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William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk (16 October 1396 at Cotton, Suffolkmarker, – 2 May 1450), nicknamed Jack Napes, was an important English soldier and commander in the Hundred Years' War, and later Lord Chamberlain of England. He also appears prominently in William Shakespeare's Henry VI, part 1 and Henry VI, part 2. His murder is the subject of the traditional English folk ballad Six Dukes Went a-Fishing (Roud # 78).


William was the second son of Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk and Katherine de Stafford, daughter of Hugh, 2nd Earl of Stafford, K.G.

Almost continually engaged in the wars in Francemarker, he was seriously wounded during the siege of Harfleurmarker (1415), where his father was killed. Later that year his older brother Michael de la Pole, 3rd Earl of Suffolk was killed at the Battle of Agincourtmarker, and William succeeded as 4th Earl. He became co-commander of the English forces at the siege of Orléansmarker (1429), after the death of Thomas Montacute, 4th Earl of Salisbury. When that city was relieved by Joan of Arc in 1429, he managed a retreat to Jargeaumarker where he was forced to surrender on 12 June. He remained a prisoner of Charles VII of France for three years, and was ransomed in 1431.

After his return to the Kingdom of England in 1434 he was made Constable of Wallingford Castlemarker. He became a courtier and close ally of Henry Cardinal Beaufort. His most notable accomplishment in this period was negotiating the marriage of King Henry VI with Margaret of Anjou (1444). This earned him elevation to Marquess of Suffolk that year but a secret clause was put in the agreement which gave Normandy back to France which was partly to cause his downfall. His own marriage took place on 11 November 1430, (date of licence), to (as her third husband) Alice (1404 - 1475), daughter of Thomas Chaucer of Ewelmemarker, Oxfordshire, and granddaughter of the notable poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his wife Philippa Roet. In 1434 the Earl became Constable of Wallingford Castlemarker.

With the deaths in 1447 of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort, Suffolk became the principal power behind the throne of the weak and compliant Henry VI. In short order he was appointed Chamberlain, Admiral of England, and to several other important offices. He was created Earl of Pembroke in 1447 and Duke of Suffolk in 1448.

The following three years saw the near-complete loss of the English possessions in northern Francemarker, and Suffolk could not avoid taking the blame for these failures, partly because of the loss of Normandy through his marriage negotiations regarding Henry VI. On 28 January 1450 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of Londonmarker. He was banished for five years, but on his journey to France his ship was intercepted, and he was executed. It was suspected that his archenemy the Duke of York was responsible for his beheading on the gunwales of a boat and his body was thrown overboard. He was later found on the seashore near Dover and the body was brought to a Church in Suffolk, possibly Wingfieldmarker, for burial, seemingly at the wishes of his wife Alice.

His only known legitimate son, John, became 2nd Duke of Suffolk in 1463.

William de la Pole was also father, by a nun, Malyne de Cay, to Jane, an illegitimate daughter. "The nighte before that he was yolden (yielded himself up in surrender to the Franco-Scottish forces of Joan of Arc on 12 June 1429) he laye in bed with a Nonne whom he toke oute of holy profession and defouled, whose name was Malyne de Cay, by whom he gate a daughter, now married to Stonard of Oxonfordshire". (Historic MSS Commission, 3rd Report, pps.279-280).Jane de la Pole (d. 28 February 1494) was married before 1450 to Thomas Stonor (1423 - 1474), of Stonormarker, Oxfordshire. Their son Sir William Stonor, K.B., was married to Anne Neville, daughter of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu and had two children: John married Mary daughter of Sir John Fortesque of Punsburn Hereford but died without issue; and Anne married Sir Adrian Fortesque who distinguished himself at Bosworth Fieldmarker and Battle of the Spurs; he was beheaded in 1539. Thomas two other sons were Edward and Thomas. Thomas Stoner married Savilla daughter of Sir David Brecknock. His great-great-grandson Thomas Stoner {b.18 December 1626-d.2 September 1683} married 1651 Elizabeth {b.1641} daughter of Sir Henry Nevill, 9th Baron Bergavenny and his second wife Katherine daughter of Hon. George Vaux and sister of Edward Vaux, 4th Baron Vaux of Harrowden. Thomas's son John {b.22 March 1654-d.19 November 1689} married 8 July 1675 to Mary Talbot daughter of Francis Talbot, 11th Earl of Shrewsbury and Jane daughter of Sir John Conyers. {John Burke "A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland {pp. 441-443}

The body of Sir William de la Pole, K.G., 1st Duke of Suffolk, was returned to the Collegiate Church at Wingfield, Suffolkmarker, where it was buried beneath a purfled arch.

A fictionalized version of William de la Pole plays an important role in many of the fourteen detective novels of Margaret Frazer, which take place in 1440s England.

See also


  • Williams, Edgar Trevor and Nicholls, Christine Stephanie (eds) (1981) The Dictionary of national biography, Oxford University Press, 1178 p., ISBN 0-19-865207-0
  • Richardson, Douglas (2004) Plantagenet ancestry : a study in colonial and medieval families, Baltimore, MD : Genealogical Publishing Co., 945 p., ISBN 0-80631-750-7

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