It seems a shame not to share the content of some of our Group meetings as so much work goes into them and so much information comes out of them! The following reports for several of our 2015 meetings are by our Secretary Penny Lawton.
MAY DAY RITUALS AND TRADITIONS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE YORK CORPUS CHRISTI PLAYS
We decided to look into May day and other spring time festivals, concentrating on lay festivals and traditions rather than religious ceremonies and saints days, though of course, in our period, it is impossible to entirely separate the two.
Polydore Virgil relates that the Romans brought the festival of Flora to Britain. This was celebrated for six days beginning 27-8 April but the Celts already had their spring festival, Beltane in May. This was when the cattle were led out to their summer pastures. It was a fire festival which included the ritual of driving the cattle between two bonfires to protect them from disease and scattering ashes from the fires on the newly planted fields to protect the crops. There are references to the sacrifice of a lamb and a feast at which oatcakes were shared and offered to the spirits or fairies, who were widely believed, throughout the Middle Ages and later, to be responsible for disease in cattle and souring milk. The Romans protected their crops by sacrificing a dog to propitiate Robigus, the god of agricultural diseases. Many of these pagan traditions survived the coming of Christianity, not least by being in some way Christianised and incorporated.
The Christian Rogation Days have clear links with these earlier pagan traditions. Also known as "Beating the Bounds" or "Gang Days", on each of these days there would be a procession around the boundary of the parish praying for its protection. The procession carried many burning torches, echoing the earlier fire festival, as well as images of saints, reliquaries and incense. The fields were censed to purify them of disease and often also sprinkled with holy water. The major rogation is the 25th April and the minor rogations are on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday preceding Ascension Thursday, so like Beltane, Flora and Robigalia, Rogation Days are spring rituals to protect the crops.
Wells were also blessed at this time of year and decorated with flowers. The first water drawn from them after blessing was considered a particularly potent protection and remedy. The tradition of well dressing continues today in the Peak District.
Bathing or washing the face in the dew on the 1st of May was thought to bestow beauty, particularly the dew of the hawthorn, which is also known as may. It was considered a magic tree. Flowering May could be brought into the house during Beltane but to bring it in at any other time would bring misfortune. Its flowering is still widely considered by gardeners to be a reliable indicator of when it is safe to plant out tender plants.
May Day traditions included going out into the nearby woods to collect green branches and blossoms. That, it would seem, is not all they did: babies born nine moths later were often given the surnames, Jackson after "Jack-in-the Hedge" (aka Garlic Mustard); Hobson after a woodland spirit or Robson after Robin Hood. Robin Hood, with his tunic of bright "Lincoln green" is also associated with nature spirits, in particular, the Green Man.
Sir Thomas Malory tells how Queen Guinevere rode out from Westminster on May Day, to go Maying merrily. She was accompanied by her ten knights, chosen at Pentecost, all dressed in green and bearing white sheilds and ten ladies. The Queen was due to be with the older king Arthur at ten o'clock. There was a knight who greatly loved the Queen but he could not approach her because of her ten knights, especially Sir Launcelot. On this occasion however, Launcelot was not with the Queen and the amorous knight succeeded in taking her.
Guinevere may be associated with Venus or with a pagan May Queen or Mother Goddess figure. Her name means white wave or white spirit, perhaps echoing the white blossoms of spring, in particular the hawthorn which can be so completely covered in blossom that the whole tree appears white. She will not be faithful for life to one man but each season take the most worthy of those who compete for her favours.
The pagan Flower Maiden or May Queen is an aspect of the Mother Goddess, in her youth, coming to be a bride. This influence can be seen in some aspects of the cult of Mary, mother of Christ, and Bride of Heaven. One of our members can remember as a child in Lancashire, decorating the statue of Mary in her local church with flowers on the 1st May and singing a hymn which included the words or refrain:
"Mary we crown thee with blossoms today.
Queen of the angels and Queen of the May."
A particularly fine example of the Christianisation of earlier pagan traditions surviving into modern times.
The Records of the Borough of Nottingham, record expenses for an event called "The Mayor's Fishing". A bill dated 1485 lists payments for poles, packthread to tie the leads to the net, and a line to tow the net, as well as payments to fishermen and helpers. It also includes payments for fish, bread and ale "spended in the field." A later account for 1494 entitled, "Expenses made at the Mayor's Dinner", includes fishing poles but also indicates a splendid dinner, at which were served: ling, turbot, salmon, pike and eel, prepared with pepper, saffron, cinnamon, ginger, raisins, sugar, mustard, flour and salt. There were payments for bread and ale but no meat. There is no precise date in the Record to show what time of year these events took place but I would suggest Lent. I have not yet come across any records of another town or city holding a similar event, however, Edward IV is said to have died after catching cold on a fishing expedition in mid March. Going fishing is an unusual leisure activity for a medieval king but perhaps Edward was guest of honour at some similar event hosted by the mayor of London.
Another festival which took place in the spring was Hock Tide. The word probably derives from the same root as the German word "hocken" meaning "to bind": in Middle English "hocken" means "to hook". It took place on the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter. On the Monday men could capture and bind women and demand a kiss as ransom for their release. On Tuesday, women could capture and bind men, who had to ransom themselves with a payment in money, which, we are assured, went to parish funds. Hock Tide was banned by Henry VIII at the Reformation on the grounds that it encouraged public disorder but his daughter Elizabeth consented to a petition to re-instate it.
Corpus Christi was a religious feast day, instituted at the Council of Vienne in 1311 to honour the sacrificial body of Christ offered in in the Mass. However, the performances of the "Mystery Plays" associated with it were in the hands of lay people. These were amateur productions, performed by the various trade and craft guilds and the quality of the productions was a source of civic pride - and expense. The wagons had to be large; the texts of many existing plays make clear that the staging required two levels or represented two places simultaneously. Special arrangements had to be made for their maintenance and storage, as references in the York House Books indicate. Often guilds shared a pageant cart which must have required considerable organisation and scene changing. At Chester the performance was spread over three days and this may have been true of other places: the York cycle contains forty eight plays.
We looked at one of the plays from the York cycle: the famous Cucifixion, by the writer known as the York Master or the York Realist. It is an astonishing dramatic acheivement of minimalist black comedy, which still has great impact. Christ speaks only twice, quite briefly to the spectators and is otherwise silent and passive as four soldier-workmen make a botched job of nailing him to the cross and then erecting it. They talk between themselves in a matter of fact way about the job in hand; grumble about the bad workmanship; tie ropes to Christ's hand and feet and heave on them to stretch him to fit; complain about the weight of the cross with the crucified Christ when they have to raise it and repeatedly drop it before finally succeeding in erecting it. Then, job done, they quickly draw lots for his "kirtle", pick up their gear and walk off.
The feast of Corpus Christi was abolished at the time of the Reformation. Article XXVIII of the Church of England states uncompromisingly that: "Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy writ ...... The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped."
This did not however, lead to a ban on the Mystery plays, which were moved to the conveniently near feast of Whitsuntide or Pentecost, which is grounded in "holy writ". However, this move may not have been entirely due to the Reformation: the performance of the Chester cycle had moved to Witsun in 1447. There is evidence in the surviving texts of some minor revisions, to avoid anything which was directly contrary to the doctrines of the Church of England: for instance the Assumption of the Virgin, referred to in the Chester Banns, has not survived, almost certainly having been discarded at this time as being non-scriptural and the verses in the Chester Banns referring to the procession when "The blessed sacrament caried shalbe", have been crossed out.
We were impressed by how much there was going on in springtime. As one of our members observed, our ancesters did not lack for entertainment; it seems there was always something to look forward to.
MAGNA CARTA AND ITS CONTINUING IMPORTANCE IN LAW AND PARLIAMENT
This year, as every one knows, is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, on 15th June 1215. We therefore decided that for this month's (June) meeting we would look at the Charter, its historical context and continuing influence.
The Normans inherited the Saxon beaurocracy and administration which was more sophisticated than their own, indeed, it is considered by historians to be, "the most progressive and best governed system in Europe". Though the Normans ruthlessly seized the Saxons' lands for themselves, they took over their ways of organizing society, for example, the shires and hundreds and respected, or used, Saxon laws and customs.
At his coronation, Henry I, the Conqueror's son, swore to respect the existing laws and customs. Having so sworn, it seems that he then endeavoured to find out what they were, for it was Henry I who gathered together the now priceless collection of laws known as the Textus Roffensis. (There is an excellent short article by Michael Woods available on line.) The Textus goes back to about 600AD and the laws of Aethelstan, the first king of England. What it shows us is that well before Magna Carta, before the Normans, the principle was established that the king was subject to the law, first among equals and that he was expected to hold council with the leading men of the realm. They were mutually bound by the "feudal contract", an exchange of oaths, in which one man swore loyalty and service and his lord swore "good lordship" and protection. This is reflected in the coronation oaths: English kingship was feudal kingship.
Henry I's successor Stephen also confirmed that he would observe the ancient laws and customs. Stephen's successor, the hyper-energetic Henry II, had a lot of the law standardised nationwide but respect remained for local customs.
From the time of Constantine, kings had sought and obtained the blessing of the Church and an annointing which gave a sacred nature to their kingship. Political theory regarding the nature of the relationship between God, His annointed king and the law of the kingdom which God had entrusted to him, was the subject of much scholarly writing and debate in the period around Magna Carta.
In the political theory of the middle ages, true law derived from God, whether it be man's law or the law of nature. True law therefore cannot be made but only discovered and declared. Because true law derived from God, kings were subject to it as they were to God. However, there were two different interpretations of how this worked in the earthly sphere: theocratic or "divine right" kingship and feudal kingship.
John of Salisbury, an English bishop at the Papal curia, wrote, c1159, "That the Prince, although he be not bound by the ties of law, is yet law's servant, as well as that of Equity ...". This statement could describe theocratic or divine right kingship, because it states that the king is not bound by, but above that law which binds his subjects. He serves only God, Who has chosen him to rule. "Quod principi placuit, habet leges vigorem" (What pleases the prince has the force of law.)
As the Textus Roffensis shows, English kingship was a feudal kingship rather than a theocratic one. English kings may have been annointed but they swore to uphold the law of the land as well.
The famous English lawyer Bracton, (c1210-c1268) writing in the reign of John's son, Henry III, was having none of "divine right" kingship. According to Bracton, "Quod principi placuit...", was "... not what has been rashly presumed by the personal will of the king, but what has been rightly defined by the "consilium" of his magnates, by the king's authorisation and after deliberation and conference concerning it." This was the process whereby true law could be discovered; it could then be declared: "Le Roy le voet" (the king wishes it).
Bracton defined the king's position thus: "The king himself must be not under man but under God and the Law because the law makes the king ..." He went on to explain that this meant that a ruler should only be called king if he obtained and exercised power in a lawful manner. If he did not act in a lawful manner, he violated that Law which gave him his kingship. Bracton's explanation was a definition of tyranny and would be a powerful argument used to justify the deposition of kings.
"The king has a superior, namely God. Also the law by which he was made king. Also his curia, namely the earls and barons, because if he is without a bridle, that is without law, they should put a bridle on him."
By the time Bracton wrote, King John had had a bridle put on him.
Two of the most famous and lasting provisions of Magna Carta, the presumption of innocence and the right to trial are the first clauses of the "Unknown Charter", which is thought to be an early draft for Magna Carta. Archbishop Stephen Langton brought the draft, which was later found in Lambeth Palace and it was probably he who proposed that the number of knights for the council should be 25. This would be considered to be an appropriate and significant number because it is five times five and there are five books of law in the Bible.
We were struck by how practical the clauses of Magna Carta were.
Clauses 4 and 5 deal with the protection of minors in wardship: their lands and property were not to be exploited by the guardian, who may take only "what is reasonable .... without destruction or damage to men or property ... he shall maintain the houses, parks, fish preserves, ponds, mills, and everything else pertaining to it ... When the heir comes of age, he shall restore the whole land to him ..."
This issue of the abuse of the responsibilities of guardianship and exploitation of an heir's property, would resurface again in the Stuart period with the scandals of the Court of Wards.
Widows were also to be protected (clause 7) and to have their marriage portion, dower and and any inheritance "at once and without trouble ... She shall pay nothing ... " for them.
Clauses 9-11 are concerned with debts: Clause 9: "Neither we nor our officials will seize any land or rent in payment of a debt so long as the debtor has moveable goods sufficient ...."
whilst clauses 10 and 11 give protection to the widows and under-age heirs of debtors: the widow may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it and the heir shall pay no interest on the debt until he comes of age.
Clause 20, is also relevant both to fines imposed by a court and debts. A free man shall be fined in propotion to the offence, "but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise and a villein the implements of his husbandry. This is still valid today: bailiffs and debt collectors cannot take away the essential tools of a person's trade.
Clauses 17-19 established that judicial court hearings should be held in a fixed place: "Ordinary lawsuits shall not follow the royal court around but shall be held in fixed place." They also sought to ensure that justice was not delayed or denied by corrupt royal officials. Two justices would visit each county four times a year, to hold assizes in the county court, "with four knights of the county elected by the county itself" and, "No sheriff, constable, coroners or other royal officials are to hold lawsuits that should be held by the royal justices."
Clauses 39 and 40 are perhaps the best known, for these are the clauses that state basic priciples of justice:
"No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions or outlawed or exiled or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. (39)
"To no-one will we sell, to no-one deny or delay right or justice."(40)
On the face of it, clause 54: "No-one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband.", seems to deny women access to justice. However, at the time there was a specific reason for this clause: in 1215 trial by battle was a valid judicial test: God would grant victory to the innocent. So if a man was accused by another man, he could offer to prove his innocence by trial by battle but if his accuser was a woman this option was not available to him. In that case, the accused man could be imprisoned until the justices came around, which might not be for some time, even years. Apparently there had been a problem with women being used by their menfolk to bring accusations in order to have an enemy or rival of the husband, put out of the way. Whilst the accused was in prison, his enemy could attack and seize his lands and property. After Magna Carta, the number of accusations brought by women halved. However women were protected by being allowed to bring an accusation against their husbands. By the later middle ages though, women were certainly bringing cases in court. Probably the combination of holding regular quarterly court sessions to hear cases and the decline of the use of trial by battle brought this about.
In the well known Eleanor Cobham case it was decided that in clause 39, "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned ...", "men" included women, an important judgement establishing women's rights of access to justice.
Other very important clauses for establishing principles for the right administration of justice:
"In future, no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it." (38)
And, "We will appoint as justices, constables and sheriffs or other officials, only men that know the law of the realm and are minded to keep it well." (45)
Weights and measures were to be standardised, "throughout the kingdom". (Clause 35)
Although some of its clauses relate to issues specific to 1215, Magna Carta was not just a document for restraining King John, as clause 60 makes plain: "All these customs and liberties that we have granted shall be observed in our kingdom in so far as concerns our own relations with our subjects. Let all men of our kingdom, whether clergy or laymen, observe them similarly in their relations with their own men." Magna Carta applied to everyone.
The clauses of Magna Carta were widely known and have been cited and referred to many times, and in a very wide variety of cases, since it was first issued.
Welsh tenants in the thirteenth century claimed that as free men they were entitled to claim the rights enshrined in the Great Charter and it was cited in a fourteenth century complaint against a bailiff. Sir Thomas More asserted that Henry VII's reforms were contrary to Magna Carta.
The reformer and journalist John Wilkes made extensive use of it in his colourful career.
It was referred to in discussions about World War II internees and as recently as 30 April 2015, the magistrate in a tribunal court of appeal referred to Magna Carta in the context of freedom of speech and freedom of the church.
Magna Carta is more highly thought of and more widely known in the USA than it is in this country. It is considered to be the foundation of the American constitution and bill of rights. Most of the commemorative monuments at Runnymede are American. Perhaps, after this year's commemorations, that will change and British people will be more widely aware of the significance of Magna Carta. It is still relevant today: the internet is spreading its ideas, wherever freedom is under threat from despotic governments.
THE 600th ANNIVERSARY of the BATTLE OF AGINCOURT.
TWO VERY DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS OF SHAKESPEARE'S "HENRY V".
In 1944 the Allied forces were preparing for the "push" into France. Churchill wanted a film to put heart into the war weary British people. Presumably the choice of Shakespeare's "Henry V" was his, perhaps based on memories from his schooldays. The great Crispin Crispin's day speech, was the sort of thing schoolboys of Churchill's day learned by heart; the victory of the "happy few" against overwhelming odds at Agincourt seemed just the thing for 1944. But "old men forget", Shakespeare wrote a great speech but he wrote so much more than just that.
Right from the start, Shakespeare's "Henry V" must have presented Olivier with great difficulties. The film's release was timed to co-incide with the Normandy landings, (6 June 1944) and the Allied forces' push through France: Shakespeare's play is about the English conquest of France. Obviously, it had the potential to give offence - or worse, to the French. Agincourt posed other problems, not least the memories, still too vivid in 1944, of the horrors of the last war in Northern France. Yet despite, or who knows, perhaps because of, the constraints of the political situation, Olivier made a marvellous film, resolving the particular problems and demands of 1944, with originality and artistry. He made his "Henry V" the staging of a legend.
His film begins with a birds' eye view of 17th century London, closing in on the Globe Theatre, then takes us inside to where the rowdy Elizabethan audience is getting ready to watch the play. Backstage, the actors are preparing to go on, scurrying around, bumping into each other, rushing back to grab nearly forgotten props. They make their entrances to the applause, laughter and shouted comments of the audience.
The potentially problematic opening scene, setting out Henry's claim to the throne of France is played as farce, the claim garbled and made ridiculous as the two bishops mix up and drop reams of papers, tripping over each other and drawing gales of laughter from the Globe audience. The film does not leave the stage until the action moves to Southampton. With his film scheduled for release to co-incide with the Normandy landings, the Southampton plot of treason on the eve of Henry's invasion of France had to go. The hanging of Bardolf for looting was also cut.
When we set sail for France we sail into a storybook country; the backdrop landscape based on illuminations in late medieval manuscripts. Only as the armies prepare for battle do they face a real day, in a real landscape but a brief shot of horses' hoofs trotting through a puddle is as near as Olivier goes to the mud of northern France. The courtship scene moves back into the illuminator's landscape, seen through the windows of a fairytale castle. As the story closes in peace, union and benediction and the victorious king returns to England, so the film returns to the Globe and the final credits roll over the sky above a peaceful 17th century London.
Banagh's film opens backstage but when the Chorus, Derek Jacobi in a dark overcoat, throws open the door, it opens into a real court. Thereafter, the Chorus moves through the film like a ghost from the future, until, after delivering his final speech, he slams the door shut again.
Branagh was only 23 when like Olivier, he both directed and starred in the film. He was the perfect age to interprete the role as a "coming of age". His use of occasional, brief flashback to former times ("Henry IV part 2) is poignantly effective. The previously feckless youth becomes the mature hero king but his journey to maturity is scarred with bitterness, betrayal and bloodshed. Branagh's is a darker interpretation which brings out the more problematic elements in Shakespeare's play.
Whereas Olivier, understandably, cut the Southampton plot, Branagh keeps it and brings out the theme of betrayal in Shakespeare's juxtaposition of alternating London and Southampton scenes.scenes. At the opening of Act II, the Chorus warns us of the coming treason but the action then opens with the "low life" characters, Henry's former friends, being summoned to the bed of the dying Falstaff. We see Falstaff in former times, talking to Henry: we hear Henry's voice: "I know thee not old man" (surely the cruellest words Shakespeare ever wrote). Now, "The king has killed his heart." Then the scene moves to Southampton where Henry faces both treason and personal betrayal: "Thou that did bear the key of all my counsels/ That knew the very bottom of my soul," The conspirators are condemned to death. As the king makes ready to put to sea, we return to London to learn that Falstaff is dead. "'a parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning o' the tide".
Falstaff is replaced by Fluellen, a partly comic yet nobler character. His references to Pompey and the laws of war are the code of life that Henry has now adopted. The new "low life" characters first appear at the mining of Harfleur. In Olivier's film they are shown sitting in a farmyard as though taking a lunch break. They are discussing the mining of the walls but these are only the walls of an illuminator's fantasy town in the distance. Branagh's scene crashes in, they throw themselves behind half ruined walls to shelter from the explosions, rubble falling around them. No doubt, in 1944, people had had more than enough of that.
Henry was not present at the death of Falstaff. He severs the last link with his old self when he executes Bardolf, (Richard Briers brilliant in a tragic role). Effective use of flashback, as Henry looks into the pleading eyes of the hapless Bardolf, remembering former careless times, before, with tears in his eyes, he nods and the cart is kicked away. Bardolf hangs twitching in the torrential rain. In the "foul womb" of the night, Henry is weighed down: "Upon the king! - let us our lives, our souls ..../ Our sins lay on the king! We must bear all." He has to rouse himself, as well as his men, with the "Crispin's day" speech.
Olivier was no doubt aware that the battlefield of Agincourt was a muddy field but his film was to put heart into the British people. The slow motion, slogging carnage in a quagmire that Branagh gives us, would have been the return of a nightmare in 1944. Branagh's Henry has already felt the full weight of responsibility. Finally in the filthy, bloody aftermath of the battle, he trudges exhausted across the seemingly endless sea of mud, bearing the body of one of the slaughtered baggage boys and as he lays him gently to rest on a wagon of corpses, he leans to bestow on his forehead, a fatherly kiss. Good night sweet prince.
The courtship of Katherine gives a brief glimpse of Henry's almost lost youth, when, just as he goes to kiss her, her father and his cousellors re-enter and the two of them spring apart like guilty teenagers.
After the peacemaking and the marriage, Olivier's film concludes on a positive note: his Chorus's closing speech ends with the lines, "Small time but in that small most greatly liv'd this star of England". Branagh's continues:
"Fortune made his sword, By which the world's best garden he achiev'd/ And of it left his son imperial lord/ Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown'd king/ Of France and England, did this king succeed/ Whose state so many had the managing/ That they lost France and made his England bleed." Not a good note to end on in 1944.
Branagh's script has few cuts; his exhausted army, trudging through torrential rain to fight in a field of mud, is more historically realistic. But the horror of the trenches had passed from memory into history by the time Branagh made his film and he could explore the darker side of the play. Peacetime was a luxury Olivier did not have. Yet, for Shakespeare's audience, Henry V was their great national hero and Shakespeare gave them: "a little touch of Harry in the night." And that was what was wanted, and needed in 1944. Shakespeare's greatness is that generation after generation finds different riches in his plays. Each of these films reflects its own time; both are worthy to be called classics.
THE BEAUFORT FAMILY - PART 1
For our December meeting we had decided to look at the Beaufort family. The meeting opened with a genealogy and paper to clarify who the various family members were and the relationships between them, followed by papers on some of the individual members of the family.
Katherine Swynford, whose relationship with John of Gaunt produced the four children who were given the surname Beaufort, was the daughter of Payne Roet, a knight and herald from Hainault who came to England when Edward III married Philippa of Hainault and who fought in the 100 Years' war. She was married to the Hugh Swynford, a Lincolnshire knight. Her sister, Philippa married Geoffrey Chaucer. She joined the household of John of Gaunt when John married Blanche of Lancaster. Blanche died in 1368, Hugh Swynford in the early 1370's. In their petition to the Pope to allow their marriage, Johh and Katherine stated that their affair had only begun ofter the deaths of their respective spouses. Their marriage took place in 1396 and their four children, John, Henry, Thomas and Joan, were declared legitimate. They were given the surname Beaufort after one of the John of Gaunt's estates in Champagne, which had in fact been lost to the French. The name may have been chosen because it would not be in any way prejudicial to John's legitimate children. [Full paper giving details of Katherine's life, under Members Papers)
The eldest child of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford was John, Earl of Somerset 1397-1410, He had three surviving sons and two daughters: Henry, John, Edmund, Margaret and Joan. Henry was created Earl of Somerset following his father's death but died unmarried aged 16. He was succeeded by his brother John, Earl, later Duke of Somerset 1425-44, who married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso. The third brother, Edmund, Earl then Duke 1444-55, married Eleanor Beauchamp. John and Edmund both had daughters called Margaret, so, together with their sister Margaret, who married Thomas Courtney Earl of Devon, there were three Margaret Beauforts. No wonder we get confused! The most famous of them, Lady Margaret, mother of Henry VII, was the daughter of John. After the death of Edmund Tudor, she next married Henry Stafford. Her cousin, Margaret Beaufort, Edmund's daughter, married Henry's brother Humphrey Lord Stafford and was the mother of Henry, Duke of Buckingham, executed by Richard III after his rebellion in 1483.
It was Edmund, the third brother, (Earl then Duke of Somerset 1444-55) whose quarrel with Richard Duke of York was the trigger for the so called Wars of the Roses. He was unpopular among the nobility because of the many rich grants and offices made to him by Henry VI. These may have been an attempt to compensate for his relatively small landed income but they nevertheless aroused widespread resentment and suspicion about his influence over the king. Edmund was appointed a commander of the English armies in France in 1431. Initially he was successful, recapturing Harfleur and lifting the the seige of Calais (1436) but in 1448 he was appointed to replace Richard Duke of York as overall commander in France and so was widely blamed (not least by York) for the subsequent failures and the loss of northern France. He returned to England where his power and influence were undiminished until Henry's mental breakdown and York's protectorate, when he was dismissed and imprisoned. When the King recovered late in 1454, he was soon re-instated. York believed the court party would move against him and by the following May had resorted to arms, supported by the Neville Earls of Salisbury and Warwick. Edmund was killed at the first battle of St. Albans, 22nd May 1455.
Henry Beaufort, (b.c.1375; d. 11April 1447), was the second son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. He was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln in 1398; translated to the rich see of Winchester 1404 and made cardinal by Pope Martin V in 1426 but his career was predominantly political. He held the office of Chancellor three times, under Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI. Although Henry VI's uncles, John Duke of Bedford and (in Bedford's frequent absence in France), Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, were appointed protectors, "Wily Winchester" was perhaps the most influential man in England during the king's minority. He promoted the interests of his kinsmen, particularly his nephews John and Edmund. He supported John Duke of Bedford's attempts at financial retrenchment and tried to argue for for peace with France but was opposed by the Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester The conflict between him and Gloucester dominated domestic politics during Henry VI's minority, as the bitter quarrel between Edmund and Richard Duke of York would dominate and eventually lead to the ending of Henry VI's adult reign.
We have more Beauforts to come: Lady Margeret, "The King's Mother", particularly her connections with Manchester and Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford and everybody's (well, almost) grandmother.