Saturday, 5 June 2010

Richard Duke of York claims the throne

Richard, Duke of York arrived at Westminster from Barnet on 10 October 1460. The Commons had just elected their Speaker, and the new Parliament was all ready to go.

York (now, as you will recall, displaying the undifferenced arms of England, not those of Edmund of Langley) had a reported 800 mounted followers with him, a useful but by no means overwhelming armed force. At ten o'clock in the morning he entered the palace with his sword borne upright before him. Entering the parliament chamber he stood by the throne, laid his hand upon it - a la mode Bolingbroke - and apparently expected to be acclaimed King. Instead he was met with a bewildered silence.

The situation was not as it had been in 1399. Perhaps most importantly of all, York was not in command of an unchallengeable army - his own followers were relatively few and he was heavily dependent on the Nevilles, who were allies rather than dependents. In addition, although Henry VI's government was shambolic and unpopular, the lords and gentry were generally not hostile to Henry himself. Indeed there was a strong sense of personal loyalty to the King.

There was now a political crisis. York occupied the King's apartments - Henry for some reason having taken up his lodgings in Queen Margaret's suite - and squatted there like a man who was not to be moved. Frantic negotiations began behind the scenes.

It must be remembered that while all this was going on Queen Margaret and the lords of her faction were far away in the north country, undefeated and ready to take military action when the time was right.

On 16 October York's legal counsel formally submitted his claim to the peers. His claim was on the basis of superior hereditary right to that of Henry VI. As far as it went, this was unanswerable, providing inheritance through the female line was accepted. (Given that this was the basis of England's claim to France, well...)

The lords referred the matter to Henry himself, who ordered them to find means to oppose it. The question was then sent to the judges, who said it was too high a matter for them to rule upon. So the Kings sergeants (barristers) and attorneys were tried next. They said that if it was too high a question for the judges it was certainly too high for them.

The lords eventually wheeled out the following objections:

1. Their oaths of loyalty to Henry VI.
2. Henry IV's succession statute.
3. York's use of Langley's arms - as opposed to those of Clarence, one supposes.
4. The mass of general legislation passed under the three Henries.
5. The Crouchback legend. (Interesting, given that Ian Mortimer seems to think that Henry IV never seriously invoked it.)

York brushed all this aside, as well he might. It was, he said, irrelevant in the face of his claim by the divine right of inheritance. The fact he had let his claim lie all these years by no means invalidated it.

Everyone went away to think again.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I'm still trying to weave my way through all the big players here and I'm curious as to why the Duke of York carrying the Langley arms instead of the Clarence arms is important. I will admit to not understanding all there is to know about coats of arms and whatnot.