Richard III's 'Beloved Cousyn': John Howard and the House of York

Richard III's 'Beloved Cousyn': John Howard and the House of York

by John Ashdown-Hill

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In 1455 John Howard was an untitled and relatively obscure Suffolk gentleman. Thirty years later, at the time of his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field, he was Earl Marshal, Duke of Norfolk, Lord Admiral and a very rich man (and his direct descendant is Duke of Norfolk today). How had Howard attained these elevations? Through his service to the House of York, and in particular to King Richard III during the setting aside of Edward V. John Ashdown-Hill examines why Howard chose to support Richard, even ultimately at the cost of his life; what secrets he knew about Edward IV; what he had to do with the fate of the 'Princes in the Tower;' and what naval innovations, hitherto ascrided to the Tudors, he promoted. Based on original research and containing previously unpublished material, Richard III's 'Beloved Cousyn' is an important contribution to Ricardian scholarship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752486710
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 05/30/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 753,931
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

John Ashdown-Hill is a historian and a member of the Royal Historical Society, the Society of Genealogists, the Richard III Society, and the Centre Européen d'Etudes Bourguignonnes. The author of The Last Days of Richard III, he has been heavily involved in the DNA testing of Richard III's remains. He is also the author of Eleanor, the Secret Queen; Royal Marriage Secrets; and The Third Plantagenet. He has appeared on NPR and the Smithsonian Channel as an expert on Richard III.

Read an Excerpt

Richard III's 'Beloved Cousyn'

John Howard and the House of York

By John Ashdown-Hill

The History Press

Copyright © 2012 John Ashdown-Hill
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-8671-0


A Suffolk Gentleman

... they seid to me they wolde have [Chaumberleyn], but not Howard, in asmeche as he hadde no lyvelode in [Norfolk].

John Jenney, 1455

On 10 December 1455 an untitled and relatively obscure Suffolk gentleman received for the first time an official commission from the government of Henry VI. His name was John Howard and, since he was the fifth known member of his family to bear that name, we shall call him John Howard V. Although Howard's family origins amongst the Suffolk gentry clearly made him eligible to serve on government commissions of the peace, or of array, and although he had for some years been old enough for such nominations, none had ever previously been addressed to him by the crown. From the point of view of the Lancastrian regime, Howard was tainted by the wrong associations. In the ongoing dispute between the Mowbray dukes of Norfolk and the de la Pole dukes of Suffolk, John Howard's family connections and personal commitment placed him on the wrong side.

Thirty years later, on 22 August 1485, John Howard V was killed at the battle of Bosworth, fighting for the house of York against the Tudor invader who pretended, not very convincingly, to represent the claims of the house of Lancaster. By then, Howard was a wealthy man. Under the Yorkist dynasty he had risen through the ranks of knight, admiral and baron. He was several times a peer, Earl Marshal of England and Duke of Norfolk, and he died commanding the vanguard of his sovereign's army. In the course of those thirty years the change in Howard's status had been tremendous, and his influence and patronage had grown enormously.

Those years had witnessed Howard's transformation into a 'new magnate'. In the power vacuum left by the ineffectuality of his Mowbray kinsmen, the dukes of Norfolk, the eclipse of the de la Poles (earls and dukes of Suffolk), and the ultimate flight of the de Veres (earls of Oxford), Sir John Howard first became the dominant lord in Suffolk (rather as Sir Thomas Montgomery did in neighbouring Essex). However, Howard ultimately rose even higher. From a position in which he played a key but regional role in the eastern counties, he became a figure of national importance. In serving the house of York, John Howard also became one of the principal figures shaping that dynasty's future: he built Edward IV's navy; lawyers whom Howard retained subsequently went on to serve the royal family; he acted as a diplomat between Edward IV and the Burgundian and French courts; he even touched on the most private aspects of Edward IV's life, serving as an intermediary for the enigmatic Eleanor Talbot, and having close links with the Shore family.

Enjoying the trust of both Edward IV and Richard III, and closely linked by ties of blood and friendship with both the Mowbray and Talbot families, Howard ultimately became a leading player in the dramatic events which marked the final years of Yorkist rule in England. The decision which he made in the summer of 1483 to support the accession of Richard III in the face of the rival claims of Edward IV's children, the probable reasons for that decision, and Howard's role in the events which followed, are all vital pieces of evidence in a complex jigsaw puzzle, the complete pattern of which has yet to be fully comprehended. The true significance of Howard's part in these dramatic happenings has never hitherto been properly documented or understood.

John Howard V's date of birth is not recorded, but when he received his first commission in 1455 he was at least thirty years old, and had been married for twelve years or more to Catherine de Moleyns, a baron's daughter who had already borne him six children. During the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries his Howard forebears had risen from humble beginnings in north Norfolk. Like the Pastons later, their route to worldly success was initially via a legal career. From simple beginnings the early fourteenth-century Howards established themselves in a small way as members of the local landed gentry. It had been John Howard III who, as a result of his second marriage to Alice, daughter and heiress of Sir William Tendring of Stoke-by-Nayland, settled the family in Suffolk.

John Howard V was something of a hybrid. His grandfather, Sir John Howard III, had made a very good first marriage, and a second marriage which at least left its descendants (of whom John Howard V was ultimately the chief) in possession of a little landed property. Sir John Howard III figures in the Suffolk records of the first decades of the fifteenth century as a man of some local consequence. However, his second son, Sir Robert Howard II, was a relatively minor knight of no great lineage or achievements, who died comparatively young and who figures scarcely at all in national and local records – though like some of his ancestors and successors, he was a naval commander. In fact, Robert Howard II's one towering achievement in terms of his family's future was his marriage. His wife, the mother of John Howard V, was Lady Margaret Mowbray, one of the daughters of Thomas Mowbray, first Duke of Norfolk, and descendant of Edward I.

We know neither the date of Margaret's birth nor that of her marriage to Robert Howard. However, Margaret's father died in 1399, so she must have been over twenty years old when she married Robert, who was her first husband. It seems certain that she married relatively late and somewhat beneath her. It has been asserted that there is some evidence of a frosty relationship between Lady Margaret and her mother, Elizabeth Fitzalan, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and that this may well indicate that Margaret married against her mother's wishes. In fact, the evidence for this assertion is somewhat controversial. But Robert Howard's inferior status cannot be questioned. It is not even certain that he had received knighthood prior to his marriage, for he appears in the Colchester Borough records in 1418–19 untitled. Indeed, his elder half-brother, John Howard IV, seems never to have attained knightly rank. Robert's father, Sir John Howard III, figures frequently in deeds of the 1430s from Stoke-by-Nayland. Although details of the collateral Howard pedigree are not clear, Sir Robert Howard probably had cousins in varying degrees, whose descendants play a minor role in the story of the dynasty. A William Howard is mentioned at Stoke-by-Nayland in 1471, and a John Howard, who is not one of those shown on the family trees published here, occurs in Colchester records of about the same period. There is also one obscure mention of a priest, 'Howard's son', where it is not clear which Howard is meant.

Robert Howard's and Margaret Mowbray's son, the young John Howard V, was probably born in or around 1422. He gravitated naturally into the entourage of his maternal uncle, John Mowbray, second Duke of Norfolk. Later he also served his cousin, the third Mowbray duke, and finally his cousin's son, the fourth (last) Mowbray duke. Despite the fact that he occupied a position of power and influence in the Mowbray retinue during the minority and young adulthood of the fourth Mowbray duke, the thought can scarcely have entered his head that one day the Mowbray line would be extinct, and that he himself would succeed to the dukedom of Norfolk. Nevertheless, John Howard's life story represents a tale of steady, if somewhat slow progress to that unexpected pinnacle.

For many years he was a simple esquire. Being in the orbit of the Mowbrays, he was drawn with them into the service of their cousin, Richard of Cambridge, Duke of York. One can therefore argue that John Howard was virtually born a Yorkist. At any rate, neither he nor anyone else (including the government of Henry VI) seems ever to have been in much doubt as to where his probable loyalties would lie. By 1460, if not before, John Howard was personally acquainted with York's eldest son, the young Edward, Earl of March. Their names occur together as feoffees in a deed of 27 August 1460, relating to a messuage and lands in Higham and Stratford St Mary, Suffolk. Shortly after the date of this feoffment, when the Earl of March attained the throne as Edward IV, it was only natural that John Howard, as one of the supporters of the new dynasty, should also rise in rank. On 28 June 1461, at Edward IV's coronation, Howard was knighted. Edward IV, who employed him regularly, would later (late 1469 or early 1470) create him Baron Howard. Later still, in 1483, Edward's brother, Richard III, raised him to the dukedom of Norfolk, thereby founding a new ducal dynasty which has lasted to the present day.

It is tempting to speak of the relationship which grew up between Howard and the Yorkist princes as one of friendship, and this is a point to which we shall return later. There is certainly evidence that Edward IV generally favoured him, though the relationship was perhaps not without its ups and downs, as we shall discuss in due course. For the moment, however, let us merely observe that Howard and the king were by no means of an age. Howard was twenty years Edward's senior, and although he was some ten years younger than the Duke of York, Howard was certainly old enough to have been Edward IV's father, since his own eldest son, Thomas Howard, was about Edward's age. We shall return to this age gap in Chapter 4, when its possible implications will be more fully explored.

The relationship between Howard and Edward's younger brother, the future Richard III, has also been spoken of in terms of friendship, and again, there is certainly evidence of the trust reposed in Howard by Richard. But here too, it is very important to bear in mind the age gap between the two men. As we shall see in Chapter 4, in Richard's case Howard may well have been perceived by the young royal duke as something of a surrogate father-figure – a role strengthened, perhaps, by Howard's close ties of service to Richard's mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.

It was probably early in the 1460s that John Howard was appointed Cecily Neville's steward in respect of the honour of Clare. There was a significant degree of overlap between those who served Cecily Neville, those who served the Mowbrays, and those who served John Howard. This is particularly noticeable in respect of the retention of legal advisers. Although it is difficult to be certain which of the three first employed (and subsequently recommended) such lawyers and other servants, it is clear that exchanges and recommendations did take place. These issues are examined more fully in Chapter 3.

Sir John Howard V remained intimately linked with the house of York and its fortunes throughout the Yorkist period. In 1470, when Edward IV was forced to seek refuge in the Low Countries during the Lancastrian Readeption, Howard's power and influence in the eastern counties was at its nadir. Some of his close associates from the Mowbray entourage accompanied Edward IV into exile, however, Howard himself remained behind in England, taking sanctuary at St John's Abbey in Colchester, together with one of Lord Hastings' brothers. Neither Howard nor his cousin the Duke of Norfolk (who was forcibly detained at this time in London by the Earl of Warwick) was on hand to offer personal support when Edward IV and his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, tried to land at Cromer, in Norfolk, on Tuesday evening, 12 March 1471. Nevertheless, the Duke of Norfolk slipped out of London and made his way back to the eastern counties, to raise support for the house of York in Norfolk. Howard meanwhile emerged from his sanctuary at Colchester Abbey and in April 1471 it was reported 'that þe Lord Howard hath proclaimed Kyng E[dward] Kyng of Inglond in Suffolk'. Howard rejoined Edward in person soon after the king's return to London.

What was John Howard really like? We shall, of course, return to this point later, but it may be helpful to begin with some impression of his appearance and character. In terms of his physical appearance there are no surviving fifteenth-century representations, so for an idea of his looks we are dependent upon the work of later artists. However, the so-called 'portrait' of Howard displayed at the present Duke of Norfolk's home, Arundel Castle, is a sixteenth-century representation, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that it accurately depicts Howard's features or colouring.

Contemporary representations of Howard did once exist, but they are lost. Nevertheless, two such representations were recorded before the originals disappeared. One of these was a stained-glass representation at Stoke-by-Nayland, and the second, a similar figure at Long Melford. The original location of the Stoke-by-Nayland glass is variously reported in the surviving sources. John Weever, who in 1631 published an inaccurate engraving of this figure, described it as being in 'the east window of the private chapel of Tendring Hall'. George Vertue (1684–1756), who produced a painting of the same glass, said that it was in the parish church at Stoke-by-Nayland. It is, of course, conceivable that the glass was moved at some stage. Alternatively it may have been in the east window of the south chapel of the parish church which, to this day, houses burials of the Tendring and Howard families, and which may have been regarded as 'the Tendring Hall chapel'. A later engraving of the same Stoke-by-Nayland glass was published in James Dallaway's A History of the Western Division of the County of Sussex (1815–30). However, there is no reason to suppose that the glass itself still existed as late as the early nineteenth century, and it is therefore probable that Dallaway (or his engraver) worked at second hand, from Vertue's painting.

A second stained-glass figure of John Howard V was once among the fifteenth-century donor portraits in the windows of Long Melford Church, to the rebuilding of which Howard contributed. A lithograph of this figure, taken from an apparently seventeenth-century drawing or engraving, is reproduced in G.H. Ryan and L.J. Redstone, Timperley of Hintlesham, a Study of a Suffolk Family (London, 1931). Unfortunately, Ryan and Redstone give no earlier source for their illustration. However, the original of their lithograph so obviously reflects the style and fashions of the reign of Charles I that its value is somewhat questionable.

Previous writers seeking a representation of John Howard V have tended to favour Dallaway's nineteenth-century engraving of the Stoke-by-Nayland stained glass. However, as we have seen, it is unlikely that Dallaway (or his engraver) ever saw the original window. Vertue, on the other hand, clearly did see the original fifteenth-century stained glass at Stoke-by-Nayland. Since the earlier (seventeenth-century) copies of Howard's figure both from Stoke-by-Nayland and from Long Melford are of dubious accuracy, it seems likely that Vertue's 'John Howard' is the nearest we can now get to a contemporary representation. It is therefore George Vertue's visual image of the mature but still slim and youthful-looking Howard of the 1460s, with fair or light-brown hair, which is illustrated here.

As for John Howard's character, he undoubtedly had a sense of his own rank and importance. He was capable of displaying both pride and anger at times. In 1455 his cousin, the third Mowbray duke, put Howard's name forward as a prospective candidate for election to Parliament as a knight of the shire for Norfolk. This recommendation was opposed by the local gentry on the grounds that Howard 'hadde no lyvelode in the shire'. John Jenney, a member of the Duke of Norfolk's council, reported that when he heard of this opposition 'Howard was as wode [mad] as a wilde bullok'.

His most obvious characteristic, however, seems to have been his loyalty. Recently 'the point has been made that individual aristocrats were guided by concepts of honour and loyalty' in the fifteenth century, and that self-aggrandisement and self-interest were not their only possible motivations. Howard was consistently loyal to the last two Mowbray dukes of Norfolk and trusted by his cousins. He showed the same loyalty also to the house of York, as personified successively by Richard, Duke of York, and his sons, Edward IV and Richard III. As we shall see later, the divisions within the house of York after the death of Edward IV confronted Howard – and others – with a choice which some found difficult, between the previously accepted heir, Edward V, who was now found to be illegitimate, and his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). Howard's associate and former superior in Calais, Lord Hastings, certainly had problems with it. However, for reasons which we shall explore in due course, Howard never seems to have hesitated over whether Edward V or Richard III was the true heir of the dynasty. His loyalty seems to have been accorded to Richard from the moment of the latter's arrival in London, and was thereafter unswerving. It extended ultimately to dying at Richard's side on the battlefield of Bosworth in 1485. Howard's courage cannot be questioned. It is also clear that he was an effective military leader, diplomat and government representative at local level.


Excerpted from Richard III's 'Beloved Cousyn' by John Ashdown-Hill. Copyright © 2012 John Ashdown-Hill. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
1 A Suffolk Gentleman,
2 Black and Blue,
3 'The High and Mighty Princess',
4 Father Figure?,
5 'Trusty and Well-Beloved',
6 The First English Carvel,
7 Innovations,
8 The Howard Lifestyle,
9 My Lord Chamberlain,
10 Secrets of the King's Bedchamber,
11 The Death of Edward IV,
12 'Bastard King',
13 Ducal Progress,
14 'The King's Kinsman',
15 John Howard's Religious Life,
16 Post-Mortem Moves,
Appendix 1 The 'Gregory's' Dispute: Cecily Neville's Draft Letters,
Appendix 2 Parliamentary Representatives for Ipswich and Colchester during the Yorkist Period,
Appendix 3 1483: The Calendar of the Year of the Three Kings,
Appendix 4 Men-at-Arms of Known Origin in North Essex and South Suffolk, Contracted to Serve John Howard in the 1480s,
List of Abbreviations and Symbols,

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