William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk

William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, KG (16 October 1396 at Cotton, Suffolk, – 2 May 1450), nicknamed Jack Napes (whence the word "jackanapes"), 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 and other literature.



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

Almost continually engaged in the wars in France, he was seriously wounded during the siege of Harfleur (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 Agincourt, and William succeeded as 4th Earl. He became co-commander of the English forces at the siege of Orléans (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 Jargeau 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 Castle. He became a courtier and close ally of Cardinal Henry 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 Maine and Anjou 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 Ewelme, Oxfordshire, and granddaughter of the notable poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his wife Philippa (de) Roet.

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 France, and Suffolk could not avoid taking the blame for these failures, partly because of the loss of Maine and Anjou through his marriage negotiations regarding Henry VI. On 28 January 1450 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. 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 Wingfield, for burial, seemingly at the wishes of his wife Alice.

The body of de la Pole was returned to the Collegiate Church at Wingfield, Suffolk, where it was buried beneath a purfled arch.


William de la Pole's only known legitimate son, John, became 2nd Duke of Suffolk in 1463.

De la Pole also fathered an illegitimate daughter named Jane de la Pole, with a nun, Malyne de Cay. "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 Stonor, Oxfordshire. Their son Sir William Stonor, KB, was married to Anne Neville, daughter of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu and had two children: John Neville, married to Mary Fortesque, daughter of Sir John Fortesque of Punsburn, Hereford, but died without issue; and Anne Neville, married to Sir Adrian Fortesque, who distinguished himself at Bosworth Field and at the Battle of the Spurs; he was beheaded in 1539. Thomas Stonor and Jane de la Pole's two other sons were Edward and Thomas. Thomas Stoner married Savilla Brecknock, daughter of Sir David Brecknock. His great-great-grandson Thomas Stoner (18 December 1626 – 2 September 1683) married in 1651 Elizabeth Nevill (b. 1641), daughter of Sir Henry Nevill, 9th Baron Bergavenny and his second wife Katherine Vaux, daughter of The Hon. George Vaux and sister of Edward Vaux, 4th Baron Vaux of Harrowden. Thomas's son John Stoner (22 March 1654 – 19 November 1689) married on 8 July 1675 Lady Mary Talbot, daughter of Francis Talbot, 11th Earl of Shrewsbury and wife Jane Conyers, daughter of Sir John Conyers.[1]


De la Pole's nickname "Jacknapes" comes from “Jack of Naples”, a slang term for a monkey at the time. The phrase “of Naples” was rendered “a Napes” in vernacular. It probably derives from *Jak a Napes, presumably circa 1400. Monkeys were one of many exotic goods from Naples exhibited in Britain, hence acquired the nickname Jack a Napes. It acquired the meaning "upstart person", from its use as de la Pole's nickname. He was one of first nouveau riche nobles, risen from the merchant class. The family used a collar and chain on their coat of arms, which was an unfortunate choice, as this was more associated with monkey leashes, leading to the derisive nickname Jack Napis for de la Pole, yielding the insult.


  • De la Pole is a major character in two Shakespeare plays. His negotiation of the marriage of Henry and Margaret is portrayed in Henry VI, Part 1. Shakespeare's version has de la Pole fall in love with Margaret. He negotiates the marriage so that he and she can be close to one another. His disgrace and death is depicted in Henry VI, part 2.
  • De la Pole is the main protagonist in Susan Curran's historical novel A Heron's Catch, pub 1989, Fontana Press.
  • A fictionalised 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.
  • De la Pole is one of the three dedicatees of Geoffrey Hill's sonnet sequence, "Funeral Music" (first published in Stand magazine; collected in King Log, Andre Deutsch 1968). Hill speculates about de la Pole in the essay appended to the poems.

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
  1. ^ John Burke "A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland pp. 441–443
Political offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Exeter
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by
The Duke of Exeter
Peerage of England
New creation Duke of Suffolk
Succeeded by
John de la Pole
Marquess of Suffolk
Preceded by
Michael de la Pole
Earl of Suffolk
New creation Earl of Pembroke

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