Medieval MP of the Month: John Howard, from the Battle of Castillon to the Battle of Bosworth

Our Medieval MP of the Month series continues with John Howard, one of the only two known soldiers to have been at the Battle of Castillon on this day in 1453. Here’s Dr Charles Moreton of our House of Commons 1422-1504 project with more…

THE HISTORY OF PARLIAMENT: THE HOUSE OF COMMONS 1422-1461, edited by Linda Clark, is out now. For further details about the volumes, including purchasing information,  visit the Cambridge University Press website, here.

Today marks the 566th anniversary of Castillon, the last great battle of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Fought near the town of Castillon-sur-Dordogne (now Castillon-la-Bataille) in Gascony on 17 July 1453, it was a decisive defeat for the English and ensured they would lose all their French territories, save Calais. Among the participants were two parliamentarians, Sir Edward Hull, a distinguished courtier, soldier and diplomat from Somerset who had sat for that county in the Commons of 1447, and John Howard, then an East Anglian esquire of no great importance who had represented his native Suffolk in the Parliament of 1449-50. While well connected – his maternal grandfather was Thomas Mowbray, first duke of Norfolk – Howard was the son of a younger son and had succeeded to a modest landed inheritance. No other MP is known to have been in the army – led by John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury – defeated at Castillon, a reflection perhaps of an apparent disenchantment with the war that had grown up among the English gentry.  

Born into a family with strong links to the ruling house of Lancaster, Sir Edward Hull joined the royal household, participated in Henry VI’s French coronation expedition of 1430-2 and campaigned in Normandy in the later 1430s. He also served the Crown on several diplomatic missions to France and Germany in the following decade, and he was among the nobles and gentry who escorted the King’s bride, Margaret of Anjou, to England in 1444-5, the expedition on which he received his knighthood. Given that he spent so much of his career outside his native Somerset, it is likely he owed his return to the Commons in 1447 primarily to his links with the royal court. He nevertheless played his part in the administration of that county, where he served three terms as sheriff and as a justice of the peace. In his later years Hull distinguished himself on active service in Gascony, thereby winning election to the Order of the Garter. As it happened, he never took up his stall as a Garter knight, since he met his end at Castillon before he could do so, either being killed outright on the battlefield or dying of wounds soon afterwards. His death marked the end of a family line, for he left no children.

By contrast, John Howard survived the battle, though possibly not unscathed given that one account would have it that he was severely wounded and, perhaps, taken prisoner. Although he had seen some previous military service in France, Castillon was almost certainly his first major battle. If indeed captured, he had regained his freedom and returned home by the early summer of 1455, when he was elected to the Parliament of that year, this time as a knight of the shire for Norfolk. The Parliament met in the wake of the Yorkist victory at St. Albans, the first battle of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ on 22 May that year, and when standing for the Commons he enjoyed the backing of his cousin and patron, John Mowbray, third duke of Norfolk, who in turn had formed an alliance with the head of the Yorkist faction, Richard, duke of York. Such powerful support helped Howard to overcome the reluctance of the electorate to return him, given his lack of interests in Norfolk at that date. Howard maintained a link with the Yorkists thereafter, coming out in their support when York’s eldest son and heir seized the throne as Edward IV in 1461.

Under Edward, whom he served as a soldier, naval commander and diplomat, he rose to heights he could never have expected to attain at the outset of his career, so coming to achieve far greater distinction than had Hull under the deposed Henry VI. Howard sat in one last Parliament as an MP, that of 1467, before his creation as Lord Howard at the end of 1469 or early 1470, after which he attended subsequent assemblies as a member of the Lords. Even greater rewards came his way after Edward’s younger brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester, usurped the throne as Richard III in 1483. In return for his support, Richard made him duke of Norfolk, bestowing on him a half share of the lands of the Mowbrays, who had died out in the male line, along with further extensive estates to uphold him in his new status. If Castillon was Howard’s first major battle, Bosworth in 1485 was certainly his last. In spite of his advancing years, he commanded the archers in the front line of Richard’s army and, like Richard, he fell on the field in this victory for Henry Tudor.


One thought on “Medieval MP of the Month: John Howard, from the Battle of Castillon to the Battle of Bosworth

  1. The Howard family still hold the title of Duke of Norfolk today. I think John Howard was a distant cousin of the Mowbray Earls, and one of his ancestors married a daughter.

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