The arms of Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley ..
Take a trip to the lovely Cotswold town of Winchcombe and there you will find Sudeley Castle, the Boteler family seat in Gloucestershire. Some of those that lived in the castle are well known such as Queen Catherine Parr and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey. Their stories are well documented elsewhere and I won’t touch upon them here as I want to focus on an earlier owner, Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley (c.1391-1473) who became father-in-law to Lady Eleanor Boteler, or Butler as she is more commonly known, nee Talbot, when she married Ralph’s son Thomas. After Thomas’ death in 1459, possibly as a result of wounds sustained at the Battle of Blore Heath, Eleanor married the young Edward IV clandestinely. This secret precontract would later prove to be the catalyst for the fall of the House of York.
However to get back to Ralph who from aristocratic stock led both an interesting and illustrious life. In 1413 aged about 23 Ralph and his elder brother William joined Henry V’s expedition to France both fighting at Agincourt. William was later to die of wounds received in battle but Ralph continued to campaign in France for another 20 years, although not continuously as indicated by his marriage to Elizabeth Hende and the birth of their son, Thomas in 1420.(1) It is very probable that Ralph would have met John Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father during his stays in France. Among the numerous titles he held were Baron Sudeley, Captain of Calais, Royal Standard Bearer for Life, Lord High Treasurer of England and Chamberlain of the King’s Household. In 1423 he became a councillor to the infant Henry IV and his mother, Alice, became Henry’s governess. in 1430 he was made a Chamber Knight of the King, one of the royal intimate personal staff, and part of the bodyguard at the 10 year old king’s coronation in the Notre Dame 16th December 1431.(2)
On his final return from France Ralph rebuilt Sudeley, including the nearby beautiful St Mary’s Church. Ralph was also a generous benefactor to St Peter’s Church, in Winchcombe, enabling it to be rebuilt in 10 years after the earlier church fell into disrepair.
John Talbot, lst Earl of Shrewsbury – father to Eleanor Boteler/Butler nee Talbot. Both `John and Ralph fought in France.
As Eleanor was only a child of about 13 when she married Thomas, who was a fair bit older than her at about 28, their marriage would not have been consummated immediately and therefore she would have lived with her in-laws at Sudeley for the first few years of her marriage. It would seem an affection grew between her and her father in law, for later, after the death of Thomas, it would appear that she either persuaded her second, secret husband, the young Edward IV, to act generously towards her former father in law, or he did so to make his new bride happy for within 6 months of their marriage, which took place around February 1461, Edward issued a grant –
‘exemption for life of Ralph Botiller, knight, Lord of Sudeley, on account of his debility and age from personal attendance in council or Parliament and from being made collector assessor or taxer….commissioner, justice of the peace, constable, bailiff, or other minister of the king, or trier, arrayer or leader of men at arms, archers, or hobelers. And he shall not be compelled to leave his dwelling for war’.
Three months later Edward further granted ‘Ralph four bucks in summer and six in winter within the king’s park of Woodstock’. ( 3 ) Sadly all this good will evaporated on the death of Eleanor on 30th June 1468. Historian John Ashdown-Hill described this volte-face as a ‘hostility’ resulting in Ralph having to surrender his properties, including Sudeley, which went in the main, to the voracious relatives of his new and bigamous ‘wife’, Elizabeth Wydeville. For following a pardon granted to Ralph on the 17 December 1468, six months after Eleanor’s death, when two properties Griff and Burton Dassett, taken earlier by Edward, were returned to him, Ralph was induced to issue the following grant:
‘Know all men present and to come that I, Ralph Boteler, Knight, Lord Sudely, have given, granted and by this my present charter have confirmed to Richard, Earl Rivers, William, Earl of Pembroke, Anthony Wydevile, Knight, Lord Scales, William Hastings, Knight, Lord Hastings, Thomas Bonyfaunt, Dean of the Chapel Royal, Thomas Vaughn, one of the Esquires of the King’s body and to Richard Fowler, the castle domain and manor of Sudeley, with all its belongings in the county of Gloucester, and all lands, rent etc., in Sudeley, Toddington, Stanley, Greet, Gretton, Catesthorp and Newnton and also the advowson of the church or chapel of Sudeley, to hold the same to them and their assignees’ (4)
After his arrest and on his way to the Tower of London Ralph looked down on Sudeley and and said
“Sudeley Castle, you are the traitor and not I”
Edward, not content with taking the best of Ralph’s properties, (at the time of his death he seems to have been in possession of at least some manors in Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire) according to historian John Ashdown-Hill, also sent him to prison where he died 2nd May 1473 (5). People (and history) will have to judge for themselves the true reason Edward took such a heavy hand with Ralph after Eleanor’s death and whether it was because of his loyalty to the Lancastrian cause or something else. Ralph then aged 80 had supported the short Readeption of Henry VI in 1471 and as the king’s standard bearer bore the Sword of State in front of royal processions in London, or did it perhaps have something more to do with Ralph being privy (or a reminder) to the illegality of the Wydeville marriage or even perhaps a bit of both?
However, for the people of Winchcombe today Ralphs memorials are still around. “St Peters, St Mary’s Sudeley, and the tower of the old church at Gretton. He was a man of integrity and loyalty, particularly to the Lancastrian kings, whom he served at home and abroad. A good measure of the affection in which he was continued to be held is the request of John Beaufitz, for many years Ralph’s deputy at Kenilworth in his will of 1506, 30 years after Ralphs death, that the Abbot of Kenilworth should remember the souls of Ralph and his lady at Mass. Ralph gave generously to many religious institutions and he was, above all a peace lover and community builder. We can be proud of our founder and benefactor”. (6)
Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. Rebuilt by Ralph Boteler.
St Peter’s Church, Winchcombe. Ralph Boteler gave generously enabling the church to be rebuilt after the original one fell into a ruinous state. It was here in the family vault that Ralph was laid to rest in 1473.
St Mary’s Church Sudeley Castle..
(1) Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley c.1391-1473 Jo Stevinson 2003. Distilled from a much larger work The Records of Ralph Boteler c.1391-1477 Lord Sudeley compiled from contemproary state records, chronicles and collection of letters. John Stevinson
(2) Boteler, Ralph, First Baron Sudeley A C Reeves ODNB
( 3 ) Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey p38 CPR 1461-1467, pp.72,191. John Ashdown-Hill.
( 4) Eleanor: The Secret Queen p150. Close Roll 8 Edward IV, no.3. dorso, 23 February 1469. John Ashdown-Hill.
(5) Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey p51. John Ashdown-Hill.
(6) Ralph Boteler Lord Sudeley c.1391 1473. Builder of Sudeley Castle and Church and the principal contributor to Saint Peters Church. Veteran Commander in Henry V and IVs wars. Treasurer of England, Chamberlain and Steward of the Royal Household. A booklet from St Peter’s Church. Jo Stevinson 2003.