Other women’s stories are more difficult to find, but are no less fascinating. In the summer of 1450, one woman mopped blood from the courtyard of her inn, The White Hart in Southwark, after Jack Cade’s rebels beheaded one Hawaydyne there during Cade’s Rebellion and dragged the headless body of Lord Say there on a cart. Later, she identified the rebel’s own dead body before it was taken for its ritual traitor’s execution.
Elizabeth Mores’ story is also interesting. A servant at Kinnersley Castle in Herefordshire, she caught the eye of her master Sir Richard Delabere and they married. In 1483, she played a pivotal role in protecting the young heir of the Duke of Buckingham following the duke’s rebellion against Richard III. Her brass can still be seen today in the floor of Hereford Cathedral. Elizabeth Venour also played a safeguarding role, but in a different context. A leading figure in law and order, she served as Warden of the Fleet leading captives through the prison’s musty, damp corridors, including one young Henry Percy following the Battle of Towton in 1461.
The war was felt by women living in religious establishments, too. Elizabeth, the wife of John Talbot Second Earl of Shrewsbury, entered Shrewsbury Abbey just nine days after the death of her husband and his brother at the Battle of Northampton, signalling perhaps not only her wish to grieve in isolation but also her weariness of a world Sir John Paston described as ‘right queasy’. Nuns, prioresses and abbesses prayed not only for the souls of the dead but also for the restoration of peace.
Nuns at Sewardsley Priory in Northamptonshire became entangled in a darker, more political event; an attempt to discredit and slander the Yorkist matriarch, Jacquetta Duchess of Bedford. And Gonnora Dowtton, abbess at Delapré, would have paused her prayers after hearing the clashing of swords and armour as the Battle of Northampton was fought outside her walls.
There is no evidence of women fighting in an army during the Wars of the Roses, a role reserved only for men. But there were some that, like Gonnora, witnessed battle or took control of besieged castles. Alice Knyvet cautioned Edward IV’s men to stand down in her husband’s absence at Buckenham Castle in 1461. Elizabeth Blount commanded soldiers at a siege at Hammes Castle in Calais, her husband having defected to Henry Tudor against Richard III. John Leland, travelling in Yorkshire during the reign of Henry VIII, was told about a woman who bolted her door to the Duke of York’s son the Earl of Rutland. The earl had fled his pursuers after the Battle of Wakefield and hammered on the woman’s wooden door for help. Her refusal to protect the terrified man and his subsequent execution may have changed the course of history and the dynamics of the York brothers later in the period.