Ricardians make much of Henry VII’s Parliament’s backdating of the commencement of his reign to August 21, 1485, the day before Bosworth, when Richard was still King and very much alive. These same people who reject the Croyland Chronicler’s account because of his negative view of Richard are quick to accept and quote him as an authority when he took exception to this, saying, “Oh God, what assurance, from this time forth, are our kings to have, that, in the day of battle, they will not be deprived of the assistance of even their own subjects, when summoned at the dread mandate of their sovereign?”
Such criticism from Croyland is not surprising or unusual. As a clergyman, he often took the moral high ground against what he considered immoral actions, even in cases where the perpetrator was someone he admired (like Edward IV).
However, the reason for the backdating of Henry’s reign is much less provocative and much more legalistic than it might appear at first glance.
S.B. Chrimes sheds light on this in his biography of Henry VII: “On…November 7 (1485)…, John Alcock…opened Parliament…The Commons were instructed to assemble…to choose a speaker…On the next day, the Commons chose a speaker, but were prohibited from mentioning his name, presumably because he was a man who had been attainted by Richard III’s Parliament as one of the rebels of 1483, and one who…had already been appointed to several important offices…The primary business of Parliament was to declare his (Henry’s) title and to reverse certain attainders and enact some new ones…”
This illustrates that the old attainders that Richard’s Parliament had imposed upon Henry and his adherents were still legalities that had to be addressed. Richard’s Parliament had issued an astounding number of attainders. Perhaps here, it is fitting to evoke Chrimes’ comparison of the number of attainders issued during the reigns of Richard’s predecessor and successor: During Edward IV’s 22-year reign, 140 attainders were issued; during Henry VII’s 23-year reign, 138 attainders were issued; and during Richard III’s 26-month reign, 100 attainders were issued by his only Parliament. (However, Chrimes remarks that, of all three kings, Henry was the least likely to reverse attainders.) No wonder the Croyland Chronicler writes: “…attainders were made of so many lords and men of high rank, besides peers and commoners, as well as three bishops, that we do not read of the like…”
Henry VII himself made way for this reversal during Richard’s reign by inferring in his communications that he was already King in fact and was moving against “the rebel” Richard and his supporters. With that being Henry’s position, the fiction of August 21 becomes hardly more than an afterthought, disingenuous though it was. If Richard had not really been King, and if Henry was King upon the murders of Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the untidy mess of Richard’s attainders could be undone more easily.
The actions of Henry’s Parliament might be startling to Ricardians, but they were no more so than those of Richard’s Parliament attacking Edward IV, his government, and his marriage (especially in light of Paul Murray Kendall’s widely accepted assertion that Richard loved his brother). Following the October 1483 Rebellion and the realization that he did not have the backing of a significant number of his brother’s servants, Richard no longer had to respect his dead brother’s memory. These — the legalistic language, the justification of the King’s title, the attack on political opponents, and the inevitable attainders — were typical for the first Parliament of a victorious King, following his usurpation or his putting down of a potential threat to his crown.
Perhaps it is not off subject to continue with what Croyland wrote next, in a tone that might have been veiled sarcasm: “The sovereignty was confirmed to our lord the King, as being his due, not by one but by many titles; so that we are to believe that he rules most rightfully over the English people and that, not so much by right of blood, as of conquest and victory in warfare. There were some persons, however, who were of the opinion that words to that effect might have been more widely passed over in silence than inserted in our statutes; the more especially because in the very same Parliament a discussion took place, and that too with the King’s consent, relative to his marriage with the Lady Elizabeth…in whose person it appeared to all that every requisite might be supplied which was wanting to make good the title of the King himself.” As a former servant of Edward IV, Croyland was just stating what many of Henry’s adherents already believed and felt.