Rumors, Milanese Style

One of the more entertaining sources for the Wars of the Roses is the Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan, which gives a valuable outside perspective on the events happening in England.

During the tumultuous year of 1461, especially before and after the battle of Towton, the ambassadors were trying frantically to sort out the news they were hearing. This led to considerable misinformation being circulated, including rumors that Margaret of Anjou had persuaded Henry VI to resign his crown to their son, that Margaret had poisoned Henry VI, that Anthony Woodville and his father had died at Towton (need I tell you whose in-laws they would become three years later?), that Henry Stafford, husband of Margaret Beaufort, had died at Towton (he, of course, survived to fight for the Yorkists at Barnet in 1471), that Henry, Duke of Somerset had been captured and beheaded in 1461 (he had to wait until 1464), that the Duke of Exeter was about to be beheaded but was spared (he was actually safe in Scotland), and even that Margaret had been victorious over Warwick.

Among the rumors was the famous claim that Henry VI had said that his son, Edward of Lancaster, must have been the work of the Holy Spirit. Despite the obvious falsity of some of the other rumors about Margaret and Henry going round during this period, and the disclaimer by the ambassador himself, “but these may only be the words of common fanatics, such as they have at present in that island,” the “Holy Spirit” remark continues to be cited as evidence that Edward of Lancaster was not Henry VI’s son. Those who do so should be reminded that the ambassador did not have a terribly high opinion of the veracity of his sources, as shown by his remark on June 18.

March 9: Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador to the Court of France, etc., to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan

Accordingly the queen and the Duke of Somerset, in desperation, had persuaded the king to resign the Crown to his son, and so he did out of his good nature.

March 15: Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador in France, to Cicho Symonete, Secretary to the Duke of Milan.

They say here that the Queen of England, after the king had abdicated in favour of his son, gave the king poison. At least he has known how to die, if he did not know what to do else. It is said that the queen will unite with the Duke of Somerset. However these are rumours in which I do not repose much confidence.

March 27: Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador to the Court of France, etc., to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan.

I think I have written to your Excellency constantly upon the progress of the strange events in England, both on the 6th inst. and then on the 9th, advising your Excellency by way of Bruges how they said that the King of England had resigned his crown in favour of his son, although they say his Majesty remarked at another time, that he must be the son of the Holy Spirit, etc., but these may only be the words of common fanatics, such as they have at present in that island.

April 7: Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, to Francesco Coppino, Bishop of Terni, Apostolic Legate in Flanders.

The northern lords who fell in the battle near York.
Anthony, son of Lord le Ryver, who was recently made Lord le Scales, . . .
Henry, son of the Duke of Buckingham.

April 18: Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador to the Court of France, to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan.

We have news of English affairs hour by hour. Two days ago letters arrived here from English merchants of repute, and we have also heard by way of Calais, that it is true that King Henry, the queen, the Prince of Wales, their son, the Duke of Somerset, Lord Ros, his brother, the Duke of Exeter (Setrh) were taken, and of these the Duke of Somerset and his brother were immediately beheaded. When the same fate was about to befall the Duke of Exeter, there came a message to let him off, and they say he escaped because he is related to King Edward, whose sister he married. However as he is fierce and cruel, it is thought that they will put him to a more honourable death.

April 18: Bruges, the 18th April.
The victory of King Edward and Warwick over King Henry and the queen, previously related. The former lost 8,000 men including Lord Sinauter. King Henry and the queen lost 20,000, including . . . Lord Rivers, Lord Scales . . .

May 5: Otto de Carreto and Agostino Rosso, Milanese Ambassadors at the Papal Court to the Duke of Milan.

With respect to English affairs and the advancement of Monsignor there to some high dignity out of compliment to that nation, the Cardinal de Thiano says he has learned very recently that the queen has defeated Warwick and slain a very large number of his followers, so that they do not know what to do about those matters.
Rome, the 5th May, 1461.

June 18: Prospero di Camulio, Milanese Ambassador to the French Court to Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan.

Since then we have heard from England, how in the attack made by the fleet on the coast of Cornwall, which is opposite to Spain, the French were repulsed, and lost some say 4,000, some say 2,000. The truth cannot be obtained from England, owing to the stupidity of the people there . . .

8 thoughts on “Rumors, Milanese Style”

  1. Great to see the story about the Holy Ghost, so often repeated in novels, in its proper context.

    Love the last sentence. 🙂

  2. Susan, again, I really enjoyed the last sentence…not that I agree the English are stupid…just the pot calling the kettle black 🙂

  3. Prosper de Camulio is oddly familiar to me, because of Dorothy Dunnett's fantastic House of Niccolo historical fiction.

    Sure, you can sometimes see the edges of her scholarship and when she took a tax-deductible trip somewhere (Canary Islands, IIRC), but she was a truly wonderful and amazing writer.

    Her Lymond books are the ones to read for gorgeous melodrama. The King Hereafter has some great bits: lots about coiners in early-Medieval Britain, but I didn't like it as much as a story.

    Niccolo is complicated and occasionally completely implausible, but has great twists. And some of her scenes are unforgettably vibrant and historical at the same time.

    Sorry to gush, I hope that you give her another try.

  4. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Kathryn and Karen! MS, maybe one of these days! I do have King Hereafter lurking in the house here.

  5. You can practically see the ambassadors banging their heads on their desks, can't you? Love the last quote.

  6. I'm not surprised at some of the barbed comments. Even in Early Tudor times those across the channel had a low opinion of the English, bad food clothes badly made, ladies behaving immorally and too much decollete. Now that the British chefs and fashion designers have made their mark in their world, do those in Milan and Paris give them their due?

    No just a a case of going from sour gripes to sour grapes.

  7. di Camulio: "…on the coast of Cornwall, which is opposite to Spain"

    Reminds me of Sarah Palin's comment about Russia: "They're our next door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska."

    I can just picture a 15th-century Cornish fisherman with a telescope, "Hang on now! When the sun hits just right, I can make out San Sebastian!"

    The English don't appear to have cornered the market in stupidity in 1461. I guess the Milanese budget for their ambassador to the French court was too low to provide him with a map.

  8. Susan Higginbotham

    Heh, I missed the Cornwall remark! (I'm geographically challenged myself–just ask the family!)

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