European Middle Ages
England

   The history of England from the Norman invasion encapsulates all the major trends of the times.

   Politically, the Norman kings and their heirs are the primary locus in European history where feudalism is converted into a working model of a centralized monarchy. The history of England all throughout the Middle Ages is one, long, almost uninterrupted set of conflicts engendered by the attempt to convert feudalism into monarchy. On the one hand are attempts to consolidate the power of the monarch over the power of feudatories; on the other hand is the resistance to monarchical aggrandizement and the subsequent assertion of privileges by feudatories over the monarch. The high point of monarchical power was attained during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307); the low points of monarchical power were scattered all throughout medieval English history: the reigns of John, Edward II, and Richard II being the bleakest.

   From a cultural standpoint, the history of England involved a gradual absorption into a larger, European culture. While Anglo-Saxons had been fairly insular and unique culturally and politically, medieval England came increasingly dominated by continental culture. By the time of Chaucer and Richard II in the late fourteenth century, when England emerges as a major cultural force in Europe, very few indigenous Anglo-Saxon cultural practices remained in the "high" culture of England. The German language of England, Anglo-Saxon, still remained in some of its most essential aspects, but for the most part, the language of England, Middle English, had more in common with continental languages, particularly French. This cultural transformation occurred from the top down, so to speak. The Normans brought with them Norman culture, institutions, and social practices, but did not largely impose these on the native Anglo-Saxon populations. Beginning in the 13th century, however, almost all educated people in England had learned Norman, French, and Latin cultural models—only a few eccentrics still attached themselves to Anglo-Saxon cultural practices.


The Norman Kings   William and the Norman kings who followed him had as their principle objective the breaking of the power of the Anglo-Saxon earls and the importation of Norman feudalism. They had, however, to make one important modification to feudalism—the overlord would be the king rather than a duke. They followed the same model that had been developed in Normandy—the king owned the land under him either directly or indirectly. Land was enfeoffed, that is, granted as a "fief," to individual tenants who collected the revenues from this land. In exchange, the tenants-in-chief (called "barons") entered into certain obligations with the overlord—these included revenues and a certain amount of military forces. This system had a complicated set of "privileges": on the one hand, the tenants-in-chief enjoyed a certain autonomy in the administration of lands and its revenue—this included rights of inheritance, that is, a feudatory was granted to a family rather than to an individual. On the other hand, the monarch directly or indirectly owned the land so had a certain claim to the revenues, the land, its inheritability, and to the services and obligations of its tenants.

   The challenge to the Norman kings was to convert this system into a working monarchy. In order to maintain centralized authority over the more or less independent tenants, William retained as monarch the right to collect taxes, coin money, and to oversee the administration of justice. But William did not have a wealth of professional administrators—since Anglo-Saxon England largely consisted of a series of independent earldoms, there were very few people capable of carrying out the centralized functions he needed. Power, then, slowly devolved to the barons he had created.

   It fell to Henry I (1100-1135), William's successor, to create a professional class of administrators for the crown. The only real administrators that William had relied on were the individuals filling the Anglo-Saxon office of sheriff who served as the local representative of the king. Henry I, however, turned his court into an administrative bureaucracy by creating special offices. These court offices would each serve a limited and specialized set of functions so that the office-holders would themselve become efficient administrators in that one area. Most significantly, one of these specialized offices was the Exchequer, which oversaw the acquisition and dispersal of revenues for the crown.


Henry II   In the development of the English monarchy, the most dramatic events occurred during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189), the grandson of Henry I. The monarchy had fallen on troubled times, enduring a civil war and contrary claims to the throne. When Henry II came to the throne, he instituted a series of measures designed to consolidate power around the king. The most significant of these measures was the narrowing of privileges granted to the church and to the clergy. While William and Henry I had managed to gain privileges from the nobility, the church still remained relatively autonomous.

   Henry's problem with the Roman church was that it existed outside of the legal system that the English monarchs were trying to impose across England. When a member of the clergy committed a crime, that criminal fell under the jurisdiction of the church rather than the king. The criminal would be tried in an ecclesiastical ("church") court using canon law of the Roman church, rather than tried in a manorial or state court using the king's laws. The ecclesiastical judicial system of the Roman church was by and large highly corrupt (as its remnants in the present day still are)—even the most heinous crimes, such as murder, resulted in minor penalties imposed by the church court.

   This not only rankled the king, it threatened the social order and the peace that the king was trying to establish by centralizing the judicial system. Henry's biggest fight, then, was with the church. Henry tried to limit the church courts in 1164 by allowing the church courts to try a clerical criminal but demanding that the criminal be sentenced in a royal court. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, refused to yield—he would later be assassinated by four of Henry's knights.

   Despite his failure to bring the church under a centralized judiciary, Henry was one of the most successful kings in European medieval history to consolidate monarchical power and develop the institution of monarchical government. He greatly expanded the role of the judiciary in the life of the English. In particular, he charged the sheriff of each region to call before itinerant judges any local person that he pleased in order to question them before the judge. The sheriff would ask these people if they knew of any crimes that had occurred since the last visit of the judge. This practice would eventually evolve into the judicial practice we know as the grand jury. He also introduced the original form of jury trials. In Henry's time, jury trials were only applied to civil cases involving property. When someone made a complaint of dispossession, the sheriff was empowered to bring before the judge twelve men who were familiar with the case. These men would then tell the judge what they knew of the case and would give their opinion as to the truth of the complaint or the defense. This twelve man testimonial would eventually develop into the civil and criminal jury trial.

   These were significant innovations in many ways. First, they equalized the law in a profound way. People with little power could make complaints against more powerful people and prevail—this made the judicial something that people supported and sought after. In addition, the use of the twelve men expanded participation in the judiciary and in government to more than just the monarch, his ministers, and the powerful barons. Government was now partly in the hands of common people—thus would begin a growing interest among more and more classes in the conduct of government. Finally, Henry's innovations created a more or less independent bureaucracy that, in the hands of a well-trained administrative staff, could run the central government no matter who was king.

   And that's what happened when Henry II died. He was succeeded by his son, Richard I (1189-1199), who, because of his interest in the Crusades, spent all of six months in England during his ten year reign. Even in his absence, the government ran efficiently. In fact, it got even more efficient as the administrative beauracracy was able to develop without the interference of the king.


Magna Carta   It was during the reign of Richard's successor, John (1199-1214), that the steady development of monarchical authority was partly checked. As with his predecessors, John ruled not only England as a monarch, but he also ruled much of France as a vassal of the French king. This rankled the French kings all during the reigns of the early Norman kings. By 1204, the French king, Philip Augustus, retook for France the lands that John ruled in Normandy. In Philip Augustus, John faced one of the most capable military and administrative kings in French history—he was dealt defeat after defeat in his attempt to first defend and then regain his lands.

   Fed up with his war in France, John's nobles resented the power of the king to raise money for what they felt was a losing war. In the famous Magna Carta of 1215, they forced the king to sign a charter that renounced much of his power. The Magna Carta was not really a document about rights, it was a document about limiting monarchical government and the power of the king. First and foremost, it revoked the right of the king to raise revenues independently—in order to raise revenues, the king first had to obtain permission from his vassals. The document also limited the power of the king's judges arbitrarily to try and sentence free men; all free men could only be tried and sentenced by their equals. Finally, it created a council of vassals that could approve or disapprove of the king's revenue raising; this council would eventually develop into the Parliament. The great experiment with monarchy in Europe was entering a new phase—the first involved the creation of monarchical power and the institutions to run it; the second phased involved the creation of institutions to check and limit the growing power of the monarch. Everything was in place now for the subsequent history of government in Europe.


Edward I   The most powerful king in medieval English history was Edward I (1272-1307), an aggressive, warrior king that not only consolidated power in England but through wars of conquest became the first king of all of Britain, albeit briefly.

   Of all the medieval monarchs in Europe, Edward was perhaps the most brilliant at consolidating power. The institution he invented to achieve this end was Parliament, or "Talking." The purpose of Parliament was to gather all the major vassals of the king in one place, explain to them the reasons for collecting taxes, get their approval, and then discuss methods of collection. While this may seem to be an expansion of the role of the barons in government, it was actually the opposite. The entire purpose of the development of Parliament was efficiency , the rapid generation of consensus among the nobility, none of whom really were in a position to challenge the king. Eventually, however, after the reign of Edward, the Parliament would develop as a powerful check on the monarch's power—this was not Edward's intention or practice.

   Edward's Parliament included more than nobility—he had the genius to include knights and other commoners to represent local counties at the Parliament. These commoners probably had no role at all in the Parliament, but the practice was enormously effective as propaganda. Local commoners were not only presented with an awe-inspiring theater of power at the court, but they also were being given propaganda and reasons for taxation on themselves and the people they represented. Commoners would eventually become an integral part of Parliament and develop their own independence from the nobility in Parliament—suffice it to say here, though, that the inclusion of commoners was part of the trend of increasing participation in the monarchical and local government by more people begun by the earliest Norman kings.

   Edward made the most determined assault on baronial power among all the English kings. He instituted a series of proceedings called quo warranto proceedings ("by what warrant")—these proceedings would systematically question by what warrant nobles had certain privileges and rights from the king. If there was no warrant for these privileges, they were revoked and granted to the monarch. The result was a massive consolidation of power in the king's hands. Among other innovations was Edward's practice of issuing statutes, which were pieces of public legislation arbitrarily imposed on the entire kingdom by the will of the king.

   Edward needed an efficient system for raising revenues for his constant warfare. On the continent he fought against the French king for Gascony, a territory under his control that had been seized by the French king. It was a useless war fought from 1294-1303 that simply resulted in Gascony being returned to Edward as a vassal. His most significant wars, however, were against Wales and Scotland. Both of these Celtic countries were independent of England—Wales was a principality ruled by the Prince of Wales and Scotland was a monarchy. However, in both Wales and Scotland a substantial number of the nobility were Anglo-Norman rather than Welsh or Scottish. While they were nominally under the Prince of Wales or the Scottish king, most of them had closer cultural ties with England and the Normans. It was with their help that he conquered Wales and brought it under his control. It was a different set-up than the English feudal system—Wales was a system of more or less independent lordships that were vassals of the king.

   Scotland, however, was a much more difficult matter. When the Scottish king, Alexander III, died in 1290 without an heir, two nobles stepped forward to claim the throne: John Balliol and Robert Bruce, both Anglo-Norman lords in Scotland. The Scots turned to Edward to resolve the dispute, which he agreed to do if the disputer were settled using English and if he was made regent of Scotland until a decision was made. So, without shedding any blood, Edward became the overlord of Scotland. When the English finally declared John Balliol king, many of the Scottish nobles preferred being under Edward. When Balliol, however, allied with the French, Edward invaded and conquered Scotland in 1296. But Scotland was to hard to hold—two major rebellions, one led by William Wallace and the second by Robert Bruce, the grandson of the Bruce that claimed the throne, temporarily expelled Edward from Scotland.


The 1300's   The history of the monarchy after Edward I involved the steady dissolution of monarchical power at the hands of restive nobility. England suffered many major shocks throughout this century: the Black Death, wars with France, and Peasant revolts. By 1400, England had developed its own unique system of government through checks on the monarch's power and the further development of judiciary practices.

   Edward I was succeeded by his son, Edward II (1307-1330), who on account of his arbitrary government and his favoring of often corrupt councilors, inspired a major revolt by the nobility. The reign of Edward III (1330-1377) was largely occupied with fighting in France to regain possessions seized by the French king—these series of skirmishes, which lasted until 1453 were known as the Hundred Years War. The end result of would be the permanent expulsion of English power from the continent.

   Life changed dramatically after the advent of the Black Death in 1349, to say the least. For England and the rest of Europe, the Death meant a startling decrease in labor and a subsequent rise in the value of labor. In the early years, a substantial amount of wealth was redistributed from the nobility downwards—most importantly, the value of labor inspired people to uproot themselves and relocate. The social consequences would be tremendous and begin to produce a "commoner" culture of remarkable resiliency and diffusion all throughout England. This commoner culture would produce a body of literature and music as well as a sensibility that would eventually diffuse into court and higher culture. The first major English literary figure, Geoffrey Chaucer, would in part draw on models and sensibilities of this lower culture.

   Most importantly, the Black Death changed the economy of England. Throughout the entire period of Norman rule, the economy centered entirely on agriculture with some export of raw materials, such as wool. Agriculture was dominated by the landed nobility who collected rents from tenants lower on the hierarchy. The entire structure was built on the shoulders of the villein who received the smallest share of arable land. The villein was tied to the land that he farmed, which was often barely enough to provide for his family's survival. He paid a certain amount of his crop as rent but he also paid in labor. He was forced to work a certain amount of time on the lands of the nobility who collected all the revenues from these lands. This was a phenomenally lucrative system for the landholders but was a desperate and torturous existence for villein.

   With the Death, however, landholders found themselves desperately short of villeins to work their lands. In addition, the shortage of labor induced many villeins to run away and look for more gainful employment on other lands as wage laborers or to seek work in the cities. Even though it was a serious crime to run away (the villeins were in effect slaves), the prospect of a more secure life was inducement enough. With the loss of villeins, the landholders had to resort to wage labor, which was considerably more expensive, particularly in the light of falling food prices because of lowered demand! The landholders solved the problem in two ways: the first was by converting their lands to rented lands. By 1500, almost no landholders were using their own lands but had rented them all out. The second and most innovative approach was to stop growing crops but instead use the land to graze sheep for wool—this practice was called "enclosure" since the land would be enclosed to keep the sheep in. Enclosure turned out to be an even more lucrative use of the land and all throughout the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries massive amounts of land were converted from agriculture to sheep-raising.

   The phenomenal increase in wool production made England one of the centers of European commerce. But the English soon turned from exporting raw wool to exporting finished cloth. Why, after all, collect money from exporting wool only to have to pay it out again for the finished cloth? By the end of the fifteenth century, England had become the major manufacturing commercial power of Europe primarily because of the growth of the cloth industry. The conversion of the English economy to a commercial and manufacturing economy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries contributed to the growth of a new commoner class, what we would call the middle class. These commoners sometimes attained incredible wealth not only through trade and manufacturing, but often as renters on agricultural land.

   The reign of Richard II (1377-1399), who came to the throne as a boy, was marked by arbitrary use of power and extreme efforts of the nobility to check the power of the king. So troubled was the reign, that Richard was the first king to be deposed by a rebellion, that of Henry Bolingbroke, who usurped the throne to become Henry IV.

   It was during the later years of Edward III and the reign of Richard II that England emerged as potent cultural force in Europe. Some Anglo-Saxon practices still hung on, such as the writing of alliterative poetry, that is, poetry whose meter is marked by alliteration or the use of identical consonants to begin words. On the whole, however, England developed a distinct culture using French and classical models as well as a new, growing commoner culture. Combined with both of these was a new and innovative anti-clericalism that gaine dramatic cultural force in the latter part of the fourteenth century.

   The Roman church had never truly brought about ecclesiastical unity in Europe. In the early period, several different practices and theologies vied with one another, the most significant being the conflict between the Celtic and the continental churches. Moreover, the eastern European areas never fell under Roman control—a separate church, the church of Byzantium, exercised spiritual and political authority over these Christians.

   The Roman church in the West was a powerful medium through which a common European culture was forged and was instrumental in bringing first Anglo-Saxon and then Anglo-Norman culture into the European mainstream. But the Roman church was also hopelessly corrupt. It was largely run according to the social models of Europe—the hierarchy of the church mirrored the hierarchy of society. In fact, the top of the church hierarchy was drawn almost entirely from European nobles. The church concentrated its energies on the top of the hierarchy and on the various monasteries, which for all practical purposes were the equivalent of noble estates and practiced the same kind of slave labor—the use of villeins to farm monastic lands—that the English manors used. Almost no resources were devoted to the village, the town, and the commoner. Clergy at this level were desperately poor and lived a hand-to-mouth existence selling prayers and other sacraments.

   It was inevitable that the hierarchy and wealth of the church, its manifest meddling in commerce and politics, its cruel disdain for the lowest levels of society, and the added insult of the relative immunity of clergy from criminal prosecution, would all eventually produce strong reactions against the church and the clergy—this anti-clerical feeling during the Middle Ages reached its height in England.

   The reaction to the church ranged from aggressive denunciations of the entire institution to stinging critiques of church clergy that still upheld the legitimacy of the church itself.

   The most famous and important of the anti-clerical agitators was John Wycliff who originally began his career as a doctor of divinity at Oxford in the 1360's and speculated on such abstruse questions as the nature of universals. He soon, however, developed strong critiques of the church and eventually assumed in the late 1370's a revolutionary stance towards the church. He rejected all church hierarchy and declared that the Christian consisted of the people who had faith but did not consist of the church hierarchy (this would eventually become the "priesthood of all believers" in Martin Luther). He rejected transsubstantiation as a legitimate doctrine (the idea that the bread and wine of the Eucharist actually change into the body and blood of Christ), arguing that there is no Scriptural authority for this. He also argued that the Bible should be translated into vernacular languages, that it does no good to read from the Bible in a language that most Christians can't understand. To this end, he produced the first English Bible. These and other heretical doctrines landed him in a world of trouble, but he was protected by powerful nobles who used them for their own political ends. His most revolutionary idea, however, lost him the protection of even the nobility. He argued that all human authority comes from God's grace alone. This doctrine of "authority through grace" allowed him to argue that no corrupt official or authority should be obeyed. If a priest, bishop, or pope were corrupt, parishioners were justified in opposing any authority exercised by that church official—the judgement of such corruption lay with the conscience of the believer. This was not only a radical challenge to the church, it also quickly became a radical challenge to secular authority as well.

   Wycliff's radical ideas led to a distinct anti-clerical movement in England: Lollardry. Lollard ideas in part impelled the Peasant's Rebellion of 1381 and would surface in the remainder of the century. While Lollardry was effectively stamped out in the early 1400's, it re-emerged with a vengeance when Protestantism was introduced into England in the 1510's. Lollard ideas, however, did diffuse across the continent and many of the theological and social ideas of the Protestant Reformation are traceable back to the hapless Lollards.

   The most important thing about Lollardry and the general anti-clericalism of the fourteenth century is that it founded a new culture deliberately resistant to the dominant, homogenizing culture of the church. This new anti-clerical culture led a number of theologians, writers, and poets in England to begin to speculate about the nature of society, government, economics and human institutions and to forge radically new ideas on all these fronts. Any speculation about the legitimacy of political power would have landed the writer in serious trouble; church government, however, was relatively open to criticism and it was here that the critical tradition in European political theory developed, and in no place in Europe did it develop as strongly as it did in medieval England. The anti-clerical culture was not so much a theological or even a doctrinal culture—it was a moral and political culture in part forged out of the increasing role that all individuals were playing in English government. Anti-clerical culture manifested itself in religious works, such as Piers Plowman written by a desperately poor cleric named William Langland, in mystical literature such as The Book of Margery Kempe , and in an entire corpus of secular literature and practices.

   No individual better represents this new cultural fusion of European, commoner, and anti-clerical culture than Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400). His earliest writings imported Italian and French models into English literature, but his greatest work was The Canterbury Tales , which fused a number of cultural forms and anti-clerical criticism in a series of stories narrated by a cross-section of English culture.

   The emergence of Chaucer as a major literary figure points to another vital change in English culture in the fourteenth century: the emergence of English as an official and a literary language. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the language of government was primarily French in spoken language and Latin in written language. The literary language of early Norman England was Norman French—a number of the earliest masterpieces of English literature are in actuality French. In the fourteenth century, however, English became the spoken language of government and in part replaced Latin as the official written language. Literature in English began to thrive from the middle of the fourteenth century onwards and culminated in the career of Chaucer and Wycliff's translation of the Bible. By 1400, English had become the language of England.

   This English, however, was substantially different from the English spoken before the Norman invasion. The English of the Anglo-Saxon period, called "Old English," was completely a Germanic language that had more in common with the Germanic languages spoken on the continent than it had with modern English. The Norman invasion, however, introduced a long period in which Norman French and Anglo-Saxon existed side-by-side. The result was a curious mix of the two languages, in fact, almost a lingua franca, that produced the English of the fourteenth century. This was an English that used many Germanic forms but was dominated by French words and a French world view.


The Lancasters   When Henry Bolingbroke deposed Richard II, he declared himself king of England as Henry IV on a very tenuous claim to the throne. This was a radical departure in English history that would determine historical practices for the next hundred years and beyond. Because Henry had provided the precedent for deposing a king, it soon became evident that the monarchy could be claimed through any vague connection if the claimant had sufficient arms to enforce the claim. The history of the fifteenth century is one long, dismal history of the problems created by Henry's usurpation.

   The problems began immediately. Henry spent most of his reign putting down a rebellion first by a Welsh nobleman, Owen Glyndwr, and then later by powerful English magnates.

   His son, however, who reigned as Henry V (1413-1422), was determined to regain English rights of the French areas of Normandy and Gascon. To this end, he launched an invasion of France which soon gained him all the territory the English had lost in these areas. He was helped by two major accidents. The first was an all-out schism in French government between the Duke of Burgundy and son of the King, Charles VI. Both claimed the throne and Henry took advantage of this division. The second accident was the use of longbow archers against the French forces that were primarily cavalry and infantry. Because the longbow archers could fire from a distance and rearm themselves quickly after releasing a volley, the French forces fell quickly.

   At the end of his conquests, Henry extorted two things from Charles VI: he was married to Charles' daughter Catherine and the French king ceded the throne upon his death to the child of Henry and Catherine. When Henry V died of an illness in 1322 at the age of 35, their nine-month old child, Henry VI, became the first and only king of both England and France.

   The invasions of Henry and the steady loss of French territories under Henry VI comprise what historians call the Hundred Years War. The English held on to their possessions until 1429 when, under the inspired leadership of a teenage girl, Joan of Arc, the French rallied against the English and their Burgundian allies. When the Duke of Burgund reallied himself with the French, the tide of battle turned distinctively against the English. Henry V had the benefit of a politically divided France; the English now faced a rival, French claimant to the throne—the Dauphin, the son of Charles VI—backed by a unified France. By 1453, the English were permanently kicked out of France except for the town of Calais.

   Henry VI was the youngest man to become king of England and reigned an immensely long time. His reign, however, was generally marked by his non-presence as a king since he despised warfare and had no interest in government. The government instead fell to his magnates and to his wife, Margaret of Anjou. This began a period of severe rivalries between magnates that would eventually erupt into the Wars of the Roses.


The Wars of the Roses   The "Wars of the Roses" is somewhat of a misnomer. The name refers to the symbols used to represent the two major factions—the Yorks represented themselves with the symbol of the white rose and the Tudors represented themselves with a red rose. It wasn't until the end of the struggle, however, that the Tudors adopted the red rose to distinguish themselves from the Yorks. Nor were these really wars, but rather a series of small, albeit decisive, skirmishes between various magnates.

   The issue, of course, owed its origins to Henry Bolingbroke's usurpation of the crown. There were several nobles and families who had better claims to the throne and Henry had introduced the dangerous precedent that the crown belonged to whoever could seize it.

   The non-presence of Henry VI as a king was even more decisive. Since the government fell to a clique of nobles surrounding Margaret of Anjou, those nobles who felt left out were bitter and rebellious. The one having the greatest cause for bitterness was Richard, Duke of York. It was not just simply that Richard had a better claim to the throne, it was that Henry VI had proven himself useless as a king. When Henry VI went mad in 1453, Richard managed to get himself declared the Protector of the Realm—in executive functions, he was the equivalent of the king. He then surrounded the monarch's government with fellow Yorkists and allies and he arrested the major figures in Henry's court. After the king regained his sanity, the first major battle occurred between Richard and these rival court governors. This first battle, fought at Saint Albans, is traditionally reckoned as the start of the Wars of the Roses.

   By 1460, however, Richard controlled the government and, in an incredibly audacious move, declared himself to be king of England since Henry was both unfit and was the descendant of a usurper. The nobility, however, backed off of this proposal and promised Richard the crown after the death of Henry. But Henry didn't die soon enough—when Richard died, the succession fell to his son, Edward IV.

   Edward IV (1461-1483) did what Richard couldn't do: he deposed Henry and assumed the throne of England. He could never really consolidate his rule, however, and faced intense and aggressive restiveness from his brother, George, the Duke of Clarence and slightly less resistance from his other brother, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. In 1471, Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI landed with an invasion force and temporarily retook the crown for a couple months. This was soon overcome by Edward and Henry died in prison, old, mad, and broken.

   On the death of Edward in 1483, the succession fell to his son, Edward V. But Edward V was only twelve years old, so the Protectorate fell to his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Richard, following the traditions set down by Henry IV, Richard, Duke of York, his father, and his brother Edward, seized the throne rapidly and efficiently. He imprisoned the two sons of Edward and may even have had them executed (it is more likely that Henry Tudor executed them). The throne was usurped yet again in less than a hundred years.

   By all accounts, Richard III was an extremely effective administrator, militarily brilliant, and of immense physical courage. His assumption of the crown, however, was challenged immediately from several sides. His two year reign consisted entirely of fighting rebellions, including an early, indirect rebellion to put Henry Tudor on the throne. When this rebellion failed, Henry Tudor took matters into his own hands and directly confronted Richard. Henry had only the most tenuous claim to the throne and the Tudor monarchs would spend the next hundred years propagandizing that tenuous claim. The last fight of this rebellion, at Bosworth in 1485, resulted in the death of Richard. A new usurper, Henry Tudor took the throne as Henry VII just as Europe was entering the modern period.

Richard Hooker

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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 5-5-98