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LORD OF THE NORTH

Richard duke of Gloucester: courage, loyalty, lordship and law[1]

 

“ Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality that guarantees all others.”

(Winston Churchill 1931)

 

Introduction

I do not suppose there are many men who in their heart-of-hearts would not rather be thought of as brave than by any other virtue ascribed to them. For medieval kings courage was not simply a virtue, it was the virtue: the physical courage to defend their throne was a prerequisite for a successful king, though not necessarily for a good one. As Field Marshall Lord Slim was apt to point out to young officer cadets at RMA Sandhurst, “It is possible to be both brave and bad, however, you can’t be good without being brave”. Slim was making the point that it needed more than battlefield courage to be a good man. Physical courage is important, especially to kings and soldiers, but it doesn’t guarantee a ‘good man’; to be a good man, one also needs moral courage. It was the possession of physical and moral courage, which Churchill believed guaranteed all the other human virtues.

 

King Richard III was a courageous soldier; even his enemies acknowledge that. However, the question is: was he also good man? Broadly speaking, the judgement of history is that he was at best deeply disturbed and at worst malevolent. It is a judgement based largely on the heinous crimes he is supposed to have committed during a six months period in 1483: the usurpation of the throne and the murders of king Edward’s male heirs. Although Richard is said to have committed or been complicit in many other serious crimes, I think it is fair to say that most historians accept that those allegations are not proven, and in one particular case (the death of Henry VI) it may have been more a question of raison d’état.

 

The trouble with this historical judgement is that it contradicts what Richard’s contemporaries said about him in 1483. Dominic Mancini an Italian priest visiting London during 1482/83 recorded what he was told about Richard duke of Gloucester. He is referring to the period after the duke of Clarence’s execution: “…he (Richard) came very rarely to court. He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people and avoided the jealousy of the queen from whom he lived far apart.[2]

 

Mancini’s testimonial also highlights the incongruity of Richard’s supposed crimes. The contrast between his blameless contemporary reputation and his purported crimes (particularly those after April 1483) perplexes historians; it is a dichotomy they struggle to explain.[3] Most of his critics rationalize it with a good dose of twentieth century cynicism: his good works are disingenuous and his mistakes are evidence of bad character. It is a constant theme of his harshest biographers that his ‘loyalty’ to Edward was feigned; that he was in reality a wicked and ruthless opportunist who was motivated by avarice and ambition. When the chance came, he used his great power — which he had either tricked or bullied from Edward — to usurp the throne and destroy the Yorkist line. It was the Yorkist doom that Edward whether purposely or inadvertently made his brother the most dangerous and the ‘mightiest of over-mighty subjects’.[4] This is, I believe a false and misleading argument, since it rests entirely on their interpretation of chronicles and later Tudor histories that are themselves controversial and of little probative value, being neither contemporary nor impartial. Furthermore, Anne Sutton makes a compelling case for the morality, if not the purity, of Gloucester’s motives, which stands against this modern cynicism.[5] Richard was an extra ordinarily complex human being. We know now that he faced some challenging physical problems and possibly some equally challenging psychological issues.[6] Furthermore, he lived in uncertain times. The circumstances under which he served the king were complex as were the difficulties he had to overcome. Problems of historical interpretation most frequently arise from misguided attempts to simplify his story by overemphasising some facets at the expense of others.[7] It is a defect in Ricardian historiography that cannot be corrected in this article; however, I hope to at least draw attention to the problem as I see it.

 

Inevitably, Richard duke of Gloucester’ was not universally popular: how could he be? His ‘dramatic intrusion into northern society’,[8] coupled with a monopoly of the public offices and the lion’s share of the Neville estates, was bound to ruffle the feathers of those northern magnates and prelates who resented the fact that the king’s largess had not fallen to them, and whose authority and independence were undermined by the presence of an assertive royal duke in northern society. Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, Thomas Lord Stanley and Laurence Booth bishop of Durham disliked him, to name but three: doubtless there were others. Neither do I ignore the possibility that Gloucester possessed human failings typical of active young men throughout the ages; he might have been a little headstrong and impetuous; he was probably also ambitious and possibly even acquisitive. However, these characteristics were no more nor less present in the duke than in any other fifteenth century magnate: certainly not any more than in Henry Percy or the Stanley brothers or any of the Woodvilles, or Margaret Beaufort, John Morton and Henry Tudor; nor indeed was he any more ambitious than any professional historian who aims to do well in his or her chosen discipline. Impetuosity and ambition are not crimes, nor is acquisitiveness. But if he was truly wicked and ruthless and cruel, then nobody who knew him said so at the time. There is a clear distinction to be made between the provenances and the probity of these opposite views of Richard’s character, which affect the weight we should give to each when making a judgement. The favourable opinions were almost all written during his lifetime by northerners who knew him. The unfavourable ones were almost all written after his death by southerners who did not know him personally. Horace Walpole identified the basic problem nearly three hundred years after Richard’s death: “Though he may well have been execrable, as we are told he was, we have little or no reason to suppose he was.[9]

 

It is a matter of historical record that, apart from the last two years, when he was king, Richard duke of Gloucester spent his entire adult life in the king’s service as ‘Lord of the North’. Quite what this meant for him and why it happened are less well appreciated. The term ‘Lord of the North’ embraced not only the duke’s inherited lands in the north and his associated responsibilities as a royal duke and a great magnate, but also a number of official offices held by him concurrently from 1469 until his own coronation in 1483. He was the Lord High Constable of England (1469), Warden of the West March ‘towards Scotland’ (1470), Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster (1471) Keeper of the Forests Beyond Trent and Steward of Ripon (1472) Sheriff of Cumberland (1475) and finally the King’s Lieutenant General of the North (1480 and 1482).[10] The consolidation of Gloucester’s inherited and appointed power was not gratuitous royal patronage. His promotions were acts of calculated policy by Edward. Having twice experienced the threat posed to the crown by the Scots and by his own ‘over mighty subjects’ in the north, Edward determined neutralize those threats by maintaining a truce with James III, and by securing the loyalty of his northern subjects. He wanted Gloucester to lead that vital task for the crown. It was no sinecure but a dirty, difficult and dangerous job, and his responsibility was great, since he was to be Edward’s mainstay in northern England.[11] Gloucester was the ideal man to implement that policy: he was brave, able and devotedly loyalty to Edward. Neither should it be forgotten that if Gloucester succeeded in stabilising the north, it would enable Edward to pursue his regal ambition in France. It is also worth noting, even at this stage, that Gloucester performed his duties so well that he set the standard of excellence for the governance of the north well into the sixteenth century.[12]

 

For all that, we should not exaggerate the scope of his powers or the impact of his achievements. First and foremost, he was only the instrument of his brother’s will. He could not make policy: Edward did that. Furthermore, his powers were constrained by feudal laws, liberties and customs. As a March Warden his military authority was limited to the West March. He did, however, have judicial powers in the West March and in his lands elsewhere by virtue of the king’s special commission as Justice of the Peace ‘es parties des north’. As Dr Rachel Reid points out, although the wardship of the West March was a necessary adjunct to the government of the north, ‘the sign and seal’ of Gloucester’s authority so to speak, and although his commission as a JP empowered him to act in civil and criminal matters, his greatest strength was the authority, power and influence he derived from being the greatest magnate in the region.[13] Gloucester’s estates and official offices gave him unparalleled influence and authority in the north, with the exception of those feudalities wherein the earl of Northumberland was lord; that is to say, in Northumberland and the East Riding of Yorkshire[14]

 

The northern ‘problem’ in retrospect

In the fifteenth century, the northern most counties of Westmorland, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire were important because of their proximity to the Scottish frontier. Anglo-Scottish relations were characterised by invasions and raiding, which had affected both populations for centuries. Cross border reiving and lawlessness was deeply ingrained into the English and Scottish border culture. The society was insular and feudalistic in nature and the hatred between English and Scot was mutual. Important though the Scottish problem was, the troubles in the north went deeper. Fifty-one years after Richard III’s death, Robert Aske summed them up to leading Yorkshire denizens at Pontefract “ The profits of the abbeys suppressed, tenths and first fruits, went out of those (northern) parts. By occasion whereof, within short space of years, there should be no money or treasure in those parts, neither the tenant to have pay his rent to the lord, nor the lord to have money to do the king service withal, for so much of those parts was neither the presence of his grace, execution of his laws, not yet but little recourse of merchandise, so that of necessity the said county should either make terms with the Scots, or of very poverty make commotions or rebellions.”

 

The chief problems identified by Aske of remoteness, poverty and lawlessness were present in the fifteenth century and not just in the North. Wales, the West Country and East Anglia were also remote and lawless, and possibly some were poor. However, none of them formed the frontier to a hostile and aggressive foreign kingdom. It was this that made the northernmost counties uniquely important to the security of the realm. That said, not everybody had to sleep with their weapon to hand for fear of Scottish reiving. For instance, Yorkshire was set back from the border counties, ‘If the Scots crossed the Tees it was not a raid but an invasion’ wrote FW Brooks more than half a century ago. [15] Yorkshire’s importance was that it was the largest and most populace county north of the Trent and it was a base for operations against marauding Scots. This was especially true of York, which during the reigns of the first three Edwards served as the royal capital for a time. The fourteenth century division of the border region into West, Middle and Eastern Marches under the control of the two most powerful Northern families (the Nevilles and the Percies) was seen as the solution to the governance problem. The alternative was for the king to keep a standing army on the border, which for financial and military reasons was impracticable.

 

The joint powers given to the Neville and Percy families proved ultimately not to be the complete solution. By the fifteenth century the north was practically ungovernable from London. This was due in part to the deficiencies highlighted by Aske and especially to the ‘absence of the king’s presence (he means royal authority) and his justice in the north’. But that was not the only problem; the feudal nature of border society contributed to the  troubles of  a region that was sparsely populated and economically poor.[16] The trouble with the fourteenth century solution was not so much in the idea as in its execution. The belief that the two most powerful northern magnates could cooperate to ensure the peace and security of the north was naïve to say the least. Good governance foundered on their feuding during peace and their fighting during the Wars of the Roses. Northern gentry of the second and third rank regarded the wars between York and Lancaster as an extension of the Neville-Percy feud. They supported one side or the other based on ancient feudal loyalties, or an assessment of their own self-interest. Their prime loyalty was not to a distant king but to their feudal overlord, or to some other overlord, who best served their interest.[17]

 

Percy power was destroyed at Towton on Palm Sunday 1461. Despite the heavy losses inflicted on the Lancastrians it was not a complete Yorkist victory. The former king, Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward and a few of their adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge and from whence they continued to oppose Edward IV[18]. Meanwhile, Richard Neville earl of Warwick and his brother John Lord Montagu continued to campaign against Lancastrian dissidents so as to secure Edward’s grip on the throne but mostly to cement their own grip on the north. In 1464, a force of ‘loyal northerners’ led by Montagu destroyed the Lancastrian cause at the battles Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. However, as Keith Dockray astutely points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not necessarily to the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick en block to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north.

 

‘He set out to acquire the loyalty of his people by favours and justice’

It is against that background that I now turn to consider Gloucester performance in the north in the context of the three virtues touched on by Mancini: loyalty, good lordship and justice.  I have added courage to these virtues on the basis that without courage, Gloucester was unlikely to have shown those other virtues .

 

Loyaulté me lie

Mancini’s reference to loyalty is interesting since it is a quality of particular importance to Gloucester. His personal motto was ‘loyaulté me lie’ (loyalty binds me) and it was the creed by which he lived. Mancini is, of course, referring to loyalty in its normal sense of ‘keeping faith’; however, Anne Sutton speculates that it was a word that might possibly have had other, additional, shades of meaning for Gloucester: legality, uprightness, obedience to the law and, maybe, justice. Dr Sutton’s speculation is based on the premise that Gloucester might have been familiar with ‘Piers Ploughman’, a work by William Langland in which loyalty carries those several meanings.[20] It is possible that Gloucester’s motto was subtler than we think, since the nuances of meaning found in ‘Piers Ploughman’ are all consistent with what we know of his character.

 

Whatever Gloucester may have meant by his mottos, it is clear from the contemporaneous records that he laboured hard to safeguard the interests and liberties of ‘his people’. [21] One historian writing in the twentieth century summarised his accomplishments as follows: “ Richard of Gloucester not only restored peace and stability to the north after the upheavals of the 1450s and 1460s but also provided sound government and administration. Frequently working in tandem with Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, he vigorously promoted the cause of impartial justice, whether by enforcing legislation more effectively than hitherto or arbitrating in private disputes[22]; his household council can evidently be regarded as a precursor of the Council of the North; the city of York certainly recognized the value of the duke’s good lordship and support;[23] and Dominic Mancini’s informants clearly left him to believe that Richard had deliberately ’set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice.” [24]

 

‘A right high and mighty prince and full tender and special good lord’[25]

The York Municipal and City Records add substance to the view that the duke of Gloucester was a good friend to York and to other towns in the north. There are many examples of his integrity on the record. They demonstrate his personal interest in local affairs and his integrity in using his influence in a private capacity for the common weal. He settled many disputes between the city council and their fellow citizens, between the city council and neighbouring landowners, between citizens, and between towns, all of which were referred to him for advice, assistance or resolution.[26] I have chosen three representative examples:

  • In 1478 he arbitrated a dispute between Roland Place and Richard Clervaux over hunting rights. Neither Place nor Clervaux was a retainer of the duke, but they lived on his estates in the North Riding. Professor Pollard has helpfully reproduced the arbitration agreement written in English under Gloucester’s name and titles. Pollard notes as an afterthought that the ancestors of Place and Clervaux continued to observe a clause concerning the seating arrangements in the parish church, well into the twentieth century.[27] Gloucester obviously took great care over a dispute that some  might  consider trivial. The rights and privileges of each party are defined in minute detail in the agreement, which was probably drafted by  one of Gloucester’s lawyers, since the language is repetitious and typical of legal documents.
  • At the request of the York City Council, Gloucester took steps to have fishgarths throughout Yorkshire inspected to guard against poaching and to protect the regional economy. It was not a petty matter, since the high prices paid for Pike and other fresh water fish provided a significant income for the fishermen and the city.[28] The erection of fishgarths in Yorkshire was regulated by legislation intended to prevent illegal fishing. The City Council spent much time and money trying to eradicate the problem and they were very grateful to their ‘good lord’, the duke of Gloucester for his interest and efforts to stop the criminality. Nonetheless, it was a perennial problem, which was still being recorded in the council minutes in 1484.
  • He mediated in ‘a serious dispute over the result of the York mayoral election of 1482’.[29] There were two candidates for election: Richard Yorke and Thomas Wrangwyshe. York was elected but Wrangwyshe’s supporters would not accept the vote. The argument assumed ‘alarming proportions’ when the city magistrates sent the certification of Yorke’s election to the king.  When  the king heard of the dispute, he stopped the certification process and ordered the pervious  mayor to continue in office pro tem, whilst the election was investigated. The city magistrates turned to the duke of Gloucester for help; he acted so swiftly that within two weeks he had secured the kings approval to confirm York as the mayor. The interesting point is that Wrangwyshe was considered to be the best soldier in York and stood high in the duke’s estimation, being one of his comrades in arms. Nonetheless, Gloucester upheld the honour and dignity of the city magistrates by supporting what he considered to be their just case against his friend[30].

 

 

‘Good and indifferent justice for all’

For all his good works at a local level, it was in his capacity as the leading magnate in the north that he did his greatest and most enduring service for the north. Although the King’s Council in the North was not officially born until late July 1484, it was conceived from Gloucester personal household council during his tenure as Lord of the North. To understand how and why this came about it is necessary to explain, as briefly as possible, the dysfunctional nature of English justice at the time.

 

The problems for those living north of the Trent were as stated by Aske: ‘the absence of royal authority and of royal justice’. The Assize Judges sat not more than once a year; and anyhow, could only act on a formal indictment, which juries habitually refused to present. The breakdown of the judicial system made enforcement difficult and the work of the sheriff and bailiffs became very hard. Although there were some good judges, many were corrupt and in the pay of great lords. These judges gave judgement as directed by their patrons.  Also, juries were  easily corrupted by fear and favour. “ It was…” writes Dr Reid “…the hardest thing in the world to get a judgement against a great lord or any man well kinned (sic) and allied.[31] JP’s could try cases and punish crime at the Quarter Sessions without the need for an indictment, but the reality was that no ordinary court could cure this widespread and systemic breakdown  of  royal  justice.  Previously, the King’s Council had filled gaps by exercising  its  extraordinary civil and criminal jurisdictions through writs of oyer and terminer, to ‘hear and determine’ all trespasses and breaches of the peace, and all causes between party and party’. However, this usually meant the parties going to London, which was expensive and time-consuming. This defect could easily have been remedied by establishing district courts with the same jurisdiction as the King’s Council. However, for some reason, it was a reform that three Lancastrian kings never even considered.

 

But it was in the realm of civil party and party litigation that the want of justice was felt most acutely. Dr Reid argues that the common law “…had hardened in the hands of professional lawyers into a premature fixity and precision and had become incapable of devising rules to govern the transactions of a changing society”; whereby, ‘the poor were placed at the mercy of the rich’. [32] Furthermore, the common law courts were neither sufficient nor competent to protect peoples’ civil rights, which were recognised by law even in the fifteenth century. The development of the Chancery Court and the courts of equity eased the situation for those who could afford to litigate but did not help the bulk of the population and certainly not those residing north of the Trent. The common law lent itself to abuse by the litigious and the malicious. Consequently, there was hardly a transaction of life that could not be litigated. The delays, the cost and the insularism of the courts denied justice to many people. In the absence of the king’s justice, therefore, the household councils of the great lords became progressively the de facto courts for resolving local disputes.

 

These feudal courts had survived longer in the north due partly to its remoteness but also because they filled the vacuum left by the absence of royal justice. They were able to try a range of cases covering personal actions, contractual disputes, trespass, libel, slander, assault, breach of warranty of title and some defamation cases. Moreover, there was no restriction on them determining cases for which the king’s law had no remedy and even if there was a remedy, these seigneurial court could do justice between the parties by consent. For example, by ordering the specific performance of a contract entered into or by protecting a tenant from unlawful eviction. By the fifteenth century, seigneurial courts were, as a matter of course, also hearing complaints against court officials, appeals against judgement, applications for pardon or respite, bills against fellow tenants, and quarrels between tenants and retainers. Useful though they were in providing rough and ready justice, feudal courts had their drawbacks. First, their jurisdiction was limited to the lord’s domain. A lord might arbitrate between his tenants and retainers but it was quite impossible to interfere between a landlord and his tenant no matter how tyrannical the landlord was, unless he was in some way ‘tied’ to the lord. Second, they could not escape the censure  of the king’s  justices, who said that they ‘sacrificed law and justice for interest and favour.’[33] There is probably some truth in this accusation since the importance of patronage in local society was such that it encouraged the preference of personal interest over the law. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that an appeal to the king’s courts was usually beyond the means of most litigants.

 

Of all the baronial councils offering seigneurial justice, Gloucester’s was the most important.  The records show that the governors of York and Beverley and other towns in Yorkshire were encouraged to turn to it whenever they were in difficulty. This was not simply because he was the greatest magnate but also because his council was the most efficient and impartial. It was constituted from the men of his household council who usually met at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale (which, by the way, he insisted on calling his ‘home’). Their primary function was to help the duke administer his vast estates. However, as we have seen the council quickly assumed a very important judicial role as a seigneurial court of requests. Among Gloucester’s permanent councillors were Lord Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke (Scrope and Greystoke were related to the duke by marriage), Sir Francis Lovell his closest friend and comrade in arms, Sir James Harrington, Sir William Parre, Sir Richard Nele, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalfe. Nele was a King’s Justice of Assize and Metcalfe was the Recorder of York; Parre and Pygott were both practising lawyers ‘learned in the law’. Ad hoc Councillors called occasionally by Gloucester  included Sir James Tyrell (a man of action, used for ‘bold affairs’), Sir Ralph Assheton and (probably) Richard Ratcliffe. The secretary to the Council was John Kendall, son of a loyal servant to the house of York. It was on any view a powerful bench of judges and ‘shrewd men of affairs’. Having said all of that, we must be careful not to overestimate the extent of Gloucester’s achievements. He could neither reform the law to make it more just, nor improve its administration to make justice more accessible. He was unable to alleviate poverty. He was not a liberal reformer and he lived a privileged life that few northerners could even imagine, much less share. And yet he did a wonderful thing; without the need for bloody revolution he made justice more accessible by offering, on a case-by-case basis, “…good and indifferent (that is impartial) justice to all who sought it.“[34]

 

Gloucester demonstrated through his council that he was prepared to remedy an injustice even if he did not have the authority accorded by a strict interpretation of the law; moreover, he was prepared to use his power to enforce a just settlement. The best example of this is his council’s support for custom tenants against bad landlords. In the time of the Lancastrian kings, the judges held that tenants faced with extortionate fines and illegal eviction had no other remedy but to sue the landlord by petition. [35] The common law courts were too rigid and their officials too easily intimidated to be of help. Nevertheless, in 1482, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian declared “that his opinion hath always been and shall ever be, that if such a tenant by custom paying his services be ejected by the lord he shall have action of trespass against him’. Brian CJ may, of course, have been expressing his personal view of the correct law as he saw it, which was in contrast to the accepted legal doctrine and practice of the courts. However, there are grounds for thinking that he might equally have been articulating the practice of Gloucester’s household council, which was to treat an illegal eviction by a landlord as a simple trespass. Although we don’t have a written record of such cases, Littleton in his treatise ‘Tenures’ assures us that they did try them.[36] Frankly, it is inconceivable that the council did not hear many petitions and requests from destitute tenants for relief against tyrannical landlords. If they dealt with them in the same way as the ‘King’s Council in the North’ was subsequently to deal with them after 1484, they must have generally upheld the rights of the tenant who had paid his services against the unjust landlord. If so, “ It is easy to understand how Gloucester won the love of the common people beyond the Trent, which was to stand him in such good stead’[37]

 

Lord High Commissioner

In 1482, on the verge of the invasion of Scotland, Edward made a significant change to the governance of the North. He issued a commission of oyer and terminer to Gloucester and Northumberland as ‘Lord High Commissioners’, which effectively combined their household councils. The composition of the Commission is interesting since it included not only Gloucester and Northumberland but also some significant members of their respective councils augmented by two important judicial appointments. However, there is no gainsaying that the bulk of its membership came from men associated with Gloucester’s council. Sir John Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke, Sir Francis Lovell, Sir Richard Nele, Sir William Parre, Sir James Harrington, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalf were all either legal or lay members of Gloucester’s council; of the remainder, Sir Guy Fairfax (an Assize Judge on the Northern Circuit) and (possibly) John Catesby were associated with Northumberland. The relationship of Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian and Sir Richard Clarke to either of the Lord High Commissioners is unclear. The significance of this change is that it turned the essentially private function of seigneurial courts into the king’s justice  in criminal and party and party litigation.

 

Officially, the commissioners were the king’s servants and in the absence of the duke and the earl who were off fighting the Scots, the remaining members  took steps to enforce  the kings justice.   Their success in repressing rioting that might otherwise lead to insurrection was such that it served to highlight the continuing and endemic lawlessness, which was partly due to a lack of royal authority and partly to the deficiencies in the law to which I have already referred. They also examined and arbitrated effectively in party and party disputes. This commission was valuable experience for the duke of Gloucester since it served as a model for his futuristic ‘King’s Council of the North’ and the basis upon which he reorganised the governance of the north once he became king. It is a fact that no permanent commission designed to keep the peace and provide party and party justice for northern England was set up during the reign of Edward IV and that “the credit for this most necessary reform belongs wholly to Richard III ”[38]

 

The King’s Council in the North

When Gloucester came to the throne in 1483 he had considerable practical experience of governing in the north and the provision of  justice for all; however, he did not begin immediately to formalise the work of his council. The reasons for this may seem obvious; he was busy dealing with the aftermath of Buckingham’s rebellion and ratifying his title in parliament. It is also possible that he intended to follow the precedent set by Edward IV in 1472 and set up his young son Edward Prince of Wales as the King’s Lieutenant in the North with a council to govern in his name.[39] If that was Richard’s hope, it was to be dashed. Edward Prince of Wales died in April 1484 “not far off Edward’s anniversary.” [40] It was a loss that shook king Richard as nothing else could and for a time he and Anne were almost out of their minds with grief.[41] However, Richard was king and duty-bound to turn his mind to affairs of state.

 

He decided to make some fundamental change to governance in the north. First, he separated Yorkshire administratively from the border Marches.  The earl of Northumberland was appointed as Warden in Chief of the Marches and granted several estates in Cumberland, which made him the  dominant border lord.  It was his reward for acquiescence in Richard’s accession. Next, Richard appointed John De La Pole, earl of Lincoln as the King’s Lieutenant (he had already been nominated as heir to the throne). [42]The king createdThe King’s  Council of the North from his former ducal  council and Lincoln was its first President.  Northumberland was appointed a member of the Council but was clearly subordinate to Lincoln (It was a downgrading that the proud Northumberland took hard, which may explain his treachery at Bosworth a year later.). To make these changes lawful, king Richard issued two permanent commissions: one authorising the Council to sit as Justices of the Peace, the other of oyer and terminer. With these in place, the council had full civil and criminal jurisdictions and was fit to dispense the king’s justice. Richard allocated an annual budget of 2000 marks for the maintenance of the Council, which was to be paid from the income of his northern estates.[43] The council chamber was moved from Middleham to Sandal and regulations drawn up for the council’s conduct, especially, its judicial function. In particular the regulations directed that the Council must sit at least four times a year. The preamble to these regulations captures Richard’s attitude to justice perfectly “…the Regulations as they are here called, proceed to give general directions that no member of the council, for favour, affection, hate, malice or meed (a bribe) do ne speak (sic) in the Council, otherwise than the King’s laws and good conscience shall require but shall be impartial in all things, and that if any matter comes before the Council in which one of its members is interested, that member shall retire.” [44] There is no need to discuss the detailed regulations since Richard’s respect for the law of the land is clear from the above quote.

 

It is helpful, however, to briefly mention one important case that came before the Council, which illustrates how Richard thought the legal process should work. In 1484 there was a riot in York that arose from the enclosure of some common land. Roger Layton and two other men ‘riotously destroyed the enclosure’. After some careful thought the Mayor and Council arrested and imprisoned the ringleaders, and sent their man to learn the king’s pleasure. The matter came before the king’s Secretary and Comptroller, Sir Robert Percy[45]; at the same time Lincoln, then at Sandal was informed. A week later Sir Robert arrived at York with a message from the king. The king was willing that the citizens should enjoy their common pasture; however, he reprimanded them for seeking to recover their rights by a riotous assembly, instead of putting their case to the Mayor and Council. If they failed to get justice there, they should have referred the matter to the King’s Council of the North. And if they failed to get lawful redress there they could lay the case before the king. This message was  a clear indication that the King’s Council in the North was to be a court of first instance. Matters were only laid before the King’s Council of State if the King’s Council of the North failed to do justice.  The Council remained throughout its existence, pretty much as it was in 1484 “ Neither its jurisdiction nor its procedures underwent any serious modification. Such changes as came, were just the changes of time.” [46]  In 1640, the Long Parliament abolished the King’s Council in the North.

 

Courage

This article is not really about Gloucester’s governance of the north, or the state of English justice in the second half of the fifteenth century; it is about moral courage. The type of courage described by General Sir Peter de la Billiére in his introduction to ‘The Anatomy of Courage’ by Charles Moran: “Moral courage is higher and rarer in quality than physical courage. It embraces all courage and physical courage flows from it…it is applicable to business, in law, within institutions such as schools and hospitals. It takes moral courage to stand up against a crowd, to assist a victim of bullying, or to reveal negligence where others would prefer it to remain hidden. Moral courage implies the belief that what you are doing or saying is right, and are willing to follow through your conviction regardless of personal popularity or favour: so easy to expound, so demanding to achieve. In my experience a person of high moral courage will seldom fail to demonstrate an equally distinguished level of physical courage”.

 

The reality is that Richard’s valour in battle, whilst admirable, is not enough to save him from the accusation that he was a bad man. To be given the benefit of the doubt, it is necessary to demonstrate his goodness, with examples of his moral courage and acts of kindness, justice and mercy. That is what I have tried to do in this essay. The examples of Richard’s governance to which I have referred, are merely illustrations of what I regard as his high moral courage. They demonstrate not merely his potential for goodness, but that those who lived under his governance for more than a decade thought he was a good lord.  It is not, of course, a defence against the accusations of, regicide, infanticide, incest and usurpation levelled against him; but then, it can be argued that  an active defence is hardly necessary anyway, since those accusations are only the result of  gossip, rumour and hearsay.

 

[1] I have taken the liberty of borrowing the idea for this title from the book ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ (PW Hammond (Ed) (R3 and Yorkist History Trust i 1986). It is an excellent volume containing a number of erudite papers presented at a symposium to mark the quincentenary of king Richard III’s reign.

[2] CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard the Third by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) p.65. There is a risk in inferring too much from a single source, especially as Mancini’s narrative is hearsay. Nevertheless, I am using it here for good reasons. First, Mancini provides a truly  contemporary assessment of Richard’s character (See Charles Ross–Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p. Lvii, for an opinion on the importance of Mancini’s narrative.). Second, Mancini was no friend of Richard’s; he never met or even saw him. What he knew of Richard’s character he heard from others. Third, given Mancini’s animus towards Richard (He assumed that Richard aimed to seize the throne all along.), this unsolicited testimonial suggests there was truth in his good reputation. Finally, there is contemporary, and independent evidence that corroborates this passage.

[3] Ross (R3) pp. Lxvi and 64: professor Ross acknowledges the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ (in deciding when and why Richard decided to assume the crown) and assures us that modern (20th century) historians ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s character and motives “ …from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” He further argues that they have a more critical appreciation of the worth of the Tudor tradition, ” …and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.” It is not clear quite how closely the events are scrutinised by modern historians given the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ already alluded to. Furthermore, the near contemporary material cannot corroborate the Tudor tradition since they are one and the same thing. Corroboration means evidence independently confirmed by other witnesses. The so-called ‘Tudor tradition’ is no more that an uncritical résumé of the earlier post Richard material and repeats their mistakes.

[4] Ross (E4) pp.199-203; Ross (R3) p.26; Hicks pp.83-86; Anthony Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books 1997 edition) pp.83-85; professor Hicks’ angst about Gloucester’s wickedness is so great that he couldn’t resist the following comment: “He was not a great soldier, general or chivalric hero, not a peacemaker, not even a northerner. The great estates he assembled, the north he united and the local tradition he fostered all resulted from a judicious mixture of violence, chicanery and self publicity” (p.85). Gloucester’s ‘dispute’ with Clarence over the Neville inheritance; his behaviour towards the dowager countess of Oxford whilst she was committed to his ‘keeping and rule’, his part in the trial and attainder  of Clarence and his preference for war against France are all cited as examples of his grasping, malicious  and violent  character. The trouble with this opinion is that its validity depends on accusations made after Bosworth by people with an axe to grind and at a time when it suited the Tudors to embroider his shortcomings for their own advantage. For a different opinion see Kendall pp.127-150. It is noteworthy that professor Kendall disregarded the Tudor myth, relying instead on contemporary source material to support his generally favourable interpretation of Gloucester’s behaviour as a duke.

[5] Anne F Sutton – A curious Searcher for our Weal Public: Richard III, piety, chivalry and the concept of the good prince’, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ pp.58-90. Ms Sutton’s essay provides an evidenced and balanced view of Richard as a good prince within the medieval context.

[6] Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon – Richard III: a psychological portrait (Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) pp.46-56. Professor Lansdale and Dr Boon offer a number of plausible hypotheses that might explain Richard’s behaviour. Although their professional opinions are necessarily speculative, they do not in my opinion go beyond what might be inferred from the available evidence.

[7] It is interesting (I put it no higher) to analyse the main biographies of Richard written in the last one hundred and fifty years. James Gairdner’s biography (1878) contains 332 pages, of which 52 relate to Richard’s life as duke of Gloucester; the remainder analyse Richard’s reign and the controversies surrounding it. Clement Markham wrote a biography (1898) in direct response to Gairdner’s work. Of its 327 pages, 42 deal with the period 1470-83. Paul Kendall’s biography (1955) is generally positive for Ricardians. Of its 393 pages (excluding appendices and notes), 152 are devoted to Richard as a duke, of those 49 are specifically about his time in the north. Charles Ross’ biography (1999) is — for the want of something better — considered to be the standard work on Richard’s life and reign. It contains 232 pages, of which 39 are devoted to Richard as a royal duke: including 20 pages as ‘Lord of the North’. Finally, Michael Hicks’ biography (2000 revised edition) analyses Richard’s actions in the context of a criminal trial in which Hicks’ prosecutes, defends, and is judge and jury. It contains 199 pages, the story of Richard’s life before April 1483 being compressed into 31 of them. My analysis is, of course, academic since it does no more than suggest that quantitatively, the first thirty years of Richard’s life get significantly less attention than the last two; it does not examine the reason for that. Nevertheless, it suggests to me that Ricardian studies may benefit from a new scholarly biography of Richard’s life and reign. Hopefully, it would be one that emulates in its breadth, thoroughness and objectivity Cora Scofield’s definitive account of Edward IV’s life and reign (including all that ‘merciless detail’ that professor Hicks found so tiresome), and Professor Ralph Griffiths’ equally comprehensive and objective biography of Henry VI. I live more in hope than expectation.

[8] Pollard (R3) p71-73

[9] Horace Walpole – Historic doubts on the life and reign of King Richard III (1768)

[10] Ross (R3) pp.24-26; Keith Dockray – Richard III: a source book (Sutton 1997) pp.32-33.

[11] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimis Imprimatur 2015) pp. 23-26 and 61 contains a guide to the office of constable of England and Gloucester’s chivalric, martial and judicial powers. The duchy of Lancaster had held palatine status since 1351 and was independent of royal authority. Its lands in the north were vast and its power great; so much so that the Lancastrian kings retained the title of duke of Lancaster to themselves to prevent diminution of royal authority. On ascending the throne, Edward IV held the dukedom in abeyance but reserved to himself its authority, benefits and responsibilities. As Chief Steward of the duchy, Gloucester was the chairman of the council appointed by the king to administer the duchy territories.

[12] Paul Kendall – Richard III (George Allen & Unwin 1955) pp. 129,456 note 7 (citing Letters and papers of the reign of Henry VIII by JS Brewer, London 1864-76, 1, 2, pp.1054, 1260). Lord Dacre, Warden of the West March complained to Wolsey that he shouldn’t be expected to match the accomplishments of Richard duke of Gloucester. Predictably, he was told that he must provide the same standard of effective governance as the duke.

[13] Rachel Reid – The King’s Council in the North (Longman Green & Co 1921) p.27 et al

[14] Ross (E4) p.199; professor Ross argues that that it is not true that Northumberland was placed under Gloucester’s ‘supervisory authority’ as suggested by Cora Scofield and Paul Kendall. He relies on the indentures made between the duke and the earl in 1473 and 1474, which did indeed separate their authority. On his interpretation of those indentures any subordination was a private matter and not official, and the earl’s freedom of action was assured. Unfortunately, professor Ross (not for the first time) fails to read between the lines to understand what was really happening. There was indeed some early friction between the duke and the earl, arising from Northumberland’s resentment that Gloucester had inherited the Neville mantle and was an obvious threat to Percy hegemony and independence in the north. The indenture of 28 July 1474 (Dockray [sources] p. 34) was intended to calm the situation by confirming their relationship as being that of a ‘good lord’ and his ‘faithful servant’, which was the conventional arrangement, since a royal duke trumped a belted earl in status. However, the caveat inserted into the indenture that Gloucester would not to interfere with Northumberland’s duties as warden of the east and middle marches or poach his servants, was a sensible recognition of the feudal reality and a concession to the touchy earl (see Dockray [sources] p.35 for evidence of Northumberland’s touchiness). The Percy’s were notorious trimmers; they had fought against a Lancastrian king at the turn of the fifteenth century and for a Lancastrian king during the Wars of the Roses. Although their power was effectively destroyed at Towton, they played a major and distinctly treacherous part in the northern rebellions of the early 1460’s. Although, Edward never forgot their treachery, he needed Percy assistance during the 1470’s and was keen not to upset them: Gloucester obviously concurred. There can be little doubt that the indentures were a fiction to preserve Northumberland’s pride. In reality he had less influence in the north than Gloucester. Significantly, Edward was quick to clarify his brother’s supreme authority by appointing him the king’s Lieutenant General in the North when he decided to invade Scotland: not once but twice. By 1482 Gloucester was endowed with what amounted to quasi-royal authority to conduct the war (or peace) with Scotland.

[15] FW Brooks – The Council of the North (Historical Association 1953, revised edition 1966) p.6

[16] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess).

[17] Brooks p.10

[18] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[19] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small entourage when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[20] Sutton (R3, piety etc.) p.62

[21] Robert Davies – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London, 1843); and the York Civic Records, supra; Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 14, pp. 412 & 425; Washington DC, Library of Congress, Thatcher 1004 (a letter from Gloucester to Sir Robert Claxton, 12 August 1480, which is reproduced in Pollard (R3) p.237) and Mancini supra

[22] Calendar Patent Rolls Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III -1476-85, p.339; T Stapleton (Ed) Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Soc 1839) pp.31-33 & 40 and A Raine (Ed) – York Civic Records (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series 1939) Vol 1, PP.2-3.

[23] YCR pp.15-16, 51-52 & 54

[24] Dockray (R3 sources) pp. 30, 34-37

[25] Davies p.89; this is a quote from a letter from the York City Council to the duke of Gloucester.

[26] Reid p.58; Davies passim

[27] Pollard (R3) pp.231-32, and Appendix 1, pp.234-236. The original arbitration agreement is in North Riding County Record Office, Clervaux Cartulary, ZQH.

[28] Davies pp.80-95; the cost of Pike ranged from 10s.3d to 11s.3d ‘a piece’ old money, which equates to about 52-62p today.

[29] Kendall pp135-37; see also Davies pp140-41

[30] Dorothy Mitchell – Richard III and York (Silver Boar 1987) p.27; Alderman Thomas Wrangwyshe was a colourful character indeed. Aged about forty-five in 1482. He commanded a company of archers in Gloucester’s Scottish campaigns. In 1483 he personally led 300 men from York to be at the king’s side during Buckingham’s rebellion. He was a rough diamond, with a distinctly ‘Ricardian’ sense of justice. In one case in January 1485, when he was the Mayor, he sent a man to the gaol for being cruel to another man, who was, in the stocks. The sergeants were escorting the prisoner to the city gaol, when a ‘large group of his heavily armed friends’ tried to release him. Wrangwyshe, hearing the violent affray, stormed into the street and settled the fight with his fists; thereafter he grabbed the prisoner in ‘his strong hands’ and  dragged him off to the gaol. Wrangwyshe was a  formidable fighter in and out of the council chamber and seems to have won Gloucester’s friendship.

[31] Reid p.47

[32] Reid p.48

[33] Reid p.54

[34] Reid p.58: the sub-heading for this section is paraphrased from a sentence in Dr Reid’s work on the council of the north, which reads as follows “Richard did not reserve his favour for the victims of economic change. In his Council he offered good and indifferent justice to all who sought it, were they rich or poor, gentle or simple”.

[35] There was an upsurge in unfair fines and illegal evictions due to economic factors on the continent, which was driving-up the price of wool and hides (the North’s most marketable commodity). As a consequence, the value of pastureland increased. Tenants who held manor lands by feudal custom were liable to have their land enclosed by ruthless landlords intent on turning arable land or rough common land into valuable pasture.

[36] Reid pp. 57-58 citing Sir Thomas de Littleton- Tenures (published 1482) (1841 edition) Sec 77; Brian CJ’s dictum was incorporated into the 1530 edition of Littleton. Sir Thomas de Littleton (1407-1481) was an English judge and jurist. His treatise on ‘tenure’ was the standard legal textbook on the law of property until the nineteenth century.

[37] Reid, ibid

[38] Reid p.59

[39] Reid pp.59-61

[40] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.171

[41] Pronay; ibid

[42] Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond (Eds) – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1982), Vol 3, pp. 107-08 [f264b]. The Commission creating the Council and appointing the earl of Lincoln as its first president is undated. However, Lincoln was at the time Richard’s heir and so the Commission must have been signed after the death of the Prince of Wales, probably around the 24 July 1484.

[43] Harleian MS433, Vol 3, pp. 114-117 [f 270]); see also Reid pp. 58-70 for a detailed appreciation of Richard’s regulations governing the council’s conduct.

[44] Harleian MS433, ibid; I think there may be  a double negative in Richard’s regulations.

[45] Mitchell p.30; Sir Robert Percy (not a member of the Northumberland Percies) was king Richard’s closest personal friend after Francis Lovell; the three had trained together at Middleham. Faithful to the end, he died fighting beside his king in the final charge at Bosworth. Percy’s son was attainted after the battle of Stoke in 1487.

[46] Reid p.62

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TREASON 3 – The Long Parliament 1649

Introduction

“ The scaffold was hung round with black, and the floor covered with black, and the axe and block (were) laid in the middle of the scaffold. There were divers companies of Foot and Horse on every side of the scaffold, and the multitude of people that came to be spectators were very great.”[1] The soldiers and the civilian spectators were present in Whitehall on a bitterly cold 30 January 1649 to witness the execution for treason of Charles I their lawful king. It remains an event unparalleled in British history.

 

The execution was delayed whilst the Dutch envoy made a last minute effort to get Charles reprieved. It was a hopeless cause as the House of Commons were determined that the law should take its course. Eventually, at about 2pm, the king stepped out from the Banqueting Hall onto the scaffold in Whitehall. He was wearing two shirts so that he did not shiver in the cold, which might otherwise be taken by the multitude for fear. His bearing was dignified and calm, and after commenting on the low height of the block he addressed his last remarks to those on the scaffold, it being pointless to address the multitude since they would not hear him. He regretted nothing except the death of his friend and advisor Thomas Wentworth earl of Strafford at the hands of Parliament. “ I only say this” he said, “that an unjust sentence I suffered to take effect is punished by an unjust sentence on me”. He said he was blameless of wrongdoing and charged parliament with causing the civil wars. He also made reference to the law of the land and his efforts to uphold his subjects’ rights and privileges under the law. Finally, he forgave his enemies and made his peace with God. He showed no remorse for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people from all three of his kingdoms in the civil wars [2]; nor did he repent his own conduct: “Then the king took off his cloak and his George giving his George to Dr Juxon [sic][3] saying ‘remember’ (it is thought for the Prince) and some other small ceremonies [were] past. After which the king stooping down laid his head upon the block. And after a little pause, stretching forth his hands, the Executioner at one blow severed his head from his body.[4]

 

His grim task completed, the executioner picked-up the king’s head and showed it to the crowd. The silence was deafening.[5] What is also remarkable is that the trial and the execution were uninterrupted by those whom it was subsequently claimed were utterly opposed to the proceedings. “It was as if the country had failed to catch-up with events at Westminster: they heard of them unfolding, in a sort of awe. When the shock wore off it would be different. But on Tuesday 30 January 1649 the shops remained open, the public went about its business, the king was not immediately missed.”[6]

 

At first sight, this trial has little in common with my two previous articles about the law of medieval treason and the constitution [7]. In the Merciless Parliament of 1388 (my first essay posted 19 May 2016) and the Parliament of Devils in 1459, (my second essay posted 20 May 2016) the law of treason was clear, as was the jurisdiction of the House of Lords to try traitors. Whilst I would not claim that either of those trials met modern standards of due process, the legal procedures complied with the law as it was known and understood at the time.[8] The circumstances in 1649, however, were completely different. The law of treason as it applied to the king’s subjects did not apply to the king [9]. He was the source of justice and could not be tried by his subjects for anything; nor was there a tribunal fit to try him. Magna Carta protected all freemen (and free women) from judgement except by their peers or the law of the land. [10] The king was peerless.

 

 

 

Despite these differences I have chosen this trial as the subject of my third (and last) essay on the theme of medieval treason for reasons, which I believe are compelling. First, notwithstanding their differences, there are also similarities between the events of 1388, 1459 and 1649, which are worth exploring. All the trials took place against a background of political and social unrest, and considerable criticism of the king’s performance. And they all had as an undercurrent to the proceedings a power struggle between the king and his parliament for constitutional sovereignty. The trial of 1649 and its consequence marked an important development in the ultimate resolution of that conflict. Second, this trial is legally significant because it marks the early evolution of the law from a medieval definition of treason as being purely against the monarchy, to a modern concept of treason (could be by a head of state) against a nation.

 

The Long Parliament

To understand what happened in England during January 1649 it is necessary to delve a little into the surrounding circumstances and into the nature of the king and the parliamentarians who opposed him. The Long Parliament is justly famous, not for its longevity, controversy or drama but because a ‘rump’ of its members instigated and oversaw the trial and the execution of king Charles I.[11] It was summoned following a period of eleven years during which the king ruled by his royal prerogative, without parliament. He had little time for parliament; he summoned five during his reign, in 1625,1626,1628 and twice in1640, and he quarreled with them all He only summoned parliament when he needed money; it was to him nothing more than a useful revenue stream. He suffered, their debates about the conduct of state affairs and the administration of the realm because he was gracious, but he ignored the outcomes because, strictly speaking, such matters were none of parliament’s concern. In 1629, frustrated by parliament’s attempt to curtail his prerogative,[12] Charles dissolved it, expressing the hope that he never had to summon another.

 

His personal rule was characterized by policies and actions his subjects bitterly resented. He imposed unlawful taxation and forced loans thereby undermining ancient laws of property and possessions. He imprisoned without trial and often without charge those who refused to pay, or objected to paying and he suborned the judiciary to find in his favour in litigation. Worst of all, he took money to assist catholic Spain in their war against the protestant Dutch, a policy that was anathema to the protestant English. On top of all that, he was at war with his Scottish protestant subjects; a war, which he wanted his English protestant subjects to pay for with their blood and their money.

 

By the spring of 1640, Charles’ impecuniosity compelled him to summon parliament for the purpose of voting him a subsidy sufficient for him to raise an English army to crush the Scots. The ‘Short Parliament’ (as it became known) lasted for three weeks. Charles dissolved it as soon as he realized the Commons would not vote him a farthing in subsidy until he addressed their grievances arising from his unparliamentarily practices. The peremptory dissolution of the Short Parliament did not solve Charles’ problem; the royal exchequer still lacked the means to pay for his war plans. By November 1640, Charles was compelled once more to ask parliament for money. It didn’t need a genius to foresee that parliament were unlikely to vote a subsidy until he satisfied their grievances on the two burning issues of the day: the demand for a new constitutional settlement, and religious reform.

 

On the constitutional issue, parliament was united in their resolve to bring the king to account for his despotic personal rule and to remedy its adverse consequences. First and foremost, they punished those whom they thought most culpable for the misgovernment of the previous eleven years. They also passed practical legislation to ensure that such misrule could not re-occur. For example, they passed an Act prohibiting the dissolution of parliament without its consent, and the Triennial Act, which made it obligatory for parliament to be summoned at least once every three years. The principle of no taxation without parliamentary consent (no taxation without representation) was established and the prerogative courts were abolished. [13] The king assented to these and other measures through gritted teeth; he had every intention of reneging on them as soon as he had restored his authority. Indeed he had already said that he would never consent to the curtailment of his prerogative. According to his version of English law, anything granted by the king under compulsion was null and void. [14]

 

The issue of religious reform was problematic because parliament was divided. Not only did the two Houses of parliament disagree with each other but the House of Commons was itself divided along sectarian lines. King Charles was the first English king to be born and raised in the traditional Anglican Church. Unlike his father James I, or his English cousin Elizabeth I both of whom managed to govern the church without being ‘of the church’, Charles was a lay member of its congregation. [15] Moreover, it suited his sense of orderliness and duty to bring the one true Church to all his subjects so that everybody could worship from the same prayer book and in the same way. It so happened that in William Laud, he had an archbishop of Canterbury whose vision for the Anglican Church exactly matched his own. Charles’ great mistake, however, was to believe that the protestant communion in England was settled. In point of fact, it was divided by its own deliberately vague doctrine. [16]

 

Laud reintroduced ornamental art into parish churches, stained glass windows, crosses and even crucifixes. He gloried in religious music and put back the church organs. He raised the holy table on a pedestal and called it an altar. And he used the bishops’ secular powers in the king’s prerogative courts to suppress puritanism and enforce conformity. [17] These were all reforms guaranteed to alienate the puritans in the House of Commons and which, together with the king’s friendly policy towards Spain and his toleration of the Mass at court (for love of his French wife it must be said), raised more widespread fears — whether rationale or irrational — of a return to the Roman Church.[18]

 

However, it was the Commons’ motion to exclude bishops from the Lords and to remove their temporal powers that bought the dispute between the two Houses to the fore. Not unnaturally, the Lords being largely old-school Anglicans rejected this attack on the Episcopal Church. It was a dispute that was bound to occur sooner or later given the religious differences; however, the Lord’s rejection of the motion provoked the Commons to publish a declaration that the Church and the Holy service must comply with the law of the land. It was notice of a return to more austere puritan worship and a clear warning that the ‘elected’ House of Commons was not only ready willing and able to challenge the royal prerogative but was also prepared to encroach on the authority of the Lords.

 

The crisis came over the Christmas period 1641. The House of Commons published the ‘Grand Remonstrance’, which was a list of grievances against the king and a damning indictment of his misgovernment. Notwithstanding its constitutional importance, the Grand Remonstrance only succeeded in making things worse. The political and religious differences had become a struggle for power and increased the likelihood of war. A few days after Christmas, the balance of power tipped against the king. His puritan opponents gained a majority in the Common Council of London, which was followed by the Lord’s unexpected agreement to a petition allowing the Commons to impeach the bench of bishops en block. These, two incidents together with a supposed threat by the Commons to impeach the queen, so enraged Charles that he made a catastrophic mistake. He attempted a military coup d’état by forcing his way into the House of Commons with four hundred soldiers to arrest and impeach five of its members (Francis Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Sir Arthur Hesilrige and William Strode). The coup failed because the MPs were warned and had already left the building. The descent to war was now rapid. By the 10 January the king left his capital to prepare for what was to come. He did  not to see London again until 1648, when the Army bought him thither as a prisoner to await his trial.

 

The king’s dictatorial rule, his feeble and unpopular foreign policy and his religious reforms, none of which matched the sentiments of the English people were all factors that triggered civil war; though they were not the basic cause of the wars. The civil wars were fought for the sovereignty of England. It was an ancient struggle between king and parliament that had afflicted England for centuries. I believe this is what Samuel Gardiner was referring to when the blamed the inevitability of the civil war on the “… inadequacy of the intellectual methods of the day to effect a reconciliation between opposing moral and social forces, which developed their strength from the past development of the nation”.[19] Generally speaking, the Plantagenet and Tudor monarchs had managed their relationship with parliament pragmatically so as to avoid an open breach. But, by the last decade of the sixteenth century that relationship was breaking down as national and international political institutions evolved from medieval to modern paradigms. An open and a revolutionary conflict between king and parliament was inevitable: by 1640, it was probably overdue. Nevertheless, It would be wrong to think that Charles’ trial and execution were the inevitable outcome of the civil wars or that he was the victim of circumstances beyond his control. As Dame Veronica Wedgwood forcefully pointed out, he was directly responsible for his own downfall.[20] Ultimately his deceitful behaviour, his wanton disregard for the lives of ordinary people and his false views on the nature of kingship so antagonized his subjects and threatened the peace that his destruction was probably unavoidable.

 

God’s vice-regent

The most high and sacred order of kings is of divine right, being the ordinance of God himself, founded in the prime laws of nature, and clearly established by express texts both of the Old and New Testaments. A supreme power is given to this most excellent order by God himself in the Scriptures, which is, that kings should rule and command in their several dominions all persons of what rank and state soever… For any person to bear arms against their kings, offensive or defensive, upon any pretence whatsoever, is at least to resist the powers that are ordained by God…” [21] This quote is from the first Canon of the Book Canons 1640. It represents the Anglican Church’s considered theory of kingship. The convocation of divines, which deliberated between April and May 1640, published this canon and directed that it must be read out quarterly to every congregation, at morning prayers. It was a view of kingship that coincided with Charles’ own. He genuinely believed that God ordained him to rule over his subjects and that he was empowered with an absolute prerogative to do as he thought best for his subjects regardless of their sentiments or the outcome. This much is borne out by his modification to the traditional coronation oath, whereby he swore only to preserve the liberties of his subjects insofar as they were consistent with this prerogative. Later, he would hold himself “blameless of all actions of whatever kind which aimed at restoring his power and saving his people from the consequences of their folly.”

 

Charles was also an inflexible man. He once said ‘he could not defend a bad nor yield a good cause’. Veronica Wedgewood explains: “ …when he thought a cause was good he would not yield, and by ‘not yielding’ he did not mean he would yield on sufficient persuasion, or the day after tomorrow, or the year after next; he meant he would not yield.[22] He had, what Wedgwood calls, a ‘total capacity for resistance’. This is seen clearly in a letter he wrote to Prince Rupert in 1645. After the battle of Naseby Charles faced certain defeat; his nephew Prince Rupert wrote advising him to treat for peace. His reply was unequivocal “ If I had any other quarrel but the defence of my religion, crown and friends, you had full reason for your advice. For I confess that speaking either as to mere soldier or statesman, I must say there is no probability but my ruin. But as to Christian, I must tell you that God will not suffer rebels to prosper, or His cause to be overthrown; and whatever personal punishment it shall please Him to inflict on me must not make me repine, much less to give over this quarrel…I must avow to all my friends, that he that will stay with me at this time must expect and resolve to either die for a good cause, or, which is worse, to live as miserable in the maintaining it as the violence of insulting rebels can make him.[23].

 

We might admire Charles for having the courage of this convictions, were it not for the fact that his “extreme firmness of purpose (was) matched by an exceptional infirmity of judgement.”’[24] He was not just risking his own life, but also the lives of his subjects.   His conduct of state affairs was lamentable and his failure to understand this did not inspire their love or even affection. It is true that after the war people pitied him; but that it is not to be confused with love and devotion. In truth, ordinary people did not know him. He was by nature reserved and formal: one might even say aloof. He did not have that easy relationship with people that his father and his son enjoyed. He knew little and seemed to care less about the lives of his subjects or the state of his realm. He travelled infrequently and then not very far. His knowledge of the outside world was limited to what he was told by his narrow circle of court favourites and sycophants. Not only that, but he was untrustworthy, as J P Kenyon writes, “…it was one of (Charles’) less endearing traits that in the execution of his public duties he did not consider himself bound by the rules of honour that governed his conduct as a private gentleman…this double standard made it impossible to trust him except when self-interest ensured his fidelity.”[25]

 

The world turned upside-down

The civil wars changed everything, yet nothing actually changed; that is the paradox of these times. The fighting and the breakdown of normal government saw a drift towards anarchy and the founding of radical groups such as the Levellers, Diggers, Ranters and so on. These were groups of ordinary people who rejected the status quo ante bellum and held revolutionary ideas about democracy, republicanism and communism. The rise of these sectaries, though revolutionary at the time, changed nothing since the long-term beneficiaries of the civil wars were the royalists and the propertied classes, who in 1660 rejected almost all the social, constitutional and political ideas thrown-up in the previous eighteen years. Moreover, although these new ideas and their supporting groups caused a deep rift in the English Puritan ranks and tended to dominate the debate about what to do next, they did not themselves affect the king’s fate. Charles’ downfall was bought about by two factors outside his opponents control: one was old, the other new. His treachery was common knowledge; it is the reason why a constitutional settlement could not be agreed. This was not a new factor; it could have been anticipated. However, the emergence of the New Model Army as the most powerful military and political force in the three kingdoms was a new and decisive factor in the eventual outcome.

 

On the 5 May 1646, shortly after the defeat of his last field army, Charles arrived, not unexpectedly, at the Scottish bivouac in Southwell [26]. The decision to give himself-up was not an acknowledgment of defeat but a calculated ploy to sow doubt and suspicion between the English and Scots [27]. He hoped that at best he might be able to draw the Scots onto his side and at worst the English would suspect the Scots of concluding a separate peace. Charles was not of course negotiating genuinely with the Scots. He would never sign the covenant but thought there was no harm in pretending he might. “ For [Charles] politics was a matter of surface diplomacy and winning help from his fellow sovereigns abroad, of dividing Presbyterian and Independent, of Scots from English by bribes of power and favour.[28]

 

He knew that his best hope lay in exploiting the current and emerging rifts in the enemy camp. Meanwhile, he needed time for his other plans to mature. Charles never abandoned a project simply because a new one was to hand; he wanted to keep the military option in case there was an opportunity to renew the war. [29] Throughout this period he was in contact, sometimes separately often simultaneously, with the French, the Spanish and the Pope for military or financial aid in the civil war. In addition, he wrote to the royalist earl of Montrose, encouraging him continue the fight in Scotland and to James Butler marquis of Ormond about plans to bring an Irish army to mainland Britain.

 

On the 13 July 1646, the Committee of the Two Kingdoms put the first concrete proposals to Charles. The Newcastle Proposition was an attempt to reach a constitutional settlement that secured parliamentary sovereignty, imposed Presbyterianism on the English and the covenant on the king but preserved the monarchy and the existing social order. It was drafted on the premise that the king was beaten and that he knew it, and further that he would accept a compromise for his own good and the peace of the realm.  The committee was wrong. Charles would have rejected their proposition outright were it not for the fact that he needed time for his dissembling to bear fruit; therefore, he prevaricated in the hope that something else would turn-up. He was also wrong; nothing turned up from the Continent or elsewhere.

 

On the 30 January 1647, the Scots, convinced at last that Charles would not sign the Covenant and desperate for cash to pay their army, handed him over to the English for £400,000. There is no disguising the fact that Charles was a captive, albeit a privileged one. He was housed in relative luxury with many servants to maintain his household. Although his freedom of movement was curtailed, he was not held incommunicado, which allowed him to continue sending coded letters and secret correspondence to his fellow conspirators, expressing his intention to renege on any agreement with the English and Scots, and his hope that a foreign army would yet invade his kingdom and restore his authority.

 

Meanwhile, the relationship between the English Parliament and the Army, already frosty, deteriorated further during the spring of 1647. The first civil war coupled with a poor harvest and a recession in trade had dislocated the civil government and almost ruined parliament.   In an attempt to economize they voted to disband that part of the New Model Army not required for service in Ireland, without their arrears of pay.  It was a foolish mistake since the Army, already suspicious that the negotiations with Charles might cost them the fruits of their military victory, became mutinous over the arrears of pay. The New Model Army was unique. It was the most effective fighting force in the three kingdoms but it had, in modern parlance, been radicalized by the Levellers and the other extreme groups among its ranks. Of particular concern to its commanders was the effect of the Leveller’s revolutionary ideas on the Army’s rank and file, who were no more prepared to accept religious despotism than royal tyranny. When ordered by parliament to disband, the soldiers refused. They would obey their officers but not parliament. The situation was dangerous. Fairfax and Cromwell did not agree with the Leveler’s left-wing views but they were faced with military anarchy at the precise moment that it seemed possible the civil war might resume. [30] Perforce, therefore, they backed their soldiers’ demands for restitution of their rights.[31] The trick, which Cromwell carried through  superbly, was to retain the trust and confidence of  the  loyal (but concerned) soldiers whilst weeding-out the Levellers and the mutineers. Thus was he able to return the Army to a condition of discipline and good order, which was just as well in view of what lay ahead.

 

Charles accepted a modified version of the Newcastle Proposition in May 1647, ten months after he first saw it.  The Presbyterians in blissful ignorance of Charles’ true intent to renounce their accord as soon as he could [32] and fearful of the danger posed to them by a belligerent and confident Army declared immediately that the proposals were a ‘fitting basis for an accommodation’.[33] Unfortunately for them, they  were too late. On the 4 June 1647 Cornet George Joyce, on the pretext of securing the artillery train at Oxford and accompanied by five hundred soldiers, rode to Holmby House where the king was and took him into Army custody. It is not clear what Joyce’s orders were and who gave them to him but there is little doubt that both Fairfax and Cromwell realized the importance of securing possession and control of the king’s person [34]. Ten days later the Army published a declaration asserting its right to oppose parliament in defence of its rights. Furthermore, the soldiers, who refused to disband without full satisfaction of their political and financial grievances, bought charges against eleven Members of Parliament, whom they alleged were overthrowing the peoples’ rights and obstructing justice. The soldiers claimed to speak for the people because they were not “…merely mercenary soldiers, brought together by the hopes of pay and the fortunes of war; the peace of our country, our freedom from tyranny, the preservation of due liberty, the administration of judgement and justice, the free course of the laws of the land, the preservation of the king, the privilege of parliament, and the liberty of the subject, were the main things that bought us together.“[35] Nonetheless, the Army’s occupation of London on the 6 August 1647 was an obviously dangerous and illegal interference in the government of the realm. The reasons for taking such drastic action were threefold. First, political necessity: there was a genuine fear (which as it turned out was justified) that the constitutional settlement accepted by parliament would lead to a renewal of the civil war. Second, the Army was probably more representative of the Commons’ constituencies than parliament.[36] Third, London was already in the grip of Presbyterian rioters who had to be pacified.

 

After a futile attempt at reconciliation with parliament, the senior officers in the Army negotiated directly with the king. The ‘Heads of Proposals’ put forward by the Army were ahead of their time. They removed the Crown’s direct authority over parliament and substituted its ‘influence’; they bought the Commons under constituency control and widened the electoral franchise; they provided for biennial parliaments with a maximum length and put the Army directly under parliamentary control. It was entirely foreseeable that the king would reject these terms. In typical ostrich fashion, he convinced himself that the Heads of Proposals were the work of a few ambitious officers and were not supported by the Army at large. [37] By the end of September 1647 it was clear that the king had rejected the Army’s constitutional settlement. Cromwell was now in a difficult position since he still believed it was possible to do business with the king and continued to try and reach a settlement that preserved Charles’ honour but was consistent with a restriction of his prerogative. A rift was now developing between Cromwell and the Army over what to do next. The private soldiers had lost all faith in the king’s sincerity. In October Charles rejected any compromise and withdrew his parole. He had been in further secret negotiations with the Scots, who had changed sides. It was the revelation of the secret correspondence between Charles and the Scots concerning the possibility of a Scottish invasion of England to restore Charles’ throne that convinced Cromwell that the only course now was to deliver the English nation from oppression and slavery. [38] In November the Army proposed a vote of ‘no address’. There would be no more negotiations or even communication with the king [39].   The king responded by trying to escape.

 

By the start of 1648 Charles was a prisoner in the real sense. The involvement of the Scots raised the spectre of civil war, which became reality in the summer. The royalists made common cause with the Scots and the English Presbyterians to invade England in an effort to restore Charles to his throne. It was as well that the New Model’s discipline had been restored because it was England’s only credible defence; fortunately it was enough. Cromwell with a large contingent of the New Model Army routed the duke of Hamilton’s royalist Scottish army at Preston on the 17 August 1648; whilst, Sir Thomas Fairfax with the remainder of the New Model Army defeated royalist risings in Kent and Essex. By the 27 August 1648 the second civil war was over. Thereafter, events moved relatively swiftly to their bloody conclusion

 

Even before hostilities had ended, the Presbyterian majority in parliament repealed the vote of no address and prepared to renew negotiations with Charles. Time was of the essence for them, since they realized that whilst the Army was busy fighting royalists they could not interfere with a Presbyterian settlement. It was the Treaty of Newport that bought the Presbyterians down and sealed the king’s fate. [40] Parliament ignored the Army’s remonstrance and continued ‘lenient’ negotiations with the king.   On the 5 December they repudiated the actions of the Army and accepted Charles’ terms for his restoration. The next day (6 December), Colonel Pride with a regiment of soldiers cleared parliament of all Presbyterians, leaving only a ‘rump’ of supporting Independents. Within a week, the king was bought to Windsor under guard ‘ in order to bring him speedily to justice’.

 

A patient martyr

The King” said Algernon Sidney “can be tried by no court, and this court can try no man”. Sidney, a parliamentarian war hero with republican leanings and one of the Commissioners selected to judge Charles Stuart, was in no doubt about the pretension of the High Court of Justice. Cromwell is reputed to have replied “ I tell you, we will cut off his head with the crown upon it.” It is perhaps an exchange we should take with a pinch of salt, since if killing the king was the object why bother with a trial? Assassination would do the trick just as well. A tragic accident, a sudden malady or fever, or he could be shot while trying to escape (Charles had tried a number of times). Those were possible options for disposing of an unwanted king. Indeed, historically, deposed monarchs could expect to meet an unnatural and lonely end in captivity, rather than to die peacefully in their bed. Court Martial followed by a summary execution was another option. The cavalier generals Lisle and Lucas had been so tried and executed after the siege of Colchester. As a captured enemy commander, Charles enjoyed no special immunity or privilege under the international law of arms. The summary execution of traitors and rebels on the battlefield or soon afterwards, was a feature of English internal wars since the time of Edward I. [41]

 

‘The purpose of victory was to enjoy peace; a captured enemy commander, especially if untrustworthy or in a position to renew the strife should be put to death’; that was the philosophy behind international martial law in the mid seventeenth century, as was the old maxim that a dead man cannot renew a war. [42] Had they wished, the Commons and the Army could have applied this logic and the law to their conflict with Charles. Yet they eschewed both these options in favour of a public trial with all its associated cost and risks. The soldiers of the New Model Army kept their discipline and risked their own lives to protect the man who had fought against them so bitterly. I will come to the legal impediments shortly, but I want to consider the trial of Charles in that context because, in my opinion, it refutes Clarendon’s allegation that despite its grandiose title and process, the trial was no more than a pretext for ‘king-killing’. The ‘great business’ was done openly and not ’in a corner’; moreover, there was a possibility of acquittal.  The Commissioners were not unanimous in their resolve to bring the king to account,  nor in their aversion  to him. There was some wavering amongst their ranks which only irrefutable evidence of guilt could calm. I do not suggest that the chances of an acquittal were great since this was in reality a political trial; nonetheless, it was a risk that the Commons and the Army need not have taken.

 

Although the Army had earlier discussed bringing the king to trial on the basis of lex talionis (the law of retaliation), no serious thought was given to his trial before November 1648. It was, of course, impossible to try the king for treason, or for anything else under English law as it was applied for centuries past. The king being the fountain of all justice was immune from prosecution. The king himself noted the legal advice he had received from Sir Orlando Bridgeman “…by the letter of the law, all persons charged to offend against the law ought to be tried by their peers or equals. What is the law if the person questioned is without peer?[43]

 

Nonetheless and despite the seeming legal impossibility of bringing the king to trial, there was a mood within the House of Commons and in the Army that a way had to be found, in the broader interests of justice, to bring the king to account for the mischief, he had caused. The justification for such a trial is twofold. First, it is retribution for the innocent blood spilt in two civil wars: the second being more reprehensible that the first. Second, it would serve as a warning to would-be tyrants that the monarch was not above the law of Magna Carta. It is important to bear in mind that none of this implied the removal of hereditary monarchy; the aim was to reform the king, not ruin him. The idea that heads of government can be charged with war crimes for waging an ‘unjustified’ war has particular resonance for the UK today; not because such a prosecution is taking place, but because it isn’t. In the sixteenth century, however, it was a concept ahead of its time.

 

The House of Commons ignored the Lord’s opposition and passed an Act creating a ‘High Court of Justice for trying and judging Charles Stuart king of England’. [44] Lacking, as it did, the concurrence of the Lords and royal assent, it was not legitimate legislation within the strict, conventional construction of the law. However, it claimed a higher legality in that it sought to enforce the rule of law and in particular the ancient concept enshrined in Magna Cart, that the king was not above the law of the land. It is a principle that we take for granted today but in the sixteenth century was controversial. The preamble to the Act is worth quoting extensively since it illustrates this point quite well: “Whereas it is notorious that Charles Stuart the now king of England, not content with those many encroachments which his predecessors had made upon the people in their rights and freedoms, has had a wicked design totally to subvert the ancient and fundamental laws and liberties of this nation, and in their place to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical government, and that besides all other evil ways and means to bring the design to pass, he has prosecuted it with fire and sword, levied and maintained a cruel war in the land, against the parliament and the kingdom, whereby the country has been miserably wasted, the public treasure exhausted, trade decayed, thousands of people murdered, and infinite other mischiefs committed[45]

 

The trial began before a packed courtroom at Westminster on Saturday the 20 January 1649 in the afternoon. The first order of business was to arraign the king; that is to say, to put the charges to him and take his plea. The charge as drafted by the prosecution accused the king of traitorously and maliciously levying war against parliament and ‘the people therein represented’. It was a broad charge embodying accusations of tyranny, treason and murder, and that Charles was responsible for all the “…rapines, burnings, spoils, desolations damages and mischiefs to this nation acted and committed in the said wars, or occasioned thereby.”[46] The charge was made up of fourteen specific offences with dates and places, which the prosecution had to prove.

 

The Charge having been read, Charles was required to give his answer: was he guilty or not guilty? His response was entirely predictable; he challenged the jurisdiction of the Court (indeed of any human court) to judge his actions. Standing up, he said he would fain know ‘by what authority he had been bought hither’; until he knew this, he could not answer the charges. Charles, who claimed ‘to know as much law as any gentleman in England’, had put his finger on the nub of the problem as he saw it. The king was above the law. John Bradshaw, the Lord President of the High Court, replied that king was required to answer the charges by the authority of the Commons in Parliament on behalf of the people of England ‘by which people you were elected king’. It was a silly mistake, since, as Charles pointed out, ‘England had been a hereditary kingdom these thousand years’ and there were no Lords present to validate the trial. [47] What should have been an arraignment degenerated into a quarrel about jurisdiction, during which the king made some eloquent points and Bradshaw blustered. It continued in this vein for about an hour until Bradshaw adjourned the hearing. Thus it went on: for two more days Charles refused to plead to the charge. In truth, the jurisdiction point, though not improving with repetition, induced some wavering among the ranks of the Commissioners; Charles sounded so reasonable; whereas the court sounded so unreasonable. On the second day, Bradshaw was better prepared to deal with an argumentative king. He asserted the authority of the court; Charles was not allowed to challenge its authority or to give his reasons. The charge was put to Charles once more but again he refused to answer it. Bradshaw, frustrated ordered him to be taken away; his parting shot hit home ”Sir, you are not to have liberty to use this language. How good a friend you have been to the laws and liberties of the people, let all England and the world judge” The constitutional significance of the refusal to allow Charles to dispute the court’s authority is that it recognized the House of Commons as the source of legislative power in England. [48]

 

However, Charles’ refusal to plead had serious consequences for him and for  the High Court . Bradshaw’s timely assertion of judicial authority had calmed some nerves on the bench but not all. Ideally, the court needed to hear the prosecution’s evidence of Charles’ guilt. There were thirty-three witness proving the specific offences set out in the charge; moreover, the prosecution possessed Charles’ correspondence detailing his attempts whilst still negotiating with his opponents to bring a foreign power to England and restore his absolute authority. This was ‘evidence of his violence and ill will’ towards his English subjects to contradict his oft-repeated claim to speak for their rights and liberties.

 

The prosecutor’s application that Charles should be convicted pro confesso unless he answered the charge was not meant seriously. The intention was to provoke Charles into answering the charge, so that the trial could proceed and the prosecution’s evidence presented in public. The reality was that Charles did not have a viable defence to the charges on their merits. His best, indeed his only, hope was to successfully challenge the court’s jurisdiction. He made one slip when he was almost drawn into defending his conduct during the civil wars on the grounds of self-defence, but otherwise he kept his guard up. The decision to convict him pro confesso (as though he had admitted the charge), whilst understandable (it was the common law), was a misjudgment; if instead, the court had treated Charles contumacy as a not guilty plea, the prosecution could have presented their evidence, which the king would have to refute or accept.  He could defend himself, or stand mute while the prosecution proved his guilt. The ploy failed; Charles continued his defiance and was, perforce, condemned pro confesso

 

The Commissioners who tried Charles were sincere men but they were not professional judges and the trial exposed their limitations in that regard. They had correctly anticipated the king’s challenge to their authority and were unanimously resolved that he must not be allowed to do so. John Bradshaw did his loyal best to implement the agreed strategy; however, his repeated refusal to acknowledge that Charles’ had any grounds for challenging the court’s authority resulted in an unseemly disputation, which makes uncomfortable reading even today. Instead of proceeding as though there was nothing unusual in the court’s conduct when there plainly was, the Commissioners “…might have done better to assert, even to boast about the novelty of their procedure. In that case Bradshaw could have elucidated their intention in the most stirring language at his command, instead of trying to proceed correctly according to the common law, which was evidently not applicable.[49]

    

Having condemned the king, the Commissioners adjourned to consider the sentence. On the 24 January, John Cooke the Solicitor General took the depositions of thirty-three witnesses (many of whom were royalists) proving the king’s guilt of the specific crimes in the charge. The following day, those witnesses were called to court to prove their depositions on oath. These were then read aloud in public to the Commissioners After hearing this evidence and reading the kings incriminating correspondence, the Commissioners concluded that he had committed capital crimes. The death sentence was confirmed unanimously the next day; but in a concession, borne more of hope than expectation, the Commissioners agreed to reconsider their judgement if — even at such a late stage — if the king submitted to the courts jurisdiction  . On Saturday 27 January 1649, Charles was produced to the High Court to hear sentence. It was Bradshaw’s duty to give the courts reasons for the sentence. However, Charles asked leave to speak to the Commissioners in the privacy of the Painted Chamber before sentence was passed. After a brief interchange with the king, Bradshaw concluded that in fact he was still being contumacious and rejected his request. In his reasons, Bradshaw made a number of points that attest to the justness of the proceedings. First, he pointed out that the king’s theory of kingship was erroneous and he had not ruled according to the law of the land. Furthermore, he was not above the law. Under the ancient laws of England lex was rex. Second, he reminded everybody that in the past, tyrannical kings were called to account by the barons (He was referring to king John in 1215 and the depositions of Edward II and Richard II.). Third, this is not new but ancient law and it is implied in the coronation oath, which is a contract and bargain ‘made by the people’. Fourth, where the people have no remedy against tyranny “the parliament were to do it”. Finally, he highlighted Charles intention to destroy parliament to the detriment of the law and liberties of the people. It was adjudged “…that the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy, shall be put to death, by the severing of his head from his body”. Hearing his doom, Charles protested but Bradshaw was implacable and ordered him to be taken down: the end was nigh. [50]

 

Bradshaw was making an important distinction between the person of the king, the office of king, and the kingdom of England. It was not a new concept in 1649, though it may have been a surprise to those who seemed to have forgotten it. The differential between king, crown and land is inherent in Magna Carta, which binds English monarchs to the rule of law. It was also a distinction made by the duke of York during his rebellion against the Lancastrian regime in the 1450’s. It was the rationale behind the appeal of the Lords Appellant in 1388 (The Merciless Parliament). In 1459 at the Parliament of Devils, Henry VI managed to reassert royal authority against Yorkists rebels who complained of Lancastrian misgovernment. However, it served only to convince York that Henry VI had to be removed from the throne, which was an act that would guarantee a dynastic civil war. Cromwell and the Commissioners of the High Court of Justice faced a similar dilemma in 1649. Charles’ intransigence and duplicity drove them to conclude, albeit reluctantly and in stages, that unless he  was removed from the throne there would be no peace in the realm; moreover,  if the king was successful, freeborn Englishmen would be no better off than slaves.

 

Epilogue

Unlike the dethroning of previous English kings, Charles I was not immediately followed by another king. His tyranny and character was such that the Army would not countenance another Stuart on the throne. The king’s execution was followed by an eleven-year hiatus in English monarchy, during which England was governed variously by a republican parliament, by the Army and by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell. His death in 1658 prompted the Stuart restoration, which followed in 1660. The restoration settlement was similar what had been proposed at Newcastle thirteen years before. Charles II was, like his father,  an absolutist and the restoration saw a renewal of the conflict between the king and parliament for sovereignty. For a time it threatened the establishment of constitutional government. However, the achievement of the Long Parliament had demonstrated the power of parliament and given parliamentarians the resolve and the strength to challenge Stuart notions of absolutism. In 1688, Charles successor, the Roman Catholic James II was deposed by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and replaced by the Protestant William of Orange, who co-reigned with Mary Stuart at the invitation of and by the consent of the English parliament. The idea of a constitutional monarchy in England was now unassailable. [51]

 

[1] Roger Lockyer (Ed) – The Trial of Charles I (The Folio Society 1959) p.133: this is a contemporary account of Charles I’s trial and execution taken from the memoirs of Sir Thomas Herbert (1606-1672) who was the groom to the Bedchamber of the king during his captivity; and also from the ‘Historical Collections’ of John Rushmore (1612-1690) who was variously a lawyer, clerk-assistant to the House of Commons, and secretary respectively to Lord Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell. Rushmore collected state papers of the period, which he published periodically from 1659 as ‘Historical Collections’. They are amongst the most important primary sources of the period. ’ The opening paragraph of this article is taken from Rushmore’s account of the king’s execution.

[2] Geoffrey Robertson- The Tyrannicide Brief (Vintage Books 2006) p.384, note1: Robertson refers to the figure of 800,000 dead in the British Isles (mostly in Ireland) citing Diane Purkiss – The English Civil Wars: a peoples history (Harper Press 2006).

[3] William Juxton (1582-1663) was bishop of London in 1649. He was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 1660, on the restoration of Charles II.

[4] Lockyer, p.137

[5] JG Muddiman (Ed) – The  Trial of Charles I (Wm Hodge & Co 1928) pp. 153-54. Muddiman draws attention to the fact that there is no evidence that the executioner said ’behold the head of a traitor’, which is usual on these occasions. It is also notable that nobody acclaimed the accession of the new king (‘the king is dead. Long live the king’). The explanation for this is that Parliament had that very morning passed a statute prohibiting such an acclamation and there were sufficient roundheads present to enforce it. The report of a ‘groan’ of anguish arising from the multitude as the axe fell is a restoration embellishment.

[6] Robertson, p.200

[7] See https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2016/05/page/2/ for both articles

[8] In 1388 and in 1459 House of Lords exercised their statutory discretion to declare whether or not doubtful cases were non-statutory treason and, in the particular circumstances of 1388 and 1459, to condemn and pass sentence on the accused.

[9] The Treason Act 1351 (25 Edw. 3 Stat. 5 c.2): the ‘Great Treason Act’ was still the law in 1649 (it is still the law today). Prior to Charles’ trial treason was defined exclusively as an offence against the king, not by the king.

[10] David Carpenter – Magna Carta (Penguin 2015), p.53

[11] The Long Parliament sat from 1640 until 1653, when Cromwell dispensed with parliament altogether. It actually passed primary legislation forbidding its dissolution without its consent; the Long Parliament was not, therefore, formally dissolved until 1660 when the monarchy was restored.

[12] EN Williams – A Documentary History of England (Pelican Original 1965) pp.36-48 reproduces the terms of the Petition of Right 1628 (ref 3 Cha.1, c.1), which set out non parliamentary grievances; it was intended to balance the royal prerogative with liberty of the subject. Although Charles claimed at the time that parliament ‘ had neither intention not power to hurt his prerogative’ and that the petition was merely a re-statement of his subject’s ancient liberties, it was a parliamentary defeat for him and a restriction on his prerogative.

[13] The measures passed by the Long Parliament formed the basis of the constitutional settlement in 1660.

[14] Godfrey Davies – The Early Stuarts (Oxford 1959, 2nd edition) p104

[15] JP Kenyon – The Stuarts (Fontana 1966) pp.75-80. Kenyon’s essay on Charles I provides a useful summary of the religious issues confronting the Long Parliament.

[16] CV Wedgwood – The King’s Peace (Fontana 1966) p.85

[17] Wedgwood – The King’s Peace p.89. When the Act of Supremacy 1558 (1 Eliz c 1) and the Act Uniformity 1559 (1 Eliz 1 c 2) established the unified Anglican Church in England, many points of doctrine were left deliberately vague. This was because Elizabeth I was not so much concerned with  her subjects inner beliefs as their outward show; she wanted Protestant doctrine to be a ‘framework’ of beliefs that as many of her subjects as possible could conform to, without offending their consciences. It was a weakness in Charles I’s character  that he lacked the maturity to realise that some flexibility in protestant doctrine was necessary to preserve unity and to keep the peace.

[18] Nevertheless, neither the king nor the archbishop of Canterbury was a papist. The Anglican Church was intolerant of Roman Catholicism.

[19] SR Gardiner – History of the Great Civil War (1894) (Windrush Edition 2002), four Volumes: Vol 1, p.1

[20] Lockyer, intro, p.5

[21] Davies p.94

[22] Wedgwood – The King’s Peace p.85

[23] Austin Woolrych- Battles of the English Civil War (Pan 1966), p.139

[24] Lockyer, intro, p.9.’

[25] Kenyon pp.75-80

[26] Gardiner, Vol 3, pp. 92-102. Charles had been negotiating with the Scots prior to surrendering to them. He offered nothing but a vague promise to give ‘full contentment’ to the Church question. In return the Scots gave verbal promises inter alia that they would secure his safety and honour, that they would not ask him to do anything against his conscience and that they would take his part in the event that the English refused to restore his authority. Their complicity in Charles escape from the encircling New Model Army is clear from intercepted correspondence.

[27] The English and the Scots made common cause in 1644, when they realised their joint interest in opposing Charles’ ambitions. The Scots sent an army to support parliament and a joint committee of the two kingdoms was formed to settle war strategy etc.

[28] CV Wedgwood – The King’s War (Fontana 1966) p.485

[29] Gardiner, Vol 3, pp.13-19.

[30] Gardiner, Vol 3, p. 259 note 3 and p.265, note 1; There were genuine fears that the English Presbyterians in parliament with the agreement of the Scots would attempt to move the king from England to Scotland and to ‘set him up as the head of an (invasion) army there’

[31] Cromwell disagreed with the Levellers. He supported his soldiers out of a natural loyalty to the men he had fought with and because he deemed it the best way to keep control of the situation. He did, however, punish mutiny ruthlessly. There were some in the army with extreme republican views who were suspicious that Cromwell would sell them out.

[32] Gardiner, Vol 3, p.166; citing correspondence between the king and bishop Juxton, in which Charles swore ‘as God is my witness’ to restore the Episcopal Church once his own authority was restored.

[33] Ironically, this agreement triggered the second civil war in which the English Presbyterians and the Scots joined forces with the cavaliers against the independents and the Army

[34] The balance of scholarly opinion is that Joyce was acting on the orders of the Agitators, since neither Fairfax nor Cromwell are likely to have put a junior cornet in command of five hundred men on a mission to abduct the king. Indeed, Fairfax sent a colonel down to take command as soon as he heard of the abduction. That doesn’t mean, of course, the two generals were not well pleased with the outcome.

[35] Peter Young and Richard Holmes – The English Civil War 1642-51 (BCA Ed1974) p.274; the brigadiers Young and Holmes are quoting from ‘an apologeticall Declaration concerning the army…TT E.401 (24)’. See also Gardiner Vol 3, p.293; who quotes that the Army “…was no mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of a State, but called forth and conjured by the several declarations of Parliament to the defence of their own and the peoples’ just rights and liberties.” They contended that an erring parliament must be corrected as much as an erring king.

[36] Christopher Hill – God’s Englishman (Penguin 1990) p.54. In 1644, the Long Parliament realised that to defeat the king they would have to arm and tax the ordinary people. They also realised the risk that this entailed, since it might encourage the common folk to think of themselves as the equal of gentlemen. Of course, many thousands of the ‘commons’ already considered themselves at least the equal of gentlemen; however, their opinions were suppressed. The civil war loosened the restraints placed on the expression of radical ideas and encouraged the creation of political movements to champion them; it had ‘turned the world upside down’. It is in this context that the New Model Army was recruited from the ranks of decent ordinary people. What is remarkable for the time is that that many of these men were volunteers (certainly the officers and the cavalry), which went against the grain at this time as most army recruits were pressed men from gaols and from the lowest sort of men. Moreover officers were appointed on merit and not on the basis of their wealth or family tree. In one of his most famous (and quotable) comments, Cromwell praised the ‘plain’ men of the New Model: “I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for and loves what he knows than what you call a gentleman and is nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed.” When a parliamentary grandee complained that the ‘officers were not men of estate but common men, poor and of mean parentage’, Cromwell enunciated his policy in no uncertain terms: “It may be that it provokes some spirits to see such plain men made captains of horse. It had been well that men of honour and birth had entered into the employment, but why do they not appear? Who would have hindered them? But since it is necessary the work must go on, better plain men than none at all.”

[37] Gardiner, Vol 3, pp. 330-33 and 341-42; contains a useful discussion of the negotiations between the king and the Army.

[38] Gardiner, Vol 4, p.6

[39] Gardiner, ibid

[40] Gardiner Vol 4, pp.210-223

[41] Summary justice administered under the authority of the Constable of England or the Provost Marshall was prevalent during the rebellion that deposed Edward II, the Revolution of 1399 that deposed Richard II, and during the Wars of the Roses.

[42] Robertson pp.133, 391 note 23-25 for a résumé of the law.

[43] Robertson, p.129: quoting from Robert Partridge – ‘O Horrible Murder’: the trial, execution and burial of Charles I (London 1998) p.49. Robertson makes the point that this argument, which is ‘legalistic to a fault’, was easily disposed of by the prosecutor  “…on the basis that no man — not even the king — was above the law. Magna Carta — the law to whose letter Bridgeman referred — was John’s guarantee to the barons that they would be tried by peers (i.e. barons) and not by the king: if a king were charged with a crime, then it would not breach the spirit of the `Great Charter to try him before as distinguished and representative group of judges as parliament could put together.” Subsequent legislation interpreting Magna Carta has made it clear that ‘peers’ means social equals (i.e. a jury) and furthermore, ‘free man’ means a man or woman ‘of any estate or condition’ and ‘law of the land’ means treatment according to due process (see Carpenter pp. viii, 271 & 301.) I am not sure that the last part of Robertson’s last sentence necessarily applies to the Commissioners who tried Charles. See CV Wedgwood – The Trial of Charles I (Fontana 1966) pp.109-118, for a robust assessment of the judges. Although, they were not all lowborn, as royalist propaganda suggests, there were a fair number of known ‘rogues and knaves’ among their membership.

[44] Davies pp.160-161; Gardiner Vol 4 pp.287-291; the Lords opposed an ordinance for the trial of the king. Consequently on the 4 January 1649 the Commons passed three resolutions, described by Gardiner as ’strangely democratic’, asserting their supreme power to enact and make law as the representatives of the people and that anything they declare shall have the force of law notwithstanding that has neither the concurrence of the Lords nor the assent of the king. It was the first step in the establishment of the Commonwealth of England.

[45] John Phelps – A true copy of the Journal of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I as it was read in the House of Commons, and attested under the hands of Phelps, Clerk to the infamous Court 1683 (1684) pp.1-2. The Act was passed by the Rump on the authority of the resolutions voted on the 4 January 1649: see note 43 supra.

[46] Phelps pp. 29-32; Muddiman pp.26-29; Lockyer pp.81-86: see also Robertson, Chapter 8, pp.135-50 for a modern QC’s commentary on the charge against Charles.

[47] Nicholas Pronay and John Taylor – Parliamentary Texts in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford 1980) at pp.36-37; whilst acknowledging the lords’ judicial function, Pronay and Taylor note that parliament ‘as a whole’ was not predominately a court of law since the Commons had no judicial powers. The House of Commons was exclusively a political forum, which is the point Charles is making.

[48] See note 43 supra

[49] Wedgwood – The Trial of Charles I, p.153

[50] Gilbert Mabbott – A Perfect Narrative of the Whole Proceedings of the High Court Justice in the Trial of the King in Westminster Hall (anonymous 1649), pp.10-15; Muddiman pp.122-131: Muddiman is much criticised by Geoffrey Robertson for his bias, which may or may not be true. However, I found Muddiman to be a useful source for ‘Bradshaw’s Journal’, which is the official transcript and report of the proceedings produced for parliament in 1650 (Appendix A at pp.193-230); The kings reasons for challenging the courts jurisdiction (Appendix B pp.231-232). Although the king was stopped from giving these reasons at the trial, he wrote them down and they were published on the 5 Feb 1649; John Cook’s prosecution speech (Appendix C pp. 233-260). Cook never got the chance to make this speech, as the king was convicted pro confesso. It was published in Feb 1649; and Charles’ last speech from the scaffold (Appendix D pp.260).

[51] David Ogg – England in the Reign of Charles II (Oxford1956) in two volumes.

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