Monday, 4 February 2013

The life and death of the last Plantagenet

The young Earl of Warkwick - Edward Plantagenet
The Wars of the Roses and the dynastic power struggles that rocked England in the late fifteenth century left thousand's dead, some wholly innocent, some guilty of High treason, others simply of being the children of a "Traitor".

Edward Plantagenet was one such unfortunate.

He was born to George, Duke of Clarence who was the brother of King Edward IV and Richard Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III).

Clarence's story is deserving of a whole post on its' own so I shall come to that another time. To cut a long story short I shall say that Clarence was outmanoeuvred and executed for high treason by King Edward on 18th February 1478

Our Edward was born on 25th February 1475 at his mother's (Isabella Neville) family seat, Warwick castle. His mother sadly died on 22nd December 1476 of consumption, complications from the birth of her son Richard or, as Clarence suspected, foul play.

This left young Edward an orphan at just three years old following his father's execution.

He was styled the Seventeenth earl of Warwick from his mother's side and succeeded to the famous Warwick the kingmaker and, along with his sister Margaret, adopted by his aunt Anne Neville who was married to his uncle Richard of Gloucester.

It has been suggested by eminent historian Michael Hicks that Edward's nurse, Alice Burgh, had been the mother of one of his illegitimate children, John of Gloucester and that her post and a yearly stipend was granted as a boon for the illegitimate son. It is highly fair to assume though without source material difficult to prove, that young Warwick would have been a companion of Richard's son Edward of Middleham who was of a similar age although it appears that he was held in in quasi captivity (since he had a strong claim on the throne) at Sherrif Hutton castle in Yorkshire.

Through the chaotic period of the death of Edward IV, the disappearance of Edward V and his brother Richard in the tower and the accession of Richard of Gloucester to the throne Warwick was protected by his Aunt and by the fact his father had died a traitor thus blocking him from the throne.

However, not long into his the reign of Richard III, the 31st March 1484, his son died suddenly , aged just ten years old of Tuberculosis leaving the king without an heir. At the Queen's insistence Warwick was nominated as heir to the throne as the only direct Plantagenet male. However, when Anne died in March 1485, Richard back tracked and made John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln and son of his eldest sister heir, he was also trying to remarry in the hope of siring another son, possibly with Edward IV's widow Elizabeth or Joanna the sister of the King of Portugal.

None of this would have effected the young Warwick who was still just ten or eleven years old.

Following the battle of Bosworth field in 1485 , the young Warwick found himself locked in the Tower of London by Henry Tudor, the newly crowned King Henry VII who feared a future Yorkist plot could see him as a future puppet. Despite being reaffirmed as the Earl of Warwick in 1490 Edward was kept in veritable seclusion and forgotten by many, so much so that he was believed dead like his cousins. He had only been seen once, in 1487 when he was paraded through the streets to show that he was still alive and that Lambert Simnel was indeed a pretender. 

However, King Henry's reign was continually blighted by rebellions despite his clever politics and purges. After the pretender Perkin Warbeck's multiple aborted invasions and arrest it was suggested that Warwick and Warbeck were planning an escape from the Tower.

When he appeared before the Earl of Oxford John de Vere at Westminster on 21st November 1499 he pleaded guilty. It has been suggested that Warwick appeared simple minded however as the chronicler Edward Hall that his incarceration for some 14 years

out of all company of men, and sight of beasts, in so much that he could not discern a Goose from a Capon

and he may have been naive and unworldly. Bearing in mind he'd been imprisoned from the age of ten he may have had his eyes widened by the very persuasive Warbeck and the notions of freedom. He may have been unwilling to return to his perpetual cell or fearing murder opted for death.

He was taken to Tower Hill a week later and beheaded. Henry paid for his burial at Bisham Abbey.

The young Earl, all but forgotten by history resurfaced in popular memory last year when the French town of Angers wrote to the Queen requesting that the Crown jewels be returned to the family seat of the Plantagenets, claiming that the throne had been stolen from them and that Edward, the last Plantagenet had been murdered. The crown jewels would be displayed in the local church in recompense for Warwick's murder. I believe Elizabeth II declined.