Monday 28 January 2013

Anne and Isobel Neville – Pawns in the War of the Roses

Do you have a glamorous view of history? Do you think that the Anne and Isobel Neville lived exciting, dazzling lives or were controlled as pawns in a high risk political game? Much of how we perceive our past has been shaped by films, TV and historical novels where handsome knights romance beautiful ladies in gorgeous frocks. The reality, however, was somewhat different.  For most ordinary people, life consisted of hard work, little education, poor healthcare and hygiene and very few chances to get ahead in life. For women it was even harder, as they were viewed as possessions of their families and were married off as advantageously as possible.  Love was not considered to be a factor; even liking your future spouse was not taken into consideration in many cases.  The life of a poor woman consisted of hard work, marriage, bearing children and struggling to bring them up.  Infant mortality was high and women had large families, where sometimes very few of the children reached adulthood.

Richard III and Anne Neville, Rous Roll
Richard III and Anne Neville, Rous Roll

But what if you were a princess or born into an aristocratic family like Anne and Isobel Neville?  Surely then your life would have been more like the Hollywood movie? Not really, is the answer.  Royal and noble women in medieval times were still controlled by their family.  They would have been reared with the skills to run a large household and be a mother, but they probably had been betrothed at a young age to someone they might not even have met.  Their lives would have been more comfortable and they would have the beautiful gowns and jewels, but their lives could still be cut cruelly short by disease or death in childbirth.

So let’s have a look at the lives of these two sisters in 15th century England, who on the surface of things seemed to have had such romantic and exciting lives? Isobel and Anne Neville were both born at Warwick Castle; Isobel in 1451 and Anne in 1456.  Their parents were Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and his wife Anne Beauchamp.  The couple were to have no further children and this would be a grievous blow to the Earl as it meant that he had no heir. Girls at that time could inherit property and estates, but not carry on the title. Both of the girls spent much of their childhood at Middleham Castle in Yorkshire in the company of Richard the young Duke of Gloucester, George Duke of Clarence and Francis Lovell.  Their childhood was played out against the violent backdrop of the War of the Roses and they were both to become pawns in the struggle for the throne.

The Earl of Warwick supported the claim of Edward of York and helped him onto the throne as King Edward IV.  Edward was the elder brother of George of Clarence and Richard of Gloucester, and this is why Warwick took them into his household and was keen for them to become close to his daughters.  He was looking to consolidate his power by marrying them to the two royal princes, who at this time were still Edward’s heirs.  The Earl of Warwick became dissatisfied with his rewards for helping Edward IV gain the throne and was outraged when he married the widow Elizabeth Grey, humiliating him as he was negotiating an alliance for Edward with a French princess.  He was desperately unhappy with the amount of titles, lands and money that Edward lavished on his new wife’s family and what he regarded as the new Queen’s grasping, avaricious nature.

In 1469 Isobel was betrothed to George of Clarence.  This was against the king’s wishes as he believed that the union would bring too much power and influence to Warwick. Because of Edward’s disapproval, Warwick took the young couple to Calais where they were married on 11th July 1469 by Warwick’s brother George Neville, Archbishop of York.  The Duke of Clarence turned traitor against his brother the King and threw his lot in with Warwick and the Lancastrians who were plotting to overthrow Edward IV and restore Henry VI to the throne.

 At this time the Lancastrian forces were led by Henry VI’s wife Marguerite of Anjou, and to cement their alliance the Earl of Warwick offered his 14 years old daughter Anne in marriage to the 17 year old Prince of Wales.  They were formally betrothed at the Chateau d’Amboise with the blessing of the French king.  The Earl of Warwick had Anne’s sister Isobel in his train along with her traitorous husband George, Duke of Clarence.

However, after Anne was married to Edward, Prince of Wales, Clarence perceived this to be a snub to him and his pretensions to power.  So he threw himself on his brother’s mercy and betrayed Warwick to return to his brother’s side with his large army.  Marguerite of Anjou had been suspicious of Warwick’s motives because of Clarence’s presence, but Warwick returned to England to fight to restore Henry VI to the throne.  He was initially successful but was eventually killed at the Battle of Barnet early in 1471.
Anne Neville returned to England with Marguerite and Edward, but their army was defeated at the Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471.  Her young husband was killed and she was imprisoned along with Marguerite.   It has been argued that Richard of Gloucester was closely involved in the death of the young Prince of Wales, as he himself wanted to marry Anne. Again it has been argued that this was because he was in love with her or, more cynically perhaps, that it was because he wanted to get his hands on the estates and possessions of her late father and her mother’s vast Beauchamp inheritance. She was taken first to Coventry and then to the household of her sister and brother-in-law, the Duke of Clarence who was once more back in the Yorkist fold.

Richard of Gloucester asked his brother Edward IV for Anne’s hand in marriage, which outraged Clarence who believed that he should get the lion’s share of the Warwick estates and titles.   There is a story that Anne was either so scared of Clarence that she ran away and worked as a kitchen maid in a chophouse in the city or was put there by the Clarence to keep her out of Richard’s hands.  Richard supposedly tracked her down and placed her in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey until they could be married on 12th July 1472, with the King’s blessing.  Richard was allocated much of Warwick’s former estates after his marriage. He was also appointed Governor of the North and the young ducal couple spent most of their time at Middleham Castle.  Their only child, a son called Edward, was born there some time in 1473.

Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle

The Clarence’s first child was stillborn, but in 1473 their daughter Margaret was born and in 1475 she was followed by their son Edward.  Tragically, Isobel died the following year at the very young age of 25, probably from consumption.  After Isobel’s death, Clarence continued to plot against his brother the King and was finally imprisoned in the Tower of London.  He was executed privately there in 1478 and there is a legend that he was killed by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine.  Anne Neville, as their aunt, took his two young children into her care.  Isobel and George’s son Edward later became Earl of Warwick and Earl of Salisbury, but historians believe that he may have had learning difficulties.  After the Battle of Bosworth, Henry VII kept him in prison because of his claim to the throne and he was executed in 1499 supposedly because he had been plotting to escape with the pretender Perkin Warbeck.   Their daughter Margaret was married to Sir Richard Pole and had five children and she was allowed to take the title Countess of Salisbury.  When she was 67 year old she was charged with treason by Henry VIII and beheaded.  There is a story that she refused to lay her head on the block and that the inexperienced executioner had to strike her with his axe ten times before he managed to kill her.

Edward IV died prematurely in 1483, and after confronting the Woodville’s and declaring his two nephews illegitimate, Richard took the crown and Anne was crowned Queen and their son Edward created Prince of Wales.  Edward tragically died suddenly at Sheriff Hutton Castle in April 1484 at the age of 11.  His mother Anne was already suffering from consumption and seemed unlikely to bear another child.  Rumours apparently sprang up at the Court that Richard was planning to divorce Anne and marry his niece Elizabeth of York. When Anne Neville died in March 1485 at the young age of 28, more rumours arose that Richard had poisoned her so that he could marry a healthy young wife who could bear him an heir.  Anne Neville died in the Palace of Westminster during an eclipse of the sun. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Westminster Abbey, and there was no memorial for her until in 1960 the Richard III Society installed a bronze tablet.  Her husband, Richard III died a few months later during the Battle of Bosworth, ending the rule of Plantagenet kings in England.

So however entrancing the lives of these two women may seem to have seemed on the surface, in reality they both died tragically young, after suffering from consumption (tuberculosis).   In their short lives they had been used as political pawns first by their father, the Earl of Warwick and then by the two Plantagenet brothers they were married to.  They knew the heartache of losing children at a young age and had had to bear the grief of the deaths of many of their close relatives and companions on the battlefield or on the scaffold, including their own father and Anne’s youthful first husband. Their stories make a good historical tale, but did they have a happy, fulfilled life?

Richard III family image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Warwick Castle Image Roland Turner Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Saturday 19 January 2013

Mystery People of History - Lambert Simnel

It is said that on 24 May 1487, a youth known as Lambert Simnel was crowned as King Edward VI in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin in a bid to wrest the crown of England from the new Tudor monarch Henry VII. England in the latter part of 15th century had been torn apart by the War of the Roses, where the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions battled each other for supremacy and the crown passed back and forth between them several times.  It seemed in 1485 that when the Lancastrian Henry VII defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth that the country was at last settled politically and it was the end of the battles and turmoil.  However, the Yorkist faction had not been entirely quashed and was still eager to seize power again and put a Yorkist claimant on the throne.  But who were the surviving claimants to the throne that the Yorkists could still fight for?   Richard III’s only son Edward of Middleham had died before his father, so Richard named his nephew John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln as his heir.  However, Lincoln had come to an accord with Henry VII and seemed to have thrown his lot in with the Lancastrians. Another potential heir was the young Edward, Earl of Warwick who was the only surviving son of the late Duke of Clarence.  Clarence was the brother of both Edward IV and Richard III and he had been executed by Edward IV in 1478 for treason. After Bosworth, Henry VII removed Warwick from Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire and had him brought to the Tower of London.

Lambert Simnel in Ireland - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Lambert Simnel in Ireland

There were also still many rumours circulating that at least one of the sons of Edward IV was still alive, and was possibly in hiding on the Continent or, possibly, in Ireland. These two young princes, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York had last been seen in public when they were living in the Tower of London in 1483 prior to Richard III seizing the throne. The sightings of the two young boys had petered out and there were strong rumours that they had been murdered, possibly by their uncle, Richard III.  So it was perhaps unsurprising that Henry VII had to put down rebellions raised in favour of these supposed Yorkist claimants to the English throne.  The first of these was in 1487 and was centred on a pretender known to history as Lambert Simnel. But Lambert Simnel is one of the real mystery people of history as, for a start, we do not even know if he really ever existed.

Back in the 15th century communications were not as good as they are now and there was certainly no global news flashing information across the miles in seconds.  For information on the events happening in these tumultuous years, we need to rely on the chroniclers of the time, many of whom were writing years after the event.  It is also worth bearing in mind that history tends to favour the victors and these chroniclers were writing for a Tudor monarchy. There are several chronicles that cover this period of Henry VII’s reign and they all give out conflicting information about the youth crowned in Dublin, as some say he was a genuine pretender and some say he was an imposter. The chronicle written closest to the event was that of Jean Molinet in 1490 and Molinet stated that the Irish King was the real Earl of Warwick. The story of Lambert Simnel most commonly used today comes from Polydore Vergil’s ‘Anglica Historia’ written between 1503 and 1513 which puts forward the belief that Lambert Simnel was a counterfeit Earl of Warwick. Then Bernard Andre wrote a life of Henry VII in 1500 that stated that Lambert Simnel was an impersonator of Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower.

So let us look at the story of Lambert Simnel from the very beginning. The pretender was thought to have been born around 1477 and came from humble origins.  His real name is actually not known, as in some contemporary records he has been referred to as John and we cannot be sure that Simnel was his surname. His parentage has also been questioned, with his father being named variously as a baker, a tradesman and even an organ builder. Indeed, it has even been proposed that the character of Lambert Simnel was a fake and constructed by Henry VII as a political ruse to deflect attention away from genuine Yorkist pretenders to the throne, such as the two missing princes.  The story goes that when Lambert Simnel was a young child he was taken in as a pupil by a priest called Roger Simon in Oxford. But again we have discrepancies as this priest is sometimes also known as Richard Symonds. Apparently Simon was much struck by the similarity in appearance between Lambert Simnel and the two young sons of Edward IV and decided that he would school him in courtly manners and knowledge of the Yorkist Court so that he could be used as an imposter for one of the missing princes. It is said that he initially intended to pass him off as the vanished Richard Duke of York, but that after he heard rumours that the Duke of Clarence’s son the Earl of Warwick had died in the Tower of London, he decided to change tack. It absurd to think that a lowly priest in Oxford could possibly educate a young lad to impersonate a prince, so Simon must have been in the pay of someone important who was still adhering to the Yorkist cause, most probably the Earl of Lincoln or Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward IV.

Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin  where Simnel was crowned
Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin  where Simnel was crowned

Simon then reputedly spread a rumour that Warwick had escaped from the Tower and was now under his protection. He then took Lambert Simnel to Ireland in early 1487 where there was still a strong Yorkist faction. He managed to get Simnel presented to the Earl of Kildare who was ruling Ireland on behalf of Henry VII at the time.  The Earl of Kildare either was taken in by the imposture or chose to buy into the story and agreed to back an invasion of England based on Simnel’s claim to the English throne as the Earl of Warwick and depose Henry VII. They had Simnel crowned in Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin as King Eward VI. It has to be said that the surviving Yorkists seemed to be happy to support anyone who would help them to overthrow Henry and get a Yorkist King back on the throne. Back in England, the Earl of Lincoln, who had been Richard III’s named heir, gave his support to this plot to supplant Henry.  He fled to the court of Burgundy and both his and Warwick’s aunt, Margaret, the Dowager Duchess.  When he arrived in Burgundy he made claims that he had assisted in the Earl of Warwick’s escape from the Tower, so as to make Simnel’s story look more authentic. He also joined forces with Francis, Viscount Lovell, one of Richard III’s strongest supporters, who had been cooling his heels in Burgundy since the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Henry VII, who had already developed a good intelligence network, was made aware of these developments and started raising his army.  Henry’s trump card of course is that he knew full well that the real Earl of Warwick was still alive and well in the Tower of London.  As a grand PR stunt and to persuade his nobles, he had the Earl of Warwick released from the Tower. Warwick was then led in procession from the Tower to St Pauls and taken to the royal palace at Sheen where he could be seen regularly and conversed with by the members of the court. There is also conjecture that Lambert Simnel could have been the real Earl of Warwick and that the lad imprisoned in the Tower was the imposter.  Warwick would not have been well known at Court as he had been kept at Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire before Bosworth and then kept in the Tower of London by Henry.  Remember, in those days there were no photos to match people to and even painted portraits were not reliable likenesses. The Earl of Lincoln, who was related to the real Warwick, was thought to have been in contact with this supposed Warwick during his time at Sheen. It could be telling that it was after this meeting that Lincoln fled to Burgundy, as he would have surely recognised his cousin, and maybe he saw that this youth was not Warwick but an imposter?

Henry then took this opportunity to suspect his mother-in-law Elizabeth Woodville, the mother of the Princes in the Tower, of being implicated in the plot and stripped her of her lands and revenues, sending her to end her days in a convent in Bermondsey. He also imprisoned her son Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset for the duration of the rebellion. He offered full pardons to any of the traitors who were willing to drop their rebellion and come back to Henry’s fold. But one of the questions that needs to be asked is why would Elizabeth Woodville lend her support to Warwick, the son of the Duke of Clarence who had been her implacable enemy?  Clarence had rebelled against his brother Edward IV several times, one of the reasons being his dislike of his brother’s marriage with a lowly Woodville widow. Elizabeth had strongly supported Edward’s actions in imprisoning and then executing his brother, so why would she support his son?  Especially as her daughter was married to Henry and currently Queen of England? Surely only one of her own sons would be worth risking the security of her daughter for? So was the Irish King actually really one of her sons? Could he have been the lost King Edward V or Richard, Duke of York?

The Irish contingent that the Earl of Kildare managed to gather together was headed by Thomas Geraldine. Margaret of Burgundy mustered 2,000 Flemish mercenaries under the command of the noted military commander Martin Schwartz and shipped them out to Ireland, where they landed on May 5th 1487. Lambert Simnel and his followers then took ship and landed in Furness in the north west of England on 5th June 1487, where they swiftly found that they were joined by only a few English supporters. Most of the local nobility, cautious Northerners, held back waiting to see which way the wind blew, with the notable exception of Sir Thomas Broughton. The rebel force marched south and eventually clashed with King Henry’s army at the Battle of Stoke Field in Nottinghamshire on 16th June. It was a bloody encounter and both Lincoln and Thomas Broughton were killed in the battle. Kildare was captured by Henry, although he was not executed and returned to Ireland to rule once more. Francis Lovell vanished without trace and was never seen alive again.  Again there are discrepancies regarding the priest Simon. One version is that Simon was captured and imprisoned for life, escaping execution because he was a priest. However, much earlier, in February of 1487, a priest called Simons had made a confession in St Paul’s Cathedral that he had taken the son of an organ maker from Oxford to Ireland and when there had promoted him as the Earl of Warwick and this Simons had not been with the rebels at the battle.

King Henry VII
King Henry VII

Probably because he was only a child of 10, although some sources stated that he was 15, legend has it that Lambert Simnel was spared by Henry VII. Probably Henry did not deem him to be an ongoing political threat, so Lambert Simnel was pardoned and was placed in the royal kitchens as a spit turner. In later life it is believed that he became a falconer and that he died sometime after 1534. So Lambert Simnel is a real mystery person of history. Did he really even exist or was he just a construct of Henry VII spun to the populace for political purposes? If Lambert Simnel did exist and was the person crowned in Dublin was he an imposter? And if so, who was he impersonating? The Earl of Warwick, Richard, Duke of York, or King Edward V? Or was he genuinely actually one of these historical personages? Will we ever really know the truth about Lambert Simnel?

Christchurch Cathedral image William Murphy Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic
King Henry VII image - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Lambert Simnel image - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Sunday 13 January 2013

Mystery People of History – Francis Lovell

Francis Lovell was born in 1454 in a country that was riven by civil war; a conflict that was known as the War of the Roses.  He was the son of Joan Beaumont and John, the 8th Baron Lovell of Titchmarsh, who had sided with the Lancastrians and King Henry VI.

In 1465 Lord Lovell died leaving Francis as his heir.  He became a ward of the Yorkist King Edward IV who put him in the guardianship of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who was known as the ‘Kingmaker’.  The Earl of Warwick had massive holdings in the north of England and Francis was sent to his household at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale.  

It has widely been supposed that this is where he first met the young Richard Plantagenet, youngest brother of the new Yorkist king, with whom he would strike up a strike up an enduring friendship and fight alongside in Scotland and at the Battle of Bosworth. But this is by no means certain as Richard could have already left Middleham by the time Francis arrived.

Ruins of Minster Lovell
Ruins of Minster Lovell

All the noble young boys of the Earl of Warwick’s household would have had extensive training and practice in hunting, riding and the use of arms.  They would also have been instructed in religion, mathematics, Latin and in the art of chivalry and etiquette. Evenings would be taken up in practising dance, singing and playing musical instruments. 

Francis had inherited huge estates that included holdings all across England, including Upton Lovell in Wiltshire, Acton Burnell in Shropshire, Rotherfield and Bainton in Yorkshire and his full title at the end of his life was Francis Viscount Lovell, Lord Holland, Deincourt, Burnell and Grey of Rotherfield. 

He was to married Anne Fitzhugh, a cousin of the Neville sisters, and the daughter of Henry Fitzhugh of Ravensworth and Alice Neville. The world of the Yorkist elite was a tightly-knit one, and Anne Neville would go on to marry Richard Plantagenet who became the Duke of Gloucester and Isabel married his brother George, the traitorous Duke of Clarence.

At some point Francis joined the service of Richard, Duke of Gloucester and was knighted by him while they were on an expeditionary force in Scotland in 1480. By 1483 he had been created a Viscount. The events of 1483 were to prove tumultuous as Richard’s brother Edward IV died prematurely, leaving a young son to inherit the crown as Edward V. 

This created a battle for power between the factions of the Duke of Gloucester and the new King’s mother, the Woodvilles. Although initially appearing to support his nephew and making arrangements for his coronation, Richard dramatically seized the throne for himself, being crowned King Richard III in Westminster Abbey.
Ever loyal and rising to prominence in the new administration, Francis Lovell bore the third sword at his coronation.


Further honours were showered on him during Richard’s brief reign; he became Chief Butler of All England, Privy Councillor and Lord Chancellor of the Kings Household.  He was also created a Knight of the Garter, the premier order of chivalry in the realm.  

The important position he held is illustrated by his inclusion in the Collingbourne couplet ‘The cat, the rat and Lovell our dog rule all England under a Hog’.  The cat is William Catesby, the Rat is Richard Ratcliffe, the Hog is King Richard himself whose cognizance was the White Boar and the dog refers to a dog on the Lovell heraldic crest.

Richard III’s reign was, as was stated earlier, destined to be a short one.  Early on Francis was active in the suppression of the rebellion the Duke of Buckingham raised in favour of Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond.  Henry Tudor was the last surviving Lancastrian claimant to the throne and was a permanent black cloud hovering over Richard III's rule.  

Exiled in the Court of Brittany, he was aided by his mother, the formidable Margaret Beaufort, and the wily Archbishop Morton.  In 1485 he set sail and gave the fleet that Francis had charge of the slip, landing on British soil at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.

The opposing forces eventually met in battle at Bosworth Field on August 22nd 1485, and at first Richard III’s army prevailed. However, treachery was afoot and the tide of battle turned in favour of Henry Tudor and Richard III was hacked down and killed, the last monarch of England to be killed on a battlefield.  

Francis Lovell managed to escape the battlefield alive and fled to sanctuary at St John’s Abbey in Colchester.  In 1486 he escaped the abbey to lead a badly organised revolt against the new King Henry VII.  When this revolt was put down, he managed to escape to the court of Margaret of Burgundy in the Netherlands.

In May 1487 he travelled to Ireland to join forces with John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln and a band of German mercenaries whose aim was to topple the new Tudor monarch Henry VII off his throne in favour of a young pretender called Lambert Simnel. 

Lambert Simnel was the teenage son of a baker, who bore a striking resemblance to Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower and the second son of Edward IV.  The plans were later changed and it was decided that Lambert Simnel would impersonate Edward, Earl of Warwick instead, after a rumour circulated that the Earl of Warwick had escaped his confinement in the Tower of London.  Although they managed to reach English soil they were defeated at the Battle of Stoke in Nottinghamshire in June 1487.

Now you may be wondering what makes Francis Lovell one of the ‘Mystery People of History’? He certainly endured a disruptive childhood, with his father dying while he was young and he had also lived most of his life in the uncertainties of a civil war.  Many of his closest companions such as the two Neville sisters and Richard III had died young and in tragic circumstances.  But it was to be his ending that was to provide the mystery, for none of us really know when he died.

It was speculated at the time that he was slain during the course of the Battle of Stoke and his body was never found, but some observers saw him fleeing the fighting by swimming on horseback across the River Trent and scrambling to safety on the far side.  But he was never heard of again so where did he go after that?

Site of the Battle of Stoke 1487
Site of the Battle of Stoke 1487

Officially, after the Battle of Stoke a court was held that decided that in the absence of any firm evidence or a body, he must have fled the country and died abroad. He was declared a traitor and his lands were confiscated and handed to Sir William Stanley, who had betrayed Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

Francis Lovell’s ancestral home was Minster Lovell which had been built beside the Windrush River in Oxfordshire in 1440 by the seventh Lord Lovell and which survived until 1747 when it was torn down. Mysteriously, during building work at Minster Lovell carried out in 1708, workmen discovered a secret underground vault.  When they opened it they were astonished to find that it contained the skeleton of a man seated at a table with the skeleton of his dog at his feet surrounded by writing materials and a book. Unfortunately, the remains of the skeleton and the papers crumbled in to dust when the air was let in.

Was the skeleton that of Francis Lovell?  Did he escape the battlefield with his enemies in hot pursuit and manage to slip into his ancestral home under the cover of darkness?  Once there, not even trusting his own retainers, did he make his way to the secret chamber to wait for a time when he could make his stealthy escape and flee the country?  Or did he take one trusted servant into his secret and managed to survive for a couple of years in the hidden vault, until one day the servant no longer came to bring him food, water and fuel? 

If either tale is true, his decision to hide away cost him his life.  At what point did he realise that he was sealed in the chamber and could not escape? That lack of water and food would surely kill him?  Perhaps that is why he was at the table surrounded by writing materials; maybe he was writing down his story so that future generations would know the truth? 

Minster Lovell is said to be haunted by the ghost of a knight clad in gleaming armour and riding on a snowy white horse. Is this the phantom of the tragic young Sir Francis Lovell eternally riding back to find refuge in his ancestral home? 

Francis’s is not the only mysterious story from Minster Lovell, as legend has it that some time during the 16th century a youthful couple were joined in marriage.  After the wedding ceremony the bride and groom suggested a game of ‘hide and seek and the young bride was chosen to hide.  

However, when the wedding party scoured the mansion to find her, no trace could be found.  The hours ticked by but there was no sign of the young bride.  The families fell to arguing between themselves and accusations of foul play started to be flung around, causing the two families to fall out.  It was not until the family were moving house some time later that a supposedly empty large box felt too heavy when it was lifted.  

When the box was opened they discovered the skeleton of the poor unfortunate bride.  She had obviously crawled into it and had been unable to open the lid and climb out again.  This tragic, romantic story was used by the Victorian Thomas Haynes Bayley as the basis of his ballad ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ written in 1884.

So what do you think?  Did Francis Lovell manage to flee abroad and die there?  Did he manage to get away from the battlefield only to die in some lonely forest or cave, with his body never being found?  Or was it even his skeleton in that secret vault?

Minster Lovell image Robin Drayton Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Battle of Stoke Image Peter Mattock Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic