Post-classical history

25

DR MORTON TURNS YORKIST –
TEWKESBURY, 1471

JOHN MORTON

Dr Morton had probably been in London with Archbishop Nevill, the Lancastrian chancellor, until only a few days before Barnet. However, when Edward IV entered the City on 11 April, the Archbishop hastily made his submission to the King and was promptly sent to the Tower. Either Morton rode off to meet Warwick advancing on London, in which case he saw the battle, or he went down to the West Country to join the Duke of Somerset and John Courtenay, Earl of Devon.

Those two Lancastrian veterans had left London on 8 April, intending to greet Queen Margaret and her son, who were expected at any moment, as well as to raise more troops. (Whatever Dr Warkworth says, Somerset did not fight at Barnet.) The doctor was certainly with them when they welcomed the Queen to England. Sailing from Honfleur in one of Warwick’s ships, she had landed at Weymouth on the evening of Easter Sunday, 14 April – the same day as Barnet. The rendezvous on Monday was familiar to Morton – Cerne Abbey, where he had spent part of his boyhood.

At Cerne the Queen was given the bad news of Warwick’s death, ‘and was therefore right heavy and sorry’, but her advisers assured her that they would all do better without the Earl. Going to Exeter, they soon raised ‘the whole might of Cornwall and Devonshire’, which were traditionally Lancastrian. They decided to march northward, linking up with supporters in Cheshire and Lancashire and above all in Wales, where Jasper Tudor was gathering an army.

In London Edward listened to his spies, trying to guess which way the Lancastrian would go. In an angry proclamation the King denounced ‘Margaret calling herself Queen, which is a Frenchwoman born and daughter to him that is extreme adversary and mortal enemy to all this our land’. Yorkists were far from confident. Sir John Paston’s convalescent brother expected a Lancastrian victory, writing on 30 April, ‘it shall not be long till my wrongs and other men’s be redressed, for the world was never so like to be ours as it is now.’1

On 24 April Edward marched out from Windsor where, despite the crisis, he had found time to keep the feast of St George – William Hastings being among the Garter Knights present. Correctly, the King assumed that the Lancastrians were making for the Welsh Marches and he meant to intercept them before they reached the bridges over the Severn.

However, he failed to stop them entering Bristol, behind whose walls they found shelter and reinforcements. For a moment they seemed ready to give battle near Chipping Sodbury, but their commanders – the Duke of Somerset and Lords Wenlock and Devon – changed their minds at the last moment and made for Gloucester. However, Gloucester refused to open its gates to them. They marched on wearily to Tewkesbury, arriving there in the late afternoon of Friday 3 May; ‘by that time they had travelled thirty-six long miles in a foul country, all in lanes and strong ways betwixt woods, without any good refreshing’. (This is the feeling testimony of the author of the Arrivall, who was with the pursuing Yorkist troops.) The Lancastrian foot could go no further, while even horses were dropping. ‘They therefore determined to abide there the adventure that God would send them in the quarrel they had taken in hand. And for that intent they pitched them in a field, in a close even at the town’s end; the town and the abbey at their backs.’

Many of the Yorkist troops, recovering from their exertions at Barnet, were no less fatigued. Over 3,000 of Edward’s men were foot soldiers and they had marched ‘that Friday, which was right an hot day, thirty mile and more; [during] which his people might not find in all the way horse meat nor man’s meat, nor so much as drink for their horses save in one little brook, where was full little relief – it was so soon troubled with the carriages that had passed [through] it’. Moreover, they knew they were being watched from the woods by enemy scouts.

Learning that the Lancastrians had ground to a halt at Tewkesbury, the King rested his own troops briefly, feeding them with what provisions he had brought, before marching them up to a position about three miles from the enemy. This was towards dusk.

The next morning, Saturday, 4 May, Edward grouped his men in the customary three ‘battles’ (divisions). He himself commanded the centre, Gloucester the left, and Hastings the right. He also placed ‘200 spears’ (picked cavalry) in a wood a quarter of a mile to the west. In all he had about 5,000 troops, about 2,000 of whom were armoured men-at-arms. Then the King ‘displayed his banners, did blow up trumpets, committed his cause and quarrel to Almighty God, to Our Most Blessed Lady his mother, Virgin Mary, the glorious martyr St George and all the saints, and advanced directly upon his enemies’.

The Lancastrians were likewise in three battles, their centre under the septuagenarian Lord Wenlock (who had fought in France with Henry V), the right under the Duke of Somerset, and the left under the Earl of Devon. They too numbered about 5,000, but a greater proportion were unarmoured foot soldiers – probably raw levies. They were in a very strong position, ‘full difficult to be assailed . . . In front of their field were so evil lanes and deep dykes, so many hedges, trees and bushes, that it was right hard to approach them near.’2

The Yorkists opened the engagement by shooting to such effect that Somerset’s men soon began to show signs of stress; they ‘were sore annoyed in the place where they were, as well with gun-shot as with shot of arrows, which they ne would nor durst abide’. The Duke responded by leading his men through a hidden lane up an unoccupied hillock on the west side and attacking Gloucester from the flank. Edward had anticipated just such a move. The lances concealed in the wood charged, routing the counter-attackers, who fled, many of them being killed.

Somerset succeeded in rejoining the Lancastrian centre. Here Wenlock, sensibly enough, had stayed in position to fight a defensive battle. Unfortunately, he had a well-known history of treachery. If Hall is to be believed, the overwrought Duke shouted that the old lord was a traitor and ‘struck the brains out of his head’ with a poleaxe. Meanwhile the Yorkists were pressing home their attack relentlessly. The Lancastrian right had already collapsed and the inexperienced Prince Edward was quite incapable of rallying the leaderless centre. The entire Lancastrian army broke and ran. During the pursuit ‘many of them were slain, and namely at a millpond in the meadow fast by the town were many drowned; many ran towards the town, many to the church, to the abbey and elsewhere as best they might . . . such as abode handstrokes were slain incontinent’. The Arrivall says that Prince Edward, the Earl of Devon and Lord John Beaufort were among those killed.

The Arrivall goes on to relate how the Duke of Somerset, the Prior of St John’s (Fra’ John Langstrother), and Sir Gervase Clifton, together with other knights and squires found in the Abbey, were tried by the Duke of Gloucester as Constable of England ‘and beheaded every one’. Warkworth’s account adds that when, sword in hand, King Edward entered the Abbey church where they had taken sanctuary, a priest bearing the Host made him swear to spare their lives, but they were executed two days later after drum-head trials. Another chronicler claims they were dragged out of the church after such a bloody resistance that it had to be reconsecrated.

Although the author of the Arrivall and Dr Warkworth state that Edward of Lancaster fell in battle,3 Fabyan tells of the Prince being captured and brought to the King, who hit him in the face with a gauntlet, watching while Clarence, Gloucester, Hastings and Sir Thomas Grey cut him down. Polydore Vergil had heard a similar story. When asked by the King how he dared to come and make war in England, the Prince replied that he had come to claim his inheritance. King Edward ‘gave no answer, only thrusting the young man from him with his hand whom forthwith those that were present . . . George, duke of Clarence, Richard, duke of Gloucester and William, Lord Hastings, cruelly murdered’.

While the story of Edward of Lancaster’s murder is almost certainly untrue, the fact that contemporaries could find it plausible is helpful for a realistic assessment of William Hastings. He may have been ‘a good knight and a gentle’ (More’s phrase), but he was also a ruthless courtier-politician. The end of the House of Lancaster guaranteed not only Edward IV’s survival but that of Lord Hastings. In just over three weeks his master had regained his kingdom while he had recovered his estates. William did not wish to see them in jeopardy again.

Margaret of Anjou, who had taken shelter in a nearby convent together with the Prince’s wife and the Countess of Devon, was brought to the King at Coventry. Not only were the Queen’s son and the Beauforts dead, but so were even her faithful household men from Koeur – Hampden, Whittingham and Vaux.

Other prisoners included Sir John Fortescue and Dr Mackerell. There is no record of Dr Morton’s capture; he was far too resourceful. Yet he must have known that it was time to surrender.

‘From the time of Tewkesbury field,’ boasts the Arrivall – written for popular consumption, in France and Burgundy as well as at home – ‘in every part of England where any commotion was begun for King Henry’s party, anon they were rebuked, so that it appeared to every man, at once, the said party was extinct and repressed for ever, without any manner hope of again quickening.’

But there was still commotion – in London.

The Lamberts and Shores found themselves threatened for the first time since 1460. The Great Chronicle of London tells us how ‘a [sea] rover named the Bastard of Fauconberg having a multitude of rovers in his rule landed in Kent and there a-raised much idle people and after coasted towards London, and caused divers of his ships with ordnance to be brought into Thames’. He was no mere pirate but a natural son of the late Lord Fauconberg and Warwick’s nephew, who commanded the Earl’s navy. He had brought troops from the Calais garrison and hoped to rescue Henry VI from the Tower. Not only had he raised the Kentish men, who were led by the Mayor of Canterbury, but Essex men too who ‘weaponed them with heavy and great clubs and long pitchforks and ashen staves’.

This was no peasant revolt. When Lord Rivers and the aldermen – stiffened by the knowledge of Tewkesbury and Prince Edward’s death – refused to admit the Bastard on 9 May, he attacked London Bridge. He then set off for Kingston Bridge, ten miles upstream, intending to cross there so that he could return down the other bank and sack Westminster. Changing his mind, on 12 May he landed cannon from his ships in the river and ‘loosed his guns into the City’. The aldermen’s cannon fired back.

The Bastard had 5,000 men, armed with handguns as well as bows and bills, and they attacked London Bridge, Aldgate and Bishopsgate simultaneously, storming halfway across the bridge and burning sixty houses; they also set fire to the gates. The Mayor and aldermen with their citizens in harness held them off only with difficulty. Then Lord Rivers issued from the Tower through a postern with 500 men and drove them back over the Thames. Eventually they retreated, knowing that the King was on his way.

Later, Edward hunted them down. ‘Such as were rich were hanged by the purse, and the others that were needy were hanged by the neck.’ Despite a pardon, the heads of the Bastard and his friend the Mayor of Canterbury ended up on London Bridge – looking towards Kent.

* * *

Wealthy merchants like John Lambert and William Shore had had a bad fright. The Bastard’s men had very nearly succeeded in capturing the City.4 According to Warkworth, but for their burning the houses, the ordinary folk would have let them in regardless of Lord Rivers and the aldermen. Another chronicler says that many of the poorer Londoners would have been ‘right glad of a common robbery so that they might get their hands deep into rich men’s coffers’.

Jane’s family must have been genuinely relieved to see King Edward ride into the City at the head of 30,000 men on 21 May. His entrance was almost a Roman triumph, with the wretched Margaret of Anjou displayed in a chariot on her way to imprisonment in the Tower. ‘And thus,’ states theArrivall, ‘with the help of Almighty God, the most glorious Virgin Mary his mother, and of St George and of the saints of Heaven, was begun, finished and terminated the re-entry and perfect recovery of the just title and right of our said Sovereign Lord, King Edward the Fourth, to his realm and crown of England within the space of eleven weeks’.

The Arrivall states blandly that because of the ‘perfect recovery’ the former Henry VI died ‘of pure displeasure and melancholy’. Dr Warkworth is more specific, alleging that ‘King Harry, being inward in prison in the Tower of London, was put to death the 21st day of May on a Tuesday night between eleven and twelve of the clock, being then at the Tower the duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward, and many other.’ The Great Chronicle of London, even blunter, says of Henry VI’s demise, ‘The most common fame then went that the duke of Gloucester was not all guiltless.’

The death of Henry VI and his son seemed to have extinguished the Lancastrian cause for ever. All its supporters in the north and in Wales hastened to submit when they heard the news of Tewkesbury. ‘Whereby it appeareth . . . that peace and tranquility shall grow and multiply,’ prophesied the smug Arrivall.

Margaret of Anjou was to languish in her former palace of the Tower for four years. In 1475 Louis XI would ‘ransom’ her for 50,000 crowns. In return she had to renounce all claims to any English dowry and surrender her rights to any part of her father King Réné’s inheritance. Returning to France, she dragged out what by all accounts was a wretched existence at the château of Dampierre near Saumur, on a meagre pension from King Louis, until her death in 1482, when she did not leave enough to pay either her debts or her servants.

Always aware of talent, Edward IV was ready enough to pardon Queen Margaret’s former advisers, such as Morton and Fortescue. Six weeks after Tewkesbury, the sharp little doctor made his own peace with the Yorkist King; on 3 July 1471 he received a general pardon for all offences committed by him before 17 June, together with remission of all fines and all forfeitures before that date. Fortescue had to wait till October for his pardon, besides having to repudiate ‘the matters written in Scotland and elsewhere against the king’s right and title’.

John Morton’s new loyalty was wholehearted. Thanks to Sir Thomas More, we can see how he justified his decision to change sides, from Lancaster to York, from the very frank explanation he gave to the Duke of Buckingham in 1483:

Surely, my lord, folly were it for me to lie, for if I would swear the contrary your lordship would not, I ween, believe, but that if the world would have gone as I would have wished, King Henry’s son had had the Crown and not King Edward. But after that God had ordered him to lose it, and King Edward to reign, I was never so mad that I would with a dead man strive against the quick.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!