In England in the year 1483, King Edward IV died unexpectedly, leaving his son and heir of 12 years still in his minority and not yet of an age when he might rule in his own right. The next most powerful man in the kingdom was Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was already appointed the High Constable of England for life, and who now, following a series of complicated difficulties, was appointed Protector and Defender of the Realm by the Royal Council. What happened next has been the subject of argument and confusion for the past 500 years.
This small but wonderfully comprehensive little book sets out extensively and clearly what those two titles, Protector and Constable, actually stood for. The responsibilities and powers involved are thoroughly explained using a multitude of sources and citing the relevant precedents from previous years.
There are now many and varied suppositions regarding the actions of Richard, Duke of Gloucester during the short period before his acceptance of the crown in his own right. But the situation cannot be properly understood without first understanding the particular powers he held, what he had the lawful right to do and what was therefore expected of him.
The very important and relevant differences between the position of Protector, and that of Regent (a position frequently given under similar circumstances in other countries, namely France) are here clarified in some detail. What is even less well understood, and is here also explained, arte the legal powers and responsibilities held by the High Constable. Hence there have been frequent misunderstandings regarding the nature of Hastings’ arrest, and whether Richard was lawfully empowered to order that execution. There have also been misunderstandings regarding the duke’s duty towards his nephews, mistaking the title “Protector of the Realm” as some sort of glorified protector and baby-sitter of the late king’s heir. These mistakes are here corrected with strict accuracy and in simple language,
So here at last is a work of considerable academic interest, which offers us, detail by detail the fascinating facts which would have been already well understood at the time the events occurred but which has rarely been studied since. Now here each aspect is set out according to the documented evidence.
Even more interesting is Part II which is highly original and comprehensively explains just how these two mighty titles affected the events of May and June 1483. Understanding that momentous and controversial period cannot even be attempted without already understanding the powers uniquely held by Richard, Duke of Gloucester – and more importantly still – what the country subsequently expected of him.
To my mind, this books offers a further insight, for these mighty offices and the powers inherent within them go a long way towards explaining the medieval mind in general, the manner in which the people accepted and expected their lords to rule, to protect those they ruled, and how the extensive trust offered to a few was then constructed to benefit the many. The ultimate authority and prevailing decisions of the medieval government and royal council (often underestimated and even entirely overlooked today) are also highlighted here. These days such powers would be utterly unthinkable and rejected by all, but this book shows how the laws of the 15th century prove the very different attitudes which existed at that time. Many now criticise the past using the moral judgements of modern times. This is pointless. This absorbing book explains exactly why.
I not only recommend this very important little book – I actually consider it essential reading for anyone genuinely interested in that period of history.
Price £8.50 available from http://www.annettecarson.co.uk