York in Richards Day
York in Richard’s Day
Most probably it was in the latter half of 1471 when Richard took up his appointment as Governor of the North, but before the year was out he was back in the capital searching for Anne Neville. After the Battle of Tewkesbury, Clarence had taken her into his household, to live with her sister. Then had hidden her in a cook shop, when he’d heard of Richard’s intention to marry her. For he was determined to keep the whole Warwick inheritance for himself. Somehow, Richard found her, ensconced her in the sanctuary of St. Martin le Grand and, after a suitable time had elapsed, married her and brought her northwards to make their home at Middleham. For, through his wife, Richard had inherited Warwick’s northern domains. In 1473, a son, Edward, was born to them. More than likely the twelve years Richard spent in the north were the happiest of his life. Middleham was his home; York his capital and the vast territory of Yorkshire, Westmorland and Cumberland his “kingdom along with Northumberland, he was the King’s representative, Justice of the Peace and Warden of the Marches north of the Trent. In time, honours and offices were heaped upon him, a powerful palatinate created for him, making him the greatest landowner in the north. His also, the greatest responsibility. Owing to geographical formation, north of the Trent in the 15th century was a formidable barrier of forest and fen. Also, the north offered at least six accessible roads into England, enabling the Scots to invade at will. This, along with ecclesiastical sanctuaries for political offenders, had made the governing of the north an insurmountable problem for successive rulers, enabling the northern magnates to reign supreme without crown interference. For the King had need of their retainers, as his standing army against the Scots. But the coming of Richard, as the King’s General, put paid to many of the local nobles’ ambitions. And to the tough, rough men of the north, Richard would have to prove himself. That he was the King’s brother meant not a thing, especially to the men of York.
York in Richard’s day was a hive of activity. The magnificent Minster, which had taken two hundred and fifty years to build, was near completion, competing spiritually, as well as structurally, with the great abbey of St. Mary’s close by. The city, with its population of 15,000, was second only to London in dignity. Founded by the Romans in A.D. 71, and situated at the confluence of the rivers Foss and Ouse, it enjoyed a profitable outlet to the sea. Ships laden with hides and woollen goods plied their way down-river to the staple port of Hull, bound for the Continent and the great Flanders fairs; returning with holds swollen with soap, silks, stains, lace, perfumes, exotic spices and fine wines. The York Merchant Adventurers, who had their hall in Fossgate, were a proud body of men famed for their commercial enterprises. Splendorously set amidst the green forest of Galtres, York was encircled by three miles of white stone fortifications, breached by four battlemented gateways on which were displayed the heads of traitors, picked clean by the ever-circling cluster of kites. The streets were narrow and cobbled, overhung with gabled houses, stinking midden tips added pungency to the urgency of medieval life. Every Street plied its own particular trade; its shops had stalls out front, and at the back apprentices worked on the premises. They lived in and received board and lodge in return for a thorough knowledge of their craft. In most cases a premium was paid and, if he was lucky and worked hard, an apprentice could earn himself a share in his master’s business. Hours were long, food often inadequate, compensated by a liberal amount of Holy Days in which to enjoy himself and drum up mischief.
Markets catered for most emergencies every day of the week except Sunday, though shops would stay open if the King was expected. The Mayor exercised a hawk-like supervision over all retail outlets, for he was the “King’s Clerk of the Market” and controlled the “Beam”, the official weighing machine. Frequently, he and his deputies visited the marketplace, punished violators of sanitation and caught red-handed those miscreant vendors selling underweight, or tainted, goods. Immediately they were arrested and placed in the stocks, their rotten produce hung about their necks, for the populace to jeer and pitch filth at. A great attraction was the Whitsun and Martinmas Fairs with their “Pie Poudre” courts that ensured the visitor received a “Fair” deal. Pickpockets were appropriately punished by having their ears cut off. At fair time, the city streets would be filled with tinkers, pilgrims, country folk, merchants and knights. A bell would herald the Fair’s opening and three days later would clang again to signal its finish. And the city would constantly reverberate with a cacophony of sounds … the ring of horses’ hooves upon cobbles, trumpeting couriers upon King’s business, minstrels, mummers, yapping dogs, shrieking children, gossiping housewives, shouting shopkeepers, chanting monks and squealing pigs. And everywhere, the incessant clamour of church bells as they called people to prayer. Through the city centre ran the River Ouse, spanned by a single bridge, its Staithes buzzing with the babel of foreign tongues, ships of many nations riding at anchor Fifty guilds controlled commercial activity, rich and prosperous merchants governed the city, jealously proud of the Charter given to them in 1396, granting that York become a county in its own right, so making it self-ruling. Occasionally, the city snubbed its hereditary overlord, the Earl of Northumberland; closed its gates on Edward IV in 1471; played fast and loose with Henry VII, but with Richard, never. In him, they detected a man of decided character, fair minded and just, who had the city’s interest at heart.
The Lord Mayor of York was chosen each St. Blaize’s Day, February 3rd, in the Common Guildhall, by electional vote. The organisation of the voting was in the hands of the Searchers of the Guilds, who summoned their workers to the Guildhall. Here, a list of elective officers was consulted; the names of the two with the most votes were written down and presented to the retiring Mayor, who chose his successor. He, in turn, chose the two sheriffs and team of aldermen. Sometimes, election days were stormy affairs which often led to bloodshed, as in 1482, when Thomas Wrangwyshe and Richard Yorke both received equal votes. Without exception, the three chief city officers were chosen from the city’s richest men. It couldn’t be otherwise, for it was an expensive, honorific position; royalty and nobles, with their vast retinues, had to be entertained, religious and civic ceremonies to be dramatically presented. Not only had the Mayor to be wealthy, but assertive of authority and personality. During his yearlong reign he belonged to the city, and the city belonged to him. To help him rule were his council, consisting of:
The Twelve: the hierarchy of the city; mercers, drapers, goldsmiths. All aldermen, from which the Mayor and his sheriffs were elected.
The Twenty-Four: bailiffs and chamberlains, officers of the law The lesser merchants of the city. The Forty Eight: freemen; rank and file, known as the commonalty. The enfranchised, who voted and bore “scot and lot” (paid taxes) and belonged to the guilds.
At the bottom of the city’s heap were the proletariat, unskilled labourers who lived in hovels and crowded tenements and hired themselves out; whilst right at the top of the tree was the Recorder, a Doctor of law; his being the privilege of reading out the city’s welcome recitation to visiting royalty. Two members represented the city in Parliament and were privileged to sit on the Privy Councillors’ Bench, next to the London Members, on the first day of every new Parliament. This was York, Richard’s city, prosperous, ambitious and proudly loyal.
The first mention we have of Richard in connection with York is in 1475, when he and his council visited the city and were presented with gifts of mainbread (Dominus, Lord’s bread), rabbits and wine. Then, in the following year, we find him alongside Northumberland, with 5,000 armed men at the Bootham Gate, sent by King Edward to subdue insurrection. A Proclamation was read: “… forbidding affrays or disturbances, or the bearing of axes – bills – long de befes – piked staffs – swords and any other unlawful weapon …”. Evidently, the citizens were dissatisfied over King Edward’s peace negotiations with King Louis XI of France, for he had heavily taxed them for a war that had failed to materialise. And instead of fighting, had signed a Peace Treaty with the French King at Piquiny. Edward had received fine pensions, especially for Margaret of Anjou, his warlords rich gifts. Fine for the nobles, but what of the ordinary soldiers who had gone forth with expectation of battle and pillaging, plus all the other perquisites of war? Nothing; hence the resentment. Present at the signing of the Piquiny Treaty had been the Duke of Clarence and other prominent warlords, but not Richard. His was no malleable nature to be manipulated by the crafty French King. He had gone to France to fight and to back down would have been, to his way of thinking, a betrayal, a breaking of faith with his countrymen.
It was in this year that King Edward threatened to take away York’s Charters. That he did not must have been due to Richard’s intervention. Research has proved that on more than one occasion Richard interceded with Edward on York’s behalf.
Ever since William the Conqueror’s time the Scots had been a source of embarrassment to each successive English king. For centuries they had infiltrated the borders, killing and pillaging at will. And it was Richard’s responsibility, as Warden of the Marches, to patrol and garrison the border. Flare-ups were frequent and the men of York invariably commissioned to support Richard in these military forays. They did so, readily, for Gloucester’s reputation as a soldier was widely respected. The northern men flocked to serve beneath his Banner of the White Boar (a device derived from the middle syllable of Eboracum, the Roman name for York, else from the legend of Guy of Warwick). His motto, “Loyaltie me Lie”, confirms the twelve years of devoted service he gave so unstintingly to his brother, the King.
When Richard sent to his city of York requesting recruits, often too many volunteered and some were refused, for it was the parishes and City Council who had to find the money to armour and equip a man for fighting. The mustering of the militia took place on Toft Green just within the Micklegate. An open square, it was utilised as a market place, pageant wagon depository, midden tip and a rendezvous for duellists. Here, the city soldiers assembled before marching north. Then, down the Micklegate they would rise, Alderman Wrangwyshe at their head, over the humpbacked bridge, left into Conynge Street, up Stonegate, past the Minster, and out through the Bootham Bar. The banners of the city depicted five golden lions on a blood-red background held proudly aloft. Half a mile uproad, a halt would be made before the Maudlin (St. Magdalene) Chapel, which cornered the lane of the same name. Here, the Mayor and Council, resplendent in scarlet, wished the men “God Speed and a Safe Return”. Full-heartedly would the soldiers second this sentiment, especially the latter, for half their wages were still owing, to be paid when, and if, they returned. Down Chapel Lane the men would swing, eager to meet with their “Lord of the North” at Durham, the appointed rendezvous, impatient to help smash back the Scottish invaders. Sadly, nothing remains of this wayside church, except a few foundation stones fronting an inn.
Eventually, order was brought to Yorkshire, a county hitherto intermingled with Lancastrian sympathisers and habitual subservience to the House of Percy, reconciliation at last to the House of York and devoted loyalty to Richard. Frequently, he was called upon to intervene for the ordinary citizen, and was indefatigable in his service to the city dignitaries. Deputations made their way to Middleham and appealed to him to use his influence regarding the removal of the fishgarths (wicker salmon traps), which fouled the river and impeded navigation. More often than not, these belonged to the Bishop of Durham and other ecclesiastical dignitaries. When Robert Hallowe, prior of the Holy Trinity Priory m Micklegate, appealed to Richard for help, this noble religious house was in distress. This was m 1478, and a former prior, one Edward Dalton, with friars Robert Marshall and John Garland, had “… under cloak of night, broken into the Priory, inflicting considerable damage upon it; withoute your habundante grace and due reformation, will be utterlie extinct ande expired forever …“, so the impassioned plea informed. Evidently, Richard must have given a considerable sum to help alleviate the problem, for the Priory continued to flourish until the Dissolution.
When Richard visited the city, he usually stayed at the Augustian Priory which spread from the Guildhall to where Lendal Bridge now stands. Close by were the imposing ruins of the Roman Praetorian Gateway. The Friary was the smallest of York’s religious houses, never possessing more than twelve friars at a time. They wore black cassocks and hoods, with a white rochet. The Friary was surrounded by a protective wall and lay close to the flyer. A gateway opened into the street. Ranking the gateway were their church and cemetery. The church was connected with the Fraternity of Carpenters and held the remains of many illustrious Percies. In Richard’s time, a William Berwyck was Friar and seems to have been a man of pleasing personality for, in 1484, Richard created him “… surveyor of oure works within oure place of the Friars Augustyne …” and the City Council decided that Friar Berwycke shall have the burdys (boards) that ar in the Councell Chambir at the Commun Hall, to make with a closit-in the Freyrs …“ The boards were part of the scenery left over from one of the plays which was performed for Richard during his Royal Entry in 1483.
The Friary was demolished at the Dissolution, though for a time Henry VIII considered using it as his Jewel House. Now. nothing remains of Richard’s favourite lodging place, except a few stones incorporated into the structural wall of the River Ouse.