All medievalists must be interested in the confirmation that Richard III’s body has at last been found – http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/feb/04/richard-iii-dna-bones-king. Ric. III is a divisive and fascinating figure – and the fact that the bones in question do seem to suggest some degree of disability or distortion will no doubt lead to any number of new or reheated debates. But what about Ric. III and legal history? What are his major claims to legal historical fame (aside from the usurping and probable bumping off of his nephews?
Well, he did show a bit of an interest in technical legal matters. His first legislation (Statutes of the Realm II, 477) dealt with secret feoffments, and he also provided for bail in cases of felony (SR II, 478), and attempted to stop premature forfeiture of goods before conviction. He made provision for the powers of justices of the peace and the finding of sufficient jurors, for the commercial jurisdiction of ‘pie powder’ courts, the procedure for transferring land by ‘fine’, as well as the detailed and (to all but the economic historian) tedious regulation of different types of cloth, their size and properties,rules about bowstaves and malmsey wine, and the depressingly still-with-us populist anti-foreigner laws. So quite a lot of legislation for such a short reign, and much of it designed to show the king’s strength and involvement in doing justice to his people.
His plea rolls have been put on the internet by the excellent AALT project. They show some attractive iconography, with the symbol of the boar (see CP 40/ 885B m,1) and the York rose (see CP 40/886 m.1, CP 40/888 m.1; CP 40/890 m.1) appearing on common pleas rolls.
There is certainly room for a study of Richard III and his relationship with law – comparing his dubious royal legitimacy with his wish to be seen to uphold the law.
For a poem on the discovery, see