Hot Coals of Vengeance

A Foray into the Ill-famed family of the Cliffords

by Peter Algar


I have taken the title of this work from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II., which alludes to the first battle of St. Albans, when the words attributed to Young Clifford are:

Hot coals of vengeance! Let no soldier fly.
He that is truly dedicate to war
Hath no self-love, nor he that loves himself
Hath not essentially but by circumstance
The name of valour......

Meet I an infant of the house of York,
Into as many gobbets will I cut it

Undoubtedly, the young Clifford referred to is John, the 9th Baron of that house, but there are no records that substantiate that he was actually at that conflict. But as we know, that was just part of Shakespeare’s artistic licence. He was no different to legendary Hollywood film producers of the last century; he never let facts get in the way of a good storyline. But to my mind, what he does with the phrase "hot coals of vengeance" is nail the mood of the time. This was civil war, this was a blood feud that had been stoked up since the first Battle of St. Albans and it was only ever going to have one consequence, a series of tit-for-tat killings that built up to a crescendo during the Wars of the Roses.

In the same way, he heaps ignominy on Richard III, he gave the same treatment to John Clifford. For the sake of balance, you have to have bad guys on both sides and punishment is meted out to Clifford, leaving Somerset largely unscathed but, he was a Beaufort and therefore too close to the Tudors to be reproached.

The story of the Cliffords is the story of the Wars of the Roses. It really is intertwined with all the action during the period and they play a pivotal role in affairs after Bosworth too. A bold claim you may think, but when we look into this family’s history it’s a fascinating one. One generally knew where you stood with the Cliffords; there are one or two exceptions, but their motives became clear once understood.

To understand the Cliffords, it’s important to look at what influenced their principles, and for that, I will step ever so slightly out of our period and consider Clifford’s Tower at York. How it got its name is not entirely clear. The name may well be a reference to the fact , that Roger de Clifford was hanged at the tower in 1322 for fighting on the side of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and opposing Edward II at Boro’bridge. Or maybe to the Clifford family’s claim that they were the hereditary constables of the tower. There is however, no real evidence of the second, other than their say-so. If it was the first one, we can perhaps glean that the Clifford’s were taught a lesson early in their ascendancy that it pays to stay loyal to the crown, and I can reference a quote from a much later period:

"To Hugh, Second Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. ‘Your forefathers have asserted the party they chose till death, and died for its defence in the fields of battle.’ This is a quote from John Dryden, no less. Hugh Clifford was a Patron of Dryden’s, who translated Virgil’s pastorals and dedicated it to him.

The quote equally applies to his Northern cousins. They were loyal to the crown during the Wars of The Roses, as they fought for Henry VI; as they saw it, their anointed king. They were loyal to Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace when the vast majority of Northern nobles, gentry and commoners were intent on rebellion and the Cliffords went out on a limb. They were loyal to Charles I during the Civil War and Lady Anne Clifford defied and bested Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians.

So this is a family that is giving a statement of intent. Previous owners of Skipton Castle were over-run by the Scots but this was not going to happen to them. They fortified the castle so strongly that it was virtually impregnable.

Incidentally, Richard III was one-time owner of this castle, he swapped it with the Stanleys for Chirk Castle, so that he could build up his Northern power base as recorded in the Chancery patent rolls: 12 June 1475.

If we take a quick look at the history of this family, before we get into our period, proper, they have a long and interesting pedigree.

Originally, their name was derived from the Norman Puntius, Fitz-Ponts. It took the English name Clifford from a villagein Herefordshire, where they were sent to protect the Welsh Border. They became rather good at it and a later Lord Roger Clifford fought alongside Henry III at Battle of Evesham. For his loyalty and derring-do he was rewarded with estates in Westmorland; Brougham, Appleby, Brough and Pendragon. In effect he was sent North to halt any Scottish incursion and use the experience he had garnered fighting the Welsh. In 1306 the Cliffords were given Hartlepool and in 1310, Skipton Castle. The chequey coat of arms is said to derive from the ancient Celts from their pre-Conquest time in Normandy. Their crest is a red wyvern. Whilst some of the nobles and gentry took on savage beasts like lions, boars, stags and the like, the Cliffords chose this mythical creature which could kill you just by looking at you. A real statement of intent, and as we shall see they were formidable warriors.

The Fair Rosamund, the subject of many a medieval ballad was the ill-fated mistress of Henry II. It is said that the rose Rosa Mundi was named after her.

During the Tudor period, George Clifford, was made Queen Elizabeth’s champion. He gained first hand soldiering experience actually fighting against the Spanish Armada. We can see from an early portrait of him that he wore the Queen’s diamond studded glove is in his headdress and his gauntlet is flung down in challenge to all comers. This was no idle boast and he was not the only Clifford in the lists.

The family was allied to Percies and Dacres, and set firm roots in North. One of the Clifford’s castle at Brougham was only a mile from the Neville castle at Penrith so, local squabbles and rivalries were inevitable at the outbreak of the Wars of The Roses.

So, it is not difficult to understand why the Cliifords were implicated in the skirmish with the Neville’s wedding party at Heworth Moor, north of York, which some historians assert to be the Wars of the Roses. So we’ve now built up a picture of a successful and not untypical leading family of our period. They were staunch Lancastrians but where they in essence, any different to their Yorkist enemies? Were they in fact two sides of the same coin? We tend to look at things through Tudor eyes, which clouds our view.

Was it geography that separated and bred differentiation in the Cliffords?

Look at a map of the North, it is geographically remote. During our period, the Medieval towns of York, Beverley and Hull were thriving but there was not much else of significance in the region. Anything else worth mentioning was strongly fortified and bolted down otherwise it would be stolen.

If we look at the natural features, one can see how geography played a part in keeping it remote. In any campaign that took place there, the Pennine hill range are a formidable barrier to moving a standing army with its ensuing baggage train so you would have to cross several rivers to deploy your troops, something that Edward IV knew all too well on his road to Towton. It could be said that this remoteness bred insularity.

If we look at what people of the period and historians say about the North, to Chaucer it was an unknown, distant, barbarous land, much further off than France – far in the North, I cannot tellen where. France was more familiar to him.

According to the renowned historian G M Trevelyan, thePercies , Nevilles, Dacres and Cliffords – had great castles, the lesser gentry had Pele Towers but there were few manor houses as these were not easily fortified. Peasants lived in wooden shanties that raiders burnt as a matter of course.

One result of this constant warfare was that a greater familiarity between high and low prevailed in those wild regions. "The moorland shepherd and hind (farm-hand) never became as subject to squire and farmer like his southern counterpart. There was always a breath of freedom blowing off the moors".

To Shakespeare the Cliffords were fell-lurking curs. When you consider that the only big towns were York, Beverley and Hull, he was probably not far wrong.

In England at that time in both the North and the South, the first duty of the burgher was to play his part in the city miliia, to defend the walls, and if possible, the fields against the French or Scottish raider, bands of outlaws or retainers of enemy feudal lords. The principle of "conscription" raised no difficulty in the mind of a medieval Englishman. Armies raised by Commission of array and for the North you fought against the Scots and in the South, you fought against the French. The mindset was that one Englishmen could beat three foreigners and that it was England’s proper business and pastime to rule and rob France. Whilst Kent and the Southern counties saw the aftermath of Henry VI’s defeat in France, the North was largely oblivious to it.

The Cliffords during our period.

Thomas Clifford, 8th Baron Clifford born 1414 died at 1st St. Albans 1455

His son John Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford born 1435 died at Dintingdale during Towton conflict in 1461

John’s brothers, survivors of Towton

Sir Roger Clifford executed by Richard III in 1485

Sir Robert Clifford, a key witness to the Perkin Warbeck plot.

Henry Clifford, 10th Baron. Born 1454 died 1523, ten years after he had fought at Flodden

It could be argued that Henry Clifford did not play a major part in the WOTR but he lived through a major part of it and after 1485 there were still some skirmishes, some of which he was involved in and of course there was the matter of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Yorkist sympathies had not gone away.

Thomas Clifford

Thomas Clifford was born in 1414 and succeeded his father at the age of eight -the Cliffords typically died in battle. He was brought up in the guardianship of his mother, Elizabeth Percy and married Joan Dacre. He was made Commissioner for array in the North. As we have seen it was traditional for men of north of Trent to be deployed against Scots, men south of this river against the French. This system created loyalties that were to become important during WoTR. His encounters against the Scots were successful and he was then invited to fight with Duke of Bedford in France and led the siege against Pontoise in 1437. Pontoise was reminiscent of Towton, in that there was much snow on the ground, so he dressed his men in white and laid siege to the town. Snow was to become an important cover in Wars of The Roses conflicts.

At St. Albans Thomas Clifford was given the honour of defending the town ditch because of his experience in France. Contemporary Paston letters state "Lord Clifford kept strongly the barriers that the Duke of York might not in any ways....enter nor break into the town." As we all know, Warwick broke through the gardens of the houses and attacked the south, before advancing into the market place. Somerset, Northumberland and Clifford were killed; Clifford was killed by "Northern" Yorkists, probably Neville retainers. The archives de la Cote d’Or at Dijon recorded:

"Three Lords died there on Somerset’s side, that is to say, the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, which

was a pity for he was a brave man, and Sir Richard Harrington."

That Clifford was singled out for bravery is perhaps significant. His contemporaries considered that his execution was against the laws of chivalry. He left a grieving son to inherit his titles as did Somerset and

Northumberland – the die was set for a blood feud.

The Brut Chronicle states,"There was evermore a grouch and wrath had by the heirs of them that were slain".

This was the real start to the "Hot Coals of Vengeance".

John Clifford

So, John Clifford inherited his father’s estates at the age of twenty, but he had been far from inactive up until this time.

As a teenager he had served under his relative Lord Egremont (Thos Percy) in protecting the Scottish borders with his light cavalry, perhaps where he got his inspiration for the Flower of Craven.

He was one of the main protagonists that ambushed the Neville’s wedding party at Heworth Moor, north of York. Some claim that this was the real start of the WoTR. Some say that Henry IV’s usurpation of the crown was the real cause of the conflict but no-one was complaining when Henry V was cutting down the flower of French chivalry in great swathes.

He was instrumental in pursuing the most notorious blood feuds. He vowed to avenge the death of his father. At the Battle of Wakefield, the Duke of York was killed and Clifford is credited with killing Edmund of Rutland on Wakefield Bridge. Edmund is portrayed as a defenceless boy, but in reality he was eighteen years old and trained in the art of war. Before Wakefield though, the Yorkists did offer the olive branch in 1455, for "all rebellious and treasonous behaviour". Unfortunately, it was a case of too little, too late. The die was cast.

Clifford turned up at Temple Bar in 1458, accompanied by Somerset and Northumberland, demanding compensation for the murder of their fathers. Yorks, Salisbury and Warwick agreed to pay £45 a year in perpetuity to St. Albans Abbey for masses.

In 1459, when Margaret of Anjou toured the North of England, distributing her son’s livery, John Clifford was busy with his Flower of Craven, robbing and raiding the property of Yorkist held lands in Yorkshire.

When the Duke of York returned from Ireland in 1460, he ordered, amongst other things, that John Clifford hand over to him Pontefract Castle, that he claimed he held in the name of the king. Clifford refused to do so and his men continued to raid Yorkist estates.

After the Act of Accord, Queen Margaret appealed to Clifford and other Lancastrians for support, and it was forthcoming. The Duke of York marched on Yorkshire "for to repress the malice of the Northern men, the which loved not the said Duke of York".

Somerset marched north at the same time to reinforce the Lancastrians and there was a skirmish at Worksop between the vanguards of the 2 armies. In December of that year (1460), Somerset fell ill, leaving John Clifford in command of the Lancastrian army.

At the Battle of Wakefield, treachery played a part and the Duke of York was "environed on every side like a fish in a net or a deer in a buck stall". John Heron, one of the rough NorthernBorderers, is said to have killed the Duke of York.

Accounts say that when Clifford caught up with young Rutland, his words were "By God’s Blood! Your father slew mine, and so will I thee and all thy kin" ...and the feud continued. John Clifford was knighted in recognition of his efforts and in turn, he knighted his brother Roger Clifford.

Margaret of Anjou was in Scotland when this battle was won but it convinced the Scots that the Lancastrians were likely winners of the conflict so they offered aid in the help of "A great army of Scots, other strangers and North men." These North men were the hard-bitten Border Reivers and that’s where warfare took on an altogether different complexion.

Leaving space on Micklegate Bar at York for the heads of the Earl of March and Warwick, the Lancastrians set out southwards to London to rescue King Henry.

Margaret did not have any wages to pay her new recruits, but once they reached the River Trent, they were given permission to take what they wanted. This was the way that the English and Scots Borderers made their living in peace time, and they were well practised at it. They needed little encouragement. The Paston (Clement) letters record "The people in the North rob and steal and are prepared to pillage all this country and to give away many goods and livelode in all the South country." These acts gave Warwick all the material he needed to further widen the North-South divide in his later recruiting campaigns, as we shall see.

Delays by the looting Lancastrian host gave Warwick time to prepare his defence and he marched out to St. Albans and fortified it. St. Albans was on the main thoroughfare to London and the Lancastrians must pass there.

In a dawn raid which was to become one of John Clifford’s hallmarks, as at the later Ferrybridge conflict, he marched twelve miles through the night to evade the defences the Yorkists had put up and attacked the Yorkist archers in the town square. Warwick’s back was to his defences, the Kentish men abandoned him and defected, leaving no other option for him but a retreat.

King Henry was rescued and met with his queen in Lord Clifford’s tent. Why in Lord Clifford’s and not Somerset’s? Did this lead to jealousy that was the undoing of Clifford? Was Somerset the arch courtier and Clifford the more rugged Northerner?

After the victory at St. Albans, the Lancastrians decided not to advance on London. Queen Margaret did not like the citizens there and perhaps the Lancastrians were worried about the behaviour of their Borderers? It was decided to spend winter in York, with the supposition that the Yorkists were largely subdued.

As far as the surviving Yorkists were concerned, this led to the road to Towton, or in the case of John Clifford, Ferrybridge and Dintingdale. It is not they intention of this paper to give a full blown account of this here but ask the question as to why an experienced commander like Clifford put himself in a position where he was greatly at risk.

The surviving sons of the magnates killed at the first conflict at St. Albans, Somerset, Clifford and Northumberland, decided that John Clifford’s blood was the most lusty of the three. He charged down to Ferrybridge with his Flower of Craven; 500 strong, hard riding, hard fighting men. These were hand-picked, battle-hardened troops.

Some accounts say that his force was responsible for 3,500 Yorkist dead. Is this true? It certainly is a big number but we must consider the element of surprise. If you have ever witnessed how long it takes to arm a knight, typically this can take in excess of ten minutes. Unarmoured men, awoken from their slumber, were a soft target for an organised force, so the death-toll was likely to be high.

Clifford’s force must have comprised mounted archers, lancers and be adept at infantry tactics for holding the bridge. The Yorkist vanguard leader, Fitzwalter, was killed. Warwick was sent to investigate but retreats with an arrow in his leg and famously says (according to Edward Hall) "Let him fly that will, for surely I will tarry with him that will tarry with me." This did not cut any ice with young Edward IV, and Fauconberg is sent for.

There is no doubt that Clifford achieved his objective. He delayed the Yorkist advance and gave the Lancastrian high command time to secure the best defensive position at Towton. He was wily enough to know that his job is done and to beat an organised retreat but he was ambushed at Dintingdale by Fauconberg’s forces.

If anyone knows Towton, one of its most famous landmarks is known as the Battle Tree. It is set squarely at the epicentre of the battle and can be viewed from many vantage points as you walk the area. It’s only about 150 years old but is within a few yards of where the original burr tree was situated where another Lancastrian Lord, Randolph Dacre was shot from. The story goes, he was killed with an arrow in the throat, whilst he removed his beaver to take a drink of wine.

If you visit Dintingdale, where Clifford was killed, you can also observe the tree, and see that it is but an arrow shot away from where he fell.

So, bearing in mind the proximity to the Lancastrian lines, why was Clifford left to face the entire Yorkist army with a lightly armed force of only 500 men?

Was he abandoned by Somerset, jealous of his success and prowess?

Did he over-extend his remit, Thos Fairfax style and get into a pickle?

Or was he outmatched by the wily old veteran Fauconberg who, anticipating his retreat northwards, sent an advance ambush party forward whilst he cantered after him, spurring him into a trap?

Like Dacre, who died the day after him, he died with an arrow in his throat, having removed his beaver to take a drink of wine. He surely must have felt reasonably safe to do this. He was within earshot of the Lancastrian picket lines.

Why he was not rescued is one of the enigmas of the Wars of The Roses.

Whatever his fate, he died a brave man like his father before him, according to William Hutton.

We could almost say of John Clifford that he was:

"......a faithful servant, a brave soldier, an admirable legislator; yet one of the vilest of men. Perhaps history cannot produce an instance of such an assemblage of virtues and defects in one person. In him were united as many excellencies as would furnish several shining characters and as many faults as would damn a troop."

But, these words were not attributed to John Clifford but to Richard III. As we have seen, the two characters were on the sharp end of Shakespeare’s nib, and once their names had been blackened, history has not dealt with them fairly.

Sir Roger Clifford, knighted by his elder brother at Wakefield

In the mould of his elder brother, Roger was implacably at odds with the House of York. After his elder brother’s death at Ferrybridge, he was the one who led the Clifford Red Wyvern troops into the heat of the battle at Towton, where despite a crushing defeat, he managed to make good his escape.

In 1464 we see him regain the family seat of Skipton Castle from the William Stanley, no doubt with some support from local men as well as the remnants of the Lancastrian army. Henry VI was trying to raise troops in Lancashire at same time, and it looked like a Lancastrian revival was on the cards for a while, but this fizzled out when Edward IV signed a treaty with the Scots and Henry no longer had safe harbour there.

1465 Henry was captured at Muncaster – betrayed by a supposedly staunch Lancastrian, Sir Richard Tempest, who traded his king’s whereabouts in return for the restoration of his lands.

Sir Roger re-appeared in 1485, during the Buckingham plot, at odds with another Yorkist regime. Richard III lost patience with him for his part in this and had him beheaded, but his younger brother Robert, evaded the executioner’s axe.

Sir Robert Clifford

Robert Clifford took a much more circuitous route in plotting revenge against his enemies. He is a much more interesting, subtle and shadowy character - the role model for an Elizabethan spy perhaps?

By birth, he was a staunch Lancastrian. During his lifetime, he endured his grandfather Thomas’ killing at St. Albans, his eldest brother John’s death at Dintingdale, his family castle given over to the Stanleys, his family’s sworn enemies the Nevilles , rise to power and his brother Roger executed by Richard III. To him, revenge was a dish best served cold and whilst the Yorkists were in the ascendancy, he would bide his time.

That time came when Warwick rebelled against Edward IV. We see Robert supporting the Yorkist King Edward IV’s landing at Ravenspur in 1471. Why? He relished the opportunity of getting his own back on the Nevilles and in 1472 he receives a pardon.

As we have seen the Cliffords were formidable soldiers and often in the lists. Robert jousts at Edward IV’s court and gained his new master’s confidence.

In 1478 Clifford fights John Cheyne at Richard of Gloucester’s wedding to Anne Neville as part of the celebrations. No mean feat as Cheyne was a giant of a man and the king’s Esquire of the Body. He displaced part of Cheyne’s armour during the fighting but refrained from attacking that spot, therefore winning great praise and a prize.

Many historians are of the view that Robert was henceforth a loyal supporter of the House of York but when there was a regime change, he changes sides again and gives Buckingham support against Richard III. Why? One reason may well be that Richard was one-time occupant of Robert’s boyhood home at Skipton Castle. Unlike his brother Roger, he manages to persuade Richard III to spare his life in return for spying for the new monarch. This shows his powers of persuasion and his reputation as a man who can inspire people’s confidence.

In the reign of Henry VII, Roger is knighted for his service to Henry at the Battle of Stoke Field, and when you think things have settled down as the Lancastrians (albeit a Tudor variant) are back in the ascendancy, he supports the Perkin Warbeck uprising. He was familiar enough with Edward IV’s court to judge whether young Perkin was indeed the young fair-haired Richard of York he had seen before so many times. He is even invited to verify distinguishing marks on the young man’s body that proved he was a Plantagenet. And then, the sweetest cut of all, he allows himself to be reconciled with Henry VII so he can give King’s evidence against the hated William Stanley, one–time occupant of Skipton Castle. Henry VII even rewards him with a sum of £500 for doing so and he retires to his new manor in Hertfordshire.

Thus he completed the full compass of revenge against the Nevilles, the Stanleys and the Duke of York’s son Richard, who was said to resemble his father, that Duke of York who presided over the killing of Thomas Lord Clifford at St. Albans. Unlike the Cliffords that passed before him, he died a peaceful death at his country retreat.

Henry Clifford, 10th Lord of Skipton and Craven

John Clifford left behind two sons, Henry and Richard.

Of the eldest, Henry, it is said that he was brought up as a simple shepherd boy to evade capture by a Yorkist regime bent on revenge.

He was known as The Shepherd Lord, Good Lord Clifford or just The Shepherd. Most of the early details written about him was by the 16th Century chronicler Hall, but he has gathered attributes from many sources. It was said that he gained magic powers from the fairy folk while he was brought up in the forest glades and fells. The Tudor poem The Nut Brown Maid was inspired by him. This poem was very nearly lost to us for posterity but luckily that great diarist and collector Samuel Pepys found it in a bundle of papers in Antwerp and had it printed. Wordsworth eulogised him in his poem, Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle and Emily Bronte borrowed him for her novel Wuthering Heights in the character of Hareton, who was brought up by Heathcliffe as an illiterate farm-hand who eventually gets his due education after the death of his cruel tormentor.

As ever with these stories, you might say that the legend and subsequent telling of the legend is more interesting than the facts, which by their very nature are scarce. But he was a fascinating character. How much of the legend is true? Do any of the facts fit the legend?

There is a lot of controversy and speculation about Henry. It is said that Richard was sent overseas and Henry hidden away with his former wet nurse who was married to a shepherd. Some say that the upbringing of Henry as a shepherd is just Lancastrian propaganda and is merely a legend and that Edward IV was not vindictive to them and Henry lived openly with his grandfather but if so, why did his mother, Lady Margaret see the need to send her younger son to the Low Countries and why was Henry hurriedly moved from the Yorkshire Wolds to the Lake District when his mother felt his life was in danger?

Edward IV was hardly going to look kindly on the Clifford boys, given the bad blood that existed between the two families. A medieval king had to be ruthless to survive. An act of attainder put a man, or boy, outside the law, banishing him from the community. Until the day he died he risked being hunted for his life. The ballad of the Nut Brown Maid gives us an idea of what it meant to be attainted:

My destiny is for to die
A shameful death, I trow,
Or else to flee: the one must be,|
None other way I know

But to withdraw as an outlaw,
And take me to my bow…
For I must to the greenwood go
Alone a banished man…

For an outlaw, this is the law,
That men him take and bind,
Without pity hanged to be,
And waver with the wind.

What we know for sure is that after restoration to his lands in 1485, he eschewed the trappings of court and the grand edifice of Skipton Castle and re-built an old hunting lodge at Barden Tower, to escape to the country for a peaceful life. A return to a pastoral scene that he had grown used to from his time as a shepherd.

An adjacent building at Barden Tower is the Priest’s House, which to this day has a "Stargazer Room". It is said that young Henry was fascinated with the stars as he observed them many a night on the cold Cumbrian fells. When he came out of hiding, he formally studied astronomy and it is easy to speculate that he did this from the Stargazer Room. We know for sure that he did have a hand in the alterations to the Priest’s House and the chapel there in the undercroft is attributed to him.

It is said the he was all but illiterate when he was restored to his lands and received a late education from the monks at Bolton Priory. For those that know the geography, Bolton Priory is within walking distance of Barden Tower, so this aspect of the legend would appear to have some credence.

Correspondence with Henry VII still survives from Henry Clifford that state, "I’m a simple country baron" so, he was a modest man who did not easily fit in with the stereotype of the nobility of the day.

Clifford family records fully support this. The words of Anne Clifford describe him as "a plain man, who lived the part of a country life, and came seldom to court or London, except when called to parliament."

Frustratingly, Henry’s life is not well documented between the years 1461 to 1485 but there is perhaps enough evidence to suggest that at least part of his time in hiding was under the care of a simple shepherd.

A lot more work needs to be done to look into this character. Undoubtedly, he had a remarkable life. His life spanned the rein of 6 kings - Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII. Think about it. He was alive when Richard III, the last English king to be killed in battle, perished, and he actually led a command at the Battle of Flodden, when the last Scottish king, James IV, was killed on the field of battle. Not only that he challenged James IV to a personal duel on the battlefield, when he was 59 years old! James declined of course but Henry carried away three of James’ prized guns, known as the 7 sisters, as a trophy and took them back to Skipton Castle.

So, was all this Tudor Propaganda?

Did they borrow a theme from the French, Jeanne D’Arc, a simple shepherdess who goes on to restore France to its rightful owners.

Was this how to fill the void of Richard III, who was popular and much-loved in the North?

Was he promoted as a man of the people? What better than a simple shepherd – a character with strong biblical overtones. One can imagine Margaret Clifford, riding away from Skipton Castle with her son like the Mother of Christ, escaping to Egypyt.

And then there is the Arthurian legend, a poor boy restored to his rightful place.

One cannot but wonder what hand his Uncle Robert played in his restoration. Robert’s skill as a spy and a double-agent would have ensured that young Henry evaded capture and reveal his identity at the optimum moment to gain favour with the right regime.

Places to visit

Skipton Castle – privately owned. Admission fee.

Barden Tower – privately owned. Free admission.

Appleby – privately owned and closed to the public.

Brough – ruin owned by English Heritage. Free admission.

Brougham – ruin owned by English Heritage. Manned monument with entrance fee. Closed in winter.

Pendragon – privately owned ruin but open to the public and free admission.

Ugbrooke Estate in Devon – privately owned. Admission fee.

Towton Battlefield – free admission.