What It Took to Get Impeached in the 14th Century


                You basically had to sell a castle to the enemy.

                BY SARAH LASKOW 

                MAY 17, 2017




               John of Gaunt visits the King of Portugal. PUBLIC DOMAIN

TRACE THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN laws allowing the impeachment of elected leaders, and the trail leads back to a very different place and time—14th-century England, under the House of Plantagenet. What did it take to get impeached in the 1370s and ‘80s? Offenses included: selling a castle, accepting bribes to release captured ships, and failing to properly guard the sea. This was well after Richard the Lionheart but well before all the most famous Henrys, the medieval period that was the setting of Shakespeare’s earliest English histories. King Edward III*, whose reign began in 1327, when he was 14, led England through a series of military victories. But toward the end of his life, his court had become so riddled with corruption that the parliament of 1376, which tried to address the problems, became known as the Good Parliament. It was responsible for the first impeachment in English history.

The impeached man, Baron William Latimer, the fourth Baron Latimer, was part of a shady gang of political figures close to the King’s third surviving son, John of Gaunt. Latimer had a long career of military and public service, including acting as governor of Brittany and fighting in the Hundred Years’ War. But by the 1370s, he was spending his time with John, a merchant named Richard Lyons, and the king’s mistress, Alice Perrers, who was said to be so unscrupulous that she took the rings from the king’s hand when he died. The Good Parliament wanted to beat back their control over the court, so they used a never-before- exercised power that allowed them to strip him of his various offices.

What exactly did Baron Latimer do to justify impeachment? The list of his misdeeds, according the 1892 Dictionary of National Biography, edited by Sir Leslie Stephen, included:

  • Oppression in Brittany
  • The sale of the castle of St. Saveur to the enemy
  • Releasing enemy ships after taking a bribe
  • Keeping fines that were meant to be paid to the king
  • Having the Crown repay loans that never existed in the first place.