Attainder, Act of

   During the WARS OF THE ROSES, attainder developed as an act of PARLIAMENT whereby the faction in power could convict its political opponents of treason without bringing them to trial. By passing a bill of attainder, Parliament simply declared anyone named in the act to be guilty of treason and subject to the loss of all civil rights and the forfeiture to the Crown of all property. Because attainder declared anyone so convicted to be “corrupt of blood,” all heirs and descendants of attainted persons were disinherited, thus allowing the confiscated property to be parceled out among members and supporters of the winning faction.
   Although attainder was originally used to supplement the conviction of persons found guilty of a capital offence in a court of law, Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU and the victorious Lancastrians used it in the COVENTRY PARLIAMENT of 1459 to extinguish the rights and seize the property of the exiled Yorkist leaders. When the Yorkists won control of HENRY VI and the royal administration in 1460, they used the Lancastrian precedent of the previous year to reverse their own attainders and to convict and dispossess their enemies. Between 1459 and 1500, Parliament attainted over 400 persons in the various reversals of political and military fortune that marked the Wars of the Roses. Most acts of attainder were reversed in subsequent Parliaments, either because attainted individuals or their heirs belonged to the party then in power or because they submitted to the ruling party.
   Further Reading: Bellamy, John G., The Law of Treason in England in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970); Lander, J.R., Crown and Nobility, 1450-1509 (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1976).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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