that he was already married to the earl’s niece when the grant was recorded could mean that his warship had already been given informally to the earl.

Francis Lovell joined the household of the earl of Warwick at Middleham and it is often assumed that it was in this period he became a close friend of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was staying with the earl in the same time. However, it is not known when Francis reached the Yorkshire castle nor how long Richard stayed there. It is possible that the two boys spent several years together but also that were both at Middleham only for a short period of time.

Occasionally, when Francis Lovell found himself caught up in the big events of the time, the government’s records shed some light on his life. In 1470 his father-in-law Henry FitzHugh rebelled against Edward IV in support of the earl of Warwick attempt to overthrow the king. The uprising was suppressed and the pardon for Henry FitzHugh included his son-in-law Francis Lovell and Francis’s two sisters Joan and Frideswide as all three of them seemed to have lived in with the FitzHughs at the time.

When the Earl of Warwick was killed in the Battle of Barnett, Francis Lovell was still under age and his wardship was granted to Edward IV’s sister Elizabeth and her husband John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Where he lived at this time is – naturally – unknown. He may have continued to live with his wife’s family, as he joined the Corpus Christi Guild at York alongside his wife Anne, her sister Elizabeth, and her mother Alice Neville in 1473.

Francis Lovell came of age and was given control of his large inheritance in 1477. He was then a very rich and powerful nobleman. How much income he had is difficult to determine but his estates spread over the length and breadth of England from Wiltshire to Yorkshire and from Kent to Chester. Altogether he had held five baronies, four of them had come to his family through fortunate marriages of previous Lords Lovell to heiresses. His grandfather William Lovell had already been assessed with an income of £1,000 in 1436, which made him one of the richest peers below the rank of earl.

Again little is know about Francis Lovell’s life for the next six years. It seems that he spent most of his time in the north far away from the centre of his family’s estates that were largely in the south and the midlands. The few commission he was appointed to where for Yorkshire. In 1480 he accompanied Richard, Duke of Gloucester on campaign in Scotland and was knighted there by the duke. On occasion he must have ventured to the south to look after his estates there, as in 1482, when he wrote to William Stonor that he could not come south as he had planned and asked William Stonor to make sure his deer are looked after in Rotherfield Greys (an estate Francis Lovell had inherited from his grandmother). He would have also attended court and parliament. He was present at least in two parliaments as he was appointed as one of the triers of petitions for England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Middleham Castle
(leestuartsherriff, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Even though much of his life largely remains hidden from us, Francis Lovell must have made an impression at least on Richard, Duke of Gloucester and also Edward IV. On 4 January 1483 Francis Lovell was created Viscount by the king. Interestingly, a near contemporary description of the ceremony wrongly identified the king as Richard III and on occasion this misidentification can be found in modern historiography as well.

After the death of Edward IV, the succession crisis, and Richard III becoming king in the spring and early summer of 1483, Francis Lovell became more prominent. He was appointed chief butler first for Edward V then for Richard III. More importantly, he was also appointed chamberlain by Richard III. The chamberlain was one of the most influential man at the royal court as he controlled access, both written and in person, to the king. For this reason and because the chamberlain had to be in constant contact with the king, the position was always given to a close friend, someone whom the king trusted absolutely. Next to the queen, the chamberlain was perhaps the most influential man at court. However, how much influence the chamberlain (or the queen) had, cannot be ascertained as it left no trace in the records. Due to their powerful positions chamberlains were often attacked for abusing their

position, as for example William Latimer, chamberlain of Edward III. However, the doggerel mentioned at the start is the only record of Francis Lovell being criticised in person.

How important Francis Lovell had become also was visible to all at the coronation of Richard III as he played an important role in the ceremony. Many of his duties as chamberlain and chief butler were unspecified, but Francis Lovell also purchased the queen’s ring, carried the third sword of state at the coronation, and had to stand before the king during the coronation banquet. Next to him several other members of his family participated in the coronation: his wife, Anne FitzHugh, her mother, Alice Neville, and her sister-in-law Elizabeth Borough were among the twelve noblewomen of the queen Anne Neville. Francis Lovell’s cousin Henry Lovell was the highest ranking of the king’s henchmen.

During the brief reign of Richard III, Francis Lovell was granted considerable estates, including the honour of Wallingford St Valery and the lordships of Cookham and Bray, and was appointed to a number of offices including constable of Wallingford Castle. A particular honour was given to him when he was made a Knight of the Garter, probably in 1483. His garter stall plate can still be seen today in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. On it he lists his full range of titles: ‘Francis Viscount Lovell & de holand Burnett deynccort & Grey.’

Since the Croyland Chronicle reports that Francis Lovell was sent to the Southampton to prepare the defence against the threatening invasion of Henry Tudor, it has been questioned whether he was at the Battle of Bosworth. While it is impossible to be certain, I think it is more likely that he was at the battle, as the Croyland Chronicle does not specify when he was sent south. As chamberlain Francis Lovell also had to be in constant attendance to the king, his absence from court was therefore probably brief. Additionally, two independent sources report that Francis Lovell was at the battle. The proclamation of Henry VII after the battle included Francis Lovell among the fallen as does a memorandum from York from the 23 August 1485.

Francis Lovell’s Garter Stall Plate, St George’s Chapel, Windsor
(Public Domain, digitized by Google).

After the battle of Bosworth Francis Lovell was one of the few men who refused to make peace with Henry VII. Most others, including his cousin Henry Lovell and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln accepted Henry as king. Again there are only a few occasions when the whereabouts of Francis Lovell are known. He was in Yorkshire where he attempted to kidnap Henry VII, without success. It was later reported that he had fled to Furness Fells and on 19 May 1486 he was said to be in sanctuary in Ely. Shortly thereafter he made his way to Burgundy where he resurfaces at the court of Maria, Duchess of Burgundy and her stepmother Margaret of York.

Another guest there was a boy who claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of George, Duke of Clarence. Sometime later, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln also arrived in Burgundy to support the boy. It is generally believed that the boy was an impostor whose name was Lambert Simnel, though whether this was his real name has been questioned. However, John Ashdown-Hill offers the hypothesis that he was who he claimed to be. George, Duke of Clarence had certainly attempted to smuggle his infant son to Ireland. Ashdown-Hill speculates that he had succeeded and the boy who lived as his son in England was the substitute. If that were the case, and that is a big ‘if’, it would explain why John de la Pole and Francis Lovell supported him.

In 1487, the boy, accompanied by Francis Lovell, John de la Pole, and a company of mercenaries under the command of Martin Schwartz travelled to Ireland where the boy was crowned Edward VI. From Ireland they invaded England only to meet defeat at the Battle of Stoke on 16 June. John de la Pole was killed, the boy king was captured, but the fate of Francis Lovell is unknown.

One theory, possibly first written down by Francis Bacon, was that Francis Lovell lived in a cave or vault according to rumour. Bacon also writes that another report says he drowned in the river Trent when he tried to swim across it after the Battle of Stoke.

The best known theory about what happened to Francis Lovell is that he returned to Minster Lovell to live there in a hidden chamber underneath Minster Lovell Hall, being provided with all he needed by a faithful servant. However, for some reason the servant was prevented from doing so and Francis Lovell died of starvation. According to a report from the early eighteenth century, a skeleton was discovered in a hidden chamber underneath Minster Lovell Hall during construction work. The report claims that the skeleton sat at a table, there was writing material nearby, and a ‘much mouldered cap’. Unfortunately, the skeleton immediately turned to dust after exposure to fresh air. However, no secret chamber, cellar or vault was ever discovered underneath Minster Lovell Hall, which makes this story highly unlikely. Moreover, skeletons do not turn to dust, even if they had been in tightly sealed rooms and are exposed to fresh air. Skeletons or mummified bodies start to decompose quickly if not kept in a carefully controlled environment, but don’t turn to dust.

An intriguing snippet of information is that James IV of Scotland granted a safe conduct to Francis Lovell in 1488. However this trail also disappears and no other reports of Francis Lovell in Scotland exist. Shortly before this date, Francis Lovell’s mother-in-law had made an attempt to find out what happened to him. She had sent Edward Franke to the north to enquire about Francis, but Franke returned without having found out what had happened to Francis. We know of this search, as Alice Neville wrote to John Paston III to cancel a meeting as she said she wanted to stay with her daughter Anne who was very distressed about the lack of news.

Minster Lovell
(Monika E Simon)

Despite his prominent role during the reign of Richard III Francis Lovell also remains almost invisible in contemporary sources. Neither Mancini’s Usurpation of Richard III nor Thomas More’s History of Richard III mention him at all. – Shakespeare gave him only a couple of lines and as a consequence his part is usually cut out of the production and his lines given to somebody else. – Chronicles do mention Francis Lovell only after the battle of Bosworth, generally in connection with his participation in the events surrounding ‘Lambert Simnel’, are recorded.

Francis Lovell’s elusive life and unknown end is just is another mystery of this time that is not short of such. Some are highly controversial like the fate of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ or the credibility of the claim that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous, some less often debated like true identity of ‘Lambert Simnel’ or ‘Edward IV’.

About the author:

Monika E. Simon studied Medieval History, Ancient History, and English Linguistics and Middle English Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, from which she received an MA. She wrote her DPhil thesis about the Lovells of Titchmarsh at the University of York. She lives and works in Munich.

Links:
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/From-Robber-Barons-to-Courtiers-Hardback/p/19045
https://www.facebook.com/MoniESim
http://www.monikasimon.eu/lovell.html

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My Books:

Coming 31 May 2021:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly  and Monika Simon

Book Corner: The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

Every Londoner has money worries. Talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception.

When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities.

Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners; mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is the 9th book in Toni’s marvellous Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery series. If you haven’t read any of these books yet, you are really missing a treat!

Toni Mount has a unique, engaging writing style. Her beautiful prose and clever use of language instantly transports you back to 15th century England. The story revolves around a series of murders linked to counterfeit coins, into which Seb Foxley is brought as a consultant by the local bailiff.

The eponymous hero of the story, Seb Foxley, is a wonderful, intelligent character, who is, perhaps, a little too straitlaced and naive for his own good. His brother is a little too worldly-wise and entitled, but much less self-aware than is good for a grown man – I wanted to punch him on a number of occasions (and I’m not a violent person). The Colour of Evil places these brothers at the heart of the story, highlighting their conflicts and rivalries as London is in the grip of a series of gruesome murders.

As the mystery deepens, the reader is absorbed into the sights, smells and story of London; the excitement, fear and mystery is palpable. The Colour of Evil is an absorbing thriller.

Over ale, Thaddeus told me of the man – the thief we had taken in possession of his ill-gotten gains.

‘His name is Philip Hartnell, a most respectable citizen and a cutler by craft. He said he was walking along Bladder Street, passed the house with its window wide to the pleasant evening air when he saw the candlesticks by the open casement. At a glance, he was quite certain they were the same ones he had bought his wife as a wedding gift ten years since. His wife has much fondness for the sticks, so he took them, thinking to please her.’

‘Had they been stolen away from him previously, then? Is that the way of it?’ I sipped my ale. Thaddeus did likewise afore continuing.

‘That was my first thought. I tell you, Seb, it took a deal of cajoling and probing to get the truth out of Philip Hartnell. The candlesticks weren’t stolen from him but he apparently gave his goodwife to think they had been taken. The truth is that Hartnell has fallen into debt. He took the candlesticks to a goldsmith and sold them to pay off a sizeable loan. When his wife found them gone, she was much upset – more so than Hartnell ever expected. Thus, he told her they had been stolen, rather than admit his actions and the fact that he was over the ears in debt to a moneylender.’

‘An unfortunate situation but how does that excuse his actions of yestereve?’

‘It doesn’t. Besides, the candlesticks he stole from the house in Bladder Street were never his. Similar in shape but not the same ones.’

‘He has no right to them, even had they been the same. He sold them and has had the profit from the sale. Hartnell is a thief and we caught hm. He deserves just punishment, does he not? I do not see any reason for your difficulties in this matter, Thaddeus.’

‘He had never had any dealings with the law before, Seb. He’s a respected member of the Cutlers’ Company and a churchwarden. He loves his wife and family, works hard and earns a good living.’

‘Not good enough, so it would seem, else why would he be in debt?’

‘A foolish mistake, he said though he withheld further details. I had the feeling another woman was involved. In every other respect, Hartnell is a decent citizen. I think he deserves a second chance.’

‘What of the house in Bladder Street? The folk he robbed? Not to mention all the neighbourhood having to rally to the hue-and-cry.’

‘The candlesticks were returned – dented, it’s true but Hartnell says he will pay for their repair. The householder is agreeable. Besides…’

Thaddeus drained his ale.

‘Besides?’

‘Philip Hartnell is not alone, Seb. He is the fourth… no, the fifth respectable citizen that has come to my notice, by one means or another, who has found himself in debt and unable to repay. There’s something going on in London, concerning underhanded financial dealings, and I don’t like the smell of it.

‘Watch your purse, my friend. Every one of them is of middling status like you. Outwardly decent and honest yet they find themselves in dire need, monetarily. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.’

‘Fear not, I owe no man so much as a ha’penny. So you will let Hartnell go?’

‘Aye, I think so. Both Newgate and the Counter are overfull of vile inmates. Hartnell is not of their kind. They’d make a hearty supper of him on his first day inside.’

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount paints a wonderful, full-colour image of London in the time of Edward IV. The streets, taverns, work places and dark alleys are brought to vivid, vibrant life by Toni Mount’s beautiful prose and fantastic imagination. The author’s research is impeccable, her knowledge of 15th century medieval England allowing the reader to sit back and be transported back in time. Toni Mount clearly demonstrates how the guilds, the law and money, works and how it was all an integral part of life in medieval London. She recreates the world of 500 years ago to give the reader not only a great story, but the experience of being amongst the people and places of the time.

The characters are wonderfully individuals, each with their own strengths and flaws – though some have mostly flaws and very few strengths. I always think the sign of a good book is when you find yourself frustrated with the actions of a favourite character – or wanting to punch one who seems thoughtless or heartless; or when you find yourself egging a character on – or wanting to shout ‘no, don’t go down there’. The Colour of Evil certainly takes you through all these emotions and more.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is a beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.

If you haven’t read a Seb Foxley book before, don’t worry, each book works as a standalone. Though I have to warn you – after reading one, you will want to read the rest!

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

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About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

You can find Toni at: Her website; Seb Foxley’s website; Seb Foxley’s Facebook page; Toni’s ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page; Toni Mount’s Facebook page; Toni Mount online courses.

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Guest Post: 7 things you may not know about the Battle of Towton by Dan Moorhouse

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author and historian Dan Moorhouse to the blog with an article on the Battle of Towton, which was fought during the Wars of the Roses, on this day in 1461. Dan’s latest book, On this Day in the Wars of the Roses, is a fabulous read, looking into the Wars of the Roses in a whole new way. Over to Dan…

7 things you may not know about the Battle of Towton

The Battle of Towton is often described as being the biggest, bloodiest battle of English history. Heralds at the time suggested 28,000 dead. Towton established Edward IV as king. His coronation was shortly afterwards. Yet much of what is known about the Battle of Towton is not well known. Dan Moorhouse outlines 7 areas that help to put the battle into perspective.

  • Battlefield Executions
The Battle of Towton by Richard Caton Woodville Jr

In the aftermath of the battle, several of the defeated Lancastrians were rounded up and summarily executed. Evidence for this comes in the form of human remains excavated near Towton Hall. The bodies bore wounds to the head, neck, shoulders. But none to the arms, indicating that these men had been unable to defend themselves. 42 such executions are known to have taken place on the battlefield. This is not the only example of summary justice being meted out following Towton. In York, the victorious Yorkists discovered more Lancastrians. In the days that followed, other men were executed on Edward IVs orders, including the Earl of Devon. A grave pit has been excavated on the Knavesmire, where public executions took place outside York, which contained the remains of bodies that had been beheaded. These have been carbon dated to the period.

  • Survivors

Whilst there is much speculation about the number of Lancastrian dead, there is less said about those who survived. The Royal family had been in the relative safety of York. Most leading nobles escaped the battlefield. With so many dead, many fleeing and wintery conditions, the survivor’s stories varied greatly. Robert Bolling (Bradford, Yorks.) was believed to have died. This remained the case in November when he was posthumously attained. However, he had survived and spent the next 14 years trying to overturn the attainder. Thomas Denys wrote that ‘There I lost £20 worth, bone, harness and money and was hurt in divers places.’ In other words, he was injured, without transport and had lost or spent all his money.

  • Hiding

It is well known that Henry VI went into hiding and was eventually captured near Clitheroe several years later. That other non-combatants did the same is less well known. Henry Clifford was the son of John 9th Baron Clifford. Following his father’s death (at Dintingdale), he too went into hiding. Legend has it that he hid with Shepherd’s in the Yorkshire Dales until after the Battle of Bosworth! This stems from an account written by Lady Anne Clifford in the 17th century. The story seems more myth than factual, though. Though still a child, he is known to have signed charters just a few years later. During the readeption, Lord Montagu was granted the wardship of Henry Clifford.  Edward IV pardoned him in 1472, and he was permitted to access his inheritance from his maternal grandfather at that point. However, he did not receive his Clifford inheritance until 1493.

  • Death toll
Engraving of the Battle of Towton, showing King Edward IV in the thick of the fighting

The Battle of Towton was big, of that there is no doubt. What there is doubt over is how big. Figures for medieval battles vary significantly in their accuracy. For campaigns in the Hundred Years War, there are centrally held records, many of which survive. These make numbers reasonable accurate. For battles in the first phase of the Wars of the Roses, this is not the case. Sources include Heralds, various chronicles, letters, muster rolls and ambassadorial dispatches. Archaeological analysis provides further evidence, as does an examination of logistics. The problem is, none are definitive, and they vary greatly. Chroniclers were prone to exaggeration, as seen by numbers that run from 9000 to 120000 Lancastrian dead. Heralds suggested 28000 dead. Letters and dispatches also disagree. Modern analysis suggests an upper figure of 10000, based on the battlefield’s size, number of nobles and knights known to have fought and the logistics involved in the campaigns. An analysis by The History of Parliament shows that of the peerage and members of Parliament known to have fought, as little as 20%, mainly Lancastrian, perished. With estimates suggesting around 55000 participants, this would be consistent with a death toll of around the 10000 mark. 

  • Finds

It may seem strange that there is no extensive collection of finds from such a significant battle. This is because most substantial items would have been scavenged in the hours, days and weeks following the clash. Battlefield Metal Detector Simon Richardson worked on the Towton battlefield for 32 years. His collection of finds does amass to over one thousand items. Primarily these are small items such as buckles and straps. However, he also discovered fragments of the ‘Towton gun’, the oldest handgun to have been excavated in the British Isles. Sections of a brass cannon were found. Evidence suggests that it exploded on being fired with the probable loss of life of those around it. Richardson also aided in the excavation of a memorial chantry built in the reign of Richard III.

  • Pursuit

The rout at the Battle of Towton is well recorded. Cock Beck was awash with blood. Bodies were used as a bridge by men fleeing the hail of arrows. Those fleeing in a different direction were prone to being run down by Cavalry. As the Lancastrian lines broke, the Yorkists could simply pick off those in flight. Whilst there is ample evidence of slaughter at these places, it is often forgotten that the rout went on for some distance and time. George Neville, in his letter to Francesco Coppini, placed more emphasis on slaughters away from the battlefield than in the immediate rout:

“At the town of Tadcaster, eight miles from York, very many of the fugitives were drowned in the river, the enemy having themselves broken the bridge in their rear beforehand. Of the remainder who escaped for the moment a great part were killed in that town, and in the city [of York]; and quite lately one might have still seen the bodies of these unfortunate men lying unburied, over a space nearly six miles in length and three or four furlongs broad”. [British History Online: Calendar of state papers relating to English affairs in the Archives of Venice, vol 1: 1202-1509]

  • Memorials
Dacre Cross, memorial at the Towton battlefield

Many of the men who died were local and on the losing side. Despite the new regime, there is evidence that their loss was memorialised at the time, under the victors’ watchful gaze and in rather lavish or unusual fashion. The unusual is the Tomb of Lord Dacre. The tomb itself looks unremarkable. It is close to the battlefield and in keeping with tombs of the period. What is odd is the story that he was buried on his horse. Perhaps a legend, it has not been disproven. Lionel, Lord Welles, was one of the most senior Lancastrians to die in the battle and married to Margaret Beauchamp, mother by her first marriage to Margaret Beaufort. Despite his links to the Lancastrian line, his body was interred at Methley, Yorkshire, with an ornate alabaster effigy. Other memorials were added during the Wars of the Roses and in later centuries.

My thanks to Dan for an interesting and entertaining article, and my congratulations of the release of On this Day in the Wars of the Roses. The book is out now and available from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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About the author

Dan Moorhouse’s interest in history initially led him into teaching, and writing about the history of Medicine for Hodder Murray, an imprint of Harcourt. His work includes contributions to numerous print and online publications, including for the BBC, Guardian, Times, and a range of national and local museums. As a member of the Historical Association, Dan served on the Education Committee for a decade and helped to re-establish the society in West Yorkshire. Dan is also a keen member of the Battlefields Trust and Richard III Societies. Dan’s interest in the Wars of the Roses was sparked at an early age. He grew up close to the seat of the notorious Clifford family and several major battlefields. He has studied the Wars of the Roses to Masters Degree Level and writes regularly about the subject for a general audience via his website and social media channels.

Links:

Website – https://schoolshistory.org.uk/

The Battle of Towton – https://schoolshistory.org.uk/topics/british-history/wars-of-the-roses/battle-of-towton/

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My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Dan Moorhouse