Pole, William de la, Duke of Suffolk

(1396–1450)
   As first minister of HENRY VI,William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, so monopolized royal favor that Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, believed himself unjustly excluded from his rightful place in government and undertook efforts to force the king to take him into office.
   After becoming earl on his brother’s death at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Suffolk served in FRANCE throughout the 1420s (see Hundred Years War). He was in command at the siege of Orleans when the city was relieved by Joan of Arc in May 1429. In June, he surrendered to the French at Jargeau, and he purchased his freedom only by selling his lands in Normandy. Suffolk was admitted to the royal COUNCIL in 1431, and thereafter he gradually associated himself with the political faction led by Cardinal Henry Beaufort (c. 1376–1447) and with the peace policy Beaufort advocated. This association threw Suffolk into increasing rivalry with the king’s uncle, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester (1390– 1447), who favored more vigorous prosecution of the war.
   By the early 1440s, Suffolk was a personal favorite of Henry VI, who also supported peace with France and who granted the earl a succession of important and lucrative offices. In 1444, Suffolk negotiated the king’s marriage to MARGARET OF ANJOU, a kinswoman of CHARLESVII of France.Although Henry hoped the marriage would be part of a general peace agreement, Suffolk was forced to settle for a two-year truce. The earl stood proxy for Henry during the formal betrothal ceremony in France, but then he was not allowed to escort the bride to England until Henry VI had agreed to surrender the county of Maine. Although belonging to the king, responsibility for this unpopular decision, which was implemented in 1448, was later imputed to Suffolk by the people. Trusted by both the king and the queen, Suffolk became the effective head of government in 1447 after the deaths of Gloucester and Beaufort. Secure in royal favor, Suffolk removed York, who was heir to the throne, from command in France and sent him into practical exile as king’s lieutenant in IRELAND. York’s replacement in France was Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, a supporter of Suffolk’s who also had a claim to the Crown. These actions intensified York’s alienation from the court and sharpened his rivalry with Somerset.
   Raised to a dukedom in 1448 and granted various other rewards and offices, Suffolk used his position to enrich himself and his supporters. Although the king’s grants were freely given and most of Suffolk’s actions were common practice, the extreme poverty of Henry’s government made Suffolk’s monopoly of royal patronage highly unpopular, both with unfavored nobles like York and with the commons (see Commons and the Wars of the Roses; Pole, William de la, Duke of Suffolk). When the French overran Normandy in 1449, in part through the incompetence of Somerset, popular hatred of Suffolk, already fueled by the surrender of Maine, exploded. The duke was arrested in January 1450, when PARLIAMENT charged him with various offenses, including corruption and mishandling the French war. Although the king was loath to proceed against his minister, the House of Commons was adamant, and Henry compromised by banishing Suffolk from England for five years. On 2 May, the ship bearing Suffolk to the continent was intercepted by a royal vessel, the crew of which seized and murdered the duke. Although nothing can now be proven, the mysterious circumstances surrounding Suffolk’s death suggest the involvement of York or another of the duke’s noble opponents.
   Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph, The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981);“William de la Pole,” in Michael Hicks, Who’s Who in Late Medieval England (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1991), pp. 272–274; Wolffe, Bertram, Henry VI (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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