Bristol and the Readeption Parliament of Henry VI

This winter marks the 550th anniversary of the Readeption Parliament of 1470-1, the circumstances and proceedings of which are the subject of a recent blog. Today Dr Charles Moreton from our Commons 1461-1504 project looks closer at the Parliament’s impact in Bristol and the period of the short-lived restoration of Henry VI in which this assembly sat.

There are no extant election returns for the Parliament, and the names of just 41 of its MPs survive. Forty, if not all of these men, sat for urban constituencies, the archives of which preserve their election. As it happens, the names of the Members for Bristol are not recorded, but the Readeption proved an episode that the town’s oligarchy, including several parliamentarians, would afterwards rather forget.

Among the parliamentarians in question was the wealthy merchant, John Shipwarde, returned for Bristol in 1453, 1459 and 1460. As well as sitting in the Commons, he played a busy role in the administration of the town, serving four terms as its mayor, the last of which he completed just over a fortnight before the summoning of the Readeption Parliament on 15 October 1470. His final mayoralty coincided with very troubled times. Beset by political crises and unrest, in the early months of 1470 the Yorkist King, Edward IV, faced a rebellion led by his brother, George, duke of Clarence, and Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. In Gloucestershire, two feuding magnate families, the Berkeley and Talbots, took advantage of his loss of authority to fight a private battle at Nibley Green, some 20 miles north-east of Bristol, on 20 March that year.

Map of Bristol from The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar, c.1479 by Robert Ricart. Bristol Record Office via Wikimedia Commons

Shipwarde’s son and namesake and another Bristol burgess, Philip Meede, who had sat alongside Shipwarde in the Parliaments of 1459 and 1460, were implicated in this serious outbreak of disorder, since they were afterwards alleged to have sent armed assistance to the Berkeleys. Within a fortnight of Nibley Green, however, Clarence and Warwick were in retreat from the King’s forces. They fled to south-west England and from there to France, and during their flight they halted at Bristol where Warwick left his artillery. For the King, Nibley Green and the rebels’ reception at Bristol were worrying signs of disloyalty on the part of the burgesses, doubts  compounded by events just as Shipwarde’s mayoralty was ending. In mid- September 1470 Clarence and Warwick returned to England with leading supporters of the deposed Henry VI. After landing in the south-west, from where they had taken ship just a few months earlier, they again stopped at Bristol, this time to join forces with two other rebel lords, the earl of Shrewbury and Lord Stanley. Soon afterwards it was Edward IV’s turn to flee abroad, in his case to Flanders, and Henry was restored to the throne.

In late April 1471, following Edward’s return to England but before his decisive victory at the battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May, the opposing forces headed by Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, were able to obtain money, supplies, artillery and reinforcements from Bristol. The town’s contingent in her army was led by its recorder, Nicholas Hervy, who was killed in the battle. Eight days after Tewkesbury, the victorious Edward wrote to the burgesses of Bristol to express his displeasure at their behaviour, although he was prepared to offer a full pardon to any of them who would sue for it, save for the ‘principall sturrers of rebellion’. He listed eight such principals, of whom the first-named was the dead Hervy and the second Shipwarde. Although Shipwarde was arrested and his property seized, his disgrace was short-lived, since he was pardoned and released just four months later. 

Hervy, the commander of the town’s contingent at Tewkesbury was a Cornish-born lawyer rather than a native Bristolian. Like Shipwarde, he was also returned to at least three Parliaments, although for other constituencies, Launceston in Cornwall in 1449 and the Wiltshire borough of Hindon in 1459 and 1467. He had however been associated with Bristol for several decades and had become its recorder in the later 1460s. Later family tradition would have it that he was knighted at Tewkesbury just before the battle began, a claim supported by at least one contemporary chronicler.

Although not among the townsmen arrested following Tewkesbury, Philip Meede, already associated with Nibley Green and the Shipwardes, fell under renewed suspicion following Edward IV’s recovery of the throne. In November 1471 he took the precaution of acquiring a royal pardon, but on the 26th of that month, just three days after his pardon was issued, the Crown ordered him and three other Bristolians, John Cogan, William Spencer (who had sat for Bristol in the Parliament of 1467) and Robert Strange (who would represent it in those of 1484 and 1485), to appear before the King and his council in the following January. While the reason for the summons is not recorded, it is worth noting that Cogan, Spencer and Strange were among those arrested with Shipwarde the previous spring. Like Shipwarde, however, Meede was not to incur lasting disgrace for his activities in 1470-1.

Much remains to be told about Bristol in this period, not least the names of its representatives in the Parliament that sat in the name of the restored Henry VI (although it is of course possible that the MPs in question included one or other of Shipwarde, Hervy and Meede), but it seems clear that the municipal authorities were far more supportive of the Readeption than they would later care to admit. 


Further reading: 

Peter Fleming and Michael Wood, Nibley Green: Gloucestershire’s forgotten battle (Stroud, 2003). 

The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar ed. Peter Fleming (Bristol Rec. Soc. 67,*9 2015) 

Peter Fleming, Bristol and the Wars of the Roses 1451-1471 (Bristol, 2005) 

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