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!

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Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses

By David Santiuste

I thoroughly enjoyed David Santiuste’s book on Edward IV. Unlike other books that give an overview of Edward IV’s life, from birth to death and the legacy he left, Santiuste’s book delves in and explores Edward’s life from the deadly Battle of Towton through to his victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

The book opens with a brief overview of Edward’s younger years and then moves into exploring the rise of Edward’s father, Richard, Duke of York and his moves to become a claimant of the throne of England. After Richard, Duke of York’s death it is Edward that carried on the claim. At only eighteen years of age Edward was proclaimed King of England after deposing Henry VI. Just weeks later Edward led an army into the famous Battle of Towton. This battle is one of England’s bloodiest with thousands upon thousands of men fighting to their deaths in the freezing snow. Yet Edward IV was able to lead the Yorkist cause to victory.

Santiuste Explore’s Edward’s rule as King of England, the battles he fought against the Lancastrian cause, his capture and also the reinstatement of Henry VI as King which saw Edward flee overseas. The book then moves on to detail Edward’s return to England, the decisions he had to make and how he managed to reclaim the English throne. Towards the end of the book the famous battle of Tewkesbury is detailed and with the tragic death of Henry VI’s son, Edward Prince of Wales, it would seem that Edward’s IV’s throne was secure.

It was fascinating to learn about Edward IV as a King but also a warrior and a leader of men. He is a King often remembered for the latter years of his life, dying young and leaving his son, only twelve years old, as one of the famous Princes in the Tower. Yet in his younger years Edward was a man capable of both forgiveness and anger. He was a leader, able to motivate his men before battle and had the wits and knowledge to lead his army to victory many times. Certainly, he was supported by the famous Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, but Santiuste shows that Edward VI was a man of action and bravery. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the fascinating period of the Wars of the Roses.

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Following in the Footsteps of the Princes in the Tower

by Andrew Beattie

First and foremost, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Often books that look at the famous ‘Princes in the Tower’, Edward V and his younger brother Richard of Shrewsbury focus on the boy’s disappearance and what could have happened to them. They discuss the potential people that could have ordered the young boys’ deaths or possibly if and how they escaped. Beattie’s book took a completely different path. Within the pages of this book is a look at the lives of the sons of King Edward IV and the places they lived.

Beattie explored the various castles, manors, places etc. that the Princes lived and or visited from the time of their respective births to their last confirmed sighting in the Tower of London. He details the boy’s relationship to each place, how many times they might have visited, when or how long they lived at each place. He discusses the history of each location e.g. When castles were built and by who and how they came to be a place the Princes lived.

Beattie then moves on to discuss what the castles or places look like today, some of which sadly either no longer exist or are little more than remnants. He also discusses where and how people can see these famous locations today.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was a refreshing way to learn about the famous Princes in the Tower; to focus on their lives rather than just their death. This is a fabulous resource and one a person could bring along with them when visiting England. If you’re looking for a different look at the Princes in the Tower and their lives then this is most certainly your book!

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The Tudor Murder Files

by James Moore

Despite the seemingly gruesome title, this was actually a brilliant book full of fascinating information about an area of Tudor history that is not often discussed. As the title suggests Moore explores a large variety of murders that took place during Tudor England, from 1485 to 1603, providing details pulled from first-hand sources.

I was genuinely surprised to learn that the murder rate during Tudor England was greater than today. I would have thought that with such strict religious beliefs people would have refrained from such violent acts – but it seems not. The first part of this book Moore describes the various means in which when a person had been found guilty of committing a murder they were put to death. These means included being hanged, burnt at the stake and even the horrific death of being pressed by large rocks until you were quite literally squished to death!

Moving on Moore then details a large number of murders that took place during the reign of the five Tudor monarchs. He details people who died from eating poison pancakes, a man who was hanged by a silk scarf, another man was found in a cask, the first assassination by a gun, a man who was killed for poking a man’s nose and even a woman who died after having sex! These were quite incredible and drastic means of murder and although gruesome the author retells these stories by focusing on the information rather than passing judgement. Each story was so unique, so strange and yet utterly fascinating that once I began, I just wanted to keep reading.

Moore’s book on murders that took place during the reign of the Tudor’s is definitely a must read!

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On the 23rd March 1538 Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador at the English court, wrote to the Queen of Hungry explaining that: ‘On the same day, the 18th, the painter returned with the Duchess’ likeness, which has pleased the King much, and put him in much better humour. He has been masking and visiting the duchess of Suffolk.’

The fact that the King visited and entertained with Katherine Willoughby has been used to suggest that he was romantically interested in her from as early as 1538. It should be pointed out that in the previous sentence Chapuys informs the Queen of Hungry that the painter (Hans Holbein) returned with the Duchess’ likens which pleased the King much. The Duchess in question was Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan who Henry VIII was investigating as a potential fourth wife. Even Chapuys states that the King liked the appearance of the Duchess, confirming his further interest in her for a bride so it makes little sense that he would then go and romantically pursue Katherine Willoughby.

Imperial ambassador, Francois Van der Delft, wrote to Charles V telling him of rumours he had heard about the King and Katherine Willoughby:

‘Sire, I am confused and apprehensive to have to inform your Majesty that there are rumours here of a new Queen, although I do not know why, or how true it may be. Some people attribute to it the sterility of the present Queen, whilst others say there will be no change whilst the present war lasts. Madame Suffolk is much talked about, and is in great favour; but the King shows no alteration in his demeanour towards the Queen, though the latter, as I am informed, is somewhat annoyed at the rumours.’

It must be noted that this letter was written on 27 September 1546 over a year after Brandon’s death. The letter also states that the King is annoyed by these rumours which suggest that he was not romantically interested in Katherine Willoughby or at least he was not seeking to cast off his sixth wife and replace her with a seventh.

In all, there is very little to suggest that Charles Brandon’s widow was in any danger from the King’s attention or that he was seeking to make her his wife after his friend’s death. Perhaps the King sought to spend time with Katherine as a means to reminisce and remind himself of happier memories after Brandon’s death.

Catherine Willoughby

 

Sources:

Baldwin, David, Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors (Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2015).

Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 10, 1550-1552, (London: British History Online) <http://www.british-<history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol10/pp225-237&gt;.

Gairdner, James, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47 (United Kingdom: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932).