John Dynham & The Wars of the Roses: Part Two: Nicholas Carew

John Dynham (1433-1501) rose from obscurity to become a key figure in the violent struggle for supremacy between the houses of York and Lancaster. He left his mark on British history in 1459 in the aftermath of the battle of Blore Heath when he escorted the rebel Yorkist lords, including the future Edward IV, to the safety of Nutwell, his ancestral home, then to the Calais garrison. Recovering from a horrific injury which almost cost him his life, he went on to enjoy a lengthy and glittering political career, not to mention a complex and unconventional personal life. Twice-married, but openly gay in his private circle, Dynham survived the harsh reigns and dictates of three very different kings: Edward IV, of whom he was one of his closest friends—Richard III, whose regime he held responsible for the deaths of several loved ones, including his first wife—and Henry VII, the first Tudor king whom he secretly despised. His story is one of compelling interest—sex, shady politics, tragedy and intrigue—and is vividly recounted in this the second part of the Dynham saga which covers the years 1466-71. Three years have elapsed since Dynham and his lover Philip Atkyn were reunited after Philip’s capture by the French following the battle of Wakefield. Now in his thirties, Dynham is about to enter into an arranged marriage with the wealthy Baroness Elizabeth Fitzwalter, but is determined never to give up Philip. He also has to deal with the bloody Siege of Exeter, court anarchy and the attempted deposition of Edward IV, endless family squabbles, loss of a loved one by way of battle, the rapidly failing health of his much-loved young brother-in-law Nicholas Carew…and the ultimate tragedy which rocks the lives of the entire Dynham clan.


As suspected, Warwick and Clarence were found to have been implicated in the Lincolnshire uprisings. King Edward declared them traitors, and the Courtenays were accused of supporting them. At Nutwell, we could only bide our time, as John had said. Nick Carew was Sheriff of Devon. It was not yet within his jurisdiction to arrest the offenders, but he wanted to, and John fought to dissuade him from collecting a band of mercenaries and besieging Powderham.

   “That’s just what they’re waiting for, Nick,” he told him. “You’d get no more than fifty yards inside them gates afore being hacked to pieces. I’m sorry, but if it’s got to be done, it’ll have to be official.”

   “By which time it’ll be too late because the birds will have flown,” Nick counteracted.

   John was right. The Courtenays had more supporters than us. John wrote to the King, who appointed him head of a commission of array which included myself, Nick, and Fulk Bourchier. I sent a message Richard at Blegberry. On the sixteenth of March he arrived in Exeter with his seventeen-year-old son Ralph and eighty men. That same day Roger arrived from Lydford with seventy. To be on the safe side, John sent his mother, his sisters and Bess to Mohuns-Ottery, accompanied by Alice Lee and a handful of retainers, a drastic but necessary step. News just in was that the King had betrothed his infant daughter to the Earl of Northumberland’s son. Effectively this meant that Clarence, now married to Warwick’s daughter Isabel, would have no real claim on the throne should anything befall Edward. Richard was cynical about the situation.

   “Do you really think anything’s going to stop Warwick from having his own way?” he scoffed. “I don’t. First he’ll get rid of the King, then he’ll dispose of the two children who are standing in Clarence’s way. Then he’ll start on us, Edward’s friends. You know what he’s like.”

   I looked up at my brother, a six-and-a-half foot Titan who feared nothing on God’s earth. He was right. Warwick had always been violence-orientated, with little thought for anyone but himself. But as for killing children…

   “Warwick and Clarence will be dead by the time we’ve quashed these latest troubles,” I said, confidently. “Then all we’ll be left with if anything does happen to Edward will be Richard of Gloucester. A fine King he’ll turn out to be!”

   Richard thought this amusing and chirped, “Poor little weakling Gloucester. He walks around like he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders. He wouldn’t have enough strength to lift a crown, let alone wear one!”

   “Not so little, though,” Nick put in. “I met him at court and was pleasantly surprised. He’s almost as tall as I am, and he’s filled out a lot these last few years.”

   “He’s a good lad,” John added. “He’s honest, and loyal. A few more like him on Ned’s side, and we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

   So it was over the coming days—speculating amongst ourselves, riding back and forth into Exeter, trying to sum up the political situation as best we could, wondering which of our enemies would make the first move. Edward had ordered us to arrest not just the Powderham Courtenays, but their kinsman Hugh Courtenay of Boconnoc. This would be an invidious task. We had but four-hundred men between us, taking in the fresh troops enlisted by Nick and Fulk. To cap it all, we did not know where the Courtenays were, and the fact that there were so many of them did not help.

   John had stationed fifty men at Nutwell and these were effectively guarding an empty house—those servants who had not accompanied the women to Mohuns-Ottery had fled to neighbouring villages. John admitted this after finding us lodgings at Mistress Kempe’s house, in Butchers Row—not our regular room where he and I had stayed many a time, but one scarcely large enough for one, let alone seven big men. Is there any wonder, then, that we soon began getting on each other’s nerves?

  John’s face was ruddier than usual. He had consumed too much of Mistress Kempe’s rough red wine. This, combined with the stifling heat of the room, had resulted in his feeling its effects very soon. And Nick, in his capacity as Sheriff, had just finished pulling him to pieces over the men he had left behind at Nutwell.

   “We need all the men we can get, and you leave fifty of them guarding an empty house,” he grumbled. “You must be mad!”

   John growled back, “I don’t give a damn what you says. I’m not having my home ripped apart by them heathens. And if I’m going to be griped at by you of all people for wanting to look after what’s mine, you can fuck yourself.”

   Nick’s face was suffused with colour, too, but not from drinking.

   He said, “I’m not griping at you, John. Every man has a right to protect his property. I’ve left Giles and a handful of soldiers at Mohuns-Ottery to look after the women. But fifty in an empty house? Nutwell’s safe enough—”

   “Safe?” John exclaimed. “Powderham’s so close, I could piss across the river and hit it. You call that safe?”

   Nick shrugged his shoulders. He had removed his outer clothes and was squashed between John and myself wearing just his undergarment and hose, which gives an indication of how stifling the room was, even in March. He indicated the goblet which John was about to raise to his lips.

   “That’s another thing. You’re drinking too much. We might be called out in the middle of the night. So…”

   Reaching across me, he seized John’s goblet and tipped the contents into the slop-bucket.

   “A little less of this stuff, and straight to beddy-byes,” he pronounced. “That’s the order of the day.”

   John watched in horror as his precious wine became mixed in with the excrement of seven men. Nick’s petition had gone to his head! Grinding his teeth, John grabbed the offender by his hair—and whilst the others laughed at his expense, poor Nick found his head being almost forced into the bucket.

   “Arrogant young twat,” he growled. “I’ve a good mind to make you sup the lot, turds and all!”

   Nick balked at the stench and fought to free himself. He was a stronger than he looked, and almost up-tipped the contents of the bucket over my feet. John was only ragging him, of course. Nick sat up, took a deep breath and reaching down he grabbed John’s balls, making his eyes water.

   “I’m not arrogant,” he said. “I just want our mission to succeed. A lot depends on it. Edward’s done a lot for us. Now it’s our turn to show him how grateful we are.”

   Fulk Bourchier, squatting against the door frame—and incredibly still wearing his cloak—raised his pasty face.

   “I’d sooner do without honours,” he grunted. “It seems to me the more honours a man gets, the more he wants.”

   This was often true. My estates were my own, as were Nick’s and Fulk’s, but many of Edward’s supporters and friends—including John—had received forfeited lands. Had I been the widow or heir of a slain or attainted lord I would have frowned on any usurper. I would have been looking over my shoulder all the time. John practically jumped down Fulk’s throat.

   “If that’s another jibe at me, you can fuck off back to Bampton,” he yelled. “My family’s been attainted once, and it weren’t very nice having to leave the country. I didn’t ask Ned to add to my estates. He did that out of the goodness of his heart—and a heart’s something you’ll never have.”

   John had been attainted after the rout of Ludlow—when his actions alone saved the Warwick faction. Now, the roles were reversed. To preserve his good name as one of the King’s most trusted friends and servants, Fate compelled him to help destroy the legend he had helped create. John was confident that this could be done. Fulk was not so sure.

   “If Warwick gets his feet under the table again, we might just as well all throw ourselves off the nearest clifftop,” he observed, glumly. “I’d rather die than suffer under another puppet-king. That’s exactly what Clarence would be.”

   I could have reminded him that he had never suffered anything. Whilst John, myself and the Yorkist lords had fought for survival after being exiled to Calais, not knowing when or if we would see England again, Fulk had been a fourteen-year-old mother’s boy who had never wanted for anything. John and I had not been brought up, we had been kicked up, and things had not been easy for Nick—raised by an indolent, extravagant uncle who had practically bled the family coffers dry. My brother on the other hand was optimistic, and with good reason. He had fought by Edward’s side and shared his victories more than any of us.

   “Warwick and his royal lump of snot won’t last long once Edward knocks them off their pedestal,” he told Fulk. “That’ll be an execution worth watching by God. What do you say, big brother?”

   “It won’t get that far,” I retorted. “You’ve just said it yourself that Clarence is of royal blood. And so long as the Woodville woman keeps dropping girls and doesn’t give Edward a son your lump of snot could one day become our rightful King. I can see Warwick coming to a sticky end, but who’s going to risk harming Edward’s brother?”

   Nick stood up and stretched. The torch-light played tricks on his sweat-streaked face, making him look considerably older than twenty-seven.

   “Gentlemen,” he sighed. “I really do think we should get some sleep. John…Philip. Are your sentries posted well?”

   “They’re everywhere,” I told him. “We’ve even posted men down the sewers.”

   John chuckled at this. Rolling his cloak into a ball, he tucked it under his head for a pillow and cracked, “Well, considering some of the rats we’re up against, Philip, I’d say your men are in the right place!”

   Nick peered through the shutters to ensure all was well outside. It was, and he lay down next to me. I closed my eyes, and was almost asleep when I heard noises out in the passage. The door swung open and I grabbed my sword, then relaxed. It was Roger Dynham and my nephew, Ralph, returning from sentry duty.

   Roger cursed, “It’s as cold as a dead nun’s tits outside. I pity the poor sods who have to stick it out all night. John, why isn’t there a fire?”

   Crushed together, four men in one bed, we were warm as toast—indeed, I was sweating cobs—therefore there had seemed no point in wasting what few logs we had left, and we had let the fire die down.

   “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have laid on some entertainment,” John responded, grumpily. “Get your head down, Roger. God willing, by this time tomorrow you’ll be back with the Mother Superior.”

   The Mother Superior was his name for Anne Bonvile, Roger’s over-pious little wife. Few of us liked her and she was hardly ever invited to Nutwell.

   “That’s something to look forward to, I suppose,” Roger replied, preparing to bed down on the floor between us and the slop-bucket.

   Like my brother, he was an optimist.