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Richard III’s Book of Hours – Digitized, Online and Available to All

“I think miracles exist in part as gifts and in part as clues that
there is something beyond the flat world we see.
~Peggy Noonan

Leicester Cathedral and its project supporters (angels?) have done something wonderful and generous: they have digitized Richard III’s “Book of Hours” and posted it on the cathedral’s website.

What’s so wonderful and generous about that? book-hours-cover

  • When I clicked on the image of the book, it downloaded a PDF of the book. I hope this wasn’t a glitch, and that it does the same for everyone else, because the caption to the image is, “click the image to view the Book of Hours”.
  • Included with the PDF is a complete interactive copy of  The Hours of Richard III by Anne F Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs.
  • If you open the PDF to page 1, you can either view Richard’s Book of Hours with little flags indicating where you can read Sutton and Visser-Fuchs’ material; or, you can click on The Hours of Richard III and read the original book on its own.
  •  The Hours of Richard III is an expensive tome to buy all by itself, and it doesn’t include all of the pages in Richard’s Book of Hours.
  • An Anglican cathedral has just gifted the world with a 15th-century, Catholic king’s Book of Hours.

A Live Science article announced the digitization. Go thou and devour the beautiful tome Richard used (perhaps both before and after he was king), the Book of Hours he left behind in his tent before the Battle of Bosworth. Margaret Beaufort ended up with the book, as her husband ended up with the tent’s tapestries. Beaufort subsequently gave Richard’s book away.

Pages are missing from it — removed perhaps after the Reformation, as prayers to saints were involved. It is a miracle the book survived at all. It is a second miracle that the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Richard III Society, and the University of Leicester financially supported this project. A third miracle is that Richard’s personal prayer-book is now available to the world.

The Ravenmaster at the Tower of London

ravenmasterThe Ravenmaster at HM Tower of London has a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

Below is his latest Tweet. It mentions Tydders and pretty much speaks for itself. The comments mention Plantagenets and pretty much speak for themselves, too.

Archetypal Richard III: Why Your Richard and My Richard Will Never Be the Same Man

Statue of Saint Michael defeating Satan, by Jacob Epstein, on the exterior wall of Coventry Cathedral, West Midlands, Coventry, England. (Photo by Steve Cadman; used by permission [stevecadman on Flickr].)

Statue of Saint Michael defeating Satan, by Jacob Epstein, on the exterior wall of Coventry Cathedral, West Midlands, Coventry, England. (Photo by Steve Cadman; used by permission [stevecadman on Flickr].)

“Without a bad guy, who could ever be good?”
~The Agent, “Sweet Redemption Music Company”

“Though it puzzles me to learn that though a man may be in doubt of what he knows, very quickly will he fight to prove that what he does not know is so.”
~”The King and I”

Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog,
Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell,
Thou slander of thy heavy mother’s womb,
Thou loathèd issue of thy father’s loins,
Thou rag of honor, thou detested—
~”Richard III” Act I, Scene III

“This is a man who stumbles and falls, but this is a man who tries. This is a man you forgive and forgive, and help and protect as long as you live.”
~”The King and I”

Speaking Archetypally

Have you ever said something like, “She’s a real witch,” or “He’s an absolute prince”? In that moment, you’ve looked at someone – or something – as an Archetypal Figure, and you’ve been speaking Archetype.

World history, religion, literature, and pop culture are full of Archetypal Figures. King Arthur, Lancelot, Elvis, William Wallace, Dracula, Buddha, Lord Elrond, Satan, Jesus Christ, Darth Vader, Superman, Hello Kitty, Captain Jack Sparrow, the Archangels Gabriel, Raphael, Michael and Uriel, and the Grim Reaper are just a few.

Shakespeare created the Archetypal Richard III, and for centuries many members of the audience have believed the Archetypal Figure is true to the man. Other audience members reject the Shakespearean model. They see the play and its characters as good literature, but bad biography. To them, this particular medieval king is a man needing his reputation and honor snatched back from the Tudors and restored.


Why Some People Hate Richard, But Are Incapable of Leaving Him Alone

Let’s say that I don’t like a contemporary singer, I’ll call him Munster Zample. A cursory search online reveals no one by the name of Munster Zample, so if a real Munster Zample is out there, please know that I’m not talking about you, and I mean you no harm.

Let’s say that I can’t stand [fictional] Munster, either as a man or as a singer. I don’t spend any of my time ferreting out the facts of his life or art, nor do I devote hours online spitting venom about him or his actions. I also don’t attack his friends, his family, or his fans. Munster Zample is off my planet to the point that if I run into a headline about him, I don’t bother reading the article. In short, I’m not interested in Munster Zample: I don’t care about what he’s up to, and I don’t feel the necessity to attack or attempt to influence any of his admirers. They’re welcome to him.

I can’t say the same about a few people who dislike or even loathe Richard III. A contingent referred to as “The Cairo Dwellers” repeatedly attack Richard and his supporters in a way that neatly parallels how Richard’s supporters repeatedly support him. “The Cairo Dwellers” are called thus because many members of this contingent travel far up the River of Denial while presenting their misconceptions as valid facts and arguments.

For a long time, I’ve wondered why those who see Richard as a victimizing, regicidal usurper, and those who see Richard III as no saint but still a victim of Tudor propaganda endlessly debate, argue, and attack one another, in print and online, in a useless attempt to prove one another wrong. Both Richard’s virtues and sins are so obscured at this distance, there are no absolute truths or proofs available to us regarding the real man, his motivations, or his actual actions. This lack means the debate can never end.

In the end, everyone – professional or amateur – who studies Richard sees him as they are, rather than the way Richard himself was. Each of us chooses a side, and off we go. I’ve learned that someone’s position regarding Richard III tells me far more about that someone than it does about Richard III. I’ve come to realize that each person interested in Richard’s life and times, whether in a negative or a positive way, has unconsciously attached an Archetypal Figure (or Figures) to him, and to those surrounding him as well.


What the Heck is an Archetypal Figure?

Two definitions of an Archetype are:

  1. A recurring symbol, particularly in art or literature.
  2. An original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied, or on which they are based; an artistic or literary prototype.

Examples of Archetypal Figures in art or literature are:

  1. Archetypal Tragic Hero/Heroine: Richard III (can also be a Hero), King Lear, Macbeth, Cassandra, Joan of Arc (can also be a Heroine), Anna Karenina. First you pity the Tragic Hero or Heroine as their fortunes fall, then you watch their downfall and sometimes their death due to a tragic flaw.
  1. Archetypal Hero/Heroine: Richard III (can also be a Tragic Hero), Frodo (can also be a Tragic Hero per Tolkien), Aragorn, Harry Potter, Elizabeth I, Hermione Granger, Joan of Arc (can also be a Tragic Heroine). Every Archetypal Hero or Heroine has an inherent virtue, a kind heart, and exhibits goodness. He or she is often alone in the world: many heroes/heroines are orphans, or they’ve experienced significant loss(es) before the story begins. In the course of the story, the hero or heroine fights an inherent evil or injustice in an attempt to restore balance and fairness to the world.


Welcome to the Light Side, and to the Dark Side: Both Sides Have Cookies

Every Archetypal Figure has a Light Side and a Shadow Side. Ironically enough, the qualities or faults that we dislike or even despise about a real or not-real individual are the qualities or faults we find in ourselves or in our behavior. This basically means if I loathe:

  1. The Saboteur in my manager who keeps sabotaging me by claiming my work as her own; or
  2. The Prostitute in my boyfriend whose “price” is a $100,000-a-year salary paid by a CEO who values my boyfriend’s willingness to “tweak” the profits ; or
  3. The Anti-Hero in Anakin Skywalker who is unrealistically redeemed by one good deed (saving his son’s life) after decades of deliberately hurting innocent people; or
  4. The Evil-Usurper in Richard III who executed the Knight in Anthony Woodville because Anthony was a pious and scholarly man who didn’t deserve to die, no matter what role he played after Edward IV died…

…it’s because something in the Saboteur, Prostitute, Anti-Hero, or Evil-Usurper’s Shadow Attributes is mirroring me. That is, I’m looking into a symbolic mirror that’s showing me something inside of me that I need to work on.

My strong reaction to any Archetypal Figure is a warning flare sent up by my inner-self. In the above examples, the message sent might be:

  1. I need to stop Sabotaging myself through my current boss’s dishonesty and find another job.
  2. Can I be bought? If so, what’s my price? How am I currently Prostituting myself – selling myself to the highest bidder rather than honoring my personal values?
  3. and 4. I need to stop being the sort of person who seeks to hurt other people before or after they’ve hurt me.

Take courage, because there’s a flip side to the squirmy realization that we’re as flawed as the people and characters we pass judgment on.

Have you ever felt an illogical, instantaneous attraction and admiration (more emotional or intellectual than sexual) to someone? Have you ever wanted to be near someone you just met, to take lessons in painting or acting or underwater basket-weaving from this person, regardless you have no prior interest in what they can teach you? Have you ever just wanted to spend time with someone because you’re inexplicably drawn to just listen to them or to be in their presence?

The people (alive or dead, real or not-real) we admire or are drawn to with this sort of magnetism possess Archetypal Light Attributes that are important to us. What we admire in them are usually attributes we need to develop in our own lives.

Let’s say I admire Lord Elrond of Lord of the Rings. I’m deeply attracted to Rivendell, which Elrond created as an Archetypal sanctuary and haven. If I dig deep enough to discover the symbolic Archetypal message behind my attraction to this fictional character, I’ll discover that I need to create a sanctuary and haven for myself in my real life. If I don’t dig deep enough to Figure out why Elrond resonates with me, then I’m liable to channel my attraction into something that creates a false sanctuary and haven in my real life – like writing fan-fiction based on Elrond and Rivendell, or projecting what I’m attracted to in Elrond onto an actor portraying him and following the actor’s career, which would get me nowhere in my own life.

Your strong reaction to any Archetypal Figure is akin to your inner bell signaling that your inner-self is trying to tell you one of four things:

  1. I want to be that; or
  2. I want to do that; or
  3. I don’t want to be like that; or
  4. I’m like that, and I need to change.


How Does All This Relate to Richard III and Others in His Life & Times?

Below is a table listing the Archetypal Figures, along with their light and dark attributes, which can be applied to how we see Richard III, Margaret Beaufort, and Henry Tydder.[i]

I was surprised at how many Archetypal Figures can be applied to Richard, Margaret and Henry. The list below isn’t exhaustive, either: you can likely come up with a number of others. The excessive number of Archetypal Figures that can be applied to these three people helps explain why so many people have such strong reactions to them, and why one person sees something in them another does not.

The Figures below are presented in alphabetical order. Note that some Archetypes cross over; meaning if you compare Richard and Margaret’s Figures, you’ll find they share some. The same applies to a comparison of Margaret and Henry, or Henry and Richard, or Henry and Margaret. This is because you personally interpret the Figures based on your own life experience and what the symbols for each Figure have come to mean to you.

What you see in Richard, Margaret, and Henry’s Archetypal Figures will never entirely match what someone else sees. In fact, disagreement is likely because each person works from their own symbolic, Archetypal meanings. And that’s just fine. No one’s reaction to or interpretation of these Archetypes is more or less valid than anyone else’s because different symbols mean different things to different people.

At this distance, Richard, Margaret, and Henry have all become Archetypal Figures themselves. So what you’re ultimately looking at in the tables below are layers and sub-layers of symbolic meaning, and the meanings are all your own. Remember: in the end, what you see in these Archetypes is like looking into a mirror; the Figures and their symbols reveal more about yourself than they do about the historical people involved.

While reviewing any Archetypal Figure, please try to remember that while each Archetype has a Light side and a Shadow side, it doesn’t follow that the Light side is good and the Shadow side is evil. Every Archetype and Archetypal Figure are neutral. We’re the ones who assign “good” and “bad” to their attributes.

Incidentally, you won’t easily change the way you view an Archetypal Figure, and neither will anyone else. Since every person’s view of a personal Archetype is buried deep in their psyche and based on their personal, intimate experiences with life itself, it’s folly to bully or mock someone in an attempt to change the way they see an Archetypal Figure. It just won’t work.

You may succeed in hurting the other person, but you’ll never understand why they feel the way they do about their own Archetypal Richard III, or any other Archetypal Figure in his circle. Neither will they ever understand yours.

And that’s all right.


Advocate Inspired to put compassion into action. Embracing negative causes or committing to causes for personal gain.
Child: Wounded Awakens compassion and desire to serve other Wounded Children. Opens the learning path of forgiveness. Blames all dysfunctional relationships on childhood wounds. Resists moving on through forgiveness.
Companion Loyalty, tenacity, and unselfishness. Betrayal by misusing confidences. Loss of personal identity.
Father Talent for creating and supporting life. Positive guiding light within a tribal unit. Dictatorial control. Abuse of authority.
God Benevolence & compassion. Recognizing the eternal force within oneself and others. Despotism & cruelty. Using power to control people.
Knight Loyalty, romance, and chivalry. A love of honor. Allegiance to a destructive ruler or principle. Romantic delusions.
Judge Balancing justice & compassion. Managing the fair distribution of power. Offering only destructive criticism. Misusing business, legal, or criminal authority.
King Enlightened, benevolent leadership. Benefiting those ruled over. Excessive feelings of entitlement. Rulership without restraint.
Lover Great passion & devotion. Unbridled appreciation of someone or something. Obsessive passion that harms others. Self-destructive devotion.
Martyr Learning the transcendent nature of service to oneself or a cause. Addition to self-pity.
Mediator Gift for negotiating fairness & strategy in personal and professional life. Respect for both sides of an argument. Negotiating with an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, either personally or professionally.
Messiah Serving humanity with humility. Exaggerated belief that you are the only means through which a cause can succeed.
Prince Romantic charm & potential for power. Using power for self-aggrandizement.
Rescuer Provides strength & support to others in crisis. Acts out of love with no expectation of reward. Assumes the rescued will reciprocate. Keeps the rescued one needy.
Samaritan Refines your capacity to help those you would prefer to ignore. Exacting appreciation & recognition for the help you offer.
Warrior Strength, skill, discipline, and toughness of will. Heroism, stoicism, & self-sacrifice in conquering the ego. Trading ethical principles for victory at any cost. Indifference to the suffering inflicted on others.


Avenger Desire to balance the scales of justice. Resorting to violence in the name of a cause.
Destroyer Releasing what is potentially destructive. Preparing for new life. Intoxication with destructive power. Destroying others’ dreams or potential.
Gossip Awakens consideration for the feelings of others. Honoring trust. Thrives on the power of passing on private or secret information. Betraying confidences.
Martyr Learning the transcendent nature of service to oneself or a cause. Addiction to self-pity.
Mentor Passing on wisdom & refining a student’s character. Inability to allow the student to move on to the role of Master. Imparting false instruction.
Mother Nurturance, patience, unconditional love. Joy in giving birth to life. Smothering or abandoning children. Instilling guilt in children for becoming independent.
Networker Enhances unity through the sharing of information. Engenders social awareness and empathy. Conveys information only for personal gain. Spreads fear and falsehood.
Queen Radiates a regal feminine. Uses her benevolent authority to protect others. Becomes arrogant when authority is challenged. Controlling and demanding.
Rescuer Provides strength and support to others in crisis. Acts out of love with no expectation of reward. Assumes the rescued will reciprocate. Keeps the rescued one needy.
Shape-Shifter Skill at navigating through different levels of consciousness. Ability to see the potential in everything. Projecting any image that serves your personal agenda in the moment.
Trickster Transcending convention, stuffiness, & predictable behavior. Manipulating others through duplicity.
Warrior Strength, skill, discipline, & toughness of will. Heroism, stoicism, and self-sacrifice in conquering the ego. Trading ethical principles for victory at any cost. Indifference to the suffering inflicted on others.


Beggar Confronts empowerment at the level of physical survival. Awakens the spiritual authority of humility, compassion, & self-esteem Dependence on others to the exclusion of effort.
Bully Highlights your tendency to intimidate others. Helps you confront the inner fears that bully you. Conceals deep fears behind verbal or physical abuse.
Child: Eternal Determination to remain young in body, mind, and spirit. Ability to see things with fresh eyes. Inability to grow up and be responsible. Extreme dependency on others for physical security.
Gambler Willingness to follow intuition, even when others doubt you. Relying on luck rather than hard work.
God Benevolence & compassion. Recognizing the eternal force within oneself and others. Despotism & cruelty. Using power to control people.
King Enlightened, benevolent leadership. Benefiting those ruled over. Excessive feelings of entitlement. Rulership without restraint.
Liberator Freeing yourself & others from outmoded beliefs. Releasing negative thought patterns. Imposing your own tyranny over those you claim to liberate. Ignoring legitimate constraints.
Midas/Miser Entrepreneurial or creative ability to turn anything to gold. Delight in sharing life’s riches. Hoarding money and emotions. Obsessive fear of losing your wealth.
Scribe Preserving knowledge & information. Altering facts or plagiarizing others’ work.


[i] The definitions are taken from Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards. An invaluable source if you want to discern how Archetypal Figures affect your entire life and not just your point of view about Richard III is Myss’s book, Sacred Contracts.


Most-Famous 20th-Century Tarot Deck Features Death’s Banner Emblazened with the White Rose of the House of York

White Rose of the House of York

White Rose of the House of York

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck (RWS) is arguably the most famous of 20th-century Tarot decks. For decades, I’ve been using the RWS as an aid to developing fictional characters. Only recently did I notice the Death card in the Major Arcana features a skeletal knight carrying a banner on which is imprinted the White Rose of the House of York. As far as I can tell, the image of the Yorkist Rose does not appear on any Tarot deck – medieval or modern – preceding the RWS.

Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck

Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot Deck

Who Designed the RWS?

Arthur Edward Waite (2 October 1857 – 19 May 1942), commonly known as A. E. Waite, was an American-born British poet and scholarly mystic who wrote extensively on Masonic, occult and esoteric matters. Coincidentally or not, he shared the same day of birth as Richard III. Waite was a member of the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, along with such Victorian notables as Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats, and Constance Wilde (wife of Oscar Wilde). Waite co-created the deck with illustrator Pamela Coleman Smith.

Pamela Coleman Smith (16 February 1878 – 18 September 1951) was an English-American artist, illustrator, and writer. Among her first projects were The Illustrated Verses of William Butler Yeats and a book on the actress Ellen Terry, written by Bram Stoker. Yeats introduced Smith to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Waite was already a member, and Smith met him in 1901 when she joined the Order.

The Golden Dawn splintered in the early 20th century due to a number of its members having…let’s call them personality conflicts. At that time, Smith and Waite both moved to the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Golden Dawn (aka The Holy Order of the Golden Dawn). In 1909, Waite commissioned Smith to produce a Tarot deck meant to appeal to the world of art.

Regarding who designed what for the deck:

Waite is often cited as the designer of the Waite-Smith Tarot, but it would be more accurate to consider him as half of a design team, with responsibility for the major concept, the structure of individual cards, and the overall symbolic system. Because Waite was not an artist himself, he commissioned the talented and intuitive Smith to create the actual deck.[i]

It is likely that Smith worked from Waite’s written and verbal instructions rather than from sketches; that is, from detailed descriptions of the desired designs. This is how illustrators often work, and as a commercial illustrator, Smith would probably have been comfortable with such a working process. It appears that Waite provided detailed instructions mainly or exclusively for the Major Arcana.[ii]

The deck was called Tarot Cards when it was first published in December 1909 by William Rider & Son of London. It’s been said that Waite and Smith borrowed heavily from the Tarot of Marseilles, but the RWS’s Death card is very different from the Death card in the Tarot of Marseilles. 


Death card from the Tarot deck of Jean Dodal of Lyon – a classic “Marseilles” deck dating from 1701-1715.

It’s more likely that Waite and Smith took much of their inspiration from the Sola-Busca Tarot deck, which originated in Northern Italy around 1491. The Sola-Busca was displayed to the public shortly after it was acquired by the British Museum in 1907. This deck was the first and only fully illustrated Tarot deck available before the RWS was published, but the Death card of the Sola-Busca deck also bears no resemblance to the Death card in the RWS deck.

Death card of the Sola-Busca Tarot deck in the British Museum.

Death card of the Sola-Busca Tarot deck in the British Museum.

After examining these and other examples of Death cards in old Tarot decks, I can only conclude that A.E. Waite was the first to deliberately include the White Rose of the House of York in the Death card.

What Did Waite and/or Coleman Meeeeeean by Featuring the White Rose of York in a Tarot Deck?

What follows is only the smallest of attempts to begin unraveling Waite’s possible intent(s) when he chose to have Death carry a banner featuring the White Rose of York. Every Tarot deck overflows with symbolic meaning, and the RWS is no different. The problem with and the joy of all symbols is that their meaning is always subjective: what a White Rose of York means to me likely isn’t what it means to you, and every meaning is valid to the person holding it.

A.E. Waite included illustrations from the RWS deck in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which was meant to explain the deck, but Tarot and Golden Dawn scholars know that his summaries are deliberately incomplete.[iii] In addition to this, the history and meaning of the Tarot in general are hidden in the mists of medieval time, so you can spend months, if not years, researching both and make very little headway. Along the way, you discover there are Tarot references not only in medieval grimoires and royal courts, but far beyond – for example, in Marlowe and Shakespeare and Yeats. In the end, you come to realize that a Tarot deck is a tool meant to put the reader of a card spread in touch with his or her subconscious, so in the end the objects in the cards symbolize whatever they mean to the reader.

This is a long way of saying that if someone wants to do in-depth research as to why the White Rose of the House of York was chosen by Waite, he or she is going to have to set aside what that particular rose symbolizes for them. In order to discern what it might have meant to Waite, the researcher will need a firm knowledge of:

  1. Medieval tarot decks
  2. The history and symbolic meaning of the White Rose of the House of York
  3. Tarot history (veiled in medieval mystery)
  4. Tarot card meanings (multiple meanings for every card depending on the analyst you consult)
  5. Jungian archetypes
  6. The meaning of esoteric and occult symbols (Manly P. Hall is a good place to start)
  7. A.E. Waite’s life and times (Victorian to Edwardian)
  8. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and its various offshoots
  9. What the White Rose of the House of York may have symbolized to A.E. Waite, and why
  10. A great imagination with which to conjecture
  11. The knowledge that your conclusions can be nothing but subjective, and Waite’s inclusion of the White Rose of York might be coincidental…or not.

A better scholar than I regarding Alle Thinges Tarot and Yorkist is going to have to follow up on this…if they want to, and they have the time. All I can offer are the tiniest of tidbits and possibilities.

What Did Waite Say?

This is all Waite wrote about the RWS Death card in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot:

Divinatory Meanings

End, mortality, destruction, corruption also, for a man, the loss of a benefactor for a woman, many contrarieties; for a maid, failure of marriage projects.

Divinatory Meanings – Reversed

Inertia, sleep, lethargy, petrifaction, somnambulism; hope destroyed.

Inner Symbolism

The veil or mask of life is perpetuated in change, transformation and passage from lower to higher, and this is more fitly represented in the rectified Tarot by one of the apocalyptic visions than by the crude notion of the reaping skeleton. Behind it lies the whole world of ascent in the spirit. The mysterious horseman moves slowly, bearing a black banner emblazoned with the Mystic Rose, which signifies life. Between two pillars on the verge of the horizon there shines the sun of immortality. The horseman carries no visible weapon, but king and child and maiden fall before him, while a prelate with clasped hands awaits his end.

There should be no need to point out that the suggestion of death which I have made in connection with the previous card [i.e., The Hanged Man] is, of course, to be understood mystically, but this is not the case in the present instance. The natural transit of man to the next stage of his being either is or may be one form of his progress, but the exotic and almost unknown entrance, while still in this life, into the state of mystical death is a change in the form of consciousness and the passage into a state to which ordinary death is neither the path nor gate. The existing occult explanations of the 13th card are, on the whole, better than usual, rebirth, creation, destination, renewal, and the rest.


[Card number] 13. Death. The method of presentation is almost invariable, and embodies a bourgeois form of symbolism. The scene is the field of life, and amidst ordinary rank vegetation there are living arms and heads protruding from the ground. One of the heads is crowned, and a skeleton with a great scythe is in the act of mowing it. The transparent and unescapable meaning is death, but the alternatives allocated to the symbol are change and transformation. Other heads have been swept from their place previously, but it is, in its current and patent meaning, more especially a card of the death of Kings. In the exotic sense it has been said to signify the ascent of the spirit in the divine spheres, creation and destruction, perpetual movement, and so forth.[iv]

Waite doesn’t point out that the rose is the White Rose of the House of York. Instead, he calls it a “Mystic Rose which signifies life.” Remember that Mystic Rose, we’ll be returning to it.

Waite does state that his Death card is “a card of the death of kings,” and the card does feature the body of a king and his upside-down crown laying behind the left hoof of Death’s warhorse. As far as I can discern after examining other medieval and modern Death cards, Waite’s design is the only one illustrating/symbolizing “the death of kings.” All the other Death cards – unless the deck is based on Waite’s design – feature a variation on the classic medieval image of skeletal Death on foot and scything a field (as in the Marseilles example above), or on horseback a la archetypal Death as a Horseman of the Apocalypse.

Whether Waite had the death of King Richard III specifically in mind when he designed his Death card is anyone’s guess. Still, a strong argument might be made that, given the fallen king on the ground whose crown has tumbled from his head, and the presentation of a medieval knight on a warhorse (however skeletal the knight may be), Waite may have had in mind the last English king to die in battle.

I’ve a number of other books analyzing the Tarot, and 95% of them use RWS illustrations to accompany their text. None of the authors comment on Death’s rose being the White Rose of the House York, so I’m left to ask: Why in the world does Waite have his Death waving a banner prominently featuring what’s obviously the White Rose of York, and why did he call it a ‘Mystic Rose’?

What the heck is a Mystic Rose?

Mystic Rose #1

Sometimes what someone doesn’t say speaks loudest of all, so it may be important to remember all Waite says about the Yorkist Rose in his Death card is that it is a “Mystic Rose.”

Throughout history, the rose has been a symbol of love, purity, virginity, sexuality, fertility, regeneration…and secrets. The White Rose of the House of York is white because, in the liturgical symbolism of the medieval Church, white symbolizes light, innocence, purity, joy, and glory.

Waite’s mother converted to Catholicism and took her children with her. To the medieval and modern Catholic church, the “Mystic Rose” is Mary, the mother of Christ. Among her many titles are the “Mystical Rose of Heaven” and the “Rosa Mystica,” but it doesn’t follow that, to Waite (who ended up a devout Rosicrucian), the White Rose of the House of York symbolized Mary. It does follow that, to Waite, a rose symbolized Mary, for he wrote about the Rose and the Cross in Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross:

“Thus the Rose is a symbol of Mary because of her motherhood, but in relation to her it belongs to divine things, even as she herself stands on the threshold of Deity, being Spouse of the Divine Spirit and bearer of the Divine word made flesh. So also is the Rose of Shekinah, a Divine Rose, as she whom it typifies is Divine Mother of souls.”[v]

The rose in general – not just a white rose – has also been a symbol for silence and secrecy in many secret societies. An ancient custom was to hang a rose over a council table to indicate that everything spoken during the meeting was to remain secret. This custom may have derived from an ancient Egyptian image of Horus, the divine son of Isis, sitting inside a rose and holding a finger to his lips, admonishing silence when it came to the Egyptian mysteries.

Horus was called Harpocrates by the ancient Greeks, and Harpocrates was the Greek god of silence. In Greek myth, Eros presents a rose to him. This is where the term “sub rosa” comes from, meaning “under the rose” or “the keeping of a secret.” As an aside, the rose is also the national flower of England…and Waite’s mother was English.

George Knowles writes:

After his sister’s death in 1874, Waite lost interest in the Roman Catholic Church, but retained a great love for its ritual ceremony.

“Waite had formulated the theory that all esoteric practices and traditions, whether Alchemy, Hebrew Kabbalah, Legends of the Holy Grail, Rosicrucianism, Christian Mysticism or Freemasonry, were secret paths to a direct experience of God. He was convinced that the symbolism in each of these traditions had a common root and a common end, and that their correct interpretation would lead to a revelation of concealed ways to spiritual illumination.”[vi]

However interesting this esoteric labyrinth might be, the tangled path doesn’t lead us any closer to explaining why the White Rose of the House of York specifically was included on the Death card of the RWS Tarot deck.

Mystic Rose #2 and #3

Both the Yorkists and Waite would both have been familiar with Dante (1265–1321). The Italian poet depicted Paradise as a White Rose or Mystic Rose in which God was at the center with the saints surrounding Him. In his Divine Comedy, Dante also described Mary as the mystic rose: “Behold the rose, where in the divine word was made incarnate.”


Gustav Dore’s 19th-century illustration of Dante’s Paradise/Mystic Rose

Gustav Dore illustrated Dante’s Mystic Rose in 1868. Dore’s illustration has more in common with the mathematician’s Mystic Rose, which is defined as, “A beautiful image created by joining together points that are equally spaced around a circle.” Any child who has played with a Spirograph knows what that’s all about, and an online animation lets you change the number of points around a circle to construct your own Mystic Rose. (The Mystic Rose poster illustrated below is available from as a PDF.)

 Poster compliments of and available for download from

Poster compliments of and available for download from


My Conclusion is Sub Rosa

I know that a fitting conclusion to this article would be a pronouncement along the lines of:

“It’s obvious the Death card in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck features a deliberate depiction of King Richard III as both corpse and Death. A.E. Waite and his illustrator, Pamela Coleman Smith, lays before us a magnificent archetypal image of the skeletal king encased in black armor, riding a white charger, and carrying a black banner on which is emblazoned the White Rose of the House of York.

The white charger is obviously White Surrey, which symbolizes change, for the dead king’s power in our modern world has come to him through the mightiest of all changes – death.

“Richard’s skull peering at us from his helm symbolizes permanence as well as impermanence. Through the triumphant return of the dead king, Waite succeeds in reminding us of the impermanence of life, yet Richard’s soul (symbolized by his skull, which does not dissolve) remains visible to those of us still loyal to him and worthy enough to sense it.

“The inclusion of the White Rose of York obviously conveys the pure, white rose of Richard’s spirit – he has no body but thrives with life-force as we remember him. The ten petals of the White Rose of York indicate completion, for the House of York did not fall on Bosworth’s battlefield, rather it was completed and raised to a higher, mystical level.

“This card bears even more meaning now that Richard III’s remains have been found and reinterred….”

I could go on in this vein, but you get my drift.

I don’t know why A.E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith included the White Rose of the House of York in their Death card. I do know it’s up front and center, and the eye is drawn there first. Knowing Waite and his esoteric leanings, his inclusion of the White Rose of York on a black banner means something. I just don’t know what it is.

Sub rosa…under the rose…to keep a secret. I’m led to think of the debatable reasons why Richard chose a boar as his personal emblem, alongside the precise symbolism inherent in medieval heraldry and stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, and other medieval art. Medievals were attached to their symbols in ways we can’t completely understand at this distance. So are modern-day mystical scholars.

In the end, I must leave it to others to ferret out the myriad symbols behind Death’s banner emblazoned with the White Rose of the House of York. In the meantime, what does it mean? Anything you want it to mean.


(Reblogged from Merlyn MacLeod)


[i] Waite, Arthur Edward. Shadow of Life and Thought. Kessinger Publishing, page 184.

[ii] Wikipedia entry on Pamela Coleman Smith:

[iii] You can automatically download a free PDF of Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot by entering the following URL in your browser:

[iv] Waite, A.E., The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, PDF of 1910 edition, page 39. Aavailable from at the URL cited in footnote iii.

[v] Waite, A.E., Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross, Kessinger Publishing, 2010, page 92.

[vi] (sic) George Knowles doesn’t cite his source, but I suspect it’s A.E. Waite’s autobiography, Shadows of Life and Thought (1938).

Breaking News: Richard III Did Not Pay Off Stillington With “Land for a School”

Willow: How is it you always know this stuff? You always know what’s going on. I never know what’s going on.
Giles: Well, you weren’t here from midnight until six researching it.

“Angel” – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"Books of the Past" by Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

“Books of the Past” by Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Bishop of Bath and Wells, Robert Stillington, is the man who informed Richard, Duke of Gloucester, of his brother Edward IV’s pre-marriage to Eleanor Butler in the spring of 1483. That revelation created a succession crisis which resulted in Edward IV’s children being declared illegitimate and the Three Estates offering Richard of Gloucester the throne of England.

It’s been stated elsewhere that there is no evidence Richard ever rewarded Stillington for his revelation. Recently, however, a handful of denialists have claimed that a charitable foundation connected to Stillington was supported by Richard after he became King, with the conclusion that this foundation was Richard’s reward to Stillington.

Hilary Jones, a member of the Richard III Society Forum[i], in a forum discussion said: “The Stillingtons founded and endowed a school at Acaster near York where our Robert hailed from. It’s usually used to defend [Richard III], not vilify him. Is this what they’re talking about?”

She quotes from the Close Rolls of Richard III 1483/4:

“Robert Stillyngton, bishop of Bath and Wells, to the provost and fellows of the collegiate chapel of St. Andrew, Netheracastre, co. York etc. Release and quitclaim of all the lands undermentioned, to wit forty acres lying separately in Netheracastre, formerly of John Stillyngton father of the grantor, and Thomas Broket esquire, which Robert erected the collegiate church aforesaid; and also of all those lands etc. formerly of Thomas Broket therein, now of the abbot of St. Germanus, Selby, the manors of Burneby and Fangfosse co. York, and all other lands and tenements, rents, reversions and services, meadows, lesues and pastures in Burneby, Fangfosse, Northcave, Southcliff and Northcliff co. York, which the said Robert granted and demised at farm to the provost and fellows, as in a deed dated 6 October, 22 Edward IV, 1482, is more clearly shown. Dated 20 August, 1 Richard III, 1483.”

Shall we unpack this?

  1. Stillington’s “school” was a collegiate chapel.[ii]
  2. Stillington granted lands previously belonging to his father, and some he had received through his mother, to the provost and fellows of St. Andrews Nethercastre.
  3. The demise of the land[iii] dates from 6 October 1482, six months before Edward IV died.
  4. Robert Stillington’s father, John, had been a wealthy merchant. Robert had also come into more land in 1468 through an inheritance entitlement of his mother.
  5. The Close Rolls entry indicates that Richard III was re-affirming Stillington’s land grant.


The denialists are claiming that Richard [permitted? allowed? bribed?] Robert Stillington to reward himself with his parents’ land and give a portion of it to St. Andrews Nethercastre eight months before Stillington revealed the fact of Edward IV’s pre-contracted marriage.

This claim is nothing more than an attempt to twist historical fact into an untruth that can then be used to vilify Richard. It is dependent upon no one bothering to research the accusation.

Once again, it would behoove the denialists to do some primary-source research before they attempt to frame an argument in support of any of their predetermined, prejudicial judgments regarding Richard III.

[i] Group is here:

[ii] A collegiate chapel is a church where the Divine Office is said daily by a college of canons, or a non-monastic or secular community of clergy that’s organized as a self-governing corporate body. This body is presided over by a dean or provost. It’s similar to a cathedral, but it’s not the seat of a bishop and it has no responsibilities over a diocese. They were supported by lands held by the church or tithe income. They also provided space for congregational worship and offices for their clerics.

[iii] The definition of “demise” is a conveyance of property, usually of an interest in land. It originally meant a posthumous grant. It evolved until the present day when is applied commonly to a conveyance that is made for a definitive term, such as an estate for a term of years. A lease is a common example of a demise; today the word is used synonymously with “lease” or “let.”

Lammas Hay Scything

Photo by Roger and Renate Rössing, 1953. Deutsche Fotothek of the Saxon State Library / State and University Library Dresden. From Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Roger and Renate Rössing, 1953. Deutsche Fotothek of the Saxon State Library / State and University Library Dresden. From Wikimedia Commons.

If anyone out there is wondering if any hayfield in England is still cleared by scything, as it was in medieval times, the answer is yes.

You’ve missed the annual scything on Hackney Marshes in east London for this summer, but there’s always next year, as Community Haystacks’ clearing of the Walthamstow Marshes in east London (“a celebration of an ancient piece of common land, one of the last expanses of semi- natural marshland left in London) has become an annual event.

As their website explains, “This community haymaking event brings together local residents, conservationists, historians, activists and artists who join together to recreate the pre-mechanical hay harvest and revive traditions of scything and commoning. Now in its third year, the community hay harvest takes place over two days on the date of the ancient feast of Lammas.”

Click here to see photos and an article here on this year’s harvest.

The official site for Community Haystacks explains how the event got started and what activities are involved. It also houses other articles of interest.

Coming to Know Richard III: The Fictional Character vs. The Actual Man


“Life is like a prism. What you see depends on how you turn the glass.”
~Jonathan Kellerman

In the late 80s, I made the acquaintance of a classically trained British actor. Born in Guernsey, he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and was imprisoned in a German prisoner-of-war camp for three years, from 1942 to 1945. Until I learned that he and his fellow prisoners were forced to perform Shakespeare before the guards, and that the guards had demanded he take the female roles, I did not understand his groundedness, his wicked sense of humor, his unspoken but clear compassion for a friend who had been abused in certain ways during her youth, and his unfailing attitude of, “I’ve seen bad, and this isn’t it.”

Until we know someone’s past, we can’t understand him. We also can’t know what he cares about or what motivates him.

While developing Richard as a character for multiple novels, and wanting to make him different in each novel, I realized that both historians and writers of fiction already see him and his motivations as if through a glass prism or a spectroscope. Some might argue that Shakespeare is to blame for the archetypal Machiavellian villain many think of when they think of Richard, but the human need to shoebox and categorize things and people, and the majority’s willingness to accept a traditional category without personally researching its historical validity likely have more to do with what the average person thinks about Richard…if the average person ever thinks about Richard.

Will the Real Richard III Please Step Forward?

In Richard’s case, we know some events of his life, but we do not know which events were meaningful enough to him to have helped shape who he was.

The major historical events are known and can be traced. Only occasionally can Richard’s reactions be traced, and we are entirely ignorant as to his motivations even when we think we know his motivations. But a plethora of writers – both of history and of fiction – have looked at the events Richard lived through or participated in, and they’ve gone on to decide what was important to him, and why. And so it is that most who have bothered to write about Richard have assigned subjective motivations to him.

It’s doubtful this will ever change because the temptation is too strong in most people for them to resist overlaying their personal feelings and reactions in response to the historical events that affected Richard or his contemporaries. A problem occurs when one writer accuses another writer’s reasoning as “wrong” when there can be no proven “right” answers to the mysteries in Richard’s life. Some people seem to forget the mysteries are many. Things like “What happened to the princes in the Tower?” and, “Did Edward IV marry Lady Eleanor Talbot before he married Elizabeth Woodville?” and, “What did Anne Neville die of? What did Edward of Middleham die of?” will always remain mysteries. Some people seem to forget that, too.

It can be fun to debate the points and possibilities, but many of us don’t know how to have fun debating. Many of us don’t even know how to debate. As the old Goon Show line goes, “I’m not saying she’s insane, but she leaves her premises immediately.”[i]

YOUR Richard is Too Hot, Cold, Romantic, Incestuous, Weak, Murderous, Tender, Loving, Psychotic, Paternal, Devoted, Comical, Tedious, Arrogant, Sneaky, and I Love/Hate Him, So Nyah!

When a writer of fiction uses Richard as a character, the writer makes certain subjective decisions about the character which are dictated by the story the writer wishes to tell. The Richard a writer creates is his or her own interpretation of the man, and the events and people in the real Richard’s life influence that interpretation as the story demands. A romantic novel featuring Anne Neville and Richard would focus on different events and character actions and reactions than an historical novel featuring Richard training as a squire to become a knight under the Earl of Warwick’s men.

No fictional Richard-construction is “better” or “worse” than any other. As Oscar Wilde said, “Books are either well written or badly written. That is all.” If you don’t like a particular flavor of tea, you can be nice and leave the pot for others to enjoy. You might even wander off to create your own flavor of Richard-tea. In any case, your flavor of Richard-tea is over there safely shelved on your bookshelf or still in your head. No one has messed with him, and you’re free to drink him up as you like.

MY Historical Rendition of Richard is The Definitive Version, Full Stop, Forevah! I’ll Snarl at Anyone Who Says Otherwise, So Nyah!

When a professional or amateur historian writes about history, he or she usually takes a position regarding their subject, and they back up their stance by interpreting historical events. (When you find an historian who’s neutral, send them roses, thank them profusely, and buy everything they’ve written. New. Yes, from that expensive university or independent press.) In the case of someone like Winston Churchill, there’s a plethora of contemporary source material, and the subject’s reactions and motivations are on record, so the historian has only to extrapolate Churchill’s reactions and motivations. But then, Churchill knew he was making history. Richard III didn’t. He was likely only trying to survive and take care of what mattered to him…like thousands of other people, noble and commoner, around him. (See what I did there? Create motivations for R3’s actions and other people’s actions, too? See how easy it is?)

In the case of Richard III, contemporary source material is so sparse, it’s not possible for anyone to reliably extrapolate Richard’s reactions and motivations, so contradictory interpretations are inevitable and multiple from the 15th century long into the future.

Every historian writing about Richard forms and expresses his or her opinions and theories without being able to provide definitive proofs to convince their audience because definitive proofs do not exist in Richard’s case.There is evidence. There is probability. Good writers weigh both, but ultimately nothing but conjecture is possible where his reactions and motivations are concerned because the king’s skeleton was not found clutching a thick tome in its bony fingers that contained its owner’s private thoughts in neat middle English, and no archive has yet yielded same.

So whenever a professional or amateur analyst of Richard III, his life and his times, expounds on Richard’s personal motivations and goes on to offer definitive answers to any of the myriad mysteries regarding him, they’re actually expounding on what their own imagination has come up with. So unless an historical writer or blogger confines themselves to the known facts and doesn’t venture into the realm of, “Richard did X because he felt Y,” it’s all conjecture…unless someone has a direct line to the Unseen Realm and to Richard, or to the elusive Akashic Records. And if they do, I wish they’d bottle and sell it so the rest of us can play, too.

All we can do as The Audience is apply or not apply critical thinking to what we read and hear regarding Richard. If all we do is absorb the opinions and theories of others, then we have no studied, deliberate theories or opinions of our own. And that’s sad, and perhaps lazy of us. But then I wonder…how many of us have been taught critical-thinking skills?

Shakespeare Knew How to Have Fun with His Duke of Gloucester

Like it or not, Richard III as a character in fiction is forever fair game. He’s also a wonderful character to play with. You can let your imagination run riot to create a romance, a comedy, or a tragedy with him, and no one can tell you that you’re wrong to do so. (Actually, they will tell you, but you’re free to pity the Mrs. Grundys of the world for missing out on all the fun while you go back to playing with him and irritating them.)

In Richard’s real life, events continued shaping who he was throughout his life. It’s the same with us as well, but in fiction a writer will assign a character only one (1) meaningful life event. That one event helps the reader to understand the character, know what he cares about, and know what motivates him. The meaningful event is also the foundation for:

  1.  What the character wants
  2.  What choices the character makes when he’s stressed
  3.  The story’s theme

When the writer chooses the meaningful event carefully and uses it to their best advantage, they’re able to manipulate their audience’s emotions and reactions. This is great fun, hopefully for the audience as much as for the writer — if the writer does it right.

Shakespeare’s audience couldn’t claim they weren’t warned as to his Richard’s Meaningful Event, since the Bard has the Duke of Gloucester lay it all out in the soliloquy opening “Richard III.” What’s amazing is that this particular Meaningful Event was created full-cloth in Tudor times, by Tudor writers, and traditional historians have taken it as religious historical dogma ever since. It took Philippa Langley, John Ashdown-Hill, a whole lot of money from a whole lot of international Richard supporters, and Richard’s voice speaking from beyond the grave through his bones to offer the definitive proof that hey, he wasn’t at all as the Tudor writers (*cough* Thomas More, the Croyland Chronicle, etc. etc. etc.) and Old Willie presented him. And if the Tudors and Willie were wrong about Richard’s physical attributes, the next question to ask is: What else did they get wrong about him?

Lie to Me Once, Shame on You. Lie to Me Twice, and I’ll Never Believe Another Thing You Tell Me

When a witness on the stand in a court trial lies about one thing, their entire testimony is thrown out. They also instantly become a defendant, and they can be put on trial for perjury. So it is with Tudor propaganda. Once you catch a Tudor chronicler in one lie, their entire chronicle – down to the smallest detail – is suspect.

But hey, back to Shakespeare and the fun he had creating his Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

What Meaningful Event Does Shakespeare Assign His Version of Richard?

Shakespeare’s character is physically deformed and unfinished, lame and unfashionable. Even the dogs bark at him when he stops near them. (Or, as Gollum more succinctly put it in the screenplay of The Two Towers, to himself about himself, “You don’t have any friends. Nobody likes you.”)

Shakespeare uses Richard’s physical deformity as the foundation for:

WHAT Richard WANTS: To be a subtle, false, and treacherous villain because he can’t be a lover.

WHAT CHOICES HE MAKES WHEN HE’S STRESSED: When play opens, Richard has already laid plots to make his brothers hate each other. The play goes on to reveal his other, rather nasty choices. Was he under stress before the play began, or after? You can argue either way.

THE PLAY’S THEME: Various themes apply, so take your pick as they relate to Richard’s meaningful event. (There are other possible themes beyond these.)

  • Mortal Justice vs. Divine Justice
  • Free Will vs. Fate – “Divine Providence” to Renaissance audiences
  • Time – Richard seems to have the ability to speed up time. This is seen to work for him, but in the end it works against him.
  • Manipulation – He manipulates the audience as well as the other characters.
  • Power – Getting it. Holding onto it. Shakespeare’s Richard is portrayed, not as the medieval warlord he was, but as a Renaissance “Machievel” – someone who will do anything to get in power and stay in power.
  • Physical Deformity Reflects Moral Deformity — doesn’t much apply today, but aligns with the 16th-century belief system

You Too Can Have Fun with Richard

Wanna start creating your own Richard? It’s not hard, so why not have a go? If you don’t want to create your own, you could pull out your favorite novel that features him and see what the writer used to underlay Richard’s story goal, the choices he made during stressful times, and the story’s theme.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to select a meaningful event from Richard’s real life. The event should have happened before your story begins. It should also create ongoing suspense within your reader. You want them to ask and keep asking, “What’s Richard going to do next, and why?”

Story suspense depends on conflict and suffering, so the event you select must be traumatic – a betrayal, an insult, a loss, an injury, something that deeply wounded Richard. There are so many possibilities to choose from in his life, I’m not going to list examples. Part of the fun is making a list of possibilities for yourself and deciding which one to use.

The outcome of the event that wounded Richard should have created two or three specific things within him. Here are the three specific outcomes you’re looking for, compliments of Elizabeth Lyon’s A Writer’s Guide to Fiction.

  1. The wound should leave the character with a need so intense, he or she will be driven to fulfill it. These needs are universal, such as belonging, love, family, self-worth, or faith.
  2. The wound should leave the character with a weakness, a character flaw that seems out of the control or beyond the full awareness of the character.
  3. The wound may also gift the character with a heroic strength that increases his determination to fill the need and reach the plot goal.[ii]

If what you’ve chosen doesn’t create at least two things from this list, select another traumatic, meaningful event from Richard’s life.

The next time you run into the historical Richard or a fictional version (or both wrapped into one work), see if you can identify the meaningful event the writer is using to drive their version of the man. If you can’t identify their premise…I’m not saying they’re insane. Only that their work may be badly written.


[i] Premise, also premiss. Logic. A proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion. If you’d like to search “The Goon Show” radio scripts for the line, some are here: … Good luck with that if you’re not a fan of Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, et. al. and their brand of humor. And if your first response was, “What’s a goon show?”, fuggedaboudit.

[ii] Lyon, Elizabeth. A Writer’s Guide to Fiction, Perigree, New York, 2004, p. 87.


A Time for Truth, a Time for Lies…or for Pretended Obliviousness and Bullying Tactics

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

 My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.

An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard

A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.

The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.

There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.

I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.

In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.

It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.

Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.

Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research

If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this article and go read Annette Carson’s blog post entitled, “Proof … evidence … report … gossip … rumour,” and then get thee a copy of her Richard III: The Maligned King.

Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:

I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.

Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”

If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”

I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.

I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.

Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.

All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:

  1. What is contemporary source material and what is not
  2. How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
  3. How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
  4. Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
  5. Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.

Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.

Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel

If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.

If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.

If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]

You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:

  1. Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
  2. Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
  3. Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
  4. Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
  5. The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
  6. Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
  7. One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
  8. If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
  9. There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
  10. I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.

Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.

Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.

Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.

The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.

The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.

The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.

We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.

Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock

Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?

In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:

  1. Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
  2. Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
  3. Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
  4. Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.

The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:

I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…

So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am

More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?

Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?

Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]

There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.

What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.

This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.

That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.

Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise

Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.

What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?

My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.

“Do you think he did it?” I asked.


That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.

I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.



[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:

or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:

Click to access 2006_vol16_ashdown_hill_lady_eleanor_talbot.pdf

[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.

[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.

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 Welsh Rebellion that Henry VII Lost to Richard III

To win against these two, you had to hit ‘em where it hurt the most. And never give up, never surrender.

To win against these two, you had to hit ‘em where it hurt the most. And never give up, never surrender.

While reading Michael K. Jones’ dry, if detailed, study of the life of Margaret Beaufort[1], I was amazed to learn about a small but significant Welsh rebellion conducted against Henry VII and his hagiographic mummy that I’ve never heard mentioned anywhere else.

It appears that Henry and Margaret were thwarted on at least one occasion, and not just by pesky York which, after all, could only be expected to rise up against the Welsh usurper because of the duke of Gloucester’s (aka Richard III) good lordship to York and their loyalty to him, no matter he was dead. It also appears that some Welshmen were prepared to cast aside military tactics in favor of thumping the king and his mummy where they knew it would hurt the most – and in such a way that John de Vere (13th earl of Oxford) couldn’t run in and save Henry’s visually disabled, skinny derrière as de Vere did at the Battle of Redemore (aka Bosworth) and the Battle of Stoke.

This, kiddies, is the Brecon Rebellion I’ve never heard mentioned in any “We loves us the Tudorz” documentary — and pray let it be remembered that author who revealed it is not a Richard III devotee, yet he still documented this cold, unfriendly historical fact that has been pretty much ignored in a “La la la, can’t hear you” sort of a way because it’s not favorable to Team Tydder.

The complicated details are thus:

  • On 2 November 1483, Richard III chopped off Henry Stafford’s (2nd duke of Buckingham) head directly after Stafford led a failed rebellion against the king.
  • On 22 August 1485, French pikemen enabled Henry “Tudor” to win the battle of Redemore (aka Bosworth). Henry subsequently and retroactively declared himself king from 21 August 1485, the day before the battle.
  • On 7 November 1485, Katherine Woodville (the duke of Buckingham’s widow and younger sister to Elizabeth Woodville) married Jasper “Tudor” (uncle to the new king, and the newly minted 1st duke of Bedford).
  • On 3 August 1486, Henry VII gave Margaret Beaufort wardship of Edward Stafford (the 3rd duke of Buckingham, and the oldest son of Catherine Woodville-Stafford-“Tudor” and the beheaded duke). The king also gave his mummy custody of all the lands belonging to Edward, with the exception of the lordships of Newport, Thornby, and Tonbridge because Catherine Woodville had joint ventures on those. Happy 8th birthday, Edward!

The paperwork transferring Edward Stafford’s lands may have been done by Henry’s clerks in August 1486, but Henry retroactively declared his Mummy had the right to revenues reaching back to September 1485.

Given that Henry had the unmitigated gall to date his reign from the day before the battle of Redemore, I’m sure he saw no problem backdating his mother’s grant. She was, after all, working as his agent (that is, his collection agency) as well as in her own interests. So why not let a stroke of the royal quill create an instantaneous 13-month retrospective profit for both their coffers? It’s nothing personal and certainly not greedy; it’s just good business – at least from the crown’s point of view.

Margaret obtained direct control of the following estates, among others:

  • English estates centered around Maxstoke, Stafford, and Holderness.
  • The Welsh lordships of Brecon and Caurs.

These lands had the following financial obligations:

  • Revenues to Jasper “Tudor” for his wife’s dower.
  • 500 marks per year to help maintain the Stafford brothers. (Edward had a younger brother named Henry.)
  • £1000 per year to help maintain the royal household.

The English estates cooperated and paid up. The Welsh estates did not.

Why not? As Michael Jones puts it: “In Brecon, Lady Margaret’s authority was much weaker than in the English lordships,” and, “Margaret’s officers had massive problems in trying to collect revenue.”

Whatever could have been the problem? Oh, you know…the usual general administration difficulties in the Welsh marches. Every king had ‘em, didn’t they?

It’s strange that England cooperated, but Wales did not, especially since Margaret did a marvelous job of changing the accounting system for her English estates. She centralized all the receipts and had the final say on fees and wages. She appointed her own receiver-general (and changed him frequently), slashed local costs, and wasn’t afraid to eliminate whole offices — like the bailiff feodary (i.e., feudal vassal) of Staffordshire. So if administrative difficulties had been the only ones she encountered in Wales, she should have had no problem in solving those difficulties.

Alas, the Welsh of Brecon had other ideas. Other loyalties. And they weren’t about to let the usurping “Tudor’s” Welsh pretences, or his pushy mother, have their way.

You see, the more serious problem that Henry and Margaret faced was that Brecon had previously supported Richard III.

Way back in October 1483, Brecon locals had made clear their fury and contempt after Henry Stafford (the same 2nd duke of Buckingham whom Richard III subsequently beheaded) threw in with the supporters of Henry “Tudor” (which supporters included his mummy). At that time, the Welsh attacked and sacked Buckingham’s castle of Brecon. Afterward, Richard rewarded Welsh loyalty by giving back Brecon farms and reducing their rents.

So the Welsh of Brecon liked Richard III, and they liked his rewards. As a consequence, and as Jones understates it, “There was as a result considerable unrest early in the reign of Henry VII.”

What forms, exactly, did this unrest take against the Welsh usurper?

  • “Various rebels moving against the king” narrowly failed in their attempt to take Brecon and its castle.[2]
  • The porter of the castle gate deliberately let escape prisoners sympathetic to Richard III.
  • Henry was forced to garrison 140 soldiers at Brecon to guard against future attacks.
  • Henry fined those who had supported the rebels.

Jones writes that “amidst the disorder and uncertainty, Margaret’s officers faced massive problems trying to collect revenue,” but it sounds like the Welsh were anything but disorderly in their intentions or uncertain in their actions. To put it simply, they liked the king they’d had before, and they weren’t about to let the Tydder raise their rents after Richard III had lowered them. Or, as a contemporary source says, “No man would take an increment above the old rent or would pay it.”[3]

Henry and his mummy had other troubles with Brecon as well:

  • No man wanted the office for the “great farm.”
  • Margaret couldn’t get any income from the agistment (i.e., the feeding or pasturing of livestock for a fee) because Richard had also granted the Welsh free passage to the forest.
  • The drastic drop in overall receipts wasn’t a one-year wonder; it was an ongoing financial rebellion on the part of Brecon’s Welsh for years.

Tenants usually paid a fee to be excused from the duty of attending great sessions in Brecon. In 1488, those receipts dropped from 2060 marks to 760. So to spite the Tydder, the tenants preferred to attend the sessions rather than pay to not attend them.

Eight years later in 1496, the “I want to be excused from the sessions” fee raked in 1100 marks for Margaret. But this was still less than half the total she anticipated, and her son took 800 marks of it into his coffer.

What about the matter of the rents? Did Margaret raise them over time? Did the Welsh end up paying what the crown demanded?


A measly £300 was the total income in 1494 from the lordship of Brecon — little more than a third of its actual value.

This means that Brecon’s Welshmen had been tweaking the royal nose for eight years, which makes me wonder what “Do what we want and pay up, and we won’t hurt you…much” tactics Margaret and her avaricious son tried on Brecon that have been lost to history. Eight years is a long time to tolerate losing that much revenue, so we’re missing much of the story.

Obviously, this sort of behavior from the unwashed could not continue to be tolerated by the anointed. And so it was that Margaret sent three new men to deal with the uppity Welsh of Brecon.

  • William Bedell – Margaret’s new receiver for the Stafford lands.
  • David Philip – A most trusted servant of the king’s mummy.
  • John Gunter – An experienced royal auditor.

The mandate from the king and his mummy? “Collect the debts.” Privately, that mandate may have been something more like, “Collect the #@! debts from the #@! Welsh, would you?”

Now, in the usual heartless, greedy scheme of the “Tudor” regime, Henry “the winter king” VII usually got what he wanted. So the three officers bled the Brecon Welsh dry and returned with sturdy oak chests filled with bags simply bursting with coin, yes?


The Brecon Welsh refused to let Henry and Margaret bleed them as they did others. We don’t know the financial-battle tactics the Welsh used. We only know that the king and his mummy had no choice but to write off Brecon’s one-year deficit of £2095.[4] What, I wonder, did they have to write off for the other years, past and future?

The Welshmen of Brecon knew their true value – Richard had told them. They rebelled against Henry VII. And they won.


[1] Jones, Michael, the King’s Mother: Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond & Derby, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1992, pp 108-110.

[2] British Library, Egerton Roll, 2192.

[3] Public Record Office, E101/414/6, folio 103v.

[4] Public Record Office, SC6/Hen. VII/1652.m.5v: Rawcliffe, C., The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham, 1394-1521, Cambridge, 1978, p. 128.

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