Sunday, 10 November 2019

Joan Beaumont, Margaret Beaufort and historical notions of fertility

Since I started reading Dr Nicola Tallis`s fabulous new book on Margaret Beaufort, I have been thinking about Margaret, her extremely early pregnancy with the future Henry VII, as well as Francis`s mother Joan Beaumont and her similarly early pregnancies.

The trigger for all these thoughts, and for this article, was Tallis´s statement that though it is usually assumed that Margaret had no more children after Henry because her giving birth at only 13 years of age made her infertile, this is not actually proved, and there might have been other reasons for it.

Naturally, I have nothing to say against this statement. It`s indubitably true. There was no way, with the medicine known in the 15th century, to ascertain infertility, even less the cause of it, and so today, we can only guess about the issues that affected the men and women at the time. However, in the light of all this, the thoughts and opinions of people in the 15th century about fertility and extremely young births are interesting and very telling.

Famously, by law, the age of consent in the 15th century was 12 years for women and 14 years for men. It is sometimes assumed that because of this, sex at this very young age was common and accepted. This is not so; and though it was not punishable by law, society at large did not look kindly on such early consummation. [1] Margaret`s extreme youth when she became pregnant and her husband Edmund Tudor`s decision to consummate their marriage this early caused a lot of unfavourable comments in contemporary and early modern sources, and there is evidence she herself considered it far too early. Many years later, she would counsel her son Henry VII not to allow his daughter, her granddaughter Margaret, to be married too early, as it could "injure her health". Obviously, she had her own experiences in mind and did not consider these experiences as normal and expected.

Nor was Margaret a special case, who was commented on because of the high status she had and the even higher status she got in later life. Though her case was lesser known than Margaret Beaufort´s, for the simple reason than she was of somewhat lesser birth and status, her contemporary Joan Beaumont`s very early pregnancy was similarly regarded with disgust by those who knew of it.

Born two years before Margaret, Joan became pregnant at some point in late 1454 or early 1455, at the age of just 13. She was, therefore, only a few months older than Margaret was when she became pregnant. She gave birth either shortly before or - somewhat more likely - shortly after her fourteenth birthday, to a boy called John, after his father. Though this small boy`s birth did not cause the comments Henry Tudor`s birth did, Joan`s pregnancy was not greeted with joy by her relatives. Her father-in-law, already less than friendly towards his son, Joan`s husband John Lovell, in his will, added a codicil shortly before his death, by which time he must have known of his daughter-in-law`s pregnancy. In this codicil, John Lovell was all but disinherited, with his father making sure he would only receive a pittance of his large fortune, and almost nothing for nearly as long as it would take for Joan`s child to reach majority. It is hard not to see a show of his feelings about his then 22-year-old son`s actions in consummating his marriage with his barely teenaged wife in this, but Joan`s own father was to make his feelings even clearer. In his own will, written in 1456, by which time Joan, then 14, was already pregnant again, he left a small amount of money to his baby grandson, but stated that his daughter ("my daughter Lovell, my life") was "to the fury of God, wife of John my son". It is, therefore, quite clear that so early consummation was not something that was accepted and expected. Like Margaret advised for her granddaughter, with her own experiences in mind, it seems that Joan`s son, Francis Lovell, took his mother`s experiences to heart when contemplating marriages for his sisters. Both of them were only married after their sixteenth birthday - a clear sign that like Margaret, he didn`t want to take any chances.

However, there is an obvious difference in the cases of Margaret Beaufort and Joan Beaumont, which harks back to the original point of the cause of Henry Tudor remaining an only child. Though only a few months older than Margaret when she first gave birth, Joan remained very fertile. Within only a couple of months of her first birth, she was pregnant again, and the pregnancy was successful - doubly remarkable as this second pregnancy resulted in a twin birth, something that was even more dangerous at the time than a single birth. That Joan survived both those births, together with all three babies, and remained fertile even after this, giving birth twice more in the following ten years, could suggest that it was not Margaret`s extremely early pregnancy and birth that caused her apparent infertility after Henry`s birth.

However, it is sheerest guesswork, and does nothing more than perhaps throw a doubt on this assumption. We know far too little to say that these cases were so similar that such a comparison makes sense. It is entirely possible that despite being nearly Margaret`s age, Joan was taller and stronger than Margaret, who was said to be very small even in her adult years, and therefore able to recover better from the births. It´s also possible, and in the case of her second pregnany, even likely, that Joan went into labour somewhat prematurely, and giving birth to therefore smaller babies did less lasting damage. All of this is possible, none of it is verifiable, and cannot therefore be used to debunk or confirm the cause of Margaret`s infertility, and Joan`s continued fertility.

It is notable, however, that Margaret herself apparently seemed to think that her early pregnancy and birth had caused her infertility, or at the very least contributed to it, as can be seen in her statement that if her granddaughter was married too early it could "injure her health". This is particularly interesting in that while it obviously assumed it was because of her that her subsequent marriages after her first husband`s death had not produced any children, she saw her first husband´s actions in making her pregnant so early as at least partly responsible. In an age when infertility was almost always seen as the woman`s fault, this is certainly remarkable. That Margaret`s son and daughter-in-law apparently agreed, both supporting her point of view about this and their daughter`s marriage, suggests that the connection between too early births and infertility was at the very least seen as logical and a risk not worth taking - in addition to the very real and provable risk to a mother and child`s life in the case of a birth at too young an age.

Of course, what really caused Margaret`s infertility cannot be ascertained, but she herself, and her contemporaries, seemed to connect it with her experiences and her too early pregnancy and birth. Joan Beaumont was lucky in that she did not suffer those consequences, but she faced other perils. Her husband John Lovell, apparently an unsavoury character, did not seem to treat her well, even apart from forcing her to become pregnant so very early. Nor did he seem to treat his twin children well, with his relationship to his first son, John Lovell jr, who sadly died in childhood, unknown. With the birth of twins being in several legends seen as caused by a mother`s sexual appetites, in some cases even casting doubt on the twins` paternity, it might have given John Lovell ammunition for his bad treatment. All that can be said is that, through no consideration of his own, he definitely did not destroy his young wife`s fertility, while in the case of Edmund Tudor, he very well might have, and was at least contemporarily thought to be responsible for destroying Margaret Beaufort`s chance of having more children.

[1] In fact, most people only married in their twenties. It was only nobility who married so very young in the first place.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Stop treating Anne Lovell badly!

This is going to be another installment in something about which I have spoken before; my deep-seated problem with the horrible, historically inaccurate and very sexist way Anne Lovell is treated in fiction. Her portrayals in fiction are so nasty that the novels most friendly to her simply ignore her existence, while those in which she is mentioned seem to be vying for the best way to portray her as the most horrible person anyone has ever encountered, and the most horrible character in the entire novel. There are novels which are sympathetic to Richard which portray Anne Lovell with more vitriol than Henry Tudor.

Now, being all for historical accuracy, I don`t condone inventing any inaccurate portrayal of Henry Tudor, either. Of course, in a novel about Richard, he is by necessity not a sympathetic character, but there need to be no inventions for it. But it`s more than a bit weird that authors who choose to invent nasty qualities for characters would do so for the wife of Richard`s best friend rather than for someone who actually did something bad to Richard, in a novel sympathetic to him.

There are three ways in which Anne Lovell is treated in novels, and none of them is good.

(1) "Yesterday upon the stair, I met a girl who wasn`t there".*

This is the most wide-spread version in non-fiction, and in the more sympathetic fiction, as at least it doesn`t slander her. For non-fiction it is somewhat explicable, as even Francis is often barely mention. It is a missed opportunity, as it ignores Anne`s very likely participation in Francis`s rebellions, that she committed treason for him and was considered dangerous by Henry VII`s government, but it is only logical that such subjects will not be addressed in non-fiction which barely mentions Francis`s rebellions. (Or doesn`t mention one of them at all, as often happens with the 1486 rebellion). In fiction, it is somewhat more jarring, as in non-fiction it can at least be assumed he probably was married at some point, while fiction of that sort sometimes glosses it over so much even Francis never thinks about it. In some of these cases, he has affairs with or outright relationships with other women, without him, them, or anyone else ever thinking about his wife, or even the fact he had a wife, at all. For all intents and purposes in those novels, it is as if she never existed.

(2) "She wasn`t there again today. Oh how I wish she`d go away."

This is a more common take in fiction; of Anne Lovell who is mentioned in passing as being Francis`s wife, but whose existence then never influences the plot, Francis`s actions, or even his thoughts and feelings again. Usually, this is explained by casual mentions of Anne being horrible, but at least it isn`t expanded upon and her supposed horrible horribleness made a plot point. A typical example is one novel in which it is claimed that her mother would not let her live with Francis as man and wife. This baffling statement is never explained, and in the whole rest of the novel, Anne is only brought up occasionally to be quickly dismissed (at various points as "weepy", "limp" and similar adjectives) and provide an excuse why Francis can`t marry his OC mistress, the author obviously being angry her existence stopped such a plot development. Another typical novel has Francis bring her up shortly to say his marriage isn`t as good as the supposedly perfect one of Richard and Anne Neville, and she`s never mentioned again. 

(3) "And every tale condemns me for a villain."

This is the worst, and sadly the most wide-spread version of Anne Lovell in fiction: a horrible woman who has all the bad qualities the author can think of. Various novels have called her ugly in colourful (and massively sexist) language, have insisted she is "unlikeable", "one of those miserable creatures who is happiest when pulling another soul to pieces" and other completely far-fetched and historically inaccurate claims. (And to make this whole thing even worse, more often than not, such qualities are told, not shown, which makes it seem like an excuse by the other characters for their relentless bullying of Anne Lovell.) Fairly often, this also comes at the expense of actual facts about Anne. Many novels age her up so Francis can state at a time when she was twelve in real-life that his marriage has failed, even that it is "hell". One claim that is found especially often is that she is frigid and sexless, and/or that she is so horrible Francis can`t bring himself to consummate the marriage, to explain why she and Francis had no children, as if infertility was an invention of the 20th century. (See below.) Also found often is the claim that she is so very religious, which somehow makes her bad. It`s all absolutely nasty (and this doesn`t even go into the implications of a woman apparently being bad when she doesn`t want sex for some reason).

Now, all of this would be bad enough if this was all there was to Anne`s portrayal in fiction. But it is not, because a lot of these portrayals do not only try and fill gaps in our knowledge in the worst possible way for Anne and based on no evidence, a lot of them actually take things we do have evidence for and which show her in a very good light, and claim the opposite.

The most obvious example for this is her and Francis`s childlessness. The most obvious explanation for this would be that one or both of them were infertile, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of their marriage. With a fair bit of digging, however - or reading my book, which I just mentioned here to advertise it and which of course couldn`t be done until three months ago - it becomes clear that Francis somehow knew it was his fault they couldn`t have children (which, given the lack of exact knowledge about reproduction at the time, almost certainly means he and Anne had to stop having sex at some point, possibly because of sickness or trauma), that she wanted children and that he was very sorry about this. It is perhaps expecting too much of novelists to do that much digging about what is essentially a side-character, but it also means that when these novels portray their childlessness as caused by Anne being horrible, they take an issue that was obviously painful for her and her husband, that was caused by something nasty for Francis and during which Anne supported her husband and stood by him, and use it as evidence she was horrible.

It`s similar with her being so religious and therefore horrible. It is not only offensive in itself, as if religiosity was somehow inherently wrong, it not only imposes modern values on medieval characters, whose understanding of and attitude towards religion was completely different to ours, it takes a sign of Anne`s love and loyalty to her husband and somehow turns it into the opposite. At some point before December 1489, age just 29, Anne took a religious vow of some sort, which meant she would never be able to marry again. It came after years of Anne committing treason to find Francis, committing treason to help Francis`s rebellions, standing by him through difficult time and being known to be an influence on him, and therefore clearly meant she didn`t want to be married to anyone but Francis. This is not as hard to find out as the issue with fertility above, and yet, somehow, her effectively making it clear that she did not want any other husband but Francis, gets presented as proof she hated him and didn`t want to be married at all.

The bottom line of all this is, I`m really sick of Anne Lovell`s portrayal in fiction.

*Yes, I know, it`s "man who wasn`t there", but it made neat headlines for these two subsections of poor Anne`s treatment in fiction.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

The conference "Dynasty and Disappearance" in Minster Lovell 18/05/2019

Yesterday, the conference "Dynasty and Disappearance" took place in Minster Lovell. It was organised by Steven David, who wrote a book about Francis called "The Last Champion of York: Francis Lovell, Richard III`s Truest Friend" and gave a talk there and who invited me to give a talk as well.

I arrived in Minster Lovell on Saturday morning, having come to London by plane on Friday, from there to Witney, where I stayed the night before Steve`s wife Rose picked me up and drove me to the place of our conference. Joining me were my parents, who wanted to hear me talk as well.

Arriving at the Old Swan hotel in Minster Lovell, I was quite awed. The Malthouse, were the conference took place, was very swish indeed, and the village turned out to be, as Rose said, like a picture book. Very green, very calm, very beautiful. A lot of nature. I loved it immediately.

The conference was organised perfectly, and inside the Malthouse, I was greeted by a wonderful selection of books about the village, holiday cards and CDs showing pictures of it, nicely arranged with a rather atmospheric - if implausible - picture of a skeleton sitting in a chair in a cellar, a skeleton dog at its feet, a helmet as would have been worn during battle in Francis`s time and other such lovely things. I especially loved an armoured glove, into which little hearts had been worked. I shall now forever believe Francis wore such gloves.

I did not get to admire the display for very long, though, because there were people to meet. Everyone was in a good mood, asking questions about my journey from Germany and how I came to be interested in Francis. Everyone was so nice and lovely, I slowly started to become less nervous about giving my talk in front of 50 people, and when it started at around 10:15 am, after a nice introduction, I felt I could speak with some ease.

My talk was about "Francis's childhood, connections and his place as an adult in Oxfordshire society", and it was quite fun to hold, actually. People were really interested, which made me feel secure as the talk went on, and I even got a laugh or two at some points, for example when I professed to have absolutely no idea how to pronounce "Magdalen College" and, as a Hessian, probably being incapable of doing it correctly.

All in all, I think it went well. I received some questions, among others by an elderly lady who mentioned an old local story that Francis`s twin sister had killed Francis, having first led him to a church and having read the mass of the dead for him before doing so. To my relief, no one else had ever heard of this story either, and I could answer that his twin sister most definitely could not have killed him, having died some six to seven years before he vanished.

After my talk was over, there were refreshments offered. I got to talk to several more people, some of whom I had spoken to before over the internet, and making new aquaintances. After around twenty minutes, Steve gave his talk, titled "Pretender, Power and the Plantagenets". It was mostly about Francis`s rebellions during Henry VII`s reign and the possibilities of what happened to him after he vanished. It was a great talk, though I do not agree with Steve`s theory of where Francis eventually died.

It was also great to pool our thoughts and knowledge after the end of his talk. During the approximately 30 minutes long plenary session, we answered some very interesting questions, among others about Anne FitzHugh`s whereabouts after Francis vanished.

We then went to lunch, and had a very enjoyable time talking about Francis, as well as about other subjects. Afterwards, we then had a guided tour through the village, to St Kenelm`s church and the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall - which, as we learnt, was not actually called that until the 19th century, before that being simply known as the Minster`s Manor.

The village was absolutely lovely, and the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall were awe-inspiring. It was a very special feeling to be there in person. The walls were much higher than I expected, but I thought they gave out some rather weird vibes. Not so much in the first part of the ruins, but as we progressed towards what were likely the ruins of the "private" parts of the manor, I thought it felt somewhat oppressive. It was very strange indeed, but despite this, I loved being there. It was like understanding Francis a bit more still, seeing where he grew up, and added to that, it was an amazingly beautiful place.

In the end, we went into St Kenelm`s church, where I saw William Lovell`s grave. It was astoundingly tucked away, not the centre of the church as I had expected, though I loved his effigy, which was, after all these years, still so very detailed. We were served tea and cake in church, chatted a bit more, before the conference ended.

It was a perfect, a lovely day, and I am very happy to have been there, to have met Steve, Rose and so many others.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Francis`s older brother, John Lovell jr?

In 1456,at some point before September, and therefore the birth of Francis and Joan Lovell, their grandfather John Beaumont, Viscount Beaumont, wrote his will. Though he lived for another four years after writing it, he did not change it again. After his death in battle in 1460, fighting against Yorkist forces, the then victorious Yorkist allowed the terms of the will to be followed and his son William Beaumont was granted licence to enter his lands after proving his age.

The original will is still extant and held in the National Archives. Some of the writing has become very faint over the years, but most of it is still legible. The will in itself is neither particularly long nor particularly unconventional. As expected, John made arrangements that "my obytt be held yerely" and left money and belongings to friends and relatives.

There are only two notable facts about the way the will is written. For one, though John started writing the will in (somewhat shaky) Latin, he switched to English about half-way through. The second interesting fact is the very emotive language he used in the bequest to his daughter Joan. Leaving her 1500 marks, John describes her as "my daughter Lovell, my life", which he then followed with the statement that she was "to the wrath of God my son John`s wife". Perhaps unsurprisingly in the light of such condemnation, John Lovell is not left anything in the will.

There is, however, another very interesting bequest in the will. After the bequests to his son and heir William, right in the beginning of the will, and just before the bequest to his daughter Joan, John left "John my son 990 shillings when 10 [??] years after his birth."

This is notable because John Beaumont did not have a son called John. Though he might have had unrecorded children by his first wife Elizabeth Phelip, by 1441, only Henry, who died at the age of eight in 1442, William and Joan survived. John`s second wife, Katherine Neville, was 46 years of age when he married her and therefore too old to give him any more children. Though it is of course possible John had illegitimate children, those would not have been mentioned before his legitimate daughter. "John my son" can, therefore, not have been John Beaumont`s actual son. 

It was, however, perfectly common to both describe not only children-in-law but also stepchildren and grandchildren simply as children. An example of that is found in Cecily Neville`s will, in which she describes her grandson Edmund, Earl of Suffolk, as "my son Edmund" and his brother William as "my son William". Another example is Anne Neville, Duchess of Buckingham`s will in which her grandson Henry is described as her son.

John Beaumont did, in fact, have a stepson called John - John Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. However, it is very unlikely he is the "John my son" meant in the bequest. Not only would it be very strange for John Beaumont to mention his stepson before his own daughter, John Mowbray was only six years younger than his stepfather and therefore the condition that something should only happen ten years after his birth would make no sense. The same counts for his son, John Beaumont`s step-grandson, who was already twelve when the will was made.

This means that "John my son" cannot be John`s stepson. Since his son-in-law John Lovell is explicitly identified as his daughter Joan`s husband, it also cannot have been him who was meant, since surely if so, the identifier would have been added to this first mention. It would also make little sense for John Beaumont to mention a son-in-law he obviously despised before his daughter.

This means that "John my son" must have been a grandson, a son of either William or Joan. Though William was 18 when the will was made and could very well have fathered a son by then, it is once more unlikely that John Beaumont would mention an illegitimate grandson before his legitimate daughter. Since William was married to Joan Stafford, daughter of Humphrey, Duke of Buckingham and Anne Neville (mentioned above), who was only born in 1442, it`s all but impossible that he could have had a legitimate son by 1456.

Which means that "John my son" was most likely the oldest son of John Lovell and Joan Beaumont. Though Joan Beaumont was only a year older than her sister-in-law Joan Stafford, she would have just been old enough to have been able to conceive a child that fits the criteria. If so, John Lovell jr must have been born between June 1455, when William Lovell`s will makes it clear that he did not yet have any grandchildren by his sons, and November 1455, seeing as Francis and his twin sister Joan would have to have been conceived in December 1455 to be born in September 1456. Joan, who was born between June and early August 1441, would have been 13 or just turned 14 when he was born, while her husband would have been 22.

There is no other reference I have been able to find for John Lovell jr, but this does not have to mean anything, since there is also no contemporary reference to Francis before 1465. In fact, if he had an older brother who was still alive when he and Joan were born, it might explain why Francis was given his unusual name, rather than named after his father, especially since his father does not seem to have been the type of person who was very tolerant.

There is no evidence how long John Lovell jr might have lived. Possibly, he lived until he was around 8, dying in 1463, which might explain his younger sister Frideswide`s birth a year later, but it is sheerest guesswork.

All that seems clear is that it is almost certain that, despite his mother`s extreme youth even when she had Francis and Joan jr, Francis had an older brother called John, who is mentioned in his grandfather John Beaumont`s will.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

"Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide" available for pre-order

My book on Francis Lovell - "Lovell our Dogge: The Life of Viscount Lovell, Closest Friend of Richard III and Failed Regicide" is now available for pre-order. 

It can be found on amazon here:

And on Book Depository here:
Its publishing date is 15th July 2019.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Everything you know about John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, is wrong

John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was born on 27th September 1442 to William de la Pole, then Earl of Suffolk, and his wife Alice Chaucer, granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer. Born some eleven years after they married, he was their only child.

The story of William de la Pole`s life is well known. Though high in Henry VI and Margaret Anjou`s favour, and reaping the benefits of this, which included an elevation to marquis and eventually duke, he was very unpopular for his involvement in several controversial government policies and his steep rise while being of comparatively humble background. This unpopularity eventually came to haunt him. On 28th January 1450 he was arrested, and subsequently he was impeached and accused of treason. He escaped the death penalty for this only through Henry VI`s intervention, and his eventual punishment was to be five years of exile. On his way to exile, however, his ship was intercepted and on 2nd May 1450, William de la Pole was murdered by beheading.

Following his father`s death, the then seven-year-old John succeeded to his father`s titles, though over the years of his minority, he lost several lands and privileges his father had held. He was one of the poorest of titled nobility at the time, at times not even having enough to support an earldom, let alone a dukedom, though he kept the title.

John`s wardship was not granted to another lord after his father`s death, but he remained in his mother`s household and under her care. In February 1458, when John was 15, Alice Chaucer arranged for her son a marriage to Elizabeth, the second daughter of Richard, Duke of York and his duchess Cecily. His new wife was almost to the day two years younger than John.

The marriage lasted until John`s death in 1492, and appears to have been very successful. They had eleven known children together, though there is some evidence there were more whose names and birth dates are no longer known.

Over the course of their marriage, John and Elizabeth not only became parents several times, they were also the guardians of at least four children: Francis`s cousin Henry, Lord Morley, who was married to their oldest daughter Elizabeth, as well as Francis himself and his sisters Joan and Frideswide. Francis seems to have been close to John, probably seeing in him a substitute father, and emulated him in many ways. Of John`s relationship to his other wards, not much is known, though it is possible that Frideswide called her first child after him.

Though John and Elizabeth`s son, John, Earl of Lincoln, has achieved a certain fame, and John`s father William is certainly (in)famous, John, Duke of Suffolk has not often excited the interest of historians and researchers by himself. The Victorian Henry Alfred Napier called him "under-researched", something that some 150 years later has not really changed. Though there are a few (very few) articles on him, there is no comprehensive study of his life, and when he is mentioned in other historical works, such mentions are often based on assumptions which are not entirely correct or plain entirely wrong. As a consequence, some claims about him have become "common knowledge" despite being either stripped of their context or just untrue.

Several of these claims are:

(1) He always kept out of conflicts for the throne and never got involved.

Though naturally, at the age of not quite 13, he was too young to become involved at the beginning of the conflicts now known as the Wars of the Roses, by early 1461, he was on the Yorkist side. Presumably this was not an indicator that he thought this side was the one in the right, but simply due to family connections through his wife. What his thoughts were on the conflict is unknowable, but he is reported to have fought on the Yorkist side at the second Battle of St Alban`s, as well as at the Battle of Ferrybridge and at the Battle of Towton. Strangely, despite this and the fact he was his brother-in-law, Edward IV did not grant him any rewards or special privileges for this. However, even so, John appears to have fought on his side again three years later, at the Battle of Hexham on 15 May 1464. However, at this battle something appears to have happened to him. Some three weeks later, on 8 June 1464, Margaret Paston wrote a letter to her husband John, in which she reported, among other things, "it is told that the Duke of Suffolk is come home, and either he is dead, or else right sick, and not like to escape". Sadly, she does not elucidate this any more, but given that she immediately afterwards, clearly in connection with it, goes on to explain about Sir John Howard and Lord Rivers`s activities about punishing those who did not come to Edward`s help soon enough, it is a reasonable assumption that whatever sickness John was afflicted with, it was connected to the battle.
Obviously, John survived, but after 1464, never fought again. Despite this, however, he never contemporarily acquired a reputation similar to for example Thomas Stanley`s, for sitting on the fence and waiting everything out, nor was he ever accused of cowardice. It seems likely that something happened at the Battle of Hexham that made him unable to fight later on, and that this was known contemporarily.
John does not seem to have been particularly interested in national politics, but it is simply untrue that he never fought, and in fact it might not even have been his fault that he stopped.

(2) He always did what those in power demanded of him and never drew attention to himself

Evidence suggests that while John  did not get involved much in national politics, this was not because he wanted to keep his head down but simply because he wasn`t interested. Certainly, he did not always do what was demanded of him. There are several instances of him refusing to come to court when it was demanded of him, under a variety of excuses. Early in Edward IV`s reign, he sent a response to Edward`s summons saying he could not come, he was too poor to keep up the status expected of him when coming to court. During the Lancastrian re-adaption, in January 1471, he asked his brother-in-law Thomas Stonor (husband of his illegitimate half-sister) to excuse him from meeting the Lord Chancellor, as many of his servants had been sent into Suffolk to be with his children there, and most of the rest had accompanied his wife Elizabeth on a recent visit there to her children, and he had too few servants to travel to London.
In 1487, only shortly after his oldest son John, Earl of Lincoln, had died in rebellion against Henry VII, John refused to come a festivity for the Order of the Garter, saying the celebration was not lavish enough for him to attend. There are other such instances, which clearly show not a willingness to please those in power at all costs, but, if anything, a complete disinterest in being involved in national politics.  In fact, there are some instances which clearly illustrate that if the sitting king gave orders which interfered with his own interests, John showed no inclination to keep to them. The clearest such example is when he swore, along with other lords, to Henry VII that he would not distribute livery or gather large retinues. Though he did not protest the oath at all, he apparently saw no reason to keep to it and continued distributing livery and gathering large retinues in his own name until his death.

(3) He always kept his head down

This is, of course, related to the points above, and it is equally untrue. John did not keep his head down when he considered something worth fighting for. His quarrel with the Paston family for several manors is legendary for a reason, and presumably the thing he is best known for. His actions there ranged from, as was quite normal in such quarrels, sending men to take a manor he considered his, to petty personal actions, such as visiting a manor he claimed as his own but which was held by Paston and eating as much fish as he possibly could so that there would hardly be any left for Paston should he visit there. During the course of these quarrels, he also did not hesitate to threaten Paston, and at least once in 1465, his men ransacked and ruined a manor Paston was holding, as well as robbed a church connected to it, though John denied knowledge of it and distanced himself from this.

(4) His actions, or lack thereof, in national politics were only for personal gain

Naturally, this would be hardly unnormal, and John was hardly uninterested in personal gain. However, if it was his plan to keep out of national politics so he would be rewarded for his apparent loyalty to whoever was in power, he not only went about it wrongly - see point (2) - it also failed spectacularly, and he would surely over the course of thirty years have realised that. Though he had more when he died than he had in 1461, he was comparatively poor all his life, and several instances of him needing money badly during these years are recorded. At times, his need for money was so bad he pawned jewellery to Edward IV, simply to keep up a certain lifestyle expected of a man of his status.

(5) He was a coward, afraid of his father`s fate happening to him

There is a zero indication he was in any way a coward, and surely refusing the summons of several kings on more or less flimsy excuses - see point (2) - and proceeding to do what he wanted to do would not be something a coward would do, nor someone who was desperately afraid of losing favour. There is also no indication his father`s fate informed any of his actions. It is probably safe to assume that it influenced him in some way, as it is only human nature, but that this is what caused his disinterest in national politics is at best sheerest speculation, and not borne out by his actions. All we know of John`s relationship to his father`s memory is that he did the traditional and expected thing and had prayers read for him. That`s all.