The chief executive and administrative instrument of the Crown was the Council. This had existed in one form or another since the origins of the monarchy itself, and consisted of a group of men appointed, in theory at least, entirely at the king’s discretion. In practice the choice had not always been entirely free, because no king could afford to exclude all his most powerful nobles, or allow the Church to be unrepresented. The representation of different interest groups was a matter of common sense rather than prescription, and tended to be argued most strongly during periods of royal weakness. Between 1445 and 1455 the Duke of York, Henry VI’s most powerful subject, and until 1453 his heir, had been confronted by a Council consistently hostile to him. Henry allowed, and indeed encouraged, his favourites, first the Duke of Suffolk and then the Duke of Somerset, to exercise such control over the Council that York was excluded. Duke Richard and his friends then began to argue that his proximity to the Crown, and the extent of his affinity, entitled him to a seat at the Council board, irrespective of the king’s wishes — that he was what they began to call a ‘councillor born’.1 York’s relationship with Henry thereafter rested upon force rather than law or custom, and no general conclusions can be drawn from it.
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