Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York
|Richard of York|
Richard in the frontispiece of the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, 1445
|Duke of York|
|Predecessor||Edward of Norwich|
|Born||21 September 1411|
30 December 1460 49) (aged|
|House||House of York|
|Father||Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge|
|Mother||Anne de Mortimer|
Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York KG (21 September 1411 – 30 December 1460), was a leading English magnate, a great-grandson of King Edward III through his father, and a great-great-great-grandson of the same king through his mother. He inherited vast estates and served in various offices of state in Ireland, France, and England, a country he ultimately governed as Lord Protector during the madness of King Henry VI. His conflicts with Henry's wife, Margaret of Anjou, and other members of Henry's court, as well as his competing claim on the throne, were a leading factor in the political upheaval of mid-fifteenth-century England, and a major cause of the Wars of the Roses. Richard eventually attempted to take the throne, but was dissuaded, although it was agreed that he would become king on Henry's death. But within a few weeks of securing this agreement, he died in battle.
Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, was born on 21 September 1411, the son of Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge by his wife Anne Mortimer, the daughter of Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March, and Eleanor Holland. Anne Mortimer was the great-granddaughter of Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of King Edward III (1327–1377). This ancestry supplied Anne Mortimer, and her descendants the Dukes of York, with a claim albeit not in a direct male line, to the English throne supposedly superior to that of the reigning House of Lancaster, descended from John of Gaunt the third son of King Edward III.
Richard's mother Anne Mortimer is said to have died giving birth to him, and his father, the Earl of Cambridge, was beheaded in 1415 for his part in the Southampton Plot against the Lancastrian King Henry V. Although the Earl's title was forfeited, he was not attainted, and the four-year-old orphan Richard became his father's heir. Richard had an only sister, Isabel of Cambridge, who became Countess of Essex upon her second marriage in 1426.
Within a few months of his father's death, Richard's childless uncle, Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, was slain at the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415. After some hesitation, King Henry V allowed Richard to inherit his uncle's title and (at his majority of 21) the lands of the Duchy of York. The lesser title but (in due course) greater estates of the Earldom of March also descended to him on the death of his maternal uncle Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, on 19 January 1425. The reason for King Henry V's hesitation was that Edmund Mortimer had been proclaimed several times by factions rebelling against him, to have a stronger claim to the throne than Henry's father, King Henry IV (1399–1413), son of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster. However, during his lifetime, Mortimer remained a faithful supporter of the House of Lancaster.
Richard of York already held the Mortimer and Cambridge claims to the English throne; once he inherited the March claim, and the Earldom of Ulster, he also became the wealthiest and most powerful noble in England, second only to the king himself. The Valor Ecclesiasticus shows that York's net income from Mortimer lands alone was £3,430 in the year 1443–44.
Childhood and upbringing
As he was an orphan, Richard's income became the property of, and was managed by, the crown. Even though many of the lands of his uncle of York had been granted for life only, or to him and his male heirs, the remaining lands, concentrated in Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, Yorkshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire were considerable. The wardship of such an orphan was therefore a valuable gift of the crown, and in October 1417 this was granted to Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, with the young Richard under the guardianship of Robert Waterton. Ralph Neville had fathered an enormous family (twenty-three children, twenty of whom survived infancy, through two wives) and had many daughters needing husbands. As was his right, in 1424 he betrothed the 13-year-old Richard to his daughter Cecily Neville, then aged 9.
In October 1425, when Ralph Neville died, he bequeathed the wardship of York to his widow, Joan Beaufort. By now the wardship was even more valuable, as Richard had inherited the Mortimer estates on the death of the Earl of March. These manors were concentrated in Wales, and in the Welsh Borders around Ludlow.
Little is recorded of Richard's early life. On 19 May 1426 he was knighted at Leicester by John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, the younger brother of King Henry V. In October 1429 (or earlier) his marriage to Cecily Neville took place. On 6 November he was present at the formal coronation of King Henry VI in Westminster Abbey. He then followed Henry to France, being present at his coronation as king of France in Notre Dame on 16 December 1431. Finally, on 12 May 1432, he came into his inheritance and was granted full control of his estates.
In May 1436, a few months after Bedford's death, York was appointed to succeed him as Lieutenant in France. Henry V's conquests in France could not be sustained forever, as the Kingdom of England either needed to conquer more territory to ensure permanent French subordination, or to concede territory to gain a negotiated settlement. During Henry VI's minority, his Council took advantage of French weakness and the alliance with the Duchy of Burgundy to increase England's possessions, but following the Treaty of Arras of 1435, Burgundy ceased to recognise the claim of the king of England to the French throne.
York's appointment was one of a number of stop-gap measures after the death of Bedford to try to retain French possessions until the young King Henry VI could assume personal rule. The fall of Paris (his original destination) led to his army being redirected to Normandy. Working with Bedford's captains, York had some success, recapturing Fecamp and holding on to the Pays de Caux, while establishing good order and justice in the Duchy of Normandy. However, he was dissatisfied with the terms under which he was appointed, as he had to find much of the money to pay his troops and other expenses from his own estates. His term of office was nevertheless extended beyond the original twelve months, and he did not return to England until November 1439. In spite of his position as one of the leading nobles of the realm, he was not included in Henry VI's Council on his return.
France again (1440–1445)
Henry VI turned to York again in 1440 after peace negotiations failed. He was reappointed Lieutenant of France on 2 July, this time with the same powers that the late Bedford had earlier been granted. As in 1437, York was able to count on the loyalty of Bedford's supporters, including Sir John Fastolf and Sir William Oldhall.
However, in 1443 Henry put the newly created Duke of Somerset, John Beaufort, in charge of an army of 8,000 men, initially intended for the relief of Gascony. This denied York much-needed men and resources at a time when he was struggling to hold the borders of Normandy. Not only that, but the terms of Somerset's appointment could have caused York to feel that his own role as effective regent over the whole of Lancastrian France was reduced to that of governor of Normandy. Somerset's army achieved nothing and eventually returned to Normandy, where Somerset died in 1444. This may have been the start of the hatred that York harboured for the Beaufort family, a resentment that would later turn into civil war.
English policy now turned back to a negotiated peace (or at least a truce) with France, so the remainder of York's time in France was spent in routine administration and domestic matters. Duchess Cecily accompanied him to Normandy, and his children Edward, Edmund and Elizabeth were all born in Rouen.
York returned to England on 20 October 1445 at the end of his five-year appointment in France. He must have had reasonable expectations of reappointment. However, he had become associated with the English in Normandy who were opposed to the policy of Henry VI's Council towards France, some of whom had followed him to England (for example Sir William Oldhall and Sir Andrew Ogard). Eventually (in December 1446) the lieutenancy went to Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, who had succeeded his brother John. During 1446 and 1447, York attended meetings of Henry VI's Council and of Parliament, but most of his time was spent in administration of his estates on the Welsh border.
His attitude toward the Council's surrender of the French province of Maine, in return for an extension of the truce with France and a French bride for Henry, must have contributed to his appointment on 30 July as Lieutenant of Ireland. In some ways it was a logical appointment, as Richard was also Earl of Ulster and had considerable estates in Ireland, but it was also a convenient way of removing him from both England and France. His term of office was for ten years, ruling him out of consideration for any other high office during that period.
Domestic matters kept him in England until June 1449, but when he did eventually leave for Ireland, it was with Cecily (who was pregnant at the time) and an army of around 600 men. This suggests a stay of some time was envisaged. However, claiming lack of money to defend English possessions, York decided to return to England. His financial state may indeed have been problematic, since by the mid-1440s he was owed £38,666 by the crown, (equivalent to £28.3 million in current value) and the income from his estates was declining.
Leader of the Opposition (1450–1452)
In 1450, the defeats and failures of the English royal government of the previous ten years boiled over into serious political unrest. In January, Adam Moleyns, Lord Privy Seal and Bishop of Chichester, was lynched. In May the chief councillor of the king, William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, was murdered on his way into exile. The House of Commons demanded that the king take back many of the grants of land and money he had made to his favourites.
In June, Kent and Sussex rose in revolt. Led by Jack Cade (taking the name Mortimer), they took control of London and killed John Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer of England. In August, the final towns held in Normandy fell to the French and refugees flooded back to England.
On 7 September, York landed at Beaumaris. Evading an attempt by Henry to intercept him, and gathering followers as he went, York arrived in London on 27 September. After an inconclusive (and possibly violent) meeting with the king, York continued to recruit, both in East Anglia and the west. The violence in London was such that Somerset, back in England after the collapse of English Normandy, was put in the Tower of London for his own safety. In December Parliament elected York's chamberlain, Sir William Oldhall, as speaker.
York's public stance was that of a reformer, demanding better government and the prosecution of the traitors who had lost northern France. Judging by his later actions, there may also have been a more hidden motive – the destruction of Somerset, who was soon released from the Tower. Although granted another office (Justice of the Forest south of the Trent), York still lacked any real support outside Parliament and his own retainers.
In April 1451, Somerset was released from the Tower and appointed Captain of Calais. When one of York's councillors, Thomas Young, the MP for Bristol, proposed that York be recognised as heir to the throne, he was sent to the Tower and Parliament was dissolved. Henry VI was prompted into belated reforms, which went some way to restore public order and improve the royal finances. Frustrated by his lack of political power, York retired to Ludlow.
In 1452, York made another bid for power, but not to become king himself. Protesting his loyalty, he aimed to be recognised as Henry VI's heir apparent (Henry was childless after seven years of marriage), while also trying to destroy the Earl of Somerset, who Henry may have preferred to succeed him over York, as a Beaufort descendant. Gathering men on the march from Ludlow, York headed for London to find the city gates barred against him on Henry's orders. At Dartford in Kent, with his army outnumbered, and the support of only two of the nobility, York was forced to come to an agreement with Henry. He was allowed to present his complaints against Somerset to the king, but was then taken to London and after two weeks of virtual house arrest, was forced to swear an oath of allegiance at St Paul's Cathedral.
Protector of the Realm (1453–1454)
By the summer of 1453, York seemed to have lost his power struggle. Henry embarked on a series of judicial tours, punishing York's tenants who had been involved in the debacle at Dartford. The Queen consort, Margaret of Anjou, was pregnant, and even if she should miscarry, the marriage of the newly ennobled Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond, to Margaret Beaufort provided for an alternative line of succession. By July, York had lost both of his offices, Lieutenant of Ireland and Justice of the Forest south of the Trent.
Then, in August 1453, Henry VI suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown, perhaps brought on by the news of the defeat at the Battle of Castillon in Gascony, which finally drove English forces from France. He became completely unresponsive, unable to speak, and had to be led from room to room. The Council tried to carry on as though the king's disability would be brief, but they had to admit eventually that something had to be done. In October, invitations for a Great Council were issued, and although Somerset tried to have him excluded, York (the premier duke of the realm) was included. Somerset's fears were to prove well grounded, for in November he was committed to the Tower.
On 22 March 1454, Cardinal John Kemp, the Chancellor, died, making continued government in the King's name constitutionally impossible. Henry could not be induced to respond to any suggestion as to who might replace Kemp. Despite the opposition of Margaret of Anjou, York was appointed Protector of the Realm and Chief Councillor on 27 March 1454. York's appointment of his brother-in-law, Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury, as Chancellor was significant. Henry's burst of activity in 1453 had seen him try to stem the violence caused by various disputes between noble families. These disputes gradually polarised around the long-standing Percy-Neville feud. Unfortunately for Henry, Somerset (and therefore the king) became identified with the Percy cause. This drove the Nevilles into the arms of York, who now for the first time had support among a section of the nobility.
St. Albans (1455–1456)
According to the historian Robin Storey, "If Henry's insanity was a tragedy, his recovery was a national disaster". When he recovered his reason in January 1455, Henry lost little time in reversing York's actions. Somerset was released and restored to favour. York was deprived of the Captaincy of Calais (which was granted to Somerset once again) and of the office of Protector. Salisbury resigned as Chancellor. York, Salisbury and Salisbury's eldest son, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, were threatened when a Great Council was called to meet on 21 May in Leicester (away from Somerset's enemies in London). York and his Neville relations recruited in the north and probably along the Welsh border. By the time Somerset realised what was happening, there was no time to raise a large force to support the king.
Once York took his army south of Leicester, thus barring the route to the Great Council, the dispute between him and the king regarding Somerset would have to be settled by force. On 22 May, the king and Somerset arrived at St Albans with a hastily assembled and poorly equipped army of around 2,000. York, Warwick and Salisbury were already there with a larger and better-equipped army. More importantly, at least some of their soldiers would have had experience in the frequent border skirmishes with the Kingdom of Scotland and the occasionally rebellious people of Wales.
The First Battle of St Albans that followed hardly deserves the term battle. Possibly as few as 50 men were killed, but among them were Somerset and the two Percy lords, Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, and Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron de Clifford. York and the Nevilles had therefore succeeded in killing their enemies, while York's capture of the king gave him the chance to resume the power he had lost in 1453. It was vital to keep Henry alive, as his death would have led, not to York becoming king himself, but to the minority rule of his two-year-old son Edward of Westminster. Since York's support among the nobility was small, he would be unable to dominate a minority Council led by Margaret of Anjou.
In the custody of York, the king was returned to London with York and Salisbury riding alongside, and with Warwick bearing the royal sword in front. On 25 May, Henry received the crown from York in a clearly symbolic display of power. York made himself Constable of England and appointed Warwick Captain of Calais. York's position was enhanced when some of the nobility agreed to join his government, including Salisbury's brother Lord Fauconberg, who had served under York in France.
For the rest of the summer, York held the king prisoner, either in Hertford castle or in London (to be enthroned in Parliament in July). When Parliament met again in November, the throne was empty, and it was reported that the king was ill again. York resumed the office of Protector; although he surrendered it when the king recovered in February 1456, it seemed that this time Henry was willing to accept that York and his supporters would play a major part in the government of the realm.
Salisbury and Warwick continued to serve as councillors, and Warwick was confirmed as Captain of Calais. In June, York himself was sent north to defend the border against a threatened invasion by James II of Scotland. However, the king once again came under the control of a dominant figure, this time one harder to replace than Suffolk or Somerset: for the rest of his reign, it would be the queen, Margaret of Anjou, who would control the king.
Although Margaret of Anjou had now taken the place formerly held by Suffolk or Somerset, her position, at least at first, was not as dominant. York had his Lieutenancy of Ireland renewed, and he continued to attend meetings of the Council. However, in August 1456 the court moved to Coventry, in the heart of the queen's lands. How York was treated now depended on how powerful the queen's views were. York was regarded with suspicion on three fronts: he threatened the succession of the young Prince of Wales; he was apparently negotiating for the marriage of his eldest son Edward into the Burgundian ruling family; and as a supporter of the Nevilles, he was contributing to the major cause of disturbance in the kingdom – the Percy/Neville feud.
Here, the Nevilles lost ground. Salisbury gradually ceased to attend meetings of the council. When his brother Robert Neville, Bishop of Durham, died in 1457, the new appointment was Laurence Booth. Booth was a member of the queen's inner circle. The Percys were shown greater favour both at court and in the struggle for power on the Scottish border.
Henry's attempts at reconciliation between the factions divided by the killings at St Albans reached their climax with the Loveday on 24 March 1458. However, the lords concerned had earlier turned London into an armed camp, and the public expressions of amity seemed not to have lasted beyond the ceremony.
In June 1459 a Great Council was summoned to meet at Coventry. York, the Nevilles and some other lords refused to appear, fearing that the armed forces that had been commanded to assemble the previous month had been summoned to arrest them. Instead, York and Salisbury recruited in their strongholds and met Warwick, who had brought with him his troops from Calais, at Worcester. Parliament was summoned to meet at Coventry in November, but without York and the Nevilles. This could only mean that they were to be accused of treason.
On 11 October, York tried to move south, but was forced to head for Ludlow. On 12 October, at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, York once again faced Henry just as he had at Dartford seven years earlier. Warwick's troops from Calais refused to fight, and the rebels fled – York to Ireland, Warwick, Salisbury and York's son Edward to Calais. York's wife Cecily and their two younger sons (George and Richard) were captured in Ludlow Castle and imprisoned at Coventry.
The wheel of fortune (1459–1460)
York's flight worked to his advantage. He was still Lieutenant of Ireland and attempts to replace him failed. The Parliament of Ireland backed him, providing offers of both military and financial support. Warwick's (possibly inadvertent) return to Calais also proved fortunate. His control of the English Channel meant that pro-Yorkist propaganda, emphasising loyalty to the king while decrying his wicked councillors, could be spread around Southern England. Such was the Yorkists' naval dominance that Warwick was able to sail to Ireland in March 1460, meet York and return to Calais in May. Warwick's control of Calais was to prove to be influential with the wool-merchants in London.
In December 1459 York, Warwick and Salisbury suffered attainder. Their lives were forfeit, and their lands reverted to the king; their heirs would not inherit. This was the most extreme punishment a member of the nobility could suffer, and York was now in the same situation as Henry of Bolingbroke (the future King Henry IV) in 1398. Only a successful invasion of England would restore his fortune. Assuming the invasion was successful, York had three options: become Protector again; disinherit the king so that York's son would succeed; or claim the throne for himself.
On 26 June, Warwick and Salisbury landed at Sandwich. The men of Kent rose to join them. London opened its gates to the Nevilles on 2 July. They marched north into the Midlands, and on 10 July, they defeated the royal army at the Battle of Northampton (through treachery among the king's troops), and captured Henry, whom they brought back to London.
York remained in Ireland. He did not set foot in England until 9 September, and when he did, he acted as a king. Marching under the arms of his maternal great-great-grandfather Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence, he displayed a banner of the Coat of Arms of England as he approached London.
A Parliament called to meet on 7 October repealed all the legislation of the Coventry parliament the previous year. On 10 October, York arrived in London and took residence in the royal palace. Entering Parliament with his sword borne upright before him, he made for the empty throne and placed his hand upon it, as if to occupy it. He may have expected the assembled peers to acclaim him as king, as they had acclaimed Henry Bolingbroke in 1399. Instead, there was silence. Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, asked whether he wished to see the king. York replied, "I know of no person in this realm the which oweth not to wait on me, rather than I of him." This high-handed reply did not impress the Lords.
The next day, Richard advanced his claim to the crown by hereditary right in proper form. However, his narrow support among his peers led to failure once again. After weeks of negotiation, the best that could be achieved was the Act of Accord, by which York and his heirs were recognised as Henry's successor. However, Parliament did grant York extraordinary executive powers to protect the realm, and made him Prince of Wales (and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall) and Lord Protector of England on 31 October 1460. With the king effectively in custody, York and Warwick were the de facto rulers of the country.
Final campaign and death
While this was happening, the Lancastrian loyalists were rallying and arming in the north of England. Faced with the threat of attack from the Percys, and with Margaret of Anjou trying to gain the support of the new king James III of Scotland, York, Salisbury and York's second son Edmund, Earl of Rutland, headed north on 2 December. They arrived at York's stronghold of Sandal Castle on 21 December to find the situation bad and getting worse. Forces loyal to Henry controlled the city of York, and nearby Pontefract Castle was also in hostile hands.
On 30 December, York and his forces sortied from Sandal Castle. Their reasons for doing so are not clear; they were variously claimed to be a result of deception by the Lancastrian forces, or treachery by northern lords who York mistakenly believed to be his allies, or simple rashness on York's part. The larger Lancastrian force destroyed York's army in the resulting Battle of Wakefield. York was killed in the battle. Edmund of Rutland was intercepted as he tried to flee and was executed, possibly by John Clifford, 9th Baron de Clifford, in revenge for the death of his own father at the First Battle of St Albans. Salisbury escaped, but was captured and executed the following night.
York was buried at Pontefract, but his head was put on a pike by the victorious Lancastrian armies and displayed over Micklegate Bar at York, wearing a paper crown. His remains were later moved to Church of St Mary and All Saints, Fotheringhay.
Within a few weeks of Richard of York's death, his eldest surviving son was acclaimed King Edward IV and finally established the House of York on the throne following a decisive victory over the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton. After an occasionally tumultuous reign, he died in 1483 and was succeeded by his son as Edward V; York's youngest son succeeded him as Richard III.
Richard of York's grandchildren included Edward V and Elizabeth of York. Elizabeth married Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty, and became the mother of Henry VIII, Margaret Tudor, and Mary Tudor. All subsequent English monarchs have been descendants of Elizabeth of York, and, therefore, of Richard of York.
Richard of York is the subject of the popular mnemonic "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" to remember the colours of a rainbow in order (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).
His children with Cecily Neville include:
- Joan of York (b. 1438, died young).
- Anne of York (10 August 1439 – 14 January 1476). Married to Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter and Thomas St Leger.
- Henry of York (b. 10 February 1441, died young).
- Edward IV of England (28 April 1442 – 9 April 1483). Married to Elizabeth Woodville.
- Edmund, Earl of Rutland (17 May 1443 – 31 December 1460).
- Elizabeth of York (22 April 1444 – after January 1503). Married to John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (his first marriage, later annulled, was to Lady Margaret Beaufort when she was about 3 years old).
- Margaret of York (3 May 1446 – 23 November 1503). Married to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
- William of York (b. 7 July 1447, died young).
- John of York (b. 7 November 1448, died young).
- George, Duke of Clarence (21 October 1449 – 18 February 1478). Married to Lady Isabel Neville. Parents of Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.
- Thomas of York (born c. 1451, died young).
- Richard III of England (2 October 1452 – 22 August 1485). Married to Lady Anne Neville, the sister of Lady Isabel, Duchess of Clarence.
- Ursula of York (born 22 July 1455, died young).
- Anne of York with husband Thomas St Leger
- Margaret of York
- George Duke of Clarence
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The Duke of Gloucester
|Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent
| Succeeded by|
The Duke of Somerset
|Peerage of England|
Edward of Norwich
(forfeit in 1415)
|Duke of York
| Succeeded by|
|Earl of March|
Richard of Conisburgh
(forfeit in 1415)
|Earl of Cambridge |
|Peerage of Ireland|
|Earl of Ulster
| Succeeded by|
Title last held byJointly: John Duke of Bedford &
Humphrey Duke of Gloucester
|Lord Protector of England
3 April 1454–February 1455
19 November 1455–25 February 1456
31 October–30 December 1460
Title next held byRichard Duke of Gloucester
Edward of Westminster (disputed)
|Disputed with Edward of Westminster (Lancastrian):
Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester (Yorkist)
Duke of Cornwall (Yorkist)
31 October-30 December 1460 (disputed)
| Succeeded by|
Edward of Westminster (disputed)