On 29 March 1461 men of Bury St. Edmunds fought at the battle of Towton for Edward IV, their banner flying alongside that of London, the white castle of Norwich, the harrow of Canterbury, the white ship of Bristol, the black ram of Coventry, the leopard of Salisbury, the wolf of Worcester, the dragon of Gloucester, the griffon of Leicester, the George of Nottingham, the boar's head of Windsor, and the wild rat of Northampton. This was certainly a key moment of Bury's support for the house of York, orchestrated by Alderman John Smith – Bury had an alderman rather than a mayor. Though support for the king was mandatory when called for, the articulate leading burgesses, such as Smith, had organised their force under the captaincy of William Aleyn, one of their number, and it is probable they hoped that eventually they would receive some tangible reward. This paper discusses the relations of Bury with Edward IV, in which the crucial role was played by John Smith, who earned the title of ‘especiall lover and preferrer off the politik and comen well’ of his town. The chief aim of Smith and his fellows was to throw off the control of the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, and for this the support of the king was essential. The Yorkist period was propitious for this campaign: both the kings and their lawyers favoured incorporating towns already responsibly ruling themselves by prescription. During his reign, Edward regularly showed he was willing to listen to requests from towns owned by clerics: Peterborough, Salisbury and Reading were all accorded his attention and favour in varying degrees, and are essential comparisons to augment and illuminate the under-documented struggle of Bury.
Edward IV, his Lordship of Clare and the Men of Bury St. Edmunds
Edward IV came to the throne in 1461 with popular support. For ten years before he did so there had been debate in England on how to cope with a king, Henry VI, who failed to direct government for the benefit of his people and allowed his household servants, gentry and nobles, to usurp his functions for their private gain.