Uncovered in June 1468, the Cornelius plot was a shadowy Lancastrian conspiracy that sought to persuade former supporters of HENRYVI to again become active in his cause.
The plot came to light when EDWARD IV’s agents in Kent arrested a shoemaker named John Cornelius, who was caught carrying letters from Lancastrian exiles in FRANCE to secret Lancastrian sympathizers in England. Cornelius was brought before Edward IV, who committed the courier to the TOWER OF LONDON and authorized the use of torture to extract from the prisoner the names of the intended letter recipients. This authorization reveals how nervous the government was at the time about Lancastrian activities, for the Cornelius case is the only example of officially sanctioned torture in England before the time of Henry VIII.
Before succumbing to his harsh treatment, Cornelius implicated several people, including John Hawkins, a servant of John WENLOCK, Lord Wenlock, a former Lancastrian then serving Edward IV as a trusted diplomat. Hawkins, who in his turn implicated several others, was executed, but any suspicions about Wenlock were suppressed so that he could conduct the king’s sister, MARGARET OF YORK, to BURGUNDY for her wedding to Duke CHARLES. Unhappy with the Burgundian alliance that the marriage cemented, Wenlock later abandoned Edward and supported Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, in securing the restoration of Henry VI.
Several other persons implicated by Cornelius and Hawkins were arrested, including the LONDON merchant Sir Thomas COOK and, most likely, Sir Thomas MALORY, the author of Le Morte d’Arthur, who was specifically exempted from a 1468 pardon along with several other men known to have been involved in the Cornelius enterprise. The first of several Lancastrian plots uncovered in 1468, the Cornelius conspiracy revealed a rising dissatisfaction with Edward IV and his government, which helped sweep the king from his throne in 1470.
Further Reading: Field, P. J.C., The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1993); Hicks, Michael, “The Case of Sir Thomas Cook, 1468,” in Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses (London: Hambledon Press, 1991); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).