The annals of the second family which held the earldom of Suffolk have carried us some distance down-stream, and we must go back to the middle of the fourteenth century. One remarkable feature at this time was the foundation of Colleges of Priests. We have already seen one in existence at Bury St. Edmunds at an earlier period, and there appears to have been another at Glemsford ; but now they are to be viewed as the rising institutions of the day. Immunity from episcopal authority had brought many evils in its train. The Benedictines were too grand and lazy. The mendicant Orders had left their first love and lost their pristine influence. Dominican fulminations had become mere noise, and Franciscan wiles were at once odious and ineffective. Yet the time had not come for the abandonment of all forms of the conventual system. Learning and piety still sought the cloister, and no constitution seemed better than that of a College of Priests, generally subject to the Bishop of the Diocese, bound by the statutes of their founder, whose name the College often bore, whose bread they had eaten. Suffolk, however, did not boast of many Colleges. Maud of Lancaster, in 1347, founded one at Campsey Ash, which in seven years she removed to Bruisyard. The College Farm at Wingfield still preserves the name of the posthumous foundation of Sir John Wingfield, and the fine misereres in the chancel of that church were the seats of the priests, who had a side-chamber with hagioscope slits in the wall, whence the altar light might be watched. The date is 1362. Next, Simon Sudbury, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, but at that time Bishop of London, made St. Gregory’s Church, Sudbury, collegiate, in 1375. Another posthumous foundation was Mettingham, to which castle, in 1382, the executors of the great Vice-Admiral, Sir John de Norwich, spoken of in the last chapter, removed the priests from Raveningham in Norfolk, his original foundation. Stoke-by-Clare, converted from a Benedictine house, and Denerdiston, or Denton, belong to the fifteenth century. Wolsey’s Ipswich College will be noticed when we come to his life. Of those mentioned, the Wingfield and Mettingham foundations are the most interesting. Here were the local boarding-schools, where, for a moderate charge (it was £2 a year at Mettingham) “boys were boarded, clothed, booked, washed”, etc., to quote from Squeers’s prospectus. They would begin their work about five in the morning, so that the imagination may picture, without much fear of going wrong, the handful of fourteen promising boys with rather blue noses and pinched fingers, even the juniors with their heads shaven in the first tonsure, the seniors able to perform the functions of an acolyte, all learning to read, write, and cast accompt, to copy and illuminate manuscripts, and to master pricksong on the four-line staff, the ancient tonic sol-fa method, both in theory and practice. When they went home for their holidays they would run the gauntlet from the unlettered churls of their native villages, who, like another critic of the period, would say :
For methinks it serveth to no thyng,
All such pevish, prykeryd song.
The list of incumbents of Norfolk and Suffolk parishes would doubtless include many a village lad who had received his education under the secular priests of these colleges. Sometimes they chose to perform their functions, in part, by proxy, as in the first year of John Wilby’s mastership at Mettingham, from 1403 to 1404, when xvjd. was paid to the schoolmaster of Beccles for the schooling of two clerks. Carving in wood and stone, screen-painting, and dry-plaster painting by the distemper method were doubtless also taught ; and when the Mettingham choir was re-edified in 14o7 and the following years, freestone was brought from. Yarmouth to Beccles by water, and a local artist, sometimes called Thomas of Yarmouth, and sometimes Thomas Barsham. of Yarmouth, was paid the large sum of £xxxvii iiijs. viid. for making images with tabernacles and a tabula, or picture, for the high altar. Barsham is the next parish but one to Mettingham, and it needs no stretch of fancy to see in this instance the schoolboy returning to the scene of his boyhood, to redecorate the chapel in which he had prayed and sung, almost in sight of his father’s roof-tree.
The importance of these rural colleges may be seen more clearly when we consider that at the time of Sir John de Norwich’s original foundation at Raveningham there were only ten colleges in the University towns : University, Balliol, Merton, Exeter, Oriel and Queen’s at Oxford – the latter but two years old – and Peterhouse, Michaelhouse and King’s Hall (both now incorporated with Trinity), and Clare Hall at Cambridge. Undoubtedly the religious houses had done much educational work, but as undoubtedly that work received a great impetus from the colleges, these secular priests retaining their property, and so their interest, up and down the country – much more in touch with the general mass of the people than the regulars could possibly be.
The resuscitation of the Collegiate Church is not the most remarkable of the changes in things ecclesiastical at this time. The parochial clergy had not an easy time of it. Manorial jealousies between different lords in the same parish led to applications, made to the Bishop, for the establishment of a chapel in connection with some manor-house ; and to this day payments are made year by year from different estates for “pensions” due to the diocesan on account of the free chapel. The chaplain was often a very useful member of the manorial household – bee-master, farrier, head-gardener, family scribe, tutor, what not. So, too, the village guilds had their chaplain, who might happen to be the parish priest, if they pleased, or more frequently was somebody else. In this and other ways that religious restlessness which is ineradicable from the human heart sought some vent for its action and passion.
For this the struggle with Rome, one would have thought, might have served as an outlet, but the Statutes of Provisory and Praemunire belonged rather to Parliaments than to the bulk of the people. An alien rector or vicar holding place through Papal influence was, after all, not so common a phenomenon in English life, and there are not wanting instances of appeals to Rome by parishioners against monastic ill-treatment, as when the parishioners of Metfield appealed to Pope John XXIII., in 1411, against the Prior of Mendham, alleging that, although the Prior got his tithe, he would not cause their chapel to be properly served.
Many and various were the elements in the great stir which reached its height in the reign of Richard II. Amongst them labour stands prominent. Its market value, of course, went up after the Black Death. To regulate this value was the intent of the Statute of Labourers. Labourers must work, and work at a prescribed rate ; they must be punished if refractory, or if they take more than the legal rate. But while labour was thus fixed, prices fluctuated. First they went down, as Knighton tells us, through fear of death. Then, through a dearth of necessaries, they went up, till the penny was worth fourpence or fivepence. Thereupon came an ordinance commanding victuals to be sold at reasonable prices, which not even the ordinance-makers had the courage to define.
Such legislation was, of course, inoperative, and the Parliament, consisting of employers and owners, enforced obedience by branding the refractory. Still labour combined, as it ever will do, and with a certain success, while, in spite of the misery arising from high prices and low wages, a poll-tax was laid on time after time, till in 1380 came the great revolt under Wat Tyler, in which our Suffolk Chancellor, Archbishop Sudbury, met his tragic end.
But our concern is rather with John Litester, the Norwich dyer, and his Norfolk and Suffolk followers in 1381. The priest or preacher, John Wraw, seems to have been sent by Wat Tyler to start the movement in Suffolk. The flood was so sudden that two lords and divers knights were carried away with it, and the Earl of Suffolk, William de Ufford, narrowly escaped by a sudden departure from the supper-table. The captured notables were to be turned to account, Lord Morley and Sir John Brewis being compelled to accompany three of Litester’s henchmen to obtain a charter of manumission from the King.
The conditions were certainly unfavourable to emancipation, for the insurgents had been plundering and murdering at a great rate. The house of Sir John Cavendish, Lord Chief Justice, at that village, had been burned to the ground. The abbey of St. Edmund had been spoiled of many of its jewels and structurally injured, and the heads of Cavendish, of Abbot Cambridge, and of Sir John Lakenhythe, keeper of the barony, had been set up in the abbey tower.
Meanwhile, Henry Spencer, grandson of the younger Spencer of the reign of Edward II., the young and hot-blooded Bishop of Norwich, heard of Litester and his doings, came from the neighbourhood of Stamford, where he happened to be tarrying, and rode over the breck country for his rebellious city. At Icklingham he fell in with the five envoys and their little train, released the two unwilling members of the company, and presently beheaded Litester’s representatives. After this act of laudable energy he pressed across the heaths, left our county, probably at Thetford, and ceased not till, with the men who had gathered round so dauntless a leader, he dispersed the insurgents at North Walsham with great slaughter. The Jeffreys of that day, Chief Justice Tresilian, in solemn assize, finished in the name of law what Bishop Spencer had effected in the name of the Gospel, and many a gibbet in the quieted villages of our county remained for years to tell the tale of Socialism, the outcome of selfishness and oppression, and generally bearing in its demeanour a strong hint of its parentage. To discuss Wycliffe’s position in this movement would be beyond our local purpose. We may turn to an instance of his theological teaching. An assembly of notables was gathered at South Elmham Manor in the pleasant spring weather on the eve of the Feast of SS. Philip and James, 1399. Here was the lord of that episcopal estate, Henry Spencer, his temper perhaps a little cooled by age and disappointment, yet impatient of contradiction, and contemptuous of his social inferiors, as ever, and John Derlyngton, in whom we may see the Northumbrian vigour, Archdeacon of Norwich. With them is a predecessor of my own at Fressingfield, John de Rykingale, a pluralist of the period, Master of Gonvile Hall at Cambridge, sometime Chancellor of the University, who was one of the delegates to the Council of Constance, and ended his days as Bishop of Chichester in 1430. I write these words probably on the very spot where his pen was in its day active. Before them comes the well-known William Sautre, the first of the Reformation martyrs, to recant his opinions as to adoration of the Cross, transubstantiation, and other doctrines. Though all seemed to go well, the day’s work was undone afterwards, and within two years Sautre, reverting to his old opinions, stood manfully the test of the flames in London. Bishop Spencer died in 1406, and the diocese was ruled successively by Alexander de Totyngton, Prior of Norwich, and Richard Courtenay, of the noble house of Devon. Then came an Essex man, John de Wakeryng, the last years of whose episcopate were embittered by not entirely futile efforts to repress Lollardism on the Norfolk side of the Waveney Valley. Opinions are, however, too volatile to be restrained by limits, natural or artificial, and it is not surprising to find the purgations made before Bishop. Wakeryng the predecessors of a multitude both in Norfolk and Suffolk before William de Alnwyk and his Chancellor, William Bernham. A certain “Master Robert Beete of Berry” appears early as examined upon suspicion of heresy, and there is a list of abjurers in Foxe of 120 names or so, from which I extract these : Nicholas Canon of Eye ; Richard Fletcher, and Matilda his wife, John Reve, Baldwine Cooper, Richard Knobbing, Richard Grace, John Eldon, all of Beccles; John Spire of Bungay; and “The herd78 of Shepemedow.” These were not of the stuff of which martyrs are made, and Foxe offers the best excuse he can for their defection, as they were constrained “to protest otherwise with their tongues than their hearts did thinke”. It is hard to imagine how he could have known anything more of these people beyond what he seems to have found in the official record of John Exeter, “Register” of the diocese.
From this register, however, Foxe has given some precious details, as of John Skilley of “Flixon”, miller, who was “injoyned for penance seven yeares imprisonment in the monastery of Langley”, and for the enormity of eating flesh on Fridays he was put on a bread and water diet on Fridays during his imprisonment, and when his time was up he had to put in four appearances at the cathedral, with the other penitentiaries, two on the ensuing Ash Wednesdays, and two on the ensuing Maundy Thursdays. Like St. Paul, these bold thinkers were often “in peril among false brethren”. One William Wright turned informer, naming Fletcher as “a most perfect doctor in that sect”, able “very well and perfitly to expound the Holy Scriptures”, and, further, having “a booke of the new lawe in English, which was Sir Hugh Pies first”. Nicolas Belward of “Southelam” had given in London “foure marks and forty pence” for his copy, out of which he had instructed the informer and the informer’s wife. “John Perker, mercer of a village by Ipswich, is a famous doctor of that sect. Also he said that father Abraham of Colchester is a good man”. The miserable kind of Paul Pry gossip which must have been engendered is painful to reflect upon. Mrs. Cliffeland’s servant, Agnes Bertham, for instance, being sent to the house of Mrs. Backster, one of the accused, at Martham in Norfolk, found on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday “a brasse pot standing over the fire, with a peece of Bacon and Oatmeale seething in it”. The fleshpots of Skilley and Belward would have proved equally accursed. One awful miscreant had the Ave, Pater Noster, and Credo in English. We must not inquire too curiously into their abjurations. In a similar case Thomas Fuller quaintly describes these utterances as “rather oral than cordial”. The name of Wakeryng’s predecessor, Bishop Richard Courtenay, takes us back to the French wars at the beginning of the reign of Henry V., the siege and capture of Harfleur, in spite of the ravages of dysentery in the English camp, and the day of St. Crispin, for ever inscribed on the banner of England’s fame :
See how the Lion of the Sea lifts up his ancient crown,
And underneath his deadly paw treads the gay lilies down.
So glared be when at Agincourt in wrath he turned to bay,
And crush’d and torn beneath his claws the princely hunters lay.
Where the heads of East Anglia were found, followers accompanied them from manor-houses, farms, mills, and country towns. The stately form of Richard Courtenay, when it was laid low on the sick-bed, was but one among those of the stalwart men-at-arms who hailed from Norfolk and Suffolk, and the earth was a pillow for many a “good white head” from our parts beside that of good old Sir Thomas Erpingham. Courtenay is described as “of noble family, of tall stature, of excellent wit, and not less dis¬tinguished for the greatest eloquence and learning, than for other of the more noble endowments of nature. He fell sick on Tuesday, September io, of a bloody flux, and on the following Sunday, in the presence of the King, who covered his feet after extreme unction, and closed his eyes with his own hands, amidst the bitterness and tears of many, released his spirit from his prison ; and our King, out of his tender affection, quickly sent him over into England, to be honourably interred in the royal cemetery at Westminster”. 79
A conspicuous warrior at Agincourt was Thomas Beaufort, the King’s half-uncle, Earl of Dorset, whom Shakespeare by anticipation calls Duke of Exeter, a title to which he was not advanced till the King’s return to England, the year after the battle. He poses grandly in the drama, and is highly commended even by the fastidious Fluellen, yet his merits do not seem to have been overrated by poetic license. Commanding as an energetic and prudent soldier, of such mental calibre as to be Lord Chancellor, and Lord Admiral at a time when no mere land-lubbers handled ships, he must have been a man of unusual and varied powers. Ten years after his elevation to the duchy of Exeter, he died at Bury St. Edmunds, and was interred in the abbey church, though apparently unconnected with the county of Suffolk by titles, possession or marriage, his Duchess being a Lincolnshire Nevile. In .1772, some labourers, in removing part of the ruins of this church, came upon a leaden coffin that had been enclosed in an oaken case, much decayed at the time of discovery. The embalmed corpse was quite fresh, the nails and hair, the latter turning gray, being perfect, a parallel to the case of St. Edmund. The labourers, for the sake of the lead, threw the body among the rubbish ; but the story got abroad, the remains were collected, and buried near the north-east pillar which used to support the belfry. Some of the great Duke’s hair, preserved by the surgeon who examined the body, passed from hand to hand till it came into the possession of my deceased sister-in-law, Mrs. Harris of Mildenhall, a native of Bury, and from her to me.
The words put into the mouth of the Duke of Exeter by Shakespeare 80 , in describing the death scene at Agin court, are among the most striking in the play:
Suffolk first died : and York80 , all haggled over,
Comes to him where in gore he lay insteeped,
And takes him by the beard, kisses the gashes
That bloodily did yawn upon his face,
And cries aloud, ” Tarry, dear cousin Suffolk!
My soul shall thine keep company to heaven.
Tarry, sweet soul, for mine, then fly abreast :
As in this glorious and well-foughten field
We kept together in our chivalry!
Upon these words I came and cheered him up :
He smiled me in the face, might me his hand,
And with a feeble gripe says, “Dear my lord,
Commend my service to my sovereign.”
So did he turn, and over Suffolk’s neck
He threw his wounded arm and kissed his lips :
And so, espoused to death, with blood he sealed
A testament of noble-ending love.
Wars might rage abroad, and people imagine a vain thing at home, but the traces of material progress in the fifteenth century, whether in written record or in the more palpable evidence of wood and stone, are too plain to be passed over even by the casual observer.
The great mass of church architecture in Suffolk belongs to the fifteenth century, and it is wonderful with what little reverence the designers of that day treated the works of their predecessors. The Perpendicular style, with all its merits and demerits, came in like a flood, sweeping all before it. Money must have come in like a flood too, the outcome of the wool trade in a large degree. The two noble churches at Bury St. Edmunds, standing in one churchyard, as well as those at Southwold, Stoke-by-Nayland, Clare, Lowestoft, Ipswich St. Mary-le-Tower, and many others, with their lofty arcades and darkness-hating clerestories, testify to the wealth, piety, and public spirit of the period of their erection. The three sister-towers of Bungay St. Mary, Eye, and Laxfield seem to have emanated from the same mind ; and a fourth, Redenhall, is just within the Norfolk border, but in the same district. Leaden spires, too, of the lantern order, after the manner of Belgium, now appear. There was till the earlier part of this century a fine specimen on the tall tower of Mildenhall, a notable waymark in the heaths and fens of the hundred of Lackford. Brandon and Stowmarket are good instances. That at Whepstead was blown down on the night of Oliver Cromwell’s death. The interiors of the churches also were vastly improved. Rood-screens of great stateliness, and often bearing figures of the Apostles or of virgin saints, such as St. Cecilia, St. Apollonia, St. Barbara, and others, were erected ; Southwold, Eye, Bramfield, and many others, remain. I can recollect the forester of St. Vedast in a pew at Mildenhall, well covered with “french-white” paint, and often wondered what it meant. Often the screen was surmounted with a loft, approached by a newel staircase in one of the pillars of the chancel-arch, whence would issue the voice of praise in the service. In front of the crucifix which was on the screen hung the rotula, or rowell, a ring of light. The cost, about eighteenpence, for renewing the wax from time to time often occurs in parish accounts, e.g., Cratfield. In Fressingfield the pulley and block for the rowell rope may still be seen, with a guider in the easternmost of the arches of the south arcade.
The new Perpendicular towers were not allowed to remain silent. Indeed, the cages for the bells were placed as soon .as the building had reached the belfry floor, and the towers were then built around them. This is proved by the length of the wooden pins which fasten the beams together, such that they could not have been driven in after the walls had been constructed round them.
A very large number of these fine old bells may still be heard, and seen by such as fear not steeple-climbing. They are beautiful objects, and the ornamentation on them surprises all but the campanalogist. In my “Church Bells of Suffolk” there is an account of all that survive indeed, of every bell now existing in Suffolk, and of some which have passed away. The greater part came from Norwich or London, but by the middle of the fifteenth century there was a flourishing foundry at Bury St. Edmunds. The founder’s initials were H. S., as may be seen from his foundry-stamp, from which also we learn that he cast cannon as well as bells at Bury. After him came two men named Chirche, Reignold and Thomas. There are still existing nearly a hundred of their bells, of which rather more than half are in our county. The men of Mildenhall, in 1469, had a suit in the Court of Common Pleas against Richard Brasyer, the Norwich founder, for alleged breach of contract, they complaining that in recasting “le graunde bell de Mildenhall” he had failed “de ce faire un tenor accorder in tono et sono a les auters belles de Mildenhall.” The best lawyers of the day were retained on both sides, and the Year-book contains a full rehearsal of the arguments, which are of an ingenious character. 82
Domestic architecture advanced greatly, some of the old stud-and-plaster houses being of a highly picturesque character. One in the street of Barton Mills is especially worthy of note. Another in St. Mary’s Street, Bungay, with the history of Samson, is sure to attract attention. The “Ancient House”, Ipswich, only needs to be named, while there is hardly a town in the county which cannot show at least portions of an example.
The guild-houses at Lavenham, Hadleigh, Kelsale, Laxfield, and Fressingfield are amongst the best remaining, the latter adorned with a figure of St. Margaret trampling on the dragon.
Built without substructure, and merely resting on the soil, when mediaeval houses decayed the traces of them soon vanished. One in the parish of Weybread was burnt down in the autumn of 1892, and few would now, little more than two years after the fire, notice that there had been a house on the spot. If we are sometimes surprised at the existence of solitary churches, we may remember that the clusters of houses which were once round them have left no sign at their departure.
We must not leave this period without a few words about its Suffolk poet, John Lydgate, a native of that village, in the Woodland country, and a Benedictine of the great house of St. Edmund. He was an imitator of Chaucer, but, to use Thomas Fuller’s words about somebody else, he had the fiddle and the bow, but not the rosin of his original. Ritson has a list of 251 pieces of his in the “Bibliographic Poetics”, and even this is probably not exhaustive. Exhausting, doubtless, most of his compositions are. Even the “Storie of Thebes”, which the author puts in as an extra Canterbury tale, borrowed from Statics and Boccaccio, is pronounced exceedingly dull and prolix, and is no better than it is called. Like many others of that time, he was a travelled man, and had overlaid his English wit with French and Italian lore, which he had rather acquired than absorbed. Pilgrimages, indeed, proved a most important link between nations, and fostered exchanges in produce, literature and politics, as well as in hagiology. If foreigners came to Walsingham and Bury, East Anglians went to Rome and Santiago. Of the latter I possess a notable memorial. In the year 1878 I was at Dunwich with one of my old Yarmouth boys 82, trying to discover some traces of Route IX in Antonine’s “Itinerary”. We were just on the point of departing when I asked a man who was at work at the Gray Friars’ whether anything had been found lately. He prodooed an undistinguished scrap of copper, thickly encrusted with mud, which I bought of him there and then. It took some days’ soaking to remove the earthen crust, and then came to light a little copper Santiago cockle,’ a ‘shell of Galice,’ 9.s we find it sometimes called. No doubt it had been dropped there by some Suffolk pilgrim who bitterly mourned its loss ; but it has fallen into loving hands, and, indeed, so charmed my deceased friend, Mr. Matthew Holbeche Bloxam, that he had it photographed, engraved and recorded83.
These excursions were not all pleasure. A humorist, who writes as though from painful experience, has de picted the miseries of the voyage to ‘ Seynt Jamys,’ or, rather, to Corunna, the nearest port to Compostella.
A qualmish passenger ejaculates :
Steward, felow ! A pot of bere!
and is cheerfully answered :
Ye shalle have, sir, with good chere, Anon alle of the best.
By the time the dinner-cloth is laid all appetite is gone :
Thys mene whyle the pylgryms ly,
And have theyr bowlys fast theym by,
And cry aftyr hote malmsy ;
“Thow helpe for to restore.*
And som wold have a saltyd tost,
ffor they rnyght ete neyther sode (boiled) ne rost
A man myght sone pay for theyr cost,
As for oo (one) day or twayne.
Som layde theyr bookys on theyr kne,
And rad so long they myght nat se ;—
“Allas I myne hede wolle clove on thre!”
Thus seyth another certayne.84
In this forlorn condition we will in imagination leave the owner of the Compostella scallop, and turn to the Home Department, and in particular to the election of members of the House of Commons.
Hitherto the County Court seems to have been open to all comers, as before the Norman Conquest, and in case of difference of opinion the rough and ready show of hands settled the matter. In the eighth year of Henry VI., 1429, on the prayer of the Commons, this was changed. The franchise was unmanageable, and the forty-shilling freeholder was invented. Sheriffs could examine on oath, and be punished for not maintaining the restriction. Knights returned contrary to the ordinance were to lose their wages. The result was undoubtedly the aggrandizement of the nobles, and our county affords an excellent instance of its working. When, at the Parliament held at Bury in 1447, the Beauforts and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, had the ascendancy, the “good Duke Humphrey” of Gloucester was arrested the day after the Houses met, and was found dead in the course of a few days, not without strong suspicion of foul play. Then came the reaction. Suffolk fell, and his relation, Archbishop Stafford, retired from the Chancellorship, which was reoccupied by Cardinal Kempe, a man raised from the ranks.
In these struggles there can be no doubt that influence from high quarters was freely used. It comes to the surface in letters of the Duke of Norfolk and of the Earl of Oxford to John Paston in 1450, the former written from Bury, and the latter from East Winch in Norfolk. The latter encloses a “sedell” (schedule) of the names of the persons to be chosen for Norfolk – Sir William Chambirlayn and Henry Grey. Grey was returned with Sir Miles Stapleton for Norfolk, but another Chambirlayn (Sir Roger) and Sir Edmund Mulso sat for Suffolk. Of these two, the Duchess of Norfolk had at the same time recommended Chambirlayn 85. The residence of the Mowbrays at Framlingham, and their ancient possessions at Bungay and elsewhere, gave them great weight in Suffolk. At the same time, the first duties of governors, the keeping of the peace and the protection of life and property, were miserably neglected. Jack Cade and his merry men had their humble but sincere imitators in East Anglia in 1452, under Captain “John AmendAlle”, who seems to have been a certain Roger Chirche, alias Bylaugh. Their doings were mainly confined to Norfolk, but on “the Saterday next before Palme Soneday” (April 1) we find that they or some of the same kind were at work in Suffolk, when “Alredis sone of Erll Some, fast be Framyngham, was pullid ought of a hous and kyllid”. Fourteen of the gang are named as “gadderyng to hem (them) gret multitude of mysrewled people”, and keeping “a frunture and a forslet” at the house of Robert Ledeham, whence they issued, sometimes thirty strong and more, “jakked and salattyd” (in coats of mail and helmets), and did many “orible and abhomynable dedis”. From the petition that went up to the Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Kempe, Postwick Wood, near Norwich, was regarded as their headquarters. In the case of the Earl Soham outrage, however, the information falls short of connecting the murder of young Aldred with Ledeham’s gang. “Whedyr any of the seid felechap were there or not men kan not sey, there be of hem so many of wheche many be unknowe people”.” This, be it remembered, took place almost in sight of John Mowbray’s ducal castle at Framlingham.
It is probable that a wholesome extinction of these savages came about through the Wars of the Roses; otherwise those sad struggles affected our county only indirectly. The Earl of Oxford was very powerful in Essex, and not without influence in Norfolk, but in Suffolk his name did not go far. He and the Duke of Norfolk, the latter with 6,000 men, are related to have turned up at St. Albans the day after the first battle there. The Duke’s father and the Yorkist claimant had married sisters; somehow, nevertheless, Norfolk was in alliance with Lancaster. A neighbour, Philip Wentworth, who carried the King’s standard, “kest hit down and fled”, and the narrator of the battle adds, “Myn Lord Norffolk seyth he shal be hanged therfore, and so is he worthy. He is in Suffolk now. He der not come about the King”. This is not the last time that a Wentworth of Nettlestead will be named in the annals of the county. The writer of this letter is one William Barker.
Thomas Playter, or Playters, of Sotterley, tells us some of the detail of the battles in this devastating civil war, but it is all at second hand, and the slowness with which intelligence travelled in those days is surprising. Playter, whose brass remains in Sotterley Church, where he was interred in 1470, was much in London on business connected with the Pastons. From the tone of his letters the courts seem to have sat, and their decisions to have commanded respect; while in the North the midwinter snows were crimsoned with blood at Wakefield, and the choristers, after chanting the Palm Sunday anthem at York, might have heard outside the cathedral the deadly din at Towton.
The battle of Towton was fought on March 29, 1461, and on the following day Edward IV. entered York, but no tidings arrived till Easter Eve at London, which “unto this day”, say Playter and William Paston, writing as soon as the news came to hand, “was as sorry cite as might”. The letter which conveyed the result of the battle was from Edward IV. to his mother. Playter and his friend excuse themselves for sending no “er” (sooner) because they were without intelligence, and as the messenger could hardly have reached Suffolk till Monday, and Norfolk till Tuesday, a good ten days must have intervened between the battle and the knowledge of it in North Suffolk. The lordship of Framlingham about this time passed from one John Mowbray to another, and the Duke of Suffolk was more occupied with advancing his personal interests than in affairs of State. What the Mowbrays and De la Poles thought of that breaking of the cloud in the North we know not.
The municipal history of the fifteenth century is doubly important as regards Suffolk, as showing the connection of the county with the Metropolis, and as marking a great advance in the position of the county town.
It is no mean testimony to the moral and intellectual education in the provinces that so many country lads should go up to London, serve faithfully in the lower stages of office work, and rise by degrees to the aldermen’s bench and to the loth mayoralty. Such was Sir Henry Barton, citizen and skinner of Mildenhall, or rather, I suspect, from Barton Mills, in which village there is an ancient house which may have belonged to his father. He was Lord Mayor in 1416 and in 1430, and became the father of the public lighting of London, ordaining lamps to be hung outside each citizen’s house at night, from All Hallows to Purification. The noble parish church of Mildenhall contains his tomb, and a font bearing the City arms and those of Barton, a municipal relic whereof the City should not be unmindful, for it is getting dilapidated, and may, perchance, find its way into a stonemason’s yard, should some benevolent person pre sent the church with a new one. Barton turns up in the “Paston Letters” in his proper character as skinner, being requested to send to Thomalin Grys, spicer, of Norwich, some “loder” (leather) as soon as he can goodly buy it. Such also were another Mildenhall man, Sir William Gregory, Lord Mayor in 1451, and Sir Thomas Cooke, a native of Lavenham, Lord Mayor in 1462; and there will be two more from Suffolk in the next chapter.
Meanwhile, the town of Ipswich was rising in commercial importance. The earliest of its charters was granted in the first year of King John, before which time the borough was in the position of Norwich, Lewes, Oxford, and other places, paying two-thirds of its revenue to the King, and the ‘third penny’ to the Earl. The Domesday Book extract makes this clear. Earl Guert in the time of Edward the Confessor, and Roger Bigod after the Conquest, received this “third penny”. But the place had gone terribly down in the world, the burgesses having fallen in that interval from 538 to 210, half of these too poor to pay more than a penny a head to the King’s Geld. There were then 328 empty houses, and the borough was in perpetual debt. John’s charter was apparently to be paid for by clearing off these arrears, a process occupying more than a year, if we may judge from the slow action on the part of the burgesses in acting on their new privileges. They had no fixed place of meeting, but held their first assembly in the churchyard of St. Mary-le-Tower, where they chose their two bailiffs, and subsequently, by committee, their twelve portmen. Passing over intermediate charters, we come to that of 24 Henry VI., whereby the two bailiffs and four of the portmen received the commission of the peace, with all fines, etc., accruing thence, with the assize of bread, wine, and ale, the admiralty, and clerkship of the market. With the exception of magisterial privileges, this was only putting in black and white what had been matter of custom. Edward IV., in 1464, after his manner, totally ignored what the Lancastrian usurpers had done, but took care that his charter should in no way abridge their newly granted rights. The town is now incorporated by the title of the “Bailiffs, Burgesses, and Commonalty”. The two bailiffs are to be elected at the Guildhall every eighth of September, and the burgesses are to be exempt from jury service. The incorporation soon made by-laws, and pigs, in Ipswich as elsewhere, were among the first reformanda86. Stray hogs might be sold by those in whose gardens they were found, half the money to be kept by the injured person, the other half to go to the town; and those who suffered their swine to go at large were to pay for every foot one penny at the first offence, and twopence at the second. A third transgression could be expiated only by the forfeit of the whole hog, the origin of one of our proverbial expressions.
- I suspect this to be a misprint for “Tho. Herd”. The surname existed at Shipmeadow about that time. —East Anglian, N.S., iv. 29.
- Nicolas, “Battle of Agincourt”
- I “Henry V.”, Act IV., scene vi.
- Eldest son of Edmund Langley (the fifth son of Edward III.), elder brother of the traitor Richard, Earl of Cambridge, and uncle of Richard the “White Rose”.
- Mr. Arthur B. Cooper, of Westwood Lodge, Blythburgh.
- See his paper “On the Tomb of a Pilgrim at Haverfordwest.”
- “The Pilgrim’s Sea-voyage” (Early English Text Society, 1867).
- Gairdner’s “Paston Letters”, i. 16o, 161; Cox, “Ancient Parliamentary Elections”, p. 115.
- Taylor, “In and about Ancient Ipswich”, p. 45.
Leave a Reply