Before we can consider the Staffords’ dilemma, though, I think we need to go back a step and understand the political situation. Seriously there can be few periods of greater political turmoil than 1468 to 1471 – it competes with 1066 and all that. It starts with the Warwick’s ego, which was the size of a barn door. He had some right to feel offended by Edward IV’s cavalier treatment of him over the new found queen, Elizabeth Woodville; the rest is a bit more questionable. He felt threatened essentially by the arrival of the Woodville clan, Earl Rivers, the Greys and others; and he felt threatened by the growing power of William Herbert in Wales. But Warwick’s wealth, power and status were almost unassailable; he was light years ahead of any other peer in terms of landed wealth for example. But he was a jealous guy. So after fomenting some trouble in Yorkshire, he’d fled with the fickle George Duke of Clarence, Edward IV’s brother, who then married Isabel Neville, Warwick’s eldest daughter in Calais. This was a marriage up with which Edward would not put, along also with sentences that ended with a preposition, which are of course an unavoidable outrage.
There was other trouble as well in Edward’s realm. Honestly others of the peerage were no happier about the Woodvilles. And Jasper Tudor, relentless champion of the Lancastrians was also causing trouble. In 1464 he’d been in Brittany, where he elicited the help of the Duke Francis. But by the end of that year he was part of the French king’s household of Louis XI. Louis also helped him out with men and money and as a result in 1468 Jasper was back in Wales again; Harlech castle had remained in Lancastrian hands, and Jasper went, a-raiding like a good ‘un and even managing to capture the castle at Denbigh – where he held court in King Henry’s name. But Jasper’s time was limited – the new power in Wales, William Herbert, took Harlech by August 1468, quite possibly with the young Henry Tudor by his side, and Henry’s uncle was forced once more to flee the realm. No doubt he’d have heard that Herbert was soon granted Jasper’s title as Earl of Pembroke, just to rub the salt into the wounds, as you do. Jasper returned to France there to work for the French Alliance.
In France also, in a separate court Koeur at St Mihiel in North Eastern France sat the Queen, Margaret of Anjou, desperately politicking with Louis XI, and with the Duke of Burgundy. She was having very little luck; Louis now desperately wanted an alliance with Burgundy, but Edward IV was pursuing Burgundy too, and Queen Margaret was left out in the cold, running an impoverished household of up to 200 on a shoestring – as poor as a church mouse, and it was a poor look out.
While Queen Margaret struggled relentlessly for the rights and future of her son, Edward, Warwick and Clarence visited war on their homeland and their king, setting sail as quickly as possible after the wedding to strike while the iron was still nice and toasty. And therefore through their boldness, the king of England Edward was caught with his hose around his ankles, but Edward called for re-inforcements and the faithful William Herbert answered the call, bringing the 12 year old Henry Tudor with him from Wales, seeking to join up with Edward at Nottingham. He wasn’t far away, close to Nottingham when he reached a place called Edgecote Moor. Sadly he had been found first by forces loyal to Warwick – possibly led by Robin of Redesdale. A battle took place, and the Welsh were routed, William Herbert and his brother were both captured and taken in front of Clarence and Warwick. Now that pair of rebels had issued a proclamation before they left Calais, condemning the Woodvilles, but also condemning Herbert. So it is unlikely that Herbert was expecting a positive outcome. As befits the new spirit of viciousness that the WORs had brought, he and his brother were summarily executed.
Edward was in a jam, and his soldiers knew it. His soldiers suddenly began to realise that they really had something pressing to attend to at home, that set of shelves they’d been promising to put up for ages, the share plough they needed to beat out from a sword. And so they melted away, and Edward found himself in the hands of the rebels, Warwick and Clarence, and incarcerated in Warwick castle. Warwick would seem to have grasped power between both hands and was unassailable. But Before long, he was to find that power is a slippery thing, and in victory lay ultimate defeat, but we’ll come to that.
Margaret and Stafford were at home when the news of Edgecote reached them. They knew nothing more – nothing of what had happened to Henry or his protector Herbert. Visions must have risen to Margaret’s mind of her son’s mutilated body or some such, and a messenger was despatched to find out more with all haste. As yet there was little to discover until they were contacted by one Richard Corbet. Corbet had apparently come to the rescue of the lad, and brought him to south Wales and the castle of Anne Herbert, William’s widow; her husband had also urged his wife to betroth Henry to their daughter Maud, desperate for the blood of Edward III in their veins – but that was never to happen. However, the great news was that Henry was physically safe for the future, though obviously that safety would have felt very temporary once the news reached them that Edward IV had been taken by the rebels. What future for Anne Herbert? And so, what future for Henry?
It is at this point that Margaret probably panicked, and while I am personally a fan of panicking hard and panicking early, and Woody might well have identified this point as the perfect time to panic, a bit of coolness and patience would, with 20/20 hindsight, have done Margaret greater good. Essentially, they wrote Edward off, and rushed to talk to the new masters, Clarence in particular. She and Stafford travelled to London to find Clarence, presumably to find him and beg for Henry’s release. Edward watched, noted, and made an entry in the little black book of his mind. The attempt led nowhere anyway for the moment – Clarence was in Yorkshire, at Middleham.
None the less Margaret’s quest continued; she would surely be in a stronger position if she could winkle Henry from Anne Herbert’s hands – a meeting was arranged with Anne’s lawyers in London at the Bell Inn on Fleet Street – there’s a record of a meal of cheese, bread and mutton with ale. Margaret and Stafford turned up in person – but nothing doing – Henry stayed with Anne.
The thing is, Warwick and Clarence had not given enough thought to the aftermath of their violence – how often is that the case? Really hate it or loathe it, the Medieval state did not work without a king, and try as they might they could not keep Edward and his royalty apart; support for Edward grew, and within a few months Warwick had been forced to accept they must make the best of a bad job; and be reconciled to their king. Edward was gracious enough not to try to destroy them, which I suspect he might come to regret, but let’s see,
Well, Stafford and Margaret again were faced with the kind of dilemma with which so many were faced. The nobility of England had four choices – York, Lancaster, hiding in a hole or trying to run with the hare and hunt simultaneously with the hounds. Many did manage to dig a hole deep enough, but it was hard, and Stafford probably realised that his absence by the side of the king when in extremis, and the running straight to Clarence had marked his card, and not for the first dance either. He rushed now to Edward’s side to try to repair the damage; but when his younger brother John Stafford was made Earl of Wiltshire and Henry Stafford passed over, well you didn’t have to be Daniel to read the writing on the wall, he might well be in the Lion’s den.
Things were to get worse before they could get better. Warwick and Clarence now recognised the essential boob at the heart of their strategy. And ignoring their promises of fidelity, they now once more fomented rebellion, and for once in the affairs of human history the eyes of England turned to Rutland, Multum in Parvo, England’s smallest country and now England’s largest retirement homes. The eyes looked there because the Welles family had raised the banner of rebellion against York; Richard Welles was the son of Richard Welles the Lancastrian who had fought and died at Towton, and now he threw off the shackles of the loyalty he had sworn to Edward, and with his son Robert raised an army in Lincolnshire to march south to try and meet Warwick and Clarence at Leicester.
Near Empingham in Rutland, Edward IV met the rebels – and gave them a good thrashing. As his men charged the Welles’ line, the Welles’ line made a unilateral military decision and legged it. As they went, legend has it that they threw aside their coats with the colours of Clarence and Warwick – earning the battle the title of the Battle of Loosecoat field. Robert and Richard Welles were executed. Letters were found confirming the complicity of Clarence and Warwick – I had understood they were found in someone’s helmet, which made me wonder if knights popped their sandwiches and pickle in there for safekeeping too, but I’ve not seen the story referenced again so maybe it’s apocryphal. Anyhow, facing a new reversal, the two bad boys at Leicester took the fast train to the coast.
Now, The Welles, as you may remember were related to Margaret by marriage, through her Mother, Margaret Beauchamp. The executed Robert was her stepbrother; and Margaret Beauchamp was strongly suspected as having colluded in the rebellion. Edward chose to pardon her as it happens – but you can see, I would think, that none of this helped Margaret and Stafford’s reputation for trustworthiness. And loyalty to the Yorkist cause.
Well, just when you think things could get no more extraordinary, it was that in 1470 we get the peak of extraordinariness, genuinely nuclear levels of extraordinariness. Clarence and Warwick fled to Louis XI and the French court. And there, Louis introduced them to someone who really, really wanted to see both of them with a large iron spindle inserted bottom to head, and turning gently in front of a mighty cooking fire. I speak of Queen Margaret, Warwick and York’s sworn enemy. The walls of the room in which they met were covered with the flies of future historians. But despite the mutual hatred, both knew that the other was their greatest and possibly last chance to win the game of power in which they were engaged. And so, Clarence and Warwick declared for King Henry VI. Louis XI clapped his hands with joy as England writhed in chaos and agony. The deal was signed in true medieval fashion Anne Neville daughter of Warwick was married to Prince Edward, son of Queen Margaret and Henry VI.
OK so far? There’s more then. Edward was in the north when he watched with horror as Warwick once more demonstrated his genius. With him was Jasper Tudor – once more relentless in his determination to put his previous defeats behind him, and once more bring the Lancastrian cause to success. Whatever you might say about Jasper, in a world of constant treachery and general unreliability, Jasper was utterly constant in his loyalty. Jasper split from Warwick and Clarence after they landed at Dartmouth and headed for Wales, now a vacuum of magnate power. Once more Edward saw power turn to Malmsey wine in his hands, and his soldiers once more decide that DIY was more important than fighting for the Woodvilles and the king that supported them; or more like, to be honest, they made a practical decision based on the odds and slung their collective hooks to save their lives and families. Oh good golly miss Molly, Edward was heard to mutter – and then he, William Hastings, Earl Rivers and Richard, brave, loyal and true younger brother Richard Duke of Gloucester that is fled for Flanders. They fled to Flanders because of course it was the property of the ancient enemies of France and allies of England – the Duke of Burgundy, married to one of the many powerful women of the age, Margaret of Burgundy, Edward IV’s sister, whose support for the fortunes of her house were as fierce as were those of Margaret of Anjou were for Lancaster.
Meanwhile back at the ranch it looked for a while s though the game was run. Warwick arrived in London to general acclaim, and released poor Henry from the Tower. He did not cut an impressive figure, but he was once more king, if in name only, and this was called the Readeption. Warwick was truly a maker of kings, and must have felt jolly smug. He called a parliament for November 1470, and prepared once more to rule. This time there’d be no argy bargy with a forceful king, Henry VI would do as he was told, although Queen Margaret would probably be a different matter when she arrived.
Now, Margaret and Stafford had followed a policy of accommodation with Edward, and it’s fairly clear Margaret had no great objection to Edward despite her loyalties to Jasper Tudor and the Lancastrian side of the family through her mother, as long as she could keep her son safe, and his rights clear. But equally, there appears to have been no great love there either – and as soon as Henry was back on the throne, Margaret again, went to treat.
At the end of October 1470, Margaret’s cup must have flowed over – for Jasper Tudor appeared in London. And he had a young lad in tow – Henry Tudor, taken by Jasper in Wales from Anne Herbert. For a happy few weeks, mother and son were once more re-united, and it must have felt good, the end of an era and the start of a new. On 27th October, they were given the greatest of honours for the time, called into the presence of the King, and this became a meeting of legend, largely drawn from the writings of the Chronicler Andre. The legend was that Henry VI prophesised that Henry Tudor would be king once day – at which point, if he’d heard of it, his son Prince Edward would presumably have said ‘oh great, thanks s bundle Dad’. Honestly, the story sounds like tripe. None the less, the story stuck.
Margaret was now part of a winning team; she, Jasper, Stafford and the King’s chamberlain met and wined and dined happily, and Henry Tudor was to be made ward of the ever loyal and reliable Jasper. But first Henry and Margaret returned to Woking Palace for two hopefully blissful weeks in each other’s company, and toured round the local countryside, including, I am interested to note, a visit to Henley on Thames. On 11th November 1470, Jasper and Young Henry took leave of Margaret, hopefully just for a short period, to return to Jasper’s hood of Wales, and to the Earldom of Pembroke to which he’d been re-appointed.
Margaret continued to throw herself happily into this new regime, which surely suited her basic loyalties better – and her Husband Stafford does not seem to have resisted too hard, despite the clear loyalty of the Stafford clan to York. On 27th November, Clarence finally met with Margaret at Baynard’s Castle in London; and there Margaret begged for Clarence to relinquish the title of the Earl of Richmond to her son; it was in Margaret’s view, her son’s birthright. Blood, stone – both spring to mind. Clarence wasn’t in the habit of giving things up. He refused.
Still, apart from that all seemed set fair. Before long, presumably Queen Margaret and her son would return to England from France, and put some steel in Henry VI’s backbone. With Warwick seemingly all powerful and omnicompetent, it seemed a corner had been turned, and Margaret could look forward to a happy future.