Where did the Prince stay in 1483?

This building on Stony Stratford High Street is reputed to be the Inn where the Edward, the heir to the throne after the death of his father Edward IV, was abducted by his uncle Richard. He was taken to the Tower of London, at the time no more than a secure royal palace. Later, his brother Richard was also persuaded to move there, in both cases “for their own protection and safety”. They never emerged alive and Richard had a brief reign as Richard III until he was killed at Bosworth in 1485. The plaque on the wall proclaims this fact and it is widely believed to be true.

Is it?

The only answer is that it may be, but there is absolutely no evidence, other than hearsay to back up this claim.

The chronicles recording the events mention only Northampton and Stony Stratford. Richard reached Northampton on his way to London on April 29th. The young king, accompanied by his uncle Earl Rivers, had by this time reached Stony Stratford on their journey from Ludlow. Richard and Rivers made contact and Rivers rode back to Northampton. The two men, who were later joined by the Duke of Buckingham, apparently spent a convivial evening together, but at dawn Rivers and his nephew, Lord Grey, were surprised by Richard’s men and arrested. They were despatched to Pontefract, one of Richard’s northern strongholds.

Buckingham and Richard then rode to Stony Stratford where they explained to the young Edward that they had intercepted a plot to seize the throne. Whether they were believed or not is probably irrelevant. Edward was now under Richard’s control.

Very little of medieval Stony Stratford remains, partly due to the inevitable rebuilding and partly due to a series of disastrous fires in the 18th century.

What we do know about the building is that it can be dated to the late 15th century at least and that it was an inn known as the Rose and Crown and it features in the bequest of the owner Michael Hipwell in 1609 in his desire to turn it into a school after 99 years. It is one of Stony Stratford’s oldest buildings and it escaped the great fire of 1742 because the winds were blowing north from the Bull rather than south.

One of the inns which had been destroyed during this fire was variously known at various times in its history as the Swan, the Swan with Two Necks, and the Three Swans. It was also one of the inns owned by Michael Hipwell. Now Browne Willis (1682-1760) the 18th century antiquarian who lived at Whaddon Hall, writes in his notes “the two Princes are reported traditionally to have lain at The Three Swans Inn in the centre of the town.”

The location of the former Three Swans was where the present hotel now stands, at numbers 92-94 High Street. It is in this section of the town where the larger inns appear to been located. The Red Lyon ( which may have changed its name to The Horseshoe, and is at one time referred to as the “Lyon and Horseshoe“) occupied the land where St Paul’s School was later built, and the Cock and the Bull are all on this side. There are hints that the Three Swans may have been of equivalent size. In early 18th century account the Three Swans is paying rent of £12 for its adjoining land and orchard, the Bull £4, if that is anything to go by.

So what can we make of this? My intuition tells me that the prince, who would be travelling with an entourage (possibly as many as 2,000 according to one source), would be more likely to stay at one of the larger inns. Would they have been told, “Sorry, we have no room. You’ll have to go to one the smaller hostelries up the street.”? It is more likely that other travellers would have been turfed out to make way for their more important guests. The former location of Queen Eleanor’s Cross would also lead us to conclude that Royal parties stayed at the larger inns at the northern end of the town.

Browne Willis was not a resident of Stony Stratford and had no particular axe to grind. If he was reporting this in the 18th century, then it is probable at least that there was no controversy about the location and that this might have been the oral tradition two centuries after the event. There was, at any rate, no mention of the Rose and Crown at this time.

My guess is that the Great Fire of 1742 changed everything. After rebuilding, all properties from the Bull northwards were 18th century, and when local historians started to take an interest the only standing and visible 15th century buildings were those of the Rose and Crown. It therefore may have appeared “obvious” that this was the place where they stayed. I have seen something similar happen in Romsey in Hampshire, where a 13th century house just outside Romsey Abbey walls was identified by an enthusiastic local historian as “King John’s Hunting Box”- in other words a hunting lodge. Recent academic and scientific research has proved that it was in any case built later than 1217 (when John died) and that it was more likely to have been a lodge for abbey guests. The precise date of the building has now been established as 1256. It is still, however, called King John’s House.

Of course we have no such information to corroborate or dispute the Rose and Crown claim. It is conveniently still standing and the medieval Three Swans disappeared over 250 years ago. One sentence in an obscure manuscript by an obscure writer is hardly in a position to challenge that claim.

The Rose and Crown

The following passage is reproduced from The History and Antiquities of the Newport Hundreds by Olver Ratliffe, 1900.

Michael Hipwell, of Stony Stratford, by his will, in 1610, directed that a public house or inn belonging to him called the Rose and Crown, should be let, together with certain closes of land for a term of 99 years; and after the expiration of that term, he bequeathed the said inn, together with all the stables, yards, barns, and commons thereunto belonging, to certain trustees, ” that the rents and profits may be applied to the maintenance of a schoolmaster from time to time for ever, to keep a Free Grammar School in the barn behind the said inn, which barn he appointed should be applied as the school house, and was then lately built by him, and a chimney, a loft, and a parlour on the one end thereof for the schoolmaster from time to time to dwell in, and the yard adjoining to the bam for the use of the schoolmaster for the time being : and he appointed that the said trustees should nominate the schoolmaster to hold the said free school from time to time as they should think good ; and it is provided, that such scholars of the town, or any of the next town adjoining, as should be minded to learn either grammar, or to write, or to cypher, should be taught in the school, and be taught their principles in religion, or else the said gift to be void; and that the trustees should remove the said schoolmaster, and put in another, if they should think good cause, or that the schoolmaster for the time being should not duly and orderly behave himself, and teach the scholars in the said school, as should be thought meet by the said trustees.” 

This school is now incorporated with the National School. The property comprised the two houses that stand on the London side of the present National Schools, and the site of the schools, together with land at the rear that extended back to Wolverton Lane, now known as Russel Street, and four leys of land on the Wolverton side of the lane. He also left five tenements on the East side of Stony Stratford, near the Queen’s Cross, for the poor. These have vanished, but they were probably the predecessors of the four small houses adjoining the gas works. These were known as the ” Free Houses.” Tradition says that they were damaged by fire, and they were repaired by someone who took the rents (the feoffees having no funds to pay him), and in time they became regarded as his property.