- All medieval English kings required expert advice and administrative assistance to effectively govern the kingdom. The great nobles of the realm considered themselves the monarch’s natural advisors, and the political conflict of the 1450s arose in part from the belief of Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, that he and other magnates were being improperly excluded from their rightful roles as advisors to HENRY VI.However, the king had the right to seek advice from whomever he wished, and prior to the outbreak of the WARS OF THE ROSES, the king’s council was largely an informal body of advisors selected by the monarch to give counsel on topics, at times, and in places of the monarch’s choosing. After 1461, the emergency of civil war and the subsequent need to rebuild the authority of the Crown led EDWARD IV and his successors to give their councils more permanent, formal status and to enlarge the role of the council in the daily administration of the realm.Before the Wars of the Roses, royal councils assumed institutional form only during royal minorities, such as occurred during Henry VI’s childhood in the 1420s, or during times of royal incapacity, such as the onset of Henry VI’s mental illness in 1453 (see Henry VI, Illness of). When the king came of age or demonstrated his fitness to resume ruling, the council again became dependent on him for its membership and the scope of its activities. Medieval kings had always drawn their councilors from various sources—the PEERAGE, the GENTRY, and both the greater and lesser clergy. Under Edward IV and HENRY VII, all three groups were still represented, although gentlemen and peers recently raised from the gentry, such as William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings, formed a higher percentage of Yorkist and early Tudor councils. Although councilors were sworn and salaried, they were not required to attend meetings. The greater use of gentry councilors may in part have been a result of the inability of busy nobles to regularly appear at council; most magnates had their own estates to run, and many had public offices that kept them from Westminster; for example, in the 1470s, Richard, duke of Gloucester (see Richard III, King of England),was too occupied with governing the north to attend many council sessions. On fragmentary evidence, we know of 105 councilors appointed by Edward IV, although council meetings during the reign were normally attended by a working group of nine to twelve persons, consisting mainly of the chief officers of state (e.g., the chancellor and treasurer); experienced clerical administrators like John RUSSELL, bishop of Lincoln, and John MORTON, bishop of Ely; and favored gentlemen of the royal household, such as Thomas VAUGHAN.In the late fifteenth century, the council advised the king on a variety of matters, from the formulation of policy to the answering of petitions and the appointment of royal officials. Except perhaps in the late 1460s, when Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, led a sort of opposition to the WOODVILLE FAMILY and to the interests of a newly risen group of “King’s men” such as William HERBERT, earl of Pembroke, the Yorkist council was not a forum for contending factions to compete for influence, as it had become for a time in the last years of Henry VI; under Edward IV and Henry VII, men of whatever social status were summoned to council to advise and support the king, not to oppose his wishes or criticize his government.Meeting usually in the Star Chamber at Westminster, the Yorkist and Tudor councils discussed questions of war and peace, addressed issues of foreign and economic policy, conducted daily administration, and helped the king dispense justice. For instance, the decision to retaliate against the HANSEATIC LEAGUE, which led to a costly trade war, was reached in council in 1468. The council also assisted with such tasks as administering CALAIS, maintaining trade relations with BURGUNDY, and suppressing Channel piracy. However, all this was done, as it had been under earlier monarchs, at the direction and under the authority of the king. What was different, especially after 1471, was the widening scope of the council’s executive activity and the institutional continuity given to the royal board by the development of a large group of experienced clerical and non-noble lay councilors who served throughout the rule of the house of YORK and into the first decades of the house of TUDOR.Further Reading: Baldwin, James F., The King’s Council in England during the Middle Ages (Gloucester, MA: P. Smith, 1965); Chrimes, S. B., Henry VII (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1999); Guy, John A.,“The King’s Council and Political Participation,” in J. A. Guy and A. Fox, eds., Reassessing the Henrician Age (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), pp. 121–147; Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998);Watts, John, Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. John A.Wagner. 2001.
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