During the “Wars of the Roses” in the fifteenth century, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, at least according to legend, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors.
There was some actual action in the City, too, in 1460, when the Lancastrian garrison under Lord Scales used a primitive – and unreliable – type of chemical weapon called “wildfire” in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Yorkist forces from entering. And there was further action in 1471, in fact on this day (14th May) in 1471, when the by then Yorkist garrison was bombarded and then assaulted, as the contemporary “Chronicle of London” put it, “on alle sydys”, by Lancastrian forces under the privateer Thomas Nevill, illegitimate son of William Nevill, Lord Fauconberg, and otherwise known as the Bastard Fauconberg. In response, the Lord Mayor, John Stockton, and his Sheriffs, John Crosby and John Ward, rode from gate to gate to rally the City’s defences, “in alle haast with a Trumpett”. And for the most part the defences held firm. Aldgate came under the most sustained attack, “with mighty shott of hand Gunnys & sharp shott of arrowis”. Indeed, some attackers even managed to enter the City there, only to be held up by defenders under the Recorder of the City, Thomas Ursewyk, and an Alderman named John Basset, and then to be forced to retreat by the arrival of defensive reinforcements from the Tower of London, “which dyscomffortid the Rebellys”.
The attack had failed, and the attackers who had evaded capture took to their ships, and sailed out to the safety of the Thames estuary. Many of those who had been captured were summarily executed, including Spysyng and Quyntyn. And within days, Henry VI was apparently also done to death, on the orders of Edward IV, in the Tower.
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