Rumour, opinion, and criticism
York Council House Book entry for 23 August 1485, recording the city’s reaction to the news of Richard III’s death at the battle of Bosworth.
© Courtesy City of York Archives
Wars of the Roses
The news of Richard III's death at the battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485 was noted by York's civic leaders with great sorrow. The city had nurtured a fruitful relationship with the king, presenting him with gifts, welcoming him in splendid style, providing military support and receiving financial rewards in return. Yet his popularity across the wider city was ambiguous and glimpses of local views in the civic records highlight that opinion was divided.
Rumours of slander against the duke were investigated in 1482 and 1483, when both his inactivity and over-involvement in city affairs were said to have been criticised. In the first case, on 24 June 1482 a citizen claimed to have overheard someone say that Richard did nothing for the city, while the second instance on 14-15 February 1483 was an expression of defiance against his influence in mayoral elections.
This was alehouse gossip reported to the civic authorities and denied by those accused, but demonstrates the kinds of discussion that took place in the city and the diversity of opinions held. The quelling of such rumour preoccupied not just civic officials but monarchs. The danger of slander spreading was vigorously confronted by Richard III and he wrote to the city on 5 April 1485 to demand their adherence to his commands against sedition.
Citizens were ordered to arrest anyone heard to spread negative words about the king and immediately take down any inflammatory bills and newsletters. The situation became especially fraught in summer 1485 as news of Henry Tudor's planned invasion circulated and the city prepared to send soldiers to Richard's aid.
The king's death at Bosworth was a blow to the city whose loyalty to Richard III was so renowned that Henry VII's emissary was afraid to enter York two days later, on 24 August 1485. However, councillors were already making moves to win favour with the new king and were relieved to hear of his intended goodwill. The city welcomed Henry VII less than a year later and devised magnificent pageantry for the occasion. While pragmatism was essential in dealing with the Tudor king, Richard III continued to incite diverse opinions.
The same month that civic leaders took oaths of allegiance to Henry VII from citizens, they wrote of money granted by Richard, 'the moost famous prince of blissed memory'. Open criticism of the former king remained contentious in York. An argument recorded on 14 May 1491 saw John Payntour accuse schoolmaster William Burton of calling Richard a hypocrite and crookback who had been buried like a dog in a ditch. An inquiry into the slander was held at the council chamber on Ouse Bridge and both men were ultimately bound to keep the king's peace on pain of forfeiting 100 marks. The criticism of Richard was secondary, however, for the slander here was against the reigning king in claiming his dishonorable burial of his predecessor. Richard's memory was still alive in the city, but things had moved on.
Slander of the duke of Gloucester, 24 June 1482
"'John Davyson emonges other shewed howe that he hard Master William Melrig say in a place where he and other was, that he hard Master Roger Brere say that as toching my lorde of Gloucestr', 'What myght he do for the cite? Nothing bot gryn of us'. The said William Melrig the same day was sent fore, cam personalie tofore the said maiour, and ther and then demanded by the same maiour what sedicious wordes he hard at eny tyme Roger Brere say of my lorde of Gloucestre; he answered and said noon.'"
York House Books vol 2 p. 696
Slander of the duke of Gloucester, 14-15 February 1483
"'The last day of Januari last past sityng at the ale at Eden Berys in Gothryngate that one askyd and said emong the felliship sittyn at ale, 'Syrs, whom shall we have to owr mair thys yere?' Wher unto awnswerd and said Stevyn Hoghson, 'Syrs, me thyng and it plees the communs I wold we had Maister Wrangwysh, for he is the man that my lord of Gloucestre will doo for'; and the said [Robert] Rede… said that if my lord of Gloucestir wold have hym mair the communs woldnot have hym mare; and her apon the said Welles sent for afore the said leutenaunt.'"
York House Books vol 2 p. 707
Richard III's letter against sedition, 5 April 1485
"'And where it is soo that diverse sedicious and evil disposed personnes both in our citie of London and elleswher within this our realme, enforce themself daily to sowe sede of noise and disclaundre agaynest our persone… to abuse the multitude of our subgiettes and averte ther myndes from us, if they coude by any meane atteyne to that ther mischevous entent and purpose, some by setting up of billes, some by messages and sending furth of false and abhominable langage and lyes, some by bold and presumptuos opne spech and communicacion oon with othre, wherthurgh the innocent people whiche wold live in rest and peas and truly undre our obbeissance, as they oght to doo, bene gretely abused and oft tymes put in daungier of ther lives, landes and goodes… fromhensfurth as oft as they [all officers and loyal subjects] find any persone speking of us… othrewise than is according to honour, trouth and the peas and ristfulness of this our realme… they take and arrest the same person… [or] answere unto us at your extreme perill.'"
York House Books vol 1 pp. 359-60
Death of Richard III, 23 August 1485
"'King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northefolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitiously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie'"
York House Books, vol 1 p. 368-69
Henry VII's messenger afraid to enter York, 24 August 1485
"'Forsomuch as the forsaid Sir Roger Cotam durst not for fere of deth come thrugh the citie to speake with the maire and his brethre, it was thought that they shuld goo unto him, wherupn the maire and his brethre went unto the sign of the boore and ther they speak with the said knight, which shewed unto them that the king named and proclaimed Henry the vii grete them well, and wold be unto them and this citie as good and gratiouse soveraign lord as any of his noble progenitors was before. With othyr words of comforth. Wherof the maire and his brethre thankes him moch and soo departed.'"
York House Books vol 2 p. 734
Report of slander against Richard III, 14 May 1491
"John Payntour denied slandering the earl of Northumberland four days after Christmas, 1490, by saying he was a traitor who had betrayed king Richard. 'Bot he says that he herd the said maister Burton saye that Kyng Richard was an ypocryte, a crochebake and beried in a dike like a dogge, wherunto the said John Payntour answerd and said that he lied, for the Kynges good grace had beried hym like a noble gentilman. Apon all whiche wordes and saynges he reporteth hym' "
R. Davies, York Records: Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York (1843) pp. 220-221