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A mere few days after receiving John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book, THE MYTHOLOGY OF RICHARD III, I noticed that one of the national newspapers was, perhaps not surprisingly, continuing in the grand tradition and dispensing yet more mythology about the King, in the following article on food allergies.
Now the idea that Richard had such an allergy is not a new one; it has been around for a while, appearing in an article written by a certain author of populist history books a year or two ago. Her highly speculative article claimed that the hives caused from such an allergic reaction could produce the effect of a ‘withered arm’ as mentioned in More and Shakespeare, and also implied that Richard’s seemingly rash actions that afternoon in regards to Hastings were somehow connected.
Strawberries are indeed quite a noted allergen, and the usual result, if you are unlucky enough to be sensitive to them, is Urticaria (hives.) These are blotchy, raised swellings, and usually appear on more than one area of the body. It therefore seems most unlikely just Richard’s arm would be affected, had he such an allergy; and also the subsequent ‘swelling’ would be the exact opposite of ‘withering.’ His arm would have looked larger, not smaller and enfeebled, and would have had noticeable red lumps and bumps.
There are other complications to severe strawberry allergy. Tingling lips and mouths are not uncommon, and more seriously, a swollen tongue. In worst case scenario, there can be closing of the throat, breathing problems and even anaphylactic shock. Nothing even remotely similar to this is implied or described in More or the later Shakespeare.
However, it is mentioned by More that Richard bit or chewed his lips (as stated in the article in the link.) Now, as this description of the King was written by a non-contemporary, it may or may not be true. But what is absolutely true is that Richard’s supposed lip-biting was NOT mentioned in regards to the council meeting and the strawberries…it was mentioned in general (as well as having eyes that ‘whirled around,’ apparently).
Therefore, if there is any truth in the story, the lip-biting was far more likely to be an ordinary nervous ‘tic’, no different from nail chewing, hair fiddling, whistling, toe tapping etc. …all things millions of people do everyday without thinking and without significance.
Richard was 30 years old at the time of the council meeting, and one might suppose by that age he would know if he was sensitive to strawberries, although it is true that on occasion people can develop such allergies later in life. What intrigues me is that I have seen in some quarters debates about whether Richard knew of his condition, using the ‘withered arm’ produced by the fruit as an excuse to accuse Elizabeth Woodville of witchcraft! I find this rather extraordinary, since if he knew he was allergic, he could not have predicted WHERE or how quickly the rash would have formed. There would also be the danger of mouth or throat swelling, which would hardly be desirable if he expected there might be armed conflict that day.
Of course the whole ‘strawberry allergy’ theory conflicts with the words of St Thomas More, beloved of such ‘luminaries’ as David Starkey and other traditionalists, despite being a child at the time Richard died. More stated quite bluntly that the deformity of Richard’s arm was there from birth. We now know with complete certainly there was no deformity at all, and following on from that, in all likelihood there were no strawberries either, let alone a reaction that made a single arm looked withered and caused Richard to ‘flip out’ and execute Hastings.
If Richard’s genome does throw up ‘strawberry’ allergy (or pineapple, a fruit he’d never have seen, or a hatred of asparagus) I think it is quite safe to say it had little to do with what happened in the council chamber that day, except, maybe, to make him slightly uncomfortable and itchy!
And my take on the infamous strawberries? Their mention is quirky enough to imply ‘something’ but maybe not what people have been looking for in vain. I suspect that perhaps they are purely symbolic. A little research has shown that strawberries feature in another of Shakespeare’s plays…as a symbol of treachery.



Hey! Who let Lady Jane Grey in there?

Once upon a time, I had a history teacher who asked his class, “What do you believe about [X]?”

We wrote down our answers. He collected them.

And then he asked, “Why do you believe what you believe?”

We discussed. In only a few minutes we had reached a conclusion: “Our parents, our religious leaders, or our teachers taught us what to believe.”

And then my teacher said, “Don’t believe what others tell you, because they often don’t know what’s true. You have a mind: use it and don’t assume. Go and see for yourself. Research [x]. Look at it from all angles. Think about things, and reach your own, independent conclusions. You will then own your knowledge and your conclusions. You will no longer merely regurgitate what someone else has told you.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about Tudor history. Specifically, what we should call it when Tudor history is presented as accurate in schoolrooms, on the telly, in books, on the Web, and in the media…yet it’s anything but accurate.

POSSIBILITY #1: It’s ironic; or,

POSSIBILITY #2: It contains lies; or,

POSSIBILITY #3: Both #1 and #2 might apply, depending on the motives of the source; or,

POSSIBILITY #4: It’s sloppy reporting, and the originator should receive a failing grade and be sent back to do his or her work over again.

POSSIBILITY #5: It might be a lazy form of “whisper down the alley,” where the author used traditional sources, but didn’t bother to go back and verify the accuracy or truthfulness of those sources.

POSSIBILITY #6: It’s another form of Tudor propaganda, which has never ended and likely never will because those who have a horse in the race (e.g., advertising dollars to lure, a degree or tenure to get, an academic reputation to preserve, an ego that admits no possibility for wrong, etc.) pick their team (Plantagenet or Tudor), hunker down, and refuse to reassess their position or any portion thereof. Ever.

ADDITIONAL POSSIBILITIES: There are others. One is the age-old rule for producers of documentaries: always cast three experts. Expert #1 should be “for” whatever the focus of the show is. Expert #2 should be “against” whatever the focus of the show is. Expert #3 should be “neutral” regarding the focus of the show. This, so the project appeals to everyone in the audience and offends no one. In theory, anyway.

In this series of articles, I will present and examine a few historical Tudor truths for your consideration. If you care to look for yourself, there are hundreds of others I won’t have space to mention – details most Tudor historians flick aside as if they don’t matter. Or perhaps the truth is closer to this:

EARNEST STUDENT OF HISTORY: Do you swear you’re in an honest, honorable relationship with Henry, Henry, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth, so help you God, and that you’ll tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about ’em?

TUDOR HISTORIAN: [hesitates] It’s complicated.

EARNEST STUDENT OF HISTORY: Um… okay. Do you at least swear you’ll teach me as truthfully as you can about the Tudor dynasty?

TUDOR HISTORIAN: [hesitates] That’s also complicated.

Diving into the actual, factual details of Tudor history are like diving headlong into a twisty, messy maze. Of course the maze is whitewashed (was any other woman as pure and pious as Margaret Beaufort? Maybe Joan of Arc, but that’s a whole other story. Was any other queen as magnificent as Elizabeth I?). In all fairness, the Tudor Maze is far from the only historically whitewashed maze out there.(1)

There are times I wish there was somewhere a definitive table I could consult regarding specific points of Tudor history – sort of an official Akashic Record of Historical Tudor Truths. The headings would go something like this:

Historical Fact
Really Happened
Primary Source

Alas, there is no such table. If you want the truth about the events of the soap opera that is the Tudor Dynasty, you have to dig. A lot.

If you don’t want to dig, if you’re happy skimming and listening to surface-skimming telly presentations and media quickies, then don’t ever think you know the historical truth. All you know is what someone else with a specific agenda has told you, 500 years beyond the events themselves.

I’m not someone who’s happy skimming the surface. I like to dig. So if you’re still with me, let’s begin with a basic assumption about “The House of Tudor” and see where we can go from there.

ASSUMED HISTORIC FACT: The House of Tudor proclaimed itself The House of Tudor

“Once upon a time, Henry Tydder won the Battle of Bosworth and the English crown. Because his last name was Tydder, he and his contemporaries called his new dynasty the House of Tudor.”

(Right out of the box, my Muse asks, “Hey, who first called the Battle of Bosworth the Battle of Bosworth?” I shove Ms. Muse back inside her box because we’re not talking about how battles were named. Yet ‘Battle of Bosworth’ is another one of those taken-for-granted-Tudor things you might want to research if you feel so inclined.)

So. Where, exactly, did the phrase “The House of Tudor” originate?

  1. Every Tudor descended in the male line from the Tudors of Penmynydd, a noble and aristocratic family connected with the village of Penmynydd in Anglesey, North Wales.
  1. The Tudors trace no further back than 13th-century Wales.
  1. There were three Tudor brothers in the 15th century: Rhys ap Tudur, Gwilym ap Tudur and Maredudd ap Tudur (great grandfather of Henry VII).
  1. Prior to the 18th century, the only references to “The House of Tudor” are in Welsh. This means there are no contemporary references in English to “The House of Tudor.”(2)
  1. What does “contemporary” mean? It means the people living and the sources written at the same time the Tudors lived. It means primary sources; not secondary, not hearsay, and not something some writer made up after everyone involved with the events has died.
  1. The lack of contemporary English references to the phrase, “The House of Tudor” means that Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I did not refer to “The House of Tudor.” Neither did their contemporaries.
  1. Henry VII, et. al., thought of themselves, and their contemporaries thought of them, as just more Plantagenets.

ACTUAL HISTORIC FACT: “The House of Tudor” was invented by an 18th-century Scottish writer

We humans like to categorize. We like to stuff things into separate boxes for the ease of our own use.

So who conveniently invented the phrase “The House of Tudor” and inserted it into history, so that it was picked up and used by others, until this, our present day?

  1. His name was David Hume, Esq. He lived from 1711-1776 – long after the death of the last Tudor monarch.
  1. Who the heck was David Hume? He was a Scottish historian, philosopher, economist, diplomat and essayist who spent much of his life in Edinburgh. Today, he’s regarded as one of the most important philosophers to write in English. In his own time, he was known as an historian and essayist.
  1. He wrote a little book called The History of England in installments while working as the librarian of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh. His little book was published in six volumes in 1754, 1756, 1759, and 1761.
  1. The volume we’re interested in is volume 2, published in 1759. It’s called, The History of England: Under the House of Tudor.(3)
  1. Until Hume released his work, the House of Tudor was never referred to in English as “The House of Tudor.”
  1. Come to think of it, the Houses of Lancaster and York may not have been defined until Hume, either.

If “The House of Tudor” isn’t historical fact…what else isn’t historical fact when it comes to the Tudors?

I’ll bet you thought “The House of Tudor” was a proud, happy phrase invented by Henry VII and his saintly mother to celebrate their new dynasty. Or perhaps you thought it was a thing that evolved organically and naturally, like the Tudor rose that triumphantly merged the Plantagenet with the Lancastrian, after Henry Tydder saved England from…whatever he’s supposed to have saved England from.

(Remember that rose. It’ll come up in a future discussion.)

(Remember the myth of Henry Tydder saving England from…something or other. It’ll also come up in a future discussion.)

In the meantime, you might also want to ask yourself what you believe about the Tudors, and where you learned to believe it.

You might also want to question everything your history teachers or documentary hosts and anyone else has told you about that dynasty and its blessed rulers. Because if the “experts” are wrong about something so basic as the contemporary name bestowed on a dynastic house, what else are they wrong about?

Don’t take things for granted: go and see and learn for yourself. You just might be surprised at what we think we know…but we really don’t.

And look for Part Two of “Tudor History: Fact or Fiction?” coming soon.


(1) A good example to begin with is here: “6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America” ( Regardless it’s a Cracked article and not published in some scholarly journal, it is historically accurate; sometimes you find truth in the most unlikely of places.

(2) John Ashdown-Hill, Royal Marriage Secrets: Consorts and Concubines, Bigamists and Bastards (2013). Bibliography online here: .

(3) You can get your own copy of volume 2 for free, here:

…or all six volumes of Hume’s The History of England are available here in multiple formats:

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)


Part 2: The hearts of men are full of fear

“ My Lord, whoever journeys to the Prince,

For God’s sake let us two not stay at home;

For by the way I’ll sort occasion

As indexed to the story we late talked of,

To part the Queens proud kindred from the Prince.”

(Shakespeare: Richard III)

“Why this it is when men are ruled by women…”

Loyaulté me lie. That is Richard Duke of Gloucester’s personal motto. It means ‘loyalty binds me’ and it was much more than a motto to duke Richard; it was a lifestyle choice. Throughout his relatively short life he displayed a rigid and remorseless dedication to the chivalric code of personal loyalty. He was loyal to those he loved, and to those who served him well. He was loyal to those he trusted regardless of the circumstances, regardless of his personal feelings and, fatally for him, regardless of the consequences.

Every schoolboy should have a hero. Richard Plantagenet’s hero was his magnificent eldest brother, Edward. In late 1460, when he was in lodging in London with his other brother George and his sister Margaret, Edward used to visit them every day. To Richard, aged just seven “…he shone with the blaze of mighty affairs and was the companion of paladins. Yet he took care to watch over his brothers and sister, regaling them with tales of his adventures, warming them with his affection and his greatness. How could there be anything better than to follow forever and to serve this wonderful brother, so splendid, so kind?[1] Yet for all his devotion and loyalty to his brother, Richard was his own man: they argued. For example, in 1475 he disliked the fact that Edward had accepted a French bribe to such an extent that he returned to England, having himself refused the French king’s bung. And then there is the question of his relationship with the Woodvilles. We need not give too much credence to the notion that he hated the queen and her relations; his loyalty to Edward would not permit that. However, I think its fair to say he disapproved of the king’s relatives by marriage. When Richard left York on about the 23 April 1483 he was still in the service of the dead king and intent on ensuring that his wishes were fulfilled. He would work dutifully toward the enthronement of his nephew king Edward V because that is what his brother expected of him; that is what he expected of himself.

A lot had happened in the two weeks between Edward’s death and Gloucester’s departure from York. Hastings was keeping him informed of events in London by letter and messengers.[2] Gloucester had been corresponding with Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham who was in Brecon; they “… exchanged views and agreed to unite their resources…[3] Hastings was clearly aware of the Gloucester-Buckingham alliance and anticipated that they would both journey to London.[4] Finally, Gloucester had written to the king at Ludlow to arrange a rendezvous en route to London so that Gloucester and Buckingham could accompany him “…that in their company his entry to the city might be more magnificent. The king assented to this and did as they requested[5]. Gloucester’s predicament is beautifully summarized by Kendall “ Precisely what was happening in the capital he could not tell; precisely what attitude Lord Rivers and his two thousand men would take at Northampton he did not know. He did know that the authority of the protector was rightfully his, and he trusted in his abilities and the will of the realm to make good that authority. There is something at once naïve and formidable about Richard’s rigorous confidence in the face of opposition so aggressive and a political situation so complex and so explosive.”[6]

“Last night, I hear, they lay at Stony Stratford…”

The rendezvous at Northampton was a defining moment in a series of events that would lead Gloucester inexorably towards the throne. To his detractors, his actions are proof that he intended all along to usurp the throne; to his defenders, they mean the exact opposite. They are proof of a Woodville plot to ambush and kill the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham. Given this gulf in opinion, it is all the more annoying that we have no eyewitness testimony or a trustworthy third-party report of events.   The versions subsequently published in the vernacular chronicles, in Mancini’s report and in the Crowland Chronicle are all based on hearsay. What’s more, the vernacular chronicles’ are brief and in some cases obviously inaccurate. Furthermore, the two main sources, those of Mancini and Crowland, differ significantly in their detail[7].   This makes it difficult construct a credible narrative of the sequence of events. Nevertheless, there are three things we can be sure of. First, The king did not wait for Gloucester and Buckingham at Northampton as agreed; given the context, it is understandable that the royal dukes might think that was suspicious. Second, Gloucester secured custody of the king’s person, which was the key moment in crushing the Woodville coup. Third, Gloucester arrested Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and others, and sent them to his castles in the north; his breach with the Woodville’s was now irrecoverable.

“ Those uncles that you want were dangerous…”

When Gloucester arrived at Northampton on the 29 April 1483, neither the king and his party, nor the duke of Buckingham was there to greet him. Later that day, Anthony Woodville, earl Rivers arrived and explained the King’s absence. He said that the accommodation at Northampton was insufficient for the needs of the king and his party, and those of the dukes Gloucester and Buckingham. Consequently, the king had moved on to Stony Stratford, fourteen miles closer to London. Gloucester accepted this excuse with good grace but it is certain that he was not fooled by what he regarded as Rivers’ deceit. In view of what Hastings had already told him, Gloucester most probably regarded this as a blatant attempt to prevent him from meeting the king, and part of the Woodville plot to rule through a compliant monarch.

Gloucester Buckingham and Rivers spent a convivial evening together. Later, after Rivers had retired to bed, the dukes discussed the situation: it was dangerous[8]. They were outnumbered three to one and they were no nearer meeting the king. Nevertheless, Gloucester, an able and experienced soldier, was not a man to lose his nerve or to be intimidated by the size of the ‘opposition’; he devised a good plan, relying on speed and surprise. Before dawn on the 30 April 1483, the dukes’ men surrounded Rivers’ accommodation. They disarmed his guards and posted their own. Nobody was allowed in or out. Meanwhile, they deployed men on the Stony Stratford road to prevent news of what was happening in Northampton reaching the king and his party. Rivers, on being told of this by his servants, protested but to no avail: Gloucester was in control of the situation.

Gloucester and Buckingham rode to Stony Stratford. There, they found the king and his retinue on the point of departing. Indeed, one detachment has already started for London. Dismounting, Gloucester, with his whole retinue kneeled in homage to the king.   After paying due condolence to him on the loss of his father, Gloucester explained in calm but plain terms what was happening. He told the king that some of his father’s ministers had encouraged his excesses and ruined his health. They must not be allowed to do the same thing to young Edward. Moreover, he “…accused them of conspiring his death and of preparing ambushes both in the capital and on the road, which had been revealed by their accomplices. Indeed, he said it was common knowledge that they had tried to deprive him of the office regent conveyed on him by his brother (the late king)[9]”.

Edward defended his ’friends’. He said that he was satisfied with the government his father had arranged for him; nevertheless, he was outmatched by the two dukes and had no choice but to acquiesce. Having gained control of the King, Gloucester ordered the escort of armed soldiers to disperse to their homes. His reputation as the first soldier of the realm, his calm authority and the loss of their leadership ensured that his order was obeyed; the Woodville ’army’ seems to have just turned around and gone home. Sir Richard Grey (the King’s stepbrother) and his servant Sir Thomas Vaughan were arrested, along with Rivers and some others, and sent in custody to Richard’s strongholds in the north. The king was escorted back to Northampton, where all contact was severed with his Woodville kin and his old servants.   Gloucester provided his own picked men to serve the king.

Richard’s coup at Stony Stratford was a neat mopping-up operation. He had gained custody of the kings person without bloodshed, using the minimum force to maximum effect. It could not have been handled better. For the first time, Richard had the initiative in the power struggle with the queen and her kindred. What’s more, his action to curb Woodville ambitions was popular — at least for the moment.   Lord Hastings is reputed to have boasted that the transfer of power had been achieved without so much blood as could be got from a cut finger.

After spending a few days at Northampton, tidying-up the kings affairs and writing to the Lord Mayor and Citizens of London explaining his action and assuring them of his good intentions, Richard escorted the King to London. His situation was transformed, but he still had problems. The power struggle was not over yet.

“The tiger now hath seized the gentle hind”

Most historians see only the guilty hand of Gloucester at work on the 29 and 30 April 1483. They regard his ‘ruthless seizure’ of the young king’s person as a prerequisite for his later usurpation. It is an opinion based largely on the near-contemporary hearsay accounts of what happened and the later Tudor embellishments. How anybody can be so certain of Gloucester’s motives after more than five centuries and in view of the ‘mosaic’ of conflicting and confused source material is a mystery, which is almost as baffling as the disappearance of the two princes. The conclusion that Gloucester was the villain in this power struggle seems perverse in the face of the contrasting behaviour of those involved.

The queen and her party acted provocatively, making a deliberate attempt to impose an unconstitutional regency government on the realm: by force of arms if necessary [10]. Gloucester, on the other hand, reacted with impeccable correctness. His response was loyal and measured. He affirmed his fealty to young Edward V on oath, and in a letter to the queen and the council. He made his leisurely way towards London after first hearing a requiem service in York for his brother. He was accompanied by only three hundred of his own retainers and he declined Buckingham’s pragmatic offer to bring a thousand men to the meeting at Northampton. Given that he probably knew the size of the king’s escort, his actions are hardly those of a man intent on seizing the throne. If they were, he could only hope for success without expecting it. There can be little doubt that Gloucester, supported by Buckingham, was intent on gaining control of the situation in order to ensure a constitutional settlement. However, it is irrational to conclude from those facts that Gloucester was intent on usurpation: unless, of course, one has a preconception of his male fides.

Mancini’s interpretation of the facts throughout his narrative is coloured by his assumption that Gloucester always intended to seize the throne[11]. There are also difficulties about Crowland, who had a clear prejudice against Gloucester, which may or may not be due to his unreasoning hatred of northerners[12].  Although Professor Ross assures us that modern historians discount the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Gloucester’s “…character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves, without preconception”[13], it seems obvious to me that the notion that all Gloucester’s actions were deceitful, regardless of the lack of objective evidence of his evil intent, suggests a predisposition to believe the worst of him no matter what.

The news that Richard had secured control of the King seems to have reached London sometime during the night 30 April-1 May 1483. According to Mancini: “ The unexpectedness of the event horrified everyone.   The Queen and the Marquis, who held the royal treasure, began collecting an army to defend themselves and to set free the young king from the clutches of the dukes. But when that exhorted certain nobles who had come to the city, and others, to take up arms they perceived that men’s minds were not only irresolute, but hostile to themselves. Some even said openly that it was more just and profitable that the youthful sovereign should be with his paternal uncle than with his maternal uncles uterine brothers.”

As Kendall points out, whatever men may have thought about the conflict between the queen and the, duke of Gloucester, few identified the Woodville cause with that of the young king.   In any event, the Woodville’s panicked:“ Lacking either the innocence or the courage to quietly await the king’s arrival, they could only think of flight.” These comments though harsh are probably correct. Panic or not, the Marquis of Dorset did not forget to loot the Tower of London of the king’s treasure before retreating to sanctuary[14].

[1]. Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen and Unwin 1955) at page 38; I accept that Kendall’s flowery writing style verges on the sentimental at times, but his biography of Richard brings him alive in ways other authors cannot hope to reach)

[2]. Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (AJ Armstrong editor) (Oxford 1969 edition) at pages 71-73.

[3]. Mancini at page 75; see also Armstrong’s note 43 at page 115 for a detailed discussion of how the two dukes might have corresponded.

[4]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 155.

[5]. Mancini at page 75; see also the note 44 at page 115. Armstrong’s suggestion that Rivers went considerably out of his way to rendezvous with Gloucester and Buckingham is an unproven assumption. Notwithstanding that, Charles Ross (Richard III – Yale 1999 at page 71) and Michael Hicks (Richard III -The History Press 2009 edition at pages 161 and 162) both repeat it. Stony Stratford is situated on Watling Street (now the A5 trunk road), which itself passes within about five miles of Northampton. Watling Street was then and for many years afterwards, the main route from Shropshire to London. To journey by any other route was simply impracticable for such a large party as the king’s (2000 soldiers and their impedimenta, household officials and royal servants with their impedimenta). The alternative route through Worcester and Oxford was possibly shorter but it was hardly quicker for such a large body of men and equipment. The terrain through the Mendip and Chiltern Hills is problematic and the royal ‘snake’ would have been much longer, not to mention the logistical problems.   The rendezvous at Northampton made sense for its convenience if nothing else. However, it may have suited Rivers for other reasons. If he was planning to ambush Gloucester and Buckingham, this was the place to do it. It was close to the Woodville family seat at Grafton Regis and the terrain was ideal for an ambush. The key question is: who suggested Northampton? It is not a frivolous question because what happened in Northamptonshire at the end of April 1483 is regarded as proof either of Richard’s guilty mind or of the Woodville’s guilty minds, depending on one’s point of view.

[6]. Kendall at page 165: however, he is not quite right about Gloucester’s authority as Lord Protector.   The fact is that at this stage he had no authority as Lord Protector. Under the constitutional settlement  of 1422 a king has no power to determine the governance of the realm after his death; he could suggest but not direct.

[7]. I have adopted the Mancini sequence, which though different to Crowland and some of the vernacular sources, seems more plausible to me..

[8]. We do not have the detail of this discussion or what information Buckingham had. He may, for instance, have warned Gloucester of an ambush (See Gordon Smith – Stony Stratford: the case for the prosecution R3S Bulletin, spring 2004 at pages 27-32). Smith postulates the possibility that the RV at Northampton suited Rivers because it was close to Grafton Regis, which was situated on the shortest road between Northampton and Stony Stratford. Rivers sited a deliberate ambush on that road with a view to enticing the dukes into it. However, Buckingham who was following Rivers down Watling Street realized something was wrong after he turned off for Northampton at Weedon. It soon became obvious that the king with his large escort had had continued straight on to Stony Stratford, making no attempt to visit Northampton. Buckingham warned Gloucester, who acted as he did next day. The dukes avoided the ambush by moving to Stony Stratford via Towcester and taking the king’s party by surprise from behind (Smith’s article in the R3S Bulletin has two useful diagrams which explain how the ambush was planned and how it the two dukes foiled it.).

[9]. See Mancini at page 77; it is important to point out that neither Mancini nor the author of the Crowland Chronicle accept Gloucester’s assertion of a plot against him. Both regarded the seizing of the king as part of his plan to usurp the throne at any cost. They also note that despite Gloucester’s popularity in some quarters there were people who were suspicious of his intention even at this time.

[10]. Ralph A Griffiths – The Reign of King Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) at pages 19-24; see also Annette Carson ‘Protector and Defensor: the constitutional position’ at (27 Apr 14). Richard duke of Gloucester’s appointment as Lord Protector was based on a constitutional precedent set in 1422 following the untimely death of Henry V. On his deathbed, the victor of Agincourt appointed his youngest brother Humphrey duke of Gloucester as virtual regent (tutelage) in England during Henry VI’s minority. However, the concept of personal rule by a regent was unknown to English constitutional practice, which owned that ‘royal authority’ can only be exercised by the monarch in person   In council and in Parliament, the lords rejected Henry’s wish on the grounds that it was ‘repugnant’ to them, and also because, as a matter of principle, a king cannot be allowed to determine the governance of the realm after his death. The solution devised was to offer duke Humphrey the post of ‘Defender of the realm and Chief Councilor to the king’. The lords made it clear that his role imported his personal attendance to the defence of the realm against external enemies or internal rebels“…but no name of tutor, lieutenant-general, nor regent nor no name that should import authority of governance of the realm.” The Lords reserved to themselves the right to govern during the king’s minority and they left the personal upbringing of the king to his mother and the royal household. Not only that, but the appointment was in the gift of the king; the Lord Defensor (which would develop into the Lord Protector) must come and go at the whim of the king/lords. Gloucester’s father Richard duke of York knew this in 1454 and 1455 during Henry VI’s incapacity. He resigned his appointment as Lord Protector as soon as he was told to. This is the role that Edward V wished his brother to take-up in 1483. A king cannot rule from the grave, so Edward could only suggest Gloucester’s appointment: he could not compel. There was nothing irregular or unconstitutional about Edward’s deathbed codicil. He was, in fact, expressing his preference for a 1422 type minority rule. The difference between 1422 and 1483 was simply this: in 1422, the lords were moved to prevent the king dead from imposing an unconstitutional settlement, which they feared opened the door for despotism; whereas, in 1483 Gloucester, supported by the anti-Woodville lords, was moved to prevent the queen and her family from imposing an unconstitutional settlement on the realm, which they too feared might lead to despotism. That was a situation that Edward IV had not anticipated. Until his appointment was confirmed by the lords in council Gloucester held no constitutional authority as Lord Protector. The other point of note is that, under the terms of his appointment, Gloucester was not the ‘protector’ of the king’s person. Ordinarily that would be left to his mother and the royal household. Though in this case, the Woodvilles’ behaviour made it impossible for the king to remain in their custody, care and control.

[11]. Mancini at page 17; in his introduction, professor Armstrong notes that Mancini showed little animus to Gloucester “…save for his assumption that the duke of Gloucester was always aiming for the throne.” Such an assumption is so prejudicial that one wonders whether Mancini’s narrative has any historical value at all. It coloured his interpretation of events throughout his account. Every good act of Gloucester’s is regarded as evidence of his deceitful, dissembling nature; every firm or decisive act is proof of his cruelty and tyranny. There are other reasons for not accepting Mancini’s account at face value. Some basic errors of chronology and geography coupled with doubts about the provenance of his sources, and his misunderstanding of the workings of Parliament all suggest that ‘ Mancini is no more reliable that More or Vergil’.

[12]. See AJ Pollard – ‘North, South and Richard III’, an article published in ‘Richard III: crown and people’ – J Petre-editor (Richard III Society 1985) at pages 349-355, for a discussion of regional friction and differences in fifteenth century England. Interestingly, the author (no Ricardian) make a good case for the notion that those people who actually knew or had served Gloucester thought well of him. This article first appeared in the ‘Ricardian’ (volume 5, number 74, Sep 1981 at pages 384-388).

[13]. Ross at page 63: I cannot agree with professor Ross. I see little evidence of objectivity in Ricardian literature generally. Ross (page 64) refers to the “…extraordinary problems of the evidence…” and especially the problem of answering the vital question: when and why did Gloucester decide to go for the throne?   If, as Ross suggests, historians really do eschew the Tudor tradition in favour judging for themselves from peoples’ actions, then there is no rational basis for disbelieving Gloucester’s bona fides; unless you have a preconception that everything he did, was in bad faith. If historians are relying on hindsight to argue that the sequence of events and their timing indicate that Gloucester must have been planning usurpation, then their logic is flawed. That argument is quite simply a non sequitur.

[14]. Kendall at pages 178-179: it seems that Sir Edward Woodville had sailed with the Royal Navy and his share of the treasure on the day before news reached London of the events at Northampton. The loss of this treasure and the Royal Navy were to significantly hamper Richards attempt to carry out the essential government of England. In particular it undermined attempts to protect the south coast from French pirates.

Guilty!…until proven innocent, which ain’t gonna happen….


What a very strange state of affairs it is, when the king who made certain that people were innocent until proven guilty, is himself always presumed guilty with scant chance of ever being proved innocent.

But this is the case with Richard III, whose one and only Parliament advanced and improved the lot of the ordinary man to a degree that many of his statutes are still adhered to now. These statutes were even published in English, allowing the ordinary public to read or have it read to them, and understand. Richard was determined to help and protect his subjects.

Yet he is guilty until proven innocent. Who says? Well, rather blinkered historians with an axe to grind, that’s who. Close your eyes and picture them. Spot on. They are the sort of people who will say black is white, no matter what. If someone is admirable, they’ll make damned sure he isn’t for long. The sort of people who will cast endless doubt upon the truth, simply to further their own careers. To these people, More and Shakespeare are absolutely reliable for FACTS. Hmm. So, Richard had a withered arm, even though his skeleton proves he didn’t. Richard had kyphosis, they say, even though he had scoliosis. We’re right, they squeal! Especially when they’re on TV promoting their latest load of preposterousness.

Incredible as it seems to us now, back in the 15th century people could buy land, only to find it had already been sold elsewhere, or that it didn’t belong to the seller in the first place. Caveat emptor was the order of the day, and the guilty could get away with it. Richard stopped that little scam. He insisted on fairness, because that was his nature. Why else was he loved so much in the north, where he ruled for many years at the order of his brother the king? If he was a toad, they’d have been glad to see the back of him. They weren’t any such thing, instead they grieved when he was killed.

As attested to by the barrister Juliet Donovan during Channel Four’s “procession highlights” show (about 2:10:30 in), he introduced bail, saw that juries were more wisely selected, prevented the system of ‘benevolences’, and many other things. All in one Parliament. Just how far might he have gone if he had reigned for longer? He could well have transformed England, and died in his bed, a venerated king.

Instead, courtesy of these particular historians, we are still presented with Richard the Monstrous Uncle, who pinched his nephew’s throne, forced Anne Neville into marriage, bullied old women and murdered his enemies, all starting at the age of 2, or thereabouts, according to the Bard. Who is always right. Believe it. What a precocious little lad Richard was, and all while being so physically deformed and hideous that he was clearly the Devil’s spawn. The lawmaker was the twisted Law-mauler Supreme.

Well, that is if you read these Mouth Almighties, who clearly do not pay any attention to facts. Why? Because it doesn’t suit them. They don’t want to know that the real Richard was a good, brave man, who had kingship forced upon him by his elder brother’s bigamy. They want to believe More and Shakespeare. Or pretend they do, at least. And so now, even when it’s becoming clearer by the day that they are wrong, they deny it. The earth is flat where they live! The rest of us have long since known it is round.

A dialogue with himself …

… in which David Starkey took over the “Today” programme on Thursday:

Rather a shame because he should stick to Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, about whom he is the principal expert.

Dan Jones (again)

His current Channel Five series (Secrets of Great British Castles, Fridays, 20:00) is quite informative in parts. However, as a Starkey protege, Jones relies on fairly simplistic views and  with his pre-selected one-dimensional heroes and villains, the latter including John (from the opener on Dover) as well as Edward II (mentioned in at least three episodes) and Richard III (The Tower).

The most recent episode featured Caernarfon Castle in Gwynedd, its foundation under Edward I, as the birthplace of his heir and successor, the strategic importance under the Madog and Glyndwr rebellions and the investiture of Princes of Wales there since 1911. The myths of Owain Tudor’s Welsh Royal descent and his “relations” with the widowed Catherine de Valois, who was legally debarred from remarrying, were given an airing – he was actually descended from Llewellyn Fawr’s steward, unlike the Mortimer-Yorks who were descended from Llewellyn’s daughter. The Civil War sieges were barely mentioned.

Given Jones’ own Welsh ancestry – his great uncle is Lord Chalfont (,_Baron_Chalfont) – it was disappointing not to see him attempt more authentic pronunciation, given that less qualified and less connected writers have done so recently.

The Barnet Project

Parish registers (of baptism, marriage and funeral)

These date back to 1538 in England and Wales, finally being replaced in 1837 by general registration. It is generally thought that Henry VIII (and Thomas Cromwell) introduced them to know who was attending these Anglican services and who was not.

Alternatively, Henry may just have wanted to keep track of the 72,000 people whose executions he ordered.

The king in the middle….

Henry Seven JPEG

Is there a case for giving Henry VII a thumbs up? I put this “disloyal” question while wearing my very best Ricardian hat, and I put it after noticing a number of recent, very well-deserved comments about his odious son and successor, Henry VIII.

We all know what a fine man Richard was, and nothing will ever shake our faith in him, unless his diary turns up with “I am guilty of every charge, including my nephews”, signed Ricardus Rex, in his own unmistakeably neat, educated hand. Well, that will never happen, save Henry VII’s Smear Machine having managed to produce an almost perfect fake. Henry wasn’t above such a thing, of course, because whatever else he was, he was very clever. And utterly determined to hang on to his stolen throne.

But throughout his reign he lived with the threat of the House of York returning. No matter how many fibs he spread about Richard having, among other things, eliminated the sons of Edward IV, there was no proof. No bodies. No closure. Henry worried about this from 22nd August 1485 onward, and I am sure it eventually put paid to his health. He died quite wretchedly, albeit in his own bed. Hooray for the wretchedness, say most Ricardians.

But what sort of man was he really? Well, ‘mean’ is probably one of the first adjectives that springs to mind. He would claw in every last coin, or what was left of every last coin, and was none too fussy about how he did it. “The king was in his counting house, counting out his money” is how the old nursery rhyme goes, and it’s almost certainly about Henry. Or so I’ve always understood. Similarly, “The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey” is about his wife, Elizabeth of York. So, the cruel miser was stashing his ill-gotten gains, while his plump, empty-headed wife lived the high life. This is the rhyme’s implication.

After ‘mean’, comes lying, conniving, cruel, conscienceless, ambitious, and various other unflattering observations. He also made an art form about making his appearance intimidating to all those who came into his presence. And with his height, slenderness and strange eyes, I imagine he had the same mesmerising effect as a cobra just before it strikes. He had it all worked out, but then he had to. How else could he banish the charm of those Yorkist kings he replaced? He used fear, which is always a successful weapon.

By the time he died, he really was a nasty piece of work. It was no longer a façade. Everyone was hugely relieved to bury him and then turn to his dazzling son, Henry Tudor Mark II, whom they probably hoped would resurrect the charm of the House of York. Spring and summer after autumn and a decidedly bitter winter. Except Mark II didn’t live up to expectations, but turned into an infinitely worse tyrant than his father. Henry VII left a realm that was safe and settled, with bulging coffers. But he had not quite eradicated the threat of the House of York, so Henry VIII also had to deal with the tiresome White Rose. He did. Ruthlessly. And on top of that he thought nothing of chopping off the heads of two of his six queens. Among the heads of many others, of course. Oh, and he also emptied the coffers.

Can anyone imagine Henry VII behaving quite like this? Yes, he chopped off heads, they all did then, but he was also surprisingly restrained at times. And if Elizabeth of York had failed to produce any children, needing replacement by a more fruitful model, would he have made false charges against her? Treason? Having surrendered her all to her uncle, Richard III? Of course, by doing this he would almost certainly have caused another rebellion, this time likely to be only too successful. Many only put up with him as king because of his Yorkist queen. Henry wasn’t daft, so he wouldn’t have done it. Nor did he have to, because Elizabeth gave him the heirs he needed. Phew, Henry’s luck held. But he was a conventional man and conventional Christian. I can’t imagine Henry Mark I ever creating such a monumental upheaval as to challenge Rome, let alone sever all links with it.

After Bosworth, I think he would have done almost anything for a quiet life. Chop off Elizabeth of York’s head? Ye gods. No, he would have done what Richard did before him, and selected an heir. Who? That’s for another day, I think. Has anyone any idea who might have become a childless Henry VII’s heir . . . ? Of course, if he had been childless, he would have been faced with increasingly effective challenges from the House of York, and probably wouldn’t have made it to 1509 anyway.

So, there he is, sandwiched between Richard III and Henry VIII, seeming almost anonymous to our modern eyes. Richard arouses huge emotion and loyalty, and has immense support even now in the 21st century. Henry VIII we view aghast. He’s horribly fascinating, a monster in every sense of the word. And then there’s Henry VII, who hung on to the throne from 1485 until 1509 and established the House of Tudor. Most people now know diddly-squat about him. Henry who? Oh, the one who killed that King Richard they’ve just buried in Leicester.

But . . . what might Henry have been like if all threat from the House of York had ended at Bosworth. No challenges, no sneaky pretenders lurking across the Channel, just a realm to be reigned over. Or plundered. It depends upon the real Henry. And I doubt we will ever discover him. He was moulded by events, he did not mould them. So Mummy Margaret’s real little boy is lost somewhere in between. I’d loved to know, but never will.

My question at the beginning was whether we could give Henry VII a thumbs up of any sort. Well, in some ways he has to be given some credit. In others, oh dear. He was a very pale shadow of his predecessor. Richard’s charisma reaches down through the centuries, as does the increasing awareness of just how much good he would have done had he been allowed to live. He had the people’s welfare at heart, and would have been loved. Henry had Henry’s welfare at heart. And he produced Henry VIII, for which it’s hard to forgive him. Ditto Edward VI and Mary Tudor. I can forgive him for Elizabeth I, but only because her Yorkist blood gets full credit!

So, in the end, with some reservations, I have to give Henry VII a thumbs down. I wish it were not so, because if he had proved to be a truly great king, it might at least have made the sacrifice of Richard a little more bearable. Henry wasn’t a truly great king, he was unpleasant and introduced all the terrible things we associate with the House of Tudor. That makes Richard’s loss all the more painful and tragic.

After Richard, where’s Wolsey….?


Leicester has more than one ‘lost’ personage, although Richard III has to be the most important, of course. But Cardinal Wolsey has eluded discovery so far, as is revealed in a very interesting article from the Leicester Mercury of 20th April 2015.

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