Livery, Maintenance and Richard III

A large part of the anathema surrounding Richard III stems solely from rumour, personal feeling and, in particular, one unforgivable act that he only may have committed. It is a constant plea of the Ricardian movement that the evil of which he is accused during the summer of 1483 is so out of character as to seem impossible; it feels wrong. I thought perhaps it might be worth examining some of the evidence for this previous good character and what it can tell us about Richard, Duke of Gloucester. I recently read a very good article on Livery and Maintenance, a link to which can be found below, on which I found fascinating and applicable to Richard’s background too.

After Edward IV regained his throne in 1471, much of the Parliament that followed was concerned with the lawlessness immediately prior to and during the re-adeption period. The Parliament Rolls of 1472 record one petition on behalf of a Katherine Williamson who lived in the town of Howden, near York. The petition offers evidence of the gruesome murder of Katherine’s husband, Richard. Whilst “riding and coming from a town called Riccall in the county of York towards his own dwelling-place in Howden” Richard was set upon by three brothers, Robert, Richard and John Farnell, who had lain in wait for him, “defensibly equipped, that is to say with jacks and sallets, and with force and arms, that is to say with bows, arrows, swords and spears“. When Richard Williamson passed, the brothers “made a great assault and affray on him“. They struck him with a spear “so that he fell to the ground beside his horse“. Injured, Richard Williamson was then subjected to an horrendous attack; “the said wrongdoers, having no mercy or pity on him, cut off both the hands of the same Richard Williamson with their swords and one of his arms above the elbow, and hamstrung him and fatally wounded him and left him there for dead, of which blows and deadly wounds the said Richard Williamson died a short time afterwards“. The brothers stole all of the goods that Richard had with him.

The petition continues to detail how the brothers had then been sheltered by their father, Thomas Farnell who, “knowing that all his said sons had committed the aforesaid felonies, murders and robberies” provided shelter to them “on the same day and on several later occasions“. What follows highlights perfectly the terrible inequity of the system of livery and maintenance in the late medieval period. Thomas Farnell sought to enter himself and his three sons into the service of “the most high and mighty prince and most honourable lord Richard, duke of Gloucester” because this should ensure that they would be “supported in their horrible felony” by the maintenance of their new lord. The article clearly points out that “affinities of magnates were based on ‘maintaining’ the grievances or suits of their members … often to the point where the ‘maintenance’ thereof became an interference with the process of justice“. Clearly, Thomas believed that once they were in the service of the duke, they would be protected from the law’s vengeance for their actions.

Thomas had good reason to assume that this would be the case. Lords built commanding affinities and accrued power and support by ‘maintaining’ the causes of those swelling the ranks of their affinity. Justice was a secondary consideration to the protection of one’s affinity. The men wore the livery of their lord, the badge that identified them as his men, and this afforded them protection too. One hand washed the other so that both might wash the face. The greater a lord’s affinity, the more protection he could offer to those within it and the more powerful both parties became. This was the principle upon which Thomas Farnell relied to protect himself and his three sons.

Livery on the Battlefield
Livery on the Battlefield

The plan initially worked. Richard took the four men into his service, Thomas “calling himself a servant of the said duke and wearing his clothing, which he had obtained and received by crafty and devious means“. This changed when Richard was “reliably informed and notified of the said felony, murder and robbery“. The duke immediately “commanded that the said Thomas should be brought to the gaol at York to remain there until he was lawfully acquitted or attainted“. Katherine’s petition goes on to request the prosecution of Thomas and his three sons for their crimes and it was granted by Parliament.

The White Boar Badge of Richard III
The White Boar Badge of Richard III

Richard, aged around 20 at this point, was defying the accepted principles of retaining and its incumbent injustices. Why would he do this? One possibility is that Richard acted from a position of power, that he did not need these men in his service because he could easily recruit others. In 1472, this might seem premature though. Only the year before, Richard and his king had been driven from the country and Henry VI sat once more upon the throne of England. His position was not yet as certain as it was to become. Alternatively, perhaps Richard acted from a position of weakness, but this would also make little sense. He chose to send Thomas to jail and failing to protect those wearing his livery could only deter men from his household if he were seeking to bolster his position at this time.

The only explanation that really makes sense is that Richard’s personal sense of justice overrode the opaque rules of maintaining his affinity. He did not want murderers in his household and he would not protect them from the equitable course of justice. This was a dangerous precedent and would surely not have gone unnoticed amongst Richard’s fellow nobles.

Yet a lack of ‘good lordship’, which might usually be expected to encompass the protection of those within a lord’s household, is not a charge levelled at Richard, Duke of Gloucester. In fact, the very opposite is true. It was Richard’s ‘good lordship’ in the north for over a decade that made him so popular and respected in that region and which caused men such as Sir Richard Ratcliffe and Sir James Harrington to harbour such personal respect and affection for their lord. The case of the Harrington family’s problems at Hornby Castle is a perfect example. I have previously written about this subject (Hornby Castle: The Price of Power?), but in brief, Richard supported the cause of a family he viewed as loyal to his family’s cause against the increasingly powerful Stanley family. When Lord Stanley used the unrest surrounding the re-adeption to bring up canon to attack Hornby Castle, Richard can be found signing documents “at Hornby“, clearly placing himself between those of his affinity and their enemies. Richard, therefore, was perfectly capable of ‘good lordship’, but appears to exercise it at his own discretion, guided by a sense of justice often absent from these matters.

Hornby Castle
Hornby Castle

In 1480, John Randson appealed to Richard for aid against Sir Robert Claxton of Horden. Claxton, a leading member of the local gentry, was apparently preventing Randson from working his own land. Additionally, Caxton had a son and a son-in-law in the duke’s service. If social standing were not enough to see Caxton’s case championed, the matter of affinity should have. However, Richard found in Randson’s favour, firmly warning Caxton “so to demean you that we have no cause to provide his legal remedy in this behalf”. Richard was clearly warning Caxton not to make the duke come down there and sort it out! Once more, it can only have been Richard’s sense of natural justice that caused him to act contrary to the accepted norms of the period.

The article at makes it plain that by this period, the system of livery and maintenance was a corrupted version of what it had been; “the rarification of the practice had obscured the chivalric basis of the system“. The article quotes HM Cam (The Decline and Fall of English Feudalism), who states that the system, by Richard’s time, had become “a parasitic institution … cut off from its natural roots in the soil, and far removed indeed from the atmosphere of responsibility, loyalty and faith which had characterised the relationship of lord and vassal in the earlier middle ages“. Qualities of “responsibility, loyalty and faith” are certainly ones that would leap out in many Ricardian minds as applying directly to Richard III. Did Richard yearn for, and actively promote, a return to these chivalric values? That would seem to be in line with his world view to me. Once king, his parliament of 1484 appears to back up the view of a man concerned for justice, not simply for those who could afford it, but for all.

The article goes on to point out that the final demise of this corrupted system had to wait until Parliament and the law courts matured and became powerful enough in their own rights to end the injustice that had infected the foundation of medieval society. It seems that Richard may have seen this, and perhaps even the necessary fallout of it, the English Civil War, and sought to correct the problem to preserve the society he knew in a form more equitable and sustainable. Perhaps he even believed that this was why he was the right man to be king.

These are just a handful of the many examples of Richard’s ‘good lordship’ and the esteem in which it caused him to be held by some. If it was an act, it was faultlessly maintained for over a decade without any hope of the crown or hint of desire for it. This is why many struggle to see the volte-face that would have this same man murdering his own nephews in the greedy, ambitious pursuit of power. Maybe the tantalising prospect of the ultimate prize in 1483 was enough to change a man.

I wonder how much this troubling obsession with justice for the common man contributed to the later betrayals of Richard by those with a vested interest in the status quo.

The article “What Was ‘Livery and Maintenance’?” can be found here

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.


Matt has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.


The Richard III Podcast and the Wars of the Roses Podcast can be subscribed to via iTunes or on YouTube

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

Hornby Castle – The Price of Power?

King Richard III lost his crown and his life at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485. He was the last English king to die on the battlefield and the last Plantagenet king. Treachery has long been cried as Richard was not supported by men he legitimately expected to fight for him. Foremost amongst this shadowy clique was Thomas, Lord Stanley, a name guaranteed to bring boos and hisses from any Ricardian.

The reason for Lord Stanley’s betrayal of his king is not hard to fathom; he was step-father to Henry Tudor and so had a right to expect a great deal of power in compensation for his actions, or rather, lack of action.

Yet there is more to this story. Stretching back over two decades lies a dispute in which Richard, as Duke of Gloucester and then as king, took sides. I suspect that perhaps even more than becoming step-father to a king, this matter may have played on Lord Stanley’s mind as he watched from the sidelines as the two armies prepared to fight to the death for the crown of England. No doubt he also enjoyed being courted by both parties.

The dispute in question was between the Stanley family and the Harrington family. Both were gentry families in the north west, with the Stanley’s increasing their wealth and influence under Thomas’s grandfather, Sir John, and father, Sir Thomas, the first Baron Stanley. By the mid 15th century they owned great swathes of north west England and held many offices of power in the region. During the Wars of the Roses, Lord Stanley developed a reputation for staying out of battles until the result was clear and then joining, usually by sending his younger brother Sir William’s forces into the fray, on the winning side,  thus reaping the rewards of seeming to decide the battle. He fought variously for Lancaster and York and just as often failed to arrive at battles. Thus the Stanley’s position had been won carefully, by ensuring that whether York or Lancaster might prevail, the Stanleys always stood to gain. For these reasons Lord Stanley is often seen as a fickle, conniving, self-serving man. If one were to seek to give him the benefit of the doubt, we may allow that he headed a family on the cusp of real greatness after several generations of hard work. One wrong move at this time could cost the entire family everything that they had. Perhaps he did not feel willing or able to take that risk.

The Harrington family are perhaps the very antithesis of the Stanleys. James Harrington was a friend and supporter of Richard as Lord of the North. His grandfather had carried Henry V’s banner at the battle of Agincourt where Richard’s own grandfather had been slain. The two men were soaked in the chivalric memories of English glory on French soil. Throughout the Wars of the Roses, the Harringtons fought for York and never wavered. Not once. Sir James is one of the candidates for having carried Richard’s banner at Bosworth, a fitting repeat of Agincourt as the king led a charge of his cavalry across the shuddering field. Certainly, Sir James died at the king’s side that day.

The beginnings of the Stanley feud with the Harringtons was the Battle of Wakefield on 30th December 1460. Not because they fought on opposing sides; Stanley managed to miss this battle. Richard’s father, the Duke of York and brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland were killed at the battle when the Yorkist army was destroyed. Also killed was James’s father Thomas and James’s eldest brother John. Initial reports stated that Thomas died in the fighting and John of his wounds shortly after the battle. This meant that Thomas Harrington’s possessions passed on his death to John and on John’s death to his heirs. Anne and Elizabeth Harrington were about four and five years old and the law stated that the inheritance would pass to whoever they married.

James Harrington and his brother Robert argued that John had in fact died before Thomas, making James the rightful heir. Lord Stanley immediately set about making the two girls his wards and marrying them to his son and nephew. The jewel in the Harrington family crown was Hornby Castle. A stunning property, it sat above the valley of the River Lune, firmly in Stanley country. Obtaining it would allow them to join territories together and thoroughly dominate the area.

Hornby Castle

Edward IV, measuring Stanley’s might, feared upsetting him and granted him control of the Harrington girls and therefore possession of Hornby. James Harrington, who had been amongst those who captured Henry VI in 1465 and delivered him to Edward, must have felt somewhat betrayed after his loyal service. Anyway, he and his brother refused to surrender their nieces or the castle and dug their heels in behind the mighty walls of Hornby.

When the Earl of Warwick rebelled and Henry VI was temporarily reinstated as king, Stanley seized the opportunity to try and drive the Harringtons out for good. He brought up a giant cannon named ‘Mile Ende’ from Bristol with the intention of blasting the troublesome Harringtons out of Hornby. Not a shot was fired however, and it is intriguing to find a warrant issued by Richard on 26th March 1470, signed ‘at Hornby’. The seventeen year old Duke had chosen his side, and it was the loyal Harringtons that he backed, perhaps perceiving an injustice they suffered at his brother’s hands that their service did not merit, in contrast to Stanley. In Richard, the north found ‘good lordship’ to check the advance of Stanley power. Lord Stanley found himself blocked by the king’s own brother.

In 1483, when Richard became king, evidence suggests that he intended to re-open the issue of ownership of Hornby, no doubt to the joy of the loyal Sir James, but to the dismay and disgust of Lord Stanley, whose son and daughter in law now lived at the castle. Add to this the appointments of Richard Ratcliffe, the new king’s friend and uncle of Robert Harrington’s wife, as king’s deputy in the West Marches and Sherriff of Westmorland, Robert’s brother-in-law John Pilkington as Steward of Rochdale and Richard III’s chamberlain and another Harrington family member, John Huddlestone, as Warden of the West Marches, Sheriff of Cumberland and Steward of Penrith and we see Stanley influence being strangled in the region.

No doubt this restriction of Lord Stanley’s expansionism was intentional on Richard’s part, but as Thomas Stanley surveyed Bosworth Field, this must have been playing on his mind. Should he maintain upon the throne the man who was seeking to destroy him, or replace him with a step-son full of gratitude with power to dispense accordingly? Richard III had appointed Stanley Steward of his Household and made him a Knight of the Garter, perhaps not entirely able to escape his brother’s recognition of Stanley as a necessary evil given the huge force of armed men that he was able to call upon. But was this enough to compensate Stanley for the dismantling of his north western empire, or did he see an opportunity for more? Henry VII made him Earl of Derby, a title his family still hold today. Measured dispassionately, it was a good decision that has made the family in a way Thomas’s father and grandfather could only have dreamed of. The Harringtons, for all of their unswerving loyalty, were wiped out, destroyed, along with the House of York they had fought alongside for so long.

I cannot help but wonder whether in this respect, Lord Stanley’s betrayal of his king at Bosworth was foreseeable and even understandable. Hornby Castle, he must have mused, was finally his. The mighty Richard had stood against him, but Stanley had won in the end.

Was Richard the architect of his own demise? He failed to play the game of thrones well and his commitment to loyalty and chivalric values left him open to opportunism and betrayal, even making them appealing to some.

Then again, I am a card carrying Ricardian, so boo, hiss!

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.