|Legislative body||Parliament of England|
|Term||3 February 1388 – 4 June 1388|
The Merciless Parliament was an English parliamentary session lasting from 3 February to 4 June 1388, at which many members of King Richard II's court were convicted of treason. The session was preceded by a period in which Richard's power was revoked and the kingdom placed under the regency of the Lords Appellant. Richard had launched an abortive military attempt to overthrow the Lords Appellant and negotiate peace with the kingdom of France so he could focus all his resources against his domestic enemies. The Lords Appellant counteracted the attempt and called the Parliamentary session to expose his attempts to make peace. Parliament reacted with hostility and convicted almost all of Richard's advisers of treason. Most were executed and a few exiled. Parliament was dissolved after violence broke out in Kent and the Duke of York and his allies began objecting to some executions. The term "merciless" was coined by Augustinian chronicler Henry Knighton.
The kingdom of England was in the midst of the Hundred Years' War with the kingdom of France, and the English had been consistently losing territory to the French since 1369. The losses were a politically sensitive topic and led to a shift in the English position after the death of Edward III, with his successor Richard II favoring peace while many of the landed nobility wanted to continue the war. The Wonderful Parliament in 1386 blamed the young King Richard's advisers for the military failures and accused them of misappropriating funds intended for the war. They authorized a commission of nobles known as the Lords Appellant to effectively take over management of the kingdom and act as Richard's regents. Richard refused to acknowledge the authority of the commission but lacked the power to challenge them. He began to devise a plan to secure his authority over the kingdom by raising an army among his allies and negotiating a secret peace with France so he could focus all his military forces against his domestic enemies.
Richard began negotiations with the French in June 1387 using his agents in Hainault as intermediaries. He agreed to surrender all of England's possessions in northern France, including Calais and make peace. In exchange the French agreed to restore most of the Duchy of Aquitaine to Richard, provided he would pay homage to the king of France for it. Richard agreed to seal the treaty at a personal meeting with Charles V of France. Richard's enemies soon learned of the attempt and decided to move against him to prevent the peace treaty from being formalised.
In August, 1387, to establish a legal basis for overthrowing the appellants, Richard called seven judges of the superior courts to answer a series of questions regarding their legitimacy. Under significant duress, each of the judges agreed that the appellants had no authority and were guilty of treason and signed a statement authorizing their arrest.Armed with the legal ruling, Richard called the sheriffs of several counties to inform them they were to no longer answer to the Lords Appellant. Working with his ally Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland and Earl of Oxford, an army was raised in Chester and reinforced with royal retainers from East Anglia, the Midlands and eastern Wales. Although rumored to his enemies to be an army of 20,000, it contained no more than 4,000 men. De Vere was put in command.
The Lords Appellant became aware of Richard's dealings with the French, and later of his attempt to raise an army. Rumours began to circulate that Richard had agreed to accept military support from France, and that he would place England under French military occupation. Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, and several lesser nobles mobilized an army of their retainers numbering 4,500 and marched on de Vere's army.
In December 1387, the two armies met at Radcot-on-Thames where the Lords Appellant's army won the Battle of Radcot Bridge against the forces of Robert de Vere. The victory placed the anti-Ricardian Lords Appellant in a position of incontestable strength.Richard fled Westminster for London and barricaded himself in the Tower of London. On 27 December the Appellant's army reached the tower in full battle array and forced Richard to surrender. When the leading Appellants, the Duke of Gloucester (Thomas of Woodstock) and the Earls of Arundel, Warwick, Derby (Henry Bolingbroke, later Henry IV) and Nottingham, met with Richard on an improvised throne, they seized him and threatened to execute him for his dealings with France. Ultimately they decided against it, instead forcing him to call a session of Parliament.
The Parliamentary session began on 3 February 1388. The term "Merciless Parliament" was first employed by a local chronicler, Henry Knighton, who was referring to the ruthless manner in which many were convicted and executed.During the Parliament, the Appellants pursued their earlier accusations against Richard and his inner circle, almost wholly unopposed. They levelled a series of charges against Richard's advisers, accusing them of offering to surrender English-held fortresses in France and widespread embezzlement from the treasury. Most of the charges were likely false.
This meant that a number of Richard's intimate associates, namely Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk, Nicholas Brembre, Robert de Vere, Alexander Neville, and Chief Justice Robert Tresilian, were found guilty of "living in vice, deluding the said king ... embracing the mammon of iniquity for themselves". None were given formal trials. Neville was a bishop and spared execution, but all his assets were seized and he was exiled. The rest were ordered drawn and hanged.
The purge continued deep into the administration, dozens of retainers, clerks, chaplains, and secretaries to Richard were summarily condemned and executed. The seven judges who authorized Richard's actions under duress were arrested. The judges were the only men to be given formal trials before the House of Lords, but despite their pleas for leniency, they too were convicted and executed. As the purge continued, men less obviously involved in the plot were arrested. Richard's confessor, Thomas Rushhook, Bishop of Chichester, was accused of being involved in the plot, but the House of Lords refused to try him and the Parliament adjourned on 6 March and resumed on 12 March.
The session continued through April and May as Richard's chamber knights were tried and executed. Richard's intermediaries who had been negotiating with France were discovered and executed. By the end of April, most of what remained of Richard's staff had fled to the countryside or left the country altogether and many were convicted in absentia. The session began to come to an end with the trial of a knight named Simon Burley, who was accused of involvement in the plot. He was a veteran of the war and had been an adviser of the Black Prince, Richard's father. He had friends among the nobility and was a close friend of Edmund Langley, Duke of York. Langley was an influential lord who represented a significant bloc, and rose to defend Burley. The Duke of Gloucester endorsed Burley's condemnation. The two men became increasingly hostile in the first week of May. The King, who was presiding during the entire session, rose for the first time to join the Duke of York in resisting the effort. Gloucester and the King began quarreling and nearly came to blows. Before the entire council, Gloucester informed the King that if he wished to retain his crown, he should stop attempting to defend his friends. The King gave in. Burley was condemned and executed. Gloucester brought Rushhook before Parliament again and he was convicted of treason and exiled to Ireland.
Among the members of King Richard's retinue to be condemned, were John Beauchamp of Holt, James Baret, and John Salisbury, who were all hanged and beheaded; Robert Bealknap (Belknap), Roger Fulthorp, William Burgh, John Locton and Sir John Cary Chief Baron of the Exchequer who were exiled to Ireland. Thomas Usk (author of The Testament of Love) and John Blake, members of Brembre's and Tresilian's households respectively, were also put to death.
At the session's start, the Lords Appellant repudiated all of Richard's deals with France. The commanders of the English garrisons in France were replaced with men loyal to the Appellants, who began to pursue an aggressive war policy. Parliament however, was unwilling to grant a significant tax grant to pay for military operations. On 21 February the Parliament grudgingly agreed to a subsidy equal to half the normal subsidy granted, amounting to about £30,000 and authorized a fleet to be hired to patrol the English Channel for the year. Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, acting as agent for the French government, sent emissaries requesting that the English abide by Richard's agreement, but they were sent away without a reply.
The Duke of York was furious over the treatment of Burley, threatening to break the coalition of lords, leading Gloucester to support ending the Parliament. A series of peasant revolts broke out in Kent and southwest England, necessitating military action in late April. A second recess was agreed to after Easter and resumed on 20 May. The remainder of the session was spent dealing with financial issues and the Parliament was finally dissolved on 4 June.
After this virtual coup d'état, the Appellants continued to dominate English politics for the next year. Richard was effectively their puppet until the return of John of Gaunt from his Spanish campaigns in 1389. The power of the Appellants rested on popular support from the commons in parliament, but by the end of 1388 this support had already begun to wane. In the subsequent parliament held at Cambridge in September 1388, the commons were highly critical of the Appellants' record in government. Indeed, it has been argued that the Appellants were predominantly concerned with the task of destroying various members of Richard II's court, and after this objective had been achieved they ceased to concern themselves with the governance of England.Richard immediately began formulating plans for revenge and afterwards finally enacted a de facto peace with France with the Truce of Leulinghem. Most of the Appellants were executed during the 1390s. Gloucester was exiled to Calais where he was suffocated, probably on the orders of Richard. Bolingbroke and many other lords were eventually exiled. In 1399 Bolingbroke led a group of exiles back to England, seized the country, forced Richard to abdicate, and then starved Richard to death. Bolingbroke, Richard's cousin, was crowned Henry IV.
Year 1388 (MCCCLXXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar.
Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward, Prince of Wales, died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to his grandfather, King Edward III. Upon the death of Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster was an English prince, military leader, and statesman. He was the third of the five sons of King Edward III of England who survived to adulthood. Due to his royal origin, advantageous marriages, and some generous land grants, Gaunt was one of the richest men of his era, and was an influential figure during the reigns of both his father, Edward, and his nephew, Richard II. As Duke of Lancaster, he is the founder of the royal House of Lancaster, whose members would ascend to the throne after his death. His birthplace, Ghent, corrupted into English as Gaunt, was the origin for his name. When he became unpopular later in life, scurrilous rumours and lampoons circulated that he was actually the son of a Ghent butcher, perhaps because Edward III was not present at the birth. This story always drove him to fury.
Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, 1st Earl of Nottingham, 3rd Earl of Norfolk, 6th Baron Mowbray, 7th Baron Segrave, KG, Earl Marshal was an English peer. As a result of his involvement in the power struggles which led up to the fall of Richard II, he was banished and died in exile in Venice.
Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester was the fifth surviving son and youngest child of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault.
Robert de Vere, Duke of Ireland, Marquess of Dublin, and 9th Earl of Oxford KG was a favourite and court companion of King Richard II of England. He was the ninth Earl of Oxford and the first and only Duke of Ireland and Marquess of Dublin.
John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter, 1st Earl of Huntingdon, KG, of Dartington Hall in Devon, was a half-brother of King Richard II (1377–1399), to whom he remained strongly loyal. He is primarily remembered for being suspected of assisting in the downfall of King Richard's uncle Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester (1355–1397) and then for conspiring against King Richard's first cousin and eventual deposer, Henry Bolingbroke, later King Henry IV (1399–1413).
Richard Fitzalan, 4th Earl of Arundel, 9th Earl of Surrey, KG was an English medieval nobleman and military commander.
The Lords Appellant were a group of nobles in the reign of King Richard II, who, in 1388, sought to impeach some five of the King's favourites in order to restrain what was seen as tyrannical and capricious rule. The word appellant simply means '[one who is] appealing [in a legal sense]'. It is the older (Norman) French form of the present participle of the verb appeler, the equivalent of the English 'to appeal'. The group was called the Lords Appellant because its members invoked a procedure under law to start prosecution of the king's unpopular favourites known as 'an appeal': the favourites were charged in a document called an "appeal of treason", a device borrowed from civil law which led to some procedural complications.
Michael de la Pole, 2nd Earl of Suffolk was an English nobleman who supported Henry IV against Richard II during the turmoils of the late 14th century. He died during the Siege of Harfleur in 1415. He was the eldest son of Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk and Katherine Wingfield, daughter of Sir John Wingfield.
The Wonderful Parliament was an English parliamentary session held in October to November 1386 which pressed for reforms of King Richard II's administration. The King had become increasingly unpopular in the preceding years due in the main to perceived extravagance to his favourites and the unsuccessful prosecution of the ongoing war in France. Further, there was a well-grounded fear that the King of France was poised to invade England, as he had been gathering a fleet in Flanders for much of the year. Discontent with Richard II climaxed when the King requested a then-unprecedented sum with which to invade France himself. Instead of granting the King's request as he must have expected, the two Houses of the Lords and Commons effectively united against him and his unpopular Chancellor, Michael de la Pole, 1st Earl of Suffolk. They saw de la Pole as both a favourite who had benefited—unfairly—from the King's unwarranted largesse, and the minister responsible for the King's failures. They demanded the Earl's impeachment.
The Battle of Radcot Bridge was fought on 19 December 1387 in medieval England between troops loyal to Richard II, led by court favourite Robert de Vere, and an army captained by Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby. It took place at Radcot Bridge, a bridge over the River Thames now in Oxfordshire but then the boundary between Oxfordshire and Berkshire
Events from the 1380s in England.
Events from the 1390s in England.
Sir Robert Belknap JP was an English judge. He is first mentioned in June 1351 in a papal register of indults issued to inhabitants of England, where he is called a "clerk, of the diocese of Salisbury" in Wiltshire. He next appears in 1353 as a member of a commission to survey Battle Abbey. This commission was followed by an extensive number of others, as evidenced by extant patent rolls, until 1388, most of which related to oyer and terminer, walliis et fossatis, gaol delivery, sewers, and the peace primarily, but not exclusively, in Kent and other parts of southeastern England. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Kent on 18 May 1362, and at the same time began serving as legal counsel. In July 1362 he served on a commission with William of Wykeham investigating lands granted to the Bishopric of Winchester, which Wykeham at that time held. From this point Belknap's career as a lawyer began to prosper; from 1371 he was retained as a lawyer by Westminster Abbey, and from 1374 by John of Gaunt. He was sent along with John Wycliffe and John Gilbert to Bruges in July 1374 to negotiate papal provisions; he returned in September and on 10 October he was made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, and was knighted on 28 December of that same year. From 1375 to 1388 he served as a Trier of Petitions in Parliament, and in 1376 he was involved in investigating Richard Lyons in Essex and Sussex after complaints of embezzlement.
Sir Nicholas Brembre was a wealthy magnate and a chief ally of King Richard II in 14th-century England. He was Lord Mayor of London in 1377, and again from 1383–5. Named a "worthie and puissant man of the city" by Richard Grafton, he became a citizen and grocer of London, and in 1372-3 purchased from the Malmains family the estates of Mereworth, Maplescomb, and West Peckham, in Kent. His ties to Richard ultimately resulted in his downfall, as the anti-Richard Lords Appellant effectively took control of the government and imprisoned, exiled, or executed most of Richard's court. Despite Richard's efforts, Brembre was executed in 1388 for treason at the behest of the Lords Appellant.
Sir Walter Clopton was an English lawyer, and Chief Justice of the King's Bench from 1388 until his death in 1400.
Agnes de Launcekrona was Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen consort Anne of Bohemia. She became the second wife of Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford, a favourite of King Richard II of England.
The Truce of Leulinghem was a truce agreed to by Richard II's kingdom of England and its allies, and Charles VI's kingdom of France and its allies, on 18 July 1389, ending the second phase of the Hundred Years' War. England was on the edge of financial collapse and suffering from internal political divisions. On the other side, Charles VI was suffering from a mental illness that handicapped the furthering of the war by the French government. Neither side was willing to concede on the primary cause of the war, the legal status of the Duchy of Aquitaine and the King of England's homage to the King of France through his possession of the duchy. However, both sides faced major internal issues that could badly damage their kingdoms if the war continued. The truce was originally negotiated by representatives of the kings to last three years, but the two kings met in person at Leulinghem, near the English fortress of Calais, and agreed to extend the truce to a twenty-seven years' period. Other provisions were agreed to, in attempts to bring an end to the Papal schism, to launch a joint crusade against the Turks in the Balkans, to seal the marriage of Richard to Charles' daughter Isabella along with an 800,000 franc dowry, and to guarantee to continue peace negotiations, in order to establish a lasting treaty between the kingdoms. The treaty brought peace to the Iberian peninsula, where Portugal and Castile were supporting the English and French respectively. The English evacuated all their holdings in northern France except Calais.
Sir Walter Devereux of Bodenham and Weobley was a prominent knight in Herefordshire during the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. He represented Hereford in Parliament, and gave rise to the Devereux Earls of Essex and Viscounts of Hereford.