William Bonville, 1st Baron Bonville

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William Bonville
1st Baron Bonville
Coat of Arms of Sir William Bonville, 1st Baron Bonville, KG.png
Arms of Bonville: Sable, six mullets argent pierced gules[1]
SuccessorCecily Bonville
Born12 or 31 August 1392[2]
Shute Manor, Shute, Devon
Died18 February 1461 (aged 68)
Following the Second Battle of St Albans
Noble familyBonville
SpousesMargaret Grey
Elizabeth Courtenay
  • Philippa Bonville[note 1]
  • William Bonville
  • Margaret Bonville
  • Elizabeth Bonville
  • John Bonville (illegitimate)
FatherSir John Bonville
MotherElizabeth FitzRoger

William Bonville, 1st Baron Bonville KG (12/31 August 1392 – 18 February 1461) was a member of the English peerage and an important, powerful landowner in the southwest of England during the late middle ages. Born in the last decade of the fourteenth century, Bonville's father died before Bonville reached adulthood. As a result, he grew up in the household of his grandfather and namesake, who was a prominent member of the Devon gentry. Both Bonville's father and grandfather had been successful in politics and land ownership, resulting in Bonville immediately entering into a large inheritance of both money and land when he reached adulthood. He augmented his inheritance further by a series of lawsuits against his mother's second husband. By this time, he was old enough to undertake royal service, which then meant fighting in France in the latter years of the Hundred Years' War. This Bonville did, and the following year he joined King Henry V's uncle on the King's campaign, which would result in the Battle of Agincourt. Bonville would undertake further operations in France for much of the remainder of his life, but increasingly, events in the southwest of England began taking up more of his time and energies.

Bonville's most important neighbour was Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon. His father, the previous Earl, died when Thomas was young, and this meant that by the time he could enter into his estates, much of the influence his family had built up in Devon had been dissipated. Worse, for the new earl, was that the leading gentry—chief among them Wiliam Bonville—had taken a leading role in the political community of the county that the Earls of Devon had once taken themselves. This was not just a matter of moral or political influence but had a direct financial impact on the earl. In 1437 the new King, Henry VI, granted Bonville the profitable office of steward of the Duchy of Cornwall. This had traditionally been a hereditary office of the earls of Devon, and the earl was thus enraged. The dispute soon descended into violence, and both Bonville and Courtenay ravaged each other's properties. The situation was exacerbated in 1442 when the crown appointed—by accident, it is assumed—Courtenay to effectively the same stewardship it had appointed Bonville, which inflamed the situation even more. The feud between them continued intermittently for the next decade.

Henry and his government either failed to intervene between the two parties or did so ineffectually. On one occasion Bonville was persuaded to undertake further service in France—prmarilly in order to get at least one of the antagonists out of the region—but the mission was poorly funded, a military failure, and when Bonville returned the feud reignited. Violent feuding was becoming increasingly common between members if the mid-fifteenth-century nobility and Henry's government was unable to address it. Worse, King Henry himself became ill in 1453 and entered a catatonic state for the next eighteen months, heightening the policial factionalism that had riven the reign. Bonville generally seems to have remained loyal to the King, although clearly, his guiding motivation was to support whoever would aid him in his struggle against Courtenay. This was in a similar vein to many other of the ongoing noble internecine disputes, and the break down of law and order in the shires became subsumed into national politics itself. This, in turn, was drifting towards civil war, which would break out in 1455 with the First Battle of St Albans. Bonville seems to have managed to avoid implicitly in this and the variable swings in political fortune which followed it until 1460. At this point, he threw in his lot with the rebellious Yorkist lords. For Bonville, however, this new allegiance brought him little profit; his son was killed alongside York at the Battle of Wakefield in December 1460, while Bonville himself took part in the Second Battle of St Albans two months later. Bonville was also on the losing side, and with the Earl of Devon watching, was beheaded on 18 February 1461.

Background and early life[edit]

The Bonvilles were one of the major gentry families of late-fourteenth-century Devon, and often worked in close co-operation with others, the most important of whom were the Courtenay Earls of Devon. Bonville's grandfather, for example, was a retainer of Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon. Says Christine Carpenter of the family's social position, they "were already of a landed and official status to be regarded as what might be termed 'super-knights'";[3] she echoed K. B. McFarlane, who described the family as "a powerful and respected element in Devon...there was no need for them to stand in dread of the great, for they were not small themselves".[4]

Late fourteenth-century section of Bonville's birthplace.
Very little of the original medieval manor house remains of Bonville's birthplace; the section shown here is from the late fourteenth century.

William Bonville was born on either 12 or 31 August 1392[2] or 1393 in Shute, Devon, to John Bonville (d,1396) and Elizabeth Fitzroger (c.1370–c.1421).[5] William Bonville's grandfather was his namesake Sir William Bonville, who had been M.P. for Somerset and Devon on multiple occasions[6] and has been described by one historian as one of "the most prominent west-country gentry in the late fourteenth century".[7] On hearing of the birth of his grandson, a contemporary reports, Sir William "raised his hands to heaven and praised God".[2] Along with the Abbot of Newenham. he stood godparent to the young William.[2] The younger William was heir to both his father and grandfather; the latter—who had married twice—had substantially expanded the family patrimony.[7] He has been described by one twentieth-century historian as a "capable, energetic and well-connected man" in his adulthood.[8]

Bonville's father died when his son was four,[2] and young William probably grew up in his grandfather's household.[2] Grandfather Bonville died in 1408,[2] while Bonville was still legally a minor.[5] As was legal custom, King Henry IV took both Bonville's wardship and marriage into his own hands. This was valuable royal royal patronage,[9] which the King granted firstly to John Tiptoft,[10] and then to Edward, Duke of York.[7] Bonville had a younger brother, Thomas, who, by the time William came of age, had already married a cousin of Robert, Baron Poynings. This connection to the Poynings family, J. S. Roskell has suggested, was instrumental in Bonville's own marriage.[9]

Marriages and children[edit]

Bonville married twice. In 1414 he married Margaret Grey, a daughter of Reginald, Baron Grey of Ruthin,[8] who himself had married a daughter of Robert, Lord Poynings.[9] While Lord Grey promised to pay 200 marks to Bonville on the wedding day, Bonville likewise contracted to settle estates to the value of £100 on himself and his wife, jointly. Grey also paid another 200 marks in instalments over the following four years.[2] Sometime between April 1426 and October 1427[9]—when Bonville received a papal dispensation to marry again—Margaret Grey died. Bonville made his next marriage to Elizabeth Courtenay, widow of John, Baron Harington. Elizabeth was the daughter of Bonville's grandfather's local associate, Edward Earl of Devon.[11] The dispensation was required because Elizabeth was already a godmother to one of Bonville's daughters. This marriage increased Bonville's links to the nobility, as Lord Harington was Elizabeth's brother-in-law, and the earl of Devon was her nephew.[2]

Bonville's son and heir by Margaret, William, married Lord Harington's only daughter Elizabeth around 1443,[12] and two of Bonville's daughters—Margaret and Philippa[note 1]—married William Courtenay and William Grenville respectively, who were both scions of cadet branches of the Courtenay family. Bonville's third daughter, Elizabeth,[2] married an important Midlands landholder, Sir William Tailboys in November 1446.[13] These marriages further enhanced Bonville's aristocratic and political connections.[2]

Bonville also had an illegitimate son, also named John, by one Isabel Kirkby, to whom he bequeathed a "substantial" property and who died in 1499.[2] This John married Alice Denys and had been endowed in 1453.[14]

Shute is located in Devon
The location of Shute, Bonville's birthplace, within Devon and England.

Estates and wealth[edit]

Bonville's father's and grandfather's successful careers[6] meant that when Bonville came of age in 1414[9] and then inherited an income of approximately £900 per annum; for context, says Martin Cherry, this was "a figure not far short of that enjoyed by the fifteenth-century earls of Devon themselves".[7] His lands—comprising eighteen manors[9]— were situated all over England, although concentrated in Devon, particularly around Shute in the southeast of the county, and Somerset.[7] These lands encompasses his grandfather's patrimony and also his mother's Fitzroger inheritance, with manors in Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire. The Fitzroger estates were mainly in Leicestershire, the East Midlands, and the southeast of England in Kent and Sussex.[2] Both his grandmother and his mother held a third of his inheritance, each, in dower. His mother had died a few months earlier,[9] but following John Bonville's death before the younger William came of age, she granted her Fitzroger inheritance to her second husband, Richard Styuecle, to be held in reversion to any heirs she might have with him. When she died in 1414, Styuecle didn't just take those lands of his wife's personal inheritance, but also the Wiltshire manors of the Bonville estate and the valuable caput of Chewton. Styuecle claimed them by the old tradition of courtesy; William Bonvile, when he came of age, proceeded to launch lawsuits against his stepfather to reclaim his maternal inheritance. This struggle was to take over six years, but he had succeeded in establishing his rights to the estates by 1422. Bonville's grandmother, meanwhile, survived until 1426; by then Bonville had also inherited substantial estates from relatives, including a cousin and an aunt. These brought him the manors of Yelverton and Mudford Sock, and as a result, states a recent commentator, "without doubt Bonville ranked among the very wealthiest landowners of the West Country".[2]

Political career and royal service[edit]

Taunton Castle in 2017
The main gate, in 2017, of Bonville's castle at Taunton, which was besieged by the Earl of Devon.

Bonville undertook royal service from almost the moment he was old enough to do so. In 1415 he travelled to France as part of King Henry V's Agincourt campaign, travelling in the retinue of the King's brother, Thomas, Duke of Clarence. While in Normandy, at some point before his seventeenth birthday, Bonville was knighted.[5]

In 1421, Bonville acted as one of the Duke of Clarence's executors following the latter's death at the Battle of Baugé. Roskell suggests that Bonville must have been greatly trusted by Clarence—who when he died was heir presumptive to the English throne—because the duke had made Bonville one of the mortgagees for his ducal estates in Yorkshire.[9] Bonville returned to England at some point early in 1421, as he attended the parliament that of May that year. However, he had returned to France two years later in the service of the King's uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. He brought an armed retinue of ten men-at-arms and 30 archers in the campaign to regain Le Crotoy.[2]

On his return to England, much of Bonville's time was occupied with the administration of his estates. Extensive as they were, there was occasional friction—some of it violent—with his neighbours.[5] In 1427 he was engaged in a bitter feud with Sir Thomas Brooke, whom Bonville—described as a "thrusting and able man"[15]—accused of unilaterally enclosing parkland in Axmouth and obstructing roads that Bonville's tenants used regularly. The matter went to the arbitration of Bonville's godfather, the Abbot of Newenham, who found against Brooke, who had to pay all Bonville's legal costs and reverse his enclosure.[2] Bonville was himself also a royal official, having been appointed Sheriff of Devon in 1423,[5] although he was only rarely appointed to commissions in the county before 1430.[note 2] From then on, though, he was fully employed in the service of royal administration; he was a J.P. for Devon from July 1431, for Somerset from March 1435, and for Cornwall from November 1438.[16] Other commissions included local inquiries into necromancy, piracy, extortion, desertion (from the Earl of Warwick's fleet in 1438), wastes, felonies, smuggling, and concealment of treasure.[2]

In 1437 King Henry VI's minority ended, and he began his personal rule. Bonville was appointed to the King's Council, being described as a "King's knight".[2] He was also zealous in combating piracy off the Cornish coast, to such an extent that in 1454 the Duke of Burgundy made an official complaint to the English government about the treatment meted out to Burgundian shipping in the area.[17] In 1440 Bonville, with Sir Philip Courtenay—who by now was a close friend of Bonville's[8]—commanded a small fleet[18] of thirty galleys to patrol the channel, although they saw little action, and what action they did see did not necessarily go in their favour, as on one occasion the Portuguese fleet captured two English ships from them.[2]

Feud with the Earl of Devon[edit]

In 1437, Bonville was appointed Steward of Cornwall for a lifetime term, for which he received a salary of 40 marks yearly.[16] This immediately made him an enemy of the new Earl of Devon, Thomas Courtenay,[19] who had just come of age but—due to his mother's longevity—had inherited a reduced income.[20][note 3] Granting Bonville the stewardship, therefore, was not only seen by Courtenay as a blow to his regional hegemony but also very materially impacted on his income,[7] as the duchy of Cornwall was a significant source of patronage to whoever held the stewardship.[21] Martin Cherry has also identified a deeper decline in the Courtenay earls' power in Devon as a result of a shift from them towards the county's upper gentry ("among whom Bonville was pre-eminent"),[7] which historian Hannes Kleineke has attributed to the early death of Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon in 1422. Earl Hugh's death left his heir a minor and created a power vacuum from which the regional gentry, such as Bonville had profited and partially filled[22] in the absence of traditional Courtenay sources of patronage.[23] The grant of the stewardship has been described by Carpenter as "the immediate catalyst for the Courtenay–Bonville feud, which had been threatening for some time";[24] it was to be one of many internecine and familial feuds within the English noble families in the second half of Henry VI's reign.[25][note 4]

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Detail of SC 8-269-13408.png

Bonville's (and other members of the gentry) pre-eminence in Devon was almost unassailable by the new earl of Devon, who wished to regain the regional authority that his ancestors had had.[22] This friction between Bonville and Courtenay soon turned violent. It was further exacerbated, in 1440, by "a serious blunder" from the crown, which one contemporary described as causing "grete trouble".[2][note 5] Courtenay—in what has been also described as "imprudent treatment" by the crown[32]—was granted the office of steward of the Duchy of Cornwall; this, as Cherry puts it, was "a post so similar to that held by Bonville as to be hardly distinguishable from it."[33] This disrupted an already "delicate" balance of power.[34] The feud continued more bitterly than ever, and "divers and many men [were] hurte"[2] until in November 1442 both men were summoned before the King's Council to explain themselves.[33] Bonville attended in person and was bound over;[35] Courtenay, says Griffiths, "disdainfully made his excuses".[33] Courtenay probably obtained his grant through the influence of relatives at court[36] Bonville may well have deliberately been antagonizing Courtenay at this time, as he seems to have gone out of his way to recruit men to his retinue who had traditionally been retained by the earl.[17] An arbitration seems to have taken place[37] or, at least, a decision was imposed upon them,[38] even if an "unworkable" one, says John Watts.[39] Even though Bonville was by now fifty years old and had not been abroad for nearly 20 years,[33] the council probably hoped that another stint in France would "divert his ample energies from the West Country".[40] Thus, Bonville was appointed seneschal of Gascony.[16] He was not the government's only choice for the post[33]—his own retainer Sir Philip Chetwynd had been governing Guyenne since the previous November[41] The council intended, too, that Courtenay should go to France, separately, and help relieve Avranches, although they were unable to enforce this decision.[35] Accompanied by Sir John Popham—a "reliable and experienced" soldier[42]—Bonville sailed in March the following year.[33] He had indentured with the government to provide 20 men-at-arms and 600 archers[42] as an advance-guard to a bigger expeditionary force.[43] King Henry presented him with a personal gift of £100 towards Bonville's campaign expenses. It is almost certain that their fleet did not leave Plymouth for many more months.[42] Ralph Griffiths has suggested that by now, "the time had passed when a modest-sized army like Bonville's would do";[44] the size of Bonville's army was limited by the fact that the vast majority of the force raised by the crown was despatched to Normandy, which was considered more important.[45] At least one ship[2] and men (possibly amounting to a third of his army)[46] and materiel was lost en route.[2] Bonville's campaign mainly focussed on assaulting the harbour, fleet and town of La Rochelle itself (French chroniclers referred to Bonville as a corsair).[47] This, however, achieved little, and Bonville himself was seriously injured in a skirmish.[2]

Powderham Castle in 2010
The western entrance of Powderham Castle, as shown in 2010; Bonville attempted to lift Courtenay's siege here on multiple occasions.

Bonville was only absent from England for slightly over two years and returned in April 1445. During his absence, Courtenay had become increasingly powerful. King Henry VI, though, was revealing himself to be a weak-willed monarch who was unwilling to impose the King's Peace in the southwest, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the kingdom. Henry's government was by now effectively in the hands of the King's favourite, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.[7] Suffolk's government could not afford to alienate the Earl of Devon but was still an attractive ally for Bonville against the earl,[48] and Bonville's son-in-law, Tailboys, was by now a close associate of Suffolk's.[2][note 6] Suffolk followed a policy of trying to keep both Bonville and Courtenay happy.[50] Bonville's increasing proximity to Suffolk brought benefits: he was a member of the duke's retinue that travelled to France in 1444, and this saw Bonville play a central role in the betrothal ceremony between King Henry and his bride-to-be, Margaret of Anjou. Furthermore, five years later Bonville was able to marry his daughter to Sir William Tailboys, a close associate of Suffolk's in 1449.[5] By a writ of 10 March the following year[51] Bonville was elevated to the peerage.[5] This was both in recognition of his successes in France[48] during a "turbulent period" in Gascony,[52] but also a reflection of the importance the Duke of Suffolk's government held him in.[48] As Baron Bonville of Chewton; he was summoned to every parliament until the end of his life as Willelmo Bonville domino Bonville et de Chuton.[5] The following year Bonville was responsible for suppressing a revolt in Somerset, in which Wells Cathedral was attacked by "insurgents against the peace of the Church and the King".[2]

Bonville's association with Suffolk was not to last. In early 1450, the duke was impeached in the House of Lords and exiled as a result. Suffolk subsequently murdered en route to the continent. J. S. Roskell has noted that, although Bonville is known to have attended this parliament, it remains unknown what position he took—if he took any—on Suffolk's impeachment.[16] One of the most powerful critics of Suffolk's government had been Richard, Duke of York, and the Earl of Devon soon allied himself with the duke as a means of furthering his position in the West Country. Courtenay saw his newly-reinforced position as sufficiently secure to allow him to reignite the feud with Bonville,[53] who in Taunton was recruiting men to his banners at 6d. a day.[54] To this end he launched a series of raids onto Bonville properties, which culminated in Courtenay's besieging of Bonville's Taunton Castle[53] with a force of over 5,000 men[48]—a crisis that the contemporary chronicler William Worcester described as "maxima perturbatio".[16][note 7] Fighting alongside Courtenay was Edward Brooke, Lord Cobham, son of the Thomas Brooke whom Bonville had feuded with over a decade previously.[2] However, Courtenay's alliance with York was not as strong as the earl believed, and when York arrived in Devon to restore order, the duke promptly cast both Bonville and Courtenay, with many of their retainers, into prison[7] for a month.[55] Bonville was forced to put Taunton Castle into the duke's custody.[56] This particular phase of their feud was temporarily suspended with a loveday (dies amoris) between them at Colcombe in 1451. This was considered an important enough political event for it to warrant the attendance of Richard, Lord Rivers and his wife Jacquetta, Lady Rivers.[57]

The Earl of Devon's continuing alliance with York brought Courtenay further problems the following year. York felt excluded from the government by the King's new favourite, Edmund, Duke of Somerset, and in February 1452 York rebelled, and faced a royal army at Blackheath, southeast of London. Courtenay stood alongside him. However, the King's army faced York down, who surrendered without a fight.[58] Bonville had been commissioned to raise a force against York in the southwest that month,[59] and subsequently profited from Courtenay's disfavour with the King.[60] As A. J. Pollard put it, Bonville was given "a free hand" in the region as a result of York's and Devon's eclipse[61] and according to Matin Cherry, Bonville "became the dominant force in west-country politics". Bonville was commissioned to personally oversee the arrest and prosecution of the Earl of Devon and his men in 1452, and the following year King Henry demonstrated how highly Bonville stood in royal esteem during the royal progress through the southwest, when Henry stayed at Bonville's caput at Shute. Bonville also received further offices and responsibilities. He was confirmed as steward of the Duchy of Cornwall, reappointed seneschal of Gascony (and lieutenant of Aquitaine), and received the constableship of Exeter Castle.[62] He also received grants of lands and estates in South Teign, the castle, borough and manor of Lydford, the conservancy of the River Exe, and forestry rights in Dartmoor,[16] making him, wrote Bertram Wolffe, "exalted in the west country".[63] Bonville never took up his seneschalty as what remained of England's territorial possessions in France were lost at the Battle of Castillon in July 1453.[2] That same month, King Henry was in Exeter, as part of a progress around the south and west of England. Bonville was appointed to a large commission of oyer and terminer to investigate sympathy for York's rebellion in the area, and the King made him a gift of £50.[64]

map showing location of the Clyst battlefield in Devon
Map of the location of the Clyst engagement, 1455

In August 1453, the King suffered a "crippling" illness and mental collapse that saw him unable to respond to people around him or to take any effective part in the country's governance. The Lancastrian regime was at its weakest point to date,[65] and the national political scene was increasingly factional and tense. Bonville attended council at Westminster in early 1454 only after "maken all the puissance they can and may to come hider [to Westminster] with theym",[66] as a Paston correspondent reported; it was even rumoured that Bonville was planning to join up with other lords—those of Beaumont, Poynings, Clifford and Egremont—and march on London itself.[67] [note 8] It is clear that everyone, including Bonville, was preparing for war on a national scale.[71] The Lords eventually appointed the Duke of York as protector of the realm during the King's incapacitation. Although York was nominally the Earl of Devon's ally, the earl did not see any major benefits from this relationship (in the same way as, suggests John Watts, the Nevilles' received York's assistance in their on-going feud with the Percies in Yorkshire). Likewise, Bonville experienced no lessening of his position during the protectorate;[72] indeed, he had committed flagrant acts of piracy on foreign shipping off the southwest coast, which had gone unpunished. The most prominent victims of Bonville's actions were the Duke of Burgundy's merchants, as Burgundy was England's ally on the continent, a position which Boville's ships endangered.[73]

In a sign of Bonville's increasingly higher profile in national politics, the next year saw his grandson marry Katherine Neville, daughter of the powerful northern magnate Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, and dowager duchess of Norfolk.[74] As part of Bonville's new alliance with York's allies, the Nevilles, Bonville used his local influence to ensure that the vacant Bishopric of Exeter was reserved for the Earl of Salisbury's youngest son, George Neville.[75] At this time Salisbury and his ally the Duke of York controlled the government, having defeated a royal army at St Albans and captured the King, and this marriage strengthened Bonville's links with the victorious Yorkist faction,[2] and in November that year Bonville received a general pardon.[76] In the southwest, Bonville and his ally, James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire (who was at this time very close to the court)[77] caused "to be cryed at Taunton in Somersetshire that every man that is likely and wole go with theym and serve theym shalle have vjd. every day as long as he abideth with theym". [2] Bonville's dominance in the southwest forced the Earl of Devon to make increasingly drastic efforts in response,[74] and at the end of April that year Devon brought an armed force of hundreds of men into Exeter in a planned ambush. The plan failed, but Bonville was prevented from carrying out his duty as a collector of the royal loan.[2] Although in the following June both Bonville and Courtenay were instructed by the King to keep the peace—and bound over for £4,000 to do so—they appear to have continued their war of attrition. Such was the "anarchic state of affairs"[2] in Devon following St Albans that the Michaelmas term judicial sessions that were due to be held in Exeter had to be cancelled and Courtenay "proceeded to terrorize the countryside" with his army and ransacked Bonvilles' houses.[2] This culminated on 23 October 1455 with what has been described as the "most notorious private crime of the century",[78] when Courtenay's son—also Thomas—and a small force of men attacked and brutally murdered one of Bonville's close councillors, the prominent local lawyer Nicholas Radford.[79] Says Carpenter: "there were other enormities, principally directed against Lord Bonville. Nothing was done".[80]

Devon had committed such offences, so Bonville said, falsely, cowardly and traitourously, in breach of his faith as a knight, his prowess and honour, his allegiance, the common good, and the standards "that should pertain to thy estate" as an earl. So damaging were these charges to the earl's good name that they could not be ignored.[81]

Michael Hicks, historian

This marked the beginning of a brief, but even more violent campaign[82]—a "range war"[28]—between the two sides than had gone before, in which, says Ralph Griffiths, turned the region "periodically into a private jousting-field",[82] and Edmund Lacey, the Bishop of Exeter, complained that his tenants "dared not occupy the land".[83] Bonville retaliated against Courtenay by looting the earl's Colcombe manor;[2] says John Gillingham, "on both sides houses were pllaged, cattle driven off, and plenty of plunde taken".[84] Determined to "bring Devon out into the open on as equal terms as possible", says Hicks, and believing himself to have the "backing of God, the law, and the commonweal",[81] on 22 November 1455 Bonville challenged Courtenay to a trial by battle.[85] He may also have been attempting to draw the earl of the city of Exeter (which Courtenay had been occupying for over a fortnight), or to distract him from his siege of Powderham,[86] which Bonville had already twice attempted to lift the siege of, although unsuccessfully.[84] Courtenay had no choice to take up Bonville's challenge,[81] which openly informed the earl that "all due salutacions of friendlihode [were now] laide aparte".[85][note 9] On 15 December the two sides met in battle near Clyst St Mary, to the east of Exeter.[89] "Moche people wer sleyn":[2] Although the engagement appears to have been somewhat inconclusive,[90] if anyone lost, it was Bonville,[91][81] who managed to escape alive,[9] although, suggests Hicks, dishonoured, as he had been the challenger.[87] Two days later, Courtenay attacked Bonville's Shute residence, pillaging it thoroughly and carrying away much booty.[2] His campaign lasted for two months.[83] As neither party had the military or political weight sufficient to crush their opponent,[92]the national political situation became increasingly fraught with tension, the Bonville–Courtenay feud soon became just one battlefield in the broader on of civil war.[93] The earl was subsequently imprisoned, although only for a short period,[94][95] and died in 1458 with neither the feud resolved or Bonville beaten. Bonville was elected a Knight of the Garter the same year.[5]

The wars of the roses[edit]

The Earl of Devon's death saw his son inherit the earldom. National politics became increasingly embroiled in faction, which had already erupted in violence at the First Battle of St Albans in May 1455. This battle was fought between the Duke of York and his supporters against the Duke of Somerset and nobles loyal to the King. Courtenay fought for the King, and was wounded there.[96] Bonville also appears to have been sympathetic to the royal cause, as one of his pursuivants was utilised as a messenger by the King's councillors; he does not, however, appear to have fought for the King,[2] and Michael Hicks has suggested that both parties were rather more interested in their own local feud than in joining the national one.[97] Although, then, "unwilling to question openly the King's authority" at this time,[98] Bonville did attend the Yorkist parliament of September 1455, where he voted in favour of the Duke of York's appointment as Protector[99] and was a member of the committee set up to improve naval defence.[2] Courtenay, by his actions at St Albans, had earned the support of Henry's powerful Queen, Margaret, who was by now implacably opposed to the Yorkist party;[9] Courtenay's heir later married the Queen's cousin, Marie de Maine.[100][note 10] The History of Parliament suggests that throughout this period Bonville had managed to conceal any sympathy with the Duke of York and remained "outwardly loyal to Henry VI".[2] Historian Charles Ross has described Bonville during this period as "a veteran servant of the House of Lancaster, who had been promoted to his peerage by King Henry I [and who] clung to the court he had always served".[102] He certainly swore to uphold the rights of the Prince of Wales at the Parliament of November 1459[9] and in early 1460 he was commissioned to raise an army in the southwest against the Yorkists.[2] Within a few months, however, Bonville "revealed his true colours"[2] and fought for the Yorkists at the Battle of Northampton in June 1460. Here the victorious Yorkists again captured King Henry, and Bonville was put in charge of his safe-keeping.[96] Bonville attended the parliament of November that year which passed the Act of Accord. This act effectively granted York the throne on Henry's death, and thus disinherited Margaret's son. Edward. Margaret and her nobles withdrew to the north, where they gathered an army and duly began to pillage the Yorkist lord's estates there. York and the Earl of Salisbury, and their smaller army marched north the following month; Bonville remained in London. Bonville's son, however, marched with York, and fell with him at the Battle of Wakefield, where the Yorkist army went down to a crushing defeat by the Lancastrian army on 30 December 1460.[7]

Arms of Sir William Courtenay, husband of Bonville's daughter Margaret
Heraldic escutcheon on easternmost of north aisle piers in St Clement's Church, Powderham, showing the arms of Courtenay of Powderham impaling Bonville. These are the arms of Sir William Courtenay (d.1485), husband of Margaret, daughter of William, Lord Bonville

The Lancastrians proceeded to march south; Salisbury's son, Richard, Earl of Warwick, had been left in charge of the King in London.[96] Bonville, who had been in the southwest raising an army, returned to London. Warwick, Bonville and other lords left the capital on 12 February 1461[103] with an army to intercept the Queen's force before the latter could reach the city gates. Again encountering each other at the Second Battle of St Albans on 17 February 1461, Bonville—along with Sir Thomas Kyriell—was placed in charge of the King,[96] whom the Yorkists had brought with them as the ("nominal", said the early twentieth century historian C. L. Scofield) head of their army.[104] They were responsible for Henry's protection during the battle.[96] This, suggests Ross, may indicate that even at this late stage Bonville was still primarily motivated by a wish to protect the King he had served since youth.[102] However, Warwick's force was rapidly isolated by the swift-moving Lancastrian army, and Warwick fled, resulting in a Yorkist defeat.[105] Both Bonville and Kyriell were captured. Two days later they were summoned before the Queen and Prince Edward, although it is possible that both had been promised a pardon by the King.[5][96] However, in the presence of the Earl of Devon—and almost certainly at his instigation—the two were tried for treason.[106] The result was a foregone conclusion.[107] Prince Edward "was jugge ys own selfe", and sentenced them to death.[108] Both men were beheaded the same day,[107][note 11] to what one historian has called the "general condemnation" of contemporaries.[112] Bonville's death extinguished the male line of the Bonville family of Chute,[14][note 12]and, says Pollard, settled the Bonville-Courtenay "blood feud" for good.[114]


Bonville's household was almost immediately dissolved, although some of his staff remained with his widow. He had left no will when he died.[12] His estates and wealth were effectively divided three ways, between his widow, his brother and his illegitimate son.[115] As both Bonville's legitimate sons had predeceased him, Bonville's estates and titles passed to his one-year-old[2] granddaughter Cecily suo jure.[116] She later married Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset.[117] Some of the patrimony had been entailed in the male line by Wiliam Bonville's grandfather, and these lands descended to his younger brother, Thomas, and then Thomas' son.[2] Much of Bonville's retinue entered the employment of Humphrey Stafford, Earl of Devon and Bonville's old ally Sir Philip Courtenay of Powderham.[118] Bonville's and Courtenay' deaths prolonged the power vacuum in Devon, and, says historian Malcolm Mercer, "a dominant source of authority in the area remained elusive thereafter".[23]

Although executed for treason, Bonville escaped attainder due to the victory a few weeks later of Edward of York—son of Richard of York—at the Battle of Towton in April 1461 which put him on the throne as King Edward IV. Following the battle, the Earl of Devon was captured and beheaded at York.[119][note 13] Edward IV's cousin and Chancellor, Archbishop of York George Neville later called Bonville a "strenuous cavalier",[2] and the 1461 attainder of the ex-King Henry referred to Bonville's "prowesse of knyghthode".[121] Reflecting this recognition of the contribution that Bonville and his family had made to the Yorkist victory, Edward granted Bonville's widow Elizabeth a large dower. She died 18 October 1471 having never remarried.[117]


  1. ^ a b Philippa's relationship to William Bonville is unproven. See Margaret Grey (Bonville's first wife) for details.
  2. ^ Prior to the 143s, he was only appointed to Commissions of Array for Dorset in April 1418 and March 1419.[2]
  3. ^ Courtenay had been born in 1414, had come of age in 1425, but his mother, Anne Talbot, survived until 1441. during which time she controlled,[8] through both her dower and jointures, approximately two-thirds of the Courtenay inheritance. Furthermore, she had set up a council to manage the estate, which had, says Rowena Archer, severely mismanaged it.[20]
  4. ^ Feuds between baronial and noble families had become particularly common in fifteenth-century England.[26] Apart from the Bonvilles and Courtenays in the southwest, other such disputes that descended into armed feuding took place between the Percies and the Nevilles in Yorkshire;[27] this was of such violence and breadth that it directly influenced national politics.[28] Less impactful national yet still regionally destructive were the feuds between the Harrington and families in the northwest,[27] John, Lord Talbot and James, Earl of Wiltshire on the Welsh marches,[29] between William Tailboys and Ralph, Lord Cromwell in the Midlands,[30] and, resulting in a battlefield confrontation at Nibley Green which saw Viscount Lisle killed in action, the feud over the Berkeley inheritance n Gloucestershire.[28]
  5. ^ Historian Christine Carpenter has described this "double grant" as the "most famous instance" of what she has termed the "deskilling" of governmental administrative departments in the early years of Henry VI's personal rule, which resulted in, as Bonville and Courtenay discovered, not only a "lack of control over grants, but outright confusion and contradiction".[31]
  6. ^ William Tailboys has been described by Roger Virgoe as "exceptionally violent and unscrupulous even for that age". Tailboys was involved in a long-running and increasingly violent feud with Lord Cromwell throughout the 1440s and 1450s, and, Virgoe suggests, probably found Bonville and the latter's connections at court of particular assistance against Cromwell.[49]
  7. ^ Translated to English, Worcester described it as "the greatest disturbance".[16]
  8. ^ In other words, Bonville ordered the gathering of the largest force of men (a puissaunce)[68] that they could, and that having done so, they bring them (hider)[69] to Westminster to him; from a letter of 19 January 1454 from John Studley to John Paston.[70]
  9. ^ The following day, 23 November 145, Courtenay replied in much the same spirit, informing Bonville that, for Courtenay, "all frendly greting stonde for nougt". The earl then informs Bonville that he would refute Bonville's slurs "upon thy fals body prove at time and place by me appoynted".[87] Martin Cherry has noted how their antagonistic greetings "neatly parodied" the usual form of greetings that contemporary letters began with.[88]
  10. ^ Further illustrating the favour Courtenay was in with the Queen, suggests Griffiths, was the fact that the wedding gowns for his son's marriage to Marie were paid for out of the King's own Great Wardrobe.[101]
  11. ^ Recent scholarship has cast an element of doubt on this story, as it would dovetail neatly into the Yorkist narrative as propaganda. As has been said, "both Bonville and Kyriel were experienced military commanders, and it is unlikely that their role in the battle would have been limited to looking after King Henry".[109] The story presented by the (Yorkist) chroniclers was that the Prince of Wales, encouraged by Queen Margaret, personally passed Bonville's and Kyriel's death sentences. Supposedly she asked him, "Fair son, what manner of death shall these knights, whom you see here, die?", to which the Prince replied, "Let them have their heads taken off". To the prince, Kyriel is said to have retorted, "May God destroy those who have taught thee this manner of speech!"[109]
    This stage of the civil wars saw frequent post-battlefield beheadings by the victor. Two months previously, captured Yorkists (including the Earl of Salisbury) had been executed after Wakefield; earlier in February, Lancastrians were killed after the Battle of Mortimer's Cross, including Owen Tudor; Bonville and Kyriel two weeks later at St Albans;[110] and two months later, in April 1461, the Earl of Devon ("who was sick in York and could not get away", commented John Leland)[111] and over 40 other knights and nobles were beheaded by the victorious Yorkists after the Battle of Towton.[111]
  12. ^ Other cadet branches of the family remained, for example, at Dillington, where Lord Bonville's cousin John Bonville resided and made a family;[14] this John was the grandson of Wiliam, Lord Bonville's paternal uncle, Thomas.[113]
  13. ^ Apart from the Bonville and Courtenay families, K. B. McFarlane has identified only three other noble families whose ultimate extinction in the main line was directly attributable to the Wars of the Roses, those of Welles, Hungerford and Talbot. [120]


  1. ^ Burke 1864, p. 99.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as Roskell, Clark & Rawcliffe 1993b.
  3. ^ Carpenter 2012, p. 76.
  4. ^ McFarlane 1981, p. 16.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cokayne 1912, p. 218.
  6. ^ a b Roskell, Clark & Rawcliffe 1993a.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cherry 2004.
  8. ^ a b c d Griffiths 1981, p. 574.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Roskell 1954, p. 153.
  10. ^ Roskell 1983, p. 111.
  11. ^ Cokayne 1912, pp. 218–219.
  12. ^ a b Kleineke 2015, p. 121.
  13. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 580.
  14. ^ a b c Kleineke 2015, p. 122.
  15. ^ Wilkinson 1995, p. 311.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Roskell 1954, p. 154.
  17. ^ a b Cherry 1979, p. 95.
  18. ^ Barker 2009, p. 305.
  19. ^ Griffiths 1981, pp. 574–575.
  20. ^ a b Archer 1984, p. 26.
  21. ^ Ross 2011, p. 177.
  22. ^ a b Kleineke 2007, p. 140.
  23. ^ a b Mercer 2010, p. 13.
  24. ^ Carpenter 1997, p. 112.
  25. ^ Bellamy 1973, p. 27.
  26. ^ Grant 2014, p. 208.
  27. ^ a b Given-Wilson 1987, p. 168.
  28. ^ a b c Fleming 2005, p. 58.
  29. ^ Archer 1995, pp. 114–115.
  30. ^ Smail & Gibson 2009, p. 456.
  31. ^ Carpenter 2010, p. 22.
  32. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 563.
  33. ^ a b c d e f Griffiths 1981, p. 575.
  34. ^ Ward 2016, p. 72.
  35. ^ a b Wolffe 1981, p. 107.
  36. ^ Carpenter 1997, p. 107.
  37. ^ Reeves 1981, p. 223.
  38. ^ Radford 1912, p. 253.
  39. ^ Watts 1996, p. 178.
  40. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 529.
  41. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 601 n. 79.
  42. ^ a b c Griffiths 1981, p. 465.
  43. ^ Wolffe 1981, p. 161.
  44. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 466.
  45. ^ Thomson 1983, p. 194.
  46. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 469 n. 141.
  47. ^ Thielemans 1966, pp. 160, 338.
  48. ^ a b c d Griffiths 1981, p. 576.
  49. ^ Virgoe 1997, p. 295.
  50. ^ Watts 1996, p. 239.
  51. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 353.
  52. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 356.
  53. ^ a b Radford 1912, p. 254.
  54. ^ Hicks 1998, p. 93.
  55. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 692.
  56. ^ Gillingham 1993, p. 72.
  57. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 596.
  58. ^ Radford 1912, p. 255.
  59. ^ Goodman 1981, p. 20.
  60. ^ Carpenter 1997, p. 128.
  61. ^ Pollard 2000, p. 136.
  62. ^ Storey 1999, p. 165.
  63. ^ Wolffe 1981, p. 262.
  64. ^ Wolffe 1981, pp. 259–260.
  65. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 715.
  66. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 723.
  67. ^ Jacob 1993, p. 508.
  68. ^ MED 2014a.
  69. ^ MED 2014b.
  70. ^ Gairdner 1986, p. 299.
  71. ^ Tuck 1999, p. 271.
  72. ^ Watts 1996, p. 324 + n., 338 n. 328.
  73. ^ Johnson 1988, p. 151.
  74. ^ a b Storey 1999, p. 166.
  75. ^ Pollard 2000, p. 149.
  76. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 770 n. 202.
  77. ^ Grummitt 2013, p. 36.
  78. ^ Storey 1999, p. 167.
  79. ^ Storey 1999, p. 168.
  80. ^ Carpenter 1997, p. 139.
  81. ^ a b c d Hicks 2002, p. 60.
  82. ^ a b Griffiths 1965, p. 221.
  83. ^ a b Fryde 1996, p. 193.
  84. ^ a b Gillingham 1993, p. 96.
  85. ^ a b Hicks 1991, p. 48.
  86. ^ Vale 1995, p. 263.
  87. ^ a b Hicks 1991, p. 49.
  88. ^ Cherry 1981b, p. 123.
  89. ^ Radford 1912, p. 260.
  90. ^ Kleineke 2007, p. 143.
  91. ^ Orme 1999, pp. 41–44.
  92. ^ Rosenthal 1976, p. 83.
  93. ^ Kleineke 2007, p. 141.
  94. ^ Cherry 1981a, p. 303.
  95. ^ Storey 1999, p. 173.
  96. ^ a b c d e f Roskell 1954, p. 155.
  97. ^ Hicks 1998, p. 94.
  98. ^ Grummitt 2013, p. 59.
  99. ^ Griffiths 1984, p. 78.
  100. ^ Hicks 1998, p. 128.
  101. ^ Griffiths 1981, p. 841 n175.
  102. ^ a b Ross 1994, p. 142.
  103. ^ Burley, Elliott & Watson 2007, p. 57.
  104. ^ Scofield 1923, p. 140.
  105. ^ Hicks 1998, p. 216.
  106. ^ Cherry 1981b, pp. 138–9.
  107. ^ a b Storey 1999, pp. 174–175.
  108. ^ Lewis 2013, p. 240.
  109. ^ a b Burley, Elliott & Watson 2007, p. 79.
  110. ^ Boardman 1998, p. 55.
  111. ^ a b Haigh 2002, p. 92.
  112. ^ Grummitt 2013, p. 76.
  113. ^ Wedgwood & Holt 1936, p. 92.
  114. ^ Pollard 2001, p. 39.
  115. ^ Kleineke 2015, p. 123.
  116. ^ Rosenthal 1996, p. 86.
  117. ^ a b Cokayne 1912, p. 219.
  118. ^ Kleineke 2015, pp. 124–125.
  119. ^ Cherry & 1981b, p. 138.
  120. ^ McFarlane 1973, p. 148.
  121. ^ Collins 1996, p. 171.


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