RICHARD III (1452-1485), King of England. Signet letter close with signature as Duke of Gloucester ('R. Gloucestre'), also signed by the Duke's secretary, John Kendal, addressed to Sir Robert Claxton, William Claxton, Richard Bainbridge 'and other of the Counsell of our right entierly beloved Cousyn Therl of Wesm[or]land', Pontefract, 22 April n.y. [1473 or 1476-77], in English in secretary hand on paper, one page, approximately 180 x 300mm, integral address panel, sealing slits, seal and closing-strip lacking (traces of a ferrous pin, some areas of loss, particularly to upper right corner, skilfully restored), in a double-sided frame.
Richard intervenes in the dispute of some tenants of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland. Richard has been petitioned to intervene in 'c[er]ten cont[ro]v[er]sie' between William Trotter, 'ferrour' (perhaps 'smith'), Hugh Ile and others on the one hand and William Hunter and Robert Comyn on the other, concerning leaseholds belonging to the Earl of Westmorland. He writes now to a larger group of Westmorland councillors, asking that they examine the petitioners and settle the dispute according to their own discretion, 'so th[a]t neyther p[ar]tie have cause to sue unto us for remedy in that behalve heraft[er]'.
Richard, Duke of Gloucester had been the beneficiary of a number of grants by his brother, Edward IV, which enabled him to establish himself in the course of the 1470s (when in his early 20s) as the major political force and landowner in the North, in the process encroaching significantly on the prerogatives of Ralph Neville, 2nd Earl of Westmorland, whose mental state from the 1450s onwards seems to have precluded his managing his own affairs: the lands referred to here are likely to have been in one of only two substantial estates remaining to the Earl of a once-great inheritance, those around Raby and Brancepeth in County Durham. The councillors addressed are all known Durham figures -- William Claxton was constable of Brancepeth Castle; the farm tenants concerned in the dispute have proved, unsurprisingly, harder to trace, though the incidence of family names suggests Brancepeth as the likely scene of the dispute. The document may be dated by Richard's use of the titles 'Constable and Admyral of England' rather than that of Great Chamberlain, which situate it in the years 1473-77; within that period he is unlikely to have been in Pontefract on 22 April of either 1474 or 1475.
The form of the present document, that of the signet letter close (that is, a letter sent closed up and sealed with a signet ring, and written on paper rather than vellum) was appropriate to communications of an essentially ephemeral nature. As the major landowner in the North, Richard was probably subject to constant petitions of the kind dealt with in the present document, but their fragility, and the ephemerality of their content, has ensured that remarkably few comparable letters have survived to the present day outside the National Archives: in all, perhaps fewer than a dozen signet letters close of Richard III as Duke of Gloucester are known, all of them either in public archives or now untraced.