Busting yet another Cairo myth
Bishop Robert Stillington was imprisoned soon after Bosworth and died in captivity in 1491, definitely by 15 May. It is generally thought that this was a punishment for providing the copious evidence that convinced the Three Estates, in June 1483, of Edward IV’s bigamy. This rendered Elizabeth of York and all her siblings legally illegitimate, which was highly inconvenient for Henry “Tudor”, who sought to marry her. Stillington’s arrest and Catesby‘s summary execution fall into the first four days of Henry VII’s actual reign and the first five of the reign he claimed.
There has been an alternative view, based on the writings of Edward Hall, compiled after More but before Shakespeare. In 1475-6, just after the planned invasion of France was cancelled, an embassy was sent to Francis, Duke of Brittany, seeking to capture “Tudor”. Both Vergil and Hall comment that “the Bishop of Bath and Wells” was part of the party in question. Several Cairo dwellers rely on that interpretation, identifying Stillington as the man in question.
In 1475-6, Robert Stillington was indeed Bishop of Bath and Wells but there are several convincing reasons to conclude that he wasn’t the man in question. By the time Polydore Vergil put quill to paper, Oliver King (1495-1503) occupied that see and Hall “redialled” to King’s predecessor but one for convenience. King was among those arrested but released at the time of Hastings’ plot.
Secondly, Stillington was not a well man by the time Edward IV’s second reign began, taking leave of absence as Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor at least twice, and the Foedera evidence shows that he was never actually sent abroad. In the ODNB, based on the Yorkshireman’s early academic career, Hicks concludes that he was born by 1410 and ordained at a comparatively late age, living into his eighties. Based on this revelation, it is possible that his own children were actually legitimate and that their mother died before he took holy orders in c.1447.
Now think about the implications of this. Canon Stillington, who almost certainly witnessed Edward IV’s real marriage, was more than thirty years older than his monarch. Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, a probable witness born in about 1394, was nearly fifty years older than Edward, imprisoned from 1469-73 when he died, and Lady Eleanor herself was over six years older. In other words, Edward IV need only to have lived to 49 to ensure that all those with first-hand knowledge were dead, so the ceremony would have been deniable. He didn’t, of course, thereby ending Yorkist rule.
h/t Marie Barnfield