Treason on the eve of civil war

In 1448, a strange allegation of words of treason in the Westminster sanctuary was made, on the eve of civil war.

Richard Spencer, “clerk, merchant, and gentleman” of London, took sanctuary in 1448 at Westminster Abbey. From within the sanctuary, he submitted a written accusation of treason against gentleman and Westminster townsman William Parker. Spencer alleged that a “strong felon” had come to him in the sanctuary and said that he intended to rob the duke of Suffolk (William de la Pole, Henry VI’s right-hand-man). Spencer went to Parker (who had some official capacity, unspecified) and suggested the felon be arrested. Parker not only refused, but cast aspersions on the king himself while doing so.


“It is a great pity that ever our sovereign lord now reigning should be king,” because he “occupyeth himself not in wars beyond the sea.” Spencer tried with this accusation – which fit in with other complaints against Henry VI in the last days of the war with France about his martial unfitness – to “turn approver,” that is to acquire an acquittal on charges against him by providing evidence to convict another person. This didn’t work: a Westminster jury dismissed the accusation against Parker.

Who knows if Parker really did say it; if he did, it’s interesting it was easily dismissed, indicating perhaps broad lack of confidence in Henry VI. On rejection of his approver bid, Spencer may have stayed in sanctuary; the gamble did him no harm though it failed. He was outlawed in 1453.

TNA, KB 9/260, m 87; KB 9/998, m 55; KB 29/80, mm 5, 5d, 6

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