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The De La Poles

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Few of our most ancient and most noble houses have had a more sadly checquered and pathetic history, and few can boast a higher antiquity or greater nobility than the De Is Poles, who were merchant-princes at Kingston-upon-Hull, in Yorkshire, as far back as the reign of Edward III. They probably derived their name from Pole, in Montgomery, close to which was the abbey of De la Pole.
     They were at a very early time connected with the wool trade, as appears from the fact that in 1271 Henry III. issued a precept ordering to William De In Pole and others the payment of twelve pounds nine shillings, in payment for cloth purchased at St. Giles's Fair, in Winchester. In the same year we are told that an embargo was laid on fifty sacks of skins of wool, the property of William De la Pole, merchant, of Rouen, in order that they might not be removed out of the kingdom; and in the following year we read of an allowance of forty marks made to Nicholas De la Pole and others, agents for the Flemish merchants, for losses sustained by English merchants in Flanders.
     One of this family, John Pole, was the first Mayor of Hull. His son Edmund had a son, William, who became a London citizen, merchant, and wool stapler; and, in consideration of a subsidy offered to the king at a time of special necessity, 'when money stood him in more stead than one thousand men-at-arms,' he was enriched by his sovereign with various estates, and made a knight barreret, a dignity then next to the baronage. In 1358, two years after the battle of Poictiers, the abbot of a house in Normandy conveyed to him four English manors, which still belong to the hospital at Ewelme, Oxfordshire, founded by his descendants a century later.
     Michael, son of William De la Pole, rose into favour with Edward III. during his wars with France. By Richard he was made a Knight of the Garter and Earl of Suffolk, and, in the end, Lord High Chancellor of England. His son Michael, the second earl, died like his father in France, and was brought to England to be buried at Ewelme, leaving the title to his brother William, third earl As the latter stood beside his brother's grave, a youth of nineteen, his future bride, Alice Chaucer, was a child of four; she lived to become his wife, after burying two other husbands-first Sir Thomas Philip, and, secondly, Thomas Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, who was killed at the siege of Orleans, when, we are told, the battle-cry of the English troops was' Salisbury and De Is Pole.' Soon after her third marriage, she joined with her husband in building and endowing the church of Ewelme, with its adjoining hospital and grammar-school; and she lies in alabaster on a noble altar tomb in that Church, wearing on her arm the blue Riband of the Garter, once worn by her second husband, a privilege almost unique.
     But the Earl of Suffolk was not content with a mere share in a work of charity. He would also do something, as from himself alone, for the northern town where his ancestors had first risen into note. Accordingly, he resolved to found and endow at Kingston-on-Hull a religious house called the Chartreuse, or Charter Horse ; and it is not a little singular that, whilst other similar endowments and charities have been wasted and confiscated, both this hospital at Ewelme and the Charter Rouse at Hull remain to this day as witnesses to his name and his work.
     But the earl was destined to achieve farther greatness. Though only twenty-seven years of age, ho held the command of the English forces in France at the siege of Montague in 1423. Six years later he was made prisoner-taking, however, the precaution of bestowing knighthood on his captor, in order that he might not fall into the hands of a I villain'-but was speedily released from durance vile. He was afterwards employed on diplomatic missions, and was sent. abroad by Henry VI. as prosy to receive his bride, Margaret of Anjou; and lie also had charge of the boy king when he was crowned at Paris in 1430. For these and other services he was created a marquis, and ho was raised to the dukedom of Suffolk in 1448.
     But the goodwill of the Court and of the great lords aroused very different feelings in the breasts of the nation at large, who became more and more embittered against him as he rose step by step in favor at St. James's and Whitehall. He was charged with having handed over the provinces of Maine and Anjou to Rnier King of Sicily, on the marriage of his daughter, Queen Margaret; with having betrayed State secrets to the French; with pacing equipped the castle of Wallingford with warlike stores for the service of the French in case of an invasion; and with other high misdemeanors-all probably alike untrue. He was accordingly arraigned before his peers by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and committed to the Tower; but he managed to escape from his keepers and the stone walls of the Tower, and took ship to France. He was, however, stopped in the Downs, where he was greeted with, 'Welcome, traitor!' A mock trial followed, as every reader of Shakespeare knows. He was taken within a few furlongs of the shore by his captors, and beheaded off Dover, his body being carried for burial to Wingfield Chunch, in Suffolk, where them is a monument to his memory. He, doubtless, fell in reality a victim to the faction of Richard, who then was thirsting for the crown, which he subsequently obtained.
     His son John became, by his death, second duke when only eight years old. Ho married Elizabeth Plantagenet in the year of the death of her father, Richard Duke of York, on the bloody battle-field of Wakefield, and was therefore brother-in-law of Edward IV, and Richard III; and as his mother's great-aunt, Catharine Swynford, the third wife of John Duke of Gaunt, was aunt by marriage to Richard, he stood sufficiently near to the throne to make his obi at all events, an object of jealousy to the censors of Richard III. The latter, on the death of his own son in 1481, declared John Earl of Lincoln, son of the second Duke of Suffolk, heir to the crown. In fact, the Duke of Suffolk stood so high in the favor of King Richard III. that he born the sceptre and dove at his coronation, while the Earl of Lincoln carried the ball and the cross.
     John Earl of Lincoln was killed at the battle of Stoke, whilst endeavoring to make good his claim to the Crown. His brother Edmund succeeded to the title of Duke of Suffolk-an empty honour, seeing that the Suffolk estates had been escheated to the Crown. A portion of these, however, was restored to him, on condition that he should merge the title of duke in that of earl. But even these estates were seized, and finally forfeited in 1499, when he was forced to flee the kingdom as an outlaw, as it was said and believed, for having 'slaine a meane person,' for which he was excommunicated by the Pope. The earl was induced to return to England by promise of an indemnity from Henry VII; but, in spite of this, he was committed in 1505 to the safe keeping of the Tower of London, where, after a captivity of seven years, he was beheaded by order of Henry VIII, who, ever false and Tudor-like, declined to be bound by his father's promise. All the Suffolk estates, both those in the eastern counties and those at A life-interest in the Ewelme property was considerately granted by the King to Margaret, wife of Earl Edmund, and daughter of Sir Richard Scrope; the remaining estates were conferred, on Charles Brandon, who later on was created Earl of Suffolk, and who, it happened, was maternally descended from the Sir Edmund De la Pole who died in 1419. Edmund and Margaret left, happily, only one child, a daughter, who died a professed nun in a convent in the Minories in London; and with her perished at the last of the once powerful race of De la Pole.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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