Richard of Conisbrough, the Traitorous Earl

Richard_of_Conisburgh,_3rd_Earl_of_Cambridge
Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge

Richard of Conisbrough seems to have been a very controversial figure throughout his life, from questions of his paternity, through his secret marriage, to his untimely death for his involvement in a particularly ill-thought-out plot.

He and I were born within 3 miles (and, of course,  6 centuries) of each other. As a student, I even gave guided tours at the Castle in which he was born. And the man is a completely fascinating, and yet such a shadowy, figure. The grandfather of both Edward IV and Richard III, he seems to have been a mediocre diplomat and soldier, and his eventual treason barely registers in the history books.

Richard’s birth is obscured by time. Although sources seem undecided, the most likely date of his birth appears to be 1386 (although some place it as early as 1375). He was a grandson of Edward III through his father, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York; and his mother, Isabel of Castile (sister of John of Gaunt’s wife, Constance), was described by chronicler Thomas of Walsingham as having ‘loose morals’. She and Edmund appear to have been an ill-matched pair from the beginning.

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Isabel of Castile

Married in 1372, two children soon followed; Edward of Langley in c.1373 and Constance in c.1374. It seems the couple’s relationship cooled soon after, as no other children were forthcoming for over 10 years. As a result, the arrival of Richard of Conisbrough in 1386 appears to have raised some eyebrows and most people – even of the time – suspected that he was the son of Isabel’s lover, rather than the Duke of York.

Isabel’s relationship with John Holland, Duke of Exeter and half-brother of the king, Richard II, was probably an open secret. The fact that his father and brother, both, left him out of their wills has fuelled this theory. However, leaving a son out of your will was not entirely unusual – Edmund of Langley was, in fact, left out of his own father’s will (that of Edward III) – and, my research suggests that Richard of Conisbrough was already dead by the time his brother, Edward, made his will.

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Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York

Isabel died on 23rd December 1392. Her will made Richard II her heir, but specifically asked him to provide an annual pension of 500 marks for her youngest son. Richard’s allowance was paid regularly until 1399, but following the deposition of Richard II and accession of Henry IV, payments were made only sporadically and Richard of Conisbrough became the Royal Family’s ‘poor relation’.

Richard of Conisbrough’s father, Edmund of Langley, died in 1402 and the dukedom of York passed to Richard’s older brother, Edward.

Although his regular pension petered out under Henry IV, Richard’s career was largely unremarkable. In 1403/4 he was given command of a small force to defend Herefordshire against the last native prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr. Richard was able to make several connections in the area; most notably with the Mortimer family. The Mortimers were cousins of Richard’s through the marriage of Lionel, Duke of Clarence’s daughter Philippa (Edward III’s granddaughter) to Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March.

Edmund_of_Langley_remonstrating_with_the_King_of_Portugal_-_Chronique_d'_Angleterre_(Volume_III)_(late_15th_C),_f.186r_-_BL_Royal_MS_14_E_IV
Edmund of Langley and the King of Portugal

Richard of Conisbrough secretly married Anne Mortimer (Philippa’s granddaughter) sometime in 1406. The couple had married without parental consent, or the papal dispensation required due to their being 2nd and 4th cousins. The dispensation was finally obtained in 1408.

Probably a love-match – Anne seems to have been as destitute as her husband. Born in December 1390 Anne’s family were close to Richard II; her father, Roger Mortimer, being seen as his possible heir until his death in 1398. Seen as rivals claimants by the new King, Henry IV, Anne’s fortunes changed in 1399 and  she was described as ‘destitute’ after her mother’s death in 1405.

The marriage of Anne and Richard produced 2 children; Isabella was born in 1409 and Richard, later Duke of York, was born in 1411. Not yet 21 years old, Anne herself died in September 1411, probably due to complications following the birth of her son. She was buried at Kings Langley, alongside Edmund of Langley and Isabel of Castile.

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Tomb of Edmund of Langley, containing the remains of Edmund, his 1st wife Isabel of Castile and his daughter-in-law Anne Mortimer.

Richard would marry as his 2nd wife, sometime between 1411 and 1415, Maud daughter of Thomas, 6th Baron Clifford and divorced wife of John Neville, 6th Baron Latimer. Following his death, Maud continued to live at Richard’s birthplace of Conisbrough Castle, dying there in 1446.

Richard was knighted by Henry IV in 1406, probably with a view to his escorting Henry’s daughter, Philippa, to Denmark, for her marriage to King Erik. Richard’s stay in Denmark was short and unremarkable; he was back in England 2 months after witnessing the wedding.

Little more is heard of Richard until he was created Earl of Cambridge in the reign of Henry V, in 1414. The earldom did not improve his prospects, as it came without the usual grants of land or revenue to support the title; Richard was thought the poorest of England’s Earls.

ConisbroughCastle
Conisbrough Castle

Fuelled by resentment Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge, began plotting with Sir Thomas Grey and Henry 3rd Baron Scrope. Their scheme was to murder Henry V and his 3 brothers at Southampton, before their embarkation  for the invasion of France, and replace him with Richard’s brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

However, it seems unclear whether March himself was in on the plot as it was the Earl who revealed it to the king on the 31st July 1415.

Cambridge and his co-conspirators were quickly rounded up. Arrested as the ringleader and at just 30 years old, Cambridge’s honours and estates were declared forfeit. Despite pleas for mercy he was beheaded for treason at Southampton Green on 5th August 1415. He was buried in the Chapel of God’s House, Southampton.

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Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York

Although his honours were forfeit, Richard of Conisbrough was not attainted and his son remained his heir and was therefore able to inherit the dukedom of York, from his uncle Edward, following his death at Agincourt just 2 months later, in October 1415.

The 4-year-old Richard, Duke of York, was made a royal ward. He was raised by the Nevilles, a powerful northern family, and would marry Cecily Neville, daughter of Ralph, 1st Earl of Westmorland. The combination of his York and Mortimer inheritances not only made the Duke of York the wealthiest of English landowners, but also gave him a strong claim to the English throne. As a result, during the ineffectual reign of his cousin, Henry VI, Richard of York made a play for the crown.

His defeat and death at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460 meant he never became king, but his eldest son Edward took up the mantle and was proclaimed king on 11 April 1461, following his overwhelming victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461.

With just a short interlude of 6 months in 1470/71, the Readeption of Henry VI, the Yorkist dynasty would rule for the next 24 years.

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Photos: taken from Wikipedia, except that of the tomb of Edmund of Langley which is taken from findagrave.com

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Sources: The History Today Companion to British History, edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wars of the Roses by John Gillingham; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by J.P. Kenyon; The Oxford Companion to British History, edited by John Cannon; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; The Wars of the Roses by Martin J Dougherty; englishmonarchs.co.uk; womenshistory.about.com; findagrave.com; conisbroughcastle.org.uk; hrionline.ac.uk.

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My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, 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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

James I and Joan Beaufort: A Royal Love Story

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James I

The story of King James I of Scotland and his queen, Joan Beaufort, is one of those rarities in Medieval history; a true love story. He was a King in captivity and she a beautiful young lady of the court.

Following the murder of his brother, David, Duke of Rothesay, James was the only surviving son of Robert III of Scotland. He had been on his way to France, for his safety and to continue his education, when his ship was captured by pirates in April 1406. Aged only 11, he was handed over to the English king, Henry IV, and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Shortly after his capture, James’s father died and he was proclaimed King of Scots, but the English would not release him.

James was closely guarded and regularly moved around, but he was also well-educated while in the custody of the English king and was an accomplished musician and poet. He was held at various castles, including the Tower, Nottingham Castle – where he was allowed to go hunting – and Windsor Castle.

Probably born in the early 1400s, Lady Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset and legitimated son of John of Gaunt (himself the 3rd son of Edward III) by his mistress and, later, wife Kathryn Swynford. Joan’s mother was Margaret Holland, granddaughter of Joan of Kent (wife of Edward the Black Prince) from her marriage to Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent.

Joan was very well-connected; she was a niece of Henry IV, great-niece of Richard II and  great grand-daughter of Edward III. Her uncle, Henry Beaufort, was a cardinal and Chancellor of England.

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Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scotland

Little seems to be known of her early life, but she was at court in the early 1420s, when James first set eyes on her. James wrote of his love for Joan in his famous poem, The Kingis Quair. According to Nigel Tranter, James was with the court at Windsor, when he saw Joan for the first time while walking her little lap-dog in the garden, below his window.

His narrow window afforded him only a limited view, but the Lady Joan walked the same route every morning and James wrote of her;

“Beauty, fair enough to make the world to dote, Are ye a worldy creature? Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature? Or are ye Cupid’s own priestess, come here, To loose me out of bonds”

One morning James managed to drop a plucked rose down to Lady Joan, which he saw her wearing the following evening at dinner. Nigel Tranter suggests Lady Joan grieved over James’s imprisonment and even pleaded for him to be released.

Their romance grew apace, but was interrupted when James had to accompany Henry V on his French campaign. Henry was hoping that James’s presence would make the Scots, fighting with the French, think twice about engaging with him. However, the strategy had little effect.

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Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany

James’s imprisonment lasted for 18 years. His uncle Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Guardian of Scotland in James’s absence, refused to ransom him, in the hope of gaining the throne for himself. He never quite garnered enough support, but managed to keep the Scottish nobles in check.

However, when he died in 1420 control passed to his son Murdoch (who had also been imprisoned by the English for 12 years, but was ransomed – instead of James – in 1414) and Scotland fell into a state of virtual anarchy.

Henry V had finally decided that it was time for James to return to Scotland when he died. It was left to Henry’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, as Regent for the infant Henry VI, to agree the terms of James’s freedom. James was charged 60,000 marks in ransom – to cover the costs for his upkeep and education for 18 years, it was claimed. The agreement included a promise for the Scots to keep out of England’s wars with France, and for James to marry the Lady Joan Beaufort.

James and Joan were married at the Church of St Mary Overie, Southwark, on 2nd February 1424. James was released on the 28th March and the couple returned to Scotland shortly after. They were crowned at Scone by Henry de Warlaw, Bishop of St Andrews, on 21st May 1424.

James and Joan had 8 children together, 7 of whom survived childhood. Their 6 daughters helped to strengthen alliances across Europe. The oldest, Margaret, was born around Christmas 1424. At the age of 11 she was sent to France to marry the Dauphin, Louis – the future Louis XI – narrowly escaping her father’s fate when the English fleet tried to capture her en route. She died in 1445, leaving no children.

Isabella_of_Scotland
Isabella of Scotland

Isabella married Francis I, Duke of Brittany; she had 2 daughters and died in 1494. Eleanor married Sigismund, Archduke of Austria, and died in 1480. Joan was born mute and married James Douglas, Earl of Morton and had 4 children – her eldest son, Sir John Douglas, 2nd Earl of Morton, was probably killed at Flodden in 1513. Joan herself died in 1486.

Mary was created Countess of Buchan in 1444; she married Wolfert, Count of Grandpre, of the Netherlands, having 2 sons who died young before she died in 1465. A last daughter, Anabella, married, firstly, Louis of Savoy but following their divorce in 1458 she married George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Huntly. They had 2 children together before divorcing on the grounds of consanguinity in 1471.

James and Joan finally had twin sons in 1430. Born on 16th October, Alexander died the same year, but James would go on to succeed his father and married Mary of Gueldres in 1449.

On his return to Scotland, James immediately set about getting his revenge on the Duke of Albany’s family and adherents; executing some, including Murdoch, Albany’s son and heir. Two other claimants to James’s throne were sent to England, as hostages to the payment of his ransom.

James and Joan ruled Scotland for 13 years; James even allowed Joan to take some part in the business of government. His reforms, however, and desire for a firm but just government made enemies of some nobles, including his own chamberlain Sir Robert Stewart, grandson of Walter, Earl of Atholl, who had been James’s heir until the birth of his son.

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Blackfriars Monastery, Perth

Due to his long imprisonment in the fortresses of England, James tended to avoid castles. On 21 February 1437 the King was staying at the Blackfriars in Perth when his chamberlain dismissed the guard and, having removed the locking bar to the King’s quarters, let the assassins into the priory.

James and Joan were alone with the queen’s ladies when they heard the men approaching. On seeing the locking bar missing, Joan’s lady, Kate Douglas, used her own arm to bar the door. The queen hid the king in an underground vault as Kate’s arm broke and the plotters gained entry. They dragged James from his hiding placed and stabbed him to death; Joan herself was wounded in the scuffle.

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James II

The plotters, led by Walter, Earl of Atholl, had expected to seize power, but were arrested and executed as the nobles rallied around the new king, 6-year-old James II.

James I was buried in Perth and Joan took an active role the government for her son, getting caught in a contest of power between Sir Alexander Livingstone and Sir William Crichton. Her second marriage to Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne, led to her arrest by Livingstone, under the pretext that she may abduct the child-king.

Joan and her new husband were only released on the condition that she give up her custody of James II and leave the court.

They would go on to have 3 sons together before Joan died at Dunbar Castle in 1445. She was buried in the Carthusian Church at Perth.

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Sources: The Story of Scotland by Nigel Tranter; Brewer’s British royalty by David Williamson; Kings & Queens of Britain by Joyce Marlow; Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens and British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; History Today Companion to British History Edited by juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Britain’s Royal Families by Alison Weir.

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My Books

Coming soon! 

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Amazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

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 UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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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.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly