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.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Tewkesbury - the aftermath

Today is the anniversary of the trials and executions of the defeated Lancastrian leaders on Monday May 6th after the battle fought the previous Saturday on the outskirts of Tewkesbury. 

The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society has a post about what ensued in the abbey after the battle in 1471, which I am copying and sharing.  

It includes another painting by Graham Turner which is new to me. It is striking, but I do have a couple of quibbles. The tomb of Sir Guy Brien in the abbey would surely have had some colour and gilding in 1471 and secondly the pose of the knight does look ever so slightly like a figure from the Romantic era contemplating an item of Classical antiquity rather than a man, physically and emotionally exhausted, who has just fought in a battle and, seeing the death of companions and defeat for his cause, run for dear life to sanctuary in the abbey. If captured his prospects will not be good. One historical novel I once perused - I am no enthusiast for the overwhelming majority of such works - did capture well the crushed despair of the Lancastrian sanctuary seekers. However it is a striking image and maybe I am underestimating the sang froid of the combatants.

Sanctuary  (Graham Turner:  Studio 88 )    


(Graham Turner: Studio 88)


There are varying accounts of what happened after the battle, putting very different slants on events, depending upon the loyalties of the author. This account follows what is said in the ‘Arrivall’, which is the most contemporary but was written by one of King Edward’s followers. For balance, the Chronicle of Tewkesbury Abbey’ says that Edward entered the Abbey with sword drawn and that the spilling of blood there meant that the church had to be re-consecrated.

The ‘Arrivall’, though, says that King Edward went to the Abbey to give thanks for his victory. Already there were Lancastrian soldiers sheltering, under the Church’s protection. They were all given a free pardon, despite, the author asserted, the Abbey having no power to give sanctuary to the King’s traitors. 

Edward also granted that the bodies of those slain in the battle, including Prince Edward, could be buried in the church or where their family wanted. The bodies would not be put on display or subjected to the gruesome butchery which was so common at the time.  This magnanimity to the dead, or condemned to death, was a theme in Edward’s victories. At a time when a burial in consecrated ground was considered so important for the after-life it was a gesture which must have helped ease tensions. He was harder on living enemies, though.

Thus this done, and with God's might achieved, the King took the right way to the abbey there, to give unto Almighty God laud and thank for the victory, that, of his mercy, he had that day granted and given unto him; where he was received with procession, and so conveyed through the church, and the quire, to the high alter, with great devotion praising God, and yielding unto him convenient laud. 

And, where there were fled into the said church many of his rebels, in great number, hoping there to have been relieved and saved from bodily harm, he gave them all his free pardon, albeit there ne was, ne had not at any time been granted, any franchise to that place for any offenders against their prince having recourse thither, if so had bene his pleasure; but, at the reverence of the blessed Trinity, the most holy virgin Mary, and the holy martyr Saint George, by whose grace and help he had that day attained so noble a victory; and, at the same reverence, he granted the corpses of the said Edward, and other so slain in the field, or elsewhere, to be buried there, in church, or elsewhere it pleased the servants, friends, or neighbours, without any quartering, or defouling their bodies, by setting up at any open place. 

The image of the victorious Yorkist king entering in state to give thanks as defeated Lancastrians cowered in the church is a striking one, a tense situation somehow managed by the monks seeking to avoid bloodshed and trying to keep the two sides apart in the confusion and chaos that must have prevailed.

To this I will add this extract from John Warkworth’s Chronicle which gives this account of events in the abbey, which is similar to that recorded by the monks own chronicle:

and these were taken and behedede afterwarde, where the Kynge hade pardoned them in the abbey cherche of Teukesbury, by a prest that turnyd oute at his messe and the sacrament in his handys, whanne Kynge Edwarde came with his swerde into the chirche, requyrede hyme by the vertu of the sacrament that he schulde pardone alle tho whos names here folowe ; the Duke of Somersett, the Lorde of Seynt Jhones, Sere Humfrey Audeley, Sere Gervis of Clyftone, 

Sere William Gremyby, Sere William Gary, Sere Thomas Tresham, Sere William Newbrugh, knyghtes, Herry Tresham, Walter Curtenay, Jhon Florey, Lowes Myles, Robart Jacksone, James Gowere, James Delvis, sonne and heire to Sere Jhon Delvis; whiche, uppone trust of the Kynges pardone yevene in the same 

chirche the Saturday, abode ther stille, where thei myght have gone and savyd ther lyves; whiche one monday aftere were behedede, notwhitstondynge the Kynges pardone.

There is a list of combatants from both sides at 1471 BATTLE of TEWKESBURYAs this shows there were families split by the conflict - there were members of the extended Courtenay family from Devon on both sides. For the victorious Yorkists there was a generous bestowal of knighthoods and banneretcies. For the defeated Lancastrians some received pardons sooner or later, including for Dr John Morton, who was rapidly to rise to the Bishopric of Ely, and, after another lucky escape in 1483, under King Henry VII to the Chancellorship, the Archbishopric of Canterbury and the Cardinalate. His life and career are described at John Morton Another to receive a pardon was the elderly Sir John Fortescue, former Lord Chief Justice and tutor to Prince Edward, author of De Laudibus Legum Anglie and what is now known as The Governance of England. There is more about his life and thought at John Fortescue (judge) and at Sir John Fortescue: Securing Liberty Through Law

For other Lancastrians there awaited trial in the Court of Chivalry before the Lord High Constable - the 18 year old Richard Duke of Gloucester - and the Earl Marshal - the 26 year old John Duke of Norfolk. The inevitable death sentences were carried out soon after on a scaffold erected at the market cross. 

Of the others beheaded with Somerset Sir John Langstrother was Prior of the Hospitalers and had served as Treasurer in the Readeption government of King Henry VI. Ninety years earlier another Hospitaller Prior who was also Treasurer, Sir Robert Hales, had suffered a similar fate in the Peasant’s Revolt. Both men were perhaps what we today might term ‘technocrats’, brought into for their expertise and for who the personal cost was to be high. Langsthrother was buried in the Clerkenwell priory of his Order. 

Two others perhaps deserve a comment. John Florey had been the Duke of Somerset’s standard bearer and this fact, of carrying the ducal standard into battle, could be seen as an act of treason. Similarly John Gower had been sword bearer to Prince Edward, a ceremonial position with its symbolic assertion of sovereignty that could again be seen as especially smacking of treason.

Queen Margaret, captured probably at Little Malvern Priory was left to mourn her son - Prince Edward had probably been slain in the fighting rather than murdered afterwards as in Shakespeare, although killing him ensured the end of the direct house of Lancaster. The account which records him calling on the aid if his brother-in-law, the “false fleeting perjured” (to quote Shakespeare) Duke of Clarence may hint at a determination to eliminate him. His teenage widow Anne might have faced a forlorn future. Might have, but her half share of the estates of her father Warwick the Kingmaker attracted the attention of Richard of Gloucester....

For King Edward IV, his brothers and their supporters the situation must have looked secure. A few mopping up operations and the defeat and execution of the Bastard of Fauconberg from the Neville family after his failed attack on London, the capture of Queen Margaret and her daughter-in-law the Princess of Wales, and dealing with the problem of the continuing survival of King Henry VI ... once those were accomplished there could surely be little doubt but that the House of York was now firmly ensconced. What we call the Wars of the Roses were surely ended. 

For those who were killed in battle or executed afterwards and for their families there was indeed an ending. For some like Morton and Fortescue there was to be come careful repositioning to adapt to the new dispensation. 
Nevertheless the future course of things must have seemed (relatively) predictable after two decades of strife and violence, of coup and counter coup, of bloodshed and death.

Events were to prove different. 

A little over fourteen years later the three York brothers were dead, their family split asunder, and the throne taken by the Earl of Richmond, the son of a female Beaufort, that family whose very existence seemed to have been ended at Tewkesbury. Surviving Yorkist claimants and pretenders failed to unseat King Henry VII and his successors. Against seemingly all odds it was the Beauforts and their descendants who captured the Crown and survived, both as the Royal House and also, through an illegitimate son, as the Dukes of Beaufort.

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