Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Stand off on London Bridge

Today is the 590th anniversary of the stand off on London Bridge which averted the outbreak of more serious conflict in the capital and perhaps elsewhere.

A decade after Agincourt and little over three years after the death of King Henry V the Council ruling England for the child King Henry VI was split between factions centred around the King's younger uncle and Protector - a position that remained undefined, and hence a source of tension - Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and his uncle, and the King's great-uncle, Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester and later to become Cardinal.

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester


Duke Humphrey sponsored by St Alban before the Blessed Sacrament and Christ as the Man of Sorrows circa 1430-40


Duke Humphrey favoured a belligerent policy in France in pursuit of the English campaign, and had managed to bitterly offend the main English ally, the Duke of Burgundy by his marriage to Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland. To do so the couple had sought an annulment of her marriage to the Duke of Brabant, couisin to the Duke of Burgundy who hoped to eventually secure her territories - as indeed he did manage to in the end. Humphreye was not trusted by many of his colleagues on the Council, and they had successfully resisted his claim in 1422 to exercise wider powers in England during the absence in France of the Regent, his elder brother, John Duke of Bedford.

Bishop Henry Beaufort

Kunstjistorisches Musuem, Vienna

The Bishop of Winchester was again serving as Chancellor of the realm, and as a man of exceptional wealth was a key figure in funding loans to the Crown for the French war. An ambitious as well as an able man he had been forced by King Henry V to decline the offer of a Cardinal's hat in 1418-19.

Gloucester had returned in April from his inglorious military efforts on behalf of his wife in the Low Countries, and increasinglt polarised opinion in the government. Bishop Beaufort as  Chancellor appointed Sir Richard Wydeville (grandfather of the Queen of King Edward IV) as Constable of the Tower of London and ordered him to forbid access to others, including the Duke of Gloucester. With tension rising the Bishop now brought in Lancashire and Cheshire archers to his manor at Southwark facing London across the Thames. Beaufort later claimed that this was because he feared an attempt by Gloucester to seize the young King who was living at Eltham

At 8 or 9 in the morning of October 30th the Bishop's men morning attacked the bridge gate, and followed up " with shot and other means of warre." On the north bank Gloucester appealed to the Londoners - it was the day of the election of the new Mayor - and with whom he enjoyed a good relationship. The Londoners swarmed to repel any move by the Bishop's men into the City.

Peace was preserved by shuttle diplomacy across London Bridge carried out by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry Chichele, who had presumably come in from Lambeth, and the Infante Dom Pedro, Duke of Coimbra. A cousin of Duke Humphrey and nephew of the Bishop he was in London whilst travelling round Europe and the Near East. There is an online life of him at Peter, Duke of Coimbra, and his life is in some ways not dissimilar to that of Humphrey in many ways, in their interests, career and fate as protectors or regents for their nephews.

Archbishop Henry Chichele
Tomb effigy in Canterbury Cathedral


File:Peter of Coimbra (St. Vincent Panels).jpg

Pedro, Duke of Coimbra

Portrait believed to be of Infante Pedro, first Duke of Coimbra. Detail from the fifth panel of the polyptych Adoration of Saint Vincent, attributed to Portuguese Renaissance painter Nuno Gonçalves, composed c.1470 (possibly as early as 1450s). Originally found at the monastery of São Vicente de Fora, now held by the National Museum of Ancient Art in Lisbon, Portugal.


Their shuttle diplomacy required eight journeys across the bridge, but  peace was maintained.

London Bridge and Southwark byVissher circa 1600


A reconstruction of London Bridge circa 1450



A reconstruction by W.S.Brewer showing Southwark, showing Winchester House on the lower left, St Mary Overy Priory - now the Anglican cathedral - and London Bridge about 1500


The bridge was finally rebuilt in 1831, but the  remains of Winchester House or Palace can still be seen on the Souk Bank, clos eto what is now the Annglican cathedral in Soutwark

The remains of the hall of Winchester House today

Image: Wikipedia

The following day, October 31st, Beaufort wrote to the Regent Bedford in France, urging his return, as follows:

"as you desire the welfare of the king our sovereign lord and of his realms of England and of France, and your own weal and ours also, haste you hither; for by my troth if you tarry , we shall put this land at risk of a battle. Such a brother you have here. God make him a good man. For your wisdom knows well that the prosperity of France stands in the welfare of England "


 John, Duke of Bedford

Image: Wikimedia

On December 20th the Regent arrived with his wife at Sandwich, and during the next months which included the meeting of Parliament at Leicester, a part of the Lancastrian patrimony and away from the tensions of London, brokered a deal whereby Beaufort gave up the Chancery, but did receive early in 1427 his long-desired Cardinal's hat from the hands of the Regent in Calais. Gloucester may have removed the Chancellor but got little else, save a further grievance against his uncle, that of becoming a Cardinal whilst still based in England.

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