Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

A Petition Written by Ricardus Franciscus

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

A Petition Written by Ricardus Franciscus

Article excerpt

Kew, The National Archives, C 49/30/19 (hereafter TNA C 49/30/19), a petition seeking the exoneration of the late Duke Humphrey of Gloucester (d. 1447), is distinctive among such supplicatory writing for the unusual extent of its ornamentation. Its "flamboyant, spiky script" (1) supports elaborate ascenders and descenders featuring many novelties: ballooning hearts; a scroll (illusionistically entwined around the ascender of the h in Humphrey) citing the duke's personal motto; and bright blue and red ink that colors the extensive strapwork emerging from his name. Such calligraphic virtuosity is instantly recognizable as the effusive "trademark decor" of the well-known scribe Ricardus Franciscus. (2)

Although the petition is undated, unenrolled, and finds no cross-reference in the parliament rolls, it was almost certainly written for the opening session of parliament in November 1450. (3) According to Bale's Chronicle, on the 8th November 1450, shortly after the opening of parliament, the commons "presented unto the king a bill desiring the seid duke of gloucestre might be proclaime a trewe knight." (4) Of pertinence to the parliamentary concerns of 1450 is a reference to Gloucester's keeping of "the Kinges livelode unto his owne [i.e., Henry's] use and prouffit," which coincides with the arguments for resumption put forward during this assembly. (5) The most tantalizing evidence concerning the context of this petition, however, is a letter from Hans Winter written in London on November 15, 1450, to the Grandmaster of the Teutonic Order, Ludwig von Erlingshausen. He writes that parliament began with a schedule entered "by the commons of England and the servants of the noble prince of York and also by the servants and faithful of the noble prince of Gloucester desiring justice for the traitors who killed him so shamefully and were of counsel therto"; he adds, "this has now been delayed until the noble prince of York comes." (6) This is the only contemporary remark to link York's servants, and by extension, York himself, to the instigation of this petition. This paper aims to analyze the potential circumstances surrounding Franciscus's writing of such an unusually ornamented petition for what John Watts has termed "the Yorkist interlude" of November and December 1450. (7) We hope the outcome will shed more light upon one of those men whom Gwilym Dodd has termed "the clerks and scribes whose role in the writing of petitions is as obscure as it is important." (8)

The outbreak of Cade's rebellion brought the previous parliament to an abrupt close and the November 1450 assembly was hastily convened as a measure intended to restore control in the wake of popular uprising after the loss of Normandy in 1449. (9) In particular, the defeated lieutenant-general of France, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, came under direct attack, and it is the commonly-held view that Richard, duke of York, himself recently returned from his lieutenancy in Ireland, provided a figurehead around whom Somerset's critics could rally. (10) York's famous bill calling for justice upon the traitors, and presented to the king at the end of September 1450, is tantalizingly ambiguous in its refusal to directly implicate Somerset and allows us only to guess at his true motives in ordering Somerset's arrest on December 1st. (11) A second bill, presented by York to the king sometime between the end of September and the start of parliament on November 6, is addressed in particular to the "trewe lords of the kings counsele" and used the same words as Cade's rebels in calling for the punishment of "traitors" "ibroughte up of nought." (12) The theme of evil counsel was also employed by the rebels as explanation for the death of Humphrey, and this was later incorporated within the successful follow-up petition to C 49/30/19, presented to the parliament in 1455 and, this time, overseen by York as protector. (13) During the escalating unrest of November 1450, with both the vox populi and the reformist York seeking the "trewe lordes," it comes as no surprise that the commons elected Sir William Oldhall, York's chamberlain, as their speaker, before immediately introducing this petition requesting that Gloucester be deemed a true knight. …

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