Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Siege of the Tower of London 1460

In July 1460, Francis was still two months shy of his fourth birthday. It is likely that he was still in the nursery and not yet given any lessons by a tutor. Even if he was already having lessons, they would have been simple, so a toddler could understand. He would not yet have been instructed in fighting, nor in dancing and courtly arts, and history and mathmatics would also have been considered too difficult. Certainly, nothing he`d have known at this age, whether taught by the mistress of his nursery or a tutor, would have helped him understand the nature and the consequences of the political situation of England at the time, which had become steadily more uncertain and violent over the last few years.

Francis and his sister Joan would not have understood either why their father had left the household some weeks earlier, though it is likely that neither would have thought much or even at all about it. It was very likely a simple part of their lives for one or both of their parents to leave occasionally, and would not have affected their day-to-day routine. However, while neither Francis nor Joan could have known or expected it, in this instance John Lovell left to join the cause of King Henry VI against the approaching Yorkist lords, as their maternal grandfather John Beaumont did as well, and the events that were to follow would have significant consequences for England, for their family and potentially even for the toddlers themselves.

John Lovell, together with other Lancastrian lords such as the Earl of Kendall, lord Scales and Lord Hungerford, went to London to convince the city`s aldermen and population to hold out against the Yorkist lords, led by the Earl of Salisbury, the Earl of Warwick and the Earl of March, who would within the year become Edward IV. At first, they seemed successful; however, London would soon change its decision and lend its support to the Yorkists.

A chronicle written within ten years of the event claimed that the lords Scales and Hungerford, identified by the writer as the leaders of the Lancastrian faction, "would have had the rule and governance" of London, but were thwarted in this because "they of the city would not suffer them, saying that they were sufficient for to rule the city themselves" - a claim somewhat contradicted by a statement made only a paragraph above that, that "the Earl of Salisbury, by common consent of the city was made ruler and governor of London" while the king as well as the earls of Warwick and March were absent, the latter having marched on to meet the king, who was then at Northampton. There he was accompanied, among others, by the Duke of Buckingham, John Beaumont and his son William.

Seeing the city turn against their cause, the Lancastrian faction did not decide to follow them to swell the number of the king`s men in Northampton, but instead retreated to the Tower of London on the 2nd of July. The chronicler quoted above rather hilariously attributed this decision to Scales`s and Hungerford`s indignation at not having been allowed to rule the city, but it seems likely that the main factor for it was not anyone`s personal feelings, but to keep the weapons still stashed in the stronghold in their hands.

John Lovell went with Scales and Hungerford, and was prominently mentioned as one of the "great men" doing so in the chronicle, who mentioned those who decided to do so: "lord Vessy, lord Lovell, lord Delaware, lord Kendall à Gascony, Sir Edmund Hampton, knight, Sir Thomas Brown, knight, shire of Kent, John Bruyn of Kent, Sir Gervase Clifton, knight, treasurer of the king`s house, Sir Thomas Tyrell, knight, the Duchess of Exeter, and many others."

Doubtlessly, if they entered the Tower with a plan of action, it was not to wear down the Yorkists holding sway in the city while keeping up a supply of fresh food for themselves through the stronghold`s access to the Thames. In this, however, they were stopped by the Earl of Salisbury, as well as lord Wenlock, who had stayed in the city as well to help Salisbury and who organised a blockade on the river, and besieged the fortress, as the chronicle put it, “by land and by water.“

The Lancastrian lords inside the Tower retaliated, quite excessively, by not only firing at their besiegers but also using wildfire, a weapon which has been described as a medieval version of napalm. This had the effect of not just potentially harming their enemies, but also hurting bystanders and innocent Londoners living nearby. The use of this was reported in several sources to have “burned and hurt men and women and children in the streets“

The besiegers replied to this by bombarding the Tower both from the water as well as from the land, badly damaging some of its walls, yet not enough for them to crumble or admit them.

Whether the Lancastrian lords` decision to turn their weapons also against the population of London and not just those besieging them was made because of desperation since they were running out of food and hoped to end the siege soon by any means possible, or because they hoped to turn the town against the Yorkists is not clear. If it was the latter, it was a miscalculation; the more the town was damaged and its citizens hurt, the more did they turn to the Yorkists and offered them support, making the situation of the besieged party in the Tower more and more untenable. 

What part Francis`s father played in the proceedings and decisions is impossible to say.  He was clearly well enough known to have taken part in the siege for chroniclers to put his name in a prominent place, yet is clearly not identified as a leader. Interestingly, the Common Council of London suggested that the leading party among the besiegers consisted of him, Lord Hungerford, the Earl of Kendall, Lord Scales and Sir Edmund Hampton, but does not imply that one of them was more important than the others, or blamed one of them any more or less for the events. Given this, it seems likely that John Lovell completely supported the decisions made by those in the Tower during the siege, and likely was involved in making them, but that is all that can be reasonably said about his role in the siege.  

It is known, however, that he fixed his name under a letter written by the besieged lords to the Mayor of London, complaining of their treatment. It is a remarkable missive, lacking almost completely in the customary politeness of the day, and assigning all blame for what was happening to the besiegers:

“Sirs it is yo r saying that ye be the kinges trew liegemen and soo be we wherfore we wul desire of you to wite the cause why ye make us werre And that we may understande how ye may joyne your sayinges and youre dedes togiders, And also what shuld bee the cause that ye take prisouners and we shuld nat defende us ayenst you and of this abovesaid we pray of you an answer for we
cast us no more to accomber you w t oure writing, &c.“

Put into modern English, it reads: 

"Sirs, it is you [who] are saying that you are the king's true liegemen and so are we, wherefore we will desire of you to write the cause why you make us war. And that we may understand how you may join your sayings and your deeds together, and also what should be the cause that you take prisoners and we should not defend us against you, and of this above-said we pray of you an answer for we cast us no more to encumber you with our writing, etc.´

The reply that they got from the Common Council cannot have left them in doubt that the city had by now turned completely against them. They also refused to accept any blame for the events, instead accusing the besieged in the Tower of having started the conflict and describing the mayhem wrought by their actions:

"Like it your lordshipps to understande and with for certain that according to oure sayn, we have ever bee, nowe we bee, and ever will bee the kinges treu subgettes and humble liegemen And where ye by youre bill desire of us to wite the cause why we make you werre, &c. Therto we answer and seye that ye and your ffelesship have began and n'mde no werre by diverse assault shetyng of gonnez and otherwise by the which the kinges treu liege people aswell the inhabitauntz of this eitee men women and children as over have be murdred slayn maemed and myscheved in sundry wise And soo that at hath be doon by us is onely of youre occasioun in oure defence. And suche as we take for prisouners been for the attemptatz occasiouns and assaultz by theym doon as aforesaid in breche of the kinges peas, and for dispoillyng of the kinges treu people of their vitaillz and goodes without due contentacgn or paiement hadde in that behalve contrary to good equite and all lawe, &c.“

In modern English, this translates as: 

“Like it your lordshippes to understand and with for certain that according to our saying, we have ever been, now we are, and ever will be the king`s true subjects and humble liegemen. And where you by your bill desire of us to write the cause why we make you war etc. Thereto we answer and say that you and your fellowship have begun and made no war by divers assaults, shooting of guns and otherwise by which the king`s true liege people as well as the inhabitants of this city, men, women and children have been murdered, maimed, slain and mischieved in sundry wise. And so
that as has been done by us is only of your occasion in our defence. And such as we take for prisoner been for the attempted occasions and assaults done by them as aforesaid in breach of the king`s peace and for despoiling of the king`s true people of their vitals and goods without due contract or payment had in that behalf contrary to the good equity and all law etc.“

The lords must have been alarmed by this letter, but it is hard to imagine that it came as a surprise. Since the letters are undated, it is not quite certain to say how long the siege lasted after this exchange of letters, and if this answer had any effect on the besieged in the Tower. It is not impossible, but very unlikely that this was the case; though negotiations of a surrender of the Lancastrian lords were made by 16th July, it is more likely that both lack of food caused and news reaching them of the king caused them to take this step.     

The Yorkist lords had met up with the king and his men in Northampton on 10th July, and the Earl of Warwick had attempted to get an audience with the king, which the Duke of Buckingham had denied him. When another attempt failed again a short time later, Warwick decided to instead engage in battle with his men. It was a short but significant battle, with both the weather and one of their men - Lord Grey of Ruthyn - turning against the Lancastrians. Due to the heavy rain, their cannons would not fire, their archers had difficulties releasing their bows, and when Grey joined the Yorkists, the Lancastrian fighters found themselves in a dead end as the Yorkists made their way to the king`s tent.

The Duke of Buckingham, Francis`s grandfather John Beaumont, Viscount Beaumont, the Earl of Shrewsbury and Lord Egremont were killed trying to keep the king shielded from them, dealing the Lancastrian cause a heavy blow. There were not many other losses, and few ordinary, non-titled fighters lost their lives. 

The Yorkists found King Henry VI in his tent, and treated him with all due respect, assuring him they were loyal to him and had only objected to being treated badly by his advisors. Six days after the battle, they arrived in London with him. It is probably not a coincidence that this is the day that the agreement the commons made for the Lancastrian lords` surrender of the Tower is dated to. They would doubtlessly have heard of the outcome, as well as of the fact that the king was now in the hands of the Yorkists. 

For John Lovell, the news might have been a personal blow as well as a political one, given that his father-in-law was one of the dead. We do not know if his death affected him a lot, or indeed for certain what their relationship was, but there are some indications that it was at least polite and formal, and that perhaps John Beaumont had supported his son-in-law with money.  If any of this was on John`s mind when he heard of the defeat of the king`s men and his father-in-law`s death is naturally not known, but it is not unreasonable to think that it made him reconsider their stand and not make the relations to the victors worse.

Whether or not he agreed or even was one of the lords suggesting it, negotiations were begun, and an agreement was recorded by the Common Council for the 16th July 1460:

"Be it rembred that we William Hulyn maire of the citee of London and the aldermen and the comues of the saine agree us by thise presentz to holde ferme and stable and to perform in every pointe in that that in us shall be alle suche appoyntementz touchyng the gyvyng over of the Toute of London by therle of Kendale the lord Scales the lord Lovell the lord Hungerford and Sir Edmond Hampden and others now beyng wtin the saine tour, and the receyving of the tour aforesaid by the erle of Salisbury to the kinges use as be made by the saine erle of his deputees on that one partie, and the said erl of Kendale lord Scales, lord Lovell, lord Hungerford and Sir Edmond Hampdon and others or that othre partie. In witness whereof to thise saine presentz we have put our comon seal writen at London aforesaid the xvi day of July the xxxviiith year of the reign of King Henry the vi."

In modern English, this means: 

"Be it remembered that we, William Hulyen, Mayor of the City of London, and the aldermen and the commons of the same, agree us by this present to hold firm and stable and to perform every point in that that in us shall be all such appointments touching the giving over the Tower of London by the Earl of Kendall, the Lord Scales, the Lord Lovell, the Lord Hungerford and Sir Edmund Hampton and others now being within the same Tower, and the receiving of the Tower aforesaid by the Earl of Salisbury to the king`s use as be made by the same earl [or] his deputies on that one party, and the said Earl of Kendall, lord Scales, lord Lovell, lord Hungerford, and Sir Edmund Hampdon and others [of] that other party. In witness whereof to this same present we have put our common seal. Written at London aforesaid, the 16th day of July, the 38th year of the reign of King Henry VI. [1460]."

Three days later, the Lancastrian lords surrendered. We do not know exactly what arrangements were made, but it appears that Lord Scales and Hungerford were given safe conducts to leave the city, while the rest of those of higher standing mentioned by the chronicler, including John Lovell, were arrested. Lord Hungerford managed to leave the city unscathed, but Lord Scales was not so lucky. Knowing of the Londoners` hatred for him because of his actions, he tried to leave at night so he would not be spotted, but he was recognised by the boatsmen he engaged to row him out of the town, and murdered.

Cora Scofield has pointed out that those the Yorkist lords took prisoner were tried at Guildhall, but only six men of comparatively little standing were pronounced guilty and suffered a traitor`s death. The other men were freed, and in the case of the lords, probably attempted to be won over to the Yorkists` side by the leniency of their judgement. This worked well for lord Delaware and the Earl of Kendall, but did not for Lord Hungerford and also not for John Lovell, who continued fighting for Lancaster until the battle of Towton, after which he accepted Edward IV as king. 

It is not known what he did in the months immediately following the siege of the Tower, except that he tried unsuccessfully to seize some of his late father-in-law`s estates. It seems that John Beaumont`s death would go on to have a heavy impact on the Lovell family, and in the following years, John Lovell rapidly lost money. Whether this affected his children in any way, we do not know. 

Nor do we know if his experiences in the siege influenced John Lovell in any way personally, but it was certainly to prove significant for the upcoming events and the future of England.