King Richard III’s Only Parliament

Countdown: 32 days to go to King Richard III’s reinterment.

A good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people. (Sir Francis Bacon)

We have no difficulty in pronouncing Richard’s parliament the most meritorious national assembly for protecting the liberty of the subject and putting down abuses in the administration of justice that had sat in England since the reign of Henry III. (Lord Campbell)

On 22 February 1484, King Richard III’s only parliament came to an end. The month-long parliament is important for a number of reasons as it showed what some of Richard’s interests were and gives a hint of what his future parliaments might have been like had he defeated Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. The parliament was supposed to have sat in November of the previous year, but was cancelled due to Buckingham’s Rebellion, which Richard had suppressed without seeking any benevolences or taxation from Parliament.

Richard’s title to the throne was confirmed by Parliament by the document Titulus Regius, which repealed under Henry Tudor. Several attainders for treason were issued, including one for Margaret Beaufort, mother of Tudor, which was basically negated as everything was transferred to her then husband, Thomas Stanley, while Elizabeth Woodville was no longer allowed to enjoy the letters patent that Edward IV had granted her.

Fifteen public statutes were passed and 18 private statutes and it was the first Parliament to be published in English and to be printed.

Highlights from the Parliament:

  • Benevolences were outlawed.
  • Laws were created to protect buyers of land.
  • Bail was allowed for suspected felons.
  • The forfeiture of goods before conviction was prevented.
  • A minimum property qualification for jurors was introduced to (it was hoped) prevent bribery.
  • The powers of the so-called Piepowder Courts (for markets and fairs) were reduced to their original limited jurisdiction.
  • Protection of English merchants was introduced against what was regarded as unfair foreign competition.
  • The importation of silk lace and ribbons, scissors, bells, nails, etc., was prohibited.
  • Italian merchants had to import 10 good bow staves with every butt of malmsey.
  • The cloth trade was regulated to ensure that the cloth met certain standards.
  • Books and printing presses were exempted from trade restrictions in an attempt to encourage the art of printing and to foster learning by books.
  • The College of Arms was created.

Richard’s only parliament shows he was an enlightened monarch who was interested in reform and fairness.

Further online reading:

  • Rotuli Parliamentorum A.D. 1483/4 1 Richard III A Parliament holden at Westm’ on Fryday the XXIIIth day January, in the 1st Yeare of King Richard the third. (Link)
  • Richard’s Achievements by Dorothea Preis on The Richard III Society of NSW website (link)
  • Richard III’s Parliament by Dr Anne Sutton on The Richard III Society website (Link)
  • “The Tenth Coin” Richard III’S Parliament and Public Statutes by Susan L. Troxell (Link)
  • The Statutes of Richard III’s Parliament by Doug Woodger (Link)
  • Richard III: The Lawmaker (Link)
  • The Commons and Their Speakers in English Parliaments, 1376-1523 by John Smith Roskell (Link
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