Saturday, 20 May 2017

Mythbusting, Part 3: Francis`s (un?)popularity

A claim often made about Francis in literature not sympathetic to his best friend Richard III is that Francis was an unpopular man in his lifetime, hated by the population for usually unspecified reasons and not well-liked by anyone else. This is often made in connection with - equally disputable - similar claims about Richard III himself, but not always. The website of the Ufton Court Educational Trust makes such a claim about Francis as well when giving a short overview of the estate, which used to belong to Francis. In this case, it is based on the (in)famou Collyngbourne rhyme, discussed below.

David Baldwin repeatedly makes a similar claim as well in several of his works. In his case, he bases these claims of some actual rather suspect actions of Francis`s, mainly the claims he made to Katherine Neville, Dowager Baroness Hastings`s and Edward Hastings, 2nd Baron Hastings`s lands some months after William Hastings`s summary execution, and a similar claim he made against William Wayneflete, Bishop of Winchester.

These were doubtlessly sorry interactions, and do not shed the best light on Francis. Nor, however, were they in any way uncommon. To the lands he claimed from the Hastings, he had at least partially if not wholly no right, having quitclaimed one part of it in February 1482. To the manors he claimed from Wayneflete, he was, as noted by G.V.Belenger in her thesis “Francis Viscount Lovel, or the life of a dog, actually entitled. As was very common in the day and age, Francis sent men to take one of the manors he claimed for Wayneflete. The bishop was informed of this a while later, and told that Francis`s men could not be expelled because as he was a lord, he could not be treated thusly. The conflict dragged on a while, but eventually the two came to a compromise in February 1483. This apparently satisfied them both, for they did business again in 1484, apparently with no hard feelings between them, or at least none that were recorded or hindered their working relationship. So while this undoubtedly happened, it cannot be used as evidence for Francis`s unpopularity. In fact, it didn`t even seem to get much attention by contemporaries.

The conflict with the Hastings over the lands he claimed - which claim he seems to have based on the fact that they had used to belong his family once - was said by one source to have caused bad blood between the Hastings and Francis, however without any violence erupting, for example in the form of scuffles between the two party`s retainers (as were for example recorded during the quarrel between Richard of Gloucester and George of Clarence in 1471/2). It was said to have been resolved, and the claim settled, in early 1485, by the intervention of unnamed mutual friends, quite possible Lady Hastings`s sister and Francis`s mother-in-law, Alice FitzHugh. The solution that was finally agreed upon was not fair to the Hastings`, but again there is no evidence that the sordid business damaged any relationships. Baldwin chose to read a mention that the conflict "cannot finally be settled while [Edward Hastings] is underage" as a threat by Francis to make another, yet harsher, claim once Edward came of age, but there is nothing to support this. The statement was a fact - once Edward Hastings came into his properties, legal matters previously arranged with his guardian had to be settled again in many cases, especially disputed ones such as this - and there is no reason why Francis, after having made his claim but committed no violence, would after two years suddenly decide to settle for less than he wanted rather than pushing it all through immediately or, if he was unsure he could manage so immediately but apparently cocksure enough he could once Edward was of age to include it in writing, not simply wait another year until such a time came. 

These episodes are non-flattering and show, from all we know about him, Francis at his worst. They were not, however, signs he was very unpopular, they didn`t even cause too much stir nor were they out of the ordinary at the time. Even if his conflict with the Hastings left them - understandably, though we have no evidence for such, we can only assume - with a strong dislike/hatred for him, it would only make him a normal courtier. Most if not all high-profile courtiers had enemies, much as any high-profile person today has.

In fact, there is remarkably little evidence of Francis having enemies for a man of the standing he had during Richard III`s reign. William Collyngbourne`s rhyme, mentioned above, is often taken as sign of personal hatred against him and the others mentioned - apart from the king himself, William Catesby ("the Catte") and Richard Ratcliffe ("the Ratte"). However, there is no evidence Francis and Collyngbourne ever met or interacted, and the only time their paths would actually cross was when Francis sat on a jury condemning him for treason - a while after the rhyme was written, but while "seditious writings" were a second charge, the first was treason, which he had committed by writing to Henry Tudor in exile, inviting him to invade.

In fact, the Croyland Chronicle - not flattering to Richard III - mentions directly that the rhyme was simply meant to lambast the king and men he heavily/primarily relied on. It was a staple of criticism at the time, and long afterwards, to include the monarch`s councillors in any criticism of him/her, if not downrightshift the blame on them, which is very much what Collyngbourne`s rhyme also implies by saying "[Richard Ratcliffe, William Catesby and Francis Lovell] rule all England under a hogge", indicating he let them rule rather than doing it himself. 

Literary speculation aside, there is another reason why Collyngbourne may have been angry at Francis that had nothing to do with him performing any action that may cause unpopularity in the populance or even other lords: Richard gave the job of manager of some estates for his mother, which had been Collynbourne`s before he was involved in treasonous activity, to Francis.

There is nothing else known of Francis that could support a claim of him being unpopular. On the contrary, for someone so close and powerful, there is very little controversial known about him. He does not seem to have taken part in the events of summer 1483, which ended in Richard III taking the throne, and, curiously, despite him being favoured and rewarded during all of Richard`s lord protectorship, no one at the time nor otherwise suspected him of having done anything wrong, which is rather curious for someone who profitted from it so much. There is no account of him, at the time or later, being included in any of Richard`s supposed nefarious deeds. For example, in the Croyland Chronicle, it are said to have been Ratcliffe and Catesby (again) who advised Richard not to marry Elizabeth of York, fearing her influence should she become queen as they are said to have been the ones to have urged Richard to execute her half-brother Richard Grey and uncle Anthony Woodville (and presumably also the oft-forgotten Thomas Vaughn) two years earlier. The obvious mistakes in this account concerning the marriage have often been pointed out by people smarter than me, but it is another startling instance of Francis, a man of influence who much profitted from Richard`s becoming king, not being included in a retelling of his sketchy deeds.

In fact, it has been remarked by Dr Rosemary Horrox, among others such as J.M.Williams, that Francis, for all the lands he was given by Richard and his clear interest in possessions, see above, seems to have been content with having influence at court and that much of his influence in Richard`s goverment seems to have been due to his personal relationship to Richard and other courtiers. His favour was courted, as he as lord chamberlain was the person to control access to the king, but there is no indication of anyone accusing him of abusing that power. It is possible that the time he spent as chamberlain was too short for this to happen or even for him to develop a taste for doing so, and it would have happened later, but as it is, there is absolutely nothing. Francis seemed mainly to have been regarded as a good, if unremarkable, man.

It is also notable that this seems to have held true for all factions. Not only did Richard`s enemies never assign any horrible actions to Francis, but nor do we have any evidence of anyone trying to win Richard`s favour and trying to become close to the king resenting Francis`s closeness to him and the fact he was sometimes favoured above others, such as when Richard chose Francis`s ancestral manor as the only of his courtiers` home to visit on his first royal progress.

A last point speaking against Francis`s supposed unpopularity is the fact that he was never caught and his whereabouts never betrayed by anyone when he was a rebel in 1486 and possibly again when fleeing after Stoke in 1487. Francis was a hunted man by that time, with a price on his head. When Harry of Buckingham had found himself in a similar situation in 1483, he had been betrayed within two weeks. Francis never was.

It has often been pointed out that this was likely because he was in the north during most of that time, where he had associates and local ties, which is true. However, unlike what has sometimes been claimed, this does not mean he did not have any ties in his own lands, traditionally said to have been in the Midlands. While it is true that he did have extensive lands there, where he seemed to have few ties to, as seen when he failed to realise William Stonor had joined the rebels of 1483, he also had extensive lands in the north. In fact, through his grandmother Alice Deincourt, he had inherited the barony of Bedale, one of four other baronies he held in addition to that of Lovell. Francis, having been brought up in the north for large parts of his childhood and adolescence, simply seems to have chosen to focus on those lands.

Even in the Midlands, however, there is no evidence of any resentment against him personally. It appears he was large absent and therefore unable to foster strong loyalties to him, but nor was there any hard feeling against him.

To sum up, Francis was hardly a saint. He could be greedy, ruthless, act entitled and demand lands that were not his. However, he seems to have also been ready to compromise and had an astonishing lack of recorded enemies during the time he was in power and influence. There are no lurid tales told about him in primary sources of the time or afterwards, nor even in secondary sources, as are about so many of Richard III`s supporters and friends. And there is absolutely no evidence he was unpopular or that people didn`t like him.

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