Loveday, 1458

The Loveday of 1458 (also known as the Annunciation Loveday)[1] was a ritualistic reconciliation that took place at St Paul's Cathedral on 25 March 1458. It was the culmination of weeks of negotiations initiated by King Henry VI in an attempt to resolve rivalries within his nobility. English politics had become increasingly factional during Henry's reign, and this was exacerbated in 1453 when he became mentally incapacitated. This effectively left the government leaderless, and eventually the king's cousin, and at the time heir to the throne, Richard, Duke of York was appointed Protector during the king's illness. Alongside York were his allies from the politically and militarily important Neville family. When the king returned to health a year later, the protectorship ended but the partisanship within government did not.

Supporters of King Henry and Queen Margaret have been loosely called "Lancastrians", as the house of Lancaster, while the duke and his party are considered "Yorkists", after his title of Duke of York.[note 1] The Duke of York felt increasingly excluded from government, and, in May 1455—possibly fearing an ambush by his enemies—York led an army against the king at the First Battle of St Albans. There, in what has been called more of a series of assassinations than a battle, the personal enemies of York and the Nevilles—the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Northumberland, and Lord Clifford—perished.

Portrait of King Henry VI
King Henry VI, who probably organized the Loveday in an attempt to pacify his nobility, which by 1458, had divided down clear partisan lines into armed camps.

In 1458 the king chose to attempt to unite his feuding nobles with a public display of friendship under the auspices of the Church at St Paul's Cathedral. Following much discussion, and amid the presence of large, armed, noble retinues which almost led to another outbreak of war, a compromise was ordained. The compromise was celebrated with a procession by all the major participants from Westminster to St Paul's Cathedral. Queen Margaret walked hand in hand with York, and other adversaries did similarly, the sons of the dead Lancastrian lords taking their fathers' parts. Certain reparations had to be made, all by the Yorkist lords, who accepted responsibility for St Albans. They were ordered to make repayments to the dead lords' widows and sons, and eternal masses were paid for the souls of all who had died. In the long run, however, little was achieved. Within a few months, violence between the lords had broken out again, and within the year, York and Lancaster faced each other over a battlefield again at the Battle of Blore Heath. Historians debate who—if anyone—actually gained from the 1458 Loveday. On the one hand, the crown publicised its role as the ultimate court of appeal, but conversely, although the Yorkists were bound to pay large sums in compensation, this was done with money already owed by the government. Fundamentally, factional discord was highlighted on the public stage, and the war it was intended to prevent was only deferred.

Political background

By the middle of the 15th century, English politics had become increasingly factional. Richard, Duke of York and his Neville allies, Richard, Earl of Salisbury and his son, Richard, Earl of Warwick, and their cousin John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk were in opposition to the government of King Henry VI, led by the king's favourite, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.[3] The king had become mentally incapacitated in August 1453, and parliament authorised a protectorate to rule in the king's stead. This ended in January 1455 when the king regained his health.[note 2] The Nevilles had been feuding violently with the Percies—led by the Earl of Northumberland's son, Thomas Percy, Lord Egremont—in Northern England before the king's illness. York's protectorate had given them victory over their rivals, who had massive financial penalties imposed upon them.[5][note 3]

With the kIng's recovery, York and the Nevilles retreated to their northern estates, and Mowbray did likewise to East Anglia, distancing himself from factional politics. An uneasy peace existed between the court and the Yorkists until April 1455, when the king summoned a great council to meet at Leicester the following month. The Duke of York feared that the purpose of this council was to destroy him; several chroniclers of the day suggest that Somerset was influencing the king against the Duke with "subtile meanes".[3] He and the Nevilles raised an army from their respective estates. The king and a small force left London on 20 May; the Yorkists approached from the north with a speed calculated to surprise.[6] In a pre-emptive strike, York and his allies intercepted the royal army at the First Battle of St Albans.[7] The fighting lasted only a short time, and though there were very few fatalities among the common soldiery, the chief Lancastrian captains—Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, Somerset and Thomas, Lord Clifford, were all killed. They were not only three of the king's most loyal and powerful supporters, but Percy and Somerset at least were bitter enemies of the Nevilles and York.[8] Because of this, the battle has been described more like a series of targeted assassinations than a fully-fledged battle.[9] The king was taken prisoner and escorted back to Westminster by the victorious Yorkists.[10]

The period between St Albans and the Loveday, says the historian A. J. Pollard, is one of the most poorly recorded of the entire century,[11] although enough is known to have allowed historians to piece together events. By 1458, Henry's government urgently needed to deal with the unfinished problem that the Battle of St Albans created, called by Ralph Griffiths the "craving of the younger magnates for revenge on those who had killed their fathers".[12] But Henry also wanted to bring the Yorkists "back into the fold".[13] Taking the initiative,[14] the Loveday was intended to be his personal contribution to peace.[15][note 4] Another strong motive was that intelligence was received suggesting the French planned to invade Calais. Although the attack on Calais never occurred,[17] the previous year had seen direct attacks on Sandwich—which the French had sacked and taken many prisoners from[18]—and this was reason enough to bring the warring parties together.[13]

Lovedays as arbitration

The ritualistic reconciliation that contemporaries called a loveday[11] has been described by historian Bertram Wolffe as "a formal accord on the limited issue of atonement and compensation".[19][note 5] The legal historian John Baker suggested that, in particularly contentious affairs, a Loveday was deliberately designed "to avoid reasoned decision making",[21] being designed to result in voluntary—therefore amicable—settlements, regardless of who was legally in the right.[21] The process often had a physical aspect to it, such as the parties having to worship or dine together.[22] Lovedays were particularly favoured among the nobility as a mechanism by which parties could avoid the involvement of the crown in their disputes if the parties so wished.[23] They were held in a neutral location agreeable to the protagonists, and pre-arranged by individuals acting as their councillors. These were important men in the extra-legal process, says Griffiths: "anyone who talked or wrote about or organized these dies amories was half-way towards settling potentially dangerous quarrels".[24] The protagonists would usually arrive accompanied by retinues and await an award from the arbitrators,[25] normally three men, trusted by all those involved,[26] usually members of the local nobility.[27] Often one of them would be appointed an umpire in case of a deadlock.[26]