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A History of Yorkshire
from Bulmer's Gazetteer (1892)


Part 16

YORKSHIRE UNDER THE HOUSES OF LANCASTER AND YORK.

The Earl of Northumberland, by whose assistance chiefly Henry had been placed on the throne, was rewarded with a grant of the Isle of Man, to be held by the feudal service of bearing the curtana, called the LANCASTER SWORD, on the day of the coronation, at the left shoulder of the king and his heirs, as it had been borne by John of Gaunt, at the coronation of Richard II. With the aid of the earl, Henry had been able to trample down his enemies, but after a time a violent quarrel arose between the king and the Percys; and the latter rose in rebellion against him. Hotspur, the earl's son, was despatched with a considerable force to co-operate with the king's enemies on the Welsh Marches; and in the battle which took place between the royal troops, led by the king, and the rebels, at Shrewsbury the death of his brother. He immediately returned to his castle, at Warkworth, and disbanded his forces. Summoned to appear before the king, at York, he solemnly protested his innocence, swore that Hotspur had acted in disobedience to his orders, and that the troops he had raised were for the royal service.

INSURRECTION OF ARCHBISHOP SCROPE. - Shortly after, another conspiracy was formed in Yorkshire, having also for its object, like the foregoing, the deposition of Henry, and the elevation to the throne of the Earl of March, who was descended from the Duke of Clarence, the elder brother of John of Gaunt. The prime movers in this rebellion were Richard Scrope, Archbishop of York, whose brother, Henry, had been beheaded for his fidelity to Richard II.; Thomas, Lord Mowbray, Earl Marshal of England, whose father died in exile, Lords Falconberg, Bardolph, Hastings, and others. The archbishop, in his anxiety to obtain adherents, drew up a formal impeachment against the king, which he caused to be fixed on the church doors in his own diocese, and sent them in the form of a circular into all parts of the kingdom, inviting the people to take up arms to reform abuses. In this manifesto he charged Henry with perjury, rebellion, usurpation, the murder of Richard II., and the illegal execution of many clergymen and gentlemen To strengthen his appeal the archbishop preached three inflammatory sermons in his cathedral, and so roused their feelings, that 20,000 men rushed to his standard at Shipton-on-the-Moor, a few miles from York. This public circulation of the manifesto was an impolitic act, as it gave the king timely notice of the intended rising. To suppress the insurrection, Henry sent an army of 30,000 men, under the command of Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, and Prince John, into the county. On their arrival, they found the forces of the archbishop encamped in a well-selected position outside the walls of York, and covered by the Forest of Galtres, which then reached very nearly to the gates of the city. Neville and the prince saw at once that they could not cope with the enemy in such a position, and had recourse to intrigue. They pretended a desire to settle everything by a peaceable arrangement, and solicited a parley with the archbishop, which was held in the presence of both armies. Terms were agreed to, the generals shook hands in token of friendship, and the archbishop disbanded his forces. The vile stratagem was now complete. Deprived of the means of defence, the prelate and earl marshal were arrested for high treason and carried to Pontefract Castle, where the king was. Henry ordered the trial to take place in the bishop's palace, at Bishopthorpe, near York, and thither they were taken. Gascoigne was chief justice; and, when commanded by the king to pronounce sentence of death on the archbishop and his associate, the upright and inflexible judge refused to do so, on the plea that the laws gave him no jurisdiction over the life of the archbishop, and that both he and the earl had the right to be tried by their peers. A more obsequious agent was found in a knight of the name of Fulthorpe, who, by the king's order, called them both before him, and without indictment or trial condemned them to be beheaded; which sentence was carried into execution on the 8th of June, 1405. The archbishop suffered with great firmness, and acquired the reputation of a martyr among the people, who flocked in crowds to his tomb in the minster. The earl's body also was buried in the cathedral, but his head was fixed on a spike, and exhibited on the walls of the city. Many other persons of knightly rank were also executed, including Sir John Lamplugh and Sir Robert Plumpton, and the city of York was deprived for a time of all its liberties and privileges.

When the news of the insurrection reached the Earl of Northumberland, he immediately raised the standard of rebellion on the border, and concluded a treaty with the Regent of Scotland. After the suppression of the Yorkshire outbreak, the king marched against him, at the head of 30,000 men, and his castles of Prudhoe, Warkworth, and Alnwick were reduced. For two years the earl wandered about from place to place seeking the aid of the Scots, and holding communications with the insurgents in Wales. In 1408, he burst into Northumberland, surprised several castles, raised the tenantry, who were still attached to their exiled lord, and, the numbers augmenting as he advanced, marched into Yorkshire. Sir Thomas Rokeby, who was high sheriff that year, assembled the posse comitatis to oppose him. The armies met on Bramham Moor; the earl was defeated and slain, and many of his adherents, who had escaped to York, were there captured and executed. According to the barbarous custom of the times, the head and quarters of the earl were suspended from the walls of five principal towns.

The reign of Henry V., the second king of the Lancastrian line, presents one of the most splendid periods in the military annals of England. France was once more laid prostrate at the feet of her ancient rival, and at home all was tranquility; the cabals of the court, which had embittered the last days of Henry IV., were soon hushed by the frank and fascinating character of the once profligate son, and the scenes of domestic discontent were confined almost entirely to the contests of the early reformers and the church. Four thousand Scots attempted an invasion of Northumberland, but were wofully discomfited by a small body of English, and driven helter-skelter across the border. The year following, 1415, a conspiracy was formed against the life of Henry, by Sir Thomas Grey of Heaton, the Earl of Cambridge, cousin of the king, and Henry Lord Scrope of Masham, but it was discovered in its incipient stage, and the three ringleaders beheaded at Southampton. The earl had married the heiress of the House of York, and his execution, says Rapin, was "the first spark of that fire which almost consumed, in process of time, the two Houses of Lancaster and York."

Henry V., at the end of his short but victorious reign, left the crown, in 1422, to his infant son, Henry VI., a child scarcely nine months old. A council of regency was appointed to govern the kingdom during his minority. In due time he was married to Margaret of Anjou, a brave and daring woman; but this union was never popular with the English, as one of its conditions was the surrendering of Maine and Anjou, two provinces taken from the French by his father. Henry was a man of weak mind, at times insane, and never competent to guide the helm of state at the turbulent period in which he lived; and the government, consequently, was chiefly conducted by his queen and her favourite ministers. This incapacity afforded Richard, Duke of York, who was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, third son of Edward III., and elder brother of John of Gaunt, ancestor of Henry VI., an opportunity of putting forth his prior claim to the crown. He displayed considerable military skill, and was generally popular with the people. Whilst Henry VI. was childless, Richard of York was the undoubted heir; but the ultimate birth of a prince to Henry, endangered his chance of peaceable succession; he consequently appealed to arms, and thence ensued that series of contests for the crown, between the Houses of York and Lancaster, which are known in history as the Wars of the Roses, from the white or red roses worn by the adherents of the respective claimants. In these unhappy conflicts the barons and gentry espoused the one side or the other, as prejudice or interest suggested. Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, Percy, Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford of Skipton were the leaders of the Lancastrian forces, whilst the Yorkist army was commanded by Neville, Earl of Warwick, and Richard, Duke of York, himself. The nobility and gentry of Yorkshire were much divided in their allegiance; branches and even members of the same family, were often found fighting on opposite sides.

The first encounter took place at St. Albans, in 1455, in which Beaufort, Percy, and Clifford, the leaders of the royalist troops, were slain, and the battle ended in favour of the Yorkists. There was a suspension of hostilities for three years; each side had recourse to intrigue and conspiracy to strengthen its position, and for a short time the royalist party was formidable. An apparent reconciliation was effected in 1458; the queen and the Duke of York walked hand-in-hand to St. Paul's, but each one regarded the other with secret distrust, and the passions of ambition and revenge, which lay smouldering in their breasts, were fanned into open flame by a trifling circumstance a few months afterwards. Both sides flew to arms. The Nevilles assembled their adherents at the castle of Middleham, in Wensleydale, and to the number of 4,000 marched through Graven into Lancashire, intending to unite with the other partisans of the White Rose, who were gathering on the borders of Wales. At Blore Heath they were met by a superior force of Lancastrians, which after five hours hard fighting, they defeated (September 23, 1459), leaving 2,400 of their opponents dead on the field. The Earl of Salisbury then continued his march, and effected a junction with the Duke of York at Ludlow, but a proclamation, offering pardon, was issued by the king, and large numbers of the rebels went over to the royalist side. York fled to Ireland, and the Nevilles (the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick) to Calais. After a short absence, Warwick landed with 1,500 men on the coast of Kent, where the Duke of York was very popular. He was soon at the head of 30,000 men, with whom he obtained a decisive victory over the royal troops at Northampton (July 10th, 1460), taking the king prisoner. Henry was conveyed to London, and in a parliament assembled there, the rival claims of the two Houses of York and Lancaster were fully investigated. The priority of the Duke's title was indisputable, and it was decreed that Henry should possess the crown during his life, but that Richard, Duke of York, should be his successor, as the true and lawful heir of the monarchy, and in this decision Henry acquiesced. The queen, who was a woman of masculine mind and courage, would not thus passively surrender the interests of her son, and appealed to the barons to help her in her need. The Dukes of Exeter and Somerset, the Earls of Northumberland and Wiltshire, Lords Clifford, Dacre, and others, joined her standard, and she soon found herself at the head of 20,000 men. With a force not exceeding 5,000, the Duke of York quitted London, and marched northward into Yorkshire, where he received intelligence that the queen was advancing with a numerous army to meet him. The duke retired to his castle at Sandal, to await the arrival of his son the Earl of March, with reinforcements, before encountering so large an army. The queen soon appeared before the castle, with the main body of the royalists, led by the Dukes of Somerset and Exeter. Unable to induce him to come forth, she sent insulting messages, taunting him with cowardice in allowing himself to be shut up in his stronghold by a woman! Stung by these insults, he sallied forth with his little force, which he drew up on the common between the fortress and Wakefield Bridge, trusting that his own courage and experience would compensate for his deficiency of numbers. A body of royalists, under Lord Clifford and the Earl of Wiltshire had been placed in ambush, and before he had completed the arrangement of his men, he was attacked in front and rear at the same time, and in less than half an hour his little army was annihilated, and himself slain. The Lancastrians stained their victory by an act of the grossest cruelty. The Earl of Rutland, a youth of seventeen years, the son of the Duke of York, had accompanied his father, and was for safety secretly led away from the field by his tutor and chaplain towards the town. They were overtaken by Lord Clifford, who, notwithstanding the entreaties of the tutor to spare his life, plunged his dagger into the boy's heart, bidding his guardian "Go and tell the boy's mother." But this was not the only atrocity which the "black-faced Clifford" indulged in at the moment of triumph. Recognising the Duke of York's body among the slain, he cut off the head, placed a paper crown upon it, and sticking it on the point of his lance, presented it to Queen Margaret, who ordered it to be fixed on the walls of York. Salisbury, Warwick's father, and other Yorkist prisoners were beheaded at Pontefract the following day (January 1, 1461).

The claims of the White Rose now fell on Edward, Earl of March, eldest son of the Duke of York, who assumed his father's title. He was at Gloucester when he received the melancholy intelligence of the fate of his father and brother. Having completed his levies, he hastened to interpose an army between the royalists and the capital. At Mortimer's Cross he obtained a victory over a royalist force under the Earl of Pembroke, whose father, Owen Tudor, and others that fell into his hands, were beheaded at Hereford, in retaliation for those that suffered at Pontefract. A few days later, the queen's army routed the Yorkists under Warwick at St. Albans, and Henry was restored to liberty. The royalist forces were composed chiefly of borderers, who, as was their wont, dispersed after the battle to plunder the town and country. This alarmed the Londoners, and they closed their gates against the Lancastrians. The king and queen with their army retired to York; the young Duke of York entered London, and was proclaimed king by the title of Edward IV. Having collected an army of 50,000 men, he marched into Yorkshire, and encamped at Pontefract. The Lancastrians, who were 60,000 strong, under the command of the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford, prepared for the conflict, and the queen employed all her address to confirm their loyalty, and animate their courage. The armies met on Palm Sunday, 1461, at Towton Heath, near Tadcaster, and the hopes of Henry were for ever extinguished in the Wharfe's crimsoned stream. The battle began at nine o'clock in the morning, amidst a heavy fall of snow, and continued till three in the afternoon, both sides fighting with the most desperate fury, as if each man had some loved one's death to revenge. About that hour the Lancastrians began to waver, then to retreat towards Tadcaster, followed by the Yorkists, who had been instructed to give no quarter. Their flight was interrupted by the river Cock, not very broad but deep, and then crossed by a bridge. To this point they fled down the steep hill, helter-skelter, in the wildest panic; but in the furious rush, the narrow bridge became blocked with horses and men. Others essayed to cross the river, but in their mad struggle for dear life they bore each other down, until the stream was choked up with their dead bodies. Over this ghastly bridge, pursuers and pursued rushed in their wild race to Tadcaster, and tradition says that the little stream ran red with blood, till it dyed the waters of the Wharfe itself three miles below. The chase continued all that night, and the greater part of next day, and as no quarter was given, fearful havoc was made among the fugitives. About one-half of the Lancastrians are said to have perished in the battle and the flight. The Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, Lords Clifford, Dacre, and Wells, with many other knights and squires, were slain on the field, or died of their wounds, and the Earls of Wiltshire and Devonshire, captured in flight, were beheaded. In this battle there fell on both sides, according to a contemporary writer, 36,776 persons "all Englishmen, and of one nation"; and for what? not in defence of their country against a foreign oppressor, but to satisfy the ambition of a single man! The Dukes of Somerset and Exeter, with Henry and Margaret, escaped to Scotland; and Edward reached York a few hours after their flight. Disappointed of securing a royal victim, he ordered the Earls of Devon and Kyme, Sir William Hill and Sir Thomas Fulford, adherents of the House of Lancaster, to be executed, and their heads substituted for those of his father and friends, which had been placed over Micklegate Bar after the battle of Wakefield.

Edward then proceeded to Newcastle, receiving in his progress the homage of the people, many of whom had before been antagonistic to him; he then returned to London for his coronation. Margaret in the meantime repaired to the court of France, and having received pecuniary assistance and the services of 2,000 Normans, she returned to Northumberland, and summoned to her standard all the friends of her family in that county, and her Scottish allies on the borders. Her hopes were cheered by a temporary gleam of success, but the spell was soon broken. Her little band, 500 strong, was overpowered at Hexham; Somerset was captured in flight and beheaded: Lords Roos and Hungerford met the same fate at Newcastle, and many others were carried forward for execution to York. Henry escaped into Lancashire, where he found an asylum for upwards of a year, at Waddington Old Hall, on the Yorkshire border. Here he was betrayed by one Cantlow, a monk of Abingdon, carried to London in a most ignominious fashion, and confined in the tower, where he died, by violence say some writers, through grief say others. Margaret and the young prince made their escape after the battle into Scotland, and thence to the continent. Edward returned to York, where he was again crowned; and, to secure the attachment of the citizens, he granted them several privileges.

"Some men," says a writer, "seek station as a means of extending their influence, or of acquiring glory; others, of baser alloy, look only for a wider enjoyment of unrestrained propensities." Edward did not certainly rank with the former class. As soon as he was firmly seated on the throne he shouldered off the onerous duties of royalty, and devoted his days to relaxation and indulgence. In the pursuit of pleasure, he crossed the path of Elizabeth Woodville, the beautiful widow of Sir John Grey (a Lancastrian), who had fallen in the second battle of St. Albans. He was smitten by her charms, and secretly married her at Grafton, the seat of Lord Rivers, her father. By this marriage and the honours which he conferred upon the bride's relations, he alienated many of his former friends, among whom were his two brothers, and the Nevilles, to whose aid he chiefly owed his possession of the crown. Of these there were three brothers - George, Archbishop of York, John, who had been created Earl of Northumberland after the battle of Hexham, and Richard, the great Earl of Warwick, the most potent nobleman in the land.

About this time the spirit of insurrection began to manifest itself in Yorkshire, where the Nevilles possessed the chief influence, but whether by their incitement or connivance it is impossible to say. The hospital of St. Leonard, York, in which many indigent persons were maintained, had been supported since the days of Canute, by the grant of a thrave of corn from every ploughland in the diocese. Many farmers at the beginning of the previous reign had refused to comply with this grant, urging that the thraves were a voluntary gift, which by custom had come to be considered a debt. In consequence, an Act of Parliament confirming them to the hospital had been passed, and now, when government officers attempted to levy their value by distress, the peasants flew to arms. They chose for their leader one Robert Hilyard, called Robin of Redesdale, probably from some connection with the mosstroopers of the Border, and threatened to march to the south and reform the abuses of the government. The two brothers of Warwick are said to have fanned the flame of revolt by misrepresentation, spreading abroad a report that the poor did not benefit by the grant; but this statement is open to some doubt, for, when the fifteen thousand insurgents approached York, they were attacked by the Earl of Northumberland, Warwick's brother, defeated with great slaughter, and their leader executed before one of the gates of the city. But whether they had any complicity or not in fomenting the insurrection, it is certain that they readily converted it to the furtherance of their own designs against Edward. "Though repulsed, the rebels were neither dispersed nor pursued; and in place of the leader whom they had lost, they found two others of more illustrious name, and more powerful connections, the sons of the Lords Fitzhugh and Latimer - the one the nephew, the other the cousin-german of Warwick"; but Sir John Conyers, an old and experienced officer appears to have been the actual leader. They directed their march towards the south, their number increasing rapidly as they proceeded, and at Edgecote, near Banbury, they encountered and defeated the royal army. Edward was taken prisoner at Olney, and conveyed to Middleham Castle, the chief Yorkshire seat of the Nevilles, whence he made his escape,* and reached the continent.

* Hume, Carte, Henry, and some other modern historians assert that Edward's imprisonment is a romantic fiction, and is disproved by records; it is, however, expressly alluded to in the attainder of Clarence, the king's brother, and is also mentioned by the historians of the period, both native and foreign.

Warwick was now master of the situation; the flight of Edward was declared an abdication; the poor imbecile king was released from the tower, where he had been immured for nine years, and placed on the throne. Edward, in the meantime, collected a body of 2,000 mercenaries on the continent, with which he landed at Ravenspurn, at the mouth of the Humber, on the 14th of March, 1471, but he met with a cold reception from the people, and Hull refused to admit him. He had now recourse to dissimulation, and in his march towards York he proclaimed his loyalty to King Henry, declaring that he came not to claim the crown, but the inheritance of his late father, the Duke of York. The city at first closed its gates against him, but he reiterated asseverations of loyalty to Henry, and was then permitted to enter. Proceeding at once to the cathedral, he there, on the altar, solemnly abjured all his pretensions to the crown. "This, however," says Allen, "was an act of base hypocrisy; for no sooner had he performed this ceremony, than he assumed the regal title, raised a considerable loan in the city, and, leaving it well garrisoned, marched to the south." His forces increased as he proceeded, and on Barnet Heath he encountered the Lancastrian army under Warwick, whom an old writer has styled "the puller down and setter up of kings." The battle was fought on Easter Sunday, 1471; Edward commanded in person. Warwick, after performing prodigies of valour, was slain, and the sun of the Red Rose went down never again to appear in the firmament. Henry was led back a prisoner to the tower.

The heroic Margaret, bringing with her a considerable army, landed at Weymouth, on the very day which had proved so fatal to her hopes. On hearing the news, she gave way to a paroxysm of grief; but remembering that not only the cause of her imbecile husband, but also that of her son, depended on her, she brushed aside her tears, and once more displayed the masculine courage of her heart. She summoned to her standard the friends that yet remained of the House of Lancaster, and then marched to Tewkesbury, where she was confronted by a more numerous force under Edward. Her army was routed, and Prince Edward, her only child, murdered in cold blood after the battle. Henry VI. died in the tower a few days afterwards, by foul means it was said. Margaret, after five years' captivity, was ransomed by Louis of France for 50,000 crowns, and ended her days in her native land. Every obstacle to the claims of Edward being now removed, he relegated the military duties to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, whom he had received again into favour, and resigned himself to unholy pleasures which terminated his life at the early age of forty years.

He left two sons, Edward, in his twelfth year, who succeeded him, and Richard, Duke of York, in his eleventh year, and five daughters. Richard, their uncle, who was appointed protector; but very shortly afterwards he contrived the murder of the young king and his brother in the tower, and caused himself to be crowned by the title of Richard III., 1483.

He had married Anne Neville, daughter and heiress of the great kingmaker, and, after the death of that nobleman at the Battle of Barnet, inherited his castle of Middleham. Here he frequently resided with his wife, and here his son, Edward, was born. It has been said that his coronation took place in the minster, at York, but his visit to that city appears to have been only a state exhibition of himself and his consort, whilst on a journey through the northern counties. On this occasion the young Prince Edward, his son, received the honour of knighthood in the city, the event being celebrated with unusual and expensive festivities.

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