VII. Functions and Procedures
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(i) TRIALS IN PARLIAMENT
Although, in the medieval period, Parliament met at the King’s behest only on occasion, its meetings were, necessarily, frequent enough to become normal. As the highest court of the realm, Parliament helped the King to fulfil his coronation oath to do justice to his subjects.1 It entertained petitions for justice from individual litigants, sometimes serving as a final court of appeal from judgements of inferior courts. It could also, of course, act as a court of first instance; only when it did so, the Lords alone, in the guise of a judicial tribunal, assumed the role of judges, the royal judges proper denying any duty to act save as advisors on points of law. That role, however, the Lords filled only in somewhat exceptional circumstances and, even then, not always wholeheartedly. When, in the last quarter of the 14th century, the Commons, charging high officials with crimes and other serious offences, used the process of impeachment, it was inevitable that, in the resulting political trials, the Lords would adjudicate. The prosecution was at the bar of the House, and, moreover, many of those who had excited ‘the clamour of the Commons’ were themselves peers with a traditional right to be tried there. This was so in 1376 in the case of William, Lord Latimer, Edward III’s chamberlain, and John, Lord Neville, steward of his household; in 1386, of the chancellor, Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk; in 1388, of John, Lord Beauchamp of Kidderminster, steward of Richard II’s household (along with other courtiers and most of the royal judges); and, in 1397, of Archbishop Arundel, chancellor in the years Richard had suffered personal humiliation, especially in the Parliaments of 1386 and 1388. (If commoners were similarly dealt with on these occasions it was partly because they had been implicated in the same crimes or misdemeanours.)
During the Merciless Parliament of 1388, when the Lords Appellant (the duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel, Warwick, Nottingham and Derby) made themselves collectively responsible for prosecuting, by appeals of high treason, the most important of Richard II’s supporters, including Archbishop Alexander Neville, Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland, Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, and Sir Robert Tresilian, c.j.KB, the lords temporal alone acted, the lords spiritual being disqualified by canon law from assisting in a case possibly leading to capital punishment. In 1397, however, meticulously using against the chief of the Lords Appellant of 1388 (Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick) their own procedure of appeal for high treason, Richard had the trial prosecuted by Lords Appellant of his own choosing, and made the prelates nominate a lay proctor, so that at least their formal agreement might be ensured. Such appeals of treason in Parliament were, at the Commons’ request, abolished in Henry IV’s first Parliament, but it was then that the Lords’ role as judges was amply confirmed, the Commons themselves insisting that ‘les Juggementz du Parlement appertiegnent soulement au Roy et as Seigneurs, et nient as Communes’.2
Evidently, the question at issue in 1399 was the guilt of those five of the seven Appellants of 1397 who were still alive (the dukes of Aumâle Surrey, and Exeter, the marquess of Dorset and the earl of Gloucester).3 After each of them had been examined ‘byfore the Kyng and all the States in this present Parliament’, and the lords spiritual had counselled against capital punishment, ‘the Lords of Parliament’, with the King’s assent, condemned the culprits to reversion to the status from which Richard II had promoted them, and to forfeiture of all the lands he had ever granted them. The lords temporal went on to adjudge that if these magnates so adhered to Richard as to question his deposition, or oppose Parliament’s decisions regarding his personal treatment while imprisoned, they should be ‘in peyne of treson’. Within two months of the end of the Parliament, three of the five (the earls of Kent and Huntingdon and Lord Despenser), along with the earl of Salisbury, had died, either at the hands of hostile mobs or by public execution, having in the meantime taken up arms against Henry IV. Accordingly, when the next Parliament met, in January 1404, the lords temporal pronounced all of them traitors, and passed sentence of forfeiture of lands and goods. This went quite without question at the time. When, however, on 7 Feb. 1404, during the first Parliament to meet after the revolt of the Percys which had been put down at the battle of Shrewsbury over six months before (21 July 1403), the earl of Northumberland came before the whole Parliament to petition for a pardon (on the ground that he had not himself rebelled, but had only broken statute law by ‘gederyng of power, and gevyng of Liverees’), the King first sought the advice of the judges. Indeed, it was not until all the lords had made formal protestation of their unique right to pass judgement, that, having given careful consideration to the Statute of Treasons of 1352 and the recent Statute of Liveries of 1393, they awarded that the earl had committed neither treason nor felony, but a mere ‘trespass’ for which he should make fine and ransom (although Henry chose to remit the penalty). The King and lords temporal had then only to determine that the rebellion of the earl’s son, Henry, and his brother, Thomas, earl of Worcester, the former killed in the battle of Shrewsbury, the latter executed directly afterwards, should be treated as high treason.4
Two whole years and more elapsed before, in 1406, the lords temporal were next engaged in similar judicial proceedings, this time as a result of risings which were indisputably treasonable. For in the meantime, in May 1405, two revolts had occurred in Yorkshire: one near York under Archbishop Scrope and Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, and another further north led by retainers of the earl of Northumberland. Both were suppressed by the King’s son, John, and the earl of Westmorland, and their actual leaders soon executed, Scrope and Mowbray on the King’s personal orders, without proper trial. Both revolts, in which the insurgents were intended to combine, had been fomented by the earl of Northumberland; and, although he and Lord Bardolf, his ally, had themselves refrained from action in the field, their early retreat to Scotland only confirmed their involvement. As if to compound his guilt, Northumberland had been responsible for other subversive acts: not only had he gone on to burn the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed but, more reprehensively from King Henry’s point of view, he had sent emissaries to Robert III of Scotland and certain French ambassadors there, proposing an offensive alliance against England, besides writing to the duke of Orléans in France about his intention either to restore or avenge Richard II. Since then, moreover, the earl had continued to make common cause with the Welsh rebels. However, with no Parliament meeting in 1405, it was not until 19 June 1406, the last day of the second session of the next Parliament, that the lords temporal came to a decision not just about Northumberland and Bardolf, but also, retrospectively, in relation to Scrope and Mowbray. Yet this was by no means unequivocal, for even now they temporised. They were still only ready to convict Northumberland and Bardolf if, following proclamations in all counties, they failed to surrender themselves by 8 July to answer for their crimes. Furthermore, when asked to pronounce upon the case of Scrope and Mowbray, they merely said that, although it seemed treasonable to them (on the testimony of Prince John, constable of England), they would make their statement after the recess, at the same time requesting the King to order all the lords temporal to be present then, without exception. Even in the third session of the Parliament, which began on 13 Oct., there was yet further delay. Not until 30 Nov., prompted by a request from the Commons, did the lords temporal agree that a fresh proclamation should be made, at the door of the Parliament chamber and in the palace of Westminster, ordering Northumberland and Bardolf to appear on the following day. Then, however, in view of the fact that some of the writs of the previous June, ordering proclamations to be made at large, had not been returned to the Chancery by the deadline set (8 July), and other writs had been altogether ignored, they required another proclamation to be made in the City of London, ordering the two defaulters to appear on 3 Dec.; and even when this had been done, they adjourned the case to the next day. But at long last they made their award, to the effect that the accused, convicted as traitors, should, if and when taken, be ‘drawn, hanged and beheaded’ at the will of the King, and, of course, incur forfeiture of all their lands held in fee simple or enfeoffed to their use, and of all goods and chattels.5 The reason for all these delays may well have been (as evidently had been the case in the second session of the Parliament) an imperfect attendance on the part of the lords temporal, or else, as is possible, a punctilious reluctance to proceed against Northumberland and Bardolf in their absence, without giving them an opportunity to answer for their crimes (although their self-imposed exile in Scotland clearly invalidated any such excuse). At all events, the judgement of the lords temporal proved definitive: following the two nobles’ invasion from Scotland in January 1408 and their deaths at Bramham Moor (Yorkshire) on 19 Feb., the earl in battle, Bardolf from his wounds, there was no need for further judicial action. Regarding the case of Scrope and Mowbray, postponed on 19 June 1406, the lords temporal in the third and final session of the Parliament of that year chose either to ignore or drop it altogether (the official record makes no mention of it). No further treason trials were to be held in the later Parliaments of Henry IV’s reign. Nor, in the strict sense, in any of Henry V’s.
In fact, only two major cases of treason disfigured the reign of Henry V: those originating in the lollard rising of January 1414 and the Southampton plot of July 1415, the first easily suppressed, and the second quickly nipped in the bud. Parliament was to be involved in each instance, but only eventually, lending its authority to judicial proceedings which had already taken place elsewhere and simply needed confirmation. The lollard rising had been instigated by Sir John Oldcastle*, Lord Cobham, a peer personally summoned by writ since 1410; but since he was not captured until 1417, Parliament could only then do what was still required. The circumstances of the Southampton plot were different in almost all respects, and this proved an altogether more serious affair. Two peers of importance, Richard, earl of Cambridge (the younger brother of the duke of York), and Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham (hitherto an intimate friend of the King), were directly involved; and a third (more important still, since he had previously been a possible pretender to the throne), Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, was certainly implicated, and not only as the intended beneficiary of the conspiracy. Moreover, when the latter betrayed the plot to the King on 30 July, the other conspirators could be arrested immediately, steps taken forthwith to bring them to justice, and Parliament soon convened to approve of what had been done. Since, with the invasion of Normandy imminent, the conspirators had to be dealt with before the King and his army left England, it was necessary to proceed expeditiously, and yet, as far as possible, satisfy basic legal requirements.
The procedure adopted was to prove, in fact, somewhat complicated, although in the event quite logical.6 The first formal step taken by the King had been to issue, from Portchester castle on 31 July 1415, letters patent under the great seal appointing justices of oyer and terminer. These were the Earl Marshal, the earls of Salisbury, Suffolk and Oxford, Lords Zouche, Fitzhugh (the King’s chamberlain) and Camoys, Sir Thomas Erpingham (the steward of the Household) and two professional judges, William Lasingby and Robert Hill (of whom at least one was to officiate). At Southampton, on Friday 2 Aug., the commission began and completed its proceedings on the basis of a detailed indictment presented by a jury of 12 Hampshire men. The latter had been empanelled by the sheriff from among residents summoned from every hundred and major town of the county, and they testified to the facts of the conspiracy, including its aims. In essence, these were that, on 20 July, the earl of Cambridge and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton, Northumberland, had first conspired to remove the earl of March to Wales and, there proclaiming him heir to the throne and denouncing King Henry as a usurper, have him assume sovereignty (“superioritas”) over the realm. bThey had then planned to assassinate Henry and his brothers, with the connivance of Lord Scrope, who consented to all of this, and concealed it from the King. All three conspirators having been brought before the justices of oyer and terminer, the two prime movers were unable to deny their guilt, and simply craved pardon. But Scrope, while admitting the charge of concealment (for which he too asked pardon), pleaded not guilty to that of intending the death of the King and his brothers, protesting that he had meant to foil the attempted assassination. He went on to request that, ‘as a lord and one of the peers of the realm’, he should be tried and judged by his peers. The justices of oyer and terminer had no difficulty in finding Sir Thomas Grey, a commoner, deserving of immediate execution as a traitor, and of forfeiture of lands and goods, while Henry’s part was merely to reduce the sentence of capital punishment to beheading. But so far as Cambridge and Scrope were concerned, the justices, being not advised as to what judgement should be rendered, did no more than return them to safe custody. Evidently, the weekend provided enough time to decide how next to proceed. On the Monday (5 Aug.) letters patent, again under the great seal, empowered the duke of Clarence, officiating as the King’s ‘lieutenant and vicegerent’ as if he himself were there to hear the ‘record and process’ of the justices in their presence, and then, that same day, having summoned peers of Cambridge and Scrope, to render the judgement by common assent and execute it. The next step, therefore, was to constitute the ‘court’ of peers. After Cambridge and Scrope had been brought to the bar (‘ad barram’), the two lords who, being of higher rank than the accused, were strictly speaking not their peers, namely the dukes of Gloucester and York (the latter, Cambridge’s brother, to be represented by the earl of Dorset), were called to consent and be party to the judgement which was to be made by the others. It was perhaps for this reason or, more probably, because the accused had both appealed to the King for mercy, that he too was to attend, ‘specialiter constitutus et admissus’. Having examined and carefully weighed the evidence contained in the ‘record and process’, Clarence and all the other lords present considered the accused to be guilty of all the charges respectively preferred, and then, unanimously (una voce), adjudged them worthy of death by drawing, hanging and beheading, and of forfeiture of lands and goods. Finally, however, on the King’s orders, Clarence restricted to beheading the capital sentence passed on Cambridge (because of his royal blood) and pardoned Scrope his hanging (as a Knight of the Garter), although his severed head was still to be mounted on one of the gates of York.7
The lords present and party to the judgement proper included five of the peers who had initially acted as justices of oyer and terminer (the Earl Marshal, the earls of Salisbury, Oxford and Suffolk and Lord Zouche) and 15 others: the dukes of Clarence, Gloucester and York (the latter by proxy), the earls of March, Huntingdon, Arundel and Dorset, and Lords Clifford, Talbot, Harington, Willoughby, Clinton, Mautravers, Bourgchier and Botreaux: 20 all told. However, almost as many parliamentary peers were absent: all but Lord Talbot of the 20 lords temporal who, on 12 Aug. (the day after the army’s departure for France), were summoned by the duke of Bedford, acting as Custos Angliae, to attend the Parliament which, first called for 21 Oct. was prorogued at Michaelmas to 4 Nov. (when the King and the army had still not returned home).8 Those lords who had been party to the judgement rendered at Southampton had thus been only a bare majority of all the lay peers; but at any rate an ample majority of those of highest rank had been present, only Bedford and as few as three earls (Westmorland, Devon and Warwick) having been absent. Even so, it was unquestionably preferable that the authority of Parliament as a whole—including the lords spiritual and not excluding the Commons—should sanction all previous decisions. Accordingly, on 8 Nov., the fifth day of the Parliament, following a request made by the Commons, in the presence of Bedford and the lords spiritual and temporal, that the judgements rendered at Southampton should be affirmed and held to have been good and lawful, and when the chancellor (Bishop Beaufort) had produced all the necessary documentation, the Lords did as requested, Bedford assenting.
It was again in Henry V’s absence, and once more in a Parliament presided over by Bedford (meeting on 16 Nov. 1417) that the case of Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, was brought to its conclusion. The affair may be said to have begun as early in the reign as June 1413 when, in Convocation, the clergy of the southern province demanded that Oldcastle should be called to answer charges of personal heresy and of supporting lollards. Having first resisted all efforts on the part of the King to get him to retract his opinions, and then to appear before Archbishop Arundel at Leeds castle (Kent) on 9 Sept., Oldcastle was imprisoned in the Tower; and it was from there that he was taken, first to St. Paul’s on 23 Sept., and then two days later to the Blackfriars, for questioning by the archbishop upon matters of faith. On both occasions he demonstrated his total obduracy, doing so on the second in such a contemptuous and insulting manner that Arundel had no option but to excommunicate him and relinquish him to the secular arm, a sentence with which the bishops of London, Winchester and Bangor, acting as assessors, fully concurred. Once returned to the Tower, Oldcastle chose not to avail himself of an agreement between King Henry and the archbishop that he should be allowed 40 days in which to come to his senses. Instead, on 19 Oct., he escaped from custody. And he soon went on to compound his offence against both Church and State by leading the lollard rebellion of January 1414, directly after which, having evaded arrest, he was outlawed in the court of King’s bench for high treason. Remaining at large, he took advantage of the Southampton plot to stage a rising of his own, threatening Lord Abergavenny in his castle at Hanley in Worcestershire, where, however, his force was dispersed. It was not until late November 1417 that he was arrested near Welshpool by servants of Lord Charlton of Powis and transported (wounded) in a litter to the Tower. On learning of his capture, all present at the Parliament (which was now close to dissolution) agreed that it should continue to sit until Oldcastle had been produced for interrogation. Consequently, on 14 Dec., the Commons presented a written petition asking that, in view of Oldcastle’s previous conviction for heresy, his relegation to the secular power and his outlawry in the King’s bench, the lords would instruct Chief Justice Hankford (then present) to submit the ‘record and process’ of the outlawry on the same day. This was done. Even so, when the documents in question had been read and explained in English to the Lords and Commons, and also for Oldcastle’s benefit, the latter persistently refused either to defend himself against the sentence of outlawry or offer any excuses for his conduct. It was therefore awarded by the Lords, with Bedford’s assent, and as at the Commons’ request, that Oldcastle, as ‘Traitour a Dieu et Heretik notorement approve et adjugge ... et come Traitour au Roi et a son Roialme’, should be taken to the Tower, thence drawn through the City to the new gallows in the parish of St. Giles outside Old Temple Bar (the scene of the lollard rising) and there hanged and burnt hanging.9 Which, and how many, of the lords temporal were present in Parliament on this occasion is not known. But Bedford had summoned no more than 18—the duke of Exeter, the earls of Northumberland, Westmorland and Devon, and 14 barons, most other lay peers again being with the King in France. (Incidentally, this was a Parliament which as few as eight bishops are positively known to have attended.)10
Apart from the trials of the Southampton conspirators and Oldcastle, Parliament’s chief interest in matters of treason under Henry V was retrospective. It looked back to the previous reign, being prompted to do so by petitions presented in Parliament by the heirs of magnates sentenced, in the course of that time of insecurity, to forfeiture for treason of dignities and estates. The first such case occurred in Henry V’s second Parliament, at Leicester in the spring of 1414, when Thomas Montagu, earl of Salisbury (so designated since his first summons to Parliament in 1409), presented a written petition to the King, calling attention to the circumstances in which his father, Earl John, had met his death in January 1400 and had been condemned for treason in Parliament a year later. It described how, arrested by the townsmen of Cirencester on a promise that he should be brought before the King and, as dictated by Magna Carta, judged by his peers, his father had been executed on the spot without authority or process of law; and how subsequently, in Parliament, he had been judged guilty of treason by only the lords temporal and merely with the King’s assent. Judgement ought, the petition said, to have been given by the King (as ‘Soverein Fuge en toutz cas’) and by all the lords, spiritual as well as temporal, with the Commons, moreover, either requesting the process or assenting to it, since they were entitled, so it was posited, to be party to what should be ordained as law in Parliament.11 On the ground that process had been ‘erroneous and defective’, Earl Thomas therefore requested annulment of the judgement. Although the procedure used in 1401 had in fact been normal in such cases, the decision now taken at Leicester was to defer the question until the next Parliament. Meanwhile, in order to clarify matters and, in due course, expedite a settlement, the royal serjeants-at-law and the attorney-general (acting for the King) and the petitioner (on his own behalf) were to be given until mid October to produce evidence to the chancellor, or to the King or his appointees. When, in the next Parliament (November 1414), however, account was taken of certain previous annulments of judgements of treason (those of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, in 1327, and Roger, earl of March, in 1354), the case of the petitioner’s father was considered by the King and the lords spiritual and temporal to be dissimilar; and so all the lords, with royal assent, confirmed the judgement of 1401, and the petition was rejected.12 The whole affair had been even more serious than might appear at first sight: had Earl Thomas’s petition succeeded, and the judgement of 1401 on his father been reversed, he would not, presumably, have been the only one affected.
It was also in the November 1414 Parliament that a petition was presented for Henry Percy, son of Sir Henry Percy (‘Hotspur’) and grandson of Henry, earl of Northumberland. (Others had to act on his behalf because, besides being still under age at this time, he was held against his will in Scotland.) The request was two-fold: that Henry V’s previous restoration to Percy of the title of earl, despite his father’s and grandfather’s rebellions and forfeitures, might be enacted in Parliament; and that the King would now, with the advice of the lords spiritual and temporal and the Commons, give him possession of all his inheritance, not just the entailed estates, but those once held by his father and grandfather in fee simple as well. In view of the King’s readiness to negotiate for Percy’s liberation on the basis of an exchange of Murdoch, earl of Fife (the eldest son of the duke of Albany, the Scottish regent, who had been taken captive by the Percys at the battle of Humbleton Hill in 1402), restoration of the comital title was hardly in question.13 This was indeed confirmed ‘by authority of Parliament’, a sanction which also applied to the restoration of such of the forfeited estates as could be proved in Chancery to have been entailed, but not to the estates in fee simple, which were still to be withheld. From the constitutional standpoint, it is necessary to emphasize not only that in such a matter as reversal of the legal consequences of treason ‘the authority of Parliament’ was being deliberately invoked, but that the expression itself implied a decision of the King as advised by the Commons as well as the Lords. This development (not, of course, a new one) was soon to be taken further and re-affirmed in the Parliament of October 1416, when another such petition met with a similar response.
The petitioner on this occasion was John Holand, first surviving son and heir of John, earl of Huntingdon, who had been a party to the rebellion of January 1400 and, like the earl of Salisbury’s father, had been executed without trial. He was posthumously condemned as a traitor by the lords temporal in the Parliament of January 1401, and sentenced to forfeiture of the estates he held in fee simple. In view of the rejection, in the Parliament of November 1414, of the petition in which Salisbury had disputed the legality of the procedure by which the judgements of 1401 had been reached, Holand could now do no more than ask for restoration of the comital title, and that when he came of age (29 Mar. 1417) he should be given possession of his hereditary estates, including those forfeited which had been held in fee simple, as well as others under entail. In reply, Henry V granted restitution of the title and, given satisfactory proof of tenure in tail, was prepared to allow possession of the entailed estates in due course. However, the forfeited estates once held in fee simple were, as in Percy’s case, to remain in the King’s hands. As then, the royal response was approved by Parliament as a whole, the lords spiritual and temporal and the Commons assenting to it.14
The next such case to arise only did so in the Parliament of May 1421, the last Henry V was to attend in person, the petitioner being once again the earl of Salisbury. (The latter doubtless now believed that his exemplary military service in France had earned him a firmer claim on the King’s generosity.) Now openly accepting Parliament’s rejection in 1414 of the petition in which he had questioned the legal validity of the judgement passed on his father, Salisbury asked that the King should nevertheless, by an act of grace confirmed by authority of Parliament, recognize him as heir to all the estates that would have been his but for his father’s forfeiture: not only the entailed estates to which he was unquestionably entitled, but those held in fee simple as well. Of course, it was the fate of the latter that was really at issue; and although the King granted Salisbury’s petition in most other respects, this particular request was again refused.15 In other words, Henry V adhered to the principle adopted in the case of Henry Percy and of John Holand; and the lords spiritual and temporal and the Commons once again gave their assent.
(ii) PARLIAMENTARY PETITIONS
(a) Written Petitions
Although of public import, the series of petitions which, in Henry V’s reign, mitigated to some extent earlier judgements for treason belongs to that category of petitions for the presentation of which Parliament provided an ideal opportunity: private petitions for justice from individuals, sometimes described in the Parliament rolls as ‘the petitions of singular persons’ or ‘especial bills of singular persons’.16 In accordance with a long-established practice, they were in general meant to be first sorted by Chancery clerks appointed as ‘receivers’, and then, before reaching the King for his final decision, considered by a panel of ‘triers’ comprising a few named lords, judges and other law officers attending Parliament.17 By the end of the 14th century, however, the private petitioner had begun to address his petition directly to ‘the Commons in Parliament’, asking them to request the King ‘to ordain by authority of Parliament’ the remedy specified in the petition.18 In other words, if the Commons agreed to do so, they would be acting as intermediaries whose formal assent might then be taken for granted. Not only that: supported by the Commons, such a private petition would go either to the King and his Council or one of the two, at least, not via the ‘receivers’ and ‘triers’, but probably through the clerk of the Parliaments, a more direct and convenient channel. This was the route that had long been talked by ‘common petitions’ (in Latin ‘communes petitiones’, in French ‘communes petitions’).19
When, at the beginning of a Parliament, the King undertook to receive petitions, it was not only ‘singular persons’ who were invited to present their ‘especial bills’. He was making possible the ventilation of grievances generally, including ‘grievances done to common people’, and also the submission of proposals for improving government and administration, not least in its legal and judicial aspects.20 This was mainly done by common petitions which the Commons had either originated, or in which they had had a hand; and these were collectively of such great import that since 1343 the clerk of the Parliament had habitually seen to their enrolment in the Parliament rolls as a separate congeries under a distinctive caption or heading which might be either brief or somewhat wordy.21 In 1390 the heading was simply ‘Les Petitions des Communes, et les Respons a ycelles’.22 But in 1391 it read:
A tres excellent et tres puissant Prince, et tres gracious Seigneur, nostre Seigneur le Roi, supplient vos povres liges, Communes de vostre Roialme d’Engleterre, Qe plese a vostre Hautesse et Roiale Mageste, en ese et supportation de voz ditz Communes, et en sustenance de voz bones Loyes, graciousment granter les Petitions souz escriptz.23
The principal reason for this separate enrolment was that common petitions, as opposed to private petitions, were of greater social relevance and, being liable to result in statutes or ordinances, of more general public interest, rather than because they were ultimately presented by the Commons. But their responsibility was generally recognized, and sometimes given firm official emphasis by being more largely defined. For example, at the opening of the Parliament of January 1390 (the first to be summoned following Richard II’s resumption of personal control of government after the crisis of 1386-9, when doubtless he was anxious to appear genuinely concerned for the welfare of his subjects), the chancellor stated that the King wished to be informed by the Commons how the laws of the land and statutes were actually being observed and his peace kept, about disturbances, maintenance of quarrels, and barratry, and of means of redress and better government, the Commons being obliged, ‘de droit et devant Dieu’, to apply themselves diligently to such matters. Their distinctive role as petitioners was to be given special emphasis, too, in Henry IV’s first Parliament in 1399 when, after they had themselves insisted that responsibility for judgements of Parliament rested with the King and the Lords, Archbishop Arundel, as commanded by the King, admitted that the Commons were essentially ‘petitioners et demandours’. Indeed, earlier in the session, the Commons having asked that Richard II’s last Parliament should be annulled and its acts repealed, they themselves had qualified their request by urging that, if any necessary or profitable statute or ordinance had been passed then, they should now be given opportunity to discuss it, advise, and submit it among their petitions (‘le mettre en lour petitions’), with a view to its being granted afresh.24
However, although it naturally fell to the Commons to present common petitions, how these actually originated is not nearly so clear. They certainly did not all evolve through open discussions in the Lower House, and express some collective view corporately agreed upon. Indeed, although this may have been true of many, some were produced quite differently. If a grievance or a request for some concession arose in a particular county or region, the relevant common petition was in all probability drafted there before Parliament ever met, locally elected representatives being required to bring the petition to the notice of the Lower House, so that if possible it might be put forward ‘in the name of the Commons’.25 In this connexion, attention may be drawn to article 36 in the list of Richard II’s crimes and misdemeanours drawn up in 1399 to justify his deposition. Complaining of his interference with freedom of election to Parliament by telling the sheriffs who they were to return as shire knights, it referred to the duty of the knights to expose in Parliament the grievances (‘gravamina’) of their people, and to apply for appropriate remedies.26 Turning to particular instances of such a practice, it looks as if the Members for Lincolnshire in 1390 introduced the common petition which asked for a royal commission of inquiry in the parts of Kesteven and Holland in order to ascertain and re-establish, in the marshlands between the rivers Welland and Witham, the ‘metes and boundes’ of those divisions of the county. We may perhaps also assume that, if a common petition came to be presented for the mutual benefit of more than one county, the representatives involved would collaborate in the course of a session. Such co-operation probably occurred when, again in 1390, a petition was presented for ‘voz povres liges’ of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland, asking, in view of their impoverishment as a result of invasion from Scotland, for pardon of arrears of fines and other dues payable in the Exchequer; and also when, at the same date, the commons of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire submitted a petition complaining of the felonies and trespasses which Welshmen had committed against them, both in those parts and in Wales, and proposing remedies. Similarly acquiring the status of a common petition, there was, moreover, the group petition of a different kind: not from local communities, but from people sharing in the pursuit of a particular economic interest, with whom alone, whether before or during a Parliament, the petition must have originated. For instance, also in 1390, merchants exporting abroad cloth made in Somerset, Dorset, Bristol and Gloucestershire complained of having been sold cloth woven from a mixture of wools, and badly dyed or damaged, such inferior or imperfect material having been deceitfully concealed in rolls of cloth of acceptable quality. Of these various petitions of 1390, all save that from the counties adjacent to the march of Wales are, as enrolled, preceded by such words as ‘Item prient les Communes ...’. Evidently, it had been agreed that these particular petitions should be put forward ‘in the name of the Commons’.27
Precisely how, by what formal procedure, the Commons habitually agreed to present their petitions is not known for sure. But whatever the method, it was liable to be manipulated or even circumvented. So much so that, at times, they themselves were compelled to take deliberate counter-measures to prevent its being abused or disregarded. For instance, having encapsuled their requests in an indenture in Edward III’s first Parliament (1327), they stated that, should any other bill be put forward in their name, they would ‘disavow’ it.28 Likewise, in 1348, when the Commons requested that the petitions delivered by them in the last Parliament and there granted should still hold good, and that the answers then made should not be changed, they went on to say that if any bill delivered in their name or anyone else’s were now to attempt to do this, they would not ‘avow’ it.29 But obviously it was possible for some petitions purportedly advanced by the Commons to go through without their ‘avowal’, or following some equivalent sifting process resulting in sponsorship. This unquestionably was still the case in Edward III’s later years, as appears from the answer made in 1371 to a common petition which, ostensibly supported by the Commons (‘Priount les Communes’), complained of the exaction by the ecclesiastical authorities of extortionate fees for probate of wills, the response being ‘Attende la venue des Communes’. That this referred to no isolated instance of impropriety was to be made abundantly clear on the last day of the Parliament of 1372, when an ordinance was passed prohibiting the election to future Parliaments not only of sheriffs, but also of ‘gentz de ley’ practising in the King’s courts. What was deemed so objectionable about the lawyers’ conduct in Parliament was their success in advancing ‘in the name of the Commons’ a number of petitions which were not the concern of the Commons at all (‘qe rien lour touche’), but affected only those private persons (‘singulers persones’) by whom the lawyers themselves had been retained as counsel.30 Clearly, individual Members of the Lower House had managed to secure the preferment of private petitions as though these were common petitions supported by the Commons; and the latter, despite the secondment to their service of a royal clerk specially appointed ever since 1363 (the ‘sub-clericus Parliamenti’), had evidently been unable to prevent the abuse. If the Commons, acting in a corporate capacity, ever scrutinized petitions put forward in their name, it can hardly have been in accordance with a systematic procedure; and after 1372 it still remained possible for individuals, even when not Members of the Lower House (which the offending lawyers had been), to prosecute a bill before the King and the Lords ‘in the name of the Commons’, without even the latter’s prior knowledge, still less their approval. In 1394 two London chantry chaplains prosecuted a bill ostensibly in the name of the Commons, requesting a statute to authorize testamentary bequests of tenements in the City for the benefit of themselves and others of their calling. How presumptuous they had been became clear when the Commons demurred, counter-petitioning that no such statute should be passed until the Council had considered the damage which the King and other landowners might incur as a result, nor indeed any statute that would change existing law. The King’s answer—‘Soit la commune ley use come devant’—effectively agreed.31 Had the Commons been given an opportunity formally to discuss the chaplains’ bill in advance, they would surely have rejected it then, and not needed to obstruct it later. Their reaction to a bill presented three years later (in the Parliament which met on 22 Jan. 1397) was different in every way, except that this bill too was unsuccessful. And, moreover, what then occurred was a minor political crisis.
The bill in question was ‘exhibited’ to the Commons by Thomas Haxey, a royal clerk of long standing who had been appointed for life in 1387 as keeper of the writs and rolls of the court of common pleas. (In the Parliament now assembled he was also a proctor for the abbot of Selby in the province of York.) His bill requested the Commons to consider, firstly, the very great costs incurred by Richard II as a result of the unprecedentedly large number (‘multitude’) of bishops and ladies who, with their retainers and servants, were enjoying royal hospitality in his household. So far as the bishops were concerned, it recommended that they and their people should live on their estates (‘lour Seigneuries’), which would be for the general good, but especially to the benefit of the King and their own (ecclesiastical) subjects. Secondly, the attention of the Commons was drawn to the imposition on the clergy of the diocese of Canterbury, in the previous year, of a papal tax of 4d. in the pound, so contravening the Crown’s rights; and a remedy was similarly requested. Nowhere else does the roll of this Parliament allude to Haxey’s second point; but the first clearly so excited the Commons’ interest that, presumably after discussion amongst themselves, they brought it to the attention of the Lords, in a joint meeting on Thursday 1 Feb., half-way through the second week of the session. Haxey’s complaint touching the Household was the last of four questions then raised by the Commons, the other three relating, respectively, to breaches of the statute which limited tenure of office by sheriffs and escheators to a year at a time, to infringements of another restricting livery of badges (‘signes’) worn by the retainers of lords to members of their households and menial servants, and lastly to violations of truces by the Scots. It was, however, Haxey’s criticism of the Household which, regarded by King Richard as a seriously offensive infraction of royal liberty, especially aroused his anger against the Commons. Meeting the Lords after dinner on the following day (Friday 2 Feb.), and having listened to the chancellor’s account of events, he instructed them to inform the Commons next day that he greatly deplored so misconceived and presumptuous attempt on their part to interfere in the running of his household and dictate to him as to what personal company he should keep. Since, as he understood it, the Commons had been prompted and advised (‘moez et enformez’) by a bill presented to them, he also ordered the duke of Lancaster, the most senior of the lords temporal, to demand the name of its author from the Speaker (Sir John Bussy). Evidently this was done, and more: not only was the bill itself given up to the Lords along with the name of Thomas Haxey, and then, at the King’s command, delivered by the clerk of the Parliaments to the clerk of the Crown, but the Commons, protesting their innocence of any intention to offend or displease the King, or impugn his prerogatives, humbly begged him to excuse and pardon them. This apology Richard accepted, through the chancellor; and, further to reassure them of his goodwill, he himself declared that he proposed to forego demands for either tenths and fifteenths or a subsidy for his personal use. Haxey’s punishment was still to be decided. On Wednesday 7 Feb., however, he was brought before the King, the lords temporal and the Commons. After his bill had been read over, and he himself, when questioned by the duke of Lancaster (as steward of England), had admitted delivering it to the Commons, he was condemned as a traitor (‘pro proditore’) to death and forfeiture, by advice of all those lords present and with the King’s assent. But the sentence was soon mitigated: that same day, indeed, Archbishop Arundel and all the other prelates, while protesting their belief in the inviolability of the King’s royal estate and regality, requested that Haxey’s life should be spared and he himself entrusted to their custody. Not only were these requests granted and acted upon, but in little more than a fortnight the King ratified Haxey’s estate in two of his benefices, in April confirmed him in four of his prebends and another living, and on 27 May, in letters patent under the great seal, pardoned him his forfeiture.32
Although he never recovered the office in the common pleas forfeited by him at this time, Haxey’s actual punishment had apparently been envisaged as little more than a formality. And, indeed, what was meant to be of far greater significance, both at the time and prospectively, was the basis of the proceedings leading to his conviction, as furnished by the lords spiritual and temporal two days before, on 5 Feb. The King had evidently resolved that the question of Haxey’s punishment should directly depend upon Parliament’s recognition of a principle which would effectively safeguard his royal rights and liberties, at whatever expense to normal parliamentary practice. Following a careful scrutiny of Haxey’s bill, the Lords had decided that if an individual, irrespective of his status or condition, should prompt or inspire the Commons (‘Communes Parliamenti’), or anybody else, to remedy or reform anything touching the King’s person, the royal authority (‘Regalitas’) or power (‘Regimen’), he should be accounted a traitor. Haxey’s condemnation, despite the retrospective character of the judgement, automatically followed. That apart, the Commons must have been disconcerted, not to say deeply perturbed, by the Lords’ action. Admittedly, although among the many articles of the Objectus contra regem justifying Richard II’s deposition was one concerning a subject which had figured among the contentious points raised by the Commons in February 1397, namely allegations that the King had contravened the statute restricting the length of tenure of the office of sheriff, Haxey’s bill itself was nowhere mentioned. But neither Haxey nor ‘Haxey’s case’ was to be forgotten by the Commons: among their common petitions in Henry IV’s first Parliament was one which not only asked that all Haxey’s property might be restored, but also requested the annulment of the judgement of the Lords upon which his condemnation for treason had been dependent. That judgement, the Commons now declared, had been erroneous, as well as destructive of their customs (‘en anientesment des Custumes de lez Communes’). After urging that nobody else should he penalized by the Lords’ judgement, the petition itself concluded with a general appeal for justice and the preservation of the liberties of the Commons (‘pur salvation de les Libertes de lez ditz Communes’). With the advice and assent of all the lords spiritual and temporal, Henry IV gave his assent.33
It will be recalled that when, after the Commons’ submission of Haxey’s bill in the Parliament of January 1397, Richard II had insisted on being told the name of the author, the duke of Lancaster was ordered to demand a reply from Sir John Bussy, the Speaker. This was doubtless because Bussy, who by virtue of his office was responsible for answering any question on the Commons’ behalf, was naturally the person to approach. It does not necessarily follow that his office, which was principally to represent the Commons in the Upper House, was already invested with such an authority over their own internal operations and procedures as included some measure of practical control over petitions, whether the Commons’ own or the private ones they supported. By 1397, however, the Commons had been electing Speakers to act for the duration of a Parliament for over 20 years, time enough perhaps for the Speaker’s basic function to have undergone extension.34 Without doubt, the Commons were already being sometimes approached by private petitioners; and if at first the petitions associated them as addressees with the King and Lords, later on, as their mediation with the King and his Council was seen to be increasingly valuable, and accordingly was more frequently invoked, their assistance was requested in petitions addressed to them alone. Given these circumstances, it is possible that the Speaker was afforded the opportunity to help his fellows handle petitions of that sort, perhaps finally putting the question whether or not to support them, and so be enabled to enlarge the scope of his office in the Lower House itself. Such an eventuality, at any rate before the end of Henry V’s reign, is suggested by the fact that the complaint of long arrears of pay by members of the garrison at Calais was made, during the Parliament of either December 1420 or May 1421, in a petition addressed to the Speaker as well as to all the shire knights. (Other petitions similarly addressed would be presented in 1424 and 1437.) And there is no shortage of evidence, from as early as 1410 (when Thomas Chaucer was Speaker), warranting the supposition that Speakers were themselves well able to exploit their office by promoting petitions of their own (as Chaucer himself did). Certainly, before the end of the 15th century, Speakers quite often received gifts in money, valuables or in kind for assisting the passage of private petitions, most notably (so far as we can tell) when submitted by local authorities and other corporate bodies.35 Indeed, in the sermon which Bishop Russell of Lincoln, the chancellor, had prepared in 1483 for Edward V’s first Parliament (which, in the event, never met), he was able to say, ‘in the lower house ... alle ys directed by the Speker’.36 It may confidently be stated that by then the most important duties of the Tudor Speaker had already been assumed.
(b) Oral Requests
If it was only in the course of time that the Speaker became closely involved in the Commons’ treatment of private petitions brought to their attention in the hope of support, the very nature of his office ensured that the responsibility for ventilating their own specific grievances (‘gravamina’) and presenting, orally, their requests for appropriate remedies would normally be his. From the start, Speakers were elected to tell the King and Lords what the Commons wanted said. And although the Commons invariably submitted many requests in written petitions or schedules of proposals (often only summarily answered, if accepted, by the words ‘Le Roy le voet’ or, if rejected, by the politely dismissive formula ‘Le Roy s’avisera’), it was only natural that, Parliament being by definition a place of discussion and exchange of information regarding the government of the country generally, much of the Commons’ business with the King and Lords should be conducted orally. This modus operandi is so amply described by entries in the Parliament rolls, as to require only a selection of the relevant evidence. Thus, for example, the impeachments of 1376 and 1386, arising out of ‘the clamour of the Commons’ and resulting in criminal proceedings respectively against high officials of the royal household and the chancellor of England, allowed in each instance for viva voce exchanges between the Commons and the accused. So too did the impeachments of Richard II’s courtiers and judges in 1388, and of his erstwhile enemies in 1397. When, on the fourth day of the Parliament of January 1390, the chancellor, the treasurer, and other lords of the Council (except the keeper of the privy seal) not only offered to resign but openly invited complaints of official misconduct on their part, the Commons, having first successfully requested a day for deliberation and then, on the morrow, been asked by the duke of Lancaster for their views, went to some pains to assert (‘disoient pleinement’) that they could find no cause for complaint. Indeed, in full Parliament, they actually thanked the officials and councillors so that, with the Lords doing the same in warm terms, those who had resigned were reinstated. It was expressly by the mouth of the Speaker (Bussy) that, on the second day of the Parliament of September 1397, following his rehearsal of the chancellor’s opening speech, the Commons requested that the parliamentary commission of 1386 should be repealed as ‘chose fait traiterousement’. Also in this first week of the Parliament, the Commons obtained the King’s leave to impeach Archbishop Arundel of treason, especially for the active part he had taken in the establishment and subsequent operations of the commission.37 Then, in the second week, regarding the same offence, they orally requested King Richard to consider the loyalty and innocence of certain other members of the commission of whom the duke of York, Bishop Wykeham of Winchester and Richard, Lord Scrope, alone survived. When, on the last day of the session (29 Sept.), the King responded favourably to their request, the Commons, turning to the treason trials of the Merciless Parliament of 1388 prosecuted by the Lords Appellant, also asked him to attest the loyalty of Henry of Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, the two youngest Appellants, who were now believed to have exercised a moderating influence.38 In the meantime, anticipating the trial for treason of the earl of Arundel, one of the two chief Lords Appellant, the Commons had requested that his general pardon of April 1394 should be revoked. Then, following his actual condemnation, they had asked that the condemnation to forfeiture of his associate, the recently-deceased duke of Gloucester, should, albeit posthumously, automatically follow. Again, at the Commons’ oral request, on 26 Sept., in the middle of the second of the two weeks of the session, it had been decided that it should be treasonable to impugn the judgements and other acts of this Parliament, that solemn oaths should be sworn by the lords spiritual and temporal to uphold them, and also that, for greater security still, the male heirs of those who had just been adjudged traitors should be barred from attending future Parliaments or serving on the royal Council. And it was characteristic of the Commons’ complaisant acceptance of Richard II’s desire for revenge against most of those who had contributed to his humiliation in the years 1386-8 that, in the short second session of the Shrewsbury Parliament at the end of January 1398, they should have recalled their impeachment, in the previous session, of John, Lord Cobham, for his part in the events of the Wonderful and Merciless Parliaments, and have asked the King to have him reappear to answer and be brought to judgement (which was done). All these interconnected requests of the Commons were, of course, in total conformity with Richard’s wishes, as doubtless mediated by his councillor, Sir John Bussy, the Speaker, whose duty it had been to present them orally.39
In the Parliaments of Henry IV’s reign, the Commons continued of course to make oral requests, whether of a distinctly political nature or related to less emotive matters. Indeed, so far as Henry’s relations with his Parliaments were concerned, requests made expressly ‘par bouche’ were often of considerable importance. His first Parliament was inevitably called upon to deal with problems arising from Richard II’s deposition. And the Commons, fully aware of these difficulties, were nothing loth to play a part in bringing them to Parliament’s notice. Directly after it resumed following Henry’s coronation on 13 Oct. 1399, they pointed out to him that his predecessor could not have committed the misdeeds for which he had been deposed without the advice of those who had attended upon his person, and that the worst offenders were named in the records of the Parliament of 1397-8. Consequently, ‘atte the instance and the request of the Commons’ (as Chief Justice Thirning later said), the King ordered the records to be produced and read in Parliament, in the presence of those named: the dukes of Aumâle, Surrey and Exeter, the marquess of Dorset and the earls of Salisbury and Gloucester, all of whom in fact had been responsible for the appeal by which the duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick had been accused of treason in 1397. Brought to answer for themselves, as the Commons had demanded, each of the six lords, one after the other, affirmed that they had been constrained by fear of death into joining in and prosecuting the appeal, at the same time denying any part in the decision to have the duke of Gloucester murdered at Calais before the Parliament of 1397-8 met, and repudiating responsibility for the later exile and disinheritance of the present King. The judgement of the Lords, to which Henry assented, was that the accused should lose the titles of greater dignity awarded them by King Richard, forfeit the grants he had made them before and after Gloucester’s arrest and, were they ever to attempt to annul Richard’s deposition, stand ‘in peyne of treson’.40 Whether the Commons still remained dissatisfied regarding the circumstances surrounding Gloucester’s death, or if they simply hoped to exonerate Justice William Rickhill, whom in September 1397 Richard II had sent to Calais to interview the duke and secure a confession of all his misdeeds, on 18 Nov. they requested that Rickhill should appear before the King, the lords spiritual and temporal and themselves, and reveal the facts concerning his mission. This Rickhill did, whereupon the lords temporal, severally examined, found him blameless; and Chief Justice Clopton, as ordered by the King, declared him excused and acquitted.41 On the following day, which was the Parliament’s last, the Commons made yet another request arising out of the events of the previous summer, namely that Parliament should approve what had been done to bring about the execution of the three notorious members of Richard II’s Council, Sir William le Scrope (created earl of Wiltshire at the close of the first session of the Parliament of 1397-8), Sir Henry Green* and Sir John Bussy, all of whom had been summarily put to death at Bristol on 29 July without a proper trial. That this petition of the Commons had been made orally is beyond doubt, since it was instantly followed by a tearful request from Scrope’s father, Richard, Lord Scrope of Bolton, that neither he nor his surviving children should incur forfeiture. The King himself sympathetically replied, recalling the words of his claim to the throne in which he had denied any intention to disinherit anyone ‘by way of conquest’, save those who had acted contrary to the well-being of the kingdom, among whom, he now said, he counted the three knights in question as ‘coupablez de toute le male q’avoit venuz au Roialme’. As Lord Scrope had already agreed with the Commons’ request, all the other lords temporal followed suit; and finally the Commons thanked Henry for his just judgement, and thanked God, too, for having sent them such a ‘King and Governour’.42
Scarcely a Parliament went by in Henry IV’s reign but that, as circumstances required or allowed, the Commons made oral requests before the King and the Lords. These requests or complaints sometimes related to matters of immediate political importance (as in 1399), sometimes to difficulties over procedure, and occasionally to breaches of parliamentary etiquette. At the very outset of the second Lancastrian Parliament (20 Jan.-10 Mar. 1401), the Speaker, Sir Arnold Savage, having made his ‘protestation’ and briefly repeated in substance the declaration of the causes of summons, went on to ask that the Commons should be given sufficient time to deliberate important questions, and not be suddenly pressed to answer them right at the end of the Parliament (a request which received a favourable response). Just four days later, the Commons, again wishing to assert in advance their right to independent discussion, pointed out to the King that, in the course of their deliberations, one of their number, hoping to win his approval and do himself some good (‘pur avancer soy mesmes’), might pass him information about matters not finally agreed amongst themselves, thus arousing his anger, either against them all or perhaps a particular individual. As a result they humbly requested him not to listen to any such premature reports, and he agreed. On the other hand, several apparently important requests made by the Commons expressly ‘par bouche’, on 31 Jan., Henry declined to answer, at least just then, it being his intention that the Commons should include them and others among their ‘communes petitions’, which he would answer as and when advised by the Lords. Later in the session, on 21 Feb., the Commons pointed out (‘monstrerent’) that, contrary to legislation of Edward I, certain royal officials were Welsh-born, and urged him to summon them before him so that any irregularities might be investigated by the Council. Whereupon the King charged his own Council and the prince of Wales’s counsellors to proceed forthwith and, as advised by both Lords and Commons, correct what was amiss. Then, on 26 Feb., with the session still some time to run, the Commons ventured to ask the King to have the business of Parliament enacted and engrossed before the judges left, while the latter still remembered it. Although they were here interfering in a matter which, strictly speaking, was not their business, the King effectively agreed, stating that the clerk of the Parliaments would record ‘la substance du Parlement’ as first advised by the judges and then by himself and the Lords. How necessary the Commons felt some such advice to be, they made clear on the last day of the Parliament (10 Mar.), when, referring to a moderation of the Statute of Provisors passed in 1399, they said that on the previous day they had found the record in the relevant Parliament roll to be at fault, and requested that the Lords, both spiritual and temporal, should examine the matter. However, though Henry assented, albeit protesting that this was not to constitute a precedent, the Lords confirmed the record. At the same time he refused an oral request first made by the Commons on 26 Feb. that, as had until recently been the case, they might be told the answers to their common petitions before they announced their financial grant. The King’s reason for rejection was that it had not in fact been usual for the Commons to receive such information before all the business of Parliament had been completed, the grant of aid included. Not surprisingly, in view of this series of awkward questions put to the King by word of mouth, the Commons, later on this day of the dissolution, begged him to pardon them if by ignorance or negligence they, or any of them, had so offended in word or deed against his ‘estate royal’ as to have incurred his displeasure. This the King then did, ‘et de bone coe[u]r’; and well he might, for in spite of an uneasy session Parliament finally granted him a tenth and fifteenth, leviable in moieties but both within the calendar year.43
The Commons were to make similar requests in the next Parliament (30 Sept.-25 Nov. 1402). But this was an altogether quieter session; and it ended so amicably that the King was prompted to invite the members of the two Houses to a dinner on the day after the dissolution. The only oral request of the Commons of institutional interest was one which, on 10 Oct., the chancellor told the Lords had already been made to Henry. This petition, for leave to intercommune with some representatives of the Upper House on parliamentary business, met with royal approval, and 12 lords were actually appointed; but Henry’s concession was framed in such a way as to suggest that the procedure was unwelcome to him. There was in fact ample precedent for it, and every now and then the Commons had nominated those lords who were to confer with some of their own number. On this occasion, however, the King not only insisted that he was complying of his especial grace (not because duty or custom required it), but demanded that this ‘protestation’ should be recorded by the clerk of the Parliaments, and also directly made known to the Commons through the steward of the Household and his own secretary, who, upon their return, did in fact report that the Commons fully acknowledged that the King had the right of it.44
That the next Parliament, which sat from 14 Jan. to 20 Mar. 1404, met in an atmosphere of tension, and would most likely prove acrimonious, may be gathered from the Commons’ evident feelings of dissatisfaction at the start. No sooner had their Speaker (Sir Arnold Savage again) been presented and allowed his usual ‘protestation’ than he asked leave to complain of the King’s conduct of affairs (‘la governance mesme nostre Seigneur le Roy’). Indeed, he promptly requested that if any perverse report (‘sinistre information’) reached the King about their deliberations on the subject it would not be regarded as indicative of any ill-will. Nor can relations have been improved by the fact that on a number of occasions (‘as diverses foitz’) the Commons now requested the removal of certain people, including aliens, from the Household. Consequently, after the Lords had expelled four persons (all of them Englishmen) of whom three appeared before Parliament on 9 Feb., the King reluctantly agreed to remove all four, also undertaking to do the same with anyone else who happened to be ‘en hayne ou endignacion de son poeple’. Before a fortnight had passed, the Commons were going over much the same ground, their disapproval now being more emphatically directed against foreigners (especially schismatics) who, they demanded, should not only cease to live in the households of either the King or the queen, but also leave the country. The Lords, charged to give their advice, did so, and on 21 Feb. the chief household officials gave effect to their ordinance, exceptions being made for some members of the queen’s personal entourage.45 This was a Parliament, too, in which the Commons, alarmed at the desperate state of the royal finances despite all previous taxation, and indignant at the King’s prodigality, were so highly critical of his government that he felt it advisable to nominate the members of his Council in Parliament. In the same session, moreover, the Commons so far interfered in the matter of the earl of Northumberland’s trial (for alleged treason in the previous year) as to use their good offices on his behalf: they requested that he and the earl of Westmorland should be reconciled, and that once the two noblemen had returned home their tenants and members of their households should accept this agreement.46
When Parliament met a second time in the same year, at Coventry on 6 Oct., the Commons’ main concern again related to finance. The important proposal submitted by them on 28 Oct. regarding a resumption into the King’s hands of all royal grants and annuities since 1366 necessarily took shape as a written petition of several articles. Although they put forward a number of oral requests regarding the war in Wales, the rest were largely recommendations designed to benefit all the King’s sons and other members of the royal family (including the King’s cousin, the duke of York, and John and Thomas Beaufort, his half-brothers) and, in the one they made on the last day of Parliament, those knights and esquires who had put themselves at risk in joining Henry on his return from exile in 1399.47
Far more uneasy and contentious was the Parliament which, after a long interval, met on 1 Mar. 1406 and, with two prorogations, one short, one long, lasted until 22 Dec. The Commons, evidently following energetic discussions amongst themselves, were once again openly critical of the government’s conduct of affairs. Some of their most important demands for reform were put forward orally. For example, it was in the name of the Commons that, on 23 Mar., the Speaker (Sir John Tiptoft) requested the King that they might have ‘bone Governance habundante’, especially alluding to the need to provide for the protection of ships at sea, the defence of Guyenne, and resistance to the threat from Wales. With regard to the Welsh problem, the Commons urged through the Speaker on 3 Apr. that the prince of Wales, whose authority was now enhanced by a formal definition of his commission in the principality, should fully occupy himself in subjugating the rebels. On the same day, following a reference to ill-intentioned reports (‘sinistre report ... fait par ascuns’) giving the King to understand that the Commons had spoken about him in a disrespectful way likely to incur his anger, the Speaker denied the truth of the reports, and went on to ask that the Commons should be excused and accounted loyal.48 In the second session, they reverted to the question of the undesirability of having aliens in the Household; and at their persistent request (‘a les sovent priers et requestes des Communes’) the King and Lords agreed on 8 May that 44 such persons named in a schedule presented to the steward of the Household should leave the country before a certain day which, with the Lords’ assent, the King postponed, albeit for little more than a fortnight. Meanwhile, on the 22nd, the Commons had returned to an altogether larger question, the Speaker then making so bold as to recall their earlier request for ‘abundant governance’ (which they had in fact repeated since), and asking the King to take proper steps to achieve it. Once the Commons had been informed by Archbishop Arundel that Henry intended to rely heavily upon his Council, the all-important point at issue was not so much who should be councillors (although a few changes were made) as the terms upon which, in view of the King’s physical infirmity, they would be free to supervise the reforms meant to ensure good government (‘lesqueux deussent avoir survieu de tout qe serroit fait pur la bone governance de son Roialme’), firstly by enforcing the King’s financial rights in order to increase his revenues, and secondly by maintaining the laws and statutes. These terms were incorporated in a bill read out by King Henry himself in Parliament, for which he took full responsibility, and in which he nominated the members of the Council, who were to be free to accept or decline appointment. Thanks to renewed pressure from the Commons, two days later the Speaker asked for the views of those nominated; whereupon Archbishop Arundel, answering for himself and the rest, said that they were willing to serve, provided that adequate funds were made available. The Speaker, however, responding the same day to this open demand for a subsidy, did no more than recall the parlous state of the defences of Calais, Guyenne (where, he said, 96 castles and towns had been lost in the past year), Ireland, the Scottish marches, along the sea-coast and against rebels in Wales, save only to expatiate upon the sufferings and poverty of the common people throughout the kingdom. Having noted that the earl of Somerset meant to proceed at once to Calais, he asked the King to order other captains of castles and fortresses overseas to attend to their defence in person. Not surprisingly, the Speaker also requested that in case he had said anything to displease the King or lords he might continue to rely upon his ‘protestation’, meaning in effect his freedom to report what the Commons decided still needed to be said. A fortnight later (7 June), his concern to safeguard this indemnity was amply justified, as the Commons, although doubtless prompted from above, then proposed (and in the event obtained) an important change by statute in the conditions regulating the royal succession, thereby now restricting it to the King’s sons and, similarly in turn, their male heirs. Moreover, on the same day, they put forward two other petitions, expressly designated in the margin of the Parliament roll as ‘requestes faitz par les Communes par bouche’. One of these asked that the prince of Wales should, especially because of news of the earl of Northumberland’s treasonable involvement in the Welsh rebellion, hasten to the principality. The other requested that the King would not only remedy, with the advice of the Council, abuses in the customs service adversely affecting the well-being of the garrison at Calais, and take account, too, of the situation in Ireland which had deteriorated despite a great outlay on defence, but also reduce spending on the Household. This was alleged to be growing far more expensive and also much less honourable than before, and to lack worthy people of substance (‘persones vaillantz et suffisantz’), being now largely composed of riff-raff (‘raskaile’).49
Unfortunately, the third and last session of this Parliament (which, called for 13 Oct., only got under way five days later) is not recorded on the Parliament roll in the detail accorded the earlier sessions. However, even as far on as 18 Nov., the Commons, through the Speaker, were demanding that the Lords should be urged to draw the King’s attention to particular causes of ‘male Governance’, the Speaker having, as before, had recourse to his ‘protestation’, at the same time disclaiming any intention on the part of the Commons to derogate from the King’s ‘honourable Estate’, or to excite his displeasure.50 From what transpired, it is clear that the Commons were now even more firmly bent upon the adoption of a wide-ranging programme of governmental and administrative reform (eventually comprising 31 articles) which would require the King to follow the advice of the Council, and compel the councillors to uphold the scheme as a whole, taking especial care to husband revenue and cut expenditure, particularly in the Household. Evidently little if at all comforted by the appointment of the Speaker (Tiptoft) on 8 Dec. as treasurer of the Household (in which capacity he would join the new Council), the Commons remained reluctant to grant enough taxation for the Council to carry on the government satisfactorily. It was not, in fact, until 22 Dec., the very last day of the Parliament, that they finally settled the matter. The day itself, however, was by no means free of difficulty. This was only to be expected in view of the events of the night before, when, as is related by the St. Albans chronicle (in a remarkable passage replete with circumstantial detail), the Commons, despairing of reaching home for Christmas, unwillingly agreed to a general subsidy. They were compelled to do so when the King broke out in a violent rage at their demand for guarantees under seal from ‘certain lords present’ (presumably the councillors) to refund the tax themselves if it should not be properly spent, which the lords refused.51 Assuming that the order of events on 22 Dec. followed that recorded on the Parliament roll, the day began with a request from the Speaker before Parliament as a whole that Lords and Commons might together discuss the question of the royal succession. Having recalled the two previous Acts of February 1404 and June 1406, they now asked King Henry to annul the second and, in a fresh Act, revert to the terms of the first, in other words to settle the succession upon the King’s sons (in order of seniority) and the lawful heirs of their bodies, instead of upon them and their heirs male alone. That request seemingly gave no trouble, and the letters patent under the great seal exemplifying this settlement were to be duly attested under seal by all the lords spiritual and temporal (whether present or absent), and also, in the name of the Commons, by the Speaker. The latter then requested a pardon for all those who had committed offences when assisting in the suppression of riots and insurrections; and this too met with general approval. His next oral request was of greater and more immediate significance, both political and institutional. For he now asked the Upper House to nominate certain lords spiritual and temporal who, along with at least six of 12 Members of the Commons (all of whose names, including his own, he submitted in writing), might be appointed to witness the engrossment of the roll of the Parliament. The King granted this ‘prier et petition’, also allowing that, as the Commons had additionally requested, it should be enacted as of record on the roll. Evidently, suspicion was in the air; and it was not only the Commons who were affected. So too, predictably in view of the events of the previous night, were the councillors. For no sooner had the Speaker, making his next move, presented the Upper House with a ‘roll’ of the many articles of reform already agreed by Parliament as a whole, and had secured the King’s permission for their enactment, than he went on to ask, in the Commons’ name, that all the councillors should, in the presence of the King and ‘toutes les Estates de Parlement’, swear to abide by the articles. To this request Archbishop Arundel and the rest at first demurred. However, they did finally agree that if the King personally charged them to assume responsibility for implementing the articles, and funds were made available, they would serve, and continue to do so for as long as Parliament’s financial grant proved sufficient. Consequently, once the King had done his part, the councillors present took the oath. It then only remained for the Speaker (now himself ex officio a councillor) to request additionally that the one absent councillor (Lord Roos), all the royal judges and the master (clerc) of the rolls should, as soon as possible, do likewise. Well might the St. Albans chronicler have described the end of this Parliament as contentious (‘litigiosus’). Not even the formal record of the grant of taxation made final that day altogether dispels the atmosphere of disharmony in which, as the chronicler clearly recognized, Parliament reached its close. The preface to the grant does, in plausible terms, refer to the great love and affection in which the King was held by his ‘poevers [pauvres] Communes’, and to the great trust (‘la graunde affiance’) they had in the lords of the Council now appointed. But, then, what the Commons meant by this trust was defined as confidence in the councillors’ ability to provide for better government than before (‘pur meillour Governance avoir qe y n’ad este’). As to the grant itself, although there was still money left over from the yield of the two tenths and fifteenths voted at Coventry two years before and levied in the meantime, and the tenth and fifteenth now granted was due in less than eight weeks time (14 Feb. 1407), this fresh subsidy was modest enough in the circumstances. Moreover, although the grant of the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage made at Coventry, which would expire at Michaelmas 1407, was now renewed, this was for no more than a bare 12 months. The first £6,000 deriving from these taxes on trade was allowed to the King to do with as he pleased; but otherwise the proceeds of the grants were all strictly appropriated to defence and maritime protection, to be spent only as the Council advised, an essential condition which the councillors, lords and officials alike, were to swear in Parliament to fulfil. In view of these complementary stipulations, it is hardly surprising that the final (31st) article of the scheme of reform provided that it should last only until the next Parliament ended. Perhaps the King, emotionally disturbed as he had been on the eve of the dissolution, and by no means enamoured of the conciliar scheme as a whole, was himself responsible for this article; but it is also possible that the councillors, concerned for their own future self-protection, made no objection.52
When the next Parliament met, at Gloucester abbey on 20 Oct. 1407, it was doubtless intended that, in view of the unprecedented length of its predecessor, it should sit for as short a time as possible, thus perhaps avoiding contention. Much would depend on the Commons’ evaluation of the conduct of the Council during the interval, but more especially on their reaction to the now inevitable demand for further taxation. On the face of it, their election of Thomas Chaucer as Speaker seemed to augur well; for whether or not his dismissal in the previous May from the office of chief butler (held by him since 1402) might be taken to suggest that he was out of favour with the King, he had a close personal relationship with some of the most important councillors. (He was cousin-german to Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, and John Beaufort, earl of Somerset; and, since the beginning of the reign, he had served as steward of the prince of Wales’s estates in Oxfordshire, which was his own county.) Not surprisingly, with the scheme of government formulated in 1406 due to expire at the end of this Parliament, the interrelated questions of conciliar responsibility and financial need came to the fore in the fortnight following Chaucer’s appointment as Speaker on 25 Oct., as is apparent from the record of what happened in the Upper House on 9 Nov., when he began by summarizing events in the previous Parliament for the benefit of the King and Lords. Then, in turn, Archbishop Arundel, the chancellor, reminded the Commons that he himself, solely at the prompting of the Council, had already informed them, first by word of mouth in their own meeting place in the abbey refectory and subsequently in a written statement, of how the taxes had been spent. He continued to explain how he had referred not only to the councillors’ diligence, but also to their having personally entered into bonds for large loans (to the Crown), thus hoping to earn for themselves great goodwill, not to say gratitude. Having been accorded neither, he and the other councillors now wished to be constrained no longer by the oath they had taken in the last Parliament, and so had asked the King to regard them as excused and free of blame. That the Commons in this Parliament were not at this juncture so self-assertive as their recent predecessors is suggested by their failure to question the chancellor’s request, with which the King instantly complied. In fact, since they were apparently ready to let the subject drop, the only other thing the Speaker did that day of direct interest to the government was to protest about royal purveyors; and although seriously meant, this grievance was virtually brushed aside when the steward and the treasurer of the Household (Sir John Stanley and Sir John Tiptoft) replied that punishment for misdemeanours would depend upon legal actions brought privately by plaintiffs against individual purveyors. Only five days later (14 Nov.), however, the Commons were back in the Upper House, the Speaker now complaining that, for want of adequate measures for the safe-keeping of the sea, there had been instances of both loss of seamen’s life and liberty and the capture of valuable cargoes. On this occasion, too, the Commons raised the question of support for the subjugation of Wales. Bewailing the lack of enforcement of previous legislation requiring lords and others with estates in the marches to reside there continually and resist the rebels, the Speaker now demanded that such landowners, minors in royal or seigneurial wardship apart, should be ordered to do so ‘at their peril’, and that the Commons, being under no obligation to sustain the war, should henceforward be altogether discharged.53 The Commons must already have been considering the question of supply; and doubtless in order to expedite matters the Speaker asked the King to assign them certain lords for the purpose of joint discussion. The King himself then named Archbishop Arundel, the chancellor, Bishop Beaufort of Winchester, Bishop Langley of Durham, Edward, duke of York, John Beaufort, earl of Somerset, and Lords Roos and Burnell, all of whom were, in fact, members of the Council appointed at the end of the 1406 Parliament. First to result from this intercommuning between Commons and councillors were quite probably decisions about the now chronic financial problems caused by the contract for the safe-keeping of the seas entered into by ‘the merchants of England’ in the first session of the Parliament of 1406 but abandoned at the start of the third.54 Whatever transpired, both Commons and councillors were now doubtless most concerned about future taxation (which, after all, was usually the main object of such intercommuning). However, events in the Upper House on 21 Nov., a full week after the Speaker had solicited a meeting of the Commons with the councillors, clearly indicate that, as regards a financial grant, no recommendation had been forthcoming, or even any significant progress made.
This state of affairs at once created difficulties that were not to be finally resolved until the last day of the Parliament (2 Dec.), when a written statement obviously prepared in advance—a ‘Schedule of Indemnity'—was read before the whole Parliament. Not only had there been a dispute between the Lords and the Commons (‘certein altercation moeve par entre les Seigneurs et les Communes’), but also trouble between the King and the Lower House, and even between him and the Lords. On 21 Nov. he and the lords spiritual and temporal had discussed together the ‘state of the realm’, the dangers to which the whole nation was exposed from enemies on all sides, and the need for a considerable grant of taxation (‘ascune notable Aide et Subsidie’). The lords, when then asked what financial assistance they thought both adequate and, in view of the poverty of the people, realistic (‘busoignable’), answered one by one that nothing less would suffice than a grant of one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths, coupled with an extension of the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage for two years. Whereupon the King ordered the Commons to arrange for deputies to attend the Upper House and report back with his instructions. Accordingly, a dozen Members appeared, only to be told, first, of the question put to the lords and their answer, and then that the King commanded them to return to their fellows and secure their ready compliance with the lords’ proposal. So perturbed (‘grandement destourbez’) were the Commons by their deputation’s report, and so spirited was their verbal protest at the infringement of their liberties, that the King thought it prudent to adopt a conciliatory attitude and retract. As a consequence, the above-mentioned ‘Schedule of Indemnity’ stated that he would continue to respect the freedom of both Houses separately to discuss how best to provide for ‘the estate of the realm’, the Lords doing so in his absence. But regarding taxation, particularly in view of what had occurred on 21 Nov., it was just as important to insist that no grant should be reported to the King, either by the Lords or the Commons, before they were all fully agreed: in other words until a grant had been made by the Commons and the Lords had assented to it, not the other way round. Indeed, lest any doubt should remain as to which of the parties, Lords or Commons, was to be regarded as primarily responsible for any such grant, it was also resolved that, as had been customary, the final announcement of it was to be made by the Speaker (‘par bouche de Purparlour’). Moreover, what had happened this time was not to constitute a precedent, one liable adversely to affect in future the liberty of the ‘Estate’ which the Commons represented; but the King and all other ‘Estates’ too were to be as free as before. When, for additional emphasis, the Speaker requested on the same day that the Commons might leave Parliament enjoying as great a liberty as they had ever had in the past, the King readily agreed, saying that this had always been his intention. All the Speaker now had to do before the dissolution was to ask that adequate measures be taken for defence; that the prince of Wales and his men should be thanked for their efforts in Wales, and those who had deserted him or, like some of the lords of the marches, had otherwise failed to do their duty, should be penalized; that the King’s other three sons should be promoted in rank and suitably provided for; and, finally, to announce the grant of taxation, with specific appropriations for defence. The grant, however, it must be noted, was precisely as first proposed by the Lords; and the King was evidently so grateful that he promised in return not to request, or even accept (the record says), any further grant between Lady Day (25 Mar.) 1408 and Lady Day 1410. What, however, must have given the Commons great cause for satisfaction was that they had managed to make their point regarding the procedure by which Parliament was to grant taxation. They, the Commons, were to make the grant which, once approved by the Lords, their Speaker was to declare, thus effectively leaving them with the last word upon the matter. Incidentally, the King did in fact keep the promise he gave at Gloucester regarding future taxation, at least in the sense that, with Parliament not meeting again before 27 Jan. 1410, it was not until 8 May following that the next grant was actually voted.55
This eighth Parliament of Henry IV’s reign which, with a short break for Easter, was to run to two sessions, began at Westminster in circumstances which can only have portended, for both Lords and Commons, another uneasy assembly. The King, as a result of now chronic ill-health, had lost personal control of affairs to such an extent that he had been unable to prevent the recent dismissal of his two chief ministers of state, both of whom were personal friends: firstly, on 11 Dec. 1409, of Sir John Tiptoft, the treasurer of the Exchequer since July 1408, and, secondly, on 21 Dec., of Archbishop Arundel, who had been chancellor from January 1407 (and virtually the King’s vicegerent ever since).56 The prince of Wales on the other hand, now relatively free of military commitments in the principality and, as royal heir apparent, all the more eager to take up the reins of government, was soon in effective charge of affairs, this being a reasonable inference from the appointment as treasurer of his intimate friend, Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham, on 6 Jan. 1410, three weeks before Parliament met. Moreover, when Parliament was opened on 27 Jan., the chancellorship being then still vacant, the duty of declaring the causes of summons was assigned to Bishop Henry Beaufort of Winchester, half-brother to the King but now politically more important as another close friend of his nephew the prince.57Not until the fifth day of the session (31 Jan.) was the new chancellor appointed, namely Sir Thomas Beaufort, the bishop’s younger brother (the first layman to hold the office since the disgrace of Michael de la Pole in 1386). It had doubtless been thought prudent, even reasonable, that whether or not Parliament was actually consulted over such an important appointment, it should at least know what was going on. Evidently, regarding the political situation in general, not only the Lords but the Commons too were au courant: already, on the second day of the session, the Commons had re-elected, as Speaker, Thomas Chaucer, who was closely connected with his cousins the Beauforts and the prince. That the Commons were thus inclined at the outset to support the prince’s party in its aim to assume control of the government would seem to have been self-evident. Certainly the King, who was present in the Upper House to accept Chaucer’s election, did so in terms which, as reported in the Parliament roll, suggest that he himself was fully aware of its significance. When the Speaker made his ‘protestation’, venturing to ask that he might be excused any remarks displeasing to the King, the latter merely agreed to allow what was customary; and, in addition, having said that it was up to ‘all the estates of Parliament’ to provide for the common weal in a spirit of unity and concord, the King specially emphasized the Commons’ responsibility in this regard.58 So far as the latter were concerned, however, this plea for harmonious co-operation evidently had little or no immediate effect. The first session of seven weeks was, in fact, chiefly remarkable for their introduction of a bill which, ardently promoted by the lollards in the Lower House, advocated a detailed plan for the confiscation of the temporalities of the bishops and greater abbots. Elsewhere this bill caused so much scandal that the King rejected it out of hand, and the clerk of the Parliaments, when compiling the Parliament roll, omitted all reference to it. In fact, apart from the usual formalities associated with the opening of Parliament, the clerk found nothing of substance to record of the session, save for an oral request made by the Commons on 7 Feb. that the assizes should be deferred during Parliament (to which the King, as advised by the lords and his judges, agreed), and another on the following day that a written petition of theirs about a recent statute concerning lollards should not simply be ignored but returned to them (which was also granted, although on the understanding that such a concession should not create a precedent).59
That the Commons fully recognized their own, at least partial responsibility for a virtually sterile first session, is suggested by the unusually elaborate record in the Parliament roll describing how, on the eve of Palm Sunday (16 Mar.), they requested through the Speaker a prorogation for Easter. Having explained that since, at this principal church festival of the year, it was especially incumbent upon them as good Christians to go to confession in their own parish churches, the Speaker asked that they might all return home, at the same time promising, however, that when they came back, and until the end of the Parliament, they would buckle to and ensure the defence of the realm (whereupon the King, trusting in their goodwill and sincerity, gave both them and the Lords leave to depart). In fact, when Parliament re-assembled a fortnight after Easter (7 Apr.), the two Houses, in order to expedite business, promptly entered into joint discussions (‘entrecommunerent’). Yet it was not until 23 Apr. that the Commons presented a series of written petitions which, apart from an interest shown in crime and riotous behaviour especially north of the Trent, were mostly designed to bring about an increase of royal revenue, while at the same time limiting expenditure on the Household as well as on the defence of the realm and of English possessions overseas.60 But the most important of the articles, being of direct governmental and political significance, was the first: in furtherance of ‘good and substantial government’, the Commons asked the King to appoint to his Council the most eligible of the lords spiritual and temporal who, along with his judges, should be openly sworn in Parliament to give loyal counsel and behave impartially. The Commons having taken over a fortnight to come up with their petitions, another week and more passed before any further progress was made regarding the all-important matter of the constitution of the Council. Not until 2 May did the Commons, again appearing in the Upper House, ask to be told the names of the lords of the ‘Consail continuel’. Reasons for the delay are not far to seek: the King, evidently anxious to temper the prince of Wales’s hold upon a Council over which he not only presided as head, but of which his two friends, the chancellor (Sir Thomas Beaufort) and the treasurer (Henry, Lord Scrope), were chief ex officio members, had been trying to persuade certain other lords to serve, albeit without success. Moreover, there was doubtless a general reluctance on the part of nominees to comply with the Commons’ demand that, when appointed in Parliament, they should be sworn in there (a demand similar to that opposed by councillors in 1406). Even so, when the King, now driven to name the Council, appointed the prince, Bishop Beaufort of Winchester, Bishop Langley of Durham, Bishop Bubwith of Bath and Wells, the earls of Arundel and Westmorland and Lord Burnell, all save the prince (whose status excused him) then took the oath. At the same time, though, the councillors made it plain that their continuance in office after Parliament rose would depend upon the provision of adequate financial support. This merely conditional acceptance of conciliar responsibility evidently produced the desired effect, and before another week had passed the Commons, with the Lords’ assent, made their grant. However, in view of the King’s initial request (as reported by the St. Albans chronicler) for a tenth and fifteenth every year while he lived, and since the collection of the one-and-a-half such subsidies now voted was to be spread over virtually the next three years, this grant of direct taxation was hardly generous.61
There are other reasons, too, for thinking that this second, final session of the Parliament ended as uneasily as had the first. It can hardly have been of any real importance that a break was made with usual practice, and Parliament dissolved not on the day of the Commons’ grant of taxation, but on the one after (9 May) instead. Obviously, far more significant than this brief postponement was the use made of it, or rather the nature of the business transacted on the extra day by both the Commons and the prince of Wales. Judging from the order in which the Parliament roll records the day’s events, it was at its close that, in the Upper House, the Speaker commended the queen and, likewise in the name of the Commons, paid tribute to Prince Henry (as on previous occasions during the Parliament) as well as his three brothers (Thomas, John and Humphrey), who were considered ripe for honourable promotion.62 The main event of the day (and probably the chief reason for the dissolution being deferred), was, however, the Speaker’s earlier request that the Commons should be notified in full (‘avoir pleine conussance’) of the names of the lords of the Council, and that those councillors who had previously agreed to serve and had been sworn in conditionally should, now that Parliament had made the necessary financial provision, be given the terms of their appointment and renew their oaths on absolute terms (‘sanz condicione’). Whether or not the Speaker, when asking for this information, had intended to make last-minute changes possible, the prince of Wales did, in fact, avail himself of the opportunity. He pointed out that the bishop of Durham and the earl of Westmorland would most likely be needed to help defend the Scottish border and so be unable to attend council meetings continuously, and asked the King to appoint others.63 As a result Bishop Chichele of St. David’s and Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, both of them followers of the prince, were appointed ‘en plein parlement’, on the understanding that they would accept their duties unconditionally, like the others. Thus, if the Commons had got their way over the conciliar oath, the prince had prevailed touching the ultimate constitution of the Council, as in much else. Yet, although the Parliament had ended amicably enough, its conduct overall cannot have been considered altogether satisfactory by the King. And in the next, when he had every reason to feel even more closely beleaguered, he was not only to give vent to his disapproval, but made every effort to redress the political balance in his favour, especially against the prince of Wales and his party, and not least so far as the Commons were concerned.
Although at a great council in March 1411 Lord Scrope had delivered a gloomy statement of the government’s financial position and, by September following, the prince had none the less decided to intervene in the French civil war on the side of the duke of Burgundy against the Orléanists (sending a small English army to France under the earl of Arundel, his fellow councillor), it was not until 3 Nov. that Parliament next assembled. The King himself seems to have been vexed by this pro-Burgundian policy;64 in any case, he had good reason to resent the prince’s independence and ascendancy, especially as rumours were circulating that Bishop Beaufort and some of the prince’s other personal advisors were proposing that he should abdicate. Prince Henry was alleged to have made such a proposal himself soon afterwards on the ground that his father ‘non poterat circa honorem et utilitatem regni ulterius laborare’.65 Parliament must have met, therefore, in an atmosphere of general uncertainty, if not real foreboding, for many of both the Lords and the Commons (so the Parliament roll informs us) were absent to begin with. It was more likely for this reason, rather than because the King was physically incapacitated, that on the eve of the Parliament (2 Nov.) letters patent were issued in which, having stated that he could not be present in person on the following day, Henry appointed the chancellor (Sir Thomas Beaufort) to open the assembly but then prorogue it until the day after (4 Nov.), when he did indeed attend for the chancellor’s declaration of the causes of summons. Far more inauspicious, at least regarding relations between the King and the Commons, was his reception of the Speaker, Thomas Chaucer, who was now elected for the third time running. For when, on the 5th, Chaucer made the normal request that he might speak in the Upper House ‘under protestation’, the King, having allowed what was customary, spiritedly asserted that he would now countenance nothing that was newfangled (‘nulle manere de Novellerie’), but would insist to the full on his own historic prerogatives. Quite possibly, in making this two-fold assertion, Henry was harking back to events in the Parliament of 1410; but, whatever lay behind it, the Commons were so alarmed that they asked, through the Speaker, that they might have until the following day in order to define their protestation more precisely in writing. However, although the King agreed, that day proved inconvenient for him, and so another day passed before the Commons next appeared in the Upper House. Whether or not they did, in fact, resubmit the protestation in written form, it was by oral request that the Speaker, having claimed on their behalf only what was customary, went on to ask that if he should say anything which either offended the King or contravened his royal prerogative, the offence might be put down to his carelessness, want of wit or ignorance, not to ill-will or mtext-align intent, and that both he and the Commons should be excused. It is, however, difficult to conceive how the Commons, and especially the Speaker, could have expected to avoid causing offence during the next three weeks or so, in the course of which the King evidently decided to dismiss the prince and his fellow councillors, a démarche which culminated on 30 Nov. with all possible publicity. But however much unrest there may have been beforehand, the Parliament roll naturally glossed it over in a report of the proceedings which, although not inadequate, could hardly have been more succinct. Since, according to this official source, it seemed to the Commons that the prince and the other lords of the Council, including its ex officio members, had loyally done their duty in pursuance of their oath (‘promesse’) taken in the last Parliament, they requested the King through the Speaker to thank them for their efforts. The prince and his fellow councillors kneeling before the King in token of submission, the prince on their behalf affirmed that, to the best of their ability, they had all faithfully discharged their obligations. Having acknowledged all this and graciously thanked them, the King took up the prince’s theme by adding that, if only more generous financial support had previously been forthcoming, they might have done better still (a jibe, if not at the expense of the Council, possibly at that of the Commons).66
There was, of course, still much for the Parliament to do. For example, the Commons needed to discuss ‘un certein article’ which, passed in the previous Parliament, is otherwise only known to have been in ‘restreint’ of the royal prerogative in some way. Whatever its content, the ‘article’ was important enough for the King to have sent the chancellor to draw the Commons’ attention to it; and, with nothing settled by the dissolution (19 Dec.), the Speaker proceeded to ask the King what he meant to do about it. Henry gave the firm reply that, in defence of his royal liberty and authority, the article should be annulled as if the subject had never been raised.67 The question of taxation, however, is likely to have caused much greater concern and, especially in view of the way it was handled on this occasion, given rise to protracted, animated discussion. The mercantile subsidies were renewed, but only for a year (Michaelmas 1412-13); and although the existing appropriations were to continue unchanged, it was insisted that they should in future strictly depend upon fresh grants willingly made by Lords and Commons in full Parliament. Furthermore, instead of voting direct taxation in the usual form of the tenth and fifteenth, the Commons agreed to a tax on all net income from lands and rents held by the laity worth over £20 a year. Since the rate of the levy was to be no higher than a sixtieth (6s.8d. per £20), it was far from liberal, although the conditions attached—collection to fall due in less than seven weeks (on 3 Feb. 1412), all accruals to be at the King’s free disposal, the grant itself not to form a precedent—can hardly have found much favour with either of the two Houses. This was particularly true of the Commons, for it was additionally stipulated, presumably at their corporate request, that none of them should be personally involved in any of the work of collection.68 But whether or not the financial grants were made with some reluctance, the session certainly ended uncomfortably for all concerned. On the last day the Lords and Commons felt driven to take the unusual step of presenting to the King a joint petition in writing, which referred to the great general regret (‘graund murmur ... en vostre poeple’) that he should have been so ill-disposed (‘eu en vostre coeur pesantee’) towards some of those who had attended both this and the last Parliament, and asked him to reveal his intentions. The petition having been read out, the King ‘of his especial grace’ granted it, although the terms of his reply went unrecorded.69 Nor does the Parliament roll say anything regarding the reconstitution of the Council necessitated by the removal of the prince and his supporters.
This was an issue which, although bound to have been under consideration in the meantime, may well have been deliberately left undetermined, possibly in order to avoid even formal involvement on the part of Parliament, including perhaps yet another attempt by the Commons to have the councillors sworn in before Parliament on their appointment. In fact, although the Council, its total complement now reduced in number from 12 to nine, remained aristocratic in character, its actual composition underwent considerable changes. Of the nine ordinary members of the Council which had emerged from the Parliament of 1410 only Bishop Langley of Durham, Bishop Bubwith of Bath and Wells, and Ralph Neville, earl of Westmorland, were re-appointed, now joined by Archbishop Bowet of York, Bishop Clifford of London, and William, Lord Roos. Of the three ex officio members, John Prophet, keeper of the privy seal since 1406, was alone retained, soon to be joined, following the dismissal of Lord Scrope and Sir Thomas Beaufort (both within two days of Parliament’s dissolution), first by Sir John Pelham*, who was appointed treasurer of the Exchequer on 23 Dec., and then, on 5 Jan. 1412, by Archbishop Arundel. For the fifth time since 1386 and the second time under Henry IV the archbishop again became chancellor. None of these councillors was new to the work; indeed, most of them, whether or not ex officio had had considerable previous experience. And they went on to serve for the rest of the reign.
Although Parliament, summoned on 1 Dec. 1412 for 3 Feb. following, did then meet, it was dissolved abruptly as a result of Henry IV’s death on 20 Mar., and the proceedings were nullified. Indeed, in the absence of any Parliament roll, nothing is known of what the Parliament did, or even whether the King took much part, which is unlikely.70 The year 1412, meanwhile, had witnessed such a breach between Henry and his heir apparent as might have proved catastrophic for the dynasty itself. The prince, now deprived of influence upon the conduct of affairs, doubtless annoyed by his father’s adoption of an alliance with the Orléanists in France as opposed to the Burgundians, whom he himself favoured, and aggrieved by the King’s undisguised preference for his second son, Thomas (indicated by the latter’s appointment in June to lead the resulting expedition overseas and his creation, in July, as duke of Clarence), actually began to fear disinheritance. And his ensuing lack of self-restraint, in gathering friends and retainers at Coventry and then descending on London in force, did indeed lay him open to suspicion of treason.71 If only after a fashion, the quarrel was patched up, and on Henry IV’s death the prince, now aged 25, automatically succeeded him. Crowned less than three weeks later, on 9 Apr. 1413, Henry V met his first Parliament on 15 May, the writs of summons having been issued on 22 Mar., the day after the formal beginning of the reign (the day when Bishop Beaufort replaced Archbishop Arundel as chancellor).
It is hardly surprising that since Parliament had so recently been in session for more than six weeks, and a great concourse of peers and others had attended Henry’s coronation in the meantime, this first Parliament of the new reign should have lasted for less than four weeks, ending as it did on 9 June, when the Commons, the Lords assenting, made a modest grant. Otherwise, the session gave little cause for satisfaction. Indeed, the Parliament roll itself reveals that the Commons had not only soon found themselves at odds with the King, but then, in the upshot, had also run into difficulties among themselves, or at least with their first elected Speaker. As will be recalled, an important point of occasional difference between them and Henry IV had been over the form of the Speaker’s protestation (so much so that in 1411 Speaker Chaucer was eventually compelled to ask for time in which to explain it in writing). The imbroglio which now in 1413 arose likewise turned upon the use to which the protestation might be put, not simply by the Speaker in his own interest, but by the Commons too in theirs.72
By this time, the Speaker’s protestation, along with his request to the King for its acceptance, had long been a normal proceeding. It is not inconceivable that when, in the 14th century prior to 1376, the Commons had sent a deputation to the Upper House with a foreman to present its case, he might have used a protestation similar in content to the one which, after 1376, soon became customary. Of course, early in the Good Parliament of that year, in the person of Sir Peter de la Mare, the Commons first, to all appearances, elected a Speaker from among their number to serve for the duration of the Parliament. The political tension then generated by the Commons’ impeachments, especially those of high officials of the royal household, was so dangerous to de la Mare himself that he required the protection afforded by a protestation designed to relieve him of personal responsibility for what he might have to say in the Upper House on behalf of the Commons, ‘in discharge of their conscience’.73 It had to be clearly understood that responsibility for his statements rested with the Commons, and that if he should say anything to which they had not assented, he was entitled to their correction. The Speaker might on occasion add the plea, which was as much in the Commons’ interest as his own, that if he ever went so far as to offend the King, and perhaps displease the peers as well, his misbehaviour should be attributed to personal ignorance or negligence and be overlooked. Such a plea, occasionally recorded in Richard II’s reign, was made in all of Henry IV’s Parliaments, and again in Henry V’s first. But the essential and constant requirement of the Speaker’s protestation was that, should he say either more or less in the Upper House than the Commons had decided, they were entitled to correct him. Indeed, so far as they were concerned, this was the vital part of the protestation, since it was essential that they should neither be misrepresented in what their Speaker said, nor put in a false position by what he did. In 1413 there was need for them to act accordingly.
When, on 22 May, at the beginning of the second week of the Parliament, William Stourton, the Speaker, repeated for the Commons a petition for ‘good governance’ similar to those which, he said, Henry IV had often granted but had neglected to fulfil, he went on to explain, possibly at length, the need for more adequate measures of defence in all frontier regions at home and overseas, as well as drawing attention to the prevalence of riots in different parts of England, notably one at the abbey of Cirencester (a royal foundation). Henry V replied that, on the advice of the Lords, he would remedy the Commons’ grievances as soon as he was able, but not until after the Speaker, having consulted his fellow Members, had submitted them again in detail (‘especialment’) and in writing.74 The Commons’ complaints of lack of good governance were so wide-ranging that Speaker Stourton, evidently persuaded of the reasonableness of the King’s demand, agreed to it, only to find, however, that in so doing he had seriously misjudged the temper of the House. Three days later, the Commons sent a deputation to the King and Lords, headed not by the Speaker but by John Doreward (a member of the Council in the first half of Henry IV’s reign), in order to protest that Stourton’s decision, taken without their advice and assent, had been ultra vires. Since they were apparently reluctant to give offence by rejecting the main point of Henry’s demand, that their complaints should be put into writing, the deputation asked him to accept a schedule containing a short list of headings (‘une cedule briefment appoyntez’) of the various topics of request for good governance: articles touching Ireland, the marches of Wales, Scotland and Calais, the duchy of Guyenne, the safe-keeping of the sea, the navy, the establishment of sound government in England, obedience to its laws, and resistance to enemies. It was, however, only in this limited fashion that the Commons were prepared to comply. But despite the imperfections of the compromise, the King was ready to make it work: desirous of showing the Commons ‘his good lordship and goodwill’ (as the Parliament roll puts it), he agreed to accept the schedule, at the same time wholly excusing the Commons from Stourton’s ‘Graunte et promesse’. Nor was this all: fully aware that their objection to Stourton’s irregular response to the royal demand had depended upon his protestation, on the same day the Commons required Doreward to ask that the protestation be confirmed (which the King allowed). Then, a week or so later (3 June), when they reported that Stourton was unable to continue in office (being ill in bed) and presented Doreward as his successor, the latter, now on his own account as well as in the Commons’ interest, repeated his previous request for the renewal of the protestation. Presumably it was on the basis of Henry’s readiness to comply that Doreward served as Speaker for the brief remainder of the session, Parliament being dissolved on 9 June.75
As in the first Parliament of the reign, so in the second (which met at Leicester on 30 Apr. 1414), the Commons evidently again ran into difficulties in their relations with the King. They were greatly concerned with a matter of such procedural importance that, potentially at least, it threatened to be of major constitutional significance: the question of official amendments to those written petitions and oral requests from the Lower House, which, if granted by the King, would be converted into statutes. Although the roll is silent on this point, after the last Parliament most of the statutes resulting from common petitions (including the one laying it down that, at shire and borough elections to Parliament, both electors and those elected should be resident) had finally been so drafted as to have made changes of some material significance.76 The problem hinged upon whether the government had been right to treat those petitions as simply containing the basis for statutory legislation, or, conversely, whether the Commons were entitled to insist that their petitions and requests should be strictly adhered to in detail, leaving no room for alteration, unless they themselves assented. Henry V’s attitude can only be contrasted with that adopted, on one particular occasion, by his father. When the Speaker in the Parliament of January 1404, having requested that the Statute of Liveries ‘and all others’ should be enforced, had gone on to ask that if any statute needed to be ‘abbreggez ou enlargisez’ it should be shown to the Commons for their information and discussion so that their ‘entension et assent’ might be known, Henry IV effectively declined to challenge the Commons on the principle at issue.77 In the Leicester Parliament of 1414, in a similar situation (save that it related not to existing legislation as in 1404, but to legislation in prospect), Henry V acted differently: although not going so far as openly to question the Commons’ basic right to assent to legislation, he virtually refused to extend it in the way they evidently had wished ten years before and now again hoped to do. On this occasion, the Commons not only asserted their right to be ‘as well Assentirs as Petitioners’ regarding statutes or laws, but also asked that no complaint of theirs, whether made in a written petition or orally by the Speaker, should result in a statute which, by ‘addicions’ or ‘diminucions’ or other verbal alteration, changed ‘the sentence [the meaning] and the entente’ of their request, unless they themselves agreed. This particular written petition was in English (the first of its kind to be recorded on the Parliament roll verbatim, ‘mote a mote’), and so also was the King’s answer (similarly recorded).78 But if, as a result, the former achieved all desirable clarity of expression, the latter was not entirely free of ambiguity; and Henry may well have dissembled.79 Stated quite simply, the ambiguity arises from the fact that although he professedly conceded the Commons’ petition, he did so in a manner which effectively made his concession little short of valueless. There was, of course, no reason why he should not have rejected the petition outright, like any other. Indeed, his prerogative right to do so was expressly recognized by the petition itself, as well as given additional emphasis in his own answer. Yet, even though he did not simply refuse it, neither did he approve it as it stood. And although the introductory words of his answer (‘The Kyng of his grace especial graunteth ...’) might naturally have suggested or implied that the subsequent concession would be acceptable to the Commons, what in fact was granted can hardly have satisfied them, unless they were deceived. The King merely acceded that, in future, nothing should be ‘enacted to the Peticions of his Commune that be contrarie of hir askyng, wharby they shuld be bounde withoute their assent’. The word ‘contrarie’ normally means ‘opposed to’, but even if it were more mildly construed as meaning only ‘materially different from’, his undertaking fell so far short of what the Commons had requested that it virtually amounted to a refusal.80 Certainly, it would appear that when William Stubbs said that the Commons were granted ‘full security’ on the point in question, he was well wide of the mark.81 Whether or not the Commons were actually out-witted, it is reasonable to assume that, since the Parliament roll records no sequel, they passively accepted Henry’s answer. Indeed, by their own admission, they had no other option. Nor did Henry V’s reign witness any further development regarding the claim they had made on this occasion. It is, however, clear that the Commons remained in future alive to its importance, even regarding the question of their right to assent to private bills accorded parliamentary approval. In the Parliament of 1420 they petitioned that if a private bill to which neither their support nor assent had been given were nevertheless endorsed with the words ‘par auctorite du Parlement’, and then committed to the King’s Council or the chancellor for appropriate action, nobody should be made to answer to the bill unless they, the Commons, first requested or assented, and the bill be endorsed to that effect. Their petition, however, was dismissed, without reason given.82
(iii) PARLIAMENTARY ADVICE UPON AFFAIRS OF STATE, ESPECIALLY FOREIGN POLICY
As will have been appreciated, the ‘common petitions’ which invariably emerged in the course of every Parliament, and for the formulation or adoption and presentation of which the Commons bore a special responsibility, drew attention to ‘the sores of the realm’, grievances which it behoved the government to examine. Whether or not the King, as advised by ‘the great council of Parliament’, accepted the remedies proposed in the petitions, with a view in many instances to their conversion into statutes, the petitions themselves provided a useful source of information, potentially enabling the royal administration to be carried on in a more just and competent fashion, both locally and at the centre. Many common petitions, being based upon an intimate knowledge and understanding of provincial conditions possessed by MPs, were a form of advice. But it was not only upon such matters that the government needed a constant supply of information and guidance. There were other matters of a more directly political nature on which it required the advice of Parliament; and Parliament, having obliged in this respect, would need to provide the means for giving effect to what was eventually decided.
For guidance upon major affairs of state, it had usually been considered imperative that the King should rely upon the great lords of the realm, especially when assembled in Parliament. And this remained the case once peers summoned individually to attend had been joined by the elected Commons, and Parliament became, in due course, a bi-cameral institution. The Lords’ superiority resulted, in part, from certain general factors. In an age when the conduct of government in Church and State, in England as in Christendom as a whole, rested on an acceptance of the hierarchical principle, and relations between members of the different orders and ranks of society were based on a willing recognition on the part of social inferiors of a duty to defer to those above them, such attitudes were bound to affect the workings of all institutions, Parliament included. Moreover, by reason of their landed possessions, and the wealth and influence these provided, the parliamentary peerage, prelates and titular nobility alike, commanded great personal respect, not least when they met together formally as two of the three ‘estates of Parliament’. Admittedly, there were (as previously noted) many occasions when the attendance of the magnates in Parliament was far from full, and some when it was so deplorably sparse as to leave the government quite openly dissatisfied. Yet, as a general rule, such delinquency was largely compensated for by the assiduous attention to duty of those of the highest social standing (bishops and temporal peers of the rank of earl and above), and of persons enjoying the greatest political influence (peers who, whether ex officio or not, always made up a majority on the royal council and sometimes monopolized its membership), whose combined presence invested sessions of Parliament with all due solemnity and seriousness of purpose. Some of these lords were the King’s own kinsmen, and others his trusted friends. And, after the foundation of the Order of the Garter by Edward III in 1348, several of the lords temporal were always distinguished by the peculiarly personal allegiance which, as knights appointed to the Order, they owed to the King as its sovereign, whether he himself or a predecessor had promoted their election. (Seven lay peers were KGs in 1399, 16 in 1413 and 15 in 1422.)83 The relations of all the peers with the King, and also with one another, were of great and constant concern to him. The peers accounted themselves, and were generally deemed to be, his ‘natural counsellors’. It was usually in his presence that they congregated in Parliament, and at such times that the most important affairs of state were settled, including foreign policy.
Although final decisions touching the defence of the realm and of the Crown’s possessions and rights abroad, being unquestionably within the scope of the royal prerogative, were normally taken by the King, it was only politically prudent for him to seek the advice of those upon whom he would mainly have to rely for service in war, namely, the magnates. As tenants-in-chief, they had once habitually rendered this service (or paid scutage or fines instead) as a condition of maintaining safe possession of their fiefs and, legally, they remained always liable to perform it on the same basis. And when, from Edward I’s reign onwards, royal armies engaged on foreign campaigns came, at first occasionally, eventually all but exclusively, to be recruited on the basis of military contracts voluntarily entered into by individuals undertaking to serve for specified periods with stipulated numbers of knights, esquires, men-at-arms and archers, all payable at daily rates fixed according to rank and function, it was the lay magnates who mainly supplied the retinues required. Indeed, so many of the lords temporal regularly responded to the call to arms in time of war that the number of those available to be summoned to Parliament was severely reduced. The lords spiritual, admittedly, no longer provided their former military quotas, but they too continued to show a personal interest in the wars, helping to finance them by substantial loans to the Crown and serving as agents of royal diplomacy. Understandably, therefore, advice from Parliament on questions of foreign policy was chiefly sought and obtained from the House of Lords, where particular attention would doubtless be paid to those present who sat on the Council. But what of the Commons’ interest in such matters?
Many of the knights of the shires would already have been, or expect soon to become, involved in foreign expeditions either as members of aristocratic retinues or in pursuance of military contracts of their own, and all were supposed to be ‘belted knights’. Indeed, sometimes they were even specifically required by the writs of summons to have followed the profession of arms and done service in the field. There were always some parliamentary burgesses, too, especially from the coastal towns, who as shipowners and merchants had experience of war, in the transportation of armies and conveyance of military supplies and, occasionally, at close hand in sea battles (most notably at Sluys in 1340 and in the mouth of the Seine in 1416). Moreover, concerning taxation for defence and war overseas, the consent of the Commons had become, even during Edward III’s reign, a factor of crucial importance. So, when the King and his councillors considered it imperative that Parliament should openly agree with a policy they themselves were predisposed to adopt, the Commons as well as the Lords were almost inevitably allowed opportunity to express their opinions. This had become by no means unusual under Edward III, especially when the supremely important question arose as to whether there should be war with France over the King’s rights, or when, during wartime, there was the possibility of a peace.84 For most of the reign, until 1369 when the violation of the treaty of Brétigny-Calais by the French led to a fresh outbreak of hostilities, the Commons saw eye to eye with the King and the Lords. However, with the military conduct of the war then becoming continuously unsatisfactory, and with governmental expenditure, under both the old King and his young successor, Richard II, resulting in the increasingly oppressive taxation which culminated in the general poll taxes of 1377-81 and thereby sparked off the Peasants’ Revolt, the Commons could hardly avoid taking up a politically more independent role. Indeed, not long after this crisis, as they became more deeply involved in considering fresh ways of prosecuting the war, they occasionally found themselves even seriously at odds with the Lords.
It was first in the Parliament of October 1382 that two new military projects simultaneously came up for discussion: on the one hand, a proposal that would enable the duke of Lancaster to lead an army via Portugal to enforce his claim (jure uxoris) to the throne of Castile, France’s greatest ally, and, on the other, a proposal for an expedition to be led as a ‘crusade’ by Bishop Despenser of Norwich into the county of Flanders, which was a fief of the French kingdom itself. Since a choice would clearly have to be made between the two schemes, the Lords firmly supported Lancaster’s, whereas the Commons, while not openly declaring against it, so obviously preferred the bishop’s as to present a written ‘common petition’ setting out their reasons in detail. (They argued that a campaign in Flanders would be assisted by those Flemish communes which, being in rebellion against Count Louis de Mâle, had already offered to accept Richard II as their sovereign; that it might well distract the French from attacks on Gascony; and that the cost of transporting forces to the scene of action would be lower.) Evidently, despite recourse, at the Commons’ request early in the session, to consultation with a committee of ten peers (among whom they named both Lancaster and Despenser), the two Houses failed to reach agreement. Judging from the official response to the common petition, that the Council should proceed to treat with Despenser, it looks as though the Commons’ view had prevailed. But in the end Parliament sanctioned a third alternative, namely an expedition to France led by Richard II himself, for which it granted a fifteenth in aid.85 When, however, the great victory of a large French army over the forces of the Flemish communes at Roosebeke on 27 Nov. (a month or so after Parliament’s dissolution) left the rebel cause dependent solely on the continued resistance of Ghent, a further change of plan became necessary; and a great council of lords and knights bachelor, meeting on 7 Jan. 1383, proposed that Richard should take an army to Flanders instead of France. Parliament was instantly summoned to meet on 23 Feb. so that it might either assent to the revised proposal as it stood, or else provide for the expedition to proceed under other than royal leadership. Although, as soon as Parliament met, Lords and Commons were told to discuss the ‘charge’ separately, the Commons, after two or three days of deliberation on their own, had made so little progress that they felt obliged to request, once more for the purpose of inter-communing, the appointment of a committee of eight lords, again nominated by themselves. This was allowed (albeit with a reminder that nomination was a royal prerogative), but the long discussions which followed still reached no agreement. When the Commons next came to report, the Speaker protested that, so far as a royal expedition was concerned, it was beyond their competence to advise, and that the King himself and the Lords should decide. Moreover, when, presumably under strong pressure to offer an independent opinion, the Commons actually did so, they hedged it about as being given not ‘par voie de conseil’ but only as ‘lour plein advis’ in answer to the ‘charge’: an answer so specious as to provoke the response that there was no proper difference between the words ‘conseil’ and ‘advis’. Yet the Commons’ recommendation that Bishop Despenser’s proffer to lead a crusade should be accepted was both unqualified and supported with plausible reasons: it afforded obvious financial advantages, since the money raised for his crusade was already available, as also would be the proceeds of the fifteenth the previous Parliament had granted for the expedition it had been intended the King should take to France; and, in addition, because the truce with Scotland, due to expire at Midsummer following, was unlikely to be renewed, making invasion from that quarter highly probable, great risk would follow the absence abroad of the King, his uncles of Lancaster, Cambridge and Buckingham and other magnates. No explicit mention is made in the roll of this Parliament of Lancaster’s former, alternative plan for an expedition to Spain; but when the Commons asked that a fair hearing be given to Florimond, Sire de Lesparre, the Gascon envoy who had brought proposals for an Anglo-Castilian peace from John I of Castile, they were in effect opposing the Lancastrian policy; and Richard’s decision simply to put the point to the Lords resulted in the abandonment, at any rate for the time being, of Lancaster’s project.86 Regarding the chief point at issue, whether or not to take up Despenser’s offer to lead a crusade to Flanders, the Commons’ advice had in fact prevailed, at least in the sense that before Parliament ended the offer had been accepted in principle. Nor, despite the absence of any reference in the official record to conflict between the Commons and the Lords, can it be doubted that the debate had given rise to impassioned exchanges, or that the Commons had had a struggle on their hands. Certainly, on this point we may believe Thomas Walsingham, who states that it was not until 7 Mar. (the eve of Palm Sunday), less than a week before Parliament was to be dissolved, that the matter was finally settled after much ‘tergiversation’ and ‘altercation’ among the Lords, which only the commendable steadfastness of the Commons (‘laudabili constantia militum Parliamentalium’) had overcome. The chronicler adds, in confirmation of what the Commons had said to justify their advice, that Bishop Despenser was assigned the subsidy granted in the previous Parliament (‘praeconcessa in superiori Parliamento’).87 The expedition, which went ahead in mid May, eventually proved such a total fiasco that before the end of the summer it returned home in great disarray, the bishop and his chief captains so dishonoured by their conduct as to be impeached in the October Parliament. The impeachment prosecuted most effectively on this occasion by the chancellor (Sir Michael de la Pole), resulted in convictions all round, and Despenser himself was sentenced to forfeit the temporalities of his see during royal pleasure.88 The Commons, doubtless abashed by the ignominious failure of the Flemish crusade, had taken no active part in the trials proper. Their awareness that the adoption of the now discredited ‘voie de Flandres’ had owed much to their advocacy in the Parliaments of October 1382 and February 1383 quite probably played a major part in determining their attitude in the one which met at Salisbury at the end of April 1384, when again the government felt obliged to involve them in discussions directly relating to foreign policy.
So far as the war with France was concerned, the problem of defence had now become uppermost, not least because of deteriorating relations with Scotland. Early in 1384 the official end of the long Anglo-Scottish truce, first concluded in 1369 but since then periodically extended, had been marked by Scottish cross-border attacks and an English counter-invasion under the duke of Lancaster. Although the truce had now been renewed, it was still possible that Robert II of Scotland, who previously had held aloof from the Anglo-French conflict, would soon invoke the promise the French had made him in August 1383 to provide both military and financial help in the event of war with England. But the French still remained the chief source of danger: should hostile action take the form of an invasion of England, their forces were bound to operate from bases in Flanders where Philip, duke of Burgundy, who was in control of the government of his young nephew, Charles VI of France, had recently succeeded as count (on the death of his father-in-law, Louis de Mâle, on 30 Jan. 1384), and enjoyed secure possession of the whole of the province, except for Ghent.89 Admittedly, at Leulinghen on 26 Jan., Anglo-French negotiations had resulted in a truce, but this was due to expire in October, and in any case Scotland was excluded. Clearly, when Parliament met at Salisbury in April, the English government, beset as it was by the threat of war on two fronts, had seriously to consider the advisability of converting the truce with France into a final peace; and, in fact, the chancellor put this very question to the assembly. Since any peace conference would have to be attended by Richard II as well as Charles VI, and so give rise to abnormally heavy expenditure requiring special taxation, the Commons were consulted as well as the Lords. Once more, as in the Parliaments of October 1382 and February 1383, the Commons obtained the assistance of a liaison committee of the Lords, comprising on this occasion three bishops, three earls and three knights banneret, to whom were subsequently added, again at the Commons’ nomination, the King’s uncles of Lancaster, Cambridge, and Buckingham, and other lords, all of whom had joined the Parliament only belatedly on their return from Scotland. However, on account of the gravity of the situation, and because a peace treaty would principally relate to rights over the King’s personal inheritance, not to possessions of the Crown, the Commons felt that Richard himself should decide what line to take at the conference, as advised by his Council, adding that they would rather say no more in view of ‘perils et mischiefs importables qe purroient avenir’. Pressed all the same to declare whether they favoured peace or war (for since the French were refusing to assent to any worthwhile truce, there was no other alternative), they opted for a good and honourable peace. But, then, regarding certain articles previously formulated by the French and submitted for their consideration, they objected to some civil law terms which they did not altogether understand; and though ready to accept that homage and service would be due to the French king for English-held lands in Guyenne, they hoped that such a condition of tenure would not apply to Calais or other possessions similarly ‘conquered by the sword’. They were, even so, told that such reservations would only impede negotiations, and were then asked what they would do in the King’s place (especially considering ‘la multitude des Guerres’ and the difficulty of reconciling all the allies of France to truces or a peace). Understanding that the prelates and lords had answered the same question by saying that, without actually advising peace, they would prefer it to war, the Commons themselves made a similar reply.90 But a round of diplomatic activity at Boulogne in August and September did no more than extend the truce of Leulinghen until May 1385, following the expiry of which a great French army assembled in Flanders ready for an invasion. England was in fact only saved from invasion in the autumn by the stubborn resistance of the commune of Ghent which, however, surrendered to siege before English military help could be raised on the basis of the subsidies granted by the Parliament of October 1385; and in any case these were chiefly designed by both Lords and Commons to assist a Lancastrian expedition to Spain.
When the next Parliament met, in October 1386, a French invasion from Flanders again seemed dangerously imminent. Despite this, both Houses were now mainly preoccupied by a serious rift with the King following the Commons’ impeachment of his chancellor, the earl of Suffolk, by the latter’s trial, and by the establishment of the parliamentary commission entrusted with the exercise of royal authority for the following year. And, just like the Wonderful Parliament of 1386, the Merciless Parliament of 1388 was chiefly involved in matters of domestic importance, most notably the ‘Court revolution’ consequent upon the trial and condemnation for treason of the King’s foremost friends and supporters. Naturally enough, once Richard II assumed personal control of government, in 1389, the course of foreign policy became ever more firmly determined by prerogatival action. The Commons’ response to his aim of reaching an accommodation with France (which was to culminate in the royal marriage alliance of 1396 and a 30 years’ truce) was largely that of Parliament as a whole; and only very rarely were they either consulted separately or themselves moved to intervene. In the Parliament of November 1391 they went so far as to urge that John of Gaunt, who had been granted the duchy of Guyenne in March 1390, should attend the negotiations for a peace or extension of truce with France, to which both he and the King agreed.91 And when, in the Parliament of January 1394, they were charged to offer their ‘advice and counsel’ about certain articles contained in an indenture previously drawn up between Richard II and Charles VI as the basis of a peace treaty, they gave the matter some serious attention, at least to the extent of having the Speaker (Bussy) respond in a written statement (‘cedule’).92 The King, the lords, some ‘worthy knights’ and the royal judges had already agreed that there should be a peace, but with certain safeguards. They were concerned that the treaty should exclude liege-homage (for Guyenne), allow the King recourse to his claim to the French crown in the event of the treaty being infringed by the opposing party or his heirs, and be so modified as to prevent confiscations. The Commons’ statement, however, was simply to the effect that the three crucial questions still outstanding—liege homage, sovereignty and judicial appeal (‘resort’)—were too important for them to advise upon, and, having declined to do so, they were relieved of the obligation. Even so, when the King, lords and others previously consulted had given way on the question of liege-homage regarding Guyenne and, in the belief that the terms of the treaty as presently defined (‘les Contractz de Pees’) would be generally seen as the best obtainable (‘pur le mielx’), had all consented, so too, ‘pur bone Pees avoir’, did the Commons. But although the death of Richard’s queen, Anne, on 7 June 1394, just three months after the dissolution of the Parliament, left the way open for the royal widower to hasten the peace he personally so greatly desired by marrying into the family of Charles VI, the reluctance of either government to concede the demands of the other caused negotiations to drag on for another two years. Even with Richard’s prospective marriage to Isabella, the eldest of Charles VI’s young daughters, soon under discussion, it still proved impossible to resolve the conflicting claims of the parties in a permanent treaty of peace. The compromise eventually attained was, however, a truce of unprecedented length (30 years). Sealed on 9 Mar. 1396, and assured by the King’s marriage to Isabella (by proxy) on the 12th, it amounted in effect to an Anglo-French alliance; and, despite bitter English opposition in certain quarters, it lasted without any really serious embarrassment to either party until Richard’s deposition entailed its demise.
One important condition of the alliance between Richard II and Charles VI was that it should lead to a compromise solution of the general problem posed by the papal schism, which had now persisted without any previous hope of secure settlement for nearly 20 years (since 1378). When the two kings met outside Calais in October 1396 for the handing over of Richard’s child-bride, it had been agreed that a joint Anglo-French embassy should proceed first to interview Benedict XIII at Avignon and then Boniface IX at Rome, its common object being to secure the resignation of both Popes on pain of renunciation. Charles and Richard had then also approved an additional scheme, which, although connected with their plans for the schism, was far more likely to promote Charles VI’s long-held idea of establishing a strong French presence in Italy than benefit English interests there.93 Only a month before his meeting with Richard, Charles had promised to help the republic of Florence in its struggle against Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan; and Richard then undertook to contribute an English contingent to the French army which was to invade northern Italy in the following spring with the immediate objective of fulfilling Charles’s pledge. According to a Florentine observer in London, a substantial English force was soon in course of recruitment. Thomas Mowbray, the Earl Marshal, and Thomas Holand, Richard II’s nephew, he sent word home, were together to furnish 500 men-at-arms and 150 archers financed by the Crown, while John Holand, earl of Huntingdon, the King’s half-brother, had been given permission to serve, at his own expense.94 Eventually, however, the scheme as a whole came to nothing. This was mainly on account of the crushing defeat inflicted by the Turks on a Franco-Burgundian crusade at the battle of Nicopolis on 25 Sept. 1396; but although it took until Christmas for news of this event to reach Paris and, of course, longer for the English court to learn that the French had decided to call off their Italian invasion, the prospect of English participation was evidently still a live issue when Parliament, having been summoned on 30 Nov., met at Westminster on 22 Jan. 1397. It was on the fourth day of the session, the day after the chancellor, the treasurer, the keeper of the privy seal and other members of the Council had visited the Commons in the refectory of the abbey to inform them more fully of the King’s intentions, that the Commons appeared in the Upper House to explain their own attitude to Richard’s offer of an English contingent to serve in his father-in-law’s expedition ‘vers les parties de Lumbardie’.95 They also sought to clarify their own position in the light of rather alarming news from Archbishop Arundel and the two earls who were now to command the English auxiliaries—the earl of Rutland (the King’s cousin, Edward of York) and the Earl Marshal—about rumours circulating at Court. Richard evidently believed that opponents of the venture had been inciting MPs to press for it to be deferred. They, in turn, naturally wished to deny any such allegations, protesting that they had not been subjected to external pressure, and had not so much as discussed the matter amongst themselves. Indeed, they thanked the King for taking such an honourable course at the Calais conference; and, after referring to an assurance given them by the archbishop and the two earls that he had no intention of binding them to support the expedition, positively urged him to abide by his undertaking. Nevertheless, they did add a formal protestation that, as English support for the expedition had been authorized by Richard of his own volition, they themselves should not be considered a party to it, but rather should be excused any liability for what might follow. The Parliament roll next records, understandably in even greater detail, the content of the speech made by the King himself on the same day ‘in full Parliament’ to justify his promise to Charles VI. After stating that the Commons had no reason to be surprised at his decision, and referring to the ‘tres grandes mischiefs et destructions de Guerre intolerables’ which had hitherto alienated the two kingdoms, he enlarged upon ‘the necessity of demonstrating by common action the reality of the Anglo-French friendship’ (T.F. Tout). But, of course, Richard’s promise to his father-in-law was rendered completely ineffectual, if not altogether meaningless, first, by the withdrawal of the French themselves from the expedition, then by a renewal of English backing for Boniface IX and, later in the year, by Richard’s personal appeal to Charles VI to abandon his alliance with Florence against Milan, piously claiming that their own alliance had been intended to bring peace, not war, to Christendom.96 That alliance inevitably ended with Richard’s deposition on 30 Sept. 1399, when Henry of Bolingbroke, the heir to the duchy of Lancaster, succeeded him.
Although Henry IV, for all but the end of his reign, was treated by the French as a usurper and regicide, and England and France were again enemies, the dangers from civil war and rebellion affecting the internal security of both kingdoms were so serious as virtually to rule out a resumption of open war between them, at least on any appreciable scale. And when, in the autumn of 1411 and then in the summer of 1412, English forces again invaded France, it was in order to take advantage of internal French dissension, first on one side (the Burgundian party supported by Henry, prince of Wales) and then on the other (the Orléanist, alias Armagnac, party supported by Henry IV and his second son, Thomas, duke of Clarence). Meanwhile, so far as were concerned the major outstanding questions at issue (the now traditional claim to the throne of France, still overshadowed by the old problem of the English tenure of Guyenne), the situation had been largely one of stalemate. Furthermore, if the King needed fuller advice than his council felt able to give, whether regarding France or Scotland, Brittany, Flanders, the Empire or the Hanseatic League or the problem of the papal schism, he tended to seek it of Parliament as a whole, seldom specifically of the Commons. At least, so it appears from the rolls of his Parliaments, which are somewhat less informative in this respect than those for the reigns of Edward III and Richard II, and which, indeed, were to remain so under Henry V. Yet, the odd occasion does arise in the official records of Parliament when the Commons’ interest in external relationships again emerges. Admittedly, in Henry IV’s first Parliament, in 1399, the lords spiritual and temporal alone were asked by Archbishop Arundel (on 23 Oct.) to agree that Henry of Monmouth, the royal heir apparent, should assume the title of duke of Aquitaine. Furthermore, when, nearly three weeks later, the earl of Northumberland denied that he and the earl of Westmorland (constable and marshal of England, respectively) had incited the King to make war against the Scots, as some alleged, and Henry then assumed personal responsibility for the intended invasion of Scotland, announcing his decision to take direct command, their audience was restricted to the lords temporal. Having been each asked by Northumberland on the King’s behalf for advice, it was, in fact, only the lay peers who consented to the war, which they unanimously blamed upon the Scots.97 In the meantime, however, the Commons had been sent word by John IV, duke of Brittany, of his readiness to stand loyally by the King, and, acting upon this protestation of friendship, they repeated, on 27 Oct., a previous similarly oral request that the duke should not be deprived of his inheritance in the earldom of Richmond. They now asked that if any letters patent had been issued conferring the earldom on the earl of Westmorland, that grant should be repealed. (The King’s reply, that no letters patent had been granted or sealed afresh, none in fact but those issued long before any such request had been made, was tantamount to a rejection.)98
In the next Parliament, which met on 20 Jan. 1401, the Commons, who then closely involved themselves in a whole range of important questions, still found time to consider a particular problem which, although of relatively minor significance in the context of Anglo-French relations, was evidently of considerable immediate interest. Having already heard that certain English nobles and others had been challenged to personal combat by Frenchmen, and believing that France was likely to prefer war to peace, on 25 Jan. the Commons asked the King, in view of the eminence of the Englishmen concerned, the risk of losing their services in a war and the costs involved, to consult all the peers, but first to forbid the challenges from being taken up.99 Yet, although King Henry did as he was asked at first, he vacillated by making repeated requests for fresh advice from both Lords and Commons (not least because the honour of those challenged was at stake), and seems to have left the question unresolved. A matter of far greater general importance in the field of foreign relations was raised by the Commons on 10 Mar., the day of the dissolution. Appearing in the Upper House (as they were bound to do on such an occasion), they requested that, in view of the woefully long duration of the papal schism, the King would, for the benefit of Holy Church and the catholic faith, do his utmost to restore unity and harmony, short of any course of action likely to impose a heavy financial burden on his subjects. The lords temporal having made a similar petition, Henry agreed to ask the lords spiritual to discuss and advise upon the matter (presumably in the Convocation currently in session at St. Paul’s). However, so little had evidently been achieved by the time the next Parliament met, on 30 Sept. 1402, that when the chancellor (Bishop Stafford of Exeter) declared the causes of summons he needed to draw attention to a letter received by the King from Wenzel IV, the Emperor-elect, similarly urging him to use his best endeavours to terminate the schism. The Commons explicitly referred to this particular announcement on the day of dissolution (25 Nov.), when they repeated the request they had made at the end of the previous Parliament, the King now answering much as before.100
In his opening address to this assembly of 1402, the chancellor had also been concerned not only to emphasize the King’s need of financial aid, but to ask that he be fully informed by both Lords and Commons of their advice regarding the rebellion in Wales, the state of Ireland, the defence of Guyenne and the march of Calais, but, first and foremost, ‘les Guerres d’Escoce’. It was no doubt to ensure a more effective discussion of the whole of this agenda that, on 10 Oct., the Commons asked through the chancellor for the appointment of a committee of peers to intercommune with them. Although the King at first sent the steward of the Household (Lord Saye) and his secretary (John Prophet) to demand that the Commons recognize his right to refuse such a concession, he did, in fact, agree once they had done so. Of all those questions at issue, the Scottish war seems to have particularly interested the Commons, especially in view of recent success in that quarter. When they next came into the Upper House on 16 Oct., and had congratulated the King upon his invasion of Scotland, as well as commending his own and the prince of Wales’s repeated efforts to suppress the Welsh rebellion, and praising the work of Thomas of Lancaster in Ireland, they turned more specifically to the crushing defeat inflicted on the Scots at the battle of Humbleton Hill on 14 Sept. previous. Their request that the earl of Northumberland, the commander of the victorious English army, should be accorded all honour and gratitude for his services once he arrived at the Parliament was doubtless put into effect on 20 Oct., when he and other lords who had fought in the battle brought before King, Lords and Commons in the white hall of Westminster palace a number of their Scottish and French captives. Chief among the prisoners recorded as present was Murdoch Stuart, heir to the duke of Albany and nephew of King Robert III.101
Although at the beginning of the Parliament of January 1404 both Lords and Commons were asked for advice regarding defence, not only against rebels in Wales and Ireland, but also against the French, it is not recorded that either House specifically responded.102 In the Parliament which met on I Mar. 1406, however, after the chancellor had made another general appeal for ‘advice and counsel’ to the ‘Estatz’, the Commons, on 23 Mar., asked for adequate measures to resist ‘the malice of Welsh rebels’, to protect shipping at sea and, most urgently, to defend Guyenne. It was, however, the Lords alone who, having been informed early in the session (3 Mar.) of an English embassy’s recent negotiations for peace in Prussia and with the Baltic towns of the Hanse, had agreed to its promise of proclamations intended to lead to restitution for English depredations.103 One might reasonably regard mercantile relations as involving the Commons rather than the Lords, but evidently on this occasion it was not so. Conversely, the question of the liberation of high-ranking enemy prisoners of war, which arose in the final session of the same Parliament, would seem, on the face of things, to have been a matter for the Upper House. Yet fears that those prominent Scots (‘the flower of Scotland’s chivalry’) who were prisoners in England might be released on unduly easy terms were voiced on 18 Nov. 1406 by the Commons. Among the chief of these captives was Archibald, earl of Douglas, son-in-law of the now recently deceased King Robert III. First taken prisoner at Humbleton Hill in September 1402 by Sir Henry Percy (‘Hotspur’) whom, following his unauthorized release, he had joined in the rebellion which ended disastrously at the battle of Shrewsbury in July 1403, Douglas had there been recaptured for the King, and held in custody ever since. The Commons now requested through the Speaker (Tiptoft) that certain Scottish castles might be surrendered as security (‘mys en hostage pur luy’) pending negotiations for his release, and also expressed concern that none of the other prisoners should be allowed to go at large, or be lightly set free.104 It is perhaps rather odd that they then made no specific mention of a far more important captive, James, de jure King of Scots. While on his way to France only a few days before the death of his father, Robert III, on 4 Apr. 1406, James had been captured by Hugh atte Fenn* and other English seamen off Flamborough Head and then taken to London. The Commons must have felt it unnecessary to advise the King to take good care of him; and, in fact, nowhere in the official record of this Parliament is any reference made to James.105
Before the end of Henry IV’s reign there was a quickening of interest in external affairs, certainly in the situation in France, and also in the movement to reunite Christendom by means of General Councils. But although both Lords and Commons were undoubtedly affected by the political consequences of this revival, their concern did not result in any long or detailed explanations in the rolls of the Parliaments of the time (the Parliaments of 1407, 1410, and 1411). It was not, indeed, until Henry V had decided to recover his inheritance overseas and, in the Parliament of November 1414, allowed the fact to be announced by his chancellor (Bishop Beaufort), that the latter went on to demand ‘sage Conseil et loial’ as well as substantial monetary support (‘copious subside daniers’).106 Henry’s aggressive policy towards France, once successful, caught the imagination of the country. Since the chancellor, when announcing the causes of summons of the Parliaments of November 1415 and March and October 1416, was able to refer repeatedly to the surrender of Harfleur and the victory at Agincourt and, on the second of these occasions, to the need to continue the war in view of ‘the pride and obstinacy’ of the French, Lords and Commons were in no position, even had they so wished, to criticize the King’s policy in principle or seek to amend it in detail.107
So, apart from more official reports of further military success (as in the Parliament of November 1417), urgent appeals for continued financial support, and references to the grants of taxation which resulted, the rolls of Parliament now provide little information about the interest shown by the two Houses in external affairs. Admittedly, the roll of the Parliament of October 1416 contains the full text of the treaty of Canterbury of 15 Aug. previous: an offensive and defensive alliance which Henry V had personally arranged with the Emperor Sigismund, and which he now caused to be revealed and explained to Parliament, in order to secure its approval. Of course, this was obviously no more than a formality: the treaty, to which ‘all the Estates Spiritual and Temporal and the Commons of the realm assembled’ consented, was by then a fait accompli; and ratification by Parliament, as also by the Imperial electors in Germany, had indeed been written into its terms. However, the production of the treaty in Parliament could only be of great propaganda value. All of which, mutatis mutandis, may be said again of the submission, to the Parliament of May 1421, of the terms of the year-old treaty of Troyes, the treaty which had not only provided for Henry’s marriage to Charles VI’s daughter, Katherine, but also made the King and his successors Charles’s heirs, and himself his Regent.108
However, that treaty of Troyes had, in the meantime, already affected parliamentary business, in the Parliament of December 1420. It was then laid down, evidently early in the session, that if Henry were to return to England during the Parliament, Parliament, although originally summoned by writs issued under the teste of his lieutenant, should not be dissolved; and that if in future the King were to require a Parliament to meet in accordance with writs similarly issued, and then soon came home, Parliament should neither be summoned afresh nor, had it actually assembled, be dissolved. This ordinance was passed ‘by authority of Parliament’, meaning that it must have been agreed by both Lords and Commons.109 Yet it was the Commons who successfully petitioned the King’s lieutenant, the duke of Gloucester, to urge Henry to return after an absence of over three years overseas, bringing with him his queen. And they implicitly reinforced this request when, protesting against a statement by ‘divers lords’ that their petitions ought not to be engrossed before they had been sent overseas and approved by the King, they asked that only those Commons’ petitions receiving a definitive answer in England during this Parliament or in future should carry any force, the rest being null and void. (Understandably, this petition was itself sent to the King, only to meet with his rejection.)110 What of course had prompted that particular request of the Commons was the fear that although the treaty of Troyes had stipulated that France and England were to retain their own laws and continue to be quite separately administered, the total independence of England might somehow be adversely affected, especially if and when Henry V succeeded to the French throne and ruled over both countries. This was why the Commons disliked the idea of petitions presented in Parliament leaving the kingdom to be dealt with in France. And it was, moreover, at their instance that this Parliament of 1420 authorized the confirmation of the statute of 1340 in which Edward III, claiming to be king of France, had undertaken that his realm and people of England should never be subject or obedient to him in that capacity, but always be as free as under his ancestors, kings of England.111 Just as the Commons had been moved to take stock of the larger implications of the treaty of Troyes and guard against possible constitutional problems, they had also been instigated, obviously by those representing the mercantile interest, to take steps to profit from the now more favourable diplomatic situation created by the treaty. Being well aware that the alliance of Henry V and Philip, duke of Burgundy and count of Flanders, had made the treaty at all possible in the first place, the Commons in the 1420 Parliament sought to gain further advantages from the friendship between the two rulers by pressing for the renewal of erstwhile agreements between English kings and counts of Flanders, whereby only English wool would be imported into Flanders in return for the exclusion of English cloth on pain of forfeiture. They claimed that this arrangement no longer held good, for whereas the Flemish embargo on English cloth was still enforced, the English monopoly of wool imports was being breached by imports from Scotland, Aragon, Catalonia and Castile, to the great detriment of English commerce. This petition, one of a number directly affecting trade with the continent, was not accepted, at least not straight away, since the official response merely allowed a search in the records of the treasury and elsewhere to see if a treaty of alliance containing any such agreement could be found. It was not, however, so much a consequence of the treaty of Troyes as of the general situation resulting from the English conquest of northern France that, at this time too, the Commons made another request touching foreign trade. Proudly claiming that English kings had always been ‘lords of the Sea’ (‘seigneurs del Meer’), they demanded that since both sides of the Channel were now subject to the present King, all alien merchants should be required to pay to his use whatever dues he thought reasonable, towards the safe-keeping of the sea. This petition was, of course, left over for Henry’s decision, but with what result is not known.112
It might appear from the above presentation of evidence about Parliament’s interest in foreign policy that the Commons rarely intervened in any really significant fashion. Indeed, whenever, as occasionally happened, their advice was officially demanded, they tended to decline to offer it, at least in a straightforward manner. Admittedly, at a time of general perplexity, the Commons might act independently, even decisively (as over Despenser’s crusade to Flanders in 1382-3); but when, as was usually the case, they found the Lords ready to approve the policy projected by the King and his councillors, they themselves were content to fall into line and accept it. Their general reluctance to offer independent advice may well have been due to a suspicion that they might be inveigled into assuming financial responsibility for any policy with which they were too closely associated. Of course, if the policy gave rise to campaigns overseas, or was simply a matter of providing for special measures of defence, the need for extraordinary taxation was bound to be so urgent as inevitably to involve the Commons. Then, at least, their interest would be close, expressing itself in the grants they made, to which, moreover, might well be annexed conditions in the form of appropriations of the tax revenues to specific purposes.
(iv) PARLIAMENTARY TAXATION
Although all post-Conquest kings of England held great lordships, were possessed of other extensive estates, and also derived considerable income from the feudal ‘casualties’ (reliefs, wardships and escheats), the fee farms paid by royal boroughs, and rents of various kinds, the idea that they could ‘live of their own’, however much their subjects might urge them to do so, was in practice only ever a dream. They were in constant need of financial aid involving extraordinary taxation. Although the King in time of real necessity was fully entitled to it, and his subjects were under a moral obligation to provide it, such aid ought none the less to be ‘gracious’ aid, that is granted by consent. General taxes on personal property (as distinct from strictly feudal aids levied on the knights’ fees of the King’s vassals), date from the reign of Henry II, when they were first levied to finance crusades; but such was their value in terms of revenue that, under Henry’s successors, Richard I, John and Henry III, they became so increasingly unexceptional that by Edward I’s reign they were the normal means of raising the huge sums urgently required by the King in time of war (the gravity of any such crisis, Edward was convinced, being his own right and duty to judge). Consequently, although John, in the Great Charter of 1215, had acknowledged the right of prelates, earls and greater barons to consent to extraordinary taxation (aids and scutages), and this concession continued to be observed in practice during Henry III’s reign, Edward I was the first king to realize how important it was to strengthen the framework of consent, not haphazardly but on a regular basis. Fully aware that the tax on moveables necessarily fell upon all and sundry, by no means only on the lords who had been used to granting it, and also persuaded by his legal advisors of the practical validity of the Romano-canonistic doctrine that what affected all should be approved by all (‘quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur’), Edward eventually formed the habit of seeking the consent of Parliaments enlarged, inter alios, by elected representatives of the local communities of shires, cities and boroughs. And by 1340, with the cessation of tallage levied on the King’s demesnes, parliamentary taxation had become the only form of direct taxation.113
The writs of summons prescribed that the Commons should attend Parliament with full power (‘plena potestas’) to act for their respective communities in doing, and consenting to, whatever might be ordained there by common counsel.114 Given that whenever in Edward I’s reign the Commons attended Parliament endowed with ‘a full power to consent’, direct taxation was in fact granted, it may reasonably be inferred that they already enjoyed the right to consent to it. The requirement that they should come as plenipotentiaries was doubtless meant to be in Parliament’s general interest, as well as to the King’s particular advantage. For if Parliament was to make a grant, the fewer the delays the shorter the session; and, so far as the King was concerned, the sooner a subsidy was granted, the sooner it could be collected. Moreover, without the proper authority to consent to grants, Members of the Commons might well be tempted, in order to avoid opposition or personal reproach in their constituencies, to refer back to them for advice or instruction, a proceeding bound to irritate both the King and the magnates, since it would inevitably involve either prorogation or the early meeting of another Parliament. In fact, however, only twice in the 14th century and never in the 15th were the Commons concerned to consult their constituents before agreeing to a grant. When, in Edward III’s absence campaigning overseas during the autumn Parliament of 1339, the Lords proposed a levy for two years of a ninth on corn, wool and lambs (which they offered to raise on their own demesnes), the Commons, while fully recognizing the King’s right to ample aid in his great necessity, declared that they did not dare to consent until advised by ‘the commons of their countries’ (‘les communes de lour pais’). They consequently asked for a fresh Parliament to be summoned, while undertaking to do their best to ensure that adequate aid would then be forthcoming. No time was, in fact, lost in arranging for another Parliament to meet in January 1340, when a grant was made, albeit not without difficulty and on stringent conditions which hinged on the acceptance of certain Commons’ petitions for the remedy of grievances.115 Thereafter, it was not until the first Parliament after the Peasants’ Revolt, which assembled on 3 Nov. 1381, that the Commons again felt the need to refer home before being prepared to consider making a grant. They had been told that expenditure on defence and the cost of putting down the recent rebellion had placed the government heavily in debt; and that matters could only get worse in view of the impending outlay on the King’s marriage and Queen Anne’s coronation and, unless the wool subsidy was renewed before it expired at Christmas, on payment of the wages of the Calais garrison. The Commons, however, remained resistant to taxation: as late as 13 Dec. they referred in the Upper House to the ill-will and bitterness pervading the whole country in the wake of the Great Revolt, protesting that they dared not be responsible for granting a general tax (‘talliage’). However, with so much business left unfinished and Christmas so near, they now proposed that Parliament should be adjourned until after the festival, giving all of them time to consider the best course of action, in the belief that before they returned to Westminster they would have been able to bring sufficient pressure upon their respective communities to make their own task somewhat easier. This was agreed and, ostensibly to enable the Lords to pay their respects to Anne of Bohemia (who had already arrived in England), Parliament was prorogued on the same day.116 But when it re-assembled on 24 Jan. 1382, the second session still did not result in any direct taxation.
The Hundred Years’ War, upon which Edward III embarked in 1337, and which may be said to have lasted until the loss of Bordeaux in 1453, inevitably involved the Crown in expenditure on a scale that could only be met by parliamentary taxation. In fact, there were no more than two relatively short spells in that period (1360-9 when England and France were at peace, and 1422-7 when Parliament evidently took the view that the conquered regions of France ought to finance the war), when ordinary direct taxation continuously remained ungranted. Otherwise, royal requests for extraordinary aid were fairly routine; and, provided that a reasonable case for assistance was made out, Parliament could usually be relied upon to furnish enough to meet the request at least in part, if not in full.
Direct taxation, as levied on the laity since the reign of John, had normally taken the form of grants of a general subsidy raised in counties and towns on the basis of an agreed proportion of the assessed value of an individual’s moveable property (goods and chattels). The rate had been constantly variable (as low as a fortieth in 1232 and as high as an eighth in 1297) until, in 1334, it finally took the form of tenths levied on parliamentary boroughs and fifteenths levied on the communities of the counties (a distinction in the rating of the local parliamentary constituencies having become increasingly common since 1307). In 1334 it was also evidently decided that the local contributions to the tenth and fifteenth should henceforward be fixed quotas (amounting all told to about £38,000 per subsidy). However, since this arrangement took no account of economic and demographic change, it resulted in anomalies and was liable to be quite inequitable in its long-term effects. Doubtless partly for this reason, and perhaps in the hope of a more satisfactory financial yield, Parliament had recourse, albeit only occasionally, to other modes of direct taxation. In 1371, after ‘plusours voies de Eide’ had been discussed between Lords and Commons, a levy of £50,000 on parishes (except in Cheshire) was agreed.117 Edward III’s last Parliament of January 1377 granted a poll tax on everyone aged over 14; and, under Richard II, the Parliament of 1379 voted a similar tax (albeit graduated according to social status). At a mere £22,000, the yield from the latter proved so grossly inadequate that the Commons of November 1380, being then prepared to grant £100,000 provided the clergy paid a third of this sum, agreed to the triple poll tax (three groats) on all subjects over 15 years old, thus provoking the Peasants’ Revolt of the following spring.118 Henry IV’s reign witnessed, in the Parliament of January 1404, a grant of both an aid of £1 per knight’s fee and a general levy of 1s. in the pound on annual income from all other sources (although neither tax was to stand as a precedent).119 Then, in the next Parliament, as well as two tenths and fifteenths, a special grant was agreed by the lords temporal of £1 per £20 net income from lands annually worth 500 marks and above; and, in 1411, a grant was made of 6 s.8d. for every £20 net income from lands annually worth £20 and above.120 With these exceptions, direct taxation under Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V was always authorized by Parliament in tenths and fifteenths. And at times there was quite a spate of such grants. Between 1344 and 1355 an uninterrupted series of biennial and triennial levies was put at Edward III’s disposal. Under Richard II, following the two tenths and fifteenths granted in the year of his accession, the poll taxes of 1379 and 1380, and the single tenth and fifteenth of October 1382, taxes were voted between October 1383 and October 1385 (inclusive) amounting to five-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths. Under Henry V, thanks largely to grants of two tenths and fifteenths made on each of three occasions (two on the run in 1416 and 1417), no fewer than eight such subsidies were approved in the first five years of the reign, one more than in the whole of Henry IV’s (despite the cost of resistance to rebellions and a loss of revenue on their account).121 Clearly, the English people paid a heavy price in direct taxation, sometimes to assist imperialistic ambitions and aggressive war in France, sometimes only to defend the King’s inheritance there, sometimes to protect in emergencies the homeland itself and coastal waters against both the French and their allies, especially the Scots. Parliament was, as a general rule, ready to respond to legitimate royal demands, but however much these may have expressed a commonly agreed policy, immediate considerations of a pragmatic nature inevitably dictated the success or failure of each appeal, with the result that direct taxation was bound to be discontinuous.
In contrast, indirect taxation, notably the subsidy levied on exported wool and also tunnage and poundage, was eventually granted in ways which made it continuously leviable once Parliament’s exclusive right to consent was admitted by the Crown. So far as the wool subsidy was concerned, this was not until 1362. Indeed, who, or what body, should grant this lucrative subsidy had long been a vexed question. In Edward I’s reign, and since then, partly on account of the sheer weight of the levy (rarely less than 40s. per sack, in addition to the ‘ancient custom’ of 6s.8d. per sack accorded by Parliament in 1275), it had been royal policy to demand consent, whenever possible, only from the wool merchants, who actually paid the tax. For 20 years after 1336 Edward III took this policy so far as to convene, on a more or less regular basis, large assemblies of merchants, who were sometimes elected locally or sometimes individually summoned by royal writs, and of whom some, at least, were happy to grant the subsidy in return for special, monopoly privileges in the export trade. Such benefits apart, wool merchants in general had usually been able to recoup their payments of the tax by reducing the price at which they bought their wool, and increasing the price at which they sold it abroad. In England, therefore, it was effectively the producers of wool who were penalized: they lived in all parts of the country and were of every class, and, as such, were represented in Parliament by the Commons, who, of course, remained fully alive to the economic realities of the situation. Even so, at least in the 1340s, the Commons, when themselves asked to make the grant, tended to vacillate: occasionally they demanded the cessation of the tax (long stigmatized as the ‘maletolte’); now and then, however, they assented to it, until in 1351 they themselves voted it for two years, and then in 1354 for as many as six.122 Following this unprecedentedly long grant, Edward III came to the reasonable conclusion that he would be able to rely on a constant renewal of the subsidy if he conceded the right to consent to Parliament alone; and, in 1362, he put the idea into practice. Henceforward, Parliament showed itself ready to sanction grants which in practice made the wool subsidy a permanent component of the Crown revenues. In January 1398 Parliament granted the subsidy to Richard II for his lifetime; and in November 1415 it was so elated by the news of Henry V’s victory at Agincourt that it made him a similar concession (now adding tunnage and poundage as well). However, in the event both those grants proved short-lived.123
Apart from these exceptional allocations to Richard II and Henry V, for nearly a century after 1362 exaction of the wool subsidy habitually depended on renewal by special grants. So, too, from 1372 onwards, did the levy of the subsidiary mercantile tax of tunnage and poundage. The grants of both subsidies were now mostly timed to produce a continuous yield of revenue from each; but they continued to be special at least in the sense that they were invariably intended to cover a closely defined period (most frequently in terms of Exchequer years running from Michaelmas to Michaelmas). This restriction itself gave an added dimension to Parliament’s control of taxation in general: the fact that every grant of this financially essential revenue was made afresh for a limited period enabled Parliament not only to alter the different, disproportionate rates at which native and foreign merchants were to pay their dues, but also to revise the appropriation of the subsidy revenues for specific purposes. It was inevitable, too, that changing circumstances would affect the duration of grants, and these sometimes varied quite considerably, especially in the case of the wool subsidy which, as the far more important of the two imposts levied on external trade, was particularly susceptible to commercial fluctuations, as well as to internal political shifts.
Whereas from 1362 until the end of Edward III’s reign, the wool subsidy was regularly granted for either two or three years, the unstable governmental and financial situation in the first half of Richard II’s reign gave rise to considerable uncertainty. Admittedly, the Gloucester Parliament of 1378 provided for the renewal of the subsidy when the grant made by the Good Parliament of 1376 (at rates of 43s.4d. and 53s.4d. per sack payable by denizens and aliens respectively) had still a year to run. But Richard’s first grant was then only for a single year, ending at Michaelmas 1380; and although, in part compensation, the Gloucester Parliament had agreed that a general surcharge of 6s.8d. per sack should apply as from Easter 1380, the next Parliament, which met in April 1379, annulled this additional duty and merely confirmed the existing grant. The Parliament of January 1380 renewed the subsidy, again in advance, but only up to Martinmas 1381; and its successor, which met at Northampton in November 1380, countenanced an extension of no more than six weeks, until Christmas 1381. Consequently, when the first Parliament after the Peasants’ Revolt assembled on 3 Nov. 1381, the grant, even as extended, had all but run out. Despite the special demand put to the Commons in the first session that they should continue the subsidy for long enough to pay the Calais garrison, at least, their general dissatisfaction with the government at the time led them to object that the King’s normal, uninterrupted enjoyment of the subsidy was no basis for any facile claim to receive it ‘as of right and custom’. Moreover, although they did agree to a renewal, this fresh grant was to exclude the week after Christmas and then cover only the month ending 2 Feb. 1382. Even so, the second session ended more promisingly on 25 Feb. with a renewal of the subsidy, in the first instance for four months (until 24 June), but then for all of the following four years.124 This grant, the longest since the middle of Edward III’s reign, was intended to be used for defence in general, and possibly, depending on the advice of the Lords, also to finance an expedition the duke of Lancaster had offered to take to Spain. However, the Commons went on to request that if war (with France) should end in a peace or truces, the revenues from the subsidy should go into a reserve fund. It was perhaps especially in view of the length of this grant that, in the Parliament of 1385, Lords and Commons, although already prepared to renew the subsidy in advance, resumed the stance which had been taken in December 1381: expressly in order to avoid any possible royal claim that it was a customary tax, not one freely enjoyed, they again deliberately interrupted the levy from the expiry of the previous grant on 24 June 1386 until 1 Aug. following. Then, as if to emphasize that this short break in continuity was no empty gesture, the subsidy was renewed for a single year only, the rates being considerably reduced, from 50s. and 53s.4d. per sack to 42s.4d. and 45s.8d. payable by native and alien merchants respectively.125
Not surprisingly, the period of unremitting political tension from 1386 to 1389 produced no greater certainty as to what might happen to the wool subsidy from year to year. In the Wonderful Parliament of 1386 Lords and Commons again anticipated the expiry of their last previous grant, but on this occasion they extended it from 1 Aug. 1387 only to Christmas following. Since no fresh grant was then possible before the Merciless Parliament met, it was not until 20 Mar. 1388 (when Parliament was prorogued) that the subsidy was renewed until 17 May (Whitsuntide), and as late as 2 June (two days before the dissolution) that a further renewal was sanctioned, albeit for barely another year (until midsummer 1389). The Cambridge Parliament of September 1388 evidently extended the subsidy until 1 Mar. 1390, when the next grant occurred, but this was only until Christmas of the same year. Not until the Parliament of November 1390 did the wool subsidy begin again to be renewed on a more regular basis, without interruptions, and for longer periods which, incidentally, allowed for fewer Parliaments, as well as smoothing the way for the grant of the subsidy for Richard II’s lifetime in January 1398. On the day of its dissolution the November 1390 Parliament renewed the subsidy for three years up to 3 Nov. 1393. (Although this concession was at first made absolutely conditional upon the Council’s removal of the wool staple from Calais by 9 Jan. 1391, and its permanent location in English ports thereafter, in the next Parliament of November 1391 all these provisos were abrogated, and the grant was confirmed outright.) The next subsidy, the need for it anticipated by the Parliament of January 1393, was again for three years, following immediately after the previous one. Although, since no Parliament met in 1396, this particular grant had expired before the Parliament of January 1397 could renew it, the new extension was for no less than five years, appropriately backdated to 30 Nov. 1396. However liberal such an award may have been it was superseded, at Shrewsbury on 31 Jan. 1398, by one of outstanding generosity, being voted for the rest of the King’s life, a grant which, Parliament insisted, was without precedent and should not create one. The grant ceased, of course, at Richard’s deposition at Michaelmas 1399.126
Considering the constant upsets and strains of Henry IV’s reign, when the King and Parliament were often at odds, not least over questions of financial support, it is indeed remarkable that grants of the wool subsidy were now made to produce an almost perfect continuity. Certainly, the reign did not ever witness any such deliberate interruption by the Commons of this fundamental source of supply as had twice occurred under Richard II. Indeed, only two grants—the first for three years, made on 15 Oct. 1399 (by Henry’s first Parliament) and the second, for a similar period, voted on 25 Nov. 1402 (by his third)—unavoidably had to be back-dated to the previous Michaelmas. Otherwise, the renewals of the subsidy were all made well in advance; and if the later grants of the reign were for shorter periods, they still proved perfectly adequate. The Coventry Parliament of October 1404 renewed the subsidy for two years (ending at Michaelmas 1407); the long Parliament of 1406 did so for only one (Michaelmas 1407-8); the Gloucester Parliament of 1407 for two again (Michaelmas 1408-10); and that of 1410 for another two years (Michaelmas 1410-12). Then, as matters fell out, the short renewal up to Michaelmas 1413, voted in 1411, outlasted the reign.127 In sharp contrast, only two grants of the wool subsidy were made under Henry V: the renewal by his first Parliament of May 1413 for four years (Michaelmas 1413-17), the Commons on that occasion making so bold as to express the hope that they might eventually be relieved of all such indirect taxation; and the grant which Parliament made on 12 Nov. 1415. On hearing the joyful news of the fall of Harfleur and the victory at Agincourt, and out of ‘the great and whole-hearted affection’ they bore the King, the Commons granted him for life (as from Michaelmas 1416) both the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage (the latter concession one which Richard II had not been allowed in 1398).128
The exaction of tunnage and poundage, those subsidiary mercantile taxes levied respectively on wine and general merchandise (including cloth), had remained rather haphazard for some time following their introduction in 1347 as part of a series of emergency measures for the protection of shipping in home waters against enemy action and piracy. As was then the case with the wool subsidy, there was uncertainty as to who might sanction the levy: in 1347 the taxes were imposed by the King’s Council; in February 1350 they were granted for a year by ‘the merchants of the realm’ and in September following, after their suspension in June, Edward III himself re-imposed them, again for a year. The Commons had objected more than once, on the ground that their assent had not been obtained, and in February 1351 they even asked for the imposts to be abolished. Predictably, under the circumstances, King Edward refused, and they were in fact levied until Michaelmas 1351, thenceforward to be discontinued until, in October 1359, the magnates ‘with the consent of the merchants’ granted poundage (at 6d. in the pound), and, in January 1360, the Council independently authorized the collection of tunnage (at 2 s. per tun). With the conclusion of the peace between England and France at Calais in October following, these two subsidiary taxes on external trade, unlike the wool subsidy, understandably fell into abeyance.129 Even after war was resumed, in June 1369, there was apparently no question of their re-imposition over the next two years. Then, possibly in the post-parliamentary great council held at Winchester in June 1371, tunnage and poundage were once more granted, again for the protection of sea-borne commerce. Subsequently, at the close of the next Parliament, in November 1372, the citizens and burgesses, meeting in the presence of the Lords after the departure of the shire knights, renewed the subsidy for a further year (to Michaelmas 1373) at the existing rates. And when, in the Parliament of November 1373, it was again renewed, at the same rates, the grant was expressly made by the Lords and Commons, now for a longer period of two years. But although the tax had thus been regularized in the sense of being fully granted by parliamentary authority, and the rates, moreover, were now standardized, the Commons in the Good Parliament of 1376 were so reluctant to see renewal become customary that they asked to be excused from granting any taxes on trade to finance the war-effort other than the wool subsidy (which, however, they then renewed for three more years).130 Richard II’s second Parliament went so far as to grant poundage from the day of its dissolution, 16 Nov. 1378, until the quindene of Michaelmas 1379, but specifically excluded tunnage, and even this restricted award was annulled by its successor on 27 May 1379. Thereafter, despite the constant need for protection of commerce at sea, three years were to elapse without Parliament granting either tunnage or poundage. In fact, it was not until 21 May 1382 that Lords and Commons allowed both these taxes, at the old rates but for a relatively generous period of over two years (until Michaelmas 1384). In the next Parliament of October 1382, however, the Commons complained volubly about the government’s conduct of affairs at sea, calling specific attention to the loss of shipping and the subjection of English captives to extortionate ransoms; and when the previous grant expired, the now joint subsidy was not renewed until 1386. The Wonderful Parliament, on the other hand, not only then granted both tunnage and poundage, but increased the rate of tunnage from 2 s. to 3s. and doubled the rate of poundage to 1s. In the grant made by the Merciless Parliament on 20 Mar. 1388, which was to last until 24 June 1389, these new rates were confirmed.131 And thereafter they were maintained in all but three exceptional awards: that voted on 1 Mar. 1390 until the following Christmas, which reduced poundage to the old rate of 6d., only for the new rate to be restored in the meantime;132 the grant made on 10 Mar. 1401, when Henry IV’s second Parliament decided on a new rate of 8d. for two years (Easter 1401-3); and another, introduced on 13 June 1406 during the second session of the long Parliament, which required all alien merchants, except members of the Hanseatic league, to pay twice the normal rate (2s.) over the year ending 24 June 1407 (although this particular increase was to be repealed, initially for the benefit of the Venetians, in the third session of the Parliament, and as from 22 Oct. 1406).133 Otherwise, tunnage and poundage continued unchanged, chargeable at 3s. and 1s. respectively, for over 40 years, from 1386 to 1432.134 During this time, moreover, the joint subsidy was continuously levied. In fact, the specific periods covered by successive grants now almost always coincided with those of the wool subsidy, the only important exception occurring in January 1398 when what proved to be Richard II’s last Parliament generously granted him the wool subsidy for life, leaving unaffected the previous Parliament’s award of tunnage and poundage for three years (30 Nov. 1396-9). This was not to be the case when, in 1415, Henry V was voted tunnage and poundage for life at the usual rates, in addition to the wool subsidy.135 Naturally, this comprehensive grant was to take care of indirect taxation until 1422.
Although, in order that direct and indirect taxation should be granted ‘by authority of Parliament’, all such grants, finally encapsuled in indentures, had to be approved by both Lords and Commons, the Commons’ exercise of a right not simply to consent to taxation in all its forms, but to assume prime responsibility in the decision-making process, had become virtually automatic by the end of the 14th century. In the second half of the century, preliminary discussions about grants between delegates of both Houses were quite common, and clearly proved mutually beneficial; but it was invariably the Commons who requested the appointment of these ‘inter-communing’ committees, and who, in the 1370s, 1380s and 1400s (when they were carefully recorded in the Parliament rolls), frequently nominated the individual lords who took part.136 In any case, whatever the latter may have felt, the Commons’ views eventually prevailed. Certainly before the end of the century, the clerk of the Parliaments, in recording a grant, was already able to state that it had been made ‘by the Commons with the assent of the Lords’; and in 1407 it was recognized as customary for the Commons to initiate the procedure for making grants, and for the final presentation of money bills to rest solely with the Speaker (whose duty was, of course, to do only as the Commons required).137
When the King asked Parliament to grant him financial aid, whether by direct or indirect taxation, his request was the most important feature of the ‘charge’ laid upon both Lords and Commons at the opening ceremony. Each House was then required to consider, independently, the reasons offered in justification of his demand. Since the Upper House was attended at least frequently by the King himself, and constantly by such great officials and other members of the Council as were peers, all of them fully conversant with government policy and well able to sway opinions and win support, a favourable reaction could usually be expected. A similar response from the Commons, even if royal ministers came along to explain official policy, and whether or not the Commons intercommuned with the Lords, might be more difficult to achieve. For although the moral obligation to aid the King in his necessity and for the common good of the realm, to which Parliament as a whole was subject, bore upon the Lower House with no less compelling force than upon the Lords, the Commons were not answerable to the King alone, but also, in a different sense, to the local communities which they represented, and upon which fell most of the burden of taxation, a fact they themselves realized only too well. All the same, because they usually appreciated the reasons for the King’s request for extraordinary aid, the Commons were on the whole willing to make him a grant. Since the Parliament rolls hardly ever quantify the amount requested, it is, however, mostly impossible to say whether, when a grant was made, it came up to royal expectations. Nor when, as sometimes, no grant of a general subsidy was forthcoming, can one always be sure that none had been asked for. (The only authentic references to the Commons being expressly excused such a grant relate to the Parliament of January 1397, during which Richard II himself announced that he was not asking for a tenth and fifteenth on this occasion, and to the opening of Henry V’s second Parliament when, on 30 Apr. 1414, the chancellor stated that the King, in the hope of making the Commons more amenable to his demands in future, proposed not to ask them for a tenth and fifteenth.)138 Mostly, however, such subsidies were required, and mostly granted, although exceptionally the Commons did indeed refuse. This was so in the Good Parliament of 1376: after the chancellor had opened proceedings with a clear reference to the need for more money to finance the war with France and, according to the Anonimalle Chronicle, had requested a tenth and fifteenth as well as a renewal of taxes on trade, the Commons countered with complaints not only about wasteful expenditure but, even more vehemently, about revenues lost through criminal malversation on the part of royal officials.139 Prominent among the accused were the Lords Latimer and Neville, two senior officials of the royal household whom, with others of lesser account, they proceeded to impeach before the Lords; and, although Parliament did eventually agree to renew the wool subsidy for three years, a long and turbulent session ended without any direct taxation being voted. When, in Richard II’s second Parliament, held at Gloucester in 1378, an eloquent plea was made for such a grant, the Commons, doubting that the Exchequer was really so short of funds as to justify it, and also questioning the government’s expenditure of the liberal award of a double tenth and fifteenth made in the previous Parliament, asked to be excused.140 Although financial help was urgently demanded of the Parliament of November 1381, which, as we have seen, was adjourned over Christmas specifically to enable the representatives to consult their communities, again no grant was made in the end. Nor did the fresh Parliament of May 1382 vote any tenth or fifteenth. Such incidents are reminders that the Commons’ consent to taxation was not to be taken for granted; and the fact that they could withhold it, however rarely they chose to do so, implies at least a basic element of control. Even so, mere consent to taxation was hardly likely to satisfy the Lower House indefinitely.
Naturally enough, the Commons were bound eventually to aspire to regulate the way in which their grants were to be applied. That is, to concern themselves with the expenditure of the proceeds of taxation, especially when, as in time of war, this reached enormous proportions. Significantly, it was in 1340, when Edward III’s finances were already in a parlous state, that the Commons first used the device of appropriation of supply, and imposed conditions as an integral part of their grant.141 They did not then hesitate to use the device as a means of bringing political pressure to bear upon the King to promise to provide sweeping administrative reforms. But, both then and as a general rule, they were moved by principally financial considerations: they aimed to ensure that when the need for taxation had been explained, and a grant was made, expenditure should be strictly in accordance with the reasons used to justify the King’s initial request. If, as was so often the case, this request was for money to wage war, to defend the realm and to protect sea-borne trade, the Commons felt that the taxes granted by Parliament ought to be directed to those ends. And their appropriations, although often defined in very general terms, were sometimes quite specific. When, in June 1344, northern England was threatened with invasion from Scotland as a consequence of the Franco-Scottish alliance, the Commons stipulated that the proceeds of the first of two tenths and fifteenths collected north of the river Trent should be applied ‘en defense du North’; and they insisted upon a similar condition with regard to their grant of April 1348.142 However, the war with France remained their chief concern when making appropriations of the taxes they granted in aid. And inevitably this was still the case following Edward III’s resumption of war in 1369 and throughout most of Richard II’s reign, a period which, lacking any significant military achievements to justify the heavy taxation incurred, witnessed a mood of growing pessimism and political agitation.
This was a time when, especially, the Commons’ appropriations came to be more closely defined. For example, when the Parliament of January 1380 granted a whole tenth and fifteenth (as a gift) and a further half of the same subsidy (as a prest until the next Parliament), it was on the understanding that the money would be exclusively applied to finance an expedition to Brittany, commanded, like the previous one of 1378, by Thomas of Woodstock, Richard II’s youngest uncle. In the next Parliament, which met at Northampton in the following November and granted the infamous triple poll tax, the Commons, having first petitioned that this tallage should be used to ‘refresh’ the leaders of the expedition and honour the military covenants between the King and Earl Thomas, ended by appropriating their grant principally to that purpose.143 Again, early in 1383, they brought Parliament round to assigning the proceeds of the tenth and fifteenth they had granted in the previous assembly (October 1382) to finance Bishop Despenser’s crusade in Flanders, in preference to the duke of Lancaster’s projected expedition to Spain.144 Later, however, in the Parliament of October 1385, when Lancaster renewed his offer, the grant of one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths was specially appropriated to his Spanish venture, the safe-keeping of the seas, the protection of the Scottish marches and assistance for the city of Ghent (pro auxilio de Gaunt). The tax was made conditional, too, upon acceptance of the Commons’ special petition that they should be told who were to direct operations on the northern border and elsewhere, as well as being informed of appointments to the office of admiral (a specific requirement which, they learned, could not be met there and then). Although the terms of the grant, certainly as recorded on the Parliament roll, did not specify how the money was to be apportioned, 10,000 marks (roughly 12 per cent of the total) was obviously intended to help the people of Ghent, since Parliament itself authorized the government to borrow that amount (in anticipation of the collection of the subsidy) for the purpose. Just how seriously the Commons in the Wonderful Parliament of 1386 viewed this particular appropriation they made clear by impeaching the chancellor, Michael, earl of Suffolk, inter alia, of having misused the loan and thus been responsible for the loss of Ghent to the French.145 Although this Parliament eventually granted two half tenths and fifteenths (both payable in 1387, but nothing like the four whole subsidies the chancellor seems to have demanded at first), it was not until after full governmental authority had been entrusted to a statutory commission of peers set up to act for a year as a ‘continual council’. Other conditions attached to the grant—that the second moiety was only to be levied in case of real need, and, if the parliamentary commission were disbanded or prevented from freely exercising its powers, all collection was automatically to stop—contained none of the customary appropriations for war or defence.146 Not so in the case of taxes voted by the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Admittedly, when this assembly renewed the wool subsidy at the beginning of June, a sum of £20,000 was set aside to reward the Lords Appellant, which was a purely political move; but the half tenth and fifteenth granted earlier, on 10 Mar., and first leviable in the following month, was to be exclusively used in financing a naval expedition under the command of the earl of Arundel as admiral.147
Since the roll of the Cambridge Parliament of September 1388 has not survived, whatever conditions were attached to the grant of the whole tenth and fifteenth then made are not known; and only when a similar tax was next voted, in the Parliament of November 1391, does further information on appropriations become available. When this Parliament provided a half tenth and fifteenth payable on 21 Apr. 1392 and a whole subsidy to be collected on 24 June following, the Commons earmarked the half subsidy to bear the costs of an already projected conference between Richard II and Charles VI of France for the negotiation of a truce or final peace. However, in the event of an outbreak of war, the proceeds of that particular tax were to be held in reserve by the treasurer of the Exchequer, ready to be used, along with the whole tenth and fifteenth, to finance a military expedition to either France or Scotland, provided that it was led by Richard himself. Indeed, it was solely to pay for such an expedition that the larger subsidy was appropriated, and if it did not materialize the money was to remain uncollected. Neither of the two separate grants was to be employed in any way other than in accordance with these conditions; and if the treasurer, having been charged by the King to observe them, failed to do so, then the Commons might justifiably impeach him in the next Parliament.148 In this assembly, which met at Winchester in January 1393, the Commons again granted both direct and indirect taxation, the latter being encumbered by the sole proviso that tunnage and poundage was not to be levied if an accommodation had been reached with France, or if plans for a royal expedition to Ireland or Scotland had been shelved. But the conditions attached to grants of direct taxation were still carefully defined. Admittedly, an initial half tenth and fifteenth (leviable in June following) was assigned simply for defence and other general purposes; but the intention behind the award of a second moiety (leviable in November that same year) was that it should either be spent on a royal expedition to Ireland or Scotland or, should the need not arise, be kept at the Exchequer for use in the event of open war with France or Scotland. The money would then be deployed along with the proceeds of yet another half tenth and fifteenth, the levy of which (in February 1394) was strictly to depend upon the launching of one of the two possible royal expeditions; and again the treasurer remained answerable to Parliament. At the Commons’ special request, crown officers were instructed to record all these stipulations on the Parliament roll.149 Their concern about proper documentation was clearly justified in the event, for the wording of the grant of tunnage and poundage evidently gave rise to a dispute in the next Parliament, which met on 27 Jan. 1394. Now, however, with Lords and Commons both increasingly subservient to the King and his Council, Parliament was prepared not only to overlook what had provoked the dispute, but also effectively to reject the appropriation of the third moiety of a tenth and fifteenth granted by their predecessors at Winchester the year before, but not in fact due to be levied for another week, that is on 2 Feb. It was then agreed by the two Houses (albeit chiefly at the prompting of the Lords) that the half-subsidy in question should simply be put at the disposal of the King and Council, to be spent, whatever the state of external relations (‘soit il Pees, Trieves, ou Guerre’), on general government business.150 This Parliament, however, itself made no new grant of direct taxation. Not so its successor, meeting in January 1395 under the presidency of the duke of York, while Richard II was absent in Ireland. In command for the past four months of a campaign intended to reduce the province to a state of obedience, the King was now so financially embarrassed that he sent the duke of Gloucester back to England to impress upon Parliament his urgent need of funds; and, despite an initial plea of poverty, the Commons responded with what they cautiously described as an entirely voluntary grant of a whole tenth and fifteenth, one moiety leviable at Whitsuntide and the other at Martinmas, to which the Lords assented. Appropriation to the Irish expedition was implicit in the formal tribute, made in the grant itself, to the King’s honourable conduct, and in the reference to the great expense involved; but save for the Commons’ demand for formal recognition of the fact that they were under no obligation to finance a war in Ireland, no other condition was mentioned in the grant.151
The appropriation of the subsidy of 1395 was to be the last of Richard II’s reign made applicable to a grant of direct taxation. For although, in the next Parliament of January 1397 (which met after Anglo-French relations had been quite transformed by the 30 years’ truce of 9 Mar. 1396 and Richard’s marriage to Isabella de Valois three days later), the King was evidently still expecting a joint Franco-English military expedition into northern Italy, and hoping for a grant to finance it, the Commons objected so firmly that he voluntarily withdrew all claim to a tenth and fifteenth, and none, of course, was voted.152 Conversely, by the second session of the next Parliament, at Shrewsbury in January 1398, the Commons were in such a state of political subjection that they refrained altogether from attaching any conditions to their grant of one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths leviable at three half-yearly intervals;153 and when Richard was granted the wool subsidy for his lifetime, they asked him to use between 3,000 and 4,000 marks of revenue deriving from the extra 6s.8d. per sack then imposed on exports by foreign merchants to recompense those who had suffered personal losses in his service at Radcot Bridge 11 years before. They also urged that money should be set aside from the rest of the subsidy to reward the nobles who had taken the lead as Lords Appellant in prosecuting the recent treason trials in Parliament, all such payments to be entirely at Richard’s personal discretion. So conscientiously, generously and promptly did he act, at least towards the men of Cheshire involved in the débâcle of December 1387, that it looks very much as if the Commons’ request had been framed in response to a royal command, possibly conveyed by Sir John Bussy, foremost among the commoners on the King’s Council and, as Speaker, virtually Richard’s agent in the Lower House.154
Although, under Henry IV, the Commons’ appropriations of supply were again to be a regular feature of their grants, this was not the case at first, largely for want of a proper opportunity. The Parliament of October 1399 had no option but to renew the wool subsidy (Richard II’s grant for life having automatically ended with his deposition), but it voted no direct taxation. This omission was to be repaired by the Parliament of January 1401, which granted a whole tenth and fifteenth (payable in two instalments leviable within the year), although the revenues were not appropriated to any specific purpose. Such a course would, indeed, have been rather pointless. For, as Sir William Thirning, c.j.c.p., had made clear when opening Parliament, most if not all of a grant was bound to be used up in attempts to cope with the heavy debts run up by the King’s expedition to Scotland and his efforts to suppress Glendower’s rebellion in Wales, all in the past six months. When, however, in the Parliament of September 1402 the Commons once more renewed the wool subsidy for another three years and again voted a whole tenth and fifteenth (leviable in three instalments, but all within a twelve-month), they were evidently less preoccupied with past royal indebtedness than with future expenditure; and their grants, made in consideration of Scottish hostility (despite the Percys’ recent triumph at Humbleton Hill), the spread of rebellion in Wales and also the situation in Ireland, at Calais and in Guyenne, were expressly appropriated to defence, ‘especially defence of the realm of England’.155 No Parliament met in 1403 (the year of the first great Percy revolt), and the experimental tax of £1 on knights’ fees and a twentieth of other landed income introduced by the Parliament of January 1404 soon proved so disappointingly inadequate that when Parliament met again, at Coventry in October following, it had no option but to approve direct taxation to the tune of two tenths and fifteenths (all three instalments falling due within a year’s time). On this occasion, however, the Commons did not simply insist that both these subsidies and all other parliamentary revenues should be spent exclusively on defence both at home and abroad. Indeed, they went much further, for besides requiring the appointment of special ‘treasurers for wars’, they stipulated that the entire grant should be annulled if, before the end of January 1405, military forces had not been organized for resisting the rebels in North and South Wales, protecting the Scottish border, relieving Guyenne, and safeguarding the seas.156 Never again in the medieval period were the Commons to repeat such a warning as this.157
When the next Parliament met, on 1 Mar. 1406, the dangers to which England was exposed were still serious, since although the Yorkshire risings of the spring of 1405 had been ruthlessly suppressed, the rebels in Wales were still aggressively active, and, so too, overseas, were the French. But another chronic problem, which now appeared particularly acute, was how best to protect English shipping against piracy and privateering in both the English Channel and the North Sea. Native merchants, mariners and shipowners were so dissatisfied with existing arrangements that some of them undertook to assume collective responsibility for the safeguarding of the seas, provided that they could agree terms with the King and his Council.158 When Parliament was adjourned for Easter, agreement in principle had evidently already been achieved between the parties. Even so, enough difficulties had arisen over details of the scheme that, given the urgency of the situation, the Speaker (Sir John Tiptoft) asked if some of the Commons might treat with the Council, and help produce a final version which could then be engrossed. The ensuing discussions with the Council on the part of the Speaker and five other shire knights resulted in an ordinance entrusting the keeping of the seas to the promoters of the scheme from 1 May 1406 to Michaelmas 1407. In addition to the usual crews, the ships provided by the promoters were to be manned by ‘combatantz’ (men-at-arms and archers) furnished by the Crown, whose number, although subject to temporary need and seasonal variation, was estimated roughly on the basis of 2,000 for the first half-year, 1,000 for the second, and 2,000 again for the rest of the period of service. Of vital importance to the contractors was, of course, the formidable question of finance. Naturally, this was also of direct interest to the Commons, since it was bound to be dependent upon a special, ad hoc appropriation of the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage, their current grant of which, made at Coventry in November 1404, was due to expire at Michaelmas 1407, when the new scheme for maritime defence was also to end. Whereas the contractors had demanded a quarter of the wool subsidy and all tunnage and poundage for the period Candlemas (2 Feb.) 1406 to Michaelmas 1407, without rendering account, it was actually decided that they should receive these revenues from the later date of 1 Apr.; and although they were subsequently to be compensated for this short-fall from the other three parts of the wool subsidy, they were now to account for all such revenues. The contractors’ further request for a down-payment, as a gift, of an additional £4,000 (to offset previous loss of merchandise and ransom payments) was refused, because the Council lacked the resources to pay it (‘il n’y ad de quoy’). In furtherance of the scheme, however, the contractors secured certain helpful financial concessions: in the event of an English fleet being assembled to resist enemy attack they were promised supplementary funding within a month; should their own vessels go into action they were to enjoy ‘gains of war’; although the King would be entitled to any important prisoners, their captors might be allowed reasonable rewards; and if there should be either peace or a state of truce at sea, the contractors were still to be paid tunnage and poundage for a quarter of a year or, alternatively, if that payment proved insufficient, they were to be assigned whatever revenues the Lords and Commons might advise in the next Parliament.
To these various allowances were added certain other, administrative provisions. To help guarantee regular payment from their basic source of income, the contractors were given the right to nominate one of the two customs officers at the ports of collection, and were also promised warrants under the great and privy seals ordering officials generally to do what was necessary to implement the ordinance. Moreover, having asked for the appointment of royal commissioners empowered to try and punish anyone who contravened the ordinance, and that those who were party to the scheme should not be harassed for offences committed against the King’s foreign friends and allies by other English merchants, the contractors were formally authorized to nominate two persons, one for the south, one for the north, with the same judicial functions as admirals, to try such malefactors.159 The Commons’ approval for these measures is implied by the grant, made on 13 June 1406, by which they doubled the rate of poundage payable by all alien merchants (except Hansards) for the year ending 24 June 1407.160 Indeed, their agreement was made quite explicit on 19 June (the last day of the second session) when, appropriating to the King’s own use until Michaelmas 6s.8d. per sack out of the wool subsidy, they insisted that this allowance should not apply until after the merchants engaged in the scheme had been paid their share of the subsidy according to the terms of their covenant. That the Commons evidently found it necessary to introduce such a caveat, and that on the very same day the special treasurers for wars appointed at the Coventry Parliament of 1404 actually tendered their resignation, makes it look as if things were already beginning to go seriously wrong with the scheme through lack of funds. Certainly, this was the case by 14 Sept., when royal writs (requiring payment) had to be issued to the collectors of the subsidies; and, in fact, with the withdrawal of all financial support on 29 Nov., during the third session of the Parliament, the scheme foundered. The Commons had then merely to petition that authority be given for the collectors of the subsidies at the ports to render their accounts at the Exchequer; for the two admirals nominated by the merchants to do likewise in respect of their receipts and the payments for the hiring of ships and of the wages and rewards of the crews and other combatants, for which they had been directly responsible; and, finally, for the full discharge of those generally answerable for implementing the scheme, namely the merchants (some of whom were MPs), their agents, the shipowners and the mariners. Any problems still outstanding were now left over by Parliament for the Council to resolve.161
The remarkable length of the 1406 Parliament, which ran to three sessions of progressively longer duration, almost certainly reflects not only the volume of multifarious business, but also the King’s determination not to dissolve Parliament before it had made him a grant of direct taxation. In fact, it was not until 21 Dec., when many Members of the Commons would already have abandoned any hope of reaching home for Christmas, that they actually conceded a tenth and fifteenth leviable in mid February 1407, coupled with a renewal of the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage, although only for a single year dating from the expiry of the current grant (an effective extension to Michaelmas 1408).162 In the circumstances, neither grant was generous. Indeed, it is evident from the description of the close of the Parliament in the St. Albans chronicle, an account so detailed as to be altogether plausible, that the shire knights capitulated over the fifteenth largely because they were afraid of the King’s wrath. According to the chronicle, he was particularly enraged by their demand that, as a condition of a grant, ‘certain lords present’ (presumably members of the reconstituted Council) should individually seal an undertaking to use the proceeds only ‘for the evident benefit of the realm’, failing which they were to make personal restitution of whatever had been collected.163 Not surprisingly, the lords in question had refused outright. Of course, no hint of this commotion appears in the roll of the Parliament: the terms of the grant itself simply record that the taxes were appropriated to the defence of the realm against all enemies and rebels, as well as to the safeguarding of the sea, and that they were to be spent, along with whatever remained of the grants made at Coventry two years before, strictly on the advice of the Council, whose members, lords and officials alike, were to be sworn in Parliament to do as required. Only one exception was made to this general appropriation: probably to appease the King, the Commons allocated for his own use £6,000 from the first revenues to be collected from the mercantile subsidies. But then, taking advantage of this special appropriation, they attached two conditions in order to improve efficiency in the collection of the wool subsidy. Although minor ports might still be used for the export of wool, shipment from all creeks and harbours was to be prohibited until the end of the next Parliament; and suitable knights or esquires, not merchants, were to be appointed as overseers and controllers at the ports, receiving adequate rewards and expenses at the discretion of the Council.164
However well-intentioned these conditions may have been, the appropriation of £6,000 for the King’s use must have hindered the Council from winding up the finances of the merchants’ scheme for safeguarding the seas, which had come to a premature end on 29 Nov. 1406. In fact, so little progress had been made by the time the next Parliament met (at Gloucester in October 1407) that one of the more important tasks still facing the Council, and now also the Lords in general, was to provide for the reimbursement of the two admirals who in 1406 had been directly responsible for the conduct and financing of operations at sea. Not even then, however, was it possible to do all that was needed. Although the King, as advised by the Council and other lords, now agreed that the treasurer of the Exchequer should pay Richard Clitheroe I*, former admiral for the south and west, £2,668, appropriated as a first charge on the revenues raised on all shipments of wool made after Christmas, a discretionary power had again to be given by Parliament to the Council to treat with Nicholas Blackburn, late admiral for the north, and also with the merchant-contractors and customs officials.165 This postponement of a settlement of the year-old problem, however unavoidable in the circumstances, can only have resulted in feelings of dissatisfaction, which the Commons doubtless shared. But their principal grievance at Gloucester had a quite different and far more serious cause. For the King, whether fearing a repetition of the events at the end of the previous Parliament, or simply impatient of any delay on the Commons’ part to grant taxation, not only pressed the Lords into initiating a grant, but, with a complete disregard of the customary procedure, went on to demand that the Lower House should assent to it forthwith. Incensed at this infringement of their liberties, the Commons protested so vehemently that they secured a formal recognition of previous practice. Even so, the grant finally agreed on 2 Dec. 1407 was what the Lords had previously proposed: one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths (the moieties successively payable on 2 Feb. 1408, 1 May following and 2 Feb. 1409), and a renewal of the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage for two years (ending at Michaelmas 1410). Such was Henry’s relief at reaching this agreement, that he voluntarily undertook not to demand, or even accept, any direct taxation for a period of two years, ordering his statement to be enrolled, and allowing individual MPs to procure copies of it, in order to assure local people of his goodwill. The only proviso attached to the grant was that the revenues first accruing from the mercantile subsidies should be exclusively spent on safeguarding all home waters and defending the town and march of Calais.166 Perhaps understandably given the mood of the Parliament, there was no special appropriation of any tax revenues to the King’s own use as had been made in 1406, and was to be repeated in the next Parliament.
This met in January 1410 and, after a break for Easter, sat until early in May, by which time the prince of Wales and his friends had secured firm control of the Council; and it was mainly in support of their ministry that grants of direct and indirect taxation were made. Both were similar to those voted in 1407: one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths were again to be levied in three instalments, albeit now at yearly intervals up to Martinmas 1412; and the grant of indirect taxation provided, as before, for an extension of the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage for another two years. A condition attached to the grant of direct taxation stipulated that collection of the three moieties should not start before Michaelmas of the year in question, and that the commissions sent out to collectors should expressly mention this. Similarly incorporated in the grant, but of far greater importance, was the Commons’ special appropriation to the King’s own use of 20,000 marks from all the revenues deriving from these grants, as and when they became available.167
Another, very different appropriation was also made in this Parliament of 1410, however. It first took shape as a provisional agreement by the King and Lords that, when the wool subsidy was renewed, three parts of it should be earmarked for the protection of the town and castle of Calais, the ‘new tower’ of Rysbank and other castles and places in the marches of Calais, as well as for the payment of debts incurred in their defence, for as long as the grant of the subsidy should last. Once the Commons had actually extended the subsidy for two years (to Michaelmas 1412), these proposals were re-cast in more formal terms and greater detail: the captain and the garrison of the town of Calais were to be paid their wages and gratuities, together with all previous arrears, as from 16 Mar. 1410 until Michaelmas 1412; the captains and garrisons of the castle of Calais and other castles in the march were to receive their wages and gratuities alone as from 23 Mar. 1410; and if these various assignments proved insufficient, alternative provision was to be made on the Council’s recommendation. This particular appropriation clearly reflects the dominance exerted over the Parliament of 1410 by the prince of Wales and his party, for he himself was chief of all those intended to benefit, having been appointed on 18 Mar. (three days after the adjournment for Easter) as captain of the town of Calais for 12 years.168 The appropriation therefore assumed immediate political, as well as prospective financial, importance; and perhaps some constitutional significance, too, since because it was separately recorded on the Parliament roll as an ordinance for which the Upper House alone was responsible, not the Commons (although the grant on which it depended was of course theirs), the Lords had apparently pre-empted the Commons’ customary right to formulate any such financial conditions. Yet if this was, indeed, the case, the Commons did not, so far as is known, offer any objections; and although the terms of their grant did not expressly confirm the appropriation, the Council (now headed by the prince of Wales) still went on to implement it (albeit not to the exclusion of other claims on the revenues deriving from Parliament’s grants in general).169 When Henry IV’s last proper Parliament met in November 1411 and renewed the wool subsidy for a single year (to Michaelmas 1413), the previous assignment of three parts of it to the defence of Calais and the march was continued. The only other special appropriation then made was of an unusual grant of direct taxation, comprising 6s.8d. on annual incomes from land of £20 (enjoyed by women as well as men), and leviable on 2 Feb. 1412, the proceeds of which were placed at the King’s free disposal.170 It was naturally to be expected that his successor would, sooner or later, be allowed a similar concession.
Throughout Henry V’s reign, appropriations of either direct or indirect taxation were only ever made in the most general terms: ‘for defence’. Moreover, when, in November 1415, Parliament granted him the mercantile subsidies for life, these were earmarked for a similar purpose, as he saw fit.171 Indeed, although the resumption of hostilities with France occasioned extremely heavy financial demands, so tight was the King’s control of all affairs, especially the conduct of the war, that Parliament realized the sheer impracticality of any alternative arrangement. There was one important occasion, however, when it intervened in the conduct of the export trade in wool, in such a way as to affect the collection of the subsidy. Disturbed by the embarrassingly large amounts of coin exported to meet the costs of military operations in France, the Parliament of 1419 authorized the royal council in England to arrange, after consultation with the merchants of the Calais Staple, for wool to be bought for the King’s use over the next 12 months (up to Martinmas 1420) and shipped to Normandy, so that the proceeds of its sale to the local people might be used to pay the army. The same considerations prompted Parliament to decide that revenues from the direct taxes it voted (plus any taxes granted by the clergy in their Convocations) should be spent purchasing military supplies in England, not abroad. This ruling gave rise to an ordinance, however, and was not a condition incorporated in the grant of the one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths made by the Parliament.172
Conditions attaching to grants of direct taxation were now remarkably few. However, in view of the fact that the date of payment of the second of the two tenths and fifteenths voted by the Parliament of November 1414 was brought forward seven weeks to 13 Dec. 1415 by the Parliament of the previous month (reacting to the news of the King’s glorious victory at Agincourt), and that the date of payment of the single tenth and fifteenth granted by this same assembly was advanced by even five months to the beginning of June 1416 by the then recent Parliament of March-May, the next two Parliaments each made their respective grants conditional upon the dates of payment not being ‘abbreviated’, ‘accelerated’ or changed in any other way.173 Admittedly, these alterations had been agreed by the Commons, who shared in the general enthusiasm for the war-effort. But if then, as is probable, they succumbed willingly to royal pressure in this respect, they evidently soon regretted having done so.
When, at the opening of a Parliament, the King’s request for financial aid was put to the whole assembly, attention was usually drawn to specific governmental needs, and, provided these were considered justifiable, a grant of taxation, whether direct or indirect, or of both kinds, normally followed. But if Parliament was to exercise real control over taxation, more than just the Commons’ consent, and the assent of the Lords, was logically required. Hence the Commons’ appropriations of supply. However, they were also prone to view with suspicion the tendency of the Exchequer, which was constantly embarrassed by its want of ready money, to dispose of income from parliamentary taxation in whatever manner best suited its own administrative convenience, intermingling such revenues indiscriminately with other receipts. (Of course, the Exchequer acted in this way only with the agreement of the King or his council; and they naturally strove to maintain as much freedom of financial manoeuvre as possible long after the introduction of the practice of appropriation.) And so, at the end of Edward III’s reign, when direct taxation threatened to become continuous and increasingly heavy, the Commons realized that they would have to take more extreme steps towards ensuring their effective control of the money supply. It was in Edward’s last Parliament that they were first moved to request the adoption of a device whereby the government would be obliged to adhere more strictly to the terms of their appropriations, namely, the appointment of special ‘treasurers for wars’. On that occasion, however, having asked the King to appoint two earls and two barons of his own choosing who should undertake on oath to spend all available taxes on the war with France, they then abandoned the idea because of the cost of paying these ‘gardeins et tresoriers’.174 Even so, in Richard II’s first Parliament, which met in October 1377, the Commons made a similar request; and it was now, in fact, decided that the various tax revenues (except for the proceeds of ‘the ancient custom’ on wool, which were assigned to the King’s own use, and £15,000 reserved for the repayment of private loans raised to finance a previous naval expedition) should be entrusted to the keeping of William Walworth and John Philipot, two prominent London merchants then representing the City.175 After agreeing to perform their duties and being sworn in before Parliament, the latter were in due course to account for their receipts and issues as required by the Council. Their patent of appointment, issued under the great seal on 14 Dec. 1377 (a week or so after the dissolution), which allowed them 100 marks a year each, plus expenses if their work took them away from London, also provided that all payments made to them should be certified to the lower Exchequer for entry on its receipt rolls, and that all their disbursements were to be authorized by the Council by writs of privy seal.176 Evidently, it was now well understood that the treasurers for wars would be controlled by the Council, and be answerable to it, not to Parliament. However, when at the start of the next Parliament, held at Gloucester in the autumn of 1378, the Commons urgently demanded to be told how the taxes voted a year before had been spent, Richard, Lord Scrope, the steward of the Household, answering for the Council, reluctantly agreed that Walworth, assisted by some of the councillors, should provide them with a written statement of receipts and payments. Even after this had been done, the Commons obviously remained dissatisfied, for they then objected to the expenditure of about £46,000 on such items as the upkeep of strongholds overseas and embassies to foreign parts. However, despite their refusal to make a fresh grant of direct taxation, they were still in favour of retaining the appointment of special treasurers, and Walworth and Philipot continued to serve. Indeed, on 12 Feb. 1379 they received an acquittance for the sum of £145,651 paid to them up to 4 Feb., all of which had been spent.177 Under the circumstances, it was clearly essential that when Parliament met again, in the following April, the Commons should be convinced of the need for further taxation; and, on this occasion, Lord Scrope even voluntarily offered to have the two treasurers for wars submit written accounts of their interim receipts and expenditure, together with their future estimates. Subsequently, however, the Commons petitioned in writing for them to be discharged, specifically requesting also that the treasurer of the Exchequer should assume control of whatever moneys might still be in hand, along with all income from future grants; and this was accepted in substance (the only modification made in the official response being to associate the chamberlains of the Exchequer with the treasurer, thus assigning responsibility to the lower Exchequer).178 The Commons had, in effect, recommended a return to normal practice; and although, evidently, Walworth and Philipot continued to exercise their office until Michaelmas 1379, they were not replaced.179
When it became Lord Scrope’s turn, only now as chancellor, to open the Parliament of January 1380, his plea for a grant was even more urgent than before; and he again promised that a full statement of the yield from the wool subsidy and the graduated poll tax granted in the Parliament of 1379, and of the way in which these revenues had been spent, would be produced by the Council on demand. Although Parliament responded with a grant of one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths, all payable before 23 Apr., the Commons successfully requested that the proceeds, together with any forthcoming clerical tenths and all arrears of recent parliamentary grants (including the poll taxes of 1377 and 1379), should be exclusively used to finance the expedition which Thomas of Woodstock was to take to Brittany; and in order to clinch that appropriation, they went on to ask for what would have been a revival of their earlier scheme for control of receipt and expenditure. This supplementary request, as recorded on the Parliament roll, was for the appointment by royal commission of ‘une suffisante persone’ who, to prevent income from taxes being confused (‘medlez’) with other royal revenues, should be responsible for their custody and administration, and make payments only in accordance with warrants under the great seal or the privy seal (in other words, as authorized by the Council).180 But no such individual was either named in the official record or formally appointed. Although, on 1 June following, it was decided to entrust to a committee (consisting of a chamberlain of the Exchequer, the treasurer’s clerk, Sir John Gildesburgh* [the late Speaker], John Philipot and the English factor of the Florentine banking house of the Bardi) all the wages due to Thomas of Woodstock and his captains for half a quarter’s service, this was of course a fixed sum; and, in any case, it was to derive from the proceeds of a clerical tenth leviable at midsummer (£10,000) and from Exchequer assignments (for £4,592 odd) on the wool subsidy collected in London, Boston and Kingston-upon-Hull, not from the one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths granted by the recent Parliament.181 Nor, at Northampton in December that same year, did a request for the appointment of ‘treasurers for wars’ or ‘receivers’ accompany the grant of the infamous triple poll tax, although the Commons again asked for its exclusive use in fulfilling contracts for the Brittany expedition and for the safe-keeping of the sea. The official response to this petition was simply that the money would be spent with the advice of the magnates and the Council.182
Even though the Commons’ appropriations of parliamentary revenues were now traditional, the Council evidently sometimes found them irksome, especially when, as during the early years of Richard II’s reign, they were backed up by the appointment, at the request of the Lower House, of watch-dogs over receipt and expenditure. The Commons, however, not only understandably continued with appropriations, but soon had recourse again to the device of special custodians of income from taxation. In fact, they did so as early as the Parliament of May 1382, although on this occasion they proposed, and obtained, a less comprehensive arrangement than before. Treasurers as such were not now to be commissioned to control expenditure on war and defence in general (as had been the case in 1377-9), but ‘receivers and custodians’, whose sole function would be to provide for the safe-keeping of the sea. Moreover, once Parliament had decided to assign the proceeds of the wool subsidy to defence (including the maintenance of towns and fortresses overseas) under the direct control of the Council, it was also agreed that the cost of patrolling coastal waters should be separately financed by the whole subsidy of tunnage and poundage. Already ‘les mariners del West’ had offered to provide a naval squadron until Michaelmas 1384; and when, on 22 May 1382, the last day of the Parliament, a long overdue renewal of tunnage and poundage was voted with effect from the 21st, it was decided to extend the grant until the seamen’s period of voluntary service came to an end. To complement the appropriation, the Commons asked that Sir John Philipot (again sitting for London) should be made responsible for the collection of the subsidy and the engagement of ships and crews along the coast east of Southampton and northwards to the Tweed, and that John Polymond (MP for Southampton) and Thomas Beaupyne* (who was representing Bristol) should jointly be responsible at Southampton and westwards. Within a month of the dissolution, these merchants, now described as ‘principal receivers’, were formally appointed by royal letters patent, Hugh Fastolf* of Great Yarmouth being associated with Philipot. In addition, Polymond and Beaupyne were given permission to raise loans, and also, although not until 1 July, to farm out the collection of the subsidy in their region.183 The ships, once at sea, were of course to be under the orders of the admirals for the north and west, respectively. However, the scheme was so elaborate that it gave rise to intractable complications, as a result of which Philipot and Fastolf were soon discharged, being replaced as ‘principal receivers’ on 15 Nov. by the warden of the Cinque Ports and the admiral for the north. In order that the latter’s command at sea should not extend beyond its traditional limit of the Thames estuary, this was now made the dividing line of the previous single area of subsidy collection and expenditure east of Southampton.184 Meanwhile, the scheme had come in for criticism in the Parliament of October 1382; and it was to do so again in that of February 1383, which confirmed the appropriation of tunnage and poundage to the safe-keeping of the sea, but required the geographical limits of the constituent areas to be redefined.185 Later, following the dissolution of the Parliament of October 1383, different admirals were not only appointed for the west and north, but were also appointed as receivers of the subsidy within their respective commands, with responsibility for making disbursements on the advice of the Council. Thus, however well intentioned the appropriation of the subsidy, its fulfilment was evidently unsatisfactory in practice, as continued to be the case.
Even so, in the Parliament of 1385, the Commons, at least, remained wedded to the idea of limiting the Council’s basic control of the use of parliamentary revenues. For when direct taxation was then voted in the shape of one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths, leviable in the first half of the following year, and appropriated to financing Gaunt’s proposed expedition to Spain, the safe-custody of the sea and the defence of the Scottish border, as well as to the support of the rebellion of the city of Ghent, one of the Commons’ conditions was that two peers should be appointed as ‘treasurers for wars’, assisted by ‘deputies’ who were not to sanction any payments without their special warrant. In the event, however, Parliament finally decided that William Gunthorpe (a baron of the Exchequer) and John Hadley* and Nicholas Exton (aldermen of London then representing the City) should be appointed as ‘receivers’, able to pay out money on the receipt of royal warrants (presumably conciliar in origin); and that the two peers (Bishop Brantingham of Exeter and John, Lord Cobham) should act simply as ‘overseers’, with power of assent. Apparently, the government had refused to accept the Commons’ proposal as it stood, and doubtless the Lords had agreed. Indeed, the collectors of the subsidy chosen on 6 Dec. (the last day of the Parliament) were instructed to account primarily at the Exchequer; and when, on 30 Jan. 1386, the overseers and receivers were formally appointed, their patents made clear that expenditure was to be made solely ‘by the advice of the Council’, with payments warranted by appropriate writs of privy seal. Moreover, although the overseers were to do no more than their title implied, the two remaining receivers (Gunthorpe no longer being involved) were to account for all their receipts at the lower Exchequer, as well as answering there on a regular weekly basis for every payment made.186 Failure to adhere to the appropriation of the subsidy granted in 1385, so far as the safe-keeping of the sea was concerned, was to be one of the charges brought against the earl of Suffolk as chancellor by the Commons in the Parliament of October 1386, who then impeached him of dereliction of duty in that respect (as in others). Quite possibly their dissatisfaction with Suffolk’s conduct on that score arose in part from the fact that the Council (of which as chancellor he had been the principal member) had virtually emasculated their original scheme for securing administrative observance of their appropriations.187
By the second half of Richard II’s reign, the Commons had lost their earlier confidence in the appointment of special treasurers as a means of controlling the expenditure of grants, and only once during that period did they again have recourse to such a device. This was at the dissolution of the Parliament of January 1390, when they agreed to renew both the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage from 1 Mar. (the previous day) until the following Christmas, on condition that the proceeds should be spent on defence in the event of war; and that, to this end, a ‘treasurer’ and a ‘controller’ should be appointed in the present Parliament, both to be personally answerable to the next. Although the Parliament roll records no nominations on the part of the Commons, their basic demand was unquestionably taken up. For early in 1391 William Fulbourne (a royal clerk) and the Londoner, John Hadley (not then an MP), who had acted as treasurers, and John Waltham, bishop of Salisbury, and John, Lord Cobham, who had been controllers, were all exonerated, the Exchequer having certified that they had fulfilled all their obligations.188 Perhaps understandably, in view of the time of their discharge, neither treasurers nor controllers had submitted any statement in the Parliament of November 1390 (or if they did none is recorded); and presumably, if the Exchequer was satisfied, so too was the Council. No more specially nominated treasurers or controllers were appointed in Richard II’s reign. In the next Parliament, which met in November 1391, the Commons were content to entrust all the proceeds of a half tenth and fifteenth, along with the whole of such a subsidy separately granted by them with the assent of the lords temporal, to Bishop Waltham of Salisbury, now treasurer of the Exchequer, to spend as the grant prescribed, although he was made answerable to the next Parliament on pain of impeachment; and should there be any surplus revenues, they agreed that they should be spent at the discretion of the King and Council. Similarly, once the Winchester Parliament of 1393 had renewed the mercantile subsidies for three years (to Michaelmas 1396) and granted one-and-a-half tenths and fifteenths (in three separate moieties but all leviable within a twelve-month), these various sums were assigned directly to the treasurer of the Exchequer, who again was made responsible for fulfilling certain specific conditions, which this time envisaged the possibility of royal expeditions against the French or to Ireland or Scotland. However, when the last of the moieties fell due, on 2 Feb. 1394, another Parliament was in session, and it was decided that the proceeds of this third moiety should be put at the disposal of the King and Council to use as they saw fit, ‘sur les busoigns du Roialme’.189 Since there is no evidence to the contrary, we may assume that for the rest of Richard’s reign the treasurer of the Exchequer remained directly responsible for the custody and expenditure of parliamentary revenues, with the Council exercising a general oversight.
Considering how highly critical, not to say mistrustful, the Commons so frequently were of the way in which government under Henry IV was conducted, and yet how anxious the King so often was to placate them, it is surprising that, when grants of taxation stipulated appropriation to specific purposes, the Commons did not regularly revert to previous practice and (as they had so constantly done in the early, difficult years of Richard II’s reign) request the appointment of special treasurers. This, in fact, happened only twice while Henry occupied the throne, and, moreover, in successive Parliaments meeting in the course of a single year, namely those of January and October 1404. Reading between the lines of the formal record of events in the first of these two Parliaments, it looks as if the King himself, doubtless hoping that the Commons in this greatly troubled assembly might more readily be induced to make him a grant of a general subsidy, virtually offered to give a favourable reception to any request they might make for the nomination of special treasurers.190 On 25 Feb. Henry had made a statement in the Lords, especially regarding household expenditure; and on 1 Mar. his friend, Archbishop Arundel, further elaborated these plans, with the result that the Lords agreed on the same day that crown revenues from various sources not subject to parliamentary grant, amounting to £12,100, should henceforward be assigned annually to the treasurer of the Household. But, then, the archbishop had taken the opportunity afforded him also to declare that if Parliament were to make a grant for wars and defence, special treasurers might be appointed to safeguard the appropriation, albeit on the understanding that, given the possibility of future rebellion against the house of Lancaster (or in the case of the Welsh revolt its continuance), they would have to assume responsibility for financing resistance, without fear of recrimination. The King expressly accepted this suggestion; and when, on his orders, and as advised by the Lords, the archbishop repeated his statement to the Commons in their own ‘house of assembly’ (the abbey refectory), he was able to report their assent.191 Before Parliament was dissolved on 20 Mar. it had been agreed that ‘a sort of modified income tax’ should be levied.192 However, since this novel tax was granted on the condition that it was not to form a precedent or even be recorded, the roll of the Parliament makes no mention of it. Nor, consequently, does it note the appointment of any treasurers for wars to help with its employment. None the less, four such treasurers—John Oudeby (one of the two chamberlains of the Exchequer), John Hadley*, Thomas Knolles* and Richard Marlow* (citizens of London)—were appointed; and, as is indicated by the letters close addressed to the lower Exchequer on 25 Mar., they were also entitled to receive and pay out revenue from the mercantile subsidies (which, having already been renewed until Michaelmas 1405, had not needed to be granted again by Parliament on this occasion).193 Letters patent, commissioning William Ford, baron of the Exchequer, and two of its official auditors, to audit the four treasurers’ accounts, were not issued until 28 Jan. 1405; but a receipt given to the treasurers on behalf of the Council by the lower Exchequer for the sums they had received and spent since 25 Mar. 1404 makes clear that their activities had ended on 11 Dec. previous.194
By this date, not only had another Parliament been held, at Coventry in the autumn of 1404, but the Commons, although still dissatisfied with the state of affairs, had made what was to prove the largest grant of direct taxation of the reign: two tenths and fifteenths (the first whole subsidy payable at Christmas, one moiety of the second at midsummer 1405 and the other at Martinmas following), while, for good measure, the mercantile subsidies, not then due to expire until Michaelmas 1405, were renewed for a further two years. The lords temporal, too, on behalf of themselves and noble ladies (‘Dames’) of the realm, had granted a twentieth on income from land similar to that voted by the previous Parliament, but now leviable only on estates worth 500 marks a year and above. Not surprisingly, given the extent of their own generosity, the Commons attached stringent conditions to the parliamentary grant as a whole, the most important being the appointment of Thomas Neville, Lord Furnival, and Sir John Pelham (Member for Sussex) as ‘treasurers for wars’. They also laid down that these two special treasurers, entirely disregarding the demands of individuals for payment for previous military service (even if supported by warrants of privy seal, signet or Exchequer tallies), and indeed any other royal debts incurred before the Parliament, should use all the tax revenues now made available exclusively to finance future measures for defence. Failure to do this might, it was stated, make the treasurers personally open to charges of treason; but to strengthen their hands, they themselves were to be authorized to appoint the collectors and controllers of the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage.195 Evidently, hard bargaining had gone into the framing of these conditions, although the identity of the two nominees put forward to serve as treasurers suggests that their appointment represented something of a political compromise. Few knights of the shire in this Parliament can have been in closer sympathy with King Henry than Pelham, who, having chiefly owed his rise to service with John of Gaunt and with the King before his accession, was now one of the dozen or so knights of the Chamber. And the equally devoted Lord Furnival, a younger brother of Ralph, earl of Westmorland, hardly had time to take up his duties as a treasurer for wars before, early in December, the King appointed him to succeed to the treasurership of the Exchequer, without relinquishing the other, collateral office. His combination of the two posts must, inevitably, have prevented him from performing the administratively distinct role the Commons had intended him and Pelham to fill in controlling the expenditure of the proceeds of their grant, and perhaps betrays a certain cynicism on Henry’s part in having accepted the two special treasurers’ appointment in the first place. However this may be, in accordance with the agreement reached at Coventry that they should serve until the next Parliament, and then render their accounts, they meanwhile continued in office.196
It will be recalled that in the first of the three sessions of the next Parliament, which met at Westminster on 1 Mar. 1406 and was not finally dissolved until 22 Dec. following, provision for the safe-keeping of the seas stood high on the agenda; and that consideration was accordingly given to a scheme promoted by the merchants which, on 19 June, at the end of the second session, was finally adopted, a quarter of the wool subsidy and all tunnage and poundage being then allocated to finance it.197 Since such an arrangement effectively contravened the appropriation of a significant proportion of the taxes granted at the Coventry Parliament of 1404, it was precisely at this point that the two treasurers for wars (who, the Parliament roll states, had already at different times during the Parliament applied to the King and ‘all the Estates’ to let them resign) were discharged at the request of the Commons. There yet remained, of course, the question of their accounts. On the same day the King, having himself appointed Lord Roos (Furnival’s immediate predecessor as treasurer of the Exchequer) and the chief baron to act as auditors, gave orders for the nomination of other auditors by the Commons, who there and then chose five shire knights and the London merchant, William Standon* (of whom at least two were to act).198 The settlement of accounts seems, however, to have been still unfinished when Parliament was finally dissolved nearly seven months later. At all events, the Commons then presented, on behalf of Lord Furnival and Pelham, their personal petition for a full discharge, adding the request that the auditors should be authorized to allow the two ex-treasurers suitable rewards for their labours as well as appropriate expenses, and that the auditors too should be adequately recompensed for their work.199
No further recourse to the device of special treasurers for wars was to be had in the remaining Parliaments of Henry IV’s reign, nor in any of Henry V’s (when, in any case, the appropriation of parliamentary taxation virtually fell into abeyance). Indeed, such a step was taken only once more during the entire 15th century, that is in the third session of the Parliament of November 1449, held at Leicester in the following spring. Four commoners, including a representative for Buckinghamshire, were then appointed as ‘Tresorers and Receyvours’ of a graduated tax on all income from land (by whatever tenure it was held) and from fees and wages, the proceeds being earmarked for the payment of such captains and soldiers as the King’s government would decide, the special treasurers to be accountable at the Exchequer.200
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Author: J. S. Roskell
- 1. Parliament, in 1414, was described in a humble petitioner’s advice as ‘that heye Court of rightwisnesse’ (i.e. of justice): RP, iv. 57.
- 2. Ibid. iii. 427, 442. Archbishop Arundel, in then describing the Commons as ‘petitioners et demandours’, was, in the context of their statement, effectively allowing them the right to demand political trials. However, there was thenceforward no instance of impeachment by the Commons in Parliament until 1449, when they brought charges of high treason against Henry VI’s chief minister, William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk.
- 3. William le Scrope, earl of Wiltshire, had been executed at Bristol in July 1399, and Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, had died in exile at Venice in September 1399.
- 4. RP, iii. 451-2, 459, 524-5.
- 5. Ibid. 604-7. For these Yorkshire risings of 1405, see P. McNiven, ‘Betrayal Abp. Scrope’, Bull. John Rylands Lib.liv. 173-213.
- 6. RP, iv. 64. T.B. Pugh, Hen. V and the Southampton Plot, examines the conspiracy in detail.
- 7. RP, iv. 65-67.
- 8. Peter de Mauley was summoned on 12 Aug. but not at Michaelmas, when the earl of Arundel, who had in the meantime been invalided home from Harfleur, received his summons, only to die before Parliament met.
- 9. RP, iv. 107-10; Concilia Magna Brittaniae ed. Wilkins, iii. 351; St. Albans Chron. ed. Galbraith, 70-77, 116-17.
- 10. All of the 18, save Exeter, Northumberland and two barons (Lords Camoys and Botreaux), had been summoned to the 1415 Parliament, these four now making up for the absence of Lords Morley, Berkeley, Cromwell and Grey of Codnor.
- 11. RP, 17-19. Salisbury’s view of the Commons’ responsibility may well have prompted some doubt, if only because, in 1399, they had themselves disclaimed any such right to take part in treason trials. On the other hand, since there had been no need for a capital sentence in 1401, and the lords spiritual were therefore not prohibited by canon law from being party to the judgement, there was evidently more reason to believe that they ought to have participated.
- 12. RP, iv. 35-36.
- 13. Ibid. 37. It is, however, important to note that when, in the Parliament of 46 (Mar.), Henry Percy was available to do homage to the King for his earldom (ibid. 71), he received a new patent of creation.
- 14. Ibid. 100-1.
- 15. Ibid. 141-2.
- 16. Ibid. ii. 230, 237.
- 17. See, for example, the statement made in January 1397: ‘le Roi avoit ordenez et assigne certeins Clercs pur resceivre Petitions especialx des causes et matiers appurtenantes a Parlement, et certeins Seigneurs pur trier et respondre a mesmes les Petitions en manere acustume’ (ibid iii. 337).
- 18. This practice had been foreshadowed as early as 1378, when the abbot and convent of Westminster addressed a petition ‘As Chivalers, Citesynes, Burgeis et Communes des Contees’, concerning the recent desecration of their church by homicide (ibid. 50). In 1389 a petition was addressed ‘As tres sages Communes de ceste present Parlement’ by ‘les povres amys de Thomas Russhok, nadgairs Evesge de Cicestre’, who, until his condemnation to exile in Ireland by the Merciless Parliament, had been Richard II’s confessor (ibid. 274).
- 19. Note, for example, that in September 1346 ‘fu demandez des ditz Chivalers, Citeyns, et Burgeys, qe s’ils vousissent mettre nulle Petition en dit Parlement qe purroiet tourner a commune profit et en ese de eux, q’ils la liveroient au Clerk de Parlement’ (ibid. ii. 160). Likewise, in March 1348, ‘Et puis fu dit as ditz Communes qe touz les singulers persones qe vourroient liverer Petitions en ce Parlement les ferroient liverer au Chanceller. Et qe les Petitions touchantes les Communes ferroient liverer au Clerc du Parlement. Lesqueux Communes liverent lour Petitions au dit Clerc’ (ibid. 201).
- 20. Ibid. 237.
- 21. Although the term ‘commune petition’ meant essentially a petition of common public interest, not a Commons’ petition, proof that common petitions were sometimes organized in the Lower House is afforded by the Parliament roll of 1352, in which there is mention of advice given by some of the Lords (‘ascuns des Grantz’) who were sent to confer with the knights and burgesses not only about financial aid for the King, but ‘sur la fessance des Petitions touchantes le commune poeple de la terre’ (ibid.). This case is cited in D. Rayner, ‘The “Commune Petition” in 14th Cent.’, EHR, lvi. 205.
- 22. RP, iii. 265.
- 23. Ibid. 290.
- 24. Ibid. 257, 425.
- 25. As early as 1309 it was evidently the task on MPs (both shire knights and burgesses), acting as messengers, to 'deliver' petitions from their constituents, for they then complained in Parliament that they could find no one to receive the petitions (ibid. i. 144). Borough representatives were constantly in Parliament that they could find no one to receive the petitions (ibid. i. 444). Borough representatives were constantly required to deal with community business while up at Parliament, and this frequently included the exposure of local grievances in petitions (M. McKisack, Parl. Repn. Eng. Bors. 133-9). For instance, the two Members for Shrewsbury at the Gloucester Parliament of 1407 were paid, in addition to their wages, 53s.4d. for requesting the King to pardon the town its payment of parliamentary tenths while the Welsh rebellion lasted ('versus Regum pro pardonacione subsidii habenda': HMC 15th Rep. X, 27). Their appeal about the impoverishment of the borough won the support of the Commons, who included it among their common petitions, but King Henry rejected it (RP, iii. 618-19).
- 26. RP, iii. 420. The Crown had sometimes previously been dissatisfied with the Commons’ response to its invitation to submit popular grievances. For example, in 1330, when the sheriffs were ordered to ensure the election, as shire knights, of loyal and competent men, not maintainers of litigants, the writs of summons themselves stated that some knights had previously been party to intrigues (‘gentz de coveigne’) and supporters of false quarrels, and had thus blocked complaints about ‘les grevances du commun poeple’ and similar complaints which ought to have been redressed in Parliament (ibid. ii. 443).
- 27. Ibid. iii. 270, 272-3.
- 28. Ibid. ii. 10-11
- 29. Ibid. 203. When, in 1376, the communities of Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire presented a petition objecting to the removal of the Lincoln Staple to Boston, the validity of the bill itself was questioned in the response, because it had not been avowed in Parliament (‘advouez en Parlement’: ibid. 332).
- 30. Ibid. 305, 310.
- 31. Ibid. iii. 321.
- 32. Ibid. 338-9, 341, 407-8; SC10/40/1951; T.F. Tout, Chapters, iv. 19.
- 33. RP, iii. 407-8, 420, 434.
- 34. Although the election of Sir Peter de la Mare as Speaker in the Good Parliament of 1376 is amply attested, the roll of that Parliament does not mention him (a fact which helps support the idea that his election, as a spokesman for the Commons chosen from among them for the duration of the assembly, was something new). The roll of the next Parliament (January 1377), however, records the Speaker's name (Sir Thomas Hungerfod*), and so do the rolls of six out of the nine assemblies held between October 1377 and February 1383 (inclusive). But there are no such references for the 11 Parliaments which followed; and even when, in 1394, the official record refers for the first time to Sir John Bussy, the roll of the next Parliament, of 1395, does not name the Speaker. Even so, as previously in April 1384, it does note that the Commons had been ordered to elect one, as they had no doubt been doing habitually ever since 1376. The gaps in the list of the Speakers of Richard II's reign are unfortunate, especially with regard to the Wonderful Parliament of 1386 and the Merciless Parliament of 1388. Not until January 1397 does an uninterrupted list begin. (For the origins and early history of the Speakership, see J.S. Roskell, Speakers).
- 35. RP, iv. 159; Roskell, Speakers, 88-94. In 1454 the city of London rewarded the Speaker with a pipe of red and two barrels of sweet wine; in 1472 the court of aldermen voted him £5; and in 1474 he once breakfasted at the expense of the port of Romney. In the same year one of the barons representing Rye spent 13s.4d. on fish for the Speaker, and in 1483 the Brodhull of the Cinque Ports authorized repayment for a similar present. The London Pewters' Parliament, when petitioning in 1487 for the suppression of hawkers and pedlars, purchased for 'Maister Speker of the Parliament', for promoting their bill, 'a garnysshe large vessell newe fascioned Counterfeit' worth 27s.4d. (A.R. Myers, 'Observations on Procedure of Commons', Univ. Toronto Law Jnl. iii. 66).
- 36. S.B. Chrimes, Eng. Constitutional Ideas,174.
- 37. RP, iii. 258, 349-51.
- 38. Ibid. 353. Since in 1397 they both fully supported Richard II’s policy, Bolingbroke and Mowbray were on the same day raised from the status of earl to that of, respectively, duke of Hereford and duke of Norfolk. Mowbray, indeed, was one of the Lords Appellant who, in the King’s interest, prosecuted the trial in Parliament of Gloucester and Arundel, and also of the earl of Warwick, another of the Lords Appellant of 1388, and thus one of his erstwhile colleagues.
- 39. Ibid. 351-2, 378, 381-2.
- 40. Ibid. 449-51.
- 41. Ibid. 430-1. Gloucester's written confession had been delivered to Rickhill on 8 Sept. 1397, just before his murder. As part of Rickhill's statement to Richard II, it had been revealed to the Parliament which met later in the same month, following Thomas Mowbray's report on 24 Sept. that Gloucester was indeed dead. The confession had, however, been falsified to exclude the exculpatory and deprecatory clauses with which the original had ended, and also, by concealing the date on which it was made, deliberately to hide the fact that Gloucester had actually been alive for some time after news of his death had been first publicly announced in England towards the end of August (ibid. 378). For both the original and 'doctored' versions of Gloucester's confession see Hist. Essays ed. Tout and Tait, 205-8; and for the confession of John Hall, former servant of Thomas Mowbray, about his part in the murder, made orally to Parliament on 17 Oct. 1399, see RP, iii. 452-3.
- 42. RP, iii. 453. J.S. Roskell, Parl. and Pol. in Late Med. Eng. ii. 61-62, refers to the executions at Bristol in greater detail.
- 43. RP, iii. 455-8, 465-6.
- 44. Ibid. 486, 493.
- 45. Ibid. 523, 525, 527-8.
- 46. A.L. Brown, ‘Commons and Council in Reign of Hen. IV’, EHR, lxxix. 9-12; RP, iii. 525; C.M. Fraser, ‘Documents Relating to Hilary Parl. of 1404’, Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 198-9.
- 47. RP, iii. 547-9, 553.
- 48. Ibid. 568-9.
- 49. Ibid. 571-6; Brown, 13-18.
- 50. RP, iii. 579.
- 51. St. Albans Chron. 2-3.
- 52. RP, iii. 568, 580-3, 585, 589.
- 53. Ibid. 609-10.
- 54. Ibid. 610. Bishop Bubwith of Salisbury (soon to be translated to Bath and Wells) was not a member of this liaison committee, for although appointed as an ordinary councillor in 1406, he had succeeded to the office of treasurer of the Exchequer on the death of Lord Furnival in March 1407, and so became an ex officio councillor. The only other noble councillor not seconded to the committee was Lord Grey of Codnor, the King’s chamberlain. The remaining councillors were similarly all executive officials: Master John Prophet (keeper of the privy seal), Sir John Stanley (steward of the Household) and Sir John Tiptoft (treasurer of the Household).
- 55. Ibid. 611-12.
- 56. P. McNiven, ‘Problem of Hen. IV’s health’, EHR, c. 761-72.
- 57. It is interesting to note that the main specific reference in Bishop Beaufort’s opening speech regarding the matter of defence was to the duke of Burgundy’s threat to Calais (RP, iii. 622), where on 18 Mar. the prince of Wales was appointed captain for 12 years (J.H. Wylie, Hen. IV, iii. 306).
- 58. RP, iii. 623.
- 59. St. Albans Chron. 52-56; Wylie, iii. 309-10; RP, iii. 623.
- 60. RP, iii. 623-5. The Parliament roll records that the articles were presented on 'Wednesday 23 Mar.', clearly a mistake because 23 Mar. 1410 was Easter Sunday. Since Parliament was dissolved on 9 May, the only possible date must be 23 Apr., which did in fact fall on a Wednesday. So far as the Household, Chamber and Wardrobe were concerned, the Commons not only complained about abuses of purveyance, but demanded that revenues from escheats and so forth should be used to pay off their debts and maintain them henceforward. They also insisted that any past assignments of such revenues should be annulled, and none made in future. Regarding expenditure on defence, the Commons pointed to the need for lords with castles and land on the Scottish and Welsh marches to go and live there; and for royal officials concerned with the payment of garrisons at Calais and in Guyenne and Ireland, as well as individuals whose fees were condition upon the discharge of personal service there, to attend to their duties more assiduously (ibid. 624-5, nos. 16, 23, 19, 20, 22).
- 61. T. Walsingham, Hist. Ang. ed. Riley, ii. 283.
- 62. RP, iii. 634.
- 63. The two northern peers were not dismissed: they remained members of the Council until it went out of office during the next Parliament, in 1411, when they formally resigned along with the rest. Then, however, Bishop Langley of Durham was re-appointed, along with Bishop Bubwith of Bath and Wells.
- 64. St. Albans Chron. 59-60.
- 65. Incerti Scriptoris Chron. Angliae ed. Giles, 63. In the Parliament of 1426 Bishop Beaufort was to be charged with having once plotted Henry IV’s deposition (RP, iv. 298).
- 66. RP, iii. 647-9.
- 67. Ibid. 658. Possibly the article in question was the one proposing that any royal grants of escheats earmarked for the upkeep of the King’s household and the payment of his debts should be automatically annulled (ibid. 625, no. 23).
- 68. Ibid. 648-9.
- 69. Ibid. 658.
- 70. This Parliament certainly met. For in the next one, which assembled in May 1413, the Commons requested that the shire knights and burgesses who had attended, but had not so far been paid their expenses, might now be allowed the usual writs (only to be told that, once the records had been searched for precedents and the Council consulted, the King would do what seemed best: ibid. iv. 9).
- 71. For a full discussion of the prince’s conduct, see P. McNiven, ‘Prince Henry and Political Crisis of 1412’, History, lxv. 1-16.
- 72. For a fuller discussion of this incident, see Roskell, Speakers, 52-53, 154-6; and for the origins and significance of the protestation ibid. chap. 2.
- 73. The protection, intended to be afforded by the protestation, nothing availed de la Mare, who, after the Good Parliament, was imprisoned in Nottingham castle until after Edward III’s death (ibid. 122).
- 74. The King's reluctance to accept the Commons' complaints other than in writing is understandable, and this was not the first time the government had objected to their being made orally. On the last day of the first session of the Parliament which met after the Peasants' Revolt (13 Dec. 1381), when the Commons asked to be shown the form of the proposed general pardon, they were told to put their petition into writing. This was said to be a reasonable requirement, if only because the King was accustomed to answer petitions in writing, not be word of mouth (RP, iii. 104). Again, in Henry IV's second Parliament (1401), after the Commons had made several requests 'par bouche', they were ordered to convert them into written 'communes petitions' ibid. 456. Oral requests might result in protracted discussion, especially if they gave rise to misunderstandings, as, for example, was the case in January 1401. Speaker Savage then referred to misleading reports that, without the assent of the Commons, he had presumed to petition for the abolition of all liveries, although what he had actually done was to press for the enforcement of a recent statute which still allowed liveries to be granted by the King and the prince of Wales (ibid. 523). The Commons' frequent preference for the oral request to the written bill may well have been partly because the former provided a greater opportunity for making additional amendments of their own, and perhaps for obstructing those of others.
- 75. Ibid. iv. 4-5.
- 76. H.L. Gray, Influence of Commons on Early Legislation, 261 et seq.; S.B. Chrimes, Eng. Constitutional Ideas, 245-6.
- 77. RP, iii. 523.
- 78. Ibid. v. 22. The petition as entered in the Parliament roll is as follows: 'Iem fait a remembrer Qe les Communes baillerent a Roi ... une Petition, dont le tenure ensuyt de mote a mote: Oure soverain Lord, youre humble and trewe lieges that ben come for the Commune of your loud bysechyn on to youre rizt riztwesnesse, that so as it hath evere be thair liberte and freedom that thar sholde no Statut no Lawe be made oflasse than they yaf therto their assent: Consideringe that the Commune of youre lond, the whiche that is, and evere hath be, a membre of youre Parlement, ben as well Assentirs as Petitioners, that fro this tyme foreward, by compleynte of the Commmune of eny myschief axkynge remedie by mouthe of their Speker for the Commune, other ellys by Petition writen, that ther never be no Lawe made theruppon, and engrosed as Statut and Lawe, nother by addicions, nother by diminucions, by no maner of termes, the whiche that sholde chaunge the sentence, and the entente axked by the by the Speker mouthe, or the Petitions biforesaid yeven up yn writyng by the manere forsaid, withoute assent of the forsaid Commune. Consideringe oure soverain Lord, that it is not in no wyse the entente of youre Communes, zif hit be so that they axke you by spekyng, or by writyng, too thynges or three, or as manye as theym lust: But that evere it stande in the fredom of your hie Regalie, to graunte whiche of thoo that you luste, and to werune the remanent. Responsio: The Kyng of his grace especial graunteth that fro hensforth no thyng be enacted to the Peticions of his Comune, that be contrarie of hir askyng, wharby they shuld be bounde withoute their assent. Savyng alwey to our liege Lord his real Prerogatif, to graunte and denye what him lust of their Petitions and askynges aforesaide'.
- 79. Any ambiguity can only be attributed to the King himself, for if he did not dictate the precise terms of his answer, he must at least have determined its tenor. In fact, it would have been quite out of character for him to have neglected to do so. The rolls of Parliament attended by him bear frequent marks of his close attention to business, not least the petitions of the Commons requiring his personal consideration. Even when, during his absence in France, the Commons of 1420 (alluding to a statement by certain lords that the petitions they would be presenting to the duke of Gloucester as Custos would not be engrossed before they had been submitted to Henry for his assent and advice) asked that these petitions should be answered in England during the Parliament, that any not dealt with should be disregarded, and that a ordinance along these lines should apply to future Parliaments, this very petition was referred to the King (ibid. iv. 128). Could Henry V's 'regimen parliamenti' have been carried further?
- 80. Chrimes, 164n: ‘In the medieval period ... the Commons never established a right to assent to amendments made by the Crown to their petitions’.
- 81. W. Stubbs, Const. Hist. Eng. iii. 281.
- 82. RP, iv. 127. In the Parliament of 1442 the Commons were to petition that John, Lord Scrope of Masham, brother and heir of Henry, Lord Scrope (who had been executed and subjected to forfeiture for treason in 1415), should be restored to possession of the family lands held in tail. An act permitting restitution had been passed at their request in the Parliament of 1425, only to have met with obstruction ever since. In now renewing their petition, the Commons objected to a proviso to the act made by advice of the lords, spiritual and temporal and the King's serjeants-at-law (in order specifically to exclude any forfeited lands formerly held in fee simple). It is to be noted that they protested expressly because this proviso had been added 'withouten knowlech or assent of [the] seide Communez, and ayenst the Statuit in suche cas made tyme of the Kyng your noble Fader [Henry V], of the whiche Estatuit a copy ys annexed to this Bille' (ibid. v. 42). No such statute appears in the Statute rolls of Henry V's reign. It is, however, possible that the Commons were referring to Henry's treatment of their predecessors' petition of 1414, in which case they had evidently misunderstood its significance. That the Commons not only contrived to do much by their complaints and petitions to promote parliamentary legislation, but also continued, when opportunity offered, to press their claim to assent to whatever changes might be made to moderate its impact was, for instance, exemplified in 1455-6. Realizing, on this occasion, that the Act of Resumption they had requested was bound ultimately to include (in addition to the clauses of exemption they themselves had inserted in their original petition), extra provisos proposed by the government as advised by the Lords, the Commons asked that these should 'be sende doune unto us, to that ende that we may gafe oure assentz therto, if it be thought to us expedient and behoefull' (ibid. 303). Yet this still went unregarded.
- 83. G.F. Beltz, Mems. Order of the Garter, pp. c-clvii.
- 84. The Lords and Commons, having agreed with Edward III's declared intention to go to war in 1337, were together asked in May 1342 to give their common assent to negotiations for peace, but to discuss and report separately whether or not an embassy should be sent to the Papal Curia; upon which the Commons, falling into line with the Lords, reported on the same day that they were in favour if a truce, with a view to peace (RP, ii. 136). Likewise, in 1354, when the King stated that he was unwilling to consider a final peace without the assent of the magnates ('Grantz') and Commons, the latter at first declared themselves ready to abide by whatever the King and magnates might decide, only to be told by the King's chamberlain to answer for themselves. On being asked whether they would assent to a treaty of peace if one proved possible, they unanimously voiced their agreement ('responderent entierment et uniement Oil, Oil': ibid. 262). In 1369, after the French had broken the treaty of Brétigny-Calais (1360), and the prelates had agreed that Edward III might conscientally resume the style of King of France, the Commons joined all the lords temporal in assenting to this, evidently without having to be asked separately (ibid. 300).
- 85. Ibid. iii. 133-4, 136-7, 140, 144.
- 86. RP, iii. 144-6, 148; P.E.L. Russell, Eng. Intervention in Spain and Portugal, 344-5.
- 87. Walsingham, ii. 84. For further details of the involvement of the Commons see the biography of Sir Philip Courtenay.
- 88. RP, iii. 152-8. The ‘crusade’ is treated at greater length in Sir William Elmham’s biography.
- 89. R. Vaughan, Philip the Bold,31-33.
- 90. RP, iii. 167, 170.
- 91. Ibid. 286.
- 92. Ibid. 315-16.
- 93. J.N.N. Palmer, ‘Eng. Foreign Policy 1388-99’, Reign Ric. II ed. Du Boulay and Barron, 103.
- 94. D.M. Bueno de Mesquita, ‘Foreign Policy of Ric. II in 1397’, EHR, lvi. 628-37.
- 95. RP, iii. 338.
- 96. T.F. Tout, Chapters, iv. 16; De Mesquita, loc. cit.
- 97. RP, iii. 427-8.
- 98. Ibid. 427. At the time of this request, John IV was on his deathbed, and, in fact, died within a week, leaving a widow, Joan of Navarre, whom Henry IV was to marry in February 1403.
- 99. Ibid. 456.
- 100. Ibid. 405, 485, 492-3.
- 101. Ibid. 486-7.
- 102. Ibid. 522.
- 103. Ibid. 567-9.
- 104. Ibid. 580. In January 1406 hostages for Douglas had been allowed to enter England, and on 1 Nov. more safe conducts had been issued. The earl was to depart from London for Scotland on parole on 15 Mar. 1407, leaving his two sons and other Scots behind until his ransoming had been completed; not, however, until the spring of 1409 was he ‘pleynly delivered’ (Wylie, ii. 392, 397-8).
- 105. This reticence may have been due to official embarrassment, since James had been captured in time of truce. (It can hardly have been on account of any desire to avoid reference to Henry IV’s claim to overlordship of Scotland). James’s enforced exile in England was destined to last until 1424. For most of this time his uncle, Robert, duke of Albany (d.1420), was only too pleased to continue in office as regent, and showed no anxiety to secure James’s release, which became an even more remote possibility once Henry V declared war on France, Scotland’s traditional ally.
- 106. RP, iv. 34.
- 107. Ibid. 62, 70, 94.
- 108. Ibid. 96-99, 135.
- 109. Ibid. 124. The roll of the Parliament ends with a note to the effect that, although the ordinance ‘touchant la non-dissolution du Parlement’ had been based upon one of the ‘common petitions’ presented by the Commons, it had been separately recorded earlier in the roll (ibid. 128).
- 110. Ibid. 125; above, n. 79.
- 111. RP, iv. 127; Statutes, i. 292 (and RP, ii. 113).
- 112. RP, iv. 126. An English monopoly of wool imports into Flanders was naturally bound to interest all wool producers, especially those landowners, like Bishop Beaufort, with large flocks of sheep.
- 113. G.L. Harriss, King, Parl. and Public Finance explores the subject of taxation up to the mid 14th century in detail.
- 114. J.G. Edwards, ‘Plena Potestas of Eng. Parl. Reps.’ Hist. Studies Eng. Parl. ed. Fryde and Miller, 136-49.
- 115. RP, ii. 104; Harriss, 255-65.
- 116. RP, iii. 104.
- 117. Ibid. ii. 303-4. W.M. Ormrod, ‘Eng. Parish Subsidy of 1371’ Speculum, lxiii. 62, notes ‘it is an interesting reflection on the initiative and responsibility gained by Parliament over the previous half-century that it was now struggling, albeit with inadequate information, to devise its own alternative methods of raising royal taxation’. The ‘initiative and responsibility’ was that of the Lords and Commons, not of the Exchequer or royal council.
- 118. RP, ii. 364; iii. 57-58, 90. The Anonimalle Chron. ed. Galbraith, 133, records that the poll tax of 1380 was leviable on all the laity between 16 and 70 years old.
- 119. J. Trokelowe et al., Chrons. et Annales, 379-81. Since they were barred as precedents, these taxes were not recorded on the Parliament roll.
- 120. RP, iii. 546, 648-9. Under Henry VI unusual direct taxes were occasionally granted: in 1427 on parishes and knights’ fees, in aid of Jacqueline of Hainault, duchess of Gloucester; in 1431 on knights’ fees (annulled in 1432); in 1435 on incomes from lands, offices, annuities and so forth; in 1439 and 1442 on resident aliens; in 1449 on both the latter and alien merchants, as well as on freeholders and non-freeholders with various annual incomes; and in 1453 on certain alien residents, over and above a levy on natives of 20,000 archers (although this number was soon reduced to 13,000 in England, but not in Cheshire and Wales, and postponed for two years).
- 121. The Parliament of 1419 granted one-and-a-third tenths and fifteenths, then, after two barren Parliaments, a single such subsidy was voted in December 1421, bringing the total for Henry V’s reign to 11-and-a-third. Not until 1429, when Henry VI had been King for seven years, did Parliament resume its grants of tenths and fifteenths, and his reign had lasted over 30 years before grants of that kind surpassed the total achieved under his father. Moreover, from 1433 every tenth and fifteenth was reduced by £4,000, and from 1446 by £6,000, these rebates being distributed pro rata among the several shires and boroughs by royal commissioners who invariably included the shire knights present in the Parliament responsible for each grant.
- 122. J.L. Bolton, Med. Eng. Economy,174-7, 196-9. The Commons’ main objection to this tax was to its being granted by merchants instead of by Parliament. In the spring of 1343, for example, they complained about the injustice of a system whereby ‘la Commune de lour biens soient par marchantz chargez’, the latter having approved a levy of 40s. per sack without their assent (RP, ii. 140).
- 123. Not until 1453 was Henry VI to be allowed these subsidies ‘for terme of [his] lyfe naturell’. In 1465 Edward IV’s second Parliament did the same; and in 1484 and 1485 (in their first Parliaments) Richard III and Henry VII obtained similar grants. This practice then became customary until, in 1625, the Commons declined to renew tunnage and poundage for Charles I, who none the less continued to exact it.
- 124. RP, iii. 104, arts. xxxvi, xl, cxiv.
- 125. Ibid. 204.
- 126. Ibid. 220-1, 244-5, 262, 279, 286, 314, 340, 368.
- 127. Ibid. 425, 493, 546, 568, 612, 635, 648.
- 128. Ibid. iv. 6, 63-64.
- 129. Harriss, 460-1, 463-4, 470.
- 130. RP, ii. 310, 317, 322.
- 131. Ibid. iii. 38, 58, 124, 138, 220, 244.
- 132. Ibid. 262. The grant of tunnage and poundage made by the 1393 Parliament, which was for three years (30 Nov. 1393-6), imposed rates of 3s. and 1s. respectively, but provided for collection at only half these rates should there be no hostilities with France or no military expeditions to Ireland, Scotland or overseas (ibid. 301). It was in such circumstances that the next Parliament met in January 1394, by which date, strictly in accordance with this proviso, the rebates had applied for nearly two months. However, on the pretext of verbal ambiguity in the record of the Commons having to be satisfied with another condition, namely that neither subsidy would be exacted if peace were made with France. In fact, the Parliament of January 1397 re-imposed the higher rates for three years, as from 30 Nov. 1396 (ibid. 314). In 1396 not a peace but a truce (albeit of 30 years) had been made.
- 133. Ibid. 279. 578, 595.
- 134. In 1432 tunnage was doubled for alien merchants importing sweet wine, and the poundage paid by them rose from 1s.to 18d. (ibid. 390).
- 135. Ibid. iii. 340, 368; iv. 64.
- 136. For a fuller discussion of intercommuning see J.G. Edwards, Commons in Med. Eng. Parls.
- 137. RP, iii. 151, 285, 301, 330, 611. This does not, of course, at all imply that the Lords’ assent would always be a formality. A case which came before the judges in the Exchequer chamber in 1454-5 led to a discussion about the procedure relating to parliamentary bills, during which one of the judges envisaged a situation in which the Lords might wish to alter a grant of tunnage and poundage. The judge is reported to have said that if the Lords wished to curtail the duration of a grant from four to two years, this might be done without the bill being returned to the Commons; but that if, on the other hand, they wished to extend it from two to four years, the bill would have to be referred back to the Lower House for its assent, without which it could not be enacted (S.B. Chrimes, Eng. Constitutional Ideas, 361).
- 138. RP, iii. 339; iv. 16.
- 139. Ibid. ii. 321; Anonimalle Chron.80.
- 140. RP, iii. 35. No grant was made in the Parliament of January 1380 despite the grossly inadequate yield of the poll tax granted in 1379.
- 141. Harriss, 180, 258.
- 142. RP, ii. 148, 201.
- 143. Ibid. iii. 75, 90, 93-94.
- 144. Ibid. iii. 204.
- 145. Ibid. 216, no. 7; N.B. Lewis, ‘Article VII of Impeachment of Michael de la Pole’, EHR, xlii. 404.
- 146. H. Knighton, Chron. ed. Lumby, ii. 215; RP, iii. 220-1.
- 147. RP, iii. 244; Westminster Chron. 1381-94, ed. Hector and Harvey, 286, 291. Apparently decided upon as early in the first session of the Parliament as 21 Feb., the expedition went ahead within a week of the dissolution and Arundel embarked on 10 June. The fleet, having done great damage to French shipping in the mouth of the Seine, at La Rochelle and elsewhere in the Bay of Biscay, only returned to England on 2 Sept. (ibid. 341, 351-3).
- 148. RP, iii. 285-6.
- 149. Ibid. 301-2.
- 150. See above, p. 123, n. 132; RP,iii. 314. That this decision was made ‘chiefly at the prompting of the Lords’ is suggested by the words, ‘les ditz Seigneurs et Communes ont grantez et assentuz’, instead of the now usual formula for the making of grants, indicating that the Commons granted and the Lords assented.
- 151. RP, 329-30.
- 152. Ibid. 338-9.
- 153. Ibid. 368. There was time before Richard’s deposition for the first two half tenths and fifteenths to be levied at the prescribed dates: Michaelmas 1398 and Easter 1399. But although Henry IV’s first Parliament confirmed them, it cancelled the third moiety payable at Michaelmas 1399 (the day of Richard’s deposition) and agreed that any money already collected should be repaid (ibid. 425).
- 154. Ibid. 369. In the autumn of 1398 the Exchequer deposited 4,000 marks, the full sum suggested by the Commons, in St. Werburgh’s abbey, Chester, and in December, once claims had been submitted, distribution followed (R.R. Davies, ‘Ric. II and Principality of Chester’, Reign Ric. II ed. Du Boulay and Barron, 261).
- 155. RP, iii. 425, 454-5, 485, 493.
- 156. See above p. 118, n. 119; RP,iii. 545-7.
- 157. Although on a few occasions in the 14th century (1346, 1373, 1384, 1391 and 1393) the Commons had made the levy of a subsidy or half subsidy dependent upon failure to negotiate a peace or truce with France.
- 158. RP, iii. 569-71.
- 159. Richard Clitheroe I, MP for Kent, was appointed admiral for the south and, on 15 May 1406, was given leave at the Commons’ request to absent himself from Parliament (ibid. 572). The other admiral was to be Nicholas Blackburn (father of Nicholas*), a York merchant and one of the collectors of the customs at Kingston-upon-Hull.
- 160. Ibid. 578. Later in the Parliament, perhaps at the very end of the final session (22 Dec. 1406), the Commons were to petition that this additional charge on poundage should not apply to the merchandise imported by Venetian merchants (in three galleys recently arrived), and that they and all other alien merchants should be free of it retrospectively from 22 Oct. (ibid. 595).
- 161. Ibid. 577-8, 602-3.
- 162. Ibid. 568.
- 163. St. Albans Chron. 2-3.
- 164. RP, iii. 568.
- 165. Ibid. 610. Clitheroe was himself present, again as a shire knight for Kent, in the Gloucester Parliament, and could thus ask personally for a decision in his favour. Blackburn was less fortunate: to obtain a settlement of his account he had not only to wait upon the Council’s convenience, but most likely upon an interview with the new admiral, who was apparently not then available.
- 166. Ibid. 611-12. To this precedent of 1407 reference was expressly made during a dispute over the subsidy in 1593: Sir Simonds D’Ewes, Journals of all the Parliaments during the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, 485b.
- 167. RP, iii. 365.
- 168. Ibid. 627; Wylie, iii. 306.
- 169. J.L. Kirby, Hen. IV, 233-5. The Lords’ ordinance of 1410 was continuing an arrangement made by the Council in February 1408 (G.L. Harriss, Cardinal Beaufort, 45).
- 170. RP, iii. 648-9.
- 171. Ibid. iv. 64.
- 172. Ibid. 118.
- 173. Ibid. 63, 71, 95, 107.
- 174. Ibid. 365.
- 175. There was evidently some confusion over this particular reservation; and it was the Council which, on 10 Oct. 1378, only ten days before the Gloucester Parliament met, ordered the Exchequer to assign income from ‘the ancient custom’ to the Household and for the payment of other strictly royal expenses (CCR, 1377-81, p. 156).
- 176. RP, iii. 7; CPR, 1377-81, p. 99.
- 177. RP, iii. 35-36, 38; CPR,1377-81, p. 327.
- 178. RP, iii. 56, 66.
- 179. Not until 18 Nov. 1379 did Walworth and Philipot receive their final acquittance, in which their account was stated to have ended only on 28 Sept. (CPR, 1377-81, p. 400). It is this continuance in office, however temporary, which suggests that their discharge was nothing to their discredit, rather than their subsequent inclusion, in January 1380, in the parliamentary commission of inquiry into the state of the royal finances, which could hardly have proceeded without them (RP, iii. 73).
- 180. RP, iii. 71, 75.
- 181. Foedera ed. Rymer (orig. edn.), vii. 256.
- 182. RP, iii. 93-94.
- 183. Ibid. 124; CFR, ix. 296-7, 299, 300, 306.
- 184. CFR, ix. 333. This scheme is discussed more fully in J.S. Roskell, Impeachment of Michael de la Pole,80-83; and J. Sherborne, ‘Defence of Realm and Impeachment of Michael de la Pole’, Pol. and Crisis in 14th Cent. Eng. ed. Taylor and Childs, 99 et seq.
- 185. RP, iii. 138, 146.
- 186. Ibid. 204; CFR, x. 114, 135.
- 187. RP, iii. 216.
- 188. Ibid. 262; CPR, 1391-6, p. 9.
- 189. RP, iii. 285-8, 301-2, 314.
- 190. Surely Wylie errs in saying that the King ‘could not sanction the [Commons’] request for the appointment of War Treasurers’ (Hen. IV, i. 412). The clause ‘Feust outre la voluntee mesme nostre Seigneur le Roy’ (RP, iii. 529) must, in the context of the passage as a whole, mean not that it was beyond the will of the King, but rather that it was, besides, the will of the King.
- 191. RP, iii. 528-9.
- 192. Wylie, i. 406.
- 193. CCR, 1402-5, p. 355. None of the three Londoners named as treasurers for wars on this occasion was then sitting in Parliament.
- 194. CPR, 1401-5, p. 489; Wylie, i. 414, n. 9. For particular occasions of activity on the part of the four treasurers, see CPR, 1401-5, p. 403, and Letters Hen. IV ed. Hingeston, i. 281, 434. Whether or not payments for diplomacy properly came within their purview, when, in September 1404, Sir John Croft and Nicholas Ryssheton were engaged in negotiations in Flanders, it was the treasurers for wars who were ordered by the King’s Council to pay Ryssheton £100, only for him to threaten to return home if he was not reimbursed soon (ibid. 333, 337).
- 195. RP, iii. 546-7. That the threat of forfeiture applied particularly to the two treasurers might seem to be confirmed by the terms of their final discharge on 22 Dec. 1406, which exonerated them from any penalty incurred by their non-observance of the conditions of their appointment (ibid. 584).
- 196. They had evidently taken up their posts before the Court left Coventry, because letters patent, dated there on 18 Nov. 1404, authorized repayment at Christmas to the mayor and corporation of London, out of the tenth recently granted by the Commons, of a loan of £733 6s. 8d. made by them to Furnival and Pelham, as ‘treasurers of the King’s wars’, to help rescue the castle of Coity, Glam. (CPR,1401-5, p. 470).
- 197. See above, pp. 130-1.
- 198. RP, iii. 577. The shire knights were Sir Hugh Luttrell, Sir Richard Redmayne, Laurence Drew, Thomas Childrey and David Holbache.
- 199. Ibid. 584.
- 200. Ibid. v. 173.