This was a period of immense political change, both in the way the English people were viewed by the government, and in the way they thought of themselves within it. It was characterised by popular disturbances, pieces of critical literature and seditious speech, and a corresponding increase in the use of proscriptive and propagandist measures by the government to deal with them. In addition to the rather limited initiative of Henry VI, these years saw the direction of royal policy by magnates such as Cardinal Beaufort, the Dukes of Suffolk and Somerset, the Duke of York whilst he was Lord Protector, Henry's queen Margaret and the royal Household, as well as by Edward IV at his accession in 1461. But popular protest was not always directed against the executors of royal policy and the court. It could, as History shows, equally be directed against the Duke of York, after he became the focus of a magnate ‘anti-court' faction.
The populace, or commons, for the purposes of this essay this will be defined as the great mass of the country excluded from the lay and clerical aristocracy, both those nominally represented in the Commons and those denied it by the Forty-Shilling Freeholder Act of 1429. It was a people certainly capable of criticizing the official regime.
[...] So the possibility that popular protest might have an influence on royal policy in terms of finance and law and order existed even for Fortescue. What is more interesting is that he includes in the sphere of public concern another more important part of the economy, land. Land was a staple foodstuff of a sense of hierarchy, which the commons, as discussed above, adhered to. Fortescue makes the case for Resumption being in the interests of the public good[xvii], thereby suggesting that land too was a domain in which the public had a right to protest. [...]
[...] But this fails to take account of the cumulative influence that the different elements of popular protest had in the longer term. Whilst these elements might not have been nationally coordinated in a campaign to rid the country of Henry VI or improve the lot of the Third estate, three facts remain. The first is that an effective act of Resumption was no mean feat to achieve, it had not been managed on so nearly successful a scale by the parliamentary Commons alone in 1449 [xxx]. [...]
[...] Charges particularly leveled at the Revolt of 1450, the epitome of popular protest in this period, centre on the fact that it achieved virtually nothing. It was put down successfully, the ringleaders died traitors' deaths, their various limbs were removed and widely distributed as a public disincentive to rebel again and other than an Act of Resumption, and none of the demands of their manifesto were actually met. My argument is that this interpretation misses the point entirely. All of the above are forms of protest, and as such all are forms of participation in the politics of England. [...]
[...] The Dean of Salisbury was murdered by his own parishioners in an act of popular justice for his association with Suffolk's court clique, and sailors off the Dover shore exacted a similar punishment on Suffolk himself. Henry's 1450 commission of oyer et terminer at the Guildhall in London was taken over by Jack Cade and popular justice done on the indicted. Fiennes himself objected to his trial on the grounds that it was not conducted by his magnate peers, which was a legitimate complaint, but nevertheless serves to highlight just how sophisticated and legitimate the issues of the rebels must have seemed for a society normally so conscious of hierarchy to acquiesce to such drastic actions. [...]
[...] He too was a potential usurper, in that he sought to influence royal policy by force, normally the jurisdiction of members of parliament, and even then by force of reason alone. Although Cade and York never openly accused Henry of any blame for the regime, aspects of satellite risings in Sussex suggest that perhaps there was a will to depose the king amongst the lower echelons of society[xxiv]. Perhaps this was deliberately not rendered articulate by the manifestos of the Kentish rebels, with their proximity to the royal court in London, superior contact with and knowledge of the law and what it was to be tried for treason , and their pressing concern that Kent was to be turned into a giant deer park in revenge for Suffolk's murder. [...]
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