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The Martyrdom of Archbishop Richard Scrope


By Clement Maidstone
Translated with Notes and Commentary by Stephen K. Wright



The text survives in three fifteenth-century manuscripts.

  • London, British Library, MS. Cotton Vespasian E. 7, fols. 94-101.
  • Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS. 197, fols. 85-98.
  • Oxford, Bodlian Library, MS. Auctar D. iv. 5, fols. 99-107.


"Miscellanea Relating to the Martyrdom of Archbishop Scrope," ed. James Raine, in Historians of the Chruch of York, Rolls Series 71 (London, 1886), II, 304-311. An online version is available at this site.


For a detailed discussion of the problems of authorship, sources, and manuscript transmission, see Stephen K. Wright, "Provenance and Manuscript Tradition of the Martyrium Ricardi Archiepiscopi," Manuscripta, 28 (1984), 92-102. For a study of literary and historical issues, see Stephen K. Wright, "Paradigmatic Ambiguity in Monastic Historiography: The Case of Clement Maidstone's Martyrium Ricardi Archiepiscopi, Studia Monastica, 28 (1986), 311-342.

These are the reasons why Archbishop Richard Scrope was beheaded


The first reason was that he [Archbishop Scrope] urged the King [Henry IV] to repent and make amends for the perjury that he committed when he swore an oath in the town of Chester by the sacrament of the Lord's body that he would neither rebel against nor consent to the deposition of King Richard.1 In fact, he did the opposite of what he had sworn when he forced King Richard to give up his crown by proxy in Parliament on the day after St. Michael's Day, the year of our Lord 1399, while in the meantime King Richard himself was locked up in the Tower of London.2 And yet previously he swore an oath of fidelity to King Richard in the presence of Lord Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, and many nobles.

2. Also, Archbishop Richard Scrope desired that the crown of the kingdom should be restored to the rightful line of descent,3 and he wanted the English Church to have its liberties, privileges, and customary rents and dues according to the just laws of the Kingdom of England which have been in effect since ancient times.4

3. Also, he wanted the lords and magnates of the kingdom to be judged by their peers with the due deliberation of other lords who were their equals.

4. Also, he wanted the clergy and commons not to be oppressed by levies and taxes of tenths, fifteenths, and subsidies to the Crown, nor by any other unjust exactions, as is now the case. In the year after his coronation the King received a tenth, and sometimes he received two tenths in a single year, despite the fact that the King swore from the very beginning that in his lifetime he would do everything he could to prevent the English Church from ever paying a tenth and the people from paying a tax. That is what he swore in Knaresborough Castle, not far from York.5

5. Also, after the crown had been restored to the rightful line of descent, he wanted some sensible counselors to be appointed, men who were experienced in public office and who were knowledgeable; and he wanted other men to be removed from office, those greedy, avaricious, and self-serving men who are willing to say and do things which please the King but not God in order to fill their own pockets.

6. Also, he wanted the sheriffs in every county to be elected freely without any coercion on the part of the King or the barons.

7. Also, he wanted the barons, nobles, and the commons to have the right to act freely in Parliament in matters pertaining to them.

Here begins the Martyrdom of Archbishop Richard Scrope


On the eighth day of June in the year of our Lord 1405, that is to say on the feast of St. William the Confessor, which fell that year on the Monday after Pentecost, Master Richard Scrope, who was a Bachelor of Arts from Oxford, a Doctor of both canon and civil law from Cambridge, formerly Advocate of the Poor at the papal court in Rome, then Bishop of Lichfield and later Archbishop of York, was beheaded just outside the walls of York. For in a room of the Archbishop's own manor, which is called Bishopthorpe and is not far from York, Henry IV, King of England, ordered William Gascoigne, esquire, who at that time was Chief Justice of England, to pronounce the death sentence against the Archbishop as a traitor to the King. But Gascoigne refused to do this, and he replied to the King: "According to the laws of the kingdom, neither you, my Lord King, nor any of your subjects acting in your name, can legally condemn any bishop to death." For this reason he absolutely refused to condemn Archbishop Scrope. Therefore the King exploded in a furious rage against the judge (may his memory be blessed forever). At once he ordered Sir William Fulthorp, who was a knight but not a judge, to pronounce the death sentence on the Archbishop, whom he called a traitor, in the main hall of the Archbishop's manor on that very day, that is to say on the Monday of Whitsun week, the eighth day of June. And since William Gascoigne, the Chief Justice of England, absolutely refused to do it, Sir William Fulthorp took his place on the judge's bench and ordered the Archbishop to be brought forth. When the Archbishop was standing bareheaded before him, Fulthorp pronounced this sentence as the Archbishop and all the bystanders listened: "We condemn you, Richard, to death as a traitor to the King, and by order of the King we command you to be beheaded." Hearing this, the Archbishop spoke out for all to hear: "God, who is true and just, knows that I never intended any harm against the person of King Henry IV." (From these words of the Archbishop it is obvious what the general opinion was at the time. For the Archbishop's intention was to go to the King with some other lords, who had been called together for that purpose, in order to ask the King to redress the evils then prevailing in the kingdom, because at that time there were disagreements among the nobility, particularly between Lord Neville and the Earl Marshal.6 The Archbishop told his people that was why he rode out with the multitude.) After he had spoken these words, he told the bystanders time and again: "Pray that Almighty God might not take vengeance for my death on the King or his followers." He repeated these words several times, while at the same time praying to Stephen the Protomartyr, who prayed for those who stoned him.7 And later on the same day, around noon, he was taken away on a horse without a saddle, a horse worth only forty pence, but he gave thanks and said, "I've never liked any horse better than this one."8 And he chanted the Psalm that begins "Exaudi secundum" as he rode along, guiding the horse by its halter.9 And he wore a blue cloak with long sleeves of the same color, for they did not allow the Archbishop to wear the linen vestments that bishops usually wear. And so, with a hooded cloak of dark blue (or of a color very close to that) hanging down about his shoulders, he was led off like a lamb to the slaughter, and he did not open his mouth,10 neither to claim vindication nor to pronounce the sentence of excommunication. When he arrived at the place of execution, he said: "Almighty God, to you I offer up myself and the causes for which I suffer, and I ask your forgiveness pardon for all my sins of commission and omission." And then he laid his cloak and tunic on the ground,11 and said to his executioner, a man named Thomas Alman,12 "My son, may God forgive you for my death!" And he told him: "I forgive you, but I pray that you give13 me five wounds on my neck with your sword, for I long to bear them for the love of my Lord Jesus Christ, who, obedient to his Father even unto death,14 bore the first five wounds for our sake." And he kissed him three times, and when he had knelt down, joined his hands, and raised his eyes to heaven, he prayed, saying: "Into your hands, sweet Jesus, I commend my spirit."15 Then, while he was still kneeling with his hands crossed on his chest, he stretched forth his neck, and the executioner struck him five times on the neck with his sword, hitting him in the same place each time.16 And at the fifth blow his head fell to the ground, and his body toppled over on its right side.

In the place where the Archbishop was beheaded there were five strips of plough land sown with barley which were totally ruined on the day of his execution by the feet of those trampling through the field. But in the autumn, without any human effort at all, God in His grace caused such a remarkable growth above the normal amount that some stalks bore five heads of grain and others four, and even the stalks which produced less still bore at least two heads of grain.17

At the time when the Archbishop was beheaded, the King was stricken with a horrible case of leprosy as he was riding towards Ripon,18 and it seemed as if someone had actually struck him a physical blow. For this reason he spent the night in the village of Hamerton, which is seven miles from York. During the night that followed the King suffered horrible torments, so much so that he awakened his attendants with a loud scream.19 When they got out of bed they found that all the lamps had gone out and were no longer burning, and they gave the King some medicinal treacle in the kind of wine that is called "vernage."20 And the next morning the King, still a very sick man, rode on to Ripon, where he stayed for seven days. And when George Plumpton saw the King on the eighth day after Scrope's execution, he saw that large leprous pustules were forming on the King's face and hands, pustules that were swelling up as large as nipples.21 And Stephen Cotinham, also known as Palmer, who saw and heard these things, swore that they were true, and he reported them to Master Thomas Gascoigne, Doctor of Sacred Theology.

On the third night after his execution, Archbishop Scrope appeared to John Sibson in his home at Rawcliffe,22 instructing him to confess to his confessor in York that he had sinned by planning to kill a man: "Because," he said, "although thirty years have gone by since you first thought of doing it, every day you have thought up plots for killing this man. But because you have not actually carried any of them out, you have assumed that it is not a sin, and you have not confessed. Therefore repent, and confess, lest you be damned." John Sibson told this story in the hearing of numerous people. 23 And the Archbishop instructed him to make an offering of a wax candle above his tomb, and to remove the tree trunks that had been put on top of his tomb so that people could not worship or make offerings there.24 John, an old man working all by himself, removed the trunks and took them away, even though three strong men could scarcely lift any of them, and he set them down in the church in front of the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary.25 And the holy Archbishop appeared to this man John fourteen times. And the Archbishop died a perfect celibate, as is known by his confession.26

In the year of our Lord's Incarnation 1405, Lord Richard Scrope of blessed memory, a Doctor of Laws, was beheaded at the command and with the consent of Henry, King of England. And after the Archbishop's death had been clearly shown to be a blessed one by the manifold glory of these miracles, the King, having been brought back to his senses by the saner advice of his counselors, seemed to have taken upon himself some kind of' penance. He sent eminent representatives to the Papal See in order to receive absolution both for the wrong done to Christ's Church and for the guilt which he incurred by ordering the death of this most saintly archbishop, an injustice wickedly instigated on his own behalf without any legal right whatsoever.27 But when the Pope had heard the words of the emissaries, he sighed aloud, and shedding many tears in his profound grief he said: "Alas! Alas! that in my lifetime the bride of Christ should be so shamefully cast into the shadows by such a great outrage at the hands of the wicked!" And having said this, he left them. And even though these emissaries of the King begged for pardon, forgiveness, and absolution barefoot and bareheaded, dressed only in linen garments, they met with no success whatsoever. Finally, piling prayer upon prayer and giving out expensive gifts to the cardinals and chamberlains,28 they obtained a plenary indulgence for the King only on the condition that he swear while touching the holy relics of the saints that he would build three new monasteries under one of the strictest rules in all Christendom in honor of the three chief feast days, and that he would endow these monasteries without the imposition of any tax on them so that the monks living in them might devote themselves freely to God in their holy offices with peace and quiet in all their hearts. When the emissaries returned they reported all these conditions, and they told the King about the Pope's instructions, and said that the gate of eternal salvation stood open for him. The King very gladly accepted all these conditions, and he swore that he would carry them out faithfully. But what good does it do for a sick man to expose his wounds unless he wants to apply wholesome medications? For even until the very last hour of his life King Henry IV ignored the cure for his own soul, and his public oath, and the papal decree--and so he died.

After the King's death a miracle occurred in order to make manifest the glory of Archbishop Richard and to commend him to eternal memory. Within thirty days of King Henry IV's death a certain man from his household came to the monastery of Holy Trinity in Hounslow for a meal, and when those present at dinner began to converse about the excellence of the King's morals, this man replied to a certain gentleman named Thomas Maidstone who was then sitting at the same table: "God knows if he was a good man; but I know for certain that when his body was being taken in a small boat from Westminster to Canterbury to be buried there, I was one of three men who cast his body into the sea between Barking and Gravesend." And he swore that it was true, and went on to say: "Such a great storm with winds and high waves broke over us that many of the noblemen following us in small boats--eight in number--were scattered all about, so that they barely escaped their deadly peril. But those of us who were with the body, finding ourselves in despair for our lives, all agreed, and we threw the body into the sea -- and it became very calm.29 But we carried the coffin his body was lying in, a coffin covered with gilded cloth, to Canterbury with great ceremony, and we buried it."30 Therefore the monks of Canterbury say that "the tomb of Henry IV is here with us, but not his body"--as Peter said about David in Acts 2.31 Almighty God is my witness and judge that I, Clement Maidstone, saw this man, and I heard him swearing to my father, Thomas Maidstone, that all these things are true.


Notes and Commentary


  • 1. After his triumphant return from exile in France, Henry Bolingbroke swore solemnly that he had no designs on Richard II's crown, but that his only aims were to recover the vast Lancastrian inheritance seized by Richard upon the death of Henry's father, John of Gaunt, in February 1399, and to be restored to his hereditary position as steward of England. Henry is said to have made this promise at Doncaster in the presence of an assembly of lords including the Earl of Northumberland, his son Harry Hotspur, the Earl of Westmorland, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
    Ironically, Henry Percy himself seems to have been directly implicated in the very act of treachery of which Bo1ingbroke is here accused by Scrope. The Earl of Northumberland and Archbishop Arundel went to Richard, who had taken refuge from Henry's advancing forces in the strongly fortified castle of Conway, and offered terms of surrender which the King agreed to accept. At that time Northumberland himself swore on the Host that Richard should retain his royal dignity and power if only the family estates and the hereditary stewardship were restored to Henry, whereupon Richard left the castle, only to fall into an ambush prepared for him. The King was then taken to rneet his ambitious cousin at Chester, and from there was led to the Tower. See May McKisack, The Fourteenth Century: 1307-1399 (Oxford, 1959), pp. 492-94; E. F. Jacob, The Fifteenth Century: 1399-1485 (Oxford, 1961), pp. 3-5; James Hamilton Wylie, History of England Under Henry the Fourth (London, 1884), I, 7.
  • 2. On St. Michael's Day, 29 September 1399, a committee of lords visited Richard II in the Tower to receive his resignation. The following day Parliament assembled in Westminster Hall, accepted Richard's renunciation of the crown, and declared that the thirty-two counts of accusation drawn up against him were sufficient for his deposition. Henry Bolingbroke then seated himself upon the throne.
    Curiously enough, Archbishop Richard le Scrope, far from offering any active opposition to Henry's designs on the crown, was in fact a prominent member of the parliamentary delegation which accepted Richard's resignation in the Tower. In Parliament the next day Scrope delivered a sermon, read aloud Richard's statement of abdication, and afterwards joined the Archbishop of Canterbury in ceremoniously enthroning Henry IV--all os which is carefully left unmentioned by the partisan author of this text. See Rotuli Parliamentorum: Ut et petitiones et placita in Parliamento tempore 1278-1532, ed. John Strachey (London, 1777), III, 415-28; Jacob, pp. 11-13; Wylie, I, 7-17.
  • 3 A surprising degree of circumspection is revealed both here and in article five, for nowhere does the author actually commit himself to stating the narne of the one who is said to hold the authentic claim to the throne. The most likely candidate would have been the young Edmund Mortimer, the fifth Earl of March, whose father, Roger Mortimer (died 1398), had been recognized by Richard II himself as his heir apparent. Mortimer's claim to a hereditary right to the throne, however, was surely no better than Henry Bolingbroke's. Mortimer based his claim on his descent from Phillipa, the daughter of Lionel, Duke of Clarence. Phillipa was Edward III's granddaughter and thus first cousin to Richard II. In addition, the Earl of March was a brother-in-law to Henry Percy the younger, and the son-in-law of the Welsh rebel Owen Glendower.
    A second possible, but perhaps less likely, candidate would have been Henry Percy himself. The Earl of Northumberland, who already ruled his vast northern domains as a virtual sovereign lord, could trace his circuitous royal descent through his mother's line and through two successive second sons back to his great-great-grandfather, Henry III.
  • 4 Scrope is known to have spoken out in opposition to the taxation of Church property proposed by the Coventry Parliament of 1404. See Wylie, II, 211. The repetition of this point in article four of the manifesto leads one to suspect that it was perhaps this issue more than any other which drove Scrope to open his propaganda campaign against the King and eventually side with Northumberland.
  • 5 One of Henry's first acts after landing at Ravenspur, Yorkshire, in July, 1399, was to march west and occupy Knaresborough Castle, where he swore the oath cited here; see Jacob, p. 2; Wylie, I, 7.
  • 6 The reference is to Ralph Neville, the first Earl of Westmorland, and Thomas Mowbray, the young Earl Marshal, who was tried and executed along with Scrope.
  • 7 For an account of the death of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, see Acts 7:54-60.
  • 8 A later chronicler confirms this account of the mocking of the Archbishop, adding that Scrope was forced to ride the horse backwards. See Chronica Pontificum Ecclesiae Eboracensis, in Historians of the Church of York, ed. James Raine, Rolls Series, 71 (London, 1886), II, 432-33. One recalls that Thomas Lancaster was similarly mocked by being forced to wear a ragged tunic and ride a worthless old mare to the place where he was beheaded; see the Annales Paulini, in Chronicles of the Reigns of Edward I Edward II, ed. William Stubbs, Rolls Series, 76 (London, 1882), I, 302-303, and the Flores Historiarum, ed. Henry Richard Luard, Rolls Series, 95 (London, 1890), III, 347.
  • 9 Psalm 16.
  • 10 Isaiah 53:7 reads as follows: "Oblatus est quia ipse voluit, et non aperuit os suum; sicut ovis ad occisionem ducetur, et quasi agnus coram tondente se obtumescet, et non aperiet os suum." From the earliest days of the Church this verse was understood as a prefiguration of Christ's Passion, as is made clear by' Philip's interpretation of the passage to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:32-35.
  • 11 Instead of tunicam, Gascoigne's version reads tenam, a technical term used in the Church to refer to a kind of coif or clerical headpiece. This is clearly an error in the Gascoigne manuscript, for the text has already called attention to the fact that Scrope is bareheaded and has been stripped of all his customary ecclesiastical vestments.
  • 12 Gascoigne adds that Alman was "born in Poppleton [a village about three miles northwest of York], and up until this time had been a prisoner in York for fifteen years."
  • 13 Emended from MS. Deus, clearly a scribal error for des, second person singular subjunctive of dare.
  • 14 The phrase echoes the words of Paul in his discussion of Christ's exemplary sacrifice: "Humiliavit semetipsum factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis" (Philippians 2:8).
  • 15 An allusion to Christ's last words as reported in Luke 23:46: "Et clamans voce magna Jesus ait: Pater, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum. Et haec dicens, expiravit."
  • 16 Gascoigne's version is somewhat clearer here: "et tunc decollator cum gladio eum quinquies in collo percussit, in una et eademque carnis divisione, quam primo ictu fecerat."
  • 17 This miracle may have been suggested by the parable of the sower and the abundant harvest of the seed that fell upon good ground (Matthew 13:2-3; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:5-15), or by Jesus' warning in Matthew 7:16-20: "Therefore, by their fruits you will know them." A number of analogues can be found in Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, ed. Stith Thompson (Bloomington, Ind., 1966), I, 389; V, 451, 458, 562.
  • 18 Gascoigne includes what appear to be more precise geographical details, reporting that Henry was stricken as he rode toward Ripon "on Exmoor between Poppleton Lydgate and the bridge called Skeet Bridge." Wylie, II, 246, however, points out the inaccuracies in Gascoigne's account. Henry must have crossed Hessay Moor on his way to Ripon, not Exmoor, which is in Devonshire, and the bridge over the river Nidd was known locally as Skip Bridge, not Skeet Bridge.
    It is known that Henry suffered ill health from at least 1404 until his death in 1413, but it is doubtful whether leprosy could actually have produced the symptoms described here. See Saul Nathaniel Brody, The Disease of the Soul: Leprosy in Medieval Literature (Ithaca, 1974), pp. 21-33; Johs. G. Andersen, Studies in the Medieval Diagnosis of Leprosy in Denmark: An Osteoarchaeologica1, Historical, and Clinical Study (Copenhagen, 1969), pp. 73-81, 92-118; Wylie, I, 458, II, 246-52; and note 30 below.
  • 19 Gascoigne quotes the King as crying out, "Traitors! Traitors! You have thrown fire upon me!"
  • 20 The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that the word treacle, Latin theriacum, derives from the Greek theriake, an antidote against a venomous bite. In the fourteenth century, the term referred to a medicinal compound or salve composed of many ingredients, reputedly an alexipharmic against and an antidote to venomous bites, various poisons, and malignant diseases. By a further development, the Modern English word treacle came to refer to a kind of molasses often prescribed as medicine. Vernage is a kind of strong, sweet Tuscan wine popular in England throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; see Wylie, II, 247-48, notes 5 and 6.
  • 21 George Plumpton's father, Sir William Plumpton of Knaresborough, a nephew of the Archbishop, was put to death along with Scrope and Mowbray for his part in the rising. See Thomas Stapleton, ed., Plumpton Correspondence, Camden Society, 4 (London, 1839), pp. xxiii-xxvi.
  • 22 Rawcliffe is a village about two and a half miles from York. Gascoigne omits the details of Sibson's sin, but identifies his confessor as William Kexby, a canon of York.
  • 23 Gascoigne claims that Sibson told his tale to "my sister, Lady Joanna Roos, among the Franciscans at York."
  • 24 For the royal letters ordering such unpopular measures as these to be taken at Scrope's tomb in order to discourage the pilgrims who flocked there, see Historians of the Church of York, ed. Raine, III, 291-94.
  • 25 There are numerous analogues involving a holy man capable of lifting huge loads with superhuman ease. See Motif-Index of Folk Literature, ed. Thompson, II, 305; III, 182.
  • 26 The fragment attributed to Thomas Gascoigne preserved in Bodley MS. Auctar D. iv. 5 breaks off at this point. The next sentence, striking the tone of a new beginning, clearly shows the seam where Maidstone has joined material drawn from other sources or from his own experience to whatever material he may have inherited from his primary source.
    It is difficult to understand exactly why the detail concerning Scrope's confession of celibacy should be included in the narrative at this particular point. Perhaps it can be read as an allusion to the widespread medieval belief that leprosy could only be cured by bathing in the blood of an innocent child or a virgin. Ironically, the spiilling of a virgin's b1ood is the cause of Henry's leprosy, not its cure. See Brody, pp. 72 and 152 note 5.
  • 27 Henry IV sent his emissaries to seek a reconciliation with Pope Gregory XII in 1408. See Jacob, p. 196.
  • 28 This passage seems to be an oblique criticism of the papacy, which by the time Maidstone composed his work had still failed either to canonize Richard le Scrope or to excommunicate Henry because of the troubled state of international politics during the Great Schism.
  • 29 There are numerous tales involving the casting of a sinner or a dead body overboard in order to placate a storm. Undoubtedly, the most influential instance is found in the story of Jonah (Jonas 1:4-15). There is a similar incident in the immenesely popular romance of Apollonius of Tyre, and further analogues are noted by Stith Thompson, V, 320.
  • 30 This marvelous tale was finally proved untrue by research carried out when Henry IV's tomb at Canterbury was excavated in l832. The same study indicated that, while Henry was probably afflicted for many years by a painful wasting disease, there is no evidence to support the claim that he was a victim of leprosy; see J. H. Spry, "A Brief Account of the Examination of the Tomb of Henry IV in the Cathedral of Canterbury, August 2l, 1832," Archeologia, 26 (1836), 440-45.
  • 31 The reference is to Acts 2:29.32. Peter, delivering a sermon on Christ's resurrection, cites a prophetic passage from Psalm 15: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." Peter goes on to emphasize that David, whose body still lies nearby in its ancient tomb in Jerusalem, could not have been speaking of himself in this Psalm, but rather must have been predicting the Resurrection: "Brethren, let me say to you freely of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is here with us to this very day. Therefore, since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that of the fruit of his loins one should sit upon his throne,' he, foreseeing it, spoke of the resurrection of Christ. For neither was he abandoned to hell, nor did his flesh undergo decay. This Jesus Christ God has raised up, and we are all witnesses of it."
    The ironic implication is that, while the early Christians could point to the tomb and body of King David and to the empty tomb of Christ as proofs of their faith, the monks of Canterbury have only the splendid tomb of King Henry--but not the body. Moreover, the tomb is vacant not because Henry has been raised up like Christ, but because he has been cast down into an unmarked resting place in the depths of the sea.