A brief summary © Annette Carson 2014
For the past year or so I have
been researching certain aspects of the constitutional position of Richard, Duke of Gloucester after the death of Edward IV. The work has suffered from other calls on my time, but I have been promising a summary to so many people that I think I must try to
set out an overview that takes in at least what I have ascertained so far about one important aspect of my ongoing researches: the role of Lord Protector of the Realm in 15th-century England. Sources will be fully annotated in my main article when completed,
but much of what follows can be found in the relevant Rolls of Parliament.
Henry VI’s minority: the precedent
In 1422, on his deathbed, Henry V added codicils to his will which made provisions for the minority of his baby son. These have not survived, but it seems beyond
doubt that he nominated Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, his younger brother, who was already in charge as ‘keeper’ of England in his absence, to exercise a form of regency during Henry VI's minority. The appointment claimed by Duke Humphrey, which
was certainly known to all the magnates who gathered to execute the will, was quoted as tutelam et defensionem principales of the new king. According to the best source on the subject, J S Roskell (‘The Office and Dignity of Protector of England,
with special reference to its origins’, English Historical Review, April 1953), most of the available evidence indicates that the actual custody of Henry VI’s person was placed in the care of his mother and others. Since Henry V had nominated
Gloucester to undertake the principal wardship and defence of the infant heir, evidently he intended a clear distinction between the custody of the person of his heir and the wardship of his heir’s inheritance.
Henry gave responsibility for France to his elder brother John, Duke of Bedford, who thereafter acted as Regent of that country. However, when the Lords met in
a Great Council prior to Parliament, although they took the late king’s wishes into account to some extent, they refused to give Gloucester any title that might seem like that of ‘Regent’ in England.
The Lords objected to the word tutela, which was a term used in Roman law where (says Roskell), by the creation of a tutela ‘the guardianship of a male below the age of puberty
was provided for’. In the managing of his ward’s affairs, this guardian would be obliged to ensure the child’s maintenance and upbringing out of the heir’s estate which was entrusted to his charge. He was first and foremost the controller
of the property of his ward in the time of the latter’s incapacity to administer it himself (both the Duke and the Lords showed themselves aware that this was the kind of tutela intended by Henry V).
The Lords instead set out a tripartite solution.
(1) They invented a wholly new
title during the minority which was (in its eventual full form) ‘Protector and Defender of the Realm and Church in England and Chief Councillor of the King’, this title normally being held by Gloucester, but given to his elder brother Bedford when
the latter was in England; the office was to be relinquished when demanded. It was a role that dealt primarily with the security of the realm against enemies both within and outside England.
(2) They appropriated to themselves the ongoing governance of England, whenever they were gathered – whether in Parliament, in the Great Council or in the ongoing King’s Council. There was to be deference
to the Protector as Chief Councillor in defined circumstances, and when present he presided at council meetings.
(3) The custody and welfare
of the person of the child were placed in the hands of his mother and the royal household, together with a group of royal relatives and other nobles, among whom the principal was Henry V’s uncle, Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter;
this group had authority to appoint the child’s servants, while nurses saw to his personal needs.
There was never any suggestion that the role
of Lord Protector was ‘protector of the child’. In fact Henry V’s wishes to this effect were categorically overturned, with the Lords stating that the former king could not rule England from the grave. Yet, surprisingly, a great many historians
use the term ‘protector’ in the context of the 15th century to mean not ‘Protector of the Realm’, but in some way loosely describing either Humphrey of Gloucester or, later, Richard of Gloucester as ‘protector of his nephew’.
In Richard’s case it is clear to me, after examining writings by the various reporters and chroniclers, that this latter idea derives from accounts written
by foreigners (Mancini, Vergil, André). In particular the moralizer Polydore Vergil makes great play with the idea of Richard III being entrusted as ‘protector’ of the child Edward V, which trust he then cynically betrays. This will be understood
when you realize that the concept of Protector of the Realm as conceived by the Lords in 1422 was entirely alien to anyone outside England; in every other precedent I have been able to identify - France, Castile, Portugal, Hungary, Sicily, even Scotland -
the governance in a minority (or similar) was always performed by a Regent or equivalent. Thus Mancini, Vergil et al would have found it almost impossible to comprehend the idea of a ‘protector and defender of the realm’ who fulfilled
a security role and who was subject to appointment and dismissal at the pleasure of Council and Parliament.
It is interesting that the two English
chroniclers of around Richard’s time, Crowland and John Rous, described his title more accurately. The Crowland chronicler’s choice of words is something I am investigating further, but he certainly knew what the constitutional precedent was, and
he recorded that Richard’s appointment as Protector was unanimously welcomed. Although I was always aware that the title of the office was Protector of the Realm, I was not aware of the tripartite precedent of Henry VI’s minority, and I admit I
did get some of my terminology wrong in Maligned King, which will be corrected when I finish my investigations – I am still researching the fine details of titles and responsibilities. However, the more I read of the position in the 1420s,
the more I am astonished that so many present-day writers and academic historians describe Richard as being Edward V’s ‘guardian’ or having ‘control’ of him. This will become clearer below.
Henry VI’s illnesses
The constitutional precedent described
above was repeated in precisely the same way when Henry VI became incapacitated in the 1450s. The uncle of the royal blood, Richard of York, was brought in as Lord Protector of the Realm and most of his measures were concerned with making order out of
chaos in the kingdom. There was a much greater and more urgent need for a Protector of the Realm during the 1450s, and York knew he was there only on sufferance because of the turbulence of the times. The Lords in Parliament appointed him, and the Lords carried
on the governance on Henry VI’s behalf; York’s appointment was ‘at pleasure’. On both occasions he was, in effect, told when to resign his office and did so promptly.
The third element in this arrangement, care of the person of the incapacitated Henry VI, was in the hands of Queen Margaret and the Royal Household. In fact Margaret, after the birth of
her son, petitioned Parliament to make her effectively Regent on behalf of husband and child and to provide finances for the administration and the military to be run by her at the head of the Royal Household. This was refused. It was, however, a reflection
of Margaret of Anjou’s foreign background that she believed herself entitled to seek such regency powers as she would have enjoyed had her husband been king of the kind of country she was familiar with.
Edward V’s minority
When faced with an early death, Edward IV
like Henry V before him made codicils to his will. Though historians choose to argue about what they might have said specifically, all contemporary and Tudor sources that actually mention his arrangements state that he appointed Richard of
Gloucester Lord Protector. (The exception is Crowland which makes no mention either way.)
Knowing it had been established sixty years previously
that a dead king could not rule from the grave, Edward obviously could do no more than express a preference. Had he expressed an unconstitutional preference, e.g. similar to Henry V’s tutela, I cannot imagine the Council not being thrown
into confusion by the idea as they were in 1422, nor the Crowland author failing to mention it. Logically, therefore, Edward’s wishes must have accorded with precedent. Indeed, we know that it was the Woodvilles who caused divisions in the Council with
their precipitate actions, refusing to acknowledge Richard as Protector or even wait for his arrival. Furthermore, as soon as he did arrive the Council confirmed him as Protector. The options of the Council were either to do this or to have an immediate coronation
and no protectorate, as desired by the queen’s family (who were sufficiently numerous and well entrenched to have been able to constitute the power behind a child-king’s throne). The Council had a choice and chose a protectorate, which was the
safe, constitutional route (and, as we shall see, they also proposed its continuance after Edward V’s coronation). I find it impossible to believe Charles Ross who supposes that the appointment of Richard as Protector was somehow forced upon them by
his iron will.
Richard, with his military background and already embodying three of the Great Officers of State, was also of course the sole adult
male heir to the throne. N.B. Knowing that children were quite liable not to survive childhood, the Lords in the 1420s had acknowledged to Bedford and Gloucester in so many words that they were answerable to them for the good governance of the realm since
the two dukes were the heirs next in line of inheritance. A similar deference for similar reasons must have been accorded to Gloucester in 1483.
third part of the tripartite formula in 1483 had already been set in place years beforehand by Edward IV, and it is unlikely he would have considered unravelling it even if he could at that late stage. His ordinances for the person of
the Prince of Wales placed the boy until the age of fourteen at Ludlow Castle with his own council, among whom three were specifically appointed to be in charge of his custody and upbringing (briefly summarized), those persons being
Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers as governor or ‘Master’ of the prince and Bishop John Alcock as tutor (he was an educator par excellence), with Sir Richard Grey added in for good measure.
The Lords at Westminster were well aware of Edward IV’s arrangements because they had been reiterated and updated and new letters patent issued as recently as February 1483. Therefore, scarcely
more than a month before he took sick, the late king was still not envisaging his son taking an active role in the government of the realm until at least 20 months hence. For that period the boy’s person was destined to be attended
by his own council led by his mother’s family.
This is the point that I search in vain for historians to recognize: that Edward IV would have regarded
a tripartite dispensation as being neatly and conveniently in place when he provided in his codicils for the protectorate of Edward V, in accordance with precedent, just as it was in those protectorates earlier in the century.
The difference in 1483, of course, was that the queen’s family attempted to pre-empt it. They tried to do what Margaret of Anjou also attempted unsuccessfully, i.e. take all
governance and personal control of the king, and all military power, into their hands alone [as readers of Richard III: The Maligned King will know, immediately after Edward IV’s death the Woodvilles had commissioned an army to escort the king
from Ludlow and had cleared out the state treasury to send a fully equipped fleet to sea]. Faced with a fait almost accompli, a fleet armed and active and an army 2,000 strong – and none of it under the control of the Protector of the
Realm – Richard had no choice but to take action in accordance with his supreme responsibility for the security of the kingdom. For even if not yet confirmed in the role of Lord Protector, he still held in one pair of hands the highest offices of military
command: Admiral of England and Lieutenant-General of her land forces, as well as High Constable of England. In the 15th century, even more so than today, no one took liberties with the chain of command.
Based on precedent, however, he would NOT have taken Edward V’s person under his own control, except perhaps temporarily insofar as he needed a royal escort to complete his journey
to London. In fact, with the Woodvilles having so many different irons in the fire, it was undoubtedly Bishop John Alcock, his tutor, who was most intimately involved with the prince’s education and guardianship on a year by year, day by day basis, and
of course Alcock accompanied Edward V the rest of the way to London. (And, I assume, continued attending to his education while residing in the Tower.) Had any Woodvilles remained to participate in the government instead of making themselves scarce, the normal
arrangement would have been for them to form a royal household around the young king – mother, uncles, aunts and/or other relatives – along with Bishop Alcock and a suitable group of nobles appointed by the Council, just as in 1422 when Exeter
and his group were appointed.
I have not had time to ascertain the composition of the royal household in 1483, but we certainly do know that the
Woodvilles to a man abandoned all responsibility for the well-being of Edward V, and likewise for his brother Richard after he left sanctuary, preferring to oppose the legally constituted government of the day, and eventually mounting a rebellion in their
name which thereby embroiled them in treason. Am I the only person who finds this surprising and shocking?
As to the administration, Richard was
clearly acting in concert with the King’s Council from the moment of his arrival in early May. All decisions relating to Edward and his brother about which we have any details, as we know from the Crowland chronicle (despite the obvious bias), are reported
as being Council decisions. Indeed, the references to Richard conducting business with the Council are legion.
This, I think, gives an overall
(although superficial) description of what I see as the constitutional position in 1483 – with Richard acting within his sphere of responsibility for the security of the realm, the Lords in Council working in co-operation with the Protector in the matter
of government and administration, and the Woodvilles having abandoned their duty of care and upbringing of Edward V and his young brother.
I must mention an important item of evidence I have researched which historians tend to gloss over with a phrase or two, and this is the Chancellor’s draft speech to Parliament. In June 1483, in anticipation of Edward V’s coronation that month,
the King’s Council set out its proposals in a speech to be delivered by Chancellor John Russell to Parliament seeking approval for its programme of governance. Although Richard of Gloucester had been appointed in May as Lord Protector of the Realm for
Edward V’s minority under the established pattern, the Council’s proposal was now substantially different. Not only was the protectorate to be continued after Edward V was crowned king, but it was to be continued in a way that mirrored
the kind of tutela or ‘wardship’ which had been envisaged by Henry V for his younger brother.
The full draft speech (in
English) survives and is easy enough to find: my own copy is in S.B. Chrimes, English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, 1936), pp. 168-78. Its text contains an exposition of exactly how the Protector is to have ‘tutele
and oversight of the king’s most royal person during his years of tenderness’ [his person, let us note, in his years of tenderness]. In this Richard is expected to emulate Marcus Emilius Lepidus, twice consul of Rome, who was
ordained by the Senate to ‘take this office of tutele, defence and protection upon him’ in relation to the person of the young son of Ptolomy, King of Egypt. Richard’s proposed control, oversight and protection of Edward V, even after his
coronation, constitutes a thoroughgoing change of role from the hitherto circumscribed protectorate in charge of homeland security. And it is being proposed by the Council for Parliament to approve formally. Should there be any doubt of the total support for
Richard underlying this on the part of the King’s Council, Bishop Russell even manages to slip a couple of jibes into his speech at the expense of the Woodville family title of 'Rivers'. This was not coercion, it was a remarkable vote of confidence.