The earldom of Norfolk, which had passed through the Bigod family, was granted in 1313 to Thomas Brotherton, a son of Edward I. by his second wife, Margaret of France. The Suffolk jurisdiction of the earldom died out with him, or, rather, predeceased him by three years ; for Robert de Ufford was created Earl of Suffolk in 1335, whereas in 1338 the abbey of Bury St. Edmund’s became the resting-place of Brotherton, whose arms, England, with a label of three points for difference, may be seen on the tower of Holy Trinity Church, Bungay, and elsewhere. He was not at his best estate a strong character, failing with his brother, the Earl of Kent, at a critical moment in a scheme for the overthrow of the notorious Mortimer. He ‘went with the century,’ so that his weakness was not senile. This snipping away of his power before his death, and placing it in the hands of Robert de Ufford, was no doubt a great advantage to Suffolk, in addition to the autonomy conferred upon it.
The existing traces of the fourteenth century, ecclesiastical, political, domestic, commercial, indicate a period of great activity and general prosperity, retarded indeed by the two great pestilences which occurred, the first just before the half-century, the second about thirteen years later. After a partial recovery from these visitations there was a general social upset, in which socialism came to the front and subsequently, after its wont, fell to the rear. In these ups and downs, as well as in the religious difficulties of the time, Suffolk bore its share.
Edward III. was married to Philippa of Hainault when he was a mere boy, a year before his accession revealed .those high qualities which budded early and decayed before the usual time. Her people for some time had been carrying on frequent peaceful invasions of England, introducing their improvements in weaving, but in 1336 they entered the country in great force. Whether the quality of the wool tempted them, or trouble at home from over-population drove them forth, they came in battalions, and it was necessary to keep them in work. Hitherto England had produced more wool than it wanted. Forests had been felled, and much timber cut down in particular over the heavy lands of Suffolk, letting in air and sunlight, which boons, with the clearance of under growth and scrub, in time gave many acres of fair pasture; and sheep do well on the better qualities of heathland, so that the production of Suffolk in this respect must have been large. No doubt the population was large too, many believing that the eastern counties have not yet recovered the ground lost at the Black Death. Certainly the power of getting the wool transferred from the backs of sheep to those of human beings was far below the production of the raw material. The manufacture had drifted across the sea. The time had now come to change all this. The Fleming had been encouraged to settle, the Englishman was beginning to learn his craft, and the wool must not go out of the country. Legislation came in 1337. The ‘vent of wool’, as Baker calls it, was by statute confined to the realm, to the no small annoyance of landowners who found themselves uncomfortably in the power of English wool staplers, though there must have been consolation in rents for weavers’ cottages and the rise in the price of much of the produce of the soil.
Two royal deaths, those of Charles IV. of France and Robert Bruce of Scotland, in 1328, threw all Western Europe soon afterwards into confusion. At first the anti-English party prevailed, Edward III. doing homage to Philip of Valois for his French possessions, and David II. succeeding his father. But the calm was delusive. Edward Baliol’s sufferings, claims, successes, cessions, defeats, kept the North of England and Scotland in constant turmoil, and the help accorded by the French to David Bruce irritated the English monarch into the assumption of the title from which he had retired. Having obtained supplies from the Parliament in the spring of 1340, he made the Orwell estuary a rendezvous for his fleet, and the midsummer weather saw those fair waters all alive with sail. His ships were under way on June 22, and two days afterwards they came across their French foes at Slays, on the Belgian coast. It seems to have been a hot day, but probably nowhere hotter than at the scene of a naval engagement, the greatest and most desperate which the narrow seas had ever witnessed. The French were 400 sail, the English 300. From eight in the morning till seven at night the conflict raged, when the French, to avoid the cold steel, leaped into the sea, abandoning their ships, of which only thirty escaped. By commanding in person, Edward reserved for himself the chief laurels ; but among his vice-admirals was Sir John de Norwich, supposed, from a similarity in armorial bearings, to be connected with the house of Bigod. His services must have been great if they are to be measured by their recompense. Not the most important item was the permission to crenellate his mansion at Mettingham, and the great gateway still remains to testify to the prowess of a vice-admiral on the coast of Flanders.
With Cressy we have little to do so far as records go, but the awful visitation of the Black Death, which followed in three years, has left a mark on the county not to be obliterated. Originating in China, after those volcanic throes which are known to precede such manifestations of the death-dealing powers which lurk in the elements, it spread through Asia into Egypt, and thence leaped from point to point among the great cities of Europe. Coincident with its progress came the furious storms of 1347, the general failure of the crops, misery, and starvation. Then in January, 1348, close on each other, came a seismic crash in Italy and the outbreak of the Black Death at Avignon, with its horrible accompaniments of carbuncles, delirium, inflammation of the lungs, and blood-vomiting. Seven hundred years had elapsed since the Destroying Angel had given forth a like blast from his. trumpet. It was to recur in not so fierce a form fourteen years afterwards, and a faint echo has been felt time after time down to our own days; but 1348 and 1349 are years by themselves in the later ages. The ‘deadly pestilence,’ as the letter of Edward III. to his Lord Treasurer, Bishop Ellington of Winchester, calls it, had broken out in Westminster before 1348 was out, and a royal proclamation on March 18, 1349, speaks of its serious increase there as well as in London and elsewhere. About this time it appeared in Suffolk. Dr. Jessopp, in the Nineteenth Century75, has told the story of one parish in these graphic words :
In the Valley of the Stour, a mile or two from Sudbury, where the stream serves as the boundary between Suffolk and Essex, the ancestors of Lord Walsingham had two manors in the township of Little Cornard-the one was called Caxtons, the other was the manor of Cornard Parva. At this latter manor a court was held on March 31 ; the number of tenants of the manor can at no time have exceeded fifty, yet at this court six women and three men are registered as having died since the last court was held, two months before. This is the earliest instance I have yet met with of the appearance of the plague among us, and as it is the earliest, so does it appear to have been one of the most frightful visitations from which any town or village in Suffolk or Norfolk suffered during the time the pestilence lasted. On May 1 another court was held: fifteen more deaths are recorded- thirteen men and two women. Seven of them without heirs. On November 3, apparently when the panic abated, again the court met. In the six months that had passed thirty-six more deaths had occurred, and thirteen more households had been left without a living soul to represent them. In this little community, in six months’ time, twenty-one families had been absolutely obliterated – men, women, and children and of the rest it is difficult to see how there can have been a single house in which there was not one dead. Meanwhile, some time in September, the parson of the parish had fallen a victim to the scourge, and on October 2 another was instituted in his room. Who reaped the harvest? The tithe sheaf too – how was it garnered in the barn? And the poor kine at milking time? Hush! Let us pass on.
The Bishop of Norwich at this time was the well-known William Bateman, founder of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. The eight crescents which flash out on the Cam when the ‘Hall’ boat is gliding over those waters, calm but not clear, are from the arms of this prelate. He was rather a politician and a jurist than a theologian, and, having served much at Avignon, was probably looking forward to a cardinal’s hat. State business took him thither after the Black Death had run its course in France, and just before its outbreak in East Anglia. It must have been with the most acute distress that he heard of the devastation of his diocese. He was a native of Norwich, where his father was a citizen of high repute, and his eldest brother, Sir Bartholomew Bateman, among many other possessions, owned the manors of Gillingham and Flixton, hard by the South Elmham palace, the Bishop’s favourite residence. He seems to have lost no time in returning to his flock, probably posting across from Avignon to some north-east port, by an ancient and excellent road, and then sailing direct to Yarmouth, where he landed about June ro, to learn, among other sad events, of the death of his brother at Gillingham. The plague had found its readiest course along the shore and up the rivers, invited possibly by insanitary conditions in both cases. Bungay, which in my sojourn there76 was by no means a model for the hygienic student, had suffered. The Prioress died, and the remaining nuns sent her successor to Gillingham to be instituted on June 13. In the course of a day or two the Bishop went on to Norwich, and thence to London, to give an account of his French mission to the King. How the Bishop’s commissary, Thomas Methwold, discharged his duties till relieved by his chief may be read in Dr. Jessopp’s admirable paper. The Bishop held on at the palace for about three weeks, and then retired to Hoxne, where in seven weeks he had instituted more clergymen than in an average year. The parishes must be served, and priests had been mown down by the Dread Reaper’s scythe by the score. Hence, not only deacons, but, as it would seem, even boys in the first tonsure, were put in charge of the churches. Better that supplication should go forth from these lads than that the voice of public prayer should be hushed at such a time. In the future, when we will may hope for some provision made for research, more will come to light as to the state of England in general, and Suffolk in particular, in 1348 and 1349. What strikes me as among the greatest marvels of that time is the recovery of the nation, so that in 1350 the Spaniards were defeated off Winchelsey, and in 1352 the French in Brittany.
Political prelates, such as Bishop Bateman, are a common jibe for the shallow observer; nor was he the first of his kind at Norwich. Ever since the Conquest there had been no long interval without a Bishop of Thetford or Norwich serving high office in Chancery or the Exchequer. Of Bishop Bateman’s three predecessors, Salmon had been Lord Chancellor and Ayermyn Lord Treasurer, the latter being succeeded by Antony de Bek, who is said to have been a great tyrant, and to have been poisoned by his servants. To those who reflect on the character of the nobility of these days, it will seem that, after all, the interests of the humbler classes would have been worse served by them than by men, of whom some were of lowly extraction, and all bound at least outwardly to some decency and kindliness of life.
Death overtook this energetic Churchman at the scene of his diplomatic labours, Avignon, in 1354, where he lies in the cathedral of St. Mary. He was attended to his grave by a throng of cardinals, prelates, and other great men, and committed to the earth by the Patriarch of Jerusalem 77. To him succeeded Thomas Percy, ‘out of Northumberland,’ and to him in sixteen years the famous fighting Bishop, Henry Spencer.
There can be no doubt that the neighbourhood of Woodbridge was properly represented at Poictiers, as Robert de Ufford, the first Earl of Suffolk, of whom I have spoken, took a prominent part in that battle, his cool head keeping the rash youths from eager advance, and directing the archers advantageously. He also rode round to the various bodies of the English, keeping them in good courage.
In 1369 he died, and was succeeded by his son William. The second Earl’s four sons predeceased him. In the troubles of the reign of Richard II. he pleaded the cause of the distressed poor in the House of Lords, and died almost while speaking, from some fit, a martyr after his manner.
After the Uffords come the De la Poles, whose sad record I propose to trace to its close.
We begin with William de la Pole, taking our words from the register of the abbey of Meaux.
He “was first a Merchant at Ravenrod, skilful in the arts of trade, and inferiour to no English merchant whatsoever. He afterwards living at Kingston upon Hull, was the first Mayor of that Town, and founded the Monastery of St. Michael, which now belongs to the Carthusian Monks, near the said Kingston. His eldest son Michael de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, caused the said Monastery to be inhabited by that Order. William de la Pole aforesaid lent King Edward many thousand pounds of gold during his abode at Antwerp in Brabant. For this reason the King made him chief Baron of his Exchequer, gave him by Deed the Seigniory of Holderness, with many other lands then belonging to the Crown, and made him a Baneret”
Camden gives a reference to the records of the Tower, in which he is styled “dilectus, valectus et mercator noster”. On the term valectus he observes that it was an honourable title both in France and England, till it came to have a menial significance, when it was turned into Gentleman of the Bedchamber. It was bestowed on the poet Chaucer in 1367, when he received an annuity of twenty marks.
The son Michael here mentioned, sometime Lord Chancellor of England, married Catherine, daughter and heiress of Sir John Wingfield of Wingfield, and thus the De la Poles became inwrought into the history of this district.
The earldom of Suffolk was conferred on Michael de la Pole in 1385. “Better versed”, as Thomas Walsingham tells us, “in merchandise than in martial matters, as a merchant himself and the son of a merchant”, he appears to have been unequal to the burden laid upon him by these accessions of dignity. He had enjoyed his earldom barely a year, when the voice of the Commons thundered against him, charging him with the misappropriation of supplies, the acceptance of excessive grants from the Crown, and the abuse of the Great Seal, in applying it to illegal pardons and charters. They weakened their case by imputing to the Chancellor the capture of English ships and the loss of Ghent. The trial is justly regarded, from the order which characterized its proceedings, as one of great constitutional importance, but it ended in a conviction only on the lighter charges, a forfeiture of money, and imprisonment during the King’s pleasure, which terminated just after the dissolution of the Parliament of 1386. But the Parliament of 1387 was found to be more rancorous against him than its predecessor bad been. He fled from the realm, and died at Paris in the year 1389, an exile from his native land, but, as we find from his son’s will, was buried in the church of the Carthusians at Kingston-upon-Hull.
That the measures taken against this favourite Minister of Richard II. were generally regarded as severe, we may infer from the restoration of the earldom and estates by Henry IV. to the eldest son, the second Michael de la Pole with whom we have to do. The young man had in 1397 obtained the reversal of his father’s outlawry ; but, as it would appear, had courted and won Catherine, daughter of Hugh, Earl of Stafford, while the cloud of his father’s disgrace still hung over his name.
During the reign of Henry IV. the De la Poles had a “close time”, but family troubles revived in a new form after the accession of his warlike son. The siege of Harfleur, in the autumn of 1415, was attended by terrible loss of troops by fever and dysentery, contracted in the pestilential marsh air, with the usual accompaniment of camp filth. It must have been a truly miserable campaign. Before embarkation Richard, Earl of Cambridge, second son to Edmund Langley, Duke of York, Edward III.’s fifth son, and ancestor of a long line of Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart, and Hanoverian sovereigns, was executed with others for treason to their King. Richard Courtney, Bishop of Norwich, died of fever on the march from Harfleur, far from the flock committed to him, with the Lords Molina, Burnel, and others, while Michael de la Pole had already succumbed to the baleful influence of malaria, thus leaving their Sovereign, for whom they had yielded their lives in a struggle more deadly than that of battle, to cut his way through his enemies on the memorable day of St. Crispin Crispian.
The Countess Catherine was still in the first agony of grief for the loss of the husband to whom she had clung in the dark days of their betrothal as well as in the brightness of wedded life, when tidings reached her of the death of her first-born, the third Michael. For a short month he had enjoyed the title, if the term enjoyment can be applied to the desperate march of the English army towards Calais. Twice had they been disappointed of battle, at the bridge of St. Maxentius, over the Somme, and at Amiens. Then came the brush at Corby with a body of French men-at-arms reinforced by the peasantry, the gallantry of Bromley of Bromley, the hanging of the church robber who stole the silver pix, the tedious harassed march across the upper valley of the Eaulne, the clearing of the bridge over the Canche, and the final victory of combined method and impulse against the most tremendous odds at the village of Agincourt.
Two, and two only, of the English nobility perished on that famed day : Edward, Duke of York, who had made suit for the command of the vanguard; and young Michael de la Pole, who was in the main battle with the King and the King’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.
It could not have been long after the young Earl’s marriage with Elizabeth Mowbray, daughter of Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, that a second widowed Countess of Suffolk mourned with her mother-in-law, and the title of Earl of Suffolk passed to the next brother, William. It was not long before he found himself occupying his brother’s place in the French war. In 1417 he was at the capture of the castle of Tonque; in 1421 he shared the fate of others in the ambuscade near Angers, and was taken prisoner ; but in 1423 he was at work again in Burgundy, under the dreaded Thomas Montacute, Earl of Salisbury.
When at the siege of Orleans, five years afterwards, a great shot struck the bars of one of the windows of the captured Great Fort, from which Salisbury was taking observation, and caused the death of that valiant captain, Suffolk succeeded not only to the command, but in process of time to the widowed Countess, Alicia, daughter of Thomas Chaucer of Ewelme, in Oxfordshire.
The siege of Orleans in Suffolk’s hands was a failure, and he was again captured at Jargeux, where his brother, Alexander de la Pole, was killed in cold blood by the Duke of Alençon. We find him, however, assisting in the defence of Paris in 1430, and negotiating a peace some ten years afterwards. In this matter he went beyond his commission in propounding and carrying through the marriage between Henry VI. and Margaret of Anjou.
His marquisate appears to date from 1443. In 1447 he became Duke, but as he went up in rank he went down in popular estimation. His services in France for more than thirty years were set at less than nought. The disastrous ending to the -Hundred Years’ War was put to his account. But so far as we may judge the man from the last words to which he put pen, he was good and true-hearted.
Of the two localities assigned for his embarkation, Camden’s (Suffolk) is probably the more correct. His enemies having procured his banishment in 1450, we may suppose that he took sea at Dunwich, the nearest Suffolk port, and trace him in the fair spring weather through Fressingfield, along the “broad” road, called in all deeds the highroad from Dunwich to Bury St Edmunds, by Laxfield and Yoxford, and over Westleton Heath to the Roman Sitomagus. How he was caught and beheaded on the side of a boat off Dover is well known. Bloomfield speaks of a defaced monument to him in Wingfield Church remaining to his day, but we can point to no such thing now.
Duke John, a fresh creation after his father’s forfeiture, whose noble monument we see on the north side of the altar, seems to have been a dutiful son. The mother lived a good deal at Wingfield. The Paston letters give glimpses of her there in 1452, but more notably in October, 1460. Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, the legitimate Sovereign, is now all-powerful in London. Though the Suffolk interest was distinctly Lancastrian., Duke John had married York’s daughter, Elizabeth, and the young couple were made wire-pullers by the dowager. So we find from a letter written by the wily Franciscan, Friar Brackley, to John Paston, “The Lady of Suffolk hath sent up hyr sore and hise wyf to my Lord of York to aske grace for a schireve the next yer, Stapelton, Boleyn, or Tyrel, qui absit. God send zow Ponyng, W. P., W. Rokewode, or Arblaster”. A keen practitioner apparently was Duke John, very unpopular according to Margaret Pastor; but we must make allowances for Pastor’s dislike on account of the Duke’s attempt to seize Hellesdon Manor. We find him raising men for Henry VII. in the autumn of 1485. In 1491 he died, leaving his widow presumably living in Wingfield. His eldest son John, created Earl of Lincoln by Edward IV., died before him. He espoused the cause of Lambert Simnel, and fell on the field of Stoke, near Nottingham, in 1487. The dukedom appears to have been restricted to the eldest son, for when in 1491 Edmund de la Pole succeeded his father, it was only as Earl. He married Margaret, daughter of Richard, Lord Scrope, head of a well-known Yorkshire house. In the year of his succession he accompanied his sovereign to the siege of Boulogne ; in 1495 he lent his aid to the overthrow of the Cornish rebels under Lord Audley and Thomas Flammock on Blackheath. He was no model of self-restraint or discretion, but whatever he might have been, it was not in his power to purge himself of the taint of royal blood. He escaped from England on July 1, 1499, whereupon letters were issued by Henry VII., not only to arrest his abettors, but also “any suspect person nyghe unto the see cosies which shall seine . . – to be of the same affynyte”. The unfortunate man remained in exile fourteen years, and venturing to return to England some little time after ,the death of his merciless Sovereign in 1509, was finally executed by Henry VIII. in 1513, “I being a man of turbulent spirit, and too nearly allied to the crown”. Truly, the tender mercies of the Tudors were cruel! Last in our mournful record comes Richard de la Pole, another son of Duke John and Elizabeth Plantagenet. He was evidently awake to the fact that, “turbulent” or not turbulent, he was “too nearly allied to the crown”. Accordingly he remained on the Continent, a soldier of fortune, and wielded his sword for Francis I. of France, in whose service he was slain at the disastrous. battle before Pavia in 1525.
With him ends the grim family chronicle. Cardinal Pole’s father was a Welsh Ap Hoel, and had no claim to an origin from the vicinity of the big pond from which the Earls of Suffolk took their name.
Matthew Poole, M.A., of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, the learned author of the “Synopsis Criticorum”, evidently was thought to be of this family, from the arms engraved with his portrait in the first volume of his “Annotations”. He was a Yorkshireman, but I am unable to throw any light on his pedigree.
- February, 1884
- 1859-1866. Much improvement took place in this time and subsequently.
- 77 See Cooper, ‘Memorials’, i. 112.