Sir John Tiptoft: ‘Butcher of England’: Earl of Worcester, Edward IV’s Enforcer and Humanist Scholar
By Peter Spring
Eloquently written, unbiased and based on a wealth of primary documents, Peter Spring’s book is a compelling study of the life of Sir John Tiptoft, Earl of Worchester.
From the moment I picked up Spring’s book I was enthralled. Through my readings of the Wars of the Roses I had heard of the famous ‘Butcher of England’, although it was only in passing and to mention the heinous punishments he had enforced upon people. Yet the true man, the John Tiptoft that entered King Henry VI’s service at the mere age of twenty and rose to become quite possibly the second most powerful man in England, has previously been overlooked. Spring brings John Tiptoft’s life to light and shows a very, very different side of this legendary man.
To do so Spring has clearly drawn upon a vast wealth of primary documents, written in several different languages, to gain a true understand of who John Tiptoft was, as both a man at court and a man with a personal life. Spring shows that Tiptoft was a man of extreme intelligence. He rose to prominence through the court of Henry VI. He was devoted to learning and literature and was educated at Oxford University. He was a man of great intellect and had a strong understanding of the English Court. He was highly relied upon by both Henry VI and Edward IV. He acted as Treasurer of England on three separate occasions, became Deputy of Ireland, Constable of the Tower of London and Lord High Constable of England. He was a man known to be fair and kind as well as being able to impose punishments as needed.
He was also a deeply religious man, going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem as well as spending several years in Italy and Venice, furthering his own personal learning and expanding his ever-growing personal library. He was recalled because he was a man in much need and when he was in both Ireland and England, he served Edward IV faithfully.
Yet despite all of this he has gone down in history as the ‘Butcher of England’. Was this title justified? Springs examines in great detail the evidence for and against. Yes, Tiptoft was in charge of several juries that sentenced traitors to death and several of those men were hideously impaled after death. But as Springs reminds the reader, was this any worse than other people of the time? The atrocities of some during the middle ages were nothing less than horrific! Even during the period of the Wars of the Roses the way Tiptoft behaved and conducted himself seems very much on par with a man loyal to his King. Ultimately Spring leaves the question if Tiptoft’s title was deserved or not open, allowing the reader to make up their own mind.
Personally, I found Peter Spring’s book on Sir John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, to be one of the best books that I have ever read that focuses on the period of the Wars of the Roses. It was fascinating and I came away seeing Tiptoft in a completely new light. Carefully written with an emphasis on primary documents, Spring’s book is compelling and eye opening. An absolute must read!