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John Fortescue Speaks

John Fortescue (1385-1479) on the subject of illegitimate children inheriting or having rights of succession to their father’s estate or patrimony:

“The civil [Roman] law [followed on the Continent] legitimates children born before matrimony as well as after, and causes them to succeed to the parental inheritance. But the law of England does not allow children born out of wedlock to succeed, proclaiming them merely natural and not legitimate. The civilians extol their law in this point, because they say that thereby the sin, through which otherwise the souls of the two parties would perish, is absolved by the sacrament of marriage. . . .

“These are answered by those learned in the law of England thus: in the first place they say that the sin of the first intercourse in such a case is not purged by subsequent marriage, though the punishment of the offenders is deservedly mitigated in some measure. They say, also, that these sinners repent by so much the less, the more they consider the laws favourable to such transgressions. By such a consideration they are rendered all the more disposed to commit the sin, and thereby neglect the commands not only of God but also of the Church. So this [civil Roman] law not only participates in the guilt of the offenders, but also deviates from the very nature of a good law since law is a holy sanction commanding what is honest and forbidding the contrary; for this law does not forbid but rather invites wavering minds to do dishonest acts. . . .

“But the law of England in this case operates to a far different effect, for it does not encourage sin, nor favour sinners, but deters them, and threatens them with punishment lest they sin. For indeed, the allurements of the flesh need no encouraging; they need rather restraints. . .

“Hence the [English] law which punishes the progeny of the offender prohibits the sin more effectively than the law which punishes only the guilty. From this you may observe how zealously the law of England prosecutes illicit intercourse when it not only judges the offspring thereof illegitimate but also forbids them to succeed to the parental patrimony. Is not then this a chaste law? Does it not more powerfully and firmly repulse sin than the said civil law, which quickly and almost without penalty remits the sin of lust?”

“And since such a child has not a father at the time of his birth, nature knows not how he can obtain a father after the fact. . . . Therefore it would appear inconsistent that a son born in wedlock to the same woman, whose procreation could not be dubious, should have no share in the inheritance, and the son who does not know his father should displace him in the succession to his father and mother, especially in the kingdom of England, where the elder son alone succeeds to the paternal inheritance. Moreover, a fair arbiter would consider it no less inappropriate, if the son born of disgrace should participate equally in the inheritance, which by the civil law is divided among the males, with a son born of a lawful marriage-bed. . . .

“Moreover, holy scripture reproves all illegitimate offspring, saying in a metaphor, ‘The shoots of the spurious shall not take deep roots nor lay a firm foundation’, Book of Wisdom [Vulgate], chapter iv. The Church also reproves them and it rejects them from holy orders, and though it gives dispensation to them, yet it does not permit them to be of any dignity in the Church of God. It is fitting, therefore, that the law of men should deprive of the benefits of succession those whom the Church judges unworthy of holy orders and rejects from all prelacy, and those whom holy scripture deems inferior in birth to those legitimately procreated.”

Citation: Excerpts from JohnFortescue, De laudibus legum Anglie, secs. XXXIX and XL, written between 1468-1471; not published until 1538.

NOTE: As a citizen of the modern world, I DO NOT personally agree with the sentiments expressed above, but Fortescue was the leading legal authority of the 15th century. He was writing De laudibus as a “treatise” to instruct Henry VI’s son, Edward, while they were living in exile in France, in preparation for Henry VI’s re-adeption to the English crown. In part, Fortescue was attempting to inspire Prince Edward to remain essentially English and not to acquire any of the customs or practices from the Continent.

Fortescue’s analysis has so many implications for the lawfulness and legitimacy of the Beaufort line, and for the arguments that would be raised in 1483 when it was determined that Edward IV was not lawfully married to Elizabeth Woodville, his queen. Sermons preached in 1483 used the same refrain quoted by Fortescue from the Bible – bastard slips shall not take root – undoubtedly adopting his position in terms of whether the illegitimate offspring of Edward IV by Woodville could be in line for succession to the crown. In Fortescue’s learned opinion, they could not under settled English law.

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The Court of Requests and Thomas Seckford

In 1484, King Richard III created a minor equity court to deal with minor disputes in equity; these are disputes where the harshness of common law would be acknowledged by those appointed by the Crown. Equity courts were mostly seen as the Lord Chancellor’s remit, and the split of the Chancery Courts from the Curia Regis happened in the mid-fourteenth century. By the time of King Richard III, the Chancery Court had become backlogged from cases pleading the harshness of the common law, and the Court of Requests was no doubt and attempt to remove minor equity cases from the backlog and free up court time – Richard’s attempt at reducing bureaucracy and better administration.

So successful was the Court of Requests that it survived Richard’s reign, and was formalised by the Privy Council of Henry “Tudor”, the usurper. It was a popular court, because the cost of cases was relatively low and justice was swifter than the common law courts, which would ultimately prove its undoing.

Two Masters of Requests Ordinary were appointed by Henry VIII, and another two Masters of Requests Extraordinary were appointed by Elizabeth I. One of these was Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Thomas was an influential man, even before Elizabeth appointed him to the Court of Requests in 1558. He was MP for Ripon in November 1554, just months after his Grey cousins were executed, and was then elected MP for Orford (a fishing village on the Suffolk Coast which had two MPs despite only having a handful of residents) in 1555 and again in 1558. He was MP for Ipswich in 1559 and for Suffolk in 1571. Seckford Hall, (right) near Woodbridge, is known to have hosted Elizabeth’s court as she progressed, and was built in 1530 as the Seckford Family home; it is now a hotel, while a golf club sits within what was once its grounds. The A12 Martlesham bypass sweeps across the Finn Valley in front of the hall, giving wonderful views to motorists but somewhat destroying the character and appearance of the building and grounds. As an interesting side note, the hotel contains furniture from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including (allegedly) the chair Henry the Usurper died on.

Thomas Seckford commissioned Christophe Saxton to create the first surveyed atlas of the realm, which Elizabeth granted him a patent for its sole publication for ten years. This made him an even wealthier man and he added to his estates Clerkenwell, endowing the Seckford Almshouses with income from Clerkenwell. His wealth also led to the establishment of a free school, Woodbridge School, which is a minor public school. His wealth still helps young and old in Woodbridge today.

The Court of Requests fell foul of the common law courts at the end of the 16th century. Angry that business deserted them in favour of the more efficient Court of Requests, the common law courts overturned a number of decisions of the Requests Court, and banned them from imprisoning people; ultimately this was to prove their undoing, and the English Civil War, which led to the invalidation of the Privy Seal, was the final death of the Court, set up all those years before by King Richard for the better delivery of justice.

Thomas Seckford (left) died in January 1587, although we are not sure exactly when, whilst in his early seventies. His mother was Margaret Wingfield, relating him to both the de la Pole and Brandon families, and her mother was an Audley. In fact, Thomas could claim double descent from Edward I, through Joan of Acre, as well as many other great mediaeval magnates, including Edmund “Crouchback”. At his death, Thomas Seckford remained without issue, just like his fellow long-term royal servant Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. I need hardly add that Huntingdon was his cousin.

Radio Interview Regarding the Leicester Cathedral Controversy

Having heard that Leicester Cathedral were staging a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III inside the Cathedral itself, feet from where Richard is buried, I felt I had to do something to protest. It is not that I object to Leicester putting plays on in the Cathedral, although some do. Nor do I hate Shakespeare’s Richard III per se – it is true that he would not be anywhere near as famous without Shakespeare, although perhaps many would feel it preferable if he were less well known and less vilified. And Shakespeare was, of course, a genius, a fact which serves Richard ill because the plays, including the Bard’s Richard III, will never stop being performed. We must try to ensure that any future production of it will incorporate a disclaimer stating that it is fiction and giving a summary of the true Richard.

But it is quite a different matter to stage the play beside Richard’s tomb. So, I started a petition and was lucky enough to be interviewed about it on my local radio station, BBC Essex. Here is the transcript of the interview (there is a link at the bottom to BBC iPlayer, but it will be there only until the end of May 2017):

Dave Monk: Now you may be familiar with the incredible story about Richard III. Now the king was killed following his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth, fought in 1485. His remains were found recently, unearthed beneath a Leicester car park. Well, they now reside in Leicester Cathedral, but a bit of a row has broken out because a production company wants to stage a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III right there. And funnily enough (he said, name-dropping) I was with the Duke of Gloucester this afternoon, who’s all part of that, of course, because he was Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Critics say it is disrespectful and insensitive as the play portrays Richard in a bad light. Oh, yes it does. Well, Essex author, Joanne Larner, from Rayleigh, is behind the petition calling for the performance to be stopped. And I’d like to know why that is. Joanne, great to have you on. Why have you set this up?

Joanne: Well, it’s just, I thought it was such, a…I was so disappointed. I’ve visited the Cathedral several times and I even was there for the reinterment and I thought they did it really well and they promised to treat Richard’s remains with dignity and honour and I’m so disappointed and saddened and completely disgusted now that they’re doing this because it is almost as if they are dancing on his grave, in a way and I don’t think they are keeping their side of the bargain of treating his remains with dignity and honour.

Dave: Because, let’s face it, Rich – sorry, Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard was the bad guy. He was a scheming, nasty hunchback, a nasty king, and that’s how he was portrayed and we have no idea whether that’s the truth or not, have we?

Joanne: Oh yes we do!

Dave: Oh go on, then.

Joanne: Well. we think that that portrayal was partly Tudor propaganda – Shakespeare was writing in Tudor times and Tudor had to defame Richard’s character to justify his own taking of the throne. And also, I think as well that Shakespeare may have been doing a satire on a politician of his day, Robert Cecil, who was a hunchback and who was very unpopular. And so, it might not even necessarily be solely about Richard. But, in any case it’s fiction, it isn’t history and the real Richard actually did a lot of good things. I could give you some examples if you’d like to know some of the good things he did.

Dave: Yeah, I’d really like to know, yes.

Joanne: Well, he tried to stamp out corruption of the juries. He was only king for two years, as you know, and he only had one Parliament, but he did all this. He brought in a primitive form of legal aid for the poor, he encouraged reading and learning, he exempted books from taxes – that’s not the action of a tyrant, they usually discourage learning and reading. He had his laws made in English for the first time, so that more people could understand them, he was known before his brother died to be just, loyal and courageous. He was the last English king to die in battle, defending his country and his crown.

Dave: Well, let’s face it we’ve got to always remember, that it’s the victors who write the history books.

Joanne: Exactly, yes.

Dave: You’ve always got to keep that in mind, haven’t you? Why your fascination?

Joanne: Well, I only got interested, actually, after they found him and I saw the documentary and it absolutely fascinated me. And especially the lady, Philippa Langley, who was so passionate about him and I thought, well, how can someone be so passionate about someone who’s been dead five hundred years? And it made me research him and find out about him and I was so inspired that I’ve actually written three novels about him now.

Dave: Pretty good going, isn’t it, really?

Joanne: Mmm, and I’m just as passionate as she is. So – there’s a lot of us   and we all feel really strongly about him.

Dave: So, if it is, I mean you say it’s fiction, if Shakespeare’s Richard III is just fiction, why the big deal? Why the big problem?

Joanne: Well, simply because it portrays him in such a bad light. He’s portrayed as an evil hunchbacked tyrant who murdered his way to the throne and to perform that play literally feet from his grave, I think is just terrible.

Dave: How’s the petition going so far? Have you got much support?

Joanne: Well, it’s only been on for a few days, we’ve already over seven hundred, but obviously the more, the merrier, so anybody else who’d like to sign, I’d really welcome it. You know, it you feel as outraged as I do. I mean, I know Leicester Cathedral do have to make money and they’ve put on other plays there which some people don’t like but I understand that, you know, that they can’t, they don’t charge an entrance fee to the Cathedral, and they’ve put on Richard III before, so they say, but that was before Richard was there. And it’s this juxtaposition of that play and that place that’s the problem.

Dave: Oh alright, Joanne, thank you very much. Joanne Larner, Essex author, from Rayleigh and she is behind that petition to get that performance of Richard III stopped.

 

Since the interview, we have reached well over a thousand signatures – please add yours by clicking the picture of his tomb below.

Photo of Richard III's tomb

Clcik here for link to hear interview – starts near the end of the programme, about 2:45-46

Richard’s latest court trial….

richards-latest-trial

Richard has been put on trial again, and found not guilty. I tell you the verdict of the latest trial in case you lose the will to live before finally emerging from the intensely intrusive advertisements that always ruin the Leicester Mercury website. The article itself IS there, and an account of the trial.  Just stick at it.

Oh, and Richard is a little middle-aged, but we have to get past that sort of thing.

http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/8203-richard-iii-trial-in-leicester-set-to-answer-600-year-old-medieval-mystery-8211-live-updates/story-29863423-detail/story.html

In other words, he was acquitted again despite:
Only being five or six when the trial began.
Being dead before it finished. More being allowed to testify without a head – and not mentioning the “energetic priest” moving the bodies.
Only the “balance of probabilities” being required to decide the case.

Would Richard use vellum? Or paper?….

An argument has arisen for and against using vellum for recording our laws, as stored on the amazingly full shelves of the Act Room. Paper is indeed more perishable. Just imagine having the Magna Carta on paper! How insignificant it would appear. Not insignificant in content, of course, but all the same…

I have seen the magnificent charter that Richard III granted to the City of Gloucester. It is quite exquisite, and so vivid and crisp after all this time that it might have been signed and sealed only a few years ago. If it had been on paper, it would certainly not look the same.

So, vellum or paper? In the long run, given that vellum lasts 5,000 years or more, I guess the vellum has my vote. I know there are all sorts of reasons and sensibilities against it, but I’m still in favour of its continued use. It would have been used for the Lindisfarne Gospels, Domesday Book, Magna Carta, Edward I’s Treason Acts, de Heretico Comburendo, Titulus Regius, Richard’s bail laws and Henry VIII’s attainder against the insane Viscountess Rochford.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/12156813/Vellum-should-be-saved-in-a-bid-to-safeguard-our-great-traditions-says-minister.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Act Room, Houses of Parliament

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