I wish I had a pound for every word written about the executions of Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan at the hands of Richard III. I should certainly be able to expand my portfolio of shares very substantially, indeed well beyond ISA limits. I might even be a millionaire. It may be that these men were executed in harsh circumstances, perhaps even unjustly, but at least the man who ordered their death had some lawful authority in his offices of Lord High Constable and Lord Protector. Their deaths were every bit as ‘legal’ as the many ordered by Henry VIII – most of which are excused and glossed over on that very basis, legality.
In 1399, Henry Bolingbroke had no such legal authority. Indeed, as a banished man he was an outlaw, with no standing whatever. This did not stop him from executing – or rather murdering – four men, one of whom was as much an earl as Lord Rivers was. The peculiar thing is that no historian I have ever read condemns him for this gross act of terrorism. It is simply glossed over as a trivial act, on a level with Henry stumbling as he went to mount his horse. You will not find long articles bewailing the unjust treatment of these four men. Indeed, unless you are very interested in the period, the chances are that you will not even have heard of them.
William Le Scrope, Earl of Wiltshire. (Circa 1350-1399).
William Scrope was the son of Richard Scrope, 1st Lord Scrope of Bolton. In his early years he soldiered in various locations and was associated with John of Gaunt, who appointed him Seneschal of Guienne in 1383. In 1393 he became Vice-Chamberlain of Richard II’s household. The same year his father, Lord Scrope, bought him the lordship of the Isle of Man from the Earl of Salisbury. In 1394 he was appointed to the Garter, and in 1397, as one of those who laid charges in Parliament against the former Appellants, was created Earl of Wiltshire. He became Lord High Treasurer in 1398 and was a key member (arguably the effective leader) of the Regency Council that governed England in Richard II’s absence in 1399.
Following the fall of Bristol to Bolingbroke’s forces, Scrope was beheaded on 28 July 1399. If he had any trial at all, it was of the nature of a drum-head court-martial. Later Henry IV’s first Parliament confirmed his ‘treason’ and forfeited his properties. His widow was left with very little to live upon. What his guilt consisted of, other than loyalty to Richard II, is not clear.
His father, Lord Scrope, had been a supporter of the Appellants. His property was allowed to descend to his younger son, but William’s rights were never restored.
Sir John Bussy (Circa 1360-1399)
Like Wiltshire, Bussy had given many years of service to John of Gaunt in various capacities. (For example he was Chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster north parts c. June 1394-Mar. 1398.) He had also been a supporter of the Appellants and took out a pardon for this in 1398. It may be that because of his Lancastrian connections he was made Commons Speaker in 1394. Bussy began to receive the King’s patronage in 1390, and gradually his primary loyalty shifted. (For most of the 1390s loyalty to both the King and Lancaster was by no means incompatible.) In 1397 he received the high annual salary of £100 for as long as he remained a member of the King’s Council and from this time was a key member of that body. (Lesser men such as Bussy, effectively Civil Servants, took on much of the day-to-day work of the Council – magnate members were often absent in their ‘countries’ and had other matters to occupy them.)
Bussy was again Speaker in the Parliaments on 1397-98 which reversed the work of the Appellants and effectively gave Richard II almost total control. He was equally prominent on the Parliamentary Committee which took on the business left over from those Parliaments, notably the eventual banishment of Bolingbroke and Mowbray.
Bussy died on the same day and in the same circumstances as Wiltshire. His ‘crime’ seems to have been to abandon his loyalty to Lancaster in favour of loyalty to King Richard. Bolingbroke was simply taking revenge.
Sir Henry Greene (Abt 1346-1399)
Sir Henry de Greene de Boketon, son of Sir Henry de Greene de Boketon (Lord Chief Justice of England), was a very rich man, and the owner of many estates. He married Matilda, sole heiress of her father, Thomas Mauduit.
Like Bussy he became a prominent member of the Commons and a ‘working member’ of Richard II’s Council.
What made him particularly obnoxious to Bolingbroke is not clear. He died on the same day and in the same circumstances as Wiltshire and Bussy..
Sir Piers Legh of Lyme. (Uncertain-1399)
Some sources claim that Piers Legh was born as early as 1325. This seems unlikely, as he did not marry until 1388. He married the heiress of Cheadle Hulme, Margaret Danyers. Margaret had been married twice before and may well have been substantially older than Piers. At least once source seems to confuse him with his father-in-law’s father who carried (or alternatively rescued) the Black Prince’s standard at Crecy. In 1398 the couple came into Margaret’s very considerable inheritance from her grandfather, which included about 1,400 acres in Lyme Handley.
In 1392, Piers and his nephew had a commission to arrest malefactors in the Macclesfield Hundred.
Sir Piers was knighted by Richard II in 1397. We may reasonably assume he was one of Richard’s Cheshire affinity. What is less obvious is why Bolingbroke had him executed when he arrived in Chester, and ordered his head set above the east gate of the city, its principal entrance. It looks very much like an act of pure political terrorism.
It will be noted that contrary to the impression often given of Richard II’s advisers, these men were not youths, but highly experienced administrators and politicians of many years standing.
Why is Richard III held to a different standard to Henry IV? Are Yorkists supposed to be morally superior?