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War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (3)

It is important to remember that medieval governments could not issue paper money. Ultimately, everything had to be paid for in hard cash, although it was commonplace for creditors to be made to wait, in some cases for a very long time.

The English royal government was not outstandingly rich. Its sources of income were (1) the royal estates. No king (or queen) ever made a good job of the running the estates. Partly because they were far too busy with other stuff. Moreover, in the middle ages there was no real tradition of “improvement” to estates. The usual assumption was that if a property was worth £5 in 1200 (or whenever) it was (or should be) still worth that now. (2) customs duties, especially tunnage and poundage. These duties were usually granted to the sovereign at the beginning of the reign, and if Parliament felt generous, for the term of the sovereign’s life. (3) feudal incidents, for example the money arising from wardship and marriage of heirs, the very occasional feudal aids, money that came from a bishop’s temporalities during a vacancy. This flow of income had many random aspects and some of the feudal dues were routinely evaded. (4) income from justice and other traditional payments. These would include forfeitures for treason and other serious crimes.

Taken together, these various cashflows just about covered royal expenditure in a time of peace. It should be borne in mind that they did not just pay for the king’s household and court, but for diplomacy, defence, justice and all the assorted departments of medieval government. They were quite inadequate for the prosecution of any but the most brief, small and profitable of wars.

If you wanted more, the options were to borrow – and borrowings had eventually to be paid back from revenue – or to secure a Parliamentary grant of additional taxation. These were normally based on a rather theoretical assessment of the cash value of a person’s goods, and usually came in a grant of a tenth (for towns) and a fifteenth (for everyone else.) Kings sometimes asked for two or three subsidies at once, but on the other hand Parliament not infrequently offered a half subsidy. The clergy made a similar payment via grants made by their Convocations. The clergy were just as awkward as Parliament when it suited them. Parliament would often ask for redress of grievances as a quid pro quo for any grant, and the king usually had to at least make a show of making concessions. If he was in a weak position politically, the concessions might be substantial.

(This post reblogged from The Yorkist Age.)



Witchcraft (1): Witchcraft and Royalty: The Cases against Eleanor Cobham and Joanne of Navarre

Giaconda's Blog

Fake news – smearing the opposition

With the current interest in the media about the spread of ‘fake news’ and misinformation, it seems appropriate to reconsider the cases of two royal ladies who were both accused and found guilty of witchcraft during the early C15th. Were these simply cases of politically motivated ‘fake news’ stories? It is clear that in both cases that their enemies stood to gain by their fall and that witchcraft was an easy accusation to bring against any woman in an age of superstition and bigotry.

la-pucelle La Pucelle – Joan of Arc was brought down by accusations of heresy and witchcraft

They were also not the only women in the public eye to be brought down using similar methods – we have the very public example of Joan of Arc who was contemporary with Eleanor of Cobham and accused of heresy and witchcraft and burnt at the…

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More evidence from Bertram Fields

You may recall that, about two years ago, we published the footnotes to Bertram Fields’ Royal Blood. Now it seems that, on page 152 of the paperback edition, he has something to say about Catherine de Valois’ apparent relationship with Owain Tudor. Just like G.L.Harriss (1988) and John Ashdown-Hill (2013), he holds that they are unlikely to have been married at all.

As cited on Catherine’s Wikipedia page, despite its relevant editors being Alexandria dwellers, he wrote: “There was no proof of [the marriage] beyond Owen’s word”.[8]


The Fall of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

Whilst researching my biography of Richard, Duke of York I found myself drawn by a bitter feud that lasted for years and which in many ways was a kind of prequel to the Wars of the Roses. The more I learned about the acrimonious dispute between Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester the more it fascinated me and the more I began to see it as a pre-cursor to the troubles that followed. I found it almost impossible to tell Richard, Duke of York’s story without reference to the context provided by this relationship. It has been largely forgotten in the violent civil war that followed its shocking end but without the fall of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester there may never have been a Wars of the Roses.

Cardinal Henry Beaufort was born around 1375, the second son of John of Gaunt by his mistress (and later third wife) Katherine Swynford. His older brother was John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset, whose descendants would become the infamous Dukes of Somerset who would rise to fame in the fifteenth century. His younger brother was Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, a very capable soldier, and Joan Beaufort, his younger sister, married Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmoreland and became the matriarch of the Neville clan that rose to prominence as opponents of her brother’s Somerset descendants. Henry was half-brother to Henry IV, uncle to Henry V and great-uncle to Henry VI. As Bishop of Winchester he held the richest see in England and this made him invaluable to a Lancastrian crown perpetually short of money.

Cardinal Henry Beaufort

Henry Beaufort acted as Chancellor to his half-brother before they fell out, returning to influence under his nephew Henry V, who was close to his uncle. In 1417 Beaufort was created a Cardinal and papal legate, only for his nephew to place pressure on him to give up the Cardinal’s hat. The king feared the encroachment of papal influence but needed to keep his uncle, and not least his money, close. Henry Beaufort (no doubt grudgingly) agreed but in 1426, shortly after the accession of the young Henry VI, he was once more appointed Cardinal. This apparently conflicting role as Papal representative and senior royal counsellor would attract criticism, most notably from Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

Humphrey was born around 1391, the fourth and youngest son of the man who would become King Henry IV. Created Duke of Gloucester by his brother Henry V in 1414, Humphrey took part in several campaigns in France, most notably fighting at the Battle of Agincourt. On his brother’s death Humphrey served as Regent in England for his nephew, though his power was severely limited by the Royal Council and was always subservient to the position of his brother John. Often viewed as reckless and bitter, Humphrey was almost permanently at odds with his half-uncle Cardinal Beaufort – and his behavior may have had another explanation as we shall see later.

After the annulment of his first marriage to Jacqueline of Hainult, Humphrey married Eleanor Cobham around 1430. The couple were popular and well liked, their court becoming a centre of poetry and learning. A part of Humphrey’s library was bequeathed to Oxford University and formed the basis of the Bodleian Library. When John died in 1435 it left Humphrey as heir presumptive to his childless young nephew and removed the one control on the rivalry between the duke and Cardinal Beaufort. From this point onwards the feud became ever more bitter and personal.

The first point of conflict came with the decision that had to be made quickly as to the identity of John’s replacement in France. The Cardinal wanted the prestigious position for his nephew John Beaufort, son and namesake of his older brother, as he sought to use his substantial influence to promote the position of his family in Lancastrian England. Humphrey was equally determined not to allow the Beauforts such power and promoted his closest legitimate royal relative, the young and powerful Richard, Duke of York. Humphrey won the argument and York was dispatched to France but the battle was only intensified.

When Parliament opened in November 1439 it was flabbergasted to hear a tirade of complaint from Duke Humphrey against his uncle Cardinal Beaufort just before Christmas. After Christmas the articles were presented in writing, nominally addressed to his nephew but clearly meant for a wide audience. Beginning by complaining about the release of Charles, Duke of Orleans, who had been taken prisoner at Agincourt and whose release Henry V had forbidden, Humphrey quickly launched into a sharp berating of his uncle’s actions over the last decade or so, not least his conflicted role as Cardinal and royal councilor. Charges rained from Humphrey’s pen but, perhaps reflecting the balance of power that was driving him to make his complaints, nothing came of his accusations and Cardinal Beaufort was not even investigated. Instead, the next strike would be made by the Cardinal’s faction.

Humphrey’s wife Eleanor Cobham was arrested and tried for treasonable necromancy in 1441, accused of having engaged the well-known ‘Witch of Eye’, Margery Jourdemayne, to predict the death of Henry VI that would give her husband the throne. Eleanor claimed that she had only sought help to conceive a child but it is unlikely that any defense would have saved her. Although she escaped a death sentence Eleanor was forced to perform a public penance, divorce Humphrey and remain imprisoned for the rest of her life. She eventually died at Beaumaris Castle in 1452, still a prisoner, but the scandal of her arrest, trial and conviction forced Humphrey to retire from public life. It seemed that Cardinal Beaufort had won the war, but Humphrey remained a popular man, well loved by the general populace, viewed as a champion of their cause against a disinterested king and court party.

Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

By 1447 the English conquests in France were in the final throws of a prolonged and painful demise. Henry VI’s government, by this point headed up by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was trying to hand back vast swathes of land won by Henry V and to the preservation of which John and Humphrey had dedicated their lives. There is little doubt that the government feared a backlash from Humphrey that could gather popular support and become dangerous. On 14 December 1446 Parliament was summoned to meet at Cambridge on 10 February 1447 but on 20 January the location was suddenly changed from Cambridge, where Humphrey was popular, to Bury St Edmunds in the heart of Suffolk’s power base. This clearly suggests that at some point over the Christmas period a plot to deal with Humphrey once and for all was crystalizing.

An English Chronicle recorded that Humphrey arrived after the opening of Parliament, was met outside the town and that before ‘he came fully into the town of Bury, there were sent unto him messengers commanding him on the king’s behalf’. He was ordered to go straight to his lodgings and not to try to see his nephew the king, who seems to have been convinced that his fifty-six year old childless uncle was actively plotting to seize the throne, a notion probably promoted by Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort, who spied a final end for his longtime nemesis. Humphrey was arrested on 20 February by Viscount Beaumont, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, the Marquis of Somerset (Edmund Beaufort), the Earl of Salisbury and Lord Sudeley. Either that day or the following Humphrey suffered what was reported to be a devastating stroke. He lingered until 23 February when he finally died. His body was placed on public display before being buried at St Albans Abbey but rumours quickly sprang up that he had been murdered, perhaps poisoned. There is no evidence to support this and a natural cause is entirely possible, but the belief that Humphrey had been wronged lingered for years and his death was undoubtedly convenient to the government.

Humphrey is often remembered as a reckless, petulant, unreliable and belligerent man who resented his lack of power compared to his brother and the Council. This reading of events is not entirely fair to my mind. At the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 Humphrey had been injured and knocked to the muddy ground. As French knights raised their weapons to finish him off an armoured figure stepped across his prone body and beat the attackers away. So close was the combat that the man defending Humphrey had a fleur de lys cut from the crown atop his helm. Humphrey’s life had been saved by his brother, King Henry V. For the rest of his life Humphrey would devotedly try to see his brother’s aims in France realised, perhaps because he owed his life to the famous warrior. Watching the floundering of English fortunes must have been painful and seeing the Beauforts attempting to use the Cardinal’s wealth to benefit themselves in a way Humphrey probably felt did not benefit England may have been behind his animosity to the Cardinal.

Cardinal Henry Beaufort would appear to have won the long war with Humphrey, though his victory was short lived. He died on 11 April 1447, less than two months after Humphrey. A legend sprang up, probably originating from the Tudor antiquarian Edward Hall and embellished by Shakespeare, that Cardinal Beaufort became delirious on his deathbed and offered Death all of his treasure for a longer life, though the contemporary Croyland Chronicle records simply that he died ‘with the same business-like dignity in which for so long he had lived and ruled’. In his early seventies, he had lived under four kings and amassed huge wealth and influence, a basis from which the Beauforts would flourish further.

Perhaps the real impact of the feud between Cardinal Henry Beaufort and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester lies in what was to come after both of their deaths. The Beaufort family were set on an upward trajectory and enjoyed the favour of the king that the Cardinal’s influence had won for them. Richard, Duke of York had been promoted by Gloucester as a legitimate member of the blood royal and was widely viewed as the successor to Humphrey’s position opposing the peace party at court, meaning that whether he wished it or not he became an opponent to the Beauforts, perpetuating the feud of a previous generation. This rift would eventually widen until civil war broke out. Humphrey’s name would be closely associated with York’s cause for more than a decade after his death, his rehabilitation promoted by Cade’s Rebellion and his name finally cleared in Parliament when York held power.

The House of York and the House of Beaufort appear to have been set on a collision course by the disputes between Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Henry Beaufort. Henry VI’s inability to force a closure to the rifts at his court meant that the bitterly opposed factions caused a rupture in the nation that we remember as the Wars of the Roses. It is because of the course that Richard, Duke of York was set upon by these events that I found it impossible not to tell this story in order to explain his actions and the events that surrounded him. Although it is lost in the vicious war that followed, the long battle between Humphrey and Cardinal Beaufort laid the foundations for the Wars of the Roses that followed their deaths and Humphrey’s fall marked the implosion of the House of Lancaster in a manner usually believed to be the preserve of their successors in the House of York.

Humphrey was a well-liked figure who was popular with the common man and retained sympathy for the House of Lancaster as the government of his nephew became increasingly unpopular and out of touch with the country. The policy of eliminating those closest to the throne thrust Richard, Duke of York to prominence as Humphrey’s natural successor, caused those who had looked to Humphrey for a lead to turn their focus from the House of Lancaster and made York, not unreasonably, frightened of meeting the same fate simply by reason of his position. Perhaps paranoia was a part of the makeup of Henry VI’s mental issues even at this early stage, perhaps the Beauforts were manipulating him to improve their own prospects or perhaps it was a little of both. Whatever the reason, it backfired on Henry and the Beauforts, dragging England into a bitter and prolonged civil war.

{Matthew Lewis}


The Strange Death of Lancastrian England

When Henry IV had his final succession statute passed through Parliament he made no provision for the throne beyond his children and their offspring. Neither the Beauforts, the Yorks, or even the Hollands got so much as a line. This was quite understandable, given that he had four sons and two daughters. No one could have been expected to anticipate that those six young people would produce but two legitimate heirs between them. Of these, Blanche’s son, Rupert of Germany, died in 1426. The other was the future Henry VI, who would turn out to be (arguably) the least capable person ever to rule this country.

That Henry IV had doubts about the Beauforts (especially the eldest, who was certainly conceived in Sir Hugh Swynford’s lifetime) seems to be clear from his decision to explicitly exclude them from any rights to the succession in his exemplification of Richard II’s statute of legitimisation. But – at the time – any prospect of the Beauforts getting a sniff of the crown was remote in the extreme, and Henry’s exclusion of their claim was almost an irrelevance.

Once Henry V had dealt with the Cambridge Plot and gone on to win the Battle of Agincourt, the prospects for the Lancastrian dynasty looked rosy indeed. A few years on, with the Duke of Burgundy murdered by supporters of the Dauphin, Henry found a powerful ally in the new Burgundy (Philip the Good), and soon afterwards concluded the Treaty of Troyes with Charles VI, by which he (Henry) was declared Heir and Regent of France, and married to Charles’s daughter, Katherine of Valois. The Dauphin (future Charles VII) was disinherited.

This might be seen as the high-water point of the entire Lancastrian dynasty. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for a start, there was an awful lot of France still to conquer, and the people living there had not simply laid down their arms and accepted Henry on hearing of the Treaty. Meanwhile, Parliament, back in England, was already growing reluctant to pay for the necessary war. As they saw it, Henry had won his (not England’s) realm of France – great! Now it was now up to that realm, not England, to pay the cost of putting down the ‘rebels’ who so inconveniently still occupied the greater part of it. This probably seemed quite reasonable to the Honourable Members, with their typically English dislike of paying tax. However, assuming that the war was to be won, it was a completely unrealistic attitude to take.

Henry’s next brother in age, Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed at the Battle of Bauge (21 March 1421). Clarence made the mistake of advancing on the enemy without his supporting archers, and the result was a costly defeat, both in terms of men killed and captured and in the boost the victory gave to French (or technically Armagnac) morale. Among those captured was the head of the Beaufort family, John, Earl of Somerset. He was to remain a captive until 1438, though it must be said he was not much missed.

So matters stood when King Henry died on 31 August, 1422, at the relatively young age of 35. Ironically, he never wore the crown of France as his father-in-law, the hapless Charles VI, contrived to outlive him.

Some authors have suggested that if Henry had lived, things might have turned out differently. I doubt it, because it wouldn’t have made the English Parliament any more generous, and that was the key factor. As Regent of France Henry was succeeded by his brother, John, Duke of Bedford, one of the most able rulers to emerge in the entire middle ages. Bedford was an efficient soldier, politician and administrator. He proved the former by commanding at the Battle of Verneuil (17 August 1424) which was in some respects a more crushing victory than Agincourt. His skill as politician and administrator prolonged the life of the English Kingdom of France, and it’s unlikely that anyone (even Henry V) could have done much better.

Bedford’s task was not made easier by his only surviving (and younger) brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester was to prove something of a loose cannon throughout his remaining career. He was Protector of England (during Bedford’s (usual) absence from the country), but his official powers were limited, much to his frustration. When he was not arguing with his uncle, Bishop Henry Beaufort, he was ‘marrying’ Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault and Holland, and fighting against England’s ally, Philip of Burgundy, in an attempt to secure her inheritance. (I say ‘marrying’ because, inconveniently, the lady already possessed a living husband, and in due course the Pope declared her ‘marriage’ to Humphrey invalid. Not that matters were quite that simple.)

Humphrey went on to marry his former ‘wife’s’ lady-in-waiting, Eleanor Cobham. This was clearly a love match, not least because it seems Eleanor was his mistress before he married her. However, they were fated not to have children together, and Humphrey’s only offspring, Arthur and Antigone, were illegitimate.

Bedford’s own marriage, to Anne of Burgundy, was arranged for reasons of state, but nevertheless it proved a successful one at a personal level. Unfortunately, it also remained childless. This may help to explain why Bedford was so quick to marry Jacquetta of Luxembourg after Anne’s death. It is sometimes suggested that the swift remarriage angered Anne’s brother, the Duke of Burgundy, but if so it was only in the way of one more straw on the camel’s back. Philip’s attachment to the English alliance had been waning for some time. He was able to see the way the wind was blowing. Bedford’s death (14 September 1435) made matters still worse and left the English leadership in some disarray, but the Congress of Arras was already in progress at the time. Although the English were invited to take part, the terms offered to them were totally unacceptable. Burgundy, on the other hand, was accommodated and was happy to make a separate peace with Charles VII. From that moment on the English Kingdom of France was doomed (if it was not already) and the remarkable thing is not that it ultimately fell, but that it struggled on until 1453.

Objectively, the English probably ought to have accepted the Arras peace, however harsh, as it would have left them something of their conquests. However, this is to ignore the political situation in England. Hardliners such as Gloucester essentially regarded the acceptance of anything short of the terms of the Treaty of Troyes as bordering on treason. This was a totally unrealistic view to hold, in view of the improvement of the French position in both political and military terms, but questions of personal and national honour were in play, and common sense was banished from the equation.

Henry VI began his personal rule at the age of 16 in 1437. While the depth of his incompetence was not yet apparent, even the most able of rulers would have faced a daunting task. The kingdom was next door to bankruptcy and quite unable adequately to finance the cost of fighting the ongoing war in France. The reinforcements sent abroad gradually grew smaller in number, and it was increasingly difficult to find commanders of a suitable rank who were willing to participate. While the war had, in the past, been profitable for some private individuals – if not for the nation – anyone with any sense could calculate that the opportunities for profit were shrinking by the day, while on the other hand there was a much increased prospect of being captured and having to pay ransom oneself. In other words, the war was an increasingly bad investment.

As for the Lancastrian dynasty, it now comprised, as far as males were concerned, Henry VI and his Uncle Humphrey. It scarcely helped that these two were completely at odds as to how to settle the war, the King being for peace at almost any price, while Gloucester was of the ‘one last heave’ school, and believed that a suitably large English army (preferably led by himself) would smash the French in another Agincourt and enable the English to impose their own terms. (It was actually an academic argument, as Parliament was not willing to finance the cost of such an expedition, and it’s questionable whether enough men could have been put together even had the taxes been forthcoming.)

The Duchess of Gloucester’s ill-advised attempts to find via astrology and/or magic whether she was to bear a child, and for how long Henry VI would live were a perfect gift to Gloucester’s political opponents. Her fall from grace (which involved not only penitential parades through London but life imprisonment for the unfortunate woman) had consequences for her husband, whose remaining political influence was virtually destroyed overnight. Since they were forcibly divorced, Gloucester could, in theory, have married again but in practice he did not. So when he died on 23 February 1447, the sole remaining legitimate male member of the Lancastrian family was Henry VI himself. (Unless you count the Beauforts, and as far as legitimate accession to the throne or the Duchy of Lancaster is concerned, you really shouldn’t.)

By this time, Henry had secured a sort of peace (no more than a short truce bought at the cost of great concessions) and as part of the bargain had married Margaret of Anjou. Though in due course this union produced a son, Edward, it would appear that the deeply-religious King found married life something of a chore. There is no real reason to assume that Prince Edward was not fathered by Henry, but there were rumours around that he was not. Rumours were of course a commonplace of medieval England. (They were often slanderous, and are only taken seriously by historians when they are negative and concern Richard III.)

The Lancastrian dynasty, which within living memory had seem rock solid and beyond challenge, was now on its last legs. The loss of Lancastrian France was inevitable, given the crown’s lack of resources. However, there were many in England all too ready to blame the disaster on the shortcomings of the King and his advisers. Henry’s limited political skills, his tendency to put complete trust in certain favoured counsellors to the exclusion of his powerful cousin, York, and the rising influence of Queen Margaret all added to a toxic political mixture. Of course, in addition to all this, the King was increasingly troubled by mental health problems that at times left him catatonic for months on end. These attacks gave York a couple of opportunities to rule as Protector, but the usual way of things was that as soon as the King recovered he went back to his reliance on Queen Margaret and whichever Somerset was currently alive.

Despite his dismal record as a ruler, very few people seem to have disliked Henry VI personally, and that is one reason why he survived in power as long as he did. Indeed, it might be argued that even York and his allies did all they could to keep Henry on his throne. It was only after the Battle of Wakefield and the death of York himself that the Yorkist faction decided they had no choice but make a clean sweep.


“The poor dare not speak so”: The populist political rhetoric of the Yorkists

“For though I dare myself speak what seems to me to be the truth, the poor dare not do so.” – Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in a statement to Henry VI, 1440

The Yorkists seem unique, almost tantalizingly modern, in their use of populist rhetoric during the Wars of the Roses. Of course, they were not populists themselves, as Richard Duke of York would never have approved of Cade’s Revolt or the ruffians who came to London in 1450 and created mayhem, vandalizing and looting property. Nevertheless, the shift in tone of political rhetoric is quite remarkable in its appeal to the average person, and the wrongs committed upon them by the Lancastrians and their style of governance. This shift in tone can be traced directly back to an earlier Duke of Gloucester: Humphrey, that most “noble, valiant and true prince”, younger brother of Henry V, a patron of Italian humanism, and famous for the collection of books he left to Oxford University.

Humphrey was not so honored during his life. Dying an ignominious death in 1447, either from stroke or political assassination, he lived his last years ostracized from the center of power at Henry VI’s court, then dominated by William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk. Earlier, in 1441, Humphrey’s wife Eleanor Cobham had been tried for treason and witchcraft, and made to do penance in the most publicly humiliating manner. Thus, the political life of Humphrey essentially ended in 1441.

It may be said, however, that in death Humphrey became far more influential than in life. Humphrey’s ideas and populist appeal played a significant role in shaping the rhetoric of political dissent in the following decade. The Kentish peasants who joined Cade’s Revolt in 1450, declared: “Item. We say our sovereign lord [Henry VI] may understand that his false council has lost his law, his merchandise is lost, his common people is destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, the king himself is so set that he may not pay for his meat nor drink, and he owes more than ever any King of England ought, for daily his traitors about him where anything should come to him by his laws, anon they take it from him.”[1]

These complaints mirror Humphrey’s declaration of 1440, which is striking in that it was possibly made publicly, during the preceding Parliament. Although framed as a pointed attack against Cardinal Beaufort and other cronies who surrounded the king, Humphrey uses this as an opportunity to bemoan the state of affairs in England, and to plead the case for the common people:

“Also, my right dread lord, it is well known that it was not possible for the said cardinal to have acquired such great wealth except by such [corrupt and deceptive] means. For from his church it might not arise, and inheritance has he not. Wherefore, my right dread lord, since there is need of much goods at this time, for the welfare and salvation of your realms, and your highness understands the poverty, necessity, bareness, and need of your liege people, may you please to consider the great wealth of the said cardinal and the great deceit by which you are misled by the labour of him and of the archbishop of York. Both in your realm [of England] and in your realm of France and duchy of Normandy, there might be had neither office nor livelihood nor captaincy, except by the gift to him of much wealth. And this is the reason of a great part of all the losses there sustained…

“And furthermore, it is to be considered greatly how the said cardinal forfeited all his goods because of Provision, as the statute made on the matter can more plainly show; but because he had the rule over you, my lord so dread, he purchased for himself a charter of pardon, in great defrauding of your highness. Which moneys, had they been well disposed of, might have sustained your wars for many a year without any tax on your poor people….

“Wherefore, considering that the said cardinal and archbishop of York claim the government of you and of your realm, may it please your highness, my full dread lord, to expel them from your council…. For though I dare speak what seems to me to be the truth, the poor dare not do so.”[2]

What is so striking about Humphrey’s plea is not so much his full-frontal attack on Cardinal Beaufort’s corruption of royal favor, but the way he presents the impact on the common people, who are made to suffer oppressive taxes for a disastrous French war policy, and who find no “good lordship” in the king’s ministers.

The Commons in parliament, too, were emboldened by Humphrey’s rhetoric. Its petition of November 1450-January 1451 excoriated the Henry VI for continuing to surround himself with “misbehaving” personnel who continued to impoverish his realm and to pervert the rule of law. They sought formal condemnation of Suffolk, his widow, and Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who now occupied the position left vacant by Suffolk. The Commons demanded Suffolk be held accountable for the “final destruction of the most noble, valiant and true prince, your right obedient uncle the duke of Gloucester”.[3] The redemption of Humphrey’s reputation became a motivating force to those who wanted the Duke of York to play a more prominent role in the king’s government.

The Duke of York and his adherents also invoked Humphrey’s rhetoric, especially in the years leading up to and after the first battle of St. Albans in 1455. York’s bill of October 1450[4] and his address to the burgesses of Shrewsbury of February 1452[5] maintain a vehement attack on “traitors” who surrounded the king, namely Somerset. This line of attack became more provocative while York remained the heir apparent and rumors were circulating that he sought the throne. York perhaps saw in Humphrey a parallel role: loyal to the king but unfairly isolated; desirous of sound economic policy; a protector of the common weal against onerous taxation; and a reformer of corrupt practices in the administration of the royal estate and the legal system.[6] However, with such a populist flavor, this also served to embolden Henry VI and his queen to become more entrenched in their positions.[7] The tensions erupted in violence at St Albans, and continued thereafter to give grist to the mill of discontent that fomented civil war.

Humphrey’s populist rhetoric continued to be a tone expressed by Edward IV and later Richard III. One of the most caustic of Yorkist proclamations was made in 1460, when Edward was still Earl of March. Here, he is joined by his father the Duke, and the Earls of Warwick and Salisbury, in decrying the abysmal state of affairs for the “common weal” caused by the king’s favorites, notably Somerset and the Earls of Shrewsbury and Wiltshire. Note the reference, again, to Humphrey:

“First, the great oppression, extortion, robbery, murder and other violence done to God’s church and to its ministers, against the laws of God, and man.

“[The king’s] laws have been directed with partiality, and those whom should most love and cherish his law have most favoured oppression and extortions. In general, all righteousness and justice are exiled from the land, and no man is afraid to offend the laws.

“Also, the commons have often been greatly and astonishingly charged with taxes and tallages, to their great impoverishment. Out of this, little good has accrued either to the king or to the land…. They cannot end there; and they now begin new impositions and tallages on the people, never before borne.   That is to say, every township is to find men for the king’s guard, following in this the example of our enemies and adversaries of France. If this imposition and tallage are to be continued to our heirs and successors, they will be the heaviest charge and worst precedent that ever grew up in England. And the aforesaid subjects and their heirs and successors will be in such bondage as their ancestors never were.

“Also, continually, since the piteous, shameful murder at Bury, cause of sorrow to all England, of that noble, worthy and Christian prince, Humphrey duke of Gloucester, the king’s true uncle, there have been activities, plots, and conspiracies, to destroy and murder the said duke of York and the issue which it pleased God to send me of the royal blood. Also [the same] against us, the said earls of Warwick and Salisbury. There was no other reason except the true heart which God knows we have ever borne, and bear, for the profit of the king’s estate and for the common weal and defence of same realm.” [8]

The concern for “the common weal” was one way Edward IV justified the deposition of Henry VI and his accession to the throne. (Of course, he also had a strong hereditary claim that he took great pains to publish.) Moreover, Edward took care that his accession should be premised upon a petition from the Commons, literally at the request of the people, which was recorded by the clerk as follows:

“Commendation made by the Commons to the King: The commons thanked God for the king’s victory, and asked that the following be enrolled: Edward had redeemed the realm from the persecution of its enemies. He had defeated them at Mortimer’s Cross. He had saved London from Margaret. In the third place, it had pleased him to take upon himself the rule of the realm ‘to which you are rightfully and naturally born’. He had been victorious, with God’s help, over rebels, Scots and French. The commons proceeded to refer to Edward’s courage, beauty, and wisdom, and to his devotion to the common weal.”[9]

Richard III, like his brother, rooted his accession to the throne in the Commons, which presented a petition for him to take the throne. In language that is remarkably similar to that used by Humphrey and Edward IV, we find the following in his 1484 Parliamentary Roll:

“First, we consider how, hitherto in times past, for many years this land stood in great prosperity, honour and tranquility, because the kings then reigning used and followed the advice and counsel of certain lord spiritual and temporal, and other people of demonstrable gravity, prudence, astuteness and experience, fearing God and having tender zeal and affection for the impartial administration of justice, and for the common and politic weal of the land. Then our lord God was feared, loved and honoured; then there was peace and tranquility within the land, and concord and charity among neighbors; … by which things listed above the land was greatly enriched, so that merchants and artificers, as well as other poor people who labour for their living in various occupations, earned enough to maintain themselves and their household, living without miserable and intolerable poverty.

“But afterwards, when those who had the rule and governance of this land, delighting in adulation and flattery and led by sensuality and concupiscence, followed by counsel of insolent, vicious people of inordinate avarice, despising the good, virtuous and prudent people … the prosperity of this land decreased daily, so that felicity was turned into misery, and prosperity into adversity…. As a result of which many calamities and misfortunes ensued, such as murders, extortions and oppressions, particularly of poor and powerless people, so that no man was sure of his life, land or livelihood, or of his wife, daughter or servant, with every virtuous maiden and woman standing in dread of being ravished and defiled.”

Amongst the great evils to the common weal and people were Edward IV’s benevolences, and here again, Humphrey’s populist rhetoric is taken up:

“The king [Richard III] remembers how the commons of this realm have been put to great thralldom and unbearable charges and exactions by new and unlawful inventions and inordinate covetousness, against the law of this realm, especially by a new imposition named a Benevolence. By this, in diverse years, the subjects and commons of this land have paid great sums of money, against their will and their freedom and almost to their utter destruction. By occasion of it, many and diverse worshipful men of this realm were compelled by necessity to break up their households and to live in great penury and wretchedness. Their debts were unpaid and their children had no preferment. Such memorials as they had ordained to be done for the profit of their souls were brought to nought and annulled, to the great displeasure of God and to the destruction of this realm.”[10]

So, we’ve traveled from 1440 to 1484 – almost 50 years and we see how Humphrey’s appeal on behalf of the common people becomes a full-throated expression of populist political ideas. Many have observed that not only were Richard III’s statutes the first to be inscribed in English, but they also represent the first real platform for the reformation of laws and problems that dogged the common man. Even detractors of Richard III like Sir Francis Bacon in Stuart times, admitted he was “a good law-maker, for the ease and solace of the common people”. H.G. Hanbury, professor of law at Oxford, following his analysis of the public statutes enacted during Richard III’s parliament, concludes that they reveal him to be “a singularly thoughtful and enlightened legislator, who brought to his task a profound knowledge of the nature of contemporary problems, and an enthusiastic determination to solve them in the best possible way, in the interests of every class of his subjects.” [11]

The baton was handed through the ages from Humphrey to Richard III. It is a rather nice symmetry, being that they were both Dukes of Gloucester.


  1. Cade’s Proclamation of Grievances,
  2. Gloucester’s letter attacking the king’s advisors, dated 1440, from B. Wilkinson, Constitutional History of England in the Fifteenth Century, 1399-1485 (London, 1964), pp. 52-56.
  3. Petition of the Commons, in the parliament of November 1450, prorogued on 18 December until 20 January 1451, from Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 113-114.
  4. York’s “bill” attacking traitors, dated 6 October 1450, from Wilkinson, supra, at p. 112.
  5. Richard of York’s address to the burgesses of Shrewsbury, 3 February 1452, from Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 114-116.
  6. Christine Carpenter, The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the constitution in England, c. 1437-1509 (Cambridge 1997), p. 118-120.
  7. According to the Paston Letters, the Queen on 19 January 1454 formally made a claim to the regency by submitting a bill of five articles, requesting the powers of a regent. Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 117-118.
  8. Yorkist Manifesto of 1460, from Wilkinson, supra, at pp. 134-136.
  9. Rolls of Parliament, Rot. Parl., V, 420, cited in Wilkinson, supra, pp. 176-177.
  10. Richard III’s Act against Benevolences, from Wilkinson, supra, at p. 192.
  11. G. Hanbury, The Legislation of Richard III, American Journal of Legal History, vol. 6, p. 95 (1962).

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