English Church and the Wars of the Roses

   Because of a lack of political talent among its leaders, the English Church took little part in the WARS OF THE ROSES, and few bishops were strong or consistent advocates for either the house of LANCASTER or the house of YORK. Thus, the various changes in dynasty brought the church neither great harm nor great benefit. Also, the brief and intermittent nature of civil war campaigns caused the church to suffer little material damage during the conflict (see Military Campaigns, Duration of).
   Because HENRY VI made bishops of the pious and scholarly men who served him as confessors and spiritual advisors, the outbreak of civil war in 1459 found his government deficient in the practical, politically experienced bishops who had formed the core of previous royal administrations. Thomas BOURCHIER, the archbishop of Canterbury, had been appointed during the FIRST PROTECTORATE of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, and supported the Yorkists in 1460 after having accommodated both sides during the 1450s.William Booth, archbishop of York, and his brother Lawrence BOOTH, bishop of Durham, were Lancastrians, but neither gave sufficient support to Henry’s cause to suffer any consequences when EDWARD IV won the throne in 1461, although Lawrence was suspended briefly from office in 1462 for his Lancastrian sympathies. The most vigorous ecclesiastical involvement in the conflict in 1459–1461 was by a foreign bishop, Francesco Coppini, bishop of Terni (see Coppini Mission), who used his position as papal legate to actively promote the Yorkist cause. Although some historians have argued that the church demanded redress of its grievances in return for sanctioning the Yorkist usurpation in 1461, the bishops made few complaints, Edward IV granted few concessions, and the house of York based its claim to the Crown on hereditary right, thus avoiding any need for the church to legitimize the family’s position.
   In 1470–1471, the most political bishop was George NEVILLE, archbishop of York, who abandoned Edward IV (whom he had served as chancellor) to actively support his brother, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, the head of the Lancastrian READEPTION government. After Warwick’s death and the Yorkist restoration, Edward IV imprisoned the archbishop in the TOWER OF LONDON. In 1472, after being pardoned and released, Neville was re-arrested and confined at CALAIS until 1475. Besides Neville, no other bishops were so harshly treated, and politically talented Lancastrian clerics, such as John MORTON, the future archbishop of Canterbury, were pardoned and admitted to Edward’s COUNCIL. Unlike those of Henry VI, most of Edward’s ecclesiastical appointees tended to be men of humble origins who displayed a talent for secular government, such as Thomas ROTHERHAM as archbishop of York, John RUSSELL as bishop of Lincoln, and Morton as bishop of Ely.
   In 1483, Morton was one of the few bishops to oppose RICHARD III’s usurpation of the throne. Arrested at the infamous COUNCIL MEETING OF 13 JUNE 1483, Morton later participated in BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION and, after the failure of that uprising, fled to BURGUNDY to support Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, the future HENRY VII.Meanwhile, Richard III employed various ecclesiastical servants to successfully complete his seizure of the throne (see Usurpation of 1483). He sent aging Archbishop Bourchier to persuade Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE, then in SANCTUARY at Westminster, to surrender her younger son, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, into Richard’s custody. To justify his usurpation, Richard commissioned the respected preacher Ralph Shaw to deliver a sermon extolling Richard’s merits as king to the citizens of LONDON (see Shaw’s Sermon). Richard also used Bishop Robert STILLINGTON’s revelation of the BUTLER PRECONTRACT to declare EDWARDV illegitimate and unfit for the Crown. While the English Church largely acquiesced in Richard’s reign, both the papacy and the English bishops readily accepted Henry VII and the house of TUDOR after the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485. The new dynasty, like its Lancastrian and Yorkist predecessors, faced few demands from the bishops and in return largely left the English Church as it found it.
   Further Reading: Davies, Richard G.,“The Church and the Wars of the Roses,” in A. J. Pollard, ed., The Wars of the Roses (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), pp. 143–161; Dunning, Robert W.,“Patronage and Promotion in the Late-Medieval Church,” in Ralph A. Griffiths, ed., Patronage, the Crown and the Provinces in Later Medieval England (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981); Harvey, Margaret, England, Rome and the Papacy, 1417-1464 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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