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Henry IV, Not Richard II

I understand that there are people who consider themselves “Double Ricardians,” meaning that they are defenders of both Richard II and Richard III.

However, from where I sit, they had better drop their supposed support of Richard II and embrace his supplanter Henry IV, because Henry IV resembled Richard III, while Richard II shared the same fate as Edward V.

The following passages from This Realm of England: 1399 to 1688 by Lacey Baldwin Smith, D.C. Heath and Company, Boston, 1966, page 5, illustrate my point:

“The seizure of the King is one thing; legally to remove his Crown is another… The question facing Henry (IV) was how to legalize a revolution. He reorganized the royal court and Council, removing his enemies and rewarding his friends. There was little change in administrative personnel, which casts doubts on Henry’s claim that he usurped the Crown in the name of justice and good government.”

It was never Richard III’s intention to dismiss all of his brother’s servants. He needed their support if he expected to stand as his brother’s successor. He dismissed those servants who had obvious affiliations with the late friends of Edward V, such as George Browne, Edward IV’s Esquire of the Body who participated in Edward IV’s funeral, because he was the son-in-law of Thomas Vaughan, the murdered chamberlain of Edward V as Prince of Wales. There were others like John Cheney, Edward IV’s Master of Horse, whom Richard dismissed immediately for reasons of his own.

However, for the most part, Richard wanted to leave his brother’s government intact

Lacey Baldwin Smith continues:

“The best that the new government could do was to accuse Richard (II) of ‘perjuries, sacrileges, unnatural crimes, exactions from his subjects, reductions of his people to slavery, cowardice, and weakness of rule,’ and to demand that he be deposed by the ‘authority of the clergy and people.’ Dimly, hesitantly, a new and pregnant concept was being voiced – that a King could be tried and deposed by the ‘authority of the clergy and people.’ There were, however, serious drawbacks to claiming the throne on the basis of parliamentary mandate. Historically, Parliament was a Parliament solely by authority of the Crown; it could only be summoned by the King; and it could act only if it had been convened by legal writ of summons. In deposing the monarch, Parliament was in effect destroying itself, and once the sovereign had been set aside it was highly questionable whether Parliament retained sufficient legal authority to bestow the Crown on Henry.

…Right, in the person of the reigning monarch, was powerless; but might, in the guise of the Duke of Lancaster, lacked the mantle of legality. Under the circumstances the best compromise was to engineer an abdication in which Richard II would step down of his own free will; Richard’s own Parliament, legally summoned, would declare his throne vacant; and Henry would claim the Crown by right of lawful descent. On these foundations the Lancastrian legend was concocted. Richard cheerfully (‘hilari vultu’) abdicated his sovereignty….to Henry. In fact, there is no evidence of cheerfulness, only of an angry and embittered man who had been denied fair trial and had been ordered to sign on the dotted line. Next, on the thirtieth of September, Parliament was assembled to acknowledge the abdication and declare Richard as ‘utterly unworthy and useless to rule and govern the realm.’ In fact, the Parliament convened was no legal body since it lacked a legal King and its members were heavily outnumbered by a disorderly host of London citizens, most of whom were favorably disposed to the Lancastrian cause. At best the assemblage which met at Westminster might be called a convention or ad hoc Parliament; at worst it was a gathering collected to lend the appearance of legality to outright revolution.”

Richard was no different from other usurpers: he needed to justify his actions with a show of legality. Having summoned a Parliament in the name of King Edward V, he canceled that same Parliament on June 17 as a prelude to his next move. He must have known that many of the members of Parliament would have already left for London before the letters of cancellation would have reached them.

Having been called to London to witness the deposition of the King who had summoned them and having been called to London to attend a Parliament that had in fact been canceled, the men who gathered on June 25 and June 26 could not be said to compose a legal body with the authority to depose the King who had called them.

They were instead a group of perplexed and troubled men who understood that the Lord Chamberlain had recently been ambushed at a Council meeting and executed without trial, and that an army of northerners was heading for the capital city ready to defend the interests of the Duke of Gloucester. Like Edward confronted at Stony Stratford, they realized that “although the dukes cajoled (them) by moderation, yet they clearly showed that they were demanding rather than supplicating (Mancini, page 79).”

Richard could dress up his usurpation to appear to be the result of a popular mandate, but there was not a person there who thought that the matter of Richard’s kingship was up for debate.

Like Richard II, Edward V was deposed by a usurper who grandly declared no malice for the king he supplanted, ‘kindly ‘ overthrown by someone who was more willing than they to bear the tiresome burden of kingship. Like Richard II, Edward V was given no public platform in his defense. A right to a fair trial, the right to be tried by due process, was never given to him. This was the birthright of all Englishmen, but it was something the King himself did not enjoy, nor were his friends given a fair defense.

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