A Tribute to
Sir Edmund Shaa
Lord Mayor of London 1482 - 1483
A Blue Plaque on Church Brow in Mottram in Longdendale celebrates the life of Sir Edmund Shaa. It was unveiled in March 1994 by Councillor Roy Oldham.
Of all the characters in history associated with Tameside there are few so colourful as Sir Edmund. He was a 'Dick Whittington' type who rose to fame and fortune in London becoming Lord Mayor. It is perhaps most remarkable that he managed to curry favour with three very different monarchs - Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. Whether he achieved this by fair means or foul remains a matter of some controversy. However, it is without doubt that he was a talented man and a survivor in some of the most stirring events in English history.
Engraving representing one of the massive gold rings left by Sir Edmund Shaa, found at Coventry in 1803. The ring was engraved during the reign of Henry VII with a representation of the five wounds of Christ.
Born in the district of Mottram to parents who originated from Dukinfield, little is known of Edmund Shaa's childhood. The family had only modest means and as a young man Shaa resolved to move to London. He did so and his first appointment came in 1450 when he was apprenticed to Robert Botiller, a goldsmith.
Success as a Goldsmith
Shaa found favour and success with the Goldsmiths' company. He also became ingratiated with the ruling monarch, King Edward IV. In 1462 he was appointed engraver for all money coined in the Tower of London, a position of some prestige which he only relinquished twenty years later in favour of his nephew, John. Furthermore he was selected jeweller to Edward IV.
By 1464 Shaa's own riches were considerable and he continued to hold important positions within the Goldsmiths including that of Prime Warden in 1476.
Edmund Shaa offers the crown to Richard III, painting by Sigismund Goetze for the Royal Exchange (reproduced by permission of the Gresham Committee)
Involvement in Politics
Shaa also rose quickly within the sphere of politics, assisted by his already powerful position. In 1473 he was appointed Alderman of Cripplegate Ward and a year later he was elected Sheriff of London and Middlesex. His career took a natural progression towards the mayoralty to which he was appointed in 1482 entering the most fascinating period of his life.
Lord Mayor of London
During Shaa's mayoralty a series of turbulent events shook the nation. Shaa took advantage of these events to secure his position.
Edward IV died in April 1483 leaving his twelve year old son, Prince Edward as successor to the crown. The prince's guardian was Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who had himself resolved to seize the crown. For this he sought Shaa's support.
Arrangements for Edward's coronation proceeded and along with his younger brother, Richard, he waited in the Tower of London. The Duke of Gloucester then asserted that the two princes were illegitimate making him the rightful heir to the throne. He was supported in this by Shaa's brother, Dr Ralph Shaa who preached a sermon including the words :
'The ungodly shall not thrive, nor take deep rooting from bastard slips'.
In consequence on 25th June 1483 Shaa, as Mayor, offered the crown to Gloucester who became King Richard III in July. The two princes in the Tower were never seen alive in public again. Shaa's support did not go unrewarded and the very first act of Richard's monarchy was to bestow a knighthood upon him.
Life Under Richard
During Richard's short reign Shaa prospered, royal warrants and letters patent conferred further honours and duties upon him. He helped crush rebellions against Richard but none could save the King at the bloody battle of Bosworth in August 1485 where he died at the hands of the forces of Henry Tudor, a rival to the throne.
Allegiance to a New King
Henry Tudor became King Henry VII, the first of the Tudor Kings. Remarkably, despite his previous support of Richard, Shaa was able to gain favour with Henry and within four months had received a writ under the privy seal for the working of gold and silver for the new King. In 1486 Shaa was granted possession of a large estate in Essex thus adding to his wealth.
Last Days in Essex
Shaa spent his remaining years as part of the gentry of Essex. He made his will on 20th March 1488 and died a month later
Shaa was buried at the Church of St. Thomas of Acre in London. He was survived by a widow and three children who were later buried alongside him.
Sadly the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed not only Sir Edmund's tomb and little chapel, but the Church of St. Thomas itself.
Sir Edmund's Will
Extract from the will of Edmund Shaa, 20th March 1487, (by permission : P.R.O. London)
Shaa's will was very lengthy and typical of the age in that it requested prayers and mass in perpetual memory of himself and his family. His generous gifts would have been partially motivated by desire for favour in the after life which again was common.
Sir Edmund stipulated in his will:
'I bequeath to be spent of my goodes upon the making of the steple of the Parishe Churche of Mottrom....... xl marks / £26 13 4dj.'
It is, however, without doubt that much good came from Shaa's bequests. He left money to found Stockport Grammar School and Woodhead Chapel, near Mottram. The school continues a proud relationship with the Goldsmiths' Company. He also funded the steeple for Mottram Parish Church and donated a blue vestment to Ashton Parish Church.
Woodhead Chapel in Longdendale founded simultaneously with Stockport Grammer School by Sir Edmund Shaa. Sketch by John Stanley
St Michael's, the Parish Church of Mottram in Longdendale is in the Perpendicular style and dates from the 14th / 15th centuries.
Sir Edmund Shaa was a self made man who held the confidence and support of many key figures in the City of London during a turbulent period. Considering the vicissitudes of human life at this time this was an admirable and praiseworthy achievement. He also left a legacy still evident in this area today.
The assistance of Nick Henshall, Stockport Grammar School and Ian Lomas, postgraduate student, are gratefully acknowledged.