A History of the County of York: the City of York. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1961.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
York, Richard of Gloucester, and Henry VII
There was much that was new in the political situation in the north after 1471. Warwick, whom the citizens had so often courted with gifts, was dead; the Percies had been restored; and Edward IV began deliberately to make his brother Richard 'the greatest landowner as well as the most important official north of the Trent'. (fn. 1) Richard came to play a part in the life of the city, and to exercise a hold upon its loyalty, which influenced the city's political actions even after 1485.
There is evidence of Richard's influence as early as 1475. The city made presents to him and his servants, the mayor wrote letters to him, and the Duchess of Gloucester wrote letters to the mayor. (fn. 2) Next year the city enlisted the duke's support when its dismissed common clerk appealed to Percy for backing; and he also intervened with the king to recognize the right of the city freely to elect a successor. (fn. 3) He intervened, too, in the war of civic factions which had driven one old alderman, William Holbek, to sanctuary in the Dominican friary. Duke Richard, accompanied by Percy and a large following, appeared at Bootham Bar and solemnly warned the citizens to keep the peace. On the other hand, he persuaded the king not to withdraw the city's liberties, and received an expression of gratitude in the form of a present of swans and pike when he visited York at Christmas time. (fn. 4)
The association thus begun became closer. In 1477 Richard and his wife became members of the Corpus Christi Guild; (fn. 5) and Richard vigorously supported the citizens in clearing the Yorkshire rivers of fishgarths. (fn. 6) In 1478, however, it was the king rather than the duke who was being courted: the citizens persuaded him to visit York while he was in the north and spent £35 on his entertainment. (fn. 7) But the flow of letters between Gloucester and the city went on, (fn. 8) and in 1480 York and The Ainsty produced a contingent of troops to follow Richard on a punitive expedition against the Scots. (fn. 9) In 1481 a force of 120 archers, half to come from The Ainsty, was similarly promised in return for a remission of taxation, and it marched off under the command of Alderman Wrangwissh. The campaign was scarcely over before, in face of a threat of Scottish invasion, both Gloucester and Northumberland asked York for more troops. Again the city complied, and its contingent, under the command of John Brackenbury, the mayor's esquire of the mace, was sent off to join Gloucester at Durham. (fn. 10)
At this point Edward IV determined upon an invasion of Scotland under his own leadership in 1482. Energetic action by Gloucester was required to assuage another outbreak of civic faction in York, while at the same time he cemented good relations with the citizens by sending back one of their number who had been sheltered by a member of his household after committing some offence. The city reciprocated by taking prompt action against a saddler who was alleged to have slandered the duke, and by raising 80 men for his service in Scotland in June and a further 100 men in July. Their share in the campaign, however, was the subject of some scurrilous comment. John Lam was alleged to have said they deserved no wages, for they had done nothing but make whips of their bowstrings with which to drive carriages. This he denied, but told how some of the soldiers said that 'they did nothing else but waited on the ordnance and carriage', and one had been so weary 'he was fain to take off the string of his bow to drive his horse with'. All the same it was no unsuccessful campaign which brought Berwick back into English hands. (fn. 11)
The death of Edward IV on 9 April 1483 diverted attention to more domestic matters. Richard of Gloucester appeared in York towards the end of the month, exacted an oath to Edward V from the northern nobles and perhaps the city authorities, (fn. 12) and borrowed money for his journey to London from, among others, Miles Metcalfe, one of his councillors who was also recorder of York. (fn. 13) The city decided to take advantage of the situation and sent John Brackenbury to ask for a reduction of its farm. On 5 June Richard wrote urging patience in this connexion. Five days later, however, he wrote again asking for military aid against the queen mother and her adherents. The letter reached York on Sunday 15 June, but the mayor called the council together at once and it was resolved to send 200 men from the city and 100 from The Ainsty to join the army Northumberland was levying for Richard at Pontefract. (fn. 14) Thus York helped to put Richard of Gloucester on the throne, and it was as king he next visited the city at the end of August 1483.
For a month preparations for his reception had been going on. The wealthier citizens contributed nearly £450 to buy presents for Richard and the queen. On arrival, the sheriffs met the king at Tadcaster, the mayor and chief citizens at 'Brekles mills' (apparently not within the city), and the rest of the city at St. James's Chapel on The Mount. The cavalcade entered by Micklegate Bar and was entertained by pageants as it passed through the streets. An official welcome was extended to the king by the mayor, and he was received by the dignitaries of the minster at its west door. Richard took up residence in the archbishop's palace, and a week of feasting and entertainment followed. The Creed Play was performed in the king's presence on 7 September and next day Richard's son was invested as Prince of Wales. Ten days later Richard gave practical expression of his gratitude to the city. He called the mayor, aldermen and others before him in the chapter house of the minster and promised a substantial reduction of their fee-farm. (fn. 15) Individuals, too, had their rewards. Nicholas Lancaster, city clerk 1477–80, was already a member of the king's council; and Thomas Wrangwissh, who commanded the city's forces in June 1483, received an annuity of 20 marks from the issues of Sheriff Hutton. (fn. 16)
York continued to serve Richard. In October 1483 the city sent soldiers under Wrangwissh's command to assist him against Buckingham; and Richard used it as a base while trying to come to an accord with Scotland in the early summer of 1484. (fn. 17) It was during this visit that his northern council took definite shape, and its instructions in July 1484 laid down that it was to sit at least once a quarter in York to hear bills of complaint. (fn. 18) Almost at once its president, the Earl of Lincoln, was called upon to cope with an inclosure riot in York and to deal with a forger of coin—though in the latter case the city suffered his action with some trepidation for its liberties. (fn. 19)
By April 1485, however, the king was writing about those who threatened the peace he had sought to establish; in June he reported rumours of invasion, and the city council ordered all defencible men to be arrayed on 8 July; and on 16 August news of Henry Tudor's invasion reached York. Despite a plague which was raging, the city council sent to Richard at Nottingham for instructions and began to levy troops. Word came back from Richard on 19 August, and on the same afternoon 80 men went off to join his army. They failed to arrive in time for Bosworth; but the mayor's serjeant of the mace, who did fight there, rode in on 23 August to report that 'King Richard, late lawfully reigning over us, was through great treason . . . piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city'. (fn. 20) York's loyalty to Richard of Gloucester remained firm to the end.
It had, nevertheless, to accommodate itself to the new situation. A letter was sent on 23 August to the Earl of Northumberland asking advice 'how to dispose them at this woeful season'. Next day a deputation met the earl outside Walmgate Bar, and the mayor visited a royal emissary at his inn because 'he durst not for fear of death come through the city'. On the 25th a deputation went to the king asking him to be a good lord to the city, and the proclamation recording his victory was read. Finally, on 4 September, the king's recognition of the city's rights and liberties was brought back to York. (fn. 21) But this expedient conduct did not exclude reservations. Two months after Bosworth, the city authorities still spoke of 'the most famous prince of blessed memory, King Richard'; (fn. 22) and over the matter of their recorder they were almost truculent. Miles Metcalfe, who held the office, had been close to Richard; and Henry VII ordered his replacement by Richard Green, a servant of Northumberland's. The city agreed, but only until such time as Metcalfe was received into the king's grace. When Metcalfe did receive a pardon in October, it was blandly assumed that this settled the matter, Green being offered compensation in the form of membership of the twenty-four. Under pressure from Henry and Northumberland, the city council played a delaying game; and continued to do so when they produced rival candidates for the post on Metcalfe's death in February 1486. In the end, moreover, they made their own choice of John Vavasour, formerly a servant of Richard III. (fn. 23) Doubtless the citizens were chiefly concerned to maintain their liberty of freely electing the recorder: in like manner they insisted on their right to choose their common clerk in November 1485 and resisted the king's attempt to nominate to the office of sword-bearer in June 1486. Yet old Yorkist loyalties perhaps gave an edge to this defence of their freedom. As late as 1491, when a drunken schoolmaster abused King Richard, John Payntor denied him and told him that he lied. (fn. 24)
Meanwhile Henry VII had been received in York in 1486, at a cost of £66 to civic funds and with pageants stressing the king's wisdom and the city's loyalty. (fn. 25) Within a year this loyalty was put to the test. In March 1487 the city heard of the Earl of Lincoln's intention to 'give the king's grace a breakfast' and at once informed Northumberland and the king's secretary. (fn. 26) It also asked for aid to repair its walls, and the king sent artillery from Scarborough castle and put certain knights under the mayor's command in case of attack. When Lambert Simnel did appear, he was refused entry to the city, and an attack by Lord Scrope of Bolton on 11 June was beaten off at Bootham Bar. Five days later came the news of the king's victory, for which the mayor and aldermen gave thanks in the minster. (fn. 27) Henry VII again came to York at the end of July and the Corpus Christi plays, postponed because of the rebellion, were performed before him on Lammas Day. Certain traitors were dealt with and William Todd and Richard York, mayor and alderman respectively, were knighted. The city was 'dronkyn drye', but new supplies were evidently available by 10 September when a gift of bucks from the Earl of Northumberland enabled the mayor, aldermen, councillors, and 600 citizens to sit down to a banquet in the Guildhall 'with red wine sufficient without anything paying for the same'. (fn. 28)
Tribulations, however, were not quite over: 1489 saw the rising of the commons in the north and the murder of Northumberland. The mayor and council determined to hold the city for the king, but were frustrated by the 'commonalty', who would permit neither the Sheriff of Yorkshire nor Lord Clifford to enter the city to assist with its defence. The rebel leader, Sir John Egremont, on the other hand, was able to effect an entry in the course of which Fishergate Bar was burnt; and on 17 May the council advised the mayor to agree to Egremont's demand for 20 horsemen to accompany him to Richmondshire for fear he should pillage the city. Even after he had gone the city authorities still went in fear that he would return; but they were no less afraid of the king's anger, seeking to assuage it by deputations and presents to him, to the archbishops of Canterbury and York and to the king's secretary. (fn. 29)
In the event nothing disastrous happened, and after 1489 the city played a smaller part in national history. It provided troops to serve against the Scots in 1496–7; in 1501 it welcomed Scottish ambassadors negotiating a marriage alliance between the two kingdoms; and in July 1503 gave a royal reception to Princess Margaret as she travelled north to join her husband. (fn. 30) Despite a good deal of internal dissension, the men of York were for the most part 'quiet, submissive and very good subjects during the rest of this king's reign'. (fn. 31) To some extent this was probably due to Henry VII building up the Council in the North on the foundations laid by Richard III. (fn. 32) Direct royal intervention was never lacking when necessary, but both king and city expected some problems to be settled by the royal agents on the spot. At first the chief of these agents was Northumberland. He was active in the matter of the recordership in 1485 and in disputes about common lands in 1486. He arbitrated in quarrels with the chapter in 1486–7 and between two aldermen in 1487. It was Northumberland the city informed of the Earl of Lincoln's treachery and Northumberland who informed the city of Lambert Simnel's landing. (fn. 33) After 1489 a similar part was played by the Earl of Surrey and the Abbot of St. Mary's. (fn. 34) The city authorities did not always welcome such intervention, but it became firmer and more frequent as time passed and as the Tudors sought to bring the north parts under effective government.
Among the circumstances which governed the part played by York in national politics in the later Middle Ages, the Anglo-Scottish conflict ranks first. It was this which, between 1298 and 1337, conferred on the city a prominence in national affairs greater than at any time before or since. After 1337, however, though York still from time to time provided troops and served as a base of operations against the Scots, the urgency had departed from this issue. At the same time, from the beginning of the 15th century, the city began to find itself involved in the political conflict in which the great noble families were the main contestants. It allowed itself to be drawn into the wake of Scrope and Percy in 1405; and though for long it avoided any such commitment again, it tried to purchase the benevolence of the great men without its walls by gifts and flattery. Individuals established even closer ties with the great families of the north. In 1446 the recorder was sent to Lord Clifford at Skipton-in-Craven (W.R.) about a fishmonger who had received livery from Clifford; (fn. 35) and Miles Metcalfe and John Vavasour both held civic office and were retainers of Richard of Gloucester. Such things could happen despite the fact that, in 1446, 1457, 1486, and 1503, citizens were forbidden to use the livery of any lord, knight or gentleman. (fn. 36)
Yet this capitulation of the city to the forces of 'bastard feudalism' is inadequate to explain its loyalty to Richard III. He seems to have succeeded as no one else did—except perhaps Archbishop Scrope—in winning the hearts of the citizens; and Henry VII had some difficulty in reducing them to good, quiet, and submissive subjects. He had to forbid them to become the retainers of lords, though he may have established similar bonds with himself when he knighted Todd and York and gave them pensions from the Hull customs. (fn. 37) More important, however, were his peremptory demands for obedience and order, and the establishment of a group of royal agents in the north who backed those demands with detailed oversight and intervention at short range. In combination with economic difficulties and internal dissensions, these aspects of Tudor policy were to make 16th-century York less aggressively independent than it had been when it fought for King Richard and defied Henry VII and the Earl of Northumberland at one and the same time.