‘Our Poor Subject’ – The Story of Katherine Bassingbourne
Researching my new novel, Distant Echoes, I found out about a court case that Richard was involved with concerning a woman called Katherine Bassingbourne. She brought a complaint before Richard’s Council because she couldn’t afford a lawyer and Richard seems to have taken her side, despite it being of no benefit to him to do so. She wasn’t powerful, influential or rich – he helped her simply because he believed in justice. So, what was her story?
She was the daughter of a York dyer, Thomas Worcester, who made a ‘nuncuperative’ will on his deathbed. A nuncuperative will is a verbal will, usually made when the person involved was too ill or weak to write a normal one and required two witnesses. Richard writes to the mayor of York, Thomas Wrangwysh, in September 1484, ordering him to adjudicate impartially on the case, which was between Katherine and a Henry Faucet. He enclosed a petition from Katherine, whom he referred to as ‘our poor subject’ setting out a ‘grievous complaint’ against Henry. He tells Wrangwish to dispense justice in accordance with ‘our laws and good conscience’.
The case was deferred for a month so two witnesses could provide statements, confirming that Katherine’s father had made this nuncuperative will in 1452 (over thirty years before). He had bequeathed his house in York to his wife, Ellyn, until her own death, when he wanted it to revert to Katherine and any heirs she might have by then. It seems that Ellyn was probably Katherine’s stepmother.
We next hear about the case in March of 1485. It seems that Katherine had not yet received the house due to her, despite the testimony of the witness statements and had again petitioned King Richard to help her. He was then amidst a personal turmoil of his own, as his wife, Anne, was dying, but he still intervened again for Katherine and appointed John Lewes, ‘sergeant at arms unto the king’s highness’, to represent Katherine at the second hearing.
We find out that after her father’s death his wife, Ellyn, had married Henry Faucet. Henry had also died by now and Ellyn was trying to bequeath the property to the surviving family of Henry after her own death, thus cutting Katherine off with nothing. This was Katherine’s complaint – a breach of the terms of her father’s will.
Annoyingly, the result of this hearing was also adjourned and there is no surviving record of the final verdict. I like to think that Katherine succeeded in her suit and that she was ‘relieved and helped’ by Richard, just as we know he helped ‘many a poor man’ gain justice.
With thanks to David Johnson, who steered me to his article in The Ricardian Bulletin of June 2017, where you can read all that is known of the story summarised here.
Image credit: By Jwkuyser [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons