Bonville, William, Lord Bonville
- (1393–1461)Through his long and violent feud with Thomas COURTENAY, fifth earl of Devon, William Bonville, Lord Bonville, helped form the factions of rival nobles that ignited the WARS OF THE ROSES.Born into a Devonshire gentry family, Bonville rose to local and national prominence through talent, ambition, and two shrewd marriages. He was knighted in about 1417 while serving in FRANCE under Henry V. In 1423, Bonville was sheriff of Devonshire and in 1424 he again fought in France. By the mid-1430s, Bonville was widely active in West Country government, serving as justice of the peace for various counties and sitting on numerous royal commissions. In the late 1430s, Bonville came into conflict with Devon, who perhaps saw Bonville’s growing influence as a threat to the Courtenays’ traditional dominance in the region, or who possibly had some grievance over land arising out of Bonville’s 1427 marriage to his aunt. The dispute intensified in 1437 when Bonville obtained the lucrative office of steward of the royal Duchy of Cornwall. In 1438, Devon petitioned the king for the stewardship; HENRY VI, ignoring the previous grant to Bonville, assented to the request. Although the government sought to cancel Devon’s appointment, violence quickly erupted in the West Country between the adherents of both men.The COUNCIL intervened and imposed arbitration, but disorders continued until Bonville BONVILLE, WILLIAM, LORD BONVILLE 31 left for France in 1444 to become seneschal of Gascony. Returning to England in 1447, he was raised to the PEERAGE in 1449 as Lord Bonville of Chewton, a promotion that made Bonville an even greater threat to Devon. After 1450, the COURTENAY-BONVILLE FEUD merged into the national rivalry developing between the COURT party led by Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, and the opposition faction led by Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York. To counter Bonville’s alliance with James BUTLER, earl of Wiltshire, another royalist courtier with interests in the West Country, Devon associated himself with York. In 1451, Devon raised an army and besieged Bonville in Taunton Castle, but York intervened, and Bonville used his influence at court to escape without punishment for his role in the earlier disorders.With the support of the government, Bonville was predominant in the West Country until 1454, when the king’s illness and the establishment of York’s FIRST PROTECTORATE weakened the court party and strengthened Devon (see Henry VI, Illness of). However, in 1455,York’s alliance with the NEVILLE FAMILY alienated Devon, who drew closer to the king’s party, while Bonville, having lost his old patrons Somerset and Wiltshire in the aftermath of the Battle of ST.ALBANS, sealed his new loyalty to the house of YORK by marrying his grandson to a daughter of Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury,York’s closest ally.In the autumn of 1455, Devon and his sons launched an assault on Bonville’s servants and property throughout the West Country. The Courtenays murdered NICHOLAS RADFORD for his association with Bonville, ransacked Bonville’s residences, and robbed the homes of his supporters. On 15 December, Bonville, having gathered a large force of RETAINERS, was defeated by the Courtenays in a bloody battle at Clyst. However, Bonville retrieved his position by appealing to York, who was then in control of the government (see Second Protectorate). Devon was imprisoned, and Bonville was restored to dominance in the West, his own transgressions being once more overlooked by the party in power. The Courtenay-Bonville feud subsided after 1456, thanks in part to Devon’s death in 1458 and to the aged Bonville’s semiretirement from public life.After the Lancastrian victory at the Battle of LUDFORD BRIDGE in 1459, Bonville muted his Yorkist allegiance, but rejoined the Yorkists after their victory at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON in 1460. Having escorted Henry VI to the Battle of ST. ALBANS in February 1461, Bonville stayed with him after the Yorkist defeat on the king’s promise that he would not be harmed. But Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, encouraged by Thomas COURTENAY, sixth earl of Devon, ignored her husband’s pledge and ordered Bonville’s execution.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; Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Storey,R. L., The End of the House of Lancaster, 2d ed. (Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1999).
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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