It has widely been supposed that this is where he first met the young Richard Plantagenet, youngest brother of the new Yorkist king, with whom he would strike up a strike up an enduring friendship and fight alongside in Scotland and at the Battle of Bosworth. But this is by no means certain as Richard could have already left Middleham by the time Francis arrived.
|Ruins of Minster Lovell|
All the noble young boys of the Earl of Warwick’s household would have had extensive training and practice in hunting, riding and the use of arms. They would also have been instructed in religion, mathematics, Latin and in the art of chivalry and etiquette. Evenings would be taken up in practising dance, singing and playing musical instruments.
Francis had inherited huge estates that included holdings all across England, including Upton Lovell in Wiltshire, Acton Burnell in Shropshire, Rotherfield and Bainton in Yorkshire and his full title at the end of his life was Francis Viscount Lovell, Lord Holland, Deincourt, Burnell and Grey of Rotherfield.
He was to married Anne Fitzhugh, a cousin of the Neville sisters, and the daughter of Henry Fitzhugh of Ravensworth and Alice Neville. The world of the Yorkist elite was a tightly-knit one, and Anne Neville would go on to marry Richard Plantagenet who became the Duke of Gloucester and Isabel married his brother George, the traitorous Duke of Clarence.
At some point Francis joined the service of Richard, Duke of Gloucester and was knighted by him while they were on an expeditionary force in Scotland in 1480. By 1483 he had been created a Viscount. The events of 1483 were to prove tumultuous as Richard’s brother Edward IV died prematurely, leaving a young son to inherit the crown as Edward V.
This created a battle for power between the factions of the Duke of Gloucester and the new King’s mother, the Woodvilles. Although initially appearing to support his nephew and making arrangements for his coronation, Richard dramatically seized the throne for himself, being crowned King Richard III in Westminster Abbey.
Ever loyal and rising to prominence in the new administration, Francis Lovell bore the third sword at his coronation.
Further honours were showered on him during Richard’s brief reign; he became Chief Butler of All England, Privy Councillor and Lord Chancellor of the Kings Household. He was also created a Knight of the Garter, the premier order of chivalry in the realm.
The important position he held is illustrated by his inclusion in the Collingbourne couplet ‘The cat, the rat and Lovell our dog rule all England under a Hog’. The cat is William Catesby, the Rat is Richard Ratcliffe, the Hog is King Richard himself whose cognizance was the White Boar and the dog refers to a dog on the Lovell heraldic crest.
Exiled in the Court of Brittany, he was aided by his mother, the formidable Margaret Beaufort, and the wily Archbishop Morton. In 1485 he set sail and gave the fleet that Francis had charge of the slip, landing on British soil at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.
Francis Lovell managed to escape the battlefield alive and fled to sanctuary at St John’s Abbey in Colchester. In 1486 he escaped the abbey to lead a badly organised revolt against the new King Henry VII. When this revolt was put down, he managed to escape to the court of Margaret of Burgundy in the Netherlands.
Lambert Simnel was the teenage son of a baker, who bore a striking resemblance to Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower and the second son of Edward IV. The plans were later changed and it was decided that Lambert Simnel would impersonate Edward, Earl of Warwick instead, after a rumour circulated that the Earl of Warwick had escaped his confinement in the Tower of London. Although they managed to reach English soil they were defeated at the Battle of Stoke in Nottinghamshire in June 1487.
|Site of the Battle of Stoke 1487|
If either tale is true, his decision to hide away cost him his life. At what point did he realise that he was sealed in the chamber and could not escape? That lack of water and food would surely kill him? Perhaps that is why he was at the table surrounded by writing materials; maybe he was writing down his story so that future generations would know the truth?
Minster Lovell is said to be haunted by the ghost of a knight clad in gleaming armour and riding on a snowy white horse. Is this the phantom of the tragic young Sir Francis Lovell eternally riding back to find refuge in his ancestral home?
However, when the wedding party scoured the mansion to find her, no trace could be found. The hours ticked by but there was no sign of the young bride. The families fell to arguing between themselves and accusations of foul play started to be flung around, causing the two families to fall out. It was not until the family were moving house some time later that a supposedly empty large box felt too heavy when it was lifted.
When the box was opened they discovered the skeleton of the poor unfortunate bride. She had obviously crawled into it and had been unable to open the lid and climb out again. This tragic, romantic story was used by the Victorian Thomas Haynes Bayley as the basis of his ballad ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ written in 1884.
Sources: http://monikasimon.eu/lovell.html, http://www.r3ne.org/articles/speculations-on-francis-lovel-richards-shadowy-friend/, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Lovell,_1st_Viscount_Lovell, http://www.tameside.gov.uk/blueplaque/francislovell