To some extent this document illustrates the growth of state institutions in England much better than the usually-used Magna Carta.
In the year of our lord 1376 a parliament was held at London by command of the king, which began about the octave of St. George and lasted almost continuously for nine weeks. There the king urgently demanded a subsidy from the common people.
But the knights of the shire, divinely inspired, as it is believed, diligently treated together on this matter and refused to answer these requests without the counsel of the magnates. Therefore the knights petitioned that there should be sent to them certain bishops, by whose advice they might be informed so as to reply more circumspectly to the requests of the king. When the bishops had been fetched to the counsels of the knights, and when they had heard their charges and had made themselves acquainted with the petitions which the knights intended to put forward, they realized that the matter which had been taken in hand was an arduous one and could not be brought to a successful conclusion without great and weighty counsel. Certainly the matter demanded great energy. They told the knights that they would need to work in every fashion and manner, and that the knights should summon four of the most loyal barons of the realm, men who dearly loved the king and the royal dignity, to help what they had begun. Fortified by the protection of these people, they would evade more easily the traps of the envious, if any were prepared against them, and would stand more courageously for the advantage of the whole kingdom and for the profit and honor of the king. They were going to treat with the king notwithstanding that he would find it hard to accept what was intended for the safety of his body and mind and for the advantage and profit of his kingdom.
The knights followed the wise advice of the bishops, and, together with the bishops, they petitioned the council for four barons, without whom they declared that they neither would nor could treat about anything. Therefore, by their election, four barons were sent to them, namely Henry Percy, Richard Stafford, Guy Brienne and Roger Beauchamp. They caused these knights to be sworn of their counsels and that they would give good aid to them if it should happen to be needed. The barons promised loyal counsel and aid, but not unless as many earls who were loyal to the realm, strong in spirit and powerful in their possessions, were added to their undertakings and councils. They therefore decided, by common decree, that four earls should be chosen, namely Edmund Mortimer Earl of March, Thomas Beauchamp Earl of Warwick, William Ufford Earl of Suffolk and Ralph Stafford Earl of Stafford.
Together with the bishops and barons, the commons petitioned for these earls and received them. Immediately they made them swear to be in their counsels. Nor was it difficult to extort these oaths from them, for every one of them ardently wished to further the honor of the king, the advantage of the realm and the peace of the people. When, therefore, the above nobles had treated with the knights on the royal request, it was agreed amongst them that they should unanimously refuse the royal requests until certain abuses and defects had been corrected, and until certain persons who seemed to have impoverished the king and the kingdom, to have vilely tarnished his fame and greatly to have diminished his power, should have been eliminated, and their excesses properly punished according to their kind.
When they had done this, a natural question arose amongst them as to which knight should speak on behalf of the king, the kingdom and the common people. For they feared certain deceitful persons amongst the king's secretaries who had obtained full grace and favor with the king, and who would, they knew, prepare traps for them, on account of the fact that they had for the first time planned to bring their defects into the open.
But whilst they were disturbed about such things, God lifted up the spirit of a certain knight of their company whose name was Peter de la Mare, pouring into his heart abundant wisdom from his treasures, and an unhoped-for eloquence. He gave him also such great perseverance and constancy that he was neither terrified by the threats of his adversaries nor confused by the plotting of the envious; but he was always ready to suffer all things for truth and justice. . . Thus the trustworthy Peter began to speak, trusting in the help of God. He stood with his colleagues before the Lords, of whom the greatest was John Duke of Lancaster, whose deeds always stood out in discord with his name; for he always, as it is believed, lacked both human and divine grace.
"Lords" he said "and magnates, by whose faith and industry the government of the kingdom ought to be carried out. I will by no means try to conceal from your wisdom how weighed down the common people have been by the burden of taxes, now paying a fifteenth, now a tenth, or even yielding a ninth to the king's use. All of which they would bear cheerfully if the king or the kingdom seemed to get any advantage or profit from it. It would also have been tolerable to the people if all that money had been spent in forwarding our military affairs, even though these had been unsuccessful. But it is obvious that the king has neither received advantage nor the kingdom any return from it. And so, because the public was never told how such great sums of money were spent, the common people are demanding a statement of accounts from those who received the money, for it is not credible that the king should need such an infinitely large sum if his ministers were loyal."
The judges, having nothing to say to Peter when he made these statements, kept silent. Then the Duke and his accomplices, since nearly all the magnates and the common people held them in suspicion, omitted any reply at that time, and dismissed the council, that the matters might be treated about elsewhere....The Duke took counsel with his followers: he is said to have uttered boastful words. "What" he said "are these degenerate knights of tallow undertaking? Do they think they are the kings or princes of this land? Or whence have they got their pride and arrogance? I think they are ignorant of my power. I will appear before them early tomorrow in such glorious a manner; I will raise up such a great force amongst them; and I will terrify them with such severity, that neither they nor anybody like them will dare in future to provoke my majesty." But one of his men-at-arms is said to have replied to the Duke, who thus glorified and deceived himself with empty promises: "Lord, do not let your magnificence hide from you by whom, and how strongly, these knights are supported. They are not common people as you have said, but men powerful and strenuous in arms. They have the backing of the lords and, first of all, of prince Edward your brother who gives them sound advice and aid. Also all the Londoners and the common people are so closely connected with them that they will not permit them to be overwhelmed with insults or molested with any injury however slight. These knights, if they are insulted, will be driven to undertake all the most extreme steps against your person and your friends; whereas otherwise they might perhaps set out to do very little."
Then the Duke driven by the sharp prick of his conscience and terrified by the replies of his followers, as we have indicated before, put aside the harshness of his mind when he entered the assembly of the knights on the following day. Beyond the hopes of any, he showed himself so gracious and favorable to them that he swung them all over in admiration and surprise . . . craftily pretending modesty, he seemed to offer encouragement, saying that he knew well how honorable the desires of the knights were, as they labored to improve the conditions of the realm. Whatever they thought ought to be corrected, they should set forth, and he would apply the remedy they chose. The knights expressed their thanks to him, although they knew that he was insincere. Then, entering parliament, and standing before his judges they deposed against Latimer, the king's chamberlain, by the mouth of Peter de la Mare, that he was useless to the king and to the kingdom. Therefore they most urgently petitioned that he should be deprived of his office; he was said often to have deceived the king and to have been false---let me not say traitorous---to his lord the king.
When they had put forward these and a host of other charges, they begged the judges that they would justly provide the remedy of correction for their great excesses. The duke knew that such ill deeds deserved the penalty of death. Nevertheless, he perceived that, if he pronounced sentence of death against them, their goods would fall to the use of the king and not of himself. He chose to delay the pronouncement of the sentence . . . for he ardently desired their money and, what is worse, as it is said, was a partner in their crimes. He dismissed the assembly, for then, to examine the case elsewhere---Would that he would justly judge it!---And he went away. . . .
Meanwhile, the appointed day of judgement of Latimer and Lyons arrived. Complaining that Lord Latimer had evaded the laws of the kingdom, contrary to the provisions of statute, Latimer replied that his actions had the approval of the king and his ministers. And Sir Peter responded that this was nonetheless against the statutes made in parliament, and that statutes so made in parliament must be followed as written, and could only be changed in parliament by another statute. To show that Latimer had not followed the statutes as written, he took a book of statutes he had with him, opened it, and read the statutes to before all the lords and commoners present, which showed that indeed Latimer had not followed the laws as made in previous parliaments.
The duke reflected on the articles presented against Latimer and Lyons. He weighed their quality and their number (for more than sixty notable defects were presented against them, on the greater part of which they were convicted before the duke and the judges). And although, as it is said, he had received a great sum of money from them, now-wishing to quiet the people whom he knew to be inflamed against him, and fearing the majesty of the [Black] prince, whom he well knew to favor the people and the knights---he deprived Latimer by judicial sentence of his office. The latter had been chamberlain of the king. He also confiscated all his profits for the use of the king, so that he should be content with his ancestral heritage. His body, which, since he was a peer of the realm he did not wish to be kept in a public prison, he ordered to be kept under safe custody until they should learn the wish of the king concerning him.
It was further decreed, by a common decree of parliament, that Latimer should in future be held as infamous, and that he should in no wise be admitted to the council of the king or of the kingdom. But this vigor dissolved away immediately after the untimely death of Prince Edward [the Black Prince]. For after that death the duke could do whatever he desired and willed. Thus he afterwards did all things like a judge who neither feared God nor man. As we have said, the death of prince Edward filled the knights of the shire with despair. The Duke entered the assembly of the knights. He urgently begged them that, during this parliament in which the affairs of the realm were being treated about, the knights, and the lords and barons associated with them, would deliberate as to who should inherit the kingdom of England after the death of the king [Edward III] and of the prince his son. He begged further that, after the example of the French, they would decree a law that a woman should not become heir to the kingdom; for he considered the great age of the king, who was on the threshold of death, and he considered the youth of the Black Prince's son [the future Richard II] whom, so it was said, he thought of poisoning if he could not gain the kingdom in any other way. If these two could be removed from his path, and if this law could receive the common sanction of parliament, he himself would then be the next heir to the king. . . .
It was replied to him that it was superfluous to labor on such a question, when they had weightier matters still on their hands, needing to be further discussed. "And especially" they said "since the king, still healthy and unimpaired in spite of his age, could outlive us all. Even if the king should depart this life, still we should not lack an heir whilst the son of the prince, now ten years old, is still alive. Whilst these two are still living there is no need for us to labor at such a subject." When he heard this, the duke, in confusion, held his tongue.
After this reply, the commons were directed that, if they thought there were other matters still needing correction, they were to report them, in the usual manner, before the duke. They replied that first the things they had deposed before him ought to be duly carried out. . . Therefore the above knights of the shire, on behalf of the community and through the mouth of Peter de la Mare, petitioned that the duke and his fellow judges would provide remedy and correction for such great excesses.
When these things had happened, and the end of the parliament was already approaching, the knights considered the king's mental incapacity and the free opportunity which some of his familiars had to appropriate the kingdom. Lest these should be permitted, by pretext of the king's wish, to do what they had earlier wished to do, the knights petitioned, in the name of the people, that twelve men, peers of the realm and faithful, discreet and devoid of greed, should continually be in the councils of the king and of the kingdom. At least six of them should be with the king at all times, for the less important business. When anything weighty was to be discussed, all twelve should be present. The commons were stirred by the greed of certain Englishmen, to whom the king had given too much power in managing the affairs of the kingdom, with whom everything was for sale, namely faith and justice which they owed to the king and to the people. For this reason the knights petitioned the lords as described above. The duke, judging their petition to be just (only in word; he revolved something different in his secret heart), adjudged it to be granted, directing that those lords should be elected by the people. They were elected accordingly.
And it was decreed in this parliament that if any of the said lords was discovered to have received gifts, or to have been disloyal in the obedience he showed either to the king or to the community, he should forthwith be removed from the government and be held infamous for all time; he should pay the king five times what he had accepted, and his body should be at the mercy of the king. And in order that all these things might achieve enduring strength, there were sent from the knights of parliament to the king. . . who begged his assent and confirmation of all the statutes in the aforesaid parliament, and that this parliament might be ratified according to the custom of parliament and should be classified by the king under the name of parliament. All of which the king promised that he would hold agreeable and determined. And here ended the parliament which has been described above.
From: Thomas Walsingham, Chronicon Angliae, trans. E. M. Thompson (London: Rolls Series, 1874), pp. 68-101.
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998
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