Henry VI’s 1455 parliament dealt with a number of issues, including passing what has become known as the Parliamentary Pardon exonerating the Duke of York and his allies for the conflict at St Albans in May that year; attempting (as usual) to deal with the financial difficulties faced by the soldiers of the Calais garrison; the appointment of the Duke of York for a second term as protector and defender while the King was ill* and the Bonville/Courtenay feud was in full swing; and the presentation of a petition by the commons for a round of resumptions to be enacted. This last led to a string of petitions for exemptions from the Act, by individuals and institutions.
Some were for potentially large sums, such as the Duke of Buckingham and the Earl of Warwick (‘and Anne his wiff’), who both required exemptions for moneys either not yet received (in Buk’s case) or yet to be expended (in Warwick’s case) for payment of the Calais garrison. Others were much smaller amounts, per diem payments of 6d, annuities of £20, clothing allowances, retirement positions for members of the King’s household and, in one case, two windmills in Calais. I’ve chosen just a few that I found interesting.
The king’s father, the commons said, had kept a more economically sustainable household than did Henry VI. It was one of the things, they claimed, that ’caused all othir londes to have this your said lond in as worshipfull renomme, and as grete drede, as any other lond cristenned’. Henry was ‘indebted in such outragious sommez’ that it was difficult to find a way to repay his creditors. If he were to curb his spending, the whole of Christendom would tremble in fear at the very thought of England. A round of resumptions, the returning of grants and gifts made by the king, would be good for four reasons: 1. ‘…for the conservacion and supportacion of your seid estate…’ – the King’s household would be in far better financial shape generally; 2. ‘…for your owne suerte, honour and wele…’ – the King’s own financial situation would be eased; 3. ‘…to the universall wele, ease, rest and suerty of this land, the which ye owe to preferre afore the favour of eny person, or eny place, or othir thyng erthley’ – the wellbeing of the kingdom was far more important than pleasing individuals within it; 4. ‘…to thentent that your said enemyes, from whose knowelege the penure of your said houshold … and also the agrugyng thereof of youre seid people had is not hidde, whereof without doute they take a grete courage and boldeness ayenst youre said lond, mowe falle from the seid corage into rebuke and have your said lond and people in such drede as here tofore in the dais of you and your progenitours they have hadde…’ – England’s financial woes, and particularly her King’s, were well known and her enemies took heart from that, rein in the spending and people would stop complaining and England’s enemies would fear her again.
The commons had only four exemptions to put forward – on behalf of the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Speaker of the House, John Wenlock, who had loaned the King just over £1,000. They also petitioned for an exemption for the duke of York, for any sums expended in his capacity as Protector and Defender. I haven’t totted up the total amount implied by the exemptions, mainly because I haven’t added up or multiplied pounds, shillings and pence since the late 60s and don’t intend to resume the practice now. Not that it would give us a clear picture of the real total, as some of the exemptions are not fully costed.
The lords started off the exemption-fest in good form with this:
Provided alsoo that this peticion or act of resumpcion or adnullacion extende not nore be prejudicisl to eny duke, markes, erle or viscount of this realme, nor to the heires of eny of theym, of eny graunt or grauntes made to theym or eny of theym by us, of or for their astate, creacion or receccion [promotion] into the estate of duke, merkes, erle or viscount, ne to their preemynence, place or setez in the high court of parlement or else where.’
So, really, it was pretty much doomed from the start.
The Abbot and Prior of the Church of St Peter at Westminster were granted an exemption for yearly observances kept ‘the last day but oon of August, the aniversarye of the full noble prince of blissid memorie our fader, Kyng Harry the Vth…to distrybute the daye of his aniversarye yerly for ever £20 in almesse and eight tapers brennynge dayly at the highe masse and evesong in the same church…to fynde 24 torches brennyng in the same church the evyn and daye of the said aniversary yerly…and 24 poure men to bere and hold the same torches than brennyng in the same church, eche of hem takyng the said even and day in almes 10d; and to fynde three priest monks dayly to say three masses perpetually for the soule of our fader late kynge…’ Several charterhouses and convents got to keep ‘a tunne of wyne graunted of our almesse’. The College of Fotheringhay was exempt from returning 40 acres of wood and their produce in the forest of Rockingham ‘so alwey that we, the quene, oure heires and successours, be prayde fore in the seid college for ever’. The College of St Nicholas, Cambridge, got to enjoy ‘the undrewood and rowers [dead wood] in a woode called Sapley…for theire perpetuell fuell…’. The College of our Lady of Eton held onto ‘certayn waters and fysshyng in the ryver of Thamese’. Also exempt was a grant to the Abbot of Abingdond f ’20 bukkes and doous to be had in certayne places by wey of eschaunge, in recompense for the tithe venison in the forest of Wyndesore and the parkes within the same…the which tithes the predecessours of the said abbot and convent had of the graunt of oure noble progenitour…Henry I’. The Priory of St John of Pontefract had suffered greatly and was exempted ‘alsoo by the consideracion of the grete and importable [intolerable] expenses and chargez, which the same proiur and convent have susteyned and dayly susteyn, in kepynge of hospitalitee and in bylding of theire posessions notwithstondyng the grete dimunition of the yerly value of theire londes and tenementes adjoyning to the waters of Calder and Ayre, in the counte of York, by the inundacions and effluentes [flooding] of the same waters’. Also recovering from catastrophe, though of a different kind, were the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral who were granted an exemption ‘of any libertees and fraunchises by us to theym geven or graunted, which we have graunted unto theym for divers consideracions or inconveniences [misdeeds] done by our shirrefs and othir our officers in arestynbge and mystretyng the ministres of the seid church in their habites and executyng divine services there, where thorough the seid church hath ben polute and stonde in inofficiat [unusable] somme fourteen dayes to gedir’
Most of the individuals seeking exemption were of the king’s household. Most of the grants were small, paid in retirement in recognition of good service. Sir Thomas Stanley (‘oure chamberlayne’) received an exemption for ‘eny severall grownde, herbage pasture or wastes within oure forest of Macclesfield, which he hath taken for savyng of oure dere in the same forest, yildyng therfor £5 by yere; and whiche, if it were not kepte from the depasturyng [grazing] of cattel and bestes, shulde be destruction of our dere and also anyentisemennt [ruin] of oure game there’. Thomas Staunton (‘huissher of our chambre’) was allowed to keep ‘the office of arbalastry [crossbowman] within oure toure of London…[at a wage of] 12d a day’. Likewise, William Say (‘yoman of the coroune’) remained ‘warenner of the warenne of oure castelle at Dovorre’; Thomas Barton (‘sergeaunt of our panetrie’) continued with the job of ‘the kepyng of oure parc, called the newe parc, of Shene in the counte of Surrey with the wages of 2d a day…with seven acres of mede, liggyng in the medes beside the brigge of Chartsey, in the counte of Middlesex, for the sustenacion of oure dere within oure seid parc in wynter tyme’, and ‘of a graunte made by us unto hym by the same name of 2d by day…for to fynd sufficient reparacion in pales and hegges of our seid parc’. Bartholomew Halley (‘uissher of oure chambre’) kept ‘the office of joynour within our toure [of London]’ at a wage of 12d a day. John Barnham (‘late maister cooke for oure mouthe…whiche is blynde by Goddes visitation’) was given an annuity of 100s 4d. Robert Passemer and 20 other named (‘sergauntez at armes’) were exempt from a grant of ‘clothyng to them or any of them graunted be cause of the seid office’ though the King did seem willing to economise here, at least. ‘So alwey that after the decease of eny of the seid sergauntez at armes noo persone be admitted into his place, to the tyme that it shall come to the nombre of such sergauntz used in the daies of oure fadre of noble memoire…and that nombre to be kept and noo gretter’.
Merchants were exempted grants of bales of wool to ship and sell in payment of debts. John Skelton’s annuity of £40 was exempted ‘in recompense of 1,000 marks paied for his finaunce [ransom] to oure enemyes of Fraunce’. Richard Whetehill (‘merchaunt’) was granted an exemption for ‘two wynde milles within oure toune of Caleys, with a soile or voide grounde called the mille hille, as it lieth nygh to the seid two milles towardes the south…so alwey that if the seid Richard die within the term of the seid yeres [not mentioned in the petition but, presumably, in the original letter patent] that then his heires or executters have the seid milles, soile or voide grounde…unto the tyme that they be cotent of such sommes of money as by the seid Richard shall be expended upon the bildyng [maintenance] of the same and £40 above’.
By the time these petitions were heard, York was no longer Protector and had probably absented himself from parliament. As the curbing of the royal household’s spending was crucial to getting England’s economy back on track, the seemingly endless list of exemptions must have been something of a heartbreaker. Twice York had been Protector and both times he’d dealt with serious disruption and unrest. He was not, however, to be allowed to see his (modest) program of reform to come to fruition.
Henry VI may not have been a particularly sound financial manager, but he had a good heart when it came to rewarding those who gave him good service, and it’s very hard to begrudge ‘our minstralles’ their annuities of 100s each.
*It has often been assumed, on fairly scant evidence, that the king’s indisposition was a renewal of the severe mental illness that totally incapacitated him in 1453/4. However, it is more likely the illness was purely physical. (For a fuller exploration of this, see JR Lander, Henry VI and the Duke of York’s Second Protectorate 1455-1456, Bulletinof the John Rylands Librrary, 1966, 43 (1), 46-69.