The Talbot Family

Several members of this family were involved in 15th century politics and warfare.

Their upwardly mobile social progress was partly the result of well-planned marriages and partly due to military skill and judicious loyalty to the Lancastrians, Yorkist and finally the Tudors.

John, the first earl of Shrewsbury (‘Old Talbot’) was among the most successful military leaders during the first half of the 15th century. He was Shropshire born with Norman, Welsh and Irish ancestry. His father died whilst he was a child and his mother’s second marriage to Thomas Neville brought the family closer to the centre of power. Thomas’ older brother, Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland, was one of the most senior nobles in the north of England. Ralph also married twice, and his second wife was Joan Beaufort, eldest daughter of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster & Katherine Swynford. One of Joan’s daughters, Cecily Neville, married Richard, 3rdduke of York, and became the mother of two kings: Edward IV and Richard III.

John’s (‘Old Talbot’) first marriage was to his stepfather’s daughter, Maud which brought extensive. land and property into to the family (see below).

John’s second marriage (1425) was with Margaret Beauchamp daughter of Richard Beaumont, the 13th earl of Warwick. Margaret’s sister, Eleanor, was married to Edmund Beaufort who was to become the 2nd duke of Somerset and King Henry VI’s closest adviser.

Old Talbot was trained for a life of military service with a high level of command which began in and around the Welsh border with England. After some more action in Ireland, where his devastation was likened to that of King Herod, he was summoned to accompany Henry V on his last two campaigns in France in 1420-22 during which Henry died of dysentery.

John was recalled to France after his new marriage to serve with the duke of Bedford, now Regent of English-controlled France. Talbot became feared by the French for his military success and his ruthlessness. He was captured and kept prisoner but later swapped for a French noble of similar standing who had been captured by his well-connected father-in-law. This prisoner exchange of high net worth nobles and gentry was part of the chivalric code observed by the knightly class to preserve their respective social structures and did not apply to the ordinary soldier who had no significant land or other wealth.

John spent most of the rest of his life fighting in France to maintain English control of land granted to Henry VI by the Treaty of Troyes (1420) and against the rival King of France, Charles VII. After the death of Bedford, Talbot was appointed Marshal of France with particular responsibility for the eastern areas which included Gascony and Bordeaux – possessions of English Kings since the 12th century (Henry II and Queen Eleanor). His creation as earl of Shrewsbury came in 1442. He and the duke of York were given roles in France and Ireland as the most senior military commanders.

After so many years spent fighting in France, the Treaty of Tours (1444) provided some respite and he joined the party which accompanied Margaret of Anjou to England for her marriage to Henry VI. After his return to France with his brother-in-law Somerset, military reverses began to pile up and by 1450 Normandy had been lost to the French. In 1453 he made a desperate attempt to recover Bordeaux and was killed as a result of cannon fire at Castillon along with his son by his second marriage, John, Viscount Lisle.

News of the deaths of the Talbots and the loss of Bordeaux is said to have been the cause of the sudden and lengthy collapse of King Henry VI into a catatonic state which lasted for about a year and a half, during which time the queen bore a son, Edward of Lancaster, the only heir in the direct Lancastrian line.

John and Maud’s eldest son, also John, became 2nd earl of Shrewsbury on the death of his father, with whom he had not had a great relationship. He benefitted from the death of his half-brother, Lisle, and also from the downfall of his step-uncle the duke of Somerset by gaining land and other property sufficient to take a prominent place in government, working his way up to become Treasurer. He fought on the Lancastrian side at Northampton (1460) and was killed.

John, 2nd earl’s eldest son, another John and the 3rd earl, married Katherine Stafford daughter of the 1st duke of Buckingham, thereby creating another Talbot link to a family of royal descent. John fought on the Lancastrian side  at Towton (1461) and survived. He then held various minor offices under Yorkist government until his death in 1473. One of his sons, Sir Gilbert Talbot, fought on the side of Henry Tudor at Bosworth, commanding the right wing and survived to be given high office under Henry VII.

John, 3rd earl’s son George, 4th earl, made an early marriage into the Yorkist family of William Lord Hastings. His wife Anne was a second cousin (papal dispensation needed). He was too young to fight at Bosworth but afterwards found favour under the Tudors. He was given several prominent roles in the reigns of both Henry VII and Henry VIII and died a very wealthy man with a large titled family.

Old Talbot and Maud’s daughter Eleanor Talbot is the person allegedly secretly married to Edward Plantagenet, 4th duke of York, King Edward IV of England before he married Elizabeth Woodville, also in secret. This is the  pre-contract which led to the constitutional crisis of 1483, as a result of which Edward V and his siblings were formally declared to be illegitimate and their uncle became King Richard III.

A modern link with Old Talbot and his first wife Maud is that she brought to the marriage the estate which is now the home of Alton Towers theme park.


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