Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Two letters to William Stonor

Of all the letters Francis may have written in his life, only two still exist. Both of them are addressed to William Stonor, a member of the gentry who owned land close to Francis`s ancestral manor and corresponding lands in Oxfordshire, and both, though fairly short, indicate a friendly if not close relationship between the two men.

The first, written on 24th June 1482, is about the threat of war with England`s Scottish neighbours and the effect this had on Francis`s movements, and offers a rare glance at Francis`s personality. It read as following:

"Cousine Stoner, I commaunde me to yow as hertely as I can, latynge yow have knowledge that I intendide to have bene with the King at the feste of Seynt John Baptist now late passid, to have attende upon his good grace; bot, Cousine, it is said in this contre the King purposes to send Northwardes my lorde of Gloucestre, and my broder Parr and such other folke of worship as hath eny reule in the said northe parties, trustyng we shall have warr of the Scottes: for cause wherof, and yef I shuld as now departe Southwardes it wold be said I withdrew me for the said warre. Bot, Cousine, as hastely as I can have a convenient seasson I purpose to be in the contre. And, Cousine, I pray yow þat ye wull see þat my game be wele kept at Roderfeld. And our lorde ever more have yow in his kepinge. From Tanfeld the xxiiijth day of Juyn.

ffraunceys Louell.

To my Cousine William Stonor, knight."

In modern English, it translates as:

"Cousin Stoner, I command me to you as heartily as I can, letting you have knowledge that I intended to have been with the King [Edward IV] at the feast of Saint John Bapist now late passed, to have attended upon his good grace; but, cousin, it is said in this country the King purposes to send northwards my lord of Gloucester and my brother Parr and such other folk of worship as has any rule in the north parties, trusting we shall have war of the Scots, for cause whereof, and if I should now depart southwards it would be said I withdrew me for the said war. But, cousin, as hastely as I can make a convenient season I purpose to be in the country. And, cousin, I pray you that you will see that my game be well kept at Rotherfield. And our lord ever more have you in his keeping. From Tanfield, the 24th day of June.
Francis Lovell
To my cousin William Stonor, knight."

As dry as this all is, it nonetheless reveals quite a lot about Francis, especially since it is the only declaration of what he wished and intended to do in his own hand we have, The first sentence indicates that Francis and William Stonor were not in regular contact and Francis had not been keeping him informed about his actions and/or intentions while being at his mother-in-law`s manor at Tanfield, or at least not so that he though to inform him when he intended to return south. This might have been expected if they had been close friends, but the letter clearly suggests that theirs was a friendly but nonetheless slightly distant relationship. Francis does not hesitate to inform Stonor of what he intends to do, but nonetheless the letter is rather impersonal. Citing affairs of state and going into some detail about them, he explains his decision to stay in the north, but does not mention why he wants to return south as soon as possible after having failed to do so to "attend to" the king. The only personal touch he adds is his request to Stonor to look after his game.

This is particularly fascinating as it is the best indication pointing to an interest Francis had we have. Clearly, his game was important to him, and coupled with the fact that we know he had hunting lodges built - one of which survives to this day as Ufton Court - it can be said with reasonable certainty that he enjoyed hunting.

Even aside from these indications as to the personal relationship between Francis and William Stonor and the insight into one of Francis`s interests, the letter offers interesting tidbits. For one, Francis`s lack of delight when mentioning the campaign is notable. While he clearly knows it is his duty and has no intention of shirking it, he does not seem to look forward to it, instead mentioning his wish to return south as soon as possible, which seems to indicate that while Francis could and did fight when he had to, he did not really enjoy it, and that his focus lay on other things.

It is also curious that this letter was written twelve days after Richard of Gloucester was made Lieutenant-General of the North at Fotheringhay Castle and charged with leading the campaign against the Scottish, as well as a good month after Richard first led an attack against the Scots. This indicates that news were travelling slowly and Francis as yet had heard only rumours of the appointment, and confirms that for some reason, despite his involvement in the previous year`s campaign and full intention to join the one that was about to start, Francis had not taken place in this earlier attack. Why this was, we can only speculate, as well as about the fact that he did not mention this attack in the letter to Stonor. Perhaps this was because he was annoyed or embarrassed about not having taken part in it and didn`t want to mention it, or because he thought Stonor would have heard about it already, but this is speculation heaped on speculation and there is simply no way of confirming any of it.

This letter, though not too revealing about Francis and his personality, was clearly a personal one. The second one to survive to this day is more formal. Written on 11th October 1483, during the so-called Buckingham rebellion, it goes like this:

"Cosyn Stoner, y commawnde me to youe as hartely as y cane: for as myche as hit plesyth þe Kynges [Richard III`s] grace to have warnyd youe and all other to attende upon his grace, and your compeny þat ye wolde come in my conysans and my compeny to come with you: and I ame sewre þat schall plese his grace beste, and cawse me to thynke þat ye lofe my honor, and y trust schalbe to your sewrte. Y pray youe remembyr this, as y schall remembyr youe in tyme to come, by þe grace of Jhesu, who ever preserve youe. Wreten at Lyncolne þe xj day of Octobyr.
Your hertely lovyng Cosyn ffraunceys Lovell.
Also Cosyn, þe kyng hath commawndyd me to sende youe worde to make youe redy, and all your compeny, in all hast to be with his grace at Leyceter þe Monday þe xx day of Octobyr: for I have sent for all my men to mete me at Bannebery, þe Soterday þe xviij day of Octobyr.
To my Cosyn [Syr] William Stoner."

In modern English, it reads:

"Cousin Stoner, I command me to you as heartily as I can: for as much as it pleases the King`s grace to have warned you and all other to attend upon his grace, and your company that you would come in my cognisance and my company to come with you: and I am sure that shall please his grace best, and cause me to think that you love my honour, and I trust shall be to your surety. I pray you remember this, as I shall remember you in time to come, by the grace of Jesu, who ever preserve you. Written at Lincoln the 11th day of October.
Your heartily loving cousin Francis Lovell.
Also cousin, the king hath commanded me to send you word to make you ready, and all your company, in all haste to be with his grace at Leicester the Monday the 20th day of October, for I have sent for all my men to meet me at Banbury, the Saturday the 18th day of October.
To my cousin [Sir] William Stoner."

The tone of this letter is remarkably different to the previous one. The formality is unsurprising, as Francis clearly states this is not a personal letter but one which he has been commanded to write by the king to assure he and his men are ready to fight for him against the rebels. Clearly this also reflects in what is being said, as it is strictly about this one subject. However, even so, there is a change in language that is notable. While Francis couches the letter in conventional assurances of affection, there is an undertone of suspicion. While of course it is easy to read this letter with hindsight and project the knowledge of what happened later and the fact Stonor did not obey the king`s orders but instead joined the rebels onto Francis`s words, there is no mistaking Francis`s repetition of the these orders, nor the assurance that this would be for his best and please not only the king but also earn him Francis`s thanks. Interestingly, Francis also seems to appeal to Stonor to not only do this for the king but also for him, and offers assurances that if he does as asked, he will not find him ungrateful.
In fact, while Francis naturally mentions the king`s wishes prominently from the first, it are these motivations he first mentions, before, in the bit after his signature, going into details about the king`s orders and even directly mentioning that it is because of them that he is writing the letter. The impression that gives is that Francis, somewhat awkwardly, tries to appeal to Stonor to follow the king`s orders by reminding him of their previously friendly relationship. However, again, it seems that this relationship was not too close, not only because Stonor failed to do as Francis asked, but also because Francis apparently saw the need to add that doing this for him would carry rewards for Stonor in the future and did not rely on the strength of their relationship itself to try and stop him from joining the rebels.

Unlike the first letter, it doesn`t really reveal anything about Francis`s personality. However, it suggests again, as does the 1482 letter to Stonor and Elizabeth Stonor`s 1477 letter to her husband, that the relationship between the two men was friendly but never an actual friendship. It also suggests that unlike what is often said, Francis was not completely unaware of Stonor`s loyalties. However, it confirms that while he was not, as sometimes claimed, hated in the Midlands, and it seemed to him at least worth trying to get Stonor to follow the king`s orders because of loyalty to him, his word didn`t carry too much weight there.

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