1470: John Tiptoft, Butcher of England

5 comments October 18th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1470, cultured and bloodthirsty* English noble John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester was beheaded at Tower Hill during the War of the Roses.

Tiptoft’s calling card says he’s one of England’s first Renaissance men — literally so, because after cutting his teeth at Oxford, he spent several years in Padua, Ferrara, Rome and Florence, brushing up on Latin and law.

Besides culture and erudition, Tiptoft is supposed to have picked up from his Italianate exposure a taste for that fragmented peninsula’s barbarous political jockeying.*

Back in Britain from the start of the 1460s, Worcester aligned with the Yorkists during the War of the Roses, and made liberal use in both England and Ireland of his continental savvy in matters of torture, earning that unflattering sobriquet Butcher.

Tiptoft gave them the material, exercising,” in his constabulary post, “more extreme crueltie (as the fame wet) then princely pity.” For instance, when putting down one revolt,

the Kynge Edwarde came to Southamptone, and commawndede the Erle of Worcetere to sitt and juge suche menne as were taken … and so xx. persones of gentylmen and yomenne were hangede, drawne, and quartered, and hedede; and after that thei hanged uppe by the leggys, and a stake made scharpe at bothe endes, whereof one ende was putt in att bottokys, and the other ende ther heddes were putt uppe one; for whiche the peple of the londe were gretely displesyd; and evere afterwarde the Erle of Worcestre was gretely behatede emonge the peple, for ther dysordinate dethe that he used, contrarye to the lawe of the londe.

Too bad for the gretely behatede Erle of Worcestre that this was an era when anyone‘s uppance could be coming at any time.

This last, well, butchery was effected against supporters of the Earl of Warwick, the “kingmaker” whose fluid alliances shaped the royal jostle in the mid-15th century.

And the trouble for Tiptoft was that Warwick’s 1470 revolt against Tiptoft’s ally and kin Edward IVworked. Okay, only temporarily, but it was long enough to do in John Tiptoft.

For a brief moment, the Yorkist cause waned and the Lancastrian waxed; during the brief moment, the Butcher of England was haled before the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford, a man who occupied that office because Tiptoft had executed his father and elder brother.

The wheel of fortune had turned. A massive, jeering crowd turned out to see Tiptoft de-topfed. He asked the executioner to do it in three strokes rather than one, in honor of the Trinity.


Prayerful: John Tiptoft’s tomb at Ely Cathedral. (He’s flanked by two of his three wives, one of whom is in the foreground.) Image used with permission.

Tiptoft [wrote Henry Pancoast] was the most learned man among the English nobility of his time … [he] reflects his age at its best and worst. He was set at a confluence of evil influences, when civil strife following the Hundred years War [sic] had debauched the English nobility. Abroad he came close to that Italy which Machiavelli called “the corrupter of the world.” Yet a new intellectual life was growing, and Tiptoft’s career alternates between scholarship and political intrigues. He shows us how early the new spirit was astir in England, and how it was retarded; is is the “butcher” and “the first fruits of the Italian Renaissance.”

You can explore a bit more about John Tiptoft in the first third of this BBC radio 4 program, with author Alison Weir. (Her Tudor books burn up the bestseller lists, but she’s also written about the War of the Roses.) Or, look up the Household of Worcester, a medieval re-enactment society that takes name and inspiration from our day’s butchered butcher.

* This supposed southern influence on our friend the Earl might well be true, but it also strikes this author as an answer in search of a question. It’s hardly necessary to posit foreign influence to explain brutality in 15th century England, nor to explain educated men with a taste for cruelty.

But Tiptoft’s “wanton ferocity,” says Pancoast, “brings to mind the Italian proverb, quoted by Ascham in proof of the brutalizing effect of Italy upon the English nature: Inglese Itilianato e un diabolo incarnato.”

Since oiled stakes up buttocks were no more characteristic of Italian jurisprudence than English, the obvious place one might inquire for an outside influence would be that better-known diabolo incarnato, Vlad the Impaler: stories of Vlad Dracula’s then-contemporary skewerings were even then circulating and magnifying in the 15th century’s fresh new media channel, the printing press.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Judges,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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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.

On this day..

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

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1461: Owen Tudor, sire of sires

3 comments February 2nd, 2010 Headsman

A Welsh courtier with the boldness to bed the queen lost his head this date in 1461 … but his career in usurpation was just getting started.

Owen Tudor’s coat of arms.

The House of Tudor that would come to rule England counted Owen its sire; the four-year-old grandson he left at his death grew up to become the first Tudor monarch, Henry VII.

Owen produced the root of this august line with Dowager Queen Catherine of Valois, the French princess Henry V had extracted as part of the price of peace after Agincourt.

That union was supposed to join the two great realms, but Henry V unexpectedly kicked the bucket in 1422, leaving an infant son who was not only unable to hold the French throne … he was too unstable to hold the English throne, either.

Unless he was a seer, suave Owen must not have been thinking dynasties when he took the Queen as his lover (and eventually his wife via a secret marriage in the early 1430s).

They produced six children, but it wasn’t the bedroom politics that did our prolific father in, at least not directly. Only decades later, when ownership of the crown was up for grabs in the War of the Roses and Owen loyally led Lancastrian forces at a battle he was unwise enough to lose, did he give up his head for the pedestrian crime of backing the wrong horse.

Owen reportedly thought he had stature enough to expect a reprieve until the very last moment, when the executioner’s ripping his collar caused him to sigh,

The head which used to lie in Queen Catherine’s lap, would now lie in the executioner’s basket.

In time, Owen’s descendants would get to pull the same trick, because the doomed cause in whose service Owen Tudor lost his life swept clear England’s political chessboard and made possible his own line’s accession.

Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton later versified Owen’s prodigious conquest in “Owen Tudor to Queen Catherine”.

When first mine eyes beheld your princely name,
And found from whence this friendly letter came;
Is in excess of joy, I bad forgot.
Whether I saw it, or I saw it not:

My panting heart doth bid mine eyes proceed,
My dazzled eyes invite my tongue to read,
Which wanting their direction, dully mist it:
My lips, which should have spoke, were dumb, and kist it,

And left the paper in my trembling hand,
When all my senses did amazed stand :
Even as a mother coming to her child,
Which from her presence hath been long exil’d,

With gentle arms his tender neck doth strain,
Now kissing it, now clipping it again;
And yet excessive joy deludes her so,
As still she doubts, if this be hers, or no.

At length, awaken’d from this pleasing dream,
When passion somewhat left to be extreme,
My longing eyes with their fair object meet,
Where ev’ry letter’s pleasing, each word sweet.

It was not Henry’s conquests, nor his court,
That had the power to win me by report;
Nor was his dreadful terrour-striking name,
The cause that I from Wales to England came:

For Christian Rhodes, and our religion’s truth,
To great achievement first had won my youth:
Th’ brave adventure did my valour prove,
Before I e’er knew what it was to love.

Nor came I hither by some poor event,
But by th’ eternal destinies’ consent;
Whose uncomprised wisdom did foresee,
That you in marriage should be link’d to me.

By our great Merlin was it not foretold,
(Amongst his holy prophesies enroll’d)
When first he did of Tndor’s name divine,
That kings and queens should follow in our line?

And that the helm (the Tudors ancient crest)
Should with the golden flow’r-de-luce be drest ?
As that the leek (our country’s! chief renown!)
Should grow with roses in the English crown –

As Charles his daughter, you the lilly wear;
As Henry’s queen, the blushing rose you bear;
By France’s conquest, and by England’s oath,
You are the true-made dowager of both :

Both in your crown, both in your cheek together,
Join Tether’s love to yours, and yours to Tether.
Then cast no future doubts, nor fear no hate,
When it so long hath been fore-told by fate ;

And by the all-disposing doom of Heav’n,
Before our births, we to one bed were giv’n.
No Pallas here, nor Juno is at all,
When I to Venus yield the golden ball:

Nor when the Grecians wonder I enjoy,
None in revenge to kindle fire in Troy.
And have not strange events divin’d to us,
That in our love we should be prosperous ?

When in your presence I was call’d to dance,
In lofty tricks whilst I myself advance,
And in a turn my footing fail’d by hap,
Was’t not my chance to light into your lap ?

Who would not judge it fortune’s greatest grace,
Sith he must fall, to fall in such a place ?
His birth from Heav’n, your Tudor not derives,
Nor stands on tip-toes in superlatives,

Although the envious English do devise
A thousand jests of our hyperbolies;
Nor do I claim that plot by ancient deeds,
Where Phoebus pasture his fire-breathing steeds:

Nor do I boast my god-made grandsire’s scars,
Nor giants trophies in the Titans wars:
Nor feign my birth (your princely ears to please)
By three nights getting, as was Hercules:

Nor do I forge my long descent to rim
From aged Neptune, or the glorious Sun:
And yet in Wales, with them that famous be,
Our learned bards do sing my pedigree

And boast my birth from great Cadwallader,
From old Caer-Septon, in mount Palador:
And from Eneon’s line, the South-Wales king,
By Theodor, the Tudors’ name do bring.

My royal mother’s princely stock began
From her great grandame, fair Gwenellian,
By true descent from Leolin the great,
As well from North-Wales, as fair Powsland’s seal.

Though for our princely genealogy
I do not stand to make apology:
Yet who with judgment’s true impartial eyes,
Shall look from whence our name at did first rise,

Shall find, that fortune is to us in debt
And why not Tudor, as Plantagenet?

Nor that term Croggen, nick name of disgrace
Us’d as a by-word now in ev’ry place,
Shall blot our blood, or wrong a Welshman’s name,
Which was at first begot with England’s shame.

Our valiant swords our right did still maintain,
Against that cruel, proud, usurping Dane,
Buckling besides in many dang’rous fights,
With Norway, Swethens, and with Muscovites;

And kept our native language now thus long,
And to this day yet never chang’d our tungue:
When they which now our nation fain would tame,
Subdu’d, have lost their country and their name.

Nor ever could the Saxons’ swords provoke
Our British necks to hear their servile yoke:
Where Cambria’s pleasant countries bounded be
With swelling Severn, and the holy Dee:

And since great Brutus first arrived, have stood
The only remnant of the Trojan blood.
To every man is not allotted chance,
To boast with Henry, to have conquer’d France:

Yet if my fortune be thus rais’d by thee,
This may presage a further good to me;
And our Saint David, in the Britons’ right,
May join with George, the sainted English knight:

And old Caer-merdin, Merlin’s famous town,
Not scorn’d by London, though of such renown.

Ah, would to God that hour my hopes attend,
Were with my wish brought to desired end !
Blame me not, madam, though I thus desire,
Many there be, that after you inquire;

Till now your beauty in night’s bosom slept,
What eye durst stir, where awful Henry kept ?
Who durst attempt to sail but near the bay,
Where that all-conqu’ring great, Alcides lay ?

Your beauty now is set a royal prize,
And kings repair to cheapen merchandise.
If you but walk to take the breathing air,
Orithia makes me that I Boreas fear:

If to the fire, Jove once in light’ning came.
And fair Egina makes me fear the flame:
If in the Sun, then sad suspicion dreams
Phoebus should spread Lucothoe in his beams:

If in a fountain you do cool your blood,
Neptune, I fear, which once came in a flood:
If with your maids, I dread Apollo’s rape,
Who cous’ned Chion in an old wife’s shape :

If you do banquet, Bacchus makes me dread,
Who in a grape Erigone did feed :
And if myself your chamber-door should keep,
Yet fear I Hermes coming in a sleep.

Pardon (sweet queen) if I offend in this,
In these delays love most impatient is:
And youth wants pow’r his hot spleen to suppress,
When hope already banquets in excess.

Though Henry’d fame in me you shall not find,
Yet that which better shall content your mind;
But only in the title of a king
Was his advantage, in no other thing:

If in his love more pleasure you did take,
Never let queen trust Briton for my sake.
Yet judge me not from modesty exempt,
That I another Phaeton’s charge attempt;

My mind, that thus your favours dare aspire,
Shows, that ’tis touch’d with a celestial fire:
If I do fault, the more is beauty’s blame,
When she herself is author of the same;

“All men to some one quality incline,”
Only to love is naturally mine.

Thou art by beauty famous, as by birth,
Ordain’d by Heav’n to cheer the drooping Earth :
Add faithful love unto your greater state,
And be alike in all things fortunate.

A king might promise more, I not deny,
But yet (by Heav’n) he lov’d not more than I.
And thus I leave, till time my faith approve,
I cease to write, but never cease to love.

Aficionados of old tyme history novelizations can also kick back with Owen Tudor: An Historical Romance.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous Last Words,History,Notably Survived By,Pirates,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1450: William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk

2 comments May 2nd, 2009 Headsman

Henry VI, Part 2 — Act IV, Scene 1

The Coast of Kent.

[Alarum. Fight at sea. Ordnance goes off. Enter a Captain, a Master, a Master’s Mate, WALTER WHITMORE, and others; with them SUFFOLK, and others, prisoners.]

SUFFOLK.
Obscure and lowly swain, King Henry‘s blood,
The honourable blood of Lancaster,1
Must not be shed by such a jaded groom.
Hast thou not kiss’d thy hand and held my stirrup?
Bare-headed plodded by my foot-cloth mule
And thought thee happy when I shook my head?
How often hast thou waited at my cup,
Fed from my trencher, kneel’d down at the board,
When I have feasted with Queen Margaret?2
Remember it and let it make thee crest-fallen,
Ay, and allay thus thy abortive pride,
How in our voiding lobby hast thou stood
And duly waited for my coming forth.
This hand of mine hath writ in thy behalf,
And therefore shall it charm thy riotous tongue.

WHITMORE.
Speak, captain, shall I stab the forlorn swain?

CAPTAIN.
First let my words stab him, as he hath me.

SUFFOLK.
Base slave, thy words are blunt and so art thou.

CAPTAIN.
Convey him hence, and on our long-boat’s side
Strike off his head.

SUFFOLK.
Thou dar’st not, for thy own.

CAPTAIN.
Yes, Pole!

SUFFOLK.
Pole!

CAPTAIN.
Pool! Sir Pool! lord!
Ay, kennel, puddle, sink, whose filth and dirt
Troubles the silver spring where England drinks.
Now will I dam up this thy yawning mouth
For swallowing the treasure of the realm;3
Thy lips that kiss’d the queen shall sweep the ground;
And thou that smil’dst at good Duke Humphrey‘s death4
Against the senseless winds shalt grin in vain,
Who in contempt shall hiss at thee again.
And wedded be thou to the hags of hell,
For daring to affy a mighty lord
Unto the daughter of a worthless king,
Having neither subject, wealth, nor diadem.
By devilish policy art thou grown great
And, like ambitious Sylla, overgorg’d
With gobbets of thy mother’s bleeding heart.
By thee Anjou and Maine were sold to France,
The false revolting Normans thorough thee
Disdain to call us lord, and Picardy
Hath slain their governors, surpris’d our forts,
And sent the ragged soldiers wounded home.5
The princely Warwick, and the Nevils all,
Whose dreadful swords were never drawn in vain,
As hating thee are rising up in arms;
And now the house of York, thrust from the crown
By shameful murther of a guiltless king6
And lofty proud encroaching tyranny,
Burns with revenging fire, whose hopeful colours
Advance our half-fac’d sun, striving to shine,
Under the which is writ ‘Invitis nubibus.’
The commons here in Kent are up in arms;7
And, to conclude, reproach and beggary
Is crept into the palace of our king,
And all by thee.–Away! convey him hence.

SUFFOLK.
O that I were a god, to shoot forth thunder
Upon these paltry, servile, abject drudges!
Small things make base men proud; this villain here,
Being captain of a pinnace, threatens more
Than Bargulus the strong Illyrian pirate.8
Drones suck not eagles’ blood but rob bee-hives.
It is impossible that I should die
By such a lowly vassal as thyself.
Thy words move rage and not remorse in me.
I go of message from the queen to France;
I charge thee waft me safely cross the Channel.9

CAPTAIN.
Walter,–

WHITMORE.
Come, Suffolk, I must waft thee to thy death.

SUFFOLK.
Gelidus timor occupat artus; it is thee I fear.

WHITMORE.
Thou shalt have cause to fear before I leave thee.
What, are ye daunted now? now will ye stoop?

1 GENTLEMAN.
My gracious lord, entreat him, speak him fair.

SUFFOLK.
Suffolk’s imperial tongue is stern and rough,
Us’d to command, untaught to plead for favour.
Far be it we should honour such as these
With humble suit; no, rather let my head
Stoop to the block than these knees bow to any
Save to the God of heaven and to my king,
And sooner dance upon a bloody pole
Than stand uncover’d to the vulgar groom.
True nobility is exempt from fear;
More can I bear than you dare execute.

CAPTAIN.
Hale him away, and let him talk no more.

SUFFOLK.
Come, soldiers, show what cruelty ye can,
That this my death may never be forgot!
Great men oft die by vile bezonians:
A Roman sworder and banditto slave
Murther’d sweet Tully; Brutus’ bastard hand
Stabb’d Julius Caesar; savage islanders
Pompey the Great; and Suffolk dies by pirates.10

1 Shakespeare brackets Suffolk clearly into the political faction that would become the winning contestant in the War of the Roses and give rise to the Tudor dynasty that ruled England at the time of the play’s writing. Suffolk’s key ally, Somerset, was slain in 1455 at the first battle of the generation-long conflict.

2 Margaret of Anjou was wed to the feebleminded King Henry VI by William de la Pole’s offices. Shakespeare portrays Suffolk and Margaret as maybe a little too close. When Suffolk’s head is posthumously retrieved for her, she laments,

… who can cease to weep and look on this?
Here may his head lie on my throbbing breast;
But where’s the body that I should embrace?

3 William de la Pole had a serious popularity problem, on several scores (as we shall see). Endemic corruption that had dissipated the wealth of the crown during Henry VI’s reign was among the most explosive, and laid at his door because of his proximity to power (and because Suffolk had not failed to exploit the revenue opportunities afforded by his position).

4 Another grievance: Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the popular uncle to the king and onetime Lord Protector, had been arrested for treason at the Suffolk-Beaufort faction’s instigation in 1447. He died shortly thereafter, which naturally gave rise to suspicions of assassination.

5 Perhaps most damaging of all for Suffolk, England’s foothold in northern France from which it had maintained itself during the Hundred Years’ War preceding, had suddenly collapsed in the 1440s. Maine was handed directly over to Charles VII — the price, critics charged, of the king’s marriage to Anjou. Then an ill-advised offensive had invited a French counterattack that rousted the English from Normandy and brought furious domestic recriminations for the debacle.

Incidentally, as a younger man, this day’s victim had been one of the commanders besieging Orleans when Joan of Arc famously relieved the city. He was captured by the Maid shortly thereafter, and eventually ransomed.

6 Again, a clear identification of the the factions taking shape for the Wars of the Roses. Richard, Duke of York, the standard-bearer of (obviously) the Yorkist cause in the coming conflict, had been Suffolk’s main rival at court, and is a key suspect in engineering Suffolk’s death. The guiltless king referred to is Richard II, overthrown a half-century before by Henry Bolingbroke which gave rise to the competing claims of legitimacy that would color the York-Lancaster contest.

7 Weeks after Suffolk’s death, Jack Cade’s rebellion erupted in Kent, an infamous affair whose dubious connection to York was great fodder for Tudor propaganda like, well, Henry VI, Part 2. Be that as it may, the Bard placed one of his immortal lines in the mouth of one of Cade’s peasants:

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

8 This reference may be an anachronism. Pirates operating from Illyria — the uskoci (or uskoks) — plagued the Adriatic Sea in Shakespeare’s time.

9 As a royal minister, Suffolk was essentially immune from Parliament as long as the king backed him … unless he could be hit with a treason charge. Given his unpopularity, a great many mostly outlandish charges of treason were duly conjured early in 1450, and Suffolk had not the political support to repel them. Henry VI, still Suffolk’s supporter, exiled the noble to protect him from possible execution. He was intercepted as he left England for France, however, and what the House of Commons had wanted done by a bill of attainder was simply handled extrajudicially upon the seas instead.

10 The duke was beheaded (“within half a dozen strokes” of “a rusty sword”) upon one of the pirate vessel’s small boats.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,At Sea,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Wartime Executions

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