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The royal seals of Richard III….

King-John-faces-the-barons-at-the-sealing-of-Magna-Carta-2

King John faces the barons at the sealing of the Magna Carta

According to Ian Mortimer in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, in the fourteenth century the king’s two great seals were kept by different people; one by the chancellor for sealing Chancery documents, and the other by the treasurer for Exchequer documents. The seals were huge at 6 inches across, and the one for the Chancery used red wax, the Exchequer seal used green.

The king’s own letters were sealed with a much smaller personal seal, the privy seal. In the reign of Edward III the use of the privy seal was increasingly delegated to its keeper, who could deal with routine business as directed by the king.

The king himself had a new ‘secret seal’ or signet made, to authenticate his personal letters and directions. This is kept by his secretary and is the precursor to the seals of office held by today’s Secretaries of State.

So, by 1400 there were four royal seals in operation: the secret seal, privy seal and two versions of the great seal.

Below you will find a selection of illustrations of Richard III’s seals.

You will find out much more about the English Royal Chancery and seals here , although this stops short of the 15th century. Information about seals throughout history, and around the world, is here.

There are seals aplenty here and if you wish to know how they are cleaned, try here.

ENGLAND’S MINORITY KINGS 1216-1483

Introduction

This essay was prompted by a sentence in John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book ‘The Private Life of Edward IV’: “ According to English custom, as the senior living adult prince of the blood royal, the duke of Gloucester should have acted as Regent — or Lord Protector as the role was then known in England — for the young Edward V, eldest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who had been proclaimed king in London.” Not only is this casual generalization about the status of Gloucester’s protectorship at odds with Dr Ashdown-Hill’s otherwise careful attention to detail, it is misleading. It exposes a misconception about the constitutional position in May 1483, which is unfortunately shared by many historians and helps to perpetuate a pejorative myth about the vires of Gloucester’s actions during the late spring and summer of 1483.

 

It is a misunderstanding that is all the more trying since it is so needless. As long ago as 1953, Professor JS Roskell explained the origin of the office of Lord Protector[i]. More recently, Annette Carson (one of Dr Ashdown-Hill’s colleague on the Looking For Richard Project and co-author of their written account of the project) incorporated some of Roskell’s thinking along with contemporary fifteenth century evidence in her detailed study of Gloucester’s constitutional role as ‘Lord Protector’, which explains the position perfectly well.[ii] What these authors establish is that the office of Lord Protector, to which the king’s council appointed Gloucester on the 10 May 1483, was a limited one. The ‘Protector and Defender of the Realm and the Church in England and Chief Councilor to the King’ (to give its full title) was an office created by parliament in 1422 as part of the constitutional settlement that followed the death of Henry V. As the title implies, it is not synonymous with the position of Regent, which was a title and position that reflected authoritarian French practices, which Ralph Griffiths tells us were ‘repugnant to the English mind‘.[iii] However, as we shall see later, change was afoot due to the unique political circumstances of 1483.

 

In the four centuries that separated the Normans from the Tudors, only four English kings succeeded to the throne as children: Henry III, Richard II, Henry VI and, of course, Edward V. I will not dwell on Edward V’s minority for the reason I have already given; however, it is useful to consider the other three minorities since they provide the contextual background for what happened in 1483.

 

Henry III (1216-1272)

Henry III ascended the throne on the 18 October 1216 by right of ‘perpetual hereditary succession’; he was just of nine years old and his future looked decidedly bleak. Three-quarters of the English barons had rebelled against his father, king John, and ‘elected’ Prince Louis of France to replace him. In 1216, Louis came to England with an army of Frenchmen and English rebels to take the crown. By October, he controlled half the kingdom including London and the southern ports with the exception of Dover. In addition, John’s tyranny had damaged royal authority and the infrastructure of government to such an extent that anarchy was endemic. Henry did not have an organised executive or an exchequer with which he could re-establish governance and royal authority; he did not even possess a royal seal. But worse than that he lacked the forces with which to fight the pretender Louis. His situation was desperate but not yet hopeless.

 

In May 1213 king John had signed a charter yielding his kingdoms of England and Ireland to the Roman Church as a vassal.[iv] Although as far as John was concerned this was only a means of gaining papal support for a war against his own subjects, it had beneficial repercussions for Henry and for England since it placed them under papal protection, and unified the English church and crown in what was to become a holy war against Louis and the rebel barons. It also had the immediate practical effect of ensuring that no English bishop was prepared to crown Louis, which was .a considerable handicap for him since he was unable to transform his status as a royal claimant into the divine status of a crowned and anointed king.[v] Henry’s own coronation on the 28 October in the Abbey Church, Gloucester gave him a distinct advantage in establishing his superior claim to the throne. It was, however, a condition of the service that he paid homage to Pope Honorius II for his throne; it was a small price to pay to acquire the divinity that protected him from death or deposition by his human enemies, unless it was God’s will. He still had to avoid being conquered by Louis, since that might be regarded as a sign of God’s will. Following the coronation, loyalists minds turned to the formation of a minority council, the nature and form of which was dictated by the circumstances and not custom.

 

Although it was necessary to organise resistance against Louis’ invasion, the most pressing need was to restore the English barons’ faith in royal authority. Only thus would they be willing to pledge their loyalty to Henry instead of Louis. The Henricians knew the dead king’s wishes as they had his will, in which he entrusted his posterity to the Pope and appointed a council of thirteen men, ‘those whom he most relied upon’, “to render assistance to his sons for the recovery of their inheritance”.[vi] In particular, he commended the guardianship of Henry to William Marshall, earl of Pembroke; for he feared that his heir would ‘never hold the land save through him’.[vii] Although William Marshal was the most famous of Henry’s chosen councilors, he was not the first. Lord Guala Bicchieri Legate of the Apostolic See bore the prime responsibility for consolidating Henry’s succession and restoring royal authority. As Henry’s feudal overlord and head of the Roman Church, Pope Honorius III ‘recognized no bounds on the authority he could exercise in England’.[viii] He sanctioned Guala’s to do whatever was expedient to help young Henry and his kingdom ‘without appeal’. Loyalist councilors were urged to submit to the Legate ‘humbly and devotedly’. Consequently, this minority council is unique in our history.

 

Despite Guala’s authority, it was obvious that he was unsuited to fight the king’s war or to conduct the day-to-day affairs of state. So, those present at the coronation prevailed ‘by their ‘common counsel’ upon William Marshall to assume the mantle of Henry’s guardian as envisaged by the late king. William Marshall had remained faithful to king John from personal loyalty and not from conviction. It was well known that he quarreled with John about policy and he was not tainted with his tyranny. [ix] Marshall’s participation in the minority council was necessary because he was the man most able to unite the English barons against the French invader and despite his old age he was still a redoubtable warrior. He planned and led the successful war against Louis and carried out the day-to day administration of state business. He was particularly adept at using royal patronage to ‘buy’ the rebel barons’ support for Henry. Marshall’s appointment was not a nominal appointment, but neither was Guala a titular leader of the council. He was heavily involved in the council’s major decisions and issued orders to Marshal on purely secular matters, requiring him ‘to do as he was bound to do for the honour of king and kingdom.’[x] The third member of a triumvirate at the head of the council was Peter de Roche, bishop of Winchester. He was appointed as Henry’s tutor. It was a sensible arrangement since neither Guala nor Marshall would be able to take personal care of the king. Later, an argument developed about whether de Roche derived his authority from the council or from Marshall.

 

Henry III’s minority lasted for eleven years. Even after Guala’s resignation in 1218 (He was replaced by Pandulf as Legate.) and Marshall’s death in 1219 (He was succeeded by Hubert de Burgh.) it proved to be the most remarkable minority rule in English history. During it, the Plantagenets rather than the Capetian kings of France were confirmed as the ruling dynasty; England was recued from anarchy and Magna Carta was enshrined into English law.[xi] It also had significant constitutional ramifications. The ‘Great Council’ that met regularly to advise the king during his minority and later during his personal rule was the first conception a national Parliament, which became an institution that existed regardless of whether the king was young or old, weak or strong. [xii] I mention these events because they inform our understanding of the respective roles of William Marshall and Legate Guala, and their successors in the minority government.

 

Professor David Carpenter’s describes William Marshall as “the (sole) Regent” because he granted royal patronage, restored royal authority and dispensed justice.[xiii] It is a reasonable description of Marshall’s position; especially, as Henry’s own appellation for Marshall was ‘our ruler and the ruler of our kingdom‘, which is compatible with the notion of a regent. However, as we shall see, the relationship between Marshall and Guala was not straightforward. Its complexity is best illustrated in the revised version of Magna Carta that was issued in November 1216; wherein, the king declares: “But because we have not as yet any seal, we have caused the present Charter to be sealed with the seals of our venerable father the Lord Gualo (sic), Cardinal Priest by the title of Saint Martin, Legate of the Apostolic See; and of William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, the guardians (my emphasis) of us and of our kingdom, at Bristol the twelfth day of November, in the first year of our reign.” [xiv] The description of Guala and Marshall as ‘our guardians’ necessarily casts doubt on the suggestion that Marshall governed alone as regent. More significant though, is the fact that both of the guardians’ seals were used to authenticate the charter. All of which is inconsistent with the notion of Marshall as regent; a position, which by definition involves the personal rule by an individual exercising royal authority (my emphasis) where the monarch is a minor, absent or incapacitated.[xv]

 

Even more serious, is the possibility that Marshall did not actually exercise the authority of a regent. For example, it was Guala who proposed and sanctioned the re-issuing of Magna Carta as a peace offering to the English rebels.[xvi] Naturally, he acted in unison with the council, including Marshall, but it seems unlikely that the charter could have been issued without Guala’s agreement. It is a hypothesis that does not rely on the fact that the Pope had previously opposed Magna Carta, but on the premise that as the late king’s feudal overlord, he held wardship of his heir until he came of age. Thus, Guala was acting with papal authority as the leader of the minority council. Conversely, William Marshall’s authority was political and limited since it relied on his election by the great council. He acted only with and by the consent of the English polity.[xvii] Marshall was the public face of the council because he was best suited to that role; however, the implication that he was unable to initiate high-policy without deference to Guala is inescapable. The fact that Guala and Marshall worked harmoniously together in the common interest does not render this anomaly irrelevant since a regent is defined by his authority and not by his workload.

 

Richard II (1377-99)

When Richard II inherited his grandfather’s throne in 1377 his subjects hoped he would reverse England’s failing fortunes. The chancellor, bishop Houghton caught the public mood in his opening address to Richard’s first parliament. “Richard, he said, had been sent by God in the same way that God had sent his only son into the world for the redemption of his people.”[xviii] The expectation that he was England’s new messiah was a burden Richard found hard to bear.

 

Insofar as Henry III’s minority may have been a model, it was disregarded in 1377. Then as in 1216 the nature and form of Richard’s minority was determined by circumstances. Edward III’s senility and the illness of the Black Prince had left a power vacuum at court that was filled by Alice Ferrers the king’s unscrupulous mistress and her shifty associates. The Good Parliament (1376) had restored some order and probity by taking conciliar control of the government. However, John duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt) in his capacity as Steward of the Realm restored the primacy of the royal authority by overturning the parliament’s conciliar approach, much to the chagrin of the three estates. Unfortunately, there was nobody of the stature of William Marshall to unite the Lancastrian faction with their opponents, or anyone of the sagacity of Guala to lead them with moderation and wisdom. The king’s paternal uncles who might ordinarily be expected to fulfill that function were considered to be either untrustworthy or incapable, or both. John of Gaunt was the senior royal adult and the most powerful man in England: he was also the most unpopular. Ambitious to a fault, ‘time honoured Lancaster’ had his own regal ambitions, if not in England and France then in the Iberian Peninsular. However, as a failed soldier and diplomat in the French wars, and a disastrous Steward of the Realm, Gaunt was simply unacceptable to the three estates. Richard’s other royal uncles, Edmund Earl of Cambridge and Thomas Earl of Buckingham were considered dilettantes in affairs of state, lacking the prestige or gravitas to lead a minority government. If the idea of a regent was ever mooted in council, it was quickly dropped

 

If the councilors who met shortly after Richard’s coronation had a plan, it seems to have been to prevent Lancaster or any other powerful individual from seizing the reigns of government. Their presumption that the pre-pubescent Richard was fully competent to rule personally was probably based on the notion that the royal estate was inseparable from the king’s person. It might have been naïve to presume so, but it was not mindless. The legal doctrine of capacities was known to parliament but its scope was limited. For example, a legal distinction could be made between the spiritual and temporal capacities of a prelate, or between the private and public capacities of the king’s Chancellor; however, the office of king and the person of the king were considered to be indivisible. Doubts about this were expressed during the troubled reign of Edward II but they were condemned by the barons and were not raised again during the fourteenth century. According to the English constitutional view, the royal estate (i.e. sovereignty) could not be alienated or delegated save in certain specific circumstances, which were not relevant in 1377. Therefore, even if the king was a minor or infirm his royal authority was held to be unimpaired. In practical terms this meant that anyone wanting to control policy had to control the king. That is why there was an increasing preponderance of the late Black Prince’s household servants on the continual councils at the expense of Lancastrians.[xix] It was by those means that the continual council excluded Gaunt from active government. Nonetheless, the presumption of the king’s competence was a subterfuge. He was little more than the public face of monarchy, the visual representation of order and justice. The continual council, though ostensibly the king’s advisors, was in reality the controlling force of government.

 

The composition of the council varied considerably over the three years of its existence. It was meant to be representative of the different strata of the landed classes: two prelates, two earls, two barons, two bannerettes and four knights. As I have already said, the actual membership reflected political affiliations that exposed the diminution of Lancastrian power. Neither Gaunt nor his brothers sat on the council; even if we allow for the possibility that parliament allocated them some general oversight of the government, the absence of the king’s uncles from the council suggests a remarkable change in the balance of power. Between 1377 and 1380, there were three different continual councils, the last two being slimmer and included an even greater preponderance of the Black Prince’s men.[xx] They achieved some success in restoring stability to the government and prudence to public finances, and they did not succumb to the corruption of previous administrations. Nonetheless, their domestic and foreign policies were generally regarded as failures at the time and since: “ A conciliar regime by its very nature was unlikely to excel in either clarity of vision and efficiency of policy making. It’s strength lay in the opportunity it afforded to achieve harmony through consensus.”[xxi] The tragedy of the time was that harmony was probably never achievable among such a dysfunctional polity. In the parliament of 1380, the Speaker, John Gisburgh accused the continual council of financial mismanagement and demanded their dismissal, adding: “…the king was now of great discretion and handsome stature, and bearing in mind his age, which is very near that of his noble grandfather, whom God absolve, at the time of his coronation (not so!); and at the beginning of his reign had no other councilors than the customary five principal officers of his kingdom.” What Gisburgh was advocating was an end to Richard’s minority and a return to normal government.[xxii] It marked the end of this type on conciliar minority but not the end of the need for continual councils to control Richard’s later excesses.

 

Henry VI (1422-1461 and 1470)

King Henry VI succeeded to the English throne following the death of his father on the 31 August 1422; he was barely nine months old. On his deathbed Henry V disposed of his two kingdoms in a codicil to his will. France he entrusted to the regency of his brother John Duke of Bedford. To his youngest brother Humphrey Duke of Gloucester he committed England, signifying that the duke should have ‘the principal safekeeping and defence’ of his beloved son’ (tutela et defensionem nostril carissimi filii principales).[xxiii] These words are important; especially ‘tutela’, since it implied that duke Humphrey was to have the powers of a regent. When parliament met in November to settle the constitutional arrangements for Henry VI’s minority, they had two alternatives. They could grant the late king’s wishes and allow Humphrey to govern the realm as he claimed or they could heed the lessons of the past to devise a tailored settlement. The settlements of 1216 and were of little or no practical value as a precedent, since their circumstances were irrelevant to the situation in the first quarter of the fifteenth century. Initially, the force of Henry’s will and codicil attracted the support of some lords towards Gloucester’s claim (according to the duke anyway). That changed, however, when they realized the implication of his construction of the codicil. The principal objector was Bedford whose position as the senior royal duke and heir presumptive would be prejudiced if Gloucester obtained the regency of England. The other English lords were also anxious; they were not unnaturally keen to preserve English sovereignty in the dual Anglo-French monarchy that subsisted.[xxiv] Therefore, they could not ignore Bedford’s interests by giving away powers that might belong to him, particularly as he was necessarily detained in France.[xxv]

 

The constitutional debate that began on the 5 December 1422 was parliament’s most important business. The lords were determining the governance and defence of the realm and the importance of the occasion cannot have been lost on them. Not only was Henry VI a babe in arms and therefore, unlikely to be crowned for many years but also there were two thrones to consider.[xxvi] At least one historian considers the untimely death of Henry V to have been the ‘most consequential event in the history of Lancastrian monarchy between 1399 and 1461’. Doubtless it was also a significant factor in ‘moulding’ English constitutional ideas for many years to come.[xxvii] It is all the more disappointing, therefore, that neither the debate nor the arguments are recorded in the Parliamentary Roll. It contains only the details of the outcome. Eventually the lords, with the assent of the commons, devised a compromise.[xxviii] John duke of Bedford was appointed ‘Protector and Defender of the Realm and of the English Church, and Chief Councilor of the king’. In Bedford’s absence, that title and its accompanying powers would fall to the duke of Gloucester. It was a pragmatic solution that recognized existing constitutional doctrine and also probably reflected parliament’s fear that either or both the royal uncles might try to impose a regency government on England. The creation of a protectorate scotched that idea. Bedford accepted the decision gracefully; Humphrey, through gritted teeth. He was clearly unhappy at not being given the authority he wanted.

 

Though we do not have an official record of the debate, we do have an unenrolled ex post facto note of Gloucester’s claim, which has been incorporated as an Appendix to the modern translation of the Parliamentary Roll. It is almost certainly a self-serving document as suggested by Anne Curry. Nevertheless, it gives us the gist of Gloucester’s protest and an inkling of his ambition. He claimed the principal tutelage and protection of the king by right of his brother’s codicil, “which codicil was read, declared and assented to by all the lords” who ‘beseeched’ him to take the principal tutelage and protection of the king and promised to help his cause. He alluded to a commons petition that he should to possess the governance of the realm; which petition, he argued, was not satisfied by the proposal that he should be merely ‘defender of the realm and chief councilor’. He also claimed tutelage of the kingdom by right of law: “Whereupon, my lord, wishing that neither his brother of Bedford nor himself should be harmed by his negligence or default, has had old records searched, and has found that, in the time of Henry the third, William Marshall, earl of Pembroke, who was not so close to the king as my lord is to our liege lord, was called ruler of the king and kingdom of England [rector regis et regni Angliae]. So in conclusion, he thinks it reasonable that either he should, in accordance with the desire of the commons, be called a governor or else, according to this record, ruler of the kingdom [rector regni] but not of the king [regis][xxix] as he does not wish to claim as much authority as William Marshall did. So he desires to take upon himself this charge by the assent of the council with the addition of the word defender according to the desire and appointment of the lords.[xxx] The note concludes with Gloucester’s assurances that (being ‘ruler’) he would do nothing of substance or flout the common law, save by the advice of council. He also acknowledged that nothing agreed could be to the prejudice of his brother Bedford’s rights.

 

Given Gloucester’s conviction that the governance of the realm belonged to him personally as of right and by virtue of his late brother’s will, it is hardly surprising that the next few years were marked by his resentment and consequently by disharmony within the conciliar regime. On the 3 March 1428 (during the 1427 parliament), while Bedford was away, Gloucester made another attempt to redefine authority in his favour[xxxi]. ‘Having had’, he said, ‘diverse’ opinions from several persons concerning his authority, he desired the lords to deliberate and carefully reconsider his power and authority for the avoidance of doubt’. He declared himself willing to leave the chamber whilst his request was debated. Indeed, so strong was his attitude that he refused to return to the chamber unless the lords reached a decision. The lords, without the commons (Presumably the lords were acting in a judicial capacity.) gave judgement through Henry Chichele archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop reminded Gloucester that in 1422 the lords had given mature consideration to his claim, during which they discussed the law and precedent And they had adjudged his claim to be illegitimate since it was not based on the law of England; which law, the late king had no power to alter or change in his lifetime or by his will, without the assent of parliament. However, to keep the peace they had determined that ”… you (Gloucester), in the absence of my Lord Bedford, your brother, should be chief of the king’s council, and have therefore devised for you a different name from the other councilors, not the name of ‘tutor’, lieutenant, governor or of regent, nor any name that might imply governance of the realm, but the name of protector and defender, which implies a personal duty of attention to the actual defence of the realm both against enemies overseas, if necessary, and against rebels within.[xxxii] If the lords had wished Gloucester to have more power, said the archbishop, they would have granted it to him. Furthermore they were amazed that he should now ask for more, especially as he and his brother had accepted this compromise when it was made; since when, of course, the king ‘had advanced in years and intelligence’. Finally, Gloucester was required to be satisfied with his current position and to remember that he had no power in parliament in the presence of the king, save as a duke and that his office was held at the king’s pleasure. It was an unequivocal rejection of the notion that Gloucester (or indeed Bedford for that matter) was regent or had the authority of a regent, during the king’s minority. The lords explicitly reserved to themselves the right to govern during the minority or incapacity of the king, whether in council or in parliament. Although the lords’ anger is palpable and Gloucester received a stern rebuke for his cheek such as no royal duke usually experienced, their decision was not made in pique but only after careful consideration. By rejecting the king’s codicil and by their words, parliament was making a distinction between the civil inheritance of an estate by a will and the constitutional disposal of the kingdom by royal prerogative.[xxxiii] It is a clear that they did not consider the crown to be normal heritable property or subject to the civil laws of inheritance.

 

Gloucester’s claim for tutelage also raised a grave constitutional issue since it included the power to exercise the delegated royal authority, implying a separation of the king’s estate between his person and his office. This was contrary to English law since it was generally held that whatever the disability of the king (‘nonage or infirmity’ to use Chrimes’ quaint phrase), his royal authority was unimpaired; furthermore, this authority resided in the king’s person alone and could not be exercised by any other individual. We see this principle enunciated in a council meeting that took place in 1427, whilst Bedford was in England; wherein it was pronounced that (and I am paraphrasing) ‘even though the king is now of tender age, the same authority rests in his person this day as shall rest in the future when he comes of age.’ Moreover, the council concluded that if, due to ‘the possibility of nature’, the king could not indeed rule in person then ‘neither God nor reason would that this land should stand without governance’; in such a case royal authority rested with the lords spiritual and temporal.[xxxiv] Nobody can doubt that in 1422 Henry’s royal estate was incomplete by virtue of his infancy, ‘since it lacks will or reason, which must be supplied by the council or parliament’. The impossibility of alienating or delegating royal authority is further illustrated by the care with which both parliament and the protector avoided any imputation that their settlement established a partition of the source of authority. Gloucester claimed to be rector regni (governor of the kingdom); he did not claim to be rector regis (governor [tutor?] of the king).

 

Conclusion

The historiographies of these three reigns chart the evolution of English minority governments from the ambiguity of William Marshall’s ‘regency’ in 1216 until parliament’s rejection of duke Humphrey’s claim for tutelage in 1428. During that period the guiding   principle was to preserve the integrity of royal authority through consensus rather than autocracy. Although there was undoubtedly an ideological element to this thinking, the real driving force was political pragmatism. It was believed necessary in each reign, though for different reasons, to protect the integrity of royal authority from the possibility of abuse by an unscrupulous or overly ambitious regent. Consequently, each settlement was driven by the realpolitik of the day rather than by precedent or custom. This is also true of Edward V’s minority.

 

Edward IV’s death was unexpected and unexplained; consequently, its dramatic consequences could not be foreseen by Richard duke of Gloucester or the Council. Edward V’s maternal family led by his mother Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville)[xxxv] mounted a coup d’état against the lawful government and the late king’s wishes. Their aims were to crown young Edward before the Privy Council could arrange a protectorship and to rule the kingdom through a compliant king. Their attempt to persuade the council to their cause in the absence of the king’s senior uncle and their disregard for Edward’s deathbed codicil, whilst not illegal, were not benevolent acts. They raised the spectre of civil war and a return to the social unrest and injustice that had blighted the 1440’s and 1450’s, and triggered the Wars of the Roses. Ultimately, the coup was unsuccessful due to Gloucester’s timely intervention and, more significantly, because the Woodvilles lacked support among the lords. In May 1483 the council’s appointed Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector. This was consistent with the 1422 settlement and with Edward IV’s deathbed codicil, and it consolidated Gloucester’s position as leader of the minority government. However, as we shall see, the council did not exclude the possibility that his powers might be enlarged later, as a bulwark against Woodville ambition.

 

The sermon drafted by the Chancellor (bishop John Russell) for Edward V’s first parliament provides an insight into the councils thinking and their intention. They proposed to enlarge the Lord Protectors powers to include tutelage and oversight of the king and the kingdom.[xxxvi] It is neither necessary nor desirable for me to repeat or to summarize Annette Carson’s analysis of the chancellor’s draft sermon, or to comment on her conclusions about the form of post-coronation government envisaged by the council. My only interest is in emphasizing the radicalism of this proposal, which was completely outwith the conciliar principles of past minorities and challenged the traditional English view of kingship. Quite why the council thought it was necessary to abandon the safeguards afforded by the 1422 model is not certain. However, there are sufficient clues in the draft sermon for us to draw the reasonable inference that political pragmatism was their primary motivation. It was considered necessary for Gloucester had to have full ‘tutelage and oversight’ of the king’ because the Woodvilles were manifestly unfit to do so and/or they had abandoned their responsibility for the king’s person. [xxxvii]. Nobody doubted that they would continue their attempt to control the king, which if successful would be to the detriment of the peace and stability of the kingdom. This speaks well of the trust they espoused in Gloucester and the profundity of their mistrust of the king’s maternal relatives . Although I take note of the fact that Edward V’s coronation never took place and his first parliament never met, it is beyond my scope to examine the reasons for that

[i] JS Roskell – The Office and Dignity of Protector of England with special reference to its origins (English Historical Review Volume 68 April 1953) pp. 193-233

[ii] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimus/Imprimatur 2015). See also http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052362 for a useful and freely available summary of Carson’s analysis.

[iii] Ralph Griffiths – The Reign of King Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) p.19

[iv] W L Warren – King John (Eyre Methuen 1978, 2nd edition) p. 208.

[v] Sir Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century 1216-1307 (Oxford 1988 2nd edition) pp.1-8; the acts of anointing and crowning a king transformed the nature of monarchy. Not only was the office of king divine but now the person of the king was also divine. Humankind could not remove a crowned and anointed king, unless it was the will of God. Any resistance to him was treason and a sin against God’s law.

[vi] Warren p. 255; John’s executors were: the lord Guala, Legate of the Apostolic See, Peter lord bishop of Winchester, Richard lord bishop of Chichester, Silvester lord bishop of Worcester, Brother Amery of Saint Maurie, William Marshall earl of Pembroke, Ranulph earl of Chester, William earl Ferrers, William Brewer, Walter Lacy, John of Monmouth, Savary de Mauléon, and Fawkes de Breauté. John’s last will and testament is the earliest surviving example of a royal will. Considering its importance, it is a remarkably short document, which is more concerned with ensuring John’s acceptance into Heaven than the detailed disposition of his estate

[vii] D A Carpenter – The Minority of Henry III (Methuen 1990), p 52; William Marshall (1146-1219) was not of royal stock; he was the younger son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble and expected to earn his way in the world. As an errant knight, Marshall earned a fearsome reputation as a jouster and an equally impressive reputation of faithful service to five English kings in peace and in war. Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, eulogized him as ‘the best knight who ever lived’ and he was dubbed by his first (anonymous) biographer as ‘the greatest knight in the world.’ Marshall inherited his earldom through marriage and by 1216 he was a man of considerable wealth and power. Despite his age (he was now seventy), Marshall promised to be a stabilizing influence for the king and his government.

[viii] Carpenter, p. 13

[ix] Carpenter, p. 18

[x]  Carpenter, p. 52, note7

[xi] Carpenter, p.6

[xii] Sir Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century (Oxford 1988 2nd edition) pp. 1-8

[xiii] Carpenter, pp.13-54

[xiv]file:///Volumes/RICHARD%20III/Murrey%20and%20Blue%20essays/11.%20Lord%20Protector/1216%20Magna%20Carta,%20the%20full%20text.webarchive

[xv] The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 5th edition (2005); ‘Regent: 1) that which rules, governs or has sovereignty; a ruling power or principle, 2) a person invested with royal authority by or on behalf of another; esp a person appointed to administer a kingdom or state during the minority, absence or incapacity of a monarch or hereditary ruler’. See also Chambers Dictionary 13th edition (2014); ‘Regent: a ruler or person invested with interim or vicarious authority on behalf of another.’

[xvi] Carpenter, p.23

[xvii] Carpenter, p. 55

[xviii] Nigel Saul – Richard II (Yale 1997) p.18

[xix] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp. 35-37; by the fifteenth century the courts had declared that the royal prerogative ‘ must be intact in the king’s person alone’ (p.35, citing VYB. SEIV, Micho.fo 118-23 [App No 48]).

[xx] Saul pp.31-55, provides an analysis of the membership and a narrative of their downfall.

[xxi] Saul p.45

[xxii] C. Given-Wilson (ed) – The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, Volume 6 (Geoffrey Martin and Chris Given-Wilson eds) (The Boydell Press 2005) p.149 [PROME].

[xxiii] PROME Vol 10 (Anne Curry ed) p.6; citing P Strong and F Strong ‘ The last will and codicils of Henry V, EHR, 96 (1981) 99 et al.

[xxiv] PROME Vol 10 p.7; Curry suggests that fears were first expressed about the dual monarchy following the Treaty of Troyes (1420). See also Bertram Wolffe – Henry VI (Yale 1981) pp. 28-35, & 44; and Griffiths pp.19-24.

[xxv] Griffiths p.21; Bedford’s friends were in the House and they knew of his ‘position’. Furthermore his letter to the Mayor and Corporation of London setting out his objections was before the lords. The respective appointments of Bedford and Gloucester under Henry’s will were determined largely by circumstances. Ordinarily, Bedford remained in England as Keeper of the Realm in the king’s absence abroad, whilst Gloucester generally accompanied the king. However, in 1422 Bedford went to France with reinforcements for the army and Humphrey returned to England as Keeper of the Realm. The weakness of Gloucester’ position became clear at a council meeting on the 5 November 1422 when the council determined that his tenure as Keeper of the Realm expired with Henry’s death and that he could only open parliament with their consent. It was a body blow to the ambitious Gloucester.

[xxvi] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3

[xxvii] Griffiths p.20

[xxviii] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3 and 23-24

[xxix] PROME Vol 10, p.6; Anne Curry suggests that the Latin word rector could be translated as Regent.

[xxx] PROME Vol 10, Appendix, item 1. ‘The issue of the title of the duke of Gloucester’, p.61; citing as a source PRO C 47/53/12 (in Middle English), printed in SB Chrimes, ‘The pretensions of the duke of Gloucester in 1422 EHR 45 (1930). 102-3

[xxxi] PROME Vol 10, pp. 347-348, items 24-27

[xxxii] PROME Vol 10, ibid

[xxxiii] PROME; ibid

[xxxiv] Chrimes pp. 36-37; citing Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council (Sir Harris Nicolas – ed) iii, pp. 231-36

[xxxv] I write on the basis that the ‘marriage’ of Edward IV and Elizabeth was bigamous.

[xxxvi] Chrimes pp. 167-190 with notes; see also Carson pp. 57-60 and 168-78

[xxxvii] This is a reference to Elizabeth Grey’s flight to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey

A great review of Henry III: Son of Magna Carta.

https://mattlewisauthor.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/book-review-henry-iii-son-of-magna-carta-by-matthew-lewis/

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.

Henry III: Son of Magna Carta

Matt Lewis’s biography of Henry III will be released on 15th October 2016, in time to celebrate the 800th anniversary of his coronation.


The book will seek to understand the real impact of this oft-forgotten king and his long rule and examine why he is so forgotten by history.

The editing is just completed and here is a page to whet your appetite for the book, detailing Geoffrey de Neville’s problems trying to bring order to Gascony.

TREASON 1 – The Merciless Parliament 1388

 Introduction

Treason is a terrible crime. It denotes a betrayal so wicked as to be unforgivable. In medieval England a traitor was executed with the maximum of corporeal pain and all his goods and chattels were forfeited to the crown, thus disinheriting his heirs and successors forever. Henry de Bracton a thirteenth century English jurist, held that it was ‘scarcely permissible for the (traitor’s) heirs to live’ since they too were contaminated by his deeds. Bracton, who had a penchant for Roman law, may well have been thinking of Imperial Roman practice. By the fifteenth century, treason, or more precisely the law of treason, was the legal-political tool of choice for kings and over ambitious subjects who wished to destroy each other. Acts of treason formed the backdrop of English history from Magna Carta until the Glorious Revolution. Kings have been destroyed and dynasties bought low by treason. This was especially true during the civil wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which began and ended in treason. The Victorian historian Frederic Maitland was surely right to describe treason as a crime with a history all of its own.

 

This is a story about treason; not the wicked type but the political treason of offending against the king’s most powerful subjects. In 1388, an English parliament condemned eighteen of the king’s closest ministers and advisors for such treasons. Their trials by the lords in parliament were controversial and raised several legal and constitutional issues of some consequence: including, the status of parliament, the judicial function of parliament, due process and parliament’s rights and privileges to conduct state trials. The trials also challenged the king’s prerogative to do as he liked. But above all, the Merciless Parliament was a catalyst for a chain of events leading to the deposition of an anointed king, which changed the course of English history. However, before I tell my story, it might be useful to explain a little about the concept of treason.

 

Nowadays, treason is defined by the Treason Act 1351.[1] Prior to the Act there was no universally accepted definition of treason, nor much distinction between treasonable offences and everyday felonies. The king’s justices sitting with a ‘grand’ jury had to construe whether or not a particular crime was treason on a case-by-case basis. Inevitably, there were inconsistencies of interpretation. The law was uncertain and arbitrary; many men went to a traitor’s death and forfeited their estates for offences that were not treasonable. The most obvious and best example of this is the general offence of accroaching royal authority. Essentially, this is a political offence and not obviously treason (though it would depend on the circumstances). In the reigns of Edward II and Edward III, the courts had a pronounced tendency to construe even minor common law accroaching as high treason. It was a practice that had destroyed many noble (and loyal) families. Predictably, there was an aristocratic clamour for a narrow, fixed definition of treason. In 1351, Edward III felt able to assent to a petition from parliament proposing the appropriate legislation. In the opinion of professor Bellamy, the Treason Act 1351 is second only to Magna Carta in its constitutional and legal importance.[2] The Act itself raises many issues that I cannot explore in this article. From my perspective the two important points to note are: first, the conservative definition of treason, which viewed high treason entirely as offences against the monarch or the royal family (It is still treason to cuckold the heir to the throne.) and second, parliament’s reserved power to declare non-statutory treason in doubtful cases.

 

The Merciless Parliament convened on the 3 February 1388 and sat for four months. It was the longest parliamentary sitting before the fifteenth century. Its common title derives from the fact that virtually all-parliamentary business was given over to a violent purge of the king Richard II’s advisors and household servants. The king was systematically humiliated; he was forced to witness the condemnation of his friend and he had no choice but to acquiesce in their doom. It was the nadir of his life thus far. Even though he was twenty-one he was prevented from exercising his royal authority or his prerogative, or even his royal grace to save at least one man from death. For all practical purposes he was still regarded as a boy and too immature to govern unsupervised. His royal authority and his royal prestige were in ruins. It was a trauma he never forgot.

 

Context

The situation in in 1388 has to be seen in the context of power struggle between a rebellious teenage king trying to assert his royal authority and his older councillors anxious to preserve their own status and influence. Richard was headstrong and clearly had an authoritarian vision of kingship. Even as a fourteen year-old, he had approved of the brutal reprisals taken against the rebels of 1381. He was called to book on at least one occasion for attempting to make the offence of treason a prerogative one.[3]   He was unfortunate to succeed to the throne at a time when England’s fortunes were in decline and when he was too young to be taken seriously. The failing war with France had resumed, the burden of taxation was excessive on those who could afford to pay it and the country was experiencing the socio–economic consequences of the Black Death. There was widespread social discontent, of which the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was the most extreme expression. Even so, there were concerns about his behaviour, and his readiness and ability to rule wisely with prudence. He preferred the advice of young fops to that of his ‘natural councillors’ and he longed to exercise personal rule. However, his ‘insolence’ and extravagance was such that far from allowing him personal rule, parliament was intent on clipping his wings. It was the parliament of 1385 and the ‘Wonderful Parliament’ of 1386 that set the scene for a showdown in 1388.

 

Parliament’s efforts to control the burgeoning cost of the royal household and to install some fiscal discipline into the government began in 1385. They appointed a commission of twelve councillors to review the running of the king’s household and to reform the government’s finances.[4] This was, in fact, a continuation of the minority council that ruled in the king’s name during his tender years; the problem was that Richard was now aged seventeen and well old enough by medieval standards to exercise personal rule. Richard accepted some of the proposed reforms with bad grace; but he rejected outright any attempt by parliament to curb his authority or prerogative. He pointed out that the running of the royal household and the appointment of ministers were matters for him alone and he would do as he pleased. Consequently, neither the king nor his ministers took any active steps to implement Parliament’s directions. It was a predictable reaction, but a foolish one since he needed the cooperation of parliament for his next grant of taxation. At some point he would have to summon them and they were bound to raise this issue.

 

When Parliament next met, on the 1 October 1386, it was against the background of a threatened French invasion. William de la Pole, earl of Suffolk and the king’s Chancellor opened parliament by requesting a huge grant of taxation to meet the royal commitments.[5] Unsurprisingly, the commons rejected this request and together with the lords petitioned ‘with one assent’ for Suffolk’s dismissal as Chancellor. Thomas duke of Gloucester Thomas earl of Warwick and Richard earl of Arundel were foremost among the lords demanding Suffolk’s dismissal.[6] Once it became clear that Parliament’s intended to impeach Suffolk for dereliction of duty and embezzlement,[7] the furious king retired to his palace at Eltham in ‘high dudgeon’, exclaiming that he would not sack a scullery boy at parliament’s request. The duke of Gloucester with Thomas Arundel bishop of Ely, travelled to Eltham to speak to him. Eventually, Richard was forced to return to parliament and to accept the dismissal and impeachment of his Chancellor, and the supervision of the continual council. It was only the scarcely concealed threat of deposition that convinced him to swallow his pride.[8]

 

The Judges Questions

The dismissal and impeachment of Suffolk was a direct challenge to the king’s royal authority and prerogative, which was compounded by the continuance of a minority council to supervise his rule. It was indeed a damning verdict by parliament on the king’s fitness to rule. The situation was all the more chastening since Richard’s ‘tender years’ were behind him: he was now twenty-one. Although he knew he had to bend to parliament’s will, the king never accepted their right to limit or even to question his regality in any way. He took every opportunity to promote his regality and to demean the ‘continual council’s’ status. Suffolk was released from custody and reinstated by Christmas, and the king moved the court to the midlands to avoid the council’s oversight.

 

In August 1387 he summoned Chief Justice Robert Tresilian and his justices from the King’s Bench to meetings at Shrewsbury and Nottingham. He needed legal opinion on the actions of the Wonderful Parliament. There is nothing intrinsically unusual or sinister about Richard’s request for legal advice. The justices and particularly, the sergeants at law were continually providing the government with technical legal advice on procedural rules, and fiscal and feudal law. However, the ten questions, which were carefully drafted for the king by his personal lawyers were of an altogether different nature; they, went to the burning issue of the day: the king’s right to personal rule by prerogative and the subordination of parliament to the king’s will.[9] They covered three main points: first, whether the appointment of the continual council was derogatory to the king’s regality, second, whether the king controlled parliament’s order of business and whether he could summon and dismiss it at his will, and third, whether the impeachment of Suffolk was lawful. The importance of this process and these questions lies in the king’s attempt to re-define a political problem as a legal one, for which (he hoped) his lawyers would provide a solution.

 

The judges’ answers gave the king everything he wanted. The continual council was derogatory to the king’s regality and therefore unlawful. Furthermore, it was the king’s prerogative to choose his ministers, who were responsible to him and not to parliament. It was the king who set the order of business; nothing could be discussed or passed without his assent, and it was for the king to summon and dismiss parliament at his will. Finally, the impeachment of Suffolk was unlawful.[10] The judges held back from actually declaring the actions of the Wonderful Parliament to be treason[11]; though they did consider them to be capital offences punishable as traitors. This opinion was a complete vindication of Richard’s view of kingship and provided him with a ‘legal’ foundation for his revanche.

 

Although the judges would later say that that were coerced into giving these answers, they seem, on the face of it, to have been given in good faith. Their interpretation of the law at that time is not obviously wrong. It would be difficult to argue as a matter of law that the continual council was not prejudicial to the royal prerogative, or that historically, it was not for the king to arrange the business of parliament, and that he might not dissolve it at his will, or that as  the impeachment of the king’s officials had been repudiated in 1377, the judgement against Suffolk was invalid. These are opinions that any other lawyer trained in the common law might have given to the king if asked.

 

The crisis occurred during the autumn/winter of 1387. Warned of the judges’ opinion [12] and their insinuation of treason, Gloucester, Warwick and Arundel combined their retinues near London and sought a meeting with the king. On the 17 November they told Richard of their intention to appeal Robert de Vere duke of Ireland, Michael de la Pole earl of Suffolk, Alexander Neville, archbishop of York, Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice and Nicholas Brembre erstwhile mayor of London, for treason. Richard set aside a date in February for parliament to hear the appeals. Shortly thereafter, Thomas Mowbray earl of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke earl of Derby joined Gloucester, Warwick and Arundel as the lords appellant.

The speed and defiance of the lords appellant’s response panicked the king and his friends. De Vere went north to Cheshire, to raise a royal army, while the king remained at Windsor. After raising 3-4000 troops, de Vere moved south to rescue the king. Warned by their scouts of de Vere’s approach, the lords appellant intercepted and surrounded him at Radcot Bridge on the river Thames. In thick fog the royal army was routed. De Vere barely escaped to France with his life. Meanwhile, the earl of Suffolk and the archbishop of York fled to France. Richard, aware that de Vere’s defeat had ended his last hope of resisting the lords appellant, moved to the greater security of the Tower of London. There, on the 30 December they came to see him accompanied by five hundred soldiers. Although the main chronicles (Walsingham, Knighton and Westminster) differ on the detail, they agree about the main points discussed. Richard was reprimanded and possibly threatened with deposition. Eventually a modus vivendi was achieved preserving the king’s regality and serving the lords appellants’ purposes. However, the obscure Lancastrian chronicler of Whalley Abbey contradicts that version of events. According to his narrative, Richard was ‘deprived of his throne’ for three days and was only reinstated due to a disagreement between Gloucester and Derby about the succession.[13]

 

Whalley is the only chronicler who describes Richard’s actual deposition; however, it is corroborated by Gloucester himself. In his signed confession, written in Calais shortly after his own arrest for treason in 1397. Gloucester, said this: “…insomuch as I was present when the question of deposition of my lord was discussed, I acknowledge that we did, for two or three days, agree to do this, but then we performed our homage and our oaths to him and restored him to as high estate as he had been previously.”[14] In professor Saul’s opinion, the fact that ‘no letters for the last three days of December were entered in the close and pattern rolls’ suggests that Richard was probably deposed and a few days later he was restored to the throne.[15]

 

The Merciless Parliament

The trials began on the 3 February 1388. First up were the main appellees: Robert de Vere, William de la Pole, Alexander Neville, Robert Tresilian and Nicholas Brembre. Between them, they faced a total of thirty-nine articles containing the details of their offences. Four articles related to their undue influence over the king; thirteen, alleged that they abused their power for personal gain by taking advantage of the king’s tender years; fifteen, alleged that they encouraged the king to defy his natural councillors and the remainder claimed that the appellees encouraged the king to take military action against his loyal lords and especially the three senior lords appellant. It should be noted, however, that not everybody appeared in every article.

 

Unfortunately, four of the appellees were absent when the trials began. De Vere, de la Pole and Neville were beyond the jurisdiction, and Tresilian was in hiding.[16] Only Nicholas Brembre was in custody at the start. The king and the lords appellant had already agreed that parliament would hear the appeal. Parliament was by 1388, well established as the proper tribunal for state trials;[17] similarly, the judicial function of the parliamentary lords was well recognised.[18] It is not unreasonable, therefore, to assume that by instituting proceedings by way of an appeal, the lords appellant envisaged a trial conducted under common law rules. However, there was a serious objection to continuing against the absent appellees under the common law, since in that jurisdiction they could not be condemned in their absence. Given the obvious political dimension to these proceedings, it would be naïve to think that the lords appellant could withdraw their appeal and expect to survive the outcome. Parliament’s political imperative was to condemn and execute the main appellees as quickly as possible. That being so, and on the king’s behalf, the lords appellant asked a panel of judges and lawyers how they should proceed.[19]

 

The judges and the other lawyers ducked the question; they merely confirmed what everybody already knew; namely, that this appeal was not according to the civil or the common law.[20] Their actual reply is recorded in the Parliamentary Roll: “…[they] informed the said lords of parliament that they had seen and well understood the tenor of the said appeal and they said that the same appeal had not been made or affirmed in accordance with the procedure required by either [the civil or the common] law.”[21] Much — perhaps overmuch — has been made of this reply and it is worth considering it in a little detail before judging its meaning and its importance. First, it is only legal advice; it does not have the force of law. Second, it is only relevant if one accepts the premise that parliament was legally bound by the relevant civil and/or common law. Third, it does not state that appeal proceedings before parliament were unlawful per se, nor should we infer that that is what they meant; it is merely alluding to a defect in this appeal viewed from the perspective of the existing civil and common law. Fourth, it is a cautious answer: the judges and other lawyers well understood that this was a politically loaded question (‘the tenor of the appeal’). It is inconceivable that they would knowingly commit themselves to recommending a particular course of action that might alienate either the king or the five most powerful subjects in the realm. They only had to consider the predicament of the judges who had denounced the Wonderful Parliament to see the danger of giving a ‘wrong’ opinion. Accordingly, their answer was as neutral as they could make it, so as not to offend anyone and to ensure that they could not be held responsible for what happened next. In other words the panel baulked at circumscribing the judicial power of the parliamentary lords or upsetting the king.

 

The lords’ reaction to this legal opinion has received a mixed press. Nigel Saul described parliament’s subsequent pronouncement of its privileges and authority as ‘legal sleight of hand’, which implied that ‘parliament could make-up the rules up as it went along’.[22] Chris Givern-Wilson suggested that the panel’s answer cast doubt on the legality of this appeal procedure, which he describes as ‘legally dubious at best’. Of course, these opinions are only sustainable if one accepts the premise that parliament as a court of law was inferior to the courts of civil and common law, and therefore bound by their procedure and law. Stanley Chrimes takes a more ‘constitutional’ line; he described parliaments declaration as the first ‘ explicit theory of parliament as the king’s high court’.[23] On any view, parliament can scarcely have ever made a more assertive or categorical assertion of its own rights and privileges, and its judicial primacy as the superior English court of justice. It might be useful at this point to reflect on what parliament actually said and did. “…in the case of so high a crime as that alleged in this appeal, which touched the person of the king and the estate of his kingdom perpetrated by persons who are peers of the realm and others, the case should be conducted nowhere other than in parliament, not by any other law than the law and usages of parliament and to their franchise and liberty of the ancient custom of parliament to be judges in such a case with the assent of the king. And that (being) so, it will be done in this instance by decision of parliament because the kingdom of England was never in the past, nor by the will of the king our said lord and the lords of parliament ever would be ruled or governed by the civil law; and also it is their intention not to rule or govern so high a case as this appeal, which will neither be tried or determined elsewhere than in parliament, as was said by the course, process and procedure practiced in any lower court or place within the same kingdom, which courts and places are not executors of the ancient laws and customs of the kingdom and the ordinances and decrees of parliament. And the same lords of parliament were advised by the assent of the king our said lord, that this appeal should be made and affirmed well and duly and the process would be good and effectual according to the laws and course of parliament and thus they should decide and adjudge it” [24] Personally, I cannot detect any impropriety in this assertion. Far from being ‘legal sleight of hand’, their pronouncement is an eloquent exposition of parliament’s judicial and jurisdictional status then and now, which provided a legal foundation for the future development of parliamentary law and procedures.

 

Nonetheless, it is true that there was an element of trial and error in the conduct of these proceedings. It was a novel situation for which, as yet, parliament had neither a settled law nor a settled procedure. In the wider interests of justice, the absent appellees could not be allowed evade their trial by absconding, since that bought the rule of law into disrepute. Parliament therefore adopted a hybrid procedure borrowed from the civil law. The appellees were summoned to appear for their trial on three separate days; when they failed to appear after the third summons, their default was noted and the lords proceeded to judgement.[25] According to the Parliamentary Roll, the lords approached their task with “great pains and diligence”. They examined the thirty-nine articles over the course of several days and after “a good and thorough discussion” declared that fourteen of the thirty-nine articles were treason. Thereafter by “ due examination and by evidence and information by which they could anyway inform themselves”, they found the four defendants guilty on all the charges, including those not declared as treason.[26] On the basis of this formal account the parliamentary lords appear to have discharged their judicial duties responsibly and properly. However, some historians doubt the completeness of this account and they may have a point. The official version will undoubtedly have been sanitised for public consumption. Considering the magnitude of what the lords appellant were undertaking and their control over the proceedings, they are unlikely to have allowed it to include any error or controversial material which is pejorative to the justice and correctness of these proceedings. However, there are some independent chronicles that enable us to construct a fuller narrative of events and the quality of justice dispensed. I shall come to back to this point after I have addressed the parliamentary declaration of treason.

 

The Treason Act of 1351 abolished common law treason.[27] From January 1352, English law only recognised two types of offence as treason i), those defined as treason in the Act and ii) offences declared as non-statutory treason by parliament.[28] While we cannot doubt parliament’s discretion to declare these articles as treason, a question mark remains about whether they exercised that power properly. The legislation does not fetter their discretion, nor do we know of any regulations or guidance governing the exercise of their discretion. As far as we know, it was entirely a matter for parliament to declare what is or is not treason, as they thought fit. It is also important to bear in mind that at this stage, the lords were simply determining the nature of the offences. They were not determining guilt or innocence. Nevertheless, as judges, the lords had a judicial responsibility to make a decision based on the evidence and the relevant law.

 

Since there was no prospect of appealing parliaments decision, even if they got the facts or the law, or both, wrong, it is of academic interest to consider whether they acted properly. That having been said there is no evidence that they got the law wrong in this case. We do not know what they said in their deliberations but it is possible to construct a working hypothesis of their reasoning and the factors that influenced their decision. For example, we can deduce from the fact that less than half of the articles were declared treason that they discriminated between the different offences. Furthermore, it is clear from their judgement that they distinguished offences of pure accroachment (not treason) from those with aggravating features (treason). The aggravating features that appear in most of the fourteen treasonable offences are: the appellees attempts to get the king to use armed force against the lords appellant; the appellees encouragement of Londoners to attack and kill the lords appellant; and by raising forces themselves, to destroy the lords appellant and the ‘king’s other of loyal lieges’. In the lords’ judgement these were the offences that most injured the king and his kingdom. They also considered that the appellees evil counsel was responsible for England’s unpreparedness for the threatened French invasion. Last, they thought that de Vere’s attempt to persuade Richard to make him king of Ireland, was to the prejudice of the kings’ allegiance from Ireland and therefore treason.[29]

 

The parliamentary lords (and the lords appellant) were probably aware of the precedent set by the accusations against the Despenser in 1326[30]. The father and his son were charged with accroaching royal authority and executed. The younger Despenser’s main offence was accroaching the royal authority by seeking advice from the king’s lawyers on how to best to prosecute Thomas earl of Lancaster for treason. The aggravating feature that made the offence treason was that he arraigned and convicted Lancaster ‘on the king’s record’ and (ultimately) had him executed.[31] As Lancaster was of royal blood, his execution without the king’s licence was a step too far. The allegation of accroachment was added to supplement the substantive treason. Professor Bellamy emphasises the wider significance of this very point. He has researched the relevant common law cases: “ A close inspection reveals that in fact the word’s ‘accroaching’ the royal power were used in the majority of instances merely to describe an accepted treason or felony and to afforce (sic) the gravity of the offence. In two cases only was there a danger of treason and accroaching the royal power being drawn together and confused. After the statute the practice ceased altogether. There has never been a case before the courts of common law wherein a man was sentenced for ‘accroaching the royal power’ by committing a crime which was not a felony or treason. It could not stand by itself.”[32] And there was also the example of Roger Mortimer’s treason trial in 1330. Based on Bellamy’s research and the Despenser precedent, and if my hypothesis is correct, there would appear to be little cause for concern about the lords’ understanding to the law as it was in the fourteenth, or their reasoning. Nevertheless, treason trials cannot be viewed in a legal vacuum. Political rivalry was the driving force of state treason trials during the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries, especially during the reigns of dysfunctional monarchs. This was a political trial and frankly the outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion. The law was only able provide a cloak of legitimacy for the purge of king Richard’s administration.

 

We get a feel for the atmosphere that pervaded parliament from two different accounts of the trial of Nicholas Brembre. The Parliamentary Roll account is pithy. He was produced for trial on the 18 February 1388 and arraigned. He pleaded not guilty and offered to prove his innocence in trial by battle but that was deemed inappropriate. The lords considered the matter by “all means required to the honour of God.” On the 20 February, Brembre was adjudged guilty and sentenced to a traitor’s death; he was drawn and hanged the same day. [33]

 

The Westminster Chronicler’s narrative is detailed and colourful. On being produced, Brembre asked for legal representation: that was refused. He requested to see a copy of the charges: that was also refused. He tried to respond to the charges as they were put to him but he was told he could only plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. At this point the king tried to intercede on Brembre’s behalf; however, he was shouted down when dozens of MP’s threw down their gages as proof of Brembre’s guilt. A sub-committee chaired by the duke of York was set up to consider the matter. Shortly thereafter, York reported the committee’s conclusion that Brembre had done nothing to warrant death; this enraged the lords appellant and almost bought Gloucester and York to blows. It was difficult to know how to proceed, so members of the city guilds most affected by Brembre’s activities were asked to pronounce his guilt; they could not do so and were dismissed peremptorily. Eventually, the Mayor and the Recorder of London agreed when pressed that Brembre may have been ‘more aware than innocent’ of the treasons perpetrated by the other appellees. On these very thin grounds, Brembre was adjudged guilty of concealing treason. He was drawn and hanged the same day.

 

Even though, Brembre’s trial could not be considered fair in any century, the procedures adopted in 1388 were  not unprecedented at the time. The refusal to allow him legal representation followed precedents set in state trials in 1376 and 1377 , and in 1381 when parliament decreed that defence counsel was not permitted in treason trials.[34] Neither was it unusual for the accused to be denied a copy of the charges in writing. It is true there was no consistency an arraignment. Some men were allowed to plead to the charges and offer there defence; others, like Brembre were simply required to plead guilty or not guilty. The condemnation of men unheard was not popular. Public opinion was in favour of allowing suspect traitors to answer the charges. In 1399, the commons in parliament petitioned that anybody accused of treason should not be condemned unheard. Henry IV did not consent to the petition[35].

 

Nicholas Brembre’s execution marked the end of the appeal proceedings, but not the end of the trials, or of the king’s humiliation. On the 2 March, the commons began impeachment proceedings against thirteen of his officials implicated in the appellees treasons. The impeachments began with the six judges who had denounced the work of the Wonderful Parliament. The king’s justices Robert Bealknap, Roger Fulthorpe, John Holt, William Burgh and John Carey together with John Lockton, sergeant–at-law, were charged that in response to the questions put to them on the law, they gave the king false answers that were not according to the law, and which gave ‘boldness and hardihood’ to the appellees. They were also charged with concealing their knowledge of the appellees treason. The justices’ defence that their answers were given under duress availed them little, since on the 6 March the lords adjudged them guilty of treason. They were sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life exile.

 

Thomas Usk and John Blake, the draftsmen of the ten questions were produced for their impeachment on the 3 March. They were charged with knowing the appellees treacherous intentions in having the questions drafted and put to the justices and with concealing their knowledge of the appellees treason. Their defence that they were only obeying orders made things worse. The next day, they were adjudged guilty on their own confession, and drawn and hanged. The last person to be impeached for his involvement in the denouncing of the Wonderful Parliament was the bishop of Chichester. He incited the justices’ ‘with threatening words’ to answer as they did and he did not reveal his knowledge of the appellees treasonous plans. The bishop denied the offence, saying he had done no more than tell the justices to answer according to the law. This was taken as a confession and not a defence and the offence declared as treason. The bishop was exiled to Ireland for life

 

Last, four knights of the king’s household were impeached on sixteen articles for their involvement in the appellees conspiracy. In broad terms their offences amounted to accroachment. The offences were declared treason and on the 5 March, Simon Burley, John Beauchamp, John Salisbury and James Berners were all convicted. And executed. It was the execution of Simon Burley that caused the king most anguish, since he was an old and faithful family retainer. He had served the king’s father and as Richard’s mentor. Both the king and the queen (in tears and on her knees apparently) begged for Burley’s life. Normally the grace of the king was sufficient to redeem a traitor’s life, but not in this time. The lords and the commons were obdurate: Burley must die. The only mercy shown to him was that he was granted a quick death by beheading. It was the most obvious and public humiliation for Richard.

 

Epilogue

By the end of the parliament, Richard’s authority counted for nothing and his prestige for even less. He was forced to acknowledge the limitations of his vision of kingship. It was a severe lesson that made him compliant for the next six or seven years: he had no choice. However, the political wheel turned in his favour. By the mid 1390’s, his confidence and authority were restored. Moreover, he acquired a personal military force capable of enforcing his will. Within a decade of the Merciless Parliament Richard moved to destroy Gloucester, Warwick and Arundel in his own ‘Revenge Parliament’ of 1397. Not only that, but in 1398 Mowbray and Derby fell out and were exiled Unfortunately, Richard mistook revenge for kingship; before the century was out, he had been deposed as ‘useless and unfit to rule’, and replaced by a Lancastrian king.

 

The Merciless Parliament is significant for two reasons. First, it triggered a chain of events that resulted in Richard’s deposition, thus changing the course of English history. Second, it was the first and most telling demonstration of how the law of treason could be manipulated for political ends. Kings and nobles were quick to see the benefits of the power given to parliament in the Treason Act, to extend the scope of treason beyond its statutory limitation. The appeal process and impeachment disappeared by the fifteenth century. They were awkward to use and the Lancastrian kings developed a much quicker, surer and more serviceable weapon for their needs: the act of attainder. That, however, is another story…

[1] The Treason Act 1351 (25 Edw. 3 Stat. 5 c.2): the ‘Great Treason Act’ is still the law today. It has been expanded, and modern law has replaced some of its medieval provisions; nonetheless, the Act itself has never been repealed and is as relevant today as it was six hundred and fifty years ago. See also JG Bellamy –The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge 1970) pp. 59-62 and 98-104; and Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Volume 5, Mark Ormrod (Ed) pp.35, 44 for the medieval definition of treason. Richard II passed his own Treason Act in 1381 (5 Ric.2 c.6), which extended the scope of treason in response to the Peasants’ Revolt.

[2] Bellamy, p.100

[3] Nigel Saul – Richard II (Yale 1999) p. 132

[4] PROME Chris Givern-Wilson (Ed) Volume7 pp. 2-3 (introduction), 19-27 and 28-29. This contains extensive details of the commons’ petition and the king’s response

[5] Parliament needed convincing that the taxation previously granted was being well spent in the defence of the realm. Instead of addressing parliament’s concern Suffolk announced the king’s plan for leading an expedition to France; he asked for a ‘substantial grant’ but declined formally to say how much was needed. However, he ‘let slip’ a figure of four fifteenths and tenths, which was double the normal grant. The result was uproar!

[6] Saul pp.176-180: all three lords had cause to resent Richard’s court. Their influence within the government had diminished, particularly their warlike policy towards France, which the king had disregarded. Furthermore they harboured personal grievances against Richard for furthering the aspirations his personal favourites at their expense.

[7] Saul at p157; Suffolk’s sins were of omission and commission. He omitted to use the taxation previously granted by parliament wisely for the defence of the realm, or to do anything about implementing the commission of government. His sins of commission were various; for example, he purchased lands and sources of royal income “contrary to his oath and greatly in excess of his deserts”. There were other peculations specified in the indictment preferred against him. Suffolk pleaded the collective responsibility of the council in respect of his omissions and was acquitted. He was however, convicted on three counts of peculation, and imprisoned and fined.

[8] Saul at pp.157-164; Bennett at pp.27-28 (Citing Knighton at pp.353-388) and PROME, Vol 7, P32 (citing Knighton, ibid; St Alban’s Chronicle at pp.786-806; the Eulogium Historiarum at pp. 359-360 and the Westminster Chronicles pp. 166-186) all provide an account of the ‘Wonderful Parliament’. Gloucester and the bishop of Ely reminded the king that if he absented himself from parliament for forty days without good reason the members could disperse to their homes without granting the taxation he required. They pointed out to him the foolishness of carrying out his threat to seek aid from the king of France against his own subjects, since France was England’s greatest enemy and generations of Englishmen had fought and given their lives against France. It was, they said, the intolerable burden of taxation and the government’s incompetence that had bought matters to a head. Finally, Ely reminded him of ‘an ancient law’ whereby if the king alienated his people and did not keep the law of the land the people might replace him with another of the royal line. It was this allusion to the fate of Edward II that caused Richard to back down.

[9] See Saul at pp.173-175 for an analysis of the origin and nature of the ten questions put to the judges; see also PROME Vol 7, pp. 92-93 for their precise wording, including the judges’ answers. There is no satisfactory explanation for why two meetings were necessary (McKistay at p.448, n.2).

[10] Saul at p.174

[11] Bellamy at p.112, and n.2; Bellamy provides an authoritative analysis of the judges construction of the law. The actions of the Wonderful Parliament amounted only to accroaching royal authority, a charge that was incapable of standing as treason by itself. In those treason trials where accroaching was alleged, it has always been as an additional count to a substantive treasonable offence such as, for example, compassing the king’s death and accroaching royal authority.

[12] Saul, ibid: it is not clear who leaked the information to Gloucester and his allies. The judges suggested that was the earl of Kent. However, the Westminster Chronicle (p.206) says it was the archbishop of Dublin.

[13] Saul at pp.189-190: citing BL, Harley MS360.

[14] Chris Givern-Wilson Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400 (Manchester UP 1993) p.81

[15] Saul p.190, n.56

[16] During the course of the trial Tresilian was betrayed by his servant and seized from his sanctuary in Westminster Abbey

[17] See Bellamy at pp.23-54 for comprehensive case-by-case analysis of the origins of the English state trial in the thirteenth century. The trials of the Welsh rebels David ap Gruffydd (1283) and Rhys ap Maredudd (1292), and the trial of the Scottish nationalist William Wallace (1305) are the most famous examples of this type of trial. They were all heard by the English parliament as being the king’s high court and therefore possessing the gravitas and authority to try such serious offences of treason against the king’s royal person. By bringing the appeal before parliament, the lords appellant were following a well-trodden procedural path in accroaching cases. In 1330, Roger Mortimer and many of his retainers were indicted, tried and condemned by the lords in parliament for treason, which included allegations of ‘usurping royal power.’ The impeachment trials of 1376 were tried by parliament and in 1386 Suffolk had been tried and impeached by parliament. There is clear legal authority for a case of this type to be tried in parliament and for the judicial authority of the lords.

[18] R G Davies and J H Denton (Eds) – The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester 1999 edition) at pp.43-50 contains a summary of parliament’s development as a high court of justice in the fourteenth century; S B Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) at p.71 also attests to parliaments enduring function as the ‘king’s high court’ from the outset. 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 of parliament had no judicial powers.

[19] PROME Vol 7, p.99

[20] Saul, p.192, n.66 speculates about the judges and lawyers’ meaning. They cannot have meant that the appeal method did not belong to the common law per se since, as Saul points out, it was the standard procedure for instituting proceedings in the courts of common law. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that they were referring the fact that none of the charges met the statutory definition of treason since the judges and the other lawyers well knew that the Treason Act of 1352 conferred a statutory discretion on the lords in parliament to declare whether or not doubtful cases were tantamount to treason.

[21] PROME Vol 7, ibid

[22] Saul, ibid: PROME Vol 7, p58

[23] Chrimes, ibid: although the word ‘court’ was rarely used before the 1380’s, parliament’s forms were those of a court/tribunal from the outset.

[24] PROME Vol 7, pp.99-100

[25]. The procedure of calling an absent defendant on three separate days is still used today. If he or she fails to appear on the third occasion, the trial can proceed in their absence. However, the prosecution still has to prove the defendant’s guilt to a jury with evidence that satisfies the criminal standard of proof (‘so that you are sure’, or ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’) before he or she can be convicted.

[26] PROME Vol 7, pp.103-104

[27] See 25 Edw. 3 Stat. 5 c.2; Bellamy pp.59-62 and 98-104; and PROME Vol, 5 pp.35, 44

[28] In the parliament of 1351-52, it was recognised that offences might occur that seemed to be treason but which fell outside the statutory definition. In such cases, justices were not to proceed to judgment until they had referred the matter to parliament for a declaration whether the offence was treason or a felony. The procedure envisaged seems to have been that once parliament had made the declaration the case would be remitted to the lower court for a trial by a judge and jury on the facts. See Bellamy pp.180-81, citing Rezneck- Eng Hist Rev XLII, pp. 473-513) According to Rezneck’s research only one case followed this procedure between 1352 and 1500!

[29] PROME, Vol 7 p 102

[30] The relevance of this case to parliament in 1388 is that Gloucester (like Lancaster in 1326) was a royal duke.

[31] ‘On the kings record’ means on the word of the king without any corroborating evidence. It applied to treasons that were actually witnessed by the king. In such cases English law presumed the king’s word to be the perfect evidence as it was above reproach and nothing else was needed to convict the accused.

[32] Bellamy p.112

[33] The trial was interrupted on the 19 February by the sentencing and execution of Robert Tresilian who had been seized from sanctuary in Westminster Abbey and bought before parliament.

[34] Bellamy pp. 168-169, provides details of the relevant cases

[35] Bellamy, ibid

 

Would Richard use vellum? Or paper?….

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

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

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

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

Act Room, Houses of Parliament

The Problem with ‘Usurpation’ (re-blogged from http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052370)

With my long-standing interest in treason and usurpation, I was fascinated to see the video of the mock trial of the Magna Carta barons staged in the wonderful surroundings of Westminster Hall on 31 July 2015.* I use the term ‘Magna Carta barons’ loosely, and indeed the trial itself could address only one arbitrary, early point in the long journey of the development of that charter which eventually gained its famous title. This was the moment in time at which King John had, after much ducking and diving, sealed the charter in June 1215 and immediately reneged by getting Pope Innocent III to repudiate it.

Though doubtless there will be historians who disagree, I take it – as did the script of the trial – that King John had hitherto behaved in a manner so thoroughly unacceptable as to be termed tyrannical. In giving his judgement, The Hon. Stephen Breyer from the USA cited John Locke’s (albeit anachronistic) assessment that for his subjects to have the right to rebel, a king should be seen to have systematically refused to adhere to the law of the land. Of course no method of testing a king’s behaviour in a court of law existed in 1215, but for his rule to be considered truly tyrannical I think this criterion would be taken as read.

Legal frameworks of the time would have been governed by the weight of precedent, and certainly the judges at our mock trial took the view that John himself had been ‘made king’ by a legal process. This process included religious ceremonial with sacred oath-taking, not only oaths of allegiance but also the coronation oath sworn by the king himself. In consequence of King John’s breaching of the latter, the rebellious barons invoked a long-standing custom and – therefore – legal right known as diffidatio, i.e. they exercised the right of a free man to repudiate his oath of loyalty to his overlord for a justifiable reason. Underpinning this right of diffidatio was the recognition that fealty was a two-way street: that for a subject to keep his oath, the king must do the same.

In our modern age, when promises made are routinely broken, and ‘God-fearing’ is no longer a term to be taken literally, the significance of an oath sworn while invoking the presence of God is scarcely understood and seldom respected: consider the context of judicial process, which is one of the few surviving circumstances when such oaths are still routinely encountered (and routinely flouted). Yet in the Middle Ages, as I have tried to indicate in writings such as my Small Guide to the Great Debate, the process of oath-swearing was one of the pillars of mediaeval society. It was a crucial matter if either party abandoned their solemn oath.

The bonds of this mutual compact defined the relationship between king and subject, already long-established by the 13th century, and gradually developing throughout the ages. It is this promise on the part of the king that is most often forgotten in the cries of ‘usurper!’ that are so widely bandied about in relation to certain monarchs; and it is key to my repeatedly asserted argument that most often the term ‘usurpation’ is a misnomer that merely reflects the prejudices of the person using it.

In pre-Conquest England there was in place a history of election of kings by the Saxon equivalent of Parliament (the Witangemot), based on the fundamental requirement of the office to perform a mutually understood function: the defence of the realm and its people. This was gradually extended to include wider responsibilities, notably for the proper administration of justice. In return, the king was entitled to call upon his people to perform whatever was understood to be due to enable him to fulfil such responsibilities. The principle that the king had a duty to perform a job of work continued to be understood for many centuries, and it was only by analogy with succession from father to son in other areas of life that a similar expectation developed in relation to the throne. Although kings often tried to influence who succeeded them, there was never any ‘law of succession’.

Requirements such as embodying the fount of justice as well as the office of leader and commander throw a clear light on crises of succession like the deposition of Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI who fell short of expectations. An even more relevant case is that of the conflict between Stephen and Matilda. Matilda might be the only surviving legitimate issue of Henry I, but his decision to make her his heir was self-serving and ultimately catastrophic: she was not born into an age when a woman could don harness and lead an army in the field. Returning to the mock trial of the barons, a question raised by the presiding judge exemplifies an abiding misapprehension on this point. Why, asked the judge, did the barons in 1215 not choose to replace John with his son, Henry (later Henry III), then aged seven? The question answers itself when you are not blinded by the assumption that the crown was governed by some imagined law of father-to-son succession: in a time of turmoil and civil strife, when the very rule of the land needed to be taken into strong hands, what fool was going to opt for rule by a seven-year-old? That he was later able to succeed upon his father’s death (now aged nine) was principally a function of the abilities and virtues of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, his champion and Regent of England.

In 1399 a new dimension entered into the matter of the succession when Henry IV challenged Richard II for the crown and the latter abdicated, rather than defending his right to the death as would have been appropriate to the tradition of the warrior-king. Parliament was drawn into the front line in the disposition of the crown, going through the formal procedure of acknowledging the abdication of Richard and the succession of Henry. The new king is said to have publicly exhibited proof of his genealogy, but the record of the Rolls of Parliament is remarkably non-committal in regard to his descent, and much more specific as to the rewards of his victory over the ruinous former king:

‘In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I, Henry of Lancaster, claim this realm of England, and the crown with all its members and its appurtenances, inasmuch as I am descended by right line of the blood from the good lord King Henry the third, and through that right that God in his grace has sent me, with the help of my kin and of my friends in recovering it, which realm was at the point of ruin for lack of governance and destruction of the good laws.’ [Parliamentary Rolls of Mediaeval England, 1399 Part 1, vol. iii, pp.422-3.]

Here we have an echo of that same accusation as used by the barons against King John; and despite the fascinating arguments concerning precisely which line of royal descent Henry IV might have claimed, the salient point of this remarkable statement, as accepted and recorded by Parliament, was that God had favoured him in stepping in to avert the ruin of the realm. Had there existed a law of succession which stipulated primogeniture, there was in fact a royal descendant whose claim would have been superior to Henry’s: this was the young Mortimer heir Edmund, Earl of March, then the same age as the son of King John whom we encountered above. Clearly, when the option of the valorous and successful adult Henry was available, there was no support for the claims of a seven-year-old, however senior his line of descent. A child of that age, and one who lacked the support of a strong figure as Regent, ipso facto failed the basic qualification as warlord-cum-lawgiver.

It is also noteworthy that the childless Richard II, knowing that the succession to the crown was being eyed by his several uncles, had kept them guessing by naming alternative heirs at different times: another indication that primogeniture was not regarded as the primary criterion. Henry IV, once on the throne, tried to secure the succession to his line by statutory enactment in Parliament, but the view of Stanley Chrimes (in English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century, p.24) is that this was merely declaratory and did not determine the line of succession: it recognized but ‘did not create’ Henry’s title. By the same token, it made no general provision for a public law of succession.

Only in 1460, when Richard, Duke of York came to press his claim to the throne in opposition to Henry VI, was the emphasis on primogeniture brought to the fore. York’s claim depended on it wholly – it rested on his sharing the same senior line of descent as the Mortimer heir disenfranchised by Henry of Lancaster sixty years earlier. And although Parliament made several attempts to avoid passing judgement on the matter, when forced to reach a conclusion they decided in York’s favour. There were, of course, excellent reasons for striking the bargain that reduced Henry VI to a cipher, since his inept and compliant rule had bankrupted the crown and allowed England to degenerate into a smouldering civil war.

In the case of Henry IV, could the word ‘usurpation’ be applied? The historically literate answer is no. In 1399 Richard II had abdicated rather than defend his crown to the death, effectively abandoning the throne to the judgement of Parliament which accepted Henry of Lancaster’s argument that God had helped him rescue the realm from misgovernment and lawlessness. This echoed the complaints of the Magna Carta barons, namely that the king had resiled from his sacred oath to fulfil his responsibilities to his subjects. So by these standards, and as accepted by Parliament, Henry IV cannot be named a usurper in terms of the legal structure of the day.

It was only in 1460 that Richard, Duke of York secured a decision by Parliament which established primogeniture as an acknowledged criterion for the succession. How this criterion was applied in hindsight to the Lancastrian succession raises a thicket of legal questions, the untangling of which would take someone more expert in jurisprudence than me. Clearly York’s argument was that the first Lancastrian king was a usurper, and his statement to Parliament went into extensive genealogical detail to disprove Henry’s fanciful tale that his mother’s line of descent from Henry III was senior to the line of Edward III and Richard II. However, to this inexpert observer it seems that the Parliament of 1460 stopped short of disallowing the legitimacy of the Lancastrian dynasty, which fits with their desire to reach a compromise with Henry VI. It would have been simpler, and in hindsight would have prevented much unrest and loss of life, if they had declared him a scion of a usurping line, but that would have meant deposing him. Perhaps their legal advisers balked at the idea of retrospective legislation. And York himself had always vowed himself Henry’s true subject. Whatever their reasoning, an accommodation was cobbled together which permitted Henry to keep his crown on condition that York was acknowledged as his heir apparent. I am tempted to suppose that the Lords in Parliament recognized that Henry’s mental capacity was dubious, and that it would be unrealistic to hold him to oaths he had sworn as a child which he probably no longer remembered or comprehended. Whichever way you look at it, although York’s claim of primogeniture was accepted, the deal of 1460 was unique to the prevailing circumstances; it could scarcely be regarded as a precedent, and indeed it permitted the line of Lancaster to cling to the view that theirs remained the rightful royal house of England.

Thus Parliament had signally failed to grasp the opportunity to codify any law that stipulated primogeniture (or anything else) as a qualification for the succession. As Stanley Chrimes commented, ‘It does indeed seem that no such public law existed. In the absence of a direct and competent heir, politics, not law determined the succession. Hence both judges and commons avoided the topic.’ [Op. cit. p.22.]

The effect was that however the royal family’s internal issues were decided, whether by themselves or by any outside agency, the situation remained as it was in 1215: that he who took on the sworn obligations of kingship would be held to account for how he performed them. And if he should be adjudged deficient, it was not usurpation but a necessary service to the kingdom to remove and replace him.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MU7tK6HM3Q. For those of us who have crossed swords in the past with James Eadie, QC, there was a particular piquancy to his defeat on this occasion.

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Part Two: Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

My previous Travel Tales blog talked about the Forest of Bowland and Skipton.  Today, we’re going to two places that sometimes get forgotten by the traveler who is interested in visiting places having some Richard III connections:  Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle.

Rievaulx Abbey Rievaulx Abbey – Refectory and undercroft

From our temporary homebase in Ripon-Masham, we drove 30 miles to visit one of the gems of English medieval history.  Like Fountains and Byland Abbeys, Rievaulx was one of the great Cistercian monasteries of medieval Europe, and its ruins are said to be the “most complete” of any of the dissolved religious houses in England. It has one of the most spectacular natural settings within a deep valley in the North York Moors National Park; however, to take a photograph from the best vantage point one has to pay an admission price of…

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THE MALIGNED RICARDIANS

Part 1 – Sir William Cornwallis the younger

“ His virtues I have sought to revive, his vices to excuse”

(The Encomium of Richard III, Sir William Cornwallis)

It is conceivable that historians do not take the early revisionist histories of king Richard III seriously owing to an assumption that the authors were not themselves serious. If so, they are probably mistaken about Sir William Cornwallis (1579-1614) the author of the ‘Encomium of Richard III’, the earliest extant defence of the last Plantagenet king and the subject of this post. And they are definitely wrong about Sir George Buck, the author of a second and more substantial defence of Richard entitled ‘The History of King Richard the Third’. My purpose in this post and a further one about Buck is to draw attention to these undervalued and misunderstood revisionists, whose pioneering works have provided the template for subsequent defences of king Richard.

Life

Sir William Cornwallis the younger (so called, to distinguish him from his uncle) was probably born at Fincham, Norfolk. He was the eldest child of Sir Charles Cornwallis a diplomat and court official. The Cornwallis’ were well known recusants and too prominent during catholic Mary’s time to prosper much under protestant Elizabeth: they were always under suspicion. Within that parameter the young Cornwallis’ upbringing was gratifyingly orthodox. He studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. In 1595 he married Katherine Parker; they had thirteen children, eight of whom survived him. In 1599 he saw action in the earl of Essex’s Irish campaign, and was knighted by the earl for his service . On his return to England he lived quietly during the remainder of Elizabeth’s reign.

In 1603 on the accession of James I he was appointed a member of the king’s Privy Chamber. In 1604 he was elected MP for Orford in Suffolk in support of the union between England and Scotland, and in 1605 was sent on a minor diplomatic mission to Spain. His extravagant lifestyle resulted in considerable debt and despite a gift of £2000 from the king he died in penury in 1614, leaving his widow and eight children destitute.

Literary works

Cornwallis’ literary career was that of a gentleman amateur writing ‘familiar’ paradoxical essays at the turn of seventeenth century. According to Kincaid “His style is fluent but incursive, his periods short but balanced. Illustrative examples are drawn from his own experience, though with evident modesty. He is concerned with self-improvement, particularly for statesman, stressing stoic virtues such as resolution, fortitude and endurance. His method is influenced by Montaigne, his ethics by Seneca . The paradoxes range from satirical praise of misfortune (e.g. ‘The French Pox’ and ‘Debt’) to what seem, at least partly, serious defences of historical figures (e.g. Julian the Apostate and Richard III).” Even though the contemporary essays of Sir Francis Bacon and John Donne overshadowed Cornwallis’ own literary achievement, the paradoxical essay tradition as it re-emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owes more to his method than to theirs.

The Encomium of King Richard III – Background

It was commonplace for the original manuscripts of familiar essays to circulate among groups of literary friends. It was also commonplace for the author and for others to copy the manuscript: sometimes adding further comments, sometimes correcting errors. The Encomium of Richard III was no exception to the rule; there are ten surviving manuscript copies of it, each being different from the earliest and from each other. Although many of the changes are minor and stylistic, there are some important ‘political’ interpolations in later versions.

Cornwallis’ original manuscript is a mixture of the serious and the paradoxical. It does not sit easily in the form of a paradox. However, later additions indicate crude attempts to formalize it as a conventional paradox. Efforts have also been made to de-personalize it; whereas Cornwallis attacks a single ‘corrupt chronicler’, later versions change that to ‘our corrupt chroniclers’. The most interesting additions are those that are politically motivated. These additions though ostensibly enhancing Richard’s defence are really political propaganda linked to the Essex plot of 1600, and have wrenched Cornwallis’ original Encomium out of context. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many literary scholars regard the Encomium as a rather poor paradoxical essay and so many historians disregard it as a serious defence of king Richard III. It is also unfortunate that the latest version was published in 1616, as it is the one most commonly known and it distorts Cornwallis’ own views. It is in this context that we should assess the worth of the ‘Encomium’. In this post I am concentrating on three aspects of the Encomium. First the questions of authorship and motive, second an overview of Cornwallis’ technique for defending king Richard’s reputation, and finally the influence of late Elizabethan and early Jacobean politics on later versions of the Encomium.

Authorship

In the first half of the twentieth century, Professor W Gordon Zeeveld argued that ‘The Encomium of Richard III’ was in response to a manuscript account of king Richard’s reign written by Cardinal John Morton soon after Bosworth. This manuscript had been circulating amongst Tudor intellectuals for many years. According to Zeeveld it was copied by Sir Thomas More and published by his nephew John Rastell as More’s ‘History of King Richard III. Zeeveld argues that the traces of personal hatred towards Morton contained in early versions of the Encomium are evidence that it was inspired by Morton’s tract.

Zeeveld also believed that the Encomium was a palimpsest concealing an earlier defence of Richard, with Cornwallis as the continuator rather than the originator of that work. He postulates that an anonymous contemporary supporter of Richard took it upon himself to defend his dead master from Morton’s tract. Unfortunately there is no evidence that this earlier defence existed; neither does it follow that the personal bitterness evident in the Encomium places the author in the 1490’s. As Dr Kincaid points out, it could just as easily result from intellectual stimulus affecting somebody in the 1590’s.

Nobody knows why Cornwallis wrote this essay or why he chose to do so in a hybrid form. His animosity towards one Tudor chronicler suggests an emotional involvement that is at odds with his otherwise reasoned and intellectual approach. However, the editors of Kincaid’s excellent edition of the Encomium have conducted a careful and minute study of all ten original manuscripts and they are perfectly satisfied about two things: first, the Encomium is not a palimpsest, it is Cornwallis’ original work; second, Morton wrote a tract about Richard that was still extant in the 1590’s.Notwithstanding these conclusions, the evidence of a link between Cornwallis and Morton’s tract is circumstantial at best; it does no more than establish the possibility that Cornwallis had access to the tract.

Last on this aspect, the suggestion that Morton wrote a tract which was still in circulation well into Elizabeth I’s reign has wider significance, particularly regarding the authorship of More’s ‘History’ and its impact on Sir George Buck ‘History of King Richard the Third’. I hope to address both these issues in a future post.

The defence of king Richard

Cornwallis’ defence of Richard is unique in pro Ricardian literature in that generally he does not challenge the traditional Tudor version of the facts. The importance of the Encomium to the Ricardian narrative is simply that it is the first reasoned defence of Richard. The absence of an evidence base to accompany Cornwallis’ reasoning does not damage his contribution to that narrative, since Buck and others have been well able to supply that evidence. Although largely ignored by academics and historians, the Encomium has had a significant influence on future revisionists. For example, Buck structured his first three books around the Encomium (though he was working from a later manuscript) and Walpole adopted a similarly reasoned approach. The Encomium contains most, if not all, of the reasoned, logical defensive arguments that we see in modern Ricardian literature to this day.

Cornwallis makes four broad points. First, some of the accusations against Richard are so frivolous that they must have been prompted by malice (e.g. his physical appearance, born with teeth etc.). Second, there is no objective evidence that he committed many of the offences alleged against him (e.g. the murder of Henry VI and the allegation that he ‘commanded’ Dr Shaw’s sermon on the 22 June 1483, for which others are clearly implicated). Third, he is not guilty of usurpation or of regicide by reasons of state. It is only the third point that I want to explore in a little detail since the allegation of regicide is by far the most serious charge laid against king Richard III.

In 1601 Cornwallis (and not the later interpolators) wrote this about the disappearance of the two Princes: “In this time chanced the death of his two young nephews in the Tower, whose deaths promising quiet unto him, are wholly imposed upon him, how truly I have reason to doubt, because his accusers are so violent and impudent, that those virtues which in other men are embraced, for which they are esteemed as gods, they impute to him to be rather enablers of vices than really virtues. His humility they term pride, his liberality prodigality, his valour cruelty and bloodthirstiness and so through malice, not truth turn all things to their contrary. But if it were so that he contrived and consented to their deaths the offence was to God and not to the people, for the depriving of their lives freed them (the people) from dissention and how could he demonstrate his love more amply than to venture his soul for their quiet, But who knows whether it were not God’s secret judgement to punish the father’s transgressions on the children, and if so complain their fate, not his cruelty.”

Turning his attention to the grim realities of medieval power politics, Cornwallis continues: “…yet in policy princes never account competitors however young or innocent since the least colour of right provokes innovating humours to stir-up sedition, which once being kindled threatens both the subversion of princes and people. Therefore, the removing (of) such occasions of civil wars is well governed. (The) commonwealth is most profitable, most commendable, being no cruelty but pity a jealousy of their subjects and a regard for their own safety”. However, king Richard does not entirely escape Cornwallis’ censure: “If for this action he ought to be condemned, it is for indiscretion in the managing; for as safely might he have had the realms general consent in disposing of their lives, as in disposing them from the crown, and had he held a secret execution best he might have effected it more secretly…”

Cornwallis eschews a substantive defence of king Richard; instead, he emphasizes his personal virtues and his good works, and excuses his actions as being in the public interest and done from a high sense of public duty. Albeit we cannot establish a firm link between Cornwallis and Morton’s tract it seems that the Encomium was indeed a response to More/Morton account. For instance, when condoning Richard’s seizure of the crown, Cornwallis refers to Edward IV’s betrothal to ‘Elizabeth Lucy’. That is a name he can only have found in the work(s) of More/Morton.

Politics

Cornwallis had ‘ high views of the royal prerogative and his Encomium shows no exception.’ For example, he writes “…chroniclers should not criticise kings because kings are accountable only to a jury of kings and to God.” In Kincaid’s edition of the Encomium, the editors identify four distinct ways in which later additions of the British Museum manuscript turned this essentially pro-monarchist work into a revolutionary text.

The first change is subtle alteration to the notion of divine authority. The most obvious example of this occurs in the extract I have referred to above. At the point where Cornwallis suggests that the death of the Princes might be God’s judgement on the sins of their father we get this interpolation (highlighted): “…if so complain of their fate, not his cruelty (FOR IN THESE FATAL THINGS IT FALLS OUT THAT HIGH WORKING POWERS MAKE SECOND CAUSES, UNWITTINGLY ACCESSORY TO THEIR DETERMINATION) yet in policy princes…” This insertion introduces a controversial, political tone; though the point being made is hardly new or novel. The notion that temporal kings were subject to God’s law, which upholds truth and justice against deceit and injustice, was argued by the Yorkists in the 1450’s to justify their rebellion against the misuse of royal authority. It follows that if God’s law forbids tyranny it must be His will that subjects should resist and even overthrow tyrants, by force if necessary. This interpolation reflects the seventeenth century’s revolutionary agenda whereby the exponents of change rejected the divine right of king, in favour of the principle, enshrined in Magna Carta, that the king was subject to the common law of the land. Rex is not lex; lex is rex (The king is not law; the law is king.).

Second, the text was changed to show the Tudors in a much worse light than hitherto. For example, Cornwallis praises Richard for abolishing forced loans. However, this is altered slightly with the insertion “ THOUGH HE CAME TO MANAGE A STATE WHOSE TREASURE WAS EXCEEDINGLY EXHAUSTED.” It is a comment that would strike a cord with late Elizabethans struggling under an inequitable tax system. The costs of the continuing Spanish war and the troubles in Ireland had increased the parliamentary subsides granted to the Crown fourfold between 1589 and 1601, with a disproportionate burden falling on the poor. Indeed, the demand for increased subsidy in 1589 was so onerous for the rich that Sir Francis Bacon declared in parliament: “Gentlemen must sell their plate, farmers their brass pots ere this will be paid”. In desperation the Queen resorted to levying forced loans and benevolences on the wealthy through the privy seal. She also imposed ship money on inland towns; yet still the exchequer was in deficit. In 1601 parliament debated the plight of the poor. There were calls for the wealthy to pay more: “Some thought that three-pound men should be spared; others that four-pound men should pay double, with a corresponding increased charge on the rest upwards.” The tendency of Stuart monarchs to raise taxes without the consent of parliament through forced loans, increased custom duties and ship money was an issue (there were others) that eventually led the king to kill his subjects and his subjects to kill their king.

Third, Cornwallis defends Richard’s seizure of the throne on the basis that Edward V was too young to govern himself, much less the realm; anyhow, he would be too much under the bad influence of his mother and maternal uncles who were “…the duke’s mortal enemies such as through the lowness of their birth had never been inured to government, whose new nobility was more likely to ruinate than to fortify the Ancient, could not but draw a true discerning spirit to favour himself to maintain the ancient nobility to commiserate the people much wasted by dissensions…” This can certainly be interpreted as a veiled criticism of William and Robert Cecil, who between them controlled the queen and the government in the 1590’s. However, the later insertion of the words “ AND OPPRESSED” between ‘wasted and ‘by’ in the above extract is a much more explicit reproach of the Cecil’s. A reproach that becomes even more obvious in the interpolation at the point where Cornwallis justifies Richard’s execution of Rivers and Grey: “…jealous of his own preservation OF THE SAFETY OF THE COMMONWEALTH AND OF THE ANCIENT NOBILITY with great reason and justice he executed them.” The reference to the safety of the realm is an allusion to England’s Cecil-inspired foreign policy . The criticism is even more explicit in an insertion at the point when Cornwallis is defending the summary execution of William Lord Hastings, which he says was just because Hastings was in the pay of the French king; furthermore, it was he who persuaded Edward IV not to support Burgundy against the French: “WHEREAS NOW IN A FEW YEARS IT IS DEVOLVED TO A PROUD AND INSOLENT NATION (Spain) WHO HAVE GRIEVOUSLY OPPRESSED THOSE NETHERLANDS WITH EXECRABLE CRUELTIES AND ARE AT THIS DATE CAPITAL ENEMIES OF OUR STATE…”

At the turn of the seventeenth century England was in turmoil; people were uncertain about the future, confused and frightened. The queen was ageing and various political factions were jockeying for power and influence in preparation for her demise. Poor harvests had brought famine, the war with Spain dragged on accompanied by genuine war weariness and the economy was a shambles. Militarily and diplomatically England was weaker in 1600 than it had been in1588, whilst Spain was stronger.The Spanish army occupying Holland was a direct threat to England’s flank and her independence. On top of all this the protestant reformation was not secured, nor the succession settled. Of the two foreign candidates, one was a Roman Catholic and the other a protestant flirting with Catholicism . The Cecil clique, pacific by inclination, wanted peace with Spain, which was abhorrent to the protestants. In 1601 Robert Devereux the earl of Essex accused Robert Cecil of favouring the succession of the Spanish Infanta to the English throne. It was dismissed as nonsense at the time. However, with the benefit of five hundred years of hindsight and official correspondence we can see that at best, Cecil’s behaviour was disingenuous.

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, is the insertion of an unambiguous appeal to force against legitimacy. Cornwallis is writing of the necessity for Richard to assume the crown for the common good and in particular to prevent another civil war, then this paragraph is inserted into Cornwallis’ narrative: “…THE DUTY WE OWE OUR COUNTRY EXCEEDS ALL OTHER DUTIES, SINCE IN ITSELF IT CONTAINS THEM ALL. THAT FOR RESPECT THEREOF NOT ONLY ALL TENDER RESPECTS OF KINDRED, OR WHATSOEVER OTHER RESPECTS OF FRIENDSHIP ARE TO BE LAID ASIDE, BUT THAT EVEN LONG HELD OPINIONS (RATHER GROUNDED ON SECRET GOVERNMENT THAN ANY GROUNDS OF TRUTH) ARE TO BE FORSAKEN SINCE THE END WHERETO ANYTHING IS DIRECTED IS EVER TO BE OF MORE NOBLE RECKONING THAN THE THING THERETO DIRECTED, THAT THEREFORE THE PUBLIC WEAL IS MORE TO BE REGARDED THAN A PERSON OR MAGISTRATE THAT THEREUNTO IS ORDERED…IF ANY MAN SHOULD OBJECT TO THIS COURSE LET HIM KNOW THAT NECESSITIES REQUIRE NEW REMEDIES AND FOR HIM (Richard) THERE WAS NO REMEDY BUT THIS ONE.” It is a sentiment that needs no explanation.

Kincaid and Ramsden argue that this insertion was probably aimed at Sir Henry Neville who had an ambiguous role in Essex’s attempted coup of 1600 and who was related to Robert Cecil. They postulate that Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton sent this amended copy of the Encomium to Neville to reassure him that he could disregard ties of kinship since it was God’s will that the Cecil’s should be overthrown. It is, they say, the only explanation for this insertion, which is so contrary to Cornwallis’ own philosophy.

[1] Elizabeth I was furious with Essex for personally knighting so many of his officers in the wake of his shameful truce with the Irish rebels; the queen called these officers ‘idle knights’ and there is no suggestion that Cornwallis’ preferment suggested a softening of attitude towards him. The Cornwallis’ – we are told – ‘were always under suspicion’.

[2] Michel Eyquem Montaigne (1533-1592) was an influential French renaissance philosopher who wrote anecdotally on the human condition. His stated objective was to describe humanity and especially himself ‘with utter frankness’.

[3] Seneca the Younger (BC1-AD65) was a Roman stoic philosopher. He was forced to commit suicide after being implicated in a plot to assassinate the Emperor Nero.

[4] Arthur Kincaid – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition, ref:odnb/6345) (DNB)

[5] Arthur Noel Kincaid- The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) at pp.civ-cv: Kincaid writes: ‘Rosalie L Colie in her study of paradox’s gives Cornwallis’ Encomium as an example that fails because it does not surprise of dazzle by its incongruities, for it strikes the reader as an all but serious defence. Instead of appearing skillful many of its arguments give the impression of being sincere but lame…” (See Rosalie L Collie – Paradoxia Epidemica (Princeton 1966) at p8)

[6] Arthur Kincaid and J A Ramsden – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) at p.5 (Kincaid)

[7] Kincaid at pv

[8] Kincaid at p20: interestingly, this was Charles I’s grounds for refusing to recognize the jurisdiction of the court appointed by Parliament to try him for crimes against the State in 1649. In 2001 Slobodan Milosevic also pleaded sovereign immunity when arraigned for war crimes (See Geoffrey Robertson – The Tyrannicide Brief (Vintage 2006) for an illuminating discussion on the powers of the law to bring tyrants to book for their crimes.)

[9] Kincaid at p17

[10] Kincaid p14

[11] Professor J B Black – The Reign of Elizabeth I (Oxford 1987) pp. 228-234.

[12] Black at p231

[13] Kincaid p9

[14] Kincaid p8

[15] Kincaid p10

[16] It was Philip II’s ambition to launch an invasion of England from the Netherlands

[17] Christopher Hill – God’s Englishman (Penguin 1972) at pp.20-25: Dr Hill suggests that the Elizabethan golden age was long past: if it ever existed. The legend of a time “…when parliament and crown worked in harmony, in which the Church was resolutely protestant, in which bishops were subordinated to secular power and protestant sea dogs brought gold and glory back from the Spanish Main…owed more to a criticism of what was happening (or not happening) under Stuarts than anything that had really existed under Elizabeth.”

[18] James VI was a Protestant and his apparent willingness to convert to Roman Catholicism was only a diplomatic/political ploy to unsettle Elizabeth and the English: it worked.

[19] Black at pp.445-451: Professor Black refers to correspondence, which suggests that Robert Cecil sounded out the feasibility of the Infanta and her husband the Archduke Albert succeeding Elizabeth. He certainly seems to have considered the ditching James VI of Scotland as heir to the throne.

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