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How The King's Authority Was Upheld During The Middle Age

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The key factor in upholding the King’s authority (1399-1509) was his relationship with his nobles

Medieval kings faced a struggle to maintain their authority. One way to do this was to have a strong relationship with their own nobles as displayed by kings such as Henry V. However, a poor working affiliation with ones nobles was a main contributor in an authoritative downfall resulting in such conflicts such as the War of the Roses in 1455. Despite being a key factor, other reasons as to why the king’s authority was challenged could be from foreign support or challenges with France and Burgundy being involved in many of the challenges to English medieval kings. Another one was the ongoing demand for a well-organised administration with good finances as Henry VII proved to be fundamental in his control of the country. Alongside this was the involvement of institutions such as the church and parliament which were key in establishing a king like Henry IV who needed both to make his usurpation seem just.

On the one hand having a positive relationship with ones nobles was the key factor in upholding royal authority. When a king has a unified nobility, the kingdom is more likely to be successful as shown by Henry V. By focusing on invading France Henry V was able to unify his nobles against a common enemy. Even before the invasion, Henry was able to satisfy his father’s enemies and make them loyal to his cause such as the Percy family. After the Hotspur rebellion, the Percys had been on the steady decline but Henry V allowed Henry Percy to have some of the land his predecessors had lost. This turned Percy into an invaluable ally who stayed loyal throughout Henry’s reign. This type of diplomacy displays how Henry was able utilise his nobles to his own cause in order to establish authority as he had a set of nobles who owed personal loyalty to him which was a powerful thing to have. Furthermore, by taking land in France, ambitious nobles would be seeking new riches in France rather than focusing on disputes at home thus making staying loyal to the king key. This is because to be more prosperous in the new conquered French lands being loyal to the king was more likely to accumulate in richer reward. It encouraged a more disciplined army who fought hard as shown in the siege of Halfluer and the legendary win at Agincourt in 1415. These victories showed that Henry had a tight control of the men who served him and it showed what a prevalent force England could be with a strong relationship between king and noble. In order to sustain his authority during the invasion Henry enforced strict laws, which kept many in line and due to his clear leadership skills to contrast with Henry VI who lacked that same ability shows in the mass loss of English controlled lands in France. In summary, Henry V showed that coherent nobility showed continued loyalty to their king thus making royal authority supreme. It also must be stated that Henry V possessed the perfect characteristics of a medieval king as he was pious yet fierce in battle and the English nobility would have prized these traits. A weak personality who cannot control their liege lords such as Henry VI leads to the breakdown of law and order that causes the loss of royal authority.

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Alternately, having a weak relationship with nobles would seriously undermine royal authority. Henry VI had a tough act to follow but his lack of skill when dealing with his nobility is a testament to why he was usurped in 1461 by Edward IV. Due to the loss of many of the lands in France, powerful nobles were now looking to regain their losses thus starting a mass of private feuding. This not aided by the fact Henry VI favoured nobles and gave certain men more prestigious roles or lands. One example of this is the Bonville family versus the Courtenays. Bonville had continued to amass to lands under Henry and even named constable of Cornwall (a role given to the Courtenays). This caused a military backlash with the siege of Taunton in 1455 despite many attempts from Henry VI to settle the argument. This clearly demonstrates a clear lack of royal authority when the relationship deteriorates with the nobles, as there is a clear disregard for social order. Moreover, this only encourages ambitious nobles to take advantage of the lack of authority creating that violent atmosphere which ended in the War of the Roses. Over mighty nobles who fall out with the king, do make waves in the political scene as shown by Warwick under Edward IV. Feeling as if he had been alienated from Edwards’s court after his plans for French peace lost out to a Burgundian alliance in addition to the fact Edward blocked Warwick’s attempts to marry his daughters to prominent nobles. An accumulation of this made Warwick plan three rebellions, which resulted in the readeption of Henry VI. Warwick was a kingmaker again and undermined royal authority all because of his relationship with Edward. If Edward had total royal authority he would have been able to defeat Warwick at the first rebellion at Edgecote but despite his strong medieval personality, it was still not enough to prevail against a noble with the means to take his power away. Overall, a king with a poor relationship with a noble will cause trouble. Nobles in time of bastard feudalism increasingly have the means to raise armies and support to challenge royal authority especially with the Wars of the Roses in which many rival claimants came to the fray. Henry VI was a king with a weak personality and the contrast with his father exposes the need to have those traits to impose royal authority on his nobles. However, as shown by Warwick’s fallout with Edward this was not always the case as sometimes the whim of a powerful nobles can cause chaos to ensue.

Having a strong administration over the kingdom was imperative to upholding royal authority as for the most part it kept both commons and nobles in line. Henry VII was a usurper with a weak claim so he had to impose his authority through money, as many nobles would be opposed to him becoming king in the first place. Therefore, Henry utilised bastard feudalism to his cause by using bonds and recognisances against his nobles meaning that any misdeed committed by both that noble and other around him would be heavily fined. So, despite not being terribly popular Henry had a nobility that respected his royal authority and this can be shown by the way Perkin Warbeck could never really gain noble support among the English nobles every time he tried to invade England. Even when the de la Poles tried to amass support against Tudor in the early 16th century, Henry was able to use his considerable funds to block support from the Holy Roman Empire, Burgundy and France. Additionally, getting pension from France was another way both Henry and Edward IV was able this shows that using his funds that Henry was able to maintain his royal authority purely by using his finances. Livery gangs had become a problem especially during Henry VI as showcased by the Percys who had over 700 named in court case in 1455. Henry Tudor who still needed liveries to raise armies so he introduced two acts of parliament to reduce livery abuse and he even fined his right hand man John de Vere for £10,000 for breaking this law. Because of this, enforcing a harsh but unbiased financial system kept many nobles in line and even when the commons rose, they ended quickly because nobles knew they would receive very heavy fines. Additionally, Henry enforced feudal dues such as paying for weddings and knighthoods continually ensuring that the crown had steady funds coming in making the crown opulent as a sign of propaganda. When finances were poor, royal authority looked as shown by Richard II who had over spent on a lavish court for himself instead of running the country and he was overthrown. In brief, Henry was a king who did not have a strong relationship with his nobles yet still Henry was able to hand his throne to his son Henry VIII when he died a feat not accomplished since Henry V. Despite Henry VII being successful with his administration his the only king to utilise finances to this extent. Henry V had declining finances due to continued violence in France but his strong leadership skills allowed for this to be overseen for the most part which must be testament to the influence he had. In addition, if it was just money Warwick would have not rebelled as Edward IV had a steady hand on his own finances as he also introduced laws on livery.

Another key factor in upholding royal authority was the way he dealt with foreign aid and threats. For many rebel nobles and rival claimants going abroad was a place to gather support. For example, two pretenders in Henry VII’s reign were able to find strong support the biggest of these being Lambert Simnal rebellion in 1187. Margaret of Burgundy hated Henry Tudor because she was related to the Woodvilles. Despite Simnal clearly not being Duke Clarence’s son, she claimed it to be true. Through this influence, the Simnal rebellion was able to gain both German mercenaries and Irish troops with her help. The fact the rebellion ended with the Battle of Stoke in 1487 showed the threat to royal authority foreign entities had over the kingdom because even though Henry won he was in the same position Richard III was at Bosworth increasing his own chances of being overthrown. Yet, foreign support can in turn help a king such as Burgundy helping Edward IV reclaim his throne from Henry VI in 1471. Due to his good trade links and deal brokering accomplished by the Woodvilles Edward was able to utilise this to establish his royal authority and it for good as he could draw on the wealth and strength of Burgundy at any one time. Moreover, marriage was a huge part of securing foreign alliances and most notably is the marriage of Henry V to Catherine of Valois. This secured his inheritance of the French throne, gained a huge dowry and secured the French throne for his own lineage. Combined this makes Henry a king who has amassed large lands and secured a marriage that satisfies his nobility and the people because it wholly benefits England thus securing Henry as the eminent force. To sum up, foreign support did aid and threaten Royal authority in different ways. However, other factors seem to weigh in as more significant as shown by Henry who was able to buy foreign support to block Edward de la Pole and his brother from ever succeeding in rebellion. As well as this Edward in spite of getting help from Burgundy, it was more his winning personality with the nobles and Henry VI’s weak kingship which ultimately won him his throne back as Edward proved himself in battle more than Burgundy did. The same can be said for Henry who had already secured the French throne and already upheld his royal authority throughout the French campaign before his marriage. This makes marrying Valois an extension of his royal authority rather than being something that cements it.

Having the Church and Parliament on side has hugely significant in upholding royal authority. Both institutions were needed to make you king by law and God. At the coronation of a king a huge part of the ceremony was the anointing which shows you to be blessed by God. Henry IV had to get parliament to make him king by presenting 13 grievances against Richard II which accused him of being a tyrant who abused his anointed power. Without parliaments, decision to Henry would have never been able secure royal authority as he would have never been able to call parliament to pass laws on tax, war and would have fallen out of Magna Carta if he acted outside parliament. This would have caused noble outrage and there would have been far more rebellions. When Bishop Scrope rebelled against Henry IV in 1405, he was executed and the king fell seriously ill soon after leaving a blight on his reign. Many believed he was cursed as if the institution of the church had been in open rebellion and a man of god killed by the king would have serious repercussions so despite having parliament on side Henry needed balance from the two in order to fully uphold his authority, which he could never do. In addition to this Henry VII also utilised parliament to uphold his royal authority. By calling parliament after Bosworth, he changed the date of Bosworth a day before making Richard III nothing more than a usurper and this was accepted by Parliament and thus the majority of the population. A legislation passed by parliament had the influence among the nobles and commons therefore to utilise parliament was a useful tool to keep authority. In brief, parliament and the Church was integral to secure kingship and be accepted by the people as the true king in Gods eyes. Nevertheless, it was only a starting point, as king had to control those within his parliament and keep the church happy which meant having a strong grasp of administration like Henry VII or the hold over nobility Henry V had through his positive relationship with the nobles. A break down in other key factors led to backlash from these institutions as shown by Richard II who even had a “merciless parliament” in 1388.

In conclusion, royal authority largely was due to the relationship a king had with his nobles. England as a force when working together under Henry V was powerful and won the French throne because Henry treated his nobles fairly and gave them the opportunity to ascertain new lands and riches. His personality as a warrior king is indubitable and this went along way to unifying the kingdom as he stood for not only English values but also was able to separate himself from the label of usurper his father had. When this clear lack of personality or unwillingness to work with nobles occurs, it causes a break down in royal authority. Henry VI who could never truly assert his power highlighted that a negligence towards nobility undermined royal authority as powerful nobles took issues into their own hands. Richard of York even had to try and sort the Bonville, Courtenay dispute himself due to the absence of an authority figure. Positive relationships had an effect no doubt but it does not take away how important finance was in Henry VII’s reign as he used it to control foreign threats and his nobility alike. However throughout the whole time period of 1399-1509 it is clear to see that having an impact on one’s nobility was the best way to establish royal authority.


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