On this Day: 20 November 1459, The 'Parliament of Devils' assembles at Coventry
Our second specially commissioned article for Parliament Week. To find out more, visit www.parliamentweek.org
On this day in 1459 the ‘Wars of the Roses’ between the houses of Lancaster and York took on an increased ferocity. Parliament had not met for three and a half years, since March 1456, when it had been dissolved following the resignation of Richard, duke of York, as Protector and the nominal resumption of authority by the mentally-unstable Henry VI. That summer the seat of government was effectively removed to Coventry, in the Lancastrian heart-lands, and the chief offices of state were allotted to intimates of the queen, Margaret of Anjou. As order disintegrated across the country in the following months, England moved closer to outright civil war. Armed conflict eventually broke out in the autumn of 1459: on 23 September York’s ally, the earl of Salisbury, defeated Lancastrian forces at Blore Heath in Staffordshire. In response, Parliament was summoned by writs dated at Leominster on 9 October, as the royal army moved against its enemies. Three days later, rather than confront the King in battle, the Yorkist forces, marshalled at Ludford Bridge, scattered overnight. Its leaders fled abroad.
The timing of the summons proved problematic. The writs were addressed to sheriffs whose term of office was due to expire on 7 November, leaving them open to penalties for exercising their office for longer than a year if they remained in post to organize the elections. On 3 November the government sent out privy seal writs instructing them to proceed nevertheless, promising them immunity. Even so, the Yorkists were later to allege that many of the MPs were