23rd April 1509. The Quality of Mercy…

Acts of Pardons permeated the reigns of Tudor monarchs, a prerogative still held down to the present. 

Pardons were not necessarily altruistic as they were conceived as ways of reconciling potential opponents, of cleaning the slate at the beginning of a reign. Henry VII, for instance, feared retribution from the Yorkists defeated at Bosworth in 1485. 

Henry was following the precedent of his defeated predecessor, the last of the Plantagenets, Richard III, whose inaugural Pardon was ratified for his opponents, save for those who had committed crimes including murder and rape.

Henry VII issued two General Pardons, in 1487 to those fearful of having colluded with ‘Royal Pretender’, Lambert Simnel, and in Lent 1509 a General Pardon, except to thieves and murderers who, ‘had not offended him but another man’.

In all he issued five pardons and lists show the wide range of people concerned: fishmongers, husbandmen, shepherds, Archbishop of York and the widow of Edward IV.

In the next reign, any crimes such as treason, rebellion, murder or felonies committed  before Today in 1509, the date of Henry VIII’s accession, were remitted. As the King said he: ‘confirmed his father’s pardons to put people in good quietness’.

The new pardons as the King said: ‘would be more ample, gracious, benevolent and generous exceeding his father’.(1)

Two not included, to appease popular discontent, were the venial Chief Financial Agents of Henry VII, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, charged with High Treason and executed in 1510.

In the first year of the Pardon nearly 3,000 bought copies of the Pardon from Chancery, and over the following three years about 300 more availed themselves of the privilege, which was applied to all social ranks. Some Pardons went to all citizens of a town or members of a monastery.

Further Pardons came in 1514, and in 1515 came clemency for all offences committed before the first day of the current parliamentary session. Crimes excluded were treason, murder, robbery and all other common law felonies and concealments and also unlawful assembly of more than 20 people.

In 1529 it was found easier to just list the crimes not remitted or pardoned, and The Reformation Parliament of 1534, ‘to allure people from vice to virtue’, excluded Necromancy as worthy of mercy, which tells a lot about beliefs then.

(1) It was three days before the Accession that copies of the pardon were distributed to give maximum publicity.

Ref: Mercy and Authority in the Tudor State. Krista J. Kesselring. 2007. Google Books/ google. co.uk.

Ref: wikipedia.org/henry_vii_of_england.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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