Was Richard III king by fact or by law….?

“….the phrase ‘king by fact, not by law’….rang out again, though in a different choice of words, when Henry VII described Richard III’s reign.  Richard III was never rightfully king from the moment he died, as he was succeeded by Henry VII, a man who felt his reign was completely illegitimate. Although Richard III would have been Duke of York by being his father’s surviving son, Henry VII made it a point to back-date his reign prior to Bosworth, deem Richard III a traitor, and attaint him post-mortem, stripping him of whatever titles he had.  Like Edward IV, Henry VII did this at his first Parliament in November 1485….”

Well, as I will always support Richard III as the true king and condemn Henry VII as an evil usurper who condemned England to a century or more of his vile House, I suppose my opinion is a foregone conclusion. Biased? Moi? Of course not.

To read the full paper from which the above quote is taken, please go to Academia.

12 comments

    1. Interesting indeed. I wonder, had Bosworth gone differently (and Richard III produced an heir), if there would be today the same sort of arguments about the legitimacy of Richard III’s line, considering the tenuous legality of Titulus Regius, as we see today regarding the Beauforts/Tudors with regard to Richard II’s letters patent and “excepta dignitate regali.”

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  1. Speaking of “king by fact, not by law,” though off topic of this paper specifically, I wonder if anyone here has a link to a good historical and/or legal analysis regarding the attainder of George of Clarence.

    Titulus Regius disregards Clarence’s line because “all the issue of the said George was and is disabled and barred of all right and clayme” to the throne, but the text of the attainder does no such thing. The attainder is limited to “Honoure, Estate, Dignite and name of Duke” and “all Castelles, Honoures, Maners, Landes, Tenements, Rents, Advousons, Hereditaments and Possessions” that go with it. It does not mention the crown at any time.

    Even if one were to argue that Titulus Regius was a de facto attainder — resting entirely on the word “is” in “was and is disabled and barred” — the repeal of Titulus Regius by Henry VII would seem to reinstate the line of Clarence, as they were never removed from the succession by the original attainder.

    I’ve tried digging into this issue, but I can’t find any serious study of it — just people arguing on the internet. It’s frustrating that such a fascinating wrinkle (in an already very wrinkled succession) is sitting here unexplored.

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    1. I can’t help you with this one, Michael, but hope someone else reading this blog can offer some assistance.

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    2. The terms used in the attainder (“Hereditaments”) automatically included anything that may be inherited in the future – indeed, Henry VII attainted a few people without actually executing them. Clarence’s children could not inherit any object or title he possessed or could go on to possess from him but they could inherit the Warwick and Salisbury earldoms and Montagu barony through their mother.
      Titulus Regius merely referred to this attainder, thus repealing it could not reverse the attainder.

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      1. > The terms used in the attainder (“Hereditaments”) automatically included anything that may be inherited in the future

        It reads in full:

        “For whiche premissez and causez the Kyng, by the avyse and assent of his Lordes Speretuell and Temporell, and by the Commons, in this present parliament assembled, and by the auctorite of the same, ordeyneth, enacteth and establith that the said George, Duke of Clarence, be convicte and atteyntit of Heigh Treason commyttet and doon agaynst the Kynges moost Royall persone; and that the same Duke, by the said auctorite, forfett from hym and his heyres for ever the Honoure, Estate, Dignite and name of Duke. And also that the same Duke, by the said auctorite, forfett from hym and his heyres for ever, all Castelles, Honoures, Maners, Landes, Tenements, Rents, Advousons, Hereditaments and Possessions that the same Duke nowe hath by eny of the Kynges Lettrez Patents to his owen use, or that any other persone nowe hath to the use of the same Duke by eny of the Kynges Letterez Patents, or that passed to hym fro the Kyng by the same: And that all Lettrez Patents made by the kyng to the said Duke bee from henseforthe utterly voyde and of noon effecte.”

        It very specifically calls out in three consecutive clauses that the attainder is limited to that which is given him by Edward IV’s letters patent. That would seem, to me, to be limited to the dukedom and its various honors and land holdings, as George’s claim comes not from letters patent but by virtue of being his father’s son — a member of the line of Lionel of Antwerp.

        I suppose an argument could be made that no one has a right to the crown unless it is conferred upon them and their line by the monarch or parliament, though such an argument would bolster the claim of Lancaster in consideration of Edward III’s entail and parliament’s confirmation of Henry IV.

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    1. Ah, thank you. The spelling threw me off. I was thinking “vous” in the French manner and couldn’t work out what it meant.

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      1. That’s OK Kelly – when I saw your spelling I thought I’d been wrong all these years! Medieval spelling being the beast it is, it’s all too easy to be thrown off the scent.

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  2. Hi Michael,

    In January 2018, Zenonian posted an article on this blog titled “1484 – Titulus Regius: Fact or Fiction” that contained the following section regarding Warwick:

    The claim of Edward of Warwick

    Finally, I must address the claim that even if Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, Edward of Warwick was the rightful heir to the throne ahead of Gloucester. Mortimer Levine challenges the view that Edward of Warwick was barred from succeeding because his father was an attainted traitor. There are two limbs to Levine’s argument. First that Clarence’s Act of Attainder only specifically barred Edward of Warwick from inheriting his father’s ducal title and second, the common-law principle against attainted people from inheriting, does not apply to the royal succession. By way of example, he cites Henry VI and Edward IV, both of whom succeeded to the throne after being attainted. Levine regards Clarence’s attainder as unimportant and an excuse to bar Warwick from the crown, and a legal pretext for Gloucester’s usurpation. He may be right about Warwick’s exclusion being a pretext but he has, nonetheless, underestimated the importance of the attainder and the difficulties posed for young Warwick. Professor Lander has described the attainders passed on the Yorkists in 1459, which gives us a feel for the nature of attainment “ They were to suffer the most solemn penalty known to the common law. Treason was the most heinous of all offences. Its penalties ruined the traitor’s descendants as well as the traitor himself. The offender was held worthy of death inflicted with extremities of bodily pain…his children, their blood corrupted, could succeed to neither the paternal nor the maternal inheritance. The traitor died in the flesh, his children before the law.” The children of an attainted traitor lost all their civil rights. They had no status. Some even questioned their right to live after attainder.[54] It’s true, that that Henry VI and Edward IV succeeded to the throne after they were attainted, but they both had powerful armies at their back to enforce their right. In 1483, nobody was interested in supporting the child of traitor, who was incapable of ruling England anyway. It is quite possible that if a strong faction of nobles had supported him, his attainder might have been reversed. However, that never happened.[55]

    I think the main thrust of Zenonian’s argument above isn’t so much that Clarence’s attainder barred Warwick from the throne but that without powerful support, said attainder was unlikely to be overturned. Maybe this will be of help to you; it seems to me to be a well-reasoned assessment of the situation (but I am far from an expert on the subject). Perhaps if you posed your question on the post from 2018, Zenonian would have further information that would be of interest to you.

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    1. Ah, thank you, Elizabeth!

      This lines up well with my read of the situation. It seems to me that, legally, Edward of Warwick had as much right to the throne in 1483 as Edmund Mortimer did in 1399 — and, politically, had as little support for it as Mortimer did.

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