The Royal Pardon: Access to Mercy in Fourteenth-Century England

November 2009
272 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781903153284
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
York Medieval Press

The Royal Pardon: Access to Mercy in Fourteenth-Century England

Helen Lacey

Pioneering investigation of the royal pardon, at a time of major change in the system of English justice, showing the important part it continued to play.
The letter of pardon was a document familiar to the king's subjects in the middle ages; imbued with symbolic resonance as the judgement of the monarch, it also served a practical purpose, offering a last hope of reprieve from the death sentence or life as an outlaw. The fourteenth century in particular was a pivotal time of change for the system of English justice, and saw the evolution of a legal structure still recognisable today, yet the role of the royal pardon adapted and endured.
This book offers the first comprehensive study of the royal pardon in fourteenth-century England, using evidence drawn from legal and literary texts, parliamentary records, yearbooks, and plea rolls to examine the full influence of royal mercy. Its implications go well beyond legal history, encompassing the major political and constitutional debates of the period, the theological underpinnings of royal mercy, and the social context of the law. Chapters analyse the procedures of pardoning, the role of royal mercy at moments of political upheaval (such as at the Peasants' Revolt), and the range of views expressed by legal theorists, parliamentary representatives, and by the diverse range of people who at one time or another had reason to seek royal mercy. The appendices provide full lists of all those who acted as "intercessors" for mercy; comprising over 1000 names, they reveal the role of women and personal servants of the crown, alongside the great nobles of the realm, in providing access to royal grace.

Dr HELEN LACEY is Lecturer in Late Medieval History at Mansfield College, University of Oxford.

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Table of Contents

Part I: Individual Pardons
Part II: General Pardons
The Evolution of Group Pardons
Pardoning and Celebration: Edward III's Jubilee
Pardoning and Revolt: The Peasants' Rising of 1381
Pardoning and Revenge: Richard II's 'Tyranny'
Conclusion: Attitudes to Pardoning


Royal pardons played important, enigmatic roles in English law, politics, and culture in the fourteenth century, roles well portrayed in Lacey's fine book. LAW & HISTORY REVIEW

A work that will be of interest and use to scholars working on late medieval political culture and on the history of English law. JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES

Marked by beautifully clear writing and a comprehensive historiographical overview of the subject [it] offers a real insight into the cultural history of fourteenth-century politics. HISTORY
A major addition to the literature that treats royal pardons as its central focus. [...] A book that all scholars working on law, violence and military affairs in late medieval England will find it necessary to read and to integrate into their own research. DE RE MILITARI
Helen Lacey's excellent book appears at a time when the exercise of executive and judicial clemency has become a topical talking point. [...] Dr Lacey has achieved an adept rebalancing of the concept of pardoning in late medieval England and rehabilitated its function within a more holistic view of the legal system. REVIEWS IN HISTORY