After somehow escaping from the Tower of London, no mean feat, and reaching France, John Morton embarked on still more alarming adventures – to be ‘continually tumbled and tossed in the waves of divers misfortunes and adversities’, in the words of his friend Thomas More. ‘And so by many and great dangers he learned the experience of the world.’ Nothing could be more dangerous during the 1460s than to be a Lancastrian.
While Morton was in the Tower, the Lancastrians had not been idle. Henry VI and his queen received armed assistance on a large scale from the Scots and a substantial number of gentry south of the border stayed faithful to them, especially in Northumberland. In April 1461, in return for troops, the Queen ordered Berwick to surrender to the Scots, but in June Carlisle disobeyed a similar order. The Duke of Exeter joined Jasper Tudor in Wales and raised an army. However, they were defeated in October, John Paston hearing that every Welsh castle had surrendered to King Edward’s men and that ‘the duke of Exeter and the earl of Pembroke are flown and taken [to] the mountains and divers lords with great puissance are after them’. Nevertheless, Harlech held out for King Henry until 1468, while Exeter and Jasper got back safely to Scotland.
During early 1462 war seemed to threaten the Yorkist regime from every side. In February, under interrogation, a captured Lancastrian spy revealed a plot by the ‘infirm’ Earl of Oxford. When King Edward was travelling up to the border to join his army, escorted by only a handful of men, the Earl and his friends would attack him with 2,000. At the same time King Henry would invade from Scotland while Exeter and Jasper Tudor would land at Beaumaris and raise North Wales. In addition, according to one excited chronicler, ‘Duke Harry of Calabria [the Queen’s brother], the Lord Hungerford, the Lord Morton [sic], the duke of Somerset, with 50,000 men of Spain, shall landen in the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk.’ But all these threats came to nothing.
Undeterred, leaving her husband in Scotland, the Queen sailed to France in April 1462. Dr Morton, now ‘Lord Privy Seal’, was among her advisers during the negotiations with Louis XI at Tours in June; after she promised that Henry would hand over Calais to the French, when he had regained it, King Louis signed a treaty of alliance. He also gave her 2,000 francs and promised soldiers. However, when Edward IV retaliated by allying with Burgundy and Castile, Louis became less eager to help the House of Lancaster.
Nonetheless, in the autumn the Queen was able to sail from Honfleur with a fleet of forty-two ships which carried over a thousand French troops under a redoubtable French commander, Pierre de Brézé. The dauntless Dr Morton went with them. After putting in at a Scottish port and taking on board King Henry and the Duke of Somerset, together with a small Scots force, they landed at Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast on 25 October. As a London chronicler wrote, the Queen ‘came out of France into Scotland with a strength of people; and so entered England and made open war’. But although most of the Northumbrian gentry must have sympathized with his cause, there was no widespread rising in favour of Henry VI; too many remembered the kindred and friends who had died at Towton. Even so, the garrisons of the castles at Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Warkworth declared for Henry, while his troops quickly captured Alnwick. The Lancastrians now controlled half the Northumbrian seaboard – if the Scots sent enough reinforcements, the north might be persuaded to join them.
The indefatigable Queen set off for Scotland to find more troops, accompanied by her husband, Somerset and Brézé, but off Berwick their fleet ran into a storm. The royal party escaped only by abandoning ship and making for shore in a fishing boat. Their carvel foundered, taking with it most of the Queen’s baggage, while three other vessels ran aground near Lindisfarne; marooned on Holy Island, most of the French troops who had been on board were soon killed or captured by men loyal to King Edward.
Meanwhile the Earl of Warwick was advancing on the castles. Edward, who fully appreciated the seriousness of the situation, brought an army even larger than that which he had commanded at Towton; it included two-thirds of the English peerage. When Edward was struck down by measles at Durham, Warwick took charge of operations, using Warkworth – which had surrendered – as a base. Hunger was his weapon, since it would have been much too expensive to employ heavy artillery at all three castles.
We know that on 21 December the Lancastrian garrison inside Dunstanburgh numbered 120 men, under the command of the Duke of Somerset, Sir Richard Tunstall, and Sir Thomas Findherne. John Morton was with them, perhaps to stiffen morale. Eight miles north-east of Alnwick, on a promontory at the south side of Embleton Bay, Dunstanburgh stands on the crags of the Whin Sill. Its ruins still have a grim, not to say menacing, air. The curtain walls enclose eleven acres, dominated by a massive gatehouse. The central part was three storeys high, containing a great hall on the second floor, and was flanked by two D-shaped towers, each of five storeys. Although the castle’s living quarters were here in the gatehouse, it was the first part to be assaulted by besiegers since it was the easiest to approach from the mainland. Morton may have lodged in the constable’s house (which has not survived), but he would certainly have eaten in the great hall.
My Lord of Warwick ‘rideth daily to all these castles for to oversee the sieges,’ wrote John Paston, who was with the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent. ‘If they need victuals or anything else, he is ready to supply them.’ Norfolk was at Newcastle, from where he sent Warwick a steady stream of provisions and ammunition. The castles were closely invested; anyone among the besieging troops who tried to go home could expect severe punishment.
Soon the Lancastrians were eating their horses in the great hall at Dunstanburgh, as they were at Bamburgh. Nothing bleaker can be imagined than these gaunt strongholds on the edge of the North Sea, and it was winter. There was no sign of a Scots army coming to their relief, although Paston heard on 11 December ‘that as this day we had tidings that the Scots will come into England for to rescue these three castles’. Eventually there was no longer even horsemeat to eat in the great hall, and on Christmas Eve the garrisons of both Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh started to negotiate a surrender.
King Edward offered generous terms – a free pardon or a safe conduct abroad. Bamburgh surrendered on Boxing Day, Dunstanburgh on Monday, 27 December. There had been a reason for Edward’s generosity; he knew that a Scots army under the Earl of Angus and Pierre de Brézé was on its way to relieve the castles. However, although he rescued the garrison of Alnwick, Angus would not risk a confrontation with Warwick and marched back to Scotland, leaving the Yorkists in possession of all three strongholds.
After the fall of Dunstanburgh Dr Morton rejoined the Queen on the other side of the border. That remarkable woman refused to give way to despair while her husband still possessed supporters, and during the summer of 1463 the three castles were again in Lancastrian hands. In July the Queen and Henry VI, together with Brézé (and no doubt Morton), accompanied little King James III of Scots and his army when they invaded England ‘with great puissance’ and laid siege to Norham Castle on the banks of the River Tweed. The siege was raised after only eighteen days by Warwick and his brother, Lord Montagu, who chased the Scots back over the border. The Queen herself had difficulty in escaping.
Waurin has a dramatic account of Queen Margaret’s adventures after Norham, though he confuses them with her departure from Scotland later that month. It is worth giving in full, since he may well have heard it from the Queen’s own lips.
After hiding some of her best rings in her clothes, she and her son, young Edward, prince of Wales, mounted ponies and set off with guides, riding only by night, until they came to a very large and dense forest [still] in England. Here, she and her son were caught, captured by thieves and murderers who wanted to kill them, but a great argument broke out over whom was to have her rings and jewels. While it pleased God that these murderers should be quarrelling with each other, taking her son in her arms she hid in the forest. Finally, overcome by hardship and exhaustion, she had no choice but to entrust her child to another brigand whom she encountered in the woods, saying to him ‘Save your king’s son.’ Through this man she and her son escaped out of the hands of those robbers and murderers and got away . . .
She was able to reach Scotland safely – as was Dr Morton.
A flowery letter from ‘W Hastings à Mr de Lannoy’ (an influential Burgundian nobleman), dated 7 August 1463,1 refers to ‘the great enterprise of our ancient enemies of my said sovereign lord [Edward IV], those from Scotland, allied with those great traitors and rebels, Henry calling himself king and Margaret his wife, made on his castle of Norham by the king of Scotland with all the power of his land, furnished with its great ordnance . . .’ William tells Lannoy with unconcealed triumph how Lords Warwick and Montagu, with only the men of the northern Marches, had chased the King of Scots and his army back to Scotland, pursuing them, plundering and laying waste a good part of their country, destroying several castles, killing many Scots and taking large numbers of them prisoner.
He continues that ‘until the day of judgement they will repent of the favour and help they gave to Hery [sic] and Margaret and [I pray] that their repentance shall not be altogether forgotten. In short, I hope that it will leave such an effect and impression as to make them remember for ever the desolation and misery of the Scots nation through God’s grace.’ Even though the Scots may not have remembered for ever their rout at Norham, undoubtedly it discouraged them from giving any more help to Henry VI.
The purpose of Hastings’ letter was to convince the Burgundian court that the cause of the House of Lancaster was now lost irretrievably. In the same letter he says that the defeat of the Scots had frightened Queen Margaret and ‘her captain’, Pierre de Brézé, into fleeing without further ado ‘beyond sea’. He wrote in the knowledge that a peace conference would soon take place at St Omer, between England, France and Burgundy. As well as soldier and courtier, William was also a diplomat.
Margaret of Anjou had indeed crossed the sea, hoping against hope to persuade King Louis not to make peace with Edward IV. She had sailed from Scotland towards the end of July, immediately after her escape from the disaster at Norham, taking her son with her. They were accompanied by 200 followers, among whom were the Duke of Exeter, Sir John Fortescue and Doctors Morton and Mackerell. Gregory says the party made the voyage in four ballingers; these were small, shallow-draughted, oared sailing barges with flat bottoms – scarcely the most comfortable craft in which to cross the North Sea, especially when loaded to the gunnel.2 Landing at Sluys, the party went to Bruges, where the White Friars gave them shelter in the Carmelite priory. The Queen realized that neither help nor refuge could any longer be expected from the cowed Scots, who were living in dread of an English invasion. Her last chance was King Louis. But, as she had feared, the French made peace with Edward in October 1463.
When the Scots too made peace with Edward in December, King Henry returned to Northumberland and installed himself at Bamborough, which was still holding out for him. His dwindling band of supporters waged a guerrilla war in the north for a few months longer, occasionally capturing one or two isolated castles. But in May 1464 their leaders were captured near Hexham and beheaded; among them died the Duke of Somerset (see p. 155) and Sir Thomas Findherne, who had been Morton’s comrades at Dunstanburgh. One month later Warwick’s cannon battered Bamburgh into submission. Henry VI’s last bastion had fallen, though he continued to wander forlornly from hiding place to hiding place over the wild northern moors.
On 27 September 1464 Edward IV granted the revenues of Norwich archdeaconry to the Prior of Norwich Cathedral, for the repair and rebuilding of the cathedral church. They had been ‘forfeited to the king because John Morton, clerk, archdeacon of Norwich, was attainted of high treason’.3 If the little doctor was remembered in England at all, it was as an outlaw.