Close Reading Exercise
The emphasis in the following three documents is on close reading, not on historical knowledge. You need know nothing about the period in question. Read all three documents and then have a think about the questions that follow.
Through bad and deceitful advice, our lord the king has everywhere been dishonoured and his crown in many ways has been debased and ruined; his lands in France, Ireland and Scotland are on the point of being lost; and his realm of England has been brought to the point of rebellion through illegal taxes and other oppressive and destructive measures. These facts are known and proved.
He has been controlled and governed by others who have given him evil advice, without his being willing to see or understand what is good or evil or to amend to his behaviour; nor has he been willing to do as was required by the great and wise men of his realm, or to allow amendment to be made.
Through lack of good government he has lost the realm of Scotland and other territories and lordships in France and Ireland, which his father left him in a state of peace and security.
Whereas he was bound by his coronation oath to do justice to all, he has not willed to do it, for the sake of his own profit and from his greed and that of his evil advisors.
He has stripped his realm and done all that he could to ruin his realm and people; and what is worse, by his cruelty and lack of character he has shown himself incorrigible and without hope of amendment; which things are so notorious that they cannot be denied.
The king caused the judges to come secretly before him. By various threats and terrors he induced, made and compelled them to reply to certain questions concerning the laws of his realm. This was contrary and opposed to their wish. On the basis of their replies, the king proposed to proceed to the destruction of the duke of Gloucester and other great lords.
The king pardoned the duke of Gloucester and others for all offences which they had committed. For many years he showed a friendly and benign face and gave them signs of peace and love; but he nevertheless always carried venom in his heart, and at length he seized his opportunity and had them disgracefully beheaded.
The king had the records of proceedings in Parliament deleted and changed to suit himself.
According to the laws of the realm accustomed throughout all times past, the lands, tenements and possessions of every free man ought not to be seized. Nevertheless, the king proposed and determined to undo such laws. He often said and affirmed that the life of every one of his people, together with their lands, tenements and possessions, was subject to his own pleasure.
The same king refused to keep and defend the just laws and customs of his kingdom, but wished at his own arbitrary will to do whatever appealed to his desires. When the laws of the kingdom had been explained to him by his judges and when, according to those laws, he was to administer justice to those seeking it, he expressly said, with an austere and determined countenance, that his laws were in his own mouth and that he alone could establish and change the laws of his realm.
1) Can you summarise the content of each of the three documents briefly?
2) a) If you discovered these documents in an archive and a mouse had nibbled away at the bits where the dates had been recorded (this happens more frequently than you might imagine!), what information in the documents would you use to help you as you tried to date them?
b) Are you able to speculate from that evidence about dates? Write down your thoughts – you might actually provide the wrong dates, but for good reasons; it’s your reasoning that is most important.
3) What chronological order would you place the documents in, and why?
4) What type of documents do you think these are? Who do you think might have written them?
5) What are the documents implying constitutes good and bad kingship – i.e. what should a king do and what should he absolutely not do?
6) What words would you use to describe the behaviour of the king in documents 2 and 3? Is this the same as the behaviour in the document 1? If so, why? If not, why not?