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Sir John Wenlock, as portrayed in stained glass window in the Wenlock chapel at St. Mary's Church, Luton.
The Wenlock chapel

Sir John Wenlock (later, the 1st Baron Wenlock) lived in the 15th century, and is remembered as a soldier who fought on the side of both the Yorkists and the Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses. One historian has gone so far as to call him "Prince of Turncoats."[1]

In his youth Wenlock had participated in Henry V's invasion of France, and he later entered the service of Margaret of Anjou, eventually becoming her chamberlain.

He later became involved in politics, representing Bedfordshire in five parliaments between 1433 and 1455, serving a term as escheator of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and later on as sheriff of the Buckinghamshire. Wenlock's seat was at Luton, in Bedfordshire, his property there, Someries castle, coming through inheritance. In 1462 he acquired Hertfordshire property forfeited by the former Chief Justice, Sir John Fortescue.

His service to the Crown is also reflected in his employment as a member of some 18 embassies in the '40s and '50s. He was knighted in 1449. It appears to have been at one such embassy that he came into contact with the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick, and he became a supporter of the latter.

During the Wars of the Roses, Wenlock initially fought for the House of Lancaster in the First Battle of St Albans on 22 May, 1455, but his relationship with Warwick led him to subsequently change sides, and it was as a Yorkist that he served as Speaker of the House of Commons later that year in the parliament of 1455. By the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459 Wenlock fought for the House of York. He also fought under the Yorkist banner in the Battle of Mortimer's Cross, the Second Battle of St Albans and the Battle of Towton, all in what is referred to as the first phase of the War of the Roses.

Having successfully besieged the Tower of London for Edward of York, he was part of the latter's triumphal entry into London in 1461 and was elected a knight of the garter a few days after. Later in the year he received appointment as Chief Butler of England and was made Baron Wenlock. In 1464 he helped Lord Hastings capture Bamburgh castle.

Image of the Battle of Tewkesbury, where Wenlock was killed, in a Ghent manuscript.

He continued to undertake diplomatic missions for Edward IV, and had command of Calais for him (possibly as deputy of Warwick). When Warwick defected to the Lancastrian camp, Wenlock did not immediately follow him back, however his sympathies clearly remained with his friend, and by 1471 he too had switched sides, accompanying Margaret of Anjou back to England.

At the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4 May, 1471, he commanded the middle of the Lancastrian line. However, the Lancastrians suffered a crushing defeat, and Wenlock died on the battlefield. He was allegedly killed by his own commander, the Duke of Somerset, who blamed Wenlock's indecisiveness for the defeat.[2] The Duke of Sommerset had led the right flank of the Lancastrian line forward, and expected Wenlock to support him, but Wenlock held back (some suggest deliberately) and the Duke's men were slaughtered. After the Duke's flank retreated he summoned Wenlock and supposedly killed him with a single blow of his mace to the head.[1]

It has been argued that Wenlock did not actually die on the field at Tewkesbury, but together with his second wife, Agnes (widow of Sir John Fray), perpetuated a clever hoax by burying another body, and he then lived on for several more years.[3] However, Agnes remarried (for the third time) at some point between September 1473 and October 1474 (to Sir John Say), which casts some doubt on the assertion that Wenlock survived six or seven years after Tewkesbury.[4].

Wenlock died without issue, and his title died with him.

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Charlton
Speaker of the House of Commons
1445–1446
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Tresham
Preceded by
The Lord Tiptoft
Chief Butler of England
1461–1471
Succeeded by
The Earl of Wiltshire
Peerage of England
Preceded by
New creation
Baron Wenlock
1461–1471
Succeeded by
Extinct

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ The Lancaster and York: Wars of the Roses, Alison Weir
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