What was Stillington’s motive?
Although Commines is the principal source for Robert Stillington being the clergyman who informed Richard of the alleged marriage between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Talbot, the treatment of the bishop after the accession of Henry VII does appear to support the idea that he was the man involved. Indeed it appears that the Lords wished to (at least) examine the bishop, but that Henry protected him from such an inquisition.
On the assumption that Stillington was the person responsible, what was his motive? This was a man already in his 60s, who had in our terms settled into a comfortable retirement. He had held high office under Edward IV, notably as Lord Chancellor from 1467-1473 (with a gap during the restoration of Henry VI.) Given the nature of the job, it seems reasonable to assume that he was a senior administrator of considerable ability.
Now of course Edward sacked him in 1473, and later, following the fall of Clarence, the bishop spent a short time in prison, apparently for speaking out of turn. Neither experience was unique, and neither seems to justify a burning desire for revenge. It’s not as if the bishop spent the rest of his life on Job Seekers Allowance. He had, for a start, the very substantial revenues of the See of Bath and Wells, the equivalent of which today would be a very handsome pension pot indeed.
So did Stillington look for any reward? If so, he must have been sorely disappointed. There is no evidence that Richard III did anything to advance him. He certainly did not appoint him to high office or translate him to a better see. Nor was he in any sense part of Richard’s affinity.
So are we really to believe that the bishop woke up one morning, and thought up a secret marriage for Edward IV, just for the hell of it? It was a risky thing to do, surely. Why should he be believed? What were the likely consequences if he were not believed? He risked, at the minimum, another spell in the Tower. Indeed, would he have dared to come forward with nothing more than his unsupported word? Say for the sake of argument it was pure invention. Would he not at least have had to ‘square’ the remaining members of the Talbot family, to be sure that his statement would not be met with universal contradiction? If he had been disbelieved, his future under Edward V would have been very far from rosy!
On balance, the easiest explanation seems to be that he genuinely had something on his conscience. Moreover, it seems likely he had some form of proof. We know that proofs of some kind were offered, even if we have no idea what the ‘proofs’ were. If you think the contrary, you must surely ask yourself what kind of man this Stillington was, and what was his motive. I think you would have to conclude that he was very odd indeed, malicious and exceptionally vengeful.