Chantry Priest of Barnet - Alfred J. Church

I Go to London with the King

The 20tla day of May, 1471.

Many things have come to pass since I last wrote in this book, things of great moment to this realm, and in which I have taken such a part as was beyond all hope or desire of mine. These I will set down in order according as my memory shall serve.

Edward IV


On the tenth day of April, being the Wednesday before Easter, about six of the clock, my lord King Edward, having with him certain great nobles, of whom his brothers, my lord of Clarence and my lord of Gloucester were the chiefest, and ten thousand men, cometh to St. Albans. The town had but three hours' warning of his coming, which was indeed with much haste, he much desiring to be beforehand with the Earl of Warwick in winning over to his cause the citizens of London. There was much ado therefore about victualling so great a host; nor did the King and his company, who lay in the Abbot's lodging, have such entertainment as could have been desired. On this tenth day of April, after supper, the Lord Abbot sent to me saying that the King would speak with me. And when I was come into the dining-chamber—for the King and his brothers and sundry great lords had supped there, but the knights had supped in the refectory with the brethren—I found the King standing by the fire. A goodly man he is to see—a very Saul among the people, having, as I should judge, six feet and inches three or four of height. His countenance, too, is well-favoured, over full, maybe, and of too deep a red, as of one that hath not always refrained himself at the wine-cup, but finely shaped, for indeed beauty is the heritage of the house of Plantagenet. His hair was as gold, somewhat longer, methought, than beseems a man; and his eyes of as fair a blue as ever I beheld. Then said the Lord Abbot, "Thou seest, Sire, the young man of whom I spake." Then the King turned his regard upon me and said, "Wilt thou with me to the wars, Brother Thomas, if that be thy name, to say mass, and give ghostly comfort to such as need it, for I hear that thy occupation in this place is gone?" "Yea, Sire," I made answer without delay, "with all my heart." "'Tis well spoken," said the King, "few words and of a soldier's fashion, and verily the priest that would follow with the army must be of a soldier's spirit. I trust thou hast not many affairs to settle, for I would have thee set forth with me to-morrow by six of the clock." Then he called to a page that waited at the door, and said, "See that Brother Thomas hath a mule ready for his riding." Then I made my obeisance and departed, the King first crying with a merry voice, "See that thy slumbers be not too long, Brother Thomas, on the morrow." This verily there was small reason to fear; for sleep came not near me all that night. And when the hour of prime was come, I rose, and went to the church, setting at nought the commands of Master Philip, the leech; for I thought to myself that, like enough, what with the danger of sickness that ever followeth hard after war, and such perils of the field as come even to those that mingle not in the fray, I might not enter again into this House of God. And prime being over, I put together in two saddle bags, which a serving man had brought to me, such things as I needed, not forgetting, indeed, that a soldier must endure hardness. Also I put up my Breviariurn, the treatise of Boethius, De Consolatione, and the Pharsalicon of Lucanus, all three being writ in a very small compass with my own hand. These being packed, I carried down to the great gate, where I found already gathered some fifty knights and squires. It wanted then half an hour to six of the clock, as I judged, the sun being newly risen. Presently cometh the King, and his two brothers with him, and certain great nobles also. By this time also the number of the knights and squires was greatly increased, so that there were, as I could best judge, five hundred at the least. And I noted that they were lightly armed, as men that would travel with all the speed that they might. And when the King was mounted he beckoned with the hand that all the company should come close about him. This being done, he spake to this purpose: "My lords and comrades all, I have a purpose in my mind that it is meet for you all to know, for ye must all help therein. Briefly, I will to London with all the speed that may be, for he that hath London hath already, it may well be said, the half of this realm of England. Now ye know that the citizens of London are for the most part well inclined to the House of York; yet there are some rebels among them, and some that favour the Earl of Warwick and Henry of Windsor, under cover of whose name the said Earl doth pretend to rule this kingdom. I count it, therefore, to be no small thing to be beforehand with the said citizens, for the Earl also, as I know for certain, hath the same purpose in his heart. That we have out-marched the said Earl, I doubt not; yet, because so great a matter were best done without delay, I will that we ride to London this day with all speed; and to this end I have bidden you arm yourselves as lightly as may be, that your beasts be not overburdened and weary. Now, there are twenty miles of distance between this town of St. Albans and London. We will draw rein and bait our horses once upon the road; and if our journey be accomplished by noon-day, it shall be well with us, as we shall see. As for the foot soldiers, I have given commandment that they follow us. It shall suffice that they be with us by night-fall. And now, Brother Thomas, give us thy blessing." Then, when I had said the prayer Pro Militanibus, with the Paternoster, and the Ave Maria, and added the Pax Vobiscuin, they set forth at a great speed. And though the paces of the mule were easy—and indeed it was the beast of my good friend and brother, the Prior, and lent by him of his great kindness that I should not be troubled with some rough beast out of the camp—because I had been for now six years past unused to riding, I was not a little distressed. Right glad was I when we drew rein at Barnet town, which lieth half-way between St. Albans and London. After this I fared better; and indeed, in my youth, I would ride with the best. So we came to London, the time being close upon noon-day, for so the King had ordered the matter. Now the city was held for King Henry of Lancaster (for King I must call him, seeing that he hath been duly crowned and anointed, and is beside a right pious prince), by lord of York, brother to the Earl of Warwick, having with him, as I have heard tell, six thousand men-at-arms. Now when we came near to the wall, I saw not thereon so much as a single man in harness, but of men unarmed there was a multitude, and of women not a few. And straightway there opened to us a postern gate, by which the King, having first lighted down from his horse, entered, and his lords after him, I also following the King. There stood one in lawyer's garb that was, as I heard after, Master Thomas Urswyke, the Recorder. Then said the King, "By my faith, but this is passing well done, Master Urswyke. But how hast thou so contrived it?" "Sire, verily I bade the men that kept the wall go home to their dinners, which, indeed, they were nothing loth to do, for our citizens are men of peace, and like not scanty fare." "'Tis well," said the King, "but we will open the great gate and let in my company; for though I may doubt not the good citizens of London, yet I will that they see I come not alone." So the great gate was set open, and the whole company of horsemen came in, and set themselves in fair order on either side of the way. Presently come back the citizens from their dinner, and are not a little astonied to see the array. But when the King espied the captain of the gate—one Master Humblethwaite, as I heard after, a mercer of Aldersgate—he beckoned to him with the hand, that he should come near, and, when he came, whispered something in his ear. Now all this, that I be not overlong in the telling of my tale, had been ordered aforehand. And herein do I perceive proof of that which I have ever heard of my lord the King, to wit, that he is beyond compare the mightiest man of war in all Europe. For a mighty man of war, if a poor monk may write of such things, is not he that can smite the sorest blows with axe or sword, though verily there is not a man-at-arms in this realm that doth excel the King in that which is, as the old Roman hath it, sola militum virtus; nor is he only one that can skilfully set the battle in array, and take the occasions of war as they do arise, though this is, indeed, a great matter; but he must need know everything and remember everything, must forget no man's face, must make himself acquainted with every man's thoughts and wishes. It was thus that the King prospered in the matter of which I write. Verily he had been in great peril, not of his kingdom only, but his life, if he had been shut out from London. Nor was it enough that he had Master Urswyke, the Recorder, for his friend, But he did choose to which gate he should make his approach, remembering that Master Humblethwaite was captain thereof; nor was there one of the chief citizens but that he knew him, whether he was friend or enemy. And when he whispered in Master Humblethwaite's ear, he instructed him, as I heard after from the good citizen himself, whom he should bring out of all the captains of the City bands, choosing not such as were friends only, but also such as might most readily be won over. And so it was that in the space of two hours or less, the great City of London did pass from King Henry to King Edward. Only I did hear that my lord the Archbishop of York was but half-hearted for his brother and the House of Lancaster.

About two of the clock there was a great gathering of citizens, looking very brave in their harness, in the churchyard of St. Paul's; to whom my lord the King made an oration, saying, "Verily, ye men of London, I looked that ye had been more steadfast in my cause. Have ye not ever found me your friend? Have I not confirmed and enlarged your charters? Have ye not had, since first I came to the lordship of this realm, such liberty of trade as your fathers knew not? Think ye that the Earl of Warwick will serve you better? Know ye not that he, and they that follow him, love not the ways of them that dwell in cities, and that, if ye make him your master, he will strip you to the skin?" And more he added to the like effect, yet promised that, seeing they repented them of their error, he would have them in no less favour than before. And when he had made an end there was a great shouting and clapping of hands.

After this the King went into the Church of St. Paul by the north door. Hard by this said door standeth the great rood, than which there is, I take it, no more renowned holy place in this realm of England, save only the tomb of St. Thomas of Canterbury. This rood was found, so say the priests of St. Paul's, in the year of our Lord one hundred and forty by Lucius, that was first Christian King of England. And they say also that many miracles are wrought on sick folk and others at this place; about which things I will say neither yea nor nay. The King made an offering of five gold pieces at the rood; and five other gold pieces he gave for masses for the soul of his father, Richard of York, that was done to death at Wakefield.

'Tis a goodly building this Church of St. Paul; yet I saw in it much that pleased me not. I liked not to see in the nave the twelve tables with scribes sitting thereat, ready to do any manner of worldly business for such as had resort to them. And that which men call Paul's Walk verily pleased me yet less. 'Tis a way by which men pass through the church from north to south, and, save only for the houses, it is as a common street. There were stalls with all manner of merchandise, gay stuffs for men and women's apparel, and ornaments of gold and silver, and the like; and on others there were set forth cakes and confections, yea, and strong liquors, as sherries, sacks, and hippocras, for such as desired them. And the men and women that served the stall cried, "Come buy," loudly and instantly to them that passed. And other traders of the poorer sort walked to and fro with baskets on their heads, making advertisement of their goods without regard for the place. And the people that passed to and fro talked and laughed, as they had been in the open street, not keeping themselves even from evil words, for I heard profane oaths, and that not once or twice only. And verily, for this is a thing that is scarcely to be believed, I saw one that had a cross-bow in his hand, and he shot at a pigeon that flew down from the north tower. Of a truth the citizens of London have made of this House of God a spelunca latronum.

From the church the King goeth to the Bishop's house, which standeth at the west end of the nave on the northern side. Here he findeth King Henry and the Archbishop of York, left, as I heard say, of all their company. And when he had lodged these for safe custody in the Tower, he went by water to Westminster; and so, after giving of thanks in the Abbey, to the Palace. As for me, I lodged that night and the next in the Abbot's house.

It skills not to tell how the next day was spent; war taketh no account of seasons, and, after matins, which I myself said by the King's commandment in the Lady chapel, there was no word or thought but of battle. The King's army lay, for the most part, without the city, along the road by the which we had ridden on the day before, for by this same he was minded to return without delay, knowing that the Earl of Warwick was following hard after him. But he was minded to add thereto as great a company of citizens as he could gather together. Therefore was there all that day a great going to and fro of aldermen and deputies, and other great folk from the city. As for the Lord Mayor, he was sick, or feigned himself to be so; and his deputy had fled. But the greater part of the rich merchants and men of substance spared nothing in the King's cause, having, I do verily believe, a true favour towards him, and also because he owed them much money which they should lose if he prospered not. Many money bags did they bring, and there was a great gathering of arms and artillery, the finest that could be got. The young men also willingly offered themselves to serve in arms. The most of them were bowmen and billmen, but some were men-at-arms. Also there gathered to the King many knights and squires that had been in hiding from the day that he fled, or had feigned to take sides against him.