Caxton died a rich man, no doubt from underpaying his authors, but he never got any custom from Westminster Abbey. The monks preferred quill pens to word processors.
On 10 October 1460, at the height of the Wars of the Roses, 500 heavily armed men came down the road from Charing Cross and surrounded Westminster Hall. Riding at their head was the royal Duke of York. His sword was carried in front of him, in the manner of a king.
To a fanfare of trumpets, the Duke dismounted and strode into Westminster Hall. His intention was to seize the throne of England from the incumbent monarch, a weak-minded man plainly not up to the task of kingship.
The Duke ‘went straight through the great hall until he came to the chamber where the king, with the commons, was accustomed to hold his parliament. There he strode up to the throne and put his hand on its cushion, just as though he were a man about to take possession of what was rightfully his.
‘He kept it there for a while then, withdrawing it, he turned to the people and, standing quietly under the canopy of state, waited expectantly for their applause.’
None came. After a frosty silence, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked the Duke if he wanted to see the King. The Duke replied that he had as good a claim to the throne as any. To show that he meant business, he broke into the royal apartments and occupied them for several days before being persuaded to leave.
The Duke of York’s attempted coup had failed, although his claim to the crown was perfectly reasonable. Far from winning the throne, he was killed at the battle of Wakefield a few weeks later. His enemies then displayed his head from the walls of York, topped with a paper crown.
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 52. So much for the Duke of York, but who was the weak King that he had tried to depose?
‘As sharp as Evelyn Waugh and sometimes better’ – Times Literary Supplement
‘Good, clean fun’ – Daily Telegraph
‘Pure comic pleasure’ – Spectator