Richard II: February 1388

Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. Originally published by Boydell, Woodbridge, 2005.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section

1388 February

Introduction February 1388


3 February - 20 March; 13 April to 4 June 1388 (The 'Merciless Parliament')

(C 65/46, C 65/47, C 65/48. RP , III.228-252. SR , II.43-55)

Three rolls, C 65/46, C 65/47, and C 65/48, record the parliament of 1388. The editors of volume III of the eighteenth-century edition of the RP used all three rolls for their text, as follows: pages 228-229 edit roll C 65/46 up to and including item 6; pages 229-236 edit roll C 65/47; pages 236-244 edit roll C 65/48; and pages 244-252 edit roll C 65/46 from item 7 to the end of that roll. The three rolls have been re-edited separately here, and editorial notes indicate where the same text occurs on more than one roll.

C 65/46 is a roll of seven membranes, each approximately 320mm in width, sewn together in chancery style and numbered in a later hand. The condition of the roll is good, though membranes 1 and 2 are stained with gallic acid. The lower half of membrane 6 is blank. The Arabic numerals are of a later date. The text, written in the official chancery script of several scribes, occupies the rectos of the membranes only. The dorses are blank apart from a later heading, 'Parliamentum de anno undecimo Ricardi secundi. Pars prima'.

C 65/47 is a roll of nine membranes, each approximately 365mm in width, sewn together in both chancery and exchequer style and numbered in a later hand. The condition of the roll is good, though membranes 1, 2, 3, 8, and 9 are stained with gallic acid. The Roman numerals and the marginal notes are contemporary. The text, written in the official script of several scribes, occupies the rectos of the membranes only; the dorses are blank. There is no heading to the roll.

C 65/48 is a roll of seven membranes, each approximately 360mm in width, sewn together in chancery style and numbered in a later hand as membranes 8 to 14. The condition of the roll is good. The Roman numerals and the marginal notes are contemporary. The text, written in the official script of several scribes, occupies the rectos of the membranes only; the dorses are blank apart from a later heading, 'Parliamentum de anno undecimo Ricardi secundi. Pars tertia', and a later note, 'Attainders'.

Richard II's initial reaction to the establishment of the Commission of Government on 19 November 1386 had been, broadly speaking, to accept that there was little that he could do to countermand its authority during the twelve months for which it was due to hold power, but to remove his household from the London area so that it would not be subject to the commissioners' scrutiny. His more considered reaction, following some six months spent mainly in the midlands (February to August 1387), was to summon the justices of both the King's Bench and the Common Bench to meet him, firstly at Shrewsbury in early August, then later, at the end of the month, at Nottingham, in order to question them about the legality of the decisions made in the 'Wonderful Parliament' of October-November 1386. The document that he placed before them at these two meetings, the so-called 'Questions to the Judges', set out ten questions relating to the respective rights of the king vis-a-vis those members who had been either summoned or elected to parliament. Who, for example, they were asked, had the right to determine parliament's agenda? By whose authority might it be dissolved? To what extent did the Commission of Government derogate from the king's regality, and how should those responsible for it be punished? Was it legal for the lords and commons to impeach the king's ministers in parliament without the royal assent, and if not, how should those who had done so be punished?

The answers returned by the justices were precisely those which the king would have wished to hear: in effect, they declared that the two most notable acts of the Wonderful Parliament - the impeachment of Michael de la Pole and the establishment of the Commission of Government - had been illegal, and that those who had been responsible for them deserved to be punished as traitors. This, it should be noted, was not quite the same as branding these acts as treason: Richard and his advisers were clearly aware of the perils of extending the definition of treason as set out in the statute of 1352 (although nice distinctions of this kind are unlikely to have weighed too heavily with persons confronted with the prospect of being drawn, hanged and quartered). Whether, as they later claimed, the royal justices were coerced into responding as they did is difficult to know. Strictly speaking, they would have been hard put to it to answer Richard's questions otherwise than as they did. On the other hand, as they must have known, the Questions to the Judges were political dynamite, for, in theory at any rate, they threatened almost anyone who had been involved in the 1386 parliament with the capital penalty. The king and his advisers were aware of this, and initially tried to keep the Questions secret, but by October at the latest the duke of Gloucester - who, a year earlier, had led the opposition to the king and de la Pole - had heard about them, and by early November both sides were clearly preparing for a confrontation. (fn. intF1388-1)

The Commission's term of power was due to expire on 19 November 1387. Anticipating this, Richard entered London for the first time in nine months on 10 November, and on the following day summoned the duke of Gloucester and the earl of Arundel to his presence. When they refused to come, he sent the earl of Northumberland to arrest Arundel at his castle of Reigate (Surrey), but Northumberland was unable to gain entry and returned empty-handed. Instead, on 13 November, Gloucester, Arundel and the earl of Warwick gathered with their retinues at Hornsey (Middlesex); on the following day, having moved to Waltham Cross (Hertfordshire), they presented a delegation sent to them by the king with an Appeal of Treason against five of the king's chief supporters: Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland; Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk; Alexander Neville, archbishop of York; Robert Tresilian, chief justice of the King's Bench; and Nicholas Brembre, former mayor of London. Three days later the duke and the two earls entered London with 300 armed men and once again presented their Appeal, this time to the king in person at Westminster. Richard, taken aback by the speed with which events were escalating, did the sensible thing: he accepted the Appeal and declared that it would be heard in parliament, which, he declared (although no formal summons was issued for a further month) would meet on 3 February 1388. This, he no doubt hoped, would allow him some breathing-space to prepare his riposte.

In the event, the royalist riposte took a number of forms. Richard himself met delegates of both Londoners and sheriffs of the counties in order to try to raise support for his cause, but with little success; Brembre too tried to gather support in the city on behalf of the king, but his efforts were countered by his enemies among the non-victualling guilds, led by the Mercers, who probably at this time drew up the series of charges against the former mayor which would later be used against him at his trial (see Appendix, Item 1); de la Pole and Neville fled, initially to the north of England and subsequently abroad; Tresilian went into hiding in London; Robert de Vere, meanwhile, showing not inconsiderable courage, departed for the royalist stronghold of Cheshire where, having raised an army, he marched south towards London. On 12 December, however, Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick were joined at Huntingdon by the earls of Derby and Nottingham, so that it was the armed retainers not just of three great lords but of five who now marched west to confront de Vere's forces. Less than two months later, it would be these five - Gloucester, Arundel, Warwick, Derby and Nottingham - who would jointly and formally present the Appeal of Treason at the opening of the Merciless Parliament, as a consequence of which they were, and still are, known as the Appellants or Lords Appellant.

The royalist and Appellant forces met on 20 December at what is usually called the Battle of Radcot Bridge, but which was in reality a series of brief though conclusive skirmishes: de Vere's army was scattered and a number of his captains killed, although he himself managed to escape (thanks in part to the fog which shrouded the battlefield), whence he made his way abroad to join de la Pole and Neville. The Appellants then marched to London where, on 30 December, accompanied by 500 armed retainers, they went to speak with the king, who had taken refuge in the Tower. It is probable that at this point they deposed Richard for two or three days, although the evidence for this is not conclusive. What is certain is that the Appellants were now in complete control, and Richard had no option but to co-operate with them. Parliament had by now been formally summoned to meet on 3 February, and there can have been no doubt in anyone's mind that its chief business would be the trials of those whom the Appellants had branded as traitors. During the next few days, the royal household was purged: several of the king's knights and clerks were arrested, while many others (including a number of ladies) were expelled from court. Nicholas Brembre, the only one of the five appellees unlucky enough to be found, had already been imprisoned, and on 18 January the Appellants met representatives of the London guilds to encourage them (which may have been superfluous) to draw up articles of accusation against him. Also arrested were a number of the judges who had put their seals to Richard's Questions.

Three separate sets of writs of summons were issued for this parliament: to both lords and commons on 17 December 1387, to the commons alone on 1 January 1388, and to the lords alone on 20 March 1388. (fn. intF1388-2)

Writs to the Lords

All the bishops of England and Wales were summoned on 17 December, including the 'traitor' Alexander Neville of York, despite the fact that he was in hiding. Of the regular religious, the abbot of St Augustine's at Canterbury, the abbot of Eynsham and the prior of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, all of whom had been summoned in 1386, were now omitted, as was the abbot of Cirencester, who had been summoned in 1385 but not in 1386. The list of lords temporal included two new peers: Philip le Despenser, who continued to be summoned regularly until his death in 1401, but none of whose descendants were ever summoned to parliament; and, more controversially, John Beauchamp of Holt, the steward of the royal household, whom Richard II had elevated by letters patent dated 10 October 1387 to 'the estate of baron ... of Kidderminster'. This was the first time that the status of a baron had been treated as something that could be granted by royal patent rather than arising from the holding of lands by barony from the king, and once again - as with Richard's novel creations in 1385 - it signalled the king's willingness to experiment in an area likely to cause resentment among the peerage. As will be seen, this first 'barony by patent' did not long outlast its creation. (fn. intF1388-3) Also included among the lords temporal summoned on 17 December were Robert de Vere and Michael de la Pole, although of course neither of them attended the parliament. The most notable omission was John of Gaunt, who was still in Iberia. The second set of writs to the lords was issued on 20 March, the day that parliament was prorogued for Easter. Seven lords whose absence from the first session had been noted were told that this was 'to the manifest contempt of the king' and told to make sure to attend the second session. The remaining lords, those in other words who were present, were told that they must without fail return for the second session, in person and not through their proctors. It was unprecedented to issue new writs at a time of prorogation and, apart from demonstrating that the Appellants were keen to ensure as high as possible a rate of attendance (presumably in order to confer legality on their actions), it may also suggest that some of the lords were beginning to wonder whether or not they wished to be involved in the gruesome series of events unfolding at Westminster - partly, no doubt, because they would have reckoned that Richard's loss of power was unlikely to be permanent. (fn. intF1388-4) The list of lords to whom these various mandates were addressed was, however, rather shorter than that drawn up on 17 December. De Vere, de la Pole, Beauchamp of Holt, the archbishop of York and the bishop of Chichester were all omitted (for reasons which will become obvious), as were the bishops of Lincoln and St David's, both of whom were elderly and may not have been able to attend. Since Thomas Arundel, bishop of Ely and brother of the earl of Arundel, was about to be translated to the archiepiscopal see abandoned by Neville, his former see of Ely seems to have been regarded as vacant.

Writs to the Commons

The first set of writs sent out by the king on 17 December for the election of the knights of the shire (though not those for the election of the burgesses) included a clause ordering the sheriffs to make sure that those knights who were returned should be 'entirely neutral in the present disputes' ('in debatis modernis magis indifferentes'). Once the Appellants had taken control of the administration, however, they promptly, on 1 January, issued new writs to replace these, stating that this additional (and unprecedented) clause was 'contrary to the accustomed form ... and to the ancient liberties of the lords and commons of the realm'. Clearly, Richard had hoped to ensure that his opponents would not be able to 'pack' the commons with their supporters, but his attempt to do so - like his earlier attempt to win the support of the sheriffs - backfired; instead, he had managed to create the impression that it was he rather than the Appellants who had tried to interfere with the customary electoral process. In fact, of the 259 known members of the commons in this parliament (74 knights and 185 burgesses), many more seem to have had connections of one sort or another with the Appellants than with the king and the appellees, and the overwhelming impression given by the various sources is of widespread support among the commons - rather more, it should be noted, than among the lords - for the convictions of the 'traitors' brought before them. On the other hand, there is nothing to suggest that the Appellants tried to pack the parliament. Of more significance, perhaps, is the fact that an unusually high proportion of the known members of the commons (seventy-two percent) had sat in at least one previous parliament, while a quarter of them (65 of the knights and burgesses) had been returned to the Wonderful Parliament. (fn. intF1388-5) It is likely, then, that the link with the reforming spirit of 1386, and more generally of the first decade of the reign, was maintained.

The Merciless Parliament - it was the contemporary chronicler Henry Knighton who said that it was referred to as the 'parliamentum sine misericordia' (fn. intF1388-6) - opened at Westminster on Monday 3 February and continued until Friday 20 March, when it was prorogued for Easter, which fell on 29 March; it assembled again on Monday 13 April for a second session, and was eventually dissolved on Thursday 4 June. Thus it was in session for exactly one hundred days, making it the longest parliament held in England before the fifteenth century. It is also, of course, one of the most famous parliaments of the later middle ages and, because of the moments of high drama which it provided, one of the most comprehensively documented. Apart from outlining its principal events, this introduction will try to establish a clear chronology of the parliament, session by session. Firstly, however, something must be said about the principal sources for the assembly.

(i) Sources

The first and principal roll of the parliament (C 65/46: referred to henceforward as the Roll) is set out in conventional fashion. It begins with the opening speech of the chancellor, describes the preliminary proceedings leading to the trials of the appellees (though not the trials themselves), and records the grant of subsidies, the adjournment for Easter and the oaths taken by the lords and commons on 20 March (Items 1-21). It also includes the petitions of the commons, concluding with the oath-taking ceremonies and pardons with which the parliament ended on 3-4 June (Items 22-52). The second roll (C 65/47: referred to henceforward as the Appeal) begins by describing the process by which the Appeal of Treason had come to be heard in parliament, then sets out in full the thirty-nine articles of the Appeal against the five principal 'traitors'. The third roll (C 65/48: referred to henceforward as the Attainders) was clearly intended to follow straight on from the Appeal (it begins with the words, 'the which petition...', meaning the Appeal). It describes the trials of the five principal appellees and records the judgments passed on them. It also records the trials of the judges and the various other persons impeached by the commons of treason during the course of the parliament, and the judgments passed on them.

In addition to the rolls, there are also a number of important contemporary chronicle accounts of the Merciless Parliament. The Westminster chronicler used a variety of written sources to compile his account, including a narrative of events from 11 November 1387 to 18 January 1388 (pp. 208-34), and the so-called 'Process' of the parliament, a narrative of the assembly's principal events which adds important details to what is known from the rolls (pp. 280-96); both of these clearly emanated from the circle of the Appellants and describe events almost exclusively from their point of view. However, the Westminster chronicler also included his own, independent account of the parliament, which serves at times as an important corrective to the Appellants' propaganda (pp. 306-42). He included too a number of official documents from the parliament, such as the thirty-nine articles of the Appeal (pp. 236-68), the articles of impeachment against the subsidiary victims of the parliament (pp. 280-96), and a number of petitions and declarations (pp. 296-306). Henry Knighton also reproduced the thirty-nine articles and occasionally adds some interesting details, for example about the capture of Tresilian. Walsingham included a characteristically lively account of the events of August to December 1387 (especially his description of the battle of Radcot Bridge), but said disappointingly little about the parliament itself.

Finally, there is the 'chronicle' - which is really more in the nature of a political pamphlet - written by Thomas Favent and known as the Historia Mirabilis Parliamenti . Despite its title, this has a great deal more to say about the Merciless Parliament than about the Wonderful Parliament of 1386. Favent was a clerk of Salisbury diocese who was evidently in the pay of the Appellants; he wrote his pamphlet within a few months, if not weeks, of the conclusion of the parliament, and it is notable for its consistently hostile attitude to the king and his supporters. This pro-Appellant bias is, indeed, a feature of nearly all the major chronicles. Walsingham and Knighton had nothing good to say about the 'traitors', and it is only the Westminster chronicler, in his independent but subsidiary narrative, who gives some impression of what a royalist account of the parliament might have sounded like. It is worth remembering at the outset, therefore, that despite the virtual unanimity of the major chronicles, there were some contemporaries who viewed the proceedings of the Merciless Parliament in a very different light. The chronicler of Louth Park abbey in Lincolnshire, for example, may have inserted only one sentence about the parliament in his chronicle, but he made his opinion about it perfectly clear: the Appellants and their accomplices, he said, 'conspired against Richard, their king, and, prevailing with a strong hand and great power, compelled him to summon a parliament in which, contrary to the king's will and the equity of law, they most cruelly put to death certain knights and justices and outlawed others, and did many other things which it is better to pass over in silence than to relate'. (fn. intF1388-7) To Favent, on the other hand, Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick were almost God-like: the 'undivided trinity' (indivisa trinitas), he called them. (fn. intF1388-8) It is an indication of just how deep ran the fault-lines in English politics in 1388.

(ii) The First Session, 3 February - 20 March

The first session of the parliament opened on Monday 3 February 1388 in the 'White Hall' (or White Chamber) of Westminster palace, in the presence of the king, with an opening speech from chancellor Thomas Arundel in which he emphasised the need to resolve the recent 'great disputes, trouble and dissensions' in the kingdom and to restore harmony and tranquillity. Foreign affairs (especially in Gascony) also demanded attention, he declared, and a decision would have to be made about how the next round of military operations was to be financed (Roll, Item 1). According to Favent, the five Appellants entered the hall with their arms linked and wearing 'golden suits' (robes embroidered with gold thread, presumably). Following the customary appointment of triers and receivers of petitions, Robert Plessington, the former chief baron of the exchequer, announced that the duke of Gloucester wished to dispel any suggestion that he had intended to depose Richard and make himself king - presumably a reference to events in the Tower of London on 30 or 31 December 1387. Richard replied that he held his uncle entirely blameless (Roll, Item 6).

After this, the thirty-nine articles of the Appeal of Treason were read out, which, according to Favent, took Geoffrey Martin, clerk of the parliament, two hours. Broadly speaking, the charges against the five appellees were that they had abused their influence with the youthful king, monopolised and misused his patronage, given him evil counsel, incited him to plot the deaths of the Appellants and others who had been involved in the Wonderful Parliament, and held secret and treasonable negotiations with the French; much of this was subsumed under the general idea that they had 'accroached' to themselves the royal power which rightfully belonged solely to the king himself. Not all the thirty-nine articles were levelled at the five appellees jointly: in some cases three or four of them were accused, in a few cases one or other of them was charged individually with a particular act of treason. In general, however, the range and severity of the accusations made it clear that the Appellants were leaving nothing to chance.

There was, however, a problem concerning the procedure to be followed in prosecuting the Appeal of Treason, for, as the king's judges and serjeants-at-law put it when consulted on the matter, the process of appeal belonged to 'neither one law nor the other' (that is, to neither civil nor common law), so that the legality of using appeal as a means to conduct a state trial in parliament, especially when most of those who were being appealed were not present in person, was dubious at best - and this, it must be remembered, was the answer given by the new set of royal law officers appointed by the Appellants themselves just three or four days previously, for most of the judges who had been in office during the previous year had been arrested for the answers they had given to the Questions to the Judges, and would shortly face accusations of treason themselves. In order to overcome this legal difficulty, the lords made a declaration which would later become famous in English constitutional history: such great matters as were dealt with in the Appeal, they said, which touched so closely the person of the king and concerned peers of the realm, must be judged by 'the procedure of parliament', rather than by the procedure of any lower court. Never before had the judicial - not to say legal - supremacy of parliament been asserted in such categorical fashion, and there was undoubtedly an element here of the Appellants (and their allies in the lords) making up the rules as they went along, in order to ensure that they secured the convictions they desired (Roll, Item 7: Attainders). Nevertheless, it was clear that the trials would proceed.

The only one of the five appellees unfortunate enough to be available for trial was Nicholas Brembre, whose case it was decided to deal with later; for the moment, the Appellants concentrated on securing the conviction of the remaining four in absentia. On each of the first three days of the parliament, de Vere, de la Pole, Neville and Tresilian were formally summoned to appear in parliament to answer the appeal. When, on Wednesday 5 February, they failed for the third time to appear, the prelates, knowing that judgments involving life and limb would now almost certainly be handed down, withdrew from the White Hall (Roll, Items 9-10), while the lords temporal set about the task of determining the guilt of each of the accused on the charges laid against him. This took over a week, but by Thursday 13 February they were ready to deliver judgment: all four were found guilty on all counts, although only fourteen of the thirty-nine charges were deemed to be treasonable (Attainders). De Vere, de la Pole and Tresilian were sentenced to a traitor's death and to forfeiture of all their lands and goods; Neville, being a cleric, was sentenced to confiscation of his temporalities. The day ended with the announcement that Brembre's trial would commence on the following Monday.

Although the king was initially present when Brembre was brought in to face his accusers on Monday 17 February, and would later prove himself ready to try to defend his friend, he subsequently withdrew. The official record of Brembre's trial, sanitised for public consumption, is bland and factual; for a fuller account of the less than edifying spectacle which passed for the 'procedure of parliament' at this time, it is necessary to turn to the Westminster chronicler's independent narrative. (fn. intF1388-9) Brembre began by asking to be allowed legal counsel, but this was refused. He then asked to be given a copy of the charges against him; this too was refused. When he attempted to respond to the charges, he was told that he would only be permitted to reply 'Guilty' or 'Not guilty'. When he offered to defend himself by battle, he was told that it was not appropriate in this case. Throughout this time the commons apparently kept crying out that the charges against him were true; nevertheless, it proved impossible to reach a decision that day, and on the following day he was brought in again. The king now spoke up on Brembre's behalf, but in response scores of members from both the lords and commons hurled down their gauntlets to substantiate the allegations. Eventually it was decided to refer the question to a committee of twelve lords headed by the king's uncle, the duke of York. Their conclusion was that Brembre had done nothing which merited the death penalty, which apparently infuriated the Appellants.

At this point a diversion occurred. On the morning of Wednesday 19 February, Robert Tresilian was discovered hiding within the precinct of Westminster abbey (Knighton says that he was betrayed by his own servant), whereupon a deputation led by the duke of Gloucester immediately walked across from the palace to apprehend him. Forcibly removing him from sanctuary - which is said to have incensed the abbot - they brought him into parliament and informed him of the sentence already passed against him in his absence. When he tried to point out the errors in his trial, he was silenced with the retort that the judgment was irrevocable, and was hastened away to meet his fate, which came swiftly, that same day: he was dragged on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn and there hanged - in the nude, according to Favent.

The next day saw Brembre once again brought into parliament, although it must have been far from clear how the Appellants proposed to proceed. In the event, they summoned two representatives from each of the London guilds - those most likely to have been directly affected by Brembre's actions - and asked them whether they considered him to be guilty. Their answers were inconclusive, and they were sent home. Then the Appellants sent for the mayor and recorder of London, together with some of the aldermen of the city, and asked them whether they thought that Brembre 'was or was not aware of the treasons above specified' - in other words, whether he could be convicted of having concealed treason. Their response was that 'they supposed he was aware rather than ignorant of them'. In that case, the Appellants concluded, since he was guilty of concealment of treason, he deserved to die a traitor's death - and, like Tresilian just a day earlier, he was immediately taken to the Tower, drawn on a hurdle to Tyburn, and hanged. Both Favent and the Westminster chronicler describe his last journey in some detail, emphasising the piety and contrition which he demonstrated as he was led to his death, which apparently brought forth many tears from the onlookers.

The Appeal of Treason was now concluded: all five of the appellees had been convicted, two had been executed, and the remaining three were beyond the reach of Westminster. Friday 21 February may have been devoted to discussion of foreign affairs, for it was announced on that day that the earl of Arundel would lead a naval expedition during the summer. On Saturday 22 February the Westminster chronicler noted that Richard II attended mass at the abbey, but nothing is recorded about the proceedings in parliament during the last week of February. The likelihood is that new lists of charges were being drafted and discussions held about the best way to proceed, for once February gave way to March the Appellants lost no time in returning to their task with a vengeance. No longer, however, was appeal their chosen method of securing convictions. From now on, they reverted to the tried and tested process of impeachment, which meant that, in theory at any rate (and according to the official record), it was the commons who henceforth acted as prosecutors - although, as the chroniclers make clear, they demonstrated scarcely less zeal in pursuing the remaining 'traitors' than the Appellants had shown in pursuing the appellees.

The impeachments began on Monday 2 March, when four of the king's justices (Robert Bealknap, John Holt, William Burgh and Roger Fulthorpe), the chief baron of the exchequer (John Cary) and one of the king's serjeants-at-law (John Lockton) were brought in to parliament and charged with treason. Their crime was having answered the Questions to the Judges in the manner that they did; their defence was that they had been threatened and coerced into doing so. The commons apparently demanded their immediate conviction, but the lords - whose role it was to pass judgment in cases of impeachment - wanted more time to consider the case, and at the end of the day all six were taken back to the Tower. The next two days, 3 and 4 March, were given over to the trials of John Blake and Thomas Usk. Blake was the lawyer responsible for drafting the Questions to the Judges, while Usk, the under-sheriff of Middlesex (and the author of the 'Testament of Love'), was accused of having tried to raise the Londoners for the king in 1387. Blake initially refused to answer the charges against him, hoping that by remaining mute he might save his lands from forfeiture and thus preserve his heir's inheritance, but it availed him nothing. Both men were convicted of treason and executed on Wednesday, with the customary embellishments, at Tyburn; they also both forfeited all their lands and goods.

Thursday and Friday, 5 and 6 March, witnessed the trial of Thomas Rushook, bishop of Chichester and the king's former confessor, and the convictions of the judges first impeached on Monday. No more blood was shed, however, for although all six of the judges were convicted of treason, the prelates promptly interceded for their lives, as did Queen Anne (according to Knighton) and even the Appellants themselves (according to Favent). They were, however, sentenced to forfeiture and imprisonment until their case could be considered further. Rushook, who seems to have been heartily disliked, and who had already (in 1381) been told by the commons to absent himself from the royal household, was also informed that his case would be dealt with at a later stage.

Following this second series of trials, parliament seems once again to have turned its attention to foreign affairs, for the next recorded item of business was the grant by the commons on Tuesday 10 March of a half tenth and fifteenth. It was most unusual for the commons to agree formally to a subsidy before the last day or two of a parliament, and they were careful to have it recorded on the roll that this should neither be taken as a precedent nor jeopardise their continued participation in this parliament. They also specified that the proceeds of the subsidy were to be used to finance the naval expedition which, as already agreed, the earl of Arundel was to lead during the summer (Roll, Item 11).

Two days later, on Thursday 12 March, the third and final series of trials began. According to the 'Process' preserved by the Westminster chronicler, four knights and four clerks of Richard II's household were brought into parliament. The four clerks were John Lincoln, Richard Clifford, Richard Medford and Nicholas Slake; Medford was the king's secretary, the other three were clerks of the king's chapel. Although all the sources concur in stating that these four were arrested, it is only the 'Process' which states that they were actually brought into parliament. In the event, however, no charges seem to have been brought against them, and they were eventually released during the last few days of the assembly, on condition that they make themselves available for interrogation in the next parliament if required to do so.

The four knights were less fortunate: Simon Burley, the leading figure among them and the first to be impeached, was under-chamberlain of the royal household and Richard II's former tutor; John Beauchamp of Holt was steward of the royal household and, as already noted, had recently been elevated by Richard to the peerage; James Berners and John Salisbury were knights of the king's chamber. Whether they were presented with written articles of impeachment on 12 March is not clear, but in any case all four denied any wrongdoing and were taken back to the Tower. The next four days were spent discussing 'the government of the kingdom and the earl of Arundel's expedition', according to the Westminster chronicler, who also noted that there was some discussion of the problem of Lollardy at this time. On Tuesday 17 March the trials of the four knights were resumed; it was probably at this point that the commons presented the sixteen written articles of impeachment against them which are preserved in both the roll of Attainders and the Westminster chronicle (pp. 268-78). In essence, these attempted to associate the knights with the appellees; they too were accused of evil counsel, abuse of patronage, plotting the death of the Appellants and colluding in secret negotiations with the French. The four knights once again protested their innocence and were sent back to the Tower.

By now Easter was approaching, and it was decided to prorogue the session for three weeks. Before departing, the commons were induced to renew the wool subsidy and tunnage and poundage, the previous grants of which had expired at Christmas 1387, until 17 May, thus ensuring the continuance of financial supply for a further two months. All the lords and commons were also obliged to take an oath, which they swore on the cross of the archbishop of Canterbury in full parliament, to keep the peace, uphold the acts of the parliament so far, and be loyal to the Appellants. It was also at this time - on 20 March, the last day of the first session - that the second series of writs was issued to the lords ordering them to make sure to attend the second session of the parliament in person. Although this was due to begin on Monday 13 April, the lords and commons were ordered to be at Westminster no later than Sunday 12 April (Roll, Items 12-14). Having thus ensured both a full house and a prompt start, the Appellants gave the members permission to depart so that they could celebrate the feast of Easter.

(iii) The Second Session, 13 April - 4 June

The second session began as planned on Monday 13 April with a roll-call of the knights and burgesses, following which the commons promptly renewed their call for the impeachment of Burley, Beauchamp, Berners and Salisbury. According to the Westminster chronicler, the next 'fortnight or more' was taken up mainly in trying to press the impeachments of the four knights to a successful conclusion, but it is clear that other business was also dealt with. During the first week of the second session, for example, there was considerable discussion of mercantile affairs, and on the following Monday (20 April) it was agreed that envoys would be sent to Flanders and Prussia for talks about trade. Following this, the business of parliament was apparently suspended for the rest of the week (21-24 April) to accommodate the St George's Day festivities.

It was not merely because other business intervened, however, that the trials of the four knights took so long to reach a conclusion. It was also because cracks were beginning to appear in the ranks of the lords about the justice of what was being done. The impeachment of Simon Burley was especially controversial: 'owing to the strength enlisted for the opposition', said the Westminster chronicler, '[the Appellants] were unable to realise their fervently-cherished desire [of securing Burley's conviction]'. On Monday 27 April matters came to a head when the duke of York 'rose in full parliament' to declare that in his opinion Burley had always been a loyal servant of the crown, and if anyone wished to maintain otherwise he would willingly 'prove his point in personal combat'. This provoked a furious reaction from Gloucester, who claimed that Burley had been 'false to his allegiance', and offering similarly to prove the point 'with his own sword-arm'. At this, York 'turned white with anger' and called his brother a liar, to which Gloucester retorted in kind, and according to the chronicler the two royal uncles 'would have hurled themselves upon each other' had not the king calmed them down. (fn. intF1388-10)

Following this display of avuncular chest-beating, the lords dropped discussion of Burley's case for the rest of the week. The commons, however, continued to discuss it and to press for his conviction. The king tried to persuade them otherwise, sending York and John Lord Cobham to reason with them, but without success. More hopefully for Burley, a split now began to emerge within the Appellant junta itself, with Favent claiming that the two younger Appellants (Derby and Nottingham) began to argue for Burley's life to be spared, while the 'undivided trinity' of Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick continued to insist that he be put to death (Walsingham mentioned only the earl of Derby as having spoken up for Burley). The king personally pleaded with them on Burley's behalf, and Queen Anne is said to have gone down on her knees before them to beg for mercy, but the 'trinity' was implacable, and what is more they continued to enjoy the full support of the commons, who never ceased baying for blood. On Tuesday 5 May, therefore, Burley was convicted of treason and sentenced to be drawn, hanged and beheaded. The only concession allowed to the king was that he was permitted, on account of Burley's former service to the Black Prince, and because he was a knight of the garter, to spare him the full horrors of a traitor's death. Burley was allowed to walk (instead of being drawn on a hurdle), with his hands tied behind his back, from Westminster to Tower Hill, where he was beheaded but not hanged. In refusing to spare his life, it is possible that the three senior Appellants sealed their own ultimate fates, for it was the death of Burley above all that Richard II was to remember nine years later when, in his 'Revenge Parliament' of September 1397, he turned the tables on Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick and appealed them of treason.

If the execution of Burley was the most fiercely-debated issue of the parliament, the convictions of his three fellow knights appear to have been relatively straightfroward. On Tuesday 12 May, a week after Burley had met his fate, Beauchamp, Berners and Salisbury were brought back into parliament to have judgment pronounced on them. All three were sentenced to a traitor's death, although Beauchamp and Berners were spared the drawing and hanging on account of their gentle birth, and were instead beheaded. Salisbury, however, because he had been convicted of treason 'both within the realm and outside it' - a reference to his part in the secret negotiations with the French mentioned in clause sixteen of the articles of impeachment - was obliged to undergo the same fate as the 'traitors' convicted during the first session: he was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn, where he suffered a lingering death by hanging.

With the deaths of the three knights, the bloodletting at last came to an end. Although Thomas Rushook was also declared to be a traitor (on the same day that Beauchamp, Berners and Salisbury were executed), since he was a cleric he was spared the capital penalty and instead adjudged to forfeiture of his temporalities and all his lands and goods. Some time later, before the parliament ended, it was decided that he, along with the six judges previously sentenced to imprisonment, should be exiled to Ireland. Pensions were granted to each of them, although in Rushook's case it was merely said that he should have forty marks a year to support himself 'if any of his friends would give him so much'.

Quite why the parliament remained in session for a further three weeks is difficult to say. A statute allowing both denizens and foreigners to trade freely in all merchandise within England was passed on 14 May, but no further business is recorded until the beginning of June. It may be that arrangements for the future government of the realm were being discussed, for at some point a committee of five lords was set up to 'surround and guide the king': the bishops of Winchester and Exeter, the earl of Warwick, John Lord Cobham and Richard Lord le Scrope. (fn. intF1388-11) The last few days of the session are much more fully documented. On Sunday 31 May, according to Favent, the king summoned the lords and commons to his manor of Kennington, south of the Thames, where he entertained them to a banquet to mark the end of the session (the Westminster chronicler dates this banquet to the following day). On 2 June, John Holand, the king's half-brother, who had recently returned from campaigning in Iberia with John of Gaunt, was created earl of Huntingdon, apparently at the petition of the commons (Roll, Item 46), although in reality this must have been a decision taken by the king and lords. On the same day, a further half tenth and fifteenth were granted, and the grants of tunnage and poundage and the wool subsidy were renewed until June 1389 - although the value of the wool subsidy was somewhat diminished by the stipulation that, in order to allow them to recoup what they had spent on bringing the 'traitors' to justice and restoring order to the realm, the five Appellants were to share a lump sum of £20,000 which was to be taken from its proceeds (Roll, Items 16-17).

Wednesday 3 June was marked by a succession of ceremonies designed on the one hand to secure the permanence of the parliament's work and on the other to achieve a measure of reconciliation. It began with the king, lords and commons attending mass in Westminster abbey, following which Richard, sitting on a throne specially prepared for him in front of the high altar, solemnly renewed his coronation oath, while the lords spiritual and temporal renewed their oaths of homage and fealty to him. This done, the archbishop of Canterbury pronounced a sentence of automatic excommunication against any persons who might in future try to break their oaths or to incite the king to undo what the parliament had done, and to reinforce this a series of pardons and indemnities was also issued in an attempt to ensure that neither the lords nor the commons nor the Londoners would be held accountable for their actions over the previous four months. According to the Westminster chronicler, those thus pardoned included the royalist forces who had fought with Robert de Vere at Radcot Bridge, but they are not included in the official text of the indemnity on the parliamentary roll.

Most of these oaths, pardons and declarations are included among the common petitions (Roll, Items 35, 37-41, 48-51) - indeed the list of common petitions includes very few of the sort of requests customarily submitted by the commons, instead being taken up mostly with the kind of items normally found on the main body of the parliamentary roll. One very unusual request, however, was the first petition submitted by the commons, which asked the king to nominate the quinzaine of Michaelmas next (15 October 1388) as the date for which the next parliament would be summoned (Roll, Item 22). Not surprisingly, Richard's response was evasive, for his view would have been that it was entirely up to the king to decide when to summon parliament - although in fact the next parliament met even sooner than that, just three months after the Merciless Parliament ended. Finally, on 4 June, the last day of the session, the lords and commons formally thanked the king for the 'full justice' which he had dispensed throughout the parliament, the chancellor on the king's behalf thanked the commons for their grants, and the parliament was dissolved.

It would be difficult to deny that the Merciless Parliament deserved its name. Eighteen of the king's friends and servants were convicted of treason during the course of the two sessions, five of whom suffered the barbarities of a traitor's death, three more were beheaded, seven were exiled, and the remaining three only escaped through flight abroad. The legality of the methods which the Appellants employed in securing these convictions was dubious at best: when the judges whom they themselves had appointed just a few days earlier expressed doubts about the validity of the Appeal of Treason, they simply circumvented their objections; their declaration, at the end of the parliament, that the definition of treason which they had applied should not set a precedent, was in effect an admission that they had extended the scope of the 1352 Statute of Treason in order to suit their immediate purposes (Roll, Item 40); the trial of Nicholas Brembre was a travesty, while in order to secure the person of Tresilian they had violated the sanctuary of Westminster abbey (an act for which Gloucester later felt obliged to apologise to the abbot). (fn. intF1388-12) The Appellants would doubtless have claimed that they had no option but to resort to such drastic methods: England was not well governed during the thirteen-eighties, and both lords and commons had been attempting for many years to persuade the king to see the error of his ways - to listen to sounder advice, to moderate his generosity to his friends, and to husband the crown's resources - but whatever sanctions they had employed to try to ensure the success of their reforms, the king and his ministers had repeatedly broken their word. Three or four years hence, they might also have claimed that what they had done in 1388 had successfully excised the cancer in the English body politic, for Richard certainly showed himself more willing during the early thirteen-nineties to accept a measure of conciliar control and to pursue policies acceptable to a broader spectrum of his subjects. In this sense, the 'parliamentum sine misericordia' clearly taught Richard a lesson, and it was a lesson he never forgot. Nine years later, when his chance came to wreak vengeance on those who had so mercilessly humiliated him, they may well have wished that he had.

Appendix February 1388

February 1388



Petition (in English) to 'the most noble and worthiest lords, most rightful and wisest council to our liege lord the king', from the Mercers' Company of London, concerning numerous deceptions and oppressions practised against them and other citizens of London by Nicholas Brembre, knight and mayor of London from 1383 to 1386. According to Pamela Nightingale, A Medieval Mercantile Community: The Grocers' Company and the Politics and Trade of London, 1000-1485 (New Haven, 1995), 312, this petition was initially drawn up in November 1387 and presented to the Lords Appellant. The petition from the Mercers also seems to have formed the basis for the subsequent petitions from the Cordwainers and other crafts which were used to help convict Brembre during his trial in parliament in February 1388. For the complaints of the Cordwainers, see (1b) below. According to RP , III.227, in the same bundle of petitions there were also found similar petitions from the Founders, Saddlers, Painters, Armourers, Pinners, Embroiderers, Spurriers and Bladesmiths, 'most of which are imperfect'.

The complaints of the Mercers were as follows:

That, following the mayoralty of the draper John of Northampton (1381-3), Brembre was chosen to be mayor (in 1383) not by free election but by force; that, in the same year, he caused many of his supporters to be armed, against the king's peace, whereby he killed certain persons, imprisoned some, and forced others to flee the city out of fear; that in the following year (1384), he decreed that only those who were summoned by him could elect the mayor, and then armed his own supporters so that they could drive off others who had assembled at the Guildhall to elect the mayor; that since that time the office of mayor had been held by force, and any persons who dared to complain about this were imprisoned at his pleasure and regarded as disloyal to the king; the same was done to any persons who complained to lords of Brembre's behaviour; that any persons who opposed Brembre, as had the Mercers and other crafts of the city, had been impeached for breaking the peace and slandered as traitors to the king; Brembre had also declared openly that twenty or thirty of the Mercers ought to be drawn and hanged; that in order to sustain his deceptions, he frequently misrepresented the wishes of the king, saying that men who admitted their falsity to the king would be forgiven, whereas when these persons offered to prove their loyalty to the king they were sent to prison either by Brembre himself or by the present mayor (Nicholas Exton, fishmonger, mayor of London 1386-8); that the Mercers had frequently been ordered by Brembre to do unprofitable things and to desist from doing profitable things, as for example when a group of women sought to approach the king to seek his grace but were prohibited from doing so; and that Brembre and his supporters misused and abused their power, which caused division within the city and the realm.

The Mercers thus ask the lords of the council to right these wrongs and to inform the king about them; they also ask that if any of them have been accused of crimes before them or before the king, they be allowed to respond to such charges; they also ask that the statute made in the sixth year of Richard II's reign, by which victuallers were barred from holding judicial office in London and all other towns of the realm, should be upheld and enforced (Parliament of October 1382, Items 55-64).

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.225-6.


Petition (in French) to the king and lords 'of this present parliament' from the Cordwainers of the city of London complaining that - whereas the election of the mayor of London ought by ancient franchise to be a free election on 13 October each year - in 1383, when John of Northampton was ousted as mayor, Brembre was chosen in his place by force and contrary to the peace, for which he and his supporters should be punished for accroaching the royal power without the consent of king and parliament; that he and his accomplices came suddenly to Cheap and there beheaded the cordwainer John Constantine (in February 1384) and put several other cordwainers in prison, without allowing them any response; that he and his accomplices proclaimed on 12 October 1384 that no-one should be so bold as to go to the Guildhall on the following day to elect the mayor except those whom he had summoned, on which day, at the Guildhall, he armed a great number of men, who fell upon those who had come to elect a mayor, as a result of which Brembre was elected, and he continued to rule the city by force; that he conspired to put to death several good men of the city, and drew up false indictments against them, as the present mayor, Nicholas Exton, can show the king; and that, having drawn up these false indictments, Brembre and his accomplices secured a charter of pardon from the king for their deeds.

The Cordwainers ask that the Statute of 1382 prohibiting victuallers from holding judicial office in London or other towns (see 1a above) should be upheld and enforced.

The Cordwainers also complain that the present mayor, Nicholas Exton, who was elected by Brembre and his accomplices contrary to the city's franchise of free election, burnt a book called the Jubilee Book which contained all the articles concerning the government of the city; for which Exton, Brembre and their accomplices ought to be punished for accroaching the royal power and destroying ancient laws and customs.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.226-7.


Petition to the king and lords in parliament from the master and scholars of University Hall College, Oxford (or 'Michel University Hall'), concerning 17 acres of meadow which they claim, and to which, so they say, Edmund Fraunceys and his wife Idonea have no right.

Endorsed : The case is to be heard and determined by the king's council, and in the meantime the process concerning it is to cease.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.176. (See CCR 1385-9 , 517)


Petition to the king and lords of parliament from the prior of St Frideswide's, Oxford, to allow him to continue to hold his ancient fair on the feast of St Frideswide, despite the attempts of the chancellor and scholars of Oxford University to prevent it taking place.

No endorsement

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.176.


Petition to the king and lords of parliament from John (Fordham), bishop of Durham, requesting that the lands and tenements lying within the County Palatine of Durham which have been forfeited by Michael de la Pole and Roger Fulthorpe by judgment of this parliament should not be seized into the king's hands, as has been ordained by statute in this parliament, since that would disinherit the bishop and his successors of their rights in the said lands.

Endorsed : The king wills that a remedy for this be devised by his council, always saving his right.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.177.


Petition to the king from John de Holand claiming that certain manors, hundreds and advowsons formerly held by James Audley of Helegh and Nigel Loryng were granted to him by letters patent of the king, but that he was then obliged, through the incitement of certain persons about the king, to surrender these letters for cancellation in the chancery; he now asks that this cancellation be annulled and the lands restored to him.

Endorsed : Because this case is well known, new letters patent are to be drawn up restoring the lands to Holand.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.177.


Petition to the king and lords in parliament from the dean and canons of the college of Westminster complaining that King Edward III enfeoffed the duke of Lancaster and other feoffees with various manors, rents and tenements in Kent and Hampshire, with which he intended that the feoffees should endow the college under the terms of his last will; and although the feoffees attempted to fulfil the former king's wishes, Simon Burley purchased letters patent from the present king granting the lands to him, thus disinheriting the college, and now the lands have been taken into the king's hands as a result of the said Simon's forfeiture. They therefore pray that the lands be restored and perpetually amortised to them

Endorsed : Let them sue to the council, whom the king wishes to have power to do justice to them.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.178.


Two petitions to the king and lords in parliament from the abbot and monks of St Mary Graces by the Tower of London asking that the lands in Kent, Devon, Somerset, Cornwall and elsewhere which Edward III enfeoffed to their use in his will now be granted to them in accordance with the former king's intentions; they were instead granted to Simon Burley and Robert de Vere, duke of Ireland, but have now been taken into the king's hands following the forfeiture of Burley and de Vere.

Endorsed : Let them sue to the council, which shall have power to do justice to them.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.179-80.


Petition to the king from the prior and convent of King's Langley (Hertfordshire) asking that the lands in Kent which Edward III enfeoffed to their use in his will now be granted to them in accordance with the former king's intentions; they were instead granted to Simon Burley, but have now been taken into the king's hands following the forfeiture of Burley.

Endorsed : Let them sue to the council, which shall have power to do justice to them.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.180.


Petition to the king and council in parliament from the abbot and church of St Peter in Gloucester concerning a dispute with the abbot and church of Vale Royal over the advowson of the church of St Paterne of Lampadarnvaur (South Wales), which case has been much delayed for various reasons; they now ask that the case be heard.

Endorsed : The king wills that the case be continued in its present state until the next parliament.

Further endorsement : At the parliament held at Cambridge [in September 1388] the king and lords agreed that the case be further continued until the next parliament following.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.181-2.


Petition to the king and council in parliament from the abbot of Vale Royal concerning the same case as no. (23) above. They beg the king and his council, 'since title by conquest is the strongest title there can be, and extinguishes all preceding titles', and since the advowson of the church of Lampadarnvaur was granted to them as a parcel of the conquest of Wales, to grant a writ of supersedeas with respect to the abbot of Gloucester's writ.

Endorsed : The king wills that the case be continued in its present state until the next parliament.

Further endorsement : At the parliament held at Cambridge [in September 1388] the king and lords agreed that the case be further continued until the next parliament following.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.182.


Petition to the king, prelates and other lords in parliament from various members of the chapter of the church of St John of Beverley (Yorkshire) concerning their dispute with Alexander [Neville], archbishop of York; they complain that, contrary to the king's mandate, they have been ousted from their livings by the archbishop and his supporters, as a result of which they have been living for five years or more in the diocese of Lincoln, supported by the charity of Richard Ravenser, who has now died, so that they are now reduced to begging. They ask to be restored to their benefices while the cause is pending at the Roman Curia.

Endorsed : Let a commission be established to restore the commissioners to their benefices.

Source : Printed in full in RP , III.182-3. (See CPR 1385-9 , 465).


Grant of various lands formerly held by Robert de Vere to William, archbishop of Canterbury, and other feoffees, to be held to the use of Robert's wife Philippa, following her petition to this parliament. Dated 25 March 1388. By the king in parliament.Source: CPR 1385-9 , 423.


Appointment of Master Nicholas Stotet, clerk, Thomas Gray, citizen of York, and Walter Sibill, citizen of London, to be the king's ambassadors to Prussia, 'at the petition of certain lieges and of the commons in this parliament'. Dated 16 May 1388. By the council.Source: CCR 1385-9 , 403, 408.


  • intF1388-1. Accounts of the Merciless Parliament, including the events leading up to it, can be found in Saul, Richard II , 176-96; Tuck, Richard II and the English Nobility , 111-29; A. Goodman, The Loyal Conspiracy : The Lords Appellant under Richard II (London, 1971), 16-48.
  • intF1388-2. RDP , II.725-7; CCR 1385-9 , 456-7, 460, 477-8.
  • intF1388-3. Powell and Wallis, The House of Lords , 402-4.
  • intF1388-4. HOC , I.29-30.
  • intF1388-5. HOC , I.185-91.
  • intF1388-6. Knighton's Chronicle , 414.
  • intF1388-7. Chronicon Abbatie de Parco Lude: The Chronicle of Louth Park Abbey , ed. E. Venables, trans. A.R. Maddison (Lincolnshire Record Society, Horncastle, 1891), 42.
  • intF1388-8. Historia sive Narracio de Modo et Forma Mirabilis Parliamenti etc., per Thomam Favent , ed. M. McKisack (Camden Miscellany, 14, 1926, 1-27), 21. The main chronicle accounts are to be found in Westminster Chronicle , 234-342; St Albans Chronicle 1376-1394 , 850-54; Knighton's Chronicle , 430-504.
  • intF1388-9. Westminster Chronicle , 308-14.
  • intF1388-10. For the events of the second session, see in particular Westminster Chronicle , 328-42.
  • intF1388-11. Westminster Chronicle , 332.
  • intF1388-12. Westminster Chronicle , 332.