John Talbot

Character Information

John Talbot is the son of the great Talbot. He has all the qualities of his noble father, but unfortunately never lives to become the great military man his father was. The scenes between Talbot and his son are fascinating, the two continually rhyme off of each other, both attempting to gain the upper hand in the argument, though John eventually wins.

Historical information

The following information is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by A. J. Pollard.

Talbot, John, second earl of Shrewsbury and second earl of Waterford (c.1413–1460), magnate, was the eldest son and heir of John Talbot, first earl of Shrewsbury (c.1387–1453), and his first wife, Maud Neville (c.1392–1422), sole daughter and heir of Thomas Neville, Lord Furnival. Little is known of the first forty years of his life. When only three he was contracted in marriage to Katherine, granddaughter and heir of Hugh, Lord Burnell, a match that in the event was not made. Talbot was knighted in 1426, in the general knighting of the young nobility of that year. Once he had reached adulthood, his father in 1435/6 granted Worksop and other properties from his mother's inheritance to him for his support. In the following years he also resided at Sheffield in Yorkshire, and it was there that he made his first will in 1446. Some time before March 1445 he married Elizabeth, daughter of James Butler, fourth earl of Ormond, possibly as part of an attempted reconciliation between the two families who had been bitter enemies in Ireland for nearly twenty years.

Talbot's first major employment was as chancellor of Ireland, having been appointed by his father in March 1445. He went there with the latter in the autumn of 1446, possibly returning to England in the summer of 1447. In April 1448 he was replaced by Thomas Fitzgerald, earl of Kildare, on the nomination of the new lieutenant, Richard of York. But he successfully petitioned for restoration in the parliament of February 1449, for by November 1451, at the latest, his office was being exercised for him by deputy.

Relationships between the younger John Talbot and his father were strained. In 1424 John the elder had married as his second wife, Margaret, the eldest daughter and at that time joint heir of Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick. Ten years later, and shortly after being released from a spell of four years of captivity in France, Lord Talbot began the process of partitioning his estates between his two families. The Furnival inheritance, from his mother, was reserved for John himself; some of the Talbot and Lestrange inheritance was earmarked for Shrewsbury's eldest son from his marriage to Margaret. In 1434 the lordship of Blakemere in north Shropshire was conveyed to the junior line; in 1442 Painswick. By 1452, when Talbot senior drew up his will, he had granted further estates in Shropshire to the sons of his second marriage. Financially John stood to lose £500 by these measures; he would also be left with but one property, and that Tasley, which he had received in compensation for the broken Burnell marriage, in the county in which he was to inherit his title. Understandably he was not prepared to accept his partial disinheritance. He had already made his position clear, for in his will Shrewsbury enjoined his son ‘in eschewing of my curse and as he will have my blessing’ (LPL, Reg. Stafford, fols. 311–12), not to attempt to reverse his settlement, instructing his feoffees to sell any lands in their trust if he did.

In the event, circumstances in 1453 greatly assisted the second earl. First, his rival half-brother, John Talbot, Viscount Lisle, was killed alongside their father at Castillon; second, the one man who might have supported his stepmother, her brother-in-law Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset, fell from power not long afterwards. While the countess of Shrewsbury, at that time triumphant in her war with the Berkeleys in Gloucestershire, initially took control of Painswick, the new earl had no trouble in overturning his father's settlement in Shropshire. He was in possession of Blakemere by 20 September 1453; and on 10 November secured an order for the Shropshire escheator to give him full seisin of all the Shropshire estates. Moreover, early in 1454 he was able to oust the dowager countess from Painswick.

The threat to his inheritance goes some way towards explaining Shrewsbury's political alignment in 1453–4. He was not a close associate of the duke of York. Indeed, in 1450 York had accused him of having ‘layn in wayte to herkeyn upon me’ (Griffiths, King and Country, 299), at Holt before he crossed to Ireland in June 1449, and in 1452 he was one of those at Shrewsbury indicting traitors, who may have been followers of York earlier that year at Dartford. Shrewsbury's antipathy to York undoubtedly had its roots in Irish politics, where he had clashed with the duke over the office of chancellor; itself probably linked with the quarrel between his brother-in-law James Butler, earl of Wiltshire, and the earl of Kildare. Wiltshire too quarrelled with York, whose retainer he had once been, and in May 1453 briefly replaced him as lieutenant of Ireland.

By the autumn of 1453, therefore, there was good reason for Shrewsbury to be wary of York, even though he was hardly likely to support Somerset. Yet he was also an ally of Ralph, Lord Cromwell, who had been nominated the sole supervisor of Shrewsbury's will in 1446, and who, like Wiltshire, was one of Shrewsbury's feoffees both before and after 1453. As an ally of Cromwell, he would be drawn towards the earl of Salisbury and against the duke of Exeter. And, because of the dispute over his own inheritance, he might well have felt some sympathy with the earl of Warwick, at odds with Somerset over the Despenser inheritance. Thus in the complex interplay of individual fears and hopes, rivalries and alliances that shaped factions during the early months of the king's incapacity, Shrewsbury at that time found himself, despite earlier antipathy, not without sympathy for York. The immediate benefit was that he was able to enter his full inheritance without serious opposition.

Shrewsbury was a frequent attender at council during the winter of 1453–4, supporting the establishment of the protectorate. He was one of the commissioners of oyer and terminer to sit in York to hear the indictment of the Percys in June 1454, and was appointed to keep the seas. In contrast he appears to have absented himself from court after the king's recovery at Christmas 1454, not welcoming, it may be supposed, the restoration of the duke of Somerset. He and Cromwell were reported to be marching towards St Albans when battle was joined there on 22 May 1455. The two lords, who found themselves caught between their loyalty to the crown and their fear of their enemies at court, may well have stood aside. But they joined the victorious party after the battle, Shrewsbury himself serving on the parliamentary committee for the defence of Berwick and Calais in July. Strains were soon to show, however, for a row flared between Cromwell and Warwick, which led to Cromwell's taking shelter with Shrewsbury. Neither lord attended the second session of the parliament in the autumn of 1455 that established York's second protectorate. After Cromwell's death on 4 January 1456, however, Shrewsbury put in an appearance at the third session, and was happy to associate himself with York, Warwick, and others, in a petition in favour of George Neville.

During 1456, with both Somerset and Cromwell dead, and himself securely established in his inheritance, Shrewsbury began to distance himself from York and the Nevilles. Whether at this point he attached himself to Queen Margaret, who emerged at the beginning of the year as the focal point of opposition to York, is hard to determine. Certainly on 5 October he became treasurer of England in place of York's kinsman, Viscount Bourchier. This has been taken to indicate that he was the queen's man. But while it is true that the queen engineered the change of government in the autumn of 1456, it is apparent that she was unable subsequently to dominate affairs or the deliberations of council. It is perhaps significant that Shrewsbury and the new chancellor, Bishop William Waynflete, had both been active members of the council during the first protectorate. Waynflete was very much the king's man. Later his enemies picked out Shrewsbury as one who had been constantly about the king's person. Perhaps he was one of those courtiers, including the duke of Buckingham as well, who continued to see themselves as first and foremost the king's servants, endeavouring to execute his will, rather than partisans of the queen acting in her interest.

During the two years in which Shrewsbury was treasurer a policy of appeasement, culminating in the Loveday award of March 1458, was pursued. It is difficult to discern the authorship of this policy. It might have stemmed from the king himself, enjoying his last lucid spell; it might have been generated by the lords closest about him, by Shrewsbury as well as by Buckingham, who was also a significant figure at court; it might even have been initiated by the queen. Certainly these nobles were soon drawn into the queen's camp, Shrewsbury becoming a councillor of the prince of Wales in 1457, and contributing to the build-up of military power in the west midlands. His membership of this new curialist faction was sealed by the marriage of his heir, John, to Buckingham's daughter, Katherine, one of several marriages in the summer of 1458 that bound its members together. As treasurer Shrewsbury made a modest impact on the royal finances, not least as a personal lender to the crown without giving himself particular preference for obtaining repayment. The grant of the joint custody of most of the inheritance of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, at a nominal farm in 1458 may have been his chosen recompense. That he had not suffered financially is suggested by his purchase of Wingfield and Crich from the executors of Lord Cromwell. Other rewards that came his way included the Garter, and the offices of keeper of the royal mews, chief butler, and, in 1459, chief justice of Cheshire.

By the time of the last grant Shrewsbury was no longer treasurer. During a great council held at Westminster in October 1458 he was replaced by his brother-in-law, the earl of Wiltshire. These governmental changes marked the moment when Queen Margaret finally secured control of affairs; Shrewsbury was not, it would seem, sufficiently close to her person. He remained, however, unswervingly loyal, benefiting from, as well as participating in, the proscription of the Yorkists in the autumn of 1459. He was still in attendance on Henry VI, and with Buckingham and Viscount Beaumont led the outnumbered royal force that faced the Yorkists at Northampton on 10 July 1460. All three leaders were killed defending the king.

Shrewsbury was buried at Worksop Priory, in accordance with his will. He had four sons: John, who succeeded him as earl; Gilbert, who became the head of the family after his elder brother's death in 1473, and fought alongside Henry Tudor at Bosworth; James; and Christopher; and two daughters: Anne, who married Sir Henry Vernon of Haddon (the Talbot dog is emblazoned on the dining-room ceiling at Haddon Hall) [see under Vernon family]; and Margaret, who married Thomas Chaworth. His widow died on 8 September 1473. Shrewsbury's role as a loyal Lancastrian is enigmatic. In the last years of his life he was picked out by friend and foe alike as one of the key figures in the regime. To the queen's party he was ‘the top mast of the ship of state, keeping it from harm’ (GEC, Peerage, 11.705); to the Yorkists in 1460 he was ‘one of oure mortaile and extreme enemyes, now and of long tyme past’ (Davies, 88). Yet he seems never to have been the most dominant figure at court, nor, at least until 1459, was he the most virulently opposed to York. Perhaps it was his closeness to the king's person that marked him out for special notice. He does not appear to have been outstandingly able or assertive, giving rather the appearance of following where others led. But he was honourable and of unquestioned loyalty to his king, seeking until the eleventh hour to find some resolution and compromise between the competing factions. His efforts may have helped delay all-out civil war for two years. Unlike his cowardly brother-in-law, the earl of Wiltshire, Shrewsbury stood and fought at Northampton, dying for the failing Lancastrian cause in England, as had his estranged father for the same lost cause in France.

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