During the winter of 1461, Edward IV’s first Parliament began. Dr Hannes Kleineke, editor of our Commons 1461-1504 project explores the priorities of the session…
On Wednesday, 4 November 1461, Edward IV’s first Parliament opened at Westminster. It was an assembly designed to set a seal on the change of dynasty that had been foreshadowed in the accord reached in the previous Parliament a year earlier. As had previously been the case, and would be subsequently, there was a reluctance on the part of the King and the lords advising him to give Parliament too active a role in the making and unmaking of Kings. Edward’s accession in March 1461 had thus been affirmed by the acclamation of a specially convened assembly, even though Henry VI’s final Parliament had never been formally dissolved. Moreover, the new King claimed his right to seize the throne by virtue of Henry VI’s breach of the accord of 1460 in rejoining his consort and son after the battle of St. Albans in mid February.
Parliament had originally been summoned to meet in July, just weeks after the new King’s coronation. Yet, the need to root out residual Lancastrian resistance had seen Edward IV go on a progress through the southern parts of his kingdom to Bristol, where on 9 September he had personally overseen the execution of the rebel Sir Baldwin Fulford. He had then turned north and made his way to his childhood home at Ludlow castle, from where he had departed in dramatic circumstances two years earlier. Only at the very end of September did he gradually make his way back to the capital by way of Coventry, Warwick and Stony Stratford.
The King’s cousin, George Neville, bishop of Exeter, as chancellor of England, set the tone for the assembly with a sermon on Jeremiah 7.3: ‘Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place”.’ Once the formalities of the election and presentation of the Commons’ Speaker had been concluded, the Parliament settled down to its main, constitutional, business, probably beginning with a formal declaration of King Edward’s title. Then, the haggling started.
Part of the declaration of the new King’s title was a denial of the right to the Crown of the three Lancastrian monarchs, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI, and the consequent invalidation of their acts. So sweeping a measure obviously needed to be qualified, as did a wholesale resumption of all royal grants since 1399, and much of the time of Parliament was taken up by the consideration of individual claims for exemptions. Equally controversial proved the act of attainder which placed a number of supporters of the deposed dynasty outside the law, and handed their estates to the Crown. The discussions over this continued throughout the session, and only on 21 December did the Speaker deliver the final draft to the King.
Already, Edward IV showed an inclination to use Parliament as a clearing house for the settlement of property on his family, as he would do on a larger scale later in the reign. The settlement of dower fit for the mother of a King on the widowed Cecily, duchess of York aside, Parliament also sanctioned the transfer of Henry IV’s patrimony, the duchy of Lancaster, on Edward IV and his successors. In a similar vein, time was found to consider the petitions of a number of supporters of the new dynasty, including the Speaker, Sir James Strangways, a long-standing client of the King’s Neville kinsmen.
It may be a measure of the financial support that the merchants of the city of London had offered to the Yorkist cause that among the constitutional wrangling they gained time on the floor of Parliament to have a series of commercial measures considered, but in the event nothing was firmly decided before Parliament broke up for the Christmas festivities. The King himself was vocal in his assurances to the Lords and Commons that the pressing concerns which he knew moved them would be considered in a second session to be held in the following spring. Yet, by then the King had other fish to fry, and the assembly was dissolved after only a single day’s sitting.
If the Parliament of 1461 had been momentous in constitutional terms, it achieved little by way of other legislation and might well be given short shrift by historians, were it not for the survival of a copy of one of the earliest known journals of the House of Lords, the so-called ‘Fane Fragment’. Compiled by the clerk of the Parliaments, John Faukes, the fragment uniquely provides some details, however limited, of the Lords’ deliberations.
H W K
The Fane Fragment of the 1461 Lords’ Journal ed. W.H. Dunham (New Haven, 1935).
Roger Virgoe, ‘A New Fragment of the Lords’ Journal of 1461’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, xxxii (1959), 83-87.
The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England ed. C. Given Wilson et al. (16 vols., Woodbridge, 2005), xiii. 2-82.
Lucy Brown, ‘Continuity and Change in the Parliamentary Justifications of the Fifteenth-Century Usurpations’, in The Fifteenth Century VII: Conflicts, Consequences and the Crown in the Late Middle Ages ed. L. Clark (Woodbridge, 2007), pp. 157-73.
Follow the work of our Commons 1461-1504 project at the Commons in the Wars of the Roses blog page.