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The consequences of the Human Shredder

We already know that William, Lord Hastings, was one of several people arrested on the morning of 13 June for a conspiracy against the Duke of Gloucester, who was both Constable and Lord Protector. We know that Bishop Morton was among the others but that Hastings alone was executed, that the Constable had the right to order a summary trial and that Hastings was not attainted. We also know that Morton’s nephew, Robert, as Master of the Rolls, is a leading candidate to have been the “Human Shredder” who destroyed several documents, probably including Hastings’ trial records. These records would also have exposed John Morton’s complicity.

Consequently, lazy historians and others have relied upon More’s “History”, which assumes that the destruction of the trial records suggests that there wasn’t a trial. Now More either adapted an earlier work by Cardinal Morton, as the Bishop had become, or he didn’t. If he did then his source was a defendant at the trial, seeking to expunge his guilt. If he didn’t then his “History” was composed of his own memories as a five year-old who was surely not at the meeting. Either way, it is unworthy of serious consideration in this context.

The way records were kept is also of interest. Richard’s Titulus Regius, which we absolutely know to have been destroyed in 1486, was kept on a “membrane”. Similarly, the Hastings-Stanley-Morton-Rotherham-Lambert-King trial records would have shared a membrane with other judicial matters. We no longer have a record of the 1486 treason trials of five men in York, of Sir Thomas Metcalfe and Roger Layton in 1487 or of the thousands of Bodmin rebels in 1497, although they were taken in overt treason. Does this prove that the York quintet, Metcalfe and Layton were not tried or does it suggest that Robert Morton/ Vergil destroyed the membrane with their trial records on?

Do we now wait for the Cairo dwellers to accuse Henry VII of at least seven executions without trial or attainder within a year and a half? Consistency has never been their strong point so it might be a long wait.

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