The first major episode of sanctuary seeking came with the Readeption – the resurgence in 1470 of Henry VI. Henry VI had been deposed in 1461 by Edward IV, but not killed; although Henry was likely too ill to play an active role himself, his supporters were able to put Henry back on the throne on 3 October and chase Edward and many other Yorkists out of the kingdom. Other Yorkists could not leave the kingdom, and so instead ran to safe spaces within the kingdom, the chartered sanctuaries.
On 1 October 1470, according to the Great Chronicle of London, Queen Elizabeth, wife of Edward IV, “registered her and such as belonged to her as sanctuary folks” at Westminster Abbey. Henry VI’s Lancastrian supporters had just deposed Edward and he fled overseas. Elizabeth entered the sanctuary with her daughters Elizabeth, Mary, and Cecily. The queen was pregnant and on 2 November she gave birth in the sanctuary to a son, Edward.
The Lancastrians generally respected sanctuary privilege and left the queen and her children alone. When Edward IV regained the throne in 1471, his wife and children came out of sanctuary. They would return in 1483 when another crisis arose following Edward IV’s death.
Queen Elizabeth’s resort to sanctuary, and the unwillingness of the Lancastrians to commit sacrilege to drag her and her children (especially that dangerous male heir) out of Westminster Abbey, significantly augmented the idea of sanctuary as refuge.
Ironically her husband would be the one 15th century monarch who was willing to breach those sacred spaces, as we’ll see in other posts. #ungratefulwretch
Great Chronicle of London, 213-13; Fabyan, New Chronicles, 568-60, 668; Vergil, English History, 133, 175-78, 210; Paston Letters, 1:564. Top image: British Library