1452 Was a Hell of a Year

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Two weeks ago we took a look at the assassination of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, noting that his unpopularity was wrapped up in the humiliating losses in Normandy under the command of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. His death in March 1450 was swiftly followed by the first serious rebellion in Henry VI’s reign – that of a man under the moniker “Jack Cade,” who led an uprising that swept the countryside that summer. It was suppressed and its participants put to death, but an uneasy pallor settled over Henry’s court.

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Anjou: The Last Years of Henry VI’s Queen

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Marguerite of Anjou, consort of Henry VI, dominates England’s history through the first half of the Wars of the Roses and ends abruptly in May 1471. The Battle of Tewkesbury that took place that month brought about the death of some of her greatest supporters, not least of whom was her beloved son, Prince Edward. The House of Lancaster was effectively destroyed – Henry VI was quietly put to death, loyalists fled abroad or pledged allegiance to the House of York and Edward IV reigned safely for the next 12 years.

Her husband and son dead, Marguerite had no further connection to England. Last mentions of her often note that she was held in the Tower of the London and then eventually returned to France, where she died 11 years later. And yet, while her utility to a nation’s history might have evaporated, she did in fact keep living. The last decade plus of her life is made of vaguer stuff than what we have been left from her years in power, but it is still illuminating.

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The Murder of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk

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The Wars of the Roses is traditionally recorded as beginning in 1455 with the First Battle of St Albans and ending in 1485 with the victory of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. But as with most civil wars, there are grey areas on either side that show the rise and fall of violence and political tension. With this particular war, the domino effect of events can take you back decades – Joan of Arc, the Treaty of Arras in 1435, the death of John, Duke of Bedford or the arrival of Marguerite of Anjou. None of these, in a vacuum, caused a civil war, but they were pivotal moments that drew the lines between our main opponents more firmly.

Today we’re going to look at once such moment: the assassination of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.

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When a Beaufort Married a Stewart

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Long before England and Scotland were “united” under the rule of James Stuart, and even before the more famous match of James IV and Margaret Tudor, there was another alliance between these two countries that provided an important dynastic link…though not necessarily in a helpful way. In 1424, James I of Scotland married Joan Beaufort, a non-royal Englishwoman, but one whose family was critical to physically restoring her husband to his throne. The union, while successful, did little to help diplomatic ties with England.

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A Highly Convenient Match: Thomas of Clarence & Margaret Holland

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On March 16, 1410, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset passed away at the Hospital of St Katherine’s near the Tower of London. Half-brother to King Henry IV, he was the eldest son born from the union of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and his third wife, Katherine Swynford. He left behind a widow, Margaret Holland, Countess of Somerset, and six children who spanned the ages (roughly) of nine to infancy. His parents already deceased, the protection of John’s heirs and the success of the Beaufort name fell to his two younger brothers, Henry and Thomas Beaufort, who had already forged successful careers in the Church and military, respectively, and were deeply enmeshed in the King’s government.

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The Original Beaufort Children

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Depending on how well you know your English history, the name “Beaufort” is probably familiar to you. The most famous figure within that family was Margaret Beaufort (1443-1509), best-known as the mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII. In other words, she was the true matriarch of the House of Tudor. A generation before and alongside her, the Beauforts were known as loyal supporters to the House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses, their patriarchs rising to the rank of “Duke of Somerset.”

This grandeur – or rather, the possibility of accessing this level of status – is thanks to four siblings born in the second half of the 14th century. Neither of their parents shared their surname – it was in fact chosen – and they were born on the wrong side of the blanket, as they say. Their mix of illegitimacy and royal blood positioned them for a strange half-life, one in which they were allowed close to the crown itself, but never held it. That they ended up not only legitimized but intertwined with their royal relations speaks to both the grace of their parents and their own abilities, which were remarkable.

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Margaret Beaufort & Her Four Husbands

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Margaret Beaufort is arguably the great winner of the Wars of the Roses. Certainly she is one of the few to have lived through the war in its entirety and, as such, became the matriarch of the House of the Tudor. Mother to Henry VII, she is an ancestor to every English/British monarch since Henry VIII (as well as Scotland’s James V and Mary Stuart). But though she existed in the same world as Marguerite of Anjou, Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville, she is rarely seen as exciting as them – she never wore a crown and by the time she held substantial power, she was a woman in 50s. Instead, she is usually depicted as the mother-in-law from hell, a meddler and a jarring mix of pious and power-hungry.

To some, she is even a contender as the true killer of the Princes of the Tower.

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When Marguerite of Anjou Arrived in England

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Marguerite of Anjou is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting queen consorts in England’s history. Her marriage, however, started as a glorified insurance policy for her uncle, Charles VII, and resulted in one of the most controversial and dramatic public careers a woman in 15th century Europe ever held. We’ve covered Marguerite on this site a few times, from rumors of her infidelity to her political maneuvers when her husband “went mad” to her mysterious childhood prior to joining French court as a teenager, to name but a few. Today we’re going to get into how it was that she became Henry VI’s wife and the very direct way in which that led to the later civil war that toppled them from their thrones.

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The Most Successful Mistress: Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster

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It’s about time we got to Katherine Swynford given the number of times I’ve referenced her and the Beauforts in other posts. I deem her the most successful royal mistress for three reasons: 1) the longevity of her relationship with John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, 2) the fact that said relationship ended in marriage and 3) all monarchs since Henry VII have been descended from her. That’s a pretty good career for a woman who was certainly never queen and, quite frankly, had little business being a duchess in the opinion of many.

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Henry IV’s First Wife, Mary de Bohun

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Mary de Bohun was the wife of one king and the mother of another, but she never knew it. Her premature death in her mid-20s meant she missed the usurpation of 1399 that brought the House of Lancaster to the throne, but even so her short life was a notable one, which illustrated well the trials and tribulations of young heiresses in the 14th century.

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