Flower of the Month: Beverley’s Benevolence to Henry VIII

King Henry VIII visited Yorkshire only once in the course of his long reign, in the summer and autumn of 1541, and seems to have been prompted to travel so far only by the perceived need to calm (and possibly threaten) the rebellious North in the wake of the Pilgrimage of Grace and other risings in in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire (1536-37), and a further attemnpted rising in the West Riding of Yorkshire in April 1541. The Northern Progress was a gigantic undertaking; total numbers have been estimated at over 5,000, many of them mounted, and including about a thousand soldiers. The Queen (currently, though not for much longer, Catherine Howard) and her own household accompanied the King.

Henry’s great Northen Progress is well documented by (inter alia) records of the travelling Privy Council (a group of Councillors who accompanied the king and wrote periodically to their fellow-members in London). From the Privy Council on tour we can work out a pretty exact route, as their meeting minutes are always dated with locations.* Those tell us that the Progress, leaving

Wressle Castle from the South

Hampton Court on 30 June and making its ponderously magnificent way into Lincolnshire, moved from Sleaford to Lincoln (9 August), crossed the Humber into Yorkshire, stayed at Hatfield near Doncaster for several days, partly to give the King some sport on the royal hunting grounds of Hatfield Chase; then on to Pontefract, and in early September to Wressle, Leconfield, Hull, and back via Leconfield and Wressle again to reach York on 16 September.

 

The royal party stayed there for two weeks, in lavishly-constructed lodgings on the site of the dissolved St Mary’s Abbey, where the Council in the North had already established its headquarters in the ex-Abbot’s house, the buildings still known as King’s Manor.**

On leaving York at the end of the month, Henry went south-eastward again, staying one night at the manor of the late Sir Robert Constable (executed at Hull in 1537 as a leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace) at Holme on Spalding Moor, and another two at Leconfield again, before returning to Hull, where he stayed several days to give orders for the strengthening of the town’s fortifications (against the Scots and more local threats).

King’s Manor, York

Given the evident completeness of this itinerary, it’s interesting to note that one town the Progress apparently never visited was Beverley. Because York and Lincoln had both been implicated in the Pilgrimage, the surviving evidence demonstrates Henry’s determination to humble and warn them before forgiving them (on conditions): REED: York includes the text of the speech of submission made, on his knees, by the City Recorder, at Fulford Cross well outside the city bars – a Royal Entry with a humiliating difference, sidestepping all the civic preparations for greeting the King and Queen at Micklegate bar and entertaining them with shows throughout the city. (The speech – apparently identical to Lincoln’s – had been written by government staff to ensure the correct degree of grovelling.)***

 

Beverley too had been implicated in the Pilgrimage, so why did Henry not go there? It is only two miles from Leconfield and eight from Hull, so hardly out of the way of the Progress. We do know, however, that a large number of Yorkshire worthies had been ordered to gather near Doncaster to make a collective submission, so representatives of the Beverley Governors may well have been among them. If Henry had no other business there (as he did in Hull), and moreover had his own property nearby to lodge in (Leconfield Castle, like Wressle, had been left to the Crown by the sixth Earl of Northumberland in payment of debts), a visit to Beverley would be an undue expense of time on a journey already held up by bad weather in July. There is not much evidence from Beverley itself, but what there is does seem to shed light on the events of that autumn in the East Riding.

The town accounts for April 1541-April 1542**** include several entries that in the circumstances are intriguing: several Governors were repaid their expenses for a journey to Doncaster when the King was there – which suggests that they were indeed among those who made their submission to Henry there rather than on their own territory; the following item accounts for a sum of £10 as ‘the benevolence given to our lord the King’ (Et de x li pro benevolenciam dat’ domino nostro Regi!). In that case Beverley got off lightly: York was instructed to give a rather staggering £900.

Beverley, North Bar

Under the heading ‘General repairs’ are more intriguing entries: ‘leading gravel’ and ‘whyteng north barre’ actually suggest that the streets and the main entrance to the town, North Bar on the York road, were being specially prepared – for a possible Royal visit, just in case?

Even more intriguing are payments for repairing glass windows, to workmen in Friars’ Lane and for making the King’s arms. Friar’s Lane leads to the Dominican Friary, dissolved and in Crown hands by 1541; were the Beverley Governors getting ready for a sudden royal demand for accommodation? It would explain road and window repairs, and more particularly the putting up of the royal arms. From a specifically REED point of view the few surviving records are even more interesting: payments were made to royal heralds, footmen and trumpeters, and in a separate item to:

‘the kynges players the prynces players cum alijs expensis magnatibus’.

Among the magnates is listed Sir Ralph Ellerker, a notably loyal servant of the king during the Pilgrimage of Grace; there appears to have been no royal visit to Beverley, but Ellerker’s presence in Beverley (where he owned a house) may help to explain the visit of the royal entertainers – who do not appear in the REED records of either York or Lincoln that year – as well as, possibly, the comparative modesty of the benevolence that the town was able to make to its forgiving sovereign.

Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, vol. 16, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol16.

** King’s Manor now appropriately houses the Department of Archaeology and the Centre for Medieval Studies.

*** REED: York, pp. 273-5.

**** East Riding Archives and Local Studies BC/II/6/20.

Portrait of Henry VIII (1491–1547), after Hans Holbein the Younger, Windsor Castle, Royal Collection, 1550-1650

This month’s Flower has been very kindly provided by Diana Wyatt, editor of the East Riding volume.

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