Morton, John, Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury

(c. 1420–1500)
   A longtime Lancastrian, John Morton was a leader of the opposition to RICHARD III during the last phase of the WARS OF THE ROSES and a likely source for Sir Thomas More’s later history of Richard’s reign. Morton studied law at Oxford and by the late 1440s became a noted ecclesiastical lawyer in the Court of Arches, the chief court of the archdiocese of Canterbury. Through the patronage of Thomas BOURCHIER, archbishop of Canterbury, Morton won appointment to the COUNCIL of HENRY VI and acquired numerous offices in both church and state throughout the 1450s. During the military campaigns of 1461, Morton accompanied the army of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU, being present at the Battle of ST. ALBANS in February. After EDWARD IV’s victory at the Battle of TOWTON in March, Morton fled to SCOTLAND with the Lancastrian royal family and shared the hardships experienced over the next two years by Margaret and her son, Prince EDWARD OF LANCASTER. In 1463, he accompanied the queen into exile in FRANCE, and in 1470 helped arrange the alliance between Margaret and her former enemy, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick (see Angers Agreement).
   Returning to England in September 1470, Morton became an important figure in the READEPTION government of Henry VI. After the death of Warwick at the Battle of BARNET in April 1471, Morton rejoined Margaret and her son, who were newly landed from France. When the Lancastrian cause came to ruin with the prince’s death at the Battle of TEWKESBURY in May 1471, Morton submitted to Edward IV and was rapidly taken into royal service. He served on various diplomatic missions and helped negotiate the Treaty of Picquigny with LOUIS XI in 1475. By the king’s death in 1483, Morton was a royal councilor and bishop of Ely. Because Morton was loyal to EDWARD V and thus an obstacle to the duke of Gloucester’s assumption of the throne, Gloucester arrested Morton at the infamous COUNCIL MEETING OF 13 JUNE 1483 (see Usurpation of 1483). After his coronation as Richard III, Gloucester placed Morton in the custody of his chief ally, Henry STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham. Morton encouraged Buckingham’s growing dissatisfaction with Richard III and helped put the duke in communication with Margaret BEAUFORT and Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE, the two principals in a developing plot to place their children, Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, and ELIZABETH OFYORK, on the English throne.With the failure of BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION in the autumn of 1483, Morton joined Richmond in France. After the death of Richard III at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485, Richmond became king as HENRY VII, and Morton became one of the new monarch’s most trusted councilors. Morton was named archbishop of Canterbury in October 1486 and chancellor in March 1487. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI made Morton a cardinal at the king’s request. Morton died in September 1500. Although some historians assigned the writing of More’s HISTORY OF KING RICHARD III to Morton, recent scholarship has clearly established More’s authorship. However, Morton, in whose household More served in the late 1490s, is likely to have been at least one of the sources for the anecdotes that comprise More’s work.
   Further Reading: Chrimes, S. B., Henry VII (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1999); Ross, Charles, Richard III (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Seward, Desmond, The Wars of the Roses (New York:Viking, 1995).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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