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Henry VI: saint or sinner?

A gentle and devotional life

About seventy years ago, the historian John Harvey wrote this in an essay about King Henry VI: “The life and death, and the thwarting of his noble designs are one (sic) of the sorriest tragedies of English history. He was a victim of forces outside his control, for whose existence he was not responsible, but set in motion by his grandfather’s crime and his father’s one-sided ambition. Inheriting the love of justice of his Plantagenet forefathers and the a artistic culture and melancholia of Charles VI of France, his character was in sharp contrast with that of his age, possessed in marked degree by his wife. In his charity, his love of art and his spirit he was a true Plantagenet, though a paradoxical one…. He saw the world as a place of brief sojourn in which to do good, to learn courtesy and to seek God. There was nothing political in his martyrdom; except as the shadow of a name, and the crowned and anointed husband of Margaret, he represented no threat to anybody in the world. Yet the callous and sacrilegious hand that struck him down, though it ended a gentle and devotional life on earth, ensured that Henry’s virtues and lasting benefits should be perpetually bought to the mind of oblivious posterity” [1]

 

Harvey took this version of Henry’s life and death from a tract entitled ‘A Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI’, which is attributed to John Blacman and was published in 1510.[2] The tract is in fact a collection of anecdotes of Henry’s religious devotions from the recollection of one of his chaplains and other intimates of his personal life. The aim of the collection is to present Henry as a holy saint whose ‘kingdom’ was not worldly. He performed a miracle of loaves (but not fishes) for his troops and endured hunger, thirst, mocking, abuse and other hardships in his life including wounding in his side by a dagger. He foretold his own death but was not believed. And he suffered a violent death so that others might live in peace. Blacman’s depiction of Henry as an exemplar of Christian virtue, though not of this world was also the standard Tudor view echoed by Henry VII’s historian Polydore Vergil: “ King Henry was a man of mild and plain-dealing disposition who preferred peace before war, quietness before troubles, honesty before utility and leisure before business: and to be short, there was not in this world a more honest and a more holy creature. There was in him honest shamed-facedness, modesty, innocency and perfect patience taking all human chances, miseries and all afflictions in his life in good part as though he had justly by some offence deserved the same. And he ruled his own affections that he might more easily rule his own subjects; he gapped not after riches nor thirsted for honours and worldly estimation but was careful only for his souls sake; such things as tended to the salvation thereof he only esteemed for good; and that very wisely; such again as procured loss thereof he only accounted evil.[3]

 

To set against this Tudor narrative of the martyred Henry, we have his known failings as a king. Henry is mainly remembered as the king who lost the Hundred Years War and during whose rule the Wars of the Roses started. Indeed The late Bertram Wolffe thought that Henry as such an insubstantial and unsuccessful king that writing his biography was a long and dispiriting task. I do not deny that Henry was a weak and ineffective king. That judgement was made in his lifetime and has not been seriously challenged since. However, I do think that John Harvey may have an arguable point about Henry’s culpability. Was he wholly to blame for the calamities of his reign, or was he the victim of circumstances? That is the question I wish to discuss in this article; first, by setting Henry’s reign in the context of events from his accession until his mental breakdown in 1453; second, by discussing his performance in three key policy areas: maintenance of the dual monarchy, royal finances and the rule of law.

 

Divided opinions

Until the twentieth century, studies of Henry were dominated by the story of an innocent king at the mercy of greedy and violent nobles. However, modern biographies challenge that simple narrative and in doing so have broadened our understanding of the complexities of Henry’s reign. In 1981, two contrasting studies of Henry VI appeared almost simultaneously. The first was by Bertram Wolffe; whose, unforgiving verdict of King Henry goes well beyond the accusation that he was incompetent.[4] Wolffe judges Henry by what he did as revealed in the government records, and he completely rejects the notion of the mild, martyred king. In its place he describes an actively malign king, whose piety was too ostentatious to be virtuous, and whose nature was too unforgiving and vindictive to be saintly. He was also a poor judge of character, prone to interfering, and lacking in judgement and proportionality. He disregarded his royal oath and he was wilful. In essence the inconsistencies and failures of English foreign policy were due to Henry’s capricious changes of mind and his susceptibility to improper influences. Thus Wolffe rejects the whole idea that the loss of France was due to the divided opinion of the English aristocracy.[5] He does not doubt that Henry’s failures as a king left the establishment of Eton College and of King’s College Cambridge as his sole achievements.

 

Also in 1981, Ralph Griffith’s published his evaluation of Henry’s reign. It is a nuanced and detailed assessment of Henry’s performance as monarch and his qualities as a man. Griffiths recognises the military and fiscal difficulties that dogged Henry’s rule, and the factionalism of the nobility, which would have tested even a high performing and confident king. The essence of Griffiths’ evaluation of Henry is best put in his own words: “Henry VI was in reality a well-intentioned man with aspirations that were laudable enough, in an age when king’s could not rule by good intentions alone. He had an interest in the realities of government with the aim of realising those aspirations, especially in education, relations with Valois France, and the reward of friends and servants. Other of his qualities were obstacles to effective kingship. He was extravagant, credulous, over merciful and compassionate to those at fault yet fearful suspicious of those rumoured to be doing him harm. These are not the qualities of a shrewd and balanced judge of men and politics. Henry also lacked the foresight, prudence and calculation that make a king’s actions responsible ones; he showed little sagacity, subtlety or discrimination in his administrative actions and none of the political astuteness necessary to achieve an acceptable balance among his subjects competing interests — as contemporaries recognised who stressed his simplicity. Not that he was uneducated or unintelligent but he was the least experienced of English medieval kings at his succession and never shook off his youthful dependence on others in the routine and detail of affairs…With his naively defective judgement, Henry’s advisors were too often unworthy of his confidence.[6] Griffiths’ explains this last sentence later in his book. “Those contemporaries who …[observed]...Henry VI as a boy were agreed that he grew into a personable, intelligent and even precocious youth. His years as a minor between the ages of one and fifteen were naturally of considerable importance to his education as a monarch of two realms. His relatives had already created for him an atmosphere of political bitterness, even personal hatred, and after Bedford’s death, both (Humphrey duke of) Gloucester and (Henry) Beaufort (bishop of Winchester) strove to be the single most dominant influence on him as he grew older. They would be reluctant to allow him the exercise of free will as an adult king. The end result of these intense personal pressures was to accustom Henry to dependence, to being told what to do. Even after Gloucester and Beaufort had receded into the background he found other pillars on which to lean: the earl of Suffolk. Archbishop Kemp, the duke of Somerset and finally, when he was least able to fend for himself, the Queen.”[7] In Griffiths’ view, therefore, Henry is far less culpable for the disasters of his reign than those relatives and other advisors who instead of supporting the king betrayed his trust in them.

 

John Watts’ appraisal of Henry, which first appeared in 1999, is the antithesis of Wolf’s ‘active’ king.[8] He also questions Griffiths’ negative assessment of Henry’s relatives and advisors. Watts argues simpliciter that Henry was so passive that he created difficulties for the nobility, who in their own interactions tried to compensate for a king who was chronically unable to exercise royal authority, and was especially ‘incapable of giving judgements, managing the counsel of his advisors and making policy appear his own.’ This depiction of Henry as a simpleton is not a new one. In the opinion of at least one anonymous fifteenth century commentator, Henry was simple and easily led: “In the same time the realm of England was out of all good governance as it had been before, for the king was simple and led by covetous counsel and owed more than he was worth. His debts increased daily but payment there was none. All the possessions and lordships that pertained to the crown the king had given away, some to lords and some to other simple persons so that he had almost nothing left. For these misgovernances and for many others, the hearts of the people were turned away from them that had the land in governance and their blessings were turned to curses” [9]

 

Watts contends that what others describe as “‘the king’s unfair and unwise distribution of patronage and the opportunistic behaviour of his household servants’, should be judged in the context of ‘how this [patronage] was turned into power in the localities or why the nobility who might have been expected to resist the king’s agents did nothing until the 1450’s.[10] His own explanation is that: “The England of the 1440’s was governed by a very extensive network of men, including most of the old nobility; their difficulties stemmed more from lack of co-ordination and lack of authority than from partisanship.” Central to this thinking is late twentieth century research carried out by Christine Carpenter, Anthony Pollard, Helen Castor and others into the dynamics of local politics and relationships in the fifteenth century. These several studies suggest a different and more complex regional dynamic from the factional politics of the greater nobility.[11]

 

Local cooperation between landowners, merchants, farmers, artisans and labourers, coupled with the complex inter-relationships of the gentry forged by their arranged marriages, were the bonds that held English society together. The importance of these local transactions, whether they were commercial, legal, social, successional or familial, is that often they transcended the politicking of the great nobles. In view of Henry’s inability or unwillingness to govern and on the basis that ‘something had to be done’, it is argued that rather than fleecing Henry, his closest advisors were in fact trying to maintain the everyday cohesion of national and local life from collapsing into anarchy. This is an important new hypothesis; since even though the English nobility were a turbulent and quarrelsome bunch, their relationship with the king was based on mutual cooperation and benefit.[12] In the absence of a national police force or standing army, or civil service the king relied on the nobility to enforce his law, his peace and his policies through their network of local officials and law officers. In return, the king was expected to provided the national leadership that ensured “…an outward calm for the defence and surety of the realm”.[13]

 

Professor Christine Carpenter in her own leading study of this period holds the view that Henry was so deficient in kingly qualities that whilst he might be allowed to approve some insignificant grants and pardons, though not necessarily as an act of personal rule, he was hardly likely to be allowed to formulate foreign policy for the war in France, which “…was absolutely central to the domestic politics of England…It is scarcely conceivable that they would have allowed the king to dictate policy on which their very lives depended when they seem to have been able to dictate to the king on everything else that mattered.” [14] However, she does not deny the possibility that Henry’s wishes may be seen in some of his ‘over-generous grants and pardons and in the foreign policy of the 1440’s’, which may be the result of Henry’s genuine desire for peace rather than an example of his capriciousness.

 

It seems, therefore, that though modern scholars agree that Henry was in the general sense incompetent, there is less certainty about whether he was culpable for the deficiencies of his reign. In considering that question, it is important to bear in mind that Henry VI is unique among English monarchs. He was not only born to the purple, but also surrounded with the divinity of kingship from the cradle. The untimely death of his father Henry V bought baby Henry to the throne of two kingdoms before he was a year old. He is the only English king to have presided at his first parliament sitting on his mother’s lap. Consequently, his character and his performance can only be judged in a regal context and by bearing in mind that in respect of both his kingdoms he never had the benefit of growing-up under the wing of his father from whom he might have learned the art of kingship.

 

Kingship

The English had high expectations of Henry. He was, after all, the only son of a successful warrior king. They expected him to rule in the common interest and they recognised his absolute, personal and inalienable authority to do so. There was no conflict between these principles if the king was competent. Ideally, such a king was prudent and took representative advice before acting. He made sound decisions and implemented them efficiently. Sir John Fortescue in his treatise on fifteenth century governance noted with smug pride that though in theory English kings had the powers of a tyrant, they generally ruled responsibly ‘in the common weal’.

 

Much depended on the vigour and personality of the king. He was expected to devise his own foreign and domestic policies, conduct affairs of state, make peace or declare war, lead the army against enemies foreign and domestic, dispense justice, and live off his income from crown lands and feudal dues. In theory, baby Henry was expected to do all these things from the moment he ascended the throne. In practice, of course, that was impossible. Henry could neither walk nor talk, nor control his bodily functions, nor even chew his own food much less govern his realms. This practical problem was complicated by the established constitutional doctrine, which held that the person of the king and the institution of king (the Crown) were indivisible. Royal authority, therefore, rested solely in the king’s person from the very instant of his accession. No other person could exercise royal authority on behalf of the king under any circumstances; to do so, was treason.[15] In 1422, therefore, the king’s true subjects were wondering how their baby king could rule them if he was physically and intellectually incapable of exercising his authority.

 

‘The king’s tender years’

On his deathbed, Henry V entrusted the governance of England to his youngest brother Humphrey duke of Gloucester, signifying that the duke should have the principal safekeeping and defence ’of his beloved son’ (tutela et defensionem nostril carissimi filii principales).[16] These words implied that duke Humphrey was to have the powers of a regent answerable only to the king and then only after Henry reached his majority. It was a settlement that recognised the indivisibility of the person and office of king, and devolved royal authority to the regent. However, when the matter came before the lords in parliament in 1422 they disregarded Henry V’s will and rejected Gloucester’s claim to be regent[17]: they did so again in 1428.[18] Distrusting Gloucester’s motives and preferring a conciliar minority rule to his autocratic regency, the lords determined on legal advice that exceptionally during Henry’s minority the indivisible estate of the king was incomplete since it lacked will or reason, which must perforce be supplied by the lords of the King’s Council, who would exercise the king’s authority collectively, whether assembled in Parliament, in the king’s continual council or in the Great Council, until the king was able to assume his personal rule.[19] John duke of Bedford the heir presumptive was appointed to the specially created and limited position of Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm, and chief councillor to the king. Gloucester was allowed to hold that position only during Bedford’s absences abroad. Professor Watts regards this as a paradox in which the lords are both the king’s servants and his representatives, but in reality, it was a practicable solution to a practical problem. It was a settlement that prevented a non-regal autocracy, whilst enabling the realm to be governed during the king’s incapacity. It did not transfer royal authority to the lords and its legitimacy was founded squarely on the English lords’ collective responsibility. Moreover, this constitutional model stood the test of time. It was used again when Henry was incapacitated by mental illness in 1453, and also in 1483 when the child king Edward V succeeded to the throne. I am labouring these points now because of their importance in understanding the nature of Henry’s reign.

 

A minority council was therefore appointed to govern the kingdom collectively during the protectorship and throughout the king’s minority.[20] From the start, the council’s work was undermined by two long-term problems. First, a conflict of interests between the king’s relatives Gloucester and Beaufort soon became apparent. Gloucester, acting head of the council vice his absent elder brother, was overly ambitious and used his position to influence the direction of policy. Beaufort, the king’s Chancellor, was wealthy and used his wealth to promote his own policies. Their differences, which were personal as well as political, were irreconcilable. And their disgraceful behaviour did much to bring the council into disrepute. Second, many of the minority councillors exploited loopholes in the council’s financial regulations and abused their authority for their aggrandisement. There can be little doubt that Henry’s relatives and his venal councillors set a very poor example for the impressionable king. Even so, it is unlikely that Henry’s inadequacies were apparent when he was a child, since his involvement in affairs of state was notional.

 

A personable, intelligent and precocious youth

Henry’s transition from child king to adult king was a complex, and for some an arcane process. Unfortunately, a definitive appreciation of those events is hardly possible due to an academic disagreement between historians about what really happened and why. The undeniable facts that can be elucidated from the minutes and archives of government are straightforward. On the 1 October 1435, two months before his fourteenth birthday, Henry attended his first council meeting. Gloucester and Beaufort were also present since it was a strategically important gathering to appoint a new captain for the Calais garrison. Evidence of Henry’s subsequent attendances at minority council meetings and also at the less frequent but larger assemblies of his Great Council can be gleaned from the minutes of those meetings. In addition, petitions and warrants signed by the king signify that he regularly exercised his royal prerogative in matters of grace from at least the 28 July 1436, which was well before his fifteenth birthday. [21] For example, between the 7 November 1436 and the end of the month, he signed twenty-seven petitions and warrants.[22] Nor was Henry’s involvement in government restricted to matters of grace. There is evidence that he played a significant part in substantive foreign policy decisions such as the Duke of Orleans peace mission to France.[23] Despite the council’s natural concern about the liberality of Henry’s grants,[24] there was no obvious reason at this stage and on this evidence for anybody to think that Henry would not make a satisfactory king. He was young and could reasonably be expected to become more prudent as he gained experience and wisdom.

 

Following a meeting of the great Council, which lasted from the 12 to the 14 of November 1437, Henry declared the formal ending of his minority and assumption of his personal rule; he was not yet sixteen and the youngest English king since the Conquest to do so.[25] All the existing councillors were reappointed on oath to ‘counsel (Henry) well and truly and to keep his secrets, and to put forward their whole labours and diligence for his worship’.[26] Their terms and conditions of service were changed. Payment was now at the king’s discretion. The most contentious part of Henry’s declaration was the description of his future relationship with the new council, which was set out in a series of detailed ‘ordinances’ taken partly from those established for the council by Henry’s grandfather in 1406.[27] As far as I can see, the core of the declaration amounts to this: i) Henry’s prerogative on matters of grace is unfettered. ii) The council will continue to discuss ‘weighty matters’ moved before them, though no decision will be made or action taken without the king’s ‘advice’. iii) The council will continue to discuss and dispose of routine matters unless the council is divided or unable to make a judgement; in which case, the matter will be referred to the king for judgement. So much for the facts, I now turn to the debate about their meaning.

 

Professor Griffiths considers Henry’s declaration to have been no more than “…an announcement that Henry VI would take a prominent part in affairs henceforth, though without jettisoning the councillors who had served him during his youth.”[28] He dismisses the idea put forward by Watts et al that it was prompted by conciliar apprehension; neither does he accept that it was an attempt to restrain the king. It was, he argues, a material restraint on the council’s power vis-à-vis royal authority, as all matters of grace were in the king’s prerogative. “Pardons were his to give, all collations and benefits his to bestow, royal offices his to fill and anything pertaining to the Crown estates, bounty or favour were reserved to him”. [29] Moreover, though matters of weight might be discussed in council, nothing could be moved without reference to the king. Even routine matters must be referred to the king if the council were divided or unable to make a decision. Griffiths’ further suggests that the outcome was no more than Henry’s personal assumption of powers delegated to the council in 1422. The vagueness of the term ‘great weight or charge’ is an indication of Henry’s intention to intervene in anything important. Griffiths does not see this as a forceful return to personal rule or a wilful thrusting aside of wise councillors. Even less is the council attempting to preserve its authority by ‘ encircling the king with restrictions devised thirty years before’. “Henry’s declaration...[heralded]…the re-establishment, after fifteen years of conciliar government, of traditional royal rule in which the king’s councillors had an acknowledged part. Perhaps the only surprising feature was that it was published so soon in the young king’s life.”[30]

 

Bertram Wolffe’s conclusion is not materially different from that of Griffiths on this issue. Though, he is more vigorous in his assertion that, as far as could be judged in 1437, Henry possessed some kingly qualities such as physical strength, piety and ambition, and that there was a reasonable chance that wisdom and judgement would follow in due course. Henry was keen to assume the reins of power “just as soon, if not sooner than his advisors approved“.[31] Wolffe came to this conclusion after a careful and thorough analysis of the official record, minutes, petitions, warrants commissions and ‘the workings of government’, which demonstrate that Henry was not merely a cipher authorising everything and anything they put before him. In Wolffe’s opinion there were no grounds for the minority council to cling to their powers once the king determined he had come of age. The ordinances of 1437, though based on those of 1406, indicate that the council was shedding power, not increasing it. I do not think that either Wolffe or Griffiths is arguing that Henry was not an ineffectual adult king, or that his incapacity was not an important factor in the catastrophes of his reign. Their point is that these things were not necessarily obvious in 1437.

 

Professor Watts takes a completely different line.[32] For reasons I have already touched on, he argues that Henry insufficiencies were apparent before 1437. He rejects the notion that between 1435 and 1437 Henry was initiating his personal rule. The impetus for that, he argues, was coming from the council who managed his exercise of favour: “from grants made by the king and council in 1435-36 to grants made by the king alone but only during pleasure in 1436-37 and finally grants made for life from the spring of 1437 onwards.”[33] Watts adds that the council and wider nobility were worried that Henry was both unable and unwilling to rule the kingdom independently. He writes: “…if he had been behind the events of 1436, the whole tiresome process of recognition, definition and tentative restriction could have been avoided. The king would have begun to exercise his free will over the full range of royal responsibility, while counsellors, those of 1422 and others, advised him[34]

 

The emerging problems of 1437 were twofold. First, it was next to impossible to prevent individual petitioners seeking patronage from the young king, whose largess was well known. Second, the effective formulation of state foreign and justicial policy depended on active royal leadership and authority; in the absence of these two prerequisite, the effective management of the realm could only be achieved if the various factional groupings and vested interests reconciled their differences in a common approach. It was for these reasons, Watts suggests, that the council devised the 1437 declaration. “ [Since] the impetus for royal activity came from below…It was for the political community, if they could not bind the king, to define and govern the exercise of royal power.” [35]

 

The Suffolk years

The period between 1437 and 1450 saw the gradual but inexorable erosion of conciliar government and the establishment of an oligarchy based on the royal household and headed by William De La Pole earl (later duke) of Suffolk. As Steward of the King’s Household he had unrestricted access to the king and unrestrained influence over him.[36] As a result of this centralisation of government and the staff changes introduced by the council, state affairs were increasingly determined by only a small number of royal advisors, usually comprising Beaufort, Suffolk and their henchmen. Further administrative ordinances in 1444 aimed at streamlining administrative procedures and tightening the purse strings further reduced the number of royal advisors to, sometimes, not more than one or two. Finally, the deaths of Beaufort and Gloucester in 1447 consolidated Suffolk’s dominating position as the king’s chief advisor — sometimes his only advisor.[37]

 

Regardless of whether their motive was benign or malign, it is questionable whether the shift in power promoted by Suffolk’s and his affiliates was in the national interest. Even if the bulk of the English nobility acquiesced in the establishment of an oligarchy that pretended to be a monarchy, and even if the nature of the Henry’s incapacity was so desperate that ‘something had to be done’, Suffolk’s effort to prop up a non-functioning king by acting as his proxy was as reckless as it was treasonable.[38] It reduced the royal household to the status of a ‘faction’ and was the cause of such angst that it led eventually to civil war. If for whatever reason, the king lacked the will or reason to exercise his authority, then his royal estate was incomplete. In which case, the only proper course open to the lords was to resurrect the protectorship and the conciliar regime ratified by parliament in 1422.[39] Though this solution was not perfect, it had the dual benefits of legitimacy and utility. By thus broadening the government’s base and unblocking the king’s access to advice from the wider nobility there was a better prospect of consensual government during the king’s disability. Suffolk’s perseverance with the pretence that Henry was a functioning king damaged the Crown and fuelled public suspicions that he was acting in bad faith. Even professor Watts concedes that “Towards the end of the decade the court actually began to resemble the small body of household intimates and administrators depicted by its critics.”[40]

 

Of all the problems facing the English at this time, the most pressing were maintenance of the dual monarchy and Crown finances. These two problems were inextricably linked and could not be resolved separately. Moreover, an acceptable solution was more difficult to achieve owing to a conflict between the king’s peaceful ambition for his realms and the aspirations of his English subjects, for whom the conquest of France was a matter of national pride, prestige and power. Nevertheless, the key drivers that convinced Beaufort and the council (except Gloucester) of the need for peace were practical and not moral. The war was going badly for English arms. They were on the defensive everywhere. The conquest of the isle de France was no longer achievable or affordable. The burgeoning cost of defending the dual monarchy was pushing the Crown towards bankruptcy.

 

Negotiations for a permanent peace treaty began under Beaufort in 1437 and dragged on until 1444, when Suffolk agreed a temporary truce, which was only secured at the cost of two major English concessions. Henry was to marry a minor French princess, Margaret daughter of Renee of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar, and titular king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem. From the English point of view, it was an inauspicious choice for their queen. Though Margaret was related to Charles VII, she was not an heiress and her family were not important in diplomatic terms. Besides, the attitude towards her in England was likely to be suspicious, it not downright hostile. The second — and secret — English concession was the surrender of Maine, which Suffolk is supposed to have promised to Charles verbally. Henry confirmed the promise secretly in writing in 1445, at the entreaty of his French wife. The English, when they finally heard of this concession were naturally suspicious that Margaret aided by Suffolk had put undue pressure on the king. The English army refused to cooperate and Maine was not actually ceded to the French until 1448.

 

There was a third problem, which though not quite as pressing as the other two was important and getting worse. There is evidence of clashes between local gentry and also between national magnates in the north, in the midlands, in south wales, in the west and in the Home Counties.[41] The use of private armies to resolve local grievances and disputes alienated lords and commoners alike. Their resentment was aggravated by the belief that the king’s ministers and servants condoned this anarchy. These problems were about to come to a head and would change the course of history.

 

Annus horribilis

The year I have called annus horribilis began on the 6 November 1449 with the hasty recall of Parliament. Such was the magnitude of the emergency at home and abroad that only nine weeks after the dissolution of parliament in July, another was summoned in September. The members of parliament who assembled at Westminster on the 6 November 1449 had the crisis in Normandy and misgovernment at home uppermost in their minds, and they were looking for the culprits.[42] As the king’s most influential counsellor, it was Suffolk who bore the brunt of their resentment. His fall from power was triggered by his attempt to block a complaint by Lord Cromwell against William Tailboys from going before the King’s Council.[43] The infuriated Cromwell drew the matter to the attention of the Commons who included it in a list of charges they were compiling against Suffolk. Meanwhile, during the parliamentary recess, English sailors murdered the much-hated Adam Moleyns bishop of Chichester. As he lay dying, Moleyns ‘confessed’ to Suffolk’s many misdeeds. Following this, Suffolk felt it necessary to make a statement answering Moleyns allegations and the many ‘…slanders and misconceptions running throughout the land’.

 

The Lords’ refusal to commit Suffolk for trial on the basis that there were no specific charges provided the Common with the opportunity to present a formal petition (indictment) containing eight specific articles (counts) of high treason against the duke. The most serious charge was that Suffolk conspired with Charles Valois to destroy Henry and put his own son, John De La Pole, on the English throne. The other charges amounted in general terms to examples of his treason by aiding and abetting the king’s enemies. However, after Suffolk was called to answer the charges, the king put the whole matter in abeyance. Whereupon, the Commons presented Henry with a second petition containing eighteen articles setting out the details of Suffolk’s corruption (including Cromwell’s complaint) and financial mismanagement. For which “…offences, misprisions, faithless acts and false deceits specified“ the Commons “accused and impeached” Suffolk.[44] Henry tried to delay the proceedings but was unable to stop Suffolk’s impeachment. In a desperate attempt to save his most important advisor from a traitor’s death, Henry exercised his prerogative to declare the first indictment for high treason ‘neither declared nor charged’. In other words, he was simply not prepared to accept it. On the second indictment of misprision, he exercised his prerogative for clemency by banishing Suffolk for five years. Nevertheless, Henry’s effort to save Suffolk was unavailing. On the 1 May 1450, somewhere in the English Channel off the Kent coast, Suffolk’s ship was intercepted by a small flotilla, which included the Nicholas of the Tower. The Captain and crew of the Nicholas boarded Suffolk’s ship and ignoring his royal safe-conduct tried, convicted and executed him with a rusty sword. His headless body was dumped on the shore by Dover.[45]

 

Suffolk’s death did not alleviate England’s crisis in 1450 but it did pave the way for the Commons to petition Henry for a resumption of Crown lands alienated since the beginning of his reign, and the termination of all annuities, corrodes and pensions.[46] This Act would enable Henry to resume his economic and hereditary rights to all Crown properties, offices and custom taxes he gave as patronage. It was strongly resisted and there is no record in the Parliamentary Roll that Henry assented to it. However, without Suffolk to stiffen the king’s sinews it was passed into law; albeit, with 186 individual exceptions granted by Henry, which rendered it ineffective.[47] The Commons also made supplication to the king about purveyance abuses. They were concerned that money allocated for the defence of the realm was being used to pay the royal household’s subsistence expenses: this had to stop. It was the price Henry had to pay for the life of Suffolk and for obtaining a tax subsidy from the Commons.[48]

 

Charles VII invaded Normandy in 1449 and drove the English out. The English garrison were deficient in all the basic necessities of fifteenth century siege warfare except fighting spirit.[49] The professional French army was superior in numbers, leadership, tactics, arms, equipment and organisation. This situation is all the more discreditable since the English politicians were warned in good time by the English commander, Edmund Beaufort duke of Somerset, that the French were amassing a large army on the Normandy border and that the Duchy was defenceless without a large reinforcement of men and equipment. Measures were hastily put in hand to recruit and equip a force under the command of Sir Thomas Kyriell for service in France, but it was too little too late. On the 15 April 1450 the small English field army under Kyriell’s command was overwhelmed at Formigny near Bayeux; though outnumbered, they fought hard until virtually the last man.[50] The loss of Normandy was regarded as a national disgrace by most of the king’s subjects. There was also a general feeling that the heart of government was corrupt, and doubts that royal authority was being exercised properly.

 

Anybody looking for a connection between local and national politics need look no further than the rebellion that began in Kent in May 1450, and spread through the Home Counties and beyond during the summer. Jack Cade’s rebellion was short, sharp and brutal. Inevitably, the rebels were crushed and their leader killed. However, while it lasted, the rebellion shook the Lancastrian regime to its very core. The king fled from London, his household panicked and gave-up a few defenceless scapegoats to the rebels, and four hundred royal soldiers were defeated in the Kent Weald. Cade occupied London and in a series of quasi-judicial tribunals meted out rough justice to those whom he regarded as traitors. The rebellion was supported by a broad cross section of English society from powerful landowners to rural peasants. And they had put their grievances in writing. The ‘Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent’ and “The Articles of a Captain of Kent’ are distinguished by their intelligent articulation of local and national grievances and for their proposals for reform. The rebels’ grievances are neatly summarised: “…the king had false counsel for his laws are lost, his merchandise is lost, his commons destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, himself so poor that he may not have [pay for] his meat or drink…[51] It is clear that the rebels did not blame the king for this misgovernment; they, blamed his advisors.

 

Although Cade’s rebellion did not produce instant results, it was the catalyst for Richard duke of York’s intervention in English politics as a champion for reform. York did not hold a formal constitutional position within England. He was not a member of the king’s inner circle, nor did he have a natural line of communication to the king. He was, however, the king’s heir presumptive and the senior royal duke, and as such, neither the king nor his inner circle of advisors could ignore York. He served as the King’s Lieutenant in Normandy (twice) and also in Ireland, where he proved himself to be a brave soldier and an excellent administrator: in fact, the quintessential ‘good lord’. His sudden return from Ireland (where he had been sent by the king for ten years in 1447) in September 1450 still troubles scholars: was it due to private grievance or public right? Interesting though that question is, it is irrelevant for my purpose. My point is simply that York’s intervention, for whatever reason, was bound to change the whole nature of English politics, which it did. His criticisms of the government were essentially the same as those of Cade’s rebels. He did not question the king’s competence and embellished his own comments with the suggestion that Henry was the innocent victim of evil councillors. It was a situation from which York — the king’s true and loyal subject — would recue him; thus, allowing him to rule properly as he always intended. It is difficult to regard this approach as anything other than a tactic intended to prevent the imputation of treason against York. It was also an approach guaranteed to antagonize the duke of Somerset who had succeeded Suffolk as Henry’s chief advisor.

 

The hostility between York and Somerset, which had been an undercurrent in English politics from the late 1440’s, became dominant in 1451. Their mutual dislike matured into personal and intense hatred that expressed itself through the medium of opposing Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. And there was worst to come: soon Gascony would be lost, leaving Calais as the last remnant of the first English overseas empire. At home the violent disturbances and aristocratic lawlessness continued, together with real or imagined conspiracies against the king. There was and is a suspicion that York was behind these plots, for which the evidence is ambiguous to say the least. However, it is unlikely that he condoned efforts by his supporters to remove the king. He wanted to rescue Henry from the clutches of his evil advisors, not replace him. The problem with York’s simplistic approach is that it ignored the much profounder question of the king’s fitness to rule, which nobody — least of all York — was prepared to consider at this stage. More worrying from York’s perspective was the fact that whilst his power and influence waned, Somerset’s waxed. By 1452, York was politically isolated. The bulk of the unaligned lords regarded him as an incorrigible troublemaker with no constitutional legitimacy to challenge the king’s choice of advisors. The pretence that Henry was a fit to rule England persisted until he was deposed in 1461.

 

The king was ill. We know nothing about the illness except that it caused mental collapse and it was kept secret until after the birth of his heir on the 18 October 1453. Just prior to the birth, a Great Council meeting was called, from which York was excluded. Nevertheless, in Somerset’s absence on business, a group of non-aligned lords sent for York. Their decision was made on the grounds of his legitimate right to be involved in the discussion about the governance of the realm. It was their hope was that the dukes of York and Somerset would be able to work together and with the Great Council in the public interest: some hope! The mental collapse of Henry and the appointment of York as Lord protector and Defender of the Realm marks the end of this narrative. It is doubtful whether Henry ever recovered from this collapse and nobody even pretends that he was an independent functioning monarch thereafter. After Somerset’s death at St Albans in 1455, Henry was helpless and in the grip of his wife. After York’s death at Wakefield in 1460, Henry was deposed.

 

‘Chide him for faults, and do it reverently’

Personally, I doubt the historical significance of the various interpretations of Henry’s reign. Whether he was a malicious interventionist (Wolffe), a well-meaning duffer (Griffiths) or an inert simpleton (Watts et al) matters not in reality, since the outcome was the same on each case. Henry was a bad king. In fact, it is hard to imagine a man less suited to rule the kingdoms he inherited by an accident of birth. He did not look or behave like a king. Plainly he was incompetent and often disinterested in the minutiae of government. He failed to exercise royal authority properly and lacked the force of personality to uphold the king’s justice in his English kingdom. His shortcomings created a vacuum at the heart of government, which some of his overly ambitious subjects were quick to occupy and keen to exploit to the detriment of the common interest. It is unsurprising therefore that by the middle decade of his reign many of Henry’s English subjects were offended by the losses in France, oppressed for the want of royal justice at home and impoverished by the burden of taxation. These things are all matters of historical record and a blot on his rule. Nonetheless, despite his faults, Henry’s critics tend to underestimate contemporary evidence of the almost insuperable problems he faced from the moment of his accession, which would have tested even his renowned father. For all his heroic stature, Henry V’s legacy to his baby son was not a happy one.

Any hope the English had of conquering Valois France went to the grave with Henry V in 1422. Any realistic hope they had of preserving Henry VI’s sovereignty over his French possessions disappeared with the death of John duke of Bedford in 1435 and the defection of Burgundy from their English alliance that same year. Militarily and diplomatically, the tide had turned irretrievably against the English while Henry VI was still a minor. Their tactics were outmoded, their army was outmatched and the cost of the war was becoming unsustainable: none of this was Henry’s fault. Nonetheless, the subsequent failure to negotiate a realistic and workable peace treaty with Charles VII did bear his hallmark. Henry’s negotiating position was unrealistic. He thought that Charles would stop fighting and allow him to retain sovereignty of his French inheritance: that was a Lancastrian ‘red line’. It was one thing for Henry to be ejected from his French inheritance by the fortunes of war but he could never concede that he was not the king of France by right. In reality, of course, Henry had no leverage over Charles who was winning the war anyway. Besides, he regarded it as a war of liberation and could not allow Henry to retain his possessions except as a vassal of the French king: that was the Valois ‘red line’.

 

The truce with Charles VII that was agreed in 1444 and then extended, was broken by the Duke of Somerset, who enraged the Duke of Brittany by attacking his territory. It is unclear whether Somerset was ‘encouraged’ by the king to do that, but it seems likely. Even if Henry was dealt a bad hand, he played it badly. His pacifist nature was unsuited to the task of defending his French realm in the face of a warlike and implacable foe, and his lack of judgement showed in the promotion of commanders whose only qualification for the task was that they were his favourites. Henry was also hampered by a lack of money to pay for the war and the normal expenses of government.

 

The Crown’s financial difficulties began soon after the battle of Agincourt. The lay and clerical subsidies granted by parliament for 1415-1416 raised £216,868. However, the overall costs of maintaining Harfleur, negotiating with the Duke of Burgundy, the naval expedition of 1416 and fitting out a flotilla for service in 1417 came to £256,885. The deficit of £40,017 was made-up from loans at commercial rates and the ransom payments of French prisoners. These figures do not include expenses incurred during the Agincourt campaign, but not yet met.[52] By the end of Henry V’s reign, the English exchequer had a deficit of £30,000 and outstanding debts of £25,000 due mainly to war costs.

 

It was Henry V’s policy after 1418 to transfer the burden of the war to Normandy. The Duchy was supposed to pay for itself and also contribute money to the general war effort. However, the first complete financial accounts for the Norman Estates shows that all but 5,000 livre (li)[53] of Norman revenue was spent on the administration and defence of the Duchy; nor did finances improve over time. In fact, they deteriorated even further during Henry VI’s minority. In 1423, for example, the accounts show that of the 90,000(li) granted to Bedford by the Norman Estates, only 29,000(li) was available for defence. Between 1419 and 1435, the Norman estates met twenty four times and made impositions totalling 3,150,000(li). Even so, this revenue fell short of costs. The idea that Normandy could be self-funding was illusory; their treasury could only just about cover its own administrative costs if they did not also have to pay for military operations. Moreover, these financial demands alienated the Normans against their English overlords and demonstrated that without an English subsidy the Duchy was, more or less, defenceless.[54]

 

Whilst there is no doubt that Henry VI’s foolish generosity did not improve Crown finances, there is convincing evidence that even had he been judicious and thrifty with the grant of patronage, his means were barely sufficient for his needs. The inherited costs of defending his French inheritance, the expansion of the royal household, the costs of his marriage and the Queens household expenses were more than the Crown could bear without tax subsidies from parliament and the convocation. Significantly, during Henry’s minority neither parliament not the convocation gave generous subsidies; furthermore, the revenue raised was unpredictable. Exemptions given to poor towns and villages reduced the amount raised, as did fraud and administrative incompetence. The alternative of individual taxation was so unpopular that it was only imposed twice (1428 and 1436). Even then, the revenue raised was erratic due to resistance, fraud and administrative incompetence. It seems that the Crown was expected to manage cash flow and income by borrowing, using the Crown Jewels as security.[55]

 

So appalled was Ralph Lord Cromwell by the state of public finances in 1433 that he presented to parliament a highly detailed and precise analysis delineating to the last farthing the Crown’s insolvency. Having just succeeded Lord Hungerford as Treasurer, Cromwell was keen to highlight the problems he had inherited and to impose some fiscal discipline on the government by, for instance, vetting all requests for expenditure and patronage. The demands placed on the royal purse during the king’s minority were many: the royal household, the Queen’s household, Calais, France, Ireland, Scotland, Aquitaine, Fronsac, grants of Henry V’s will, and prisoner expenses etc. In summary, ordinary expenditure exceeded income by £47,887. 7s. 4d farthing, to which must be added provision for the repayment of debts totalling £164,814. 11s.1d halfpenny.[56] To control debt, Parliament set an arbitrary annual limit on Crown borrowing, which could now be secured against tax revenue. These measures under Cromwell’s capable stewardship delayed the inevitable but could not prevent it. By 1449, Cromwell had moved on from the Treasury and the Lancastrian regime was bankrupt. When Parliament met again later that year, the main thrust of the Commons’ criticisms was the belief that corruption and fraud were partly responsible for the crown’s bankruptcy. Their priority now was to put Henry’s finances on a sustainable basis.[57]

 

The aristocratic violence and lawlessness, and the corruption in high places that so oppressed Henry VI’s subjects were not unique to his reign. In fact, the preservation of law and order was a recurrent problem for most, if not all, medieval English monarchs. Late medieval England had an unenviable reputation among the rest of Christendom for lawlessness. While studying the legal records for 1348, the historian L O Pike was so shocked by what he found that he described that part of Edward III’s reign as a period of widespread depravity. E G Kimball, studying the Shropshire Peace Rolls for 1400-1414 concluded that ‘serious crime was not being punished in Shropshire or for that matter anywhere in England’. There are many scholarly studies and records of late medieval crime, none of which has identified even a few consecutive years of effective law enforcement between 1290 and 1485.[58] Neither is this simply a question of policing, since such lawlessness touched on the general lack of public confidence in the integrity of royal justice and the corrupt exercise of power that pre-dated Henry VI’s reign.[59]

 

The reasons for such pervasive criminality are many and complex, and are such that I cannot hope to address them all in this essay. However, there is a combination of circumstances that are part systemic and part behavioural, which I should explore in the context of Henry VI’s reign. The failure of successive medieval kings to outlaw ‘livery and maintenance’, coupled with the collapse of royal justice encouraged the lords and gentry to take grievances into their own hands.[60] The result during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was the creation of ‘over mighty subjects’ with their affinities, which very often included organised criminal gangs of violent men with a penchant for feuding and ignoring the law of property.[61] This undesirable situation was further aggravated by the king’s reliance on local magnates and gentry to administer, dispense and enforce the king’s justice. Chief among these royal officials were the permanent county Sheriff’s who were each had judicial and administrative responsibilities for overseeing and dispensing justice in their county. They presided in the Shire Courts and also framed and selected indictments for hearing in the king’s courts. Moreover they were also responsible for selecting and empaneling jurors to sit on Grand Juries and Trial Juries in the various courts within their bailiwick. Unfortunately, owing to the system of livery and maintenance, Sheriffs were themselves more often than not in the service of a lord and, therefore, were hardly likely to be impartial judges or administrators in any cases involving their lord or members of his family and affinity.[62]

 

Aristocratic lawlessness was a problem, even for strong monarchs such as Edward I and Edward III. A parliamentary petition of 1331 complained that gangs of men were “kidnapping for ransom and killing the king’s lieges, churchmen and royal judges…” [63] Edward tackled the problem with his customary vigour, which, nevertheless brought only temporary success. By 1443 even Edward had to admit that the law of the land was not well kept; it was a problem that only got worse during the king’s absence at the wars. Although Henry VI inherited a situation that was not of his own making, it is hard to refute professor Bellamy’s assertion that the criminality was worse in the fifteenth century than it had been during the fourteenth. Crime had not actually increased but it was more pernicious during Henry’s reign. I don’t think anybody can seriously dispute that this was due primarily to Henry’s lack of kingly qualities as previously discussed

 

My final point is about Henry’s mental health during his adult years prior to 1453, when we know he had some form of mental breakdown, which lasted until 1455 at least. The precise nature of his mental collapse cannot now be known. There is no evidence that Henry suffered mental ill-health prior to 1453, but the inference that he had inherited his grandfather’s (Charles VI) ‘melancholia’ is almost irresistible. It would explain his detachment from temporal affairs and the comments about him made by some of his subjects. It is not impossible, therefore, that he suffered from a mental illness: I put it no higher[64].

[1] John Harvey – The Plantagenets (T Batsford Ltd 1948): I have quoted from the 1967 Fontana edition (p.169)

[2] M R James [Ed] – Henry the Sixth: a reprint of John Blacman’s memoirs (Cambridge 1919): Blacman was a precentor at Eton College (1445-52) and subsequently of King’s Hall Cambridge. There is no evidence that he is the unnamed author who writes in the first person, since his name does not appear in the list of Henry’s chaplains or clerks. It is possible that the tract was simply found among his papers after death.

[3] Sir Henry Ellis [Ed] – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III (Camden Soc 1844) pp. 70-71

[4] Bertram Wolffe – Henry VI (Yale 2001 edition)

[5] Wolffe; pp.12-18 and passim

[6] RA Griffiths – The Reign of Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) pp.253-254

[7] Griffiths pp.231

[8] John Watts – Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge 1999)

[9] Griffiths p.2 note 5: Griffiths cites JS Davies [Ed] – An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI (Camden Soc 1856) p.79

[10] Wolffe pp. xxiv-xxv; introduction by John Watts

[11] Watts chs.5-7; Christine Carpenter – The Wars of the Roses: politics and constitution in England 1437-1509 (Cambridge 1997) passim; Christine Carpenter – Locality and Polity: a study of Warwickshire landed society 1401-1499 (Cambridge 2009; AJ Pollard – North Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: lay society war and politics (Oxford 1990); Helen Castor- The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: public authority and private power (Oxford 2000).

[12] JR Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.3

[13] Lander pp. 33-34; Lander is here quoting the words of Robert Stillington in 1468, when he was Lord Chancellor to Edward IV.

[14] Carpenter (WOTR) p.90

[15] Chris Givern-Wilson [General Ed] The Parliamentary Rolls Of Medieval England (Boydell 2005), Vol 10 (Anne Curry ed) PROME ibid; 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]).

[16] PROME Vol 10 p.6; citing P Strong and F Strong – ‘The Last Will and Codicils of Henry V, (EHR, 96 [1981] 99) et al.

[17] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3 and 23-24; ‘it was not the English custom’, they said

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

[19] PROME ibid; Chrimes p.37

[20] JF Baldwin – The King’s Council in England during the Middle Ages (Oxford 1913) p.169; Henry VI’s first minority council comprised a representative body of twenty-one men, all of whom had served as councillors to his late father. The original list is as follows: the duke of Bedford (protector), the duke of Gloucester (protector in Bedford’s absence), the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Durham (Chancellor), William Kinewelmersh (Treasurer), John Stafford (Keeper of the Privy Seal), the bishops of London, Winchester, Norwich and Worcester, the duke of Exeter, the earls of March, Warwick, Northumberland, Westmorland and the Earl Marshall, Lord Fitzhugh (Chamberlain), Ralph Cromwell, Walter Hungerford, John Tiptoft and Walter Beauchamp, knights. In the absence of any specific instructions from parliament, the council defined its own terms of reference, which were intended to safeguard their superiority under the king by nullifying the autocratic ambitions of Bedford and Gloucester (p.172).

[21] Wolffe pp.87-88; Griffiths pp. 275-278 and Watts pp.127-131: Henry’s first recorded grant of patronage was to his uncle Cardinal Beaufort at Canterbury in July 1436. The king was in Kent to witness the embarkation of English reinforcements for the Calais garrison.

[22] Wolffe p.188: see also Watts p.130, Griffiths p.275 and Baldwin p.184. Baldwin notes: “already in1435-36 the king’s personal intervention in the matter of favours may be observed, as in his own boyish hand the royal signature appears upon various bills ‘R.H. nous avons graunte’.”

[23] Wolffe p.90: in the autumn of 1437, the council was divided on whether the king should pay Orleans’ expenses for his peace mission to France. They were worried that it might be construed as a concession and encourage Charles Valois to make further demands. The matter was put to Henry for a decision. He decided to pay the duke’s expenses from taxation.

[24] Baldwin; ibid

[25] Henry III was eighteen when he assumed his personal rule. Edward III was twenty before he shook off Mortimer’s yoke. The more problematic Richard was twenty-two before he ended his minority.

[26] Baldwin; ibid: the eighteen councillors were as follows: the duke of Gloucester, Cardinal Beaufort, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the bishops of Lincoln and St David’s, the earls of Huntingdon, Stafford, Salisbury, Northumberland, Suffolk and Devon, Lord Hungerford, Lord Tiptoft, the bishop of Bath (Chancellor), Lord Cromwell (Treasurer), William Lindwood (Keeper of the Privy Seal), William Phillip (Chamberlain), John Stourton (knight of the household) and Robert Rolleston (Keeper of the Wardrobe)

[27] PROME Vol 8 pp.321, 323 and 337-67: contains a useful analysis and details of the 1406 ordinances. They appear to have little relevance to the circumstances of 1437, since in 1406 a concerned parliament was seeking to restrain the king’s autocratic tendencies by increasing the council’s powers: arguably, that was not the case in 1437.

[28] Griffiths p.276

[29] Griffiths pp.274-278: see also Wolffe pp.87-92

[30] Griffiths p.277

[31] Wolffe p.92

[32] Watts chps. 4-7; see also Carpenter chps.1- 5, passim, which makes many of the same points

[33] Watts p.30, notes 27-30

[34] Watts p.132: this is a reference to Suffolk’s successful attempt to secure his personal hegemony of the council and of the royal household.

[35] Watts p.133

[36] Baldwin pp.190-191″ Suffolk did not frequently show himself in council but with excessive disregard of his enemies carried his policy with the king independently of colleagues.

[37] Griffiths pp. 284-286; Baldwin ibid; the Council Ordinances of 1444 were only intended to improve the government’s administrative efficiency. However, Henry’s more unscrupulous officials used the ordinances to consolidate the move of government from the council to the household.

[38] Watts chps 5 & 6, pp.181-254; contains detailed and complex arguments in defence of Suffolk’s actions. Put briefly, Watts’ argues that Suffolk’s service to the king forced him to exercise royal authority because the king was incapable of doing so. The real problem he suggests was not venal counselors but a useless king. Such a narrative suggests that England was governed by a group of aristocrats who abandoned the rule of law in favour of the edict ‘might is right’. The image of these royal officials and court favourites disposing of power, wealth and privilege among themselves in order to maintain a privileged status quo and regardless of the rights of others, whether noble or commoners is unedifying to say the least. It brought royal justice into disrepute and was the cause of the social unrest that erupted with catastrophic consequences in the summer of 1450. Watts’ detailed analysis of the working of government and interesting tables and statistics on attendances are meant to support his contention that between 1435 and 1445 Suffolk was acting with the tacit consent of almost all of the English nobility. That may be so, but it doesn’t make Suffolk’s ‘rule’ legitimate nor does it explain why Watts seems to think that such criminal behaviour was in the national interest. By ‘the later 1440’s, even Watt’s acknowledges the lords’ support for Suffolk’s policy was falling away and in any event was ‘insufficiently visible to the rest of political society’.

[39] That is exactly what happened in the 1454 and 1455 when Henry’s metal health collapsed. One wonders whether Henry was of sound mind earlier than this. Did he inherit his maternal grandfather’s ‘melancholia’?

[40] Watts P.240

[41] Griffiths Chapter 20, p.562-609, contains a detailed analysis of the lawlessness and aristocratic violence during Henry’s reign; see also Wolffe pp.106-125; IMW Harvey – Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 (Oxford 1991) Chp.2; and RL Storey – The end of the House of Lancaster (Sutton 1999 2nd Edition) passim for further extensive details of lawlessness

[42] PROME Vol 12, PP 72,73 & 159

[43] Roger Virgoe – William Tailboys and Lord Cromwell: crime and punishment in Lancastrian England (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Library 55, 1972-71973) pp. 459-482; the first charges brought against Suffolk were that he plotted with William Tailboys to murder Lord Cromwell on the 28 November 1449 at Westminster. Even though the incident might have been exaggerated, the fact that this offence was included in Parliament’s second petition for Suffolk’s impeachment is an indication of its seriousness.

[44] PROME Vol 12, pp. 75,76, 93-105 & 154-156 appendix1, article1; this is easily the most comprehensive account of Suffolk’s impeachment with the detailed petitions and and proof, and Suffolk’s own response. See also EF Jacob – The Fifteenth Century (Oxford 1987) pp. 492-495 for an excellent summary of these events.

[45] James Gairdner (ed) – The Paston Letters 1422-1509 (Cambridge Library edition 2010) six volumes, Vol 2 pp.146-147. This letter from William Lomer to John Paston is dated the 5 May; it contains a vivid and detailed account of Suffolk’s death at the hands of the hands of the Captain and crew of HMS Nicholas at Tower. This being a royal ship, it is inconceivable that they acted independently. It is impossible for obvious reasons that they either the king or the queen were behind this murder. However, the Duke of York is a suspect; though there is no evidence.

[46] PROME ibid

[47] PROME ibid; Wolffe p.230; Harvey p.189.

[48] PROME p.78

[49] Alfred H Burne – The Agincourt War (Greenhill Books 1991 edition) chp18 pp. 306-330: contains a useful summary of this campaign with a common sense assessment of numbers and tactics etc. Colonel Burne would, he wrote, gladly have passed over the loss of Normandy in silence since it was such a discreditable period in English history, for which he blamed Suffolk whom he described as ‘shuffling’, even ‘shifty’.

[50] Burne pp. 318-322

[51] Harvey ibid

[52] Jacob pp.202-220, & 255; Jacob provides a useful analysis, with tables, of the monetary grants made to Henry V from 1415 until the end of his reign. This information is extrapolated from the English and Norman exchequer records of the time and includes the detailed costs of in defending and administering Normandy.

[53] Livre: ‘old French currency equivalent to a pound of silver.’ (SOED)

[54] Jacob ibid

[55] Griffiths pp. 376-394 contains a detailed analysis of the crown’s financial problems and the measures taken to overcome them. Griffiths also provides useful tables of taxation trends and prominent Crown creditors.

[56] PROME Vol 11 pp.69, 70 and 102-113; Cromwell’s lengthy schedule is in the form of a petition to the king, which provides a fascinating and detailed description of the Crown’s estate and sources of income in 1433, together with its expenditure and indebtedness. See also Griffiths pp.107-122 for a instructive discussion of these financial problems and some very useful tables of taxation, loans etc. during the minority. It is clear from the evidence and Griffiths’ analysis that parliament underestimated the cost of the war and overestimated the ability of the French territories to pay for it. One consequence of borrowing was that any imbalance between unpaid debts and taxation would inevitably lead to bankruptcy. Significantly, in 1433 the Crown’s indebtedness was two-and-a-half times greater than its annual revenues.

[57] PROME Vol 12, p.77

[58] John Bellamy – Crime and Public Order in England in the Late Middle Ages (Routledge 1973) pp.4-6 citing LO Pike – A History of Crime in England (London 1873-73) i p.297; EG Kimball – The Shropshire Peace Rolls 1400-1414 (Shrewsbury 1959) p.45; RH Hilton – A Medieval Society (London 1966) p.258, who from an analysis of the Assize Rolls for the reign of Edward I formed the opinion that the sanctions of common law were ineffective in curbing violence and corruption; GO Sayles (Ed) – Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench, Edward II (Selden Society,74 1955) p.iii. See also PROME 1275-1504 all volumes, which contain hundreds of petitions attesting to the lawlessness and corruption of the Middle Ages. Finally, there is also a mass of unpublished material in the National Archives as described in Bellamy’s bibliography (pp. 205-206). “Every verdict seems unfavourable” (Bellamy p.4).

[59] Bellamy passim

[60] Livery and maintenance was the practice whereby individual lords recruited large numbers of retainers who were personally loyal to them and wore their livery. These men were expected to respond to calls for military and other services in return for their lord’s protection (‘maintain their part’) in litigation and/or any other disputes they were involved in, and their preferment on matters of patronage Prime examples of these over-mighty subjects during Henry VI’s reign were the dukes of York and Somerset, and the earls of Suffolk and Warwick. Livery and maintenance continued to plague the monarchy until Henry VII outlawed it.

[61] Bellamy pp.1-36 and 69-88

[62] A Harding – The Law Courts of Medieval England (Geo Allen and Unwin 1973) pp.51-53; see also Bellamy passim; from the twelfth century, civil and criminal cases in the country were dealt with under the general eyre. This was an itinerant system of justice introduced by Henry II, whereby professional judges and legal administrator’s from the curia regis (the King’s Court) accompanied the king during his progress around the kingdom and paid prolonged visits to individual counties. Their jurisdiction was wide-ranging and superior to that of the Hundred and Shire courts. The king’s judges were entitled to hear all pleas presented to them and not just those from a special group. Furthermore, their hearings were very thorough by medieval standards. More particularly, these judges were authorised to investigate any and all excesses, misdeeds, taking of bribes and other dishonest practices of sheriff’s and bailiffs, and to review the work of previous eyres. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the demands placed on the general eyre were too great for the limited number of professional judges available and the system fell into abeyance during the thirteenth century. It was a pity as the misconduct of the sheriffs’ was no longer monitored and corrected.

[63] Bellamy p.6; PROME Vol 4, pp. 164 and 166

[64] Wolffe pp.152-153; Griffiths pp. 715-718; Watts pp.301-325 passim and Storey p136 note 13

1484 – TITULUS REGIUS: FACT OR FICTION?

 

Introduction

‘This is indeed a mystery’ I remarked.’ What do you think it means?’‘I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suite theories, instead of theories to suite facts.’

 

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia,[1] Holmes and Watson are puzzled by an anonymous and undated note, which they have received. It was the only case in which Holmes was worsted by a cleverer adversary: the beautiful Irené Adler. Holmes seldom referred to her as anything other than the Woman because in his opinion ‘she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex’. Since this story first appeared in 1888, Holmes’ dictum has become the cornerstone of forensic investigation methodology. Criminologists, detectives, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and many other professionals rely on factual data to support their judgement or opinion.

 

Facts are important to historians also; they are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong; as AE Houseman famously remarked, ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. The difficulty for English medieval historians is that the facts they rely on are often found in old manuscripts, which are hand written in ancient Latin or French by men who were not witnesses to the events they record, and whose narrative may reflect their particular political or geographic point of view. These difficulties increase where contemporary records are incomplete or not available. The historiography of King Richard III suffers from most if not all of these problems. Almost all the accounts we have of his life and reign were written by a small number of people in southern England after his death. We know quite a bit about how the people in London and the south viewed his reign and character, but little of what the rest of the country thought. Our opinion of Richard has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. The generally poor opinion of King Richard III stems from this incomplete material: the Tudor narrative. Horace Walpole, writing during the age of reason was not impressed; he declared that while Richard might well be as execrable as they say he was, there is no reason to believe so on the available evidence.[2]

 

Charles Ross in his biography of King Richard identified the ‘extraordinary problems of the evidence’ as the key issue for those seeking answers to the vital questions of when and why Richard claimed the throne.[3] They have to deal with the paradox of his good reputation prior to April 1483 and the crimes he is supposed to have committed thereafter. Ross’ modern solution to this problem was to ignore the Tudor narrative in favour of inferring Richard’s ‘character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions’; it has, he says, resulted in a more critical appraisal of the Tudor narrative and a better understanding of its value. Such objectivity is to be applauded; though, it does come at a cost. Ross also considers that because historians now have a better understanding of the Tudor tradition and of fifteenth century English politics, they are unwilling to throw the ‘whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.[4] What worries me about that proposition is that it presupposes that the contemporary sources and the Tudor writers are independent of each other: they are not. Of the major chronicles for this period, only Mancini’s narrative was written in King Richard’s lifetime. The other major source is the Second Continuation of Crowland, written about eight months after Bosworth. The English vernacular chronicles were not written until a decade or more afterwards and are so confused and contradictory that they have little or no probative value. Furthermore, the source of these accounts and also of some contemporary foreign chronicles was a member of a cabal of Tudor malcontents who wanted to seize Richard’s throne. It is illogical to think that two separate accounts emanating from the same witness can corroborate each other. The essence of corroboration is that two different witnesses give the same evidence independently.

 

Though modern authors may claim to be objective, the reality is that it is almost impossible to avoid taking sides. The contradiction in Richard’s reputation is such as raise ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’ within a hostile, adversarial situation in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign.[5] Consequently much of Ricardian historiography evinces a preconception of his guilt or innocence that biases judgment. In his defence, Richard’s apologists tend to excuse even his most doubtful actions; whereas his critics’ interpret everything he does negatively and in terms of his perceived vices: violence, greed, deceit, ruthless ambition and murderous intent. His good acts are regarded as self-serving; if he is kind it is because he wants something, if he is generous he is ‘buying’ support, if his justice is firm he is a ruthless tyrant and if his sleep is disturbed by grief for his dead son and wife it is because he has a bad conscience. This preconception stems, I believe, from historical hindsight; the outcome of events in the summer and autumn of 1483 is now a matter of historical record and some historians assume that because they resulted in Richard’s accession, he always intended that outcome. That conclusion is, of course, a non sequitur and, perhaps, an example of the ‘insensible twisting of facts to suit theories’ that Holmes’ deprecates. It is also an illustration what happens when historians’ copy from each rather than analysing the prime source material de novo and critically.

 

I see this tendency in two post 2012 biographies by David Horspool and Chris Skidmore respectively.[6] They are well written and researched, and make good of use local records, contemporary private documents and correspondence, and obscure manuscripts, identified only by their National Archives reference number, to highlight the minutiae of Richard’s life and reign. Unfortunately, on the ‘key questions of when and why Richard aimed for the throne, neither book tells us anything we didn’t already know or mounts an argument we haven’t heard before, or even contains an original thought. That is not a personal attack on the authors since I believe they genuinely aspired to do more; it is, however, a disappointment. David Horspool sought neutrality; he said he wanted to write an account of Richard’s life ‘without keeping a foot in either the anti or pro Ricardian camps’. Similarly, Chris Skidmore wanted to bring balance and ‘more accurate’ scholarship to his assessment of Richard. What I find particularly upsetting is the possibility that these authors, however sincere they are, may actually believe that the habitual, one might almost say ritualistic, recycling of the conventional Tudor narrative could pass for balanced and accurate scholarship. That said, I do think there is some force in the proposition explored by both writers (and others) that the pre-contract — whether true of false — was a device for deposing Edward V to pave the way for Richard’s accession. What I do not accept, however, is that he was motivated by personal ambition or that it was pre-planned. That explanation of his behaviour is superficial and smacks of lazy history. It gives too little weight to the wider impact of complex factional divisions in 1483, or the fear of civil war that was undoubtedly on the minds of Richard and the members of parliament. It also pays too little heed to the constitutional view that parliament as the national assembly had unfettered authority to pass legislation affirming the royal title and obviating the need for litigation, which was in any case impracticable.

 

Consequently, this seems an appropriate subject for me to write about; especially since it is five hundred and thirty-four years ago this month that parliament passed Titulus Regius onto the statute book. It is also an opportunity for me to revisit my previous articles on this subject and to renovate them with new research and fresh thinking. I make no apology for that. However, in view of the complex arguments raised by both sides in this controversy, I think it best to first summarise the relevant facts insofar as we know them.

 

The summer of discontent

The untimely death of Edward IV in the spring of 1483 exposed the deep division and animosity between the queen’s kindred, the old Yorkist nobility and dissident Lancastrians, which hitherto had been checked by the force of Edward’s personality and his political acumen. The king was barely laid in his coffin before Queen Elizabeth, her sons Thomas Marquis of Dorset and Sir Richard Grey, and her brother Anthony Earl Rivers attempted to seize the reins of power by crowning the boy King Edward V before suitable arrangements could be made for his minority rule. They were particularly keen to marginalise Richard Duke of Gloucester, Edward’s paternal uncle and the senior royal duke, and the man whom the late king had nominated as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm. Gloucester was on the Scottish border when he heard of his brother’s death. After a respectful but brief period of mourning, he came south to a pre-arranged rendezvous with the king, who was also travelling to his capital accompanied by his maternal uncle Rivers, his half-brother Sir Richard Grey and two thousand Woodville soldiers.

 

The story of Gloucester’s bloodless coup at Stony Stratford on the 30 April and 1 May 1483 is too well known to need repeating. The upshot was that Rivers and Grey were arrested with their servants, for plotting to kill the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham (who had rendezvoused with Gloucester at Northampton). The Woodville soldiers were dispersed peacefully and the king continued to London in the company of his uncle Gloucester and his cousin Buckingham. The Queen panicked on hearing of the arrests and fled into the comfortable sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, taking her youngest son and heir presumptive, and her daughters with her. On the 10 May 1483, the King’s Council unanimously appointed Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm pending the king’s coronation, which was fixed for the 22 June.

 

We do not know much about events during May and early June. The impression we have is that as late as the 5 June 1483 preparations for the coronation were proceeding normally. On that day Gloucester arranged for those who were to be knighted by King Edward, to come to London at least four days before the coronation. On the same say he wrote to the citizens of York apologising for the fact he that was too busy with the coronation preparations to deal with their recent request for financial relief. I mention these matters because of their ordinariness, which is in stark contrast to Gloucester’s second letter to the York citizens five days later. In that letter, he requested troops to help against the queen and her blood adherents who were planning to murder him and Buckingham. The inference that he was suddenly alarmed by a murderous conspiracy is doubtful, as he had known about that risk since Stony Stratford or earlier. If he was responding to that threat, he had left it too late. The troops from York could not reach London much before the end of June. I believe that something else happened between the 5 and 10 June 1483 to alarm Gloucester.

 

The ‘wicked bishop’

Philippé De Commynes a Flemish knight in the service of Louis XI provides a possible explanation for his change of attitude.

           

 ‘The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Robert Stillington) revealed to the duke of Gloucester that            King Edward, being enamoured of a certain English lady promised to marry her provided he could sleep with her first and she consented. The bishop said that he had married them             and only he and they were present. He was a courtier so did not disclose this fact and           helped to keep the lady quiet, and things remained like this for a while. Later King Edward       fell in love again and married the daughter of an English knight, Lord Rivers.’ [7]

 

If true, it made Edward’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Grey bigamous and their offspring illegitimate, and unable to succeed to the throne.[8]   I believe it was Stillington’s news that so shocked Gloucester. Sir Clement Markham suggests that Stillington told him and the council about the pre-contract on Sunday the 8 June 1483.[9] All we know about this meeting is what we can glean from a letter written by Simon Stallworth to Sir William Stonor dated the 9 June, in which he writes:

           

 ‘…My Lord Protector, my Lord of Buckingham and all other Lords, as well temporal as      spiritual [sic] were at Westminster in the council chamber from 10 until 2 but there was          none that spoke to the queen. There is great business against the coronation, which shall         be this day fortnight as we say…’[10]

 

The meeting lasted for four hours and was evidently not routine. The fact that nobody spoke to the queen suggests that negotiations with her had broken down and that something significant was afoot. Stallworth’s phrase”…great business against the coronation…” is ambiguous: perhaps deliberately so. Most historians think he meant ‘in preparation for or in anticipation of the coronation’ but such an interpretation is not supported by Stallworth’s use of the phrase ‘great business’, which hardly suggests routine administrative affairs. Moreover, the word ‘against’ has eighteen different meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary, five of which use it in the sense of ‘resistance to or opposition to…’ It is possible that Stallworth is referring obliquely to a discussion about Stillington’s revelation, including the propriety of proceeding with the coronation. This possibility is not entirely speculative, since within a week of the letter the coronation was postponed and soon after it was cancelled.

If we take as a working hypothesis that Gloucester was convinced it was true by the 10 June, it puts a different complexion on his second letter to York. It raises the possibility that far from, responding to a threat to his person, Gloucester was preparing for what may happen once Stillington’s allegation was made public. I doubt not that the fear of civil war weighed heavily on his mind; nor do I doubt that he was also conscious of the personal consequences for him and the opportunities it presented. The letter to York provides a convenient cover story, important enough for them to treat it urgently but that gives nothing new away if it falls into the wrong hands. Things came to a head on the morning of Friday 13 June 1483 at the Tower. There, Gloucester met Lord Hastings, Lord Stanley, the Archbishop of York (Rotherham), the Bishop if Ely (Morton) and others, whom he believed were conspiring against him. By lunchtime on the 13th the whole nature of the protectorship had changed irrevocably. Hastings was summarily executed on a convenient log. The Archbishop of York, the Bishop Ely and sundry others were arrested, and there was panic on the streets of London. Three days later Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded the Queen to allow the duke of York to leave sanctuary to attend his brother’s coronation. By lunchtime Gloucester had the king and the heir presumptive in his care and control. By teatime, in council, Edward’s coronation was postponed from June to November. Despite the turmoil, which these events inspired, Londoners in general blamed Woodville inspired conspirators for the unrest.[11] It was about this time that Gloucester made the decisive decision to issue warrants for the execution of the king’s uncle Rivers, his brother Sir Richard Grey and others. It is confirmation of Gloucester’s intention to claim the throne; he would not otherwise have ordered the execution of the king’s blood relatives.

 

Bastard slips shall not take root

Bastard slips shall not take root: that was the uncompromising theme of Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon on the 22 June 1483 at St Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Old Testament[12], Dr Shaa preached to the dukes’ of Gloucester and Buckingham, and a ‘huge audience of lords spiritual and temporal[13] on the illegitimacy of King Edward IV’s children. Exactly what he said, however, is a source of great controversy. The crux of the problem is the paucity of reliable accounts of what was said between 22 and 26 June 1483. The extant chronicles are, to use Paul Kendall’s colourful phrase, a ‘mosaic of conflicting detail’ about Gloucester’s title to the throne.[14] This confusion is in sharp contrast to the certainty of the Parliamentary Roll, which set out the chain of events and royal title with admirable clarity. Nevertheless, many historians are convinced that the allegations against the King’s legitimacy were invented by Gloucester to justify his usurpation. The best way to get to the bottom of that conundrum is to follow the chronologically of events.

 

Dr Shaa’s sermon was not a spontaneous outpouring of public indignation at the illegitimacy of Edwards’s offspring. It was pre-arranged by Gloucester or by others on his behalf to bring to public notice the illegitimacy of the dead king’s children and to put forward his royal title. Though, he was keen to distance himself from the question of deposition, Gloucester’s presence at the sermon is another indication of his intention to replace his nephew as king. Mancini describes how it was said that ‘the progeny of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward was, they said, conceived in adultery.’ This narrative is the only surviving account of the meeting written during Gloucester’s lifetime. [15] However, we must treat it with caution since it is hearsay and not eyewitness testimony; it may or may not be correct.   It is noteworthy that Mancini does not mention the pre-contract at this point in his narrative, though he does later on. Similarly, the reliability of the vernacular chronicles is questionable given that they were written a decade or more after Gloucester’s death and after King Henry VII’s deliberate attempt to expunge all knowledge and memory of Titulus Regius and the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage. The Great Chronicle follows Mancini in alleging that Shaa preached the illegitimacy of king Edward; whereas, Fabyan says that Shaa also declared the bastardy of Edward’s children. It is this confusion over what was or was not said by Dr Shaa that lies at the heart of the controversy. The importance of Shaa’s sermon, however, lay in the fact that it set in motion a train of events that were to put Gloucester on the throne with astonishing speed, even by modern standards. Within three days of this sermon, he was offered the crown. The next day he was king of England.

 

With the exception of Mancini, the sources refer to a meeting that took place on Tuesday the 24 June at the Guildhall, with the Duke of Buckingham in the chair. Present were the Mayor of London, his brethren ‘and a good many’ London citizens. Buckingham is supposed to have spoken wonderfully well for “a good half hour” on behalf of the duke of Gloucester, extorting the audience to admit the Lord Protector as their liege lord. Fabyan writes that Buckingham was so eloquent that he never even stopped to spit. The audience ‘to satisfy his mind more in fear than for love, had cried in small number yea! Yea!’.[16] Mancini records a speech made by Buckingham to the lords on the 24 June. This may be the same meeting referred to above, though this is not absolutely clear. According to Mancini, Buckingham argued at this meeting that ‘it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father King Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth, was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him. Indeed on Edward’s authority the [earl] of Warwick had espoused the lady by proxy — as it is called — on the continent.’ [17] This is an undoubted reference to a pre-contract, although Mancini has managed to get the details of Edward’s amour wrong. Our other primary source, the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle, simply records Richard’s title precisely as it is put in Titulus Regius.

 

The following day, that is the 25 June 1483, the three estates of the realm (the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons of England) met at Westminster. Gloucester’s decision to stop the writs of supersedeas cancelling Edward V’s planned parliament was probably deliberate. He doubtless saw the value of having the members of parliament in London to consider his claim to the throne. Although this was not a properly constituted parliament, pretty much all its members were present. Neither was this a tame Ricardian quorum; the lords spiritual, temporal and the commons who attended were those who would have constituted Edward V’s first parliament.   On any view this was a gathering of national authority.[18] Gloucester’s claim was put forward precisely; some parts were good, others not so good. The evil done to the realm by the Woodvilles, the falseness of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey were put forward and discussed by the three estates. The meeting approved a petition to Gloucester that he should assume the seat royal. On the 26 June 1483 at Baynard’s Castle the petition was presented to the duke who was pleased to accept it. He dated his reign from that day.

 

‘Doubts, questions and ambiguities’

King Richard III was crowned on the 6 July 1483. If he hoped it would unite the various noble factions behind a Yorkist king his hope was dashed. The power struggle that bought him to the throne was not decided; it had merely changed its nature. What we now call ‘Buckingham’s rebellion’ of October and November 1483 was not a national uprising against King Richard. It was a deliberate and carefully prepared dynastic challenge to his crown by the supporters of Henry Tudor assisted by the Woodvilles and disaffected Yorkists. Although, Richard crushed the rebellion and executed Buckingham, neither its cause nor the rebels were exterminated. Henry Tudor continued to make mischief from the sanctuary of France.

 

King Richard faced another and more urgent problem: Edward V’s deposition and his accession happened so quickly that many of his subjects were bemused by what had occurred. Quite apart from the effect of a rumour that two princes’ were dead, people had qualms about the status of the June petition and Richard’s election to the crown at a non-parliamentary meeting. The author of Titulus Regius recognised this problem and attempted to deal with it in the preface. He acknowledged that because the three estates were not on the 25 June assembled in proper form of parliament, ‘various doubts, questions and ambiguities are said to have been prompted and engendered in the minds of various people’. The preface continues, ‘…in order the truth may be known and perpetually kept in mind’ it is necessary for the petition to be incorporated in an act of settlement validating Richard’s royal title with the authority of parliament and removing ‘…the occasion for all doubts and uncertainties and all other legal consequences that might thereof ensue.’ [19] This is an important point, to which I shall return.

 

It is necessary to preface my following analysis with some general observations. First, when considering Titulus Regius from a historical point of view, it must always be borne in mind that it is, a legal document in which the draftsman (almost certainly a canon lawyer: possibly Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells) has been careful to cover all the key elements of the case. Charles Ross was wrong to dismiss it as ‘pure propaganda’; though, it is by its nature a partisan document intended to assert Richard’s royal title. Moreover, the attack on the validity of Edward IV’s marriage and the legitimacy of his children was a deliberate attempt to re-define a political problem as a legal one and therefore not entirely convincing in establishing its proponents good faith. Although there was neither a law of succession in medieval England nor hardly any strict rules governing the process, it was — with some notable exceptions — customary for the throne to pass from the king to his eldest surviving son. Prince Edward was the dead king’s eldest son and everyone naturally expected him to succeed to the throne; to deprive him of this inheritance on a point of law was incomprehensible to some people and seemed unjustified to others. In particular, parliament’s bastardization of Edward V without recourse to the judgement of a church court has attracted much historical criticism. It is important to understand in that context that Titular Regius is also an important constitutional document in which the author has been equally careful to define parliaments authority to validate King Richard’s title in legislation without recourse to litigation. It is important to distinguish between these legal and constitutional points.

 

Second, it is essential not to over simplify the circumstances leading to Titulus Regius in 1484. The common tendency to interpret them solely in the context of King Richard’s personal ambition ignores the wider influence and dynamics of factional interests. None of the legal impediments to Edward V’s accession were insuperable. His bastardy could have been ignored. Parliament could, had it so wished, have passed an Act of Succession for Edward V validating his title forever. After all, Edward IV and Elizabeth had lived openly as man and wife for many years and their son Edward Prince of Wales was acknowledged on oath by the entire English nobility as the heir apparent. Parliament could just as easily have revoked Clarence’s attainder to allow his son Edward Earl of Warwick to succeed to the throne ahead of Richard. And yet they did nothing to stop Titulus Regius: why? That is the key question in this debate

 

Third, too much emphasis is placed on the pre-contract allegation at the expense of considering Titulus Regius as a whole. The marriage of Edward and Elizabeth’s was attacked on four separate grounds, only one of which needed to be proved for the marriage to be invalidated. In this regard, the charge of witchcraft is significant. It was not a supplementary charge, and the assertion that it was notorious posed a serious problem (which I will come to) for those attempting to defend the marriage on legal grounds.

.

Titulus Regius

The main body of Titulus Regius is taken verbatim from the petition and is organised in three parts. The first part is an attack on Edward IV’s reign. Much has been made of this but it is a convention common to this type of document. The second part sets out the grounds for the disqualification of Edward’s children’ from the royal succession. The third part is a recapitulation of Richard’s title as the rightful king of England according to God’s law, natural law and the ancient customs of the realm by right of succession and election. It is, essentially, an attack on Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey on four grounds.

’The ‘feigned marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Grey was ‘presumptuously made without the knowledge or the assent of the lords of the land.’

           

And also by sorcery and witchcraft committed by the said Elizabeth and her mother Jaquetta duchess of Bedford as is the common opinion of the people and the public voice   and fame throughout the land, and as can be adequately proved hereafter at a convenient time and place if thought necessary.

 

The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly without publishing of bands, in a private chamber and a profane place and not openly in the face of the church according to the law of God’s church but contrary to it and the law and custom of the Church of England.

 

And also how, when he contracted the feigned marriage and previously for a long time after the said King Edward was and stood married and troth plighted to one dame Eleanor Butler, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury with whom the said King Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage with the said Elizabeth Grey.’

The document concludes that if all this is true ‘as in very truth it is’, then Edward and Elizabeth had lived together in adultery and that their children were bastards ‘unable to inherit and claim anything by inheritance by the law and custom of England.‘ Clarence’s son was also barred from the succession, as his father was a convicted traitor.[20]

 

It is necessary first to first dispose of a claim that the Titulus Regius did not reflect Gloucester’s royal title put forward in June. Charles Wood raised this issue over half a century ago.[21] His sole point was that the text of the petition as set down in the Parliamentary Roll does not agree with the various chronicle versions of the royal title claimed in June. He overlooks the fact that the chronicles also differ from each other and deduces that the original petition was altered later, possibly more than once. He further deduces that Mancini’s account is the correct one and dismisses the second Continuation of Crowland’s version because it is based on Richard’s Act of Settlement rather than actual events. He therefore argues that it cannot be relied upon as corroboration of the Parliamentary Roll. His conclusion is that Richard was clearly ‘making it up as he went along’ to justify his usurpation, by, for example, introducing Eleanor Butler who was conveniently dead. Others have since followed Wood’s line of argument uncritically.

 

The answer to this point is straightforward and contained in one of Richard’s signet letters. On the 28 June 1483 (that is two days after his accession), he wrote to the Captain of Calais and the townspeople in response to their concerns about the events in England and their effect on the garrison’s oaths of allegiance to the king etc. In his reply, Richard mentioned his accession and his royal title. After referring to the June petition, the letter goes on ‘…the copie of the whiche bille [petition] the king wille (i.e. desired/instructed/ordered) to be sent unto Calais and there to be redd and understanded togeder with these presentes’ Wood is not alone in construing this to mean that the petition will follow after the letter. He has, however, misread the letter, since it says no such thing. From their ordinary, everyday meaning, Richard’s words indicate that the petition was enclosed with the letter.[22]

 

David Horspool follows Wood’s line; he alludes to the difficulty of understanding the precise nature of Richard’s claim to the throne, ‘let alone what Richard actually believed’. [23] His argument on this point is best put in his own words: ‘The argument that the text of the petition was enclosed with the letter to Calais does not seem convincing as the letter clearly states that the petition “will be sent unto Calais and ther (sic) to be redd & understanded, togeder with these presentes’.’ I.e. it is not an enclosure but will come on later…’ Unfortunately, any misunderstanding’ is entirely David Horspool’s and of his own making. It results from a mistake, which were it not so serious might be dismissed as a schoolboy howler. Horspool has misread and misquoted, and thus completely changed the meaning of Richard’s letter by omitting the word ‘to’ after the word ‘wille’ in his extract quoted above. The fact that this misquotation supports his theory about the vagueness of Richard’s royal title may be the coincidental outcome of a careless mistake. It may equally be that his preconceived theory of Richard’s character has ‘insensibly’ led him to twist the facts to fit his theory.

 

Personally, I cannot think of a sensible reason why King Richard would refer in the letter to a petition setting out his title, which said petition was to be read in conjunction with the letter (‘these presents’), and not send the petition. It defies the facts and common sense. I must also question the rationale of Woods reasoning. The idea that the details of Richard’s royal title were changed after the June meeting is not a valid inference to draw from the differences between the various chronicle versions and the Parliamentary Roll text. There are many other reasons why they may differ, not the least of which is that the chroniclers misunderstood what was said. Neither does it follow logically that because Crowland quotes directly from the act of succession he is not reporting what actually happened. I must now turn to the substantive legal arguments for and against Titular Regius; in doing so, I will use headings adapted from the main body of Titular Regius.[24]

 

The ‘feigned’ marriage was made without the knowledge or assent of parliament.

Edward’s failure to get parliamentary approval did not invalidate his marriage to Elizabeth Grey; it was, however, a monumental political mistake since it alienated his most powerful subject, Richard Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker), and his most ambitious subject and heir presumptive, George Duke of Clarence. Royal marriages were matters of national policy, about which the whole realm had an opinion. A good match with foreign princess bought with it the benefits of alliances, power, prestige and (not to be sniffed at) trade. A king might love where he could; but he married for reasons of state. Edward’s clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Grey was by definition outwith the consent of his subjects. It might not be invalid but it was divisive.

 

The said ‘feigned’ marriage was achieved by sorcery and witchcraft

Everybody knows that the existence of sorcery and witchcraft was taken more seriously in the fifteenth century than it is today: much more seriously in fact. Fifteenth century English society believed implicitly in God and the Devil; in, the goodness of the Holy Spirit and the badness of evil spirits. The ancient arts of magic were widely acknowledged and took many forms. There were some whose activities were innocent, such as those who used herbal lore for healing the sick, or studied astronomy or astrology; however, there were others who practiced black magic. Significantly, cases of Devil worship, while common on the continent, are unusual in accounts of English witchcraft. On the continent, sorcery and witchcraft were held to be heresy, punishable by the most excruciatingly painful death; whereas in England, it was considered to be a felony and therefore not automatically a capital offence.

 

If you were high born, however, an allegation of sorcery and witchcraft could have devastating consequences. For example, in 1419, Henry V’s stepmother the Queen Dowager Joan of Navarre was convicted of witchcraft and imprisoned. In 1441, Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester was convicted of witchcraft and treason; she was imprisoned for life and forcibly divorced from Duke Humphrey. The draftsman of Titulus Regius knew this when he accused Elizabeth Grey and her mother Jaquetta of bewitching Edward IV into a clandestine marriage. It is not, as some historians seem to think, merely an add-on in the case against Edward’s marriage. The use of witchcraft could invalidate a marriage on its own, either because it caused impotence or the bewitched person could not give an informed consent to the marriage. I doubt that impotence was a problem for Edward IV, so this issue turns on consent, which in the canons falls under the heading of ‘force and fear’. ‘The decretal Cum locum begins “since consent does not take place where there is fear or coercion, it is necessary for all coercion to be eliminated when someone’s assent is required. Now marriage is contracted by consent alone, and, when it is sought the person whose intentions are in question should enjoy full security, lest he say out of fear that he is pleased with something he hates, with the result that usually follows from unwilling nuptials.” ‘ [25]

 

The trial in 1441 of Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester on charges of sorcery, witchcraft and treason was a precedent and a model for the accusation against Elizabeth and her mother. It is possible that some of the charges against Eleanor Cobham were fabricated in order to discredit her husband Humphrey Duke of Gloucester; but they were not entirely fanciful, since she had in her service priests of doubtful repute and she was politically ambitious. It was ambition that bought her down and destroyed her husband’s influence at court. In 1440, Humphrey was heir presumptive; if the king should die childless before him, Humphrey would succeed the throne. He was, in the general opinion, a man of power at court and influence over the king, much to the chagrin of his political opponents. Unfortunately, rather than wait for nature to take its course Duchess Eleanor tried to peer into the future to see when Henry would die ‘so that she would be queen.’[26] It was a foolish mistake since it played into the hands of her husband’s enemies, who were bent on destroying him. Eleanor Cobham was, herself, hated and mistrusted for her vaulting ambition, her self-importance and her voracity. In June 1441, her associates Roger Bolingbroke, Thomas Southwell, John Home and Marjery Jurdane (or Jourdemain, also known as the witch of Eye [-in-Westminster]) were arrested and charged with conspiring to bring about the king’s death: Bolingbroke through necromancy, Southwell by celebrating Mass unlawfully with strange heretical accoutrements and Home for taking part with both. Jurdane confessed that she had been long employed by the duchess as a sorceress to concoct potions and medicines to ‘make Duke Humphrey love and marry her.’ Thus incriminated, Eleanor was questioned by an ecclesiastical court on the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, and by the King’s Council in connection with an alleged conspiracy to murder the king. At first, she strenuously denied all the allegations, but following the admissions by Bolingbroke and Jurdane, she confessed to five of the twenty-eight charges on the indictment, including the fact that she used witchcraft to make duke Humphrey marry her. After further enquiries, Bolingbroke, Southwell, Home and Jurdane were indicted on counts of treason, felony and sorcery in that ‘on various occasions after April 1440…they had used magic figures, vestments and instruments, and invoked evil spirits to anticipate when the [king] would die.’[27] It was also alleged that Eleanor Cobham as wife to the heir presumptive wanted to be queen and wanted to know when it would happen. The outcome was, of course, inevitable. Bolingbroke suffered the full horror of a traitor’s death; Jurdane, of a witch’s death. Southwell died in custody before he could be brought to the scaffold (suicide?). Home was pardoned.

 

For her spiritual offences, Eleanor Cobham was condemned by an ecclesiastical court of bishops to do public penance and divorced from her husband. She was never tried on the charge of treason. Instead, the King’s Council made administrative arrangements for her to be imprisoned for the remainder of her life. Duke Humphrey was by this time powerless to protect her. Nonetheless, her imprisonment without trial raised certain ‘doubts and ambiguities’ in the minds of some, about whether her case had been resolved by due process of law. It was clear that English peers were entitled to be tried by the judges and peers of the realm; however, there was no provision for the trial of a peeress. Consequently, in 1442 a petition was presented in parliament ‘that all doubt and ambiguity about the trial and judgement of (Eleanor Cobham’s) conviction for treason and felony be removed’. The trial for peeresses was put on the statutory basis that the ‘judges and peers of the realm’ must try them. Eleanor Cobham died still a prisoner in 1457.[28]

 

The allegation that Elizabeth and her mother had bewitched Edward into marriage is not the only allegation of witchcraft made against members of the Yorkist royal family: nor is it even the first. During Warwick’s rebellion of 1469/70, while the king was a prisoner in Warwick castle, Thomas Wake, one of Warwick’s men, accused Jaquetta of witchcraft. The details of her offence are obscure but it seems that Wake brought to the castle a small lead figure fashioned like a man. The figure was broken in the middle but had been repaired with wire. Wake said that Jaquetta made the figure for use in witchcraft. He also produced John Daunger a witness who said that Jaquetta had two more figures: one for the king, the other for the queen. As there is no accusation that she actually used the figure for supernatural purposes and unless it was held that the mere possession of a lead figures amounted to witchcraft, it is difficult to see on these facts what evidence there was to justify a prosecution. But that is hardly the point, since this accusation was, in all probability, an early attempt to impugn the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth; and it had Warwick’s bungling footprints all over it. Fortunately, for Jaquetta, the outcome was as predictable as the allegation. Edward recovered control of the kingdom and, unsurprisingly, the case against Jaquetta collapsed. Wake, who had a personal grudge against Jaquetta’s husband, Lord Rivers, was accused of being malicious and Daunger retracted his evidence. In February 1470 the King’s Council (Warwick being present) formally exonerated Edward’s mother-in-law.

 

Accusations of witchcraft continued to hound the royal family. The duke of Clarence’s conviction and execution for treason has its genesis in the earlier trial and convictions of Thomas Burdet, John Stacy and Thomas Blake for imagining the king and his heir’s deaths by necromancy. Burdet was a servant and close personal friend of Clarence. His involvement in a treasonous plot that could only benefit Clarence, threw suspicion on the duke who made things worse by challenging, what seems to have been, a just conviction and by accusing the king of practicing necromancy.[29] In 1483, Gloucester accused Elizabeth Woodville and her supporters of forecasting his death. I think we can disregard the assertion of the later Tudor historians that he also accused Elizabeth of bewitching his body. King Richard has, himself, disproved that possibility from the grave. I do not offer these examples as proof of the allegation in Titulus Regius but as an indication of the notoriety and significance of witchcraft/sorcery within Yorkist royal circles. The draftsman of Titulus Regius obviously appreciated this point since he inserted a clause at this point stating that the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey was a matter of public notoriety; thus reversing the burden of proof.[30] In law, if something was so well known as to be notorious ‘neither witness nor accuser is necessary’.[31] Henry Kelly’s assertion that notoriety only applied to the witchcraft charge and not to the pre contract is irrelevant, since Titulus Regius raised a presumption that the marriage was invalid and everybody knew it was; therefore the burden of proving it was valid fell on Edward and Elizabeth’s children or Elizabeth. Furthermore, Edward’s marriage to Eleanor Butler was secret; it could not by definition be notorious.

 

That is an important point since the circumstances of the wedding are inconclusive. The best account comes from the pen of Robert Fabyan and was written thirty years or more after the event he describes.

    ‘In most secret manner, upon the first day of May, King Edward spoused Elizabeth, which        spousals were solemnised early in the morning at a town called Grafton, near Stony Stratford; at which marriage were no persons present but the spouse, the spousess, the Duchess of Bedford her mother, the priest, two gentlewomen and a young man to help the priest sing. After which   spousals ended, he went to bed, and so tarried there three or fours hours, and after departed  and rode again to Stony Stratford, and came as though he had been hunting, and there went to  bed again’

 

It is a plausible story of a secret marriage; the date and the location of the king are corroborated from contemporary records of his known movements. There is nothing substantive in this narrative to support the proposition that Edward was bewitched into a marriage he did not want other than Fabyan’s insinuation about ‘What obloquy ran after this marriage, how the king was enchanted by the Duchess of Bedford and how after he would have refused her‘, which, infuriatingly, he passed over, along with ‘many other things concerning this matter’. This and perhaps the fact that the 30 April was St Walpurgisnacht (otherwise known as the ‘night of the witches’), has encouraged speculation that Edward might have attended a Black Mass at Grafton at which potions, and aphrodisiacs were used to enhance sexual pleasure and to deprive Edward of his senses, so that he could not say no to the marriage.[32] It is not impossible that that is indeed what happened but this material does not prove it. The contrary argument is that Fabyan got the date wrong; the wedding actually took place much later, possibly in August.[33] This argument is based on the premise that Edward is unlikely to have been able to keep his marriage a secret for five months, and that some grants made by the king would seem to be unnecessary if he had just married Elizabeth ‘who could be expected to give him an heir of his own body.‘ It is an explanation for Edward’s delay in revealing the marriage but not necessarily the explanation. The problem with this speculation is, however, that it flies in the face of the facts. Edward plainly did escape his attendants to marry Elizabeth in secret. It’s hard to believe that a man of his resourcefulness and sexual appetites could not successfully repeat the exercise. On the second point, there was no guarantee that the queen would or could bear him a son; indeed, she did not actually do so for six years. Besides, there are many other reasons why Edward might have made the grants. It might, for example, have been patronage expected of him by people who knew nothing of his marriage to Elizabeth and he did not wish to encourage their speculation by not making these grants, which on the face of it were reasonable.

 

Ultimately, I believe that the actual circumstances of the wedding are beside the point. The invalidation of Edward’s marriage on the ground that he was bewitched did not (in 1483) turn on proof that he was actually bewitched. Titulus Regius was expertly worded so that it was sufficient for the accusation of witchcraft to be plausible not only because of the notoriety surrounding previous allegations of witchcraft within the royal family but also because for many of the King’s subjects it was the only possible explanation for his otherwise inexplicable marriage to a commoner with no dowry or assets, and a large and voracious family to support.

 

The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly

The historian Mortimer Levine dismisses the clandestinity of this marriage as a matter of no consequence[34]. He argues that clandestine marriages are valid, binding on the parties and enforceable in law. He is right in principle, but he has over simplified the law in 1483 and jumped to the wrong conclusion. In the fifteenth century, questions of legitimacy were not determined solely on the basis of whether the parents were validly married. There were many subsidiary principles used to determine legitimacy, the most famous being ‘legitimisation by subsequent marriage’. This principle also relied on the parents’ good faith. The reasoning was that parents and children should not be penalised for their ignorance of an impediment. If one of the parents was unaware of the impediment, the children of that union were presumed to be legitimate in law. However, it is unnecessary to consider this issue as the clandestinity of Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage raises the presumption of bad faith, which puts them outside this rule. If their marriage had been open, with banns declared, people would have had an opportunity to object and Edward’s previous marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler might have come to light. Contrary to what Levine says, the secrecy of their wedding is far from irrelevant; it goes to the heart of the problem of their children’s illegitimacy.

 

Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage

The pre-contract raises two objections; first, that the pre-contract is an invention and second that in any case it would not, on these facts, bastardise Edward’s children. The first objection is a question of fact and turns on the supposed absence of written proof of Stillington’s allegation. It this perceived gap in the paper trail, which sceptics use to challenge the existence of the pre-contract. However, to suggest that there is no written evidence of Edward’s prior marriage is plainly nonsense in the face of the documents we do have: the Parliamentary Roll’s, which confirms the prior marriage, Commynes’ memoirs naming Stillington as the ‘whistle blower’, officiate and only witness apart from the bride and groom, and the Crowland Chronicle. What we do lack, however, is Stillington’s written testimony; we also lack the type of circumstantial detail that adds colour to the bishop’s revelation: the who, what, when, where, how and why questions.[35] Common sense suggests that the mere fact that it was a secret ceremony precludes the possibility of any written contract or promise and it is difficult to know what else would satisfy the sceptics if they doubt even parliament’s integrity in accepting the petition verbatim. Anyhow, it does not necessarily follow from the absence of written proof that Stillington was lying, or that he and Gloucester conspired to tell lies. Moreover, the absence of such written testimony or other proofs is hardly surprising due to the fact that in 1485, King Henry VII was intent in suppressing all knowledge of King Richard’s royal title.

 

He ordered Titulus Regius, to be repealed without being read (itself unusual in the annals of parliament). The repeal of Titulus Regius was necessary to bolster King Henry’s own weak title, which depended on the legitimacy of his wife Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. However, his order that all copies should be annulled and utterly destroyed’ on pain of punishment suggests there was more to it than that. Titulus Regius was, he said, ‘to be cancelled, burned and put into oblivion’. Henry’s intention was by his own admission to ensure ‘…that all things said and remembered in the said bill may be forever put out of remembrance and forgot.’ His explanation that he could not bear to have this infamy of his wife and her family remembered is doubtless true but it is not the whole truth. It was a blatant attempt to rewrite the history of King Richard’s royal title. I take Horspool’s point that it doesn’t necessarily follow that Henry thought the pre-contract story was true. However, when coupled with the arrest and subsequent pardoning of Stillington and Henry’s refusal to allow the bishop to be examined by his judges on the facts of the pre-contract, then the inference that he may have had something to hide is almost irresistible. At a time when King Henry would have welcomed proof positive that the pre-contract was a slanderous lie, he chose to suppress it rather than disprove it.

 

Neither are there any grounds for doubting Stillington’s credibility as a truthful witness to the marriage. Nobody has produced evidence that he invented the pre-contract story either on his own or as part of a conspiracy with Gloucester (as he then was), or that he allowed Gloucester to put him up to it. He did not receive any discernable reward for his revelation there is little force in the assertion that the pre-contract story was known to be false at the time. The only doubts that were expressed came from sources in southern England after his death, at a time when Henry VII was actively suppressing the true history of Titulus Regius.

 

The pre-contract story was also credible to King Edward IV’s subjects. His promiscuity was notorious. Crowland describes him in general terms as ‘a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion.’[36] Mancini is more descriptive:

 

‘He was licentious in the extreme: moreover it was said that had been most insolent to    numerous women after he had seduced them, for, as soon as he grew weary of the         dalliance, he gave up the ladies much against their will to the other courtiers [Hastings,   Rivers and Dorset?]. He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the    noble and the lowly: however he took none by force. He overcame all by money and         promises, and having conquered them, he dismissed them.’[37]

 

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the draftsman of Titulus Regius had no need to allege bigamy. As I have already argued, the charge of witchcraft and the claim on notoriety were sufficient to invalidate Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth without the need of a court judgement. If the pre-contract story was not true it’s inclusion in Titulus Regius was a dangerous embellishment, a mistake of the first magnitude, which I do not see such a careful draftsman making.

The second objection raises two questions of law, which I shall deal with individually.[38]

  • The first point relies on the current principle of English law that that bigamy ceases once one of the spouse’s dies. Richard’s detractors argue that no objection could be raised against the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey or against the legitimacy of their children born after Eleanor Butler’s death on the 30 June 1468. However, in the fifteenth century the law was different; in those days under canon law, adultery when coupled with a present contract of marriage was an impediment to the subsequent marriage of the adulterous couple. Based on the facts of this case, the law in 1483 presumed that Edward had ‘polluted’ Elizabeth by adultery; consequently, they were forbidden from marrying at any time in the future, even after the death of Eleanor Butler. Medieval canonists considered this harsh, even unjust. Consequently, to mitigate its effect on an innocent party in a bigamous marriage, exceptions to the rule were allowed. For example, if Elizabeth Grey did not know of Edward’s previous marriage to Eleanor Butler, she would not be committing adultery knowingly and there would be no impediment to her marrying Edward after Eleanor’s death. Of course, whether this exception applied depends on facts we cannot now prove: did Elizabeth know about the pre-contract when she ‘married’ Edward? Unhappily for Edward and Elizabeth no investigation of the facts was or is necessary since the application of this exception rested on the legal presumption that Elizabeth acted in good faith. Owing to the fact that her marriage to Edward was clandestine, the law presumed bad faith on her part. Thus, she could not avail herself of its protection.[39]

 

  • The second point of law turns on the argument that as Edward and Elizabeth ‘had lived together openly and were accepted by the Church and the nation as man and wife’, King Richard’s claim was too late. Edward and Elizabeth lived openly together for nineteen years. Furthermore, fifteenth century matrimonial law recognised the validity of what we would call a ‘common law marriage’. It was also possible in certain circumstances to presume the legitimacy of any resulting children. However, the problem for Edward’s children continues to be the secrecy of their parents’ wedding. The presumption of validity only extended to marriages conducted in facie ecclesia. Furthermore, canon law specifically allowed questions of bastardy to be raised after the parents’ deaths, in order to settle issues of inheritance. Finally, it was and is a precept of English law that an illegal or improper act cannot be by its continuation over a long time. Far from making things better, Edward’s nineteen-year cohabitation with Elizabeth made them worse.

 

The Constitutional question

The constitutional question is simply whether Parliament had authority to determine the validity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth and the legitimacy of their children. The gist of the argument against parliament is that as a ‘secular court’ it had no such authority, which lay exclusively with the church courts. It is a superficially strong objection against Titulus Regius and no less so for being the first, and the only remotely contemporary one. The Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle contains this passage.

 

 ‘At this sitting [1484] parliament confirmed the title by which the king in the previous        summer ascended the throne and although that lay court found itself (at first) unable to give    a definition of his rights, when the question of the marriage was discussed, still, in          consequence of the fears entertained of the most persevering (of his adversaries), it             presumed to do so, and did so.”[40]

 

I have used Henry Riley’s nineteenth century translation because in my personal opinion, modern translations that simplify the text in the interests of clarity or ‘good English’ lose too much detail in the process. They are also symptomatic of a general dumbing down of discussion about Titulus Regius by historians. I believe Riley’s text is more accurate and better captures the events and the atmosphere in parliament: the difficulty in defining the king’s rights, the fact that it was only enacted after a debate and the great fear that afflicted even the most resolute. I feel sure that these emotions were present and expressed. We get an idea of the issues that troubled parliamentarians from John Russell’s draft sermon, which he prepared for the opening of parliament. Russell clearly opposed the enactment of Titulus Regius in the form of the petition. He went so far as to describe it as ‘a document conceived in malice and ending in corruption’. It is impossible to believe that after hearing the Lord Chancellor’s explosive sermon criticising the petition and the petitioners, the matter was not debated with keen interest on all sides. It is true that the debate is not recorded in the Parliamentary Roll but we know from an MP’s extant diary of the 1485 parliament that such debates took place, especially on important issues such as the royal title.[41]

 

Russell was not of course advocating that parliament should refuse to validate Richard’s succession: far from it. His objection was to process and not outcome. He argued that to ratify Richard’s title by inheritance was fraudulent because it was based on ‘false’ information and because it involved a determination on the validity of Edward’s marriage, which he believed parliament should not do. Russell feared above all things division and sedition. He had in mind the October rebellion, which was indicative of the continuing divisions in the English polity. He believed that Titulus Regius in this form was more likely to result in a disputed succession and civil war. He saw the need for an exclusively political solution, which he believed would avoid stepping on the Church’s toes and being more honest and open was something the realm could come to accept. Although he doesn’t say exactly what he had in mind it was probably a simple declaration by parliament that the crown was vested in King Richard and his heirs forever.[42] Russell’s sermon also contained the following statement on the nature and authority of parliament

 

 ‘In this great body of England we have many diverse members under one head. How be it            they may all be reduced to (iij) chief and principal, which make this high and great court at    this time, that is to say the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons.’ [43]

 

That is a reference to parliaments political role; significantly, Russell does not imply that parliament is in this instance acting in its judicial capacity. Even so, there was a problem with the notion that parliament could simply declare Richard as king; it, would have been unacceptable to Richard. He was weaned on the Yorkist doctrine of ‘strict legitimacy’ (succession by inheritance). No medieval English king could willingly accept a ‘constitutional’ title granted by parliament since a) it undermined the divinity of kingship and b) what parliament gave it could take back.

 

Richard harshest biographers suggest that it was fear of his reprisal that encouraged parliament to pass the Act of Settlement;[44] but I disagree for three reasons. First, the sources for these statements are questionable since they are based on hearsay and they only emanate from Richard’s political opponents. Second, no reprisals were taken against Russell despite his public opposition to the petition, he was not discriminated against or ‘punished’ in any way and continued to serve King Richard throughout his reign. The whole theme of Russell’s sermon was unity, which brings peace and stability. I do not think it was the fear of Richard or his henchmen that afflicted the MPs, but fear that a disputed succession would result in a resumption of the Wars of the Roses.[45] Third, the Parliamentary Roll for the 1484 sets out Titulus Regius in full, adding simply that the bill was read, heard and fully understood by everybody present, and that the lords and commons agreed to it. As Rosemary Horrox points out “The enrolled text becomes a statement of the king’s right (and a very detailed one), but there is no suggestion that it was the king’s statement of that right. As presented here (in the Parliamentary Roll), Richard is entirely passive: his only input to receive the bill and send it to the commons for approval.   The lords then gave their assent, and the king, with that assent declared the contents of the bill (and therefore the Roll) to be true.” It would seem that king Richard was deliberately distancing himself from the bill. This may have been in part due to his realisation that the decision the decision to challenge the validity of Edward IV’s marriage was contentious.[46] It is also worth noting Horrox’s later opinion that although parliament seems to be acquiescent “… the impression from the Roll is that this was something to be earned. There is no suggestion, as the hostile Crowland Chronicler insisted, Richard was browbeating parliament from a position of strength.”

 

The depositions of Edward II and Richard II are testament to the need for parliamentary assent to the dethroning of a crowned and anointed monarch. The Duke of York’s disputed claim to the throne in 1460 is further evidence that a disputed royal succession was a matter of state, which could only be resolved by the king and parliament.[47] The precedents therefore support the necessity for parliamentary assent to a royal succession where the title is controversial.   Naturally, those involved in the fourteenth century depositions had to conform to the legal niceties; nevertheless, the decision in each case was political as was the outcome. The situation in 1483 was completely different; it was, to use legal jargon, sui generis (unique). Both Edward II and Richard II were demonstrably unfit to rule. Whereas, Edward V was a minor; he had not been crowned and was too young to be guilty of misrule. The attack on the validity of his parent’s marriage was therefore a device to give sufficient cause for Edward’s deposition and the barring of his siblings from the line of succession. The overriding raison d’état was the fear that Edward V’s minority would result in Woodville hegemony and a resumption of civil war. On that basis alone, the proposition that only the church courts had jurisdiction, is a doubtful one. To explain that argument I must delve briefly into the evolution of parliament into the king’s court of justice and a national assembly made up of the ‘three estates of the realm’.

 

In the beginning, the feudal parliament was the king’s court; it was the highest court he had. From the thirteenth century, it began to develop a dual role as a court of law and a political body involved in affairs of state. It became not just the king’s highest court but also his most solemn council. By the fifteenth century, the concept of parliament as a nationally representative body was prominent. Henry V famously told the Pope that he couldn’t change English law without the assent of Parliament. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes had to be ratified by the English Parliament. By 1467 the Lord Chancellor, Robert Stillington was able to declare that justice depended on the ‘three estates’ of the realm that sat in parliament. It is in that context that Dr AR Myers considers that Parliament’s declaration of Richard III’s legitimacy and Edward V’s bastardy, and their recognition of Richard’s hereditary right, ‘justly grounded on the laws of God, nature and the realm’, was the most important step in the evolution of parliament at that time. ‘This is’, he writes, ‘a specially striking example of the way that the older notion of parliament had had grafted onto it the idea of a national assembly acting on behalf of the three estates, combining with the king to provide an authority of parliament, which would otherwise have been lacking.’ [48] The importance of this declaration cannot be overestimated since it sets out clearly parliament’s own definition of its authority and why it acted as it did on the question of the royal title. After acknowledging that the people at large may not have understood the royal title expressed in the petition, the declaration continues.

 

 ‘And moreover, the court of parliament is of such authority, and experience teaches that the  people of this land are of such nature and disposition that the manifestation and declaration  of any truth or right made by the three estates of this realm assembled in parliament, and   by authority of the same, before all other things commands the most faith and certainty,  and in quieting men’s minds, removes the occasion of all doubt and seditious language.  Therefore at the request and by the assent of the three estates of the realm, that is to say  the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons of this land assembled in this present   parliament by authority of the same, be it pronounced, decreed and announced that our   said sovereign lord the king was and is the true and undoubted king of this realm of  England … by right of consanguinity and inheritance, as well as by lawful election,     consecration and coronation.’[49]

 

So there we have it: parliament did not regard itself as a judicial body giving judgement in a court case. Indeed, it could not do so in the name of the three estates since the commons lacked judicial authority. Only the lords in parliament had the power to try court cases bought before them. The bill was passed as an Act of Settlement to which the king and the three estates assented.[50]

 

It is right to say, as Chrimes does, that whatever the prevailing relationship was between state and church, ‘ecclesiastical courts were neither expected nor required to enforce statutes in cases within their jurisdiction’.[51] Furthermore, fifteenth century civil judges were usually careful not to encroach on the English Church’s rights or authority where spiritual matters were concerned. Even so, the exclusivity of canon law in the ecclesiastical courts did not stop Parliament from passing statutes prescribing their jurisdiction and, on occasion, supplanting canon law.[52] Legislation was also enacted to prevent canon law overriding substantive ecclesiastical law; even matters that fell well within the Church’s purview did not escape statutory definition. For example, issues related to temporalities, sanctuary, benefit of clergy, legitimacy by subsequent marriage and heresy were not left entirely to Church judgement.[53] This was especially so, on cases (like this) that touched the boundary between church and state. By the last quarter of the fifteenth century statute law had surpassed common law and some canon law in importance. The view that parliamentary statutes bound judges was prevalent even then.

 

Even if we accept for the purposes of argument that a church court ought first to have determined the question of legitimacy, it was simply impracticable. First there is the problem of the ‘law’s delay. Following the sovereign’s death, time is of the essence. His successor has to assume the reins of government speedily to ensure the continuous peace, prosperity and defence of the realm. Litigation in those circumstances would have been unduly time-consuming. And it would also have raised the possibility of an appeal to the Pope, which were to happen would have had political repercussions rendering any legal judgement nugatory. It is unlikely that the English Parliament would accept the notion that a foreign power could determine the next king of England in a courtroom. Third, there is the factional dimension; a purely legal judgement was unlikely to resolve the factional dispute underlying this whole episode, or reduce the risk of civil war. The royal succession could not be decided by a lawyer or a foreigner or in any way that ignored the realpolitik in which the whole question of Edward V’s legitimacy arose. A legal solution was impossible to achieve in 1483.

 

The claim of Edward of Warwick

Finally, I must address the claim that even if Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, Edward of Warwick was the rightful heir to the throne ahead of Gloucester. Mortimer Levine challenges the view that Edward of Warwick was barred from succeeding because his father was an attainted traitor. There are two limbs to Levine’s argument. First that Clarence’s Act of Attainder only specifically barred Edward of Warwick from inheriting his father’s ducal title and second, the common-law principle against attainted people from inheriting, does not apply to the royal succession. By way of example, he cites Henry VI and Edward IV, both of whom succeeded to the throne after being attainted. Levine regards Clarence’s attainder as unimportant and an excuse to bar Warwick from the crown, and a legal pretext for Gloucester’s usurpation. He may be right about Warwick’s exclusion being a pretext but he has, nonetheless, underestimated the importance of the attainder and the difficulties posed for young Warwick. Professor Lander has described the attainders passed on the Yorkists in 1459, which gives us a feel for the nature of attainment “ They were to suffer the most solemn penalty known to the common law. Treason was the most heinous of all offences. Its penalties ruined the traitor’s descendants as well as the traitor himself. The offender was held worthy of death inflicted with extremities of bodily pain…his children, their blood corrupted, could succeed to neither the paternal nor the maternal inheritance. The traitor died in the flesh, his children before the law.” The children of an attainted traitor lost all their civil rights. They had no status.  Some even questioned their right to live after attainder.[54] It’s true, that that Henry VI and Edward IV succeeded to the throne after they were attainted, but they both had powerful armies at their back to enforce their right. In 1483, nobody was interested in supporting the child of traitor, who was incapable of ruling England anyway. It is quite possible that if a strong faction of nobles had supported him, his attainder might have been reversed. However, that never happened.[55]

 

Conclusion

There is something Dickensianly repellent about a ‘wicked uncle’ who, to benefit himself, deprives his nephews and nieces of their just inheritance through legal trickery and sharp practice; that is the opinion of King Richard III that persists. The reason for this, is found in the historical treatment of the king beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing to the twenty-first century. The early histories were influenced by the Tudor narrative, which described King Richard as irredeemably wicked. Later historians have, with a few exceptions, followed suite. The historiography is marked by a tendency to simplify the issues to overcome gaps in the evidence and to judge King Richard through the prism of modern attitudes and culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than the historical treatment of Titular Regius. It is natural that some people will think there is something unjust and dishonest about depriving children of their rights without them being heard. We don’t need the Tudor histories to realise that King Richard’s contemporaries had doubts and uncertainties about the manner by which he came to the throne, or that his title was ambiguous to some; we know that this was so from contemporary documents. Moreover, we also know that those doubts uncertainties and ambiguities were expressed at the time and they were resolved by the national Parliament. The problem. I have tried to highlight in this article is that the intellectual debate about the events of 1483 has become personalized and is prejudiced. Insufficient attention is paid to the realpolitik of the time. The underlying fear was of a resumption of the Wars of the Roses and was the driving force behind Edward V’s deposition. There was no appetite for a boy-king in such highly charged circumstances, especially one controlled by the Woodvilles

 

Although I have little doubt that Parliament was empowered to enact Richard’s Act of Settlement, I sympathize with Chancellor Russell’s view that to enact the petition verbatim was not the best way to resolve the doubts, uncertainties and ambiguities of doubters. it was possibly even disingenuous, in that it used the law to mask a crude political act. Having said that, I cannot escape the fact that the bill seemed to have been passed through the three estates without a mention of dissent in the Parliamentary Roll. I believe that those who argue that this was through fear of Richard and his henchmen do parliamentarians a disservice by suggesting they were so craven. Ultimately, the importance of Parliament as the national law–making institution under the King’s estate transcended the canon and the common law in resolving state issues of this weight and importance

 

I have written elsewhere of my belief that Richard III was an exceptionally brave man in the fullest sense: on the battlefield and in the council chamber. I also believe he liked to do the right thing. Evidence of these qualities and his potential for good are seen in the significant judicial reforms he made in what was his only parliament. However, I believe he relied overmuch on his courage to overcome all obstacles: consequently, he did not always do the right thing for himself. The thorny question of his royal title is arguably one of those issues wherein he might have done better to temper his strong sense of right and wrong with a more realistic stance. A simple parliamentary declaration that he was king would not have softened the blow for Edward IV’s children or have met the Yorkist ideal and it was not in his nature be less than the man he was; nevertheless, it may have had a better chance of acceptance, thus enabling him to consolidate his reign.[56]

 

[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1981) p.1

[2]. Horace Walpole -The Historic Doubts and Refutation of the Traditional Account of Richard III’s life and reign (1768) published in Paul Murray Kendall (editor) – Richard III: the Great Debate   (Folio Society 1965)

[3]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at p.64. This is still considered to be the standard biography of Richard III

[4]. Ross at p. LXVI

[5]. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) passim

[6] David Horspool – Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017); Chris Skidmore – Richard III: brother, protector, king (Weidenfield & Nicolson 2017)

[7] . Phillipé De Commynes – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-1483 (Penguin 1972) pp.353-354.

[8]. Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard III (Longman Green 1878) pp.113-115.

[9]  Sir Clement Markham –Richard III: his life and character (Alex Struick 2013 paperback edition) at p.101.

[10] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 159-160. Stallworth’s correspondence is helpfully reproduced in full in Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) Appendix 1, pp.158-59

[11] Hanham (Cely Letters) pp.184-85; see also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this letter.

[12] The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, Verse 3 ‘Bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor take firm hold.’ Scholars generally agree that the book of Wisdom deprecates any compromise with false idolatry. Richard’s strong sense of right and wrong was probably in tune with such views.

[13] AH Thomas et al [eds] – The Great Chronicle of London (London 1938) pp.231-233

[14] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin, 1955) p.477, note 21

[15] AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III (Oxford, 1969) at p. 95

[16] The Great Chronicle; ibid

[17] Mancini p. 97

[18] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.123-125

[19] Chris Givern-Wilson [Ed] – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (Boydell 2005), Vol XV. Rosemary Horrox [Ed] – Richard III 1484 p.14 [PROME]

[20] PROME pp.14-18

[21] Charles T Wood – The deposition of Edward V (Traditio Vol.30, 1935) p.236

[22] Anne Sutton-Richard III’s ‘Tytylle & Right’; a new discovery (Ricardian, Vol IV, No 57, June 1977) pp. 2-8, together with subsequent correspondence with Charles T Wood in J Petre (ed)-Richard III: crown and people (Richard III Society 1985) pp.51-56.

[23] David Horspool-Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017 edition) pp.164-165 and 290, note

[24] I am summarising three articles about this matter. Mary O’Regan – The Pre-Contract and its Effect on the Succession in 1483 (Ricardian) Vol IV, No 54 (Sept 1976) pp. 2-7; this is reproduced in Richard III: crown and people pp. 51-56; also, Anne Sutton (Tytylle & Right) ibid; also R H Helmholz – The Sons of Edward IV, a Canonical Assessment of the Claim they were Illegitimate, published in PW Hammond (ed) – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) pp. 91-103.

[25] HA Kelly – The Case Against Edward IV’s Marriage and Offspring: secrecy, witchcraft: secrecy: pre-contract (Ricardian Vol. XI No.142 September 1999) pp. 329-330.

[26] Ralph Griffiths – The Trial of Eleanor Cobham: an episode in the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Diary 1969) 51(2) pp. 381-399

[27] Griffiths ibid

[28] Griffiths ibid

[29] Michael Hicks – False, Fleeting, Perju’d Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) chapter IV passim; see also, John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet: George Duke of Clarence (History Press 2014) chapters 11 and 12 passim. Both these biographies deal with the issues of the Burdet trial comprehensively and each contains a nuanced interpretation of events. David MacGibbon’s claim that Clarence accused Elizabeth of witchcraft did not form part of the accusation against him at his trial (See David MacGibbon – Elizabeth Woodville (Amberley 2013) pp.104 and 216, notes 18 and 21.

[30] PROME ibid

[31] PROME ibid; see also Helmholz p.98

[32] Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (History Press 2014) pp. 138-140 citing WE Hampton- Witchcraft and the Sons of York (Ricardian March 1980)

[33] David Baldwin -Elizabeth Woodville (History Press 2010) pp.10-11, pp150-154 passim; Susan Higginbottom – The Woodvilles (History Press 2015) pp.31-32

[34] Mortimer Levine – Tudor Dynastic Problems 1460-1571 (George Allen and Unwin 1973), esp pp.28-31; Professor Levine is a historian and not, in the legal sense, an expert witness on 15th century canon law.

[35] See John Ashdown-Hill – The Secret Queen: Eleanor Talbot (History Press 2016) pp.120-139 for an intriguing discussion of the circumstances of Edward’s alleged marriage to Eleanor: how they met, became lovers and were secretly married. See also Peter A Hancock – Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (History Press 2011) pp.33-43 for an alternative theory. Like all conjecture these theories are based on inferences drawn from circumstantial evidence. Though both theories are credible, differences in detail suggests that at least one of them is wrong.

[36]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.153.

[37]. Mancini p.67

[38] Levine ibid

[39] Helmholz ibid

[40] Henry Riley (Trans) – Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland with continuations by Peter Blois and anonymous authors (London 1854); see also Pronay and Cox, pp.169-170, which is an honest attempt to provide scholars with a serviceable edition of the second continuation. However, the authors’ simplification and modernization of complex Medieval Latin has changed the sense significantly, as can be seen by the following extract, which is provided for comparison. “…I come to the parliament which began about the 22 January (1484). In that assembly indeed the title by which the king, in the previous summer, had ascended to the height of the crown was corroborated even though that lay court was not empowered to determine on it since there was a dispute concerning the validity of a marriage, nevertheless, it presumed to do so and did so on account of the great fear affecting the most steadfast.” It is also worth considering Alison Hanham’s pithy translation, which is due, in part to her desire to translate Medieval Latin into ‘good English’. ‘Over and beyond confirmation of the title by which the king had ascended to the dignity of the crown the previous summer, that lay court took it upon itself to give a ruling on the validity of a marriage. It could not do so, but it did because of the great fear that afflicted the most staunch.’ (Alison Hanham – Remedying Mischief; Bishop John Russell and the royal title. [Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000 p.146])

[41] Nicholas Pronay et al – Parliamentary Texts of the Late Middle Ages (Clarendon, Oxford 1980) at p.186 (“A Colchester Account of Proceedings in Parliament 1485, by representatives of the Borough of Colchester Thomas Christmas and John Vertue’)

[42] Russell’s drafts are reproduced by JD Nichols [Ed] – Grants etc. from the Crown during the reign of Edward V (Camden Soc 1854) pp.xxxv-Lxiii; and also by Chrimes pp. 167-191; the draft sermons are also discussed extensively by professor Alison Hanham (Remedying Mischief) passim; see also PROME pp.2-4, 8. []

[43] Chrimes ibid

[44] Horspool pp. 161-165 passim; Horspool prefers innuendo to outright statement but it is clear the he damns Richard’s motives and his methods. Its a pity therefore that he undermines the credibility of his argument by cherry picking his examples and, even then, getting some of the facts wrong. For example, he states that Richard’s use of the pre-contract to bastardize Edward broke with ‘established precedent principally in not giving the children in question or their mother a chance to reply’. It is an erroneous point, since there was no ‘established precedent’ for this situation; it, was unique. What precedent does show, is that no king could be deposed without the assent of ‘three estates of parliament’ and it is in that context, and not a court case that the deposition should be seen. See also Skidmore pp.184-195.

[45] Pronay and John pp.169-171

[46] See PROME Vol XV pp. 5 and 7

[47] Anne Curry and R.E. Horrox – 1460 PROME, Vol XII, Henry VI Parliament, October at pages 510 and 518. Even though the situations in 1460 and 1483 were different, the principle that the royal accession was not justiciable was well established

[48] A R Myers – Parliament 1422 -1509 [published in RG Davies & J H Denton (eds) – The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester UP 1999 edition) pp.153-154].

[49] PROME Vol XV ibid; see also Myers p.153

[50] For the text of Titulus Regius see Rolls of Parliament (Rotuli Parliamentorum), 6 volumes (London 1776-77) vol. 6, at pp.240-42.  A photographic facsimile of the original (with the seal shown) is available online at http://partyparcel.co.uk . There are two versions: the first in Middle English and the second with modern spelling. Despite some suggestion that Titulus Regius is not an ‘Act of Parliament’, it clearly is. It states the ‘law’ of the land insofar as king Richard’s royal title is concerned. It is also is described in the Statute Book as an ‘Act of Settlement’. An ‘Act of Parliament ‘ is defined at: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/acts/

[51] Chrimes p.285

[52] Chrimes pp.285-288; see also Myers pp. 146,149 and 153

[53] Chrimes ibid

[54] J R Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.203; see also J G Bellamy – The Law of Treason in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge UP 1970) pp. 8-9, 13 and 21. Although the punishment of traitor depended on royal clemency, it usually involved a particularly gruesome, humiliating and painful death and forfeiture of everything the traitor owned. The children of an attainted man could inherit nothing from their father; as professor Bellamy points out, if he succeeded to anything after the attainder, it would happen by grace rather than right. One commentator even questioned why a traitor’s children should be suffered to live at all.

[55] See Charles Ross – Edward IV (BCA 1975) p.155, in which professor Ross discusses Clarence’s exemplification as Henry VI’s heir. See also Levine pp. 26-27 for his opinion. It is interesting to ponder Edward of Warwick’s wider significance as a Yorkist heir once Titulus Regius was repealed.   Henry VII’s response was to keep the hapless boy imprisoned in the Tower until he was old enough to be decently executed.

[56] PROME Vol XV p. 97; this was the solution to the conundrum of Henry VII’s lack of a royal title. In stark contrast to elaborate the justification of Richard’s title in Titulus Regius, Henry VII, in his first parliament, simply declared that the crown and all its possessions was vested in Henry and the heirs of his body forever and had been so since the 21 August 1485: justification was deemed unnecessary.

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

Debunking the Myths – Richard the Secret Usurper

A coin from the Lord Protectorate period… Does it shed any light into the state of affairs in May and June of 1483? Read more to find out…

RICARDIAN LOONS

Ripon Cathedral misericord “And in another isle toward the south dwell folk of foul stature and of cursed kind that have no heads. And their eyen be in their shoulders.” – Sir John Mandeville (14th c.)

Today’s blog focuses on the long-standing myth and rumor that, upon Edward IV’s sudden and unexpected death on the 9th of April, 1483, Richard secretly conspired to usurp the throne from his nephew, the 12-year old Edward V. The rumor finds dramatic presentation in Shakespeare’s play, but some contemporary chroniclers say it had been in circulation from the very beginning of the boy’s 11-week reign.

Dominic Mancini, an Italian cleric and diplomat who was sent to London to report intelligence back to the French king Louis XI, wrote in 1483 that the fear of usurpation found root even before Richard left his castle in Yorkshire to accompany the young king to London for his coronation. Mancini…

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YORK OR LANCASTER: WHO WAS THE TRUE KING OF ENGLAND IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY?

Part 1-– Necessitas non habet leger – The Lancastrian title 1399

Introduction

I am not arguing that Henry IV usurped the crown in 1399. That judgment has already been made and hardly challenged since the fifteenth century[1]. Neither will I rehearse the reasons for king Richard II’s downfall in 1399; they are already well enough known. My sole purpose in this essay is to make a few observations about an emerging historical debate concerning the true basis of Henry of Lancaster’s title to the throne.

The issue turns primarily on the meaning of Henry’s declaration to the quasi parliament that assembled on the 30 September 1399. According to contemporary sources, once bishop Asaph had declared the throne vacant, Henry rose from his seat, blessed himself and stepped towards the empty throne, which he claimed by right of inheritance (de jure), by conquest (de facto) and by the will of God. His claim is recorded in the Parliamentary Roll for the October 1399 parliament. This is what is written (modern spellings): “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I, Henry of Lancaster challenge this realm of England and the crown with all the members and the appurtenances, as I that am descended by right line of the blood coming of the good lord Henry the third, and through that right that God of his grace has sent me with help of my kin and of my friends to recover it, the which realm was in point to be undone for default of governance and undoing of the good laws. ” These words form part of the ‘Record and Process’, which is a Lancastrian memorandum describing their version of Richard II’s dethronement. It was incorporated into the Parliamentary Roll (PR) as a matter of official record[2]. Any examination of this aspect of PR has to deal with two important preliminary questions. First, how far is the official account to be trusted? Second, was it Henry’s intention to seek parliamentary approval of his title?

Can the official account be trusted?

Professor E F Jacob describes the Lancastrian  account as “…tendentious and in certain material respects erroneous”.[3] And it is certainly contradicted by independent chronicle accounts. One eyewitness to the September gathering quotes Henry as actually claiming the throne, as the “nearest male heir and worthiest blood descendant of the good king Henry the third…”[4] Such a significant difference between the PR and the Chronicles requires explanation. The Record and Process part of the PR was almost certainly drafted by lawyers in the Lancastrian interest. Their intention was to justify Henry’s claim and disguise the profanity of deposing an anointed king and usurping the rights of Richard’s heir. The draftsman undoubtedly took great care over the wording of Henry’s claim and title to the crown, since the issue was a complex one and his title was doubtful. However, the fact that this is probably not what Henry actually said in September is immaterial; the PR represents the official, mature and considered Lancastrian position and even historians cannot go behind it in order it to absolve Henry from having usurped the crown.

We can be reasonably sure that If Henry of Lancaster had possessed an unequivocal title as heir male to Henry III it would have been recorded explicitly in the Roll. The fact that it isn’t suggests that in the interval between the September assembly and Henry’s first parliament wise counsel had prevailed on him to tone the claim down. The legitimacy of Henry’s title was still doubted by some lords, who were perhaps uncomfortable with such a bold and controversial proclamation of his hereditary right. These doubters needed to be pacified. Even Henry’s principal northern supporters, the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, had misgivings about dethroning Richard and were certainly (at first) thinking of Mortimer as his legitimate heir should the circumstances arises. It was in Henry’s best interest to keep the precise nature of his hereditary title ambiguous. It affected not only his right to the English throne but also the English claim to the French throne.[5] In the lawyers’ opinion there was virtue in obfuscating this claim. And that, according to Chris Given-Wilson,[6] is exactly what the draftsman of the Record and Process achieved.

S B Chrimes thinks that actually it is a very clever combination of claims since it conceals the weakness of his de jure title by paying lip service to it, “…without committing himself to any definition of what constituted a legally complete title.[7] Although the words ‘right line of blood’ imply a distinction between the ‘right’ line and the wrong line, Henry shrewdly, did not define the ‘right line’. The point being that these words could mean almost anything Henry wanted them to mean. The weakness of Henry’s hereditary title can also be gauged by the necessity to claim the crown on the additional grounds of conquest (cleverly disguised as being in defence of hereditary rights) and God’s will. K B McFarlane’s judgement is that Henry lacked a convincing de jure title; however, whilst his accession could never be regular, with some clever jiggery-pokery, “it could be made to look less illegal.”[8]

What was Henry’s intention?

The problem with this question is that the answer relies less on the facts than on the interpretation of his motives and intentions from the circumstances. The notion of a parliamentary solution would suggest a separation of character between the king and parliament, which is contrary to our understanding of their constitutional relationship in the fourteenth century. Besides, the assembly that gathered on the 30 September 1399 was not a parliament. It was a meeting of those who normally constituted a parliament, gathered in Westminster Hall to witness Richard’s abdication.[9]

Stubbs’ Victorian notion that Henry was a constitutional monarch[10] no longer holds sway with many historians. K B McFarlane is particularly critical of Stubbs’ assessment: “ Yet even in the ‘Record and Process’ there is no basis for supposing that Henry desired a parliamentary title in Stubbs’ sense. Henry neither owed his position to Parliament nor wished it to be thought that he did. He claimed the throne by right; acceptance of that claim was the most he expected of parliament.[11] Neither is there much evidence of ‘election’. Notwithstanding their obvious misgivings, the Lords accepted Henry’s accession, without comment. Henry’s personal challenge (‘I challenge this realm of England’) could not be taken up for obvious reasons. There can be no disguising the fact that it was the use of armed force and deception that had got Henry to Westminster in September, ready, willing and able to seize the crown. Notwithstanding that, he was regarded as the best man to restore good governance to the realm and England’s greatness. The English did not want another child king, or a weak old man to reign over them.

Heir male or heir general?

Seen in that light, the theories concerning the literal meaning of Henry’s declaration take on a different aspect. There are basically two theories; the first is that Henry’s words ‘by right line of blood’ were a reference to his matrilineal line from Edmund earl of Lancaster, called ‘Crouchback’.[12] This is, a Historians argument in the sense that it is based on a particular interpretation of his words and the circumstances. Henry’s words are ambiguous and he did try to exploit the Crouchback legend as a lever to gain the throne[13]. I think this theory is implausible for two reasons. First because it does not necessarily follow logically that the absence of a specific claim as ‘heir male’ automatically means the opposite. Second and more importantly, such a claim would be absurd. Nobody has been able to satisfactorily explain why Henry, despite robust legal advice to the contrary, would make a claim that he and everyone else knew was untrue and anyhow was inferior to Mortimer’s.

Second, we have what I would call a ‘lawyer’s case’. It is the antithesis of the Crouchback theory and is also based on a particular interpretation of Henry’s words. As Ian Mortimer’s points out, Henry of Lancaster was descended from Henry III through both his father and his mother, and: “a statement that [he] was heir to Henry III implies nothing more than that he claimed the throne from one (or both) of these two descents.”[14] Although Dr Mortimer’s understanding as there stated is unarguable, it is, nonetheless, testament to the equivocality of Henry’s title as set out in the PR. Furthermore, in my opinion, Dr Mortimer moves too quickly to the conclusion that Henry was referring to his descent as heir male to Henry III. That is equally improbable because it also is untrue. It could only be made true if Henry successfully overturned the history of the English succession, and conceded that the exercise of royal authority was subject to parliamentary approval.[15]

No king of England if not king of France

Dr Mortimer is, in fact making a hypothetical legal case that Henry never actually made at the time, and for good reason. It turns on two points of law. First, that a woman could not inherit the crown or transmit any title to her children. Second, that all the entails made by previous kings were unlawful because parliament was not consulted.[16] However, the facts are against him.  On the first point: two English kings (including, by the way, the progenitor of the Plantagenet dynasty) inherited the crown through the female line.[17] Furthermore, Edward I’s entail of 1290 made it impossible for Henry to either assert or to demand male domination of the crown.[18]  All these decisions demonstrate the fallacy to treating the succession as a matter of law. It is a political process and the settlements and entails of kings have all been made for political reasons.

On the second point, it is inconceivable that Henry would have been prepared to compromise his royal authority by submitting his will on the succession to parliament for approval. Henry was a legitimist not a constitutionalist and putting such power in the hands of parliament was against everything he believed in. Henry’s legal rights (such as they were) cannot be applied in a vacuum that ignores the realpolitik of the times. The notion that Henry wanted a ‘legal’ title is too simplistic. He wasn’t after a legal title per se. If he merely wanted a title that was legal then parliament could easily have given him one by constitutional election. The problem with that solution is that it would change the fundamental relationship between the king and his subjects. It was tantamount to recognising parliament’s power to hire and fire kings, which in the fourteenth century was something only God could do. No medieval king would voluntarily put himself at the mercy of parliament in such a way. It cannot be emphasized too much that Henry claimed the throne by divine hereditary right; all he required parliament to do was to accept that fact. As it happens, that is exactly what they did.[19] The strength of Henry’s declaration was in its precise ambiguity. It said neither too much nor too little; it neither inferred too much nor too little. It brilliantly preserved the fiction of parliamentary approval without in any way fettering royal authority or changing the constitutional relationship between the king and his parliament.

In addition, Henry had to maintain his claim to the French throne. If he  overturned previous English precedents enabling  women to pass on a regal title  to their children, it would undermine the credibility  of the English matrilineal claim to the French throne.  It was an issue that didn’t just affect the king. Most , if not all English nobility owned estates in France.The dual kingdom of England and France was not only the best way for them to protect their  estates, it offered the opportunity to increase them. The thought  that owing to their gender  the king’s heir might  inherit the French throne but not the English one,  did not bear thinking about. Basic common sense suggested an equitable settlement was necessary.

Necessitas non habet leger [20]

If Henry IV’s subjects thought he was the man to restore good government and  to restore England’s greatness, they were to be sadly disappointed. His was indeed a ‘reign of two halves’. In the first half there was rebellion; in the second half came debilitating illness. However in 1406,  necessity proved to be the mother of invention. The continuous rebellions, and the underlying threat from Edmund Mortimer drove him to seek a permanent parliamentary solution. The ‘Act for the Inheritance of the Crown’ [21] was meant secure the Lancastrian succession forever. It recognised, but did not create, Henry’s hereditary title and settled the throne exclusively down the male Lancastrian line. Professor Chrimes is uncertain whether this was making new law or simply confirming old law; but it really doesn’t matter, since the existence of a statutory title took the succession out of God’s hands without necessarily putting into parliaments. Ultimately, it all came to nought for Henry since the ‘Act for the Inheritance of the Crown’ was repealed before the end of the parliament in which it had been passed. It was replaced with a similar act, confirming that the throne could be inherited down male and female lines. Even by modern standards of flexible policy making, this was some U-turn[22]. However, as we shall see the tide of legitimism was running strong. Sixty-one years after Henry’s usurpation a statutory Lancastrian title could not stand in the face of a claim by one with an indefeasible right of inheritance. But that, as they say, is another story…

[1] There were three candidates for the crown in 1399. Edmund Mortimer, earl of March was descended through his mother from Lionel of Antwerp the third son of Edward III; whereas Henry of Lancaster’s father was John of Gaunt duke of Lancaster and fourth son to Edward III. The other candidate was Edmund of Langley duke of York and Edward’s fifth son. Mortimer had the best lineal title. Henry of Lancaster was the mob’s choice and Edmund was too old. Henry’s act of usurpation was not in deposing Richard II, but in  seizing the throne ahead of Mortimer.

[2] Chris Given-Wilson – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England: Chris Given-Wilson (ed) (The Boydell Press 2005) Vol 8, pp. 11-62. The ‘Record and Process’ occupies about one-third of the Roll record for this parliament. [PROME]

[3] E F Jacob –The Fifteenth Century (Oxford 1987 edition) at page 13. See also PROME Vol 8, pp. 11-62. For example, the Lancastrian account that Richard abdicated voluntarily is not supported by all independent contemporary accounts. The alternative version is that the king was taken prisoner and forced to abdicate. See Chris Given-Wilson – Chronicles of the Revolution (Manchester 1993).

[4] Chris Given-Wilson considers it doubtful that the Roll version contained Henry’s actual words. See Chronicles of the Revolution at page 45 citing the ‘ The Manner of King Richard’s Renunciation’ [Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 59 ff 230v-231]. The relevant portion of MS 59 can be found in ‘Chronicles’ at document 16 pp.162-167. See also Ian Mortimer – Medieval Intrigues: decoding royal conspiracies (Continuum 2010) p 298. Mortimer cites two other sources (the continuation of the Eulogium [p383] and an English Chronicle [Davies ed, English Chronicle p18]). In general terms these sources also suggest that Henry claimed the throne as ‘heir male’ to Henry III.

[5] The English kings’ title to the French throne was matrilineal. There was an awkward inconsistency in arguing a male hegemony for the English throne whilst claiming title to the French throne through the female line.

[6] PROME Vol 8 at page p3. Given-Wilson describes Henry’s claim as ambiguous and obsfucatory; “an uneasy compound of inexactly defined hereditary right, de facto conquest and alleged inadequacy…”

[7] S B Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936), pages 24 and 25.

[8] K B McFarlane – Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights (Oxford1998 SE) at p57

[9] Jacob – Fifteenth Century pp.16 and 17; Jacob quotes from ‘B Wilkinson – The deposition of Richard II and the accession of Henry IV (Eng Hist Rev liv p220) and discusses the constitutional relationship between the king and parliament, especially parliaments advisory role in matters of state and law at this time.

[10] W. Stubbs- Constitutional History of England (Oxford 1890). Stubbs placed his faith in the integrity of the Record and Process memorandum when assessing Henry’s title.

[11] See McFarlane – Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights pp. 56 and 57.

[12] There was a myth that Edmund earl of Lancaster was the first-born son of Henry III and therefore the heir apparent (He was called Crouchback because he wore the symbolic cross of a crusader on the back of his surcoat. He did not have a crooked back as some suppose). However, due to an (unspecified) infirmity, Edmund was passed over in the order of succession in favour of his brother Edward (later Edward I). The legend was complete nonsense. Edward was born in 1339, his sister Margaret was born in 1340 and Edmund did not arrive until 1345. We know from Adam of Usk’s eyewitness chronicle that Henry tried to exploit the Crouchback myth as a lever to gain the throne [See the Chronicles of the Revolution at pp. 157-161]. The emergence of the Crouchback mythology can be traced at least as far back as 1394 when John of Gaunt petitioned Parliament to have his son Henry Bolingbroke nominated as Richard’s heir, apparently on the grounds of his matrilineal descent from Edmund Crouchback. However, the evidence is inconclusive. We can, however, be sure that in 1399 Henry commissioned an inquiry into the claim that Edmund Crouchback was Henry III’s first-born son (See Chronicles of the revolution at page 196 and Michael Bennett – Richard II and the revolution of 1399 (Sutton 2006) at p61). The Inquiry’s conclusion was unequivocal; the Crouchback story was untrue.

[13] See L J F Ashdown-Hill – The Lancastrian claim to the throne (Ricardian, Vol 13, 2005) at page 27. Dr Ashdown-Hill’s article is intended to show that Henry VII’s claim to be the last Lancastrian heir is untrue (which it is). However, his suggestion that Henry IV claimed the throne from his ancestor Edmund Crouchback is merely an assumption. It is not a fact.

[14] See Ian Mortimer – Fears of Henry IV (Vintage 2008), pp. 183-86; York or Lancaster: who was the rightful heir to the throne in 1460? (Ricardian Bulletin autumn 2008) pp. 20-24, with subsequent correspondence. See also ‘Medieval Intrigues’, chapters 8 and 9, and ‘York or Lancaster’ a rejoinder (Ricardian Bulletin, spring 2009) pp. 44 and 45.

[15] Henry could not agree to this without weakening the whole concept of Royal authority.

[16] See ’Fears’ p 369. Dr Mortimer asserts that that on the 30 September 1399, the assembled Lords Spiritual and Temporal, removed the right of kings to choose their successor by voting for Henry as their king from the three candidates proffered: Mortimer, York and Henry, and because Henry’s title was ratified in 1406, in parliament. His conclusion that “ This then was the basis of the Lancastrian claim in 1399: that only males could inherit the throne and all attempts by previous kings to settle the inheritance without consulting parliament were without any basis in law and thus void.” does no more than beg the question.

[17] The civil war of 1135-1154 arose principally because king Henry I died in 1135, leaving only his daughter Matilda as heir. Henry obviously had no objection in principle to a woman succeeding to the throne and reigning in her own right, since he nominated Matilda as his successor.   In 1127 he forced the Anglo-Norman nobility to swear an oath supporting her succession. However, Matilda was wholly unacceptable to the barons. Their objection seems to have been less  to women in general succeeding to the throne than a specific objection to this woman succeeding. Matilda was unpopular due to her ‘Germanic’ ways and haughty demeanour. The Norman barons also hated her for her anti-Norman activities and her marriage to their archenemy Geoffrey count of Anjou. They feared French influence at the English court. Stephen, whose title came through his mother Adela, was able with the consent of the barons to seize the throne ‘in the twinkling of an eye’. There is a remarkable similarity between the Treaty of Winchester in 1153, and the Act of Accord agreed in 1460 between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. In 1153, the Norman king Stephen remained de facto king during his lifetime, whilst the Frenchman Henry of Anjou (Henry II) was his de jure heir, having inherited Matilda’s title to the English throne. In 1460, Henry VI remained de facto king during his lifetime, whilst York was recognized as his de jure heir. On both occasions the de facto king’s own heir was bypassed in the succession, and on both occasions the de jure heir’s title was matrilineal. The treaty of 1153 bought peace; the Act of Accord of 1460 bought civil war.

[18] Ian Mortimer – Medieval Intrigues at p286. Edward planned to marry his daughters Joan, Margaret and Eleanor to foreign royalty in 1290. Making them all eligible to inherit and rule in their own right, and to pass on the throne to their children, was a powerful inducement for their foreign royal suitors  to make the match. In the end, it didn’t matter; Edward of Caernarvon succeeded his father as Edward II. Whilst he was demonstrably imperfect, Edward II still managed to sire the perfect king — Edward III.

[19] Henry was able to get away with such a obviously dubious claim because it was not the issue uppermost in the lords’ minds. They were much too concerned about the legality of deposing a crowned and anointed monarch and the consequences of doing that to pay much attention to the legitimacy of Henry’s title.

[20] Necessitas non habet leger. It means ‘necessity has no law’ and Henry wrote those words on a signet letter in 1403. It is a saying that encapsulates his ruthless ambition to legitimize the Lancastrian dynasty. His desire for a hereditary title was all consuming.

[21] See Statutes 7, Henry IV, c 2; and PROME, Vol 8 pp. 341-348 and 354-357, articles 38 and 60.

[22] PROME Vol 8 p324. Given-Wilson suggests that the change was probably made because at the time Henry IV was negotiating with the French for the Prince of Wales to marry one of Charles VI’s daughters. The French clearly did not like the idea that any daughter borne to the union would be barred from the English succession.

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

Part 7 – Long live king Richard, England’s worthy king!

“ Cousin of Buckingham and sage grave men,

Since you will buckle fortune on my back

To bear her burden whe’er, I will or not

I must have patience to endure the load

(William Shakespeare)

 

“ Touched you the bastardy of Edward’s children?”

Bastard slips shall not take root. That was the uncompromising theme of Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon on the 22 June 1483 at St Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Old Testament[1], Dr Shaa preached to the dukes’ of Gloucester and Buckingham, and a ‘huge audience of lords spiritual and temporal[2] on the illegitimacy king Edward IV’s children. Exactly what he said, however, is a source of great controversy.

The crux of the problem is the paucity of reliable, objective chronicle accounts of what was said between 22 and 26 June 1483. The chronicles that we do have are, to quote Paul Kendall, a “mosaic of conflicting detail “[3]of king Richard’s title to the throne.   This is in marked contrast to the certainty and clarity of the parliamentary roll and Titulus Regius, which set out the chain of events and king Richard’s title with admirable certainty and clarity. However, some historians believe that Titulus Regius is a fraud that was only enacted because the members of parliament were coerced. So, what are we to think? The best way to answer that question is to begin at the beginning and follow events chronologically.

Dr Shaa’s sermon was not a spontaneous outpouring of public indignation at the illegitimacy of Edwards’s offspring. It was pre-arranged by duke Richard or by others on his behalf to bring to public notice the illegitimacy of the dead kings children and to put forward the duke’s royal title. I think Gloucester’s presence at the sermon is a clear indication of his intention to replace his nephew as king. Though, naturally he was keen to distance himself from the question of deposition at this stage. Mancini describes Gloucester’s actions thus: “…he so corrupted preachers of the divine word that in their sermons to the people they did not blush to say in the face of decency and all religion that the progeny of king Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward, said they, was conceived in adultery…”[4] The thing to note about this is that it is almost certainly not an eyewitness account. Furthermore, although Mancini does not mention a pre-contract at this point he does refer to one later on, as we shall see. The Great Chronicle follows Mancini in alleging that Shaa preached the illegitimacy of king Edward, whereas Fabyan says that Shaa also declared the bastardy of Edward’s children. Mancini’s narrative is the only account written during Gloucester’s lifetime; indeed, it is the only extant description of this meeting written in the fifteenth century. Consequently, it cannot be taken literally as a reliable report of Shaa’s sermon. It may or may not be correct. Similarly, the reliability of the two vernacular chronicle accounts is questionable given that they were written two decades after Gloucester’s death at a time when Tudor propaganda against the last Plantagenet was rife.

“ How now! How now! What say the citizens?”

Shaa’s sermon never settled anything; its importance lay in the fact that it set in motion a train of events that were to put Richard duke of Gloucester on the throne with astonishing speed, even by modern standards. Within four days of this sermon, duke Richard was offered the crown. The next day he was king of England. With the exception of Mancini all the other sources refer to a meeting, which took place on Tuesday the 24 June at the Guildhall, with Buckingham in the chair. Present were the Mayor, his brethren ‘and a good many’ London citizens. Buckingham is supposed to have spoken wonderfully well for “a good half hour” on behalf of the duke of Gloucester, extorting the audience to admit the Lord Protector as their liege lord. The audience ‘”…to satisfy his mind more in fear than for love, had cried in small number yea! Yea![5] Following this, Buckingham left. Fabyan and the London Chronicles also report this meeting. Indeed, Fabyan said that Buckingham was so eloquent that he never even stopped to spit.

“ We heartily solicit your gracious self to take on the charge and kingly government of this your land”

Mancini does not refer to a meeting at the Guildhall with the Lord Mayor and citizens of London. Instead, he refers to a speech made by Buckingham to the lords on the 24 June, in which Buckingham argued that “…it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father king Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth, was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him. Indeed on Edward’s authority the [earl] of Warwick had espoused the lady by proxy — as it is called — on the continent.[6] This is an undoubted reference to a pre-contract, although Mancini has managed to get Edward’s amour wrong.

The following day, that is the 25 June 1483, the Lords Spiritual, Temporal and the Commons (the three estates of the English community) met at Westminster. Gloucester’s decision to stop the writs of supersedeas cancelling parliament was obviously deliberate. He saw the value of having representatives from the ‘three estates’ in London to consider his claim to the throne. Although this was not a properly constituted parliament, pretty much all its members were present. Neither was this a tame Ricardian quorum; the lords spiritual, temporal and the commons who attended were those who would have constituted Edward V’s first parliament.   On any view this was a gathering of national authority. Gloucester’s claim was put forward precisely; some parts were good, others not so good. The evil done to the realm by the Woodvilles, the falseness of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey and the pre-contract with Eleanor Butler were all put forward, and discussed by the three estates. The meeting drafted and approved a petition to the duke of Gloucester that he should assume the seat royal. On the following day (26 June 1483) at his mother’s London house (Baynard’s Castle) the petition was presented to the duke who was pleased to accept it. He dated his reign from that day.

It all happened so quickly that it was natural that some of Richard’s subjects did not fully understand what had occurred. Subsequently, in January 1484, a properly constituted parliament noted the terms of the petition for the record, clarified the king’s title and ratified his succession to remove doubt. Nonetheless, even the constitutional authority of parliament is insufficient for some folk to accept the propriety and the legality of king Richard’s succession. Professor Charles Ross has no doubt that Titulus Regius was a “highly tendentious piece of propaganda (which) failed to carry conviction at the time and has not stood up under modern scrutiny.” [7] If ever that eminent and learned professor has made a sillier comment, I have yet to see it. Not only has he got the 15th century matrimonial law wrong and underestimated the nature of a parliamentary statute but also his analysis defies common sense. I am not going to enumerate the professors many misconceptions because others have long since consigned his comments to a metaphorical dustbin. The arguments against king Richard’s lawful accession only makes sense if you prefer the ex post facto chronicle accounts, comprising elements of hearsay, propaganda, rumour and plain old tittle-tattle, to a solemn parliamentary statute, which is contemporary with events and has the supreme force of English law, superseding judge-made canon law and common law. Anybody who takes the trouble to read the Parliamentary Roll for this parliament together with Rosemary Horrox’s excellent introduction to the Roll will see that this was a mature and thoughtful Act of Settlement, which did not come from Richard but from Parliament itself. Moreover one does not get the sense that the members were forced to come to this decision through fear.

Personally, I believe that king Richard’s intention was to recover the Yorkist vision for the rule of England. On the first day of his reign he spoke to the Kings Bench Justices emphasising the need for them to dispense justice without fear of favour and declaring that all men (and women) are equal before the law (A human right we take for granted now.). Paul Kendall describes his hopes in emotional terms when reflecting the events that had bought king Richard III to this point: “ …thus did Richard try to identify himself with the authentic tradition of his house; thus did he grope to regain the brother he had lost to Dame Elizabeth Grey, Hastings and Mistress Shore and to redefine his loyalty to the Edward he had worshiped as a boy” and “…was it not possible for him to set aside Edward’s heir and yet be truer to Edward than Edward had been to himself?” And further: “ he would succeed his brother to redeem his brothers rule.[8] Sadly, for king Richard and for England his was a reign of unfulfilled promise. He was, as Kendall suggests, an unsubtle man who perhaps had yet to acknowledge the reality that it was “…easier to keep a crown through the exercise of power than by the merits of his rule.”

[1] The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, Verse 3 “ Bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor take firm hold.” Scholars generally agree that the book of Wisdom deprecates any compromise with false idolatry

[2] AH Thomas et al [Eds] – The Great Chronicle of London (London 1938) pages 231-233

[3] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin, 1955) at page 477, note 21

[4] CJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III (Oxford, 1969) at page 95

[5] The Great Chronicle; ibid

[6] Mancini at page 97

[7] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale edition 1999) at page 91. Professor Ross (1924-1986) was a distinguished scholar. He was a historian and Professor of Medieval History at the university of Bristol (Michael Hicks and Ralph Griffiths were among his pupils). His biography of Richard first published in 1981 has, in most opinions, replaced Paul Murray Kendall as the standard work on Richard. Ross relied on primary sources in preference to the Tudor histories. His declared aim was to portray Richard in the context of his times. Although his writing style is less floral and more functional than Kendall’s, he does provide extensive research and considerable historical of detail about the period.   Whilst in general terms he abjured the confrontational approach of other authors, he is prone to express his irritation with Ricardians in somewhat petulant terms. He is sympathetic to Richard’s plight and his difficulties though ultimately he is against him on the key issue of how he seized and kept power

[8] Kendall at page 226

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