- (d. 1455)The murder of Nicholas Radford, a respected Devonshire attorney, was the most notorious episode in the violent COURTENAY-BONVILLE FEUD, which convulsed the West Country in the 1450s and helped create the political alliances that initiated the WARS OF THE ROSES.Although a councilor of William BONVILLE, Lord Bonville, the chief West Country rival of Thomas COURTENAY, fifth earl of Devon, Radford also had a long and apparently harmonious association with the Courtenay family. In 1423, when Devon was a minor, Radford was appointed surveyor and steward of the earl’s lands. His oversight of the earldom must have been satisfactory, for Radford stood as godfather to Devon’s son Henry COURTENAY in about 1440, and served as a feoffee (i.e., trustee) with Devon for the lands of various Devonshire gentlemen, including several Courtenay relatives.In October 1455, Devon and his sons launched a series of attacks across the West Country against the supporters and properties of Bonville. Around midnight on 23 October, Thomas COURTENAY, the earl’s heir, led a large body of men to Radford’s house. Setting Radford’s gate afire, the men called upon the attorney to come down. Learning that the intruders were led by a Courtenay, from whom he expected no harm, the elderly Radford admitted the men, who then proceeded to ransack the house while Courtney engaged Radford in conversation. So thorough was the sacking that Courtenay’s men did not neglect the sheets upon the bed, which were obtained by dumping Radford’s invalid wife onto the floor. Courtenay then demanded that Radford accompany him to his father at Tiverton, about six miles away. Radford agreed to come, but he was told he must walk the entire distance, for Courtenay’s men had already driven off his horses. When the party had gone only a short distance from the house, Courtenay departed, and six of his men set upon Radford, stabbing him and cutting his throat. Days later, as Radford’s body was being prepared for burial, a party led by Henry Courtenay, Radford’s godson, broke into the chamber and held a mock inquest over the corpse, finding that the unfortunate Radford had died a suicide. They then dumped the naked body into the grave and pelted it with stones until it was unrecognizable and therefore useless for a proper inquest. The reasons for the Courtenays’ murderous hatred of Radford are unclear, but they may have been related to Radford’s recent successful representation of Bonville in a lawsuit against Devon. The obviously premeditated murder and its outrageous aftermath shocked contemporaries and won the Courtenays an evil reputation. In 1461, when Thomas Courtenay, the sixth earl and leader of the Radford murder party, was executed after the Battle of TOWTON, a correspondent of John Paston wrote:“The Earl of Devonshire is dead justly” (Davis, 2, p. 230).Further Reading: Cherry, Martin,“The Struggle for Power in Mid-Fifteenth-Century Devonshire” in Ralph A. Griffiths, ed., Patronage, the Crown and the Provinces in Later Medieval England (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981), pp. 123–144; Davis, Norman, ed., The Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, 1976); Storey,R. L., The End of the House of Lancaster, 2d ed. (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1999); for a contemporary description of Radford’s death, see Warrington, John, ed., The Paston Letters, vol. 1 (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1956), pp. 110–111.
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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