Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Attainders, Fines, Reforms, and Debates

On 2 April 1454, Richard III introduced acts of attainder against Edmund Beaufort’s major supporters: the first was of the late Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, and all his sons who participated in the Battle of Durham; the second against James Butler, 5th Earl of Ormond and also Earl of Wiltshire who participated in the Battles of Bradfort and Swindon; and third against John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford, who had participated in various battles around London and finally at Bosworth.  Parliament was quick to pass the acts and the King then declared those still living outlaws with bounties for their capture.  Next Richard III brought up a list of those knights and lesser nobility that had been taken captive after Bosworth and suggested punishments of either forfeiture of land and/or fines if they submitted to the King’s authority.  Starting with the nobles, each man was brought into the presence of the King in front of Parliament was given the choice to swear allegiance and live, no one refused the offer.  By the time Parliament adjourned for the day, the captive roll had been exhausted and large swaths of land had been added to the Crown.

Beginning on 3 April 1454, Richard III and Parliament turned their attention to reforming the government that had been corrupted by the advisors of the late Henry VI, most notably the now headless Edmund Beaufort.  The King reclaimed nearly all the lands and allowances granted by his predecessor to Beaufort’s old favorites, the few exceptions being those that had actively supported Richard III and were rewarded for loyalty towards their sovereign with extra land.  During the reign of Henry VI, Richard III had been owed vast amounts of money by the Crown for his services in France and Ireland, now he meant to not only repay himself but also others that had been owed sums because of the corruption of Beaufort.  The King also would not be neglectful to those that spent vast sums on his behalf in the recent conflict either and meant to see they were repaid their service.  Richard III requested that Parliament select from amongst their number of both the Lords and the Commons to join with the Lord High Treasure Viscount Bourchier to gather accounts from his loyal subjects as well assess the newly acquired and reacquired land so as to produce a plan of payment with the King receiving 50% of all revenue, 10% going to all debt to foreign lenders that the Crown owed, and the rest divided up to repay domestic debts with those with the smallest amounts owed being repaid first.  Both the Lords and Commons selected men amongst their number for the prestigious duty.

With the finances of the realm being worked on, the reform-minded King turned his attention to the corruption of numerous sheriffs and judges that had begun to create a sense of lawlessness within England.  Though some of the “corruption” was because magnates like Salisbury, Warwick, Norfolk, and even Richard III himself when he was Duke of York would influence the outcomes if they were involved, the King knew that something need to be done because the middle class was growing prosperous and influential through its mercantile interests abroad.  Richard III proposed that sheriffs be restricted to a term of service of five years with a period of the same time before being allowed to serve again and that judges be moved around the country every three to five years so as to prevent corruption.  While the proposal did have some support, many of those in Parliament wanted tougher enforcement of laws and enforcement of those laws to protect property rights especially amongst those below the nobility.  Another concern that was raised regarding law and order were the returned soldiers from France, who many times went into lawlessness or entered the service of a nobleman to intimidate, assault, or even murder their employer’s enemies.  The King had quickly employed those soldiers returning after the defeat of Castillon, promising to lead them to victory over those that had betrayed their efforts and even now patrolled London leading up to his coronation.  One proposal was that soldiers would be given land at low rent in the newly confiscated property for a period of some years and another was that they should be retained for the present in case of conflict with Scotland.

The debates in Parliament and in Richard III’s own Council continued throughout most of the month until 24 April when the opening session of the 1st Parliament of the King’s reign was adjourned.  Preparations for the coronation had been going on throughout London even as Edmund Beaufort had been beheaded and Parliament debated, but with Westminster Hall needed for the coronation banquet it was time for the debate to be suspended so it could be converted.  With the date of the coronation growing nearer things were more frantic in London as the final preparations for robes, dresses, and clothing were completed.  Even though no common citizen of London would be in Westminster Abbey for the ceremony, that fact didn’t stop their excitement or preparations for their own celebration for the coronation of Richard III making the city even more chaotic.  Finally when night fell on the evening of 30 April, the buzz in London suddenly died and an eerie, yet excited silence fell over the city including in the Tower as the King found it hard to sleep even though he knew it was his God given right to wear the crown.

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