Letters from Koeur to Portugal: 1464

Here are two letters written from Margaret of Anjou’s court in exile in December 1464: one by John Fortescue, the other by Edward of Lancaster. Fortescue, Henry VI’s chancellor in exile, was about sixty-seven when he wrote his letter and was living in Margaret’s household at Koeur Castle, near St Mihiel in the duchy of Bar. Edward of Lancaster, born on October 13, 1453, had recently turned eleven at the time he wrote his letter, and likely had some help in composing it. (Note the rather endearing boast at the end: “Writen at seynt mychacl, in bare, w’ myn awn hand, that ye may se how gode a wrytare I ame.”) The letters were addressed to John Butler, the sixth Earl of Ormond, the younger brother of James Butler, first Earl of Wiltshire and fifth Earl of Ormond. (James Butler had been captured and executed after the Battle of Towton.) John Butler was then in exile in Portugal, and Margaret was hoping to gain aid from its king, Alfonso V.

As Fortescue’s letter notes, Margaret of Anjou and Edward of Lancaster each wrote letters to the King of Portugal, though no one in Margaret’s court could remember the king’s name! Edward’s letter to the king, written in Latin, survives and can be found in Thomas, Lord Clermont’s The Works of Sir John Fortescue (available on the Internet Archive).

Fortescue’s letter to John Butler gives a poignant picture of the poverty of Margaret of Anjou’s court in exile. 1464 had been a particularly bad year for Margaret’s cause: in May, the Lancastrians had been defeated at the Battle of Hexham, after which Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and thirty others had been executed. (The Duke of Somerset and his brother referred to in the letter below are Edmund Beaufort and John Beaufort, Henry Beaufort’s younger brothers, who were to meet their own deaths at Tewkesbury in 1471). Henry VI himself was a fugitive, who would be captured the following year and imprisoned in the Tower.

Ironically, unlike young Edward of Lancaster and many of the other men named by Fortescue in his letter, both John Fortescue and John Butler were to survive the Lancastrian defeat in 1471. John Butler was pardoned by Edward IV and restored to his earldom; he is said to have died before June 15, 1477, on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Fortescue was put to work by Edward IV writing the Declaration upon certayn wrytinges sent oute of Scotteland ayenst the kynges title to the roialme of Englond, a refutation of his prior pro-Lancastrian works, and died in 1479, having reached his early eighties.

Probably none of the letters made it to Ormond in Portugal, but were intercepted on the way, as they ended up in the French archives, thereby justifying John Fortescue’s worries about whether Butler could make it safety to Koeur. The letters can be found in Clermont’s Works of John Fortescue, volume I, pp. 22-28, and in Mrs. Everett Green’s “Original Documents Preserved in the National Library at Paris” in the Archaeological Journal, Volume 7 (1850), available on Google Books. I have taken the letters from the Archaeological Journal


Letter Of Sir John Fortescue, Addressed — To The Right Worshipfull And Singulerly Belovid Lord, The Erle Of Ormond. (Biblioth. Nationale, Paris, Baluze MS., 9047, 7, art. 175, Holograph.)

Right worshipfull and myne especially belovyd lord, I recommande me to you, and it is so that in feste of the conception of oure lady, I resceyved at Seyntc Mighel in Barroys frome you a lettre writyne at porto in portingale, on monday nexte before the feste of seynte Mighel, to my right singuler comfort, god knowith, of whiche lettere the quene, my lord prince and all theire servants were full gladde, and namely of your welfare and (?) escapynge the pouer of youre ennymies. And it is so that the quene nowe desireth you to do certayne message frome here to the Kynge of portingale, of whiche ye mowe clerely understande here entente by an instruction, and also by here letteres, whiche here highnesse nowe sendeth to you by the borer thereof. Wherefore I writhe nowe nothynge to you of tho (sic) maters. And as touchyngo the sauf-conducto whiche ye desire to have of the kynge of Fraunce, it were god that ye hadde it, and yet yf his highnesse do to us nothynge but right, the quenes certificat, whiche we sende to you herewith, shull be to you siwerte sufficiant. Northelesse I counseille you not to truste fermely thereuppone, and therby to aventure you to passe thorgh’ his lande. For he has made many appoyntcmentes with oure rebelles, by whiche it semyth he hath not alway intended to kepe the peace and triwes, whiche he made with us, but yet I knawe no cause that he hathe to breke it, nor hetherto he hath not taken or inprisoned any man of oure partie by any soche occasion. And Thomas Scales hathe sente me worde that he hopithe to mowe gete by the meanes of my lord senycshall a sauf conducte for you, and elles my lord of Kendale canne fynde the meanes howe ye mowe passe soche parties of Gyawne, Langdok and other where, as most (in parte ?) is as ye shull be in no perille : my lord of Somerset that nowe is and his brother come frome Britayne by Parys through Fraunce unto the quene with xvj horses, and no man rescuyded (?) ham in there way. And so didde I frome Paris into Barroys, but yet this is no verrey surete to you. Wherefore youre aune wysdome most gyde you in this case, not trustinge myne advise that knawe not the manner of this countrey as ye do. But yet I wote welle that a bille, signed withe my lord senyschall is hand, shalle be sufficiant unto you to passe thorough oute alle Fraunce. My lord, here buthe withe the quene the dukes of Excestre and Somerset, and his brother, whiche and also sir Johne Courtenay buthe discended of the house of Lancastre. Also here buthe my lord prive seale, M(aster) John Morton, the bischop of Seynte asse [St. Asaph] Sire Edmond Mountford, Sir Henry Roos, Sir Edmond Hampdene, Sir William Vane [William Vaux], Sir Robert Whityngham and I, Knyghtes; my maistre, youre brother, William Grinmesby, William Josep’, Squiers for the body, and many other worshipfull squiers, and also clercqs. We buth all in grete poverte, but yet the quene susteyneth us in mete and drinke, so as we buth not in extreme necessite. Wherfore I counsaill you to spende sparely soche money as ye have, for whanne ye come hether, ye shall have nede of hit. And also here buth maney that nede and woll desire to parte with you of youre awne money and in all this contrey is no man that woll or may lene you any money haue ye neuer so grete nede. We have here none other tithyngs but soche as buth in youre instruccion. Item, yf ye fynde the kyng of Portingale entretable in oure materes, sparith not to tarie longe with hym, and yf ye fynde hym all estraunge, dispendith not youre money in that contrey in idill, for after that ye come hither, hit is like that ye shull be putte to grete costes sone upon, and peradventure not longe tarie there. Item, my lord prince sendith to you nowe a letter writyn with his awne hande, and another letter directed to the king of Portingale, of whiche I sende nowe to you the double enclosed hereyn. I write at seynte Mighel in Barroys, the xiij. daye of Decembre. —Your servant, J. Fortescu. [Postscript.)

My lord, bycause we knewe not verrely the kynge of Portingale is name, the Quene is letter hath no superscripteon, nor the letter fro my lord prince, but ye mowe knawe ham also well by the seales as by this, that in the syde where the seale is sette of the Quene’s lettre is writyn these words—pro regina, and in like weyse in my lord’s lettre is writyn—pro principe. And I sende to you hereyn soche words of superscripsion as ye shall sette upon both lettres ; which wordes buth writyn w’ the hande of the clerke that hath writyn both lettres.

Item, the berer hereof hadde of vs but iij. Scuts [French crowns] for all his costs towards you, by cause wee hadde no more money.

Letter From Edward, Prince Of Wales, Son Of Henry VI., To The Earl Of Ormond. (Baluze MS., 9037, 7, art. 173, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Holograph.)

Cousin Ormond, I grete you hertly well, acerteynyng yow that I have horde the gode and honorable report of your sad, wise, and manly gyding ageynst my lordis rebellis and your aduersaries, in the witche ye have purcheascd unto yow perpetuall lawd and wosship. And I thank God, and so do ye allso, that ye at all tymes vndcr his proteccione haue escaped the cruell malise of your sayd aduersaries ; and for as motch as I vnderstand that ye ar nowe in portingale, I pray yow to put yow in the vttermost of your deuoir to labore vnto the kyng of the sayd royalme, for the forderance and setyng forthe of my lord, in the recuvering of his ryght, and subduing of his rebellis. Wherin, yf ye so do, as I haue for vndowted that ye wyll, I trust sume frute thall folue, w’ godis mercy, witche spede yow well in all your workes. Writen at seynt mychacl, in bare, w’ myn awn hand, that ye may se how gode a wrytare I ame.

Additiional Sources:

Steven G. Ellis, ‘Butler, John, sixth earl of Ormond (d. 1476/7)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/4195, accessed 11 Oct 2010]

E. W. Ives, ‘Fortescue, Sir John (c.1397–1479)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/9944, accessed 11 Oct 2010]

4 thoughts on “Letters from Koeur to Portugal: 1464”

  1. I love reading medieval letters! Thanks for posting these. As I said on Facebook, I think the fact that none of them knew the king of Portugal's name is brilliant. 🙂

  2. Dear Susan and readers of this amazing blog,

    I found this blog while doing some research about my geneology.
    I feel I must explain a little bit more about this:
    I’m from Portugal and although I live in Lisbon my my Ormonde family is from Azores (Terceira Island).
    I’ve already traced my geneology till 1684, but birth records before this year are very damaged or don’t exist at all. It as been dificult to go advance in my reseach.
    So, in my research I was looking for one Ormonde who had been in Portugal before the 1600 and I found your blog and the published letters sent by Margaret D’Anjou to John Ormonde (the sixth earl) while he was in exile in Portugal. After reading Fortescue letter I see the he mentions John was at porto in Portugal. My doubt is if, during is exile in Portugal, John only stayed in Porto city or not and if he could have been into Azores (Terceira Island).

    Don’t know if you can help me with this doubt but I would be very pleased to ear your opinion.
    Thank you.


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