John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk

John de la Pole
Duke of Suffolk
The Tomb of 2nd Duke of Suffolk.jpg
Effigies of John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk, KG, and his wife, in Wingfield Church, Suffolk. He wears the Garter below his left knee
Duke of Suffolk
Title held1463–1492
Born27 September 1442
Died21 May 1492(1492-05-21) (aged 49)
SpouseLady Margaret Beaufort
(1450–1453; annulled)
Elizabeth of York
John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln
Edmund de la Pole, 3rd Duke of Suffolk
William de la Pole
Richard de la Pole
FatherWilliam de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk
MotherAlice Chaucer
ReligionRoman Catholicism
Coat of Arms of Sir John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk

John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk, KG (27 September 1442 – 14~21 May 1492), was a major magnate in 15th-century England. He was the son of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and Alice Chaucer, the daughter of Thomas Chaucer (thus making John a great-grandson of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer). His youth was blighted, in 1450, by the political fall and subsequent murder of his father, who had been a favourite of the king, Henry VI, but was increasingly distrusted by the rest of the nobility. Although the first duke of Suffolk had made himself rich through trade and – particularly – royal grants, this source of income dried up on his death, so John de la Pole was among the poorest of English dukes on his accession to the title in 1463. This was a circumstance which John felt acutely; on more than one occasion, he refused to come to London due to his impoverishment being such that he could not afford the costs of maintaining a retinue.

As a youth, John de la Pole married twice; his first marriage was annulled, but his second marriage, to Elizabeth of York, made him the brother-in-law of two kings, Edward IV and Richard III. It brought him eleven children, the eldest of whom, John, would eventually be named heir to Richard III in 1484 and die in battle in the Yorkist cause. John de la Pole, though, generally managed to steer clear of involvement in the tumultuous events of the Wars of the Roses. Although he was politically aligned to the House of York, by virtue of his marriage, he avoided participating in the battles of the 1450s, not taking up arms until Edward IV had claimed the throne. De la Pole appears to have spent much of this period, in fact, feuding with his East Anglian neighbours, the Paston family over an inheritance – even interfering in parliamentary elections, for example, in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

Suffolk did not receive major grants from Edward IV either, although de la Pole continued to support him in arms when necessary, and when Edward lost his throne in 1470, Suffolk was not trusted by the new Lancastrian regime. Suffolk fought for Edward at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury but did not join Edward's inner circle during his second reign. He seems to have acquiesced in the usurpation of Richard III in 1483, but, unlike his son, was not present for Richard III's defeat at the Battle of Bosworth two years later. Henry VII does not seem to have held Suffolk's son's treason against the duke, and even seems to have protected him from the former's attainder. John de la Pole died in 1492 and was buried at Wingfield Church, Suffolk.


John de la Pole was born on 27 September 1442, only son and heir to William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and Alice Chaucer,[1] the granddaughter of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer.[2] John was therefore still only a child of seven when, on 7 February 1450, he was married to the six-year-old Lady Margaret Beaufort, though the Papal dispensation to marry was not signed until 18 August 1450.[3]

The earldom of Suffolk, says historian Michael Hicks, was 'not particularly well-endowed,' probably only just scraping the £666 qualifying income for that rank. His mother, though, held substantial estates in her own right, from her father, Sir Thomas Chaucer. Furthermore, because this was Alice's third marriage, she held large dowers from both previous husbands, the second of whom had been Thomas Montagu, 4th Earl of Salisbury.[1]

Arms of De la Pole: Azure, a fess between three leopard's faces or

John's father augmented the family's position by exploiting the favour of the King, Henry VI, to whom he was an important councillor in the 1440s. Already Earl of Suffolk, John's father was in turn elevated to a marquess (in 1444) and then Duke of Suffolk (1448), and with these titles received major grants from the crown. Also, it had been his father's receipt of the wardship of Margaret Beaufort from the king that enabled John's marriage to her,[1] whilst both were still infants and despite them being within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity.[4] Contemporaries claimed that the marriage to the daughter of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (cousin of the-then childless king) was intended to make John de la Pole an eventual heir to the crown;[1][5] this is considered unlikely by modern historians, who have pointed at indications that the King supported William in these plans.[6] It has been suggested that the marriage was the direct result of William's political difficulties during the 1450-1 parliament.[7]

Father's downfall

Any plans his father had for John were rudely upset in 1450 when Suffolk was impeached by parliament over the loss of Normandy in the Hundred Years' War. Suffolk was exiled, but never reached the continent as he was murdered by sailors in the Channel soon after his departure. On 30 April 1450, before he sailed from Ipswich, the disgraced duke wrote a letter to John in which he urged his son to "...flee the company and council of proude men, of coveitows men and of fateryng men...".[8][9]

Since Suffolk had never been formally convicted, he was not attainted, but the royal grants which had given John de la Pole such good prospects were now resumed to the crown.[1] And although John inherited his father's dukedom of Suffolk, he had lost the various offices that he had held, such as the Constableship of Wallingford Castle. On top of this, due to his mother retaining one-third of his father's estate in dower, his expectations from the dukedom could only have been even smaller.[1] His income has been estimated at less than £280 per annum, which was less than the minimum required for an earl, let alone a duke.[1]

John de la Pole did not come of age until 1463. As such, in 1450 his wardship was resumed to the crown, and custody of his estates granted to others by the king. His marriage to Margaret Beaufort was annulled, in February 1453.[1] A recent biographer of her son (the later King Henry VII) has described them as being married "only nominally",[4] and elsewhere as a "hasty measure destined not to last".[7]