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Only Richard III ever broke the law…(apparently)

This post is provoked by a comment I came across the other day that claimed that the tens of thousands of people killed by the Tudor dynasty somehow don’t count as it was all done within the law. Albeit the rough-and-ready version of the law as it was at that time.

Snags with this argument:

  1. A number of highly unpleasant 20th century dictatorships and war criminals would have offered a similar defence. This does not make them moral or admirable.
  2. Henry VIII, certainly, was not above changing the law after the offence was committed and then applying the change to the offence. Examples, the Bishop of Rochester’s unfortunate cook; Lady Rochford – in the latter case the law was changed to permit the execution of insane people! If this is ‘legality’ it stinks.
  3. What about people disposed of via Acts of Attainder? Examples Katherine Howard, Lady Rochford, Margaret Countess of Salisbury. These people were not even given a drum-head court martial, let alone a trial, and absolutely no opportunity was given to them to mount a defence. Legal? After a fashion.
  4. Tyrants make their own laws as they go along. Anyone can stay within the law if they can amend it as they choose.


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10 thoughts on “Only Richard III ever broke the law…(apparently)

  1. Esther on said:

    IIRC, an argument can be made that most of Richard’s alleged “crimes” were also within the law. Also, two boys — Henry Pole and Arthur Pole died in the Tower under Henry VIII — and I don’t think any charges were ever brought against them, by attainder or by any other method.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Even Richard III’s decision to become the king upon finding issue with Edward V’s succession does not look as unprecedented as all that! Marc Morris has this insight from January 6th & 7th of 1066. “No single fact points to a conspiracy of this kind more obviously than the circumstances of Harold’s coronation, which took place on 6 January 1066, probably in Westminster Abbey. The Bayeux Tapestry shows the new king crowned and enthroned, holding his rod and sceptre, flanked on one side by two men who hand him a ceremonial sword, and on the other by the solitary figure of Archbishop Stigand.

    The inclusion of the excommunicate archbishop of Canterbury is almost certainly an underhand piece of Norman propaganda: it is far more likely that Harold’s consecration was performed by Ealdred, the archbishop of York, as John of Worcester later insisted was the case.

    What does damn Harold, however, is the unseemly haste with which the ceremony was arranged. The new king was crowned the day after the Confessor’s death, and on the same day as the old king’s funeral. No previous king of England had demonstrated such a desperate hurry to have himself consecrated, for the good reason that in England the coronation had never been regarded as a constitutive part of the king-making process. Normally many months would pass between the crucial process of election and a new ruler’s formal investment.

    Edward the Confessor, as we have seen, had come to the throne by popular consent in the summer of 1042, but was not crowned until Easter the following year. Harold’s rush to have himself crowned within hours of his predecessor’s death was therefore quite unprecedented, and suggests that he was trying to buttress what was by any reckoning a highly dubious claim with an instant consecration. It is the most obviously suspect act in the drama.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. zenonian on said:

    The point is well made that the Tudors were tyrants and apt to make unjust laws ex post facto to justify their actions. Henry VII’s pre-dating of his reign to the day before Bosworth in order to attaint Richard’s followers and seize their property is the most obvious example of this. However, it is difficult to agree with all of the points made in this post since the allegation is so vague. For instance ‘snag 1’ is not a snag at all; it is only an assumption by the author. It does not undermine the notion that all the people killed by Tudors’ died lawfully (If indeed that is what was said). I am also worried about snag 3. It is difficult to conceive of any circumstances in which Katherine Howard, Lady Rochford or Margaret Countess of Salisbury would be given a drumhead court martial, since that comes under military law in times of war. It is true that they might in justice have received a ‘trial’ but if their offences were treason the question of a trial (fair or otherwise) was in the gift of the monarch. For example Clarence was tried by his peers in parliament for treason to Edward IV, but it was never a fair trial. To quote a modern cliché, he was ‘a dead man walking’. Attainted people had no rights under English law at that time. In fact physically and legally they ceased to exist. I am also puzzled as to how anybody can prove that all those people killed by the Tudors died lawfully or, for that matter unlawfully.


  4. No 1 is a snag to the argument that lawfully necessarily equates to ‘right’ as many seem to suppose. No 3 was presumably mentioned wrt the accusation that if Richard III executed Rivers et al (and possibly Hastings) under martial law as Constable, this wasn’t good enough, whereas those mentioned had no trial at all.


  5. sighthound6 on said:

    The argument which prompted this little article is a fairly common one, I find. That the Tudors, albeit dishing out rough justice at times, broadly worked within the law, whereas Richard III, uniquely among English kings, acted in an arbitrary fashion without regard to the law. (I sometimes get the impression that some people think that England was a liberal democracy under the rule of law in the 15th and 16th centuries except for a brief period of ‘tyranny’ from 1483-1485.)

    My view is, first, that law as it was understood in those days was not what we understand it to be now. Although modern courts in the West are not perfect, they do tend to be independent of government and base their decisions on evidence, while the accused is given the chance to defend him or herself, with the advice of counsel. For treason, certainly, this was not the case in former times. Trials were in fact, more like the show trials in the USSR under Stalin. So we need not get too dewy eyed about how ‘just’ the Tudors were.

    Secondly, using attainder to convict people without any trial at all may have been ‘legal’ but it was really an arbitrary process used when the government did not think it could get a verdict – even in the rigged courts of the time – or thought the trial would be too embarrassing.

    Thirdly the Tudors did sometimes use martial law. For example, that’s how Norfolk proceeded with some of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebels, stringing them up from trees with minimum formality. Of course none of the victims wrote poetry or were highly born, so they get little publicity.

    Fourthly, Richard’s executions of Rivers, Grey, Hastings, et. al. though they may been somewhat aribitrary (it is not clear what trials, if any, the victims received) they were certainly not unprecedented, Edward IV made a fair bit of use of the Constable’s court, to say nothing of other legally dubious methods. Indeed, I struggle to think of a Plantagenet king who did not occasionally remove someone without the full blessing of the legal system. To make out that Richard was somehow uniquely tyrannical is absurd. Moreover, at the end of the day, he killed maybe a dozen people (tops) for political reasons. Not thousands.

    I doubt Edward Earl of Warwick, totally innocent, went to the block thinking: ‘Well at least I had a fair trial. If Uncle Richard had been around I might just have been plain murdered.’

    Liked by 3 people

  6. i agree with sighthound6 in that excessive legalism in lieu of true justice is the mark of a tyrant, yet the lack of due procedure and the attendant paperwork that goes with it is often alarming. the post on this site about the HUMAN SHREDDER raised a curious question a few years back! lets try to keep to Alfred the Great’s rules and laws as we debate the sequence of events after 1066. I agree that wise John Locke is of his tyme and age! i further think Henry Tudor’s direct actions do not explain everything, there is more to the story. RIII obviously lived up to coronation oath in full.


  7. i did this string of comments at the RR? Facebook site. i hope that they are read as intended. Annette Carson the other day took to task Mancini, and Sir T.More, too! let alone a few things that are very “withered arm” concerning thespian-ism and unsettling council meetings! i got a tad vex’d… forgive me! i am not Pro-Tudor or Neo-Lancastrian! i think like a classic Horace Walpole era Whig!


    “either they were armed to the teeth and RIII needed one of today’s metal detectors or x-ray machines to spot nearly everything or he’s coming across like a paranoid schizophrenic whose psychosis is akin to that of Hitler or Stalin, even as the territory he rules is significantly less in terms of land mass and people. lets be kind and assume no gray area or middle ground, that Mancini is either very wrong or greatly correct!

    by Mancini’s rules, Larry Olivier’s hammy 1955 version of Richard The Third is very accurate. By More’s rules, RIII is permitted to smoke near to identical machine rolled American cigarettes because that is what a good Bloomsbury set fascist like Ian McKellan’s RIII would do if tobacco had crossed the Atlantic much earlier by a century or two. Mancini’s scenes are legendary, More’s are mythic. Is there a less flawed account that is not as distant, that is almost contemporary to the string of events? in lieu of this, we look at patterns…

    Mancini THINKS the plot to be totally false and that RIII had a high degree of premeditation and nearly all his actions were deliberate and staged? Not that he was totally hit by something in a very unpleasant and totally unexpected manner that maybe has him blaming the wrong person or people? Mancini is also assuming that there was not a string of crimes or offenses, or even episodes of low or high treason as by the 1400s legal code definitions, and that there was only one crime that MIGHT have been committed! Again, he reads into this, and utilizes a singular and not a plural, the word crime verses crimes! Mancini seems closer to the string of events than is More, and may have had his quiet sources given that he is inside a job that asks for discretion! ultimately, we trust that his sources were trying to be quite honest with him and not deliberately deceive him! Mancini is giving us a feedback, whereas More seems to invent thing retroactively.

    Either the noble and sometimes vain courtiers are all running around with daggers, dirks, hatpins and icepicks or even poison vials becuz itz the HIGH RENAISSANCE on the continent of Europe, or they are decidedly not at this sport because merrie auld England is much more sedate, bucolic and seedy, almost like as if a time*warp from the mid-1300s is stuck inside the late 1400s! look up the symptoms of “La Cantarella” and see if charcoal can counter its worst effects.

    “hidden arms” = swords and/or daggers? its hard to conceal a sword to any degree and for any length of time. Buckingham before his execution wanted a personal audience with RIII. is Mancini suggesting that RIII thought a plot was unfolding? Did Buckingham and Hastings have a falling out when inside a covert group? Are the actions of the Duke of Buckingham a hint at what RIII thought was transpiring around him earlier as in that Spring? was there one grand conspiracy or three or four lesser and smaller and maybe even much later on ones triggered by the onrush of events that stemmed from what had gone down earlier in E4’s reign? Again assuming RIII had not snapped or had a major paranoid episode or meltdown? I distrust the More account, and tiptoe thru Mancini’s metaphoric bed of tulips, I’m assuming things were either worse or better than the way Mancini has them being. If Perkin Warbeck is actually a rather regal Plantagenet, RIII looks and is much nicer than the way Mancini describes him! Big IF!!!


    “make thick my blood, Stop up the access and passage to remorse”
    A1 SC5 L 50

    Liked by 1 person

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