Shrewsbury through the Ages

A Birth and a Death
In 1283, Edward I summoned the first Parliament to meet where commoners were represented, and it met in Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury was one of twenty important towns instructed to send two representatives, and each Sheriff sent two knights. One of the first tasks of this new style parliament, from which the present House of Commons is descended, was to decide the fate of Prince David, grandson of Llewelyn the Great, who languished in Shrewsbury Castle.

His crimes included being a traitor and committing murder on Palm Sunday. His punishment was absolute. He was dragged through the town behind a horse, then, at the top of Pride Hill, he was hung and quartered. With this public and bloody act the Border Wars came to an end, and Shrewsbury reached another mile stone it its chequered history.

Peace and Prosperity
In an attempt to enforce peace, Edward I started a programme of castle building both along the borders and deep into Wales. Shrewsbury Castle was strengthened yet again. But despite this military activity, which had lasted for decades, other changes had come to Shrewsbury during the Border Wars, in the form of religious houses, such as the Dominican Friars, the Franciscans and Austin Friars.

The Friars were a new form of religious order in as much as they were less concerned with owning property, as had the monastic orders been, and their arrival must have altered the face of Shrewsbury considerably.

Battle of Shrewsbury
In 1399, Henry IV came to the throne. He had been supported by the powerful Percy family of Northumberland, but they felt hard done by by the new monarch and switched their alliance to the rebels who wished to reinstate Richard III. The rebels were supported by Owen Glyndower, the self-proclaimed Prince of Wales. The rebels agreed to make a joint attack on Shrewsbury. The Northumbrians, led by Henry Percy (Hotspur), marched south and joined up with his uncle, Thomas Percy. Earl of Worcester, and an army of archers.

Henry, hearing of the revolt headed for Shrewsbury where his young son, the future Henry V, was. The King arrived just hours ahead of the rebels who camped a little way to the north of the town, presumably awaiting the arrival of Owen Glyndower and his Welsh Army. But Glyndower never arrived. Some historians believe that he was unable to cross the flooded river Severn, but it is more generally believed that he was miles away fighting in Wales.

The following morning, the two armies marched towards each other and battle lines were drawn. As a last ditch attempt at peace, the Abbot of Shrewsbury offered peace terms to the rebels. Hotspur was inclined to accept, but his uncle refused.

The battle started with the archers on both sides. The Cheshire archers, supporting the rebels were superior, but when it came to hand to hand fighting the King's forces slowly gained the upper hand. By sunset the King had won. Hotspur had been killed, and in that one afternoon it is estimated that two-thousand nobles, nights and gentlemen and a further six thousand soldiers lost their lives. ' - the dead lay thick as leaves and passage over them was difficult'. Once again the High Cross at the top of Pride Hill was the scene of executions and Hotspur's body was displayed there.

With regards to the death of Hotspur, it is said that some time prior to the battle of Shrewsbury he had been told by a fortune teller that he would meet his death near Berwick. Being a northerner, it is presumed he thought the reference was to Berwick on Tweed. It was only on the morning of the battle that he discovered that he had camped the night before at Berwick. (A tiny hamlet just outside Shrewsbury on the road to Baschurch)

There seems to be some argument today as to exactly where the battlefield was. The truth is probably that it was to the west of the A49, north of the town. But what is for sure is that at Battlefield today stands a rather magnificent church erected by the King in memory of those who died that afternoon.

The Early 15th Century
With the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, the town still suffering with the after effects of the plague, and Owen Glyndower still not acting in a neighbourly way, the 15th century did not start too well for Shrewsbury. But the townsfolk were made of stern stuff and it was not long before Shrewsbury was on the up. Much of this was due to the strong industrial base the town enjoyed. Steadily, the single merchant guild divided into separate groups, each representing a specific or allied group of trades.

These Guilds had the effect of ensuring the quality of their products, and with this quality came increased trade and wealth. There was also a strong religious connection and each GuiId had its own patron saint. As an example of their community work, the Draper's Guild, founded in 1460, built Alms houses in the town one year after their founding.

These Guilds held a joint annual celebration on the Thursday after Whitsun, and, although changed in form, this annual event is still held today in the form of Shrewsbury's Flower Show.
In its early form, this annual celebration began with a grand procession through the town, led by priests and followed by the clergy and friars, the members of the Corporation and the members of the Guilds, each in their own colours and carrying their banners. From the town they made their way to Weeping Cross to confess their sins. This was followed by a service in old St. Chad's. After all these religious ceremonies, the Guilds would retire to their respective quarters to celebrate and, perhaps, sin all over again!

The Drapers quickly became the most wealthy of Shrewsbury's Guilds and, of course, the owning of property was important. Because of this, some of Shrewsbury's finest buildings today are a result of these Guilds.

In the early days of this building boom, the buildings would be in timber, the shop would be at the front and the workshops at the rear or even above. Often, the upper floors would overhang the ground floor which would give a sheltered pavement for pedestrians. - An idea seemingly forgotten by today's architects.

Between the Battle of Shrewsbury and the crowning of Henry VI, in 1422, Shrewsbury was left to its own devices, and national and international events were of little consequence to the residents. But Henry VI was not a strong king, either mentally or physically, and a more prominent figure was Richard, Duke of York who acted as Protector during the King's spells of insanity. But he did not get on well with the Queen and soon the rivalry between the two branches of the family, the Yorkists and the Lancastrians spilled into a bitter Civil War which lasted thirty years and which has passed into our history books as the War of the Roses. (continued on next page)