Sanctuary and Henry VII’s new regime: The story of Francis Lovell

Sanctuary offered both a useful rhetorical opportunity and a potential major headache for Henry VII’s new regime in 1485-86. Henry VII publicly supported sanctuary as royally-granted refuge from injustice and tyranny. It was one thing, however, to note with righteous indignation that your predecessor had been so terrible that everyone had to flee to the shelter of the church – but what about when opponents to your own (rather questionable) seizure of the throne also escaped to sanctuary?

If you’re a young Henry VII, you handle it deftly: your support for sanctuary is unwavering; in some situations you let your enemies take sanctuary to show you and God are on the same side; but in others you find loopholes to challenge the particular case rather than general principle.

In the wake of the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485, amongst the Richard III loyalists who fled to sanctuary was Francis, Viscount Lovell, who along with Humphrey Stafford went to St John’s Abbey, Colchester. While there, both were attainted for treason by Parliament.


Leaving them unmolested in St John’s was a gamble for Henry VII and proved quite dangerous: in the spring of 1486 Lovell and Stafford left the sanctuary and raised an unsuccessful revolt against Henry VII.


Following the failure of that attempt to overthrow the new regime, Lovell fled and it is not certain what became of him. Francis Bacon a century later reported a story that he lived in hiding in a cave for decades.


Stafford and his brother fled to sanctuary again.

Vergil, Anglica Historia (ed. Hay), 11-13; Chrimes, Henry VII, 71; Kaufman, “Henry VII and Sanctuary,” Church History 53 (1984): 469.

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