Friday, 23 March 2012

The English Impaler.

    John Tiptoft (1427-1470) was promoted to Earl of Worcester at the age of twenty-two on the death of his father in 1449. 
    He married Cicely Neville, the daughter of the immensely powerful Yorkist Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury and the sister of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, the "Kingmaker", Cicely sadly died in 1450.

    Tiptoft was an extremely intelligent and cultured young man who had travelled to Rome and impressed Pope Pius II with his enthusiasm to learn. 
    He was well thought of at home too, as well as being created Lord Treasurer for the Lancastrian regime he was also Royal councillor between 1452 and 1454.

    After the first battle of St Albans in 1455 power shifted to the Yorkist party, being the former son-in-law of one of the most powerful Yorkist families in the land, he continued to work for the Yorkist protectorate becoming the Deputy for Ireland from 1456-1457.
   Between 1457 and 1459 Tiptoft travelled again to Italy and went on the Spring Voyage pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He then returned to Italy and studied at Padua, this delayed his return to England until 1461.

    The Wars of the Roses had been in full swing for two years by then and the Yorkists were now in complete control since the huge battle of Towton fought on Palm Sunday 1461.
    This battle saw the total defeat of King Henry VI and his Lancastrian supporters. The new Yorkist King Edward IV immediately placed Tiptoft back into his old roles and added Constable of England to his titles.

    During the 1460's he remarried, this time to Elizabeth Greyndour, but this did not last long and he eventually settled on Elizabeth Hopton.
   In his duties as Constable he presided over trials for treason and he was very zealous in implementing the punishment of "hanged, drawn and quartered". 
   For this he gained the nickname "The Butcher of England", but it was another form of punishment that would lead to his undoing.

    Tiptoft certainly had a cruel streak and enjoyed terrorizing his enemies. During his tenure as Constable of England he could not indulge his bloodthirsty fantasies as he was subject to the law and to what punishments the law advised. 
    But an event in 1469 gave Tiptoft the excuse he was waiting for, this was an attempted coup by Lancastrians and Yorkist traitors.

    The rebellion was orchestrated by Richard Neville (the Kingmaker) and the Duke of Clarence, King Edward IV's brother.     There were several battles at this time but the event in which Tiptoft was to become infamous happened in Southampton. Several ships were at Southampton waiting to take the rebels to France, however, King Edward's men got their first and a fight broke out.

    Clarence and Neville escaped but some of their men were captured and handed over to the tender mercies of John Tiptoft and here I quote from a chronicle from that time; 
   "and so twenty Gentlemen and Yeomen were hanged, drawn and quartered and then beheaded, after which they were hung up by their legs and a stake was sharpened at both ends.
   One end of the stake was pushed between their buttocks and their heads were stuck on the other. This angered the people of the land and forever afterwards the Earl of Worcester was greatly hated by them."

    In 1470 the Lancastrian King Henry VI was back on the throne and Tiptoft's luck ran out.
    He was arrested, charged with treason and with the murder of the Earl of Desmond's two sons, along with his over-zealous method of executing Neville's men the verdict was inevitable. 

    He was sentenced to death by beheading at 3 o'clock on the 7th October 1470 but his execution could not go ahead because so many people had gathered to see this hated man die.
   He was held in the Fleet prison over night and early the next day he was taken to Tower hill and executed.

    His body was then taken to Ely cathedral in Cambridgeshire where he lies to this day his effigy is flanked by two of his wives.


  1. You state that is is unknown as to the route that Tiptoft took on his pilgrimage. Intriguingly, that isn't the case. Tiptoft took part in what was known as the 'spring voyage' of 1458, leaving from Venice. Oddly enough this particular voyage was probably THE best documented pilgrimage in late medieval history, with no less than six separate narratives surviving (Italian, Dutch, German, English). His presence is well documented, as are the sites he visited and the sights he saw. Impaling of human beings doesn't get a mention. One must assume that his own bad habits came not from abroad,but were entirely home grown.

    1. Thanks Matt, I've adjusted the blog, yes I believe he was just a cruel man in rather a cruel age.

    2. The Hannibal Lecter of his time (sans cannibalism). An immensely learned man with a sadistic streak and love of torture. Much hated by the Irish as well.

  2. He was one of my Grandfathers.......John Neville was too

  3. Towton was fought n 1461 not 1460.

    1. Thank you for pointing that out MaliceFather, the date has been corrected, my apologies.