Military history


‘A Warwick’

A new kind of lord


Warwick was allowed back into Calais because he had linked the interests of the port’s merchants and its garrison with his own. Their support was crucial – and not just for his temporary survival. The Pale of Calais was an enclave eighteen miles long by eight to ten miles deep on the Channel coast, surrounded by the Flanders lands of the Duchy of Burgundy, close to its border with France.1 With the loss of all England’s other continental territories, it was the sole English-governed area on the mainland of Europe. As such, it now acted as the secure entry point for all England’s trade, though it had already long served that purpose for one particular product, which was by some distance the most important: wool.

Wool and woollen cloth were England’s main source of wealth, for farmers, landlords, cloth producers and merchants. Duties on its trade provided the government with its largest source of revenue. Other countries, such as Spain, might export more fleeces, but no other wool could compare with England’s finest.2 The bulk was now being made into cloth close to source, but much was still being exported to feed the looms of Flanders through one place: Calais. The trade was so important that, in order to ensure its quality and supply, it operated as a staple, or monopoly of the Calais-based Merchant Staplers. In order to protect it, the town had a garrison of around two thousand troops, the largest single permanent force in the pay of the Crown.

Such a huge body of men was massively expensive to maintain and, most significantly, to pay. At a time of extreme pressure on expenditure, complicated arrangements were adopted to ensure that payments did not fall into arrears. Unfortunately, they had done so in the early 1450s, at a time of great threat to Calais from the French and Burgundians, and at a time when York and Somerset were competing for power. York went so far in 1452 as to accuse Somerset of planning to surrender Calais to the French, as he had Normandy. That was not the case, as shown by Somerset’s efforts to get the men’s arrears paid, efforts that were repeated by York during his first Protectorate. In 1454, just as York, frustrated by all normal means, was seeking to finalize an arrangement to pay the money with Robert White, the Mayor of the Staple, the garrison took matters into their own hands. Under the orders of Lords Rivers and Welles, its Lancastrian commanders, the garrison did what it had done with success on four previous occasions in the fifteenth century: it seized, as a form of guarantee, all the Staplers’ wool stored in the port. This complicated matters to the point that neither York nor Somerset, on his brief return in 1455, could resolve them. As York’s grip on government loosened once more in the early part of 1456, he was desperate that his ally Warwick should take up the command before it was too late. When Warwick finally took up his post, he and York were, at last, able to satisfy the garrison. Their settlement was secured with funds from England, together with the crucial support of the Staplers, by this time desperate for political and financial security.3

When Warwick arrived in April 1456 it appeared his stay was destined to last only as long as it would take Queen Margaret to engineer a change. However, he was still in place on 28 August the next year, when the French under de Brézé raided and sacked Sandwich, then a major port. With English fears of a French invasion heightened, national security dictated that the incompetent and irascible Duke of Exeter be replaced as Admiral by someone with proven martial prowess. That man was Warwick.

In modern-day England there are two positions, aside from that of prime minister, which invite singular focus from the tabloid press in its role as the purveyor of popular sentiment. The first of these is the manager of England’s football team and the second, to a lesser extent these days, is the captain of its cricket team: defeat in these roles invites crushing criticism, if not derision. Failure is seen as an affront to national pride. For all classes in the proud xenophobic England of the fifteenth century, where sport had not yet become a means of sublimating the aggression that formerly made the successful practice of war the measure of a nation’s sense of well-being, the loss of France had been a devastating blow to the national psyche. The population was united in its desperate need for a national hero who could be celebrated in verse and song. Warwick, with his naval exploits, made himself that man.

He did so by piracy. Piracy that was necessary to keep the garrison paid in the absence of proper or timely funding from England. Piracy that was focused on the shipping of those who were unpopular with the Calais Staple and their allies the merchants of London. Most unpopular of all were the Germans of the Hanseatic towns and the Italians granted special licences to avoid the wool staple (special licences that had been granted for personal profit by the lords at court). Thus, when three of Warwick’s ships sailed up the Thames as far as Tilbury, seized three Italian vessels loaded with wool and cloth and sailed them back to Calais, Warwick himself was eulogized. The nation was even more ecstatic when, in the summer of 1458, he captured the exceptionally valuable cargo of the Hanseatic fleet. These exploits had great popular value, and Warwick was the master when it came to capitalizing on this.

These and similar actions led to friction with Margaret’s court party at home and ended with the Council’s call to account that almost cost Warwick his life at Westminster in November 1458. These same actions, however, helped to merge the Yorkist interests with the commercial classes of Calais and London. Calais was to provide the Yorkists with a power base alongside their landed estates in England and Wales during the difficult years up to 1459. Crucially it was to do so when those estates were barred to them after the action at Ludford Bridge.

Margaret’s response to the news that Warwick, Salisbury and March had rejoined Salisbury’s brother Lord Fauconberg in Calais was maladroit in the extreme: the Crown imposed an embargo on all trade with Calais in the winter of 1459–60 and instructed the Staplers to trade elsewhere. It was a misjudgement of fundamental and lasting importance. The Staplers turned to the Yorkists for their very preservation and secretly loaned them the enormous sum of £18,000.4 The loan proved to be essential.

Somerset and Trollope managed to land troops and suborn that part of the garrison occupying one of Calais’s outlying fortresses at Guînes. From here young Somerset launched attacks, but these were fought off by the majority of the garrison, whose loyalty had been secured by Warwick. Somerset was further frustrated when some of his ships were blown into the harbour of Calais itself, enabling Warwick to settle scores with the men that he knew had deserted’ with Trollope at Ludford Bridge, by having them killed without hesitation. The remainder of the captured troops were recruited or pardoned.

Warwick’s main concern, however, was not with defence. He was planning the reinvasion of England. In the spring of 1460 he consulted York in Ireland, and on his return in May forced an intercepting fleet under Exeter, reinstated as Admiral, to take flight. There were also two daring raids on Sandwich. The first was in January 1460 when, led by John Dinham, the raiders captured the Lancastrian fleet preparing to sail against Warwick and its commanders, Lord Rivers, in his bed, and his son Sir Anthony Woodville. Dinham, with commandeered fleet, commanders and all, sailed triumphantly back into Calais harbour. The second raid, under Dinham, Sir John Wenlock and Fauconberg, destroyed another fleet preparing to invade and, once again, captured its commander. This time the men under Fauconberg’s command stayed behind in Sandwich, having seized the town and established a bridgehead for invasion. In 1455, before St Albans, Fauconberg had been a potential peacemaker, but his efforts to deliver York’s petition to the King had been blocked.5 He had been a skilful commander for York in France; he was to be so again, but now in England.

The Yorkists had prepared the ground physically, but they also needed to promote a moral justification for their invasion, in terms of defending the ‘common weal’. This they began to do by written manifesto, and by word of mouth, acting through agents centred on their favoured territory of Kent with emissaries throughout the South East.

Though they had been denied access to revenues from their estates for some time, they had been able to secure personal loans from the merchants of Calais.6 The negotiations would no doubt have been assisted by the extremely welcome attentions of the strapping and rakish young Earl of March to the merchants’ own wives and daughters.7

The Yorkists also found an unlikely fellow traveller and provider of spiritual guidance in the person of Francesco Coppini, Bishop of Terni and Papal Legate. Coppini ‘was small of stature and undistinguished in appearance, but he had a strong personality and possessed energy, vivacity and eloquence’.8 A Milanese by birth, Coppini served both Duke Francesco Sforza of Milan and Pope Pius II. This was not difficult: they were allied to each other and also to Don Ferrante, the new King of Naples, all in a firm anti-French alliance. This was the point where Italian and English politics touched: a previous, unceremoniously ousted, King of Naples was none other than René of Anjou, Queen Margaret’s father. René had been trying to regain his realm ever since, with the active assistance of his ruthless son, John of Calabria. The desire to prevent any possibility of René’s dutiful daughter from offering assistance, perhaps even in extraordinary alliance with her uncle, Charles VII of France,9 would in itself have given Coppini reason for an anti-Lancastrian bias. But it had been reinforced by the extremely cool reception he personally received at Margaret’s court in 1459, when seeking support for the papal initiative of a crusade to liberate Constantinople from its Turkish occupation of, then, just six years. In contrast, returning to the Burgundian court at Bruges, he had been courted by Warwick from nearby Calais. By June 1460 he was with Warwick’s invasion party.10 And thus England, regarded by the Italians as an island on the edge of Europe best known for its wool and cloth, was to be affected by the backwash of Italian political intrigue.

The Calais earls landed with their troops at Sandwich on 26 June. Their numbers rapidly swelled with Kentish recruits, both those long pre-arranged and those responding to organized proclamations such as one pinned to the gates of Canterbury and addressed to the Archbishop.11 The earls marched immediately to that city, covering the dozen or so miles by nightfall. After offering scrupulous prayers at the tomb of St Thomas Becket, they marshalled their forces. Two days later they moved on London. There was no opposition – far from it: men flocked to their banners. On the evening of 1 July they reached Blackheath.

With the court in the Midlands and no leading magnate in the capital, the Lieutenant Governor of the Tower, Lord Scales, sought to establish himself, as in 1450, as the city’s captain. London’s Common Council denied him and said they would be responsible for their own defence ‘without any aid of lords’.12 It was an empty boast. Their messages to Warwick that they would resist him soon changed to acceptance of his loyalty to the King. Meanwhile Lord Scales and party fortified themselves in the Tower. On 2 July, the earls left their army outside the city gates at Smithfield and established their headquarters inside, at the house of the Grey Friars at Newgate.

Once inside London, Warwick’s ability to command key interest groups soon became apparent. The Common Council capitulated to Warwick’s requests: a baggage train was provided, victuals produced for the Yorkists but denied to Scales in the Tower. Most importantly, a loan of £1,000 was granted,13 thus creating a financial interdependence. It was not yet the chain of mutual interest that bound the Yorkists with the Staplers at Calais, but with most of the merchants of the Staple being Londoners and with them handling most of the export of the wool through the city,14 it certainly increased a link that was already forged.

Then it was the turn of the bishops in convocation at St Paul’s: either of their own volition, through Warwick’s appeals or swayed by Coppini, they agreed to go with the Yorkists to the King as potential peacemakers if nothing else.

Finally, Londoners as a whole, both propertied and unpropertied, were decisively with the Yorkists. Partly this was solidarity with the men from Kent, such as had been shown, at least initially, to Cade. Partly it was due to long-standing grievances against the absentee court, especially amongst those Londoners who had been impoverished by dislocations in trade and economic activity dating back to the end of the French Wars. This mood communicated itself to the city authorities. It was a mood which became uglier, with a newfound hostility to Scales, who, in retaliation against the Earl of Salisbury’s artillery, was firing wildly and murderously into the city.

All were brought together by Yorkist propaganda, skilfully promoted by Warwick. This seemingly modern element was a crucial element of Warwick’s success. His dashing naval feats as Captain of Calais in the late 1450s had given him the status of a popular hero. His actions after his return from Ludford Bridge, including his subordinates’ daring attacks on Sandwich and the humiliating and cruelly entertaining capture of his foes, had amplified that status many times. He was at this moment the most charismatic man of his age. Now he was in London, dispensing vast hospitality, having verses written and songs composed and sung in his honour, and being greeted with cries of ‘A Warwick! A Warwick!’ wherever he went.

As well as the backing of the professional troops of the Calais garrison, Warwick could now count on vast numbers of new recruits: men from Kent and Sussex that he had attracted on the march. These men were absolutely essential, because the Yorkists, denied access to their own lands, needed to create a wave of popular support on which they could surf: a popular uprising focused and directed by the great nobility’, for which ‘Warwick was required to metamorphose from great magnate into popular demagogue’.15

Demagogue or not, he certainly grasped the real distress brought on by commercial dislocation at the end of the French Wars, exacerbated by Margaret’s trade ban against Calais. He knew how to identify the concerns of his audience and ‘was much loved by the commons of Kent and of London’ because he promised to reform the ‘hurts and mischiefs and grievances that reigned in this land’.16 In his manifestos of 1459 and 1460 he used the language of the common weal to appeal to ‘the same local militias of “fencible” men, raised by their elected constables of hundred and parish, who had turned out in 1450’.17 This was no rabble, but the type of husbandmen, yeomanry and minor gentry who had formed the disciplined element of Cade’s rebellion.18

In the hero of Calais, they had a new ‘Captain’, and one who was able to ensure that this rebellion would not become subverted by a mob. It might seem amazing that Warwick, who had the ability to be both haughty and brutal to those he considered not quite his peers, could embrace those far lower down the social scale. It may be that it was Warwick’s own self-worth, his sense of entitlement that stemmed from birth, marriage and inheritance and pointed to his being blessed by providence, that led him to go far further than the Duke of York, who was always an aristocratic reformer, and to place himself at the head of the true commons in defence of the common weal’.19 In short, Warwick had done something unprecedented. He had created a new affinity, one not based on ownership of land but on good lordship’ pure and simple. He was the good lord’, stepping into a vacuum of authority and promising to deliver and maintain the kind of justice and security that it normally fell to kings to provide.

The new recruits flocking to fight for the Yorkist cause were happy to serve, for pay of course, but for something more, too: the joy of serving someone who was at once truly charismatic and yet who, as we can see in the Yorkist Manifesto of 1460, was articulating complaints against the maladministration of the law and the burdens of taxation from the perspective of the commoners themselves.20

Thus far Warwick had organized, choreographed and orchestrated the popular reception. On 3 July, before the convocation of bishops at St Paul’s and to the great throng that packed the cathedral and spilled into the surrounding streets, in what might justifiably be described as the greatest theatrical performance of his career, he articulated the Yorkist case. The four Calais earls were, he said, true subjects of the King, come to reform the government and to remove the evil councillors around him. Those named included Beaumont, Shrewsbury and Wiltshire: though the last, true to form, had fled the country. That these names were cited, rather than the already well-known Yorkist foes of Somerset, Northumberland, Clifford, Exeter, Egremont and Devon, underlined Warwick’s claim that their focus was not on settling old scores but on aiding the King and helping him to provide good government. Beaumont was indeed still a core adviser and Shrewsbury, a former Treasurer, had been responsible for routine administration with Chancellor Waynflete; but they were not hot-heads and certainly, in comparison to the others, would in past years have been considered moderate. Also named was Buckingham, illustrating that there was now no room for compromise on either side. The middle ground had disappeared.21

Then, in the final act of their theatrical performance in the cathedral, the four Calais earls, Warwick, Salisbury, Fauconberg and March, swore their allegiance to Henry before Almighty God and on the Cross of Canterbury. This was met with loud approval from the massed crowds.22

The next day’s activity struck a darker note. On 4 July, as the advance guard under Fauconberg set off from London, Coppini posted a message to Henry at St Paul’s Cross. If not quite the noticeboard of the nation, St Paul’s Cross was certainly the place where important announcements would be displayed for maximum effect. This was no confidential plea for time to negotiate reconciliation. After the normal obeisances due to a crowned king, Coppini delivered a chilling warning:

I beg you for the love of God, for the devotion you have always shown, which served for pious and holy things to the extent of its powers, and out of the pity and compassion you should have for your people and citizens and your duty, to prevent so much bloodshed, now so imminent. You can prevent this if you will, and if you do not you will be guilty in the sight of God in that awful day of judgment in which I also shall stand and require of your hand the English blood, if it be spilt.

In order that there may be no excuse before God and man, I repeat that your servants who came from Calais expressed their readiness to do everything for the welfare and honour of your Crown and the unity and peace of your realm, which I approve, and I offer that I will propose and attempt all those things which seem honourable to your Majesty if you keep an open mind and remove suspicion.

If you will not listen to what is right and true I am guiltless before Almighty God and the Holy Apostolic See and all the community, both cleric and lay, by the evidence of this letter, which I have had published, and I have also sent it by a faithful messenger of your Majesty’s household, and so I am guiltless of the blood of your people if it is shed through the fault or negligence of yourself or others, when this could be prevented in the way I have shown. I expect a speedy reply, because the danger is imminent and does not brook delay.23

Delay did not suit Warwick. It was essential for the success of the Yorkist strategy that they move quickly to meet the King’s party for negotiation or for battle before the full resources and authority of the Crown could be mobilized against them. The King’s move from Coventry to Northampton, in cutting the distance between himself and London by a full third, actually aided them.

Only nine days after the landing at Sandwich, the main part of the Yorkist army left London on 5 July, making rapid time to Northampton and travelling the sixty-odd miles by the evening of 9 July. This was fast movement for an army that faced so much rain and took with it so many clergy, among them seven bishops (including the Archbishop of Canterbury) who were sent ahead in an attempt to petition the King and to negotiate a compromise. Legate Coppini was also willing to travel in person to the battlefield to underline his threat of excommunication. The Yorkists had a greater number of peers than the previous year, with the Duke of Norfolk, Viscount Bourchier and the Lords Abergavenny, Audley, Scrope of Bolton and the new Lord Saye all joining Warwick, Fauconberg and March. But it was the spiritual firepower that was most likely to overawe the pious Henry. Partly for that reason, the Duke of Buckingham, once again the Royal Commander, blocked all Yorkist attempts at negotiation on the 10th. Thus, after a final vain representation by Warwick Herald, the earls’ troops moved forward in driving rain at around 2 p.m., watched, it is said, by the Archbishop and the Legate from the Eleanor Cross, which today is one of only three originals surviving.

Buckingham had been able to draw up his forces on ground of his choosing and it was a strong defensive position that faced Warwick. The Lancastrians had the bend of the River Nene at their backs, giving cover at their rear but also, to some degree, at their sides as well. These were protected by ramparts and with covering cannon, and in the front by boggy ground that the approaching Yorkists would have to cross. With the support of archers firing from a stationary position, the Lancastrian troops of around five thousand would seem to be more than a match for the advancing seven thousand Yorkists.24

The continuing rain hampered both sides. For the Lancastrians, it made the cannon useless: ‘the ordnance of the king’s guns availed not, for that day was so great rain, that the guns lay so deep in the water, and were so quenched and might not be shot’.25Artillery may have proved highly effective when used by the French, both in reducing the English fortresses in Normandy and fired from a fixed position at the Battle of Castillon, but as field weapons they were still in their infancy and, not for the last time in these wars, proved to be a hindrance. Yet rain also disfavoured the Yorkists, it made the difficult ground more problematic and the ramparts more slippery to climb. It is possible that the Yorkists would, over a period of hours, have ground down the enemy defences. Yet, as Warwick knew in advance, it was all academic – once again a battle was to be decided by treachery. This time it was to the Yorkists’ advantage.

At a pre-arranged signal, the men wearing the badge of the black ragged staff of Lord Grey of Ruthin, a major local landowner commanding the Lancastrian right, started helping the Earl of March’s men to climb up the sides of the steep ramparts and into their own lines. Once the breach was made, the whole Yorkist army followed. Within half an hour of the troops’ first engagement, the battle was at its climax. Buckingham and his sons-in-law Shrewsbury and the Neville-hating Egremont were slaughtered outside the King’s tent by Warwick’s fearsome men from Kent.26 As was Beaumont, the last of Suffolk’s inner core of seven and the only one who had escaped the proscriptions and violence of 1450. A great number of the common soldiers were drowned in the River Nene, trying to escape.

The chaos of battle brought an unexpected opportunity for one man. Sir William Lucy arrived late on the battlefield to assist the King at a time when the battle was effectively over. It was not over for him. He was killed by John Stafford, who had a personal reason for action, as he soon demonstrated by marrying Lucy’s widow.27

As for Grey’s reasons for treachery, it is unlikely that he was moved by Coppini’s threat of excommunication. In common with Trollope’s abandonment of Warwick at Ludford Bridge the previous year, Grey’s motives were not specifically related to the King. It seems probable that his incentive was related to his securing property against the continuing attentions of the Duke of Exeter, just as it had been with a previous conspiracy, his involvement in the murder of Speaker Tresham in 1450. He obviously believed that he now had a better chance of success with the Yorkists than with the King.28

With Buckingham dead, Queen Margaret herself and younger and more accomplished commanders would ruthlessly direct the Lancastrian cause. As for Henry, though treated with all due deference, he was effectively an honoured but captured guest of Warwick, and was escorted to London to the Bishop’s Palace, within the walled precincts of St Paul’s Cathedral, and certainly not to the Tower.

The Lancastrian defeat at Northampton had made the Tower’s surrender inevitable and Warwick made an example of seven defenders. These included John Archer, a councillor of the Duke of Exeter, and also, in a popular move with Warwick’s Kentish troops, the Sheriff of Kent. All seven suffered the agony of a traitor’s death: being hung, drawn and quartered. As for Lord Scales, Warwick granted him a safe conduct. Or rather, it was given but not ensured: his barge, en route to Westminster, was intercepted by vengeful Londoners. Scales was killed and stripped and his body, ‘naked as a worm’ was found at the porch of St Mary Overy in Southwark.29 It was felt by many that Warwick might have done more to secure his safety.30

After Northampton, Warwick governed England with the King’s Council in the name of the quiescent Henry. No one was in any doubt that a more permanent solution would have to wait upon York’s return from Ireland for what, it was assumed, would be his third Protectorate.

For York himself, the contrast between his reception at Beaumaris in 1450 and that near Chester ten years later could not have been greater. In 1450, he had hurried back without government authority and found remnant members of Suffolk’s household government striving hard to prevent him landing. In 1460 the only authority that mattered to him was his own.

His return was leisurely: he did not land until nearly thirteen weeks after Northampton. His onward journey took him almost five. This had been less of a return, more a statement of new intent. In Ludlow, the scene of his humiliation a year before, he was treated royally by his own people. His progress became more splendid as he travelled east. He was preceded by a sword carried vertically, like the sword of state, and his arms were now the Royal Arms. These were mere hints of what was to come. At last he arrived at Westminster on 10 October, three days after Parliament had assembled.

It is said that if you want anything to seem spontaneous, then you have to organize it. Whether what happened to York when he arrived in Westminster Hall was due to bad organization, an inability to agree amongst the main parties, or complete stage fright from the supporting cast has been a matter of great debate. For what York did next was to place his hand on the throne, as an assertion of his claim to it. But whereas when Henry IV had claimed an ‘empty throne’ there had been organized acclamation, now there was only silence.

It was broken by Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had been a Yorkist ally in the attempts to parlay before Northampton. The Archbishop’s question: ‘Have you come to see the King?’ was met with York’s haughty response, ‘I know of no person in this realm whom it does not behove to come to me and see my person rather than that I should go and visit him.’31 Then with ill grace York left the Hall. He ordered the seals on the doors of the King’s apartments in the Palace of Westminster to be broken and then took up occupation.

How could York have so miscalculated? Almost certainly because there had been no calculation at all. Whatever may or may not have been agreed with Warwick in Ireland, York had concluded that the captive King Henry had, de facto, abdicated.32 And that God and providence had approved his own rightful claim to the throne. York had not consulted his experienced personal councillors – such as Oldhall, Herbert and Devereux – from whom, in Ireland, he had been separated. He had not sounded out the views of the nobility as a whole, whose support for a peaceful deposition would have been imperative; nor even those of his allies Warwick, Salisbury and his own son Edward, Earl of March. He had not consulted, because he had not felt the need to do so. Separated by his months in Ireland, isolated from his personal advisers and his noble allies, he felt that he had merely to issue a personal challenge at the Parliament summoned under the name of Henry VI, in order to set in motion what was a re-run, or rather a corrective re-run, of the events of 1399. Indeed, ‘York’s confidence was such that he even arranged for his own coronation to take place on 1 November.’33

Just as he had at Dartford in 1452, York had both acted rashly and misjudged completely the level of his support. He did not even have the Commons on his side as he had had in 1455.

It was a calamitous error. That it did not lead to a complete unravelling of the Yorkist political coalition, so painstakingly created by Warwick, was largely due to Warwick himself and to Bishop Coppini, the Papal Legate.

Warwick, with fierce support from Salisbury and from March, York’s own son and heir, finally persuaded the Duke to allow the matter to be referred to the Lords. However, there was another problem inherent within that, for what should have been initiated by York as an informal process to measure support, had now become a formal one. There was also no available constitutional mechanism to negotiate the removal of an anointed and crowned king. Indeed, the whole point of anointing and crowning a king was to give his actions and those of his ministers the complete authority that came from the permanence of that position: exactly the reason for the coronation of Henry VI as King of England at the age of seven and of France at the age of just ten.

There was also no precedent for the scenario of 1460. Certainly, English kings had been intentionally removed since the Conquest: these were the unfortunate ‘seconds’ of Richard II, Edward II and, arguably, William II. But all, whatever the niceties of explanation afterwards, had been by force. And in every case, the kings previously had personally and actively sought to extinguish the rights, power and lives of a crucial section of the nobility and in such a way that they could, in retrospect at least, be presented as having broken the coronation oath. This could not be alleged against Henry, whom Pope Pius II would describe as ‘more timorous than a woman, utterly devoid of wit or spirit’,34 and who was still ensconced in the Queen’s royal apartments in the Palace of Westminster.

On 16 October, York’s claim to the throne through direct descent from Lionel, Duke of Clarence – the second adult son of Edward III – was placed before the Lords. The assembled peers in their turn, through the Chancellor, declared this to be a matter beyond their jurisdiction and referred it to the only authority higher than themselves: the King. At this, Henry, showing some spirit, instructed the Lords to compose the arguments against it. This they were forced to do, having tried in vain to involve the King’s judges, who also declared it beyond their jurisdiction, concerning as it did the peerage and the Princes of the Blood. The Lords collectively gave York the arguments for the status quo: based on previous oaths of loyalty, parliamentary acts and York’s own use of heraldic arms, they even included a largely disregarded argument put forward on behalf of Henry IV, that his ancestor, Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, was actually the elder son of Henry III, and thus Henry had precedence not through John of Gaunt but through Gaunt’s wife Blanche of Lancaster. That is to say that if York was going to claim precedence through the female line, King Henry could also do so and trump him.35

York’s response to the serious part of the argument, that his claim had in essence lapsed, was magisterial: ‘Although right for a time rests and is silenced, yet it does not rot nor shall it perish.’36 It was a right he was determined to pursue.

On the twenty-fifth, the assembled lords spiritual and temporal suggested a compromise. It was one that would effectively give York the powers, if not the name of king. Put to Henry by Warwick’s brother George Neville, Bishop of Exeter and Chancellor, it proposed that the King remain so for his lifetime, but then York himself, or more likely due to his greater age, York’s heirs would inherit. No one can doubt what the King was being asked to do: to disinherit his only son.

Henry was completely isolated, with his long-time attendants dismissed and replacements who were more gaolers than companions. His wife, son, the larger part of a supportive nobility and key advisers were denied him. During this period, he feared for his life, timorously avoided York in the Palace of Westminster and was even seen distractedly considering the position of his tomb in Westminster Abbey. There was no expectation of the superb memorial at Eton now. Perhaps worst of all, Legate Coppini intervened in the Pope’s name, suggesting, no doubt, a great threat to Henry’s soul in the afterlife. Certainly Pius II himself thought Coppini to have been decisive, writing ‘by the wisdom of the Legate the dispute was settled’.37 The priestly King would have been no match for the worldly priest. Faced with all these pressures, the increasingly pathetic Henry agreed to the compromise on the thirty-first. The next day, with his nobles, he processed to St Paul’s and thus marked his public acceptance of the Accord.

It is hard not to feel pity for the King in this situation, one with which he was completely inadequate to cope and one from which he had no ability to escape.

Henry’s new position was soon made painfully clear to him forcefully and physically, when on the night of the thirty-first he was removed ‘against his will’ from Westminster and taken back to the Bishop of London’s Palace. George Neville later referred to Henry as ‘that puppet of a king’,38and this was exactly how York and his supporters treated their sovereign.

There was one final snare for the enfeebled Henry. The Yorkist lords introduced an article of faith which trapped him in a pact of mutual obligation. York and his eldest sons, the Earls of March and Rutland, ‘made a promise and oath, according to the said agreement and settlement, on condition that the King, for his part should duly keep and observe the same settlement and act thereon, which the King at that time promised to do [author’s italics]. And then the said duke and earls immediately requested that this condition, and also the said promise made by the King, might be formally recorded.’39 Its full significance would be revealed in just a few months.

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