Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Letter from the King

Armorial of Henry VI of England
Enjoying a book on Wales in the War of the Roses, I searched in sources cited for this interesting letter addressed to some of my ancestral families. I was fascinated to find the text of the letter from the King, Henry VI, the ill-fortuned and sometimes mentally ill son of the great Henry V and Catherine of France (who later had children by Owen Tudor). This was in the initial stages of the War of the Roses. As I've noted previously, the English and Welsh in the Marches were all over the place switching sides between York and Lancaster. It complicated matters that the Welsh Tudors were half-brothers or nephews to the Lancastrian kings. The Tudors eventually won creating a new dynasty by fusing the red and white roses in marriage, but not before a lot of confused alliances - the very nature of a Civil War. But here's the basic chronology for context of the 1460 letter:

1422-1461  Henry VI (Lancaster)  
1461-1470  Edward IV (York)
1470-1471  Henry VI (again)
1471-1483  Edward IV (again - no wonder this gets confusing)
1483-1483  Edward V (York - allegedly done in by Uncle Richard) 
1483-1485  Richard III (Shakespeare's Yorkist villain)
1485-1509  Henry VII (Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, father of famous Henry VIII)

Battles or Engagements (relevant period):
1459-10-12  Ludlow Bridge (Principally a Yorkist retreat with a lot of switching sides)
1460-07-10  Northhampton (Yorkist victory with some Lancastrians switching sides)
1460-12-30  Wakefield (Bad loss for the Yorkists with some beheadings)
1461-02-02  Mortimer's Cross (Big Yorkist win - Herberts & Vaughans prominent)
1461-           and the beat goes on another twenty-some years. . . .

I stop with Mortimer's Cross because it happened out on the Marches in Herefordshire. It was a significant turning point in the Wars leading to the crowning of Edward IV, good buddy of the Vaughans and the Herberts. How do I know? We found this modern rendition by artist Tony Barton in 15th-Century style that graces the restored Great Hall of the Vaughan's seat at Tretower:

Please note Herbert and Vaughan right next to the future Edward IV
Of course this would be from Roger Vaughan's perspective from his Great Hall
The three "stars" are a sun-dog or parhelion that appeared before the battle
claimed by the Yorkists as a divine sign for their side.
The Latin banner on the flag translates (I think):
"Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?" Maybe a 15th Century WWJD? (fail)
Back to the letter written in Henry VI's waning days as king (even if he did come back for a brief time later). This was right in the period of all the side-switching between the battles of Northhampton and Wakefield. The letter appears to be a plea from the king for some assistance in the Marches and Southern Wales where the families of Herbert, Devereaux, and Vaughan were prominent. However, based on the occurrences at Mortimer's Cross and as pictured above, our guys had thrown their lot with the Yorkists. There is a sad ending to this, at least for Roger Vaughan, but we'll save that for another time.

[As you read through the letter, it helps to sound out the words of the sometimes odd Middle English spelling to arrive at a closer approximation of how we understand them. I have tried to render the most difficult into modern English. The letter was found here.]
Letter from the King to Sir William Herbert knight, Walter Devereaux and Roger Vaughan, esquires, dated 17th August, 38 Hen. VI, 1460
By the King,
TRUSTY and welbeloved, We have understande by credible reporte made unto us nowe late, howe that dyvers persones w'oute oure wille or comaundement and expressely contrarie to our lawes and pees, usurp and take upon thaym to vitaille [victual, supply] and fortifie dyvers castelles places and strenghthes in our contree of Wales and over that make grete assembles routes and gaderying of people in riottouswyse, wherby olesse [unless] than it were sone purveyed for the ceessyng therof grete hurt and inconvenience is like to ensewe both to our said countrees of Wales and to al this oure lande, that God forbede. Wherefor, we in eschewing alle suche hurtes and perilles, wylling oure lawes and pees be kept and oure trewe liege people to lyve in goode reste and pees w'oute any undue vexacon [vexation] or trouble, wol desire and praye and nevthelesse straitely charge you and ev'iche [every each]  of you and thereto by thees oure ires [angers] yeve [give] you ful auctoritee and power that in alle possible haste after the sight herof ye putte you in effcuel [effectual?] devoire [respect, duty] and diligence by alle waies and meanes possible to rep'sse [repossess] and subdue alle thoo persones of what astate condicon or degree soever that be that in fourme above reherced take upon thaym or p'sume to make any such gaderyng routes or assemblees or any castelles places or strengthes vitaille or fortifie in anywise. Not oonly letting thaim of thaire purpos in that behalf; but also puttyng such as ben leders pryncipall doers and stirrers of thaym in seure holde and kepinge, so to remaigne and dwelle unto the tyme ye have knowlach from us what shal be doo furthermore for thaire punysshment in that partie, olesse than ye can w'oute daungier or perille seurly bringe or sende thaym to us, the whiche if ye maye we wol ye so doo. And moreove that by youre grete pollices and wisedom and such meanes as ye thinke wol best []ve therto; ye take al mane such castelles places and strengthes into our handes and seurely kepe thaym to oure use tyl we have ordeigned othrwise for the kepineg and rule therof. Besides this yeving [giving] in straite comaundemente on oure behalf as we soo do by thees p'sent [r]es [?] to alle mane shirrieff  maires [mayors] baillieff counstables officers and alle other oure lige people in thoo contrees and ech of thaym as the cas shall require diligently to assiste favour helpe and entende you and ev'iche of you in the execucon of the p'misses and ev'iche of thaym, and that ye and thai ne noon of you faille not herein as oure parfite [perfect] trust is on you and as ye desire to be recomended of goode and diligent obeissance and to stande in oure espial favo' and grace and have a singular thanke of us. Yeven [given] at Westminster the xvij day of August.
To oure trusty and welbeloved William Herbert knyght Waultier Deveros and Rogier Vaghan squyers and to everich of thaym. 
Well, so much for "goode and diligent obeissance." Unfortunately for poor Henry VI, the message of the letter fell flat on Yorkist ears.



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