Hull 1603: A Small Succession Crisis

Queen Elizabeth died in the early hours of the morning of the 24th of March 1603, and at 10 in the forenoon on the same day James VI of Scots was proclaimed King of England at Whitehall.

Now in those days news travelled fast, and Hull was never more than four days behind London, so it is no surprise that in the Hull town records we find that on the 27th March 1603 the word came to Hull. At about six o’clock in the morning (and even if you add ten days for the Gregorian calendar, it would still have been barely dawn) lord Clinton with ten followers arrived at the Mayor’s house, within the walls of Hull. Clinton was the son and heir of the Earl of Lincoln and a man well enough known to the town. He was a power in Lincolnshire on the south bank of the Humber estuary and there had been some small problems over the preferential treatment that he and his people expected when using the Humber ferry. Although he was known to the town, he had not been cultivated as a friend. There are no records of gifts to him or his father, or of letters requesting their support in any of the town’s affairs. According to the record, that day he had with him ten persons, “his followers and servants,” and the fact that the number is recorded, shows its significance. It was at the least very slightly unnerving.

The population of the town was about 4,000 but probably up to a quarter of the male population and certainly the most able of the male population would be absent at sea, and there would also be a significant number of foreigners, both mariners and merchants, in the town. By foreigners I mean men from Newcastle and London as well as Scots, Danzigers and Flemings.

The capture of Hull by infiltration had been attempted before. After the Pilgrimage of Grace, Hallam attempted to take the town on market day, and our townsmen’s Aldermanic grandparents had actually exchanged thrusts, in real sword-and-buckler work, against a few of the retreating rebels outside Beverley gate, and had captured them. Their severed quarters were later hung on a gibbet outside the same gate. But whatever the Elizabethan aldermen may have experienced during the sack of Cadiz, or while buying wine in war-torn France, or while being personally man-handled and pirated by a young King of Denmark off the Norweigan coast, or while sledging their goods in time of war between Revel and Narva, I do not imagine that the mayor or the town was mentally prepared suddenly to take on eleven disciplined men in an uncertain cause.

There was no military presence in the town, and the royal castle did not have either a governor or a garrison. The watchmen and warders of the town, although not completely Dogberry, were less than enthusiastic. Going by the constant renewal of regulations for them their principal faults were either drinking on duty, or sloping off home after the alderman of the night had done his round. The defence of the town was very much staffed by part-timers.

Lord Clinton and his little troop came to the mayor’s house and desired to speak with him, and being admitted lord Clinton “did delyver to the saide master Maior that our sovereigne Ladie Elizabeth laite Quene was deceased, and further that he was to proclame our most dread sovereigne James the sixte, Kinge of Scottes, by the name of James the first, Kinge of England.”

Well, none of this was particularly unlikely or necessarily unwelcome, Queen Elizabeth had been essential as a means of preserving protestantism, but the country would have greatly preferred a man, especially one with healthy sons, so while it was not bad news, it was in the words of the town record “suddaine strange and uncertaine and delivered by his honor withoute anie other the consentes of the Nobles of this Realme or of Her Majesties laite pryvie Counsell” It should perhaps be pointed out here that this fair copy of the record was written well after the truth was known, possibly even months after the event. This accounts amongst other things for James being referred to as “our most dread sovereign” at a time when that fact was still to be established.

So there was Clinton and the more important of his troop, in the Mayor’s hall, perhaps with a pot of beer or a glass wine in his hand, and expecting instant compliance. What he got was quite different. With suitable apologies to his honour, the mayor called an emergency council meeting, which met in the cold early dawn in November here in Trinity Church and included not only the Mayor and Aldermen but also the recorder, and John Aldred, a local gentleman, who was the late Customer’s son and had been a burgess of the Parliament for the town, and Lord Clinton himself. Hull is unusual amongst corporate towns in that it was ruled solely by a group of thirteen aldermen (including the mayor) and by no other council at all. There was no common council of twenty four or thirty or forty-two. There ensued here in this very church “long deliberation (as in such weightie affaires is expedient)” It is possible that Clinton did not remain in the meeting because at the end of it they decided on an answer to give him. If he was present throughout it must have been a very difficult meeting.

We have no evidence at all about what was said during the ‘long deliberation’ and a lot must have depended on whether they were able to speak in the absence of Clinton or not.

I know these aldermen quite well, and their parents and grandparents before them, and I do not for one moment believe that there were any speeches made here that day in favour of the other claimants: the Gray family, Arbella Stuart, or the Spanish Infanta Isabella, nor that the question of the effectiveness of Henry the Eighth’s testamentary dispositions or the legal bar to a foreigner, in this case a Scot, inheriting English land was debated. The rulers of Hull were aware of the issues, they certainly had opinions, but this was not a moment when they would have voiced them. The times were too “sudden strange and uncertain.” The issue for the town was to know not what they thought was right, but to plot a course that would not later be “misliked”. Normally when the town had to make a decision which would have consequences there would be a discussion document drawn up, giving the alternatives with their pros and cons. There was no time for that here, but I imagine that the arguments, in the “long deliberation (as in such weightie affaires is expedient)” spoken or unspoken, went like this.

There were four possibilities.

1 Firstly the Queen was not dead and this was yet another rumour. If that was the case, they must certainly not proclaim the King of Scots. The Queen would not have approved.

2 Secondly the Queen was not dead, and this was a pre-emptive coup by the King of Scots, which at the very least craved wary walking. The closer the queen came to the end of her life the more agitated the King of Scots became to secure the reversion of her kingdom. A coup was by no means an impossible scenario and not one in which the town would wish to become involved, especially not on the loosing side. As to which side that would be, well Elizabeth was going to die sooner or later, but in the interim she could hang any number of aldermen for treason, at the very least ears would be nailed to pillories.

3 The third possibility was that the Queen was dead, but the Lords and the Privy Council had proclaimed someone other than the King of Scots, and once again it was important not to join a loosing side. Although the king of Scots hoped and intended to succeed, everybody knew that he was not an heir proclaimed. The town of Northampton actually proclaimed Lady Jane Gray’s nephew as King, but the Privy Council managed to hush it up.

4 The fourth possibility was that the Queen was dead and they should indeed proclaim the King of Scots. This brought its own danger. If Lord Clinton was right, then the town would not wish to be slow to proclaiming their new sovereign. And the longer they hesitated the less “ready and dutiful” and the more “slack and disloyal” they would appear. In the aftermath of a disputed succession the priority in which one had signed up to the winning side could become important, and the prosperity of the town essentially depended on government favour.

During this debate, held here in this church, they would also have to avoid being rude to Clinton who was probably bolstering his claim with as much circumstantial detail as he could. His aim was undoubtedly to be able to recommend himself to his new master, by relating how he had secured the town for him, even before the official news had arrived. Proving your early and active loyalty to King James was to become quite a competitive sport in the new reign and Clinton would have regarded Hull as a major trophy. And as Clinton was speaking no more than the truth, I expect that he was fairly convincing. In fact the probability is that they believed his news to be true.

Now I don’t want you to think that the Aldermen could not put their futures on the line in a good cause, their sons withstood two sieges in the Civil War and their daughters built and maintained the defences with buckets and their bare hands, some dying from sniper fire while doing it. John Alured’s grandson, another John Alured, signed King Charles’s death warrant. And their great-grandsons in 1688, hearing that William of Orange was intending to invade by way of Hull, captured and imprisoned the Catholic commander of the garrison here and his Catholic officers in order to prevent local resistance to the landing. As for some unaccountable reason the man went to Brixham instead, their bravery has been overlooked by national historians, but “Town-taking day” as it came to be called, was celebrated as a holiday in Hull for two hundred years thereafter. And if you ask any Hull person over eighty today, why we have a great golden equestrian statue of King Billy, you will be told it is because he landed here first, tipped his hat to the town, and then sailed round to Brixham. The power of myth is very strong in Hull.

However to return to Trinity Church in the morning of March 27th 1603. The answer that the mayor and aldermen gave to Clinton was that they “in noe wise would so lightlie, beinge nott fullie certifyed of the death of her Majestie, graunt & consent that anie proclamacion should be published untill more certaine advertisement were gyven to the said Maior & brethren.” Perhaps Lord Clinton sympathised with their point of view, but I doubt it.

At this point he and his ten followers drop out of the record, he possibly went to try his luck in some other place more easily persuaded, but he may have remained in Hull to see the outcome. What the mayor and aldermen did however, and that very quickly, was to put all this in a letter to the Lord President of the Queen’s Council in the North Parts, who was at York, and they sent off a man on a horse to take it there “for more and speedie expedicion and intelligence” The Lord President was Thomas, second lord Burghley, the elder half brother of Robert Cecil, and he knew Hull and its aldermen very well.

Burghley had made a formal visit to the town with a large entourage two years earlier and been given dinner at the mayor’s house. Being Sunday he had been treated to some world-class preaching here in Trinity Church by preacher Wincopp whose memorial you will be able to admire in Trinity Church on the South Wall of the South Choir Isle. Unfortunately the town felt that it needed to provide more entertainment, and having previously abolished mumming, singing, and lewd plays and interludes along with the mayoral festival of cakes and ale, they were ill-provided for fun, but the town’s gunner was volunteered to arranged a firework display in the market place, which was at the east end of Trinity church.

The piece de resistance was made from a chamber, which would normally be a prepared charge to be slotted into a breech loading artillery piece. I have that from the young men at the Royal Armouries, but I am still don’t know what it means. Anyway this chamber, on this occasion, was filled with an appropriate mixture of black powder and wildfire. And it duly went off, and killed four. Abraham De la Pryme, who was a curate in Trinity Church in 1700 ascribes the whole incident to the town sinfully providing entertainment on a Sunday. What ever the cause, it was the last time that we have a record of the second lord Burghley visiting the town, and on his journey south King James also gave Hull a wide berth. Gunpowder is very tricky stuff, and you can get a reputation for being careless with it.

The connecting links between Hull and Scotland were very strong. Scots merchants lived in the town and Hull merchants in Scotland. They traded northern cloth, grain and some imported wares for Scottish salt and fish. Very occasionally they pirated each others ships. Scottish ships were actually commissioned and built in Hull, and no doubt among the lower and unrecorded classes Scots crewmen were to be found in Hull ships and Hull men served in Scottish ships. There was also a religious link. The apostle of protestantism in Hull was the Scottish Marian martyr John Rough who preached here, and at least one of the Elizabethan curates in the town was a Scot. The aldermen knew everything that the citizens of Edinburgh knew about the King of Scots. and the gunpowder incident in Hull would certainly have been a subject of conversation in Edinburgh. Anyway, in the event, the mayor and aldermen went to York to greet King James, rather than receiving him in the town. I imagine that the two-penny dole that had been given to the almsmen in the hospital in Hull to celebrate his mother, Mary Queen of Scot’s execution was amongst the subjects that were not touched on. Of course the whole raison d’etre of the founding of the town by Edward I had been as a magazine and base camp for the invasion Scotland, and royal interest in the town had always coincided with a serious deterioration in the relationship between England and Scotland.

Back to March 27th 1603. For the rest of the day, nothing happened, or at least nothing that has made it into the Hull records. I like to imagine lord Clinton making a nuisance of himself in the mayor’s house, while they waited for a response from York. It’s a little over forty miles from Hull to York, so they knew that they had a fair wait. A lot depended on the state of the recent weather as to how easy the roads were and, if the journey was being made by night, whether or not there was a moon. There is a dispatch marked “From the Queen for our service Haste Haste Haste” intended to close the port during the Babbington plot. It was carried overnight from York to Hull in September 1586, and seems by its indorsements to have taken nine hours. We do know that the letter in question here was delivered into lord Burghley’s hands at York on the same day that it was sent, the 27th, because his reply to it was dated that same day.

Next morning, that is the 28th of March, and by at the latest ten in the morning, a group of at least five gentlemen, arrived in the town. They had been sent by Lord President Burghley from York on the day before, the 27th, before he had received the town’s letter, and it appears that either they had not met the town’s messenger on their way or else, if they had, they had not realized that they were travelling in different directions on the same business. According to A. G. Dickens the road from Hull to York was not the route that we would use today, by way of Beverley, but ran along the Humber to Cave and then North West to York. The new arrivals may have taken a more easterly route and slept at Scorborough, just north of Beverley, the home of the Hotham family, because they had John Hotham with them when they arrived in Hull.

At this time the Hothams hardly figure in the town. The only reference to any of them before this date is in a letter from one of the burgesses of the parliament in 1586 referring to a loan raised against money owed to alderman Gee by “one Hotham” Of course they had some prominence later. The town would not have refused entry to Charles I, in April 1642, had not the sharpened edge of a Hotham family sword been lightly grazing the mayoral buttocks.

There is a lovely story about the John Hotham who was the grandson of Sir John and the son of Captain John. He met James, Duke of York, later James II, in Pall Mall, who was displeased with him and reminded him sharply that both Sir John and Captain John had been executed. John Hotham replied that he was sorry the Prince had said that, because whenever he thought of it he was overcome with grief as it reminded him that the same fate had come to James’s own father, King Charles I. I do not for a moment believe this story is true. It sounds just like one of those clever, witty things that you would have said, if you had only thought of it at the time.

Back to Hull, now the 28th March 1603 and still before ten in the forenoon. These gentlemen, newly arrived, were commissioners to proclaim the new king in Hull and were led by Christopher Hillyard, of Winestead, a village east of Hull, who was a fairly minor member of the Council of the North, He was a property owner in Hull, and one who subscribed when necessary to the fund which paid the preacher. The mayor and aldermen were joined in the commission with Hillyard, who brought them the proclamation to be read and all the necessary authority of the state from both the London and York.

Trumpets were sounded, the common crier cried “oyez,” and the proclamation of the accession of King James the First was read by the town clerk; and according to the town records this was “to the great joye comforte and likeinge of all the Burgesses Commons & hearers.” Anything they may have said to Clinton or Clinton to them is not recorded but the very next day they received their reply from lord Burghley. Firstly he advises “you shall doe well as you have great cause to doe, to expresse the comforte which you are to receyve herein by makeinge of bonfyers and such other as hath ben alreadie used in London upon this proclamacion”

I assume that there were some mourning rites somewhere for the late Queen, but from the documentation surviving from Hull, there was officially only jubilation at the accession of King James and the letters from Burghley say effectively “Rejoice, do it spontaneously, do it with bonfires, and do it now.” The implication being that the first person to suggest that it might be time to pack it in and go home was definitely of suspect loyalty. This must have caused a problem in Hull as street parties of any sort had been seriously discouraged by the puritan aldermen during the previous thirty years. I imagine though that there was a bonfire; the Lord President’s orders would not lightly be ignored and in every town there is always a bunch of degenerates who enjoy a good bonfire. Perhaps there were also fireworks. I am sure that the preacher, Thomas Wincopp, would have marked the occasion in Trinity Church with a sermon on God’s providence.

But what about lord Clinton, by this time proved right in every particular? Well the letter from lord Burghley, touches on him too. He says “I have cause to gyve you thankes and to comende your good discrecion That did forbeare to enter into such a busynes upon anie pryvate man’s Comaundment nott haveinge Commission or sufficient auctoritie frome the Lordes above or frome the President & Counsell here.” So much for Clinton.

So what is there to learn from this local experience? Well it shows the difficulty of establishing the certainty of events when horseback was the fastest that questions and answers could travel. It shows that the town authorities were well aware of the law and custom of the country, and were able to give a measured and mature response to an attempt to bounce them into a course of action. In my research I have had to look at the law as the Hull merchants found it in Russia and the Scandinavian kingdoms. The contrast with England could not be more marked. However despotic the Tudors may have been, the law in England was a matter of established and known fact and one could organize one’s affairs on the basis of its certainty. And here, faced with what could have been a political dilemma, the Aldermen of Hull found a solution in the law.

But from the language of the record we can also see that they were aware of the dangers of the time. “Suddaine, strange and uncertain” is how they describe Clinton’s instructions to them. They note how many men “his servants and followers” he had with him. There is an undercurrent of relief from fear running through the narrative. Fear principally of making a bad decision, but also a fear of something else.

The aldermen of Hull were travelled men, they had been to the north of Lapland and on to the Barents Sea, into the Baltic and on to the gulf of Finland, they knew the markets of Kola, Narva, Danzig, Emden, Antwerp and London as well as Bordeaux and Cadiz. In all these places I can at one time or another place the senior merchants and aldermen of Hull. In all probability some had travelled a good deal further, they certainly knew men who had. The town of Hull was both very provincial and very international. They were not strangers to war, to civil war, to civil wars of religion. The underlying relief that I see in the narrative is firstly from a fear of making the wrong decision, but secondly from a fear of civil war, probably augmented by foreign invasion, a fear which had been present since Queen Elizabeth’s accession November 1558.

This blog post is taken from a paper originally written as the Patronal Lecture at Trinity Church, Hull, and delivered on 7 June 2009 to an audience of seven. I felt it deserved better. HG

Source: HHC C BRB/2 better known as KHRO Hull Bench Book Four

[f.347v.] This xxvij of Marche 1603 aboute sixe of the Clocke in the morninge arryved heare the right honorable the Lo. Clynton accompanied with some tenne personns his followers & servantes and came to the howse of the nowe mr maior and desyred to speake with him, who beinge admitted the saide L. did delyver to the saide mr Maior that our sovereigne Ladie Elizabeth laite Quene was deceased, and further that he was to proclame our most dread sovereigne James the sixte Kinge of Scottes by the name of James the first Kinge of England: Which newes beinge suddaine strange and uncertaine and delivered by his honor withoute anie other the consentes of the Nobles of this Realme or of Her Majestes laite pryvie Counsell Mr Maior required of my Lo: that he might convocate mr Recorder and other his brethren Aldermen att the Counsell howse in Trynitie Churche to which place the saide Mr Maior and the said Lorde accompanied with Mr Recorder & all the Aldermen repayred to whom also John Aldred esquire came where after Longe deliberacion (as in such weightie affaires is expedient) It was answered to the said L: that Mr Maior the Recorder John Alredd esquire and the rest of the Aldermen, in noe wise would so lightlie beinge nott fullie certifyed of the death of her Majestie graunt & consent that anie proclamacion should be published untill more certaine advertisement were gyven to the said Maior & brethren / And for more & speedie expedicion and intelligence of the premisses Lettres were wrytten to the right honorable the Lo: Burghley and the rest of the laite Counsell in the North by the saide mr Maior & Recorder and other Aldermen to whom answere was returned in these wordes as hereafter enseweth. The morrowe after [f.348] beinge the xxviijth of Marche aforesaide came christofer Hildyerd John Hotham Lancelott Alforde & other Justices who brought lettres to the Maior Recorder & other Justices of this Corporacion with whome th’afforesaide christofer Hildyeard John Hotham Lancelott Alford were joyned in Commission together with a large proclamacion in these wordes underwrytten which betwixte the howers of xj & xij of the same daye, after three Trumpettes hadd twice sounded and three solemne oyes made by the Common Cryer of the towne the saide proclamacion by the towne Clarke was redd & proclaimed accordinglie to the great joye Comforte & likeinge of all the Burgesses Commons & hearers /

The Lettre frome the Lorde president beinge answere to that sent frome mr Maior & his brethren touchinge my Lord Clyntons beinge heare /

To my verie loveinge frendes the Maior and Aldermen of the towne of Hull.

After my hartie Commendacions The Quenes Maiestie beinge deade, I haue this daye caused the Kinge of Scottes to be proclaimed Kinge of Englande Scotlande & Irelande accordinge to the dyreccions sent vnto me by lettres frome the Lordes and States of this Realme And I haue caused seuerall copies of the proclamacion to be sent as well to that towne of Hull as to dyvers other townes within this Countie with particuler Instructions by lettres what course is to be taken therein. And haue sent the same vnto you alreadie by Mr Hildierd who was here this daye with me, and haue ioyned him in Commission with you the Maior & the rest in this matter. And you shall doe well as you haue great Cause to doe, to expesse the Comforte which you are to receyve herein by makeinge of bonfyers and such other as hath ben alreadie vsed in London vpon this proclamacion. I haue receyved your lettres by this bearer, and haue cause to gyve you thankes and to comende your good discrecion That did forbeare to enter into such a busynes vpon anie pryvate mans Comaundment nott haveinge Commission or sufficient auctoritie frome the Lordes above or frome the President & Counsell here. and I require you Mr Maior & the rest to contynewe that good care and to foresee that your porte and other places of strength maye be safelie kept, and the towne Contynewed in good quiett And you shall heare frome me frome tyme to tyme as their shalbe occasion And so I leave you to godes safe proteccion frome Yorke this 27 of Marche 1603.

Your verie loving frende

Thomas Burghley

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