The Commons in the Wars of the Roses

With the History of Parliament’s volumes for the reign of Henry VI complete and due for publication shortly, the focus of the History’s medieval team now shifts to the period from the accession of Edward IV in 1461 to that of his grandson Henry VIII in 1509. This exciting new project will cover the Parliaments of no fewer than five English monarchs: those convened by Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III and Henry VII between 1461 and 1504, as well as the Parliament summoned during  Henry VI’s readeption in 1470-71.

The period not only saw the longest Parliaments held to date (that of 1463 remained in being, albeit in recess, until 1465, while that of 1472 held multiple sessions over four years until the summer of 1475), it also saw a new development in English parliamentary history in the repeated and regular cancellation and delay of individual sessions and even entire Parliaments.

Among the particular challenges facing the team of scholars working on this period is the loss of most of the original election returns for the period, with the exception of those for the Parliaments of 1467, 1472 and 1478. Meticulous work in national as well as local archives has nevertheless brought to light much additional information: the East Anglian election returns for the Parliament of 1461 have in recent years been found among the records of the Westminster law courts, lists of Members of the Commons for two of Henry VII’s Parliaments are supplied by early modern copies in the British Library, and local records have provided the names of many hundreds of urban representatives elected during the period. Altogether, the names are today known of more than 1,300 men who sat in the Commons between 1461 and 1504.  

Nor are the proceedings of the Parliaments of the period without interest. In the repeated changes of ruler Parliament began to adopt a more pronounced constitutional role in facilitating dynastic change, and if Edward IV was prone to use Parliament as a clearing house for his and his family’s property transactions, Henry VII’s Parliament of 1495 stands out as one of the great legislative assemblies of the middle ages.

Those interested in the period will be able to follow the section’s work through a new strand of posts on the History of Parliament’s blog, which will explore individuals, events and themes relating to the dramatic history of the later fifteenth century.

At its inception, the new section is made up of three established historians of fifteenth-century parliament who spent many years working on the preceding 1422-61 volumes of the History of Parliament. The section editor, Dr. Hannes Kleineke, has worked and written extensively on the history of the reign of Edward IV. Alongside a book-length biography of the King, he has published a large number of articles concerned with the political, social, and medical history of the period. His particular interest in the field of parliamentary history are the practical workings of parliament, with a particular emphasis on parliamentary and electoral procedure.

Senior Research Fellow Dr. Simon Payling has worked for the History since 1992. His particular interests include the history of the common law, and the descent of landed estates, with particular reference to marriage contracts and settlement. He has long sought to illuminate the evolution of Parliament through the statistical analysis of its membership, and has recently turned his attention to the medieval House of Lords.

Senior Research Fellow Dr. Charles Moreton is a leading authority on the gentry and society of late medieval East Anglia. Among his principal publications is a detailed account of the Townshend family in the later middle ages, and during his 25 years at the History of Parliament he has written substantial biographical articles on many of the leading political figures of Henry VI’s reign, including John Howard, 1st duke of Norfolk, and the notorious courtiers Thomas Daniell and John Trevelyan.      

The editor of the 1422-1461 section of the History, Dr. Linda Clark, has retired from the full-time staff of the History after half a century of dedicated service, but will, it is hoped, maintain a close association with the project for many years to come.

Stay tuned for The Commons in the War of the Roses blog page coming soon…

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