John Wenlock, 1st Baron Wenlock

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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

John Wenlock, 1st Baron Wenlock KG (died 1471) was an English soldier, courtier and politician. He fought on the sides 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]

Early life[edit]

He was the son of William Wynell de Wenlock, commonly called William Wenlock, knight of the shire for Bedfordshire in 1404, by his wife Margaret Breton, an heiress of Houghton Conquest in Bedfordshire.

John Wenlock took part in the invasion of France under Henry V of England, and on 16 August 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. He was elected Speaker of the House in the 1455 Parliament. 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.[2]

He served also in 1444 as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Wenlock's seat was at Luton, 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 1440s and 1450s. 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.

In the Wars of the Roses[edit]

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 Dunstanburgh Castle.[2]

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.

Death[edit]

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.[3] The Duke of Somerset 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.[4]

Family[edit]

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

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 hoax by burying another body, and he then lived on for several more years.[5] However, Agnes remarried (for the third time) at some point between September 1473 and October 1474 (to Sir John Say), which casts doubt on the assertion that Wenlock survived six or seven years after Tewkesbury.[6]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Attribution

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Wenlock, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

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