Speculations on Francis Lovel—Richard’s Shadowy Friend

[by Joan Szechtman]

In his seminal work, Richard the Third, Paul Murray Kendall refers to Lovel as “Richard’s oldest and dearest friend.” Of the many enigmas surrounding Richard III, none may be so odd than that of Francis Lovel. This article will focus on two major periods that are mired in mystery: When did he first become acquainted with Richard; and, what happened to Lovel after the Battle of Stoke? Major details of his life are skimmed and some milestones are summarized at the end of this article.

Although born into a wealthy and powerful family, Lovel was orphaned when he was nine and became a ward of Edward IV. Mindful of his debt to the Earl of Warwick for having tutored his baby brother in the art of warfare, Edward used the revenues of the Lovel lands to pay for both Richard’s and Francis’ wardship.

By September 1464, Edward IV had secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, foiling Warwick’s plans for a French marriage. Edward’s marriage created a rift between the king and king maker. By May of that year, Richard was at court in Greenwich, ending his tutelage under Warwick.

There is the romantic notion that Francis and Richard hooked up in 1467 at Middleham, but by the time Warwick assumed Lovel’s wardship, Richard was long gone. However, Richard was in York at the time, serving in a commission of Oyer and Terminer*. So while they weren’t under the same roof, it’s entirely possible their paths crossed.

Perhaps Edward had asked Richard to check up on Warwick and also verify that the annuities from Francis’ lands were being properly managed. Richard had lost his father at age eight, just a little younger than when Francis had lost his father. At only four years Francis’ senior, Richard may have had sympathy for this boy, perhaps seeing a reflection of himself at a similar age. He might have chosen to get close to Francis for personal reasons. While it’s impossible to know if this happened, it cannot be ruled out.

If they didn’t come together at that time, when is the next potential time they might have joined up? We know that Francis and his wife Anna became members of York’s Corpus Christi Guild in 1473. By then, Richard had married Anne Neville and lived with her at Middleham. While Richard and Anne Neville didn’t join the guild until 1477, it is likely Richard and Francis became close during this time. One reason could be that Francis did not receive his majority until 1477. He may have sought Richard’s alliance as a political necessity. Alternatively, Edward may have instructed Richard to monitor Lovel.

We do know that Lovel served with Richard at least from 1480 and that he participated in the border wars against Scotland, for which Richard received praise from parliament.

In 1485, in anticipation of Henry invading England, Richard had Lovel defending in the south of England at Southampton. He was there in early August and it is in debate as to whether Richard summoned Lovel at all or in time for him to have joined him at Bosworth. Regardless, Lovel did survive the battle and went into Sanctuary with Thomas and Humphrey Stafford in Colchester. There they fomented a rebellion. Lovel returned to York in the spring of 1486 to muster troops. However the rebellion was quickly put down and he fled to Flanders where he took refuge with Richard’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy.

In Burgundy, Lovel met John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, where they plotted Henry’s overthrow. The rebels had a priest instruct Lambert Simnel, a ten-year-old boy, to impersonate Edward, Earl of Warwick. On 24 May 1487 Lincoln, Lovel, Margaret, et. al. installed Simnel as Edward VI in a ceremony in Dublin. Henry had the real Earl of Warwick imprisoned in the Tower.**

From Ireland, Lovel went to England and rebelled at the Battle of Stoke. Henry was triumphant again, and the impostor, Lambert Simnel was captured. Henry’s soldiers slaughtered most of the rebels. Some accounts have it that Lovel died in the battle, while others report he was seen to drown in the Trent while trying to gain the opposite bank. Neither account was confirmed. While he may have been wounded on the battle field, it is unlikely he died there because his body would have been put on display as one of the principal rebels. For the same reason, I don’t think he drowned. If Tudor’s men had seen someone they thought was Lovel drowning while trying to escape, they would have attempted to retrieve the body. Unless more comes to light, I think it plausible Lovel escaped to parts unknown.

The most persistent legend is that Lovel managed to flee south to Minister Lovell Hall where he became trapped in an underground vault and starved to death. In 1728 the Duke of Rutland reported that twenty years earlier workmen found a fully clothed skeleton when they exposed a large underground vault during excavation for a new chimney. According to legend, the skeleton, clothes, and papers disintegrated when the air filled the chamber. But, if this is true, why did Rutland wait twenty years to report it? Over the years, the story of the skeletal discovery was embellished.

After the Battle of Bosworth, Lovel sought sanctuary and subsequently fled to Burgundy. Why would he change his behavior after the Battle of Stoke by returning to in his former estate? While getting trapped in an underground vault at Minster Lovell Hall makes for a great story, I think it’s apocryphal. It is more likely he either escaped to Scotland, or returned to Burgundy.

On 4 November 1488, James IV of Scotland issued safe conducts to 42 exiled Yorkists, including Lovel. It is unknown if he ever collected it.

In 1508, an inquisition to determine Lovel’s disposition was held. The jury found that Lovel had escaped and was living abroad at that time, not having proof of his death.

Thus, some 500 plus years later, we are still left wondering if Richard’s loyal friend died at Stoke, survived long enough to get trapped in his former manor, or outlived the man who put an end to his good friend’s rule.

Notes:

  1. Oyer and Terminer—Anglo-French name meaning to hear and determine, a judge.
  2. I find it interesting that they chose a ten-year-old boy instead of someone older to match Edward V’s age, and that they chose to impersonate the boy who Henry had locked in the Tower. Even though the common man may not have known Simnel was a fraud, wouldn’t the officers and dignitaries who participated in this charade be aware of the real Earl of Warwick’s situation? Could this choice of impostor have signaled the older prince had died before Stoke.

A brief chronology of Lovel’s life:

  • 1456     Born
  • Feb 1465      Father died—Francis becomes ward of the crown
  • 14 Feb 1466      Married to Anna Fitzhugh, aged 6
  • 13 Nov 1467      Warwick granted custody with all revenues of Lovel’s estates
  • Summer 1470      Edward IV pardons Francis, his wife and two sisters for their part in the Warwick uprising
  • Mar 1471      Francis’ wardship given to Edward IV’s sister, Elizabeth de la Pole
  • 1473      Francis and his wife Anna become members of the Guild of Corpus Christi in York
  • 1477      Francis received his majority
  • 20 June 1480      Commission of array for North Riding of Yorkshire
  • 1480      Participated in Scots campaign with Richard, Duke of Gloucester
  • 21 Aug 1481      Knighted by Richard, Duke of Gloucester
  • 4 Jan 1483      Promoted to Viscount by Edward IV
  • 19 May 1483      Edward V appointed Lovel to Chief Butler
  • 28 Jun 1483     Richard III appointed Lovel to Chamberlain and Chief Butler
  • 6 Jul 1483     Lovel supervises Richard III’s coronation dinner
  • 9 Dec 1483     Appointed to Parliament
  • 1483-1485      Richard III bestows many gifts of land and title
  • Summer 1485      Lovel assigned to guard port in Southampton
  • ? Aug 1485      Richard summons him to Bosworth (in dispute)
  • 23 Aug 1485      Goes into sanctuary in Colchester with Thomas and Humphrey Stafford
  • Spring 1486      Leaves Sanctuary and goes to York to muster troops for rebellion. Henry suppresses rebellion and Lovel flees, ending up in Flanders with Richard III’s sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy
  • 24 May 1487      Ceremony to install impostor Lambert Simnel as Edward VI in Ireland
  • 16 Jun 1487      Battle of Stoke, rebels fail, Lovel’s fate unknown

Bibliography:

  • Belenger, G. V., Francis, Viscount Lovel, Thesis (1980)
  • Kendall, Paul Murray, Richard the Third (1955), p58, pp60-61, p 156
  • Ricca, Joe Ann, Francis, Viscount Lovel (2003), Pamphlet published by Richard III Foundation
  • Robottom, J., Workman, P., Carty R., Francis Lovel (1982) Pamphlet published by West Midlands branch of the Richard III Society.
  • Wroe, Ann, The Perfect Prince (2003), p91