Edmund, Earl of Rutland, born on 17 May 1443 in Rouen, was the fourth child and second surviving son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville. His short life, marked by political appointments, tragedy, and a premature death, was intertwined with the turbulent era of the Wars of the Roses. This article delves into the life and fate of Edmund, shedding light on his role as the Earl of Rutland and Lord Chancellor of Ireland.
The Early Years and Royal Connections
Edmund’s birth in Rouen, the capital of English-occupied France, coincided with his father’s position as Lieutenant of France. As a younger brother to Edward, Earl of March, who would later become King Edward IV, Edmund’s destiny seemed to be entwined with the political aspirations of the House of York.
He received the title of Earl of Rutland, likely granted by King Henry VI, before 1454 when he and his elder brother Edward signed a letter to their father, referring to themselves as “E. Rutland” and “E. Marche”. Unfortunately, no record of this creation survives.
Lord Chancellor of Ireland: A Position of Influence
At the age of eight, Edmund’s father appointed him as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, a position of great responsibility. As an underage Chancellor, his duties were carried out by Deputy Chancellors. His first Deputy, Edmund Oldhall, Bishop of Meath, served in this capacity, with the appointment potentially influenced by his brother Sir William Oldhall, who held the role of Chamberlain to the Duke of York.
Edmund held de facto Chancellorship until 1454 when he was succeeded by John Talbot, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury, who also served as the Lord High Steward of Ireland. Talbot continued as the de facto Chancellor until his death in the Battle of Northampton in 1460.
Asserting Irish Independence: The Parliament of Ireland
During his term as Chancellor, the Parliament of Ireland made significant strides in asserting its independence from the Kingdom of England. It declared that Ireland had a separate legislature and its subjects were bound solely by the laws and statutes of the “Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons of Ireland”.
The Irish subjects were only obliged to answer writs issued by the Great Seal of Ireland, held by the Lord Chancellors. Attempting to enforce decrees from England resulted in the loss of property in Ireland and fines for the officers involved.
The House of York and Support in Ireland
In Ireland, the House of York found support from influential figures such as Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Kildare, and James FitzGerald, 6th Earl of Desmond. The loyalty of these allies prompted several others to align themselves with the House of York. Conversely, the House of Lancaster garnered its main Irish support from James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormonde. These alliances would shape the course of events during the Wars of the Roses.
Tragic Demise: The Battle of Wakefield
At the age of seventeen, Edmund fought alongside his father in the Battle of Wakefield, a crucial conflict during the Wars of the Roses. As the tide of battle turned against the House of York, Edmund attempted to flee over Wakefield Bridge but was intercepted and subsequently killed. Lord Clifford, possibly seeking revenge for his father’s death at the First Battle of St Albans, was responsible for Edmund’s demise.
Controversial Accounts and Ruthless Fate
Different accounts exist regarding the circumstances of Edmund’s death. Roderick O’Flanagan’s biography of Edmund, published in 1870, portrays a poignant scene where Edmund’s tutor, Robert Aspell, implores Lord Clifford to spare the young prince’s life, but to no avail. However, this narrative does not appear in contemporary chronicles of the battle.
Edmund’s fate seemed to be sealed when his head, along with those of his father and uncle, was displayed on the gates of York. Their bodies were initially buried at Pontefract Priory, but later, in 1476, they were reburied with grandeur in the family vault at Fotheringhay Castle.
Remembering Edmund: Legacy in Literature
Edmund’s tragic story has captured the imagination of writers throughout history. In Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI, Part 3, Edmund, portrayed as a young boy, meets a gruesome end at the hands of Clifford, imploring for his life. Sharon Kay Penman‘s novel, The Sunne in Splendour, presents Edmund as a brave and wise young man, leaving a lasting impact on his family.
Conclusion: A Life Cut Short
Edmund, Earl of Rutland, led a life filled with potential, marked by his royal lineage and political appointments. His role as Lord Chancellor of Ireland and his untimely death in the Battle of Wakefield serve as reminders of the volatility of the Wars of the Roses. Today, his memory lives on in historical accounts and literary works, ensuring that his story is not forgotten.
*Feature Image: Charles Robert Leslie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons