An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.
Michael D. Miller
|Chapter 38: The murder of William de la Pole, Duke of
|Unpopularity of William de La Pole, Duke of
The whole of England, from the rich man in his castle to the poor man at his gate, was aghast at the disasters which had overtaken English arms during 1449. Even before those of 1450 had occurred, the search for scapegoats began.
There was no need to look far to find them. William de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk and the King's Chief Minister, and Queen Margaret, 'that French woman' were blamed as the main culprits. The Queen, believing that she was protecting the weak-willed King from his enemies, was attempting to do for him the job which he was manifestly unable to do himself. She had allied herself to Suffolk partly out of friendship, but also in the further belief that he afforded the best protection because his enemies were also the King's enemies, and he would know how to deal with them. By doing this, she had inevitably associated herself with the failure of his government. If the King had discharged the office of King in the way he should have done, the power, mystique, and majesty of the Throne would have afforded him much protection from criticism. This protection did not however extend to his consort, and accusations were levied against her even if she was out of the immediate and vengeful reach of those who attributed blame to her. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, was also thought to be responsible for the series of disasters, but he had prudently taken refuge in Calais. For the moment, Suffolk and the Queen would have to suffice.
The question on everybody's lips was how did it all happen? The answer to everybody's mind was that it had all happened because Suffolk had neglected Normandy, and had embezzled vast sums of money which should have been spent on its defence for the benefit of himself, the Queen, and their cronies. In one sense, this was complete nonsense. The Crown's want of money had been one of the main problems in the defence of Normandy, and there was simply no money to embezzle. In another sense, it was partly true, but this involved many more people than Suffolk alone, and his enemies and accusers were aware of this, and were not anxious to draw attention to it. Ever since the King had come of age in 1436, the wasteful gifts of 'the King's own' [For the meaning of this expression, see page ] had depleted the Treasury of Revenue, almost to vanishing point in fact, and what should have gone into the Royal Exchequer had instead gone into private hands. Even now, the Common House was engaged in a bitter battle with the Crown for a wholesale 'resumption'. [Chapter ] In 1449 and 1450, the Common House was not winning this battle, and it was not until 1451 that a successful Resumption Statute was passed whose benefits were not to become fully apparent until 1453.
It therefore suited a great number of prominent people to allow public opinion to regard Suffolk as an embezzler on a massive scale, because this distracted attention from their own considerable shares of the Royal largesse. Added to this, Suffolk's government was regarded as being very inefficient and was therefore very unpopular.
It was in fact grotesquely inefficient, as two unrelated incidents, one most important and the other fairly trivial, will serve to show.
There had recently been some trouble on the Scottish borders in which the English had had the worst of it. No steps were taken to punish the Scots, and equally no action had been taken to persuade them to remain on friendly terms with the English Crown. This should not have been difficult, because the young King James II of Scotland, now 18 years old, was looking for a Queen. No offer was made to him of an English lady from the many who were suitable, but if it had been made, the probability is that it would have been well received. James' mother was herself English, being nobody less than Joan Beaufort. [page ] Instead, Suffolk stood idly by whilst James sent to the French Court for a French princess, and even granted the Scots envoys safe passage through England on their way to France. King Charles VII regretted that no French princess was available, but Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, was able to help. Mary of Guelders became affianced to James with a handsome dowry, which was paid by Philip himself.
In the spring of 1448, Robert Gilbert, Bishop of London, was a very sick man and seemed likely to die at any moment. John Kemp, Archbishop of Canterbury, successfully petitioned King Henry VI that his nephew Thomas should be appointed to the See when it became vacant. This needed the approval of Pope Nicholas V and he duly gave it. In June 1448, Bishop Robert died. Suffolk, wanting his protege Marmaduke Lumley, Bishop of Carlisle to occupy the See of London, obtained a second appointment from the compliant King. The Pope expressed his surprise and annoyance that two contradictory applications for his approval should be addressed to him in so short a time, and confirmed the appointment of Thomas Kemp. In fairness to Suffolk, this was not the only occasion where this sort of thing had happened.
In 1441, before he became the King's Chief Minister, William, Lord Bonville, had petitioned for, and obtained, the lucrative post of Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall. Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, coveting this post for himself, made a separate petition, and obtained a second appointment. A civil war broke out in Cornwall between the two, with much destruction and loss of life. Suffolk took no steps to resolve the continuous disturbances. Quite apart from this, the endemic lawlessness of England continued to the great distress of law-abiding folk, and Suffolk again made no effort to suppress it.
Over all this lay the question of who authorised the sack of Fougeres 1449 which lead to the loss of Normandy. When it was sacked in March 1449 by English troops lead by Francois de Surienne, King Charles VII had protested in strong terms to Somerset, the King's Lieutenant-General of France. He had received an answer which, on the face of it, looked like a tissue of evasive lies. Charles did not need to sort out the truth from the untruth, and neither did he have to go into exploring Somerset's assertions that the whole thing had been planned in London without his prior knowledge. It is possible that Somerset was in fact telling the truth, although there was no need to aggravate Charles by adding that he was helpless in the whole matter. [page ]
In December 1447, Francois de Surienne had gone to London to receive the Order of the Garter. A senior and respected commander in Normandy who had just received England's highest Order of Chivalry would have been received by Suffolk as the King's Chief Minister. It is more than probable that Suffolk confided to Francois his concerns that Francis, Duke of Brittany, was abandoning his traditional friendship with England and was sliding towards the French cause. It was only to be expected that Francis would wish to be on good terms with a strong military power within easy reach of his borders, but there was more to it than this.
Francis was the nephew of Arthur of Brittany, the Constable of France. His Duchess was a Scottish princess who made no secret of her antipathy towards England. It was most disquieting that Francis had recently imprisoned his pro-English brother Giles. He needed to be taught a lesson that England was not to be trifled with, and a raid into his Dukedom was the obvious course. Francois de Surienne would receive his orders in due course, but in the meantime he was not to breath a word of this to Somerset.
Francois was an Aragonese mercenary who went where pay and plunder beckoned, and would have been an ideal person for what Suffolk had in mind, but even a mercenary would have had the qualms of any subordinate commander about keeping such a project secret from his Commander-in-Chief. Where were the necessary troops to come from? Even under Somerset's lax and lazy command, Francois' fellow commanders would not make them available without his direct order. Was this not a breach of the truce? Suffolk would have answered him that the troops would be made available when he received his orders to invade Brittany, and as for the truce, Suffolk would see to it that King Charles VII would be persuaded where his true interests lay. In the event, troops were readily available. They were the former Le Mans garrison (with some reinforcement from the Normandy garrisons), who had established themselves in St-Jean-de-Bevron and Mortain on the Breton border. [page ] Unpaid and hungry, and virtually disowned by Somerset, they were ripe for any mischief.
There is no proof to indicate that this version of events is the true one but it would appear that it is not improbable. If it is true, then it is a sufficient comment in itself of the nature of Suffolk's government as the King's Chief Minister. Although it was not published until 1450, a bitter lament in the form of a lampoon shows the public dissatisfaction with the government that Suffolk lead. It was written in coded form, but its meaning can be deduced by reference to the various heraldic devices of the persons involved:-
"The Root is dead, the Swan is gone,
"The Fiery Cresset hath lost his light.
"Therefore England may make great moan,
"Were not the help of God Almight.
"The Castle is won, where care begun,
"The Port-cullis is laid a-down;
"Yclosed [lost] we have our Velvet Hat
"That covered us from mnay storms brown.
"The Boar is far into the west
"That should help us with shield and spear.
"The Falcon fleeth and has no rest
"Til he wit [knows] where to big [build] his nest."
Root = John, Duke of Bedford (died 1435)
Swan = Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (died 1447)
Cresset = John Holland, Duke of Exeter (died 1447)
Castle = Rouen
Port-cullis = Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset
Velvet-Hat = Cardinal Henry Beaufort (died 1447)
Boar = Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon
Falcon = Richard, Duke of York.
Several people who might have given much improved government were already dead, Bedford, Gloucester, and the Cardinal. The great John Holland, who had served throughout the War in France, was also dead, and his 20 year old son and successor Henry was an unknown quantity. The less that was said of Somerset the better. More might have been expected of the Earl of Devon, but he was pre-occupied with his quarrel in the west country and took no interest in what was going on elsewhere. Most could, and should, have been hoped for from Richard, Duke of York, but he had lost his way and did not know what he should do. [Gloucester was known to the ordinary man and woman as 'The Good Duke Humphrey'. They had a faith in his abilities which was scarcely justified]
The impeachment of Suffolk 1449-1450
Whichever way Suffolk looked, there were only enemies to be seen. His appointment as the King's Chief Minister would have given rise to jealousy and hatred among other greedy, ambitious and sometimes able men who would not have scrupled to pull him down and disgrace him if they could in the hope that they might replace him, or at least enjoy some of the power and the fruits of his office. The only way that Suffolk could have survived as Chief Minister for any length of time would have been to provide successful government, and his had been spectacularly unsuccessful. Cardinal Henry Beaufort had been Chief Minister for a very long time, even though his government was only moderately successful, but then he had had a towering and dominating personality which had commanded awe and respect. Also he had enjoyed very close relations with the hero King, King Henry V, and belonged to the age of heroes. Finally, a number of the Great Magnates had seen him as a bulwark against Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, whom many had feared and distrusted. Suffolk was not a man cast in the same mould as the Cardinal, and he owed his position to his friendship with Queen Margaret, who saw to it that her weak-willed husband, the King himself, accepted Suffolk as his favourite. Quite apart from their personal friendship, which had been formed during Margaret's journey to England, [pages . There were even stories that Suffolk was Margaret's lover] Margaret had her own uses for Suffolk. She regarded him as the chief protector of the King against his enemies.
In her eyes, the most important of these was Richard, Duke of York. In spite of his courtesy and charm towards her during her journey to England, and the loyal and conscientious way in which he performed his duties, she could never overlook his arguably better title to the Throne than that of King Henry VI himself, or be sure that he would not one day lay claim to it. He was currently languishing in Ireland, attempting to cope with all the frustrations which were inseparable from that country, but he had many friends who plainly thought that he should exert himself more to claim his rights, and would have supported him if he had done so. Another, now less dangerous because of his failure to defend Normandy, and also because of his disgraceful behaviour during the recent campaigns, was Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. He was in any case a Beaufort, and Margaret had always regarded his House as basically friendly towards herself. In any case, the Beauforts tended towards Lancastrian sympathies.
By now, Margaret was extremely unpopular with high and low alike. Starting from an unfavourable position as 'that French woman', she was seen by the commons as being partly, if not mostly, responsible for the death of 'the good Duke Humphrey', the darling of the common folk. She was also inextricably involved in a government which had failed in most respects, and most of all in the loss of Normandy. The suspicions of those who thought that she was a French agent were fuelled, although this overlooked the fact that she had frequently written to the French King in her own hand during the truce, and her letters reveal that she had taken the interests of the country of which she was now Queen very close to her heart.
Suffolk's haughty demeanour had done nothing to endear him to the new up-and-coming men, often of humble birth, who felt that their talents, which were often considerable, entitled them to a say in public affairs. He behaved towards them as one of the ancient nobility towards the new parvenues, a view which was scarcely justified, because the de La Poles had only been ennobled during King Richard II's time. Nevertheless, he treated them with all the contempt of the highly-born aristocrat and caused much resentment in those whose friendship he would have been well advised to seek.
Ralph, Lord Cromwell, was the foremost in opposition to Suffolk, and it is thought that it was he who instigated the impeachment proceedings. Their confused nature, and the course which they took, tend to indicate that he did not have complete control of them. They were scarcely the product of genius, or even of the ordered mind which Ralph undoubtedly possessed. Others, with less methodical methods, must have taken their prosecution over, and Suffolk did not lack enemies. If Ralph had been left in charge of them, it is more than possible that they would have been presented in a more orderly and coherent form. Ralph himself was of humble origins whose talents had been noted by John, Duke of Bedford whilst he was Regent of England during King Henry V's absence, and John had promoted him. Ralph had risen high in the service of his country, and by the middle of the 15th-century, he was a member of the Council of many years standing. His abilities can be judged by the preparation of the statement of the Crown's assets and liabilities [page ] when he was the Treasurer in 1433. Although it had many deficiencies, it was still a master-piece by the standards of the time. Ralph had been mortified by the dismissive way in which it had been treated, and he further nursed a grudge against Suffolk who had always treated him in a contemptuous fashion.
Parliament was summoned to meet at Westminster on 6th November 1449. Without waiting for the further disasters to befall English arms in 1450, the petition to impeach Suffolk was presented. Whether Suffolk connived in the assault on Ralph is not clear, and it may have been due to a dispute to which Suffolk was not a party. On 28th November, one William Tailboys, a Lincolnshire squire of Suffolk's following, met Ralph in Westminster Hall with a number of armed men. Some angry insults were flung at Ralph, who was jostled and assaulted. He only escaped into the Council Chamber with difficulty. There he furiously accused Suffolk and Tailboys with attempting to assassinate him. Suffolk angrily denied the charge, and some high words passed in the King's presence. Tailboys was sent to the Tower, and was fortunate to escape the consequences of his action with a heavy payment of damages to Ralph. Whatever part Suffolk did or did not play, the whole incident did nothing to help his case in the impeachment proceedings.
The course of this Parliament did not run smoothly. It had to be adjourned to the City of London because of the plague in Westminster, then back again to Westminster when the plague had abated, and finally to Leicester when the plague broke out afresh. There is an indication that the impeachment proceedings were heard in Leicester on 29th April [Parry-Parliaments and Councils of England pp 185] but the better view is that they were all heard in London between January and March 1450. Such movings about disrupted them greatly and added to the confusion which attended them.
Queen Margaret, almost beside herself with worry about Suffolk's fate, was frequently in touch with her old friend between November 1449 and March 1450. Suffolk assured her that all might yet be well; Sir Thomas Kyrielle was due to go to Normandy with a strong force, and since the battle of Bannockburn 1314, English troops had never been defeated in a pitched battle. This was not strictly true, because the battles of Bauge 1421 and Patay 1429 had been English defeats. Even so, he should be able to win a resounding victory, and these possibilities would be much increased if he succeeded in joining forces with Somerset. If this happened, the impeachment proceedings would fall to the ground and disappear from the scene. It did not work out this way, because the impeachment proceedings were finished before Kyrielle even landed in France, and Kyrielle was defeated at the battle of Formigny in late April 1450. Even this slender hope turned out to be a broken reed.
The impeachment proceedings began in Westminster on 23rd January 1450, when Suffolk was accused of some singularly indefinite faults. The impression is gained that very little thought was given to putting form and substance to definite charges, but that an angry hotch-potch of complaints were hurled at Suffolk without the least idea how they were to be proved. The surrender of Maine was one of them, and here Adam Moleyns, Bishop of Chichester, was regarded as being partly to blame. He had, rather tamely, resigned the Privy Seal on 9th December 1449, and thus seems to have encouraged those who were intent on putting blame onto him. Things could not be taken further against him, because a few days later he was murdered by Kyrielle's mutinous soldiers.
[page ] When his dying statement that Suffolk had embezzled enormous sums of money intended for the defence of Normandy became known, an allegation to this effect was added.
Suffolk immediate rose to refute the allegations against him. His father had died at the siege of Harfleur 1415 and his elder brother had perished on the battlefield of Agincourt a few weeks later. He himself had fought in France for 17 years, and had been taken prisoner at Jargeau 1429. Three other brothers had died in the fighting. Was it likely that he should betray his King and Country 'for a Frenchmannes promise'? The idea was absurd. As for Moleyns' dying statement he:-
"besought the Kynes Highes" (that he might be allowed to clear himself of) "the grete infamie and defamtion" (laid upon him by) "a certain confession" (which Moleyns) "shuld have made at his deth, as it is seid".
The Common House was puzzled what to do for the best. On 26th January 1450, it petitioned the King that, as Suffolk had accepted:-
"there was an hevy...noyse of...infamie uppon him..."
he should be tried by the Courts. The next day the Lords consulted the judges, and resolved against this course.
So far, no specific charges had been made, and the necessary proof of criminal offences was not satisfactory. It would not serve their purposes if Suffolk was tried and acquitted.
Suffolk did not claim his right to be tried by his peers; he was aware that he had too many enemies in the Lords to risk trial there.
Suffolk enemies belatedly realised that they had wrong-footed themselves, and had to be more specific. Vague accusations would not do. On 28th January, they accused Suffolk of conspiring with the French for an invasion of England and of stocking Wallingford Castle with arms for their use. On this serious accusation, Suffolk was sent to the Tower whist his enemies retired to get their thoughts into order.
It took them just over a week to formulate a very long indictment containing eight (possibly nine) more or less specific charges, and these were read by the Speaker on 7th February 1450. [Rotuli Parlementorum v 177-181] Some were obviously quite preposterous, and are themselves evidence of the difficulties with which Suffolk's accusers had to wrestle. Suffolk was said to have conspired with Jean, Compte de Dunois during his visit to London in July 1447 to destroy the King, and to "stir and provoke" the French King to invade the Realm with a great army. Once King Henry VI had been deposed, Suffolk's son John de La Pole would reign as King, and his marriage to Suffolk's ward, Margaret Beaufort, in whose veins ran some of the Blood Royal, would be sufficient justification for him to occupy the Throne. What possible French interest would be served to induce them to act in this way in pursuit of such a fantastic proposal, which as victors they might not have honoured, was not made clear.
[Margaret and John are sometimes said to have been secretly married in early 1450 when she was seven years old and he was eight. This seems extremely unlikely even though marriages between such young people were not unknown]
Other charges may well have been supported by proof. When the King came of age in 1436, he was said to have had massive possessions. Suffolk as Steward of the Royal Household had seen to it that a large part of these possessions were alienated to himself and his friends so that there was not enough left to support the Royal Dignity, and the Commons had had to make the losses good by taxation.
Lord Sudeley, recently the Treasurer, had been so careful that when he left office, there was £60, 000 in the Exchequer coffers. Suffolk had embezzled most of this money, and had so mismanaged the rest that there was not enough to support the War in France. On and on went the allegations against Suffolk, to some of which he probably had a good answer, whilst others may have been true either in whole or in part. He was said to have set Charles, Duc d'Orleans at liberty and to have taken money for doing so. In fact this was the King's decision as advised by his Council. Suffolk was accused of surrendering Maine, and of lining his pocket in the process; this surrender was part of the marriage settlement between the King and Queen Margaret, and Suffolk was covered by an indemnity from the Council. [page ] [There was a story, related by Georges Bassin, Bishop of Lisieaux, that Suffolk had pocketed the compensation for the dispossessed English settlers in Maine] He was said to have disclosed State secrets to the French, to have allowed Brittany to ally herself to France, to have boasted about his influence whilst at the French Court, to have interfered with the due process of the law, and to have made improper appointments in return for money. The whole indictment appeared to gather all the matters where there was public dissatisfaction with Suffolk's rule, and present them as criminal offences. Undoubtedly he was guilty of some defalcations of a kind in which many indulged, but the most serious accusations of treason bordered on the absurd.
Urged on by Queen Margaret and such of the peers who remained Suffolk's friends, King Henry VI could see only one way to protect his old friend from the vengeance of those who were intent on destroying him, and who even encompassed Suffolks death. When Suffolk was brought from the Tower for his trial on 9th March 1450, the King followed a perfectly proper course for the times, and took the whole matter into his own hands. This meant that he became the sole arbiter of Suffolk's guilt or innocence, and if punishment was merited, what this punishment should be. The King has been much criticised for doing so, even to the extent that he took Suffolk's guilt onto himself. It is suggested that this cannot be so, and that all the King, whose nature was kindly and merciful, was intent on doing was to save a man from an unfair trial and the vengeance of his foes when he must have known, in his heart of hearts, that Suffolk was innocent of most of the dreadful things he was said to have done. It is not as though the King enjoyed the advice of those whose duty it was to proffer it. On 14th March 1450, the Lords were asked by the Chief Justice what advise they should give the King. Two days later, they were still undecided.
On 17th March 1450, the King summoned his Lords into his inner chamber and had Suffolk, who now was in the King's custody in Westminster to prevent any harm being done to him in the Tower, brought before him. Suffolk knelt before his King, asserted his innocence, and threw himself on the King's mercy. He had been well instructed by Queen Margaret what he should do and say, and also what she had arranged the King should likewise do and say. King Henry VI glanced round at his Lords standing about him. The light of the chamber was faint, but he could not mistake the glint of their hard, cruel and greedy eyes where he could read no signs of compassion.
He could see only an overriding desire to be rid of Suffolk by his death without any scruple how this might be accomplished. The King did not have to give any indication whether or not he believed Suffolk to be guilty or innocent, and neither did he. All he did was to banish Suffolk from the Realm for the term of 5 years from 1st May 1450.
The Londoners were enraged that Suffolk should have escaped with so light a sentence, and for several days it seemed there would be a riot with the aim of seizing and lynching him. As the common people saw it, the sentence of banishment was only intended to get Suffolk out of the way for the time being, and at an appropriate moment in the near future, it would be lifted and Suffolk would be restored to the King's Grace. When the situation seemed to be less tense, Suffolk rode for his mansion near Ipswich to use the remaining time before the 1st May to put his affairs in order before a long absense. He was waylaid by the London mob which his strong escort, provided by Queen Margaret, had difficulty in beating off. There was a fierce scuffle, and lives were lost on both sides. He reached his mansion at last, and there he wrote a charming letter to his young son, warning him of the dangers of this world and setting out in detail his defences to the accusations made against him. After taking a tearful farewell of his Duchess, his children and his retainers, he sailed from Ipswich on 30th April 1450 in two small vessels, bound for Calais. Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, was Captain of Calais, and he was Suffolk's friend. Thereafter his plans seem to have been indefinite. Perhaps he intended to join what remained of the English troops in France and fight under Somerset's command. His old friend, Charles, Duke of Orleans, would certainly help him. He could be confident that Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, would find some employment for him. He would not be destitute or short of friends.
What happened next is definite enough, but who planned the murder of Suffolk is far from clear. No real investigations were ever made, and this was because some highly placed enemies of the House of Lancaster were thought to have been involved. Putting any pressure on them could have resulted in civil strife which the Crown was in no position to counter, and had every reason to avoid. Whoever it was who used the King's ships to capture and murder Suffolk therefore remains a mystery. It seems impossible that it was the King who gave the orders for his ships to put to sea; such a sordid episode would have been repellent to his kindly and gentle nature. Besides, if he had wished for Suffolk's death, he could have earned enormous popularity by ordering it on 17th March. It is unlikely in the extreme that Queen Margaret had any hand in the matter. How much was Richard, Duke of York involved from his fastness in Ireland? He may have been a virtual exile himself, but he had trusty agents in England who would have done his bidding. There are stories that Robert Winnington, a notorious Devon pirate, was employed to carry out this cruel deed, but this makes no sense, and anyway was not even necessary. It is hardly reasonable to suppose that a King's ship would be entrusted to a man such as Winnington, and the sailors of the time were noted for their cruelty. The sea has always been hard task-master, and in the 15th-century it bred hard men. There was no need to look elsewhere for an assassin. How far was Suffolk's own ship-master involved?
There is nothing to show that he was in fact involved, but the probability that he was remains a very high one. An interception at sea with a ship that did not want to be intercepted was, in the 15th-century, a very chancy matter, and the sea, as is often said, is a big place. The possibility that the intended prey would elude capture and make port and safety under the very noses of her pursuers was far too high for the plotters to risk. It could be done, but only if the pursuing ship was to windward of her prey, or as it was put, had the weather gauge, and also had the speed to catch up with her, but this also left too much to chance. Ships of the period could not beat against wind and tide, and the winds and tides of the southern North Sea and the Channel are fickle; even a neap tide can run strongly. Even a modern yacht, which is designed to beat against both wind and tide, would have the greatest difficulty in meeting with another boat which was up-wind of her and which did not desire a meeting. Robert Winnington, if he was involved at all, would have advised that a planned interception, if it was to be successful, required prior agreement with the intended prey on the course she was to steer and the position where she would be intercepted. Otherwise the certainty which was essential to the plot could not be guaranteed. He would have known the waters well, and like all pirates, he was a superb seaman. A bribe of sufficient size would ensure that Suffolk's ship-master sent word of his impending departure and of his readiness to be intercepted at a certain position. This proposition has never before been explored, and it is speculative because there is nothing to show that Suffolk's ship-master was in fact bribed. If however it is true, then some very careful planning went into the apprehension of Suffolk.
Henry Holland, the young Duke of Exeter and the son of the John Holland who fought for so long in France, attracts most suspicion for the planning of Suffolk's murder. He was the Lord Admiral, and it was impossible that a King's ship would have put to sea without his knowing it. Henry was affianced to Anne, the eldest daughter of Richard, Duke of York, and had at the time Yorkist sympathies. [After the battle of Barnet 1471, Henry, having espoused the Lancastrian caused, came to grief with Anne See page ] Whether he had any encouragement from his prospective father-in-law is simply not known, and he could have done all that was necessary without it. The sailing of a King's ship could not have remained secret for long. Plenty of people would have known about it, and could have guessed what orders she had. If so, they held their peace.
After sailing from Ipswich, Suffolk's ships were intercepted by the Nicholas of the Tower, one of the biggest of the King's ships, and also some other smaller Royal ships. Some privately owned ships were also present in the small squadron, and possibly Robert Winnington's was among them. Suffolk's ship was hailed by the Nicholas of the Tower, and bidden to send Suffolk on board. Suspecting nothing, he duly went. Perhaps it was something about his sentence of banishment that her captain had to relay. Was it possible that the King had perhaps relented? He was soon disabused, being greeted by her Captain with the single word "Traitor" and being put under close arrest. The seamen formed an impromptu 'court' and 'tried' Suffolk. He refused to plead before such an assembly, and not surprisingly, was sentenced to death. In mock deference to his rank, he was told that he would be beheaded rather than hanged from the yard-arm. The next day, his head was forced over the gunwale of one of the boats, and was struck from his body with one of the ship's cutlasses.
This appalling deed of cruelty, which shocked even the 15th-century, was compounded by flinging his headless corpse onto the Dover sands, whence it was recovered for burial. Thus died William de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk, an almost legendary soldier of the War in France for so many years, and later the confidante and trusted favourite and minister of a King and a Queen. His death was not widely mourned. The common people rejoiced without allowing any other emotion to intrude. The nobility were more restrained in their jubilation, and here there was a sense of relief as well. Apart from Suffolk's family, grief was only noticeable in two people. King Henry VI was stunned by what had happened. Queen Margaret's grief was extreme, and for many days she kept to her chamber, from where the sounds of noisy weeping could be heard. Doubtless between her tears, Margaret considered how she was to protect her King without Suffolk's help. She resolved that she alone would have to manage to preserve the helpless King from those who would do him harm. It would require ruthlessness, courage, cunning and a total lack of scruple, all in the highest degree. That she possessed these qualities, and the political flair to deploy them effectively, this 21-year old girl had not the slightest doubt. History was to prove that her confidence in her own abilities was not misplaced, even though the results were often most unhappy.
|Copyright © Michael D. Miller 2003|