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The Trial That Should Have Happened in 1483

RICARDIAN LOONS

Putting aside the mystery of what ultimately happened to Edward IV’s two sons, one enduring difficulty for a student of history is whether Richard III used the proper legal procedure in having them declared illegitimate because of their father’s precontracted marriage to Eleanor Talbot.  The most (and only) significant defect appears to be the failure to refer the issue to a church court for determination.[1]  But it seems no one has fleshed out how an ecclesiastical tribunal would have litigated such an extraordinary and unprecedented matter, let alone identified which church court would have had authority to hear it.

As a retired litigator of 20 years, I undertook the challenge of researching medieval English church court procedures and precedent cases to answer four questions: Which church court would have decided the precontract issue? How would it have conducted the litigation? What evidence would it have heard? How conclusive would…

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John Fortescue Speaks

John Fortescue (1385-1479) on the subject of illegitimate children inheriting or having rights of succession to their father’s estate or patrimony:

“The civil [Roman] law [followed on the Continent] legitimates children born before matrimony as well as after, and causes them to succeed to the parental inheritance. But the law of England does not allow children born out of wedlock to succeed, proclaiming them merely natural and not legitimate. The civilians extol their law in this point, because they say that thereby the sin, through which otherwise the souls of the two parties would perish, is absolved by the sacrament of marriage. . . .

“These are answered by those learned in the law of England thus: in the first place they say that the sin of the first intercourse in such a case is not purged by subsequent marriage, though the punishment of the offenders is deservedly mitigated in some measure. They say, also, that these sinners repent by so much the less, the more they consider the laws favourable to such transgressions. By such a consideration they are rendered all the more disposed to commit the sin, and thereby neglect the commands not only of God but also of the Church. So this [civil Roman] law not only participates in the guilt of the offenders, but also deviates from the very nature of a good law since law is a holy sanction commanding what is honest and forbidding the contrary; for this law does not forbid but rather invites wavering minds to do dishonest acts. . . .

“But the law of England in this case operates to a far different effect, for it does not encourage sin, nor favour sinners, but deters them, and threatens them with punishment lest they sin. For indeed, the allurements of the flesh need no encouraging; they need rather restraints. . .

“Hence the [English] law which punishes the progeny of the offender prohibits the sin more effectively than the law which punishes only the guilty. From this you may observe how zealously the law of England prosecutes illicit intercourse when it not only judges the offspring thereof illegitimate but also forbids them to succeed to the parental patrimony. Is not then this a chaste law? Does it not more powerfully and firmly repulse sin than the said civil law, which quickly and almost without penalty remits the sin of lust?”

“And since such a child has not a father at the time of his birth, nature knows not how he can obtain a father after the fact. . . . Therefore it would appear inconsistent that a son born in wedlock to the same woman, whose procreation could not be dubious, should have no share in the inheritance, and the son who does not know his father should displace him in the succession to his father and mother, especially in the kingdom of England, where the elder son alone succeeds to the paternal inheritance. Moreover, a fair arbiter would consider it no less inappropriate, if the son born of disgrace should participate equally in the inheritance, which by the civil law is divided among the males, with a son born of a lawful marriage-bed. . . .

“Moreover, holy scripture reproves all illegitimate offspring, saying in a metaphor, ‘The shoots of the spurious shall not take deep roots nor lay a firm foundation’, Book of Wisdom [Vulgate], chapter iv. The Church also reproves them and it rejects them from holy orders, and though it gives dispensation to them, yet it does not permit them to be of any dignity in the Church of God. It is fitting, therefore, that the law of men should deprive of the benefits of succession those whom the Church judges unworthy of holy orders and rejects from all prelacy, and those whom holy scripture deems inferior in birth to those legitimately procreated.”

Citation: Excerpts from JohnFortescue, De laudibus legum Anglie, secs. XXXIX and XL, written between 1468-1471; not published until 1538.

NOTE: As a citizen of the modern world, I DO NOT personally agree with the sentiments expressed above, but Fortescue was the leading legal authority of the 15th century. He was writing De laudibus as a “treatise” to instruct Henry VI’s son, Edward, while they were living in exile in France, in preparation for Henry VI’s re-adeption to the English crown. In part, Fortescue was attempting to inspire Prince Edward to remain essentially English and not to acquire any of the customs or practices from the Continent.

Fortescue’s analysis has so many implications for the lawfulness and legitimacy of the Beaufort line, and for the arguments that would be raised in 1483 when it was determined that Edward IV was not lawfully married to Elizabeth Woodville, his queen. Sermons preached in 1483 used the same refrain quoted by Fortescue from the Bible – bastard slips shall not take root – undoubtedly adopting his position in terms of whether the illegitimate offspring of Edward IV by Woodville could be in line for succession to the crown. In Fortescue’s learned opinion, they could not under settled English law.

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler: A Visit to King’s Cliffe Church and its Fotheringhay Artifacts

Although the entire eastern portion of St Mary and All Saints Church in Fotheringhay was demolished in 1573, it is still possible to see original woodwork and painted glass from the Yorkist Age.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

My husband and I had the good fortune to spend two weeks in England and Wales in October, 2017. I had been asked to moderate a conference about Richard III and 15th century warfare at the Leicester Guildhall, sponsored by the Richard III Foundation. During our stay in Leicester, we drove into Northamptonshire in order to explore a small parish church at King’s Cliffe that purported to have a number of objects from Richard III’s birthplace of Fotheringhay. What we discovered surpassed all our expectations.

Scene of Destruction: St Mary and All Saints Church

Like many tales of discovery, this one begins with a tale of loss. The year was 1566. Queen Elizabeth I was on progress through her realm, having already occupied the throne for 8 years. Her itinerary took her to Fotheringhay Castle, a short distance from the parish church…

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Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Gruyères Castle

If we thought that Richard III had a horrific end to his life, just take a look at the death of Charles the Bold.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

It is tempting to think that the British Isles contain all the sites associated with Richard III’s life. Of course, that’s not true. Richard lived abroad twice, first in 1461 and again in 1470-1. On both occasions, he had fled England in order to save his life and wound up living in lands controlled by the Duke of Burgundy.  The Duke, a descendant of a junior branch of the French royal house of Valois, maintained the most glamorous and sophisticated court in all of Europe.  So powerful were the Valois-Burgundian dukes that when Edward IV became king, he betrothed his sister Margaret to the heir of that duchy.

Charles the Bold Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1433-1477). His third marriage was to Margaret of York, Edward IV’s and Richard III’s sister. He would be the last of the Valois dukes of Burgundy.

Margaret’s intended husband…

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“Laboratory examination of possible royal bones moving ahead!”

If only that were the headline coming out of Westminster Abbey with regard to the infamous urn believed to contain the remains of Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York (aka “the Princes in the Tower”).  But, it’s not.  It’s from Winchester Cathedral, where – since 2015 – they have embarked on a project where skeletal remains are being analyzed with modern laboratory techniques.  The bones, some belonging to past English kings and a queen-consort, had been stored in Renaissance-era mortuary chests and placed near the high altar.  There could be as many as 12 individuals contained in them.

Westminster-urns

Westminster urn which tradition says contains the bones of the “Princes in the Tower”

 

We’ve all heard the arguments against testing the bones in Westminster:  It sets a precedent for widespread tomb-raiding.  The urn has multiple skeletons, making them indistinguishable. The amount of information gleaned would be minimal.  Royal bones deserve to be left alone.  None of these arguments dissuaded the Dean and Chapter of Winchester from pursuing historical truth and conservation.  The project, which will culminate in an exhibit (called “Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation”) about the Cathedral’s Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman origins, involves opening the chests, taking an inventory of what’s inside, and having the contents analyzed.  So far, radiocarbon testing performed at the University of Oxford has confirmed that the bones come from the late Anglo-Saxon and early Norman periods.  More research on the bones will be carried out by the University of Bristol to determine their gender, age at death, and physical characteristics such as stature.

mortuary-chests

Mortuary chests at Winchester Cathedral thought to contain commingled royal bones.  Here, they have been moved to the Lady Chapel, in anticipation of analysis. (c) Winchester Cathedral

The chests are thought to contain the mortal remains of some of the early royal families of Wessex and of England, and three bishops, amongst other artefacts and mortal remains.  They include kings Cynegils (d.643), Cynewulf (d.786), Ecbert (d.839), Æthelwulf (d.858), Eadred (d.955), Edmund Ironside (d.1016), Cnut (d.1035) and William Rufus (d.1100). Also thought to be buried in the chests are Cnut’s wife Queen Emma (d.1052), Bishop Wini (d.670), Bishop Alfwyn (d.1047) and Archbishop Stigand (d.1072).  These individuals died and were buried in the Old Minster, but were re-interred when the present Winchester Cathedral was built over the Anglo-Saxon one.  Historical records indicate that their bones were placed in the mortuary chests around the high altar in the twelfth-century.  However, in 1642, at the beginning of the English Civil War, Parliamentarian troops entered the cathedral and toppled the chests in an act of sacrilege. The church officials, who had no way of knowing which bones belonged to who, simply placed them back in six Renaissance-era chests.  They have been opened several times since then, but with the advent of modern forensic laboratory tests, the Cathedral staff believed the interests of historical inquiry made a strong case for the project to proceed.

Let’s hope this may bode well for a change in the Abbey’s and monarch’s current position against disturbing the bones in the Urn, although it’s not likely.

For more information, see the Winchester Cathedral website http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/2015/02/03/the-mortuary-chests/

Canute

Chest believed to contain the mortal remains of King Cnut, located in a high status place atop the Presbytery screen. The chest is from the Renaissance era (note the Tudor double-roses). (c) Winchester Cathedral

Was Richard III born on October 2 or October 11?

RICARDIAN LOONS

To begin this post, I will confess to having an attachment to the date of birth that Richard III wrote in his personal prayer-book.  In his own hand, he inscribed next to the entry for October 2 the words “hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex anglie IIIus apud ffoderingay Anno D’ni mcccc lijo” (“at this day had been born King Richard III of England, at Fotheringhay, in the year of our Lord 1452”).  I was born on October 2, five centuries later.  As a student of “Ricardian” history, it’s a point of pride for me to be born on the same calendar day as Richard — which makes me rather eccentric to say the least.

BookOfPrayer Richard III’s Book of Hours – with handwritten notation of his birthdate (L)

Nevertheless, it’s rare that we get to see anyone from the medieval period writing down their birthday, and so it…

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Thomas Langton: Richard III’s Character Witness

RICARDIAN LOONS

Amongst the glories of Winchester Cathedral, there is a chantry chapel of outstanding beauty and magnificence. The man who is buried there, and for whom the roof bosses provide a rebus clue, is Thomas Langton, who died of plague in 1501 only days after being elected by Henry VII as Archbishop of Canterbury. Earlier, he had served as the Bishop of Winchester (1493-1501), Salisbury (1484-93) and St. David’s (1483-84), and acted as a servant to three — or four, depending on how you count — English kings. As the information plaque at Winchester Cathedral succinctly announces, Langton had been a chaplain to Edward IV and Richard III, and Ambassador to France and Rome.

Although his death came as a surprise in his 70th year, he did have the opportunity to make an extensive will, showing he died a very wealthy man. It runs to over 100 items, and contains…

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Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Debunking a Myth at Dartington Hall

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

Dartington Hall, near Totnes in Devon and just southeast of Dartmoor National Park, represents a uniquely British form of historical contradiction. It is both medieval, having parts of a Grade I-listed late 14th century manor house, and modern, being the current home of the Schumacher College and formerly the site of a progressive coeducational boarding school which broke all the molds of English education and even attracted the attention of MI5. Today, it operates a hotel, restaurant and conference center, and has Grade II* listed gardens.

Our visit was prompted by the prospect of staying briefly in the house built between 1388-1400 by John Holland, first earl of Huntingdon and duke of Exeter. The Holland dukes of Exeter were themselves highly controversial figures and their history is closely intertwined with that of the Houses of York and Lancaster. We didn’t…

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Tales of a Ricardian Traveler – Conisbrough

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

For me, being a “Ricardian traveler” doesn’t necessarily mean that you only visit places where Richard III — as a child, the Duke of Gloucester or the King — lived.  It means exploring towns, castles, battlefields, and churches which have some association to his family or to the Wars of the Roses.  I would call Conisbrough in South Yorkshire a “Ricardian” site because it does have connections to Richard’s ancestors, including a rather infamous one!  And, to my surprise, I discovered that Richard did give its castle some attention during his life, consistent with his reputation as being a Duke who made extensive investments in architecture and his estates’ infrastructure.

Conisbrough Castle

From the 11th to the 14th century, Conisbrough Castle was in the possession of the de Warenne Earls of Surrey.  Construction began in the late 11th century, with the unique great…

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Tutbury Castle and its Yorkist Connections

Recently, it was announced that Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire discovered a connection to King Richard III – he stayed at the castle for five days – and it will be revising its guidebooks and signage to include this bit of information. http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/King-Richard-III-visited-Tutbury-Castle-just/story-29307109-detail/story.html

Tutbury castle (courtesy Burton Mail)

Tutbury castle (courtesy Burton Mail)

Had they read Rhoda Edwards’ The Itinerary of King Richard III 1483-85, they might have learned of this connection decades ago when it was published in 1983! In any case, it is gratifying to see the enthusiasm with which the staff have embraced the castle’s Ricardian ties.

Tutbury Castle has a link not only to Richard III but also to his brother, George, Duke of Clarence. And in some historians’ minds, it played a critical role in influencing the actions of “false, fleeting, perjur’d Clarence” in his 1471-74 dispute with Richard over the Warwick Inheritance.

Just short of his seventeenth birthday, Clarence attained the age of majority, set off for his lordship of Tutbury, and was “at once immersed in administrative reform and litigation”. (M.A. Hicks, False, Fleeting, Perjur’d Clarence, pp. 26-7) Tutbury was part of the Duchy of Lancaster and thus owned by the crown since the accession of Henry IV in 1399.   Clarence came to possess it by a grant from his brother Edward IV in the early 1460s, and it, along with Warwick Castle (Warwickshire) and Tiverton (Devon), became one of his principal residences. (Hicks, pp. 183-4)

Like many Duchy estates, it was managed by a steward, reeves, bailiffs and parkers – all generally from the local gentry and appointed by the king. When Clarence set off for Tutbury in 1466, he encountered a common fiscal dilemma in local Duchy administration. Many of the castle’s officers withheld the revenue they had collected; others misappropriated property or abused their power. “At Tutbury, where they had been accustomed to treating the estate as their own, Clarence had to resort to the courts not only to secure his revenue, but also to curb large scale poaching of his game.” (Hicks, 184) Every autumn thereafter, Clarence’s ministers would assemble for the purpose of auditing their accounts. (Hicks, 184)

Tutbury, however, would be on the bargaining table when Clarence defected to the Kingmaker’s campaign to put Henry VI back on the throne. Henry VI, his queen and his son, as well as the Lancastrians who were attainted and fled England after the Battle of Towton in 1461, demanded the return of confiscated estates to them once Lancastrian rule was restored in 1470. Tutbury had been used to dower Queen Margaret of Anjou, so what would happen to it once Henry VI re-occupied the throne? According to the Treaty of Angers, which was confirmed by Henry VI and presumably executed by Parliament, Clarence agreed to give up the honor of Tutbury, in exchange for the Duchy of York and full compensation for the loss of his other Duchy holdings. (Hicks, 88-97)

Following the restoration of Edward IV in 1471, Clarence came to re-possess Tutbury by a grant from his brother. However, he would lose it again in the dispute over the Warwick Inheritance with his brother Richard, then Duke of Gloucester. In 1473, Parliament passed an Act of Resumption which had the effect of nullifying all grants the king had made to Clarence. A year later, in 1474, Parliament passed a statute dividing the Warwick Inheritance between the two brothers. Clarence received other properties from the king to soften the blow of losing Tutbury.

Michael Hicks asserts that Clarence’s loyalties to Edward IV were weakened when he lost Tutbury during the division of the Warwick Inheritance in 1473. Yet, puzzlingly, Clarence had agreed to lose Tutbury without compensation in the Treaty of Angers of 1470, when he was negotiating with Henry VI and the Lancastrians. Tutbury had been a significant source of revenue for Clarence. It yielded forty per cent of his income. Its loss reduced his revenues to the levels received by Henry V’s brothers and made him dependent on the Warwick Inheritance. (Hicks, 193) While George still remained one of the wealthiest nobles in the realm, the loss of Tutbury injured his status and underscored the erosion of his “pride of place” in the Yorkist hierarchy. Thereafter, he was observed to have withdrawn from the royal court and later became so estranged from Edward IV’s favor that he was executed for treason in 1478, at the age of 28.

In 1484, Richard III stayed at Tutbury Castle for five days in October, where he issued a warrant to the auditors to perform an accounting of how funds had been used in a significant construction project there.   One wonders if he thought about his brother Clarence, who had been executed six years earlier and who had so valued Tutbury as a principal residence and source of income, albeit for only a few fleeting years.

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