Sir John Fortescue and the French Polemical Treatises of the Hundred Years War
English Historical Review, Oxford University Press (1999)
By the Act of Accord of October 1460, Richard Duke of York was named heir to the English throne in place of Henry VIs young son Edward. Thus parliament implicitly acknowledged the superiority of the Yorkist claim to the throne; only the reluctance to remove an anointed king, and so to call into question the legality of the actions of the monarchs since the usurpation of 1399, prevented more radical action from being taken. Yet the subsequent breach of this agreement by the Lancastrians, leading to the death of the Duke of York at the battle of Wakefield on 30 December 1460, justified the seizure of the throne by his son Edward in June 1461 as rightful heir to the Crown. Sir John Fortescue took up the defence of the Lancastrians during his exile with Henry VI in Scotland between April 1461 and July 1463. The famous lawyer produced a number of polemical pamphlets challenging Edward IV’s title to the throne, of which just four survive:
De titulo Edwardi comitis Marchiae; Of the Title of the House of York; Defensio juris domus Lancastriaei; and Replication Ageinste the Clayme and Title of the Due of Yorke for the Crownes of England and France. Then, either during his stay in Scotland or his subsequent sojourn in France, he wrote a lengthy treatise called the Opusculum de natura legis naturae et de ejus censura in successione regnorum suprema, which discussed the laws governing royal succession in the abstract, without specific reference to the situation in either England or France.