The King’s Council, patronage and the governance of Scotland, 1460-1513

The King’s Council, patronage and the governance of Scotland, 1460-1513

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The King’s Council, patronage and the governance of Scotland, 1460-1513

By Trevor M. Chalmers

PhD Dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 1982

Abstract: Between 1460 and 1513, in the absence of a class of professional administrators, the king’s council became increasingly involved in routine administration, especially the administration of royal patronage. In the process, it acquired many professional attributes. This thesis examines the ways in which this development came about; in particular, it considers how the council deployed its manpower to meet the demands which were being made upon it.

The council generally advised on the making of royal grants and directives; it Often vetted them, and sometimes authorized them on its own behalf. The procedures by which this was achieved became more sophisticated in the period under review. The royal secretarial offices developed to supply the king and council with an expanding range of royal letters to meet the increasing refinement of legal needs. The officers in charge of these secretariats came to hold conciliar or near-conciliar rank, and were able to supply the council with the detailed, up-to-date information necessary for the routine administration of patronage. Throughout most of this period, the king’s inner council consisted of a group of royal familiares, and of an increasingly substantial leaven of such quasi-professional royal officers. Towards the end of James IV’s reign, this inner council came to reflect the national framework of private patronage, by including the main heads of kin and territorial allegiances, in a manner which suggests further, purposive, refinement.

At the outset of the period, the administration of royal revenues was carried out almost exclusively outwith the council’s sphere of operations. A growing recognition of the importance of this work led to a slight increase in the council’s supervisory role during the adult rule of James III, but this development gave the revenue-administrator no real increased autonomy, and made no detectable impact upon the inefficient operations of the royal financial machinery. The revolution of 1488 brought an extensive review of royal patronage by the new king’s councillors, who took over the administration of crown revenues, and so brought this concern out of chancery’s aegis, and under the direction of the council. The long-term effects of this were an increase in the revenue-administrators’ discretionary powers, and a consequent increase in the efficiency of their operations.

The council’s involvement in the hearing of civil actions was, in the mid-fifteenth century, chiefly exercised through parliament and its Judicial committees, but by 1460 the king’s familiar council was becoming directly involved in this work. In the next fifteen years, an identifiable judicial sub-group of the council-at-large emerged. It my have been mainly a vehicle for prosecuting the king’s own actions, but it was additionally, and increasingly, concerned with supplementing the work of the judicial committees of parliament in respect of civil pleas. Under James III, the personnel of council and committees were quite distinct, but the merging of the two groups of judges after 1488 caused the parliamentary committee of auditors to fall into desuetude, and thus caused the council to develop as the main central judicature in the 1490s, the judicial council’s organization was improved to allow the holding of long diets. At the same time, it dealt increasingly with revenue-related causes, and adopted a degree of specialization to that end. The improvements in the judicial council’s organization took place slowly, and with little evident directing enthusiasm. Although by the turn of the sixteenth century the outline of the court session is clearly evident in the council’s quasi-institutional diets, there is little inevitability about the development from the earlier to the later body.

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