Tag Archives: Wars of the Roses

Use of a chemical weapon  in Medieval London (1460)

During “The Wars of the Roses”, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors.

There was also some actual action in the City; and indeed there were pitched battles on its outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, and  at Barnet in 1471.

Wildfire being let loose from a flame-thrower

On this day in 1460, a Yorkist army arrived at the gates of London, and was admitted by Aldermen sympathetic to their cause.  At this, the Lancastrian garrison in the Tower, under Thomas, the Seventh Baron Scales, indiscriminately opened fire on the City in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent its  occupation, using both  conventional and  chemical weapons from the Royal Armoury, causing both combatant and civilian  casualties,  and occasioning extreme public outrage, ultimately resulting in Scales’s  summary execution (*).  The chemical weapon, let loose from a  primitive and unreliable flame-thrower, was  “Greek fire” or “wildfire”, which may be  thought of as a form of napalm, that stuck and set fire to  everything – and everyone –  it came into contact with, and flared  up even more fiercely if water was cast onto it (*).

(*) As a contemporary chronicler put it: “They that were within the Tower cast wildfire into the City, and shot in small guns, and burned and hurt men and women and children in the streets”.

 

The Bastard Fauconberg’s assault on London (1471)

Siege_of_London_(MS_1168)

During “The Wars of the Roses”, between 1455-85, London was an important centre of political machination, and the Tower, the scene of a series of chilling politically motivated murders, in forgotten dreadful cubicles behind great locked doors.

There was also some actual action in the City; and indeed there were pitched battles on its outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, and  at Barnet in 1471.

On May 14th, 1471, London’s  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.

(*) Crosby was later knighted for his role in the City’s defence.  His memorial in the church of St Helen Bishopsgate shows him in armour.

“Conscience is but a word that cowards use” (1478)

the-tower-of-london-as-viewed-from-the-shard

During “The Wars of the Roses”, 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 (*).

reconstruction-of-richard-iii

At least according to legend, on this day in 1478, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who later went on to become Richard III, ordered the death in the Tower of London of his brother George, Duke of Clarence – by drowning in  a butt of Malmsey wine.

(*) There was some actual action in the City as well. And there were pitched battles on the outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, as well as at Barnet in 1471.

 

Barnet revisited

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Barnet was first recorded in c. 1070 as Barneto, from the Old English baernet, meaning land cleared by burning.  The church of St John  was originally built here in c. 1250,   subsequently substantially rebuilt in c. 1400, and restored in the nineteenth century, and twice in the twentieth.

Tudor Hall, Barnet (1573).jpg

Queen Elizabeth’s School was built here in c. 1577, four years after the granting of a charter for that purpose.  It was originally a free grammar school, and subsequently became a boarding establishment (with specially constructed dormitories accessed by way of a staircase in the east turret).  The  old school moved to a new location in 1932.  The recently restored former school building on the original site is now owned by Hertfordshire County Council, and known  as Tudor Hall.

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The Battle of Barnet was fought a short distance to the north in 1471, in the Wars of the Roses.

Arrows

Cannonballs

Spurs

Artefacts from the site may be viewed in the Barnet Museum (on Wood Street).

The Battle of Barnet (1471), and the Wars of the Roses (1455-85)

1 - Depiction of Battle of Barnet in contemporary Ghent Manuscript.jpg

On this day in 1471 took place, in “The Wars of the Roses”, the Battle of Barnet, between Yorkists under Edward IV and Lancastrians under Henry VI, with the Yorkists winning (and the Lancastrian Richard Neville, otherwise known as “Warwick the Kingmaker”, losing his life).

During “The Wars of the Roses”, 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 as well: 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 the Yorkist army from entering; and again in 1471, when the by then Yorkist garrison was bombarded by the Lancastrian navy and army under the Bastard Fauconberg. And there were pitched battles on the outskirts, at St Alban’s in 1455 and 1461, as well as at Barnet in 1471.

Many of the barons killed in the Battle of Barnet were buried in Austin Friars Priory, which was originally built in around 1253. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, part of the priory church was given over to the local Dutch Protestant community to serve as their church, “notwithstanding that they do not conform with the rites and ceremonies used in our Kingdom” (and the remaining part reverted to being the parish church of St Peter-le-Poer). The Dutch Church survived the Great Fire, but was destroyed in another fire in 1862, rebuilt in 1863, destroyed again in an air raid in 1940, and rebuilt again in 1950-56.  Ancient buried bodies discovered in the church during the rebuilding after the Second World War were cremated, and the ashes interred in a new crypt.