This is an attempt to give you a brief summary of the major families outside of the main antagonists, York and Lancaster, and where they stood at the start of the Wars of the Roses in 1450; and some links so that you can do a bit more digging if you’d like, and don’t mind plot spoilers! Worth looking at the family tree of the royal houses here to give you an overview. For some of these also you can see the kind of landholdings they possessed by going to ‘Landholdings of the Barons’. And finally you can see family tree of the Neville and Percy families here.
It’s getting quite long so here’s a little index – i.e. a list in order of what you can find below! I can’t do that clever linking within a page thing.
- de Vere
The Beauforts, Dukes of Somerset
The Beauforts were descended from John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford – at first illegitimate, then legitimised. The current Beaufort incumbent of the title, Edmund Beaufort. He does not get a good press from me. He started an affair with Catherine Valois, and then was put off by the consequences in a way that Owen Tudor was not. He insisted on compensation from the English crown of 10,000 marks to compensate for this lands in Maine when handed to France. As Lieutenant General of France he seemed to have more interest in saving his own neck at Rouen and Caen. He again has the political muscle or personal relationships to persuade a weak Henry VIth and a stiff necked Margaret appoint him as Constable of England on his return. The Beauforts have estates in the South West that reflects their traditional title of Dorset, and south of London.
Edmund’s brother John, the first Duke of Somerset, had committed suicide; and he’d left one daughter, Margaret, born in 1443. Margaret seems to have had the blood of Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester rather than her venal uncle, and will be someone to watch. Edmund had a son called Henry and a son called Edmund – born in 1436 and 1438 respectively to carry on the Beaufort fight.
The Tudors – Earls of Richmond, Pembroke and Bedford
Owen Tudor (1400 – 1461) and Catherine de Valois (Henry Vth’s wife) had three sons – Edmund Tudor, Jasper Tudor – and Owen who went to be a monk and had a quiet life. After Catherine’s death
in 1437, Owen was chased around but eventually joined the King’s household. In November 1452, Henry VIth, who was fond of the family, recognised Edmund and Jasper as his uterine brothers, and the rehabilitation was complete. Edmund Tudor (1430-1456) was created Earl of Richmond, and married Margaret Beaufort, with whom he had a son, Henry. Edmund and his brother Jasper Tudor, (1431-1495), Earl of Pembroke and Duke of Bedford, tried to remain balanced in the struggle between Somerset and York, but remain loyal to Henry VIth, and use their lands in the west of Wales to support the Lancastrian cause.
The Staffords, Dukes of Buckingham
Humphrey Stafford, first Duke of Buckingham, (1402-1460) was descended from the youngest of Edward III’s sons, Thomas of Woodstock. Buckingham did not struggle to make the grade as a Duke with lands in Wales, the West Midlands and Kent. His marriage to the Westmorland side of the Neville family, and the links to the Beauforts through his mother in law also helped his connections. Buckingham had immense resources; by and large he tried to deploy them to keep the peace, but when the chips were down it was to the king, Henry, that Buckingham was loyal. Buckingham appears to be a moderate; but he couldn’t be considered a gentle sort of guy. Actually he had something of a vicious temper; he’d had a run in with John Holland – although having a run in with a Holland was hard a sign of bad temper; he’d apparently tried to stab Joan of Arc, and was to treat Cecily Neville very severely when she was under his control. His son and successor was Henry Stafford.
The Nevilles – Earls of Salisbury; and the rivalry with the Percies, Earls of Northumberland
The senior branch of the Neville family, the Earls of Westmoreland, were rather stitched up by Ralph Neville and his second wife Joan Beaufort, who displayed all the fair mindedness of the Beauforts in stitching up Ralph’s heir as Earl of Westmoreland. Westmoreland (1404 – 1484) struggled all his life to recover from the evil/formidable stepmother’s influence – but essentially failed.
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury (1400 – 1460) , though, Joan’s eldest son was a completely different story. He swept up the Montagu inheritance by marrying the sole heiress of the Salisbury clan that have been with us for so long, Alice Montagu. Traditionally, the Nevilles controlled the western Marches and the Percies the eastern, but by the close of the 1440s and into the early 1450’s Richard Neville challenged and surpassed Percy power, and became kings of the North. In 1450 the senior Percy, Henry Percy 2nd Earl of Northumberland (1394-1455), seemed content to live with Neville dominance. But Percy’s son, Henry Percy, Lord Egremont and 3rd earl of Northumberland (1421-1461), (he in turn would also have a son called Henry Percy. Not good with names) was something of a firebrand and chafed at his father’s patience. It needed a strong royal hand to keep the kings in the north under control; if that strong hand was not there, the result could be open warfare.
The Nevilles – Earls of Warwick (‘The Kingmaker’)
The Earl of Salisbury had a son, also called Richard Neville (1428-1471), who was 22 years old in 1450. By a couple of lucky deaths (!), the younger Neville inherited the massive Warwick estates of the Beauchamps, and became the 16th Earl of Warwick. Warwick isn’t really engaged in taking part in national politics at this time; taking over a large set of estates was never as easy as it sounds. There were always some folks and pesky relatives trying to eat part of the pie – a cousin called George Neville for example was claiming estates in Wales. So for the moment Warwick continued to keep his distance from national politics. But from 1455, Warwick played a more active role, attracted the emnity of Margaret of Anjou. He would acquire the title of earl of Salisbury when he father died, and would then be the classic over mighty subject.
The Hollands, Dukes of Exeter
Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter and Earl of Huntingdon (1430 – 1473). seems to have had the Holland ‘bad gene’. An ancestor, John, had run through a squire in an expedition with Richard II in Scotland because of his vicious temper, and his mother Joan had reportedly died of grief at the shenanigans of her children. Another ancestor had been beheaded by a mob for taking part in an uprising against Henry IVth. They appear to be an unbalanced lot, essentially. Henry Holland, was cruel and volatile. Unfortunately, the Hollands, estate-wise, were tiddlers. The rule of thumb for the day was that you needed at least £1,000 to be a baron or earl, and £2,000 to maintain your dignity as a Duke. Exeter’s income was only £1002 a year.Exeter felt he should be at the right hand of the king, and despite his (disastrous) marriage to Anne of York he felt no desire to support the Yorkist cause. Anne managed to get away, get divorced, and marry a knight, Thomas St Ledger.
The Mowbrays, Dukes of Norfolk
John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk (1415-1461) was a bad lad in his salad days. A substantial family, the Mowbray lands were widely distributed in over 150 properties through 25 counties, which gave them an administrative problem. They were also relative newcomers to the world of East Anglian politics, where many of Norfolk’s estates were centred, and the strength of his local power was not great; and certainly not in the face of the Pole’s, the Dukes of Suffolk. Norfolk’s priority was to build his power base in East Anglia. So his retinues wander around Norfolk making a nuisance of themselves, for all the world like some two-bit protection racket. But Norfolk had been largely excluded from national politics in the 1440s, and so never had the level of influence at court that he really needed to make his power stick – he was constantly swimming against the tide. Despite his support in the early 1450s for York, Norfolk was a trimmer; constantly trying to play the two sides off against each other, and doing his very best to avoid getting sucked in.
de la Pole, Dukes of Suffolk
Rivals for power in East Anglia, the de la Pole family rose from the merchant class in Hull (William de la Pole, who died in 1336) to be one of the great families of the 14th and 15th centuries. William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1396-1450) had of course been the first man to try to compensate for Henry VIth’s failures and paid the price of failure, with his head lying the Kent beach in a separate location to his body. He famously wrote to his son, John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (1442-1491) telling him to obey his mother and faithfully serve the king. John followed his own path – of self preservation and fence sitting, and as a result can’t be called reliable, but can be called survivor.
The Courtenays (Earls of Devon) and rivalry with the Bonville family
The Courtenays were Earls of Devon, and it had always been clear who was boss in Devon – the Courtenays. And one of their most helpful partners were the Bonville family, who knew the side on which their bread was buttered and supported the top Dogs accordingly. But by the 1440s actually,
the Bonvilles had done rather better than was comfortable. Now their income at £900 per year was pretty much the same as the Devons. Still they got along OK for a while, though with the odd growl from the Bonville dog who no longer thought of himself as quite so beta as he might once have done. But then in 1437, national politics make the mistake of blowing the whole thing up. The king appointed William Bonville (1392-1461) as Royal Steward of Cornwall. That had always been the preserve of the Courtenays. In a delightful example of incompetence, Henry VIth tried to sooth Thomas Courtenay, 5th earl of Devon, (1414-1458) by giving him a job too – sadly, the same one as the Bonville’s had. So Bonville and Courtenay went to war, and were looking for allies at a national level with the clout to help them win their local struggle for power. The fight would be picked up by sons, such as Thomas Courtenay, 3rd earl of Devon (1431-1461).
Woodvilles, Earl Rivers
If in 1436 you’d have told some bloke that the Woodville family would be a major player in national politics, he’d have laughed in your face. Richard Woodville was made Baron Rivers in 1448 and Earl Rivers in 1460 (died in 1469; we don’t know when he was born, but his father died in 1441) was not irrelevant, but as a family was down there in the 3rd division or so. His father had never been knighted, but had played a prominent role in the lives of the greatest men – the Duke of Bedford for example – and been involved in great events – such as denying Humphrey of Gloucester access to the Tower of London. Richard Woodville was a committed Lancastrian in the 1450’s, and was Seneschal of Gascony in 1450, Lieutenant of Calais 1454-5 and so on. But his real rise to power came by scandalously marrying Jacquetta of Luxembourg (1416-1472), the widow of the Duke of Bedford in March 1437; Richard Woodville and his son and successor, Anthony Woodville (1440-1483) would fight for Henry at Towton. But really, it was the marriage of Richard’s daughter, Elizabeth Woodville that would transform the family and cause all the fuss.
The de Veres, Earls of Oxford
The de Vere family came over with Billy the Conq, and Aubrey de Vere was a tenant in chief of the king. A long ancestry they might have, but a lot of money they did not – they were right down the bottom of the league, claiming in 1437 to have lands with annual income totalling only £500. Poor lambs. Vere lands were concentrated in Essex, and in the 1440s and 1450s John de Vere Earl of Oxford (1408-1462), became involved with Mowbrays in trying to work against the de la Pole’s as Dukes of Suffolk – with minor success in the long run. Actually, John de Vere was one of the trimmers, trying to keep a low profile, arriving late for the battle of Northampton that sort of thing. (oops, sorry, must have got the date wrong…). But his eldest son, Aubrey de Vere was very thick with the Queen, and John’s trimming strategy would fail dramatically in 1462.
The Clifford had long been a power in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Cumbria, with a family loyalty to the Percy family and the Nevilles. Thomas Clifford (1414-1455) was determined to build Clifford strength and influence, rather than waste his time on foreign adventures; but the rise of the Earl of Salisbury’s side of the Neville family and his rivalry with the Percies and the Neville earls of Westmoreland confused matters, but throughout Salisbury was his enemy and drove his actions. In 1454 Clifford was reported to have joined the alliance with Egremont and Exeter; though there’s no sign of specific antipathy to York. His son and successor John Clifford (1435-1461), was then driven by desire for vengeance when his father died at St Albans.