Blandford Forum to Salisbury (23 miles).
Henry VII continues his progress towards London on Thursday 9 November 1497 (Julian calendar). Dedicated to St. Theodore, martyr.
Henry passed through numerous royal manors on this leg, one of the longest of this progress. The fields which he passed between Blandford and his own royal estate of Pimperne were still of the Saxon open field pattern and were to remain so until they were enclosed in 1815. Looking at the map of 1887, the modern A354 still follows the same route, and there’s little reason to suppose it was any different in Henry’s time.
After five miles, they would have passed over the River Tarrant at Tarrant Hinton, which was part of the estates of Tarrant Abbey, a very wealthy Cistercian nunnery.
After ten miles of gentle climbing, he would have reached Handley Down, populated by numerous ancient tumuli and earthworks. A little further on, the massive embankment Ackling Dyke (once a Roman road) merges from the right and underlies the modern road for about a mile before the merged route cuts through the prehistoric Bokerley Dyke, where the Roman and modern roads separate again. This is also the Dorset-Hampshire border and marks the beginning of another crown estate, Cranborne Chase, which includes Blagdon deer park and was probably far more densely wooded than it is nowadays.
Three miles further on, the Hampshire-Wiltshire border is marked by another ancient earthwork, Grim’s Ditch. Then, at Coombe Bissett Down, the gradient shifts downwards and the first glimpse of Salisbury’s medieval cathedral tower may be possible, weather permitting.
Henry and his guard may have crossed the medieval packhorse bridge at Coombe Bissett (referred to as Ponte de Cume in 1249, although French had become unfashionable by Henry’s time) over the River Ebble (AKA River Chalke since Saxon times). The alternative modern road bridge probably wasn’t there in Henry’s time, but had been built by the late 18th century (see the 1773 map with the tell-tale turnpike, a road financing system which only emerged in the 17th-18th centuries).
John Leland must have run parallel to this stretch of road when he went from Wimborne via Cranborne, Blagdon Wood and Homington (Hummington) to Salisbury, reminding us that today’s bridlepath was history’s highway. The tiny bridge at Homington was no larger than the medieval packhorse bridge at Combe Bissett.
From Craneburn [Cranborne] I passid about a 2. mile or more, al by playne champain ground [flat, open country], leving Blakden [Blagdon], the kinges great park hard on the lift hond.
Thens a 6. miles by like ground to Honington [Homington] a good village.
In the botom of this toun goith a great water, and ther I passid over a bridg of a 3. archis, and so [to] Saresbyri [Salisbury/Sarum] al champayn ground a 2. miles.
This water or ryver is caullid Chalkbourn
The next river crossing, over the Avon into Salisbury, was the Ayleswade bridge on St Nicholas Road “Harnham bridge was a village long afore the erection of New-Saresbyri,” Leland says.
Then, on a later page:
Harneham bridge of vj. gret arches of stone, a mayne and stately thing. Here is at the west ende of this bridge only a litle islet distante betwixt a nother bridg of 4. praty arches, and under this rennith a good streme as I take it of Avon Water as an arme breking out a little above and sone after rejoyning; or els that Wilton Water hath ther his entery into Avon.
The toun of New-Saresbyri with the suburbes of Harnham Bridge and Fisschertoun is t[w]o good miles in cumpace.
Ther be many fair streates in the cite of Saresbyri, and especially the High Streate, and the Castel Streate, so caullid bycause it lyith as a way to the castelle of Old-Saresbyry [The castle which had already been demolished in 1322 by Edward II and the land later sold by Henry VIII in 1514]. Al the streates in a maner of New-Saresbyri hath litle streame- lettes and armes derivyd out of Avon that rennith thorough them
Licens was get of the king by a Bisshop of Saresbyri to turn the kingges high way to New-Saresbyri, and to make a mayn bridge [for] passage over Avon at Harnham [Bishop Bingham, 1245].
The chaunging of this way was the totale cause of the ruine of Old-Saresbyri and Wiltoun. For afore this Wiltoun had a 12. paroch chirches or more, and was the hedde town of Wileshir.
This management and maintenance of roads and bridges had been done primarily by the monasteries in medieval England. During Henry VIII’s reign, in 1530-31, prior to the dissolution, responsibility for maintenance of bridges (and the roads within 30 paces in each direction) was transferred to counties or shires with the so-called Statute of Bridges.
There can be no doubt that the Mayor of Salisbury Thomas Coke and all the guilds turned out to cheer the king and his guard into the town. No doubt, the town waites played them in with their shawms. Henry arrived in Salisbury on Thursday and stayed for four nights, until the following Monday. Henry has been notorious through history for his attention to taxation and spending (“the king was in the counting house, counting out his money” as the rhyme goes) and Salisbury owed him. The very reason for the Cornish uprisings in 1497 was in response to taxation to fund a Scottish invasion. The churches were liable to pay tax as well, and the bill for Salisbury diocese was £3,560 payable in two moieties 1 June and (imminently) 21 Nov 1497. However, since the Scottish expedition had been cancelled, the church was negotiating a discount. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Henry dallied in Salisbury. Of course, this city was England’s seventh largest (Exeter was 6th in 1523) and a major communications hub, so it was a good place to pause.
Where did Henry stay? His predecessor Richard III is said to have stayed at the Salisbury residence of the Abbot of Sherborne in October 1483, which faces the west front of the cathedral and is now known as the King’s House. Or perhaps more likely Henry enjoyed the hospitality of John Blyth at the Bishop’s Palace. Unlike the rest of the town, the cathedral close enjoyed the protection and privacy of a surrounding wall (although traders spilled over into the precincts during the day). There were also monastic houses of the Grey Friars (Franciscan) and Black Friars (Dominican) in the town.
Friday was a day when meat could not be eaten, and Salisbury was a great place for fish, according to Leland:
The market of Saresbyri is welle servid of flesch; but far better of fisch : for a great [parte] of the principal fisch that is taken from Tamar to Hampton resortith to this town.
Perhaps, also, there was time for some hunting. The 6’ 8” Baron John Cheyne KG, one time Henry’s personal bodyguard, lived nearby at Faulston Cheyne. The 57 year-old “vigorous knight” had been in the vanguard at the relief of Exeter and maybe he continued riding with Henry on the way back home. Perhaps they took a day off to go hunting at Blagdon. Did Henry take his captive Perkin Warbeck along for the ride?
Certainly, the de-escalation from a war footing was continuing. On Friday 10th November 1497, a fellow named Mortymer “the Kinges messanger”, rode to discharge the temporary network of military communication posts, and there are no further records of the use of posts in this period.