Sanctuary and regime change in the Wars of the Roses: The Readeption, 1470 (pt. 2)

The War of the Roses was a major factor in the figuring of chartered sanctuaries as refuges from tyranny and arbitrary rule, because at each regime change the losing side ran to sanctuary. Many others joined Queen Elizabeth Woodville in the sanctuaries when Henry VI regained the throne (the “Readeption”).

Henry VI. Source

One was Yorkist supporter William Grey, bishop of Ely. In an October 1470 letter from John III Paston to his mother with news of the fast-unfolding events, Grey was said to have gone “with other bishops” (unnamed) to St. Martin le Grand.


Henry VI’s readeption was shortlived: Edward IV was able to rally and win back the throne in 1471, and Grey and the other Yorkist sanctuary seekers came out of their refuges (Paston Letters, 1:564).

Now true confession time: I have said in print that this bishop of Ely who went to St Martin le Grand in 1470 was John Morton (who became bishop of Ely in 1478). I only realized my error when I first posted this to Twitter, when I asked myself why a Lancastrian would enter sanctuary in 1470… Oops. My error was reinforced by a (now unexplained) reference in a later record to Cardinal Morton (as John Morton became when he was promoted to the archbishopric of Canterbury) as a famous former resident in St Martin’s. This was made by an elderly witness in a 1536 enquiry related to SMLG’s sanctuary privileges.

The witness (an 80-year-old former cleric of SMLG) said that “he hath knowen divers privalaged men, and namely my lorde Cardinall Morton, being privilaged for treason” and living in the St Martin’s [privileged meaning having been granted sanctuary].


I cannot otherwise find, however, that Cardinal Morton ever took sanctuary. Maybe this elderly cleric made the same error that I did: conflating two different bishops of Ely. We must both learn not to ASSUME, because it makes an ass out of u and me.

TNA, C 24/3, m. 17.

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