The Croyland Chronicle: Part VIII

The Third Continuation of the History of Croyland Abbey: July, 1483 – March, 1485 with Notes

After these events, the said Richard, duke of Gloucester, having summoned Thomas, the cardinal archbishop of Canterbury, for the purpose, was on the sixth day of the month of July following, anointed and crowned king, at the conventual church of St. Peter at Westminster, and, on the same day, his queen, Anne, received the crown. From this day forward, as long as he lived, this man was styled King Richard, the Third of that name from the Conquest.

Being now desirous with all speed, to show in the north, where in former years, he had chiefly resided, the high and kingly station which he had by these means acquired, he entered the royal city of London, and passing through Windsor, Oxford, and Coventry, at length arrived at York. Here, on a day appointed for repeating his coronation in the metropolitan church, he also presented his only son, Edward, whom, on the same day, he had elevated to the rank of Prince of Wales, with the insignia of the golden wand, and the wreath upon the head; while, at the same time, he gave most gorgeous and sumptuous feasts and banquets, for the purpose of gaining the affections of the people. Nor were treasures by any means then wanting, with which to satisfy the desires of his haughty mind; since he had taken possession of all those which the most glorious king Edward, his deceased brother, had, by dint of the greatest care and scrupulousness amassed, as already stated, many years before, and had entrusted to the disposal of his executors as a means whereby to carry out the dispositions of his last will: all these he had seized, the very moment that he had contemplated the usurpation of the throne.

In the meantime, and while these things were going on, the two sons of king Edward before-named remained in the Tower of London, in the custody of certain persons appointed for that purpose. In order to deliver them from this captivity, the people of the southern and western parts of the kingdom began to murmur greatly, and to form meetings and connfederacies. It soon became known that many things were going on in secret, and some in the face of the world, for the purpose of promoting this object, especially on the part of those who, through fear, had availed themselves of the privilege of sanctuary and franchise (1). There was also a report that it had been recommended by those men who had taken refuge in the sanctuaries, that some of the king’s daughters should leave Westminster, and go in disguise to the parts beyond the sea; in order that, if any fatal mishap should befall the said male children of the late king in the Tower, the kingdom might still, in consequence of the safety of his daughters, some day fall again into the hands of the rightful heirs. On this being discovered, the noble church of the monks of Westminster, and all the neighbouring parts, assumed the appearance of a castle and fortress, while men of the greatest austerity were appointed by king Richard to act as the keepers thereof. The captain and head of these was one John Nesfeld, Esquire, who set a watch upon all the inlets and outlets of the monastery, so that not one of the persons there shut up could go forth, and no one could enter, without his permission.

At last, it was determined by the people in the vicinity of the city of London, throughout the counties of Kent, Essex, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorsetshire, Devonshire, Somersetshire, Wiltshire, and Berkshire, as well as some others of the southern counties of the kingdom, to avenge their grievances before-stated; upon which, public proclamation was made, that Henry, duke of Buckingham, who at this time was living at Brecknock in Wales, had repented of his former conduct, and would be the chief mover in this attempt, while a rumour was spread that the sons of king Edwrd before-named had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how. Accordingly, all those who had set foot on this insurrection, seeing that if they could find no one to take the lead in their designs, the ruin of all would speedily ensue, turned their thoughts to Henry, earl of Richmond, who had been for many years living in exile in Britany. To him a message was, accordingly, sent, by the duke of Buckingham, by advice of the lord bishop of Ely, who was then his prisoner at Brecknock, requesting him to hasten over to England as soon as he possibly could, for the purpose of marrying Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of the late king, and, at the same time, together with her, taking possession of the throne.

The whole design of this plot, however, by means of spies, became perfectly well known to king Richard, who, as he exerted himself in the promotion of all his views in no drowsy manner, but with the greatest activity and vigilance, contrived that, throughout Wales, as well as in all parts of the marches of thereof, armed men should be set in readiness around the said duke, as soon as ever he had set a foot from his home, to pounce upon all his property; who, accordingly, encouraged by the prospect of the duke’s wealth, which the king had, for that purpose, bestowed upon them, were in every way to obstruct his progress. The result was, that, on the side of the castle of Brecknock, which looks towards the interior of Wales, Thomas, the son of the late Sir Roger Vaughan, with the aid of his brethren and kinsmen, most carefully watched the whole of the surrounding country; while Humphrey Stafford partly destroyed the bridges and passes by which England was entered, and kept the other part closed by means of a strong force set there to guard the same.

In the meantime, the duke was staying at Webley, the house of Walter Devereux, lord Ferrers, together with the said bishop of Ely and his other advisers. Finding that he was placed in a position of extreme difficulty, and that he could in no direction find a safe mode of escape, he first changed his dress, and then secretly left his people; but was at last discovered in the cottage of a poor man, in consequence of a greater quantity of provisions than usual being carried thither. Upon this, he was led to the city of Salisbury, to which place the king had come with a very large army, on the day of the commemoration of All Souls; and notwithstanding the fact that it was the Lord’s day, the duke suffered capital punishment in the public market-place of that city.

On the following day, the king proceeded with all his army towards the western parts of the kingdom, where all his enenmies had made a stand, with the exception of those who had come from Kent, and were at Guilford, awaiting the issue of events. Proceeding onwards, he arrived at the city of Exeter; upon which, being struck with extreme terror at his approach, Peter Courteney, bishop of Exeter, as well as Thomas, marquis of Dorset, and various other nobles of the adjacent country, who had taken part in the rebellion, repaired to the sea-side; and those among them who could find ships in readiness, embarked, and at length arrived at the wished-for shores of Britany. Others, for a time trusting to the fideltiy of friends, and concealing themselves in secret spots, afterwards betook themselves to the protection of holy places. One most noble knight of that city perished, Thomas Saint Leger by name, to save whose life very large sums of money were offered; but all in vain, for he underwent his sentence of captial punishment.

While, amid these perplexities, king Richard was in the western parts, intent upon defeating the enemies and rebels, the venerable father Richard Croyland, who had now governed the place most religiously for seven years, changed the restless life of this world for eternal repose, on the tenth day of November in the year of our Lord, 1483, being the first year of the reign of the said king Richard.

Nor ought we leave to oblivion the virtues and merits of this father, and his remarkable long-suffering, by means of which, as we trust, he has obtained the reward of eternal happiness. His natural disposition was far more inclined to the study and writing of books, than attending to the strifes and tempests of secular occupations; so much so in fact, that some manuscripts in the monastery, which were written at his expense, as well as with his own hand, have greatly increased the library of the place.

Accordingly, our powerful neighbours, not to call them enemies, seeing the simple innocence and the innocent simplicity of the man, arose at the same instant on all sides against this model of piety. Some, at least the men of Depyng, assembled together to the number of three hundred men, and making an irruption into the marsh of Goggislound, which undoubtedly belongs to the demesne of the said monastery, seized the reeds that had been collected by the men and tenants of the monastery, and threw into water or boat with stripes all the people they met. At last, they made an assault upon the vill of Croyland, and caused this most pious father such extreme fear that he was obliged to go forth from his chamber, and to descend to the nave of the church, there, with his clement and priestly meekness, to make answer to their importunate demands. As it was necessray, in order to avoid an inundation of Hoyland, and especially in the winter, if there happened to be any floods, to cut asunder the embankments of the marsh of Goggislound, (a thing which had been already done once this season, most healthful provision being made thereby for the safety for the district of Hoyland), the officials of Depyng, placing the sickle as it were in the harvest of another, as wickedly as presumptuously imposed insupportable amercements upon the said abbat. They also seized and distrained upon the grain that came from Langtoft and Baston, by the stream which runs from Depyng; besides which, as proof of their extreme cruelty, they wantonly pierced a dog that had been set to watch by the cellarer * * * with their arrows.

Nor were there wanting in other quarters ungrateful factions of laymen, (although the same were neighbouring tenants of this place), who in many ways disturbed the quiet of this most excellent father. For, the tenants and parishoners of Whaplode, striving against the power and rights of this monastery, made an attack, with unheard-of violence, upon brother Lambert Fossedyke, the Seneschal of the place, while he was forbidding them to root up the trees which grew in the church-yard; and he was in no small fear for his life, had he not in time taken refuge in the church, or rather the sacristy of the church, and strongly bolted the doors inside.

These, however, are but trifling speciemns of disturbances in comparison with those which * * * William Ramsey, abbat of Peterborough, our too near, I only wish I could say “good,” neighbour, caused, with reference to the marsh of Alderlound, and other undoubted lands and rights of this monastery. In these matters, which were long in dispute, you might have seen the lamb contending with the wolf, the mouse with the mouse-catcher. However, as all this dispute was brought to an end by the intervention and arbitration of Thomas Rotherham, late bishop of Lincoln and ordinary of the place, and then archbishop of York, (as, in fact, is very fully set forth in certain letters testimonial relative thereto; from which too it abundantly appears of which party he most consulted the honor and interest), we have thought proper to end our recital of this tragic matter with the end and death of the said father, abbat Richard. Lambert Fossedyke, a Bachelor of Law, was elected, and succeeded in his stead, on the twelfth day of January, in the first year of the reign of king Richard the Third; which year was reckoned by the church of Rome, as being the year 1484. He was a very religious and discreet man, and, beyond a doubt, would have done and caused to be done many benefits for the monastery, had not God summoned him from this world within so short a pace of time; for he did not survive to fill the office of abbat two years.

For behold! on a sudden, the plague, or sweating sickness, made great ravages, and in a few days, in the city of London, destroyed two mayors, and four or five aldermen, besides many members of the highest rank and most wealthy classes in other parts of the kingdom. This good father being attacked by the disease, within eighteen hours rendered up his spirit to his Creator, on the fourteenth day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1485, shortly after the close of the reign of king Richard the Third; at which period, when, after the rest of our narrative, we shall have arrived, we shall conclude the relation of this history which was originally promised by us.

But let us return, in the meantime, to the events which took place after the flight of the rebels before-mentioned. While the matters which have been mentioned above were going on here and there in the western parts, and the king was still in the said city of Exeter, Henry, earl of Richmond, being unaware of these disturbances, had set sail with certain ships, and arrived with his adherents from Brittany, at the mouth of Plymouth harbour, where he came to anchor, in order to ascertain the real state of affairs. On news being at last brought him of the events which had happened, the death of the duke of Buckingham, and the flight of his own supporters, he at once hoisted sail, and again put to sea.

After these events, the king gradually lessened his army, and dismissing those who had been summoned from the northern borders to take part in the expedition, came to London, having triumphed over his enemies without fighting a battle, but at an expense not less than if the two armies had fought hand to hand. Thus was commenced the waste, in a short time, of those most ample treasures which king Edward supposed he should leave behind him for a quite different purpose. The distrubances last described were prolonged from the middle of October till nearly the end of November, at which time the king, as already stated, returned to London, in the first year of his reign, and in that of the Incarnation of our Lord, 1483.

I shall pass by the pompous celebration of the feast of the Nativity, and come to Parliament, which began to sit about the twenty-second day of January. At this sitting, Parliament confirmed the title, by which the king had in the preceding summer, ascended the throne; and although that Lay Court found itself [at first] unable to give a definition of his rights, when the question of the marriage (2) was discussed, still, in consequence of the fears entertained of the most persevering [of his adversaries], it presumed to do so, and did so: while at the same time attainders were made of so many lords and men of high rank, besides peers and commoners, as well as three bishops, that we do not read of the like being issued by the Triumvirate even of Octavianus, Antony, and Lepidus. What immense estates and patrimonies were collected into this king’s treasury in consequence of this measure! all of which he distributed among his northern adherents, whom he planted in every spot throughout his dominions, to the disgrace and lasting and loudly expressed sorrow of all the people of the south, who daily longed more and more for the hoped-for return of their ancient leaders, rather than the present tyranny of these people.

During this last Pariliament of the kingdom, and after frequent entreaties as well as threats had been made use of, queen Elizabeth, being strongly solicited to do so, sent all her daughters from the sanctuary of Westminster before-mentioned, to king Richard. One day, at this period, in the month of February, shortly after mid-day, nearly all the lords of the realm, both spiritual and temporal, together with the higher knights and esquires of the king’s household (among all of whom, John Howard, who had been lately created by the king duke of Norfolk, seemed at this time to hold the highest rank), met together at the special command of the king, in a certain lower room, near the passage which leads to the queen’s apartments; and here, each subscribed his name to a kind of new oath, drawn up by some persons to me unknown, of adherence to Edward, the king’s only son, as their supreme lord, in case anything should happen to his father.

However, in a short time after, it was fully seen how vain are the thoughts of a man who desires to establish his interests without the aid of God. For, in the following month of April, on a day not very far distant from the anniversary of king Edward, this only son of his, in whom all the hopes of the royal succession, fortified with so many oaths, were centred, was seized with an illness of but short duration, and died at Middleham Castle, in the year of our Lord, 1484, being the first of the reign of the said king Richard. On hearing the news of this, at Nottingham, where they were then residing, you might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief.

The king, his father, however, still took all necessary precautions for the defence of his party; as there was at this time a report that those persons who had been attainted and banished, together with their captain, the earl of Richmond, to whom they had sworn fealty as their king, in the hope of his contracting an alliance of marriage with the daughter of king Edward, would shortly land in England. The king was better prepared to oppose them in the present year than at any time afterwards, both by reason of the treasure which he had in hand (for all the remains of king Edward’s treasures had not yet been expended), as well as particular grants which had been made and distributed throughout the kingdom. He also followed the practice which had been recently introduced by king Edward in the time of the last war with Scotland, of appointing a single horseman for every twenty miles, by means of whom, travelling with the utmost speed and not passing their restrictive limits, news was always able to be carried by letter from hand to hand two hundred miles within two days. Nor was he, on the other hand, without the aid of spies beyond the sea, at whatever price they could be secured; from whom he learned nearly all the movements of the enemy.

Besides all this (although at the commencement of the second year of his reign, on giving some attention to maritime affairs, he had lost some ships, together with two captains of the greatest bravery, Sir Thomas Everingham and John Nesfeld, Esquire, above-mentioned, who were taken by the French near the town and castle of Scarborough), just at this period, by means of his skill in naval warfare, he gained a victory in a surprising manner over the Scots; so much so, that although, in the same summer, they had sustained a great defeat from our people by land, they received no less a one in this. At this time, too, there fell into his hands, besides many of the English who were taken in battle, certain persons who had fled from Scotland, such as lord James Douglas, and many others of his fellow exiles. Upon this, the persons of the highest rank that could be found in that kingdom were sent as ambassadors to the king at his town and castle of Nottingham, on the seventh day of the month of September, and in a lengthy an eloquent address most earnestly entreated for peace and a cessation of warfare. A treaty being accordingly made between commissioners from either kingdom in full conformity with the king’s wishes, as to those points which seemed to require especial consideration, the Parliament was dissolved, and the king returned to London in Michaelmas Term. This was in the year of our Lord, 1484.

The feast of the Nativity was kept with due solemnity at the palace of Westminster, and the king appeared with his crown on the day of the Epiphany. While he was keeping this festival with remarkable splendour in the great hall, just as at his first coronation, news was brought him on that very day, from his spies beyond the sea, that, notwithstanding the potency and splendour of his royal state, his adversaries would, without question, invade the kingdom during the following summer, or make an attempt to invade it. Than this, there was nothing that could befall him more desirable, inasmuch as he imagined that it would put an end to all his doubts and troubles. Still, however, most shrewdly coming to the conclusion that money, which was now nearly failing him, forms the sinews of war, he had recourse to the modes of exaction which had been practised by king Edward, and which he himself had condemned in full parliament; these were the so-called “benevolences,” a name detestable in every way. He accordingly sent chosen men, children of this world, wiser in their generation than the children of light, who were by means of prayers and threats, by right or by wrong, to scrape up immense sums of money, after examining the archives of the realm, from persons of nearly all conditions.

Oh God! why should we any longer dwell on this subject, multiplying our recital of things so distateful, so numerous that they can hardly be reckoned, and so pernicious in their example, that we ought not so much as suggest them to the minds of the perfidious. So too, with many other things which are not written in this book, and of which I grieve to speak; although the fact ought not to be concealed that, during this feast of the Nativity, far too much attention was given to dancing and gaiety, and vain changes of apparal presented to queen Anne and the lady Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of the late king, being of similar colour and shape; a thing that caused the people to murmur and the nobles and prelates greatly to wonder thereat; while it was said by many that the king was bent, either on the anticipated death of the queen taking place, or else, by means of divorce, for which he supposed he had quite sufficient grounds, on contracting a marriage with the said Elizabeth. For it appeared that in no other way could his kingly power be established, or the hopes of his rival be put an end to.

In the course of a few days after this, the queen fell extremely sick, and her illness was supposed to have increased still more and more, because the king entirely shunned her bed, declaring that it was by the advice of his physicians that he did so. Why enlarge? About the middle of the following month, upon the day of the great eclipse of the sun, which then took place, queen Anne, before-named, departed this life, and was buried at Westminster, with no less honors than befitted the interment of a queen.

The king’s purpose and intention of contracting a marriage with his niece Elizabeth being mentioned to some who were opposed thereto, the king was obliged, having called a council together, to excuse himself with many words and to assert that such a thing had never once entered his mind. There were some persons, however, present at that same council, who very well knew the contrary. Those in especial who were unwilling that this marriage should take place, and to whose opinions the king hardly ever dared offer any opposition, were Sir Richard Ratclyffe and William Catesby, Esquire of his body. For by these persons the king was told to his face that if he did not abandon his intended purpose, and that, too, before the mayor and commons of the city of London, oppostion would not be offered to him merely by the warnings of the voice; for all the people of the north, in whom he placed the greatest reliance, would rise in rebellion against him, and impute to him the death of the queen, the daughter and one of the heirs of the earl of Warwick, through whom he had first gained his present high position; in order that he might, to the extreme abhorrence of the Almighty, gratify an incestuous passion for his said niece. Besides this, they brought to him more than twelve Doctors of Divinity, who asserted that the pope could grant no dispensation in the case of such a degree of consanguinity. It was supposed by many, that these men, together with others like them, threw so many impediments in the way, for fear lest, if the said Elizabeth should attain the rank of queen, it might at some time be in her power to avenge upon them the death of her uncle, earl Antony, and her brother Richard, they having been the king’s especial advisers in those matters. The king, accordingly, followed their advice a little before Easter, in presence of the mayor and citizens of London, in the great hall of the Hospital of Saint John, by making the said denial in a loud and distinct voice; more, however, as many supposed, to suit the wishes of those who advised him to that effect, than in conformity with his own.

Notes on Part VIII

  1. Exemptions from the ordinary jurisdiction.
  2. Of Edward the Fourth with lady Boteler.