Francis, Lord Lovell

Finding out about people in the 15th century: Francis, Lord Lovel
Francis Viscount Lovel, Lord Holland, Deincourt, Burnell and Grey of Rotherfield, born about 1455/6 (we only know that he was nine years old when his father died early in 1465), so several years younger than Richard III. After the members of the royal family themselves he must be the Ricardian character most often asked about. In an age of enigmas he provides yet another mystery to exercise our detective powers. Was he just another of Richard’s henchmen, ‘Lovel our Dog’, or did he have a closer relationship with his king, Richard’s ‘boyhood friend’ as Philip Lindsay suggests or even ‘the king’s dearest friend’ as Clements Markham asserts? No one knows when and how he died, but the story of the sealed room and the skeleton seated at a table with writing materials has seized the imagination since it was first promulgated in a letter written to Francis Peck the antiquary in 1737.

In many ways Francis is typical of the nobility of the period – he came of a family who had risen to prominence by acquiring land through advantageous marriages, but all we can find out about them is the details of the lands they held and the offices and appointments that came their way. The personal details of their appearance, their feelings, the reasons behind their actions and their views of other peoples’ actions are all lost to us for they left no diaries or letters, no reminiscences, not even a portrait.

In the case of Francis Lovel we are lucky because all the groundwork in tracing his estates has already been done for us by G.V. Belenger in her 1980 B.A. thesis ‘Francis Viscount Lovel, or the life of a “dog” in the fifteenth century’, which she has kindly allowed the Society to photocopy for the Library. This, apart from outlining his life, also includes chapters on his attitude to religion, on the mystery of his death and full information on the lands he held.

On a smaller scale the West Midlands Branch in 1982 produced a 30-page booklet on ‘The Life and Times of Francis Lovel’, bringing together the known facts of his life and the legends surrounding his death.

For a figure so important to members it is not surprising that the Society’s journal the Ricardian has carried a number of interesting articles on Francis which can be traced through the Indexes to the Ricardian available from the Sales Officer. The main ones are:- ‘What Happend to Lord Lovel?’ by David Baldwin (vol. VII, number 89, June, 1985, pp.56-65), a detailed discussion of the fate of Lovel after the Battle of Stoke; ‘Francis Lovel and the Rebels of Furness Fells’ by Sheilah O’Connor (vol. VII, number 96, March 1987, pp. 366-370) on the links between Lovel and Sir Thomas Broughton and the other rebels in the north west and the possibility that Lovel fled to Scotland after the Battle of Stoke and died there in 1491/2; and ‘The political Career of Francis Viscount Lovell (1456?)’ by Joanna M. Williams (vol. VIII, number 109, June 1990, pp. 382-402) – a detailed account of Lovel’s life concentrating on the period from 1477 when he attained his majority. CH