Magazine article History Today

John Chester Alias Wryxworth (Fl. 1440s): David Grummitt Introduces One of the Least Known Members of Parliament to Have Been Covered in This Series, but a Man Whose Role as Herald Made Him an Important Figure in Mid-15th Century England

Magazine article History Today

John Chester Alias Wryxworth (Fl. 1440s): David Grummitt Introduces One of the Least Known Members of Parliament to Have Been Covered in This Series, but a Man Whose Role as Herald Made Him an Important Figure in Mid-15th Century England

Article excerpt

Heralds fulfilled a vital role in the late Middle Ages. Their most important task was in the practice of diplomacy, as representatives of the king, but they were also used more generally to carry messages. Most high-ranking among the heralds were the kings of arms, who alone could grant heraldic coats of arms, while the most junior were known as pursuivants. Although a great deal is known about the functions of heralds generally, relatively little is known of the individuals themselves. The career of John Wryxworth, recently identified as the 'John Chester' who sat for Rochester in the Parliament of November 1449, is especially interesting as he is the only late-medieval herald known to have sat in the House of Commons.

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Heralds, then as now, were usually referred to be their title (Garter, Norroy, Chester) and it is difficult to trace the careers of these men through the ranks. Wryxworth secured his election to the Commons, perhaps by bribing the burgesses of Rochester, in an attempt to get himself out of a difficult situation which had arisen from his service as a royal herald.

Wryxworth's origins are obscure, but he entered royal service in the mid-1430s. He was first employed as a messenger of the king's chamber and soon afterwards became Collar Pursuivant. Two petitions that Wryxworth presented to the King, Henry VI, in the early 1440s show the difficulties and dangers that heralds faced. The first detailed how, on a diplomatic mission to Normandy, he had been captured at sea and held prisoner in the town of Mont St Michel for more than two years. He claimed to have sold most of his lands to pay his ransom. Having secured his release, he was again sent to Normandy, this time carrying a message to the Earl of Warwick at Rouen. Unfortunately, he was captured a second time and, although released soon afterwards, was required to pay a ransom by June 1440 or return to captivity. His tribulations did not end there: the following year he was sent to the Duke and Duchess of Burgundy to secure a safe conduct for the Bishop of Rochester. Pirates and a lack of wind kept him waiting for a ship to carry him to Calais for five weeks and two days; finally, at his seventh attempt, Wryxworth crossed the Channel. Eventually he arrived in Ghent and presented his request to the Duchess, who ordered him to await the arrival of the chancellor of Burgundy to seal the safe conduct. Wryxworth then spent a further six weeks following the Burgundian court to Sluis, Bruges and then back to Sluis before the safe conduct was sealed. …

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