Court, Royal

   As the center of power and influence, the source of favor and patronage, and the means of access to the king and his most important magnates and councilors, the fifteenth-century court was the birthplace of the political tensions that initiated and fostered the WARS OF THE ROSES. Besides a constant throng of suitors and petitioners, the court consisted of the royal household and its officers, all government ministers and officials, foreign envoys, and the monarch’s personal servants. The court served the personal and political needs of the monarch and his family, displayed the wealth and power of the Crown to the kingdom and to foreign courts, and provided an arena for Englishmen to obtain redress or to pursue political and economic advancement through royal favor.
   Because fifteenth-century monarchy was personal, access to the king or to someone who had influence with the king was vital, especially for the PEERAGE and the GENTRY, who, as the politically conscious landowning classes, often required favorable royal intervention for the furtherance of their private interests. The PASTON LETTERS, which describe the Paston family’s long feud with unscrupulous neighboring magnates, clearly illustrate the importance of having friends and influence at court. The letters are a catalogue of the Pastons’ constant attempts to find patrons whose standing at court could win the family effective royal protection. Besides approaching Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, and various members of the WOODVILLE FAMILY, the Pastons in the 1460s lobbied William HASTINGS, Lord Hastings; Henry BOURCHIER, earl of Essex; and George NEVILLE, archbishop of York. By 1470, after EDWARD IV had frustrated all their efforts, the family abandoned the house of YORK, welcomed the READEPTION of HENRY VI and the house of LANCASTER, and, in 1471, fought for Warwick at the Battle of BARNET. With the Yorkist restoration (see Edward IV, Restoration of), the Pastons had to renew their suits to Edward IV, even turning in 1479 to several gentlemen of the royal household.
   In the 1440s and 1450s, the personal deficiencies of Henry VI allowed a group of favored courtiers to gain an unusual hold on power and patronage. By seeming to divert the grace and favor of the Crown to the benefit of themselves and their supporters, nobles like William de la POLE, duke of Suffolk, and Edmund BEAUFORT, duke of Somerset, fueled the discontent of rivals like Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, who enjoyed noble birth and royal blood but lacked access to the king and standing at court. By the start of the civil war in 1459, the court party that had been created by Henry’s favor became the nucleus of the Lancastrian party that formed around Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU. For these courtiers,Yorkist rule threatened the end of their ability as favored courtiers to obtain special favors from the monarch. The renewal of civil war in 1469 was at least partially due to a changing dynamic at the Yorkist court. The rise of the Woodvilles and of a party of “King’s men” like Hastings and William HERBERT, earl of Pembroke, caused the slow erosion of Warwick’s special standing with the king, and drove the ambitious earl to seek new ways to exercise his former dominance. By 1470, Warwick allied himself with the Lancastrians in an effort to recreate for himself the favored position that his one-time enemies had enjoyed under the easily manipulated Henry VI.
   In the 1470s, the English court was given a more formal structure by Edward IV’s adoption of some of the elaborate ceremonial of the ducal court of BURGUNDY. Edward (and later HENRY VII) also reinforced the court’s role as the political and administrative center of the kingdom by requiring courtiers to earn royal favor by serving as councilors, administrators, diplomats, and soldiers.
   Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A.,“The King’s Court during the Wars of the Roses,” in Ralph A. Griffiths, ed., King and Country: England and Wales in the Fifteenth Century (London: Hambledon Press, 1991), pp. 11–32; Loades, David, The Tudor Court (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1987); Myers, A. R., The Household of Edward IV (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1959); Starkey,David, et al., The English Court: From the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War (London: Longman, 1987).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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