The Dukes of Suffolk

People of Buckland

The Dukes of Suffolk

John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk

Portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort

The only son of William de la Pole and Alice Chaucer, John de la Pole’s prospects as a boy were excellent. He was due to inherit a dukedom from his father and considerable wealth from his mother; his father’s favoured position at Henry VI’s court was bringing power and rewards; and he was married to Margaret Beaufort, the heir of the duke of Somerset. All this was brought to an end with his father’s exile and murder in 1450. Although he did inherit his father’s title and properties, the value of the estate was restricted by his mother’s dower (money and property granted to her on her marriage) that was payable until her death. He also lost a number of royal appointments and in 1453, Henry VI set aside John’s marriage and gave his wife and her inheritance to Edmund Tudor.

Elizabeth of York, Duchess of Suffolk. Detail from her effigy in St Andrew’s Church, Wingfield, Suffolk

Unsurprisingly given his treatment, John’s allegiance shifted with his mother to the Yorkist faction and a marriage was arranged to Elizabeth of York, sister of the future Edward IV. However, her marriage portion was much lower than others at that time and de la Pole struggled to live in a manner appropriate to his status as a duke. Although he was a loyal Yorkist servant, he did not benefit greatly from his connections. Unlike most of Edward IV’s brothers and brothers-in-law he did not receive substantial financial rewards and was not a royal councillor. In 1475, he finally inherited his mother’s dower lands and also the inheritance from her father, including the manor at Buckland, but the dowers from her first two husbands were returned to their families. Although relatively impoverished, he was proud and concerned about his dignity, refusing to participate in events where he could not attend with a sufficiently large number of followers.

Coat of arms of John de la Pole1

His son, John de la Pole, earl of Lincoln, fought for Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth but Suffolk did not and he was accepted by Henry VII. However, his family’s standing with the new King continued to be tainted by his son’s behaviour. In 1487, the earl of Lincoln joined Lambert Simnel’s rebellion against Henry VII and died on the battlefield. Suffolk was not implicated but he was punished for his son’s behaviour. The lands that had been held by earl of Lincoln were returned to the de la Pole family estate but only for the remainder of Suffolk’s lifetime, after which they reverted to the King. Suffolk died sometime before May 1492 and the estate he passed onto his son was considerably reduced and also had to bear the costs of the dowager duchess.

Edmund de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk

The third son of John de la Pole, little is known of Edmund’s childhood and he was too young to be involved either at the Battle of Bosworth or in his brother’s rebellion against Henry VII. Initially, he was loyal to the Tudors and close to his cousin, Queen Elizabeth of York. However, he inherited a much depleted estate in 1492 as the family lands that had held by his brother were forfeited to the crown on their father’s death. Driving a hard bargain, Henry VII allowed him to regain some of those lands in return for downgrading his title from duke of Suffolk to earl of Suffolk. He was also required to pay £5,000 to Henry VII in yearly installments. From this point, his relationship with the Tudor regime became strained.

Coat of arms of Sir Edmund de la Pole2

Things began to unravel in 1498 when he was accused of murdering a man named Thomas Crue. Henry VII stepped in to prevent a common court hearing but de la Pole was expected to plead with the King for a pardon. Unwilling to humiliate himself, he fled to Picardy, with the intention of seeking support from his aunt Margaret, duchess of Burgundy. Agents of Henry VII persuaded Philip the Fair of Burgundy to co-operate in returning de la Pole to England forcing him to submit to Henry VII. He was obliged to pay a further £1,000 to Henry VII and his wife was kept under observation by the earl of Oxford. This brief period of rehabilitation came to an end in August 1501 when he fled with his brother, Richard, to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, hoping to find support for his claim to the English crown.

The Tower of London

De la Pole’s plans to take the throne quickly came to nothing with Henry VII’s spies infiltrating his supporters. A number of his most prominent English followers were imprisoned and he and his exiled supporters were outlawed in December 1502. He was housed by Emperor Maximilian at Aachen until January 1504 when he left heading for Saxony but was caught and imprisoned by the duke of Gueldres who transferred him to the care of Philip von Lichtenstein. Fed up and without sufficient international support, he negotiated for a return to England and was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 24th April 1506.

He was deliberately excluded from the general pardon issued at the start of Henry VIII’s reign and remained in prison. Events finally came to a head in 1512 when Richard de la Pole was recognised as King of England by Louis XII of France. Henry VIII’s patience with the de la Pole’s ran out and, on 4th May 1513, Edmund was executed. His lands, including the manor at Buckland, were forfeited and passed to the King.

Charles Brandon

Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk

Charles Brandon was the only surviving son of Sir William Brandon, Henry VII’s standard bearer at the Battle of Bosworth, and nephew of Sir Thomas Brandon, one of Henry VII’s leading courtiers. Fatherless following William Brandon’s death at Bosworth, he entered his uncle’s service and moved from there into royal service. He was one of the company of King’s spears, active in court revels and jousting, and an esquire of the body. Although he was seven years older than the future Henry VIII, he formed a close friendship with the prince that would last the rest of his life.

The court of the young king was one of pleasure and good company with Henry VIII and his companions enjoying hunting, hawking, jousting and elaborate revels. War against France in 1512 to 1513 claimed the lives of a number of the King’s intimates leaving Brandon to emerge as the King’s favourite. His personal affairs were somewhat insalubrious. He had contracted to marry Anne Browne, abandoned her to marry her widowed aunt and then had that marriage annulled in order to return Anne. This did not hold back his political career; appointment to royal offices, and the Order of the Garter were followed by a promotion to the peerage with the title of Viscount Lisle (made possible by his engagement to Elizabeth Grey, the 8 year old heiress to the Lisle title). Then, in January 1514, he was created Duke of Suffolk, in celebration of the King’s victories in France.

Mary Tudor

The marriage to Elizabeth Grey never took place as he audaciously married Mary Tudor – sister to Henry VIII and widow of Louis XII of France – without permission. Despite outrage at this mis-match, the couple were forgiven by Henry VIII, although subject to a substantial fine, and, in 1515, he was granted the remainder of the lands confiscated from the de la Poles. A number of their properties had already been granted out and Brandon now set about trying to purchase them back. Although he never gained the whole of the de la Pole estates, he did possess the manor at Buckland.

Despite his close personal relationship with the King, Brandon was not a wealthy nobleman in the 1520s and early 1530s and, at times, he teetered on the edge of a fall from favour. His wife’s dower income fluctuated with England’s relations with France; he had multiple children to fund and a fondness for building houses on an elaborate scale. He had a poor relationship with Anne Boleyn and his son with Mary Tudor meant that he had fathered a male heir to the throne when Henry VIII was unable to do so. When Mary died in 1533, he was obliged to settle his debt to the crown which meant handing back all his estates in Oxfordshire and Berkshire, including the manor at Buckland. To bolster his finances, he married the 14 year old heiress, Katherine Willoughby, who brought him estates in Lincolnshire. Following the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, Henry VIII ordered him to move to Lincolnshire to stabilise the region.

St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, viewed from the altar

Brandon remained active at court and on the battlefield in the 1540s, fighting against the Scots and leading the siege of Boulogne in 1544 just a year before his death in August 1545. As a mark of royal favour, he was buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor with the King bearing the expense. His only two surviving sons, born to Katherine Willoughby, died in 1551 and the title Duke of Suffolk passed to his son-in-law, the marquis of Dorset.

  1. Thomas Gun, John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, CC BY-SA 3.0 []
  2. Rs-nourse, Coat of arms of Sir Edmund de la Pole, 3rd Duke of Suffolk, KG, CC BY-SA 3.0 []