The Statutes of Richard III
King Richard III’s only Parliament assembled on 23 January, 1484, passing 18 private statutes and 15 public ones. He is known to have been an innovative lawmaker and a summary of his statutes, summarized below, indicates a keen insight into his desire to be fair, enlightened and judicious.
The 18 private statutes consisted of:
Titulus Regius: By it, Richard was declared king, and his son Edward designated as heir apparent. Edward V and his brother were declared illegitimate because of Edward IV's marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler.
Various attainders: These were attainders relating to the October 1483 rebellion. It singled ninety-five men considered to be the leaders of the rebellion and their lands were confiscated. Of the ninety-five, eighteen were from Exeter, thirty-three from Wiltshire, twenty-eight from Kent and the fourteen other from Berkshire.
In contrast, the Duchess of Buckingham and the Countess of Richmond, both equally implicated in the rebellion were treated well. The Duchess received an annuity and the Countess, mother of Henry Tudor, had her property turned over to the keeping of Lord Stanley, her husband. This can be seen in the 6th Private Statute.
Inheritance claims/benefits for individuals: Lands were given to Francis, Viscount Lovell and Sir James Tyrell. Lands were returned to the Northumberland house of Percy.
The 15 Public Statutes are grouped as follows:
The second statute: "The subjects of this realm shall not be charged with any benevolences." Benevolences, created by Edward IV, were arbitrary taxes. This statute abolished them. Though Richard III later exacted loans, these differed from benevolences in that the repayment was safeguarded. Benevolences were considered out and out gifts.
The first, fifth and seventh statutes: These statutes protected those who purchased land. Because much land had been confiscated during the previous reigns, the complications of common law could not control the fraudulent disposing of land resulting in frequent lawsuits over property rights.
A. The first statute: It had become a practice whereby the seller of a piece of land would conceal from the buyer the fact that a part of the property was already disposed of to someone else. Thus it was enacted that from that point on that all estates, feoffments, and gifts of land “shall be good to him that it made unto and against the sellers and their heirs."
B. The fifth statute: This statute was a companion to the first, as it made reassurance that the old rules were not changed by the first statute, in that the king could not be a feofee to uses.
C. The seventh statute: This statute was created to prevent the concealment of property transfers made in the Court of Common Pleas. Henceforth all such transfers had to be proclaimed in court and notice of these transactions were sent out to various officials.
The third, fourth and sixth statutes: Created to reform the justice system.
A. The third statute: This important statute was the creation of bail for suspected felons, protecting them from imprisonment before trial. It also covered the prevention of the forfeiture of goods before conviction.
B. The fourth statute: The aim of this statute was to set property qualifications for jurors. In order to have a better selection, prospective jurors had to own 20 shillings worth of freehold land or copyhold land worth 26 shillings, eight pence.
C. The sixth statute: ‘Piepowder’ courts, who originally sat to determine offences committed at fairs, had been given authorization by a Parliament of Edward IV’s to rule in other matters. This resulted in a number of abuses by bailiffs and stewards. This statute reduced their jurisdiction back to cases arising at fair time.
D. The eighth statute: This statute sought the prevention of commercial dishonesty in the cloth trade. Safeguards were put in place to ensure that the cloth met strict standards. King Richard III demonstrated a keen insight into technical processes and the necessity of keeping close attention to commercial experts. Unfortunately, the following October the statute was cancelled by King Richard at the request of the merchants, who felt that it had done more harm than good, but it also demonstrated that King Richard really listened to his subjects wishes.
Statutes nine to thirteen: Protected the English merchant against unfair foreign competition.
A. The ninth statute: Designed to regulate the importing and exporting of goods by merchants, it also exempted the printing and selling of books, earning for King Richard III the honor of having created the first legislation that protected the art of printing and fostered learning by books.
B. The tenth statute: Prohibited the importation of silk lace and ribbons, scissors, bells, nails, etc.
C. The eleventh statute: Italian merchants were required to ten good bowstaves with each butt of malmsey.
D. The twelfth statute: Prohibited the importation of ready made goods, protecting native craftsmen.
E. The thirteenth statute: Dictated that wine and oil could not be sold until it was measured and also controlled the price for which it could be sold.
F. The fourteenth statute: This statute deals with the ‘dismes’, the tenths of all spiritual livings of the clergy given to the king. The clergy were charged with collecting the dismes, but many fraudulent collectors abounded. The fourteenth statute sought to prevent this.
G. The fifteenth statute: The purpose of this statute is “ a resumption of all grants and estates of land…made to Elizabeth Grey, late Queen of England”, emphasizing Titulus Regius and the invalidity of the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
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