Of Gloucester & York

Of Gloucester & York

The County towns of Gloucestershire and Yorkshire while unique in themselves have much in common with each other in forming our English nation.

It is interesting to discover the several historic parallels between these two ancient cities. Their capital importance within the history of England is sometimes overlooked by modern society. Historically they were only second to London and Westminster. An indication of the importance of York is given to its Archbishop, whose position is ranked directly after the Archbishop of Canterbury. The magnificence of the Minster is a clear indication of his exalted importance.

Physically, the strategic locations of York and Gloucester were chosen by the Romans in order to govern their locality and for their defensively convenient positions by the Severn and the Ouse. When the Romans founded their ‘colononia’ they would have recognised the importance of these locations within the indigenous British tribal areas.

York was created in 71 AD in the north, as the capital of ‘Britannia Inferior’, when the Ninth Legion conquered the British tribe known as the Brigantes. A timber fortress was initially constructed on level ground above the River Ouse close to the confluence with the River Foss. Several Emperors are known to have held court in York during the Roman occupation. Initially named by the Romans as Eboracum, the city name was Anglicised to Eoforwic and subsequently given the Norse name Jorvic by the Danes. Jorvic was recognised as the capital of the ‘Danelaw’. The Normans called the City Evorwic and finally York.

York had been the chief city of King Edwin of Northumbria, installed around 615 by King Raedwald, the Norsk bretwalda. William the Conqueror by 1068 had subdued the south but had trouble in the north and faced rebellion at York. He had a fortress built in 1069 from where the Normans carried out the ‘Harrying of the North’ destroying everything from York to Durham. When William came to England, claiming his cousin Edward (the Confessor) had bequeathed him the throne, he set about removing the Nordic traditions and culture that existed at York. Even so, the city retained its Nordic culture and traditions for many generations.

The import of the royal cities of Gloucester and York have greatly influenced the often-dramatic history of our monarchy and the governance of the nation. This was particularly apparent within the subsequent ‘Plantagenet’ conflicts leading to the ‘Wars of the Roses’ concluding with the Tudor supremacy,

William I’s fourth son Henry (born at Selby York), was a well-educated scholar in Latin and the arts and known as Beauclerc. As King Henry I he seized the throne in 1100 and in 1106 invaded Normandy to take control of the Duchy of his brother Robert. When Henry’s son William became shipwrecked and drowned in 1120, he declared his daughter Matilda to be his heir. Civil war in 1135, led to Matilda invading England in 1139 (against cousin Stephen of Blois) assisted by her half-brother Robert of Gloucester.

The House of Plantagenet

Henry II, a Frenchman known as Curtmantle or Henry Plantagenet, ruled as King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, Maine and Nantes. He also partially controlled Scotland, Wales, the Duchy of Brittany and the eastern half of Ireland. Son of Matilda (daughter of Henry I) and Count Geoffrey of Anjou, he was energetic and ruthless. He is greatly known to history for his conflict with his former friend Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.

On the accession of Richard, as King, he conferred upon his younger brother John, the county of Mortain in Normandy. He also arranged his marriage with the granddaughter of Robert, Earl of Gloucester (Henry I’s bastard). There were difficulties with the marriage as they were cousins and it required approval from the Pope. John had many weaknesses but was identified as anti-French by the people. He won over the citizens of London by granting them the right to elect a mayor and to self-govern their city. Many towns, including Gloucester, were subsequently given similar privileges.

John became infatuated with the twelve-year-old Isabelle of Angouleme and discarded his first wife, Isabella, Countess of Gloucester. In 1203 he instigated the murder of his nephew and rival, Arthur of Brittany. John was always at loggerheads with the Church, leading to his excommunication until 1213. Famously, John was forced into sealing the Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. This defined the rights of the Church, the barons and the people. John died at Newark Castle in October 1216. Queen Isabella was residing at Gloucester when John died and in 1217, she returned to France.

The Royal borough cities of Gloucester and York were intrinsic elements of the mediaeval monarchy. Earls and Royal Dukes designated with distinguished titles, became rivals who were led to choose sides in the power games of later generations. Notably in the subsequent conflict and war between ‘the Roses’.

When John died in 1216 his son Henry aged only nine was quickly crowned in Gloucester to prevent control going to King Louis VIII of France. Henry III was protected and brought up by the powerful William Marshall (of Pembroke) in the middle of the First Barons’ Revolt. Henry eventually promised to abide by the Great Charter of 1225 before re-establishing rule and governing personally through appointed ministers. His close and trusted friend Richard de Clare (of Gloucester) in Court, assisted him to oppose the radical Simon de Montfort (his brother in law) and the Savoyards. In 1263 Simon seized power, resulting in the Second Barons War.

Henry was married to Eleanor of Provence, with whom he was true and steadfast and had five children. Known for his piety, his patron saint was Edward the Confessor. Henry III died in 1272 after a long reign of 56 years and was succeeded by his son Edward I. Henry III is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Edward I was named by his father after Edward the Confessor. He became known as Edward ‘Longshanks’ and as ‘Hammer of the Scots’. An outstanding king, soldier and a wise statesman. King of England from 1272 to 1307. Edward spent much of his reign reforming royal administration and common law. He had studied his father’s reforms and developed a series of statutes relating to both criminal and property law. Edward is most known for his military campaigns. He subjected Wales to English rule and built a series of castles and towns to control the nation. He recovered the Duchy of Gascony and continually put pressure on the Scots. He was a tall man of six feet two inches in height and had an intimidating presence.

The ’Statute of Gloucester’ was legislated and proclaimed at Gloucester in August 1278. It was crucial to the development of English law. Reforming regal authority, alienated during his father’s dispute with Simon de Montfort. It is the statute originating the common law concerning property and the recovery of land seized illegally. It uses the old writ of quo warranto requiring proof of authority.

Edward I’s son Edward II, born 1284 in Wales, was known as Edward of Caernarfon. He was the first of the English monarchy to be crowned Prince of Wales. His reign was spent in conflict with the powerful authority of the English barons. Married to Isabella, daughter of the King of France his lifestyle was controversial. Perhaps his greatest disaster was losing the war with the Scots at Bannockburn. In the battle the all-powerful family de Clare came to its conclusion. The brave but impetuous Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester personally and by example led his men into a pitched battle. A trusted friend of the monarchy, he had been ‘guardian of the realm’ when the King was in France. Edward was deposed in January 1327 and legend has it that he was murdered in Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire in September 1327. His funeral and burial were held in Gloucester Cathedral where his tomb is by the high altar and where it received great popularity from public pilgrimages.

During the reign of Edward II, a growing resentment from Isabella, Mortimer, Edward’s half brother Thomas Brotherton and from Henry of Lancaster, who had inherited the earldom from his brother Thomas. The cracks between the Houses were just beginning to show. The rule of Isabella and Mortimer did not last long before Edward III, the young King, conducted a coup d’état at Nottingham and Mortimer was executed.

Edward III, born at Windsor Castle, was King of England and Lord of Ireland from January 1327 until 1377. Crowned at fourteen after his father was deposed by his mother and Roger Mortimer. He was seventeen when he successfully regained rule. He declared himself rightful heir to the throne of France (starting the ‘Hundred Years War’) and set out to regain Scotland. Edward is known for his military successes.

His children were Edward, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Edmund, 1st Duke of York, Lionel, 1st Duke of Clarence (keeping the memory of de Clare alive) and Thomas Duke of Gloucester. Edward transformed the Kingdom of England into one of the most powerful nations in Europe. He reigned for fifty years, nearly as long as his grandfather. His eldest son, the Black Prince was also known as Edward of Woodstock and Earl of Chester. He died before his father and so it was his son Richard that succeeded to the throne. The third son, John of Gaunt (or Ghent) became Duke of Lancaster through his wife Blanche of Lancaster who was of royal parentage, daughter of Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster. He was the most wealthy and powerful peer of the realm residing at Bolingbroke in Lincolnshire. Bolingbroke from Bolingborg in Lindsay, the Anglo Danish settlement of Stori at the Norman Conquest in 1066.

Edmund ‘Crouchback’ of Grosmont Castle was the second surviving son of Henry III. He was granted the wealthy possessions of Simon de Montfort including the Earldom of Leicester. Later he took the title Earl of Lancaster. His son Henry, 3rd Earl of Leicester and Lancashire was one of the principals that deposed Edward II. He was appointed Constable of Lancaster Castle and High Sheriff of Lancashire. His son Henry of Grosmont became first Duke of Lancaster.

Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, succeeded to the throne in 1377 upon the death of his grandfather Edward III. He was only ten years old at the time. He was dependant on his uncles John of Gaunt and Thomas of Woodstock. Following much unrest among the peasantry he was faced with a violent revolt in 1381 which he successfully assuaged. This King was a firm believer in the royal prerogative and depended on a small private retinue for protection. His authority was threatened by a group of aristocrats causing him to become tyrannical. In 1399, after John of Gaunt died, he disinherited Gaunt’s son Henry of Bolingbroke who had previously been exiled. Henry returned and gathered sufficient supporters to challenge Richard in warfare.

Hence began the 15th -century ‘Wars of the Roses’. The House of Lancaster, represented by John of Gaunt and his son Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford. They were of royal descent and likely candidates to succeed the childless Richard. Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, who was acting as Keeper of the Realm while the King was in Ireland, had little choice but to side with Bolingbroke. In August 1399, Richard surrendered to Henry at Flint Castle and he was taken to be imprisoned in the Tower of London.

However, Henry was not the next in line to the throne. The heir presumptive was Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, great-grandson of Edward III’s second surviving son Lionel, Gaunt’s brother. On 30th September, Richard gave up his crown willingly and ratified his deposition. He then retracted his decision and fell into a rage. He was formally deposed on 13th October (the feast day of Edward the Confessor) and Henry Bolingbroke was crowned king. To avert any threat of an uprising Richard was moved to Pontefract Castle where he probably starved to death.

Henry Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV was the first monarch since the Norman Conquest to use the English mother tongue. He founded the Lancaster branch of the House of Plantagenet. Henry V, also known as Henry of Monmouth, was king from 1413 until his death in 1422. An outstanding military strategist he has been immortalised by Shakespeare as the greatest warrior king of medieval England. Henry had one son who would succeed him as Henry VI at only nine months when his father died in 1422. He also succeeded to the French throne shortly afterwards. Timid and shy, prone to a mental illness, he had other people to rule for him.

Richard, 3rd Duke of York, known also as Richard Plantagenet, was a popular great-grandson of King Edward III through his father. He governed as Lord Protector during the spell of madness of Henry VI. During which time he made claims to the throne and was a major cause of the ensuing Wars of the Roses. It was generally agreed that he should become king on Henry’s death. However, he was killed in battle and it was his sons Edward (IV) and Richard (III) who would later ascend the throne.

Edward IV proclaimed himself king in March 1461, to rule until October 1470 and then in 1471 until his death in 1483. Edward had the patronage of the powerful Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (The King Maker).

During this period of the Wars of the Roses, the Lancastrians won several battles, forcing Edward to flee to Flanders while Henry VI was restored back on to the throne. Edward then formed an alliance with Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. With a small invasion force he was reinstated at York and marched south to defeat Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. He went on to win the Battle of Tewkesbury, in which Henry’s heir, Edward of Westminster was killed.

Shortly afterwards when Henry suddenly and mysteriously died, Edward was restored to the throne. He then reigned until his own sudden death in 1483. Edward was succeeded by his 12-year-old son Edward V who was never crowned before soon disappearing. Edward’s brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester had been acting Lord Protector during the young king’s minority. He then assumed full sovereignty and was crowned Richard III.

At that moment, the House of Lancaster appeared to have finally been crushed. However, when Richard III, Duke of Gloucester became king in 1483, he was to be the last king of the House of York and of the Plantagenet dynasty. It was Henry Tudor’s claim to the Lancastrian connection and the defeat of Richard at the Battle of Bosworth Field, that finally ended the Wars of the Roses. Henry VII’s claim of entitlement was through his mother who was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward III.

NB- Henry VII descended from Edward III through the Beaufort line (they were legitimised by half brother Henry IV; (not in succession). Henry VII claimed the throne by ‘right of conquest’ not by blood.

Conclusion – with regard to heritage, clearly there are weaknesses in the lineage of, or from. Edward IV and with the dubious Henry VII. The Tudor dynasty promoted propaganda to enhance their claim and to spoil the image of the old Yorkist allegiances. Lancastrian heritage has subsequently been frozen along with its wealth and is held within the ‘Crown’. It is the private estate of the ruling sovereign and it continues to fund and support the monarchy under the title of the ‘Duchy of Lancaster’.

The Duchy is administered on behalf of the sovereign by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is an appointed minister of the government. This estate has been the personal property of the monarch since 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke merged his Lancastrian title with the crown. Its revenues from the holdings provide for the monarch’s ‘privy purse’.

Lancastrian influence has been sheltered by the ‘Duchy’ and the prominence of the Tudor regime has overshadowed the earlier importance and consequent images of both Gloucester and York.


  1. For political reasons the memory of Richard was deliberately smeared. The characterization by Shakespeare has been sharply disputed by the large following of the ‘Ricardian Society’. Richard had been a dominant and respected leader, particularly popular in the North where he had shown himself to have outstanding military skills. He was also recognised to be pious and considerate in his dealings. He proved his bravery and leadership particularly in the battles of both Barnet and Tewkesbury.

Richard was killed in pitched battle on Bosworth Field in August 1485 and his body was interred in the Greyfriars Friary in Leicester. His grave was rediscovered September 2012 under a carpark covering the old Friary grounds. He was reburied with pomp and ceremony and a significant table tomb within Leicester Cathedral in March 2015.

  1. In medieval times Gloucester was popular with the monarchy. There were many beautiful buildings, including the Cathedral and a royal castle built in the style of the Tower of London. In a similar way the castle was part fortified royal residence and part prison. It had three chapels, two drawbridges and chambers for both the king and the queen. The castle normally housed the castellan in charge who was the county sheriff. During his reign, King Henry III was often in residence.

Following the Reformation and the Dissolution of the monasteries, the suppression of the chantries dealt a severe blow to the guilds and fraternities of the city. Radical protestant, John Hooper was appointed bishop of Gloucester in 1551. On Queen Mary’s accession, Hooper was burnt at Gloucester in 1554. Mary was considerably angered by Gloucester’s protestant sympathies.

Gloucester trade companies patronized puritan preachers. By the 1640s, Gloucester had fully adopted Protestantism, encouraged by the town clerk John Dorney, who declared that Gloucester was a ‘Free City’, free from Popery and in the cause of ‘God and the Commonwealth’.

The Siege of Gloucester by the army of King Charles I, took place between 10 August and 5 September 1643. The failure marked the beginning of the end for Charles I. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Preston and his subsequent execution in 1649. Popularity of Gloucester by the monarchy had taken another severe dint and when Charles II returned to the throne, he punished the City by having its walls torn down.

AS 11- 2019

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