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Archive for the month “Jun, 2015”

Who really won at Bosworth? (by Katherine Newman-Warren)

I think increasingly it is Richard who has ultimately gained the greater victory. Henry won temporal power and died in his bed but Richard has gained a kind of immortality that Henry could never hope to achieve and went down fighting as a warrior king with the symbols of his kingship on his body. If a king is a symbol for his people then Richard has become, for so many, the embodiment of courage against the odds, of survival and endurance and also of human frailty and loss. As Bishop Tim said the ‘Richard’ effect touches people around the world. They are prepared to embrace him in all his flawed complexity, knowing that his choices were hard and his options limited, understanding that he was born into a bloody civil war where personal tragedies were common place and strength was often manifested in the ability to stay alive long enough to grow to manhood. People see their own struggles and setbacks in his story. They can forgive him his mistakes and bad judgements because they recognize their own faults and failings in his but they are no longer willing to swallow distortions and lies without probing these arguments for the truth which is always a rainbow of motivations and a shifting sea of morality. Our reaction to his story dares us to be wise, to understand that moral judgement from the comfort of an armchair and a place of safety is rarely justifiable and that given the same pressures we might have done worse and likely no better than he managed. They understand the enormity of his grief at the loss of his child and what crushing responsibility he shouldered alone in the last year of his life and they will continue to remember him long after the media frenzy moves on to find fresh meat. The Director of the RSC said this week that without Shakespeare Richard would have neither the notoriety nor support that he has enjoyed and in one sense I can accept this. People don’t like injustice and in the modern world, they are disgusted by prejudice based on disability. Shakespeare’s Richard is persuasive and charismatic in a way that the real Richard was perhaps not, despite his Plantagenet bloodline, but he is without regret or remorse and I don’t believe that Richard didn’t agonise over his decisions or regret his mistakes. The anxiety of his piety suggests rather the opposite and makes him real and pitiable as we all are.

Is this a new Richard film? Or not…..?

Benedict Cumberbatch at Wells

Before you examine the above links, let me say that the following tale of woe demonstrates the hazards of taking a press article at face value. Beware of doing so, for it can lead you up the garden path. . .

Right. To the links. They require some wading through a clutter of tiresome ads, as so many sites do, but this time there is a little mystery to be found in the actual text, which is the same at both sites:-

Extras sought in Somerset to appear in ‘major Hollywood feature film’ By Blackmore Vale Magazine – posted: June 24, 2015

Men with long hair but no tattoos are needed as extras for new Hollywood film to be filmed in Wells, Somerset.

The Casting Collective has put out an appeal male and female extras to appear in what they describe as a “Major Hollywood Feature Film”.

It is unclear at this stage what the film will be called or who will be starring in it.

According to the company’s website the extras will need to be available for a costume fitting around the week commencing Monday, July 6 and one filming day around Thursday, July 16.

Men ideally need to have some length to their hair, and facial hair is sought but it is not essential. Women wishing to take part as an extra need to have natural chin length hair or longer. Extras must not have any visible tattoos, for example on the face or hands. 

Right, the next thing to point out is that the whole of this follows beneath the picture at the top of this page, i.e. of Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in the forthcoming “Hollow Crown” series on BBC2. The inference, it seemed to me, was that the ‘major Hollywood feature film’ being filmed in Wells was perhaps about Richard III. All bells and whistles, and Hollywood pzaz! Wow!

Well, that was my initial impression. Oh, goody, thought I. A new film about Richard. However, on reading it again, for all the inclusion of the picture of Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there isn’t actually a connection between the BBC production and this mysterious new, unnamed movie. Unless you count filming in Wells.

So I went to the website of Casting Collective, to see what appears there. Here is the link to: 

The text there is: Costume fitting around week of 6th July and one filming day around 16th July. Men ideally need to have some length to their hair, they like facial hair but it is not essential and Ladies need to have natural chin length hair or longer. No visible tattoos ie necks or hands Good rates of pay. Interested? Apply here and we will be in touch. You must be over 16, legally allowed to work in the UK with National Insurance number

The requirements for the extras suggest a historical story of some sort, but still does not actually mention Richard at all.

Finally, after more Googling, I found this utter deflater:…/story…/story.html  It’s only a prequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman”! So, not even the Monmouth Rebellion (when Wells Cathedral was looted for ammunition and the battle of Sedgemoor took place on 6 July) What a let down to this hopeful Ricardian.

Thus fizzled out my brief but dazzling excursion into the realms of fantasy. But there will be a really good film about Richard. One day. I just know it!

The Human Shredder again

It seems that a denialists’ source has denied that the first “Tudor” had any documents destroyed, except for the 1484 Titulus Regius that documented Edward IV’s bigamy so conclusively, for which they were caught red-handed. With this exception, there “isn’t a ghostly trace” of destruction, so it seems.

On May 27, we clearly showed the audit trail of some destruction. It was recorded by John Caius, Norwich-born and after whom a Cambridge college was named, through Vergil’s 1844 publisher to Potter in 1983. Strangely enough, instead of being rebutted, this very particular allegation was totally ignored, probably on the grounds of inconvenience.

Of course, the shredding of documents from Richard III’s reign, whether by Vergil himself, by Robert Morton or by others, probably didn’t end with Henry VII’s death. Religious houses were dissolved wholesale towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign and they were renowned depositories of historic documents. This may not have been deliberate.

Until the 1930s, French accounts of Richard II’s deposition were regarded as unreliable but now the Dieulacres Chronicle is available and largely confirms them. Still the denialists rely on sources they must know to be unreliable. In this case of John Caius they have, as our learned friends have it, “failed to come up to proof”. Then again, it comes from the sort of people who insist that a yet-to-be-born Bishop witnessed “Perkin”‘s letter or that a long-dead Catherine de Valois addressed Parliament. Whether they are writing satire or intentional fiction, or both, we are not sure.

It really isn’t hard to blow a hole through their “argument” with a specific example. Richard III spent quite a reasonable part of his reign in Nottingham (his “castle of care”) , yet there is almost literally nothing in the city records about him. There must be many more cases of documents systematically destroyed in the half-century or so after his death.

By contrast, Mary I was bastardised by her father’s legislation and eventually succeded to the throne, partly by force, but only repealed the Act and didn’t actually destroy it.

The latest on the search for Henry I in Reading

Another good article here:

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

Part 7 – Long live king Richard, England’s worthy king!

“ Cousin of Buckingham and sage grave men,

Since you will buckle fortune on my back

To bear her burden whe’er, I will or not

I must have patience to endure the load

(William Shakespeare)


“ Touched you the bastardy of Edward’s children?”

Bastard slips shall not take root. That was the uncompromising theme of Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon on the 22 June 1483 at St Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Old Testament[1], Dr Shaa preached to the dukes’ of Gloucester and Buckingham, and a ‘huge audience of lords spiritual and temporal[2] on the illegitimacy king Edward IV’s children. Exactly what he said, however, is a source of great controversy.

The crux of the problem is the paucity of reliable, objective chronicle accounts of what was said between 22 and 26 June 1483. The chronicles that we do have are, to quote Paul Kendall, a “mosaic of conflicting detail “[3]of king Richard’s title to the throne.   This is in marked contrast to the certainty and clarity of the parliamentary roll and Titulus Regius, which set out the chain of events and king Richard’s title with admirable certainty and clarity. However, some historians believe that Titulus Regius is a fraud that was only enacted because the members of parliament were coerced. So, what are we to think? The best way to answer that question is to begin at the beginning and follow events chronologically.

Dr Shaa’s sermon was not a spontaneous outpouring of public indignation at the illegitimacy of Edwards’s offspring. It was pre-arranged by duke Richard or by others on his behalf to bring to public notice the illegitimacy of the dead kings children and to put forward the duke’s royal title. I think Gloucester’s presence at the sermon is a clear indication of his intention to replace his nephew as king. Though, naturally he was keen to distance himself from the question of deposition at this stage. Mancini describes Gloucester’s actions thus: “…he so corrupted preachers of the divine word that in their sermons to the people they did not blush to say in the face of decency and all religion that the progeny of king Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward, said they, was conceived in adultery…”[4] The thing to note about this is that it is almost certainly not an eyewitness account. Furthermore, although Mancini does not mention a pre-contract at this point he does refer to one later on, as we shall see. The Great Chronicle follows Mancini in alleging that Shaa preached the illegitimacy of king Edward, whereas Fabyan says that Shaa also declared the bastardy of Edward’s children. Mancini’s narrative is the only account written during Gloucester’s lifetime; indeed, it is the only extant description of this meeting written in the fifteenth century. Consequently, it cannot be taken literally as a reliable report of Shaa’s sermon. It may or may not be correct. Similarly, the reliability of the two vernacular chronicle accounts is questionable given that they were written two decades after Gloucester’s death at a time when Tudor propaganda against the last Plantagenet was rife.

“ How now! How now! What say the citizens?”

Shaa’s sermon never settled anything; its importance lay in the fact that it set in motion a train of events that were to put Richard duke of Gloucester on the throne with astonishing speed, even by modern standards. Within four days of this sermon, duke Richard was offered the crown. The next day he was king of England. With the exception of Mancini all the other sources refer to a meeting, which took place on Tuesday the 24 June at the Guildhall, with Buckingham in the chair. Present were the Mayor, his brethren ‘and a good many’ London citizens. Buckingham is supposed to have spoken wonderfully well for “a good half hour” on behalf of the duke of Gloucester, extorting the audience to admit the Lord Protector as their liege lord. The audience ‘”…to satisfy his mind more in fear than for love, had cried in small number yea! Yea![5] Following this, Buckingham left. Fabyan and the London Chronicles also report this meeting. Indeed, Fabyan said that Buckingham was so eloquent that he never even stopped to spit.

“ We heartily solicit your gracious self to take on the charge and kingly government of this your land”

Mancini does not refer to a meeting at the Guildhall with the Lord Mayor and citizens of London. Instead, he refers to a speech made by Buckingham to the lords on the 24 June, in which Buckingham argued that “…it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father king Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth, was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him. Indeed on Edward’s authority the [earl] of Warwick had espoused the lady by proxy — as it is called — on the continent.[6] This is an undoubted reference to a pre-contract, although Mancini has managed to get Edward’s amour wrong.

The following day, that is the 25 June 1483, the Lords Spiritual, Temporal and the Commons (the three estates of the English community) met at Westminster. Gloucester’s decision to stop the writs of supersedeas cancelling parliament was obviously deliberate. He saw the value of having representatives from the ‘three estates’ in London to consider his claim to the throne. Although this was not a properly constituted parliament, pretty much all its members were present. Neither was this a tame Ricardian quorum; the lords spiritual, temporal and the commons who attended were those who would have constituted Edward V’s first parliament.   On any view this was a gathering of national authority. Gloucester’s claim was put forward precisely; some parts were good, others not so good. The evil done to the realm by the Woodvilles, the falseness of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey and the pre-contract with Eleanor Butler were all put forward, and discussed by the three estates. The meeting drafted and approved a petition to the duke of Gloucester that he should assume the seat royal. On the following day (26 June 1483) at his mother’s London house (Baynard’s Castle) the petition was presented to the duke who was pleased to accept it. He dated his reign from that day.

It all happened so quickly that it was natural that some of Richard’s subjects did not fully understand what had occurred. Subsequently, in January 1484, a properly constituted parliament noted the terms of the petition for the record, clarified the king’s title and ratified his succession to remove doubt. Nonetheless, even the constitutional authority of parliament is insufficient for some folk to accept the propriety and the legality of king Richard’s succession. Professor Charles Ross has no doubt that Titulus Regius was a “highly tendentious piece of propaganda (which) failed to carry conviction at the time and has not stood up under modern scrutiny.” [7] If ever that eminent and learned professor has made a sillier comment, I have yet to see it. Not only has he got the 15th century matrimonial law wrong and underestimated the nature of a parliamentary statute but also his analysis defies common sense. I am not going to enumerate the professors many misconceptions because others have long since consigned his comments to a metaphorical dustbin. The arguments against king Richard’s lawful accession only makes sense if you prefer the ex post facto chronicle accounts, comprising elements of hearsay, propaganda, rumour and plain old tittle-tattle, to a solemn parliamentary statute, which is contemporary with events and has the supreme force of English law, superseding judge-made canon law and common law. Anybody who takes the trouble to read the Parliamentary Roll for this parliament together with Rosemary Horrox’s excellent introduction to the Roll will see that this was a mature and thoughtful Act of Settlement, which did not come from Richard but from Parliament itself. Moreover one does not get the sense that the members were forced to come to this decision through fear.

Personally, I believe that king Richard’s intention was to recover the Yorkist vision for the rule of England. On the first day of his reign he spoke to the Kings Bench Justices emphasising the need for them to dispense justice without fear of favour and declaring that all men (and women) are equal before the law (A human right we take for granted now.). Paul Kendall describes his hopes in emotional terms when reflecting the events that had bought king Richard III to this point: “ …thus did Richard try to identify himself with the authentic tradition of his house; thus did he grope to regain the brother he had lost to Dame Elizabeth Grey, Hastings and Mistress Shore and to redefine his loyalty to the Edward he had worshiped as a boy” and “…was it not possible for him to set aside Edward’s heir and yet be truer to Edward than Edward had been to himself?” And further: “ he would succeed his brother to redeem his brothers rule.[8] Sadly, for king Richard and for England his was a reign of unfulfilled promise. He was, as Kendall suggests, an unsubtle man who perhaps had yet to acknowledge the reality that it was “…easier to keep a crown through the exercise of power than by the merits of his rule.”

[1] The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, Verse 3 “ Bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor take firm hold.” Scholars generally agree that the book of Wisdom deprecates any compromise with false idolatry

[2] AH Thomas et al [Eds] – The Great Chronicle of London (London 1938) pages 231-233

[3] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin, 1955) at page 477, note 21

[4] CJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III (Oxford, 1969) at page 95

[5] The Great Chronicle; ibid

[6] Mancini at page 97

[7] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale edition 1999) at page 91. Professor Ross (1924-1986) was a distinguished scholar. He was a historian and Professor of Medieval History at the university of Bristol (Michael Hicks and Ralph Griffiths were among his pupils). His biography of Richard first published in 1981 has, in most opinions, replaced Paul Murray Kendall as the standard work on Richard. Ross relied on primary sources in preference to the Tudor histories. His declared aim was to portray Richard in the context of his times. Although his writing style is less floral and more functional than Kendall’s, he does provide extensive research and considerable historical of detail about the period.   Whilst in general terms he abjured the confrontational approach of other authors, he is prone to express his irritation with Ricardians in somewhat petulant terms. He is sympathetic to Richard’s plight and his difficulties though ultimately he is against him on the key issue of how he seized and kept power

[8] Kendall at page 226

Even by Tudor and Stuart Standards, Edward IV’s Marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was Invalid


BARNABY: You really believe, don’t you, that the normal rules of society don’t apply to people like you. COLQUHON: We are the old families of England. We own most of the country’s land and its wealth and have done for generations. And we make up our own rules. BARNABY: But not the rule of law, sir. –Midsomer Murders, “Blood Wedding” (Photo Credit: Erdenbayar/Morguefile)

I’ve discovered a wonderfully detailed monograph written by a 21st-century professor of history (whose specialty is the social history of early modern England) that illustrates very nicely that the medieval canon laws governing pre-contracted marriages that resulted into the dissolution of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville survived, intact and without alteration, through the Reformation.

The book is David Cressy’s Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, published by Oxford University Press in 1997, when Cressy was Professor of History at California State University in Long Beach. An extensive preview is available for viewing at Google Books.[i]

Cressy’s specialty is the social history of early modern England. For those who do not know, “early modern England” roughly corresponds to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. On his current faculty page at Ohio State University, Cressy shares a few of his credentials:

“I was born and educated in England, and received four degrees from the University of Cambridge. I came to the United States on a two-year teaching contract, before I finished my Ph. D., and have been here ever since. I am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I taught at liberal arts colleges in California, and at California State University, Long Beach, before joining the Ohio State University History Department in 1998. I am currently Humanities Distinguished Professor of History and George III Professor of British History.” [ii]

What Constituted a Legal and/or Church-Approved Marriage in the Middle Ages Through Stuart Times?

The medieval Church’s[iii] “obligations” for persons seeking to be married involved posting marriage banns, obtaining licenses to marry in special situations, and confronting challenges to the legitimacy of marriages due to pre-contracts. These same obligations were inserted into the original 1549 edition of the Anglican church’s Book of Common Prayer, and into subsequent editions as well. This means the same obligations were in force in England from the medieval period to the Tudor period, and on through Stuart England. What this means is that anyone in denial regarding:

  1. Why Edward IV’s previously contracted marriage to Eleanor Butler (née Talbot) made his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid;
  1. What contemporary evidence was required by the archbishops on the king’s council to declare Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid;
  1. What right the archbishops on the king’s council had to declare Edward and Elizabeth’s children were illegitimate;

can consult Cressy’s detailed work (which was written by a Tudor and Stuart historian, and which includes extensive notes for each chapter and cites a multitude of contemporary sources) and come to understand precisely why the Church declared Edward IV’s second marriage invalid and the children of his marriage illegitimate. Illegitimate children were known as bastards, and by law bastards could not inherit anything. This included their parents’ lands, wealth, titles, and thrones.

Readers of Cressy’s monograph will also discern that unless the Constable of England or the Protector of the Realm had been a first-hand witness (meaning, unless he could testify “I was there…I saw…I heard…”) regarding any past events involved in a challenge to a pre-contracted marriage, he was powerless to influence the outcome of that challenge. Medieval Church and the Anglican canon law that echoed it dictated that Richard of Gloucester had no power to declare any marriage invalid, nor could he declare illegitimate the children of any marriage. The medieval Church and the Anglican church both reserved the exclusive right to dissolve marriages, and their decisions were based solely upon eyewitness evidence brought before medieval Church/Anglican church officials.

What Was Necessary for Edward IV to Have Done, to Marry Eleanor Butler?

Cressy devotes an entire chapter to clandestine and irregular marriages[iv], both of which terms apply to Edward IV since he married twice in secret when he was king, without the asking of banns at mass. Cressy’s summary of the “problem of ‘clandestine’ marriages in Tudor and Stuart England” can be applied whole cloth to the problem of Edward IV’s clandestine marriages.

Please read the following carefully – especially the second paragraph quoted – for at first glance it may seem that medieval law and early modern social practice were at odds when they were not. Cressy writes:

“Confusion has set in because some scholars have failed to differentiate late medieval legal principle from early modern social practice, and have mistaken ‘clandestine’ and irregular marriages for informal unions that rested on mere consent. This chapter sets out to review the problem of ‘clandestine’ marriage in Tudor and Stuart England, and to show that despite obvious technical defects they were, for the most part, conformable to social and legal expectations.

“In principle, a marriage existed if the man and the woman committed themselves to each other by words of consent expressed in the present tense. It would be enough to say, ‘I N. do take thee, N, to be my wedded wife/husband.’ A marriage was technically made valid in law by this contract or spousals per verba de presenti [words in the present tense], providing there were no overriding impediments. A contract de future, made in the future tense (such as ‘I will marry you’) became immediately binding if followed by sexual intercourse. Such was the core of medieval law, that was not changed in England until Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753.[v] [Bold mine.]

This means that if while Edward was laying siege to Eleanor, if she whispered, “I, Eleanor, do take thee, Ned, to be my wedded husband,” and Edward said something in reply, something as innocuous as, “Mmm hmm. Sure, whatever my lady” as he wasn’t paying attention, or if she pressed him as to his true intentions, and he offhandedly said, “Of course I will marry you,” and sexual intercourse followed, then voila! The two of them were married.

No priest was needed to make such a marriage legal and binding, though Eleanor may have told her family afterward and wanted to consult a priest and confine herself to a nunnery once she heard King Edward had subsequently married Lady Elizabeth Grey.

What, Exactly, Does “Pre-Contract” Mean?

Many people who haven’t taken the time to research medieval/Tudor/Stuart marriage laws don’t understand what “pre-contract” means, and why it was such a serious accusation with serious consequences in 1483. The uninformed seem to assume that the term means what it might mean in the 21st century – that Edward IV had merely been engaged to Eleanor Talbot and only a broken engagement was revealed in 1483. That’s no big deal in our time, so why were Edward’s children declared bastards and disinherited over such a small thing?

A “pre-contract” is not an engagement. The term means a previous marriage. It means a previous marriage took place, one which invalidates a second marriage or a man or woman’s intent to make a second marriage.

Edward IV stood accused of having previously married Eleanor Talbot. Such an accusation could only be assessed by the archbishops on the king’s council in the spring/summer of 1483. History shows those archbishops found the accusation to be true, which that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had never been valid because by both medieval Church and later Anglican law (and even by modern law), no man can have more than one living wife at one time.

  • Edward married Elizabeth Woodville on 1 May 1464.
  • Eleanor Talbot did not die until 30 June 1468.

Even if the Archbishops Had to Dissolve Edward and Elizabeth’s Marriage, Why Didn’t They Protect Edward V’s Right to the Throne, or His Siblings and His Mother’s Status?

This is where it gets complicated, unless you think in terms of what Edward IV should have done but did not do, at the very least, to ensure the rights of his heir to inherit his hard-won throne.

It wouldn’t have solved anything if Edward had confessed his bigamy and remarried Elizabeth publicly after his first wife Eleanor’s death in an effort to make all marital things new again. Nothing Edward could have done – except to have clung to life until he had outlived everyone who knew about his earlier marriage, which likely included not only Stillington but members of the Talbot family – would have changed the bastardy of Edward’s children because nothing could change the fact that those children had been conceived and born under an invalid, bigamous marriage.

In medieval/Tudor/Stuart England, [the churches] required that on three separate Sundays or holy-days, during the mass and in the presence of all the people attending mass, the priest had to “ask the banns.” That is, he had to ask the congregation whether anyone could give a reason why a couple could not lawfully be married.

“The banns,” writes Cressy, “were a safety device to prevent those who were ineligible from attempting the passage into matrimony”. Further on, Cressy says, “Church court records capture some of the drama of a challenge to the banns of marriage, though they barely hint at the heartbreak and embarrassment that some irregularities entailed. William Mead and Margaret Rame were ready to be married at Great Waltham, Essex, in 1577 after the banns were asked openly in church on two successive Sundays. But on the third Sunday ‘they were forbidden by Nicholas Satch, who claimed marriage’ to Margaret by virtue of an alleged pre-contract.


“Legally, a pre-contract was a fatal impediment to marriage. If one intending partner was already contracted to another the wedding was not supposed to proceed. And if such a person forgot or concealed a pre-existing contract, the marriage, if solemnized, could be declared invalid.[vi] [Bold mine.]

Medieval and Anglican canon law both dictated that:

  1. If banns were asked by a priest three times in public as [the churches] dictated; and,
  1. If no one came forward at that time with reason(s) why a couple should not be married; or,
  1. If someone came forward at a later time with valid reason(s) why the marriage was unlawful and should be dissolved; then,
  1. Regardless [the churches] dissolved the marriage, any children of the marriage were not and could not be declared illegitimate because their parents had followed the dictates of [the churches]. [The churches] could and would then extend [their] protection to the children to ensure their legitimacy and ability to inherit under English law.
  1. If banns had not been asked, if [the churches] had not been involved in the run-up to the marriage, if [church] procedure had not been followed, then the children of a dissolved marriage could not and would not be protected by [either church]. They would be declared bastards, and bastards could not inherit under English law.

Stillington revealed the pre-contract between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler in June 1483. At that time, Elizabeth Woodville, her son Richard of York, and all her daughters were in sanctuary within Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth had easy access to multiple canon-law experts who could have defended her marriage before the king’s council. Experts who knew how to challenge and negate the testimony of witnesses appearing before the council.

Likewise, Elizabeth had access to canon-law experts who could have told her it was impossible to negate the testimony offered, or to correct the grave mistakes Edward IV had made, not only by marrying Elizabeth when he was already married to Eleanor Talbot, but also by marrying Elizabeth in secret and not involving the Church whose law could have saved her children from the wreck of illegitimacy and at the same time upheld Edward V’s right to inherit his father’s throne.

The historical events of June 1483 indicate that Elizabeth Woodville prepared no defense against the dissolution of her marriage. Nor did she offer any protest against the king’s council declaring her children bastards, nor against the council’s removing Edward V’s right to succeed his father. Elizabeth appears to have sat silent in sanctuary while witnesses were called and testified before the council, while the council’s archbishops debated, and while her marriage to Edward IV was dissolved due to his previous marriage to another woman.

There is much more in Cressy’s monograph of interest to anyone interested in digging through medieval laws and traditions that carried over into Tudor and Stuart times. It would serve anyone in denial about the marital errors Edward IV made that resulted in Edward V’s being barred from the throne to consult this book. It does much to explain exactly why Richard of Gloucester had no power to control the ultimate consequences of bigamist Edward IV’s secret marriages to Eleanor Talbot and Elizabeth Woodville.





[iii] Please note that before the Reformation there was but one church in the Western world, with people referring to it only as “the Church.” I’ve followed that tradition here.

[iv] Chapter 11: Clandestine and Irregular Marriages

[v] Statutes of the Realm, 26 Geo. II, c. 33; Outhwaite, Clandestine Marriage in England, 75-97.

[vi] Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 306-307.

The Strange Death of Lancastrian England

When Henry IV had his final succession statute passed through Parliament he made no provision for the throne beyond his children and their offspring. Neither the Beauforts, the Yorks, or even the Hollands got so much as a line. This was quite understandable, given that he had four sons and two daughters. No one could have been expected to anticipate that those six young people would produce but two legitimate heirs between them. Of these, Blanche’s son, Rupert of Germany, died in 1426. The other was the future Henry VI, who would turn out to be (arguably) the least capable person ever to rule this country.

That Henry IV had doubts about the Beauforts (especially the eldest, who was certainly conceived in Sir Hugh Swynford’s lifetime) seems to be clear from his decision to explicitly exclude them from any rights to the succession in his exemplification of Richard II’s statute of legitimisation. But – at the time – any prospect of the Beauforts getting a sniff of the crown was remote in the extreme, and Henry’s exclusion of their claim was almost an irrelevance.

Once Henry V had dealt with the Cambridge Plot and gone on to win the Battle of Agincourt, the prospects for the Lancastrian dynasty looked rosy indeed. A few years on, with the Duke of Burgundy murdered by supporters of the Dauphin, Henry found a powerful ally in the new Burgundy (Philip the Good), and soon afterwards concluded the Treaty of Troyes with Charles VI, by which he (Henry) was declared Heir and Regent of France, and married to Charles’s daughter, Katherine of Valois. The Dauphin (future Charles VII) was disinherited.

This might be seen as the high-water point of the entire Lancastrian dynasty. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for a start, there was an awful lot of France still to conquer, and the people living there had not simply laid down their arms and accepted Henry on hearing of the Treaty. Meanwhile, Parliament, back in England, was already growing reluctant to pay for the necessary war. As they saw it, Henry had won his (not England’s) realm of France – great! Now it was now up to that realm, not England, to pay the cost of putting down the ‘rebels’ who so inconveniently still occupied the greater part of it. This probably seemed quite reasonable to the Honourable Members, with their typically English dislike of paying tax. However, assuming that the war was to be won, it was a completely unrealistic attitude to take.

Henry’s next brother in age, Thomas, Duke of Clarence was killed at the Battle of Bauge (21 March 1421). Clarence made the mistake of advancing on the enemy without his supporting archers, and the result was a costly defeat, both in terms of men killed and captured and in the boost the victory gave to French (or technically Armagnac) morale. Among those captured was the head of the Beaufort family, John, Earl of Somerset. He was to remain a captive until 1438, though it must be said he was not much missed.

So matters stood when King Henry died on 31 August, 1422, at the relatively young age of 35. Ironically, he never wore the crown of France as his father-in-law, the hapless Charles VI, contrived to outlive him.

Some authors have suggested that if Henry had lived, things might have turned out differently. I doubt it, because it wouldn’t have made the English Parliament any more generous, and that was the key factor. As Regent of France Henry was succeeded by his brother, John, Duke of Bedford, one of the most able rulers to emerge in the entire middle ages. Bedford was an efficient soldier, politician and administrator. He proved the former by commanding at the Battle of Verneuil (17 August 1424) which was in some respects a more crushing victory than Agincourt. His skill as politician and administrator prolonged the life of the English Kingdom of France, and it’s unlikely that anyone (even Henry V) could have done much better.

Bedford’s task was not made easier by his only surviving (and younger) brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester was to prove something of a loose cannon throughout his remaining career. He was Protector of England (during Bedford’s (usual) absence from the country), but his official powers were limited, much to his frustration. When he was not arguing with his uncle, Bishop Henry Beaufort, he was ‘marrying’ Jacqueline, Countess of Hainault and Holland, and fighting against England’s ally, Philip of Burgundy, in an attempt to secure her inheritance. (I say ‘marrying’ because, inconveniently, the lady already possessed a living husband, and in due course the Pope declared her ‘marriage’ to Humphrey invalid. Not that matters were quite that simple.)

Humphrey went on to marry his former ‘wife’s’ lady-in-waiting, Eleanor Cobham. This was clearly a love match, not least because it seems Eleanor was his mistress before he married her. However, they were fated not to have children together, and Humphrey’s only offspring, Arthur and Antigone, were illegitimate.

Bedford’s own marriage, to Anne of Burgundy, was arranged for reasons of state, but nevertheless it proved a successful one at a personal level. Unfortunately, it also remained childless. This may help to explain why Bedford was so quick to marry Jacquetta of Luxembourg after Anne’s death. It is sometimes suggested that the swift remarriage angered Anne’s brother, the Duke of Burgundy, but if so it was only in the way of one more straw on the camel’s back. Philip’s attachment to the English alliance had been waning for some time. He was able to see the way the wind was blowing. Bedford’s death (14 September 1435) made matters still worse and left the English leadership in some disarray, but the Congress of Arras was already in progress at the time. Although the English were invited to take part, the terms offered to them were totally unacceptable. Burgundy, on the other hand, was accommodated and was happy to make a separate peace with Charles VII. From that moment on the English Kingdom of France was doomed (if it was not already) and the remarkable thing is not that it ultimately fell, but that it struggled on until 1453.

Objectively, the English probably ought to have accepted the Arras peace, however harsh, as it would have left them something of their conquests. However, this is to ignore the political situation in England. Hardliners such as Gloucester essentially regarded the acceptance of anything short of the terms of the Treaty of Troyes as bordering on treason. This was a totally unrealistic view to hold, in view of the improvement of the French position in both political and military terms, but questions of personal and national honour were in play, and common sense was banished from the equation.

Henry VI began his personal rule at the age of 16 in 1437. While the depth of his incompetence was not yet apparent, even the most able of rulers would have faced a daunting task. The kingdom was next door to bankruptcy and quite unable adequately to finance the cost of fighting the ongoing war in France. The reinforcements sent abroad gradually grew smaller in number, and it was increasingly difficult to find commanders of a suitable rank who were willing to participate. While the war had, in the past, been profitable for some private individuals – if not for the nation – anyone with any sense could calculate that the opportunities for profit were shrinking by the day, while on the other hand there was a much increased prospect of being captured and having to pay ransom oneself. In other words, the war was an increasingly bad investment.

As for the Lancastrian dynasty, it now comprised, as far as males were concerned, Henry VI and his Uncle Humphrey. It scarcely helped that these two were completely at odds as to how to settle the war, the King being for peace at almost any price, while Gloucester was of the ‘one last heave’ school, and believed that a suitably large English army (preferably led by himself) would smash the French in another Agincourt and enable the English to impose their own terms. (It was actually an academic argument, as Parliament was not willing to finance the cost of such an expedition, and it’s questionable whether enough men could have been put together even had the taxes been forthcoming.)

The Duchess of Gloucester’s ill-advised attempts to find via astrology and/or magic whether she was to bear a child, and for how long Henry VI would live were a perfect gift to Gloucester’s political opponents. Her fall from grace (which involved not only penitential parades through London but life imprisonment for the unfortunate woman) had consequences for her husband, whose remaining political influence was virtually destroyed overnight. Since they were forcibly divorced, Gloucester could, in theory, have married again but in practice he did not. So when he died on 23 February 1447, the sole remaining legitimate male member of the Lancastrian family was Henry VI himself. (Unless you count the Beauforts, and as far as legitimate accession to the throne or the Duchy of Lancaster is concerned, you really shouldn’t.)

By this time, Henry had secured a sort of peace (no more than a short truce bought at the cost of great concessions) and as part of the bargain had married Margaret of Anjou. Though in due course this union produced a son, Edward, it would appear that the deeply-religious King found married life something of a chore. There is no real reason to assume that Prince Edward was not fathered by Henry, but there were rumours around that he was not. Rumours were of course a commonplace of medieval England. (They were often slanderous, and are only taken seriously by historians when they are negative and concern Richard III.)

The Lancastrian dynasty, which within living memory had seem rock solid and beyond challenge, was now on its last legs. The loss of Lancastrian France was inevitable, given the crown’s lack of resources. However, there were many in England all too ready to blame the disaster on the shortcomings of the King and his advisers. Henry’s limited political skills, his tendency to put complete trust in certain favoured counsellors to the exclusion of his powerful cousin, York, and the rising influence of Queen Margaret all added to a toxic political mixture. Of course, in addition to all this, the King was increasingly troubled by mental health problems that at times left him catatonic for months on end. These attacks gave York a couple of opportunities to rule as Protector, but the usual way of things was that as soon as the King recovered he went back to his reliance on Queen Margaret and whichever Somerset was currently alive.

Despite his dismal record as a ruler, very few people seem to have disliked Henry VI personally, and that is one reason why he survived in power as long as he did. Indeed, it might be argued that even York and his allies did all they could to keep Henry on his throne. It was only after the Battle of Wakefield and the death of York himself that the Yorkist faction decided they had no choice but make a clean sweep.


The Best Novel You’ve Never Heard Of (unless you’re a supporter of Richard III)….

josephine tey

We all know Josephine Tey, so it’s good see a new review at It is quoted in full here:-

The Best Novel You’ve Never Heard Of

June 16, 2015 by Thomas L. McDonald

It’s a mystery where the mystery is 500 years old, and everyone already knows the solution. Or at least they think they do.

The detective is stuck in a hospital bed for the entire novel.

There is no action whatsoever. We never leave the hospital room.

Only three characters have any kind of substantial roles, and only a handful of other characters appear at all.

It was voted Number One on the list of Top Crime Novels of All Time by the Crime Writer’s Association (UK) in 1990.

And it is, indeed, the greatest mystery novel of all time.

The book is The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I have an omnibus of Tey novels I’d never cracked, but I first heard about this one on a BBC radio show when Peter Hitchens described it as the most important novel he’s ever read. We’ll get to his reasons for saying that in a moment (and they’re good reasons), but who is this author and what is this strange book?

Josephine Tey was the pseudonym of respected playwrite Gordon Daviot, whose “Richard of Bordeaux” ran for 14 months in London and helped make John Gielgud a star. Daviot, it turned out, was also a pseudonym. The real author of all these works was Elizabeth Macintosh, but even that doesn’t tell us much, because Macintosh was intensely private and we know very little about her life. She even kept her final illness a secret, and her few friends, such as Gielgud, only learned about her death when her obituary appeared.

What does matter is that she could write like gangbusters. She shows off a bit of this skill as she assesses and imitates different types of novel which people keep leaving with her hero. One is a typical agrarian novel:

The Sweat and the Furrow was Silas Weekley being earthy and spade-conscious all over seven hundred pages. The situation, to judge from the first paragraph, had not materially changed since Silas’s last book: mother lying-in with her eleventh upstairs, father laid-out after his ninth downstairs, eldest son lying to the Government in the cowshed, eldest daughter lying with her lover in the hay-loft, everyone else lying low in the barn. The rain dripped from the thatch, and the manure steamed in the midden. Silas never omitted the manure. It was not Silas’s fault that its steam provided the only up-rising element the picture. If Silas could have discovered a brand of steam that steamed downward, Silas would have introduced it. 

That’s just damn good writing.

In The Daughter of Time, Tey’s series detective, Scotland Yard’s Alan Grant, is stuck in bed with a broken leg, being driven batty by boredom. His friend Marta brings an envelope full of engravings to help him pass that time. Grant likes to read faces. He claims he can tell whether a person is a judge or a defendant by just looking at his face. Among the pictures is a print of King Richard III, and this one begins to work on him.

He knows what schoolboys know about Richard: crouchback, the monster who killed the boys in the tower and stole the crown before suffering an ignominious death on the field at Bosworth.

But of course, that’s Shakespeare, not history.

Grant starts to read about Richard, first in schoolbooks, and then with the help of a researcher at the British Museum, he drills down through layers of legend and pseudo-fact. It’s an interesting process, beginning with the kind of common knowledge everything assumes to be true, then peeling away layers like an onion. He doesn’t start with the goal of proving Richard innocent of the murders, but as “facts” are revealed to be mere propaganda and lies, the real story slowly emerges.

And it is absolutely gripping. Grant gets new material (from books, friends, or research), ponders and discusses it, and one by one two tales are told.

The first is a tale of research. Call it a Research Thriller. Anyone who knows the real thrill of discovery when you’re deep in researching a topic (and readers of some of my longer pieces know I’ve experienced it myself) will understand how engrossing this can be. It’s true detection: finding data, interpreting it, and slotting it into the larger puzzle.

The second is the tale of Richard III, the rise of the utterly vile Tudors in the form of Henry VII, and the disappearance of the princes in the tower. If you think you know this story, you don’t. It may or may not prove that Richard is innocent to your satisfaction, but it will raise a lot of hard-to-answer questions. It will make you want to read more on the subject. And there’s plenty to read.

But its most important quality is the way it cuts through received wisdom to get to truth. This is the reason Peter Hitchens singled it out:

I found myself describing ‘The Daughter of Time’ as ‘one of the most important books ever written’. The words came unbidden to my tongue, but I don’t, on reflection retreat from them. Josephine Tey’s clarity of mind, and her loathing of fakes and of propaganda, are like pure, cold spring water in a weary land. Her story-telling ability is apparently effortless (and therefore you may be sure it was the fruit of great hard work. (As Ernest Hemingway said ‘if it reads easy, that is because it was writ hard’) . But what she loves above all is to show that things are very often not what they seem to be, that we are too easily fooled, that ready acceptance of conventional wisdom is not just dangerous, but a result of laziness, incuriosity and of a resistance to reason.

Yes, exactly. Tey offers one piece of “fact” after another, and then explodes it with a reference to a primary resource that directly disproves it. We learn how rumor and propaganda (specifically Tudor propaganda, of which Shakespeare, peace be upon him, was a master hand) utterly replaced hard fact, and how even subsequent historians merely folded these facts into the old narrative without bothering to see how they make that narrative impossible.

As Grant says about the historians he’s reading, “They seem to have no talent for the likeliness of any situation. They see history like a peep-show; with two-dimensional figures against a distant background.”

Catholics will recognize this immediately because it’s the dominant narrative of mainstream Church history today. The church certainly has her share of dark and shameful moments, but the exaggerated quality of this narrative–the millions tortured and killed, the oppression, the damage done to civilization–is a pure lie concocted largely by Protestant Reformers, political enemies, atheists, and the sensationalist press. As someone who teaches Church history, I read the schoolbooks, just like Grant does in the novel, and I find the same lazy errors and outright lies.

If Richard III is what contemporary records show he was–a good king unseated by a wicked rival with no claim to the throne who actually murdered the princes–then how did the story get turned out around?

And if that piece of history is completely false, what else is?

“Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon in a line that gives the book its title.

Or as Tey says, history is not in the accounts, but in the account books. It’s the little details, not the stories of the victors, that we must look to.

That’s Tey’s gift to you in The Daughter of Time. When you’re done, you won’t take anything at face value, nor should you, even your faith. Probe deeper, ask questions, be a detective. In other words, test everything, hold on to what is true.

UPDATE: I knew when I used the clickbait headline I’d start hearing from people who read and loved it, and it turned out to be a favorite of a large number of Catholic bloggers, including my blogmother Julie D. She has an episode of A Good Story is Hard to Find on Tey.

It’s All in the Stars

When I was younger, I used to dabble in creating horoscopes for my friends and they often remarked how accurate they were as regards personality traits. So I wondered whether Richard III’s horoscope would shed some light on his character and thence his reputation. Obviously, not everyone is convinced about the accuracy of astrology, but I thought I’d have a go, and you are welcome to take it or leave it. I have given character traits and, in brackets, suggested how they might have been expressed in Richard’s actions. Perhaps you can think of more.

So firstly I had to cast his horoscope. We are pretty sure of his date and place of birth (although there are some other suggestions as regards the place). Since he, himself, wrote his birth details in his Book of Hours, I assume we can take this as read. So he was born at Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire on 2nd October 1452. This is problematic because we have changed our calendar system since his times. I therefore researched it on the internet and found several charts of his birth already calculated, so I based mine on those. However, many of them have assumed that his ascendant, or rising sign (the sign that was on the horizon at the time of his birth) was Scorpio. This, I believe, is because of a document by John Rous (of the Rous Roll), written in Henry VII’s reign, which says: ‘At his nativity, Scorpio was in the ascendant – and like a Scorpion he combined a smooth front with a stinging tail.’ If this was correct, Richard’s time of birth would have been between about 7.41 and 10.41. The time of birth is also important for the placement of the Moon. As many of the charts on the internet assume Rous was correct (it is the only hint we have of when he might have been born), I have used a time of about 9,00 am for the placement of the Moon, but I have omitted the Ascendant and Houses (which are dependent on knowing the time of birth accurately). This makes for a slightly more general horoscope but, as Rous was trying to ingratiate himself with Henry and can’t therefore be relied upon, it should be more accurate.

Chart of RichardIII's Horoscope

Richard’s Horoscope, excluding Ascendant and Houses and showing aspects of planets.

Firstly, let us assess his Sun sign – this is the sign that makes us a ‘Leo’, ‘Cancer’, etc and is one of the most important influences. Richard is a Sun sign Libra, represented by the scales of justice. How appropriate this is for Richard, who brought in so many just laws and was known in the North for his fairness. Librans also need give and take in relationships and if this is lacking they will often complain that ‘It isn’t fair that they should treat me like this, after all I’ve done for them!’ Librans are charming, attractive and have a winning smile, which can seduce unconsciously – people tend to think that the Libran smiles at only them in that way. They are indecisive when it comes to small matters (e.g. which doublet to wear), and may prefer to wait and see rather than act, but they can be decisive in matters of importance. In Richard’s chart, Mars in opposition will counteract the indecision and make him much more decisive. They can see both sides of an argument and therefore make good arbiters. This is also because they dislike conflict and, with this in view, they may try to be all things to all men. They have natural tact and diplomacy. They love luxury and fine things and are excellent hosts (as Von Poppelau will attest). They can be extravagant. Their homes are welcoming and comfortable as well as tastefully decorated. They are also good at design, possibly in architecture, or at least can tell what matches with what (Richard commissioned many building works including windows which let in more light).  They prefer to work in a partnership rather than alone (I’m thinking of Buckingham here), but can sometimes be too easily influenced by others (Buckingham again!). They can also be naive and gullible at times (his merciful treatment of Thomas Stanley and Margaret Beaufort)?  In love also, they need a partner and do not do well if alone (he would have felt very much alone after the death of Anne,especially having already lost Edward and little Edward). In their intellectual life they also crave a partner and the intellectual affinity they feel to one person is often balanced by an equal and opposite antipathy to another (Edward and Elizabeth Woodville?). Aspects of the Sun to Jupiter show contentment with one’s lot, a calm and benevolent disposition, and links to professions such as publishing, the law and the church. (Richard was greatly interested in all these three). The conjunction of the Sun and Saturn means considerable success in the world, but it will be hard won. Sacrifices will have to be made which may bring a lack of fun.

The next in importance is the Ascendant, which we can’t know for sure because it depends on the time of birth. Following this, other important planets and signs are those that are in their own or ‘ruling’ sign and the sign in which the planet that rules the Sun sign is located. Richard’s Sun sign, Libra, is ruled by Venus, so this planet’s position is important. Also, Mars is in its own sign, Aries, so is also significant. Then the Moon, being so close to us, is another important planet.

Venus is in the sign of Scorpio. As you might expect, Venus rules matters of the heart and in Scorpio it is at its sexiest and most passionate. It suggests a satisfying and emotional sex life, but this may lead to jealousy and possessiveness. Deep feelings will be present. A love of good food and drink, sensuousness. Venus’ aspects with Uranus and Neptune are positive and show artistic talent, probably in music. Enjoyment of membership of societies (The Guild of Corpus Christi). A very romantic and sensitive streak and friendships will be strong (Francis Lovell and Richard Ratcliffe). Refined tastes.

Mars was the god of war and its position in Aries brings out the martial side of Richard and counterbalances his gentle Libran influences. In fact it is almost exactly opposite his Sun. This indicates physical courage (his charge) and shows him to be a good leader. Its aspects can also make someone over-rash and reckless, with a joy in risk-taking (his charge again). It might also presage his defeat in battle. In addition, Aries rules the head, and people with a strong Aries influence often have head injuries and headaches (his fatal wounds). It also brings a strong tendency to over work, skill in debating (with George over Anne’s inheritance), argumentativeness and being drawn to a military career (Richard was known to be a talented warrior and fearless in battle). There is an urge to take the initiative and great intellect along with frankness. Needs independence.

Richard’s Moon is in Taurus (if we follow Rous’ assertion). Taurus is a fixed sign and the Moon is well positioned here as Taurus stabilises it. Impulsiveness will be balanced to some extent by persistence and determination. Ambitious and reliable, favourable in financial matters. Sociable, sensual and fun-loving, but may be possessive. An appreciation of and creative ability in the arts, especially music. (Richard was known for his love of music and had a renowned choir). Negative aspects of the Moon with Mercury can bring cunning and an astute intelligence, occasionally sneaky. May be restless but will also be extremely loyal and defend those weaker than themselves (his loyalty to Edward and championing of the common man and the poor). The Moon’s relationship with Venus means Richard would have found it difficult to express emotions, even though he felt things deeply. However, the Moon and Uranus are well-aspected and bring firmness, determination and a strong sense of duty, as well as ambition (two reasons for him to accept the crown). There are often sudden mood swings, but good intuition.

Mercury is located in Scorpio, which brings shrewdness and excellent concentration, and an ability to solve problems in a decisive and practical way (Stoney Stratford). Clearly seeing a solution, taking action and sticking to it is suggested. May be sarcastic and suspicious. Its aspect with Jupiter brings an active mind, satisfaction with their lot in life – not overly ambitious (happy to stay at Middleham and away from Court until duty called). Good financial sense and an excellent sense of humour (his letter regarding the marriage of Jane Shore and Thomas Lyneham).

Jupiter is placed in Aquarius which brings a sense of justice and attraction to causes. Imaginative and original, humanitarian, impartial and socially gifted. High mental ability may be expressed through science or music. Tolerance, empathy and independence of spirit. Extensive social life.

These are the major planets and their influence.   Looking at the chart as a whole, there is a predominance of planets in Fixed signs, and several in Cardinal signs. This means stubbornness and inflexibility, decisiveness and leadership. There are no planets in Mutable signs which increases the inflexibility – once he has made up his mind, he will not change it (refusal to see Buckingham before his execution). He would be a steadfast friend but an implacable enemy. The overall impression is one of intensity, power, decisiveness, mitigated by three planets in Libra, which softens this and makes him more amenable. All in all, a complex and fascinating person.

A Chivalrous Plantagenet Tradition, Discontinued by the Tudors

The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348. ( Its 25 members include the Sovereign and 24 “knights-companion” who have contributed in a particular way to national life or who have served the Sovereign personally. When it was founded by Edward III, however, it stood for something more mythical and political.

According to the website of the College of St. George in Windsor: “In 1344 Edward III made a spectacular demonstration of his interest in Arthurian legend during a massive joust at Windsor. On this occasion he promised to renew King Arthur’s celebrated fraternity of knights, the Round Table, with its complement of 300 men. Work even began on a gigantic circular building two-hundred feet across within the upper ward of the castle to house this so-called Order of the Round Table. The renewal of war with France intervened with this project but in 1348 it was revived in a different guise. When founding the new college of St George at Windsor Edward III associated with it a small group of knights, each of whom was provided with a stall in the chapel. This comprised twenty-five men in all with the king at their head and was entitled the Order of the Garter after the symbol of the garter worn by its members.”


“The use of what seems – to modern sensibilities – such a curious emblem has given rise to a popular legend about the foundation of the order. According to this, the Countess of Salisbury lost her garter during a court ball at Calais and Edward III retrieved it, rebuking those who had mocked her embarrassment with the words ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ – shame on him who thinks evil of it – But this phrase, the motto of the order, actually refers to the king’s claim to the French throne, a claim which the Knights of the Garter were created to help prosecute. As to the emblem of the Garter, it may perhaps less interestingly, derive from the straps used to fasten plates of armor.” (


One of the traditions started by Edward III was the summoning of women to be “ladies of the Garter” – not on the same footing as the male companion knights, but an honorary achievement by such ladies that gifted them with a Garter robe and permission to wear a Garter ribbon around their left arm. These always included the Queen Consort, and usually the wives of the Sovereign’s male sons. However, other highly-ranked peeresses of the kingdom were invited too. The first female to be admitted in this fashion was Edward III’s queen, Philippa, in 1358. No doubt, the placement of women within this prestigious order was symbolic of the extension of chivalric concepts to “gentle ladies”.

In total, 67 women were summoned to the Order of the Garter during the following 127 years of the Plantagenet dynasty, a tradition adopted by both the Houses of Lancaster and York. ( John of Gaunt’s second and third wives, Constance of Castile and Katherine Swynford, were inducted in 1378 and 1387 respectively. Bolingbroke’s first wife, Mary de Bohun, was inducted in 1388 and his queen Joanne of Navarre in 1408. Henry V’s consort, Katherine of Valois, appears to have been summoned to the Order prior to her coronation.


(The effigy of Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk, d. 1475, showing a Garter Ribbon on her left forearm.  Photo from

Yorkist women joined the ranks of “lady companions”. Both of Edmund of Langley’s wives (Isabella of Castile and Joan Holland) were inducted, in 1378 and 1399, as well as Philippa de Mohun, the wife of his son Edward, second Duke of York, in 1408. The year 1399 also saw the summoning of Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmoreland (and mother of Cecily Neville) to the Order. In 1432, Isabel, Countess of Warwick, was created a Garter lady companion, and was to become maternal grandmother to Anne Neville, Richard III’s queen.

Edward IV summoned 6 women as ladies of the Garter, almost all of them during his “second” reign (1471-1483). In 1477, his wife-consort Queen Elizabeth, daughter Princess Elizabeth, and sister Elizabeth de la Pole, the Duchess of Suffolk, were admitted. Two more daughters, the Princesses Cecily and Mary, were inducted in 1480.

Although Richard III made 7 men knight-companions of the Garter*, his short reign did not include the summoning of any ladies. Nor did it include creating his own son, Edward, Prince of Wales, as a Garter knight-companion. This is most certainly due to the fact that his son and queen died not very long after his accession to the throne, and his 26-month long reign was cut short by his defeat and death at Bosworth. The average length of time between a queen-consort’s coronation and her admission to the Order of the Garter was 3.6 years. It would be fair to say that had Richard III retained the throne, he would have eventually followed his ancestors’ and brother’s tradition of inviting his consort and female children to it.

This tradition, however, was soon discontinued in the following Tudor dynasty. Henry VII made only one summons of a lady companion to the Garter, and that was his mother, Margaret Beaufort, in 1488. It is unclear whether his daughters (Margaret or Mary) received Garter robes, but an archivist at The College of St. George contends they did.  (Dr Clare Rider –  In any case, it is undisputed that the Tudor dynasty did not sustain the Plantagenet tradition of summoning ladies, as it would take another 513 years for the Order of the Garter to see its next Lady Companion when Edward VII summoned Queen Alexandra in 1901.

Thus, we may say that a Plantagenet tradition of chivalry was soon to die following the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

* Francis Lovell, Thomas Howard, Richard Ratcliffe, Thomas Stanley, Thomas Burgh, Richard Tunstall, and John Conyers were made Knights of the Garter during the reign of Richard III.

(Image of Stallplates and Garter Ribbon from the website of the College of St. George; see link, above.)

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