The Mysterious Disappearance of Sir Francis Lovell

Sir Francis Lovell was a staunch Yorkist who bursts onto the scene towards the end of the Wars of the Roses. Knighted by Edward IV in 1480, he was created Viscount Lovell two years later. He was fiercely loyal to Richard III when he came to power. A certain William Colinbourne, mocking the influence Richard's favourites had over him, included him in a treasonous but also pretty genius rhyme that was nailed onto a church door: 

"The cat, the rat, and Lovell our dogge
Ruleth all England under a hogge"

(the hogge being the emblem of Richard III)

He fought at Bosworth on Richard's side and escaped, being attainted by the new Tudor king, Henry VII in his absence. He is found fighting again at the Battle of Stoke in June 1487, on the side of Lambert Simnel the Yorkist Pretender, and then he disappears from history. 

A French Battle, c1415. Flickr, British Library Online Collection, Public Domain

So what happened to him? 

Possible theories include that he was injured from Stoke and died later from battle wounds. Others think he might have drowned trying to cross the River Trent in his armour. Maybe he went overseas. Despite rumours of his impending return, he was never seen again. 

That is, until in 1708 when workers were making alterations to Lovell's old home in Minster Lovell. They found a hidden chamber, and when they peeked into it, through the darkness, must and floating dust particles, they found a skeleton seated on a chair in front of a table, a piece of paper in front of it and a mouldy old cap. 

Could Lovell have squirrelled himself away in a secret chamber to wait out his return to politics? Could one of his last acts have been scratching his inked quill into parchment to write to his wife, Anne? 

Obviously because there was no forensics in 1708 we'll never know if the skeleton was Lovell. Or even if it was a tale made up by one of the workmen to entertain his kids when he arrived home. Can a skeleton actually sit up by itself for two hundred years? I don't really know. No one really knows whether it was Lovell or not or even if it actually happened. 

But it's not entirely unthinkable. 

Lovell was a traitor, attainted and on the run. The first place I would want to go, if it was me, is home - to shake off the armour, pick up some supplies, eat something and then get back out. But the king's men would be on the lookout, and home would be the first place they'd look, right? So maybe Lovell decided to barricade himself into a small chamber. He had been a Yorkist in a Tudor realm for two years after Bosworth, so he would have had plenty of time to make a hidden area where he could retreat for safety. He writes a note to his wife to let her know he's safe. Just like the Earl of Oxford did in 1471 to his wife, Margaret, after the Battle of Barnet. 

It might have gone a bit like this. (This is part of the earl of Oxford's letter, preserved in the Paston Letters):

"Right reverend and worshipful lady, I recommend me to you, letting you weet (know) that I am in great heaviness at the making of this letter; but thanked be God I am escaped myself, and suddenly departed from my men..."

Online and in books there's talk of Lovell being set upon inside his hiding place and murdered. But I think there's a much more obvious explanation. Lovell sits down to write his note. He takes off his cap, runs his fingers through his hair. He's had a stressful few days - years, even. He's run miles from battle, staggered to his home and cracked open a barrel of ale. Swigging it down, he's found his hiding place and gets ready to write his letter before making his way to the coast. But the stress has taken its toll and Lovell suffers a fatal and tragic heart attack, dying in his enclosed chamber to be discovered two hundred years later. 

Plausible, yes? 

(or maybe he went overseas to drum up Yorkist support from Margaret of Burgundy and lived out the rest of his life there...)

In all seriousness, I just can't see the skeleton theory as true. We'll probably never know what happened to Lovell but I'm thinking he got overseas and unexpectedly died there or died from wounds after Stoke. Sorry guys. 

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below... 

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Interested in the Wars of the Roses conflict? I explore stories of some of the women during the wars and known to Sir Francis Lovell in my book Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses, published by Pen and Sword. They include Elizabeth Stonor, Anne Neville and Margaret de Vere.  Order your copy here. 

The Paston Letters, Fenn, v2 p61
Elliott O' Donnel, Rooms of Mystery, 1931
Cokayne, Complete Peerage, 1893. p165-6, v5