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Mediaeval Leicester online

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he was Coroner. He was Steward of the Fair in five years
between 1571 and 1600, Mayor in 1583-84, and again in 1598-99,
and Alderman between 1574 and 1600 in ten separate years.
He was one of four prominent burgesses chosen in 1598 to ride
over to Ashby-de-la-Zouch and confer with the Earl of Hunt-
ingdon in respect of his demand for soldiers, a matter that
required tactful handling ; and two years later he was among
the six leading townsmen who were charged by the Earl, as
Lieutenant of the County, with the furnishing of a good armed
man out of Leicester for the Queen's service, " who should be
no vagrant or suspected person or likely to run away." On a
Subsidy Roll of the year 1590 only four persons living in Leicester
were assessed at a higher sum than the landlord of the Blue Boar.


He was a Brewer as well as an Innkeeper, and when an enquiry
was made in 1585 by the Purveyor of the Queen's Buttery,
Thomas Clarke undertook to supply weekly 40 " tune " (i.e.,
240 barrels) of ale or beer, " or above if nede bee," at the rate
of 2S. the dozen.

He was respected as a man of probity and public spirit,
as appears from the high place which he held in the estimation
of such worthy men as Robert Herrick and the wise Recorder
of Leicester, Richard Parkins, both of whom join in holding
him among men " of meet affection to the town." He must
have had a reputation among his colleagues for shrewd judgment
and knowledge of the value of land and houses, as we may
conclude from his appointment as one of the Surveyors of town
lands. The circumstances under which he was appointed were
these. When the Corporation were about to carry out ambitious
schemes of land purchase, they found that, in order to do so,
they would be obUged to sell some, if not all, of the land which
they already held. They agreed, therefore, that a survey should
be made of all the town lands, " and such things as be out of
• lease to consider what value they be of, and what wood there
is upon any land, and to value what every tree is worth and every
farm and piece of ground." The report of this Commission is
not extant, but a year or two later the Corporation began to
speak of the " Twenty Pound Lands," and to declare that they
had only ^(^20 worth of land a year, which may indicate some
result of the valuation. It is not to be supposed, however, that
these " Twenty Pound Lands " were an insignificant amount
of property. On the contrary, they comprised a very consider-
able area of land and extensive house property, both in the town
and county of Leicester, the particulars of which are given by

About the year 1585 these lands and houses were assigned
by the Council to two of their number, George Tatam, who
had been Mayor in 15 80-1, and was elected Mayor a second time
in 1594, and Thomas Clarke, the landlord of the Blue Boar.
The arrangement seems to have been that Tatam and Clarke
should, in consideration for the lands, advance ^{^600, thirty


years' purchase, to be used by the Council in completing their
bargain with Francis Hastings for his term in half the Newarke
Grange estate ; and that Tatam and Clarke should sell all or
part of the lands assigned to them, and then pay or release to
the Town, either in money or land, whatever surplus might be
left, after they had recouped themselves for their loan. Two
years later, on a further transaction relating to the Grange,
Robert Herrick joined with Thomas Clarke in advancing j^i6o.*
All these dealings with the property of the town may have
been carried out in a perfectly honest manner, and there can be
no doubt that the aims of the Corporation were disinterested,
and that their policy was of the greatest benefit to succeeding
generations. On the other hand, as everything was done
secretly, there was ample room for abuse. At any rate, the
townspeople grew suspicious, and began to complain that " such
as had the chief dealing for us " sold the land and disposed of
the money " at their own pleasures and private contentions
among themselves." In 1593 an Order of the Privy Council
was made for a Commission to enquire into the matter. This
Order was read in the Town Council Chamber, and the Council
retaliated by resolving that anyone disclosing the secrets of the
Common Hall should forfeit £^. It should, however, be added,
that this resolution was only the re-enactment of one passed
in 1564. Thenceforth they were more careful to avoid the
appearance of evil. Undoubtedly there had been some abuse,
the members of the governing body taking the first chances of
leasing and buying the town property, and some of the public
land actually having been given to Town officials as perquisites ;
but there is no definite imputation of dishonesty, and none was
proved. Tatam and Clarke paid over the surplus due to the
town, and conveyed back the unsold land. Their reputation
remained unimpaired, and the assistance which they gave to
enable the town to carry through their large scheme was of the
utmost value. This purchase of the Newarke Grange estate
was, indeed, an extremely complicated transaction, and Clarke

*On a previous occasion Thomas Clarke had been associated with
Robert Herrick in giving a joint bond for £200, in connection with
the Corporation's scheme for estabhshing a cloth-factory.



did not live to see the completion of it. It involved the buying
up of several different estates and interests in the property,
and actually covered a period of thirty-seven years, the first
purchase being made in 1585 and the last in 1622. Moreover,
there were difficulties about the title, and towards the end of
the 1 6th century the Corporation became involved in legal
proceedings concerning certain closes known as the " Frith
Closes." They contained about 60 acres of land, which had
been the reputed property of the Newarke College for very
many years ; but after their bargain with Francis Hastings and
the Crown the Leicester Corporation still had difficulties with
this part of the estate. In 1598 a petition was sent up by them
complaining against a Lease of these closes being granted by
the Duchy of Lancaster to one Robert Worship They obtained
a general stay of further proceedings, but not without difficulty.
About the year 1601 there was a suit with one Lister about the
same closes, which cost the town a large sum of money.

The Corporation's case seems to have been that, when
Henry VIII disforested the Frith, the Dean and Chapter of the
Newarke College produced a Charter proving their common of
pasture in the Frith for more than 24 beasts, 7 mares and one
stud horse. The King thereupon granted them rights of pasture
in common with other tenants, in 120 acres of the land ; but
afterwards he divided the 120 acres, specially granting one half,
being the closes in dispute, to the Newarke College, and the other
half to other tenants. The Corporation claimed that these
closes, so allotted to the College, passed to them with the rest of
the Grange estate. But it appears that the special grant from
Henry VIII to the College was missing, and the Corporation
were advised that, unless it could be found, their case was " very
hard in law," and that they could only rest on " equity and good
conscience," although they had given " great sums " for the
closes. Search was made for the missing document at the
Tower, at the " Old " and the " New " Chanceries of the Duchy
of Lancaster, at the Augmentation Office, and at the Savoy and
Gray's Inn, but it does not appear to have been found.

Other important services which Thomas Clarke rendered


to Leicester were given in connection with the two Charters of
Queen Elizabeth, and the grants of land therein contained.
James Thompson, in his History of the town, does not give
Clarke his due credit in regard to the first charter, the obtaining
of which he attributes solely to " the influence at Court possessed
by the Earl of Huntingdon, and the active exertions of Mr.
Parkins, the Recorder, and of Richard Archer (who was a bailiff
and collector, and therefore knew all the particulars relating to
the property belonging to the Duchy of Lancaster in Leicester)."
But the Recorder and Archer had the assistance of Thomas
Clarke, who was appointed to act with them, and he accompanied
them on their journeys to York and London, in 1586 and 1587,
when the business relating to the reconstruction of the borough
was discussed and carried through. He also had a hand in the
second charter, which was granted in the year of his second

The wife of the enterprising landlord of the Blue Boar,
whose maiden name was Agnes Davy, and who was married to
Thomas Clarke at St. Martin's Church in August, 1567, was
not always, it appears, as discreet as her husband, and led him,
towards the end of his career, into an undignified imbroglio.
In the year 1597, she went one day to the house of Joan Cradock
to collect the rent. Mrs. Cradock told her, apparently in good
faith, that she did not know to whom she ought to pay the rent,
whether to the Queen or to Mrs. Clarke, the house having been
previously, one may assume. Crown property. Thereupon
Mrs. Clarke is said to have spoken disrespectfully of the Queen.
This episode came in time to the persistently pricked-up ears
of George Belgrave. This busybody happened to have been
engaged as Magistrate in a case in which the husband of Joan
Cradock was accused of theft, and Cradock told him what
Mrs. Clarke had said, and persuaded him that the Clarkes had
persecuted him ever since and driven him out of Leicester.
Belgrave then wrote to Clarke, declaring that Mrs. Cradock's
accusation against Mrs. Clarke ought to be investigated. On
receiving this letter, Clarke seems to have gone to Mrs. Cradock's
house. " It is told me," he said, " that Mistress Clarke should


say to you — * The Queen shall have a rope, before she shall
have my house.' " He then forced Mrs. Cradock, as she stated,
to bring the matter before the Magistrates. No examination
took place until October, 1598, more than a year after the event.
Mrs. Clarke denied on oath that she had made use of the words
complained of, and the case then dropped. It was revived,
however, in the following autumn, when another witness appeared
against Mrs. Clarke, but there is no record of any conviction
and the case does not appear to have been carried any further.

Thomas Clarke died on June 28th, 1603, and was buried
in St. Martin's Church in Leicester, on the 30th of the same

His Will, which bears date the 15th day of June, 1603, is
at Somerset House. It does not contain any reference to the
Blue Boar Inn, nor to the famous bedstead. Thomas Clarke
" Innholder," gave the bulk of his fortune to his wife during
her widowhood, with remainder to his kinswoman, Margaret
Fearne, if she should marry with his supervisor's consent, but
otherwise to his overseers to be disposed amongst his other
kinsfolk. Among other legacies he gave " to my loving friends
the Mayor Bailiffs and Burgesses of the Borough of Leicester
and to their successors for ever for the Under Usher of the
Free School an annuity of 20s. out of the Orchard purchased
by me the Testator from the Mayor and Burgesses of Leicester
in St. Nicholas' parish near the Soar " ; also ^5, " whereof they
owe me £2^" to be yearly thereafter employed " in sea coal for
the use of the poor people of Leicester." He also left to the
widows of St. John's Hospital, twenty shillings ; to the mother
of Margaret Fearne, two milch cows ; to William Dethick, the
Town Clerk, forty shillings ; to George Brook, one of the Town
Chamberlains, " my best taffata doublett," and to John Wilkin-
son, his brother-in-law, " my best hat." If this John Wilkinson
was the glover of that name who had been " carted " a year or
two before with one Mary Smith, he would hardly expect to
receive a legacy from his wealthy relative.

The testator appointed his wife sole executrix, and the
first-named overseer of his Will was Mr. Thomas Sacheverell,


the Confrater of Wigston's Hospital, afterwards Vicar of St.
Martin's, who married Robert Herrick's daughter Mary.


In the autumn of the year 1604, a certain Thomas Harrison,
who had done bodily harm to a man called Phillips, fled out of
Staffordshire. He came to Leicester, and lodged for three
nights at the Blue Boar Inn. While he was there, he paid his
addresses to AUce Grimbold, one of the maid-servants, and Alice
told him that her mistress, Mrs. Clarke, then a widow, kept a
great deal of money in the house. According to Harrison's
evidence, which is of no great value, Grimbold also suggested
to him that he should come again with a friend and get some of
this money. " The maid," he stated, " was the only setter of
the match, for they had not dealt therein but for her procure-

Harrison went away, and told Adam Bonus, a Lichfield
cook, what he had heard, and talked over the proposed robbery.
Bonus communicated it to Edward Bradshaw, another Stafford-
shire man, and the real villain of the piece. On Saturday,
February 2nd, 1604- 1605, Harrison, Bonus and Bradshaw were
to have met at the Blue Boar, and Harrison and Bradshaw
arrived there on that day. Bonus did not come to Leicester
until the following day, and he then saw Bradshaw, and told
him that he had decided to have nothing to do with the robbery.

On Sunday evening, February 3rd, Mrs. Clarke was in the
house with her two guests, Harrison and Bradshaw, and two
maid-servants. About ten o'clock the maids went to the
stables to water the horses. While they were doing this, they
became temporarily separated, whereupon Bradshaw seized and
bound one of them who was in the stables. Then Harrison
secured the other, and, in the meantime, Bradshaw, who had
returned to the house, seized Mrs. Clarke, and tied her up also.
The two malefactors then released Grimbold, and, taking her
into the house, made her give them her mistress's keys. All


three went to Mrs. Clarke's parlour, where there were three large
chests, which they opened. One of these contained only linen,
another was full of " writings," but out of the third coffer
they took away several bags, full of gold and silver. The robbers
carried off six or seven bags containing money, the amount of
which was variously estimated at from j(^200 to ;(^50o or more,
and they left one bag for Alice.

It does not appear from the existing evidence why Mrs.
Clarke was killed, but the reason given by Twysden, that she
was murdered because she began to cry out for help, offers a
probable explanation. According to his account, the murder
was committed by Alice Grimbold, but there is no evidence of
this, and the testimony goes to show that Mrs. Clarke was killed
by Bradshaw. Grimbold was tied up in the chimney before
the ruffians rode away with their plunder. Harrison's plea
that she was the instigator of the plot is hardly borne out by the
facts, and she acted throughout the evening under compulsion.

Mrs. Clarke was buried at St. Martin's two days later.

As soon as the robbery and murder were discovered on the
morning after the crime, Bonus was arrested and examined on
the same day before the Deputy Mayor of Leicester, two Justices
and two Coroners. He established his own innocence, and
disclosed all that he knew of the plot. The depositions of Alice
Grimbold were taken on the same day and on the following
Wednesday. Harrison and Bradshaw were committed to the
prison at Stafford without bail ; but Harrison was brought back
to Leicester prison soon afterwards, and there examined on
February loth, and again on March ist, before Thomas Chettle,
then Mayor of Leicester, and other magistrates. Once more
he was examined specially, by order of the Judge, on March
22nd, not about the crime itself, but with regard to an attempt
which had been made to frustrate the ends of justice. For the
clever scoundrel, Edward Bradshaw, had conceived the brilliant
idea of using part of the proceeds of the robbery in order to
obtain his own release from Stafford gaol. So when his brother-
in-law, one Littleton, came to visit him in the prison, Bradshaw
told him that the stolen money had been hidden in the bank


of a ditch at Pooley Park in Warwickshire, and asked him to
fetch it away. Littleton, according to Harrison's evidence,
found most of the hidden money, and brought ,£80, part of it,
to procure the prisoner's release. Some of this money was
distributed among various agents, and the rest was paid over,
directly or indirectly, to Lord Stafford — how much, Bradshaw
said he did not know. Lord Stafford thereupon bailed out the
prisoner, who took refuge for a time at Bowdisworth Park, in
Staffordshire, the residence of Humphrey Chatterton, whose
wife, as Harrison attested, " laboured the Lord Stafford for
Bradshaw's bail, and had money for her pains." But the
Leicestershire magistrates got wind of this shameful transaction,
and on February 17th, 1604-05, they despatched an urgent
letter to the Lord Chief Justice of England, informing him that
Lord Stafford had gone up to London to procure Bradshaw's
pardon, and asking him that a warrant might be issued for the
apprehension of Bradshaw, " because it is thought he will come
to London to the Lord Stafford's lodgings " ; and they prayed
that, as soon as Bradshaw was arrested, he should be committed
to the gaol at Leicester. The arrest was made, and the case
was tried at the Spring Assizes which began at Leicester on
March 25th, 1605.* Bradshaw was examined on March 26th,
and was subsequently condemned to be executed for the murder
of Mrs. Clarke, while the unfortunate servant, AHce Grimbold,
was actually sentenced to be burned at the stake.

The original depositions of the witnesses in this case are
still in existence, although partly defective, and they have been
transcribed in the Appendix to Kelly's " Royal Progresses."

The crime itself is a very sordid one, and would have been
forgotten long ago but for its legendary association with the
last of the Plantagenets. Nevertheless, the case is interesting,
not only as an example of the harsh and unsatisfactory character
of the administration of justice three hundred years ago, but
also because it illustrates the danger to which justice was then
sometimes exposed, owingto the corrupt dealings of powerful men,

*The date given by Thompson and Kelly, March 25th, 1606,
must be erroneous. The witnesses were bound over in February',
1604-5, to give evidence at the next assizes.




THE destruction of mediaeval Leicester began with the
passing of the Plantagenets and the dismantling of
Leicester Castle. Fifty or sixty years later, the zeal
of the religious reformer swept away many of the most charac-
teristic and beautiful monuments of mediaeval art. Other
lingering remains of the Middle Age were afterwards allowed
to fall into decay, and, within the last 150 years, many have
been deliberately destroyed, under the blind pressure of growing
life. Only a few are still to be found.

The Castle of Leicester, the great " Palace of the Midlands
during the most splendid period of the Middle Ages," may be
said to have passed its meridian glory in the lifetime of John of
Gaunt. But long after his death it retained its old prestige.
On the i8th of February, 1425-6, the Parliament of England
assembled in its great Hall, and again met there, in all probability,
on the 29th of April, 1450, when they had adjourned to Leicester
from Westminster in consequence of the insalubrity of the
Thames air. The last authentic record of its occupation seems
to be a letter written by Richard the Third to the King of France,
which is dated August i8th, 1483, " from my Castle of
Leicester." In the reign of Henry VH it fell into disuse. When
John Leland saw it, sometime about the year 1536, it had already
lost its ancient pride. " The Castle," he wrote, " standing near
the West Bridge, is at this time a thing of small estimation."
Royal Commissioners, appointed by Henry VHI, reported that
it was rapidly deteriorating ; and, although a Constable of the
Castle was nominated, little was done to prevent its decay.*
The only part preserved was the great Hall. The spacious yard
of the Castle, which so many a time had been gay with the flower
of England's chivalry, began to be made use of as a pound for

* The Constable's Salary was only £3 os. 4d, a year, less than that
of any other Castle Keeper in England.


enclosing stray cattle and horses and swine. Thus, in the year
1533, some countrymen, who threatened that they would come
into the town to trade there against the regulations, were in-
formed by the Bailiff that, if they did so, their horses should be
" set in the Castle," and they themselves punished.

A hundred years later, a survey of the Castle was made,
from which it appears that the Hall, a great Chamber, a Parlour,
a great Kitchen, a larder and a dungeon, with out-offices, were
then standing, in very bad repair.

The siege of Leicester in 1645 ^^^ further damage to the
ruined fabric ; and, early in the following century, the eastern
side of the Hall was taken down and replaced by a brick front.
At the same time the Kitchen was converted into a coach-house.
The division of the great Hall into two separate Courts — a civil
and criminal court, with an entrance lobby between them and
a grand jury room above it — was effected, according to Thomp-
son, in the year 1821, involving, as he remarked, " an entire
sacrifice of all the historic and venerable associations of the
fabric," The old Castle House was then entirely demolished.

There remain at the present day (i) the ancient Norman
Hall, almost entirely concealed beneath a modern disguise ;
(2) the Tudor Gateway and Porter's Lodge, near the North
door of St. Mary's Church ; (3) the Dungeon, or Cellar ;*
(4) the Turret Gateway leading into the Newarke, which is said
to have been reduced to its present ruinous condition during
a tempestuous election in 1832; and (5) Part of Southern defence.

About the middle of the i6th century, the outward appear-
ance of Leicester suffered a remarkable change The fine old

*Mr. A. Hamilton Thompson writes : " I suppose this may be
the ' dungeon ' referred to in the 17th century survey, at a date when
the term had long been applied to vaults of a prison-like appearance.
But ' dungeon,' in surveys and technical documents of an earlier date,
is habitually used in the proper sense of ' donjon,' as equivalent to the
great tower or keep of a castle. The word dunio is applied primarily
to the earthen mount of a castle, then to the buildings of wood or stone
upon it, and then to the keep, whether built on a mount or standing by
itself. The term ' dungeon,' in the sense of prison, seems to arise from
the presence of vaults, not necessarily prisons, in such towers. I rather
wonder whether, at the date of the survey, the keep on the mount may
not have been standing still in bad repair."


church of the Abbey, and most of the monastic buildings, were
dismantled ; the three great religious Houses of the town were
levelled with the ground ; the churches were stripped of their
ornaments and images, and all other " monuments of super-
stition," and the lovely Collegiate church of the Newarke was
utterly destroyed. Before the end of the century, the Berehill
Cross, and most of the other Town Crosses, were pulled down,
the ancient Hospital of St. John was converted into a Wool-
Hall, and the property of all the religious Guilds and Colleges
was taken away from them, and passed, in many cases, into the
hands of speculators.

The effects of the i6th century cataclysm may be sum-
marised thus : —

Two old churches had then already fallen into disuse ;
St. Michael's had disappeared, and St. Peter's was fast becoming
a ruin. Five other parish churches in the town, those of St.
Nicholas, St. Margaret, All Saints, St. Mary and St. Martin,
survived the storm, stripped almost bare and impoverished, but
structurally intact, and they still exist. The little church of
St. Leonard survived for about a hundred years more.

The church of the Abbey, the church of the Grey Friars,
the church of St. Clement, the church of the Austin Friars and
the Newarke church were all dismantled or destroyed. The
chapel of St. Sepulchre, or St. James, and the chapel of St. John
in Belgravegate were left to decay, and fell into ruins. The
little chapel on the West Bridge was converted into a dwelling-
house. The Hospital of St. John, after the failure of the Wool-

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