Post-classical history




London was full of unaccustomed optimism in the spring of 1461, the chroniclers recording general joy on all sides at the sudden and unexpected prospect of lasting peace. John Lambert had reason to welcome the advent of a strong new king, whose firm rule might end the slump in trade. Scarletrobed, his gold chain of office around his neck, Mr Alderman and Sheriff Lambert (his full title) rode with his fellow aldermen, accompanied by 400 common councilmen in green, to greet Edward IV at Lambeth when he arrived on 26 June to make his formal entry into his loyal capital. They escorted him through the cheering streets of Southwark and the City to his apartments in the Tower of London. His coronation was to take place at Westminster Abbey two days later – even though a crowned and anointed king of England might still lurk in Scotland.

The Mayor, the sheriffs, the aldermen and a dozen elected commoners presented themselves to the high steward of England, the twelve-year-old Duke of Clarence, who granted their petition to represent the City at the ceremonies. On Saturday, 27 June, the vigil, they joined the cavalcade in which the king and the peers, with 32 newly created knights of the Bath and accompanied by heralds, minstrels and drummers, rode from the Tower to the Palace of Westminster. They went along Tower Street, Mark Lane, Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street to Cornhill, along Cheapside, down Ludgate Hill, through Ludgate and up Fleet Street and through Temple Bar. Cleared of booths and stalls, swept and gravelled, the streets were lined by liverymen from every City company in their best liveries. There were bands of minstrels at the conduit in Cornhill – flowing with wine – and at the Eleanor Cross, while cloth of gold or silver or rich arras hung from every window along the route.

On Sunday, the day of the crowning, the Mayor, sheriffs and aldermen were rowed up the River Thames to Westminster, to walk in the coronation procession from the Palace to the Abbey. The fountain in the palace yard ran with wine and, as in the City, King Edward was acclaimed by cheering crowds.

By virtue of his office, Mr Sheriff Lambert attended the coronation banquet in Westminster Hall, after the crowning, where swan and peacock were served to the highest in the land. Sitting just below the Mayor, among the aldermen at the first table on the left of the hall – ‘next to the cupboard’ – he watched the King’s champion, Sir Thomas Dymoke of Scrivelsby, ride into the hall in full armour and throw down his steel gauntlet as a challenge to anyone who dared dispute Edward IV’s right to the throne. Two days later Mr Lambert was at a great High Mass in St Paul’s, where the King wore his crown again and the crowd was larger than ‘ever was seen afore in any days’.

The citizens’ wives watched the godlike young king ride by, so different from the drab Henry VI. Although contemporary portraits may show a fat face with small eyes, Edward’s good looks are well attested. Philippe de Commynes, who saw him on several occasions, thought the King handsomer than any prince he knew – ‘I don’t recall ever having seen such a fine looking man.’ His magnificent physique and height (six feet three and a half inches) were invariably set off by splendid clothes, very unlike the puny King Henry in his habitually dismal garb.

Mr Lambert’s daughter, perhaps by now Mrs Shore, must have been among the City ladies watching from the windows. Fifteenth-century girls married very young, their marriages consummated when they reached puberty.1 There are many documented instances of London merchants’ daughters being married at eleven, and Sir Thomas More says specifically that Jane and her husband ‘were coupled ere she were well ripe’. A Latin manuscript of More’s History of King Richard the Third, dating from about 1520, which describes her as ‘nunc septuagenaria vetula’ – now an old woman in her seventies – suggests she was born towards 1450, in which case she might well have been married in 1461.

In those days women were very much second-class citizens, young girls being disposed of like heifers. John Aubrey has an account of Thomas More marrying off his own daughters. (It was given to Aubrey by ‘my honoured friend old Mrs Tyndale, whose grandfather, Sir William Strafford, was an intimate friend of this Sir W. Roper, who told him the story’.)

Sir William Roper, of Eltham in Kent, came one morning pretty early, to my Lord [Chancellor More] with a proposal to marry one of his daughters. My Lord’s daughters were then both together abed in a truckle-bed in their father’s chamber asleep. He carries Sir William into the chamber and takes the Sheete by the corner and suddenly whippes it off. They lay on their Backs, and their smocks up as high as their arme-pitts. This awakened them, and immediately they turned on their bellies. Quoth Roper, I have seen both sides, and so gave a patt on the buttock, he made a choice of, sayeing, Thou art mine. Here was all the trouble of the wooeing.2

What makes this account not implausible is More’s statement in Utopia that every couple should see each other stark naked before marrying. Poor Jane Lambert may well have been displayed to her future husband.

Often marriages were ‘arranged’ in fifteenth-century England, and sometimes a broker was employed to find a suitable spouse, receiving as much as twelve and a half per cent of the dowry. Whoever secured Jane’s husband appeared to have found a really worthwhile catch. Not only (to quote More) was the bridegroom ‘an honest citizen, young and goodly, and of good substance’, but he was also a London mercer.

William Shore, who came from Derby, had been apprenticed to John Rankyn, mercer of London, in 1452, which means that he was born in about 1435–40. A document of 1472 describes him as ‘formerly yeoman of the city of Derby’, and it is likely that his father was a small landowner in comfortable circumstances. Clearly the elder Shore must have been reasonably affluent to put up the £100 needed to apprentice his son. Having completed his apprenticeship, William was admitted to the freedom of the company in 1459 and was sufficiently well thought of by the wardens to be among the fifteen young mercers who were chosen ‘to ride in blue to meet the king’ when Edward returned from the north in March 1463.3 He would become a liveryman in the following year, entitled to wear the coveted blue robes trimmed with gold. An able businessman, he had interests abroad, in Ghent, Utrecht and Zealand.


Jane Shore (Elizabeth Lambert). From her parents’ brass of 1487 at Hinxworth, Herts.

His child bride was most attractive. ‘Proper she was and fair, nothing in her body that you would have changed, but if you would have wished her somewhat higher. Thus say they that knew her in youth.’ So Thomas More tells us. More’s parents (his father was then a rising young barrister living in Milk Street near Guildhall) could well have known her in her early, respectable days; More says she was ‘worshipfully friended’. He continues, ‘Yet delighted men not so much in her beauty as in her pleasant behaviour. For a proper wit she had, and could both read well and write, merry in company, ready and quick of answer, neither mute nor full of babble, sometimes taunting without displeasure and not without disport.’4

The couple may have begun their married life in a house rented by Mr Shore from a family called Constantine (which he is known to have left in 1472), at the south end of Bow Lane in the parishes of St Mary-le-Bow and Aldermary, and near Cheapside. But it was not a happy marriage. To a girl not yet in her teens a husband of twenty-six was an old man. More comments that ‘as they were coupled ere she were well ripe, she not very fervently loved for whom she never longed’. Worst of all, as will appear, William Shore was impotent.

The new reign brought Jane’s father into close contact with the monarch. According to Professor Ross, Edward IV ‘courted, honoured and flattered and rewarded the London citizens more assiduously than any king before him’. Few citizens were more important than Mr Sheriff Lambert. King Edward needed cash urgently to run the country and mop up Lancastrian resistance, and John Lambert was a well-established money-lender. In April 1461 the Mayor and aldermen, including John, subsidized Edward yet again, with over £1,300, while John gave the King a further £300 on his own account. He also contributed £11 ‘for the speed of th’ earl of Warwick in the North’. Eventually, the loans to Edward would prove to be a richly rewarding investment.

Later in the year he was appointed a Collector of Customs at Southampton.5 The Croyland chronicler says that collectors such as John were ‘men of remarkable shrewdness but too hard upon the merchants, according to general report’. He was well equipped for the job, by experience in collecting City dues, and by his activities as a money-lender – pursuing evasive borrowers through the law courts and enforcing repayment.

When Parliament met at Westminster in November 1461 the mood of both peers and commons verged on hero worship. No doubt previous parliaments had addressed their monarchs as ‘Most Christian King, right high and mighty lord, and our aller most dread sovereign and natural liege lord’, but they had never told them how good-looking they were. This time the Speaker, Sir James Strangways – who had fought by the side of Edward’s father, the Duke of York, at Wakefield and survived – referred warmly to ‘the beauty of personage that it hath pleased Almighty God to send you’. Sir James also congratulated the King formally on his victory at Mortimer’s Cross, on his having rescued London from the northerners, and on his glorious triumph at Towton.

Enthusiastically, Parliament endorsed King Edward IV’s right to the throne. At the same time it attainted the former King – ‘the said Henry, usurper’ – together with 112 of his relatives and supporters. As a consequence of these attainders, Edward received a great windfall of confiscated estates. With so many broad acres at his disposal, he had no need to ask Parliament for any new taxes, his income being twice that of the former Henry VI – now a forlorn pensioner of the Scots – when the latter had been King.

During the address in which he prorogued (dismissed) Parliament, Edward thanked the Speaker and the commons in what was clearly an emotional and deeply felt speech. It should not be forgotten that this amazing young man was still only nineteen.

James Strangways and ye that be comen for the Commons of this my land, for the true hearts and tender considerations that ye have had to my right and title that I and my ancestors have had unto the crown of this realm, the which from us have been long time withheld and now, thanked be Almighty God of Whose Grace groweth all victory, by your true hearts and great assistance I am restored . . . I thank you as heartily as I can.

The new King thanked them too for ‘the tender and true hearts that ye have showed unto me, in that ye have tenderly had in remembrance the correction of the horrible murder and cruel death of my lord my father, my brother Rutland and my cousin of Salisbury and others’. He ended:

I thank you with all my heart, and if I had any better good to reward you withal than my body you should have it, the which shall always be ready for your defence, never sparing nor letting for no jeopardy. Praying you all of your hearty assistance, as I shall be unto you your very rightwise and loving liege lord.6

Margaret Beaufort must have been horrified by Towton and by the attainders that outlawed her Lancaster and Beaufort cousins. She had had every reason to fear for her husband’s life when he went off to fight for King Henry, having already lost her uncle Somerset and her brother-in-law Stafford at St Albans, her father-in-law Buckingham at Northampton, and her former father-in-law, Owen Tudor, at Mortimer’s Cross. Indeed, her stepfather, Lionel, Lord Welles, fell at Towton. However, Henry Stafford not only survived the battle but secured a pardon on 25 June 1461 for ‘all treasons, rebellions and felonies’, which saved his estates. Edward IV was trying to win over Lancastrians.

Edward allowed Margaret to keep the lands bequeathed by her father and Edmund Tudor, and those given to her by Henry VI. Yet she was no longer a member of the royal family. Worse still, her little son Henry Tudor had been taken from her when Pembroke Castle surrendered to the Yorkists at the end of September 1461. His captor, Sir William Herbert – Edward’s main henchman in South Wales, and notorious for greed – had bought his ‘custody and marriage’ from the King, intending to marry the boy to his own daughter. ‘He himself told me’, Philippe de Commynes records of Henry Tudor, ‘that since the age of five he had been guarded like a fugitive or kept in prison.’ No doubt he was brought up as a member of the Herbert household by Lady Herbert, but obviously he had unhappy memories of his time there. Margaret had good cause to dislike the new regime.

It was far from unthinkable that Margaret’s cousin, Henry VI, might recover his throne. Despite the cheering and adulation, King Edward IV was very far from secure. The House of Lancaster still possessed many supporters, declared or undeclared; they remembered the oaths of loyalty they had sworn to a sovereign who had reigned for nearly forty years. Those who had lost relatives at Towton hoped to avenge them. At the same time, not enough magnates and gentry were wholeheartedly committed to King Edward. There had been a rebellion in support of Henry in the north-east two days before Edward’s crowning, and William Hastings had to go up to Northumberland and lay siege to Alnwick Castle.

The Milanese envoy to the French court, Prospero di Camulio (who was kept well informed by the Lombard community in London), reported that unless Henry VI and his consort were captured further fighting was inevitable. ‘Anyone who thinks of the queen’s misery and the ruin of all those killed, together with the innate ferocity of this country and the victors’ attitude, should – in my view – pray as much for the living as for the dead.’

In Camulio’s opinion there was a threat to the Yorkist regime from another quarter, so far unrecognized but potentially even more dangerous. He prophesied that should Henry be made prisoner, then ‘before long King Edward and Warwick will start to disagree and to quarrel, so that King Henry and the queen will triumph’.

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