John de Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, faithfully served Edward IV like his father and suffered for his loyalty when the ambitious Earl of Warwick (‘Warwick the Kingmaker’) briefly ousted Edward in 1470 and replaced him with a restored Henry VI. John was forcibly detained in London, but managed to slip away and return to the eastern counties to raise support for Edward’s return. John was with him on 14 April 1471 when Edward regained his throne with a notable victory at Barnet. At Edward’s last battle to defeat the forces of Lancaster – Tewkesbury, 4 May 1471 – John Duke of Norfolk fought at his side. Norfolk’s family were (and are) hereditary Earls Marshal, and their successor arms display crossed batons of office to reflect this. In this role he presided at the Constable’s Court together with the High Constable of England, the king’s brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester; after Tewkesbury they sat in judgement upon the surviving Lancastrian rebel leaders.
n 1450 John was married to Elizabeth Talbot, younger daughter of the renowned Earl of Shrewsbury. They produced one surviving child, Anne, born in December 1472, but tragedy struck in January 1476 when John died suddenly aged 31. Edward IV immediately sought to marry Anne to his younger son Richard, Duke of York, and an act of parliament secured for him the Norfolk inheritance. After Edward’s death this arrangement was reversed by Richard III, and Lord Howard, rightful heir to the de Mowbrays, was awarded the Norfolk lands and titles in 1483. He fell at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
John de Mowbray’s widow, the duchess Elizabeth, lived another 30 years, and provides the focus of allegiance of the retainers represented by De Mowbray’s Retinue.
The de Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk were long-established East of England nobility, with the 3rd and 4th Dukes (both named John) being best known to history. This is because their activities fell within the troubled span of the Wars of the Roses, 1450s–1470s, when the Duke of York and his son challenged the arguably ruinous rule of the mentally unstable Lancastrian King Henry VI.
Annette Carson, internationally renown author and medieval academic, has long been a member of the Retinue. Here she passes her learned eye over the story of the family we all hold so dear. For more information on Annette, her many books and to follow her blog, please visit her website.
The Duke of York had already been killed in battle and the Yorkist leadership taken over by his 18-year-old son, Edward. All must have seemed lost, but crucially, it was not King Henry but Edward of York who won the popular voice. When he marched into the key city of London in early March 1461, a Great Council of the Lords and Commons offered him the crown by acclamation. John de Mowbray, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was prominent among them.
There remained one last battle to decide who kept the throne: at the battle of Towton John captained a force for Edward IV drawn from East Anglia. Fought in a blizzard on 29 March 1461, the two mightiest armies ever seen in England clashed in hand-to-hand fighting, while Norfolk’s division followed as a rearguard. Hours of struggle passed while Edward’s outnumbered forces held on in desperate conditions of driving snow and wholesale slaughter, until the shout went up as Norfolk’s fresh troops began streaming on to the field. The battle was soon won. Already a sick man, John died in November 1461 aged 46. His wife, Eleanor Bourchier, came from a fairly large family, but the only surviving child she and John managed to produce was a son, born in October 1444.
It was in 1460 that John, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, then in his 40s, nailed his colours to the mast of the victorious Yorkists. Being an important member of the governing council he was late in taking up arms, but after the forces of Lancaster refused to accept the settlement negotiated in October 1460, he took part in the battles that followed. . In 1461 at the 2nd battle of St Albans he was one of the noble escorts who brought Henry VI to the battlefield under guard from London. John was given charge of the extreme right wing, but in a surprise reversal the Lancastrians outflanked and routed the Yorkists. The victorious army of Lancaster found their king smiling vacantly under an oak in No Man’s Land.