Here’s the next installment in our series ‘Medieval MP of the Month’ – the precursor to the History of Parliament’s forthcoming set of volumes relating to the reign of Henry VI that will be published in 2019. Today we here from Senior Research Fellow, Dr Simon Payling about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Sir Christopher Talbot…
Sir Christopher Talbot (1415-43) was a notable MP in two respects, for his high birth and for his tragic and puzzling end. As a younger son of the great soldier, John, Lord Talbot, it was natural that he should begin a military career at an early age. Knighted while still short of his majority, he commanded his own retinue during the difficult campaign of the winter of 1435-6 when a peasant rising in the Pays de Caux threatened the English position and Paris was lost. He appears to have been an adept soldier, acquiring a reputation as a jouster. In November 1440 one of the correspondents of John Paston wrote of the arrival in England of a Spanish knight, ‘wyth a kercheff of plesaunce i wrapped aboute hys arme’, who was to run a course ‘for his sovereyn lady sake’ against either Sir Christopher or another noted knight, Sir Richard Wydeville.
In 1441, in what was perhaps intended to be only a brief break from military activity, he began to play a part in local administration in both Shropshire and Yorkshire, two counties in which his family had extensive estates. He was elected to represent the former county in the Parliament of 1442, no doubt in his father’s interest to rally the support in the Commons for the financial grants necessary to the defence of Normandy. Very soon after Parliament assembled Lord Talbot himself returned from thence to raise further troops, and it was during his brief visit that Sir Christopher became an earl’s son: Lord Talbot was created earl of Shrewsbury on 4 May.
In the early 1440s Sir Christopher was thus a significant figure in his own right with a place in the royal household to add to his recommendations. These court connexions, together with his father’s influence, helped him to a marriage that allowed him to overcome the financial disadvantages of a younger son. John, Lord Tiptoft, died in the early days of 1443, and with almost indecent haste, he married his widow, Joyce. She was a woman of great wealth: not only did she have significant dower and jointure holdings from her first marriage, but she was one of the two coheiress to the lands of her father, Edward, Lord Cherleton of Powis, and through her mother she had title to a share, albeit a small one, of the Holand earldom of Kent.
Sir Christopher now had wealth to add to his important family connexions, and he looked set to become an important figure in the court of Henry VI. His good fortune was not, however, to last. Within a few months of his marriage he met his death in strange circumstances. On 10 August 1443, a Welsh knight, Sir Gruffydd Vaughan of Trelydan (in Guilsfield in Montgomeryshire), ran him through with a lance at Caus castle (Shropshire), the property of Humphrey, earl of Stafford. His death seems to have happened during a tournament, but it was not seen as an accident. On the following 17 October a jury, sitting at Shrewsbury before a royal commission, placed the death in the context of a treasonable rising: it claimed that Sir Gruffydd and others imagining the death of the King had collected many traitors from Wales at Caus where Sir Gruffydd had killed Sir Christopher, described in the indictment as Vaughan’s master. Later, on 16 June 1444, a further indictment was laid, again at Shrewsbury, on this occasion before the Shropshire j.p.s. headed by Sir Christopher’s elder brother, Sir John.
The Crown added its own summary action to the indictments. The lands of Vaughan and others implicated in the death were declared forfeit; a reward of 500 marks was offered for Vaughan’s arrest; and when a general pardon was granted in May 1446 those involved in the murder were specifically excluded. This exemption may have moved a local lord, Sir Henry Grey, count of Tancarville, to take the law into his own hands: in July 1447 he had Vaughan executed at his castle at Welshpool. He had two obvious motives for this violent act, namely to claim the substantial reward and, perhaps more powerfully, to avenge Sir Christopher’s widow, who was Sir Henry’s maternal aunt. He was, however, roundly condemned by the Welsh bards Lewis Glyn Cothi and Dafydd Llwyd, who accused him of securing Vaughan’s person by the duplicitous offer of a safe-conduct. In short, the true circumstances of Sir Christopher’s tragic death are beyond recovery, but there is every reason to suppose that it was murder rather than accident.
Talbot’s death was soon followed by another. Even though his wife was in her forties at the time of his death, she was then pregnant. The infant’s life was to be very brief: at some date between September 1443 and September 1444 the borough authorities at Shrewsbury spent 10d. on wine given to the Talbot servants who had come to the town for the burial of Sir Christopher’s child. Joyce, Lady Powis, did not long survive this double blow. She died in the autumn of 1446 and thus did not live to see her second husband apparently avenged.