If I could meet with one person on our family tree for an afternoon of conversation, I think it would be John de Bostock of Whethamstede (1383-1464), abbot of St. Albans in England.
For the record, our common ancestor is Sir William de Bostock (b. 1225). By his first wife, Elizabeth, he had a son named Edward (b. 1245). By his second wife, Amice, he had a son named Gilbert (b. 1255). We are descended from Edward, while John de Bostock of Whethamstede is descended from Gilbert. (Gards, take note: the Bostocks are ancestors of Elizabeth Johnson, who married Jeremiah Gard in 1740.)
John de Bostock of Whethamstede’s life provides a window onto many aspects of medieval life: religious, political, military, cultural, and familial.
Part II: A Window on Medieval Warfare
Duke of Gloucester
To the windows on medieval family and religion can be added a window on medieval English warfare—dynastic warfare, to be specific. As indicated above, the Bostocks were Cheshire men, and as such, had sided with Richard II when he had been challenged by Henry Bolingbroke (later King Henry IV). However, Abbot John, as a friend of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, was more attached to King Henry, who was the father of his friend Humphrey. The early fifteenth-century dynastic struggles led later to the series of conflicts known as the Wars of the Roses. The complicated web of alliances and treasons in the fifteenth century are beyond the scope of this narrative, but suffice it to say, that the fortunes of John of Whethamstede rose and fell with those of Duke Humphrey, who fell afoul of Queen Margaret of Anjou in 1441. (Queen Margaret was the wife of King Henry VI and often led her husband’s cause during his bouts of periodic insanity.)
Now, Humphrey, who would have been in line to be king had Margaret’s son died, fell from favor in 1441 when his wife, Eleanor of Cobham, was convicted of witchcraft and imprisoned. The DNB indicates that Humphrey’s fall from power might have contributed to Abbot John’s resignation as abbot of St. Alban’s, even though that happened in 1440, a year before the charges were brought against Eleanor. According to the DNB, “On 26 Nov. 1440 he resigned the abbacy. The reasons alleged for this step are that he was suffering from ill health; that, being of a nervous temperament, he found his work and anxieties too much for him; and that he was painfully bashful.”
Today those symptoms might lead to a diagnosis of agoraphobia, a disorder characterized by reclusiveness and anxiety. Such a condition could in and of itself lead to a person’s resignation from a somewhat “public” position, and, his friend’s fall from favor—which did certainly happen in 1441—could well have been a contributing factor and might help to explain why the abbot switched from support of the Lancastrian cause to that of the Yorks, who opposed Queen Margaret.
In 1447, Humphrey was arrested and died a few days later, though to this day it is unknown whether he died of a heart attack or stroke brought on by the distress of his captivity—or was murdered by Lancastrians in Queen Margaret’s party. Probably due to his close association with Abbot John, Duke Humphrey was buried at the abbey of St. Albans. (Readers of historical fiction may like to know that Margaret Frazer’s novel The Bastard’s Tale concerns this event, and Abbot John makes a brief appearance in Chapter 25.)
When Whethamstede had retired in 1440, John Stoke had replaced him as abbot; however, upon Stokes’ death in 1451, John Whethamstede was re-elected as abbot and resumed his duties, which meant that he would be in St. Albans where the Wars of the Roses broke out into violence in 1455 at what is called the First Battle of St. Albans, a victory for the Yorkists. The Lancastrians Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset; Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland; and Thomas, lord Clifford had perished in the struggle, and Abbot John requested permission from the victorious duke of York to bury the three at the abbey. He was personally affected later on by the Second Battle of St. Albans (1461), which was a defeat for the Yorkists. The victorious Lancastrian army “plundered the Abbey and horribly ravaged the surrounding country. The Queen [Margaret of Anjou] even condescended to rob the Abbey of its most precious jewels and treasures. The result was sheer famine; the convent were dispersed, and the Abbot retired to his native town. Thus for the only time in its history the continuity of conventual life at St. Albans was broken” (Galbraith).
Alston, George Cyprian. “The Benedictine Order.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton, 1907. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02443a.htm Galbraith, Vivian H., ed. The Abbey of St. Albans from 1300 to the Dissolution of the Monasteries: The Stanhope Essay, 1911. 2008. Web. 29 Mar. 2013. http://www.archive.org/stream/abbeyofstalbansf00galbrich/abbeyofstalbansf00galbrich_djvu.txt
Hunt, William. “WHETHAMSTEDE or Bostock, JOHN.” Dictionary of National Biography. 1885-1900. Vol. 60. 31 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Mar. 2013.http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Whethamstede,_John_(DNB00)
Riley, Henry Thomas, ed. Registra quorundam abbatum monasterii S. Albani, qui saeculo XVmo floruere: Registra Johannis Whethamstede. . . London: Longman, 1878. 15 Jan. 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. http://books.google.com/books/about/Registra_quorundam_abbatum_monasterii_S.html?id=8RsUAAAAYAAJ
Bolton, J. The Second Battle of St. Albans, 1461. http://tuckdb.org/postcards/70596
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/gloucester.htm
© Eileen Cunningham, 2013