1213: Peter of Pontefract, oracle

Add comment May 28th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1213, the hermit Peter of Pontefract (or Peter of Wakefield) was hanged by King John.

Reluctant Magna Carta signer and ridiculous Robin Hood villain, John has never been the most highly regarded sovereign. (A recent BBC poll saluted him as the 13th century’s very worst Briton.)

The papacy ranked among John’s many irritants. A 1205 dispute with Pope Innocent III over the successor to the late Archbishop of Canterbury — John wanted control of ecclesiastical appointments in his own realm, a little preview of coming attractions in English history. This dispute extended so far as Innocent’s excommunicating John, and laying England under a papal interdict prohibiting administration of any sacraments save baptism and last rites. There’s no bargaining chip quite like “do what I say or everyone goes to hell.”

John didn’t sweat the eternal damnation stuff much but in 1212 the specter of war with France — gleefully justified by Philip II on grounds of the English king’s impiety — started twisting the screws a little. Philip had already seized English holdings in Normandy; now, he was gathering force for an invasion of Albion’s own shores.

With discontent already afoot among the domestic nobility, some of whom were extending feelers to King Philip, the Yorkshire hermit Peter ran out a prophecy that John’s crown would pass to other hands by the next Ascension Day — which happened to be Thursday, May 23, 1213.

Peter’s prophecy gained no little folk following, prompting John to take him into custody.

And here a prophet, that I brought with me
From forth the streets of Pomfret, whom I found
With many hundreds treading on his heels;
To whom he sung, in rude harsh-sounding rhymes,
That, ere the next Ascension-day at noon,
Your highness should deliver up your crown.

-Shakespeare’s King John

But days before the momentous date arrived, John resolved the crisis and saved himself from potential deposition with a timely submission to the papal legate Pandulf, before whom he dramatically laid the crown and resumed it pledging an annual tribute of 1,000 marks from the throne of England to that of St. Peter.*

This was either — take your pick — a deft political masterstroke instantly neutralizing the threats to John’s throne, or else it was a craven surrender to the Vatican.

Peter of Pontefract gives us a hint of a judgment on that question.

John held Peter past the May 23 date — and then, just for good measure, past May 27, for that had been the calendar date of John’s coronation in 1199, which was also Ascension Thursday that year, and had been floated as a fallback interpretation of the prophecy — the seer had been duly discredited and, being made ridiculous, could now be made an example of.

Or had he been?

For,

the wise and the foolish alike began to see that John had prevented a literal fulfilment of the prophecy by lending himself to a figurative one. He had ‘ceased to be king’ by laying his crown at the feet of Pandulf, to take it back again on conditions which unquestionably helped to fix it, for the time at least, more securely than ever on his brow. The scapegoat of all parties was the unlucky prophet himself. Next day he and his son, who had been imprisoned with him, were tied each to a horse’s tail, dragged thus from Corfe to Wareham, and there hanged. (Source)

* John stopped paying in 1214, and Innocent left well enough alone.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1471: Thomas Neville, the Bastard Faulconbridge

2 comments September 27th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1471, Lancastrian commander Thomas Neville was beheaded in the War of the Roses.

“The bastard Faulconbridge” (Fauconberg, Falconbridge) got his illegitimacy from dad, the Earl of Kent, and like William Neville, young Thomas played both sides of the aisle during the decades-long dynastic struggle.

Thomas made his most famous mark in May of 1471, leading a Lancastrian column to meet up at London with another led by Margaret of Anjou. Unfortunately for Neville, Margaret’s army was trounced at the Battle of Tewkesbury, leaving the Bastard on his own.

Still, he made a solo go of attacking London — “stirring of coles & proud port,” in the judgment of Holinshed, “with hautinesse of hart & violence of hand thin|king to beare downe the people, as an innudation or flowing of water streams dooth all before it: yet he came short of his purpose, & pulled vpon his owne pate finall destruction: though he thought himselfe a man ordeined to glorie.”

Thomas Neuill, bastard sonne to that valiant cap|teine the lord Thomas Fauconbridge (who had late|lie before beene sent to the sea by the earle of War|wike, and after fallen to practise pirasie) had spoiled diuerse merchants ships, Portingals and others, in breach of the ancient amitie that long had continued betwixt the realms of England and Portingale; and furthermore, had now got to him a great number of mariners, out of all parts of the land, and manie traitors and misgouerned people from each quarter of the realme, beside diuerse also foorth of other coun|tries that delighted in theft and robberies, meaning to worke some exploit against the king.

And verelie, his puissance increased dailie, for ha|uing béene at Calis, and brought from thence into Kent manie euill disposed persons, he began to ga|ther his power in that countrie, meaning (as was thought) to attempt some great and wicked enter|prise. After the kings comming to Couentrie, he receiued aduertisements, that this bastard was come before London, with manie thousands of men by land, and also in ships by water, purposing to rob and spoile the citie. Manie Kentishmen were willing to assist him in this mischieuous enterprise, and other were forced against their wils to go with him, or else to aid him with their substance and monie, insomuch that within a short time, he had got togither sixtéene or seuentene thousand men, as they accompted them|selues.

With these he came before the citie of London the twelfe of Maie, in the quarrell (as he pretended) of king Henrie, whome he also meant to haue out of the Tower, & to restore him againe vnto his crowne & roiall dignitie …

The attack gave London a fright, but was eventually repelled; the Bastard fled town as King Edward IV, fresh from Tewkesbury, approached.* He seems to have copped a pardon, but he was beheaded in unclear circumstances (Holinshed says, after resuming his career in piracy — but royal perfidy seems equally likely), and his head shipped to London Bridge for pike-topping duty.


A distant spinoff of the dynasty is rumored to have founded the Falcon Crest estate.

There’s a bastard Faulconbridge in the Shakespeare canon; oddly enough he’s not found in the Henry VI series … but as the central character in the rarely-performed King John. Apart from the name, this fictional Bastard Philip Faulconbridge doesn’t seem to have a lot in common with our man.

* Just hours after resuming London, Edward’s party murdered the theretofore imprisoned Yorkist claimant that Neville had meant to liberate, Henry VI. Henry was wed to Margaret of Anjou, truly an ill-starred marriage.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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