John, Lord Wenlock

John, Lord Wenlock, was active as a soldier, administrator and politically from his election as constable of Vernon in 1422 until his death in the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. Wenlock’s early service was to the Lancastrian regime but he went on to fight for the Yorkists before joining Warwick, then fighting for Queen Margaret in 1471.

Sir John Wenlock, Member of Parliament

He was a member of Parliament for Bedfordshire from 1433 until 1455. Entering the service of Queen Margaret of Anjou, Wenlock fought on the side of the Royal army at St. Albans in 1455. However,  with his work as a diplomat having acquainted him with the duke of York, he was able to change his allegiance, being acceptable as a choice of Speaker of the Commons in the 1455 Parliament.

Changing Sides: From Lancaster to York

As a supporter of the House of York Wenlock fought in the Siege of London in 1460 and was a commander in Edward IV’s army at Ferrybridge and Towton. He formed a good working relationship with the Earl of Warwick whilst participating in Sieges in the North East. This saw him being appointed as the earl’s deputy in Calais in the late 1460’s. Warwick’s decision to rebel against King Edward IV placed Lord Wenlock in a position of divided loyalties. Consequently, when the Earl of Warwick attempted to enter Calais in 1470, Wenlock turned him away.

Changing Sides: From York to Warwick to Lancaster

Wenlock may have been acting out of pragmatism in turning away the Earl of Warwick and Duke of Clarence. The loyalties of the Calais Garrison had to be assessed. Soon afterwards the Burgundian Phillip de Commynes noted that when Lord Wenlock greeted him the Lord was wearing the symbol of the Earl of Warwick, rather than that of the King of England. That change of allegiance was soon confirmed. Wenlock, in his mid 60’s, travelled to join the army of Queen Margaret and Prince Edward.

John, Lord Wenlock and the Battle of Tewkesbury

He sailed with the Queen in the invasion force of 1471 that landed at Weymouth. As a part of this army he fought at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Lord Wenlock perished in the battle, in circumstances that sources are not in agreement on [see below]. John, Lord Wenlock had been married twice but left no heirs. He was buried at Tewkesbury but the location of his tomb is not known.

John, Lord Wenlock
John, Lord Wenlock as portrayed in stained glass window in the Wenlock chapel at St. Mary’s Church, Luton.

A biography of John, Lord Wenlock from the original version of the Dictionary of National Biography. The Dictionary os Public Domain in the United Kingdom.

WENLOCK, JOHN, Lord Wenlock (d. 1471), was the son of William Wynell de Wenlock, commonly called William Wenlock, knight of the shire for Bedford county in 1404, by his wife Margaret Breton, an heiress of Houghton Conquest in Bedfordshire. He took part in the invasion of France, and on 16 Aug. 1421 he received a grant of lands in the bailiwick of Gisors in Normandy, and shortly after, in April 1422, is styled constable of Vernon. In 1433 he was returned to parliament for Bedfordshire, and again in 1436, 1447, 1449, and 1455 (Official Return of Members of Parl.) He was escheator for Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire in 1438–9, and he early entered the service of Margaret of Anjou, being first usher of the chamber, and about 1450 chamberlain to her. In this capacity he laid the first stone of Queens’ College, Cambridge, on 15 April 1448. In 1442 he accompanied Richard, duke of York, during his negotiations in France. This was the commencement of his diplomatic career, in the course of which he was employed in eighteen or more embassies, and was brought into close relations with the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick. In 1444 he was nominated high sheriff of Buckinghamshire, and is described for the first time as ‘of Sommaries’ in Bedfordshire. In 1447–8 he was made constable of Bamborough, and on 21 Nov. 1448 the family property at Wenlock in Shropshire, which had been alienated, was restored to him. He was knighted before 1449, when he is mentioned as an executor of Lord Fanhope. In the wars of the roses he at first took the Lancastrian side, fighting at the first battle of St. Albans in 1455, at which he was wounded (Paston Letters, i. 331). He must have turned Yorkist at this time, as he was speaker of the House of Commons in the parliament of 1455. In 1458 he was sufficiently Yorkist to be trusted with the mission to the Burgundians, and afterwards to the French as to the marriage of a daughter of the Count of Charolais with one of the sons of the Duke of York. He must have crossed the Channel with Warwick just before Bloreheath, as he was with Salisbury in a little ship when he escaped after the panic of Ludlow to Calais. He was attainted, like other Yorkists, in the parliament of Coventry. He took part in the little expedition to Sandwich in 1460, when Osbert Mundeford [q. v.] was captured, and directly afterwards he went to London with the other Yorkist leaders. His part consisted in besieging the Tower, which surrendered on 19 July 1460. Thus he was not at the battle of Northampton on the 10th. He was with Edward, duke of York, when he entered London in February 1460–1, and on 8 Feb. he was elected a knight of the Garter at a chapter of the order held by Henry VI during his imprisonment. He was present at the battle of Ferrybridge on 28 March, and, being given command of the rear, fought bravely at Towton on the next day. Directly afterwards he was placed in a commission to inquire into the treasons committed by Morton in and about York. He was created Baron Wenlock the same year, and on 1 May was made chief butler of England. He was in the north again in December 1462, and besieged Dunstanborough Castle in company with Lord Hastings. It was at this time, presumably, that he was made governor of Bamborough Castle.

Edward rewarded him with valuable grants as well as with his peerage. He also sent him on missions abroad; in 1463 he went with the bishop of Exeter and others to the conference with France and Burgundy at St. Omer and Hesdin, and he had a similar mission in the spring of 1469. About this time he was seemingly Warwick’s deputy in the command of Calais, probably holding the office of lieutenant of the castle. When in 1470 Warwick appeared off the town, Wenlock would not admit him, and advised him to go away to a French port; the garrison were all on Edward’s side, and Wenlock thought, as Commines shows, that it was best to wait. Commines tells us that Edward was very pleased and gave him the command of the fortress, and, if we may believe the same historian, the Duke of Burgundy allowed him a pension of a thousand écus. Commines says also that he was sent to take an oath of fidelity to Edward from the garrison and from Wenlock. It will readily be believed, however, that he found little difficulty in coming over to the Lancastrian side, and when Commines in 1471 went to Calais, he found him with Warwick’s badge in his hat. This strange series of changes first, says Commines in a celebrated passage, reminded him of the instability of things human.

In 1471 Wenlock landed at Weymouth with Margaret, and was killed on 4 May at the battle of Tewkesbury—according to one story, by Somerset, as a traitor; according to another while fighting in the middle line. He was probably buried at Tewkesbury, though the monument in the Abbey formerly thought to commemorate him has proved to be the tomb of another. He was twice married, but left no issue. His first wife Elizabeth was daughter and coheiress of Sir John Drayton of Kempston in Bedfordshire. She died about the beginning of 1461, and he erected to her memory Wenlock chapel in Luton church in the same year. He probably married his second wife, Agnes, daughter of Sir John Danvers of Cothorpe in Oxfordshire, about 1467. He was her third husband, and after his death she married Sir John Say [q. v.], speaker of the House of Commons.

[Notes from a manuscript life of Wenlock by the late Rev. Henry Cobbe, kindly supplied by his daughter, Miss Cobbe; Ramsay’s Lancaster and York, ii. 185, &c.; Burke’s Extinct Peerage; G. E. C[okayne]’s Complete Peerage; Cal. Patent Rolls, Edw. IV, pp. 28, 30, &c.; Searle’s Hist. of Queens’ College, Cambridge, pp. 42, 43; Testamenta Vetusta, p. 343; Arrival of Edw. IV (Camd. Soc.), pp. 15, 22, 30; Polydore Vergil (Camd. Soc. transl.), pp. 148, 152; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iv. 175, 3rd ser. iv. 326, 436; Rot. Parl. v. 193, &c.; Wars of the English in France, i. 359, &c., ii. 772, &c.; Commines, ed. Dupont, i. 235, &c., iii. 201, &c.; Three Fifteenth-century Chronicles (Camd. Soc.), pp. 74, 157; Letters of Margaret of Anjou (Camd. Soc.), p. 112; Carte’s Cat. des Rolles Gasc.; Norman Rolls; Lipscomb’s Hist. of Buckinghamshire; Anstis’ Reg. of Order of Garter.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 60
Wenlock, John by William Arthur Jobson Archbold

Leave a Reply