History of Europe

The political project of Richard III of England:the Parliament of 1484

Entry taken from the book "The Plantagenets".

1.- Introduction

Richard III, the last king of England of the Plantagenet dynasty, is a fascinating character who continues to arouse passions in his country among his detractors and his defenders, something that does not seem to square with the short duration (barely two years) of the reign. of the.

Everything contributed to make Richard III a vilified character:the way in which he came to the throne on the death of his brother Edward IV (unseating his nephew Edward V after a series of dubious testimonies led to the declaration as illegitimate of the children of his brother), the summary executions of those who might oppose his seizure of power (his brother's faithful servant, William Hastings, and members of Edward IV's political family, Anthony Woodville and Richard Grey) and, most especially, the charge of having murdered or ordered the murder of his nephews and sons of Edward IV, the princes of the Tower of London. The stories about him by Thomas More and, above all, by William Shakespeare made Richard III the official villain of English history for centuries.

Putting the matter this way, few doubted that when Henry Tudor invaded England in August 1485 and deposed Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, in which Richard lost his life becoming the last English king to die on the field of battle, justice was being done by ending the reign of a tyrant. The nobles and citizens who had joined the Tudor, thus, had done so not so much for the dynastic legitimacy of Henry (more than doubtful), but to put an end to the outrages of Richard III.

Since the middle of the last century, however, a current of sympathy began to be generated towards the figure of the last Plantagenet who tries to vindicate his legacy, questioning the crimes that the sources traditionally attributed to him. The executions of the relatives of Isabel Woodville or William Hastings are justified for trying to seize power on behalf of Edward V and prevent Richard from becoming Protector of the Kingdom in the first place or for conspiring against Richard once he took control of the kingdom. country the second. And it is questioned whether the princes of the Tower died in the Tower or, if they did, that Richard was responsible for their deaths, pointing to other possible culprits such as Henry Tudor himself.

But the purpose of this article is not so much to review the different theories about Ricardo and much less position itself in one direction or another, but to focus on an aspect that is perhaps less known, but that is not without relevance:what if the support that the Henry Tudor's invasion received in England had not so much to do with the alleged atrocities committed by Richard III to access and remain on the throne, but with a direct opposition to his plans as ruler of the country?

And to delve into this line of argument we have to focus on a very specific event in the reign of Richard III:the Parliament of 1484, the only one held during his mandate.

2.- The Parliament of 1484

As it could not be otherwise, it was necessary to ratify the designation of Ricardo as King of England. At the request of the monarch, Parliament issued a resolution that is not preserved, but whose content is known as it was transcribed in a document called Titulus Regius. The resolution declared null the union between Eduardo IV and Isabel Woodville and separated from the right to the throne to his children, including Eduardo V.

Second, Richard had Parliament pass a series of legal provisions that constitute a true political program of what he intended his reign to be. These resolutions showed that he was a ruler concerned that justice prevail in the kingdom and that he looked to improve the conditions of the most disadvantaged. It is also noteworthy that on his trips to various cities in the country since he took the crown he had repeatedly refused to be given very expensive gifts and donations, allocating them to social purposes.

Parliament abolished the system known as benevolences, a kind of forced donations created by Edward IV in 1475. To try to circumvent the fiscal control by Parliament, it was an arbitrary tax that the king imposed on his subjects "against their will and their liberties" and that could cause their death. "almost complete destruction." Richard III, with the consent of the magnates, the prelates and the Commons gathered in Parliament, "orders that henceforth his subjects and the community of the Kingdom shall not be the object of these benevolences , which are condemned and forbidden forever. With this rule, Ricardo was not only remedying an unfair and arbitrary collection system that had led to the ruin of more than one English subject, but he was also sending the message that he would limit his personal expenses and those of the Royal House. to what the Parliament awarded him and that would abide by the traditional rule of the game according to which the definition of fiscal policy by the Parliament constituted the key to the negotiation in the conduct of the kingdom's affairs by the monarch.

Other provisions were intended to boost trade and favor English merchants and manufacturers over foreigners, especially the Italians. In the background of these measures could be a trend (in this case already started by Edward IV and continued by Henry VII) by which they tried to replace the wayward and rebellious nobility by the merchants as the essential support point of the monarchy in England. .

Parliament also legislated to stop corruption and false accusations from leading ordinary citizens to ruin. A procedure was established to guarantee the fair and impartial functioning of the system so that a defendant could be released from prison on bail (preventing corrupt officials from denying said bail) and it was guaranteed that the persons denounced did not suffer seizures or lose their assets after the complaint, but only if and when they were condemned by a final sentence. In a similar sense (defense of common citizens) the measures approved by Parliament on the election system and persons qualified to be jurors can be interpreted, which sought to prevent jurors from being bribed or subjected to pressure due to their personal situation.

There is another aspect of the dispositions taken by the new king that could influence turning part of the country against him. In this case, it is essentially a geographical question. Ricardo had exercised government tasks during the reign of his brother based almost always in the north of England, so he could be described as a "northern" king. Well, when filling the vacancies left in some positions by those involved in a failed rebellion led in October 1483 by the Duke of Buckingham, it turned out that most of these subjects were servants of Edward IV who held their positions in counties from the south of the country. Ricardo decided to replace them with men he trusted, most of whom were young men from the north.

What he was trying to do was more to put a patch on a situation of power vacuum in a second step than to deliberately impose the north on the south, but that did not prevent that between the lower nobility and the people of the southern counties it was seen as a contrary intrusion to their interests and that it did not precisely contribute to gaining support for the new king from those counties.

Matthew Lewis, biographer of Richard III, considers that this circumstance had greater importance in the loss of support for the House of York than the way in which Richard ascended the throne and thus summarizes the result of the legislative body that emanated from Parliament in 1484 :«when the sessions concluded, Ricardo had promised to live with the amount budgeted for him, to work with the Lords and the Commons in Parliament, he had presented reforms that benefited those most disadvantaged in the social scale and had corrected injustices in inheritance laws.

The same author speculates on the possibility that these measures in favor of the most humble, which logically went to the detriment of the most powerful magnates of the kingdom and of the corrupt justice officials, contributed to the plot that was taking place against Ricardo III will have the greatest support within these powerful estates.

3.- Conclusions

Richard III was and still is a controversial character in England. But the focus has been placed more on his spectacular actions to seize power than on his short and truncated government work. What the Parliament of 1484 makes clear is that, given time, the image of it might have been very different. I borrow the words of Matthew Lewis again:

For some, Ricardo will always be an evil and murderous usurper. For others, a good man trying to fulfill his duty in difficult circumstances. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes […]. He was human. He made mistakes and misjudgments. He had his faults, like everyone else, but under the filth of centuries of slander and rumour, the facts can be discovered in a way that shows us a much more definite and interesting man, with new ideas ahead of his time. Of course he was willing to do whatever was in his power to protect his family and his position. He was a nobleman from the fifteenth century, at a time when they were brutal and greedy. […] Possibly, what makes him unique among medieval monarchs and nobles is the antithesis of what history has transmitted to us about him. He wasn't some petty tyrant dedicated to murdering everyone in his way. He was a far-sighted reformer who tried to tackle the real problems he saw in medieval English society and paid the price for thinking he could solve them."

Not everyone agrees with this assessment. Roy Strong sums up the short and intense reign of the last Plantagenet:"Even if Richard were ever proven innocent of infanticide, he would still be a failed monarch."

For his part, Simon Schama points out the following:

Richard III was far more interesting, but also far more sinister than the stereotypes that have portrayed him as either the embodiment of an impious villain or a northern hero vilely reviled by Tudor propaganda. He was not impious, but quite the contrary, a religious fanatic determined to eliminate those he considered unworthy, beginning with the in-laws of Edward IV and continuing with his own uncomfortable nephews, in such a way that he could establish the reign of piety and justice. justice in England. When Richard III met his death at Bosworth, the kingdom was rid of not a corrupt and depraved monster, but a fanatical Puritan.


FERNANDEZ DE LIS, Daniel. The Plantagenets . Madrid,, 2021

JOHNSON, Lauren. Shadow King:the Life and Death of Henry VI (English Edition). Ebook Edition, Apollo, 2019.

JONES, Dan. The Hollow Crown. The Wars of the Roses and the rise of the Tudors . London, Faber &Faber Limited, 2015.

Plantagenets, The Kings Who Made England . London, Ed. William Collins, 2012.

LEWIS, Matthew. The Wars of the Roses:The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy . Stroud, Amberley Publishing, 2015.

Richard III. Loyalty Binds Me . Stroud, Amberley Publishing, 2018.

The Survival of the Princes in the Tower. Murder, Mystery and Myth . Stroud, The History Press, 2017.

SCHAMA, Simon. A History of Britain. BBC Worldwide Limited, London. 1st edition, fourth reprint (2000)

STRONG, Roy. The Story of Britain. Ed. Pimlico, London. 1st edition (1998)