The Wanderings of King Henry VI


After the Battle of Hexham (15 May 1464) Henry VI very wisely made himself scarce. His first recorded place of refuge was Muncaster Castle in what is now Cumbria. The distance involved is roughly 90 miles, but anyone who has read Wainwright’s Guides to the Lakeland Fells will appreciate that this would include many hundreds of feet of ascent and passage along pack horse routes through lonely hills and high passes.

One can but hope that the unfortunate king enjoyed good weather for his hike – even if he had a horse, he would certainly have spent at least as much time leading it as riding it. Moreover, the delights of the Wasdale Head Inn would not have been available in those days, and he would have been lucky to find much refreshment except water from the mountain streams and tarns. The present author can testify that the ascent from Wasdale Head to the ridge that eventually leads to Ravenglass and Muncaster is the very definition of the ‘steep and rugged pathway’. It is hard to believe that pack-horses traversed it, but history assures us that they did, and for many centuries.

An 18th century tower marks the spot where Henry was supposedly found wandering by local shepherds. These men then led him the short distance to the castle.

Henry was understandably grateful to Sir John Pennington and his family who received him at Muncaster. In appreciation for their loyalty and hospitality, he left them a Venetian glass drinking-vessel, now known as the ‘Luck of Muncaster‘. The family still retain this relic, although it is not normally on public display. Tradition claims that if they lose it they will also lose the castle, so their caution is understandable. The castle itself is open to the public and well worth a visit.

There are three other locations where Henry is said to have stayed after leaving Muncaster. They are all a long way to the south-east, the nearest probably being Bolton-by-Bowland which is about 73 miles from the starting point. Again this does not take into account many hundreds of feet of ascent. Henry will probably have travelled by the road through the Trough of Bowland. Even today this is a narrow and tortuous route through thinly-populated country, and in the Fifteenth Century it can have been little more than a rough track. The journey must have taken Henry three or four days, but unfortunately we do not know where he slept overnight. The chances are that he avoided such centres of population (and authority) as Lancaster, and he may even have had to lie out under the stars. Almost certainly, he had a guide. No one strange to the area would have had a hope of finding his way.

Bolton-by-Bowland is a lovely village and well worth a visit. It is now in Lancashire but in Henry’s time was part of Yorkshire. Not the least of its attractions is the church where there is a remarkable monument to Sir Ralph Pudsey (abt. 1390-1468) with his three wives and twenty-five children – most of the children belonging to one wife. It was Sir Ralph who welcomed Henry to his home, Bolton Hall. The Hall is long since demolished and the site and its grounds are private property, known as King Henry’s Mews. I must therefore implore you to respect the privacy of the owners and approach no nearer than the public footpath permits. King Henry’s Well can be seen from this path but must not be visited more closely!

The next location to be linked with Henry in tradition is Bracewell Barn, the only surviving part of Bracewell Hall. This is roughly south east of Bolton-by-Bowland and about eight miles distant. The barn contains what is called ‘King Henry’s Parlour’. Again, this location is now in Lancashire but used to be in Yorkshire. The barn appears to have been converted from a medieval high-status dwelling and a detailed survey is available on the internet. The building is not open to the public. The hall was owned by the Tempest family, who were of local importance. It is quite close to what is now the small town of Barnoldswick (Barlick to locals.)

Henry’s last-known refuge was Waddington Hall, the home of Sir Richard Tempest. This hall lay in ruins for some years but has since been restored and was lately on the market for in excess of £4 million. Again, there is no public access. It is about nine miles west of Bracewell, and so a relatively short and simple journey.

Henry was of course being sought by the Yorkist authorities. It is said he was betrayed by ‘a black monk of Abyngtone‘, one William Cantlow. Be that as it may, a group of men led by Sir Thomas Talbot of Bashall (1433-1500) (Sir Richard’s son-in-law) arrived at Waddington on 13 July 1465, just as Henry was sitting down to his dinner. Somehow (there are tales of the inevitable secret panel) he managed to slip away, but he did not get far. He was caught in a wood near some stepping-stones over the River Ribble, close to the modern (18th Century) Brungerley Bridge on the outskirts of Clitheroe. He spent that night a prisoner, probably in Clitheroe Castle. He had enjoyed over a year of freedom after Hexham, with some interesting wanderings and kind hospitality. It was perhaps not the worst part of his life.

Sir Thomas Talbot received a reward of £100 and £40 a year, paid by both Edward IV and Richard III. His cousin, Sir John Talbot of Salesbury (abt. 1426-bef. 1484) , received a pension of 20 marks plus some lands. Other leading men involved were Sir John Tempest (Sir Richard’s brother) and Sir James Harrington. They were each given 100 marks plus a similar amount for expenses, but no pension.

Henry made the long, slow journey to London, feet tied to stirrups, eventually to be displayed to the citizens by Warwick, who led him to the Tower. In one of history’s many ironies, it was Warwick who was to restore Henry to the throne a few years later. I cannot but think that Henry would have been happier at Muncaster, Bolton, Bracewell or Waddington.

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