Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York

Born: August 24, 1423

Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England

Died: May 29, 1500

Cawood, North Yorkshire, England (Age 76)

York in History

Little is known of the ancestry or early life of Thomas Rotherham, but he most certainly received a solid education and was ultimately admitted to King College, Cambridge. Rotherham would be closely associated with a number of colleges and universities for a majority of his life and made numerous contributions to the field of education. It is not known exactly when Rotherham entered the church, but he was a personal chaplain to King Edward IV and was awarded with several positions within the church by the king and the pope, the latter of whom made him Bishop of Rochester in 1468. In addition to his services within the church, Rotherham was one of Edward IV's most trusted advisers and was made lord of the Privy Seal in 1467, one of the most important appointments in the country. Since Rotherham was a loyal supporter of Edward IV and the Yorkists, it is no surprise that he fell out of favor and was forced to take sanctuary when King Henry VI was briefly placed back on the throne, with the help of Warwick the "Kingmaker," in 1470-71. Rotherham lost the privy seal but immediately had it restored to him when Edward IV returned and chased away the Lancastrians, this time for good. During the second half of Edward IV's reign, Rotherham seems to have been more influential then ever, both in the church and the king's government. He was created Bishop of Lincoln (1472) and chancellor of England (1474); he constantly acted as a sort of intermediary between England and other countries (primarily France and Burgundy, who were always at odds); and, most significantly, was made Archbishop of York (1480).

Events became a bit more complex in 1483 when Edward IV suddenly died and was succeeded by his young son as Edward V. The Archbishop played a huge role in the planning of the late king's funeral and was set to remain influential during the new regime. However, Edward V was deposed, bastardized, imprisoned and, most likely, murdered by Edward IV's brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who subsequently had himself crowned as King Richard III. York was stripped of his title of chancellor and imprisoned by the new king, whom the archbishop had not trusted from the start. Although York was ultimately released from prison and was not further harassed by Richard III, he had nowhere near the amount of power he possessed during the reign of Edward IV. When Richard III was deposed and killed in battle by Henry Tudor (who crowned himself as Henry VII) in 1485, York was certainly able to breathe easier, but it is believed that his health was very slowly failing him by this point and he remained in semi-retirement (occasionally participating in governmental activities) for the remainder of his life. It was clear that Thomas Rotherham's star had set when that of Edward IV did though, and he died quietly in 1500.

York in Shakespeare

Appears in: Richard III

Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York, appears briefly in Richard III where he is seen conversing with the Duchess of York, Elizabeth Woodville and the young Duke of York (mother, widow and son, respectively, of Edward IV) when a messenger arrives bringing news that Gloucester and Buckingham have arrested Earl Rivers, Lord Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan. All present know that bad things are about to happen, and the Archbishop agrees to offer sanctuary to Elizabeth and her son York. Unfortunately, Gloucester is ultimately able to extract them and have York murdered along with his brother.


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