A Triple Knot, Bishop Thomas de Lisle, Blanche Lady Wake, Compton Reeves, Criminal Churchmen in the Age of Edward III, Duke of Lancaster, Henry of Grosmont, Joan of Kent, John Aberth, King Edward III, Owen Archer
As I count down from 2 weeks (yesterday!) until the publication of A Triple Knot (8 July!), I’ve been thinking about the stories that didn’t make the cut. I knew from the first that living as she did in the thick of the royal drama, Joan experienced a great deal of history as it happened and knew many of the movers and shakers of the time. So I had to choose the moments and the people with care. Her aunt Blanche, Lady Wake, was a character I could not resist. But I didn’t have the space to delve into what first brought her to my attention.
I’ve been intrigued by Blanche for a long time. ever since historian Compton Reeves recommended John Aberth’s book to me: Criminal Churchmen in the Age of Edward III: The Case of Bishop Thomas de Lisle (Penn State University Press 1996). It’s an account of a churchman gone rogue, but what Compton pointed out was that his greatest adversary was none other than the sister of Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster, Owen Archer’s former lord, the “old Duke”. Unfortunately, this story begins and ends before Owen arrives in York in The Apothecary Rose, and I’ve not yet found an interesting way of using it that would make sense for the series.
As the cover copy summarizes it: “Thomas de Lisle, Bishop of Ely from 1345 to 1361, was not a typical English churchman. …de Lisle was leader of a local gang of thugs and bullies who terrorized both the poor and the rich of East Anglia and assisted the bishop in his extensive, unholy activities, including arson, kidnapping, extortion, theft, and murder. His criminal career culminated in a final, disastrous assault on Edward III’s cousin, Lady de Wake, in 1356, which resulted in his banishment by the king.” It’s quite a read, and de Lisle proves adept at twisting circumstances so that he seems the victim–until he messes with the wrong woman. So when I began to plan out Joan’s story I knew I wanted this strong, competent, legally savvy woman in the novel.
But this is the tale that didn’t fit (though in one draft I tried!): On the night of 28 July 1354, “some of the bishop’s [Thomas de Lisle’s] most trusted officials, including his brother John,… [his] chief steward,… “burned down property claimed by Lady Wake in Colne, Huntingdonshire. (119)” Blanche and Thomas seem to have no history before this; however, four years earlier the same men were accused by her brother Henry, then Earl of Lancaster, of burning down several of his houses in Lincolnshire and carrying off the goods. The case never came to trial.(120) It seems this new conflict was an old land dispute between servants of the two landholders, and Blanche and Thomas felt it was in the interest of responsible lordship to support their men. The trial was repeatedly adjourned from one term to the next because the jury failed to appear or the sheriff did not submit the paperwork on time (even then!) or the defendants themselves failed to appear (sounds a little like Joan’s case before the papal court). But at last, in 1355, the defendants were allowed to make bail and released into the custody of four knights. Essentially they were free. UNTIL one of the men “allegedly” murdered one of the servants in the dispute. The defendants were rounded up an imprisoned, and it’s possible that some of the accused, including the bishop’s brother John, were kept in prison until the death of Bishop de Lisle in 1361.(125) Meanwhile, Blanche brought a separate case against the bishop as the chief instigator, and although the original estimate of the damages to her estates was 200 pounds, he was fined 900 pounds. De Lisle appealed, he was shot down. And then he thought to appeal directly to the king. Bad move. He wound up insulting him, claiming (allegedly) that he was “unable to have the law or justice in my lawsuit, being hindered, as I believe, by the royal power.” To which the king responded rather heatedly, being the royal power in question. Even so, it wasn’t until the court threatened to deprive de Lisle of his temporalities (income) that he finally handed over the money, all 900 pounds.
But this was before one of his men murdered William Holm, whose property was in dispute. On the morning after the murder a mob led by the deceased’s sister attacked the bishop and his entourage as they were departing his manor for London. He escaped with his life, but not his possessions. Realizing that now he was even more likely to lose his temporalities, de Lisle arranged for the sale of his estates, the money to go into the safekeeping of merchants who would hand it over in case he had to flee the realm. The king got wind of this and ordered him to attend parliament. At which Lady Wake presented a petition citing all her suffering at the hands of de Lisle and his men. She did so with some melodrama: “All she wanted, she said, was that ‘she and her men can live in peace, for they are greatly menaced from day to day.'”(133) This property represented an insignificant piece of her vast estate. But the conflict goes on and on, the king making threats, his legal team advising him that some things even he could not legally do, more and more of de Lisle’s questionable activities being revealed. Until on 19 November 1356, de Lisle leaves England, never to return. Thomas de Lisle spent the last 5 years of his life at the court of Pope Innocent VI at Avignon “appealing the king’s judgment in a vain attempt to win back his temporalities.” (142)
I’ve left out a great deal of detail–John Thoresby, Archbishop of York, gets caught up in it, and his sympathies seem to lie with his fellow cleric. You see why I wanted to use it. Well, someday…. Meanwhile, I gave you my impression of Blanche, Lady Wake, in A Triple Knot, warts and all, as they say.