The later middle ages: Scottish and French Wars

Pages 54-59

A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.

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In this section


The Scottish Wars, p. 54. The Century of the French Wars, p. 56. The Wars of the Roses, p. 59. Richard of Gloucester and Henry VII, p. 61. City and King, p. 65. The City and the Ecclesiastical Franchises, p. 68. The City's Franchise, p. 69. Officers, p. 70. Courts and Customs, p. 75. The City's Jurisdiction, p. 76. The City Council, p. 77. Parliamentary Representation, p. 79. The City Government and the Commonalty, p. 80. Economy, p. 84. Changes in Industrial Prosperity, p. 87. Craft Organization, p. 91. Guilds and Social Life, p. 95. Communications and Markets, p. 97. Merchants and Merchandise, p. 100. City and Citizens, p. 106.

The Scottish Wars, 1298-1337

In the early summer of 1298 the government of England moved to York and remained there for seven years. Working quarters were found in the city for Exchequer and Chancery, and for the justices of both benches. (fn. 1) Councils of all sorts assembled in York, (fn. 2) among them that of 1303 which included representatives of 42 English towns and which refused to accept the extension of the nova custuma to native merchants. (fn. 3) Edward I was only intermittently in York, but the city was the hub of his war administration. It was a rendezvous of armies and made its own contributions to them: 40 crossbowmen for the garrison of Stirling castle in 1304, and 20 men ad arma potentes at some other date round this time. (fn. 4) In the year 1299–1300 alone, money was sent from York to Lochmaben (Dumfries.), Berwick, Carlisle, Caerlaverock (Dumfries.), and Roxburgh; commissioners were sent out from York to levy troops in the western counties; the king's counsellors ordained there for the provisioning of various places in Scotland; horses were collected there and the king's wine put in cellar; meat was salted and grain was stored there for victualling the armies. (fn. 5) As a centre of affairs the city had been transformed.

In 1304 Edward I sent the government offices back to Westminster, (fn. 6) and, though York still received Scottish hostages and prisoners, one at least of whom died in confinement, (fn. 7) it rarely saw the king again during the rest of his reign. The city's prominence in national affairs under his son was far more continuous. Edward II paid a brief visit in 1307 and another in October 1309 when he held a 'secret parliament', excluding Gaveston's enemies. (fn. 8) He returned in 1310 and granted Gaveston the honor of Knaresborough; (fn. 9) and again in January 1312 when he restored Gaveston, repudiated the ordinances, and provoked an outbreak of civil war. While Gaveston was hounded to his death on Blacklow Hill, (fn. 10) Edward established himself in York and its neighbourhood, and set up a rival government to that of the Ordainers with the Chancery sitting in St. Mary's, Castlegate. (fn. 11) John Mowbray was put in command both of the county and the city, and the citizens were ordered to prevent the king's enemies from coming within their walls. (fn. 12) The financial resources of the city were drawn upon to meet the king's day-to-day expenditure, and even the houses of the canons of York were requisitioned to accommodate his followers. (fn. 13)

Civil strife died down, however, and when Edward next passed through York he was on his way to defeat at Bannockburn—a defeat which compelled him to surrender to the demands of the English opposition at a parliament held in York as he returned south. (fn. 14) On this occasion the king lodged in the archbishop's palace and obtained from the city 40 crossbowmen for the garrison of Berwick. (fn. 15) War in the north was now endemic. In 1315 the archbishop held an assembly of clergy and knights at York to concert measures against the Scots, (fn. 16) and in 1316 Edward again returned with an army, although he proceeded no farther. None the less he moved the Chancery to York, and it worked both in St. Mary's, Castlegate, and in St. Mary's Abbey where the chancellor was lodged; at the same time lance-heads were forged in the castle and armour was bought in the city and elsewhere. (fn. 17) During yet another visit in 1317 Edward negotiated with the Earl of Lancaster at York regarding peace and concord in the land. (fn. 18)

Concord was too much to expect, and the Scottish war went on. In 1318 Edward led another army north. This expedition he abandoned—despite the fact that Bruce captured Berwick—but not before conflict had broken out between the men of York and troops from London. (fn. 19) Again the Chancery sat in St. Mary's Abbey, and a parliament at York (20 October-9 November) temporarily appeased civil discords. (fn. 20) Preparations were now set on foot for the recovery of Berwick, for which purpose another parliament held at York in May 1319 granted financial aid. The royal courts moved to York. (fn. 21) An army was gathered, for which the city raised 95 men, and the siege engines from York castle were shipped north. (fn. 22) By August the siege of Berwick was under way, but the Scots created an effective diversion when the Earl of Moray and James Douglas came down into Swaledale and threatened York. The queen, who was there, was packed off to Nottingham; and the archbishop and the chancellor hurriedly raised an army in the city and its neighbourhood. It was disastrously defeated at Myton-onSwale (N.R.), the dead including the mayor, Nicholas Flemyng, and many citizens. The king felt compelled to raise the siege of Berwick and return to York, where he lodged with the Franciscan friars and ordered the strengthening of the city walls. (fn. 23) After holding a parliament there at Hilary 1320 and concluding a two years' truce with the Scots, Edward and the government offices took their way back to the south. (fn. 24)

When Edward was next in York, in 1322, at least he was victorious over his domestic enemies. Lancaster had been defeated and executed, and his followers had suffered a like fate or were in prison at York or elsewhere. (fn. 25) Again the chancellor took up residence in St. Mary's Abbey and the Exchequer and benches in the castle; and in a parliament held at York in May the statute was passed which undid the work of the Ordainers. (fn. 26) The campaign which followed against the Scots was a fiasco. Edward himself narrowly escaped capture, and returned in rout with the Scots devastating the north behind him. A Martinmas parliament, which was to have met at Ripon to register Edward's triumph, had to be moved to York and presented only with a demand for money; and refugees from the northern counties poured into the city, which was put into a posture of defence in 1323 under William Latimer's captaincy. After discussion in a great council, held at Bishopthorpe, to which the mayor was summoned, a thirteen years' truce was made with the Scots. (fn. 27) Once more the king and the government offices took their way south; and York passed out of national history for the rest of the reign save when, in November 1324, it was again the seat of peace negotiations with the Scots. (fn. 28)

Edward III's first decade was a postscript to his father's reign. In 1327 his advisers ordained a campaign against the Scots, and the government offices took up their usual quarters in York. (fn. 29) The king and his mother arrived at the end of May with an army including Germans and Hainaulters, and stayed until early July. They lodged with the Friars Minor, and were at dinner there when a riot broke out between the Hainaulters and English troops, attended by looting and a good deal of bloodshed on both sides. (fn. 30) In the following January Edward married Philippa of Hainault in the minster. (fn. 31)

The 'shameful peace' of the following May did not endure long. Parliaments at York in December 1332 and January 1333 provided supplies and drew up a plan of campaign to maintain Edward's renewed claim to lordship over Scotland. (fn. 32) The Chancery was established in the chapter house of the minster, and the Exchequer and benches in the castle, where Queen Philippa was also accommodated. (fn. 33) Craftsmen were set to work making and repairing tents, arms, bows, and engines of war; and the city sent 100 men to the army which won at Halidon Hill, recaptured Berwick, and restored lordship over Scotland to the English king. (fn. 34) But Scotland was easier to win than to hold. Balliol could not do homage at the York parliament of February 1334 because of trouble in his own land, and was soon a fugitive again. (fn. 35) The government offices had to be recalled to York, (fn. 36) and Edward spent most of the winter of 1334–5 in Scotland. Yet the success he had hoped for by the intervention of the Blessed Virgin eluded him. (fn. 37) He returned to York in May 1335, lodged with the Friars Minor and held a parliament which determined on a new campaign. (fn. 38) Again, in 1336 he marched through York to Scotland, (fn. 39) but probably he had his French enemies in mind in 1337 when he ordered the city to construct a great barge for the defence of the realm. (fn. 40) Thereafter the Scottish usually took second place to the French wars in royal eyes, and York ceased to be a frequent seat of the government of England.

The Century of the French Wars

The Scottish problem did not disappear in 1337; but it became rather a regional problem for the men of the north than the major preoccupation of their rulers. The city apparently provided troops in 1367, though its contribution to John of Gaunt's expedition in 1381 was merely to meet him on his return 'on a pretty little hill' near Wetherby. (fn. 41) In 1385, however, the citizens were called upon to provision a royal army which passed through York on its way north; and doubtless they were alarmed in 1388 at rumours that the Scots were advancing on York, though in fact they had been checked at New castle and Otterburn. (fn. 42) Even in July 1399, when a French invasion was feared, the city was absolved from sending troops south because it needed to protect itself from the Scots. (fn. 43)

In these circumstances it is not surprising that York's main contribution to the French wars was a financial one. It is true that some Parisian hostages under the Treaty of Bretigny were sent to York, where one of them died of the plague; (fn. 44) and that the city provided a large and small balinger for service in the navy—something, they alleged, which no other city save London had done. (fn. 45) In the intervals of war, however, these boats were used for trade, for one was sent to Bordeaux for wine in 1374 and captured an enemy ship on the way; (fn. 46) but when they were ordered to Southampton in 1376 they were in such condition that one had to be sold to repair the other. The one which did eventually arrive was still so 'ill-arrayed' that a quarter of a royal tenth had to be imposed on the city by common assent to make it sea-worthy. In the end, moreover, in fighting off the Breton coast in 1379, the 'noble barge of York' was captured and foundered almost immediately with all on board. (fn. 47)

This modest role of York in political history is paralleled in constitutional history. It was occasionally visited by the King's Bench in its mission of keeping order, (fn. 48) but Edward III scarcely saw York again after 1336 and Richard II was no frequent visitor. Certainly in 1392 he transferred the government offices to York to punish the Londoners for resisting his financial demands, housing the benches and the Exchequer in the castle and the Chancery in the archbishop's manor at Bishopthorpe. By the end of the year, however, the government was brought back to Westminster with the same 'levity' with which it had been taken away. (fn. 49)

This was not Richard's last sojourn in York. He was there for a time in 1396, (fn. 50) and again in 1398 when he was royally entertained by the city. The mayor, one of the chamberlains, and eleven others went to meet him at Nottingham. A long bench was specially made for the mayor and leading citizens attending some gathering in the king's presence in the chapter house of the minster and the king witnessed the Corpus Christi plays from a special enclosure. The cost of the visit to the civic funds was about £250, (fn. 51) and individuals may have found it no less onerous. It is tempting to see a connexion between the king's presence and the sums which certain wealthy citizens promised to lend him in this same year. They were in no hurry to fulfil their promises, for loans totalling nearly £2,000 were recorded as unpaid. (fn. 52) Perhaps for these defaulters the Lancastrian revolution came at an opportune moment. The citizens may have felt they were striking a good bargain when, presumably during his march south, they lent 500 marks to Henry of Derby, 'in his necessity, before he undertook the governance of the realm'. (fn. 53)

The Lancastrian revolution, however, was the beginning of a time of troubles in which the city found itself involved. At first all was normal enough. In 1400 York was the rendezvous for an army against the Scots, and had to advance 1,000 marks to assist in financing it; but the campaign achieved so little that a parliament planned for York in November was prorogued to Westminster. (fn. 54) Next year the city provided troops for the war against Glendower, and in 1402 found room over its gates for the quarters of Scottish traitors captured at Homildon. (fn. 55) But it was soon civil conflict which dominated politics. Hotspur's head was placed over a gate of the city after his death at Shrewsbury; (fn. 56) and Henry IV came to York straight from his victory to settle accounts with Hotspur's father. There on 10 August 1403, despite his supposed complicity in the rebellion, Archbishop Scrope celebrated mass in the minster in the king's presence. Meantime a prophesying hermit who inveighed against Henry had been beheaded, and on 11 August Northumberland came in from Warkworth to make his submission. (fn. 57)

Rumours, however, seem to have been rife in York and elsewhere that Richard II was still alive in Scotland, (fn. 58) and in 1405 discontent came to a head. Northumberland and Bardolf in the far north, and Archbishop Scrope and Thomas Mowbray in York, fomented a rebellion. The archbishop drew the city into it: he posted a manifesto on the minster door, on the city gates, and in the streets; he went among the citizens, crozier in hand, urging the rebel case; he preached in the minster about the poverty of merchants and the burdens of taxation, royal borrowing, and purveyance. His persuasion was effective, for 'almost all the citizens of York capable of bearing arms' rallied to the rebel cause. But Scrope was a better propagandist than politician. On 29 May he was persuaded or tricked into surrender by the Earl of Westmorland, and on 6 June Henry IV arrived at Bishopthorpe. There, two days later, Mowbray and Scrope, with the latter's nephew, Sir Stephen Plumpton, were summarily condemned and executed at once in a field outside Skeldergate Postern by a prisoner from the castle gaol. Henry went on north to hound Northumberland out of the country, his progress being marked by the sending back of heads to York to set beside Mowbray's and Plumpton's on Bootham and Micklegate bars. (fn. 59)

Before leaving, Henry had dealt with the city. From Pontefract, on 3 June, he had threatened it with utter destruction if it resisted him and had sent Sir John Stanley and Sir Roger Leche to occupy it. (fn. 60) On 6 June the citizens, barefoot and ungirt and with halters round their necks, came out to meet Henry at Bishopthorpe, but were curtly ordered home; and before he left for the north Henry mulcted them of 500 marks. Meantime, the city continued in the charge of royal governors, though on 22 July William Frost (already seven times mayor) was associated with them. On 25 August Frost became keeper of the city, but as late as Michaelmas was still accounting jointly for its issues with Stanley and Leche. (fn. 61) The rule of the city was not restored to the citizens until 3 June 1406 and in return for a fine of £200. (fn. 62) They were not altogether repentant. Archbishop Scrope's reputation for sanctity blossomed quickly. The barley field where he died was said to have borne a wonderful crop that harvest, (fn. 63) and Henry Wyman (mayor 1407–9) treasured a 'pardon cup' blessed by the archbishop. (fn. 64) When in 1407, at the king's command, the city serjeants conducted an investigation into those who made offerings at Scrope's tomb, the city authorities dismissed them; and in 1410 the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury was invoked to counteract Scrope's reputation as a martyr. (fn. 65) This did not, however, prevent men and women from making legacies and oblations to his tomb and cult. (fn. 66) Humble as they had been in face of the king's anger, the citizens seem to have entered upon the rebellion of 1405 with a measure of conviction; but they took little if any part in Northumberland's last rising in 1408, and the quarters of the rebels again adorned their gates, Northumberland's having been pickled in cloves, cumin, and anise to make them keep the better. (fn. 67)

This was the last direct manifestation of Henry IV's rule in York, and under his son interest shifted again to the French wars. Once more they made only a slight impact on York. Occasionally York ships were required for the king's service (fn. 68) and in 1419 two Norman prisoners were paroled and set to work for a York skinner. (fn. 69) In 1436 a loan for France was demanded from the city and York fletchers made arrows for the army. (fn. 70) The eyes of the city, however, were still more often directed to Scotland than to France. It provided troops for the marches in 1419 at the request of the Earl of Northumberland, saw Henry V briefly in 1421 when he was dealing with Scottish affairs, and was a venue for negotiations with the Scots in 1424 and the delivery of Scottish hostages in 1425. (fn. 71) York men, too, served in the garrisons of northern castles or exercised their mercantile callings in provisioning Berwick and Carlisle. (fn. 72)


  • 1. See p. 522.
  • 2. Cal. Pat. and Cal. Close, passim.
  • 3. Cal. Letter Bks. London, C. 122; Parl. Writs, i. 134–5.
  • 4. Cal. Close, 1302–7, 152; S.C. 1/21/93.
  • 5. Lib. Quot. Contrarotulatoris Garderobae (Soc. Antiq. 1787), passim.
  • 6. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II (Rolls Ser.), i. 134.
  • 7. S.C. 1/26/18.
  • 8. Chron. Walter of Guisborough (Camd. Soc. 3rd ser. lxxix), 384.
  • 9. Cal. Chart. R. 1300–26, 139.
  • 10. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, i. 202-4; ii. 42, 174-5.
  • 11. T. F. Tout, Place of Edw. II in Eng. Hist. 88–90.
  • 12. Cal. Pat. 1307–13, 479; Cal. Close, 1307–13, 477.
  • 13. Cal. Close, 1307–13, 426; Cal. Pat. 1307–13, 453, 456.
  • 14. John de Trokelowe, Chronica et Annales (Rolls Ser.), 83, 88.
  • 15. Cal. Close, 1313–18, 122, 197, 201; Cal. Doc. Scot. ed. Bain, iii, no. 401.
  • 16. Reg. Greenfield, ii, no. 1092.
  • 17. Cal. Close, 1313–18, 295, 354, 363, 428–9.
  • 18. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, i. 281.
  • 19. Cal. Close, 1318–23, 94; Cal. Pat. 1317–21; 236, 286; John de Trokelowe, Chron. et Annales, 102.
  • 20. Cal. Close, 1318–23, 103, 106, 216; Matt. Westminster (attrib.) Flor. Hist. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 342–3.
  • 21. Cal. Close, 1318–23, 76, 216.
  • 22. Cal. Chanc. Wts. i. 501; Cal. Doc. Scot. ed. Bain, iii, nos. 663, 668.
  • 23. Matt. Westminster (attrib.) Flor. Hist. (Rolls Ser.), iii. 187 sqq.; Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, i. 286–7; ii. 56–58, 241–5; Cal. Close, 1318–23, 220; York Corp. Rec. D/1, f. 4d.
  • 24. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, i. 287.
  • 25. Ibid. i. 302; ii. 269–70.
  • 26. Ibid. i. 303; ii. 78; Cal. Close, 1318–23, 417, 676–7.
  • 27. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, ii. 78–80; Geoffrey le Baker, Chronicle, ed. E. M. Thompson, 14–15; Cal. Close, 1318-23, 682; Cal. Pat. 1321-4, 234-5, 264, 268, 289; J. C. Davies, Baronial Opposition to Edw. II, 292, 584; W. Stubbs, Const. Hist. (5th edn.), ii. 354.
  • 28. Cal. Pat. 1324-7, 40; Cal. Close, 1323-7, 328.
  • 29. Cal. Close, 1327–30, 162, 202.
  • 30. Geoffrey le Baker, Chron. 35, 213–15; Froissart, Chroniques, ed. S. Luce, i. 45–49; Cal. Pat. 1327–30, 152.
  • 31. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, i. 339; ii. 99; S.C. 8/46/2263; Cal. Pat. 1327–30, 146. On this occasion the royal party was accommodated in the abps. palace: Cal. Close, 1327–30, 214, 410.
  • 32. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, ii. 110; Cal. Fine R. 1227–37, 342.
  • 33. Cal. Close, 1333-7, 38, 50, 57, 154, 163.
  • 34. Ibid. 23-24, 52, 75, 90, 100; Cal. Pat. 1330-4, 418.
  • 35. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, i. 361.
  • 36. Cal. Pat. 1334–8, 162 for the Chancery in St. Mary's Abbey.
  • 37. Ibid. 27–28.
  • 38. Cal. Fine R. 1227-37, 452; Cal. Close, 1333-7, 493; Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, ii. 122.
  • 39. Chron. Edw. I and Edw. II, ii. 128.
  • 40. Cal. Close, 1333–7, 644.
  • 41. Cal. Pat. 1364–7, 432; Anonimalle Chron. ed. V. H. Galbraith, 154.
  • 42. Cal. Close, 1365–9, 5; 1385–9, 610; Cal. Doc. Scot. ed. Bain, iv, no. 340; Henry Knighton, Chron. (Rolls Ser.), ii. 297–8.
  • 43. Cal. Close, 1396–9, 518.
  • 44. S.C. 8/297/14835.
  • 45. S.C. 8/216/10758.
  • 46. S.C. 8/103/5133.
  • 47. Cal. Close, 1377-81, 32, 51, 181; York Mem. Bk. i. 30–33; Chron. Angliae 1328–88 (Rolls Ser.), 233; Thomas Walsingham, Hist. Anglicana (Rolls Ser.), i. 403.
  • 48. Proc. before the J.P.s, ed. B. H. Putnam (Ames Foundation), pp. lvii sqq.
  • 49. Cal. Close, 1389–92, 466–7, 567; 1392–6, 16, 26, 31; Cal. Pat. 1391–6, 67, 69; Ann. Ricardi (Rolls Ser.), 156; Thomas Walsingham, Hist. Anglicana, ii. 213; R. Bird, Turbulent London of Richard II, 112 sqq.; T. P. Cooper, Hist. Castle York, 77–80.
  • 50. Hist. Ch. York, ii. 426.
  • 51. York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains' Roll, 1398.
  • 52. Cal. Pat. 1396–9, 363–4, 368.
  • 53. Ibid. 1399–1401, 354.
  • 54. J. Wylie, Hist. Eng. under Hen. IV, i. 131 sqq.
  • 55. Wylie, Hist. Eng. Hen. IV, i. 294; Cal. Close, 1399– 1402, 339.
  • 56. English Chron. 1377–1461 (Camd. Soc. O.S. 64), 29.
  • 57. Wylie, Hist. Eng. Hen. IV, i. 367; ii. 210–11; Minster Fab. R. 191–2.
  • 58. Cal. Close, 1402–5, 328.
  • 59. Wylie, Hist. Eng. Hen. IV, ii. 210 sqq., 242, 272; Ann. Henrici Quarti (Rolls Ser.), 405–11.
  • 60. Cal. Fine R., 1399–1405, 310.
  • 61. Wylie, Hist. Eng. Hen. IV, ii. 230 n.; Cal. Pat. 1405–8, 40, 75; S.C. 6/1088/16.
  • 62. Cal. Pat. 1405–8, 183; York Mem. Bk. ii. 38.
  • 63. Hist. Ch. York, ii. 306.
  • 64. C.C. Guild, 291–2: the cup was given by Agnes Wyman to the Corpus Christi Guild and came eventually into the possession of the minster.
  • 65. York Mem. Bk. i. 236–8; Minster Fab. R. 193 sqq.
  • 66. Minster Fab. R. 32, 37; and for his reputation generally, Test. Ebor. i. 385 n.; ii. 231, 233; see also p. 346.
  • 67. Wylie, Hist. Eng. Hen. IV, iii. 156.
  • 68. York Mem. Bk. ii. 65–66; Cal. Pat. 1416–22, 52.
  • 69. York Mem. Bk. ii. 78–79.
  • 70. Acts of P.C. (Rec. Com.), 1429–36, 319–20; Cal. Pat. 1429–36, 531, 600.
  • 71. Cal. Pat. 1416–22, 337; Cal. Close, 1422–9, 143, 182; York Mem. Bk. ii. 84.
  • 72. e.g. Cal. Pat. 1429–36, 29, 121, 327.