The surviving letters and papers of the Plumptons of Yorkshire are a valuable source of information on the lives and concerns of a northern GENTRY family during the WARS OF THE ROSES.
The Plumpton archive contains about 250 letters and almost 1,000 estate and other family documents. The correspondence dates from 1461 to the mid-sixteenth century, with most of the letters written during the reigns of HENRYVII and Henry VIII, when the family was headed by Sir Robert Plumpton (1453–1525) and his son William Plumpton (d. 1547). For the civil wars, the most relevant letters are the earlier ones relating to EDWARD IV’s reign; this correspondence concerns Sir Robert’s father, Sir William Plumpton (1404–1480), who was a long-standing RETAINER of the Percy earls of Northumberland. As rivals of the NEVILLE FAMILY (see NEVILLE-PERCY FEUD), the Percies were partisans of the house of LANCASTER, and Sir William followed his lord, Henry PERCY, third earl of Northumberland, into the service of HENRYVI. Sir William fought at the Battle of TOWTON in 1461 and spent some months following the battle in confinement in the TOWER OF LONDON, but he somehow escaped ATTAINDER by the Yorkist PARLIAMENT.
In the 1460s, Sir William lived uneasily under the northern dominance of Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, but won greater favor with the house of YORK after 1470, when Edward IV released the Percy heir from confinement and recognized him as Henry PERCY, fourth earl of Northumberland. Through the patronage of the new earl, Sir William held a number of local offices, as did his son Sir Robert, who fought under Northumberland in the duke of Gloucester’s campaigns in SCOTLAND in the early 1480s. Although the letters for RICHARD III’s reign are few, those from the previous decade shed light on Richard’s exercise of power in the north as duke of Gloucester.
The letters for the reign of Henry VII are fuller and more numerous, describing such events as the coronation of Henry’s queen, ELIZABETH OFYORK; the suppression of the northern rebellion of 1489, which began with the murder of Northumberland; and the trials in 1499 of Perkin WARBECK, the Yorkist pretender, and Edward PLANTAGENET, earl of Warwick, the remaining male heir of the house of York. Besides illuminating key events in the north, the letters from the years before 1500 provide a limited but useful view of the political activities of a gentry family during the Yorkist and early Tudor periods.
Further Reading: Kirby, Joan, ed., The Plumpton Letters and Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Stapleton, Thomas, ed., The Plumpton Correspondence (London: Camden Society, 1839; reprint, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Alan Sutton, 1990).