Magazine article History Today

John Archer (C.1416-60)

Magazine article History Today

John Archer (C.1416-60)

Article excerpt

   In the dangerous political world
   of the fifteenth century, the
   alliances chosen by the ambitious
   were crucial to their
   wealth and survival

JOHN ARCHER hailed from a Warwickshire gentry family of the middle rank. Educated at Inner Temple in the early 1440s, he had to make his own way in the world during the longevity of his father. That way was eased--or, at least, that was how it must have appeared at the time--by the sort of marriage often made by a rising lawyer. His bride was a wealthy young widow and heiress, Christine Blakelowe, with property in London and Kent. To the apparent blessing of a good match, he soon added another, that of a powerful baronial patron. By 1452 he was in the service of Henry VI's near-kinsman, Henry Holand, Duke of Exeter. His choice of master was to determine the course of much of his later life and gave him a parliamentary career that he might not otherwise have enjoyed. His return for the distant Cornish borough of Helston in 1453 resulted from the electoral manipulations of the duke, who was anxious to rally support in the Commons in his great dispute with Ralph, Lord Cromwell, over the valuable Bedfordshire lordship of Ampthill.

Nonetheless, a servant of so rash a master as Holand would be prudent to maintain other connections, especially in political waters as troubled as those of the 1450s. Archer was well aware of this fact: early in 1454 he conveyed his lands to feof-fees, headed by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, whom he described as 'dominus meus Reverendus', and he also found employment as the surveyor-general of the Earl's uncle, Edward Neville, Lord Bergavenny. His purpose in this diversification was to insure himself against the consequences of his allegiance to the duke, and this soon proved a necessary precaution in view of Exeter's abortive rising against the protectorate of Warwick's ally, Richard, Duke of York, in the following May. His new associations were not, however, destined to supersede the old.

As Exeter recovered his influence in the late 1450s, Archer returned to his service. He did so at a time when his personal fortunes were at a low ebb. In 1457 Pope Calixtus III ordered the Bishop of London to summon him to answer a petition presented by his wife: she was seeking separation and the restoration of her property on the grounds that her husband had beaten her during pregnancy so that she twice miscarried. …

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