Friday, December 23, 2016

The Battle of Passenham

One of the more obscure events in English history occurred in 1382 over a land dispute between Stony Stratford and Passenham. The two principals were Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby, and later to become Henry IV, and Sir Aubrey de Vere, chamberlain to Richard II, who held the manor of Calverton. Both principals were extremely well-connected. de Vere was the brother of the earl of Oxford and the uncle of Robert de Vere, who was a close friend and advisor of Richard II, and Henry was the son of the rich and powerful John of Gaunt, who was uncle to Richard II.

John of Gaunt had granted the manor of Passenham, amongst others, to Henry, his eldest son when he was only 15 years old. Some of de Vere's tenants in Stony Stratford saw this as an opportunity to grab the use of the land just across the river for their own purposes. They probably had the blessing of their lord of the manor. Young Henry got wind of it and sent two of his men in April to enquire into the matter. They were met with some hostile resistance from the Stony Stratford men, sufficient to cause Henry to send 60 armed men on May 29 to arrest the offenders. A week later, another of his servants, Hugh Waterton, was dispatched to retrieve a horse which had been stolen from Passenham and was met by 500 men who had come from Coventry to strengthen de Vere's side. Waterston managed to calm things down by buying breakfast for everyone at a Stony Stratford inn.

Even so, the dispute, which had by now raised passions on both sides, would not be settled and John of Gaunt advised his son to tell the king his side of the story. Presumably Richard II already had been briefed by de Vere and presented with one side of the case, but it does appear, that once the version of the Passenham tenants was presented, the king was able to restore good behaviour on both sides.

To call this a battle, is perhaps overstating the matter. Armed men were involved on both sides but it is unlikely that the matter escalated to a pitched battle.

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