Treason on the eve of civil war

In 1448, on the eve of civil war, a sanctuary seeker at Westminster made strange allegations of a treasonous plot being hatched in the sanctuary precinct. 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 (Spencer claimed) cast aspersions on the king himself while doing so.

TNA, KB 9/260, m 87

“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’s report of Parker’s words fit in with other complaints against Henry VI in the last days of the war with France about his martial unfitness. It’s hard to know, though, whether Parker actually made those statements or whether Spencer was simply grabbing on to a timely issue-of-the-day, as his goal was not so much to protect the king as to find a way out of his legal problems. He revealed this plot in a bid 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. When his approver bid was rejected, Spencer could have just 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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