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.

Isabella_of_Castile-Langley
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

Eleanor de Montfort, the First Princess of Wales

Eleanor_de_Montford
Eleanor de Montfort

Born in 1258, probably at Kenilworth Castle, Eleanor de Montfort was the only daughter and sixth child of Eleanor of England. Her mother was the fifth and youngest child of King John and Isabella of Angouleme, and sister of Henry III. Her father was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, leader of the rebels in the Barons’ War.

Eleanor had 5 older brothers; Henry, Simon, Amaury, Guy and Richard.

Her father, Simon de Montfort, is remembered as one of the founders of representative government. He was a leading figure of the Second Barons’ War. He and his eldest son, Henry, were killed at the Battle of Evesham on 4th August 1265. On her father’s death, Eleanor fled to exile in France with her mother. The women settled at the Abbey at Montargis until Eleanor of England’s death there in 1275.

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Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales

In 1265, in return for Welsh support, Simon de Montfort had agreed to the marriage of his daughter, Eleanor, to Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales. De Montfort’s downfall had postponed the marriage, but in 1275, in a move guaranteed to rile Edward I, King of England, Llewelyn reprised his marriage plans and the couple were married by proxy whilst Eleanor was still in France.

Shortly after, Eleanor set sail for Wales, accompanied by her brother, Amaury, a Papal Chaplain and Canon of York. Believing the marriage would ‘scatter the seeds which had grown from the malice her father had sown’, Edward arranged for Eleanor to be captured at sea. When Eleanor’s ship was taken in the Bristol Channel, the de Montfort arms and banner were found beneath the ship’s boards.

Eleanor was taken to close captivity at Windsor, whilst her brother Amaury was imprisoned at Corfe Castle for 6 years.

In 1276 Llewelyn having refused to pay homage to Edward I, and was declared a rebel. Faced with Edward’s overwhelming forces, and support slipping away, Llewelyn was forced to submit within a year. The Treaty of Aberconwy reduced his lands to Gwynedd, but paved the way for his marriage to Eleanor, at last; it’s possible that the marriage was one of the conditions of Llewelyn’s submission.

edward03
Edward I, with Alexander III, King of Scots on his right, and Llewelyn, Prince of Wales on his left

The marriage of Eleanor de Montfort and Llewelyn ap Gruffydd was an extravagant affair, celebrated at Worcester Cathedral on the Feast of St Edward, 13th october 1278. The illustrious guest list included Edward I and Alexander III, King of Scots. Edward’s brother, Edmund of Lancaster gave Eleanor away at the church door, and Edward paid for the lavish wedding feast.

While the marriage did not prevent further struggles between the Welsh and the English king, there was relative peace for a short time and Eleanor may have encouraged her husband to seek political solutions. She is known to have visited the English court when Princess of Wales; and was at Windsor on such a visit in January 1281.

However, on 22nd March, 1282, Llewelyn’s younger brother, Dafydd, attacked the Clifford stronghold of Hawarden Castle and Llewelyn found himself in rebellion against Edward I yet again. At the same time, Eleanor was in the final few months of her pregnancy and Llewelyn held off taking the field until the birth of his much hoped for heir.

Eleanor and Llewelyn’s only child, a daughter, Gwenllian, was born on 19th June 1282; Eleanor died 2 days later.

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Memorial stone for Princess Gwenllian

Llewelyn himself was killed in an ambush on 11 December of the same year, at Builth, earning himself the name of Llewelyn the Last – the last native Prince of Wales.

Their daughter, Gwenllian was given into the guardianship of her uncle, Dafydd ap Gruffydd, but was taken into Edward I’s custody when David was defeated and captured by the English. She was sent to be raised at the Gilbertine convent at Sempringham, where she eventually became a nun. She died there on 7th June 1337, the last of her father’s line. It is said that she was never allowed to speak, hear or learn her native language. It has been assumed that she was not aware of her heritage, although she was once visited by her cousin, Edward III, who paid £20 annually for her food and clothing. However, as David Pilling has pointed out, she does in fact call herself ‘Princess of Wales, daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in a petition inside the volume of petitions from Wales edited by William Rees.’

Eleanor de Montfort was the first woman known to have used the title Princess of Wales. She was buried alongside her aunt Joan, illegitimate daughter of King John and wife of Llewelyn the Great, at Llanfaes on the Isle of Anglesey.

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Sources: castlewales.com; snowdoniaheritage.info; Marc Morris A Great and Terrible King; David Williamson Brewer’s British royalty; Mike Ashley The Mammoth Book of British kings & Queens; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; The Oxford Companion to British History; The History Today Companion to British History; Derek Wilson The Plantagenets; David Pilling.

Pictures taken from Wikipedia, except that of Edward I, Alexander III and Llewelyn, which was taken from castlewales.com.

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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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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