The Duke of York in the Sanctuary of Westminster.

One of the most important events recorded in our annals in connection with the privilege of Sanctuary, furnishes us incidentally with a very striking view of the nature of that privilege, and of the classes of the people who chiefly used or abused it; we refer to the residence of the queen of Edward IV., and her younger son, the Duke of York, in the Sanctuary of Westminster, of which the building shown in page 193 (Fig. 736) formed at once the church below and the place of residence for the sanctuary people above. This remained till 1775, and was then, with great labour and difficulty, on account of the strength of the walls, demolished. Edward died in 1483, and shortly after the queen received intelligence, a little before midnight, in the palace at Westminster, that her eldest son, now Edward V., was in the hands of his uncle Gloucester, and that although he was treated with all seeming reverence, his and her nearest relations and friends had been arrested and sent no man knew whither. In great alarm, the queen suddenly removed to the place where, in a time of former difficulty, when her husband was a fugitive on the seas, she had obtained shelter, and where her eldest son had been born—the neighbouring Sanctuary. The Lord Chancellor (the Archbishop of York) received, by a secret messenger the same night, similar information from Lord Hastings, with the assurance that “all should be well.” “Be it as well as it will,” observed the startled chancellor, “it will never be as well as it hath been;” and therewith he called his armed retainers about him, and then taking the great Seal, hurried with kindly promptitude to the queen. It was a woful picture —that which he beheld on reaching Westminster, the unhappy mother sitting alow on the rushes, all desolate, and dismayed, whilst around her crowds of servants were hurrying into the Sanctuary with chests and packages trussed on their backs, that they had brought from the palace, and in their haste breaking-down the wall in one part, to make a nearer way. Lord Hastings’ message fell even more coldly on the queen’s ear than on the archbishop’s. “Ah, woe worth him,” said she, “he is one of them that laboureth to destroy me and my blood.” Having delivered the seal, with a warm protestation of his own fidelity, the archbishop departed to his home; but the first glance of the river at daybreak seems to have cooled his generous enthusiasm. As he looked from his chamber window he beheld the Thames full of the Duke of Gloucester’s servants, watching that no man should go to sanctuary, nor any leave it unexamined. He began to think he had been somewhat rash, and so sent for the Seal back. He had done enough, however, to make him a marked man. At the next meeting of the Privy Council, he was sharply reproved, and the Seal taken from him and given to the Bishop of Lincoln. And now arose the question, what was to be done concerning the queen, and her younger son, the Duke. Gloucester, of course, saw from the first that to attain the crown both the princes must be destroyed; one was in his hands, but the other in the most impregnable of strongholds, the Sanctuary. When the council met to debate this matter, Gloucester opened the proceedings in a tone of injured innocence, complaining of the queen’s malice against the counsellors of her son, in thus exposing them to the obloquy of the people, who would think they were not to be trusted with the guardianship of the king’s brother. Then he referred to the lonely position of the king, who, naturally unsatisfied with the company of ancient persons, needed the familiar conversation of those of his own age; and then came the pertinent question,—with whom, rather than his own brother? The speaker continued by observing “that sometimes without little things greater cannot stand;” and in the end advised that a man of credit with all parties should be sent, to the queen to remonstrate with her, and if that failed, then to take the child by force, when he should be so well cherished, that all the world should vindicate them and reproach her. The Archbishop of York undertook the office of mediator, but spoke strongly and solemnly against the proposed breach of sanctuary, which, he said, had been so long kept, and which had been more than five hundred years before hallowed, at night, by St. Peter in his own person, and accompanied in spirit by great multitudes of angels; and as a proof, the archbishop referred to the Apostle’s cope then preserved in the abbey. “And never,” observed the archbishop, was there “so undevout a king as durst violate that sacred place, or so holy a bishop as durst presume to consecrate it. God forbid that any man should, for anything earthly, enterprise to break the immunity of that sacred Sanctuary, that hath been the safeguard of many a good man’s life, and I trust, with God’s grace, we shall not need it. But for what need soever, I would not we should do it. . . . There shall be of my endeavour no lack, if the mother’s heart and womanish fear be not the let.” The Duke of Buckingham’s speech was fiery and bold, to suit Gloucester. Catching up the prelate’s words, he exclaimed “Womanish fear! nay—womanish forwardness! for I dare well take it upon my soul, she well knoweth there is no need of any fear for her son or for herself. For, as for her, there is no man that will be at war with a woman. Would God some of the men of her kin were women too; and then should all be soon in rest. Howbeit there is none of her kin the less loved for that they be of her kin, but for their own evil deserving. And nevertheless, if we love neither her nor her kin, yet were there no cause to think that we should hate the king’s noble brother, to whose grace we ourselves be of kin; whose honour, if she as much desired as our dishonour, and as much regard took to his wealth as to her own will, she would be as loth to suffer him from the king as any of us be. For if she have wit (we would God she had as good will as she hath shrewd wit); she reckoneth herself no wiser than she thinketh some that be here, of whose faithful mind she nothing doubteth, but verily believeth and knoweth that they would be as sorry of his harm as herself, and yet would have him from her if she bide there.” After some further remarks, the duke favoured the council with his views on the subject of sanctuaries generally, and the passage is one of high interest and value in an historical sense. “And yet will I break no sanctuary; therefore, verily, since the privileges of that place and other like have been of long continued, I am not he that will go about to break them; and, in good faith, if they were now to begin, I would not be he that should be about to make them. Yet will I not say nay, but that it is a deed of pity, that such men as the sea or their evil debtors have brought in poverty, should have some place of liberty to keep their bodies out of the danger of their cruel creditors; and also if the crown happen (as it hath done) to come in question, while either part taketh other as traitors, I like well there be some place of refuge for both. But as for thieves, of which these places be full, and which never fall from the craft after they once fall thereunto, it is pity the Sanctuary should screen them, and much more man-quellers, whom God bade to take from the altar and kill them, if their murder were wilful; and where it is otherwise, there need we not the sanctuaries that God appointed in the old law. For if either necessity, his own defence, or misfortune draweth him to that deed, a pardon serveth, which either the law granteth of course, or the king of pity may. Then look we now how few Sanctuary men there be whom any favourable necessity compel to go thither; and then see, on the other side, what a sort there be commonly therein of them whom wilful unthriftiness have brought to nought. What rabble of thieves, murderers, and malicious heinous traitors, and that in two places especially; the one the elbow of the city [that of Westminster] and the other [St. Martin’s le Grand] in the very bowels. I dare well avow it, weigh the good that they do with the hurt that cometh of them, and ye shall find it much better to lack both than to have both; and this I say, although they were not abused as they now be, and so long have been, that I fear me ever they will be, while men be afraid to set their hands to amend them; as though God and St. Peter were the patrons of ungracious living. Now unthrifts riot and run in debt upon the boldness of these places; yea, and rich men run thither with poor men’s goods, there they build, there they spend, and bid their creditors go whistle. Men’s wives run thither with their husbands’ plate, and say they dare not abide with their husbands for beating. Thieves bring thither their stolen goods, and live thereon riotously; there they devise new robberies, and nightly they steal out, they rob and rive, kill, and come in again, as though those places give them not only a safeguard for the harm they have done, but a licence also to do more.” A remarkable conversation here ensued, in which it was agreed on all sides that the goods of a Sanctuary man should be delivered up for the benefit of creditors, as well as stolen goods to the owner; and that Sanctuary should only preserve to the debtor his personal liberty in order to get his living: a striking practical anticipation of the wise and benevolent measure at this very moment before Parliament. Circuitously as the wily speaker advanced towards his mark, he was all the while advancing; having thus prepared the minds of his listeners to listen to reasonable limitations of the privileges of sanctuary, he observed in the concluding part, “If nobody may be taken out of Sanctuary that saith he will bide there, then if a child will take Sanctuary because he feareth to go to school, his master musk let it alone; and as simple as the sample is, yet is there less reason in our case than in that; for therein, though it be a childish fear, yet is there at the leastwise some fear, and herein is there none at all. And verily I have often heard of Sanctuary men, but I never heard erst of Sanctuary children.” The effect of the speech was tolerably decisive; the Lord Cardinal went to see if he could obtain the child by fair means, though there seems to be no doubt but that, if he failed, the council generally were satisfied of the propriety of taking him by foul ones. The result is but too well known—the child was given up to his uncle, to perish with his brother in the Tower.