The Windrush Free Company

Apple Day at Cogges Museum – 25th October 2014

The Windrush Free Company offered demonstrations of medieval life (and death) at Cogges Folk Museum, Witney, to mark the anniversary of Agincourt, 1415.

The Company

Their story

For a small band of career criminals from Oxfordshire, English defeat in the Hundred Years War was something of a setback. Very little of the proceeds from their extensive thieving, racketeering, extortion and blackmail operation could be saved from the wreck of Normandy. Unceremoniously dumped back home by an ungrateful government, there was nothing to do but start again from scratch. Fortunately for them the country was spiralling towards a series of wars later generations would know as the Wars of the Roses; plenty of opportunity to extract a profit under the guise of soldiering.

Their big break came when the great Earl of Warwick took them under his protection. Rich, popular and ruthlessly ambitious, Richard Neville was a man looking to go places and was willing to pay anyone prepared to help him. And for the Windrush boys and girls, it was a golden opportunity to milk him for every silver penny, as well as enabling them to carry on where they left off in France. So in name only the company became Yorkists, fighting for the cause when it was unavoidable and playing a small but unwilling part in the momentous events of the time.

Following bloody Towton in 1461, when Edward IV took the crown from Henry VI, a decade of profitable peace followed. The Windrush Company supported Warwick in his quarrels and were in turn supported by him in theirs. The law was powerless to intervene. But when Warwick turned against Edward, he outlived his usefulness in protecting the Company’s schemes. Better to drop him and side with someone more advantageous. That person came in the shape of the young Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother to Edward IV – a man just as rapacious but far smarter than Warwick. It seemed like a match made in heaven, an opportunity for serious money making.

Then Edward died, Richard decided to murder his way to the crown, and the Yorkist settlement fell apart. The time had come to silence the witnesses, destroy the evidence and opt for a quiet life living off the proceeds. Despite a lengthy commission of enquiry, the new king Henry VII could find no trace of the Company, only newly respectable tradespeople, craftsmen and farmers who swore their undying loyalty to him.

When they are not stealing from one another, the Windrush Free Company can be found fighting outside the beer tent at medieval festivals around the country. It’s not a pretty sight.

Sadly there are many more recreants and ne’er do wells in the Windrush Free Company, but the King’s official sketch artist hasn’t caught up with them yet.