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The Royal Pardon: Access to Mercy in Fourteenth-Century England

The Royal Pardon: Access to Mercy in Fourteenth-Century England

Helen Lacey
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The Royal Pardon: Access to Mercy in Fourteenth-Century England
    Book Description:

    The letter of pardon was a document familiar to the king's subjects in the middle ages; imbued with symbolic resonance as the judgement of the monarch, it also served a practical purpose, offering a last hope of reprieve from the death sentence or life as an outlaw. The fourteenth century in particular was a pivotal time of change for the system of English justice, and saw the evolution of a legal structure still recognisable today, yet the role of the royal pardon adapted and endured. This book offers the first comprehensive study of the royal pardon in fourteenth-century England, using evidence drawn from legal and literary texts, parliamentary records, yearbooks, and plea rolls to examine the full influence of royal mercy. Its implications go well beyond legal history, encompassing the major political and constitutional debates of the period, the theological underpinnings of royal mercy, and the social context of the law. Chapters analyse the procedures of pardoning, the role of royal mercy at moments of political upheaval (such as at the Peasants' Revolt), and the range of views expressed by legal theorists, parliamentary representatives, and by the diverse range of people who at one time or another had reason to seek royal mercy. The appendices provide full lists of all those who acted as "intercessors" for mercy; comprising over 1000 names, they reveal the role of women and personal servants of the crown, alongside the great nobles of the realm, in providing access to royal grace. Dr HELEN LACEY is Lecturer in Late Medieval History at Mansfield College, University of Oxford.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-758-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The king’s pardon was an important legal document in fourteenth-century England, yet its influence was felt far beyond the confines of the judicial system; it played a part in the major political crises of the period, and carried with it a symbolism that resonated throughout medieval culture. The power to grant mercy was inherited by the monarchs of later medieval England as one of the prerogative rights of the Crown. In practical terms this privilege was extended to supplicants in the form of letters patent of pardon, which were authorised by the monarch or his chancellor and then issued from...

  6. Part I Individual Pardons

    • CHAPTER TWO Procedures
      (pp. 19-25)

      By the beginning of the fourteenth century the production of a royal pardon was a familiar method of claiming immunity from common law procedures.¹ Suspects who could present a charter of pardon to the justices at the time of their arraignment were not required to answer formal charges, while those who secured one subsequently could seek acquittal, or even remission of a conviction.² Similarly those in danger of infringing the feudal and proprietary rights of the Crown, by purchasing land without royal licence, for example, could purchase a pardon and thus circumvent cumbersome legal procedures. For anyone who stood in...

    • CHAPTER THREE Supplicant
      (pp. 26-43)

      People petitioned for the king’s grace in a variety of different circumstances. Sometimes they offered a reason for the king to pardon them; on other occasions they admitted guilt, but appealed to him to show mercy. In certain situations, supplicants were unable to get their own petition drawn up; they might be in prison awaiting trial, or, having already been outlawed, they might fear any face-to-face meeting with officers of the Crown. In such circumstances, they would seek a patron to have a petition written on their behalf. (The people who acted as ‘intercessors’ are discussed in the following chapter.)...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Intercessor
      (pp. 44-58)

      Those who sought pardon in the later Middle Ages often looked to a patron to intervene on their behalf. Members of the royal family or servants of the Crown might be able to use their influence at court to help to secure a grant of mercy, or at least ensure that the case received attention. For those who were in prison awaiting trial, or for those who had already been outlawed, finding someone to act on their behalf was the only route to pardon.¹ A significant percentage of fourteenth-century pardons issued from Chancery record the name of a person who...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Monarch
      (pp. 59-82)

      Fourteenth-century monarchs did not usually intervene in the day-to-day business of the law courts, but they did still occasionally involve themselves in the business of granting pardon. Particularly complex or unusual cases might be referred to the king for a decision ‘of grace’ (rather than the routine matters ‘of course’, which could be dealt with by the chancellor).¹ However the surviving documentary evidence does not always help to shed light on the nature of the monarch’s role in the process. It is likely that in some cases the king’s decision was conveyed orally to his chancellor, and the only archival...

  7. Part II General Pardons

    • CHAPTER SIX Procedures
      (pp. 85-92)

      The individual pardons considered so far were obtained by the exercise of the king’s grace in each separate case. The supplicant therefore relied on a royal justice or an influential patron to recommend a grant of mercy. In contrast, group pardons (political amnesties, military service pardons, and remissions of debts) and general pardons, were crucially different in that the initiative was taken by the Crown, usually with the advice of Parliament rather than an individual intercessor. The pardon was therefore issued in the form of a royal ordinance or statute, which informed the wider community of the range of offences...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Evolution Of Group Pardons
      (pp. 93-112)

      Throughout the fourteenth century the issue of an amnesty was becoming an increasingly important part of the act of political reconciliation. While there was no absolute shift away from the idea of reconciliation through a renewal of homage, there does seem to have been a change in emphasis away from the idea that the offender was being restored into the feudal relationship with his lord, and towards the idea that he was being readmitted into the king’s peace. There were, of course, further nuances in the message that the grant of an amnesty could convey. In the aftermath of a...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Pardoning and Celebration: Edward III’s Jubilee
      (pp. 113-126)

      On 25 January 1377, Edward III became only the second English monarch to reach the end of his fiftieth year on the throne, and he marked the event with a grant of general pardon. The only previous king to have ruled for over half a century was Henry III, but in 1266, when he reached this milestone, the fragility of the political situation was such that the anniversary received scant attention. However, there was, in the teaching of the Roman Church, a well-established precedent for attaching significance to the fiftieth year. The notion of a jubilee year as a year...

    • CHAPTER NINE Pardoning and Revolt: The Peasants’ Rising of 1381
      (pp. 127-159)

      Only four years after the jubilee celebrations of 1377, Richard II’s government issued a general pardon, but this time there were no references to celebration; rather it was a response to the unprecedented crisis of the Peasants’ Revolt.¹ The terms of the pardon were presented to Parliament on 13 December 1381; all the king’s subjects were to be granted mercy, both those accused of rebellion and those who had remained loyal. Considering the volume of scholarship generated on the Peasants’ Revolt, the subject of pardon has only ever been given fleeting reference. This is somewhat surprising in light of the...

    • CHAPTER TEN Pardoning and Revenge: Richard II’s ‘Tyranny’
      (pp. 160-175)

      The general pardons discussed so far were used to promote reconciliation in the face of disunity or rebellion.¹ However, in 1398 Richard II subverted the principles of granting pardon, by using it as a tool of accusation and incrimination.² The last three years of Richard’s reign have often been set apart, in the historiography, as a distinct period of tyrannical rule. In the summer of 1397 the king ordered the arrest of his long-standing political opponents, the Lords Appellant, and two months later he convened his so-called ‘Revenge Parliament’, which provided the forum for their public trial and conviction.³ This...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Conclusion: Attitudes to Pardoning
      (pp. 176-182)

      This study has been predicated on the notion that the role of the pardon in fourteenth-century England deserves further attention, and that it is a subject uniquely suited to uniting much of the new work on the legal, political and cultural contexts of the later Middle Ages. Since Naomi Hurnard’s study of pardoning was published in 1969, work on the use of the pardon in the eighteenth century and the renewed interest of historians in medieval political culture has provided an entirely new context and methodology through which to view the role of the royal pardon. In the 1970s the...

  8. APPENDICES: Introduction
    (pp. 183-232)
    (pp. 233-250)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 251-260)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-265)