display | more...

The background

In the late summer and autumn of the year 1399 Henry Bolingbroke succeeded in deposing the former king Richard II and was himself crowned as king Henry IV. Over the next few years Henry experienced a series of challenges to his assumption of power including the Epiphany Rising of 1400, the long running revolt of Owain Glyndwr in Wales and the Percy Rebellion of 1403; Scrope's rebellion of 1405 was therefore merely the latest in a number of challenges to the Lancastrian Usurpation.

The rebellion drew its name from Richard Scrope (sometimes known as Richard le Scrope), who had been the Archbishop of York since his consecration on the 2nd June 1398, and the Bishop of Lichfield before that time. He largely owed his position as England's second most senior church official to the favour of the former king Richard II, and gave every indication that he was a loyal supporter of the last of the Plantagenets.

Despite this, Richard Scrope seemed happy to accept Henry's usurpation of the throne in 1399. He did not appear to have been unduly discomforted by the execution of his kinsman William Scrope1 and was soon co-operating with the new regime. Scrope was a member of the delegation that met with the imprisoned Richard II in the Tower of London on the 29th September 1399 and on the following day read out the ex-king's abdication statement at Parliament. Together with Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, he later presided over the coronation of the new king Henry IV. Richard Scrope thereafter remained on good terms with Henry at least until August 1403, when he celebrated mass for the king during a visit to York.

However, sometime during the year 1404 Richard Scrope became disillusioned with king Henry. The reasons for this change of heart are not entirely clear, but is generally believed to have originated from Henry's proposals to tax Church property which were outlined at the so-called 'Unlearned Parliament' held at Coventry 1404. But lurking behind the scenes was the figure of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, who as events were later to demonstrate, had clearly been in communication and should in all probability be considered as the true architect of the rebellion.

This Henry Percy had, despite his involvement in the Percy Rebellion of 1403 managed to avoid any retribution and had retained his estates and titles. But his submission to the king did not mean that he had given up on the idea. In February 1405 Percy signed the Tripartite Agreement with Owain Glyndwr and Edmund Mortimer in which they agreed to depose Henry IV and carve up the country between themselves. Percy was therefore now obliged to come out into the open and start a 'second front' against Henry IV and persuaded Richard Scrope to join him. And as the thoughts of the Archbishop of York turned to ideas of revolt he was joined by one Thomas Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham.

This Thomas was the son of another Thomas Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk the Marshal of England and former Lord Appellant who had died in exile of the plague at Venice in 1399. The younger Thomas (he was only nineteen at this time) seems to have been suitably annoyed that he had been denied the right to succeed to his father's dukedom and hereditary office of Marshal and had to be content with being mere Earl of Nottingham and the rather empty style of 'Earl Marshal'. The last straw appears to have been Henry IV's decision on the 1st March 1405 to grant precedence to Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. Accordingly, Thomas left court in a huff and went north to join Scrope at York.

The Rebellion of Richard Scrope

The rebellion began with the production of a manifesto, which contained a list of grievances and was placarded all over that city of York. It does not appear that a copy of this manifesto has survived but its contents are referred to in the 'Martyrium Ricardi Archiepiscopi' of Clement Maidstone. According to this document, in the manifesto Scrope and Mowbray expressed their desire "that the crown of the kingdom should be restored to the rightful line of descent"2 and that "the clergy and commons not to be oppressed by levies and taxes" and included the usual complaints about bad government.

The 'Martyrium' later added that Scrope had "never intended any harm against the person of King Henry IV" and that the "Archbishop's intention was to go to the King with some other lords ... in order to ask the King to redress the evils then prevailing in the kingdom". Which of course is what all rebels said, particularly if their rebellions failed.

It seems as if the manifesto struck a chord with the inhabitants of Yorkshire as it persuade some eight or nine thousand armed men to join with the rebellion, and on the 27th May 1405 Richard Scrope and Thomas Mowbray marched north from York with their army. Their immediate objective was Thirsk, where John Fauconberg was raising further men but it seems that the ultimate intention was join forces with Henry Percy, who together with Thomas Bardolf was on his way from Northumberland with many of his followers.

Naturally Henry IV could not allow this revolt to go unchallenged and despatched Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, together with his second son John3, to deal with the rising in the north. After a short engagement at Topcliffe4 near Thirsk, Ralph Neville rapidly dispersed John Fauconberg's forces before swinging south to meet the rebels from York. Once Percy realised that there was a royal army standing between him and his Yorkshire allies, he decided to return north to his strongholds in Northumberland and await events.

So on the 29th May when Richard Scrope and Thomas Mowbray were at Shipton Moor, some five and a half miles north of York, they found themselves confronted by Ralph Neville, and could go no further. Nothing much happened for the next three days as the two sides uneasily glowered at each other over the moor until Richard Scrope, ignoring the protestations of Thomas Mowbray, agreed to talks with Ralph Neville. Neville and Scrope agreed on a truce and somehow Neville managed to persuade the good archbishop that under the terms of this truce that he should order his men to return home.

Scrope's naivety was soon demonstrated as once the rebel army had dispersed Neville ordered both Scrope and Mowbray seized and imprisoned. They were initially taken to Pontefract Castle, where they remained until the arrival of Henry IV on the 3rd June. They were then taken to the Archbishop's house at Bishopthorpe, just south of York itself.

As Henry regarded their guilt as self-evident from their conduct he decided to dispense with the formality of a trial and resolved that Scrope and Mowbray should both be executed as traitors at York. Therefore on the morning of Monday, the 8th June 1405 Henry ordered William Gascoigne, the Chief Justice of England, to pronounce the death sentence against the two conspirators. To his credit William Gascoigne refused to condemn Richard Scrope, correctly pointing out that the civil authorities had no jurisdiction over a bishop. However Henry simply called on another judge by the name of William Fulthorpe who had fewer scruples was prepared to deliver the required sentence of death.

With the necessary judgement now delivered, on the very same day the two condemned men were taken to a field just outside the city walls for execution. As the 8th June happened to be the feast day of Saint William of York, (and therefore a holiday in the city), this guaranteed a good crowd for the event.

Both Mowbray and Scrope were beheaded; Thomas Mowbray is reported to have shown "some natural fear of death" at the prospect whilst Scrope, as befitted an archbishop, bore his fate with a greater degree of equanimity. Their executioner for the day being a man named Thomas Alman and a prisoner of some fifteen years at York who was no doubt promised his freedom as payment for his day's work. Thomas Mowbray's head was later displayed on a stake at Bootham Bar within the city, whilst the rest of him was buried at Grey Friars Church, but Richard Scrope's remains were simply interred at York Minster.

After the rebellion

It seems that Henry did not wait around for the executions but immediately set out to the north towards Ripon in search of Henry Percy. But shortly after leaving York he was struck down by an illness said be some to be leprosy but most likely a gangerous ergotism on his nose. Henry is also said to have "suffered horrible torments" during the night. Henry spent the next seven days recovering at Ripon while Henry Percy took the time to escape to the safety of Scotland.

Henry blamed his opponents, reportedly awakening in pain with the words "Traitors! ye have thrown fire over me!", although others believed that the Archbishop of Canterbury was responsible, since he was said to have placed a curse on the king. The most popular belief however, was that it was simply divine vengeance for his judicial murder of the Archbishop of York.

Indeed the summary execution of a bishop was regarded as an outrageous act at the time and Henry only escaped excommunication because the Great Schism was then in progress and Pope Gregory XII did not wish to antagonise Henry in case he switched his support to the rival pope at Avignon.

Whilst Richard Scrope's rebellion failed and he died a traitor's death, something of a minor cult soon developed around the martyred archbishop and his tomb attracted many visitors anxious to pay their respects. Although never canonised as a saint, various miracles were later attributed to the intervention of the former archbishop. This was of course somewhat embarrassing as far as the authorities were concerned, who at one time attempted to prevent people from making offerings at Scrope's tomb by laying tree trunks across its top.


NOTES

1 William Scrope, Earl of Wiltshire was one of the Bolton Scropes whilst Richard was from the Masham branch of the family.

2 Although the 'Martyrium' does not specify what the "rightful line of descent" should be, this is generally regarded as a reference to Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March.

3 Later better known as John, Duke of Bedford.

4 Since Topcliffe was a lordship traditionally held by the Percy family this had likely been designated as the rendezvous for the various rebel forces.


SOURCES

  • Stephen K. Wright Archbishop Richard Scrope, A Brief Biography (1997) http://english.cua.edu/faculty/wright/biograph.cfm
  • Clement Maidstone, The Martyrdom of Archbishop Richard Scrope Translated with Notes and Commentary by Stephen K. Wright (1997) http://english.cua.edu/faculty/wright/maidston.cfm
  • Alexander Rose Kings in the North (Phoenix, 2003)
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.