The second part of Mike Ingram’s two part examination of Northamptonshire’s key role in the Wars of the Roses…
In the last issue we looked at the Yorkist networks in Northamptonshire, now it is time to consider the Lancastrian connections. Although Fotheringhay remained the Yorkist centre of power and its church the family mausoleum, the town itself, right from the very start, was very much Lancastrian.
The oldest effigy bearing the Lancastrian livery collar in England can be found on the 1371 tomb of Sir John Swynford in Spratton Church. Even before the wars started, Northampton was in the front line. At the end of April 1450, whilst King Henry VI was making his way to a parliament in Leicester when he was stopped at Stony Stratford by John Harries a shipman from Yorkshire, wielding an agricultural flail. Harries proclaimed:
“to show that the Duke of Yorke then in Yreland shuld in lyke manner fight with traytours at Leicester parliament and so thrashe them downe as he had thrashed the clods of erthe in that towne”
He was dragged off to Northampton, where he was hung, drawn and quartered.
“his hed put on the southe gate of Northampton, his quarters at Yorke, Lyncolne, Bristowe, and Oxenforde”
In 1452, when Richard of York launched his failed rebellion from Ludlow, it was at Northampton that King Henry intended to stop him. He assembled a great army at the town. This included both the Woodvilles and the Treshams. However, instead of coming down Watling Street to London, York crossed the north of the county and approached from the Great North Road. He was eventually tricked into surrendering at Dartford. Until his capture at Northampton in 1460, King Henry VI visited and stayed in the town on numerous occasions. It is probably at this time that the town militia acquired its banner of the “Wild Rat.”
Because of the town’s continuing loyal support for the Lancastrian king, in March 1459, King Henry issued a charter to Northampton, saying:
“Know ye that we considering not only the great and memorable services which the faithful men and Burgesses of our town of Northampton have heretofore done to us but also the great and memorable services which they have now lately performed by their daily attendance on and assistance to our royal person at their heavy costs expenses and charges for the resistance reduction and correction of divers of our rebellious people…”
One of the important families in the county was the Lord Greys of Ruthin whose main residence was at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, but also held Castle Ashby. In 1442, Lord Reginald Grey fell out with Lord Fanhope who had just acquired Ampthill, and started to build a castle. Violence flared up between supporters of both sides in Northampton and the common bell was rang to warn of an attack.
On 6 July, the King had to send a letter commanding the burgesses of Northampton to suppress all riotous assemblies in the town. The violence must have continued as the following year, Grey was commanded to keep the peace with the people of Northampton. His grandson Edmund became the next Lord Grey, originally a Lancastrian, he changed sides at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. His change of allegiance at a critical moment changed the course of the war. His cousin was the Lancastrian, Lord John Grey of Groby (in Leicestershire) who was married to Elizabeth Woodville of Grafton Regis. However, he was killed in battle in 1461. The Woodvilles were also Lancastrian at this point, but when Elizabeth met and married King Edward IV soon after, the whole family changed sides.
Another important family was the Treshams of Sywell. William Tresham was elected Speaker of the House of Commons for the 1439 Parliament, when there were attempts to reform the King’s household. The following year he acquired Rushton Hall. He was again elected Speaker of the House of Commons in 1442 and 1447 and continued his royal service, mainly for the Duchy of Lancaster. He was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 3 June 1442 and in 1443 along with his son, Thomas, appointed as steward to the Duchy of Lancaster’s estates in Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire.
It appears he was much-liked at court, and as a result was appointed to politically sensitive cases, such as a 1447 commission directed at members of the household of the king’s uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. In September 1450, William (according to his wife) was on his way to meet Richard of York when he was murdered, and his son badly injured in Thorpland Close, Moulton by Lord Grey of Ruthin’s men, possibly over land. After recovering from his injuries, Thomas began to take government appointments again. By 1446, he was serving as an esquire for Henry VI. He was an MP for Northamptonshire in 1453, and was made an usher of the king’s chamber in 1455. Tresham stayed in favour throughout the disturbances of 1456, He was returned to parliament in 1459 for Northamptonshire again, and in a parliament, packed with anti-Yorkists, was chosen to act as Speaker of the House of Commons.
After the Parliament ended he was appointed to various anti-Yorkist commissions, followed by an appointment as Controller of the King’s Household in 1460. He fought on the Lancastrian side at the Battle of Northampton in 1460 and joined with the Lancastrian Queen, Margaret of Anjou in January 1461, fighting at the Second Battle of St Albans, where he was knighted. He married Mary, daughter of William, Lord Zouche of Harringworth, and his son, John was born in 1462. He fought at the Battle of Towton and was captured; despite being one of the lords on whom Edward IV had placed a £100 bounty, he only suffered forfeiture of his lands. After the Battle of Barnet, he fled to join Queen Margaret again, but was captured and executed in 1471. His son John was finally restored to his father’s estates by Henry VII in 1485. It was John’s son Thomas, who was the famous Catholic recusant, and it was his son who was involved in the Gunpowder plot.
William Vaux of Harrowden was sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1436 and 1453, and represented the county of Northamptonshire in parliament in 1442. His sister Isabel was married to William Tresham, and mother of Thomas. William Vaux was married to Maud Lucy, sister of another prominent Northamptonshire Lancastrian lawyer, William Lucy who was murdered by his wife’s lover at the Battle of Northampton.
William Vaux fought and was probably killed at the Battle of Northampton. His son, yet another William, was born in 1437. In 1457, he was Joint Commissioner to determine the number of archers in the county and Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdon. He married Katherine Peniston, daughter of George Peniston of Corticella in Provence. It appears she accompanied Margaret of Anjou when she first came to England in 1445 as its new queen. Under her maiden name, she is listed as one of the queen’s damsels in the 1452-53 household records. They had two children, Nicholas (born in around 1460) and Joan (also called Jane). A committed Lancastrian, William fought at the Battles of Wakefield, 2nd St. Albans, and Towton, after which, along with his wife, he went into exile with Queen Margaret. They returned to England in 1471, but William was killed at the battle of Tewkesbury. Katherine remained loyal to her queen, and went into confinement with her, then accompanying her into exile, never to return.
Their son Nicholas is said to have been raised in the household of Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, and his sister Joan, might have been there as well. Nicholas as a protégé of Margaret Beaufort, probably fought against Richard III at Bosworth, under her husband Thomas Stanley. The Vaux lands were restored in 1485 by Henry VII, for whom he fought at Stoke and Blackheath. For his service in both battles he was knighted by the king. Vaux married firstly Lady Elizabeth FitzHugh, widow of Sir William Parr of Kendal, secondly, shortly before 29 Jan 1507, Anne Green, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Thomas Green of Boughton and Green’s Norton, by whom he had two sons and three daughters. Anne was the sister of Maud Green, mother of Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr. In 1511, he entertained Henry VIII at Harrowden. The family would go on to be the leading Catholic recusant family in England during the gunpowder plot.
Thomas Thorpe was a lawyer of unknown parentage, but was almost certainly a native of Northamptonshire, where he later acquired the manor and castle of Barnwell All Saints. His parliamentary career began in Oct 1449 when he was elected junior knight of the shire along with Thomas Tresham. By 1452, he was the Third Baron of the Exchequer and Knight of the Shire for Essex. In 1453, he was elected Speaker for the first part of the 19th Parliament of King Henry VI. However, the following year, he was imprisoned in the Fleet Prison for falsely confiscating property of the Duke of York. In 1455, Thorpe became Chancellor of the Exchequer and was with the King at St Albans where he was among those subsequently accused of having fled ”and left ther harneys behynde them cowardly”. Afterwards the Duke of York accused him of intercepting messages to the King which might have prevented the Battle of St Albans. Subsequently, Thorpe was stripped of all his public offices.
On his return to favour in 1457 he was made Keeper of the Privy Wardrobe in the Tower of London for life and in 1458 was appointed Second Baron of the Exchequer, serving until 1460. At the Parliament of Devils in 1459, he helped to draw up the bill of attainder declaring York and his leading followers to be traitors. In 1460 he was captured at the Battle of Northampton and brought back to London as a prisoner: first to Newgate and then Marshalsea. However, he managed to escape disguised as a monk complete with tonsure, but was recaptured and sent to the Tower. He managed to escape a second time, but on 17 February 1461, was caught in Harringay by a London mob and summarily beheaded.
Another local Lancastrian who fought at the Battle of Northampton was Thomas, Lord Roos (Ros) of Rockingham. Although he escaped the carnage, he lost his lands in Parliament on 4 November 1461, but went on to lead a section of the Lancastrian army which attacked John Neville’s army at the Battle of Hedgeley Moor on 25 April 1464. He then took part in the Battle of Hexham on 15 May 1464. The Lancastrian army was crushed by the Nevilles, and Roos was subsequently found hiding with Lord Hungerford in a wood. He was beheaded the next day at Newcastle for treason.
Lady Margaret Beaufort, King Henry VII’s mother, was born just over the county border at Bletsoe in Bedfordshire. When her mother remarried, the family moved to Maxey Castle, which was then in Northamptonshire. It was from there that her half-brother launched a failed rebellion against Richard III. Once Henry was king, she moved away from her husband Lord Stanley, to the manor house of Collyweston in Northamptonshire which she remodelled as a palace with a chapel, an almshouse, a library, and a prison. She also had a house built near the gate so that her councillors could hear any complaints brought to her. It was from here that she began the building of Christ’s College in Cambridge and rebuilt parts of Collyweston church. When Henry VII’s daughter married King James of Scotland, she set off on her wedding procession from the palace. Nothing remains of the manor house today except a few lumps and bumps in the landscape., although the South porch of the church is said to have come from the palace.
For over two hundred years, mayors and burgesses were elected at St. Giles Church in the town. However, in 1467, under Edward IV, efforts were made in Northampton to control unruly behaviour at communal assemblies, by banning non-freemen from meetings and prohibiting those who were permitted to attend from yelling out nominations. This did not resolve the problem. In 1489, during the reign of Henry VII, parliamentary acts instituted at Northampton noted that:
“a large number of the residents, lacking in means or social graces, as well as in gravity, judgement, wisdom or sense, who have often outnumbered in their assemblies other persons of proven gravity, judgement and sound behaviour … have through factions, confederacies, and noisy and unruly behaviour in those assemblies caused serious trouble, division, and discord amongst their number, at the time both of elections and of the assessment of lawful levies upon the community, to the subversion of good rule, government, and traditional politics, demeaning to the borough and often resulting in a serious breach of the king’s peace…”
The town council subsequently took the unprecedented step of setting out how elections would be conducted in the privacy of the old Guildhall on the corner of Wood Hill and Abington Street, instead of St. Giles Church (which had been the normal practice for the previous 200 years). which was able to contain the reduced electorate in an orderly fashion, with as little noise as possible. In the 1490’s this was followed by legislation setting punishments for seditious or slanderous talk against the administration, and for disobedience to mayoral orders.
So that is Northamptonshire immediately before and during the Wars of the Roses. It was the birthplace of a king and a queen, three queen mothers lived here (Cecily Neville, Margaret Beaufort and Jacquetta of Luxembourg) and many leading politicians and councillors of the day came from, or lived here. Then, there were two key battles out of a total of sixteen that were fought within the county boundary, both of which started new and bloody phases of the wars, as well as a siege and a rebellion taking place here too. Many of the county’s nobility and gentry fought in all the main battles and the town militia variously fought on both sides throughout the wars. The county and town are the only ones that are mentioned by name on Edward IV’s ancestry roll. Even the county badge is Yorkist. And, there is much much more. Therefore, Northamptonshire really does live up to the name Shire of the roses as well as rose of the Shires. We just need the powers that be to take note and act.