Retaining, Acts Against

   The heart of the social system known as BASTARD FEUDALISM was the creation by members of the PEERAGE and GENTRY of an AFFINITY of sworn RETAINERS who indented (contracted) for life to support their lord in war and peace in return for money and the exercise of the lord’s influence in their behalf. This system not only enabled powerful magnates to summon bands of armed supporters for WARS OF THE ROSES armies, it also allowed them to feud with their rivals and to disrupt the order and administration of their localities. Concerned by what they perceived to be a high level of violence and disorder arising from the unchecked recruitment of retainers, fifteenth-century kings and PARLIAMENTS enacted various statutes to control the practice.
   Because they relied on the system to raise large portions of their own military forces, neither EDWARD IV nor HENRY VII wanted to abolish retaining. They sought only to secure the benefits of the system to themselves, while repressing their subjects’ ability to use the system for private purposes that disrupted public order and corrupted royal justice. Because kings sought both to continue retaining themselves and to curb retaining by their nobles, anti-retaining statutes tended to be vague and difficult to enforce, leaving the manner of their application to the discretion of the monarch and the circumstances of particular cases.
   Attempts to limit retaining had been undertaken long before the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses. A statute passed in 1390 during the reign of Richard II prohibited retaining by anyone other than a nobleman, although enforcement of the act was virtually nonexistent by the mid-fifteenth century. In 1467, the House of Commons asked Edward IV to take strong action to combat the rise in murders, riots, and other disorders that seemed to be occurring throughout the kingdom. The resulting statute, enacted by Parliament in 1468, limited retainers to menial servants, household officers, and legal advisors. However, the act’s definitions of what constituted legal retaining were vague, and continuing outrages moved the Parliament of 1472 to request the king to tighten enforcement of the statute and issue a proclamation reiterating the penalties prescribed under it for illegal retaining and abuses of LIVERY AND MAINTENANCE. In the last session of Edward’s reign in 1483, Parliament again asked for more vigorous enforcement of the 1468 act.
   In 1486, after the Crown passed from the house of YORK to the house of TUDOR, the new monarch, Henry VII, persuaded the lords and commons in Parliament to take an oath to refrain from illegally retaining or being retained. Henry also used acts of ATTAINDER and an unprecedentedly extensive system of bonds and recognizances to bring magnates under royal control. (Recognizances were sums of money pledged as security for loyal service or for performance of a certain act; disloyalty or failure to perform brought the sum due and left the nobleman indebted to the Crown.) De Retentionibus Illicitis (1504), the major anti-retaining statute enacted under Henry VII, prohibited retaining without a royal license, but it lapsed at the king’s death in 1509. Under Henry VIII, the regulation of retaining again followed the provisions of the 1468 act, with the Crown forbidding or licensing retaining on a case-by-case basis.
   Further Reading: Chrimes, S. B., Henry VII (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1999); Hicks, Michael, Bastard Feudalism (London: Longman, 1995); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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