A History of the County of Chester: Volume 5 Part 1, the City of Chester: General History and Topography. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2003.
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CITY AND CROWN, 1350-1550
In 1351, as part of a more general investigation of his earldom's franchises, the Black Prince instituted quo warranto proceedings in Chester. For a ratification of their charters and a declaration of the bounds of their liberties, the citizens agreed to a fine of £300, which because they were impoverished was to be paid by instalments over five years. (fn. 1) Royal officials delayed the matter until the prince himself went to Chester in 1353. (fn. 2) His visit, which lasted some two months, involved a meeting in the city at which the men of the shire paid a fine of 5,000 marks to maintain their franchises. (fn. 3) Chester itself, in accordance with its exempt status, did not contribute, (fn. 4) and in 1354 obtained a charter defining the boundaries of the liberty, confirming its admiralty powers over the Dee, and further excluding royal officials by annexing its escheatorship to the mayoralty. (fn. 5) The payments promised in return for those privileges were extracted by the prince only with considerable difficulty. (fn. 6)
The Black Prince again visited Chester briefly in 1358, but is not known otherwise to have gone there. (fn. 7) The links of his son, Richard II (1377-99), with the city and shire developed only in the later years of his reign. The king visited Chester for the first time in 1387 and granted the citizens a murage for the repair of their ruined bridge. (fn. 8) His favourite, Robert de Vere, earl of Oxford, whom he made justice of Chester, established his household in the city and while based there raised the army which was defeated at Radcot Bridge (Oxon.) later in 1387. (fn. 9) The failure of Vere's campaign was celebrated locally by his enemy Richard FitzAlan, earl of Arundel, who from his base in Holt (Denb.) caused a copy of the appeal against the royal favourite to be nailed to the door of St. Peter's church. (fn. 10) In 1389, after the king had reasserted his personal authority, the men of the shire met at Chester and granted a subsidy of 3,000 marks. (fn. 11)
In 1393 there was a mysterious rising in Cheshire, apparently aimed primarily against Richard II's hated enemy Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester, then justice of Chester. The king proclaimed his innocence of any involvement, but the fact that he found it necessary to do so casts doubt upon his protestation. At all events it provided him with a pretext to remove Gloucester from the post of justice and enabled him to consolidate his authority over city and county. (fn. 12) The result of those manoeuvrings became apparent in 1394, when Baldwin Radington, controller of the royal household, at Chester to recruit for the king's expedition to Ireland, broke into the abbot of St. Werburgh's lodgings, detained two of his servants, and raided the neighbouring houses. The mayor, John Armourer, having intervened in the dispute, Radington attacked the sheriffs; during the affray one of his own men was killed and in retaliation he and his supporters rode out 'in manner of war', terrorizing the city and its environs, an outrage to which the king's only response was to indict one of the sheriffs for the death of Radington's follower. (fn. 13)
Royal involvement in the city's affairs brought benefits as well as problems. In the 1390s royal favour secured for the monks of St. Werburgh's the long-sought licences to appropriate their livings. (fn. 14) The resumption of building work at the crossing of the abbey church may also be attributed to royal interest, contact with a refined and sophisticated court being a factor in the community's acquisition of such accomplished works as the late 14th-century choir stalls. (fn. 15) At St. John's, too, royal patronage may have played a part in the refoundation in 1393 of the fraternity of St. Anne, the chaplains of which were to pray daily for the king and his family. (fn. 16) In his last years Richard visited the capital of his new principality with increasing frequency, staying there at least six times in 1398-9. (fn. 17) His growing fondness for the city was demonstrated in 1398 when he granted an exemplification of its charters and extended its privileges by authorizing the outlawing of any foreign or unpropertied defendants who failed to respond to summonses to appear in its courts. (fn. 18)
Despite such favoured status, in 1399 the city surrendered to Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Lancaster, without a fight. (fn. 19) Before the king's arrest the duke stayed at Chester castle for 12 days, drinking the king's wine, wasting fields, and pillaging houses. While there, he also secured the arrest and execution of Sir Peter Legh of Lyme, one of Richard's leading retainers in Cheshire. (fn. 20) Richard himself, captured at Flint some two weeks later, was taken to Chester and detained for a few days in the castle, while Bolingbroke received a deputation from the city of London renouncing fealty to the prisoner. (fn. 21)
Early in 1400 there was a revolt in Cheshire, linked with the Earls' Rising. Those involved included prominent members of Richard's Cheshire retinue and a large group of townsmen from Chester, who, dressed in the livery of the deposed monarch, removed Legh's head from the Eastgate and unsuccessfully besieged the castle, then held by the chamberlain of Chester, the sheriff of Cheshire, and the constable, William Venables of Kinderton. (fn. 22) Clearly there remained some sympathy for Richard II among the civic élite. (fn. 23) The Chester Carmelites, themselves well favoured by the citizens, also apparently harboured Ricardian sympathies, and gave burial to Legh's mutilated body, together with the head after its retrieval from the Eastgate. (fn. 24)
The new dynasty exacted a price for such attitudes. Some notable local offices changed hands in 1399- 1400, including the constableship of the castle and the tenancy of the Dee Mills. (fn. 25) The Carmelites' complaint of poverty in 1400 perhaps stemmed partly from Bolingbroke's ravaging in 1399. (fn. 26) There was a reckoning, too, for St. Werburgh's: in 1400 Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, ordered a visitation to investigate the monastery's financial administration. Although Abbot Sutton survived, he was subjected to humiliating restrictions, and soon afterwards the appropriations of livings which Richard II had approved were revoked. (fn. 27)
The civic authorities appear nevertheless to have reached a somewhat uneasy modus vivendi with the new dynasty. The leading citizens were pardoned for their role in the rising, (fn. 28) and in 1401 Henry, prince of Wales, confirmed the charters. (fn. 29) Late in 1400 the mayor and sheriffs were required to supply provisions protected by an armed guard for an expedition planned by the king and prince, (fn. 30) and the portmote was suspended while they fulfilled their commitments. (fn. 31) In 1402 the city evidently agreed to provide and man a barge and three small ships in the king's service, and later it was required to furnish all the richer citizens with equipment necessary for its defence. (fn. 32) Despite Chester's cooperation, the new dynasty continued to be distrustful, taking sureties to ensure that supplies sold in the city were used to provision royal troops rather than the rebels. (fn. 33)
In 1403 Sir Henry Percy ('Hotspur'), lately justice of Chester, stayed in the city and raised the standard of revolt there before the battle of Shrewsbury. (fn. 34) The citizens were far less involved with the rebels than in 1400, and indeed the mayor and the constable of the castle were present at Shrewsbury in the king's retinue. (fn. 35) After Percy's defeat one of the quarters of his body was sent to Chester, together with the heads of Sir Richard Venables and Sir Richard Vernon. (fn. 36) The continuing insecurity of both the new dynasty and the city authorities was demonstrated in the instructions issued by Prince Henry in response to defections in north Wales in the weeks after the battle. The corporation was required to impose a curfew upon all Welshmen visiting Chester, and to ensure that they left their arms at the city gates and did not gather in groups of more than three; all Welsh residents were expelled and any who stayed overnight were threatened with execution. Such measures against the Welsh were the most extreme to be proclaimed in any English city during Owain Glyn Dwr's revolt. (fn. 37) Shortly after their issue the mayor and citizens were pardoned for their role in Hotspur's rebellion, in return for a payment of 300 marks or for supplying shipping for men going to the relief of Beaumaris castle (Ang.). (fn. 38)
In 1404 the government still found it necessary to order the citizens not to sell arms or merchandise to the rebels and to commission keepers of roads out of Chester. (fn. 39) In 1405 Prince Henry visited the city, (fn. 40) and by 1407, when grants of murages were resumed, relations had probably been restored to some semblance of normality. (fn. 41) As the Welsh revolt crumbled, Chester witnessed a steady stream of prominent local Welshmen making their way to the castle to submit to the English authorities. (fn. 42) Even so, in 1409 the Crown nominated a governor temporarily to replace the Welsh mayor, and in 1412 intervened again when some citizens banded together to prevent a free election. (fn. 43) After the Welsh threat receded, no royal visits of note were recorded, a sign perhaps that relations with the Crown remained distant.
In 1442 Chester castle was chosen for the imprisonment of Eleanor Cobham, whose husband, Henry VI's uncle Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, had been justice of Chester 1427-40. (fn. 44) The king himself visited Chester in 1445 and reduced the annual farm from £100 to £50, on the grounds that trade had suffered from the silting of the port and that 'restrictions and charges' had been imposed by the Welsh rebellion. (fn. 45) His visit marked a period of warmer relations between the city and the Crown. The king's son Edward was created prince of Wales and earl of Chester in 1454, and in 1455 Queen Margaret apparently visited the city to seek support. The queen and the prince and very probably Henry himself were all again in Chester in 1456. After the battle of Blore Heath (Staffs.) in 1459, two of the Yorkist leaders, the earl of Salisbury's sons Thomas and John Neville, were imprisoned in Chester castle. (fn. 46)
Despite such links between Chester and the house of Lancaster, in 1460 Richard, duke of York, granted the city's mayor, John Southworth, an annual pension of £10 for past services. (fn. 47) In 1461 Edward IV renewed the reduction of the farm, but his anxieties about the city were reflected in a proclamation requiring the mayor and sheriffs of Chester to arrest all within the shire who supported the king's Lancastrian enemies. (fn. 48) In 1472 Edward again renewed the reduction of the farm, and in 1484 Richard III cut it further to £30. (fn. 49) Even so, by 1485 the citizens' sympathies seem to have been with the Tudors. Their mayor from 1484 to 1486, Sir John Savage (d. 1495), had close links with the Stanleys, and his son, also Sir John (d. 1492), led the left wing of Henry Tudor's forces at Bosworth and was afterwards well rewarded. (fn. 50) The serjeant of the Bridgegate, Sir William Troutbeck, also fought for Henry at that battle. (fn. 51)
The citizens received their reward in 1486 when Henry VII reduced the annual farm to £20 in perpetuity. (fn. 52) The king visited Chester with his queen and his mother in 1493 or 1495, and in 1498 or 1499 his son Prince Arthur attended a performance of an Assumption Day play and presented a silver badge to the Smiths, Cutlers, and Plumbers' company. (fn. 53) The main mark of the king's favour was his grant in 1506 of the Great Charter, which constituted the city a county in its own right. (fn. 54)
Henry VIII had few dealings with Chester. In 1522 the city was called upon to supply forces to defend the Scottish borders, and the mayor mustered a force of sixty soldiers to serve with Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey. (fn. 55) The Dissolution passed largely without incident, although in 1536 one of the city's merchants was imprisoned together with the abbot of Norton and Randle Brereton in Chester castle. (fn. 56) In 1543 the city acquired parliamentary representation at Westminster; henceforth it was to return two M.P.s, selected by the aldermen and presented to the freemen for election. (fn. 57)