Sunday, 20 May 2018

Francis`s character

Not many of Francis`s own words still survive. We only have two letters written by him, plus one indenture which reflects his wishes but most likely was not written in his own words, but those of a lawyer. Still, little though it is, these documents give a rare insight into Francis`s state of mind, and as such are invaluable.

Both of Francis`s surviving letters were addressed to William Stonor, his Oxfordshire neighbour. The first one dates from 1482, the second one from 1483. By this time, the two men had known each other for at least six years, possibly a bit more. A letter from Elizabeth Stonor from 1477 references Francis and his wife and suggests the two couples were establishing a friendly relationship.

However, it appears that over the years, Francis and William remained a bit distant, if friendly. Their relationship seems to have been functional, but not much more than that. Both Francis`s letters are very polite, but do not give away much about him. In the first letter, in June 1482, Francis reports that he couldn`t go back south as he had intended to, and states that he will have to stay in the north of England to join a potential outbreak of war against the Scots, though he intends to come back south as soon as possible. He then asks Stonor to look after his game, a personal but still very innocuous request. The impression of him created by this letter is of a polite and dutiful but somewhat reserved and stiff man, not someone given to unnecessary flourishes. Nor does the letter suggest that he was given to sharing too much of his life, thoughts or motivations, as he does not tell Stonor why he could not come south before as planned, nor why he wishes to go there as soon as possible.

Of course, as this is a singular instance, it doesn`t have to be particularly telling, but the second letter  supports this impression of Francis. It is a very different missive from the first one, more official as Francis asks Stonor (unsuccessfully, as would turn out) to come to the aid of the king during the Buckingham rebellion. However, the tone of it is slightly awkward, as if Francis wasn`t used to being either a supplicant or a commander, and it equally misses the flourishes other such letters had, the effusive declarations of gratitude in advance and affection. Again, it suggests Francis was a reserved man, who did not say more than was strictly necessary. 

This would, naturally, square with what we know about him. His actions definitely also show a man who wasn`t hankering for the spotlight, who was reserved, calm and didn`t get involved in arguments a lot. While he did, as is to be expected for a man of his standing at the time, show some greediness for lands, even those arguments were usually solved in an unusually non-martial way. His letters, giving a rare glimpse at his own thoughts, thus confirm what his actions also indicate, that he was polite, reserved, calm, unwilling to draw a lot of attention to himself.

Despite this last trait, however, Francis also showed a tendency to be unconventional. Naturally, his decision not to accept Henry VII as king after Richard III`s friend, effectively giving up everything for his love and loyalty to his fallen friend showed this in a rather spectacular way, but for most of his life, it appears Francis was more quietly unconventional. One good example for this is found in the above-mentioned indenture, in which he made arrangements for his wife Anne for the event of his own death. Sealed on 10th June 1485, it was probably made with the upcoming battle in mind, but clearly intended not just for the eventuality of him dying in this conflict, but generally for the possibility of Anne surviving him.

Notably, his arrangement left Anne very wealthy, as they would have made her liege lady of three rich manors and outright owner of two others, a move which would have severely disadvantaged his cousin Henry Lovell, Lord Morley. While the usual arrangement for widows, especially childless widows not holding any possessions during their children`s minority, was to give them lifetime rights to some manors, Francis clearly went above and beyond that for Anne. This indicates some affection for her, as well as a rather unusual way of settling his affairs.

Even more notable is that the indenture obviously shows that Francis was not expecting to have any children, and in fact seemed quite certain of this, as his arrangement could have equally disadvantaged them. Even more strange is that, given that he gave Anne ownership of two manors and thus the possibility to pass them on to her own descendants, he seemed to think their childlessness was his fault and it was possible that after his death, she might remarry and have children.

While it is of course possible Francis plainly knew that it was his fault due to something obvious as him not being able to have sex due to an illness, this is sheerest speculation, and it was more than uncommon for a childless couple of which both partners had never been married before, to blame the man for the infertility, rather than the woman. In fact, given that neither Francis nor Anne were even 30 years of age, it was even quite uncommon for him to have already given up on children rather than having hoped that a miracle could happen.

Perhaps this resignation, and even his thinking their childlessness was his fault, is explained by another trait shown by this indenture, namely what appears to have been a low self-esteem. Rather than, as was completely normal, simply charging his wife with finding priests to read prayers for him after his death - as his grandfather William Lovell charged his heirs in his will - he instead asked her to do it in exchange for the generous arrangements he had made for her. As it was not only standard to request prayers, no matter what the relationship of a couple was, but Anne and Francis seemed to care for each other, it is rather strange Francis believed she would need such an incentive to make sure she fulfilled his wish for prayers. It most definitely suggests he was not certain of her feelings, or potentially of deserving it unless he gave her something in return. Again, this would - sadly, in this case - square well with his actions, and may explain why he prefered to stay out of the spotlight.

Finally, the indenture and his generous provisions for Anne also indicate that Francis was a man of high emotions. He showed his affection for his wife in an unusual and very generous way. Equally, he showed his love for Richard in the most spectacular way possible. On the other hand, he equally showed his hatred for his father in very obvious, unconventional ways.

All in all, what can be gleaned from the few of his own words which still survive, and which is supported by his actions, is that Francis was a polite, reserved and calm man, who didn`t like the spotlight, suffered from a low self-esteem at least in his private life, but at the same time was given to strong emotions and quietly unconventional behaviour to show them.

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