Turning back the clock: the Readeption Parliament of Henry VI, 1470-71

In today’s blog Dr Hannes Kleineke, editor of our Commons 1461-1504 project, looks back to the winter of 1470, as Henry VI found himself on the throne once more...

On 26 November 1470 a Parliament assembled at Westminster. This was in itself no remarkable event, even if there had been no such assembly for over two years. What was remarkable was that for the first time since the late summer of 1460 the writs for the Parliament had been issued in the name of Henry VI, who had been released from the Tower, declared restored to the throne, and installed in the bishop of London’s palace near St Paul’s just weeks earlier.

The bishop’s palace at the northwestern corner of St Paul’s Cathedral, taken from ‘Old St Paul’s Cathedral in London’, Early Christian Architecture by Francis Bond, 1875 via Wikimedia Commons

Following more than a year of popular unrest stirred up by the King Edward IV’s brother, George, duke of Clarence, and their cousin, Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, and a period of captivity at Warwick’s hands, in the summer of 1470 Edward IV had at last appeared to be secure on his throne. Warwick and Clarence had been driven into exile in France, and the King’s supporters seemed to be overcoming the insurgency in the north. Yet, when Warwick and Clarence returned at the head of a small invasion force assembled with French assistance, the King’s support melted away with alarming speed and at the end of September he himself had to take ship and seek refuge at the court of his brother in-law, Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy.

Henry VI was declared King once more, and, as was by now becoming an established part of dynastic change. A Parliament was summoned to give formal sanction to the new constitutional arrangements. Yet, what the Parliament did, remains largely obscure today. While the record of the decisions of even the most contentious Parliaments of the Wars of the Roses were preserved, no Parliament roll for the assembly of 1470-1 seems to have been compiled.

The first and principal items of business can nevertheless be guessed at: on the precedent of 1461, Henry VI’s title to the throne, and the succession of his son, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales, would have been re-affirmed, and the decisions of 1460 and 1461 that called this into question disavowed. The same, or a separate act would have ensured that the acts of Parliaments and some other administrative decisions of Edward IV’s reign remained in force, even though his rule had been declared illegal: this, likewise had been done in 1461 with regard to the acts of the three Lancastrian Kings. Yet, the restored regime was highly insecure, and – in view of the presence in the new rulers’ ranks of Edward IV’s brother, George, duke of Clarence, and his cousin, the ‘Kingmaker’ earl of Warwick – had to tread carefully over any reprisals against the adherents of the house of York. By contrast with 1461, when a large number of Lancastrian loyalists had been attainted to treason, it is likely that in 1470 any act of attainder would have remained limited, perhaps restricted to Edward IV and the few men who had joined him in exile. Similarly, it is probable that any act of resumption cancelling Edward IV’s grants would have been moderated by the extensive issue of provisos exempting the recipient from the effects of the act. The receiver of the city of Exeter paid one of the city’s MPs, Richard Druell, 12d. for the cost of procuring just such an exemption even before Christmas 1470, and a petition for exemption by the abbess and convent of Syon also survives.

Henry VI

Perhaps the most awkward part of the constitutional retrenching concerned the position of the duke of Clarence. Although no explicit evidence survives, it may be reasonably suggested that the one concession made to him and Warwick by Queen Margaret was that in the event of the failure of Henry VI’s line, the crown should pass to him and his descendants. This represented a double insurance policy for the wily earl, whose grandchildren were thus all but guaranteed the throne by virtue of the respective marriages of his two daughters to Clarence and Henry VI’s son, Edward, prince of Wales. 

Before the Lords and Commons broke up for Christmas, there was one final item of business: as had been done repeatedly in his first reign, the King proclaimed a general pardon available to all comers, and in the four months that followed over 300 copies of the pardon were issued.

Parliament reassembled in the second half of January, and continued in session for other a month. By the end of February, however, the membership probably began to dwindle, as increasing numbers of Edwardian loyalists began to seek safety in ecclesiastical sanctuaries in the anticipation of fresh reprisals and arrests in the wake of Edward IV’s expected invasion.

Like Henry VI’s previous ‘final’ Parliament of 1460, the assembly may never have been formally dissolved, but simply dispersed in late March or early April, as the Yorkist monarch approached London. In 1478, and probably against the backdrop of the final disgrace of the duke of Clarence, its acts were formally declared null and void.

H.W.K.

Further Reading:

Rosemary Horrox, ‘1470: Introduction’ in The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, ed. Chris Given Wilson et al. (16 vols., Woodbridge, 2005).

Hannes Kleineke and E.C. Roger, ‘Baldwin Hyde, Clerk of the Parliaments in the Readeption Parliament of 1470-1’, Parliamentary History, xxxiii (2014), 510-10.

Pardon Rolls of Edward IV and Henry VI, 1468-71 ed. H. Kleineke (List and Index Soc. ccclx, 2019).

Follow the research of our Commons 1461-1504 project via the Commons in the Wars of the Roses section of our blog.

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