The later middle ages: The Wars of the Roses

Pages 59-61

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

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The Wars of the Roses

By this time even the Scottish question was beginning to take second place to internal discords. The city could not afford to ignore its environment of aristocratic wealth and power. In the 1440's it was judiciously distributing presents to those powerful enough to do it favour or disfavour: to Percy, Scrope, Shrewsbury, and Salisbury among others. (fn. 1) In these circles, moreover, according to William of Worcester, the troubles of the 15th century had their origin and in particular in the quarrel near York between the Earl of Salisbury and Thomas Percy of Egremont which followed the wedding of the earl's nephew, Thomas Nevill, and Lord Cromwell's niece. (fn. 2) In the meantime, the city continued to make gifts to and consult the powerful in the north: in 1453 there was much visiting of the Earl of Salisbury, and emissaries sought out Lord Clifford at Skipton and Lord Greystoke at Castle Howard. (fn. 3)

In the following year the shadow of future events came closer when the Duke of York was received with great worship in the city, (fn. 4) and in 1460 the civil war engulfed it. In October, presumably at the instance of the Duke of York's supporters, the mayor and council were ordered to remain loyal to Henry VI, to put down rumour-mongers and disturbers of the peace, and to be prudent about admitting strangers in case they usurped the government of the city. (fn. 5) By the end of the year, however, certain Lancastrian lords had gathered in York and the Duke of York, whose title to the throne after Henry VI's death had now been recognized by Parliament, rode north in December. He spent Christmas at Sandal, but on 30 December was utterly defeated at Wakefield. The heads of the leading Yorkists were set up over the city gates, the duke's over Micklegate Bar being decorated derisively with a paper crown. (fn. 6)

Queen Margaret now arrived in York on 20 January 1461 (fn. 7) and marched with the Lancastrian army to rescue Henry VI. Although the Lancastrians won at St. Albans and 'the puppet of a king' was restored to his queen, it was young Edward of York who entered London and was proclaimed as Edward IV. The Lancastrian army turned back to the north, and 'the woman with her consort got to York, big everywhere of their victory'. (fn. 8) In March Edward set off in pursuit and on Palm Sunday defeated the Lancastrians at Towton. Henry VI and his queen barely escaped from York before Edward arrived and was 'royally received', though apparently intercession on the part of Lords Berners and Montague was necessary before he granted the city his grace. (fn. 9) Edward made York his base for the pacification of the north, set up Lancastrian heads where those of the Yorkists had been, and celebrated Easter there in style before, in May, he took his way south for his coronation. (fn. 10)

The Lancastrian cause, however, was still alive in the north: Warwick was raising troops in York early in 1462 for the purpose of rescuing Carlisle from Scottish attack; and Queen Margaret's landing in Northumberland in the autumn brought Edward himself north. He raised troops in the city and The Ainsty, who took part, at the end of the year, in the sieges of Bamburgh, Dunstanborough, and Alnwick. (fn. 11) The combined Lancastrian and Scottish threat brought Edward back again in December 1463, and though a truce was made with the Scots, troubles elsewhere called him away early in 1464, abandoning a parliament he had proposed to hold at York in February. (fn. 12) Montague had decisively defeated the Lancastrians at Hexham before Edward was able to return to York at the end of May. The king lay in the archbishop's palace and 'kept his estate solemnly' while the usual round of executions was carried out, a truce was made with the Scots, and Montague was created Earl of Northumberland. The citizens of York, in recompense for the damage they had suffered from the war, were granted £40 (later increased to £50) yearly from the Hull customs for twelve years. (fn. 13)

The north remained quiet until the Lancastrian rebellion of 1469; after its suppression its leaders were executed at York in the king's presence. (fn. 14) Not surprisingly, in 1470, the chamberlains of York bought weapons for the defence of the city. (fn. 15) In the spring of that year, moreover, Edward again appeared, putting himself between Warwick, who had fled to Lancashire, and 'the strongest of the north part'. Edward, in the north again later to put down Lord FitzHugh's rebellion and assuage internal troubles in York, went into exile when he was attacked from the rear by Montague. Henry VI, however, had barely been restored when, on 14 March 1471, Edward was back in the Humber and took the road for London via Beverley and York. (fn. 16)

The citizens were still in the throes of internal strife and could not even agree on the election of a mayor, (fn. 17) but this did not prevent them from being prudent. The recorder was sent to meet Edward and persuade him to by-pass the city, but when he continued to advance he was met by Robert Clifford and Richard Burgh, (fn. 18) who were more encouraging. They seem, however, to have spoken for themselves; for the recorder again tried to dissuade Edward from entering York. He still pressed on and, declaring that he intended only to claim his duchy of York, was eventually allowed to enter the city with a few companions. He 'showed his intentions in such form' to the 'worshipful folks' that it was agreed to give his whole army lodging for the night. (fn. 19) Next day he departed and by mid-May had been victorious at Barnet and Tewkesbury. Northumberland could then report that 'there was no rebellion in the north begun' and that York and other cities had promised obedience. (fn. 20)


  • 1. York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains' Rolls, 1442, 1445.
  • 2. Wars of English in France: Hen. VI (Rolls Ser.), ii (2), 770.
  • 3. York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains' Roll, 1453.
  • 4. Paston Letters (ed. J. Gairdner, 1904), ii. 321.
  • 5. Cal. Pat. 1452-61, 650.
  • 6. Wars of English in France: Hen. VI, ii (2), 774–5; Paston Letters, i. 193–4.
  • 7. C. Schofield, Life and Reign of Edw. IV, i. 134.
  • 8. Cal. S.P. Ven. i, no. 370.
  • 9. Three 15th Century Chron. (Camd. Soc. N.S. 28), 77, 174; Wars of English in France: Hen. VI, ii (2), 775; Paston Letters, iii. 267.
  • 10. Paston Letters, iii. 269, 274–5; Three 15th Century Chron. 161; Coll. of a London Citizen (Camd. Soc. N.S. 17), 218; Hist. Croylandensis Cont. (apud Rer. Ang. Script. Vet., Oxon. 1684), 533; Cal. S.P. Mil. i, nos. 71, 78, 81, 85, 88.
  • 11. R. Davies, York Rec. of 15th Century (1843), 2 sqq.; Schofield, Life and Reign Edw. IV, i. 263.
  • 12. Schofield, Life and Reign Edw. IV, i. 310, 319-20; Rot. Parl. v. 499.
  • 13. Cal. Pat. 1461–4, 334; York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains' Roll, 1466.
  • 14. Schofield, Life and Reign Edw. IV, i. 497 sqq.
  • 15. York Corp. Rec., Chamberlains' Roll, 1470.
  • 16. Schofield, Life and Reign Edw. IV, i. 516 sqq.; J. H. Ramsay, Lancaster and York, ii. 355.
  • 17. Ramsay, Lanc. and York, 366 n.; Cal. Pat. 1467-77, 239.
  • 18. They are generally described as citizens; this is not true of Clifford, and though Burgh was free of the city, he was described as a gentleman: York Freemen, i. 178.
  • 19. Hist. Arrival Edw. IV (Camd. Soc. O.S. 1), 3–5, 42; Warkworth's Chron. (Camd. Soc. O.S. 10), 14; Polydore Vergil, English Hist. (Camd. Soc. O.S. 29), 138–40; Hist. Croylandensis Cont. 554.
  • 20. Hist. Arrival Edw. IV, 31–32.