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

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 40: Richard,  Duke of York acts - August/September 1450


The situation facing Richard

Bad news continued to pour in from Normandy during the summer months of 1450, culminating in the capitulation of Cherbourg in August. Jack Cade's rebellion had been crushed in July, but all could see how helpless the government had been, and to what means it had had to stoop to quell the upheaval. The government itself had virtually collapsed, and even though Cardinal John Kemp, Archbishop of York was the Chancellor, a man for whom Richard had a measure of respect, there were too many other factors which would have prevented the formation of an effective administration. King Henry VI, whose responsibility it was to put together an effective government, was manifestly unable to do anything to bring his kingdom to order. Queen Margaret persisted in regarding Richard as an enemy, and was unable even to consider how he might be made, even if not a friend, at least into a willing helper in solving the multitude of problems which faced the country. She had begun by liking Richard and his easy going and charming manners. She now hated him with a gallic intensity which is not readily understood by the Anglo-Saxon mind.

Thus there seemed to be little likelihood that Richard himself would be called upon to return to London to head any government, or at least to fill one of the great offices of State, whilst he was regarded by the Queen as one of the greatest dangers to the dynasty of Lancaster. William de La Pole, Duke of Suffolk had been murdered by the sailors in May 1450, [page ] but there were others who would take his place, whom Richard had every reason to to regard with dread for what follies they might commit in government, and fear for what they might do to himself and his House. His chief enemy would be Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, even though Edmund was presently in disgrace for the loss of Normandy. It was only to be expected that the Queen would turn to him for the protection which the murdered Suffolk could no longer provide. Handsome, urbane, intelligent, always ready with his excuses for his failures, the 45 year old Duke could still please a woman, and could be expected to respond favourably to any overtures she might make in the hope that somehow he could live down the disaster in Normandy. Also, he would not be averse to the fruits of office.

Richard and the Beauforts had never liked each other.

Richard's animosity had begun even earlier than the fateful day in 1443 when John Beaufort, the then Duke of Somerset, had been given command of a force which had clashed with his own commission as the King's Lieutenant-General in France. [page] Whilst this source of annoyance had disappeared with John's death in 1444, a new one had arisen when his own commission had expired in 1445, and Edmund had been appointed to his place. Richard had been sent off to Ireland as the King's Lieutenant in Ireland with a commission which was to last for double the normal period - 10 years in place of the normal 5. Obviously they had wanted to get him out of the way and make sure that he stayed in a backwater.

Richard was prepared to tolerate the Beauforts so long as the Statute of 1406 remained in force. This had confirmed their position as 'legitimated' excepta dignitate regalis - they could never ascend the Throne. This was an Act of Parliament, but what Parliament had done it could also undo, and there was no knowing what a combination of Queen Margaret and the Beauforts might be able to persuade Parliament on the steps which it should take. If the Queen remained childless, and after six years of marriage there was still no sign of an heir, Richard might wake up one morning to find the 1406 Statute had been amended or repealed. He could be disinherited and at the mercy of his enemies. This he was not prepared to risk.

Richard had long been regarded as indecisive, and a lampoon had publicly regretted this fact. [page ] It is true that a tendency towards indecision was a part of his nature. On the other hand, he had felt inhibited, as his uncle Edmund, Earl of March had felt inhibited before him, in pressing his claims to the Throne. [This was Edmund, Earl of March, who had died in 1425 after giving the Crown outstanding services in France] There was an anointed King sitting on the Throne to whom he had sworn an oath of allegiance. This was not a matter to be dismissed lightly, and if Richard felt constrained it also weighed heavily with others as well. Rebellion was a dangerous business, and in addition it was a naturally abhorrent one. It could only be justified, and even then not fully, where there was such massive dissatisfaction with the present King that men would be willing to go to the extreme and take up arms against their lawful sovereign. Instead Richard, like his uncle before him, had loyally served the Crown in the offices to which he was appointed. His period in France had been successful if unspectacular, and he had been liked and respected by the King's French subjects. He had achieved the same success with the Irish, who then as now, regarded anything English as exceedingly suspect.

In the summer of 1450, when Richard decided that the time had come when he must make a move in the chess-game of medieval politics, he had a number of reasons for doing so, and not simply one single reason. Undoubtedly he was animated by a desire to claim the Throne, which many saw as his by right. Without question he was concerned with his own safety and that of his young family. He was also anxious that his country should have good government in place of the present shambles, and saw himself, with all his previous experience, as the only person who could provide it. Which of these reasons was the predominant one and which were the subordinate or secondary ones is hard to say, and possibly Richard himself would have found it difficult to distinguish between them. As is often the case with human beings, his reasons were inextricably mixed, but they all pointed in the same direction; he must return to England and there exert himself in a way he had never done before.

Richard's support

The picturesque scene of picking roses in the Temple Gardens, with each Lord declaring his allegiance by picking white roses for York and red roses for Lancaster, can never have taken place. It is true that the white rose was the badge of York, but the red rose was the badge of the House of Tudor, and the Tudors only appeared in a meaningful form at a very late stage of the story. Shakespeare's scene [King Henry VI Part Act ] repeats a popularist myth, which nonetheless gave the Wars of the Roses their historical name, being coined by the 16th-century historians.

Instead, it is very noticeable that some lords, who themselves represented the various power groups of the country, remained faithful to York or to Lancaster from start to finish, even if they did from time to time reach some sort of accommodation with the other faction as circumstances may have required. Others changed sides, sometimes more than once, as interest, greed, ambition, fear, family ties or the simple need for survival dictated. The fact that the father had espoused one cause, and had perhaps lost his life in doing so, did not necessarily mean that the son would do the same. Yet others, particularly in the early stages, tried their utmost to find peaceful solutions and avoid bloodshed. The peace-makers always have an unenviable task; their integrity is discounted, and they are often regarded as suspect and untrustworthy by both factions. All war is a hateful business, but civil war has the added horror that the father takes up arms against the son, the brother fights the brother, and the uncle fights the nephew, with their women folk and children suffering accordingly. The Wars of the Roses were no exception.

In 1450, Richard had some powerful support through his marriage to Cecille Neville, who had borne him a large and vigorous family even though it was still very young; the eldest, Anne, was still only 11 years old. Cecille, known as the Rose of Raby because of her great beauty and sometimes as 'Proud Cis',  was a daughter of that fruitful union between Ralph Neville, the first Earl of Westmorland and Joan Beaufort. Joan was the daughter of John of Gaunt so that Cecille, and her children, had Beaufort blood in their veins. Ralph had been one of Henry of Bolingbroke's chief supporters when Henry had landed at Ravenspur in 1399, [page ] and had given the House of Lancaster many years of faithful and devoted service. None of this prevented his offspring from espousing the Yorkist cause with a fervour born of desperation with the way the government was going and a hatred of the Beaufort family. To this they added a hearty dislike of Queen Margaret, 'the French woman', and her influence in state affairs which had had such a malign effect on the countries fortunes. All thought that Richard, with his considerable experience, would provide a much better government than that of Margaret's cronies, even though they realised that Margaret's hatred of York would make it impossible for him ever to grasp the levers of power. None regretted Suffolk's death which they saw as nothing less than his just deserts. All were devastated by the loss of Normandy through, as they saw it, the cowardice of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

If Richard's support was powerful, it was still narrowly based, and depended on Cecille's family ties; Richard had virtually none of his own. It also had one great disadvantage. If the Nevilles, the guardians of the Western Scottish border, espoused one cause, it could almost be guaranteed that the Percies, the very powerful Earls of Northumberland and the guardians of the eastern border, would take the other. The two families loathed each other, and at times seemed more intent on fighting each other than their mutual enemies the Scots. There was even an occasion when a wedding party had stumbled across a party of the other faction. A minor pitched battle ensued, with many deaths and injuries on each side.

Still, Richard could count on the support of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, William Neville, Lord Faucon-berge, George Neville, Lord Latimer, Edward Neville, Lord Abergavenny, and Richard Neville's eldest son, also Richard, the young Earl of Warwick, who later became known to history as 'the Kingmaker'. In 1450, this young man was just 22 years old. Rumbustuous, active, intelligent, voluble and self-assertive, he was already making a name for himself as an astute politician. John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, was openly sympathetic towards Richard. His mother, Catherine Neville, was Cecille's sister, and he often referred to Richard as 'oure unkill of York'. Another of Cecille's sisters, Anne, was married to Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. He was not known for his sympathies, which seemed to lie with Labcaster, but there was still something to be hoped for from that quarter 

Richard returns to England - August or September 1450

In late August or early September 1450 (the exact date seems uncertain),   Richard resigned all his Irish appointments and landed in North Wales. Richard, the young and hyper-active Earl of Warwick, had assembled a force which was intended to be the nucleus of an army in rebellion.

Richard, Duke of York may have felt that this was presently going too far. When he reached England, he could see for himself that the country was not ready for an uprising. The people may have detested Queen Margaret and have been most discontented with King Henry VI's rule, but they were not yet ready to take up arms. This may not have surprised him, and he may have put greater faith in resolving matters by peaceful means. Force of arms was not the only way, and one other obvious method was to seek the help of Parliament. Retaining only enough men to provide a powerful escort, he pressed on for London. The Chancellor, Cardinal John Kemp, Archbishop of York, was aware that the Nevilles were restless and that Richard would attempt to return to England, and had ordered the King's officers in Wales to arrest him. Similar instructions had been given to others between Chester and Gloucester. It is impossible to say if Richard eluded them all because they were not enthusiastic to carry out their instructions, or because the country people warned him of their presence, or because he simply avoided them by using the military skills he had long since learnt. One, William Tresham, a former Speaker of the Common House, made a more zealous attempt to arrest Richard, and was waylaid and murdered by the followers of Lord Grey of Ruthyn. Lord Hoo made another attempt at St Albans. Richard side-stepped him and, to Queen Margaret's incandescent fury, arrived at Westminster with his escort.

Richard, who had been careful to shed no blood during his journey, now forced his way into the Royal presence. As usual, the King was guarded by his own soldiers, but they put up no resistance. They may have been intimidated by the size and firm demeanour of the escort, or the gentle-minded King may have ordered them to offer none. There then took place an interview which bears a close resemblance to that between King Richard II and John of Gaunt in 1386. [page ]

There is naturally no written record of what was said, but the course this interview took can be surmised from subsequent events, and Richard, once he had made up his mind to act, was a consistent man. Richard began with a very forceful protest at the attempts to arrest him. This was an odd way to treat the heir to the Throne, or one of the great Officers of State on his way to see his Sovereign. The King gently apologised, saying that he had no knowledge of the matter, and some people were more zealous than they should have been. In King Henry's England, this may have been the truth. Richard let that matter pass, and swept on to others. The loss of Normandy had been disgraceful. There should be an enquiry, and those responsible should be punished. The Government was in such a shambles that for all practicable purposes it did not exist. The recent rebellion in Kent might easily have escalated to totally unmanageable proportions, and the actions of the government, or rather the lack of them, were most discreditable. There had been several other disturbances, and those responsible had not been prosecuted. An effective Resumption Statute was long overdue to restore the Royal finances so that they once more produced a proper yield of revenue. Previous Statutes had failed because those who had stayed at home had seen to it that they did not suffer, indeed some had become still richer,  whilst those who, like himself, had been serving their country abroad had been penalised. [Chapter ] It was impossible that Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, should have any part in government, and in any case his recent actions in Normandy could result in penal process against him. Lastly, and most important of all, Parliament must be summoned with all possible speed.

It can be imagined that on Richard's side, his manner was forceful, and at times even angry, whilst the King, to whose nature anger was a completely foreign and unknown force, maintained a dignified and stoical poise throughout. In the King's ear, these demands must have sounded very similar to the demands made by Jack Cade,  [page ] and must have made him, and those about him, wonder how much of a part Richard had played in this rebellion. It is most improbable that he had any hand in it,  [page ]and certainly any such suspicions had died by January 1451 when Richard was dispatched to try the Kentish rebels. When at last Richard paused to draw breath, the King answered gently that he had taken steps to appoint a

"sad and a substantiall Counsell"

which would include Richard. Richard would soon find that all he wanted would come to pass.

For the moment, Richard had to be content with this. Aware that he had been shouting at a mere puppet, who in the manner of all weak men, would promise all that the unwelcome visitor wanted to hear, and then strive to forget that the interview had ever taken place, Richard retired to the country mansion of his friend John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk.

There, surrounded by Mowbray's retainers, he would have felt safe from assassination which, he had no doubt, the Queen would attempt to arrange. It was also a convenient point to watch to see if the King would keep his promises, the most immediate being the appointment of the Council and the summoning of Parliament.

If Richard's apprehensions of the malice of Queen Margaret may be regarded as justified, he was not altogether fair in what he thought of the King. Writs were issued for Parliament to assemble at Westminster on November 6th 1450.

This was not an unreasonable delay; the harvest had to be gathered in, and the plague was less likely to manifest itself during the winter months. The two Dukes busied themselves visiting and writing to the sheriffs to ensure that members sympathetic to Richard's demands were elected. King Henry VI appears to have entertained no animosity towards Richard for his ill manners and defiance of all protocol. He even gave Sir William Oldhall, Richard's Chamberlain and right-hand man, an interview lasting for two hours, and showed no resentment that Oldhall repeated Richard's demands and reminded him of the promises which he had given.

Parliament meets - 6th November 1450

The sheriffs had responded well to the requests of the two Dukes, and a Parliament assembled which was very much in favour of the demands made by Richard. One favourable development was the appointment of Oldhall as Speaker, to which the King raised no objection. Apart from this, things got off to a very bad start, because most of the Great Lords had brought sizeable armed followings, and London was full of armed men. Brawls were frequent at the selling-booths and in the alehouses and between retainers of opposite factions, but a greater threat was posed to the peace of the City than a few scuffles; if the Great Lords started fighting each other, then London would become a battlefield. The threat of substantial armed conflict hung heavily in the air, and this was not eased by several parades through the City streets, where the Great Lords showed off their armed might.

The session was opened by the Chancellor with a rather tame address that the attention of Parliament was required for the safety of the seas, help for Acquitaine, and the suppression of lawlessness. These were all safe subjects, but if the Chancellor thought that Parliament would be content with these, he was soon disabused. Richard demanded the impeachment of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and soon the chamber rang with angry accusation and counter-accusation. Somerset pointed out that Suffolk had neglected Normandy, and that he himself had written to him to describe its parlous state. So he had, but only when King Charles VII had already begun his invasion. Richard riposted by saying that Somerset could have done a lot more with the men he already had, and but for his cowardice, King Charles' invasion would have been repelled. The temperature got very heated, with the Common House backing Richard in a noisy and clamorous way. To his chagrin, Richard found the Lords and the Council cool towards the idea of impeachment, and realised that if Somerset demanded trial by his peers, he would probably be acquitted.

Frustrated, Richard then made an attempt to seize Somerset that very nearly succeeded. This caused an uproar in the City, and the mob tried to lynch Somerset, who escaped with great difficulty in a barge, leaving the rioters to ransack his house and goods. Somerset was sent to the Tower to the great joy of many, who thought he had been arrested pending a trial. The more percipient thought that he was sent there for his own protection, and would soon be welcomed back to Court. It came as a relief when Parliament adjourned for Christmas, and the hot-house atmosphere was given a chance to cool down. During the recess, the Queen prevailed on her weak-willed husband to appoint Somerset as Captain of Calais, a convenient place to get him out of the way of the harm which threatened him.

Once his fury had subsided, Richard realised that, sympathetic as the Common House was, he had over-played his hand. There was nothing to be gained by shouting demands in a noisy fashion for the impeachment of Somerset, or by turning London into an armed camp. Further, he now realised that all the ills of the country would not be resolved at once. It needed time, and a somewhat less clamorous approach. Somerset was for the moment out of the way, but he could be dealt with later. Meanwhile, some of the other grievances could be addressed in a calmer fashion. He could not press his rights to the Throne, but there were other things that could be done. When Parliament re-assembled on 29th April 1451, and then again on May 5th, its greatest achievement was the passing of the first effective Resumption Statute, and one which did a lot to restore the Royal revenues. [page ] With Richard looking on, the King did not dare to add provisos which would have the effect of nullifying the Statute. The Act, unlike its predecessors, was very successful, and did a lot to remove the income of the Royal Estates from the undeserving and re-direct them into the Royal Treasury. It would need time for the Statute to yield its full benefits, but Richard realised that, when the Royal Treasury was full again, a lot of other ills would be all the more easily resolved.

Richard reflects on the position

After Parliament dissolved in June 1451, Richard retired to his estates in the North, and busied himself with explaining matters to his faction. It needed to be kept intact, and not dissolve in disappointment because all that it wanted had not yet been achieved. There was much that had changed. The Resumption Statute looked as though it would succeed in its objects, and if it did, a definite victory would become apparent. No longer was he the pliable and obedient public servant, content to discharge any office given to him however much he disliked it. He had returned to England for good, and intended to throw his weight around as a new and hitherto unused force in politics. This was not the time to try to unseat an anointed King. The true enemies were Queen Margaret and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. In time, and again time was a necessary element, their turn would come.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003