Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. Originally published by Boydell, Woodbridge, 2005.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
Introduction September 1397
17 - 29 September 1397 (prorogued)
28 - 31 January 1398
(C 65/57, C 65/58, C 65/59. RP III.347-373. SR , II.94-110)
(C 65/60, C 65/61. RP III.374-385)
Three rolls, C 65/57, C 65/58 and C 65/59, contain the principal account of the enrolled proceedings of the parliament of September 1397. The editors of the eighteenth-century edition of the RP used C 65/57 as their base text, although it is now accepted that this roll is later and less authoritative than either of the other two rolls, which are almost identical. This edition has used C 65/58 as the base text, and any significant differences with the other two rolls have been noted. Items 87, 88, 89 and 90, however, which have been included in this edition, are found only on roll C 65/57. These items record the decisions made by the 'parliamentary committee' in March 1399, which are discussed below.
C 65/57 is a roll of fourteen 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 14, 5, and 1 are stained with gallic acid. A piece of parchment has been stitched to the dorse where membranes 3 and 2 are joined, and on the recto is a note dated 11 December 1924, 'The parchment sewn on the back of this roll is a waste piece (portion of two writs) used for repairing. Removed and resewn in position'. The text of the roll, written in the official script of several scribes, occupies the rectos of the membranes only; the dorses are blank apart from a contemporary heading on membrane 1, 'Rotulus parliamenti summoniti et incepti apud Westm' die lune proximo post festum exaltacionis Sancte Crucis anno regni domini regis Ricardi secundi vicesimo primo, et abinde ad villam Salop' in quindena Sancti Hillarii tunc proximo futuro adjornati'; a later heading on the same membrane, 'Parliamentum de anno 21 o R. 2 di '; and later notes where the membranes are joined, 'Parliamentum anno 21 R. 2 Westm' adjurnatum ad Salop''. The Arabic numerals are of a later date. The marginal notes are contemporary.
C 65/58 is a roll of thirteen membranes, each approximately 310mm in width, sewn together in chancery style and numbered in a later hand. The condition of the roll is good, though the head of membrane 13 is stained. The text, written in the official script of several scribes, occupies the rectos of the membranes only; the dorses are blank apart from later headings on membranes 13 and 1, 'Parl' tent' apud Westm' 21 o Ric. 2 di et finit' apud Salop'', and later notes where the membranes are joined, 'Parl' 21 R. 2 apud Westm' triplicatur'. The lower half of membrane 3 is blank. A piece of parchment, measuring approximately 310mm in width and 60mm in length, has been stitched to the left side of membrane 7, and contains the text of Item 53 from 'Fait' to 'le tenour s'ensuit' (on roll C 65/59 this same text is also on a piece of parchment, measuring approximately 285mm in width and 80mm in length, stitched to the left side of membrane 6). A second piece of parchment, measuring approximately 320mm in width and 245mm in length, has been stitched to the left side of membrane 1. Its right side is damaged and torn making the text illegible in places. The Arabic numerals are of a later date. The marginal notes are contemporary.
C 65/59 is a roll of thirteen membranes, each approximately 295mm in width, sewn together in chancery style and numbered in a later hand. The condition of the roll is fairly good, though membranes 13 and 1 are damaged and torn. 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 21 R. 2 tripl' prima pars', and later notes where the membranes are joined, 'Parl' 21 R. 2 apud Westm' triplicatur', or 'Parliam' anno xxj R. 2 apud Westm' triplicatur'. There are no item numbers marked on the roll. The item numbered 48 on rolls C 65/57 and C 65/58 is recorded on a piece of parchment on C 65/59, measuring approximately 285mm in width and 80mm in length, stitched to the recto of the head of membrane 7. The lower half of membrane 4 is blank. The marginal notes are contemporary.
In addition to the principal roll, two further rolls, C 65/60 and C 65/61, record the Pleas of the Crown held in the king's presence during the parliament. C 65/60 is a roll of six membranes, approximately 350mm in width, while C 65/61 is a roll of four membranes, approximately 300mm in width, both sewn together in chancery style and numbered in a later hand. The text of both rolls is substantially the same. Roll 65/60 has been used as the base text in this edition, but any significant differences with C 65/61 have been noted. The condition of both rolls is generally good, though membrane 1 of C 65/61 is badly stained with gallic acid and the text is thus illegible. The Arabic numerals on both rolls are of a later date. Both rolls appear to be complete. The major difference between the two rolls occurs at the beginning of C 65/61, on membrane 4 (actually numbered 5). Here, two separate pieces of parchment, one measuring approximately 300mm in width and 880mm in length, the other 310mm in width and 140mm in length, have been stitched to the left side. The larger piece is another record of the text of items 2 to 7, beginning, 'A nostre tresredoute et soveraigne seigneur le roy', and ending with, 'voillez ordeigner'; while the smaller piece is another record of the text quoted in both item 2 and on the larger piece of parchment, beginning, 'Qe come il vous ad pleu', and ending with, 'quasse et adnulle'. Also on the smaller piece are the names of four pledgers, which are not recorded elsewhere; these have been added to the base text.
A noteworthy similarity between the two rolls is evident at the head of membrane 4 of C 65/60 and of membrane 3 of C 65/61. Here both rolls have had another piece of parchment, measuring approximately 310mm in width and 65mm in length, stitched to their left sides. Both pieces record the same king's writ, which has not been copied on to either roll. Also worthy of note is the answer of William Rickhill (part of Item 7, and including the Confession of the duke of Gloucester), which is recorded in Middle English and contains a number of yoghs; this has been written by a contemporary hand.
If the parliament of January 1397 had witnessed an unmistakable rise in the political temperature, it proved to be only a foretaste of the bitterness and bloodshed which was to disfigure the English political scene during the autumn and winter of that year. On 10 and 11 July, Richard II arrested the three men whom he held chiefly responsible for his humiliation in 1387-88, namely, his uncle the duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick. Gloucester was handed over to Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal and earl of Nottingham, and within a few days had been spirited away to imprisonment at Calais, of which Mowbray was captain. Warwick was sent to the Tower of London, Arundel to Carisbrooke castle on the Isle of Wight. A week later, on 18 July, writs were issued summoning a parliament to assemble at Westminster on 17 September, (fn. S1397int-1) and on 5 August, at a meeting of the council in Nottingham, eight of the king's supporters among the higher nobility formally presented to the king an Appeal of Treason against Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick. The 'Counter-Appellants', as they are sometimes called, consisted of the earls of Rutland, Kent, Huntingdon, Nottingham, Somerset and Salisbury, Thomas Despenser and the king's chamberlain, William Lescrope. Having set out their charges, they requested and were granted an opportunity to have their Appeal heard in parliament. If it had not already become apparent what the main business of the forthcoming assembly would be, there can no longer have been any room for doubt on that score now.
The list of spiritual peers who received summonses included the same twenty-seven heads of religious houses as had been summoned to the January 1397 parliament, plus all twenty-one of the English and Welsh bishops - the only newcomer to parliament being the royalist Thomas Merks, who had been consecrated as bishop of Carlisle on 23 April 1397. Among the lords temporal, it was the ranks of the earls which saw significant changes. Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick were naturally omitted, while the distinguishing feature of the three new earls summoned was that they were all numbered among the Counter-Appellants: they were Thomas, earl of Kent, whose father (also called Thomas), had died in April; John, earl of Salisbury, who had been summoned to parliament as Lord Montagu since January 1393, but who had inherited the earldom of Salisbury following the death of his uncle William in June 1397; and John Beaufort, the son of John of Gaunt, who had been granted the earldom of Somerset in the previous parliament.
For the commons, we know the names of 203 of the burgesses and all 74 of the knights of the shire. Later, after his deposition, Richard would be accused of having sent letters to the sheriffs nominating those knights whom he wished to see returned to parliament, whom he then bribed or threatened in order to make them agree to acts such as the grant of the wool subsidy for the term of the king's life (which was indeed granted at the second session of the parliament). (fn. S1397int-2) Whether or not Richard did this, the list of members returned to the September 1397 parliament certainly raises a number of questions. An unusually large number of them (forty-two percent) had never sat in parliament before; more than a third of the knights (twenty-seven of the seventy-four) were knights or esquires retained by the king, more than in any previous parliament of the reign, while many other knights and burgesses were retained by one or other of the Counter-Appellants; in addition, there were several examples of 'outsiders', often men attached to the king or one of his supporters, being returned for counties in they held neither land nor office. (fn. S1397int-3)
It may be that this reflects not so much pressure on the part of Richard and his supporters as reluctance on the part of some well-established members of the gentry to partake in the condemnation of the king's opponents - for, as already noted, there can have been few misapprehensions on the part of those who were elected as to what was going to be expected of them. Once assembled at Westminster, moreover, their suspicions would have been rapidly confirmed. Westminster Great Hall was being rebuilt at this time, so that for the plenary sessions of parliament Richard had a temporary hall - a kind of marquee ( magno tentorio ), according to the author of the Eulogium Historiarum - constructed in the palace yard, with an elevated throne from which he could preside over the proceedings. He had also gathered hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of his Cheshire archers in London for the parliament, and had instructed his chief supporters among the higher nobility to do the same; the same author describes the king on his way to parliament as 'riding menacingly through the middle of London surrounded by five thousand armed men, most of whom were malefactors'. (fn. S1397int-4) According to another account, the king placed his Cheshire archers around Westminster palace yard so that they surrounded the parliament building - indeed, on one occasion when they suspected (wrongly) that 'some quarrel or dissension' had broken out, they even drew their bows and prepared to shoot, until the king went across and calmed them down. (fn. S1397int-5) All in all, there was clearly every incentive for members of the commons to do the king's bidding.
The parliament of September 1397, sometimes known as Richard II's 'Revenge Parliament', is one of the most dramatic and well-documented assemblies of the later middle ages, and many full accounts of it can be found in the modern literature on Richard II's reign. (fn. S1397int-6) The main aim of this introduction will be to try to establish a clear chronology of the proceedings. Before that, however, something must briefly be said about the contemporary sources for the parliament.
The official records consist of two separate rolls: the principal roll of the parliament, set out according to the customary format, which will be referred to as the Roll; and a roll of pleas of the crown, referred to here as the Pleas. The main purpose of the Pleas was to set out in detail the charges against, and the records of the trials of, those who were appealed of treason in the parliament. A certain amount of this is repeated on the Roll, but in less detail.
Of the narrative sources, the most detailed and comprehensive is a tract, probably compiled by a clerk of the royal chancery, which evidently circulated quite widely, since it came into the hands of two chroniclers, Adam Usk and the monk of Evesham abbey, who used it as the basis of their accounts of the parliament. Both chroniclers were hostile to the king, and both added phrases or longer passages to the tract in order to portray Richard II and his supporters in an unfavourable light. The particular value of this tract lies, firstly, in its attempt to provide a clear chronology of the parliament (or at least of the first session), which, however, is sometimes at odds with the chronology given on the Roll; secondly, in its graphic and much-quoted description of some of the trials, particularly those of the earls of Arundel and Warwick. (fn. S1397int-7) It will be referred to below as the Tract.
Several other chroniclers also provided quite substantial accounts of the parliament. The St Albans chronicler's account was actually longer than the Tract, although he did not concentrate so closely on the parliament itself, preferring to dwell on episodes such as Arundel's execution. The author of the Eulogium Historiarum also provided some valuable details. A noteworthy feature of the chroniclers' accounts is the interest they showed in the trial and execution of the earl of Arundel, which seems in contemporary eyes to have come to symbolise the injustice of Richard II's regime.
(1) The Westminster Session, September 1397
The two sessions of the parliament, at Westminster and at Shrewsbury, will be dealt with in turn. The first session opened as planned on Monday 17 September, when the chancellor, the bishop of Exeter, gave the opening speech. His theme, appropriately enough, was that 'there shall be one king for all': the king's subjects must be obedient to his laws, and if they were not, they must be punished. The king was, however, prepared to grant a general pardon for past offences against him, though with exceptions: 'certain points defined by the king' were excluded, as were fifty persons (who were not named), together with those who would be impeached during this parliament. Triers and receivers of petitions were then appointed, to whom the commons were told to submit any petitions that they wished to have considered by the following Saturday (22 September).
On Tuesday 18 September the business of condemning the king's opponents began in earnest. Sir John Bussy, a royal councillor and known supporter of the regime, was presented as Speaker of the commons (Roll, Item 8). The St Albans chronicler claimed that the king 'appointed' ( constituit ) Bussy as Speaker, and that the reverence which he displayed towards the king would have been more appropriate to a deity than to a mortal. (fn. S1397int-8) Yet, while there is no doubt that Bussy played an important part in furthering the king's designs during the parliament, he was also a highly-experienced parliamentarian who had already been chosen as Speaker on a number of occasions, and he may well have seemed an obvious choice to the commons. According to the official record, his acceptance by the king was followed by the appointment of Sir Thomas Percy as proctor for the clergy - a clear indication that sentences involving life and limb were on the agenda. The Roll states that Percy's appointment was made at the request of the commons (i. e. Bussy), because in the past judgments in parliament had on occasion been annulled on the grounds that the clergy - who could not partake in sentences of blood - had not been present (Roll, Item 9). In fact, Percy's formal appointment may well not have occurred until Thursday 20th (see below). On the other hand, there was certainly some discussion on the Tuesday of the role to be played by the prelates, for according to the Tract it was at this point that they withdrew from parliament, from which arose the 'bustle' which caused the Cheshire archers to suspect that trouble of some kind had broken out, and thus to prepare to shoot their arrows.
With these preliminaries completed, Bussy came before the king and the lords and accused Gloucester and Arundel of treason. (Warwick also stood appealed of treason, of course, but it was alleged that he had been persuaded by Gloucester and Arundel to fall in with their designs - and according to the Roll it was the latter two whom Bussy initially accused on behalf of the commons.) The charges against them related entirely to events which had occurred ten years previously: principally, that they had coerced the king into conceding the Commission of Government of November 1386, thereby accroaching royal power to themselves, and that they had risen up in rebellion against the king during the winter of 1387-8 and forced him, in the Merciless Parliament of February 1388, to condemn to death various persons whom Richard believed to be innocent - most notably, Sir Simon Burley. The Commission of Government was then recited in full and promptly repealed: no such commission was ever to be made again, and anyone who asked for one would be automatically deemed guilty of treason (Roll, Item 11). The general pardon granted in 1388 to those who had coerced the king into granting the Commission, together with an individual pardon granted to the earl of Arundel in 1394, were also repealed (Roll, Items 12 and 13).
Although the Roll does not mention this, it is probable that accusations against two other persons were also put forward on the Tuesday: firstly, Sir Thomas Mortimer, half-uncle to the earl of March, who had been one of the captains of the Appellant forces at the battle of Radcot Bridge in December 1387, and who, according to the Pleas, was included in the Appeal of Treason when it was first read out in parliament, although he had not been mentioned when it was initially presented to the king at Nottingham (Pleas, Item 2); secondly, Thomas Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, who, although not actually named in the Pleas, was undoubtedly the 'Father of the Land' accused of going personally to the king in November 1386 to warn him that if he did not consent to the Commission, he would be in danger of his life, and that the parliament might well break up without his permission (Pleas, Item 3). This is confirmed in the Tract, which reported Bussy's assertion, made on Tuesday 22nd, that the general pardon granted to the Appellants in 1388 had been requested by the archbishop, who, since he was chancellor at the time, should have opposed it, as a result of which he ought to be adjudged a traitor. Although the archbishop rose to reply to this charge, the king waved him aside, telling him he would be given an opportunity to defend himself at a later stage in the proceedings. According to the St Albans chronicler, Bussy urged the king not to give the archbishop time to prepare his response, on the grounds that he was a man of such intellect that he would be likely to find ways of outwitting his accusers. It seems clear, at any rate, that the archbishop withdrew at this point, and according to the Tract he 'did not appear there [in the parliament] again'. (fn. S1397int-9)
The official records do not record any business as having taken place on the Wednesday, but the Tract states that on this day 'the aforesaid statute concerning the prelates was utterly revoked', and they were ordered to appoint a proctor to assent on their behalf to whatever was done in parliament. As has been seen, the Roll ascribes this appointment to the Tuesday, but it was almost certainly glossing over a dispute between the king and the prelates on this question, for the Tract also states that initially (on the Tuesday) the prelates had agreed that criminal cases would be determined without their consent (rather than with the consent of their proctor), and the St Albans chronicle confirms that when first asked the prelates had been unwilling to allow a proctor to consent to judgments on their behalf. Thus it was presumably the initial agreement, or 'statute' as the Tract preferred to call it, which was revoked on the Wednesday. (In fact, according to the Tract, it was not until the following day, the Thursday, that the formalities of appointing Thomas Percy as the clerical proctor were completed.) It was also on the Wednesday, according to the Tract, that the king told John Bussy that he would not under any circumstances divulge the names of the fifty persons excluded from the general pardon announced on the opening day, and that anyone who asked him to do so deserved to die. (fn. S1397int-10)
The main business for Thursday 20 September was the formal impeachment as a traitor of Archbishop Arundel, on the grounds of his involvement in the Commission of Government and the Merciless Parliament (Roll, Items 14-15). The archbishop was not present to hear his accusers: according to the Tract, he had come to Westminster intending to take his place in parliament, but had been sent away by the king. The king's reply to the accusation was that since it involved such a great personage, he wished to consider it until the following day, in the meantime, the commons requested that the archbishop be kept in secure custody.
Friday 21 September, the feast of St Matthew, produced what was undoubtedly, for the chroniclers at any rate, the most dramatic episode of the first session of the parliament: the trial of the archbishop's brother, the earl of Arundel. Although this is barely mentioned on the Roll, the Pleas sets out the charges against him and records briefly some of the exchanges which followed. It is the chroniclers, however, who bring life to the proceedings and, while it may well be that their accounts grew in the telling - not least because they wished to portray him as a martyr to the cause of political freedom, and perhaps even to make a case for his canonisation - there can be little doubt that Arundel conducted himself not simply with dignity and resolve, but with almost suicidal courage.
His trial began with the Counter-Appellants repeating the charges against him, whereupon he was brought into parliament, 'clad in a robe with a scarlet hood', which was promptly removed, according to the Tract. He began by claiming the benefit of the pardons granted to him in 1388 and 1394. 'That pardon is revoked, traitor', retorted John of Gaunt, who as steward of England presided over the trial. When Arundel replied that he was no traitor, Gaunt asked him why, in that case, he had sought a pardon. 'To silence the tongues of my enemies, of whom you are one', replied the earl, 'and to be sure, when it comes to treason, you are in greater need of a pardon than I am'. When Bussy joined in, pointing out that his pardon had been revoked by the king, the lords, 'and us, the faithful commons', Arundel rounded on him in fury: 'Where are those faithful commons? I know all about you and your crew, and how you have got here: not to act faithfully, but to shed my blood. The faithful commons of the kingdom are not here ... while you, I know, have always been false'. And when, shortly after this, Gaunt's son Henry, earl of Derby - the future Henry IV - added his voice too, accusing Arundel of plotting in 1387 to seize the person of the king, the earl rounded on him too: 'You, Henry earl of Derby, you lie in your teeth! I never said anything to you or to anyone else about my lord the king except what was to his welfare and honour'. This was too much for the king, who promptly reminded Arundel of the occasion when he and Queen Anne had tried desperately to save the life of Simon Burley, but the earl had insisted on putting him to death. 'Pass sentence on him', concluded Richard, which Gaunt proceeded to do. Convicted of treason, Arundel was sentenced to be drawn, hanged, beheaded and quartered, although on account of his noble birth this was promptly commuted to beheading only. The sentence was carried out immediately, on Tower Hill (where Burley had also died). According to the monk of Evesham, Arundel was followed all the way through London on his last journey by a great crowd of citizens 'who mourned him as much as they dared. Adam Usk had no doubt that the earl had been 'admitted to the fellowship of the saints'.
This is, broadly speaking, the account given in the Tract. The St Albans chronicler told much the same story, although he added a fuller account of the earl's last journey and execution: as he walked through London, exclaimed the chronicler, 'his face never changed colour, and he looked no paler than if he had been invited to a banquet'. It took just one sword-blow to sever his head, whereupon his trunk rose, unsupported, and stood erect for as long as it took to say the Lord's Prayer before collapsing to the ground. (fn. S1397int-11) The author of the Eulogium Historiarum claimed that initially Arundel had refused to reply to the charges against him, 'For I know that you have ordered me to be put to death, in order to seize my possessions'. When urged to throw himself on the king's mercy, he replied that he would submit himself to the mercy of the Supreme King. (fn. S1397int-12) The Pleas also comments on Arundel's refusal to answer the charges against him: once it had been made clear to him that his pardons would not be allowed, it says, he was asked if he wished to say anything else, yet, despite being warned of the consequences of remaining silent, he 'said nothing, nor wished to say anything, except that he asked to be allowed his charter and pardon'. It may be that what the king was really hoping for was an admission of guilt on Arundel's part, preferably accompanied by an apology, and it is just possible that, had he been prepared to grovel as would Warwick, his life, like Warwick's, might have been spared. With Arundel, however, that was never likely to happen.
The monk of Evesham (although not Adam Usk) stated that John Lord Cobham was also put on trial in parliament on Friday 21st, but this seems to be an error, for although Cobham had apparently been arrested as early as 8 September, it was not until Wednesday 26 September that the king ordered one of his sergeants-at-arms to bring Cobham into parliament, and even then he was not actually tried and sentenced until the end of January, during the second session of the parliament. His 'crime' was having been a member of the 1386 Commission of Government. (fn. S1397int-13)
The only other item of business recorded on the Roll for Friday 21st was the issue of a writ from the king to Thomas Mowbray, captain of the town of Calais, ordering him to produce the duke of Gloucester in parliament to answer the Appeal of Treason against him as soon as possible. This, however, was simply a piece of subterfuge on Richard's part, for when, on Monday 24 September, Mowbray responded to this, it was to announce that Gloucester had indeed been committed to his custody at Calais, but that 'there, in that same prison, he died'. In fact, as became clear two years later following Richard's deposition, he had been murdered, smothered with a 'featherbed' in the back room of a Calais hostel, probably on the night of 8 September. Richard, moreover, was perfectly well aware of this, for it was almost certainly he who ordered Mowbray to have Gloucester murdered. (fn. S1397int-14) Nevertheless, at the request of the lords and commons, and on the basis of the charges set out in the Appeal, he was posthumously convicted of treason and sentenced, as Arundel had been, to forfeiture of all his lands, entailed, unentailed or held by others to his use. Since Gloucester was the son of a king, a clause was also added to his condemnation forbidding his heirs from ever using the royal arms (Pleas, Item 7).
The following items of business are recorded on the roll for Tuesday 25 September: (i) the public reading of Gloucester's confession (which was dictated, and is recorded, in English), followed by the examination of William Rickhill, justice of the common bench, in relation to it; (ii) the conviction and banishment of Archbishop Arundel; (iii) a proclamation ordering Sir Thomas Mortimer to surrender himself within three months or face automatic conviction as a traitor; (iv) a declaration by the king defining the 'four points of treason'; (v) the elevation of the county of Chester to the status of a principality, and its augmentation by the addition of certain adjacent lands forfeited by the earl of Arundel; (vi) the king's agreement to a restriction on the number of his sergeants-at-arms, which is one of the very few items recorded for this parliament which might be interpreted as even mildly critical of the king (Roll, Items 16-19, 28-9).
Whether all these decisions were indeed made on the Tuesday is open to doubt, however, for the chronology of the Roll becomes rather confused at this point, and the Tract provides a different chronology. According to this, Thomas Mortimer's case was dealt with on Saturday 22nd, and it was on the Monday rather than the Tuesday that Archbishop Arundel was sentenced to exile. Although apparently contradictory, the evidence of the Tract and the Roll are not in fact wholly incompatible on this point, for the cases of both Mortimer and the archbishop were certainly discussed on more than one occasion during the parliament. On the other hand, it is only the Tract which states that parliament assembled on Saturday 22nd, and, although there was nothing unusual about parliament meeting on a Saturday, the fact that (according to the Roll) Mortimer was given three months from 24 September - the Monday - in which to surrender, suggests that that was the day on which his case was decided. (fn. S1397int-15) More questionable, however, is the Roll's assertion that various other items of business, including the reassignment of franchises belonging to the duke of Gloucester and the earl of Warwick, were dealt with on Tuesday 25th, for Warwick's trial did not take place until Friday 28th, and this could hardly have been done before his conviction and forfeiture (Roll, Items 30-34). It is much more likely that these items were in fact dealt with on Saturday 29th, as indeed is suggested by the opening words of the following item, which begins, 'On the same Saturday ...' (Roll, Item 35).
Wednesday 26th September witnessed the passing of a number of acts intended to consolidate the achievements of the parliament thus far: (fn. S1397int-16) anyone who in future attempted to annul the parliament's decisions would be automatically guilty of treason (Roll, Item 20); the lords spiritual and temporal were ordered, once parliament was over, to swear an oath on the shrine of St Edward the Confessor to uphold its acts (Roll, Item 21); and various matters were agreed concerning the lands and heirs of the convicted lords (Roll, Items 22-4). However, the king also issued a declaration to the effect that he regarded the other lords who had been members of the Commission of Government in 1386 as innocent of any wrongdoing, and that he had no intention of proceeding against them (Roll, Item 26). Apart from John Cobham, the remaining members of the Commission who were still alive were the duke of York, the bishop of Winchester and Lord Richard Lescrope - although in fact the latter was subsequently, on 29 November, forced to admit the error of his former ways and sue out a further pardon from the king. (fn. S1397int-17)
According to Adam Usk, the parliament was then adjourned for a day, and this seems to be supported by the Roll, which does not itemise any business as having taken place on Thursday 27th. The monk of Evesham, who ascribed the decision to oblige the lords to swear their oaths at the Confessor's shrine and the proscription of the condemned lords' heirs to this day, was probably in error here. (fn. S1397int-18)
On Friday 28th September, the earl of Warwick was brought into parliament and put on trial. It is not clear why his appearance was delayed until the penultimate day of the session, but both the Pleas (Item 8) and the Tract agree that this was the day on which his trial was held (fn. S1397int-19) The Pleas merely records that, once the charges against him had been read, he admitted his guilt and threw himself on the king's mercy, as a result of which, although he was initially convicted of treason and sentenced to be drawn, hanged, beheaded and quartered, the king, 'moved to pity', pardoned him his life and sentenced him to perpetual exile on the Isle of Man. The accounts in the chronicles are, naturally, more graphic. According to the Tract, he 'foolishly, wretchedly and pusillanimously' broke down and confessed to everything, claiming that he had been led astray by the duke of Gloucester, the abbot of St Albans and a monk recluse at Westminster: 'and all the time he kept on sobbing and whining and begging the king's mercy'. The St Albans chronicler also described his weeping, adding that he cried out 'with wretched sobs' to all those present to ask them to intercede with the king on his behalf. 'By St John the Baptist', declared the king, 'this confession of yours, Thomas of Warwick, is worth more to me than the value of all the lands of the duke of Gloucester and the earl of Arundel'. At least Warwick's pleas were effective, however: the king, the duke of Lancaster and everyone else, even the Counter-Appellants, were, according to this chronicler, themselves moved to tears, and the king exercised his prerogative of mercy (fn. S1397int-20) Indeed, according to Usk, Richard not only granted him his life but also promised him and his wife 500 marks for the terms of their lives. (fn. S1397int-21) Warwick was given a month to get himself to Man, and promptly handed over to the custody of William Lescrope, lord of the island.
Having thus disposed of his principal opponents, the king now set about rewarding his supporters. The main item of business on Saturday 29 September, the last day of the parliament, was the granting of new titles to those who had helped Richard to rid himself of his enemies. The earls of Derby, Rutland, Kent, Huntingdon and Nottingham were all given dukedoms, of Hereford, Aumale, Surrey, Exeter and Norfolk respectively; the earl of Somerset became marquis of Dorset; Thomas Despenser became earl of Gloucester, William Lescrope earl of Wiltshire, Thomas Percy earl of Worcester, and Ralph Nevill earl of Westmorland; in addition, the long-widowed Margaret Marshal, already countess of Norfolk by marriage, was created duchess of Norfolk in her own right (Roll, Item 35). Such lavish distribution of honours was almost unprecedented, and not surprisingly there were those who thought that Richard was cheapening the titles at his disposal: the St Albans chronicler claimed that his new creations were known 'not as dukes, but as duketti (little dukes)'. (fn. S1397int-22) At the same time, Richard issued a declaration to the effect that he regarded the earls of Derby and Nottingham as innocent of any wrongdoing with respect to their behaviour in 1387-8 (Roll, Item 27). This was necessary because they had joined Gloucester, Arundel and Warwick in the Appeal of Treason against the king's favourites at that time, but the argument was now put forward that in fact they had used their influence to try to restrain the three original Appellants and had 'loyally done their duty to the king'. Whether this declaration was issued at the request of the two former Appellants is not clear, but, as will be seen, they had good reason to suspect that, regardless of his public pronouncements, the king had by no means forgiven their role in the events of 1387-8.
That Richard's schemes for the re-ordering of the higher nobility might not yet be exhausted was also suggested by the fact that on this final day he granted to the earl of Salisbury a writ of scire facias permitting him to pursue his claim against the earl of March for the lordship of Denbigh (which Salisbury had apparently requested the previous Tuesday). This was to be determined at the next session of the parliament (Item 25). For the moment, however, Richard had succeeded in launching the first phase of his programme of proscription, and he declared the parliament adjourned until the quindene of St Hilary (27 January 1398) at Shrewsbury. It remained only for the lords and commons to swear their promised oaths to uphold the acts of the parliament, which they did on the following day. The names of the eighteen prelates and forty lay lords who solemnly filed past the Confessor's shrine in Westminster abbey after high mass on Sunday 30 September are set out in full, as is the wording of the oaths that they took. Thomas Percy swore the same oath on behalf of the clergy, and the knights of the shire were asked if they too swore to abide by it, to which they responded 'with their voices raised in unison', simultaneously raising their right hands to signify their agreement. An additional oath from the prelates bound them to the excommunication of any person who subsequently went back on his oath (Roll, Items 37-43). According to Adam Usk, the king then 'held a great banquet and gave permission for the parliament to disperse'. (fn. S1397int-23)
(2) The Shrewsbury Session, January 1398
Parliament re-convened at Shrewsbury on Monday 28 January 1398, and lasted just four days. One of the noteworthy points about the first session was that, despite Richard's domination of the proceedings, no tax had been granted (nor, it seems, had one been requested), but that was now rectified when, in his opening speech, the chancellor made it clear that on this occasion the commons would be expected to loosen the nation's purse strings. For the first two days of the second session, things went much as the king must have planned, with the passing of a series of measures designed to consolidate and tighten his political grip on the realm. The main items of business on the Monday were the annulment of all the acts of the Merciless Parliament of 1388, the re-affirmation of the legality of the Questions to the Judges of 1387, and the reversal of the judgment given against the former chancellor, the earl of Suffolk, in the parliament of 1386 (Roll, Items 47-8). In addition, the earl of March, who had been in Ireland at the time of the September session, was obliged to swear on the Cross of Canterbury, in full parliament, the same oath that the other lords temporal had sworn at the conclusion of the first session (Roll, Item 46).
Tuesday 29 January began with the Speaker, John Bussy, asking the king whether he might consider granting a general pardon, to which Richard replied by asking what the commons might do for him in return - an unambiguous request for money (Roll, Item 49). Before the financial question could be settled, however, there were still troublesome individuals to be dealt with. Preparatory to this - and an ominous sign of what was still to come - came the appointment of the new earl of Wiltshire, William Lescrope, to exercise the same role as proctor for the clergy as Thomas Percy had done in September (Roll, Item 50). The individual in question was John Lord Cobham, an octogenarian peer with extensive administrative experience whose 'crime' was to have helped to secure the Commission of Government of 1386 (on which he also sat), and to have partaken, as a peer of parliament, in the condemnation of Simon Burley and James Berners in 1388. As has been seen, Cobham had actually been arrested in September 1397 and held in custody since then. His trial, which was held on Tuesday 29 January, resulted in his conviction for treason, for which he was sentenced to be drawn, hanged, beheaded and quartered. As with the earl of Warwick, however, the king was 'moved to pity' and granted Cobham his life, to be spent in perpetual exile on the island of Jersey. Both Usk and the St Albans chronicler report that he expressed regret at this, saying that he had hoped to enjoy eternal life sooner than he now would. (fn. S1397int-24) His lands and possession were nevertheless forfeited, although in the case of lands which he held by entail this was to apply only for the term of his life, thus allowing the subsequent beneficiaries of the entails to inherit following Cobham's death (Pleas, Item 10).
Wednesday 30 January was the most dramatic day of the second session. It began calmly enough, with a repetition of the lords' and commons' oaths to uphold the decisions of the parliament, followed by a declaration from the king that he intended to write to the pope in order to gain spiritual endorsement too for its acts (Roll, Items 51-2). The next item on the roll is described as the 'Bill of the duke of Hereford against the duke of Norfolk'. It introduced what is, of course, one of the most celebrated episodes of Richard's reign, one which has frequently, and not without justification, been seen as setting in train the chain of events which, within two years, would culminate in the king's deposition and death. It has also been the subject of much debate, and only the merest outline of events will be given here. (fn. S1397int-25)
The bill which the duke of Hereford - eldest son of the duke of Lancaster, and the future Henry IV of England - read out in parliament on 30 January contained allegations of the gravest nature not only against Thomas Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, but also against several other leading nobles at Richard's court, and indeed, by implication at any rate, against the king himself. Plots were being hatched, it declared: to kill certain members of the higher nobility (including Hereford himself), to disinherit others (including the house of Lancaster), and to reverse some of the key political and territorial judgments of parliaments held as long ago as the reign of Edward II, in order to boost the wealth and standing of the crown and the latest coterie of favourites who had gathered about the king. Richard himself not only knew about these plots, he was personally involved in them. It was not, of course, Henry himself who maintained the truth of these allegations - that would have been suicidal. The reason why his bill was 'against the duke of Norfolk' was because he claimed that a month or so earlier, in December 1397, he had been approached in confidence by Mowbray, who had warned him what was afoot; when Henry pointed out that the king had publicly pardoned them both during the September session of parliament, Mowbray retorted simply that Richard was not a man who could be trusted. As a loyal subject of the king, Henry felt that he had no choice but to repeat Mowbray's allegations to him (Roll, Item 53; Pleas, Item 11).
It is not clear why Richard waited until the third day of the second session before asking Henry to repeat these allegations in public, for, as the bill makes clear, Henry (or perhaps his father, Gaunt) had already divulged the substance of Mowbray's claims to the king in private, about a week before the second session opened. It may be that Richard was waiting for Mowbray to arrive at Shrewsbury, but realised by the Wednesday that he had no intention of doing so. Once he realised this, Richard seems to have decided to bring the session to a premature end, perhaps in order to pre-empt the outbreak of any disputes which might have arisen between members of the higher nobility as a result of Mowbray's allegations, or perhaps because he had decided that before any further progress could be made he would have to bring Mowbray into custody. In any event, Thursday 31 January witnessed a considerable amount of formal business, much of it probably transacted rather hastily in order to tie up the loose ends of the king's programme before the dissolution. Proclamations were issued that no-one (principally, that probably meant, the king's supporters) would be prosecuted for any thefts, homicides and so forth committed around the time of the battle of Radcot Bridge (Roll, Item 69), and that anyone who possessed a copy of the charter of pardon granted to the earl of Arundel in 1394 must surrender it to the king forthwith (Roll, Item 70). The duke of Hereford knelt before the king in full parliament and, admitting that he had in the past partaken in various deeds which had been contrary to Richard's majesty, begged his pardon (Roll, Item 67). Whether his receipt of that pardon, and of the king's 'good lordship', left him greatly reassured is impossible to say, but it would not be long before he discovered - if he did not already know - the value of Richard's pardons. The judgments of 1321 and 1327 condemning the Despensers were recited (at great length) and annulled, and their descendant Thomas Despenser, the new earl of Gloucester, was given permission to sue for the recovery of the lands they had held. This, like the writ of scire facias granted to the earl of Salisbury in September 1397, was a decision with potentially divisive ramifications, and in return Despenser had to indemnify the king and ten of the leading nobles against the consequences of any such suits with respect to their possessions (Roll, Items 55-66, 71-2). The king issued a general pardon - excluding those who had risen up with the Appellants in 1387, who were told that they must sue for individual pardons - and in return the commons granted the king the wool subsidy for the term of his life, which was unprecedented, plus one and a half fifteenths and tenths with no conditions attached, which was also unprecedented, although the commons did suggest to the king that he might consider distributing some of this money to the royalist veterans of Radcot Bridge and to the Counter-Appellants as a reward for their services on his behalf (Roll, Items 75-7).
The link between the issue of a general pardon and the grant of taxation was made explicit by Richard in the final item before the dissolution, when he declared that if in future anyone attempted to reverse the grant of the wool subsidy for life, the pardon would automatically be invalidated (Roll, Item 78). In addition, this grant of the wool subsidy has often been associated with the final act of the Shrewsbury session which requires comment, that is, the appointment of the so-called 'parliamentary committee'. This committee, which comprised five dukes, the marquis of Dorset, six earls and six knights of the shire - most of them firm supporters of the king - was set up to deal with 'various petitions' which had been brought to the attention of the king but which 'because of the lack of time cannot easily be decided at present'. The first item of business to be entrusted to it was the Hereford-Norfolk dispute (Roll, Item 74; Pleas, Item 11). This combination of a guaranteed long-term source of tax revenue with the delegation of parliamentary powers might indicate - or so it has been suggested - that Richard was planning to do away with parliament entirely and to govern instead through a committee of hand-picked supporters. In fact this seems unlikely, and it is worth noting that although both the committee and the wool grant were criticised in the deposition articles of 1399, these criticisms did not include any suggestion that Richard intended either to abolish or to ignore parliament. On the other hand, article eight of the deposition charges did assert that the king had acted in a manner 'derogatory to the state of parliament and to the prejudice of the whole realm', not so much by setting up the committee in the first place, but by later extending the range of business falling within its competence and altering the roll of parliament in order to give the appearance that it had the authority to do this. (fn. S1397int-26) As was demonstrated a long time ago, there was almost certainly some truth in this accusation, and it is this which (in part) accounts for the differences in wording between different copies of the rolls of parliament mentioned at the beginning of this introduction. These differences are to be found in Item 74 of the Roll, which records the appointment of the committee: in essence, they extended the remit of the committee to deal not just with outstanding petitions but also with 'various other matters and things which have been raised in the presence of the king', along with 'everything which follows from them' (see Appendix, Item 1). Whereas the original roll of the parliament, written in 1398, did not include this phraseology, a second version written in 1399 did. (fn. S1397int-27) This naturally begs the question as to why Richard felt it necessary to alter the roll in this fashion. The answer lies in the business subsequently dealt with by the committee, which is also included on the roll.
This business is recorded in items 80-90 of the Roll and items 11-13 of the Pleas. Five meetings of the parliamentary committee are mentioned. The first was at Bristol on 19 March 1398, when five petitions outstanding from the parliament were considered, relating to the Calais Mint, tanners and shoemakers, the Staple, the repairs which were required to Calais harbour, and the problems caused by weirs and sluices on rivers (Roll, Items 80-84). These were, it seems, the only written common petitions considered by the parliament of 1397-8 (or at least by the committee in its name), the focus of which had been maintained single-mindedly on the king's personal and political agenda. Two 'statutes' were also agreed by the committee on this day: the first declared that anyone who tried to annul the proceedings of the 1397-8 parliament would be held to have committed treason, the second extended the customary oaths to the king which were taken by bishops when they received their temporalities and by lords when they performed homage for their lands, to include a clause swearing to uphold the acts of the parliament (Roll, Items 85-6). The Hereford-Norfolk dispute was also considered on this day, when it was agreed to defer it to a later meeting (Pleas, Item 11).
The second meeting of the committee took place on 29 April at Windsor, when the decision was taken that the Hereford-Norfolk dispute should be decided according to trial by battle. The sequel to this is well known: the duel between Hereford and Norfolk was fixed for 16 September 1398, on which day the two dukes, the king and a great crowd of courtiers arrived to watch what promised to be the social event of the year, only for Richard to decide at the last moment to take the dispute into his own hands, cancel the duel and announce his decision to banish both men: Hereford was exiled for ten years, Norfolk for life. As justification for this, Richard claimed the authority of the parliamentary committee: this, then, was the third meeting of the committee. Appended to this decision, on the roll of pleas, is a certificate from the men of Lowestoft confirming that Norfolk duly left their port for the continent on the afternoon of 19 October (Pleas, Items 11-12).
At the time when he banished them, Richard granted both Hereford and Norfolk letters patent declaring that if any inheritances should fall in to them during their exile, they would be allowed livery of them, with homage and fealty respited until such time as they could perform them in person. Six months later, however, following the death of John of Gaunt in early February 1399, Richard failed to honour this promise. At the fourth meeting of the parliamentary committee, held at Westminster on 18 March 1399, he revoked his letters patent to both dukes, clearly signalling his intention to take custody of their inheritances into his own hands. At the same time, those lords and knights who were present were once again obliged to swear to uphold these decisions as a part of the acts of the 1397-8 parliament, on penalty of being adjudged guilty of treason (Roll, Items 87-90). On the same day, the opportunity was also taken to declare Sir Robert Plessington, who had died in 1393, posthumously convicted of treason for having joined the Appellant rising of 1387, and his lands forfeit to the king (Pleas, Item 13).
One more meeting of the parliamentary committee was held, on 23 April 1399, when Henry Bowet was condemned as a traitor for aiding and abetting Hereford in drawing up the petition which led to the original grant of letters patent - although since he was a clerk, Bowet's initial death sentence was commuted to exile (Pleas, Item 14). This survey of the committee's decisions suggests the reason why Richard decided to extend its powers and alter the roll of the parliament. He was not content simply to use the committee to deal with matters left over from the parliament; he also wished to use it as an instrument of his continuing vengeance. Even if the decision to revoke Hereford's and Norfolk's letters patent arguably fell within its original remit - since it had been given the power to determine the dispute - the condemnations of Plessington and Bowet certainly did not. That is why Richard had the parliamentary roll re-written, probably in May 1399.
The parliament of September 1397 to January 1398 was Richard II's last parliament. It was his decision to revoke his letters patent to Hereford, so it is often argued, that was his fatal mistake. This is what gave a semblance of legality to Hereford's unauthorised return from exile in the summer of 1399 and won him the popular support necessary to seal his triumph and become King Henry IV. By the end of September, Richard had been deposed, and by the end of February 1400 he was almost certainly dead, murdered on Henry's orders in Pontefract castle. The opinion of the majority of English chroniclers was that, from the summer of 1397 if not before, Richard had ruled in a cruel, domineering and blatantly partisan manner; that his behaviour in the parliament of 1397-8 exhibited all these traits; and that he fully deserved the fate which befell him two years later. It is, however, worth remembering that nearly all these chroniclers were writing after 1399, in the knowledge of Richard's failure. There is, in fact, only one surviving chronicle account of the parliament of 1397-8 which was written before the king's deposition, the so-called 'Short Kirkstall Chronicle', written at the Cistercian abbey of Kirkstall in Yorkshire. This provides a very different view of the parliament. Richard, it says, 'recalling to mind the injustices which had been inflicted upon himself and the kingdom by a number of lords in the year of Christ 1388, determined to right those injustices'. There is no sympathy here for Gloucester, Arundel or Warwick. The king, 'tempering the wine of justice with the oil of clemency', meted out sentences where deserved, yet still spared some of those whom he had it in his power to destroy. 'How admirable and long-suffering is the king's forbearance!' the chronicler concluded: 'Previously the sun was hidden behind a cloud - in other words, the royal majesty was obscured by a hostile force - but now, soaring in arms above the mountains and bounding over the hills with his might, he has dispersed the clouds with his sun, whose light shines ever more brightly'. (fn. S1397int-28) This image of a much-maligned monarch firmly yet mercifully reasserting the accustomed power of the crown may not be a familiar one, and it might well be argued that the rolls of the parliament tell a rather different story, but it is worth remembering that Richard secured a remarkable (albeit temporary) triumph in the parliament of 1397-8, and there were clearly some, and not just those who stood to benefit from its decisions, who believed that what he did was justified.
Appendix September 1397
17 September 1397
The powers of the Parliamentary Committee: the words underlined below were inserted in item 74 of the Roll of Parliament in the second version of the roll, written in 1399. They do not appear in the first two versions, written in 1398 .
Also, on the same Thursday, the last day of parliament [31 January 1398], the commons prayed of the king that whereas they have in their possession various petitions, as well for particular persons as others, which have not been read or answered, and also various other matters and things which have been raised in the presence of the king , which for want of time cannot be well settled at present ; that it might please the king to assign full power to certain lords and other persons whom he shall choose, to examine, answer, and determine the said petitions, and the matters and things aforesaid, and everything which follows from them. To which request the king agreed, and thereupon , by the authority and assent of parliament, he has ordained and assigned John duke of Lancaster, Edmund duke of York, Edward duke of Aumale, Thomas duke of Surrey, John duke of Exeter, John marquis of Dorset, Roger earl of March, John earl of Salisbury, Henry earl of Northumberland, Thomas earl of Gloucester, Thomas earl of Worcester and William earl of Wiltshire, or six of them; John Bushy, Henry Green, John Russell, Richard Chelmswick, Robert Teye and John Golafre, knights coming to parliament, or three of them, to examine, answer, and fully determine both all the said petitions, and the matters contained in the same, and all other matters and things raised in the presence of the king, and everything which follows from them which has not been determined, according as shall seem best to them by their good advice and discretion in the matter, by the aforesaid authority of parliament.
Sources: Public Record Office C 65/57, C 65/58 and C 65/59. Cf J. G. Edwards, 'The Parliamentary Committee of 1398', EHR , 40 (1925), 321-33.
Pardon to John de Haukeston, knight of the county of Chester, for the murder of William Laken at the time when Laken came to London in September 1397 to prosecute his suit against Haukeston and Robert de Kendall, esquire of Shropshire, both in parliament and before the council. Laken had sued out various writs of privy seal against Haukeston and Kendall in respect of certain extortions and oppressions against himself and others, but Haukeston and Kendall lay in wait for him in Fleet Street, where he was coming to meet his lord, the earl of Derby, where on Saturday 29 September they struck him and killed him with a sword, 'in the presence of the king and the whole parliament'. Pardon dated 25 October 1398. Source: CPR 1396-9 , 427.