Friday, December 19, 2008

A Christmas Newsletter From Richard III and Anne

Another year almost over! Who could have guessed that 1483 could have passed so quickly? Well, time flies when you’re having fun, they say!

First, the big news. Richard got a new job! It involves a lot more prestige and rewards, but also a lot more responsibility, so he wasn’t really sure whether he wanted to take it or not. But after talking it over with family and friends, he decided to go for it, and so he did! There were a couple of minor obstacles in the way, but they weren’t as hard to get around as he thought they would be at first. Anyway, he’s been in his new position since July, and though he’s not one to brag, we think he’s doing a pretty good job in it. Some of the old staff didn’t care for him taking over, it’s true, but some people just don’t like change, even when it’s good for them. We know they’ll adjust.

The only bad thing about the new job is that it requires Anne to do a lot of entertaining, so she had to move to London with Richard and leave little Ned up north with Anne’s mum. We really miss them both, but Ned is doing well. Now that it looks as if he’ll be going into the new “family business,” he’s got a lot of learning to do anyway.

Anne’s mum is such a card, by the way! When she heard about Richard’s new job, she said, “Well, maybe now you can spare me an acre or two, the pair of you!” She’s so funny, she makes the north seem a little warmer just by being there.

Richard’s mum is doing well too. There was a bit of a dust-up when she heard of some foolish gossip about her just before Richard got his new job, which some very silly people blamed on Richard himself! But everything’s been smoothed over now, and she’s back to praying at Berkhamsted just as if nothing ever happened at all. She tells Richard that she prays for him more than ever now, and we certainly do appreciate that.

Anyway, we’re adjusting pretty well to Richard’s new job and to our new digs in London. Anne wants a little company there, so we’re trying to get Richard’s niece Elizabeth—you remember that pretty girl whose father was always trying to pinch someone’s arse—to come join us there. It’s a delicate situation because her mother is VERY overprotective and has her nose out of joint for some reason too. But Richard says that he thinks he can sweeten her up for the right price. We certainly hope so, because if he doesn’t, Elizabeth just might get fed up and marry this dreadful man named Henry who’s been after her hand. His mother (the Henry creature’s, that is) used to be positively underfoot here in London, trying to get her precious Henry a position, and to hear her talk her darling boy could do Richard’s job just as well as he could. The very nerve! We don’t envy her husband one bit—how many times can you say, “Yes, dear,” in an evening? But she’s back at home where she belongs now, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be hearing anything from her and her precious son any time soon—which is just another Christmas blessing!

The best to you and yours this Christmastide.

Richard and Anne

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Richard III and Bail

Aside from Titulus Regius and the attainder of around 100 people for their participation in the rebellion of 1483, Richard III’s only Parliament is notable for some of the progressive legislation it enacted, including the popular abolition of benevolences and the enactment of certain trade and legal reforms. Among the enactments is one pertaining to bail:

Because various people are arrested and imprisoned daily on suspicion of felony, sometimes out of malice and sometimes on vague suspicion, and thus kept in prison without bail or mainprise to their great vexation and trouble; be it therefore ordained and decreed, by authority of this present parliament, that every justice of the peace in every county, city or town shall have authority and power to grant bail or mainprise at his or their discretion to such prisoners and people thus arrested, in the same form as if the same prisoners or people were indicted for the same on record before the same justices in their session; and that justices of the peace shall have authority to inquire in their sessions into all manner of escapes of every person arrested and imprisoned for felony; and that no sheriff or escheator, bailiff of a franchise or any other person shall take or seize the goods of any person arrested on suspicion of felony before the person thus arrested and imprisoned has been convicted or attainted of the felony according to the law, or else the same goods have been otherwise lawfully forfeited, upon pain of forfeiting double the value of the goods thus taken to the person harmed in that respect, by action of debt to be sued in that matter by the same process, judgment and execution as is usually used in other actions of debt sued at the common law; and no essoin or protection shall be allowed in any such action, and the defendant in any such action shall not be admitted to wage or do his law. [The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, C. Given-Wilson et al., eds.]

While Richard III should be given due credit for this provision, which may have been the product of his own initiative and certainly would have required his approval, some of the more enthusiastic of his supporters have gone so far as to credit Richard with actually originating the right to bail. This extravagant claim crops up fairly frequently on the Internet, and has even made it to print. One example can be found in Richard III: The Maligned King, where author Annette Carson writes: “To Richard’s Parliament . . . we owe our right to be judged fairly by our peers, to enjoy bail, and not to have our possessions seized when arrested on suspicion of felony” (p. 232).

We’ll talk about the right to jury trial, which Carson appears to be crediting to Richard III as well, at some other time. (What Richard actually did was require jurors to meet certain property-owning qualifications, as an attempt to reduce jury tampering.) For now, though, let’s move on to bail.

Contrary to what Carson and like-minded Ricardians would have us believe, bail and its kissing cousin, mainprise, were around hundreds of years before Richard III’s Parliament. Indeed, a form of bail existed in Anglo-Saxon times as “bohr.” (If Ricardians really want, I suppose it won't hurt anything if they regard this as a prophetic reference to Richard III’s white boar insignia.)

Bail developed further after the Norman invasion. For a time, any offense was bailable, but this changed in 1166 when certain offenses, including homicide and forest offenses, were designated in writing as nonbailable. As to the bailable offenses, sheriffs had a great deal of discretion, which not surprisingly was abused by men eager to line their coffers. The result was the First Statute of Westminster in 1275, a product of Edward I’s reign. This was meant to reduce the discretionary power of the sheriffs, but proved less than effective, even as both Edward II and Edward III enacted laws to try to curb abuses. Eventually, in the 1400’s, the sheriffs were given less power, and in 1461, justices of the peace were allowed to grant bail. They could do so, however, only for those who were indicted before them. Thus, as noted by William F. Duker (whose 1977 article, “The Right to Bail: A Historical Inquiry,” in the Albany Law Review forms the basis of this blog post), the measure was a “half-way” one.

In 1467, the commons made the following request:

The commons assembled in this present parliament pray, that where several of your faithful, true liegemen throughout this your realm, through malice and ill will, have been arrested daily on suspicion of felony, of which they are not guilty, and thereupon have been taken to various of your gaols, where by law they must remain in prison until the coming of your commissioners for gaol delivery, whereby your said faithful, true liegemen have been greatly impoverished and harmed daily.

Wherefore may it please your highness, of your most abundant grace, having sympathetically considered the foregoing, to ordain and decree, by the assent of the lords spiritual and temporal assembled in this your present parliament, and by authority of the same, that each of your justices of the peace in every county of this your realm, and elsewhere where they are commissioners, shall have full power and authority to grant bail to all your liegemen who are committed to any of your gaols on suspicion of felony, as described above, until the next coming of your said commissioners for gaol delivery; and that the said justices of the peace who take such bail as described above shall put their bills of the same bail before the said commissioners for gaol delivery at their next coming into the area where such bails shall happen to be taken, and the same commissioners shall act upon the same bills of bail in the same manner and form as if the bail had been taken by themselves. [Parliament Rolls]

Edward IV merely responded, “The king will consider this further.”

The 1484 statute enacted by Richard III’s Parliament strongly resembles this 1467 petition. It has been a matter of much debate whether Richard III’s legislation was motivated by his own concern for justice or by a need to curry favor with a populace that had yet to fully accept him as king, and whether the legislation was the product of Richard III’s own initiative or that of others. Even if one gives Richard the benefit of the doubt, the commons of 1467 should surely be given some credit in inspiring the 1484 legislation. It should also be seen in context, as part of a series of bail reforms that had been ongoing since the thirteenth century.

In any event, Richard’s legislation, though a valiant attempt, did not eradicate the problems associated with bail. In 1487, Henry VII’s Parliament complained:

Where in the parliament lately held at Westminster in the first year of Richard III, late in deed and not by right king of England [1484], it was ordained and enacted, among various other acts, that every justice of the peace in every county, city or town should have authority and power at his or their discretion to grant bail or mainprise to prisoners and persons arrested on slight suspicion of felony; on the strength of which various people who were not mainpernable were subsequently often granted bail and mainprise by justices of the peace, against the proper form of the law, whereby many murderers and felons escaped, to the great displeasure of the king and the annoyance of his liege people. [Parliament Rolls]

Henry VII’s Parliament, therefore, ordered that “the said justices of the peace, or one of them, so taking any such bail or mainprise shall certify it at the next general sessions of the peace, or at the next general gaol delivery of any such gaol in every such county, city or town, following the taking of any such bail or mainprise; upon pain of forfeiting £10 to the king for every recorded failure.” This also proved unsatisfactory, though, for the justices of the peace were proving no less eager to profit from their offices than the sheriffs.

This blog isn’t entitled “Bail Through the Ages,” so suffice it to say that reforms continued and that future generations, particularly in the seventeenth century, would wrestle over the questions surrounding bail. In sum, though, if you find yourself in difficulty and have to utilize the services of a bail bondsman, you can indeed give Richard III some thanks—but you also have to thank the Anglo-Saxons, Edward I, the commons of 1467, and many others as well. Let freedom ring!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Real William Hastings

As anyone who’s read a lot of historical fiction set during the Wars of the Roses, there are certain inviolable rules as to how certain characters must be portrayed. George, Duke of Clarence, must be a heavy drinker. George’s son, Edward, must be a simpleton (usually, in Ricardian novels, due to his neglect by his greedy Woodville guardians). Anne Neville, Richard III’s queen, must be meek and frail. William, Lord Hastings, must be a dissipated, badly aging playboy.

Cherished as they are by historical novelists, the evidence for these portrayals is rather lacking. The only thing that points toward George’s drinking habits is the supposed manner of his death, being drowned in a barrel of sweet wine. Little Edward’s simple-mindedness is derived from a single remark made about him in later life that he could not “tell a goose from a capon,” which could mean that he was mentally slow, but could just as easily mean that he was na├»ve, unworldly, or lacking in common sense. (Having at that time spent most of his life as a prisoner in the Tower, it’s not surprising if he was deficient in some respects, like the long-imprisoned Edward Courtenay would prove to be decades later.) The only evidence for Anne’s frail health is her early death, but up until a few months before her final illness, she seems to have been active enough, accompanying her husband in his kingly travels. As for her meekness, almost nothing is known of her personality.

And Lord Hastings, the main subject of this post? While the little the sources have to say on the subject of his sex life suggest that he was a bit of a womanizer, this is hardly the sum total of his personality. There’s certainly nothing to support his portrayal by one historical novelist as a sexual predator with a fondness for raping virgin peasant girls. The one contemporary account of his sexual predilections comes from Mancini:

Hastings was not only the author of the sovereign’s public policy, as being one that had shared every peril with the king, but was also the accomplice and partner of his privy pleasures. He maintained a deadly feud with the queen’s son, whom we said was called the marquess, and that because of the mistresses whom they had abducted, or attempted to entice from one another. [The Latin here reads “idque propter amores alteri ab altero ablatos, aut sollicitatos.”]

Elsewhere, Mancini writes of Edward IV himself, “He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the noble and lowly: however he took none by force.”

Assuming Mancini’s informants were correct, the description of Hastings and the Marquis of Dorset’s abducting each other’s mistresses, while not showing either in a particularly favorable light, certainly does not support a characterization of Hastings as a rapist, especially since his partner in pleasure, Edward IV, is emphatically described as not being one. Interestingly, the Crowland Chronicler, who unlike Mancini appears to have been well connected at court and probably knew Hastings personally, mentions nothing of Hastings’ sexual behavior at all, but states without explanation that much ill-will existed between Hastings and the queen’s relations.

That’s it, as far as I can tell, of contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of Hastings’ sexual appetites. Thomas More writes that Elizabeth Woodville “thought [Hastings] secretly familiar with the king in wanton company,” but gives jealousy of Hastings’ offices and gifts from the king, not sexual rivalry, as the reason he was disliked by the queen’s relations. As for his character, More described him as “a good knight and a gentle, of great authority with his prince, of living somewhat desolate [dissolute].” This rather vague last descriptor could mean a lot of things, but certainly doesn’t support a portrayal of Hastings as a sexual predator. Neither does More’s statement that Hastings kept Jane Shore as his mistress after the king’s death and that although Hastings was enamored of her during the king’s life, he “forbare her of reverence to the king, or else of a certain kind of fidelity to his friend.” (Other than Thomas More, only The Great Chronicle of London links Hastings and Jane Shore.)

Philip de Commines, who had dealings with Hastings over the pension paid to him by the King of France, described him as “a man of honour and prudence, and of great authority with his master, and deservedly, upon account of the faithful service he had done him.”

Hastings seems to have been devoted to his family as well. Having been hustled off to execution without trial by the future Richard III on June 13, 1483, Hastings had no time to settle his affairs on that day, but he did leave behind a will, made in 1481. An abstract of this lengthy document can be found here (p. 368), and it shows a man who, whatever his appetites, was conventionally pious and concerned about the welfare of his loved ones. Hastings makes careful provision for his wife and for his children, and Katherine heads the list of his executors, where she is described as “my entirely beloved wife.” Hastings concludes with a request to Edward IV:

whose good grace, in the most humble wise, I beseche to be good and tender and gracyous Lord to my sowle, to be good and gracyous Soverayne Lord to my wyfe, my son, and myn eyre, and to all my children, whom I charge upon my blessyng to be true sogetts and servants to you my Soverayne Lord under God, and to your eyre, and to all your issue

As this passage and his years of unwavering allegiance to Edward IV suggest, Hastings’ defining quality was not debauchery, but loyalty.