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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 36: The downfall and death of Humphrey,  Duke of Gloucester


Years 1441-1447

The Beaufort family were, in the early 1440s, the rising power in England although, as long as Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester was prominent at Court, they could not regard themselves as the most dominant power at the side of the King. [Chapter ] Humphrey was a hero of the battle of Agincourt 1415 where he had been severely wounded, [he was said to have been wounded 'in the hams']and the dazzling victory which King Henry V had won was still a warm and glowing memory. He had retained his huge popularity with the lesser nobility and the common people who knew him as 'the Good Duke Humphrey', and who found him much more approachable than the other nobles who surrounded the King. He had over the years, by his constant attacks on Cardinal Henry Beaufort, shown himself to be a political enemy who,   in spite of his constant failure to damage the Cardinal, still nursed his hatred of the House of Beaufort. More alarmingly he, as the only surviving brother of the hero King and the uncle of King Henry VI, was next in line to the Throne. The thought of Humphrey succeeding to the Throne if anything should happen to the present King before he married and produced heirs of his own was, to the Beaufort family, not an alluring one.

[This does of course ignore the claims of Richard, Duke of York-see page . The Beauforts regarded him as being as hostile to them as Humphrey was]

Humphrey's antics had done much damage to the policies of the Government, and these alone would have justified his removal from the Council, whereas the Beauforts had long and faithfully served the Kings of the House of Lancaster, and were now powerful and wealthy in their own right. The Cardinal was immensely wealthy, and even his constant loans to the Crown had not diminished his fortune to any appreciable extent. The Beauforts were painfully aware that none of this would save them should Humphrey ever reach the position of supreme power. By 1441 therefore, they resolved that Humphrey must be eliminated, and if his death could not be brought about, then he must be so disgraced that he would never again be in a position to hurt them, at least whilst the present King was still alive. Even though King Henry VI could be easily manipulated, they would have to tread very warily. There was one weapon which lay readily to hand, and this commanded fear and dread in a superstitious and credulous age - a plausible, even if spurious, accusation of sorcery.

Astrology was practised by many to forecast what the future may hold, but it was still looked upon with very mixed feelings, and any practice of the art had to be very discreet. Humphrey had dabbled in it, but his interest was probably an innocent one, and was no more than an exercise of his scientific and quasi-scientific interests with which he amused himself with his extensive library. [page ] The avenue to attack Humphrey lay through his consort Eleanor Cobham, and this seemed much more promising.

A considerable degree of preparation and care was spent on the stage-management of the whole affair. An obscure priest, Roger Bolingbroke,  [Roger was no relation of the House of Lancaster. He was perhaps born in Bolingbroke, and in the common usage of the time, would have been known as Roger of Bolingbroke] who had some connection with Humphrey and Eleanor, was arrested together with some other equally obscure priests on the grounds that they had cast Eleanor's horoscope to forecast whether she would ever become Queen of England. Whether or not this was ever done is not clear, but if it was, it was probably no more than a silly joke of the kind that Eleanor, a cheerful and rather witless lady, was inclined to indulge to amuse herself and her friends. At all events, in July 1441, Roger found himself placed on a stage in St Paul's Churchyard, clad in a fantastic garb and surrounded with the tools of his 'craft'. In the presence of Henry Chichele, the aged Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of London, Salisbury and Rochester, and the large crowd of citizens who were always drawn to any spectacle, a fire-eating sermon was preached bidding Roger to turn his back on all sorts of sorcery and other tenets:-

"myssownyng the Cristen feith."

Eleanor's enemies were rewarded by her prompt flight into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, as this seemed to betoken a guilty conscience. The Abbey gave no sanctuary where sorcery was concerned, and she was brought before an Ecclesiastical Court in St Stephen's Hall on 25th July 1441. The Church had already used its fearsome powers, which would have included torture, to extract the evidence it wanted from Roger and the other priests, and they gave evidence against her. Eleanor now found herself facing no less than 28 charges, a mish-mash of treason, heresy and witchcraft, and was committed to Leeds castle in Kent to await further examination on 21st October.

The Beauforts thought everything was going very well, but now felt it wise to involve others, particularly the temporal Lords. King Henry VI could be prevailed upon to issue a commission charging several prominent members of the Council to examine the matter further, although with his usual kindliness, he stipulated that Eleanor was not to be tortured and, whatever else happened, her life was to be spared. Accordingly John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon, Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Stafford, William de La Pole, Earl of Suffolk, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, Ralph, Lord Cromwell, John, Lord Fanhope and Robert, Lord Hungerford were charged:-

"to enquire of all maner of tresons, sorcery, and alle othir thynges that myghte in eny wise concerne harmfulli the Kyngis persone."

Their investigations uncovered Margery Jourdemain, well known as 'the Witch of Eye'. Margery had been in trouble with the law some ten years before on an accusation of witchcraft, but there would seem to have been no real evidence against her, and she was released upon her husband's undertaking to keep her in order. She now sold cosmetics, and Eleanor was one of her customers. There was no difficulty in associating the attempt to improve God's handiwork with witchcraft, particularly when the preparations were made up by such as Margery. Eleanor now found herself with further charges to answer, one of which was that she was an accessory to the treason's alleged against Roger.

In October 1441, Eleanor was brought back to London for her further examination by the Bishops of London, Lincoln and Norwich. The Archbishop of Canterbury should have presided, but excused himself because of ill-health. [Henry Chichele was now a very old man. He died on 12th April 1443] As a result of this examination, Eleanor was further charged with trying to encompass the King's death by magic. She was said to have made a waxen doll of the King, and to have stuck pins into it to produce excruciating pains in the same part of the King's person. Tiring of this sport, she was then supposed to have placed the doll before a hot fire. Its slow melting would have caused the King to die slowly and in excruciating agony.

Eleanor, who was prepared to admit that she had bought cosmetics from Margery Jourdemain as many of the Great Ladies did, hotly and vehemently denied all the other charges against her, and defended herself with great vigour. The Bishops did not find her at all an easy or compliant subject, and their task was made no easier by the fact that the King was undoubtedly still alive, and in the best of health; he had suffered no discomfort of any sort. The charges against her posed, as the Bishops and all others involved well knew,  considerable difficulties of proof, but they could rely on the 'confessions' of her co-accused which had been extracted by the free use of torture. If she really had made such a doll and placed it before the fire to melt, then it was the sort of silly prank to which she would have been a party without meaning to do anybody any harm. She was a well educated woman, who was known to love playing funny jokes to amuse the present company, even if they were dangerous games to play. On this occasion, she had played with fire in more ways than one. She was found guilty of all the charges alleged against her on 23rd October 1441, and, but for the King's intervention, had every expectation of joining Margery Jourdemain and being burnt at the stake, which was the usual fate of witches. Roger had already been consigned to a fearful death at the hands of the hangman.

King Henry VI had already forbidden the taking of her life, and the next question that arose was what was to be done with her. The main objective of the Beauforts had been her husband Humphrey, and they were not particularly concerned that she was not to be burnt as a witch. She had served their purposes, because they could now demonstrate that Humphrey's 'consort' had associated with condemned criminals who had been found guilty of witchcraft, one of the most heinous offences known to man. The charges against her were, as they very well knew, quite preposterous and indeed absurd. The Beauforts had relied on the powers of the medieval church to obtain the necessary proof, and the medieval church had fulfilled all their expectations. In this age, we are acquainted with the process known as 'brainwashing', which can produce all the confessions of guilt that are required. It is not a new process, and the modern practitioners of the art have nothing to teach the Church of the Middle Ages. There was one other way in which they could humiliate Eleanor, and with her Humphrey, before she was confined for the rest of her life, and this was public penance.

In November 1441, Eleanor, dressed only in a white robe, hatless and barefoot and carrying a lighted taper, was obliged to walk through the streets of the City of London to St Paul's Cathedral, and there beg forgiveness for her sins.

This was repeated on three occasions along different routes. Eleanor had never been popular with the citizens of London, but on these processing's, there were murmurings of pity for her plight, and many refused to throw noisome objects at her as they were bidden to do. Some merely looked on in a silence which was more eloquent than any words. Again it did not matter to the Beauforts that she was not to be chained to the wall of some hideous dungeon until death should release her. It was enough for them that she was to be confined for the rest of her life, first in Chester castle and later in Kenilworth, and again the kindly King saw to it that she had an ample allowance so that she could live in some degree of comfort even though in captivity.

Something seems to have gone out of the old Humphrey with the loss of his beloved Eleanor. A silly and witless woman she may have been, but she had been very good company and had enjoyed his escapades as much as he had himself. Although he was barely passed 50 years of age, the old spirit was not what it had once been,  Previously the prospect of a confrontation, particularly with his uncle the Cardinal, had lit the light of battle in his eye, and win or lose, it scarcely mattered. Tormenting the Cardinal was an end in itself. In years gone by, he had hugely enjoyed the scrapes he had got into, and faced the retribution they had brought in their train not with a sense of guilt or apprehension, but with pleasure. It had all been such fun, particularly thwarting the Cardinal during the Congress of Arras 1435 and the Oye Conference 1439. [pages ] If anyone had dared to reproach him he always had a ready answer; he was bound, as was everyone else, to carry out the wishes of the dead hero King Henry V to complete the Conquest of France. He had regarded himself as untouchable, as indeed he was standing as he did so close to the Throne. Now it had been made very clear, and very apparent, that his enemies had found a way to harm him in a manner which he could not easily have foreseen or forestalled. In place of the old recklessness, Humphrey now had to be extremely careful, and this was not something that came easily to his nature.

The first part of the Beauforts plan to eliminate Humphrey had worked very well. Humphrey was crushed as a political force as much as he was crushed as a man. He was still as popular as ever with the populace, but at Court, men began to drift away from him, seeing in the new rising stars, the Beauforts, better opportunities to advance their fortunes. King Henry VI may have been pliable, and he still had a great deal of regard for his old uncle Humphrey. If Humphrey filled the King's ear with tales discreditable to the Beauforts, it was only necessary to remind the King that Humphrey's consort had been condemned for sorcery. To have been associated with such a woman, and with renegade priests and witches who had paid the price of their crimes, was damning enough.

The Beauforts did not delude themselves that Humphrey was finished for good. He was still the immediate heir to the Throne, and here the problem remained an immediate one. The King may have been young and healthy, but the life of one human-being was, as always, an uncertain factor. They could have brought about Humphrey's death and so solved an immediate problem by immediate means. Simply to have murdered him, however carefully they may have concealed their tracks, would have posed more problems than would have been solved. They were well aware that Humphrey's untimely death would have invited suspicion onto them, however innocent they may have been. There was another course to which nobody could take objection - the King must marry and have heirs. A couple of Royal Princes, the King's own direct heirs of his own body, should be sufficient to remove any real prospect of Humphrey becoming King and thus neutralise him for good. This may have been a solution requiring some time to a problem which was immediate, but the Beauforts knew how to wait for their chance.

This may well account for the joy with which the prospect of marriage to one of the Armagnac daughters was received. The proposal was made by the Duc d'Orleans in 1442, only shortly after the removal of Eleanor in disgrace.

[page ] The girls were all comely, King Henry VI seemed enthusiastic, and made as his only condition that he should first see the portraits of the girls to make sure that he chose the prettiest of them all. Envoys were dispatched to Bordeaux in July 1442 to take the proposal forward. What brought the whole enterprise to naught was the success of King Charles VII's French army in Guienne and Gascony during the summer of 1442. [page ] With the prospect of a new master, Jean, Compte d'Armagnac now felt that he had to be extremely careful. It seems not to have crossed his mind that whichever side triumphed in the South of France, the English King or the French King, he would have enjoyed the kudos of fathering the Queen of England. Both would have had a use for him, and he could in any case have expected rich rewards whoever was his master. In the event, Jean was too frightened of King Charles VII, and refused to make up his mind. In January 1443, the envoys sailed for home in despair.

Strictly speaking, the hand of King Henry VI should have been kept free for 'a daughter of France', and not given away to the daughter of some obscure provincial Count, even though this particular Count was powerful and wealthy, whose House had in the past played a considerable part in French politics. [page ] So anxious were the Beauforts that the King should marry somebody and begin the heir-producing business without delay that they would consider even this.

All was not lost, because in 1443, the resourceful Duc d'Orleans was able to propose that King Henry VI should marry Margaret d'Anjou. Margaret was in every sense of the word 'a daughter of France', and the Beauforts jumped at the idea, seeing rather naively an overall peace settlement which would bring considerable territorial gains to England in general and to themselves in particular. Their hopes of gaining territory were to be dashed in a way they could and should have foreseen, [Chapter ] but the prospect of marriage to a most suitable young lady looked as though it would solve their problems with Humphrey.

The story of the marriage of Margaret d'Anjou to King Henry VI belongs to Chapter . The marriage took place at Titchfield Abbey on 23rd April 1445, and she was crowned Queen of England in Westminster Abbey on 30th May. Margaret, young as she was, seems to have been under no illusions of the weak will of her husband the King, and she early displayed the firm and ruthless side of her nature and character which so distinguished all her actions in England.

If her husband could not rule as a medieval monarch should, then she was prepared to make good the deficiency.

To the delight of the Beauforts, she fulfilled all their hopes of regarding them as friends and supporters, and in looking on Humphrey as an enemy. This was largely due to the influence of William de La Pole, Marquis of Suffolk who had handled the negotiations for the marriage, and who by this time was firmly allied to the Beaufort family.

Less satisfactory was her failure to produce heirs as promptly as they would have liked. In 1445, Margaret was 16 years old, and was well within the child bearing age for the time. During the coming months, and into 1446, they looked in vain for the tell-tale swelling of the lower abdomen on which their hopes were pinned. None came, and they now had to contemplate more direct moves against Humphrey.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and the immediate heir to the Throne, was aware that he had to tread warily, and had given little cause for complaint since the disgrace of Eleanor in 1442. He had grumbled constantly and had opposed the Beauforts in Council, but with a self-restraint which was remarkable, he had not raised the noisy and clamorous complaints which had been such a feature of previous years.

He was a nuisance, but a minor one only. The Undertaking to surrender Le Mans and all the English possessions in Maine by 30th April 1446 did however give Queen Margaret and the Beauforts considerable cause for anxiety. It was an essential part of the Truce which had been negotiated with the French, [page ]and if it was not honoured, the Truce upon which so much hung could fail. Humphrey may have been quiescent for 4 years, but it was too much to expect that he would not try to rouse the people with ringing denunciations of the betrayal of the dead hero King Henry V, who had decreed that no French territory should ever be given away. If he should succeed in rousing their passions, then it could have been impossible to honour the Undertaking. Already there had been some noisy demonstrations in the City, and if Humphrey did not on this occasion ride at their head as he had done in the past, there could be no real doubt that he had stirred up the people. There was nothing for it; they had to get rid of Humphrey.

It caused nobody any surprise that Humphrey grumbled furiously about the Undertaking to surrender Le Mans and Maine, and made clear his bitter opposition to this course.

For the moment he did no more than this, and his new found sense of caution inhibited him from attempting to appeal to the people in an open and apparent manner. He had still been most unwise, because the Undertaking was signed by the King's own hand, and if he had stopped to think for a moment, he would have realised that his enemies would give his utterances the gloss of treason. He should also have realised that the King was now far more ready to listen to his beautiful young Queen, and less inclined to pay any attention to his crusty old uncle. Queen Margaret had little difficulty in persuading the King that Humphrey should be impeached, and Suffolk was instructed to prepare Articles of Impeachment for Parliament to consider. As a preliminary, Eleanor was removed from Kenilworth to the Isle of Man. This was a remote part of the Kingdom well known for its witches. Eleanor should feel quite at home there, and there was no prospect of any escape.

Humphrey failed to read the warning sign of Eleanor's removal to the Isle of Man, and failed to understand that he could easily have brought the Queen's and the Beaufort's plans to naught. He could have knelt at the King's feet, and implored his pardon for speaking out-of-turn. The King was well known to be a kindly young man who had much affection for his wayward old uncle, and there is little doubt that King Henry VI would have given him his pardon. Such a submission to his young nephew was too much for Humphrey's proud spirit, and he put greater reliance on his fame as a hero of Agincourt and his popularity with the people. When writs were issued on 14th December 1446, bidding Parliament to meet at Cambridge on 10th February 1447 for the primary purpose of considering the Articles of Impeachment, everyone realised that:-

"the whiche parlement was maad only for sle [slay] the noble duke of Gloucestre".

Humphrey again took a most unwise step. He played straight into his enemies hands by asking the City of London to provide him with some armed men for his protection. This was granted, and some men remained under arms over the Christmas period.

Parliament's meeting place was changed from Cambridge to Bury-St-Edmunds which lay in a part of the country where William de La Pole, Marquis of Suffolk had greater influence.

A large band of armed men was kept nearby, discreetly out of sight, in case Humphrey should try to suborn Parliament by armed force. Parliament was duly opened on 10th February 1447 with Richard, Duke of York, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, John Holland, Duke of Exeter, and Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham present together with the Marquises of Dorset and Suffolk and a great number of Earls and lesser nobility.

John Stafford, The new Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor looked to the Book of Proverbs for the customary sermon 'to the counsellors of peace is joy', adding in a pointed fashion, 'blessed was the man that walked not in the counsels of the ungodly.' Only Humphrey was absent.

[John Holland was previously Earl of Huntingdon, being promoted Duke of Exeter in 1443. He died in 1447]

Humphrey only approached Bury-St-Edmunds on 18th February 1447, bringing with him a retinue of 80 horsemen.

Just outside the town and shortly before noon, he was met by two knights of the King's household, Sir John Stourton and Sir Thomas Stanley. They had a chilling message to deliver. The King did not wish to see Humphrey, but bade him go to his lodgings and dine there. This was an unexpected way for the Duke of Gloucester and the heir to the Throne to be treated, and Humphrey wondered what he should do. Trusting in the size of his escort, he decided that he would do as the King bade him, although with a heavy and anxious heart. Whilst he sat down to a sumptuous repast at St Salvators, his escort was led to other lodgings where it was disarmed. During the afternoon, Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham,  [formerly Earl of Stafford, Humphrey had become Duke of Buckingham in 1444] William de La Pole, Marquis of Suffolk, Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, John, Viscount Beaumont and Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, came to St Salvators. This was no friendly visit, but had the purpose of accompanying Beaumont, the Constable of England, whilst he placed Humphrey under arrest. He was permitted to stay in St Salvators, but an armed guard was posted to prevent him from leaving.

The shock of Humphrey's arrest stunned him. He is recorded as falling into a stupor, from which he only rallied sufficiently to receive the Last Rites before he died on 23rd February 1447. The exact cause of his death is a matter for speculation. He was 56 or 57 at the time of his death and he was not a fit or trim man. Doubtless he had from time to time ridden to the hunt, the usual pastime for members of the nobility, and this did something to keep a man active and fit, but the days when he was a physically fit young soldier on the battlefield of Agincourt, and the subsequent campaigns which his brother had fought, lay 30 years in the past. Since then, he had not taken part, as most of the contemporary nobles had, in any lengthy or continuos campaigning, which itself demanded physical fitness in a man.

His only military activities since 1421 had consisted of short lived and singularly futile forays into Hainault and Artois, and these could scarcely be described as hard campaigning. Humphrey's had been a soft life, surrounded by every comfort, and his constitution had been under-mined by an inclination towards excess in the good things of life. As Hardyng put it:-

"Where in parlesey [palsy?] he dyed incontynent, For hevynesse, and losse of regyment [self control] and oft afore he was in that sykenesse in poynt of death........"

From what we know of Humphrey's character and way of life, [pages ] this seems to indicate something which is quite easy to accept. Humphrey was an over-weight middle-aged man with high blood-pressure who took no care of himself. He had had serious illnesses before, but when he had recovered, he returned to his same boisterous habits and paid no heed to the warnings his body had given him. From the contemporary accounts of his last illness, it is quite possible that the shock of his arrest brought on a heart attack or even a stroke, and thus he could be said to have died of natural causes.

Medieval descriptions of symptoms are notoriously inaccurate, and this inaccuracy is increased where there was something to hide. It is impossible to say whether Hardyng was giving an honest account or not, and he could scarcely have been expected to say there had been foul play when those who would have been responsible were powerful and ruthless people. To the doubting mind, it does seem that it was all very convenient that Humphrey's end could be ascribed to the type of illness from which he had previously suffered, even though this must remain a strong possibility. The other possibility, and it is no more than a possibility, was that contemporary gossip was right and that 'the good Duke Humphrey' was poisoned. The opportunity was certainly present, and the wish to be rid of him was also there. We cannot really say, but it would certainly have been easy to pass off his final illness as a recurrence, this time a fatal one, of his earlier troubles with his health. We can only say that his passing was very opportune for Queen Margaret and the Beauforts, and its circumstances were extremely suspicious.

Thus Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, 'the good Duke Humphrey' to the people, the last of the four formidable sons which Mary Bohun had born to Henry of Bolingbroke between 1387 and 1390 or 1391, went to meet his Maker. He was the last of the family, since his brothers and the two sisters, Blanche and Phillipa, were already dead.[The two sisters had died in 1409 and 1430 respectively] The three elder brothers, King Henry V, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and John, Duke of Bedford, had been very positive characters who had pursued the policy of the Conquest of France in a determined and logical way even if it was a mistaken policy. Humphrey had been cast in a different mould. He had never forgotten the affront when the Council had refused to make him Regent of England or otherwise promote him during the minority of King Henry VI in 1422.[page ] He had chosen to regard this as an insult which was due to the machinations of Cardinal Henry Beaufort and the Beaufort family, and preferred to overlook the fact that not even King Henry V, as he lay dying, had nominated him for this post. The dying Henry had held reservations about his youngest brother's character which others had shared. Nevertheless, Humphrey had an idee fixe that the Cardinal was responsible for his being deprived of an office which he saw as his by right. He had nursed a grudge for a quarter of a century, and had expressed it by thwarting and tormenting the Cardinal at every opportunity which presented itself or which he could create.

None of his personal attacks upon the Cardinal had ever had the remotest chance of success, but to Humphrey, this was not the point and possibly not even the purpose,   The torment of the man he had chosen to see as his enemy, and with him the whole hated family of the Beauforts, had been an end in itself. It might not have mattered greatly if he had given no greater rein to his mischievous nature than a few personal attacks made before Parliament and the Council which could have been contained within the domestic scene.

Unfortunately, he did not chose to stop there.

His foray into Hainault in 1422, and the shameful treatment of his Duchess Jacqueline, [page ] had greatly offended Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, and had put the Anglo-Burgundian Alliance, then the lynch-pin of the English policy in France, into great jeopardy. Fortunately, Philip was a man with a cool head, and he had not taken matters any further after Humphrey had retired from Hainault. Humphrey's mischief-making, which he always regarded as a tremendous joke, resulted in even graver consequences. Whilst the full commitment of the Cardinal to the cause of peace on either occasion may be doubted, peace terms favourable to England could have been obtained either at the Congress of Arras 1435 or at the Oye Conference 1439. On both occasions the Cardinal had led the English envoys, whilst Humphrey had remained in London. There he had poisoned the ear of the compliant King, with whom the decision ultimately lay, and had overawed the Council, to reject anything which savoured of peace or which might have been further pursued in its cause.

His motives were no better than aggression towards the French in general and the frustration of the Cardinal in particular.

Thus England was committed to the continuance of a ruinous war which had bankrupted her, and which on any objective assessment she was bound to lose. Humphrey was an intelligent man in possession of all the facts, and he could easily have made this assessment for himself. He chose not to do so, but to pursue a vendetta against the hated Cardinal and the Beauforts regardless of the consequences to his own country. His sin was even greater than this, because his popularity with the common people made him the one member of the Council who could have forced them to understand that peace was the preferable option. No other member of the Council could have done this, least of all the King himself.

A great deal of the blame for the continuance of the War in France, one of the principle causes of the Wars of the Roses,  must be laid at Humphrey's door. Some writers have described him as behaving in no better way than a spoilt child. There cannot be much reason to argue with this judgement.

An alternative account of Humphrey's death

The difficulty of reconciling some medieval accounts of events is shown by the following account of Humphrey's end. It is frequently the case that the more likely account has to be chosen, and the author has preferred the version related by Gregory and Wheathampsted, who were contemporary chroniclers, to that given by Holingshead, who was writing in the 16th-century, and to other later writers. There are several reasons for doing so. King Henry VI disliked confrontations, and did not perform well. There was a danger that Humphrey would throw himself on the King's mercy, and the others could not have prevented the King from pardoning him; this was a matter which lay totally within the King's power, and others could not interfere. Humphrey might have demanded that the impeachment proceedings should continue; they could not have refused this, and his undoubted popularity with the Common House, a factor of which they must have been aware when they started them, would have made the out-come too uncertain to risk. There was the danger of a rescue attempt by Humphrey's numerous escort which (as it was said) there had been no opportunity to disarm without arousing suspicion; if this rescue attempt had succeeded, the position could have been very dangerous. It therefore seems that the persons who wanted to get rid of Humphrey would have chosen more surreptitious means.and this points to Gregory's and Wheathampsted's accounts as being the more likely. There is admittedly the point that if their accounts are correct, then the impeachment proceedings were nothing more than an elaborate sham. It is suggested that Queen Margaret and the Beauforts would not have hesitated to stoop to such a ploy to force Humphrey to attend Parliament well away from the London mob who held him in such high esteem.

This does not mean that Holingshead's and Hall's accounts should be disbelieved; things might have happened in the way they described. According to them, Humphrey arrived in time for the opening of Parliament on 10th February 1445, and took part in the uncontroversial proceedings on the first day. The next day he was summoned to see the King in his rooms. Seeing nothing untoward, Humphrey duly attended. The doors had scarcely closed when Suffolk angrily accused him of plotting treason and, scarcely pausing to draw breath, went on to a scathing attack where he recited Humphrey's contempt for the laws of the land, his multifarious instances of misadministration, and the calumnies which he had spread about the honour of Queen Margaret. At this point Margaret joined in, and shrilly denounced Humphrey's actions against her and the dignity of the King himself. Taken aback by this thundering denunciation by Suffolk and the virago-like behaviour of the Queen, Humphrey recited the fact that he was a wounded hero of Agincourt and advanced his many services to the Crown, although anyone but Humphrey would have regarded many of them as being of doubtful value. The meeting degenerated into an angry shouting match before Humphrey turned on his heel without waiting to be formally dismissed from the King's presence, and stamped off out of the room, slamming the doors behind him.

He did not get far. Outside Viscount Beaumont was waiting with a strong escort, and Humphrey found himself under close arrest. He made to draw his sword, but others were drawn as well, and he could see that they were waiting for him to resist, when they would have cut him down without further ado. Surrendering to the inevitable, he allowed himself to be taken to his quarters where a strong guard was posted. On 23rd February 1447, he was found dead in his bed.

The popular cry was that he had been murdered, and nobody was inclined to believe the physicians who explained that death was due to a seizure brought on by the shock of his arrest. The body was exhibited for several days so that all could see that no violence had been done, but this convinced nobody. Men spoke darkly that poison was not to be discounted, or perhaps he had been smothered with a pillow.

There was even some speculation that he had been done away with by the same horrible means that had been used to dispose of King Edward II - a white hot spit had been pushed into the anus. None of this was thought to be beyond those who wanted 'the Good Duke Humphrey' silenced for all time.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003