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9 - Manifestoes for Rebellion in Late-Fifteenth-Century England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2021

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Summary

Our understanding of the second half of the fifteenth century has been informed greatly by the plethora of surviving political manifestoes from that period. These manifestoes, laying out arguments, pleas, appeals and justifications for the actions being undertaken by various political actors of the time, are a wonderful source of primary evidence on political actions written by some of the key actors themselves. The benefit these manifestoes provide in understanding both the particular circumstances which they addressed and the political environment and culture in which they existed has proven extremely valuable in improving our understanding of this era. Close analysis of various manifestoes and sets of manifestoes has given us new and useful perspectives on some of the crucial political developments of the later fifteenth century. Furthermore, through examinations of ranges of these documents, historians have been able to offer insight into what they collectively might have to tell us about the period as a whole. Overall, these manifestoes have proven remarkably useful and offer further potential to develop new perspectives on the politics of their time.

One way in which to consider the manifestoes across the half-century would be to look at a selection, covering the whole period, issued by men who were taking up arms against the status quo. The later fifteenth century is remarkable for the degree to which manifestoes were used by those resorting to rebellion. In the political system of late-medieval England, taking up arms without the approval of the head of state was the most dangerous action a person could take. It left one completely open to charges of treason, with the potential to suffer forfeiture, attainder and execution. Nor would these penalties have been merely theoretical to Englishmen in the late fifteenth century. Richard, earl of Cambridge, father of Richard, duke of York, and grandfather of Edward IV, had been executed and had forfeited his title for his participation in the Southampton Plot against Henry V in 1415. Even holy orders could not necessarily protect one from being executed for rebellion, as Archbishop Scrope of York discovered in 1405. Manifestoes under these circumstances were a crucial attempt to tip the scales within political society, even if just through obtaining passive support, in the riskiest political move possible.

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Political Society in Later Medieval England
A Festschrift for Christine Carpenter
, pp. 184 - 198
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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