John Fastolf

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John fatsolf II
Coat of Arms of Sir John Fastolf, KG.png
Arms of Sir John Fastolf, KG
Born6 November 1380
Caister Hall, Norfolk, England
Died5 November 1459 (aged 78)
Caister Castle, Norfolk
Resting place St Benet's Abbey, Norfolk
52°41′11″N1°31′29″E / 52.6864°N 1.5247°E / 52.6864; 1.5247
OccupationSoldier, landowner [1]
Era Late medieval Ages
Known for
Net worth£1,462 per annum in 1445 [1]
Spouse(s)Millicent Tibetot
Awards Order of the Garter

Sir John Fastolf KG (6 November 1380 – 5 November 1459) was a late medieval English landowner and knight who fought in the Hundred Years' War. He has enjoyed a more lasting reputation as the prototype, in some part, of Shakespeare's character Sir John Falstaff. Many historians[ who? ] consider, however, that he deserves to be famous in his own right, not only as a soldier, but as a patron of literature, a writer on strategy and perhaps as an early industrialist.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Knight An award of an honorary title for past or future service with its roots in chivalry in the Middle Ages

A knight is a man granted an honorary title of knighthood by a monarch, bishop or other political or religious leader for service to the monarch or a Christian church, especially in a military capacity.

Hundred Years War Series of conflicts and wars between England and France during the 14th and 15th-century

The Hundred Years' War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the French House of Valois, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Each side drew many allies into the war. It was one of the most notable conflicts of the Middle Ages, in which five generations of kings from two rival dynasties fought for the throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe. The war marked both the height of chivalry and its subsequent decline, and the development of strong national identities in both countries.


Lineage and family

Coming from a minor gentry family in Norfolk, [1] John Fastolf was born on 6 November 1380 [7] at the manor house of Caister Hall, a family possession which he later turned into Caister Castle, but of which little now remains aside from the water-filled moat. [7] The son of Sir John Fastolf (died 1383) and Mary Park (died 2 May 1406), [7] he belonged to an ancient Norfolk family originally seated at Great Yarmouth, [8] where it is recorded from the thirteenth century. Notable members of the family in earlier generations included Thomas Fastolf, Bishop of St David's, and his brother, Nicholas Fastolf, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. Many of the name had been bailiffs of Great Yarmouth since the time of Edward I, and a certain Hugh Fastolf was sheriff of Norfolk in 1390. [8]

Landed gentry Largely historical British social class, consisting of land owners who could live entirely off rental income

The landed gentry, or simply the gentry, is a largely historical British social class consisting in theory of landowners who could live entirely from rental income, or at least had a country estate. It belonged to Aristocracy, but was distinct from, and socially "below", British Nobility or Peerage, although in fact some of the landed gentry were wealthier than some peers, and many gentry were related to peers. They often worked as administrators of their own lands, while others became public, political, religious, and armed forces figures. The decline of this privileged class largely stemmed from the 1870s agricultural depression; however, there are still many hereditary gentry in the UK to this day, many of whom transferred their landlord-style management skills after the agricultural depression into the business of land agency, the act of buying and selling land.

Norfolk County of England

Norfolk is a county in East Anglia in England. It borders Lincolnshire to the northwest, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest, and Suffolk to the south. Its northern and eastern boundaries are the North Sea and to the north-west, The Wash. The county town is Norwich. With an area of 2,074 square miles (5,370 km2) and a population of 859,400, Norfolk is a largely rural county with a population density of 401 per square mile. Of the county's population, 40% live in four major built up areas: Norwich (213,000), Great Yarmouth (63,000), King's Lynn (46,000) and Thetford (25,000).

Manor house country house that historically formed the administrative centre of a manor

A manor house was historically the main residence of the lord of the manor. The house formed the administrative centre of a manor in the European feudal system; within its great hall were held the lord's manorial courts, communal meals with manorial tenants and great banquets. The term is today loosely applied to various country houses, frequently dating from the late medieval era, which formerly housed the gentry.

On 13 January 1409, in Ireland, Fastolf married Millicent Tibetot (1368–1446), daughter and co-heiress of Robert, Lord Tiptoft, and widow of Sir Stephen Scrope [1] (son of Richard, Lord Scrope). This marriage brought him significant amounts of land, including the manors of Castle Combe and Bathampton in Wiltshire, Oxenton in Gloucestershire, and several properties in Somerset and Yorkshire. [9] These lands brought him an income of £240 per annum, a considerable sum which amounted to five times the revenue Fastolf gained from his own estates. [10] He settled an amount of £100 a year on his wife for her own use, [9] but otherwise held her estates for himself until his death, at the expense of Millicent's son by her first marriage, Stephen Scrope [8] (Fastolf's stepson). Fastolf's wife was significantly older than him, and the couple had no children.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

Baron Tibetot

Baron Tibetot is an abeyant title in the Peerage of England. It was created on 10 March 1308 as a barony by writ. It fell into abeyance in 1372. These were the immediate descendants of the crusader Sir Robert de Tibetot and his wife Eva de Chaworth, early benefactors of the house of Ipswich Greyfriars.

Castle Combe village in the United Kingdom

Castle Combe is a village and civil parish in Wiltshire, England, about 5 miles (8 km) northwest of the town of Chippenham.

Early years

According to Fastolf's biographer Stephen Cooper, given his family's background Fastolf must have received an appropriate education for the standards of the time. [13] In a court testimony given in France, 1435, [14] he claimed to have visited Jerusalem as a boy, between 1392 and 1393, which must have been in the company of Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV. [13] Fastolf is said to have been squire to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, before the latter was banished in 1398.

Jerusalem City in the Middle East

Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally.

Henry IV of England 15th-century King of England

Henry IV, also known as Henry Bolingbroke, was King of England from 1399 to 1413. He asserted the claim of his grandfather King Edward III, a maternal grandson of Philip IV of France, to the Kingdom of France.

Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk 14th-century English peer

Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, 1st Earl of Nottingham, 3rd Earl of Norfolk, 6th Baron Mowbray, 7th Baron Segrave, KG, Earl Marshal was an English peer. As a result of his involvement in the power struggles which led up to the fall of Richard II, he was banished and died in exile in Venice.

Fastolf's whereabouts during the Lancastrian coup of 1399 (when Henry IV seized the crown from Richard II) are unknown, [15] but in 1401 he entered the retinue of King Henry IV's second son, Thomas of Lancaster (later Duke of Clarence), under whose service he would remain until 1415. [16] Thomas had been appointed by his father to keep order in Ireland, and it was here that Fastolf first saw military action. Fastolf's commanding officer was Sir Stephen Scrope, whose widow he married after his death in 1408. [17]

House of Lancaster English noble family

The House of Lancaster was the name of two cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet. The first house was created when Henry III of England created the Earldom of Lancaster—from which the house was named—for his second son Edmund Crouchback in 1267. Edmund had already been created Earl of Leicester in 1265 and was granted the lands and privileges of Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, after de Montfort's death and attainder at the end of the Second Barons' War. When Edmund's son Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster, inherited his father-in-law's estates and title of Earl of Lincoln he became at a stroke the most powerful nobleman in England, with lands throughout the kingdom and the ability to raise vast private armies to wield power at national and local levels. This brought him—and Henry, his younger brother—into conflict with their cousin Edward II of England, leading to Thomas's execution. Henry inherited Thomas's titles and he and his son, who was also called Henry, gave loyal service to Edward's son—Edward III of England.

Richard II of England 14th-century King of England and Duke of Aquitaine

Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward the Black Prince, died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to King Edward III. Upon the death of his grandfather Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.


A retinue is a body of persons "retained" in the service of a noble, royal personage, or dignitary, a suite of "retainers".

Hundred Years' War

Early service in France

From 1415 to 1439 he was in northern France, where he served under Henry V and the king's brother, the Duke of Bedford. He took part in the siege of Harfleur in 1415, but was invalided home and so missed Agincourt, though he returned to defend Harfleur against the French attempt to recapture it in the winter of 1415–1416. He was Bedford's Master of the Household, and was Governor of the province of Maine and Anjou, and on 25 February 1426 created a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. Later in this year he was superseded in his command by John Talbot; and he became a somewhat controversial figure after the Siege of Orléans—see below. After a visit to England in 1428, he returned to the war, and on 12 February 1429 when in charge of the convoy for the English army before Orléans defeated the French and Scots at the Battle of the Herrings. In his biography of Fastolf The Real Falstaff (2010), Stephen Cooper re-locates this battle from Rouvray-Saint-Denis to Rouvray-Sainte-Croix. [18]

Henry V of England 15th-century King of England and Duke of Aquitaine

Henry V, also called Henry of Monmouth, was King of England from 1413 until his death in 1422. He was the second English monarch of the House of Lancaster. Despite his relatively short reign, Henry's outstanding military successes in the Hundred Years' War against France, most notably in his famous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, made England one of the strongest military powers in Europe. Immortalised in the plays of Shakespeare, Henry is known and celebrated as one of the greatest warrior kings of medieval England.

The siege of Harfleur was successfully undertaken by the English in Normandy, France, during the Hundred Years' War. It was the first major military action in the Lancastrian War, the third and last phase of the century-long conflict. The siege ended when the French port of Harfleur surrendered to the English.

Battle of Agincourt English victory in the Hundred Years War

The Battle of Agincourt was one of the greatest English victories in the Hundred Years' War. It took place on 25 October 1415 near Azincourt in northern France. England's unexpected victory against a numerically superior French army boosted English morale and prestige, crippled France, and started a new period of English dominance in the war.

Encounters with Joan of Arc

During the 1429 Siege of Orléans, the French had planned to abandon the city after they heard rumours (which were true) that John Fastolf was coming with a force to reinforce the English besiegers. Jean de Dunois (known as "The Bastard of Orléans" as he was the illegitimate son of Louis I, Duke of Orléans) decided not to tell Joan of Arc and leave her out of leadership decisions, to which she famously responded:

Bastard, Bastard, in the name of God I command you that as soon as you hear of Fastolf's coming, you will let me know. For if he gets through without my knowing it, I swear to you that I will have your head cut off.

The French leader conceded to her, and she successfully lifted the siege. [19]

She went on to take towns in the Loire Valley, including Jargeau on 12 June 1429, even though Fastolf had attempted to reinforce with troops and gunpowder weapons. After a result of this string of unexpected sudden defeats, Talbot and Fastolf resolved to confront the French in battle to put an end to their success, thus leading to the Battle of Patay on 18 June 1429. Joan was leading this army and was present in the battle, although how much of a role she had in it is disputed. [20]

The Battle of Patay and Fastolf's reputation

Patay was a serious defeat for the English. 200–300 men were killed and over 2000 captured, including Talbot. [21] Fastolf had, however, escaped. According to the French historian Jehan de Waurin, who was present, the disaster was due to Talbot's rashness, and Fastolf only fled when resistance was hopeless. Other accounts charge him with cowardice, and it is true that John, Duke of Bedford suspended him from the Order of the Garter and he was subject of accusations of cowardice from Talbot. Eventually, in 1442, an inquiry was convened by the Order of the Garter, probably at Fastolf's insistence. This found in Fastolf's favour and he was honourably reinstated to the order. This incident was unfavourably depicted by Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 1 (act IV scene I). In all, it took Fastolf thirteen years to clear his name and even then, his reputation was still tainted. [22] [23]

Later career

Fastolf continued to serve with honour in France, and was trusted both by Bedford and by Richard of York. Despite the scandal associated with the Patay incident, he held a number of military commands, including captaincies of Honfleur (1424–34), Verneuil (1429), and Caen (1430–37). [1]

In 1435, he drafted a document variously referred to as a report or memorandum proposing a new strategic approach to the war in France. [24] In it, he criticizes current policy based on a war of sieges and proposes instead an offensive strategy based on large scale chevauchées. The document is a rare surviving example of military strategic thinking by a professional soldier of the Middle Ages. [25]

He only came home finally in 1440, when past sixty years of age. But the scandal against him continued, and during Cade's rebellion in 1450 he was charged by the rebels with having been the cause of the English disasters through "diminishing the garrisons of Normandy".

Property and investments

Fastolf, like other English soldiers, profited from the wars in France by obtaining lands in the conquered territories. He was given Frileuse near Harfleur by Henry V and went on to build a considerable property portfolio in Normandy, including four manors in the Pays de Caux worth £200 per annum. Later, he became the Baron of Sillé-le-Guillaume and therefore a member of the peerage there, a position he never attained at home. But the instability of English rule cost him much in lost revenues. His Pays de Caux manors had an income of only £8 after the Norman revolt of 1435. He began in the 1430s to sell off his properties but he still in 1445 held properties in France worth £401, including 10 castles, 15 manors and an inn. All this was lost in the French reconquest. [26]

"Cruel and vengible he hath been ever…"

In the 1950s the Oxford academic K. B. McFarlane showed that Fastolf made large sums of money in France, which he managed to transfer back to England and invest in land and property. [27] At the time, his reputation was mixed. One servant wrote of him: "cruel and vengible he hath been ever, and for the most part without pity and mercy" ( Paston Letters , i. 389); and this remark has become famous because it was recorded in the letter. Besides his share in his wife's property he had large estates in Norfolk and Suffolk, a house at Southwark in London and where he also owned the Boar's Head Inn. The site of his house at Southwark, known as Fastolf Place or Palace, was excavated in the 1990s, but only a few pieces of revetment were found.

From 1435, and more so in retirement, he was the author of numerous memoranda, which he fired off to the government of the day, about the strategy and policy to be pursued with regard to the war in France. These were preserved by his secretary William Worcester and eventually published by the Reverend Joseph Stevenson in the nineteenth century. [28] He also sat at the centre of an important literary circle, which produced manuscripts in French and English for him.

His last years were troubled by litigation and disputes regarding his East Anglian estates, in which he was helped by both John Paston, to whom he was related through Paston's wife, Margaret, and Sir William Yelverton, [29] and by factional fighting at court which ultimately led to the so-called Wars of the Roses. Paston and Yelverton would go on to be two of the main protagonists in the battles over his property after his death. Fastolf was inclined to sympathise with Richard, Duke of York, whom he had known and served in France, but it would be an exaggeration to say that he ever became a 'Yorkist'. [13] He was a widower throughout the last decade of his life, when he lived at Southwark and Caister, and he had no heir. He seems to have been a somewhat lonely figure, and made several attempts to draft a will, establishing a Chantry College at Caister Castle.

Death and burial

He died at Caister on 5 November 1459. [30] [31] [32] He was buried next to his wife Millicent in St Benet's Abbey in an aisle specially built at his expense on the south side of the abbey church, of which he had been a generous benefactor. During the last decade of his life he was a close political ally and friend of John Paston, who came to fame through the Paston Letters , a collection of over 1,000 items of correspondence between members of the Paston family. Fastolf's deathbed testament naming John Paston as his executor and heir led to many years of litigation. The ruins of St Benet's Abbey may still be visited, as may the ruins of Caister Castle. The Castle never became home to a chantry, as Fastolf intended. Instead, it passed to the Paston family. The bulk of Sir John's fortune passed to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he is remembered as a benefactor, and where there is a Fastolf Society.

Cultural portrayals


Fastolf appears in Shakespeare's early play Henry VI, part 1 as a cowardly knight who abandons the heroic Lord Talbot. In the first two folios the name of the character is given as 'Falstaffe' not Fastolf. When Shakespeare came to write Henry IV, part 1, set in the early years of Fastolf's career, he created a disreputable boon companion for the young Prince Hal called Sir John Oldcastle. The descendants of the real Oldcastle complained, so the name was changed to Sir John Falstaff, under which name he is identified in three later plays.

The tradition of Fastolf's braggart cowardice may have suggested the use of his name. Some writers have also suggested that Fastolf favoured Lollardy, which was also associated with Oldcastle, so this circumstance may have aided the adoption of the name. Stephen Cooper considers that there is in fact no evidence that Fastolf was a Lollard, and substantial indications that he was in fact Catholic like his one-time master Henry V.

Other points of resemblance between the historic Fastolf and the Falstaff of the dramatist are to be found in their service under Thomas Mowbray, and association with a Boar's Head Inn. But Falstaff is in no true sense a dramatisation of the real soldier, more an amalgam of a few real personages with a dash of creative licence. Indeed, the aged Falstaff dies early in the reign of Henry V, when Fastolf was midway through his career.

Later portrayals

Fastolf appears as a featured character in Koei's video game known as Bladestorm: The Hundred Years' War , in which he is seen as a contributor to the cause of England, wielding a longsword as his primary weapon.

He is the subject of a novel by Robert Nye entitled Falstaff (Publisher: Allison & Busby; New Ed edition (1 Oct 2001))

Fastolf is also an opponent in Ensemble Studios' Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings , in the game's Joan of Arc campaign. Fastolf fights on England's side and his unit is a lance-wielding knight.


  1. In the Paston Letters , Paston's wife calls Fastolf her kinsman. Both appear to be some form of relation to the Mortimer of Attleborough family. Fastolf's mother had married one of the family before he was born, as did a certain Margery Fastolf. [2] The Mauteby family shares kinship with the Cliftons of Buckenham, [3] [4] who in turn are also related to the Mortimers of Attleborough. [5]

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Harriss 2004.
  2. 1 2 3 Landon & Stokes 1936, p. 250.
  3. Verrill, Dorothy Maltby (ed.). Maltby-Maltbie Family History. New Jersey: Birdsey L. Maltbie. p. 92.
  4. Rye, W., ed. (1891). The Visitations of Norfolk. Harleian Society Visitation series. 32. London. p. 215.
  5. Blomefield, F. (1805). An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk. 1 (2nd ed.). London: William Miller. pp. 375–376.
  6. Barrett, Jonathan Tyers (1848). Memorials of Attleborough. London: John W. Parker. pp. 57–58.
  7. 1 2 3 Hawkyard 2005, p. 40.
  8. 1 2 3 Lee 1889, p. 235.
  9. 1 2 Cooper 2010, p. 130.
  10. McFarlane 1956, p. 103.
  11. 1 2 Barrett 1895, p. 43.
  12. Hovious, Matthew. "A Fleet of Fastolfs: The Descendancy of Alexander Fastolf, Burgess of Great Yarmouth". Foundation for Medieval Genealogy. Vol. 3 no. 2. pp. 83–107. ISSN   1479-5078.
  13. 1 2 3 Cooper 2010, p. 9.
  14. Cooper 2010, pp. 10–11.
  15. Cooper 2010, p. 11.
  16. Cooper 2010, p. 12.
  17. Cooper 2010, p. 14.
  18. Cooper 2010, pp. 53–5.
  19. DeVries, K. (Jan–Feb 2008), "Joan of Arc", Military History , vol. 24 no. 10, pp. 26–35
  20. DeVries 2008.
  21. Cooper 2010, p. 64.
  22. Cooper 2010, pp. 65–7.
  23. Collins, Hugh (2000). "Sir John Fastolf, John Lord Talbot and the Dispute over Patay: Ambition and Chivalry in the Fifteenth Century". In Dunn, Diana (ed.). War and Society in Medieval and Early Modern Britain. Liverpool University Press. pp. 114–40. ISBN   978-0-85323-885-0.
  24. Stevenson 1864, p. 575.
  25. Cooper 2010, pp. 70–6.
  26. Cooper 2010, pp. 136–7.
  27. McFarlane, K.B. (1956-06-09). "The Investment of Sir John Fastolf's Profits of War". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 5th series. 7: 91–116. doi:10.2307/3678888. ISSN   0080-4401. JSTOR   3678888.
  28. Stevenson, J., ed. (1864). Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Wars of the English in France during the Reign of Henry the Sixth, King of England, vol. II part II. Rolls series. 22. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green. hdl:2027/uva.x030445942.
  29. "Indenture". Records of the Treasury of the Receipt. UK: National Archives . Retrieved 9 November 2010.
  30. Castor, H. (2004). Blood & Roses. London: Faber and Faber. p.  124. ISBN   978-0-571-21670-3.
  31. Ohlgren, Thomas H. (2007). Robin Hood: The Early Poems, 1465–1560 – Texts, Contexts, and Ideology. Newark: University of Delaware Press. p.  231 fn. 48. ISBN   978-0-87413-964-8.
  32. Davis, N., ed. (1999). The Paston Letters. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford University Press. p.  51 fn. 3. ISBN   978-0-19-283640-3.

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Robert Hungerford, 3rd Baron Hungerford

Robert Hungerford, 3rd Baron Hungerford (c.1429–1464) was an English nobleman. He supported the Lancastrian cause in the War of the Roses. In the late 1440s and early 1450s he was a member of successive parliaments. He was a prisoner of the French for much of the 1450s until his mother arranged a payment of a 7,966l ransom. In 1460 after successive defeats on the battlefield he fled with Henry VI to Scotland. In 1461 he was attainted in Edward IV's first parliament, and executed in Newcastle soon after he was captured at the Battle of Hexham.

Sir William Yelverton was a judge in Norfolk, England and twice a member of parliament for Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

John Paston I was an English country gentleman and landowner. He was the eldest son of the judge William Paston, Justice of the Common Pleas. After he succeeded his father in 1444, his life was marked by conflict occasioned by a power struggle in East Anglia between the dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, and by his involvement in the affairs of his wife's kinsman, Sir John Fastolf. A number of his letters survive among the Paston Letters, a rich source of historical information for the lives of the English gentry of the period.

Sir John Paston, was the eldest son of John Paston and Margaret Mautby. He succeeded his father in 1466, and spent a considerable part of his life attempting to make good his father's claim to the lands of Margaret Mautby's kinsman, Sir John Fastolf. A number of his letters survive among the Paston Letters, a rich source of historical information for the lives of the English gentry of the period. Although long betrothed to Anne Haute, a first cousin of Elizabeth Woodville, he never married, and was succeeded by his younger brother, also named John.

Sir John Paston, was the second son of John Paston and Margaret Mautby. He succeeded his elder brother, Sir John Paston, in 1479. He fought at Barnet and Stoke with John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, served as his deputy when Oxford was appointed Lord High Admiral of England, and was a member of the Earl's council. A number of his letters survive among the Paston Letters, a rich source of historical information for the lives of the English gentry of the period.

Elizabeth Paston was a member of the English gentry who is regularly referred to in the extensive collection of Paston Letters. She was the only daughter of a Norfolk lawyer, William Paston and Agnes Barry. In her late teens and twenties she resisted marriage to several men proposed by her mother and brothers, before marrying Sir Robert Poynings in 1458, with whom she had a son Edward Poynings.


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