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A 19th century British reference to the Portuguese marriage

The facts of the proposed marriages of Richard III to Joana of Portugal and of Manoel of Beja to Elizabeth of York had, of course, been known in Portugal for a long time, before being published by Domingos Mauricio Gomes dos Santos in 1963.

Arthur Kincaid picked up on this and mentioned the marriages in his 1979 publication of his edition of Buck. Barrie Williams then wrote about the matter at length in the Ricardian in the 1980s and Jeremy Potter mentioned the marriages also in his 1983 book Good King Richard? And it was Williams, of course, who inspired Annette Carson to look into the matter more deeply, and write at length about it in The Maligned King.

Yet, there has been no evidence that earlier Ricardians (ie before 1963) knew anything about the matter. Paul Murray Kendall did not know about the marriages, and bemoaned the “fact” that Richard had made no effort to marry off his nieces to get them out of Henry Tudor’s reach (he did not know about Cecily and Ralph Scrope, either). It does not feature in The Daughter of Time; nor in Philip Lindsay’s glowing biography in 1933, nor in Sir Clements Markham’s 1906 book, nor any of the earlier authors, such as Halsted and Buck. Yet, at least one near-contemporary of Markham did know, and mentioned it in one of his books. Unfortunately, he was not a Ricardian…..

Henry (H) Morse Stephens was born in 1857 in Edinburgh and attended Balliol College, Oxford where he obtained a BA in 1880 and an MA in 1892. He was a staff lecturer there until 1894. He also lectured at Cambridge University on Indian history, while writing articles for a number of magazines and papers.

Stephens also wrote a number of books including works about Sir Robert Peel, the French revolution, Indian history … and a history of Portugal, which appears to have been written in the early 1890s. In discussing the reign of Joana’s brother, King (Dom) João II (still popular in Portugal today, by the way, with at least one Algarve hotel named after him!), Stephens talks about João’s relationship with Edward IV and Richard III, in particular relating to the renewals of the Treaty of Windsor by both Kings. He then has this to say:

“In 1485 the King of Portugal proposed in a Cortes held at Alcobaça, that his only sister, Joanna (sic), should be given in marriage to Richard III, but the princess, who … wished to become a nun … refused the alliance”.

Interestingly, it was at that Cortes that the Portuguese discovered, to their dismay, that Richard was exploring the possibility of marrying Isabel of Aragon if Joana would not have him. This, of course, pretty much ensured a favourable reply from the Portuguese, and led to Annette Carson’s interesting and very plausible interpretation of Buck’s Elizabeth of York letter: that she was asking Norfolk to speak to Richard to ensue he pursued the Portuguese marriage (which offered marriage with Manoel of Beja), rather than the Spanish one, which offered her nothing.

So…… there were indeed people before the 20th Century in this country, and not just in Portugal, who knew perfectly well that Richard was not trying to marry his niece and yet none of the people who would have benefited from the information – like Markham – knew anything about it. In the case of Stephens’s book, it was a specialised subject that a Ricardian author would have no reason to read, unless he also happened, by chance, to be interested in Portugal. Another problem in this particular case was that Stephens emigrated to America in 1894, becoming Professor of History at Berkeley, in California. Following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, he spent the rest of his life (he died in 1919) collecting as much information as possible about that tragedy.

The cynic in me, though, does wonder whether others (ie those not well disposed towards Richard) might have known – and chosen to keep the information to themselves.

One final point about Markham, he visited Portugal at least once (and was actually staying in Estoril when he heard of the death of his friend Robert Scott (of the Antarctic)). If only he had known……


Wikipedia – Henry Morse Stephens

Arthur Kincaid – edition of George Buck’s original work

Jeremy Potter – Good King Richard?

Annette Carson – The Maligned King

H Morse Stephens – The Story of Portugal (described in the Kindle version as a Short History of Portugal)


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6 thoughts on “A 19th century British reference to the Portuguese marriage

  1. Iris on said:

    Very interesting! It must be noted that no earlier works about Richard mentioned the Portoguese marriage negotiations, starting from the Croyland chronicler, down to the Tudorist Vergil or the Ricardian Buck, etc. So yes, it was either a rather well kept secret, but not so well kept that news did not leak from the council (Stanley anyone?) pressing Trudorists to spread the slandering rumours about Elizabeth of York in order to tarnish Richard’s reputation and disrupt the negotiations with the very pious Joana, or the people who did know made sure it was not widely known that Richard had the possibility to reunite the legitimate Lancastrian line with the English throne and that some warlords traded it with the twice illegitimate Tudor – not an unlikely assumption given what happened to Richard’s Titulus Regius


  2. sighthound6 on said:

    If I recall I first read about this marriage in the Ricardian, circa 1983. So it has been known about for a long time. Yet there are still historians (and novelists) who seem to be in denial about the whole thing, doubtless because it gets in the way of their favourite fairy story about Richard and Elizabeth of York.


  3. I’ve often thought that a medieval game of “telephone” may have been partially at fault – intentionally or not. “Marriages for The King and The Lady Elizabeth” was transformed to “Marriage of The King TO The Lady Elizabeth” – perhaps being deliberately changed by those opposed to Richard. Rumor runs faster than truth and is much harder to kill.

    Liked by 2 people

    • halfwit36 on said:

      Yes, Elizabeth’s note is somewhat ambiguous. “Marriage that has been discussed between us” could mean just that: a marriage, to someone like e.g. Manuel, that had been discussed. Perhaps Elizabeth was indirectly responsible for the ‘secrecy’ because she was not easily persuaded to agree to the marriage. The consent of both parties, however it might be coerced, was necessary, and she might not have been willing to marry out of the realm, or to marry at all just yet.
      It’s also possible that the Portugese were reluctant, since Elizabeth was illegitimate and therefore not an heiress. Richard’s marriage to Joanna, once he had become available, may have been thrown in as sweetening. Or possibly the other way around. Who knows.


  4. David on said:

    There is no possibility that the rumour of Richard’s intention to marry Elizabeth was spread by the Tudor faction in order to discredit Richard. This is because Henry’s reaction to the news was dismay. He was at Rouen when the news reached him and he regarded the news as disastrous. Since many of his followers were from Edward’s household, he imagined his cause would disappear if the marriage actually took place.


    • halfwit36 on said:

      I wouldn’t say no possibility, but certainly a very remote one. But in general, rumors may be deliberately spread, but don’t have to be. They have a life of their own.

      Liked by 1 person

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