Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Crisis Deepens

With two men proclaiming themselves his successor, Henry VI’s mortal remains arrived in London on 1 September 1453 with his half-brothers and his grieving wife leading the precession. His body lay in state at Fulham Palace that night then the next day proceeded to Westminster Abbey for his funeral and burial. Thomas Kempe, Bishop of London, presided and all in attendance waited during the eulogy to whom Bishop Kempe declared to be Henry VI’s successor. The bishop was the nephew of John Kempe, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and staunch supporter of the court party. The Archbishop Kempe, a politician first and hardly a bishop, had answered Somerset’s summon to Barnet and openly supported his claim to the throne. The Bishop of London, however was smart enough to know the city of which he presided over and wanted to keep his life, thus he pronounced neither Somerset or York as King during the eulogy. Henry VI was interred next to his favorite saint, Edward the Confessor, and London remained at peace for the moment.

Throughout September and into October, the two claimants demanded the other submit to them and by the end of the month had attained the other. Some nobles and magnates started to align themselves with either the House of York or House of Beaufort, by person or proclaiming it in nearest cathedral. The court party quickly supported Somerset, the two most prominent were the Earls of Oxford, John de Vere, and Ormond & Wiltshire, James Butler, and with them most of the bureaucracy of the Kingdom was at Somerset’s quick disposal. After Norfolk’s public support, York was soon joined by the Earl of Devon and Baron Cobham who had joined him in his 1452 campaign for reform as well as his brother-in-law, Viscount Bourchier, at Tewkesbury. Then news that Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and his son the Earl of Warwick, also named Richard, had proclaimed their support of York quickly sent their rivals in the North, the Percy clan headed by the Earl of Northumberland, over to support Somerset.

While others were putting their support behind either claimant, in hopes of power and influence, some nobles and magnates couldn’t make up their minds. An interesting case was Henry Holland, the Duke of Exeter, who was a descendant of John of Gaunt and possible claimant to the throne but also married to York’s oldest daughter. Exeter was strangely silent and noncommittal to the annoyance of his wife. Henry VI’s half-brothers, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, stayed in London with their sister-in-law Margaret, who had gone into sanctuary in Westminster Abbey feeling her life threatened in London. But the biggest seemingly neutral magnate was Humphrey Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham. A descendant of Edward III, Buckingham liked neither claimant and remained in his castle however he had learned that his son, the Earl of Stafford was going to go to Barnet to support Somerset. But after the Nevilles had joined York, Buckingham believed Somerset needed a miracle and stopped his son by holding him as a virtual prisoner until an undisputed King was acknowledged.

As the succession crisis continued into November all of England, both noble and common alike, could feel that a war was coming as neither claimant was backing down. It was only a matter of time when fighting would begin, even if it was winter. Then William Neville, Baron Fauconberg, sent word to his brother and nephew that the Earl of Northumberland had gathered a force and was marching south from Alnwick towards the city of York. The Earls of Salisbury and Warwick were both in Middleham gathering soldiers for the Yorkist cause when they received Fauconberg’s message and quickly marched north to meet the Percies. The two forces raced toward the city of Durham, though the Percies arrived first it was only an hour before the Nevilles did so as well, however it was just before night fell on 13 November and the two forces camped outside the city which had been barred by Robert Neville, the bishop of Durham, brother and uncle to the commanders of the Neville forces. For all in and around Durham that night, it was a night of unease.

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