Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 10 May 2021

1471 - a letter from the Duke of Clarence

The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society are continuing their daily series about the events of 1471. Today it features a letter from the Duke of Clarence sent to Sir Henry Vernon.

May 10th 1471: Working on Sir Henry

Sir Henry Vernon’s Seat  Haddon Hall, Near Bakewell, Derbyshire  ( Picture Source )

Sir Henry Vernon’s Seat

Haddon Hall, Near Bakewell, Derbyshire

(Picture Source)

Clarence seems to have arrived in Coventry a day earlier than his brother, possibly he went ahead to greet Sir Henry Vernon, who King Edward had commanded to be there on 9th May. Needless to say, there was no sign of Sir Henry or the twenty ‘persons defensibly arrayed’ who he had been told to bring with him. Sir Henry was a tough nut to crack. Clarence wrote to him yet again, a longer, more detailed and a bit more threatening than those which Edward sent from Tewkesbury and Worcester. 

Right trusty and well-beloved we greet you well, and how it be that my lord thanked be to our Lord hath subdued his enemies, traitors and rebels. Edward late calling himself Prince, Edmund late called Duke of Somerset, John his brother and John late called Earl of Devonshire which with divers others lords knights and other there adherents are slain, Margaret late called Queen, and the wife of the said Edward taken and brought to my said lord’s hands and possession. Yet nevertheless my said lord intendeth to repress the malice of certain persons intending the destruction of the church, and the noble blood of this land, and the subversion of the same land to the total destruction thereof if they might attain their cursed and malicious purpose as God forbid. To which repressing we will give my said lord attendance and assistance in all that is in us and therein do him service as our duty is, either in his company or in such party as it shall please him to command us, letting you know that it hath been reported to us that ye have heretofore put you in devoir [duty] to have come to us if ye had thought, whereof we thank you, and the matters and causes of the let and impediment of your coming has ceased blessed be God. Whereof we desire and pray you that incontinent after the sight of these our letters ye come hither unto us with as many men defensibly arrayed as ye can make, and that at furthest ye be with us a Tuesday next coming without failing as our trust is in you and as ye intend to please us. And ye shall find us your good lord and thereof ye shall not need to doubt in any wise. 

Given under our signet at Coventry xth day of May. 

G. Clarence.

The Clever Boy would comment about two aspects of the letter, for whose survival one must be grateful - how many related or similar missives, now lost to us, were being carried across the length and breadth of later medieval England?

Firstly the letter reads in its mid-section almost like a modern election manifesto for a political campaign after a military victory. An appeal for hearts and minds for the national good, an appeal to defend the Church and the noble blood of the land .... 

Claiming to defend the Church had, justifiably, become a topos from founders of colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. Equally earlier in the century when militant Lollards had posed a threat in 1414 and 1431, or when used to denounce the muddled ideas of Bishop Peacock in the late 1450s, but the Wars of the Roses were not religious conflicts. The leaders of both sides were zealous patrons of orthodox belief, and Lollardy not a factor. Committed Lollards were busy at their crafts, not fighting the wars of the political class. As to destroying the noble blood of the land, the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, and executions after the latter, had shed more than enough of that.

Secondly when Duke George is writing it is worth recalling that he had only returned to his Yorkist alleigence little more than a month before. He had thrown in his lot with Warwick the Kingmaker, married his daughter and hoped to be second in line of succession to a restored King Henry VI. Reconciled to his brothers when he wrote about the dead Lancastrian Prince Edward “late calling himself Prince” and his captured wife he was writing about the brother-in-law and sister of his wife Duchess Isabel. One feels the 21 year old Duke is very anxious to display his loyalty to King Edward IV. The series of events that in 1478 were to return Clarence to Tewkesbury Abbey for burial were to show how febrile were the bonds in the House of York.

As an afterthought Haddon Hall is a wonderful survival from the fifteenth century and very well  worth visiting, if readers have not, as and when it is possible to be out and about.

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