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Stuart Bradley – JOHN MORTON: adversary of Richard III, power behind the Tudors (Amberley 2019)

 

John Morton served the English crown for a almost forty years during one of the most turbulent periods in English history. He wielded considerable influence at the courts of three kings. First, in the Lancastrian household of Henry VI: as an eminent lawyer, he was one of the draftsmen of the bill of attainder against the Yorkists in 1459, which triggered Richard, duke of York’s claim to the throne. In 1471, after the final defeat of the Lancastrians, Morton entered the service of the Yorkist king Edward IV, by whom he was pardoned. He soon became a valued member of Edward’s inner circle of advisors and was appointed Master of the Rolls in1472. Following the death of Edward IV in 1483, he rebelled against Richard III and became a pivotal player in the subsequent Tudor conquest of England. From 1485 until his death in 1500, Morton served as Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor, and as Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury. At various time during his career, therefore, Morton had been head of the judiciary, head of the church in England and head of the king’s government. For the last fourteen years of his life he was, excepting the king, the most powerful man in England. He was the archetypal Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer and the Cecils. And yet despite his fame, a serious study of Morton’s life has been much neglected. Although historians have explored aspects of his career, Dr Stuart Bradley’s recent book is only the second biography of Morton to be published in the five centuries since his death and the first to be published since Victorian times. It seems strange that such an important historical figure is chiefly remembered — if he is remembered at all — for his association with a shabby piece of Tudor logic known as Morton’s Fork. A reassessment of his whole life is, therefore, well overdue.

 

A major difficulty facing any biographer of John Morton is that we know so little about the private man. What we know of his character and interests we get only from his public works and from what others tell us about him. We know of his personal interest in religious architecture from the church building works he commissioned or patronized. We know of his preoccupation with civil and canon law, and oratory from his few surviving books, and we can gauge his piety and his spirituality from his will. But we have little from him that provides insight into his political reasoning or actions. Even examples of his signature are rare. His cenotaph at Canterbury Cathedral was broken centuries ago and his bones scattered. All that remains of the earthly John Morton is his skull. We do not even have a painted portrait of him.

 

It is against that background that Dr Bradley has approached his task. He believes that John Morton was a “…man whose story needs to be told in full and who deserves to be brought from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden.” To that end he has published a volume containing 288 pages, of which less than half (125) are devoted to a narrative of Morton’s life. In addition, there are 75 pages of appendices, 44 pages of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The narrative comprises a conventional rendering of people, dates and places in more or less chronological order, and is focused mainly on Morton’s contribution to the Tudor state. Consequently, the major part of Morton’s life and particularly his career during the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV, and his controversial rebellion against Richard III receive substantially less consideration. That is a regrettable lacuna in this biography, which is made worse, for me, by the author’s rather glib analysis of Morton’s political motives after 1471.

 

I mention these things now because they are relevant to a question that has puzzled me from the start: is Dr Bradley’s book aimed at the general reader or the scholar? The book’s subtitle, the presentation of the sleeve and the scarcity of detailed analysis in the narrative suggested to me that it is intended for a general readership; however, the quality and the quantity of the footnotes are more indicative of a book aimed at the specialist scholar. If Dr Bradley was writing for the casual reader, his tendency to quote from medieval manuscripts written in 15th century English or Latin, without a modern English translation, is baffling. It is a problem with the main narrative but more particularly with some footnotes, which are written in Latin. Moreover, some of the footnotes might in my personal opinion have been better incorporated into the main narrative, to aid the reading flow and prevent the crosschecking of footnotes becoming a distracting chore.

 

It would also have helped, I think, if Dr Bradley had included in his introduction information about the process of writing and publishing this book. There is no indication, for instance, whether other scholars saw the manuscript before publication, or commented on it with advice or correction.  Finally on this aspect, the schedule of Morton’s clerical and secular appointments was an invaluable source in helping me to quickly chart Morton’s career and his rewards. Similarly, the schedule overview of Henry VII’s and Morton’s itineraries, though long-winded, provided a visual representation of the author’s assertion that Henry VII relied completely on Morton to protect the crown’s interests during his own absence from London.

 

Even so, and despite my reservation, it is impossible not to admire the depth of Dr Bradley’s research of original manuscript and calendar sources, and of secondary works. This is nothing if not a thoroughly researched account of Morton’s life, which brings to life his learning and the softer, artistic side of his nature to counter the harshness of his reputation as a wily and inveterate schemer.

 

Dr Bradley makes a good case for Morton’s value and effectiveness as a royal servant. The longevity of his service, the speed with which he became one of Edward IV’s intimates, the trust placed in him by Henry VII and the rich rewards he received for his services are testament to his efficiency and capacity for hard work in a royal cause. His political acumen and his networking skills were particularly important to Henry VII in establishing his reign against the Yorkist remnants after Bosworth. Morton had learned the lessons of the past. He understood the damage done to the authority of the crown by ‘over-mighty subjects’ during the Wars of the Roses. Throughout the closing decades of the fifteenth century, therefore, he worked tirelessly to enforce law and order, and the primacy of royal authority. It was principally with his advice that Henry established his authority, rebuilt royal finances and founded the Tudor dynasty. Morton was also a restraining influence on Henry; a feature that is more obvious after Morton’s death, when Henry’s avaricious nature becomes more pronounced.

 

The claim that Perkin Warbeck was the youngest son of Edward IV had, if true, obvious, serious consequences for Henry and for Morton. When asked by the Milanese Ambassador if Warbeck was really one of the Princes in the Tower, as claimed by the King of Scots and the Duchess of Burgundy, Morton replied: ‘indeed he is nor reputed the son of King Edward in this kingdom.’ It is a curiously oblique answer and certainly not a plain denial of Warbeck’s claim. “Was this duplicity?’ asks Dr Bradley “Was Morton so implicated in the Tudor regime that recognizing the true claimant was impossible and that by standing with Henry he was seeking to save his own skin? “ Those are good questions and they are important ones. The fate of Edward IV’s sons is the defining mystery of the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, and it is immensely disappointing that having asked these questions, Dr Bradley dismisses the various possibilities out of hand (“It seems highly unlikely”), on the basis that Morton believed the two Princes were already dead and that Warbeck was obviously an imposter – a ‘mawmet‘.

 

Dr Bradley’s treatment of Morton’s life and service during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III is perhaps one of the least satisfactory aspects of this book. Central to his vindication of Morton’s behaviour is the notion that he was a honourable man whose loyalty to the crown was both absolute and principled. For example, he justifies Morton’s ten year rebellion against Edward IV after Towton thus: “This behaviour pre-figures his actions between 1483 and 1485 when he actively worked against Richard III during his second period in exile. When reviewing Morton’s career it seems he held firmly to principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy, and while Henry may [sic] have been defeated comprehensively in the field he was still the anointed king to whom Morton had sworn allegiance.” To be frank, this statement smacks of special pleading since it ignores the facts. Richard Duke of York claimed the throne in 1460 by right of inheritance; subsequently, the combined lords in parliament confirmed the superiority of his hereditary title over that of the Lancastrian incumbent. As York’s heir, Edward IV confirmed the lords’ judgement in trial by combat at Towton. The corollary of Yorkist legitimacy is, of course, Lancastrian illegitimacy. It was the central tenet of York’s claim that Henry VI, his father and his grandfather were — and always had been — usurpers. In that context, Morton’s adherence to the claim of a usurping Lancastrian and his efforts to gain the support of a foreign power against the legitimate Yorkist king of England can be seen for what they were: treason. To suggest that he remained loyal to Henry from his belief in ‘principles of heredity legitimacy’ is implausible. As an attainted traitor, he had no choice but to flee the realm and join Henry’s retinue if he was to avoid the consequences of his actions. The death of Henry’s heir in battle at Tewkesbury, followed soon afterwards by the death of Henry himself, marked the end of the Lancastrian cause but not the end of Morton’s political career. He accepted an offer to serve at the court of Edward IV.

 

Dr Bradley’s reason for this volte-face is simply that, “Henry [VI] was now dead and the dispensation of God had to be accepted. It was not what Morton had foreseen, or even wanted, but this was how events had transpired and now he must accept divine justice and accept the new status quo…He was there to serve and serve he did. The principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy came to the fore again.” It is, I have to say an unconvincing explanation, which ignores the possibility that Morton was motivated by political expediency and personal ambition to accept service with Edward IV, a motivation that might better fit what we know of his character. Mancini, writing about the events of the summer 1483 described Morton as being ‘trained in party intrigues under Henry VI’. Francis Bacon, Henry VII’s seventeenth century biographer wrote rather more on Morton’s character. “He was”, we are told “a wise man, and an eloquent, but in his nature harsh and haughty; much accepted by the king, but envied by the nobility and hated by the people.” He won the king by his ‘diligence and secrecy’, and his ‘subterfuge’. By contrast, Thomas More who knew him personally, thought Morton was be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour; I am, nonetheless, mindful of professor Sylvester’s sardonic caveat to More’s opinion: “A less shrewd man than More might well have seen a good deal of political conniving in Morton’s career

 

Similarly, Dr Bradley justifies Morton’s implacable disloyalty to Richard III on the rather limited ground of his unswerving loyalty to Edward V, who was the legitimate king (“Morton was clearly not swayed by the tales of bastardy…”). He is depicted as a leading member of the ‘resistance’, and his behaviour is rationalised only “…in terms of what he [Morton] regarded as Richard’s unacceptability as king…..He had no obligation of loyalty to the usurper; indeed, Richard’s actions gave him a moral responsibility to act against him, and the events of 1483 to 1485 show him doing just that.” A few weeks after being arrested and imprisoned by Richard, Morton transferred his allegiance to Henry Tudor. “The single logical explanation for this” suggests Dr Bradley ” is that he along with others …was convinced of the death of the two princes by this time.” It is a view that runs contrary to the opinion of Francis Bacon, who wrote that Morton won Henry Tudor’s favour because he had’…an inveterate malice against the House of York, under whom he had been in trouble.”

 

I am not going to enter the heated debate between Richard’s critics and his apologists, concerning the events of 1483. However, Dr Bradley’s analysis into Morton’s involvement in those events is, in my personal opinion, so punctuated with misconceptions and anomalies that it is positively misleading. No review could be complete if I didn’t at least mention some of these matters. For example, he dismisses without reason the possibility that Edward IV’s progeny were illegitimate. The Lords petition to Richard asking him to assume the throne and the parliamentary confirmation of his title in Titulus Regius are not even mentioned. Not only that, but Dr Bradley ignores the complex political dynamics of 1483. Edward IV’s legacy to his heirs was a kingdom divided. The force of his personality and his political acumen had held things together for many years. However, following his sudden and unexpected death, the fear of Woodville power resurfaced among the old nobility. William Lord Hastings and the other Yorkist lords were desperate for the duke of Gloucester to come south as Lord Protector to counter Woodville aspirations. The Chronicles and some private correspondence confirm that initially at least Richard was seen as a force for good, since the fear of another civil war was very real. Of course, support for Richard ebbed away once a rumour was spread that the ‘sons of Edward IV had been done away with’. Dr Bradley does not analyse or discuss these issues or the fact that the accusation of regicide against Richard III is based entirely on that rumour, which in all likelihood was started deliberately (possibly by Morton) to subvert a plot to seize custody of Edward V, into a rebellion aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne.

 

But most problematic of all is the absence of any critical analysis of Morton’s motive for transferring his allegiance from Edward IV’s sons to Henry Tudor and also of what he knew about the fate of the two princes. Dr Bradley recognizes the significance of these issues but does not address their complexities. He is satisfied simply to argue that Morton thought the boys were dead. In accepting this explanation so readily, he seems to have overlooked Vergil’s account of a conspiracy that took place during August 1483 between Morton, Henry Stafford the ambitious duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort the equally ambitious mother of Henry Tudor. If it is true, the implication of Vergil’s account is that by early August at the latest Morton had decided to support a Tudor invasion to depose Richard III. Did he know then that the boys were dead?   If so, when, why and how did he know? What role did the Tudor conspirators play in the fate of the princes? Furthermore, the rumour of the boys’ death began only after Buckingham had joined the conspiracy. So, when Buckingham wrote to Henry Tudor on the 24 September, inviting him in effect to claim the English throne, he must have known the boys were dead, or he was keeping a guilty secret. It is disappointing that Dr Bradley chose not to explore these questions or to deal with the inferences arising therefrom.

 

Dr Bradley’s stated aim was to tell John Morton’s story in full. And, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the value of this contribution to that story. This is a reasonable, modern reassessment of John Morton’s life and career, which raises Morton’s historical profile beyond mere responsibility for Morton’s Fork.It demonstrates that despite his softer side, he was in fact the archetypal early Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell and Cranmer. Though by no means a panegyrical work, this biography lacks, in my opinion, a balanced critical analysis of the contentious aspects Morton’s actions and his behaviour prior to 1485: particularly his political motivation. I think, therefore, that the full story of Morton’s life and career is still not written.

Henry VI: saint or sinner?

A gentle and devotional life

About seventy years ago, the historian John Harvey wrote this in an essay about King Henry VI: “The life and death, and the thwarting of his noble designs are one (sic) of the sorriest tragedies of English history. He was a victim of forces outside his control, for whose existence he was not responsible, but set in motion by his grandfather’s crime and his father’s one-sided ambition. Inheriting the love of justice of his Plantagenet forefathers and the a artistic culture and melancholia of Charles VI of France, his character was in sharp contrast with that of his age, possessed in marked degree by his wife. In his charity, his love of art and his spirit he was a true Plantagenet, though a paradoxical one…. He saw the world as a place of brief sojourn in which to do good, to learn courtesy and to seek God. There was nothing political in his martyrdom; except as the shadow of a name, and the crowned and anointed husband of Margaret, he represented no threat to anybody in the world. Yet the callous and sacrilegious hand that struck him down, though it ended a gentle and devotional life on earth, ensured that Henry’s virtues and lasting benefits should be perpetually bought to the mind of oblivious posterity” [1]

 

Harvey took this version of Henry’s life and death from a tract entitled ‘A Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI’, which is attributed to John Blacman and was published in 1510.[2] The tract is in fact a collection of anecdotes of Henry’s religious devotions from the recollection of one of his chaplains and other intimates of his personal life. The aim of the collection is to present Henry as a holy saint whose ‘kingdom’ was not worldly. He performed a miracle of loaves (but not fishes) for his troops and endured hunger, thirst, mocking, abuse and other hardships in his life including wounding in his side by a dagger. He foretold his own death but was not believed. And he suffered a violent death so that others might live in peace. Blacman’s depiction of Henry as an exemplar of Christian virtue, though not of this world was also the standard Tudor view echoed by Henry VII’s historian Polydore Vergil: “ King Henry was a man of mild and plain-dealing disposition who preferred peace before war, quietness before troubles, honesty before utility and leisure before business: and to be short, there was not in this world a more honest and a more holy creature. There was in him honest shamed-facedness, modesty, innocency and perfect patience taking all human chances, miseries and all afflictions in his life in good part as though he had justly by some offence deserved the same. And he ruled his own affections that he might more easily rule his own subjects; he gapped not after riches nor thirsted for honours and worldly estimation but was careful only for his souls sake; such things as tended to the salvation thereof he only esteemed for good; and that very wisely; such again as procured loss thereof he only accounted evil.[3]

 

To set against this Tudor narrative of the martyred Henry, we have his known failings as a king. Henry is mainly remembered as the king who lost the Hundred Years War and during whose rule the Wars of the Roses started. Indeed The late Bertram Wolffe thought that Henry as such an insubstantial and unsuccessful king that writing his biography was a long and dispiriting task. I do not deny that Henry was a weak and ineffective king. That judgement was made in his lifetime and has not been seriously challenged since. However, I do think that John Harvey may have an arguable point about Henry’s culpability. Was he wholly to blame for the calamities of his reign, or was he the victim of circumstances? That is the question I wish to discuss in this article; first, by setting Henry’s reign in the context of events from his accession until his mental breakdown in 1453; second, by discussing his performance in three key policy areas: maintenance of the dual monarchy, royal finances and the rule of law.

 

Divided opinions

Until the twentieth century, studies of Henry were dominated by the story of an innocent king at the mercy of greedy and violent nobles. However, modern biographies challenge that simple narrative and in doing so have broadened our understanding of the complexities of Henry’s reign. In 1981, two contrasting studies of Henry VI appeared almost simultaneously. The first was by Bertram Wolffe; whose, unforgiving verdict of King Henry goes well beyond the accusation that he was incompetent.[4] Wolffe judges Henry by what he did as revealed in the government records, and he completely rejects the notion of the mild, martyred king. In its place he describes an actively malign king, whose piety was too ostentatious to be virtuous, and whose nature was too unforgiving and vindictive to be saintly. He was also a poor judge of character, prone to interfering, and lacking in judgement and proportionality. He disregarded his royal oath and he was wilful. In essence the inconsistencies and failures of English foreign policy were due to Henry’s capricious changes of mind and his susceptibility to improper influences. Thus Wolffe rejects the whole idea that the loss of France was due to the divided opinion of the English aristocracy.[5] He does not doubt that Henry’s failures as a king left the establishment of Eton College and of King’s College Cambridge as his sole achievements.

 

Also in 1981, Ralph Griffith’s published his evaluation of Henry’s reign. It is a nuanced and detailed assessment of Henry’s performance as monarch and his qualities as a man. Griffiths recognises the military and fiscal difficulties that dogged Henry’s rule, and the factionalism of the nobility, which would have tested even a high performing and confident king. The essence of Griffiths’ evaluation of Henry is best put in his own words: “Henry VI was in reality a well-intentioned man with aspirations that were laudable enough, in an age when king’s could not rule by good intentions alone. He had an interest in the realities of government with the aim of realising those aspirations, especially in education, relations with Valois France, and the reward of friends and servants. Other of his qualities were obstacles to effective kingship. He was extravagant, credulous, over merciful and compassionate to those at fault yet fearful suspicious of those rumoured to be doing him harm. These are not the qualities of a shrewd and balanced judge of men and politics. Henry also lacked the foresight, prudence and calculation that make a king’s actions responsible ones; he showed little sagacity, subtlety or discrimination in his administrative actions and none of the political astuteness necessary to achieve an acceptable balance among his subjects competing interests — as contemporaries recognised who stressed his simplicity. Not that he was uneducated or unintelligent but he was the least experienced of English medieval kings at his succession and never shook off his youthful dependence on others in the routine and detail of affairs…With his naively defective judgement, Henry’s advisors were too often unworthy of his confidence.[6] Griffiths’ explains this last sentence later in his book. “Those contemporaries who …[observed]...Henry VI as a boy were agreed that he grew into a personable, intelligent and even precocious youth. His years as a minor between the ages of one and fifteen were naturally of considerable importance to his education as a monarch of two realms. His relatives had already created for him an atmosphere of political bitterness, even personal hatred, and after Bedford’s death, both (Humphrey duke of) Gloucester and (Henry) Beaufort (bishop of Winchester) strove to be the single most dominant influence on him as he grew older. They would be reluctant to allow him the exercise of free will as an adult king. The end result of these intense personal pressures was to accustom Henry to dependence, to being told what to do. Even after Gloucester and Beaufort had receded into the background he found other pillars on which to lean: the earl of Suffolk. Archbishop Kemp, the duke of Somerset and finally, when he was least able to fend for himself, the Queen.”[7] In Griffiths’ view, therefore, Henry is far less culpable for the disasters of his reign than those relatives and other advisors who instead of supporting the king betrayed his trust in them.

 

John Watts’ appraisal of Henry, which first appeared in 1999, is the antithesis of Wolf’s ‘active’ king.[8] He also questions Griffiths’ negative assessment of Henry’s relatives and advisors. Watts argues simpliciter that Henry was so passive that he created difficulties for the nobility, who in their own interactions tried to compensate for a king who was chronically unable to exercise royal authority, and was especially ‘incapable of giving judgements, managing the counsel of his advisors and making policy appear his own.’ This depiction of Henry as a simpleton is not a new one. In the opinion of at least one anonymous fifteenth century commentator, Henry was simple and easily led: “In the same time the realm of England was out of all good governance as it had been before, for the king was simple and led by covetous counsel and owed more than he was worth. His debts increased daily but payment there was none. All the possessions and lordships that pertained to the crown the king had given away, some to lords and some to other simple persons so that he had almost nothing left. For these misgovernances and for many others, the hearts of the people were turned away from them that had the land in governance and their blessings were turned to curses” [9]

 

Watts contends that what others describe as “‘the king’s unfair and unwise distribution of patronage and the opportunistic behaviour of his household servants’, should be judged in the context of ‘how this [patronage] was turned into power in the localities or why the nobility who might have been expected to resist the king’s agents did nothing until the 1450’s.[10] His own explanation is that: “The England of the 1440’s was governed by a very extensive network of men, including most of the old nobility; their difficulties stemmed more from lack of co-ordination and lack of authority than from partisanship.” Central to this thinking is late twentieth century research carried out by Christine Carpenter, Anthony Pollard, Helen Castor and others into the dynamics of local politics and relationships in the fifteenth century. These several studies suggest a different and more complex regional dynamic from the factional politics of the greater nobility.[11]

 

Local cooperation between landowners, merchants, farmers, artisans and labourers, coupled with the complex inter-relationships of the gentry forged by their arranged marriages, were the bonds that held English society together. The importance of these local transactions, whether they were commercial, legal, social, successional or familial, is that often they transcended the politicking of the great nobles. In view of Henry’s inability or unwillingness to govern and on the basis that ‘something had to be done’, it is argued that rather than fleecing Henry, his closest advisors were in fact trying to maintain the everyday cohesion of national and local life from collapsing into anarchy. This is an important new hypothesis; since even though the English nobility were a turbulent and quarrelsome bunch, their relationship with the king was based on mutual cooperation and benefit.[12] In the absence of a national police force or standing army, or civil service the king relied on the nobility to enforce his law, his peace and his policies through their network of local officials and law officers. In return, the king was expected to provided the national leadership that ensured “…an outward calm for the defence and surety of the realm”.[13]

 

Professor Christine Carpenter in her own leading study of this period holds the view that Henry was so deficient in kingly qualities that whilst he might be allowed to approve some insignificant grants and pardons, though not necessarily as an act of personal rule, he was hardly likely to be allowed to formulate foreign policy for the war in France, which “…was absolutely central to the domestic politics of England…It is scarcely conceivable that they would have allowed the king to dictate policy on which their very lives depended when they seem to have been able to dictate to the king on everything else that mattered.” [14] However, she does not deny the possibility that Henry’s wishes may be seen in some of his ‘over-generous grants and pardons and in the foreign policy of the 1440’s’, which may be the result of Henry’s genuine desire for peace rather than an example of his capriciousness.

 

It seems, therefore, that though modern scholars agree that Henry was in the general sense incompetent, there is less certainty about whether he was culpable for the deficiencies of his reign. In considering that question, it is important to bear in mind that Henry VI is unique among English monarchs. He was not only born to the purple, but also surrounded with the divinity of kingship from the cradle. The untimely death of his father Henry V bought baby Henry to the throne of two kingdoms before he was a year old. He is the only English king to have presided at his first parliament sitting on his mother’s lap. Consequently, his character and his performance can only be judged in a regal context and by bearing in mind that in respect of both his kingdoms he never had the benefit of growing-up under the wing of his father from whom he might have learned the art of kingship.

 

Kingship

The English had high expectations of Henry. He was, after all, the only son of a successful warrior king. They expected him to rule in the common interest and they recognised his absolute, personal and inalienable authority to do so. There was no conflict between these principles if the king was competent. Ideally, such a king was prudent and took representative advice before acting. He made sound decisions and implemented them efficiently. Sir John Fortescue in his treatise on fifteenth century governance noted with smug pride that though in theory English kings had the powers of a tyrant, they generally ruled responsibly ‘in the common weal’.

 

Much depended on the vigour and personality of the king. He was expected to devise his own foreign and domestic policies, conduct affairs of state, make peace or declare war, lead the army against enemies foreign and domestic, dispense justice, and live off his income from crown lands and feudal dues. In theory, baby Henry was expected to do all these things from the moment he ascended the throne. In practice, of course, that was impossible. Henry could neither walk nor talk, nor control his bodily functions, nor even chew his own food much less govern his realms. This practical problem was complicated by the established constitutional doctrine, which held that the person of the king and the institution of king (the Crown) were indivisible. Royal authority, therefore, rested solely in the king’s person from the very instant of his accession. No other person could exercise royal authority on behalf of the king under any circumstances; to do so, was treason.[15] In 1422, therefore, the king’s true subjects were wondering how their baby king could rule them if he was physically and intellectually incapable of exercising his authority.

 

‘The king’s tender years’

On his deathbed, Henry V entrusted the governance of England to his youngest brother Humphrey duke of Gloucester, signifying that the duke should have the principal safekeeping and defence ’of his beloved son’ (tutela et defensionem nostril carissimi filii principales).[16] These words implied that duke Humphrey was to have the powers of a regent answerable only to the king and then only after Henry reached his majority. It was a settlement that recognised the indivisibility of the person and office of king, and devolved royal authority to the regent. However, when the matter came before the lords in parliament in 1422 they disregarded Henry V’s will and rejected Gloucester’s claim to be regent[17]: they did so again in 1428.[18] Distrusting Gloucester’s motives and preferring a conciliar minority rule to his autocratic regency, the lords determined on legal advice that exceptionally during Henry’s minority the indivisible estate of the king was incomplete since it lacked will or reason, which must perforce be supplied by the lords of the King’s Council, who would exercise the king’s authority collectively, whether assembled in Parliament, in the king’s continual council or in the Great Council, until the king was able to assume his personal rule.[19] John duke of Bedford the heir presumptive was appointed to the specially created and limited position of Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm, and chief councillor to the king. Gloucester was allowed to hold that position only during Bedford’s absences abroad. Professor Watts regards this as a paradox in which the lords are both the king’s servants and his representatives, but in reality, it was a practicable solution to a practical problem. It was a settlement that prevented a non-regal autocracy, whilst enabling the realm to be governed during the king’s incapacity. It did not transfer royal authority to the lords and its legitimacy was founded squarely on the English lords’ collective responsibility. Moreover, this constitutional model stood the test of time. It was used again when Henry was incapacitated by mental illness in 1453, and also in 1483 when the child king Edward V succeeded to the throne. I am labouring these points now because of their importance in understanding the nature of Henry’s reign.

 

A minority council was therefore appointed to govern the kingdom collectively during the protectorship and throughout the king’s minority.[20] From the start, the council’s work was undermined by two long-term problems. First, a conflict of interests between the king’s relatives Gloucester and Beaufort soon became apparent. Gloucester, acting head of the council vice his absent elder brother, was overly ambitious and used his position to influence the direction of policy. Beaufort, the king’s Chancellor, was wealthy and used his wealth to promote his own policies. Their differences, which were personal as well as political, were irreconcilable. And their disgraceful behaviour did much to bring the council into disrepute. Second, many of the minority councillors exploited loopholes in the council’s financial regulations and abused their authority for their aggrandisement. There can be little doubt that Henry’s relatives and his venal councillors set a very poor example for the impressionable king. Even so, it is unlikely that Henry’s inadequacies were apparent when he was a child, since his involvement in affairs of state was notional.

 

A personable, intelligent and precocious youth

Henry’s transition from child king to adult king was a complex, and for some an arcane process. Unfortunately, a definitive appreciation of those events is hardly possible due to an academic disagreement between historians about what really happened and why. The undeniable facts that can be elucidated from the minutes and archives of government are straightforward. On the 1 October 1435, two months before his fourteenth birthday, Henry attended his first council meeting. Gloucester and Beaufort were also present since it was a strategically important gathering to appoint a new captain for the Calais garrison. Evidence of Henry’s subsequent attendances at minority council meetings and also at the less frequent but larger assemblies of his Great Council can be gleaned from the minutes of those meetings. In addition, petitions and warrants signed by the king signify that he regularly exercised his royal prerogative in matters of grace from at least the 28 July 1436, which was well before his fifteenth birthday. [21] For example, between the 7 November 1436 and the end of the month, he signed twenty-seven petitions and warrants.[22] Nor was Henry’s involvement in government restricted to matters of grace. There is evidence that he played a significant part in substantive foreign policy decisions such as the Duke of Orleans peace mission to France.[23] Despite the council’s natural concern about the liberality of Henry’s grants,[24] there was no obvious reason at this stage and on this evidence for anybody to think that Henry would not make a satisfactory king. He was young and could reasonably be expected to become more prudent as he gained experience and wisdom.

 

Following a meeting of the great Council, which lasted from the 12 to the 14 of November 1437, Henry declared the formal ending of his minority and assumption of his personal rule; he was not yet sixteen and the youngest English king since the Conquest to do so.[25] All the existing councillors were reappointed on oath to ‘counsel (Henry) well and truly and to keep his secrets, and to put forward their whole labours and diligence for his worship’.[26] Their terms and conditions of service were changed. Payment was now at the king’s discretion. The most contentious part of Henry’s declaration was the description of his future relationship with the new council, which was set out in a series of detailed ‘ordinances’ taken partly from those established for the council by Henry’s grandfather in 1406.[27] As far as I can see, the core of the declaration amounts to this: i) Henry’s prerogative on matters of grace is unfettered. ii) The council will continue to discuss ‘weighty matters’ moved before them, though no decision will be made or action taken without the king’s ‘advice’. iii) The council will continue to discuss and dispose of routine matters unless the council is divided or unable to make a judgement; in which case, the matter will be referred to the king for judgement. So much for the facts, I now turn to the debate about their meaning.

 

Professor Griffiths considers Henry’s declaration to have been no more than “…an announcement that Henry VI would take a prominent part in affairs henceforth, though without jettisoning the councillors who had served him during his youth.”[28] He dismisses the idea put forward by Watts et al that it was prompted by conciliar apprehension; neither does he accept that it was an attempt to restrain the king. It was, he argues, a material restraint on the council’s power vis-à-vis royal authority, as all matters of grace were in the king’s prerogative. “Pardons were his to give, all collations and benefits his to bestow, royal offices his to fill and anything pertaining to the Crown estates, bounty or favour were reserved to him”. [29] Moreover, though matters of weight might be discussed in council, nothing could be moved without reference to the king. Even routine matters must be referred to the king if the council were divided or unable to make a decision. Griffiths’ further suggests that the outcome was no more than Henry’s personal assumption of powers delegated to the council in 1422. The vagueness of the term ‘great weight or charge’ is an indication of Henry’s intention to intervene in anything important. Griffiths does not see this as a forceful return to personal rule or a wilful thrusting aside of wise councillors. Even less is the council attempting to preserve its authority by ‘ encircling the king with restrictions devised thirty years before’. “Henry’s declaration...[heralded]…the re-establishment, after fifteen years of conciliar government, of traditional royal rule in which the king’s councillors had an acknowledged part. Perhaps the only surprising feature was that it was published so soon in the young king’s life.”[30]

 

Bertram Wolffe’s conclusion is not materially different from that of Griffiths on this issue. Though, he is more vigorous in his assertion that, as far as could be judged in 1437, Henry possessed some kingly qualities such as physical strength, piety and ambition, and that there was a reasonable chance that wisdom and judgement would follow in due course. Henry was keen to assume the reins of power “just as soon, if not sooner than his advisors approved“.[31] Wolffe came to this conclusion after a careful and thorough analysis of the official record, minutes, petitions, warrants commissions and ‘the workings of government’, which demonstrate that Henry was not merely a cipher authorising everything and anything they put before him. In Wolffe’s opinion there were no grounds for the minority council to cling to their powers once the king determined he had come of age. The ordinances of 1437, though based on those of 1406, indicate that the council was shedding power, not increasing it. I do not think that either Wolffe or Griffiths is arguing that Henry was not an ineffectual adult king, or that his incapacity was not an important factor in the catastrophes of his reign. Their point is that these things were not necessarily obvious in 1437.

 

Professor Watts takes a completely different line.[32] For reasons I have already touched on, he argues that Henry insufficiencies were apparent before 1437. He rejects the notion that between 1435 and 1437 Henry was initiating his personal rule. The impetus for that, he argues, was coming from the council who managed his exercise of favour: “from grants made by the king and council in 1435-36 to grants made by the king alone but only during pleasure in 1436-37 and finally grants made for life from the spring of 1437 onwards.”[33] Watts adds that the council and wider nobility were worried that Henry was both unable and unwilling to rule the kingdom independently. He writes: “…if he had been behind the events of 1436, the whole tiresome process of recognition, definition and tentative restriction could have been avoided. The king would have begun to exercise his free will over the full range of royal responsibility, while counsellors, those of 1422 and others, advised him[34]

 

The emerging problems of 1437 were twofold. First, it was next to impossible to prevent individual petitioners seeking patronage from the young king, whose largess was well known. Second, the effective formulation of state foreign and justicial policy depended on active royal leadership and authority; in the absence of these two prerequisite, the effective management of the realm could only be achieved if the various factional groupings and vested interests reconciled their differences in a common approach. It was for these reasons, Watts suggests, that the council devised the 1437 declaration. “ [Since] the impetus for royal activity came from below…It was for the political community, if they could not bind the king, to define and govern the exercise of royal power.” [35]

 

The Suffolk years

The period between 1437 and 1450 saw the gradual but inexorable erosion of conciliar government and the establishment of an oligarchy based on the royal household and headed by William De La Pole earl (later duke) of Suffolk. As Steward of the King’s Household he had unrestricted access to the king and unrestrained influence over him.[36] As a result of this centralisation of government and the staff changes introduced by the council, state affairs were increasingly determined by only a small number of royal advisors, usually comprising Beaufort, Suffolk and their henchmen. Further administrative ordinances in 1444 aimed at streamlining administrative procedures and tightening the purse strings further reduced the number of royal advisors to, sometimes, not more than one or two. Finally, the deaths of Beaufort and Gloucester in 1447 consolidated Suffolk’s dominating position as the king’s chief advisor — sometimes his only advisor.[37]

 

Regardless of whether their motive was benign or malign, it is questionable whether the shift in power promoted by Suffolk’s and his affiliates was in the national interest. Even if the bulk of the English nobility acquiesced in the establishment of an oligarchy that pretended to be a monarchy, and even if the nature of the Henry’s incapacity was so desperate that ‘something had to be done’, Suffolk’s effort to prop up a non-functioning king by acting as his proxy was as reckless as it was treasonable.[38] It reduced the royal household to the status of a ‘faction’ and was the cause of such angst that it led eventually to civil war. If for whatever reason, the king lacked the will or reason to exercise his authority, then his royal estate was incomplete. In which case, the only proper course open to the lords was to resurrect the protectorship and the conciliar regime ratified by parliament in 1422.[39] Though this solution was not perfect, it had the dual benefits of legitimacy and utility. By thus broadening the government’s base and unblocking the king’s access to advice from the wider nobility there was a better prospect of consensual government during the king’s disability. Suffolk’s perseverance with the pretence that Henry was a functioning king damaged the Crown and fuelled public suspicions that he was acting in bad faith. Even professor Watts concedes that “Towards the end of the decade the court actually began to resemble the small body of household intimates and administrators depicted by its critics.”[40]

 

Of all the problems facing the English at this time, the most pressing were maintenance of the dual monarchy and Crown finances. These two problems were inextricably linked and could not be resolved separately. Moreover, an acceptable solution was more difficult to achieve owing to a conflict between the king’s peaceful ambition for his realms and the aspirations of his English subjects, for whom the conquest of France was a matter of national pride, prestige and power. Nevertheless, the key drivers that convinced Beaufort and the council (except Gloucester) of the need for peace were practical and not moral. The war was going badly for English arms. They were on the defensive everywhere. The conquest of the isle de France was no longer achievable or affordable. The burgeoning cost of defending the dual monarchy was pushing the Crown towards bankruptcy.

 

Negotiations for a permanent peace treaty began under Beaufort in 1437 and dragged on until 1444, when Suffolk agreed a temporary truce, which was only secured at the cost of two major English concessions. Henry was to marry a minor French princess, Margaret daughter of Renee of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar, and titular king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem. From the English point of view, it was an inauspicious choice for their queen. Though Margaret was related to Charles VII, she was not an heiress and her family were not important in diplomatic terms. Besides, the attitude towards her in England was likely to be suspicious, it not downright hostile. The second — and secret — English concession was the surrender of Maine, which Suffolk is supposed to have promised to Charles verbally. Henry confirmed the promise secretly in writing in 1445, at the entreaty of his French wife. The English, when they finally heard of this concession were naturally suspicious that Margaret aided by Suffolk had put undue pressure on the king. The English army refused to cooperate and Maine was not actually ceded to the French until 1448.

 

There was a third problem, which though not quite as pressing as the other two was important and getting worse. There is evidence of clashes between local gentry and also between national magnates in the north, in the midlands, in south wales, in the west and in the Home Counties.[41] The use of private armies to resolve local grievances and disputes alienated lords and commoners alike. Their resentment was aggravated by the belief that the king’s ministers and servants condoned this anarchy. These problems were about to come to a head and would change the course of history.

 

Annus horribilis

The year I have called annus horribilis began on the 6 November 1449 with the hasty recall of Parliament. Such was the magnitude of the emergency at home and abroad that only nine weeks after the dissolution of parliament in July, another was summoned in September. The members of parliament who assembled at Westminster on the 6 November 1449 had the crisis in Normandy and misgovernment at home uppermost in their minds, and they were looking for the culprits.[42] As the king’s most influential counsellor, it was Suffolk who bore the brunt of their resentment. His fall from power was triggered by his attempt to block a complaint by Lord Cromwell against William Tailboys from going before the King’s Council.[43] The infuriated Cromwell drew the matter to the attention of the Commons who included it in a list of charges they were compiling against Suffolk. Meanwhile, during the parliamentary recess, English sailors murdered the much-hated Adam Moleyns bishop of Chichester. As he lay dying, Moleyns ‘confessed’ to Suffolk’s many misdeeds. Following this, Suffolk felt it necessary to make a statement answering Moleyns allegations and the many ‘…slanders and misconceptions running throughout the land’.

 

The Lords’ refusal to commit Suffolk for trial on the basis that there were no specific charges provided the Common with the opportunity to present a formal petition (indictment) containing eight specific articles (counts) of high treason against the duke. The most serious charge was that Suffolk conspired with Charles Valois to destroy Henry and put his own son, John De La Pole, on the English throne. The other charges amounted in general terms to examples of his treason by aiding and abetting the king’s enemies. However, after Suffolk was called to answer the charges, the king put the whole matter in abeyance. Whereupon, the Commons presented Henry with a second petition containing eighteen articles setting out the details of Suffolk’s corruption (including Cromwell’s complaint) and financial mismanagement. For which “…offences, misprisions, faithless acts and false deceits specified“ the Commons “accused and impeached” Suffolk.[44] Henry tried to delay the proceedings but was unable to stop Suffolk’s impeachment. In a desperate attempt to save his most important advisor from a traitor’s death, Henry exercised his prerogative to declare the first indictment for high treason ‘neither declared nor charged’. In other words, he was simply not prepared to accept it. On the second indictment of misprision, he exercised his prerogative for clemency by banishing Suffolk for five years. Nevertheless, Henry’s effort to save Suffolk was unavailing. On the 1 May 1450, somewhere in the English Channel off the Kent coast, Suffolk’s ship was intercepted by a small flotilla, which included the Nicholas of the Tower. The Captain and crew of the Nicholas boarded Suffolk’s ship and ignoring his royal safe-conduct tried, convicted and executed him with a rusty sword. His headless body was dumped on the shore by Dover.[45]

 

Suffolk’s death did not alleviate England’s crisis in 1450 but it did pave the way for the Commons to petition Henry for a resumption of Crown lands alienated since the beginning of his reign, and the termination of all annuities, corrodes and pensions.[46] This Act would enable Henry to resume his economic and hereditary rights to all Crown properties, offices and custom taxes he gave as patronage. It was strongly resisted and there is no record in the Parliamentary Roll that Henry assented to it. However, without Suffolk to stiffen the king’s sinews it was passed into law; albeit, with 186 individual exceptions granted by Henry, which rendered it ineffective.[47] The Commons also made supplication to the king about purveyance abuses. They were concerned that money allocated for the defence of the realm was being used to pay the royal household’s subsistence expenses: this had to stop. It was the price Henry had to pay for the life of Suffolk and for obtaining a tax subsidy from the Commons.[48]

 

Charles VII invaded Normandy in 1449 and drove the English out. The English garrison were deficient in all the basic necessities of fifteenth century siege warfare except fighting spirit.[49] The professional French army was superior in numbers, leadership, tactics, arms, equipment and organisation. This situation is all the more discreditable since the English politicians were warned in good time by the English commander, Edmund Beaufort duke of Somerset, that the French were amassing a large army on the Normandy border and that the Duchy was defenceless without a large reinforcement of men and equipment. Measures were hastily put in hand to recruit and equip a force under the command of Sir Thomas Kyriell for service in France, but it was too little too late. On the 15 April 1450 the small English field army under Kyriell’s command was overwhelmed at Formigny near Bayeux; though outnumbered, they fought hard until virtually the last man.[50] The loss of Normandy was regarded as a national disgrace by most of the king’s subjects. There was also a general feeling that the heart of government was corrupt, and doubts that royal authority was being exercised properly.

 

Anybody looking for a connection between local and national politics need look no further than the rebellion that began in Kent in May 1450, and spread through the Home Counties and beyond during the summer. Jack Cade’s rebellion was short, sharp and brutal. Inevitably, the rebels were crushed and their leader killed. However, while it lasted, the rebellion shook the Lancastrian regime to its very core. The king fled from London, his household panicked and gave-up a few defenceless scapegoats to the rebels, and four hundred royal soldiers were defeated in the Kent Weald. Cade occupied London and in a series of quasi-judicial tribunals meted out rough justice to those whom he regarded as traitors. The rebellion was supported by a broad cross section of English society from powerful landowners to rural peasants. And they had put their grievances in writing. The ‘Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent’ and “The Articles of a Captain of Kent’ are distinguished by their intelligent articulation of local and national grievances and for their proposals for reform. The rebels’ grievances are neatly summarised: “…the king had false counsel for his laws are lost, his merchandise is lost, his commons destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, himself so poor that he may not have [pay for] his meat or drink…[51] It is clear that the rebels did not blame the king for this misgovernment; they, blamed his advisors.

 

Although Cade’s rebellion did not produce instant results, it was the catalyst for Richard duke of York’s intervention in English politics as a champion for reform. York did not hold a formal constitutional position within England. He was not a member of the king’s inner circle, nor did he have a natural line of communication to the king. He was, however, the king’s heir presumptive and the senior royal duke, and as such, neither the king nor his inner circle of advisors could ignore York. He served as the King’s Lieutenant in Normandy (twice) and also in Ireland, where he proved himself to be a brave soldier and an excellent administrator: in fact, the quintessential ‘good lord’. His sudden return from Ireland (where he had been sent by the king for ten years in 1447) in September 1450 still troubles scholars: was it due to private grievance or public right? Interesting though that question is, it is irrelevant for my purpose. My point is simply that York’s intervention, for whatever reason, was bound to change the whole nature of English politics, which it did. His criticisms of the government were essentially the same as those of Cade’s rebels. He did not question the king’s competence and embellished his own comments with the suggestion that Henry was the innocent victim of evil councillors. It was a situation from which York — the king’s true and loyal subject — would recue him; thus, allowing him to rule properly as he always intended. It is difficult to regard this approach as anything other than a tactic intended to prevent the imputation of treason against York. It was also an approach guaranteed to antagonize the duke of Somerset who had succeeded Suffolk as Henry’s chief advisor.

 

The hostility between York and Somerset, which had been an undercurrent in English politics from the late 1440’s, became dominant in 1451. Their mutual dislike matured into personal and intense hatred that expressed itself through the medium of opposing Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. And there was worst to come: soon Gascony would be lost, leaving Calais as the last remnant of the first English overseas empire. At home the violent disturbances and aristocratic lawlessness continued, together with real or imagined conspiracies against the king. There was and is a suspicion that York was behind these plots, for which the evidence is ambiguous to say the least. However, it is unlikely that he condoned efforts by his supporters to remove the king. He wanted to rescue Henry from the clutches of his evil advisors, not replace him. The problem with York’s simplistic approach is that it ignored the much profounder question of the king’s fitness to rule, which nobody — least of all York — was prepared to consider at this stage. More worrying from York’s perspective was the fact that whilst his power and influence waned, Somerset’s waxed. By 1452, York was politically isolated. The bulk of the unaligned lords regarded him as an incorrigible troublemaker with no constitutional legitimacy to challenge the king’s choice of advisors. The pretence that Henry was a fit to rule England persisted until he was deposed in 1461.

 

The king was ill. We know nothing about the illness except that it caused mental collapse and it was kept secret until after the birth of his heir on the 18 October 1453. Just prior to the birth, a Great Council meeting was called, from which York was excluded. Nevertheless, in Somerset’s absence on business, a group of non-aligned lords sent for York. Their decision was made on the grounds of his legitimate right to be involved in the discussion about the governance of the realm. It was their hope was that the dukes of York and Somerset would be able to work together and with the Great Council in the public interest: some hope! The mental collapse of Henry and the appointment of York as Lord protector and Defender of the Realm marks the end of this narrative. It is doubtful whether Henry ever recovered from this collapse and nobody even pretends that he was an independent functioning monarch thereafter. After Somerset’s death at St Albans in 1455, Henry was helpless and in the grip of his wife. After York’s death at Wakefield in 1460, Henry was deposed.

 

‘Chide him for faults, and do it reverently’

Personally, I doubt the historical significance of the various interpretations of Henry’s reign. Whether he was a malicious interventionist (Wolffe), a well-meaning duffer (Griffiths) or an inert simpleton (Watts et al) matters not in reality, since the outcome was the same on each case. Henry was a bad king. In fact, it is hard to imagine a man less suited to rule the kingdoms he inherited by an accident of birth. He did not look or behave like a king. Plainly he was incompetent and often disinterested in the minutiae of government. He failed to exercise royal authority properly and lacked the force of personality to uphold the king’s justice in his English kingdom. His shortcomings created a vacuum at the heart of government, which some of his overly ambitious subjects were quick to occupy and keen to exploit to the detriment of the common interest. It is unsurprising therefore that by the middle decade of his reign many of Henry’s English subjects were offended by the losses in France, oppressed for the want of royal justice at home and impoverished by the burden of taxation. These things are all matters of historical record and a blot on his rule. Nonetheless, despite his faults, Henry’s critics tend to underestimate contemporary evidence of the almost insuperable problems he faced from the moment of his accession, which would have tested even his renowned father. For all his heroic stature, Henry V’s legacy to his baby son was not a happy one.

Any hope the English had of conquering Valois France went to the grave with Henry V in 1422. Any realistic hope they had of preserving Henry VI’s sovereignty over his French possessions disappeared with the death of John duke of Bedford in 1435 and the defection of Burgundy from their English alliance that same year. Militarily and diplomatically, the tide had turned irretrievably against the English while Henry VI was still a minor. Their tactics were outmoded, their army was outmatched and the cost of the war was becoming unsustainable: none of this was Henry’s fault. Nonetheless, the subsequent failure to negotiate a realistic and workable peace treaty with Charles VII did bear his hallmark. Henry’s negotiating position was unrealistic. He thought that Charles would stop fighting and allow him to retain sovereignty of his French inheritance: that was a Lancastrian ‘red line’. It was one thing for Henry to be ejected from his French inheritance by the fortunes of war but he could never concede that he was not the king of France by right. In reality, of course, Henry had no leverage over Charles who was winning the war anyway. Besides, he regarded it as a war of liberation and could not allow Henry to retain his possessions except as a vassal of the French king: that was the Valois ‘red line’.

 

The truce with Charles VII that was agreed in 1444 and then extended, was broken by the Duke of Somerset, who enraged the Duke of Brittany by attacking his territory. It is unclear whether Somerset was ‘encouraged’ by the king to do that, but it seems likely. Even if Henry was dealt a bad hand, he played it badly. His pacifist nature was unsuited to the task of defending his French realm in the face of a warlike and implacable foe, and his lack of judgement showed in the promotion of commanders whose only qualification for the task was that they were his favourites. Henry was also hampered by a lack of money to pay for the war and the normal expenses of government.

 

The Crown’s financial difficulties began soon after the battle of Agincourt. The lay and clerical subsidies granted by parliament for 1415-1416 raised £216,868. However, the overall costs of maintaining Harfleur, negotiating with the Duke of Burgundy, the naval expedition of 1416 and fitting out a flotilla for service in 1417 came to £256,885. The deficit of £40,017 was made-up from loans at commercial rates and the ransom payments of French prisoners. These figures do not include expenses incurred during the Agincourt campaign, but not yet met.[52] By the end of Henry V’s reign, the English exchequer had a deficit of £30,000 and outstanding debts of £25,000 due mainly to war costs.

 

It was Henry V’s policy after 1418 to transfer the burden of the war to Normandy. The Duchy was supposed to pay for itself and also contribute money to the general war effort. However, the first complete financial accounts for the Norman Estates shows that all but 5,000 livre (li)[53] of Norman revenue was spent on the administration and defence of the Duchy; nor did finances improve over time. In fact, they deteriorated even further during Henry VI’s minority. In 1423, for example, the accounts show that of the 90,000(li) granted to Bedford by the Norman Estates, only 29,000(li) was available for defence. Between 1419 and 1435, the Norman estates met twenty four times and made impositions totalling 3,150,000(li). Even so, this revenue fell short of costs. The idea that Normandy could be self-funding was illusory; their treasury could only just about cover its own administrative costs if they did not also have to pay for military operations. Moreover, these financial demands alienated the Normans against their English overlords and demonstrated that without an English subsidy the Duchy was, more or less, defenceless.[54]

 

Whilst there is no doubt that Henry VI’s foolish generosity did not improve Crown finances, there is convincing evidence that even had he been judicious and thrifty with the grant of patronage, his means were barely sufficient for his needs. The inherited costs of defending his French inheritance, the expansion of the royal household, the costs of his marriage and the Queens household expenses were more than the Crown could bear without tax subsidies from parliament and the convocation. Significantly, during Henry’s minority neither parliament not the convocation gave generous subsidies; furthermore, the revenue raised was unpredictable. Exemptions given to poor towns and villages reduced the amount raised, as did fraud and administrative incompetence. The alternative of individual taxation was so unpopular that it was only imposed twice (1428 and 1436). Even then, the revenue raised was erratic due to resistance, fraud and administrative incompetence. It seems that the Crown was expected to manage cash flow and income by borrowing, using the Crown Jewels as security.[55]

 

So appalled was Ralph Lord Cromwell by the state of public finances in 1433 that he presented to parliament a highly detailed and precise analysis delineating to the last farthing the Crown’s insolvency. Having just succeeded Lord Hungerford as Treasurer, Cromwell was keen to highlight the problems he had inherited and to impose some fiscal discipline on the government by, for instance, vetting all requests for expenditure and patronage. The demands placed on the royal purse during the king’s minority were many: the royal household, the Queen’s household, Calais, France, Ireland, Scotland, Aquitaine, Fronsac, grants of Henry V’s will, and prisoner expenses etc. In summary, ordinary expenditure exceeded income by £47,887. 7s. 4d farthing, to which must be added provision for the repayment of debts totalling £164,814. 11s.1d halfpenny.[56] To control debt, Parliament set an arbitrary annual limit on Crown borrowing, which could now be secured against tax revenue. These measures under Cromwell’s capable stewardship delayed the inevitable but could not prevent it. By 1449, Cromwell had moved on from the Treasury and the Lancastrian regime was bankrupt. When Parliament met again later that year, the main thrust of the Commons’ criticisms was the belief that corruption and fraud were partly responsible for the crown’s bankruptcy. Their priority now was to put Henry’s finances on a sustainable basis.[57]

 

The aristocratic violence and lawlessness, and the corruption in high places that so oppressed Henry VI’s subjects were not unique to his reign. In fact, the preservation of law and order was a recurrent problem for most, if not all, medieval English monarchs. Late medieval England had an unenviable reputation among the rest of Christendom for lawlessness. While studying the legal records for 1348, the historian L O Pike was so shocked by what he found that he described that part of Edward III’s reign as a period of widespread depravity. E G Kimball, studying the Shropshire Peace Rolls for 1400-1414 concluded that ‘serious crime was not being punished in Shropshire or for that matter anywhere in England’. There are many scholarly studies and records of late medieval crime, none of which has identified even a few consecutive years of effective law enforcement between 1290 and 1485.[58] Neither is this simply a question of policing, since such lawlessness touched on the general lack of public confidence in the integrity of royal justice and the corrupt exercise of power that pre-dated Henry VI’s reign.[59]

 

The reasons for such pervasive criminality are many and complex, and are such that I cannot hope to address them all in this essay. However, there is a combination of circumstances that are part systemic and part behavioural, which I should explore in the context of Henry VI’s reign. The failure of successive medieval kings to outlaw ‘livery and maintenance’, coupled with the collapse of royal justice encouraged the lords and gentry to take grievances into their own hands.[60] The result during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was the creation of ‘over mighty subjects’ with their affinities, which very often included organised criminal gangs of violent men with a penchant for feuding and ignoring the law of property.[61] This undesirable situation was further aggravated by the king’s reliance on local magnates and gentry to administer, dispense and enforce the king’s justice. Chief among these royal officials were the permanent county Sheriff’s who were each had judicial and administrative responsibilities for overseeing and dispensing justice in their county. They presided in the Shire Courts and also framed and selected indictments for hearing in the king’s courts. Moreover they were also responsible for selecting and empaneling jurors to sit on Grand Juries and Trial Juries in the various courts within their bailiwick. Unfortunately, owing to the system of livery and maintenance, Sheriffs were themselves more often than not in the service of a lord and, therefore, were hardly likely to be impartial judges or administrators in any cases involving their lord or members of his family and affinity.[62]

 

Aristocratic lawlessness was a problem, even for strong monarchs such as Edward I and Edward III. A parliamentary petition of 1331 complained that gangs of men were “kidnapping for ransom and killing the king’s lieges, churchmen and royal judges…” [63] Edward tackled the problem with his customary vigour, which, nevertheless brought only temporary success. By 1443 even Edward had to admit that the law of the land was not well kept; it was a problem that only got worse during the king’s absence at the wars. Although Henry VI inherited a situation that was not of his own making, it is hard to refute professor Bellamy’s assertion that the criminality was worse in the fifteenth century than it had been during the fourteenth. Crime had not actually increased but it was more pernicious during Henry’s reign. I don’t think anybody can seriously dispute that this was due primarily to Henry’s lack of kingly qualities as previously discussed

 

My final point is about Henry’s mental health during his adult years prior to 1453, when we know he had some form of mental breakdown, which lasted until 1455 at least. The precise nature of his mental collapse cannot now be known. There is no evidence that Henry suffered mental ill-health prior to 1453, but the inference that he had inherited his grandfather’s (Charles VI) ‘melancholia’ is almost irresistible. It would explain his detachment from temporal affairs and the comments about him made by some of his subjects. It is not impossible, therefore, that he suffered from a mental illness: I put it no higher[64].

[1] John Harvey – The Plantagenets (T Batsford Ltd 1948): I have quoted from the 1967 Fontana edition (p.169)

[2] M R James [Ed] – Henry the Sixth: a reprint of John Blacman’s memoirs (Cambridge 1919): Blacman was a precentor at Eton College (1445-52) and subsequently of King’s Hall Cambridge. There is no evidence that he is the unnamed author who writes in the first person, since his name does not appear in the list of Henry’s chaplains or clerks. It is possible that the tract was simply found among his papers after death.

[3] Sir Henry Ellis [Ed] – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III (Camden Soc 1844) pp. 70-71

[4] Bertram Wolffe – Henry VI (Yale 2001 edition)

[5] Wolffe; pp.12-18 and passim

[6] RA Griffiths – The Reign of Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) pp.253-254

[7] Griffiths pp.231

[8] John Watts – Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge 1999)

[9] Griffiths p.2 note 5: Griffiths cites JS Davies [Ed] – An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI (Camden Soc 1856) p.79

[10] Wolffe pp. xxiv-xxv; introduction by John Watts

[11] Watts chs.5-7; Christine Carpenter – The Wars of the Roses: politics and constitution in England 1437-1509 (Cambridge 1997) passim; Christine Carpenter – Locality and Polity: a study of Warwickshire landed society 1401-1499 (Cambridge 2009; AJ Pollard – North Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: lay society war and politics (Oxford 1990); Helen Castor- The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: public authority and private power (Oxford 2000).

[12] JR Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.3

[13] Lander pp. 33-34; Lander is here quoting the words of Robert Stillington in 1468, when he was Lord Chancellor to Edward IV.

[14] Carpenter (WOTR) p.90

[15] Chris Givern-Wilson [General Ed] The Parliamentary Rolls Of Medieval England (Boydell 2005), Vol 10 (Anne Curry ed) PROME ibid; SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp. 35-37; by the fifteenth century the courts had declared that the royal prerogative ‘ must be intact in the king’s person alone’ (p.35, citing VYB. SEIV, Micho.fo 118-23 [App No 48]).

[16] PROME Vol 10 p.6; citing P Strong and F Strong – ‘The Last Will and Codicils of Henry V, (EHR, 96 [1981] 99) et al.

[17] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3 and 23-24; ‘it was not the English custom’, they said

[18] PROME Vol 10, pp. 347-348, items 24-27

[19] PROME ibid; Chrimes p.37

[20] JF Baldwin – The King’s Council in England during the Middle Ages (Oxford 1913) p.169; Henry VI’s first minority council comprised a representative body of twenty-one men, all of whom had served as councillors to his late father. The original list is as follows: the duke of Bedford (protector), the duke of Gloucester (protector in Bedford’s absence), the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Durham (Chancellor), William Kinewelmersh (Treasurer), John Stafford (Keeper of the Privy Seal), the bishops of London, Winchester, Norwich and Worcester, the duke of Exeter, the earls of March, Warwick, Northumberland, Westmorland and the Earl Marshall, Lord Fitzhugh (Chamberlain), Ralph Cromwell, Walter Hungerford, John Tiptoft and Walter Beauchamp, knights. In the absence of any specific instructions from parliament, the council defined its own terms of reference, which were intended to safeguard their superiority under the king by nullifying the autocratic ambitions of Bedford and Gloucester (p.172).

[21] Wolffe pp.87-88; Griffiths pp. 275-278 and Watts pp.127-131: Henry’s first recorded grant of patronage was to his uncle Cardinal Beaufort at Canterbury in July 1436. The king was in Kent to witness the embarkation of English reinforcements for the Calais garrison.

[22] Wolffe p.188: see also Watts p.130, Griffiths p.275 and Baldwin p.184. Baldwin notes: “already in1435-36 the king’s personal intervention in the matter of favours may be observed, as in his own boyish hand the royal signature appears upon various bills ‘R.H. nous avons graunte’.”

[23] Wolffe p.90: in the autumn of 1437, the council was divided on whether the king should pay Orleans’ expenses for his peace mission to France. They were worried that it might be construed as a concession and encourage Charles Valois to make further demands. The matter was put to Henry for a decision. He decided to pay the duke’s expenses from taxation.

[24] Baldwin; ibid

[25] Henry III was eighteen when he assumed his personal rule. Edward III was twenty before he shook off Mortimer’s yoke. The more problematic Richard was twenty-two before he ended his minority.

[26] Baldwin; ibid: the eighteen councillors were as follows: the duke of Gloucester, Cardinal Beaufort, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the bishops of Lincoln and St David’s, the earls of Huntingdon, Stafford, Salisbury, Northumberland, Suffolk and Devon, Lord Hungerford, Lord Tiptoft, the bishop of Bath (Chancellor), Lord Cromwell (Treasurer), William Lindwood (Keeper of the Privy Seal), William Phillip (Chamberlain), John Stourton (knight of the household) and Robert Rolleston (Keeper of the Wardrobe)

[27] PROME Vol 8 pp.321, 323 and 337-67: contains a useful analysis and details of the 1406 ordinances. They appear to have little relevance to the circumstances of 1437, since in 1406 a concerned parliament was seeking to restrain the king’s autocratic tendencies by increasing the council’s powers: arguably, that was not the case in 1437.

[28] Griffiths p.276

[29] Griffiths pp.274-278: see also Wolffe pp.87-92

[30] Griffiths p.277

[31] Wolffe p.92

[32] Watts chps. 4-7; see also Carpenter chps.1- 5, passim, which makes many of the same points

[33] Watts p.30, notes 27-30

[34] Watts p.132: this is a reference to Suffolk’s successful attempt to secure his personal hegemony of the council and of the royal household.

[35] Watts p.133

[36] Baldwin pp.190-191″ Suffolk did not frequently show himself in council but with excessive disregard of his enemies carried his policy with the king independently of colleagues.

[37] Griffiths pp. 284-286; Baldwin ibid; the Council Ordinances of 1444 were only intended to improve the government’s administrative efficiency. However, Henry’s more unscrupulous officials used the ordinances to consolidate the move of government from the council to the household.

[38] Watts chps 5 & 6, pp.181-254; contains detailed and complex arguments in defence of Suffolk’s actions. Put briefly, Watts’ argues that Suffolk’s service to the king forced him to exercise royal authority because the king was incapable of doing so. The real problem he suggests was not venal counselors but a useless king. Such a narrative suggests that England was governed by a group of aristocrats who abandoned the rule of law in favour of the edict ‘might is right’. The image of these royal officials and court favourites disposing of power, wealth and privilege among themselves in order to maintain a privileged status quo and regardless of the rights of others, whether noble or commoners is unedifying to say the least. It brought royal justice into disrepute and was the cause of the social unrest that erupted with catastrophic consequences in the summer of 1450. Watts’ detailed analysis of the working of government and interesting tables and statistics on attendances are meant to support his contention that between 1435 and 1445 Suffolk was acting with the tacit consent of almost all of the English nobility. That may be so, but it doesn’t make Suffolk’s ‘rule’ legitimate nor does it explain why Watts seems to think that such criminal behaviour was in the national interest. By ‘the later 1440’s, even Watt’s acknowledges the lords’ support for Suffolk’s policy was falling away and in any event was ‘insufficiently visible to the rest of political society’.

[39] That is exactly what happened in the 1454 and 1455 when Henry’s metal health collapsed. One wonders whether Henry was of sound mind earlier than this. Did he inherit his maternal grandfather’s ‘melancholia’?

[40] Watts P.240

[41] Griffiths Chapter 20, p.562-609, contains a detailed analysis of the lawlessness and aristocratic violence during Henry’s reign; see also Wolffe pp.106-125; IMW Harvey – Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 (Oxford 1991) Chp.2; and RL Storey – The end of the House of Lancaster (Sutton 1999 2nd Edition) passim for further extensive details of lawlessness

[42] PROME Vol 12, PP 72,73 & 159

[43] Roger Virgoe – William Tailboys and Lord Cromwell: crime and punishment in Lancastrian England (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Library 55, 1972-71973) pp. 459-482; the first charges brought against Suffolk were that he plotted with William Tailboys to murder Lord Cromwell on the 28 November 1449 at Westminster. Even though the incident might have been exaggerated, the fact that this offence was included in Parliament’s second petition for Suffolk’s impeachment is an indication of its seriousness.

[44] PROME Vol 12, pp. 75,76, 93-105 & 154-156 appendix1, article1; this is easily the most comprehensive account of Suffolk’s impeachment with the detailed petitions and and proof, and Suffolk’s own response. See also EF Jacob – The Fifteenth Century (Oxford 1987) pp. 492-495 for an excellent summary of these events.

[45] James Gairdner (ed) – The Paston Letters 1422-1509 (Cambridge Library edition 2010) six volumes, Vol 2 pp.146-147. This letter from William Lomer to John Paston is dated the 5 May; it contains a vivid and detailed account of Suffolk’s death at the hands of the hands of the Captain and crew of HMS Nicholas at Tower. This being a royal ship, it is inconceivable that they acted independently. It is impossible for obvious reasons that they either the king or the queen were behind this murder. However, the Duke of York is a suspect; though there is no evidence.

[46] PROME ibid

[47] PROME ibid; Wolffe p.230; Harvey p.189.

[48] PROME p.78

[49] Alfred H Burne – The Agincourt War (Greenhill Books 1991 edition) chp18 pp. 306-330: contains a useful summary of this campaign with a common sense assessment of numbers and tactics etc. Colonel Burne would, he wrote, gladly have passed over the loss of Normandy in silence since it was such a discreditable period in English history, for which he blamed Suffolk whom he described as ‘shuffling’, even ‘shifty’.

[50] Burne pp. 318-322

[51] Harvey ibid

[52] Jacob pp.202-220, & 255; Jacob provides a useful analysis, with tables, of the monetary grants made to Henry V from 1415 until the end of his reign. This information is extrapolated from the English and Norman exchequer records of the time and includes the detailed costs of in defending and administering Normandy.

[53] Livre: ‘old French currency equivalent to a pound of silver.’ (SOED)

[54] Jacob ibid

[55] Griffiths pp. 376-394 contains a detailed analysis of the crown’s financial problems and the measures taken to overcome them. Griffiths also provides useful tables of taxation trends and prominent Crown creditors.

[56] PROME Vol 11 pp.69, 70 and 102-113; Cromwell’s lengthy schedule is in the form of a petition to the king, which provides a fascinating and detailed description of the Crown’s estate and sources of income in 1433, together with its expenditure and indebtedness. See also Griffiths pp.107-122 for a instructive discussion of these financial problems and some very useful tables of taxation, loans etc. during the minority. It is clear from the evidence and Griffiths’ analysis that parliament underestimated the cost of the war and overestimated the ability of the French territories to pay for it. One consequence of borrowing was that any imbalance between unpaid debts and taxation would inevitably lead to bankruptcy. Significantly, in 1433 the Crown’s indebtedness was two-and-a-half times greater than its annual revenues.

[57] PROME Vol 12, p.77

[58] John Bellamy – Crime and Public Order in England in the Late Middle Ages (Routledge 1973) pp.4-6 citing LO Pike – A History of Crime in England (London 1873-73) i p.297; EG Kimball – The Shropshire Peace Rolls 1400-1414 (Shrewsbury 1959) p.45; RH Hilton – A Medieval Society (London 1966) p.258, who from an analysis of the Assize Rolls for the reign of Edward I formed the opinion that the sanctions of common law were ineffective in curbing violence and corruption; GO Sayles (Ed) – Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench, Edward II (Selden Society,74 1955) p.iii. See also PROME 1275-1504 all volumes, which contain hundreds of petitions attesting to the lawlessness and corruption of the Middle Ages. Finally, there is also a mass of unpublished material in the National Archives as described in Bellamy’s bibliography (pp. 205-206). “Every verdict seems unfavourable” (Bellamy p.4).

[59] Bellamy passim

[60] Livery and maintenance was the practice whereby individual lords recruited large numbers of retainers who were personally loyal to them and wore their livery. These men were expected to respond to calls for military and other services in return for their lord’s protection (‘maintain their part’) in litigation and/or any other disputes they were involved in, and their preferment on matters of patronage Prime examples of these over-mighty subjects during Henry VI’s reign were the dukes of York and Somerset, and the earls of Suffolk and Warwick. Livery and maintenance continued to plague the monarchy until Henry VII outlawed it.

[61] Bellamy pp.1-36 and 69-88

[62] A Harding – The Law Courts of Medieval England (Geo Allen and Unwin 1973) pp.51-53; see also Bellamy passim; from the twelfth century, civil and criminal cases in the country were dealt with under the general eyre. This was an itinerant system of justice introduced by Henry II, whereby professional judges and legal administrator’s from the curia regis (the King’s Court) accompanied the king during his progress around the kingdom and paid prolonged visits to individual counties. Their jurisdiction was wide-ranging and superior to that of the Hundred and Shire courts. The king’s judges were entitled to hear all pleas presented to them and not just those from a special group. Furthermore, their hearings were very thorough by medieval standards. More particularly, these judges were authorised to investigate any and all excesses, misdeeds, taking of bribes and other dishonest practices of sheriff’s and bailiffs, and to review the work of previous eyres. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the demands placed on the general eyre were too great for the limited number of professional judges available and the system fell into abeyance during the thirteenth century. It was a pity as the misconduct of the sheriffs’ was no longer monitored and corrected.

[63] Bellamy p.6; PROME Vol 4, pp. 164 and 166

[64] Wolffe pp.152-153; Griffiths pp. 715-718; Watts pp.301-325 passim and Storey p136 note 13

SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III: HERO OR VILLAIN?

” Never let it be said that fate itself could awe the soul of Richard.

           Hence babbling dreams, you threaten here in vain;

           Conscience avaunt, Richard’s himself again”

(The tragical history of King Richard the Third)[1]


 

Richard’s himself again: or is he?

There is a moment in Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ that is not Shakespearean. It occurs during the Bosworth scene just as the king is about to ride into battle. Unnerved by the ghostly apparitions in the night of his vengeful victims, Richard’s courage seems to desert him (‘O Ratcliffe, I fear, I fear ‘). However, the sight and sound of Richmond’s army approaching rouses his natural ‘heroical temperament’ and as he rides away he whispers in White Surrey’s ear ‘Richard’s himself again’, which is not a phrase you will find in any extant Quarto or Folio edition of the play. It is, in fact, an interpolation from Coley Cibber’s seventeenth century adaptation and a small but significant example of Olivier’s editing. Its purpose is to reinforce the notion that Richard’s courage and resolution are unimpaired on the morning of battle. Its importance to Cibber (and presumably to Olivier also) is that it counters the insinuation in some interpretations of the play that King Richard was demoralized by guilt, fear and desperation at Bosworth.

 

Even though Olivier’s film is so heavily modified that much the subtlety of Shakespeare’s original play is lost, it should not be thought that his adaptation is inartistic. He is simply one of a number of distinguished actors and directors who between the reigns of the first and second Elizabeth have imposed their artistic ambition on the play. The point is that Shakespeare’s plays are not fossils set in stone. They are each subject to historical relativity and usage. Succeeding generations of actors, directors and producers have adapted them according to their artistic taste or the cultural, social and political ethos of their society. Indeed, it is possible that this play was used as a metaphor for exploring the concerns of contemporary first Elizabethans as well as those of later cultures. Modern performances of the play have portrayed Richard as a proxy for Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and ‘Rikki Ortega’ (a fictitious Californian gangster) among others.[2] Henry Goodman in the RSC’s 2003 production found ‘parallels for Richard’s deranged mind’ in the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.[3] Anthony Sher (1984), looking for clues of Richard’s stage personality studied the psychology of the real serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least twelve men between 1978 and 1983. Contemporary socio-cultural themes such as physical and mental disability, gender, racial and class discrimination, and the importance of Richard III as a ‘case study’ of tyranny, are all now aspects of modern performances. [4] In fact, so different is the public taste for this play today that I wonder whether Shakespeare would recognize it as the one he wrote for Richard Burbage in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

 

Sign of the times

The play that Shakespeare actually wrote was an immediate smash-hit financially and critically. Moreover, Burbage’s portrayal of Richard was so powerful that it defined performances of the play for generations afterwards and contributed an epic snippet of Shakespearean erotic mythology, which we learn from John Manningham, a student at the Inner Temple, who wrote in his diary in 1602: ‘Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.’ I don’t know whether this anecdote is true or not, but it is at the very least an indication of the sensuousness of Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard and the popularity of his play.

 

The old adage that ‘plays are meant to be performed not read’ may be corny but it’s true nonetheless. The importance of actors and directors in shaping our opinion of this play cannot be overstated. In my copy of the RSC’s text, it states quite clearly that the best way to understand this play is to see or ideally to participate in it. It is my aim in this article to explore the theme of change in the production, presentation and performance of Richard III. Naturally, I am aware that it is this play that is in no small part responsible for the historical Richard’s bad reputation. Nevertheless, having written some articles in favour of the factual Richard III, I feel compelled to write a few lines in defence of the fictional one and the man who created him.

 

The distinction I make between the fictional and the factual Richard is not artificial and it is important. It is ignored or blurred too often and for too long in discussions and analysis of the play or the man. [5]  There are almost as many myths about the play as there are about Richard. Chief among these is the notion that Shakespeare is personally to blame for the misjudgement of history. I hope to show that is not true and that Shakespeare was far from being a Tudor stooge. While there is no doubt that he embraced the Tudor narrative of Richard as a villain or that he structured his play around the Tudor histories of Thomas More and Edward Hall, Shakespeare doesn’t make Richard out to be as bad as he might have done.

 

‘Matters of state, not fit to be suffered’

We now have a better appreciation of Tudor bias. The depiction of Richard as a monstrous villain without any redeeming characteristics was necessary to bolster Henry VII’s weak royal title. The fact is that in Tudor England and particularly during the Elizabethan period the condemnation of Richard in literature was practically unanimous. Regardless of his personal opinion, therefore, Shakespeare had little choice other than to conform to the ‘tenets of Tudor orthodoxy’. The Privy Council enforced strict censorship of ‘certain matters of state not fit to be suffered’. Shakespeare would have been extremely foolish to depart from the prescribed doctrine on touchy issues such as the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.[6] The contemporary notion of kingship held that it was contrary to God’s law to depose a crowned and anointed king. Even a tyrant enjoyed God’s protection; however, whereas a tyrant must be endured a usurper was outside God’s law and could be overthrown with impunity. It was, therefore, necessary to depict Richard III as a usurper and a tyrant. Otherwise, it would call into question Tudor legitimacy and, more importantly, the validity of Elizabeth’s succession.[7]

 

In that context, it is all the more remarkable that Shakespeare does not depict Richard as the unrelieved monster of Tudor dogma. He is charismatic and his sardonic humour soon has the audience laughing with him; indeed, they are, in a sense, his co-conspirators. From the moment he enters the stage, Richard takes control of the play and the audience. Conversely, Shakespeare does all he can to downplay Richmond’s role. He writes nothing to make him personally attractive to the audience. He is not even mentioned until the fourth act and doesn’t appear on stage until the last. There is no scope for the audience to form any sort of relationship with such a boring, distant and obscure antagonist. Neither does Shakespeare write anything to counter suggestions that Richmond’s claim to the throne is questionable. In fact, it is soon clear that Richard cannot be defeated by any human adversary, least of all Richmond whose sole purpose is to be the clunky deus ex machina figure who is still alive at the end;[8] it is an indication of his dramatic irrelevance. I will return to these points later but for now I want to mention the play’s textual history.

 

Textual problems

Shakespeare wrote this play either in 1692 or 1694. The case for 1692 is based entirely on speculation about Shakespeare’s professional relationship with Ferdinando Lord Strange, a descendant of William Stanley the earl of Derby.[9] Although that date cannot be dismissed out of hand, it seems more likely that the play was written in 1594 for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They were by far the most important and influential company of actors and in Richard Burbage they had the greatest actor of his generation. Writing for them was a good career move for Shakespeare who needed a star actor to play Richard. The Tragedy of Richard III together with the three parts of Henry VI comprised Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of history plays.[10] He wrote the second tetralogy about a few years later. Confusingly, these plays are about earlier kings: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. The two tetralogies together chart the course of English history from the reign Richard II to the death of Richard III.

 

It is disappointing — to say the least — that none of the surviving Quarto and Folio texts of this play were authorised by Shakespeare. Experts cannot even be sure whether the synthetic text currently used in performance is an accurate representation of the version first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Quarto text of the play (a small booklet) was printed in 1597 (Q1) and thereafter re-printed five times (in 1598,1602,1605,1612 and 1622). Unfortunately, each re-print was copied from the previous one, thus perpetuating existing errors and adding new ones. Consequently, every print after Q1 is different from every other print, which makes the Quarto version useless as a performance text. It is possible (I put it no higher) that Q1 is a ‘memorial’ version of the play assembled from memory by actors who had lost or forgotten their prompt sheets, or who wished to streamline the play for a provincial performance.[11] The First Folio (F1) version of the play was published in 1623 as part of a compendium of Shakespeare’s plays. It might have been copied from an independent manuscript that pre-dates Q1 (Is it Shakespeare’s original version? Who knows?) Understanding the relationship between these versions of the play is the most difficult textual problem of all Shakespeare’s plays; it has troubled scholars for years. F1 is longer than Q1. Whether, this us due to a reduction in Q1 or an enlargement of F1 is anyone’s guess. All we can truthfully say about these texts is that they differ from each other and are error-full.[12]

 

Coley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor-manager, who at the turn of the eighteenth century wrote and printed a vigorous and populist adaption of Shakespeare’s play. He reduced its length by cutting all but eight hundred lines from Shakespeare and adding two thousand of his own, together with lines from Henry V and Henry VI part 3. The characters of Clarence, Edward IV, Rivers and Queen Margaret are omitted altogether. Despite being mocked at the time for its crudity, Cibber version became the standard performance text from 1700 until 1821. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century that the F1 became the preferred stage text play. Cibber understood his audience. Shakespeare’s play was too long for eighteenth century playgoers who had no connection with, or understanding of fifteenth century politics. The real problem for purists is that Cibber’s adaptation concentrates attention even more on Richard at the expense of his lively interactions with Edward, Clarence, Margaret and Buckingham, which make Shakespeare’s play so compelling.[13] In that sense, Cibber’s alterations are crude.

 

‘The Play’s the thing…’

‘The tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is indubitably a psychological profile of a dramatic villain. Richard’s solo entrance and memorable opening soliloquy are indicative of his dramatic dominance and also of Shakespeare’s artistic intention to create a star theatrical villain rather than continue the cyclic theme of atrocity and revenge, as seen in the Henrician plays.[14] It is a change, which whether intended or not, challenges the idea that the first tetralogy represent a serial epic that is intended to be seen as a set and in sequence after the second tetralogy. It is a conundrum that has produced two distinctly different schools of thought. One is teleological in nature; the other is analogical.

 

The teleological theory interprets the cycle of history plays from Richard II to Richard III within the context of Tudor historiology and literature. The death of Richard III is seen as the preordained end of a curse that had afflicted England since the murder of Richard II. In the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare constantly links the present with the past. He never lets us forget that the usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke and the murder of Richard of Bordeaux were the root causes of division and tumult. Professor EMW Tillyard writing in the mid twentieth century argues that all four plays are united in political themes of order and chaos, and unity and civil war. : “The main business of the play [Richard III] is to complete [the] national tetralogy and to display the working out of God’s plan to restore England to prosperity…in its function of summing-up and completing what has gone before, Richard III inevitable suffers as a detached unit.” [15] He asserts that such a conclusion is inescapable in view of the ‘plays failure to remember’ Clarence’s perjury to Warwick, Queen Margaret’s mock crowning of York, the murder of Rutland and the murder of Prince Edward by York’s sons; If it were not so, implies Tillyard, the play would not make sense to audiences. ” For the purposes of the tetralogy and most obviously for this play, Shakespeare accepted the prevalent belief that God had guided England into the haven of Tudor prosperity” [16] Tillyard’s suggestion that Richard III is a religious play can only be substantiated if it is judged according to the traditional Tudor narrative, wherein both Richard and Richmond are God’s instruments. Richard is God’s scourge; Richmond, his emissary.

 

Tillyard’s only concession to Richard’s dramatic importance is that he is so evil and depraved, and his sins are so vast that his evil is absorptive and not contagious “He is the great ulcer of the body politic into which all impurity is drained and against which all the body politic are united.”[17] Nowadays, Tillyard’s ideas are regarded as sentimental “The view from a Cambridge college window looking out at a world at war [the Second World War] and nostalgic for a more stable and comprehensible historical process”[18] Whilst there are some obvious flaws in professor Tillyard’s logic, it is ridiculous to suggest that his ideas are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. However, his assumption that all Elizabethan’s shared the Tudor view of harmony is patently untrue. There was extreme political and religious division among the population.

 

The play’s theatrical history shows that from the sixteenth century until the twenty first century, political thinkers have used it as a medium for expressing their concerns in times of oppression and/or suppression. These performances use Richard’s rise to power, his elimination of opponents, his dissembling and his amorality as an oblique warning against the onset of tyranny in their own times. The fact that the play lends itself to this approach indicates that it is far more complicated than professor Tillyard suggests. It’s a point picked up by Sir Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of The National Theatre. His production of Richard III starring Ian Mckellen toured the world in 1990 and inspired the subsequent film. Eyre’s decision to set the play in the 1930’s during the rise of Fascism was an artistic one based on his opinion that ” We have to keep thinking of ways of doing Shakespeare’s plays. They don’t have absolute meanings. There is no fixed, frozen way of doing them. Nobody can mine a Shakespeare play and discover a ‘solution’ [sic].” [19] However, in 1991 he took the play to Rumania, which he regarded as its spiritual home and used its enduring political power as a warning against tyrants such as the Romanian despot Ceausescu, and others such as Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Eyre even suggests that Richard III could be seen as a handbook for Tyrants.

 

I must admit that the most memorable performances that I have seen (Olivier, Mckellen, Sher and Rylance) have been when the play was performed alone rather than as one of a sequence of plays. As a schoolboy, I watched the BBC’s 1960 production ‘Age of Kings’ in which  the first and second tetralogies were broadcast over many weeks. As I recall, Paul Daneman was a drab and unconvincing Richard and Sean Connery was a surreal Hotspur. I found Peter Hall’s 1963 RSC production of the Wars of the Roses, which was based on the first tetralogy, equally uninspiring. Ian Holm’s Richard being small of stature was incapable of dominating the play physically or dramatically. I was not impressed. I learned later that this casting was deliberate. The aim was to portray Richard as just another royal pretender.

 

My difficulty with the teleological and analogical concepts is that they are prescriptive. Tillyard’s Richard is God’s instrument and therefore not responsible for his actions as the end is pre-ordained. The notion that the play is actually a metaphor for tyranny is equally limiting since it dismisses Richard as nothing more than a cruel brute of a type that historically were responsible for countless innocent deaths. In my personal opinion, neither approach does justice to Shakespeare’s artistry and this play’s complexity. The reality is that Richard displays aspects of both theories and more. We cannot even be sure of the play’s genre. Shakespeare called it a ‘tragedy’; the compilers of the First Folio, classified it as a ‘history’. In the last century, professor AP Rossiter identified elements of comedy in the play. What are we supposed to think? I don’t believe that Shakespeare’s creativity was limited by anything so rigid as genre. Polonius’ suggests as much in this little speech to Hamlet wherein he introduces ‘the actors’ to the prince. “The best actors in the world either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, not Plautus too light for the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.” [20] I like to think that Shakespeare was writing from his experience with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

 

Shakespeare’s description of the play as a tragedy does not imply an ethical or emotional judgement. It is a definition of the plays structure, which is based on the classical Senecan tragedies that depict the rise of great men and their downfall at fortune’s wheel.[21] It is Shakespeare’s way of heralding his artistic transition from the dramatization of chronicle histories to the creation of a histrionic and complex theatrical protagonist as the centrepiece of his drama. It was professor A P Rossiter in a lecture given ten years after Tillyard’s book who drew attention to the paradoxicality of Richard’s character, which he suggests “…decisively complicates the plays moral and political significance.[22] The problem as Rossiter sees it, is the illogicality between the concept of Richard as ‘a huge triumphant stage figure’ and his depiction by Tillyard within a rigid Tudor concept of retributive justice. Richard contradicts the expressly Christian notion of the Vice character in medieval morality plays; he is “…a heroic exemplar of humankind as being able to exert will; the world is poorer for his loss.”[23] This characterization also undermines the simplistic analogical idea that Richard is simply an evil man in a long line of evil men.

 

Shakespeare’s apparent conformity with conventional Tudor historiography is therefore complicated by his depiction of Richard as a caricature combining features from three theatrical characters familiar to Elizabethan audiences: the ‘de Casibus tragedian’[24], the demonic-comedian Vice character of the morality plays and the Marlovian Machiavellian of the Elizabethan stage. Above all, Shakespeare’s Richard is an actor. He is charming, witty, intelligent and eloquent, and dissembles his many parts so brilliantly that those whom he intends to kill do not realise until the very last moment that he is not their friend. He is Shakespeare’s version of a ‘thoroughly bad man in the role of a monarch and hero’ Rossiter describes him thus: ” He [is] a mocking comedian, a ‘Vice’ king but with a clear inheritance from the old Vice moralities: part symbol of evil, part comic devil and chiefly — on stage — the generator of roars of laughter at wickedness the audience would …condemn in reality.”[25]

 

His sardonic sense of humour is not a conventional rendering of Tudor doctrine. He makes us laugh. We are on his side. We enjoy this gritty comedy because we are Richard’s confidantes. We see the fools he dupes through his eyes and with his mind. We rejoice in their downfall. Richard is not just a consummate actor; he is also a consummate villain. He knows what he wants. He delights in telling us what he is going to do, and he does it. He can assume any mood or passion at will. He is believed without question. He has perfected simulation of every feeling and phrase to serve his purpose. And he has eliminated any weakness that might betray him, such as feelings of compunction, pity and uncertainty of mind.[26] Richard has all the qualities of the complete Machiavellian: ” …lifelong and unremitting vigilance in relentless simulation and indomitable deception.” [27] By presenting Richard in this form, Shakespeare is neither proving nor de-bunking the Tudor myth. Instead of certainty we have only ambiguity.

 

[1] Coley Cibber – The tragical history of King Richard the Third. Altered from Shakespeare by Coley Cibber, Esq. (London 1769 print) p.66

[2] John Jowett (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Oxford 2000) p.17; Annalieze Connelly (ed) – Richard III: a critical reader (Bloomsbury/Arden 2013) pp.111-150 passim.

[3] Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Macmillan/RSC Shakespeare 2008) p.167.

[4] Bate ibid; Connolly pp.33-45 passim; the rise of Material Culturism has politicized the play. Material Culturists use a close examination of the play’s text to identify the ‘dominant hegemonic force in society’ (e.g. Crown, Church, Family and so forth) and the methods for disseminating their doctrine/ideology. By analyzing the text Material Culturists hope to spot examples of dissent and complicity with the dominant force’s doctrine/ideology. It is a methodology that tends to spotlight those people who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized by society, by virtue of their race, religion, gender, class or disability.

[5] Stephen Greenblatt – Tyrant: Shakespeare on power (The Bodley Head 2018) pp.53-95; professor Greenblatt has an interesting theory on tyrants and especially how they come to power. His view of Richard is wholly negative. He is a ‘worthless piece of work. There is no secret about his cynicism, cruelty and [treachery], no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe he could ever rule the country effectively… he leaves nothing behind except wreckage. It would have been better had he never been born’. Greenblatt is a professor of the Humanities and an expert on the works of Shakespeare: I am not. Nevertheless, there is much about his book with which I disagree. It is, I believe a good example of the simplistic thinking that comes from basing an opinion of the play on a study of the text conducted in an academic vacuum without the context of performance. But most of all I cannot accept his premise that Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard is an accurate representation of the real man, or that it was ever intended to be

[6] Greenblatt pp.1-23; contains a discussion on Shakespeare’s freedom of speech in the context of late Elizabethan religious fanaticism, domestic political intrigue and the threat to the English succession from a foreign power.

[7] Jowett pp.11-16

[8] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary – “dues ex machina (literally: ‘God from the machine’): a divine power, event, or person arriving in time to solve a difficulty (often rather contrived) interposition, esp. in a novel or play”. For example, ‘and then I woke up’.

[9] Jowett PP. 4-6; Shakespeare’s manipulation of history to put a positive spin on William Stanley’s part in Richard III’s downfall has tempted some scholars to speculate that the play was written in 1692 for Lord Strange’s Men. Ferdinando Lord Strange was a descendant of the said Thomas Stanley Earl of Derby and also of Henry VII (by Henry’s granddaughter Margaret Clifford). This may explain why Shakespeare has tactfully ignored Stanley’s acquiescence in Hastings’ execution, his part in crushing Buckingham’s rebellion, the rewards he received from King Richard and his ‘wait and see’ policy in 1485. Thomas Stanley is also portrayed as leading the Stanley contingent that surrounded and killed the King, whereas it was actually his brother William. It might also explain why Thomas Stanley has such a prominent role in the final scenes: presenting Henry with his crown and predicting the joyous union of York and Lancaster. Lord Strange and his family were noted for their Roman Catholic sympathies; however, in true Stanley fashion they managed to keep on the right side of the Reformation by hunting down Jesuits. From both the protestant and the catholic perspectives, Strange’s loyalty was suspect.

[10] Jowett pp. 73-74; the three Henrician plays were first published under the following titles: The First part of Henry VI (taken from the First Folio, there being no earlier text); The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster (now Henry VI part 2) and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (now Henry VI part 3).

[11] Bate p.18; the title of the 1597 print makes interesting reading: “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, containing the treacherous plots against his brother Clarence; the pitiful murder of his innocent nephews; his tyrannical usurpation; with the whole course of his detested life and deserved death. As has been lately performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s men, his servants”

[12] Jowett pp.110-120; Bate pp.9-15; both these editors provides extensive discussion on the textual chronology and problems arising from Quarto and Folio editions. See also Julie Hankey (ed) – Shakespeare’s Richard III in Performance (Junction Books 1981) pp. 27-32. It is also worth considering EAJ Honigmann (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1968) pp. 242-244. His textual notes were still helpful to me fifty years after they were written.

[13] Bate p.16; Richard had 32% of the lines in F1; more than any other Shakespearean protagonist except Hamlet (37%). Richmond by comparison has 4% of the lines, which is an index of his artistic importance. In Cibber’s adaptation, Richard’s share rises to 40%.

[14] Richards solo appearance and his opening soliloquy are unique in the Shakespearean canon. He is the only protagonist to open and speak first in his own play.

[15] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) pp.200-04

[16] Tillyard ibid

[17] Tillyard p.208

[18] Connelly pp. 33-45;

[19] Bate and Rasmussen p.200

[20] TJB Spencer (ed) – Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1996) p.115 Act 2, Scene 2; ‘the law of writ and the liberty plays’: Polonius is distinguishing between plays that follow classical principles, like Ben Johnson’s and plays like Shakespeare’s with greater freedom of structure. The mixture of tragical-comical-historical-pastoral seems absurd until we recall that Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline.

[21] Jowett pp. 23-24; Seneca (BC 4-AD 65) was a Roman stoic philosopher and dramatist. He is famous for ten tragical plays that depict the rise of great men and their ruination or self-destruction due to uncontrolled emotion or madness. Seneca was widely read in medieval and renaissance Christendom. His tragedies influenced Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers.

[22] AP Rossiter – Angels with Horns: fifteen lectures on Shakespeare (Longman 1989 edition) pp.1-22; see also Jowett p.10.

[23] Jowett pp.10-11 citing Nicholas Brooke – Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (1968) pp. 78-79.

[24] De Casibus vivorum illustrium (on the fate of famous men): this is an encyclopedia of historical biographies dealing with the fortunes and calamities of famous men from Adam until the fourteenth century: not only their lives, but also their moral virtues.

[25] Rossiter p.15

[26] Rossiter p.17

[27] Rossiter ibid

 

SIR THOMAS MORE , A MAN FOR ALL REASONS: SAINT OR SINNER?

‘Not exactly the horse’s mouth’

In Josephine Tey’s spellbinding novel ‘The Daughter of Time’, Detective Inspector Alan Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a villain on sight. Whilst in hospital with a broken leg, Grant is idly flipping through some old postcard portraits to while away the time. He turns over a portrait of a richly dressed medieval man in his thirties: a judge? A soldier? A prince? Certainly someone with authority and responsibility Grant supposes. Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he realises it is a portrait of Richard III. “The monster of nursery stories. The destroyer of innocents. A synonym for villainy.” Shocked that he could be so mistaken as to place Richard on the Bench instead of in the Dock, Grant delves deeper into the mysteries of his life and reign. A friend lends him a library copy of Thomas More’s ‘The History of King Richard III’, which he reads with a detective’s eye for detail and evidence. Pretty soon he realises the fatal flaw in More’s account and raises the problem on his friend’s return.

” ‘I wanted some information about history written in Richard III’s day. Contemporary accounts.’

‘ Isn’t the sainted Sir Thomas any good then?’

‘ The sainted Sir Thomas is nothing but an old gossip’ Grant said with venom. He had taken a wild dislike to the much-admired More.

‘Oh, dear. And the nice man in the library seemed so reverent about him. The Gospel of Richard III according to St Thomas More, and all that.’

‘Gospel nothing’ Grant said rudely. ‘He was writing down in a Tudor England what someone had told him about events that happened in a Plantagenet England when he himself was five.’

‘Five years old?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, dear. Not exactly the horse’s mouth.’ “

 

I doubt if there are many Ricardians, if any, who would disagree with Inspector Grant’s opinion of ‘the sainted Sir Thomas’ and his history book: and with some justification. It contains many demonstrable errors and falsehoods, which have shaped our perception of Richard III for centuries. Even today, when there is more or less a scholarly consensus about its unreliability, there remains a perception that it is not entirely useless as a historical source.

 

The man who wrote ‘The History of King Richard III’ was not Saint Thomas More the Catholic martyr or Sir Thomas More the king’s Lord Chancellor. He was plain ‘maister’ More of Lincoln’s Inn, a brilliant and successful humanist lawyer and writer. I hope in this article to explore aspects of More’s character and life that may explain why he wrote his history of King Richard, and the historical and literary influences that guided his quill. This is not, however, a critique of this book as literature or history.

 

‘This child will prove a marvelous man’

Thomas More was born in London on the 7th February 1478 (or 1477), the eldest son of Sir John More, a successful lawyer and later justice of the King’s Bench, who rose to prominence during the reign of Edward IV. Politically, Sir John was an Edwardian Yorkist rather than a Ricardian who, despite being unfairly imprisoned by Henry VII, prospered during the Tudor dynasty. He had an enormous influence on Thomas as a child and as an adult; being, largely responsible for his son’s choice of a career at the Bar rather than the Altar. The More’s were a wealthy family of merchants and professionals. Both Thomas’ grandfathers acquired fortunes. Each played a significant part in the governance and commercial life of London during the fifteenth century, and also in various financial and advisory capacities to the king. At the age of seven, Thomas was enrolled in St Anthony’s , a prestigious grammar school in Threadneedle Street not far from his home. It had a reputation for producing England’s finest Latin scholars and Thomas was no exception. His grounding in Latin was to stand him in good stead later in life. But it was his spell as a page in John Morton’s Household that was to mark young Thomas as a teenage prodigy.

 

As Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, Morton was the most powerful commoner in the realm. He united the affairs of church and state, and his service to Lancastrian and Yorkist kings established his reputation for integrity. Furthermore, his part in Henry VII’s conquest of King Richard and the unification of the red and white roses assured Tudor goodwill. His main responsibilities were implementing the king’s fiscal and foreign policies, for which he was amply rewarded with lucrative offices and beneficiaries. Morton was, however, deeply unpopular with the king’s subjects, who resented the heavy load of taxation and benevolences he collected from them. He is (perhaps mistakenly) believed to have been responsible for the cunning argument commonly known as Morton’s fork, which was used to extract forced loans from reluctant subjects and is best described as “persuading prodigals to part with their money because they did spend it most and the covetous because they could spare it best.”[1]

 

In 1490, Thomas More walked the relatively short distance across the Thames to Lambeth Palace, there to take up his duties in the archbishop’s household. His position as a page was not demeaning. On the contrary, it was considered a privilege for gentlemens’ sons to serve in the household of a great lord. They would learn the etiquette of the privileged and mix with the good and the great. As a page, More led a strict and simple life but not a hard one. He slept on a straw mattress in a dormitory with other sons of the gentry. His principal duties as a servitor were to wait at table and clear away after the meal. Cleanliness was particularly important for pages and their dorm was well equipped with a long communal sink and pitchers of water. However, More’s life was not wholly one of servitude and menial labour. He continued his education as a scholar at a private school within the archbishop’s establishment. Apparently, his superior intellect and quickness of wit so impressed the archbishop, that More was soon attending him in his grace’s private chambers in the West Tower.[2] William Roper (More’s son-in-law and first biographer) provides a colourful insight into More’s prodigious self-confidence at this time “…though he was young of years [Thomas] would be at Christmas-tide suddenly sometimes step in among the players and never studying the matter, make a part his own there presently among them, which made the lookers-on more sport than all the players besides. In whose wit and forwardness the cardinal [Morton was not a cardinal at the time.] would often say to the nobles that divers times dined with him ‘ This child there waiting at the table, whosoever shall live to see it, will prove a marvellous man‘.”[3]

 

More had great respect for archbishop Morton, whom he considered to be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour. I am not myself convinced that Morton was such a paragon of virtue; yet, he was undoubtedly one of the most imposing political figures of Henry VII’s reign. His influence in shaping More’s career is undisputed. For example, in 1494 he was instrumental in arranging a place for him at Oxford University, where More could study canon and civil law under the watchful eye of the Benedictine monks of Canterbury College. Morton hoped that More would obtain his doctorate in law before taking holy orders and embarking on a career in government. However, after completing the curriculum, More left Oxford to join chambers in New Inn, there to continue his legal training. Whether this was his own choice or his father’s decision is unclear, but it is likely that it was always intended that he should practice law. If so, this was the preferred path for budding lawyers, who spent six or seven years learning their profession and ‘the affairs of men’ in the hurly-burly of the Inns of Court rather than in the cloisters of Oxford, which offered no such practical or material benefit. As Thomas More was to show throughout adult life, he was a practical and materialistic man. Quite apart from the influence of his father or archbishop Morton, the attraction of a legal career was obvious to him. Lawyers were held to be magni clarique that is important and distinguished. By the last decade of the fifteenth century, the rewards of prestige and wealth were such that the sons of the landed gentry preferred a legal career to one in the Church or in business. Just as importantly, an education in the law brought the ambitious More into contact with precisely those people who later administered the affairs of the king and state. Above all, he was temperamentally suited to be a lawyer. His advocacy skills were high quality and well honed. In the words of his most recent biographer “His polemical texts reveal the persistence, subtlety and inventiveness of his attacks against opponents; as a forensic orator and judicial examiner he [was] as fierce as he is persuasive, continually changing or extending his line of attack, looking for the smallest inconsistencies, finding weakness and deriding mistakes of terminology or presentation. More as a man is the apotheosis of the clever and practical man.”[4] He maintained a curious detachment throughout his life and was always precise and shrewd. Nevertheless, the impression remains that he was playing some kind of game. In the words of William Roper, he never in his dealings showed “of what mind himself was therein.” These were the qualities of a perfect lawyer: skilful and objective, cautious yet theatrical, persuasive and practical.

 

‘An intensely practical and decisive man’[5]

By the time he was thirty, More’s legal practice was flourishing. He was by training and by experience a generalist; appearing, as counsel in criminal cases at the Kings Bench and advising clients on, the common law, Canon law, Roman law and maritime law. He is reputed to have been ‘with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the dominant landowner) every day. He was also the legal representative for the City guilds and chief negotiator for the City mercers. He represented the City merchants in their dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and the Bishop of Norwich. In litigation he favoured advising a settlement between the parties to a trial, since this compromise suited his personal preference for good order and harmony. In Soper’s words“…sith there was at that time in none of the Prince’s courts of the laws of this realm any matter of importance in controversy wherein he was not with the one part of counsel. Of whom, for his learning, wisdom, knowledge and experience, men had such estimation that, before he came to the service of king Henry VIII at the suite and instance of the English merchants, he was by the king’s consent in certain great causes between them merchants and the merchants of [the Hanseatic League]…”[6]

 

By the time he was forty, More’s legal future was assured. He was appointed Lent Leader of Lincoln’s Inn, where he lectured on ‘Law-French in Statutes’. His subsequent appointment as Double Reader suggested he could anticipate elevation to the bench. In 1510, he received his first judicial appointment as one of two Under-Sheriffs of London, hearing criminal trials in the Sherriff’s Court, Guildhall and acting as official counsel to various City bodies. He earned the respect and affection of the City for his fair and quick decisions and his habit of occasionally remitting the fees that the litigants were expected to pay. There is, however, another side to More’s legal character, which is revealed by his involvement in the ‘Hunne Case’. This controversial and notorious litigation involved a direct attack on the authority of the Catholic Church. It may even be taken as an indication of the Protestant reformation yet to come in England.

 

Richard Hunne was a wealthy Whitehall tailor who refused to make a customary offering to his local rector. His case was taken to Lambeth Palace, where Hunne was adjudged to be at fault. Still he refused to pay. On Hunne’s next attendance at his parish church, the priest (Thomas Dryfield) excommunicated him with the words ‘Hunne thou art accursed and thou standest accursed’. Exiled from his community and with his mortal soul at risk, Hunne hit back. He issued a writ of praemunire accusing Dryfield and his assistant of slander. By invoking the Praemunire Act of 1393, Hunne was asserting the king’s superiority over papal authority and clerical courts, as the final arbiter of his subject’s rights. He argued that the church authorities had no right to claim his property and further that the hearing at Lambeth Palace took place before a ‘foreign and illegal bar.’ The ecclesiastical authorities responded by charging Hunne with heresy and imprisoning him in the Lollard’s Tower. It seems to us like a fabricated charge; except, that Hunne did have Lollard sympathies and connections. His father-in-law was an evangelist in that cause. It may even have been Hunne’s Lollard beliefs that prompted him to challenge the legitimacy of the offering in the first place. The case had a sensational outcome as Hunne was found hanged in his cell before he could be brought to trial. The Church authorities said that he hanged himself; whereas, the Coroner’s inquest determined that Dr Horsey the bishop of London’s Chancellor had murdered Hunne. The public furore that followed was exacerbated by the Bishop of London’s decision to convict Hunne of heresy posthumously. His remains were exhumed and ceremoniously burned at Smithfield along with his books. Hunne’s death and the denial of secular justice against his murderer raised serious questions about the rights of clerics to be tried only in Church courts. The matter was considered so important that it was debated in parliament and in convocations. The king himself initiated a number of debates on the Hunne case and its consequences.

 

More was involved in the case. He attended a conference with the king where Hunne’s death was discussed. He was also present when the ecclesiastical judgement was passed on Hunne’s body. More was later to write ” I know it from top to toe. I suppose there are not many men who know it better.”[7] Afterward, he wrote a colourful and amusing account of the conference with the king, in which he ‘goes to great pains’ to defend the Church from ‘each and every criticism’ and concludes that Hunne committed suicide when he realised his praemunire suite had failed. “There is no reason to believe that More was deliberately misrepresenting the truth he was only putting what was natural to him in putting a lawyers gloss on ambiguous circumstances.”[8] Whilst, they must not mislead the court or conceal relevant information, it is not unusual for lawyers to put a positive spin on a weak case. After all, their professional duty is to their client and not to a search for truth. The jury (or the court in certain circumstances) are the sole arbiters of truth. What is disturbing, however, is Ackroyd’s explanation for More’s conclusion, which he suggests was based on More’s personal beliefs rather than the merits. “Lawyers are not necessarily supposed to be devout or principled except in the minutiae of legislation but for More the law was a central image of natural reason and authority. It furnished the principles which governed his behaviour in the world, established upon order in all its forms.”[9] If Ackroyd’s is right, More’s apparent loss of objectivity goes beyond putting a positive spin on a weak case; it perpetuates an injustice. The fact that More admitted he did not shrink from mendaciolum (a small lie) suggests how difficult and tricky he could be.[10]

 

‘A man for all seasons’

We know from More’s published works (poems, epigrams, polemics, letters and books) that he was well able to express his opinions and emotions on parchment or in print. Although his style was more Chaucer (bawdy, earthy) than Spenser (poetic), he had a flair for drama, and used his literary skills to educate rather than to entertain. It was while he was studying at Oxford and later in the Inns of Court that More came increasingly under the influence of a group of literary clerical scholars, known collectively as English renaissance humanists. He was well acquainted with the Latin grammarian John Holt and he studied Greek under William Grocyn, the first Englishman to teach it. Later he became associated with Thomas Linacre the eminent physician and scholar, and with the erudite John Colet. The term ‘renaissance humanism’ does not denote that these learned clerics and others like them held a common philosophical position, since they did not. Their appellation as humanists is derived simply from the fact that they studied a cluster of scholarly disciplines comprising grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and ‘moral philosophy’. Classical Latin and Greek were the languages of these men. It is possible, that More’s association with such erudite ecclesiastics caused him to contemplate swapping a temporal career for a spiritual calling. At any rate, at the turn of the century he abandoned his legal practice and entered the Carthusian Monastery at Charterhouse, just outside the city walls, where he remained for four years as a lay member, participating fully in the spiritual life of the monks without taking holy orders. Eventually, the call of his temporal ‘work in the world’ proved too enticing for More the practical man. He left the monastery to stand for parliament.

 

The most famous of all northern European humanists was Desiderius Erasmus (the ‘prince of humanists’), whom More met and became friends with in 1499. Erasmus described More as a ‘man for all seasons’ due to his ‘affability and sweetness of character’. In 1516, he published More’s most celebrated volume ‘Utopia’, which in its structure and content reveals the author’s humanist leanings; as does his most controversial book ‘The History of Richard III’. These two volumes are a clear indication of More’s philosophical interest in the contrast between just and unjust kingship, and that his concern was not restricted to the lessons of Richard III’s reign. In a Latin poem written to celebrate Henry VIII’s accession, More highlights the ‘atmosphere of fear and suspicion’ caused by Henry VII’s rapacity, which, incidentally, was an opinion shared by many of More’s contemporaries. Nonetheless, the promise of a ‘golden age’ that accompanied Henry VIII’s accession was the redeeming finale of More’s poem, in which he expressed the hope that Henry would repeal unjust laws and remit unfair debts, and that he would maintain the peace and stability that allowed piety and scholarship to blossom.[11]

 

“One thing pretended and another meant”

I must now turn to More’s ‘History of Richard III, which I will refer to as the ‘History’ from now on. While we can speculate why More wrote it, we cannot dismiss it merely as Tudor propaganda.[12] That is the opinion of professor Richard Sylvester In his definitive study of the History. Sylvester argues that More was neither pro-Tudor nor anti-Plantagenet. He was as much pro-Edward IV as he was anti Richard III. For instance, even as he welcomed the accession of Henry VIII he took the opportunity, in the celebratory poem to which I have already referred, to criticise the ‘oppressive acts and devious dealings of Henry VII. He makes a similar point, albeit obliquely, in the History: “…all things in later days were so covertly managed, one thing pretended another meant, that there was nothing so plain and openly proved but that for common custom of close and covert dealings men had it ever inwardly suspect…[13] More is not here just referring to the reign of Richard III but also to the reign of Henry VII during the period when Perkin Warbeck was a threat to the Tudor hegemony. In Sylvester’s opinion, More has depicted Richard as a cacodemon because that is what his oral and written authorities told him. He accepted their narrative not because he was biased but because he trusted them. Chief among these authorities was John Morton. He played a big part in the downfall of king Richard and was an eyewitness of some events. He also possessed (in More’s opinion) ‘the very mother and mistress of wisdom and deep insight into the political world.[14] The fact that Morton died in 1500 and that More did not begin composing the History until about 1513 (leaving it unfinished around 1518-20) raises interesting questions about Morton’s contribution. What did he know? And, how did he contribute to the History?

 

I will deal with the second question first because it raises the issue of authorship. Beginning, with the early revisionist histories of king Richard’s life and reign, some scholars have doubted More’s authorship of either the English or the Latin, or both editions of the History. For revisionists’ the dichotomy between More’s reputation for integrity and his polemical History is explained by substituting the wily and inveterate schemer Morton as the author of (at least) the Latin version. Support for this contention was claimed from a piece of ‘literary gossip’ that appeared in an aside is Sir John Harrington’s book ‘The Metamorphosis of Ajax’ (1596) ‘”…the best, and best written part of all our Chronicles, in all mens opinions; is that of Richard III, written as I have heard by Morton, but as most suppose by that worthy and uncorrupt [sic] magistrate Sir Thomas More…” [15] As Dr Kincaid points out, ‘Harrington was an inveterate gossip, not necessarily to be believed’.[16]

There is, however, better reason for believing that Morton gave More a ‘polemical tract’ attacking king Richard, which the latter probably used as an aide-memoire for his own narrative.[17] Be that as it may, the case for More’s authorship of the English and Latin versions of the History is considered by modern scholars to be unanswerable.[18]

 

On the question of what Morton knew, we must bear in mind that as important as he was, Morton was only an eyewitness to some of the events of 1483. There is much in More’s History that could not possibly have come from him or the clique of Lancastrian dissidents who shared Richmond’s exile and (no doubt) dined with the archbishop at Lambeth Palace. Morton was not, for example, present at Stony Stratford when the Duke of Gloucester arrested the king’s uncle and stepbrother. Neither was he present when the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son, Richard duke of York, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. Furthermore, Morton is not an eyewitness to the alleged murders of Edward V and his brother.[19] Though, he might well be the instigator of the rumour that they had been murdered. More’s other oral sources included but were not limited to: Sir John More, John Roper, Richard Fitzjames, Sir Thomas Lovell (fought for Richmond at Bosworth), Christopher Urswick (priest and Tudor spy in 1483), Bishop Fox of Winchester (in exile with Richmond), Roger Lupton (Mayor of London) and Sir John Heron (an early adherent to Richmond). When he cites one of these ‘authorities’ or others who occupied similar positions, he usually refers to them in the phrase ‘men say’. The opinion of these ‘wise’ men was much valued by More. He relied on them when balancing different interpretations against each other. Generally, More is not too concerned about the accuracy of dates, names and places since these could be checked later (but never were). What is notable, however, is that he never spoke to anyone at Henry’ VII’s court who had served king Richard or who could even be said to have liked the dead king.

 

In addition to his oral authorities, More had a number of written works available for consultation. Some of these pre-date the History, whilst others are contemporary with it. Pietro Carmeliano was a court scholar during the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII who wrote the ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’. He extolled Richard’s princely virtues when he was alive and denounced him as a tyrant when he was dead.[20] Bernard André’ was Henry VII’s official biographer. He wrote ‘Vita Henrici’, in which he to portrayed king Henry as angelic and king Richard as demonic. The sycophant John Rous wrote ‘Historia Regum Angliae’, during the reign of Henry VII. He denounced king Richard as the anti-Christ having previously acclaimed him for his nobility and virtues. Whether or not More used the Chronicles of Robert Fabyan, Polydore Vergil’s ‘Anglica Historia’ or Domenico Mancini’s ‘De Occupations Regni Anglie Per Ricardum Tercium Libellus’ is a matter of pure conjecture.[21] Some of More’s factual inaccuracies suggest that either he did not know of the Second Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle or he had not read it. Even so, it is safe to say that he would hardly have credited a less defamatory portrait of king Richard than the one he describes in the History. In the words of professor Sylvester: “The indictment against the king had been drawn-up by men whose judgement he respected; it’s terms were supported not only by most of his oral informants but also by writers whose version of events had been set down before he began to compose his own narrative.”[22] In early Tudor England there was hardly a voice raised in defence of the last Plantagenet. The official records such as Titular Regius and Richard’s signet letters were almost certainly not available to More. It is only by comparing his narrative with credible contemporary sources that we can test the historical accuracy of More’s History.

 

Although More’s portrait of Richard accurately reflects the opinion current in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII and some details can be corroborated by independent records (e.g. the allegation that Edward V was bastardised due to his parents’ bigamous marriage), there are some notable errors and omissions in the History for which there is no excuse. These range from getting Edward IV’s age wrong to naming Elizabeth Lucy as the lady alleged to have still been married to Edward IV when he wedded Elizabeth Butler. However, what Inspector Grant and others overlook in their criticism of More’s History, is that he never claimed it was anything other than a reflection of public opinion in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Neither did he claim to be more authoritative than his sources. “He asks us not to credit that ‘what men say’ happened, did happen, but that they really said it did happen.”[23]

 

Professor Paul Kendall is not sure whether More ever intended the History to be factual. He suggests that what More learned from his sources, he used to fashion a version of events that satisfied his humanist leanings. “A dramatic boldly performed narrative soaring beyond actualities into art and seek psychological verisimilitude rather than factual accuracy.[24] Writing from a purely literary perspective, professor EMW Tillyard also believed that More’s History was intentionally creative rather than historical. “More’s History transcends the sorting of evidence and abides as a classic record of fundamental human nature”. In Tillyard’s opinion it has tragedy and comedy. “The episode where Queen Elizabeth is persuaded to give her youngest son into the care of Richard Gloucester is more tragic than anything the English drama produced till the great age.” On the comic side, Tillyard draws attention to Dr Shaa’s pre-arranged Sermon at St Paul’s Cross, which descends from high drama to farce thanks to Gloucester’s mistimed entrance.[25] Even so, there is no doubting More’s contribution to the shaping of Richard III’s black legend. He was the first to suggest that Richard had ‘long forethought’ to seize the throne, even before his brother was dead. And it is More’s narrative that names Richard as the prompter and guiding spirit behind all the events that followed Edward IV’s death.

 

Even though More’s reasons for writing the History are wholly obscure now, post-Tudor scholars have repeatedly question his motives and what he actually thought he was writing. For example, Kendall writes that he ‘undoubtedly set about his History for the same reason that according to Falstaff the earl of Worcester rebelled ‘it lay in his way and he found it’.[26] Whereas, Horace Walpole writing in 1768 believed that “[More] wrote his History to amuse his leisure and exercise his fancy.”[27] These seemingly flippant reasons might be closer to the mark than we think. For instance, Peter Ackroyd raises the intriguing possibility that both the English and the Latin versions of the History were written as a rhetorical and grammatical exercise for Oxford students.[28] The supporting evidence for this theory is both circumstantial and cryptic; yet, it does exist. First, there is More’s mysterious reference to a ‘schoolmaster of Poles’ (St Paul’s?): second, there is the fact that one of the extant manuscripts of this work is endorsed with the preface that it was written exercitationis gratia (‘for the sake of practice’). Finally, there is the fact that both the Latin and the English versions comply with More’s own methods of composition and revision, which he also impressed on his children.[29] As Ackroyd notes, More’s humanism had a practical purpose, and as a successful lawyer he was more interested in the practice and usage of advocacy than its theory. It is possible, therefore, that the long and complex debates on the merits and abuses of sanctuary and on king Richard’s royal title, which dominate the History ,are lessons in the art of disputation similar to those experienced by More during his own education.[30] The speechmaking is certainly more reminiscent of an exposition of the law than a record of what was actually said by those present in 1483. “One of the models of its form is clearly Sallust and More had been instructed to teach Sallust at Oxford. He had also recommended that author for his children’s’ reading. And what could be a better way of studying classical rhetoric and vocabulary than to apply them to the description of more recent events” [31] It is equally possible that More’s humanist leanings, his interest in history and in ‘kingship’, and his contact with Morton and the men who had fought King Richard, fuelled a ‘boyish interest’ in the dead king. His own interest in the classical Greek and Roman historians may have encouraged him to emulate them. In particular, he had a deep interest in the accounts of Tiberius’ tyranny, which were written by Tacitus and Suetonius.

 

It is more likely, however, that he wrote the History for a substantial reason other than mere interest.[32] He may have intended it to be a metaphor for his own doubts and his fear of Henry VIII’s instinct for despotism, which was already apparent by the time he was writing the History. He could not make his thoughts plain on pain of death, so his message is more oblique and very cleverly constructed. Nothing in More’s History could be mistaken as applying to Henry VIII. Read literally, it coruscates king Richard’s tyranny whilst justifying the Henrician Tudors as the opponents of tyranny. More’s philosophical and psychological interest in tyranny and government is evidenced by his poems and other written works: especially Utopia. The History may have been an attack on the real-politick of his day. He may even have regarded it as a worked example wherein a ‘good’ monarch would benefit from its powerful depiction of monstrous injustice. Of course the corollary of this was that it might give the potential despot ideas about subtleties of policy, which later generations would identify as Machiavellian. It would indeed be unfortunate if it provided Henry VIII with a convincing illustration of what he could do given free rein to his powers.

 

Whatever More’s reason for writing the History may have been, he put down his quill sometime between 1518 and 1520. He never returned to his manuscripts, which remained unfinished and unrevised; clearly, it was not meant for publication. The reasons for this have troubled Scholars almost as much as More’s reason for picking-up his quill in the first place. There are many different theories, two of which, bear testament to More’s concerns about the Henry VIII despotic tendencies. Sylvester postulates that he might have been troubled by the possibility that it would become a kind of ‘manual’ for Henry if he wished to exercise his will unfettered. More could not take that risk and so the History remained unfinished. Professor Kendall notes that More stopped just as Richmond was about to enter the narrative. At which point it became too dangerous for More to write about Henry VII’s oppression even by analogy. And so, the History remained unfinished and unpublished in More’s lifetime.[33] The third theory is more mundane but equally credible. It is possible that he simply lost interest in the project, particularly if it really was nothing more than a student exercise. Anyhow, by the second decade of the sixteenth century, More might still have been making-up his mind about the role he was to play in the king’s service. His life as a royal servant promised to be challenging, since the king was more often guided by his personal will and appetites than by reason. Although such wilful governance was anathema to More, he was confident of his ability to ‘bend with the wind’, so that what he couldn’t turn to good he could make less bad. He always gave his opinion according to his conscience when asked, but he never opposed the king’s will publicly. In view of the difficulty of maintaining a distinction between his private and public beliefs, it is possible the More simply abandoned the History in favour of his little booklet Utopia, which expertly expressed his own private views of governance and kingship even more obliquely than the History.[34]

 

Finally, it is possible that More became too embroiled with advising the king on the Lutheran texts that were appearing in England around this time. He was one of those who advised Henry on his own written defence of the Catholic faith, which earned him the title ‘Fidei defensor (defender of the faith). More himself took up the cudgel in support of his king, trading insult for insult with Martin Luther in a series of booklets. Compared to the existential threat to the established Church posed by Luther’s heretical doctrine, More may have considered the History a self-indulgent trifle.

[1] Peter Ackroyd – The Life of Thomas More (Vintage 1999) p.31 quoting from E Foss – Judges of England (London 1848-64) p.66

[2] Ackroyd p.28

[3] Richard Sylvester and Davis Harding (Eds) – Two Early Tudor Lives: the Life and death of cardinal Wolsey by Geo Cavendish & the Life of Sir Thomas More by William Roper (Yale 1962) pp.197-98

[4] Ackroyd p.52

[5] Ackroyd p.148

[6] Sylvester (Roper) p.200

[7] Ackroyd p.151; citing The Complete Works of Thomas More (Yale) V6, p. 318

[8] Ackroyd p.152

[9] Ibid

[10] Ackroyd p. 163-164; in a letter to Wolsey, More explains that the post of Canonry of Tournai had previously been conferred on his friend Erasmus, and that as compensation for Erasmus withdrawing from it, a better or greater provision should be made for him. None of this was true, of course, but it illustrates More’s willingness to lie.

[11] Ackroyd p.127

[12] Richard Sylvester (Ed) – The History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More (Yale 1963) p. lxv and passim

[13] Sylvester (Roper) pp. 81-82 and n82/22 p.262; see also Paul Kendall (ed) – The Great Debate (Folio Society 1965) p.103; Kendall contains a useful modern English version of More’s History.

[14] Sylvester (History) p. lxvii

[15] Elizabeth Storey Donno (Ed) – Sir John Harrington: a new discourse of a stale subject, called The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) (London 1962) pp. 107-198

[16] AN Kincaid (Ed) – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) p.iii

[17] Sylvester (History) pp.lix-lxxiii; AN Kincaid (Ed) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir Geo Buck (1619) (Alan Sutton 1979) Chapter VII passim: Buck said he saw the tract, which is no longer extant

[18] Sylvester (History) ibid; citing RW Chambers – The authorship of ‘The History of King Richard III’ in WE Campbell (Ed) – The English Works of Sir Thomas More (London 1931) pp. 24-53; Kincaid

[19] Sylvester (History) ibid; citing AJ Pollard – The Making of Thomas More’s Richard III published in ‘Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait (Manchester 1933) pp.223-284

[20] Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure for Richard III’s biographical exhibition at the NPG 1973. Carmeliano’s ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’ was exhibited at the NPG in 1973 (No.100). It is a second copy dedicated to Sir Robert Brackenbury and contains a glowing description of king Richard’s virtues in peace and war (‘…what emperor or prince can compare with him in good works and munificence”.). However, in 1486 in a poem dedicated to the new-born Prince Arthur, he charged Richard ‘the tyrant’ with the murder of his nephews.

[21] Sylvester (History) p.lxxi-lxxv; see also CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. xix-xx. Dr Armstrong discusses the relationship between Mancini and More in which he raises concerns about the provenance of More’s information. The importance of this lies in the fact that Mancini substantiates More ‘on many points’. In fact, More and Mancini are closer to each other than to the Croyland Continuation or to Polydor Vergil. The point is, of course, that they were probably using the same informants. Given that these informants were Richard’s political and dynastic opponents it is hardly surprising that they coincide on some points. What is remarkable is that they don’t agree on much more, since there are some significant discrepancies. Furthermore, as Dr Armstrong acknowledges Mancini harboured an unreasoned animus towards king Richard (that he was all along aiming for the throne) (Mancini p.17)

[22] Sylvester (History) p.lxx

[23] Sylvester (History) p.lxxviii

[24] Kendal p.25

[25] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) p.38

[26] Kendal p.25; this is a reference to a comment by Sir john Falstaff, a character in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV part 1.

[27] Kendal p.170

[28] Ackroyd p.157

[29] Sylvester (History) p.xii; in a ‘charming’ letter to his children, More admonishes them to write everything in English first ‘for then you will have far less trouble turning it into Latin; not having to look for the matter, your mind will be intent only on the language’. He also emphasises the need for revision to detect and correct solecisms. More was given to the careful revision of his own work, which, as Sylvester points out, may have served as a kind of paradigm for the complex sequence of drafts that were developed in the composition of the HISTORY

[30] Sylvester (History) pp.26-38`; see also Kendal pp.50-62. In the fifteenth century the abuses of sanctuary argued by Buckingham were a bone of contention between the laity and the clergy. By the time More was writing the History the privileges of sanctuary were much reduced.

[31] Ackroyd ibid; Goius Sallustius Crispus (‘Sallust’) (86 BC-35BC), was a Roman historian whose works were noted for their brevity, the use of rare words and unusual phrases.

[32] Sylvester (History) pp. xcviii-xcvix passim

[33] Sylvester (History) pp. cii-ciii; Kendall p.28; who notes the irony of More’s position in that his defamation of Richard III came in part from his detestation of Henry VII’s statecraft.

[34] George M Logan (ed) – Thomas More: Utopia (Cambridge UP 2016, 3 rd edition)

The King’s bishop? What did John Russell know in 1483?

 

“ ‘Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’

‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night time’

‘The dog did nothing in the night time’

‘That is the curious incident ‘ remarked Sherlock Holmes.”[1]

 

By applying his reasoning to this simple observation, the world’s foremost consulting detective was able to solve the mysterious disappearance of Silver Blaze and identify John Straker’s killer. Holmes’ recognized that the key to solving the case was to understand why the guard dog did not bark during the theft of Colonel Ross’ prize racehorse. It is a useful reminder for me that the key to a mystery often lies in understanding the patterns of behaviour of those involved: their actions and their inaction. The late Dr Pamela Tudor-Craig adopted a similar approach to the central mystery of King Richard’s life and reign: the disappearance of the Princess in the Tower. In a short essay entitled ‘People About Richard III’, she highlights Richard’s relationship with those bishops who accepted his patronage and invites the question, which is not altogether rhetorical, why did these holy men accept preferment at Richard’s hand if he was the monster of Tudor tradition? [2]

 

These bishops will be familiar names to students of the Wars of the Roses and especially to Ricardians: John Russell Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Langton Bishop of St David’s and later of Salisbury and John Shirwood Bishop of Durham. All these clerics served previously under Lancastrian and Yorkist kings; none could be described as Richard’s friend, and all were men of great learning and piety. Russell was the Lord Chancellor from 1483 until 1485; Stillington was, for a time, Lord Chancellor to Edward IV. It was Stillington who is purported to have reported Edward IV’s earlier marriage to Eleanor Talbot (the ‘pre-contract’). Shirwood owed his bishopric to Richard’s preferment. He was an early English humanist, an avid collector of classic Greek and Roman literature and a protégé of George Neville. During Edward IV’s reign his loyalty was suspect.[3] King Richard, who thought better of him, appointed Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Bishop Langton was also appointed at Richard’s behest.[4] He was a borderer and accompanied Richard in his first royal progress, writing approvingly of him to the prior of Christ Church Canterbury.[5] After Bosworth, Stillington was arrested for his part in Richard’s accession and then pardoned. Russell and Shirwood, however, continued in royal service; Russell, as a diplomat and Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Langton actually flourished under the first Tudor king, reaching the dizzy height of archbishop elect of Canterbury shortly before his death in 1500. Yet none of these men denounced Richard as a regicide or said anything about the disappearance of Edward IV’s sons, not even when it was a safe to accuse him of practically anything. Given the antipathy in the Tudor narrative towards the last Plantagenet, their silence is curious feature of the most famous of all English historical mysteries.

 

It is, of course, a moot point whether the bishops actually knew anything about what was happening to Edward’s sons in 1483. With the exception of Russell, none of them were at the centre of Richard’s government. Dr Tudor-Craig points to the chance that they might have known what was happening through a possible friendship between Shirwood and Dr John Argentine. It remains, however, no more than a possibility. The only known copy of Shirwood’s ‘Mathematical Game’ (no.106) is of particular relevance to this exhibition since it belonged to John Argentine, Edward V’s physician who gave such a foreboding report of his charge to Mancini.[6] Argentine may well have been an Italian and he was an industrious collector of books. The strong possibility that he knew Shirwood during the summer of 1483 in London reduces the likelihood that these distinguished prelates could have accepted patronage at Richard III’s hand in ignorance of the true state of affairs. Either Argentine’s words as reported by Mancini were not meant to carry a sinister gloss, or the clerics had accommodating consciences.[7]

 

Be that as it may, there was certainly one among them who was well placed to know the truth. It is likely that John Russell the Lord Chancellor was privy to Richard’s intention towards his nephews. Judging from the surviving signet and Chancery letters, their working relationship was close. Richard trusted Russell to deal with secret/confidential matters of great delicacy and moment, even those that occurred during his royal progress. Such trust is all the more remarkable since it appears that Russell was not, as some suppose, a trimmer or tame Ricardian but an outspoken critic of the petition presented to Parliament in 1484 setting out Richard’s royal title and also of Titulus Regius in the form it was enacted, and indeed, of the turbulence leading to Richard’s accession. It is not my intention to go into that issue now, since it is beyond my scope. I will confine myself to exploring Russell’s relationship with his king through three surviving letters from their correspondence. Obviously, the subject and the content of each letter is important because they each touch on events taking place between summer and autumn 1483, which is the critical period for analysing the disappearance of the two princes. All the same, they cannot be considered in a vacuum that ignores Russell’s constitutional position as Lord Chancellor and the evolving realpolitik of the times.

 

The Lord Chancellor

Professor Charles Ross describes the office of Lord Chancellor as ‘the most responsible clerical office in the gift of the crown’.[8] His use of the adjective ‘clerical’ perhaps betrays his ignorance of its several meanings (‘learned pertaining to the clergy, or clerk pertaining to copying and general office work’[9]) but more likely it reveals his unawareness of the constitutional importance of the Lord Chancellor. It was then, and remains, one of the great offices of state. Although Russell was indeed a cleric, his responsibilities were secular and serious; any implication that he was a glorified chief clerk is ludicrous. In the fifteenth century the Lord Chancellor was the nearest equivalent of a modern Prime Minister. He was a key official in the Royal Household the king’s principal advisor, and his formal link with parliament, and the machinery of government at Westminster. It was the Lord Chancellor who delivered the official sermon at the opening of parliament setting out the reason for its summons and the king’s plans. In addition, he had a judicial responsibility as the king’s liaison with the judiciary and presiding judge in the Chancery Court of England. It is true that Russell was a bureaucrat and not a politician; however, as an experienced, and talented administrator and lawyer he was eminently suitable for this office. His appointment had the unqualified approval of Sir Thomas More, probably the most famous Lord Chancellor of all, who described Russell as ‘ a wise man of much experience and one of the most learned men England had at this time’.[10] Dominic Mancini writing at the end of 1483 concurred with More’s opinion; he described Russell as a man of ‘great learning and piety.’[11]

 

‘The Chancellor is desperate and not content’

I need not describe the course of events between Edward IV’s untimely death in April 1483 and the bastardization of his heirs in June, since they are well known and, in any case, do not add to the substance of my argument. What matters from my perspective is Russell’s reaction to those events. For my purposes the narrative begins after lunch on Friday the 13 June 1483. William Lord Hastings had just been summarily executed on a convenient log for (it is alleged) plotting to kill the Lord Protector and Henry Stafford Duke of Buckingham, his henchman. The Archbishop of York (Thomas Rotherham), the Bishop Ely (John Morton) and assorted others have also been arrested. And there is panic on the streets of London. On the Monday following, the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son Richard the duke of York, the heir presumptive, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey to attend his brother’s coronation. That afternoon in council the coronation was postponed. The alarm of Londoners following these events is tangible and it seems from the evidence of two independent sources that the Chancellor John Russell was also deeply troubled by the turn of events.

 

The first source is an undated memorandum written by George Cely, an English wool merchant, which must have been written between the 13th and 25th of June 1483. It contains the key description of Russell’s mood: ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, [my emphasis] the bishop of Ely is dead, if the king, God save his life were deceased, the duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my lord prince, whom God defend were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.[12]

 

The other account is a letter written by Simon Stallworth (one of Russell’s secretaries) on the 21 June 1483 to Sir William Stonor. It is worth quoting in full. ‘Worshipful sir I commend me to you and for tidings I hold you happy that you are out of the press, for with us is much trouble and every man doubts [the] other. As on Friday last was the Chamberlain [Hastings] beheaded soon upon noon. On Monday last was at Westminster a great plenty of harnessed men, there was the deliverance of the Duke of York to my lord Cardinal, my Lord Chancellor and many other lords temporal and with him met my lord of Buckingham in the midst of the hall at Westminster…It is thought there shall be 20 thousand men of  my Lord Protector and my lord Buckingham’s men in London this week to which intent I know not but to keep the peace. My lord [Russell] has much            business and more than he is content with, if any other way would be taken [my emphasis]. The lord archbishop of York and the bishop of Ely are at the Tower with master Oliver King (I suppose they shall come out nevertheless). There are men in their places for safekeeping [guards?] And suppose that there shall be men of my Lord Protectors sent to his lordship’s place in the country. They are not  like to come out of ward yet. As for Forster he is in hold for his mew for (to plead for?) his life. Mistress Shore is in prison. What shall happen here I know not. I pray you pardon me from writing I am so sick I may not well hold my pen…All the Lord Chamberlain’s men become my lord of Buckingham’s men.’ [13]

 

These strictly contemporary accounts do not support the conclusion that Gloucester’s actions marked the opening moves of usurpation. Even less do they justify Dr Alison Hanham’s (surprisingly defensive) proposition that ‘even the most committed Ricardian must agree that it was a time of alarms and uncertainties when the suspicions of Richard’s intentions previously disseminated by the Woodvilles must he seemed to many to receive confirmation.[14] The implication that Londoners feared Gloucester’s actions were the prelude to a coup d’état and the insinuation that Russell shared their anxiety is simply not true.[15] There is no doubt that there was a great commotion in the capital over the weekend of the 14 and 15 of June and in the week that followed, with armed gangs on the street. However, Londoners in general did not see the threat as coming from Gloucester but from Woodville inspired conspirators. The Cely memorandum is explicit on this point. And there is nothing in Stallworth’s letter to gainsay the view that the public feared the ambition of the Queen and her Woodville kin whom they blamed for the unrest. Professor Michael Hicks — a renowned anti-Ricardian — also believes that the citizens did not at this time fear Gloucester’s motive; indeed, they supported his actions against the conspirators. Hicks rejects Mancini and the other vernacular chronicle accounts as hindsight, preferring to rely on the events that followed as a better guide to public opinion of Richard in May and June.[16] It would seem that despite Professor Ross’ assertion that we only have Gloucester’s word for the Hastings conspiracy, people believed that he and the king were threatened in June 1483.

 

Russell was not a neutral observer of these events, he participated in them; to that extent he was partisan. He neither liked nor trusted the Woodvilles. He believed that if they were allowed to control the king it would result in civil war and disorder. Russell craved unity not division. All of this is clear from the sermon he drafted for Edward V’s abortive first parliament, in which he set out the Council’s plans for minority governance after Edward’s coronation. It was intended to continue the protectorship after the king’s coronation and exceptionally to invest Gloucester with regency powers. This would of course have been in accordance with the earlier view of the ‘more foresighted’ councillors that the King’s maternal uncles and stepbrothers should be ‘absolutely forbidden’ from having control of the monarch before he reached his majority.[17] It would seem from Russell’s extant draft that having examined the Woodvilles suitability for government he found them wanting.[18] He writes, for example, ‘Then if there be any certainty or firmness in this world, such as may be found in Heaven, it is rather in the islands and lands environed with water than in the sea or any great rivers (an allusion to Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers)’. Further on we have this: ‘And therefore the noble persons of the world, which some for the merits of their ancestors, some for their own virtues being endowed with great honours and possessions, and riches may be conveniently resembled unto the firm ground that men see in Islands (an allusion to Gloucester and to England) than the lower people, which for the lack of such endowments, not possible to be shared among so many and therefore living by their casual labours be not without cause [compared] to the unstable and wavering running water: aque multe populus multus (a lot of water, a lot of people)’. Towards the conclusion, he extols the Lord Protector’s virtues; ‘…The necessary charges which in the kings tender age must needs be borne and supported by the right noble and famous prince the duke of Gloucester his uncle, protector of this realm. In whose great puissance, wisdom and fortunes rests at this season the execution of the defence of the realm as well against open enemies as against subtle and faint friends of the same.’ However, this sermon was never delivered due to the dramatic events that occurred between the 22 and 26 June. On Sunday the 22 June, Edward IV’s heirs were denounced as bastards. Three days later, Gloucester was offered the throne. The next day he was king. I now turn to the relevant correspondence.

 

A warrant to arrest persons unknown dated 29 July 1483

King Richard was crowned on the 6 July and left for his first royal progress on the 18 July. He dictated this intriguing letter, whilst sojourning for two or three days with his friend Francis Lovell: ‘ By the King RR. Right reverend father in God right trusty and wellbeloved; we greet you well. Whereas we understand that certain persons had of late taken upon themselves an enterprise — as we doubt not you have heard — and are in custody, we desire and will that you take our letters of commission to such persons as you and our council shall be advised, for to sit [in judgement] upon them and to proceed to the due execution of out laws on  that behalf. Fail not hereof as our perfect trust is in you. Given under our signet at the manor of Minster Lovell the 29 July.’

 

This is not a routine letter. Judging by the last sentence, Richard is responding to what he believes is an emergency at Westminster. He does not name the conspirators or the nature of their offence because he assumes Russell knows what he means. The implication being, of course, that this matter was secret and the detail could not be committed to paper. It is for that reason that historical interest in the letter has largely concentrated on the search for answers to the inevitable ‘who’ ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions that arise. Important though those questions are, I need not answer them here, since others have already done so.[19] It is useful, nonetheless, to outline the options considered.

 

Dr Tudor-Craig submits several possible motives for the letter. First, it might have related to an attempt to remove Edward’s daughters from sanctuary and take them overseas out of Richard’s reach. The Crowland Chronicle reports the rumour of such a plot, which caused the King to strengthen security around Westminster Abbey ‘so that the whole neighbourhood took on the appearance of a castle or fortress’. John Nesfield, who was captain in charge of the operation, ensured that no one could get in or out without his permission.[20] Dr Tudor-Craig rejects that possibility, however, on the ground that ‘The tenor of the letter suggests that the criminals had accomplished their deed, even though they had been caught, and yet the princesses remained in sanctuary’.[21] Alison Hanham challenges that proposition; she argues that they were arrested before the fact and not afterwards. Her point being that the word ‘had’ (as opposed to ‘have’) suggests that the plot had not come to fruition.[22] If one accepts Dr Hanham’s construction of the letter it would seem reasonable to suppose that the plot to send the princesses overseas remains a possibility. However, such a plot hardly warrants a surreptitious letter of this kind since according to Crowland it was almost certainly common knowledge in London anyway. A similar point could be made in relation to Dr Tudor-Craig’s second possibility: that it concerned mistress ‘Jane’ Shore. I think we can safely dismiss this on the ground that there was nothing secret about her activities.

 

Dr Tudor Craig’s third and final possibility is that it relates to the disappearance of the two princes. Unfortunately, she does not look beyond the possibility that they were murdered. Such a plot would certainly require secrecy. The problem with this, however, is that Richard’s instructions to Russell to discuss the matter with the council and proceed according to the law are incompatible with secrecy. Dr Tudor-Craig recognized this problem but is nonetheless unable to disregard Thomas More’s assertion that the murder of the princes was ordered when Richard was at Gloucester, which he must have reached soon after this letter was written. Dr Tudor-Craig also sees significance in the parting of the ways between the King and Buckingham, which also occurred around this time and which she suggests might have been the result of a policy disagreement about what to do with ‘the certain persons who had taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise’.[23] If her hypothesis is right it certainly adds credence to More’s account and also to the fears expressed for Edward V’s life reported to Mancini before he returned to France.[24]

 

Another possibility is that the letter referred to a plot to remove the boys from the Tower and to restore Edward V to the throne. The Crowland chronicler mentions such a plot, though his timing is problematic.[25] We also have a reference in John Stow’s ‘Annals’ of some such plot involving members of Edward IV’s former household with Woodville support.[26] ‘After this were taken for rebel against the king, Robert Russe sergeant of London, William Davy pardoner of Hounslow, John Smith groom of King Edward’s stirrup, and Stephen Ireland wardrober of the Tower, with many others, that they should have sent writings into the parts of Brittany to the earls of Richmond and of Pembroke and other lords; and how they were purposed to have set fire to divers parts of London, which fire whilst men had been staunching, they would have stolen out of the Tower the Prince Edward and his brother the Duke of York.’ [27]

 

Speculation that Lady Margaret Beaufort was involved in this conspiracy as the Woodville’s price for restoring Henry Tudor to his English dignitaries, is rejected by Professor Hicks on the ground that the link between the Beauforts, ‘the fact of a certain enterprise’ mentioned in the letter and the trial mentioned in Stowe is too tenuous to accept as evidence of the fact.[28] Certainly corresponding with Richmond was not per se treasonable (at this stage) and it seems from Hicks’ researches that there is no record of a commission of oyer & terminer or a trial, or even an indictment against these men. He postulates that although such a plot probably existed at this time, we do not have details of it.

 

Fortunately, I need not choose between these theories, since I am only concerned with Russell’s state of knowledge. Ironically, if the letter does relate to the boys’ murders, its tone and content tend to absolve the King from complicity. His instruction to bring the matter before the council and to judgement according to the law is only explicable on the basis that he was innocent and had nothing to hide or fear from a public airing of the facts. In that eventuality, Richard’s guilty secret would not be secret for very long. Alternatively, if the letter refers to a plot to remove the princes from the Tower, then it can be seen as a standard response to a treasonous threat to the crown. Of course, if such a plot existed, it confounds the contemporary suspicion that Edward V was dead before Mancini left England and demolishes More’s account of events. Either way, this letter raises some important questions about the state of Chancellor Russell knowledge, since he can hardly have been ignorant of the true state of affairs concerning the well-being or the fates of Edward IV’s sons in July. It also raises the questions of why Russell appears not to have been interrogated by the Tudor regime as to his knowledge of the fate of the princes or why there is no contemporary English accusation against King Richard.

 

 

Undated letter concerning the marriage of Thomas Lynom and Mistress Shore

I am referring to this this letter for two reasons; first, it gives us a brief but revealing ‘flash’ of Richard’s character and second, it gives rise to an equally illuminating difference of opinion between two of Richard’s many biographers; a difference of opinion, which, I might add, exhibits all the emotional prejudice that afflicts so much of Ricardian literature.

 

Thomas Lynom was King Richard’s solicitor; he sought permission to marry Mistress Jane Shore, who was languishing in Ludgate Prison for her part in the Hastings’ conspiracy. Richard’s moral rectitude caused him to take a hard line with Mistress Shore. She had, after all, plotted against him and she was a notorious harlot. Although it would have been easy for him to forbid the match in what he believed to be Lynom’s best interests, he wrote this letter instead.[29]…it is showed unto us that our servant and solicitor, Thomas Lynom is marvellously blinded and abused with the late wife of William Shore now being at Ludgate by our commandment, [and] hath made contract of matrimony with her, as it is said; and intends, to our full great marvel, to proceed to effect the same. We, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed and pray you therefore to send for him, in that you   may goodly may exhort and stir him to the contrary. And if you find him utter set for to marry her and none otherwise would be advertised, then if it may stand with the law of the church, we be content (the time of marriage being deferred to our coming next to London) that upon sufficient surety being found for her good behaviour, you send for her keeper and discharge him of our commandment by warrant of these; committing [her] to the rule of her father or any other by your discretion in the mean season.’

 

In his generally sympathetic biography of Richard III, Professor Paul Kendall uses this letter to illustrate Richard’s empathy with his fellows: ‘The harmony he never achieved within himself he did not cease to desire for others.[30] Richard’s use of vibrant phrases such as ‘marvellously blinded and abused’, and ‘to our full great marvel’ are testament to his astonishment and not his admonishment that his sober and correct solicitor should fall for the charms of the (no doubt) enchanting but wayward Jane Shore.

 

Professor Charles Ross in his less charitable biography of Richard III, uses the same letter to illustrate what he regards as the King’s bad character. Richard was, asserts Ross, the first English king to use character assassination as a deliberate instrument of policy. Richard’s ‘…public persecution of the delectable Mistress Shore has all the hallmarks of an attempt to make political capital by smearing the moral reputation of those who opposed him.’ Furthermore, he suggests that the ‘demure’ (his word) Mistress Shore would have been left to rot in Ludgate were it not for the fact that Richard’s solicitor wanted to marry her; a request which says Ross ‘obviously incurred Richard’s displeasure’. [31]

 

It is difficult to explain two such conflicting interpretations of the same letter. Ross represents the modern school of traditionalist historians who resist revisionist re-interpretations of Richard’s character. It seems obvious to me that he is entranced by the ‘delectable’ Mistress Shore whose virtues he extols at Richard’s expense. Professor Kendall writes more benevolently of Richard’s behaviour; though he has an occasional tendency to make excuses for him. His biography is now considered out of date by the academic establishment; nonetheless, it remains for me the most balanced and well-written account of King Richard’s life and reign yet published. Its strength is Kendall’s systematic use of BL Harleian Manuscript 433 to explain the events of 1483-85.[32]

 

Furthermore, professor Ross’ conclusion is based on a partial quote from the letter, starting at its beginning and ending with Richard’s comment ‘we, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed.’ This gives the false impression that King Richard was minded to prohibit the marriage because of his displeasure with Lynom and his vindictiveness towards Mistress Shore. Thus, Ross uses the letter as an example of Richard’s vindictive character. However, if one reads the whole letter, the absurdity of his argument becomes apparent. Indeed, there is nothing in the letter — even Ross’ edited version — that justifies his adverse characterization of Richard: quite the opposite in fact.

 

The letter is remarkable for its informality, Richard’s colourful language and his lightness of touch in dealing with the situation. He comes across as a concerned friend rather than an angry monarch. He has every reason to prohibit this marriage but his desire to do the right thing outweighs any animus he feels towards Mistress Shore. For Richard ‘doing the right thing’ means trying to save Thomas Lynom from his folly, which is why he asks Russell to urge him in a ‘goodly’ manner to think again. But if Lynom is ‘utter set to marry her and not otherwise’, then Richard consented. The letter is not indicative of a cruel or vindictive man. Its relaxed tone suggests that the king trusted his Chancellor and that they had a good rapport. After taking these factors into account, I prefer Kendall’s interpretation of the letter.

 

Letter dated the 12 October from King Richard to John Russell

Richard dictated this letter at Lincoln during his royal progress. It is considered to be one of the chief documents of his reign and contains a rare example of his handwriting: ‘By the King. Right reverend Father in God, right trusty and wellbeloved. We greet you          well. And in out heartfelt way thank you for the manifest presents that your servants on your behalf has presented to us here, which we assure you we took and accepted with a good heart and soul we have cause. And whereas we by Gods grace intend briefly [soon] to advance us towards our rebel and traitor the Duke of Buckingham to resist and withstand his malicious purpose as lately by our other letters we certified to you our mind   more at large. For which cause it behoves us to have our Great Seal here. We being informed that for such infirmities and disease you sustain you cannot conveniently come unto us in person with the same. Wherefore we desire and nonetheless charge you that forthwith upon the sight of these you safely do the same our Great Seal sent unto us and [by] such of the officers of our Chancery as by your wisdom shall be thought necessary. Receiving this our letter for your sufficient discharge in that behalf.  Given under our signet at our City of Lincoln the 12 day of October.   We would be most glad that you came yourself if that you may and if you may not we pray you not to fail but to accomplish in all diligence our said commandment to send our seal in contentment upon the sight hereof as we trust you with such as you trust the officers ‘pertenyng’ to attend with it praying you to ascertain us of your news here. Here loved be God is all well and truly determined and for to resist the malice of him that has best cause to be true the Duke of Buckingham the most untrue creature living whom with God’s grace we shall not be long till that we shall be in those parts and subdue his malice. We assure you that there was never false traitor better purveyed as this bearer Gloucester shall show you.”[33]

 

It is obvious that Richard and Russell were in touch and that Russell was aware of the King’s plans. Since Russell cannot bring the Great Seal himself owing to his illness, Richard added a postscript in his own hand (my emphasis above). It is one of the most revealing documents of Buckingham’s rebellion.

 

Dr Louise Gill considers that Richard’s request was unusual ‘since it put full control of the government in his hands‘ and implies that he no longer trusted his Chancellor.[34] Personally, I think Dr Gill’s appraisal of the situation is mistaken for two reasons: in the first place it is not supported by the facts and in the second place it offends against common sense. It was not in fact unusual for the Great Seal to be commandeered in times of crisis. Richard and the Council had done so in April/May 1483 after the then Chancellor, Thomas Rotherham archbishop of York, had improperly handed it to Elizabeth Woodville following the arrests of Earl Rivers and others. Richard was to call for it again in July 1485 when he was threatened by Henry Tudor’s invasion. The Great Seal was an instrument of strategic importance, to the king since it authenticated royal commands, documents and proclamations. Its close control was desirable at all times but absolutely essential when, as here, rebels aimed at deposing the king. If the king was at Westminster there was no problem, but King Richard was 150 miles from Westminster and his enemies were strategically placed to put themselves between him and the capital. He believed that the threat to him was mortal; Russell was well aware of this and of Richard’s plans from previous correspondence. Naturally, Richard wanted control of the Great Seal to authenticate his rule but just as importantly to deny it to his enemies. Similarly, the suggestion of a breakdown of trust between Richard and Russell does not bear close examination. Richard was many things but he was not stupid; it is inconceivable that he would entrust his plans ‘at large’ to someone he didn’t trust. There is also the evidence of Richard’s postscript wherein he expressed his faith that Russell would send the Great Seal to him. Its possession was of such overwhelming importance to Richard, and secrecy was so vital (There are obvious risks to it being carried by a single horseman.) that he is equally unlikely to have entrusted that task to anyone he didn’t trust. A distrustful Richard would probably have sent one of his own men of action to take possession of the seal. Indeed, in May, as duke of Gloucester, he sent his personal Herald to take it from Rotherham. If we judge men by their actions, the fact that Russell complied with the king’s wishes with such alacrity and that the Great Seal was later returned to him (Russell) before witnesses in the Star Chamber is a clear indication that the Lord Chancellor retained the king’s trust and confidence.

 

Conclusion

Although many people suspect Richard III of doing away with his nephews, suspicion is not evidence and there is no evidence that he murdered them or, indeed, that anyone murdered them. I do not know the princes’ fate and neither does anybody else. Nor do I pretend that these letters offer a solution to the mystery, since they leave too many unanswered and unanswerable questions for that. But they do sharpen our silhouette of England’s most enigmatic king and his relationship with his first minister of state during the crucial period of 1483-85. And they add substance to a neat epigram about those events, which I read somewhere. Those who knew most said least; those who knew least said most.

 

Quite what Holmes might have deduced from this correspondence is difficult to say, since he famously eschewed theorising without data. Of course, his prospect of solving the mysterious disappearance of the two princes would undoubtedly be enhanced if only John Russell was available to be interviewed.

[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1950) p.28

[2] Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure: Richard III (biographical exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery 1973) pp.39-41

[3] A. J. Pollard, ‘Shirwood, John (d. 1493)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25447, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[4] D. P. Wright, ‘Langton, Thomas (c.1430–1501)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16045, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[5] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.151 and note 16

[6] CJ Armstrong (Ed) – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini [1483] (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. 93 and 127 note 89. Mancini wrote: ’The physician Dr Argentine, the last of his servants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him’. Armstrong argues that Dr Argentine and Mancini were well acquainted: they were social equals and Argentine spoke fluent Italian (pp.19-20).

[7] Tudor-Craig p.44; Shirwood wrote ‘De Ludo Arithmomachia; De Ludo Philosophorum; Ludus Astronomorum’ (Treatise on a Mathematical Game) in about 1475. Tudor-Craig postulates that Shirwood personally gave Dr Argentine a copy of his treatise in London during the summer of 1483.

[8] Charles Ross- Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.132

[9] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2005); see also Chambers Dictionary (13th edition, 2014)

[10] Richard Sylvester – The Complete Edited Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of Richard III (Yale 1963) p.25

[11] Armstrong p.85

[12] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 184-85. See also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this note ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [damage] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor [Rotherham] is deprived and not content, the bishop of Ely is dead (my emphases)’. Professor Hicks is wrong, however, to suggest that Thomas Rotherham was the Chancellor, he was the archbishop of York; Russell was the Chancellor. Neither can it be easy to confuse ‘desperate’ with ‘deprived’, though the professor managed it

[13] Christine Carpenter (Ed) – Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers 1290-1483 (Cambridge UP 1996) pp.159-60. See also Alison Hanham – Varieties of Error and Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers (Ricardian, Vol 11, No.142, Sept 1998) p.350

[14] Alison Hanham – Remedying a Mischief: Bishop John Russell and the royal title (Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000) p.149

[15] Hanham (Ricardian) ibid

[16] Hicks pp. 114-16; to be fair, Professor Hicks argues that Richard always planned to seize the throne, but at this time nobody else realised it. His support soon fell away after he deposed Edward V

[17] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (The R3 and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) p.153

[18] S B Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.168-78; Chrimes reproduces all three of Russell’s draft speeches.

[19] Tudor-Craig ibid; Michael Hicks – Unweaving the Web: the plot of July 1483 against Richard III and its wider significance (Ricardian Vol 9, No.114, September 1991) pp.106-109; see also Annette Carson – Richard III; the maligned king (The History Press 2013 edition) pp. 151-68 passim. Both of these authors provide useful discussion about the July 1483 ‘plot’

[20] Pronay and Cox p.163

[21] Tudor-Craig pp.54-55

[22] Hanham (Ricardian) p.236: Hanham describes the word ‘had’ as ‘a subjunctive accusation of past possibility or past unreality…plainly they had been stopped before they could put their alleged plan into effect’. See also Hicks (Unweaving the web,,,), passim.

[23] Tudor-Craig ibid.

[24] Mancini left England shortly after Richard’s coronation (6 July 1483). Interestingly, he records only a suspicion that Edward V was ‘done away with’; he does not record any suspicion about the fate of the duke of York who was heir presumptive. The other interesting point is how this squares with the Cely memorandum, which expressed fears for the lives of king Edward V, his brother the Duke of York and his uncle the Duke of Gloucester.

[25] Pronay and Cox ibid

[26] Rosemary Horrox – Richard III and London (Ricardian Vol.6, 1984) pp325-26 and 329 citing: John Stow – The Annals or General Chronicle of England (1615) p.460. Also, Michael Jones – Richard III and Lady Margaret Beaufort: a re-assessment, in – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (PW Hammond [Ed] (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp. 30-31; Carson ibid and Henry Ellis (Ed) – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (Camden Society 1844) pp. 194-95

[27] Hicks (Unweaving the web…) p.107

[28] Hicks pp.107-109

[29] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) p.324

[30] Kendall ibid

[31] Ross p.137

[32] R Horrox and PW Hammond [Eds] – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 in four volumes (Sutton Publishing and the R3S 1979); it contains the strictly contemporary Register of Grants and Signet Letters written during Richard III’s reign and passing through Russell’s hands.

[33] Peter and Patricia Hairsine – The Chancellor’s File: published in J Petre [Ed] Richard III, crown and people (The Richard III Society 1984) p. 418, which reproduces the original letter (PRO reference C/1392/6); see also Tudor-Craig p.79

[34] Louise Gill – Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Sutton 2000 edition) p.6

1484 – TITULUS REGIUS: FACT OR FICTION?

 

Introduction

‘This is indeed a mystery’ I remarked.’ What do you think it means?’‘I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suite theories, instead of theories to suite facts.’

 

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia,[1] Holmes and Watson are puzzled by an anonymous and undated note, which they have received. It was the only case in which Holmes was worsted by a cleverer adversary: the beautiful Irené Adler. Holmes seldom referred to her as anything other than the Woman because in his opinion ‘she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex’. Since this story first appeared in 1888, Holmes’ dictum has become the cornerstone of forensic investigation methodology. Criminologists, detectives, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and many other professionals rely on factual data to support their judgement or opinion.

 

Facts are important to historians also; they are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong; as AE Houseman famously remarked, ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. The difficulty for English medieval historians is that the facts they rely on are often found in old manuscripts, which are hand written in ancient Latin or French by men who were not witnesses to the events they record, and whose narrative may reflect their particular political or geographic point of view. These difficulties increase where contemporary records are incomplete or not available. The historiography of King Richard III suffers from most if not all of these problems. Almost all the accounts we have of his life and reign were written by a small number of people in southern England after his death. We know quite a bit about how the people in London and the south viewed his reign and character, but little of what the rest of the country thought. Our opinion of Richard has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. The generally poor opinion of King Richard III stems from this incomplete material: the Tudor narrative. Horace Walpole, writing during the age of reason was not impressed; he declared that while Richard might well be as execrable as they say he was, there is no reason to believe so on the available evidence.[2]

 

Charles Ross in his biography of King Richard identified the ‘extraordinary problems of the evidence’ as the key issue for those seeking answers to the vital questions of when and why Richard claimed the throne.[3] They have to deal with the paradox of his good reputation prior to April 1483 and the crimes he is supposed to have committed thereafter. Ross’ modern solution to this problem was to ignore the Tudor narrative in favour of inferring Richard’s ‘character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions’; it has, he says, resulted in a more critical appraisal of the Tudor narrative and a better understanding of its value. Such objectivity is to be applauded; though, it does come at a cost. Ross also considers that because historians now have a better understanding of the Tudor tradition and of fifteenth century English politics, they are unwilling to throw the ‘whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.[4] What worries me about that proposition is that it presupposes that the contemporary sources and the Tudor writers are independent of each other: they are not. Of the major chronicles for this period, only Mancini’s narrative was written in King Richard’s lifetime. The other major source is the Second Continuation of Crowland, written about eight months after Bosworth. The English vernacular chronicles were not written until a decade or more afterwards and are so confused and contradictory that they have little or no probative value. Furthermore, the source of these accounts and also of some contemporary foreign chronicles was a member of a cabal of Tudor malcontents who wanted to seize Richard’s throne. It is illogical to think that two separate accounts emanating from the same witness can corroborate each other. The essence of corroboration is that two different witnesses give the same evidence independently.

 

Though modern authors may claim to be objective, the reality is that it is almost impossible to avoid taking sides. The contradiction in Richard’s reputation is such as raise ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’ within a hostile, adversarial situation in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign.[5] Consequently much of Ricardian historiography evinces a preconception of his guilt or innocence that biases judgment. In his defence, Richard’s apologists tend to excuse even his most doubtful actions; whereas his critics’ interpret everything he does negatively and in terms of his perceived vices: violence, greed, deceit, ruthless ambition and murderous intent. His good acts are regarded as self-serving; if he is kind it is because he wants something, if he is generous he is ‘buying’ support, if his justice is firm he is a ruthless tyrant and if his sleep is disturbed by grief for his dead son and wife it is because he has a bad conscience. This preconception stems, I believe, from historical hindsight; the outcome of events in the summer and autumn of 1483 is now a matter of historical record and some historians assume that because they resulted in Richard’s accession, he always intended that outcome. That conclusion is, of course, a non sequitur and, perhaps, an example of the ‘insensible twisting of facts to suit theories’ that Holmes’ deprecates. It is also an illustration what happens when historians’ copy from each rather than analysing the prime source material de novo and critically.

 

I see this tendency in two post 2012 biographies by David Horspool and Chris Skidmore respectively.[6] They are well written and researched, and make good of use local records, contemporary private documents and correspondence, and obscure manuscripts, identified only by their National Archives reference number, to highlight the minutiae of Richard’s life and reign. Unfortunately, on the ‘key questions of when and why Richard aimed for the throne, neither book tells us anything we didn’t already know or mounts an argument we haven’t heard before, or even contains an original thought. That is not a personal attack on the authors since I believe they genuinely aspired to do more; it is, however, a disappointment. David Horspool sought neutrality; he said he wanted to write an account of Richard’s life ‘without keeping a foot in either the anti or pro Ricardian camps’. Similarly, Chris Skidmore wanted to bring balance and ‘more accurate’ scholarship to his assessment of Richard. What I find particularly upsetting is the possibility that these authors, however sincere they are, may actually believe that the habitual, one might almost say ritualistic, recycling of the conventional Tudor narrative could pass for balanced and accurate scholarship. That said, I do think there is some force in the proposition explored by both writers (and others) that the pre-contract — whether true of false — was a device for deposing Edward V to pave the way for Richard’s accession. What I do not accept, however, is that he was motivated by personal ambition or that it was pre-planned. That explanation of his behaviour is superficial and smacks of lazy history. It gives too little weight to the wider impact of complex factional divisions in 1483, or the fear of civil war that was undoubtedly on the minds of Richard and the members of parliament. It also pays too little heed to the constitutional view that parliament as the national assembly had unfettered authority to pass legislation affirming the royal title and obviating the need for litigation, which was in any case impracticable.

 

Consequently, this seems an appropriate subject for me to write about; especially since it is five hundred and thirty-four years ago this month that parliament passed Titulus Regius onto the statute book. It is also an opportunity for me to revisit my previous articles on this subject and to renovate them with new research and fresh thinking. I make no apology for that. However, in view of the complex arguments raised by both sides in this controversy, I think it best to first summarise the relevant facts insofar as we know them.

 

The summer of discontent

The untimely death of Edward IV in the spring of 1483 exposed the deep division and animosity between the queen’s kindred, the old Yorkist nobility and dissident Lancastrians, which hitherto had been checked by the force of Edward’s personality and his political acumen. The king was barely laid in his coffin before Queen Elizabeth, her sons Thomas Marquis of Dorset and Sir Richard Grey, and her brother Anthony Earl Rivers attempted to seize the reins of power by crowning the boy King Edward V before suitable arrangements could be made for his minority rule. They were particularly keen to marginalise Richard Duke of Gloucester, Edward’s paternal uncle and the senior royal duke, and the man whom the late king had nominated as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm. Gloucester was on the Scottish border when he heard of his brother’s death. After a respectful but brief period of mourning, he came south to a pre-arranged rendezvous with the king, who was also travelling to his capital accompanied by his maternal uncle Rivers, his half-brother Sir Richard Grey and two thousand Woodville soldiers.

 

The story of Gloucester’s bloodless coup at Stony Stratford on the 30 April and 1 May 1483 is too well known to need repeating. The upshot was that Rivers and Grey were arrested with their servants, for plotting to kill the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham (who had rendezvoused with Gloucester at Northampton). The Woodville soldiers were dispersed peacefully and the king continued to London in the company of his uncle Gloucester and his cousin Buckingham. The Queen panicked on hearing of the arrests and fled into the comfortable sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, taking her youngest son and heir presumptive, and her daughters with her. On the 10 May 1483, the King’s Council unanimously appointed Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm pending the king’s coronation, which was fixed for the 22 June.

 

We do not know much about events during May and early June. The impression we have is that as late as the 5 June 1483 preparations for the coronation were proceeding normally. On that day Gloucester arranged for those who were to be knighted by King Edward, to come to London at least four days before the coronation. On the same say he wrote to the citizens of York apologising for the fact he that was too busy with the coronation preparations to deal with their recent request for financial relief. I mention these matters because of their ordinariness, which is in stark contrast to Gloucester’s second letter to the York citizens five days later. In that letter, he requested troops to help against the queen and her blood adherents who were planning to murder him and Buckingham. The inference that he was suddenly alarmed by a murderous conspiracy is doubtful, as he had known about that risk since Stony Stratford or earlier. If he was responding to that threat, he had left it too late. The troops from York could not reach London much before the end of June. I believe that something else happened between the 5 and 10 June 1483 to alarm Gloucester.

 

The ‘wicked bishop’

Philippé De Commynes a Flemish knight in the service of Louis XI provides a possible explanation for his change of attitude.

           

 ‘The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Robert Stillington) revealed to the duke of Gloucester that            King Edward, being enamoured of a certain English lady promised to marry her provided he could sleep with her first and she consented. The bishop said that he had married them             and only he and they were present. He was a courtier so did not disclose this fact and           helped to keep the lady quiet, and things remained like this for a while. Later King Edward       fell in love again and married the daughter of an English knight, Lord Rivers.’ [7]

 

If true, it made Edward’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Grey bigamous and their offspring illegitimate, and unable to succeed to the throne.[8]   I believe it was Stillington’s news that so shocked Gloucester. Sir Clement Markham suggests that Stillington told him and the council about the pre-contract on Sunday the 8 June 1483.[9] All we know about this meeting is what we can glean from a letter written by Simon Stallworth to Sir William Stonor dated the 9 June, in which he writes:

           

 ‘…My Lord Protector, my Lord of Buckingham and all other Lords, as well temporal as      spiritual [sic] were at Westminster in the council chamber from 10 until 2 but there was          none that spoke to the queen. There is great business against the coronation, which shall         be this day fortnight as we say…’[10]

 

The meeting lasted for four hours and was evidently not routine. The fact that nobody spoke to the queen suggests that negotiations with her had broken down and that something significant was afoot. Stallworth’s phrase”…great business against the coronation…” is ambiguous: perhaps deliberately so. Most historians think he meant ‘in preparation for or in anticipation of the coronation’ but such an interpretation is not supported by Stallworth’s use of the phrase ‘great business’, which hardly suggests routine administrative affairs. Moreover, the word ‘against’ has eighteen different meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary, five of which use it in the sense of ‘resistance to or opposition to…’ It is possible that Stallworth is referring obliquely to a discussion about Stillington’s revelation, including the propriety of proceeding with the coronation. This possibility is not entirely speculative, since within a week of the letter the coronation was postponed and soon after it was cancelled.

If we take as a working hypothesis that Gloucester was convinced it was true by the 10 June, it puts a different complexion on his second letter to York. It raises the possibility that far from, responding to a threat to his person, Gloucester was preparing for what may happen once Stillington’s allegation was made public. I doubt not that the fear of civil war weighed heavily on his mind; nor do I doubt that he was also conscious of the personal consequences for him and the opportunities it presented. The letter to York provides a convenient cover story, important enough for them to treat it urgently but that gives nothing new away if it falls into the wrong hands. Things came to a head on the morning of Friday 13 June 1483 at the Tower. There, Gloucester met Lord Hastings, Lord Stanley, the Archbishop of York (Rotherham), the Bishop if Ely (Morton) and others, whom he believed were conspiring against him. By lunchtime on the 13th the whole nature of the protectorship had changed irrevocably. Hastings was summarily executed on a convenient log. The Archbishop of York, the Bishop Ely and sundry others were arrested, and there was panic on the streets of London. Three days later Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded the Queen to allow the duke of York to leave sanctuary to attend his brother’s coronation. By lunchtime Gloucester had the king and the heir presumptive in his care and control. By teatime, in council, Edward’s coronation was postponed from June to November. Despite the turmoil, which these events inspired, Londoners in general blamed Woodville inspired conspirators for the unrest.[11] It was about this time that Gloucester made the decisive decision to issue warrants for the execution of the king’s uncle Rivers, his brother Sir Richard Grey and others. It is confirmation of Gloucester’s intention to claim the throne; he would not otherwise have ordered the execution of the king’s blood relatives.

 

Bastard slips shall not take root

Bastard slips shall not take root: that was the uncompromising theme of Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon on the 22 June 1483 at St Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Old Testament[12], Dr Shaa preached to the dukes’ of Gloucester and Buckingham, and a ‘huge audience of lords spiritual and temporal[13] on the illegitimacy of King Edward IV’s children. Exactly what he said, however, is a source of great controversy. The crux of the problem is the paucity of reliable accounts of what was said between 22 and 26 June 1483. The extant chronicles are, to use Paul Kendall’s colourful phrase, a ‘mosaic of conflicting detail’ about Gloucester’s title to the throne.[14] This confusion is in sharp contrast to the certainty of the Parliamentary Roll, which set out the chain of events and royal title with admirable clarity. Nevertheless, many historians are convinced that the allegations against the King’s legitimacy were invented by Gloucester to justify his usurpation. The best way to get to the bottom of that conundrum is to follow the chronologically of events.

 

Dr Shaa’s sermon was not a spontaneous outpouring of public indignation at the illegitimacy of Edwards’s offspring. It was pre-arranged by Gloucester or by others on his behalf to bring to public notice the illegitimacy of the dead king’s children and to put forward his royal title. Though, he was keen to distance himself from the question of deposition, Gloucester’s presence at the sermon is another indication of his intention to replace his nephew as king. Mancini describes how it was said that ‘the progeny of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward was, they said, conceived in adultery.’ This narrative is the only surviving account of the meeting written during Gloucester’s lifetime. [15] However, we must treat it with caution since it is hearsay and not eyewitness testimony; it may or may not be correct.   It is noteworthy that Mancini does not mention the pre-contract at this point in his narrative, though he does later on. Similarly, the reliability of the vernacular chronicles is questionable given that they were written a decade or more after Gloucester’s death and after King Henry VII’s deliberate attempt to expunge all knowledge and memory of Titulus Regius and the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage. The Great Chronicle follows Mancini in alleging that Shaa preached the illegitimacy of king Edward; whereas, Fabyan says that Shaa also declared the bastardy of Edward’s children. It is this confusion over what was or was not said by Dr Shaa that lies at the heart of the controversy. The importance of Shaa’s sermon, however, lay in the fact that it set in motion a train of events that were to put Gloucester on the throne with astonishing speed, even by modern standards. Within three days of this sermon, he was offered the crown. The next day he was king of England.

 

With the exception of Mancini, the sources refer to a meeting that took place on Tuesday the 24 June at the Guildhall, with the Duke of Buckingham in the chair. Present were the Mayor of London, his brethren ‘and a good many’ London citizens. Buckingham is supposed to have spoken wonderfully well for “a good half hour” on behalf of the duke of Gloucester, extorting the audience to admit the Lord Protector as their liege lord. Fabyan writes that Buckingham was so eloquent that he never even stopped to spit. The audience ‘to satisfy his mind more in fear than for love, had cried in small number yea! Yea!’.[16] Mancini records a speech made by Buckingham to the lords on the 24 June. This may be the same meeting referred to above, though this is not absolutely clear. According to Mancini, Buckingham argued at this meeting that ‘it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father King Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth, was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him. Indeed on Edward’s authority the [earl] of Warwick had espoused the lady by proxy — as it is called — on the continent.’ [17] This is an undoubted reference to a pre-contract, although Mancini has managed to get the details of Edward’s amour wrong. Our other primary source, the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle, simply records Richard’s title precisely as it is put in Titulus Regius.

 

The following day, that is the 25 June 1483, the three estates of the realm (the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons of England) met at Westminster. Gloucester’s decision to stop the writs of supersedeas cancelling Edward V’s planned parliament was probably deliberate. He doubtless saw the value of having the members of parliament in London to consider his claim to the throne. Although this was not a properly constituted parliament, pretty much all its members were present. Neither was this a tame Ricardian quorum; the lords spiritual, temporal and the commons who attended were those who would have constituted Edward V’s first parliament.   On any view this was a gathering of national authority.[18] Gloucester’s claim was put forward precisely; some parts were good, others not so good. The evil done to the realm by the Woodvilles, the falseness of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey were put forward and discussed by the three estates. The meeting approved a petition to Gloucester that he should assume the seat royal. On the 26 June 1483 at Baynard’s Castle the petition was presented to the duke who was pleased to accept it. He dated his reign from that day.

 

‘Doubts, questions and ambiguities’

King Richard III was crowned on the 6 July 1483. If he hoped it would unite the various noble factions behind a Yorkist king his hope was dashed. The power struggle that bought him to the throne was not decided; it had merely changed its nature. What we now call ‘Buckingham’s rebellion’ of October and November 1483 was not a national uprising against King Richard. It was a deliberate and carefully prepared dynastic challenge to his crown by the supporters of Henry Tudor assisted by the Woodvilles and disaffected Yorkists. Although, Richard crushed the rebellion and executed Buckingham, neither its cause nor the rebels were exterminated. Henry Tudor continued to make mischief from the sanctuary of France.

 

King Richard faced another and more urgent problem: Edward V’s deposition and his accession happened so quickly that many of his subjects were bemused by what had occurred. Quite apart from the effect of a rumour that two princes’ were dead, people had qualms about the status of the June petition and Richard’s election to the crown at a non-parliamentary meeting. The author of Titulus Regius recognised this problem and attempted to deal with it in the preface. He acknowledged that because the three estates were not on the 25 June assembled in proper form of parliament, ‘various doubts, questions and ambiguities are said to have been prompted and engendered in the minds of various people’. The preface continues, ‘…in order the truth may be known and perpetually kept in mind’ it is necessary for the petition to be incorporated in an act of settlement validating Richard’s royal title with the authority of parliament and removing ‘…the occasion for all doubts and uncertainties and all other legal consequences that might thereof ensue.’ [19] This is an important point, to which I shall return.

 

It is necessary to preface my following analysis with some general observations. First, when considering Titulus Regius from a historical point of view, it must always be borne in mind that it is, a legal document in which the draftsman (almost certainly a canon lawyer: possibly Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells) has been careful to cover all the key elements of the case. Charles Ross was wrong to dismiss it as ‘pure propaganda’; though, it is by its nature a partisan document intended to assert Richard’s royal title. Moreover, the attack on the validity of Edward IV’s marriage and the legitimacy of his children was a deliberate attempt to re-define a political problem as a legal one and therefore not entirely convincing in establishing its proponents good faith. Although there was neither a law of succession in medieval England nor hardly any strict rules governing the process, it was — with some notable exceptions — customary for the throne to pass from the king to his eldest surviving son. Prince Edward was the dead king’s eldest son and everyone naturally expected him to succeed to the throne; to deprive him of this inheritance on a point of law was incomprehensible to some people and seemed unjustified to others. In particular, parliament’s bastardization of Edward V without recourse to the judgement of a church court has attracted much historical criticism. It is important to understand in that context that Titular Regius is also an important constitutional document in which the author has been equally careful to define parliaments authority to validate King Richard’s title in legislation without recourse to litigation. It is important to distinguish between these legal and constitutional points.

 

Second, it is essential not to over simplify the circumstances leading to Titulus Regius in 1484. The common tendency to interpret them solely in the context of King Richard’s personal ambition ignores the wider influence and dynamics of factional interests. None of the legal impediments to Edward V’s accession were insuperable. His bastardy could have been ignored. Parliament could, had it so wished, have passed an Act of Succession for Edward V validating his title forever. After all, Edward IV and Elizabeth had lived openly as man and wife for many years and their son Edward Prince of Wales was acknowledged on oath by the entire English nobility as the heir apparent. Parliament could just as easily have revoked Clarence’s attainder to allow his son Edward Earl of Warwick to succeed to the throne ahead of Richard. And yet they did nothing to stop Titulus Regius: why? That is the key question in this debate

 

Third, too much emphasis is placed on the pre-contract allegation at the expense of considering Titulus Regius as a whole. The marriage of Edward and Elizabeth’s was attacked on four separate grounds, only one of which needed to be proved for the marriage to be invalidated. In this regard, the charge of witchcraft is significant. It was not a supplementary charge, and the assertion that it was notorious posed a serious problem (which I will come to) for those attempting to defend the marriage on legal grounds.

.

Titulus Regius

The main body of Titulus Regius is taken verbatim from the petition and is organised in three parts. The first part is an attack on Edward IV’s reign. Much has been made of this but it is a convention common to this type of document. The second part sets out the grounds for the disqualification of Edward’s children’ from the royal succession. The third part is a recapitulation of Richard’s title as the rightful king of England according to God’s law, natural law and the ancient customs of the realm by right of succession and election. It is, essentially, an attack on Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey on four grounds.

’The ‘feigned marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Grey was ‘presumptuously made without the knowledge or the assent of the lords of the land.’

           

And also by sorcery and witchcraft committed by the said Elizabeth and her mother Jaquetta duchess of Bedford as is the common opinion of the people and the public voice   and fame throughout the land, and as can be adequately proved hereafter at a convenient time and place if thought necessary.

 

The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly without publishing of bands, in a private chamber and a profane place and not openly in the face of the church according to the law of God’s church but contrary to it and the law and custom of the Church of England.

 

And also how, when he contracted the feigned marriage and previously for a long time after the said King Edward was and stood married and troth plighted to one dame Eleanor Butler, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury with whom the said King Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage with the said Elizabeth Grey.’

The document concludes that if all this is true ‘as in very truth it is’, then Edward and Elizabeth had lived together in adultery and that their children were bastards ‘unable to inherit and claim anything by inheritance by the law and custom of England.‘ Clarence’s son was also barred from the succession, as his father was a convicted traitor.[20]

 

It is necessary first to first dispose of a claim that the Titulus Regius did not reflect Gloucester’s royal title put forward in June. Charles Wood raised this issue over half a century ago.[21] His sole point was that the text of the petition as set down in the Parliamentary Roll does not agree with the various chronicle versions of the royal title claimed in June. He overlooks the fact that the chronicles also differ from each other and deduces that the original petition was altered later, possibly more than once. He further deduces that Mancini’s account is the correct one and dismisses the second Continuation of Crowland’s version because it is based on Richard’s Act of Settlement rather than actual events. He therefore argues that it cannot be relied upon as corroboration of the Parliamentary Roll. His conclusion is that Richard was clearly ‘making it up as he went along’ to justify his usurpation, by, for example, introducing Eleanor Butler who was conveniently dead. Others have since followed Wood’s line of argument uncritically.

 

The answer to this point is straightforward and contained in one of Richard’s signet letters. On the 28 June 1483 (that is two days after his accession), he wrote to the Captain of Calais and the townspeople in response to their concerns about the events in England and their effect on the garrison’s oaths of allegiance to the king etc. In his reply, Richard mentioned his accession and his royal title. After referring to the June petition, the letter goes on ‘…the copie of the whiche bille [petition] the king wille (i.e. desired/instructed/ordered) to be sent unto Calais and there to be redd and understanded togeder with these presentes’ Wood is not alone in construing this to mean that the petition will follow after the letter. He has, however, misread the letter, since it says no such thing. From their ordinary, everyday meaning, Richard’s words indicate that the petition was enclosed with the letter.[22]

 

David Horspool follows Wood’s line; he alludes to the difficulty of understanding the precise nature of Richard’s claim to the throne, ‘let alone what Richard actually believed’. [23] His argument on this point is best put in his own words: ‘The argument that the text of the petition was enclosed with the letter to Calais does not seem convincing as the letter clearly states that the petition “will be sent unto Calais and ther (sic) to be redd & understanded, togeder with these presentes’.’ I.e. it is not an enclosure but will come on later…’ Unfortunately, any misunderstanding’ is entirely David Horspool’s and of his own making. It results from a mistake, which were it not so serious might be dismissed as a schoolboy howler. Horspool has misread and misquoted, and thus completely changed the meaning of Richard’s letter by omitting the word ‘to’ after the word ‘wille’ in his extract quoted above. The fact that this misquotation supports his theory about the vagueness of Richard’s royal title may be the coincidental outcome of a careless mistake. It may equally be that his preconceived theory of Richard’s character has ‘insensibly’ led him to twist the facts to fit his theory.

 

Personally, I cannot think of a sensible reason why King Richard would refer in the letter to a petition setting out his title, which said petition was to be read in conjunction with the letter (‘these presents’), and not send the petition. It defies the facts and common sense. I must also question the rationale of Woods reasoning. The idea that the details of Richard’s royal title were changed after the June meeting is not a valid inference to draw from the differences between the various chronicle versions and the Parliamentary Roll text. There are many other reasons why they may differ, not the least of which is that the chroniclers misunderstood what was said. Neither does it follow logically that because Crowland quotes directly from the act of succession he is not reporting what actually happened. I must now turn to the substantive legal arguments for and against Titular Regius; in doing so, I will use headings adapted from the main body of Titular Regius.[24]

 

The ‘feigned’ marriage was made without the knowledge or assent of parliament.

Edward’s failure to get parliamentary approval did not invalidate his marriage to Elizabeth Grey; it was, however, a monumental political mistake since it alienated his most powerful subject, Richard Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker), and his most ambitious subject and heir presumptive, George Duke of Clarence. Royal marriages were matters of national policy, about which the whole realm had an opinion. A good match with foreign princess bought with it the benefits of alliances, power, prestige and (not to be sniffed at) trade. A king might love where he could; but he married for reasons of state. Edward’s clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Grey was by definition outwith the consent of his subjects. It might not be invalid but it was divisive.

 

The said ‘feigned’ marriage was achieved by sorcery and witchcraft

Everybody knows that the existence of sorcery and witchcraft was taken more seriously in the fifteenth century than it is today: much more seriously in fact. Fifteenth century English society believed implicitly in God and the Devil; in, the goodness of the Holy Spirit and the badness of evil spirits. The ancient arts of magic were widely acknowledged and took many forms. There were some whose activities were innocent, such as those who used herbal lore for healing the sick, or studied astronomy or astrology; however, there were others who practiced black magic. Significantly, cases of Devil worship, while common on the continent, are unusual in accounts of English witchcraft. On the continent, sorcery and witchcraft were held to be heresy, punishable by the most excruciatingly painful death; whereas in England, it was considered to be a felony and therefore not automatically a capital offence.

 

If you were high born, however, an allegation of sorcery and witchcraft could have devastating consequences. For example, in 1419, Henry V’s stepmother the Queen Dowager Joan of Navarre was convicted of witchcraft and imprisoned. In 1441, Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester was convicted of witchcraft and treason; she was imprisoned for life and forcibly divorced from Duke Humphrey. The draftsman of Titulus Regius knew this when he accused Elizabeth Grey and her mother Jaquetta of bewitching Edward IV into a clandestine marriage. It is not, as some historians seem to think, merely an add-on in the case against Edward’s marriage. The use of witchcraft could invalidate a marriage on its own, either because it caused impotence or the bewitched person could not give an informed consent to the marriage. I doubt that impotence was a problem for Edward IV, so this issue turns on consent, which in the canons falls under the heading of ‘force and fear’. ‘The decretal Cum locum begins “since consent does not take place where there is fear or coercion, it is necessary for all coercion to be eliminated when someone’s assent is required. Now marriage is contracted by consent alone, and, when it is sought the person whose intentions are in question should enjoy full security, lest he say out of fear that he is pleased with something he hates, with the result that usually follows from unwilling nuptials.” ‘ [25]

 

The trial in 1441 of Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester on charges of sorcery, witchcraft and treason was a precedent and a model for the accusation against Elizabeth and her mother. It is possible that some of the charges against Eleanor Cobham were fabricated in order to discredit her husband Humphrey Duke of Gloucester; but they were not entirely fanciful, since she had in her service priests of doubtful repute and she was politically ambitious. It was ambition that bought her down and destroyed her husband’s influence at court. In 1440, Humphrey was heir presumptive; if the king should die childless before him, Humphrey would succeed the throne. He was, in the general opinion, a man of power at court and influence over the king, much to the chagrin of his political opponents. Unfortunately, rather than wait for nature to take its course Duchess Eleanor tried to peer into the future to see when Henry would die ‘so that she would be queen.’[26] It was a foolish mistake since it played into the hands of her husband’s enemies, who were bent on destroying him. Eleanor Cobham was, herself, hated and mistrusted for her vaulting ambition, her self-importance and her voracity. In June 1441, her associates Roger Bolingbroke, Thomas Southwell, John Home and Marjery Jurdane (or Jourdemain, also known as the witch of Eye [-in-Westminster]) were arrested and charged with conspiring to bring about the king’s death: Bolingbroke through necromancy, Southwell by celebrating Mass unlawfully with strange heretical accoutrements and Home for taking part with both. Jurdane confessed that she had been long employed by the duchess as a sorceress to concoct potions and medicines to ‘make Duke Humphrey love and marry her.’ Thus incriminated, Eleanor was questioned by an ecclesiastical court on the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, and by the King’s Council in connection with an alleged conspiracy to murder the king. At first, she strenuously denied all the allegations, but following the admissions by Bolingbroke and Jurdane, she confessed to five of the twenty-eight charges on the indictment, including the fact that she used witchcraft to make duke Humphrey marry her. After further enquiries, Bolingbroke, Southwell, Home and Jurdane were indicted on counts of treason, felony and sorcery in that ‘on various occasions after April 1440…they had used magic figures, vestments and instruments, and invoked evil spirits to anticipate when the [king] would die.’[27] It was also alleged that Eleanor Cobham as wife to the heir presumptive wanted to be queen and wanted to know when it would happen. The outcome was, of course, inevitable. Bolingbroke suffered the full horror of a traitor’s death; Jurdane, of a witch’s death. Southwell died in custody before he could be brought to the scaffold (suicide?). Home was pardoned.

 

For her spiritual offences, Eleanor Cobham was condemned by an ecclesiastical court of bishops to do public penance and divorced from her husband. She was never tried on the charge of treason. Instead, the King’s Council made administrative arrangements for her to be imprisoned for the remainder of her life. Duke Humphrey was by this time powerless to protect her. Nonetheless, her imprisonment without trial raised certain ‘doubts and ambiguities’ in the minds of some, about whether her case had been resolved by due process of law. It was clear that English peers were entitled to be tried by the judges and peers of the realm; however, there was no provision for the trial of a peeress. Consequently, in 1442 a petition was presented in parliament ‘that all doubt and ambiguity about the trial and judgement of (Eleanor Cobham’s) conviction for treason and felony be removed’. The trial for peeresses was put on the statutory basis that the ‘judges and peers of the realm’ must try them. Eleanor Cobham died still a prisoner in 1457.[28]

 

The allegation that Elizabeth and her mother had bewitched Edward into marriage is not the only allegation of witchcraft made against members of the Yorkist royal family: nor is it even the first. During Warwick’s rebellion of 1469/70, while the king was a prisoner in Warwick castle, Thomas Wake, one of Warwick’s men, accused Jaquetta of witchcraft. The details of her offence are obscure but it seems that Wake brought to the castle a small lead figure fashioned like a man. The figure was broken in the middle but had been repaired with wire. Wake said that Jaquetta made the figure for use in witchcraft. He also produced John Daunger a witness who said that Jaquetta had two more figures: one for the king, the other for the queen. As there is no accusation that she actually used the figure for supernatural purposes and unless it was held that the mere possession of a lead figures amounted to witchcraft, it is difficult to see on these facts what evidence there was to justify a prosecution. But that is hardly the point, since this accusation was, in all probability, an early attempt to impugn the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth; and it had Warwick’s bungling footprints all over it. Fortunately, for Jaquetta, the outcome was as predictable as the allegation. Edward recovered control of the kingdom and, unsurprisingly, the case against Jaquetta collapsed. Wake, who had a personal grudge against Jaquetta’s husband, Lord Rivers, was accused of being malicious and Daunger retracted his evidence. In February 1470 the King’s Council (Warwick being present) formally exonerated Edward’s mother-in-law.

 

Accusations of witchcraft continued to hound the royal family. The duke of Clarence’s conviction and execution for treason has its genesis in the earlier trial and convictions of Thomas Burdet, John Stacy and Thomas Blake for imagining the king and his heir’s deaths by necromancy. Burdet was a servant and close personal friend of Clarence. His involvement in a treasonous plot that could only benefit Clarence, threw suspicion on the duke who made things worse by challenging, what seems to have been, a just conviction and by accusing the king of practicing necromancy.[29] In 1483, Gloucester accused Elizabeth Woodville and her supporters of forecasting his death. I think we can disregard the assertion of the later Tudor historians that he also accused Elizabeth of bewitching his body. King Richard has, himself, disproved that possibility from the grave. I do not offer these examples as proof of the allegation in Titulus Regius but as an indication of the notoriety and significance of witchcraft/sorcery within Yorkist royal circles. The draftsman of Titulus Regius obviously appreciated this point since he inserted a clause at this point stating that the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey was a matter of public notoriety; thus reversing the burden of proof.[30] In law, if something was so well known as to be notorious ‘neither witness nor accuser is necessary’.[31] Henry Kelly’s assertion that notoriety only applied to the witchcraft charge and not to the pre contract is irrelevant, since Titulus Regius raised a presumption that the marriage was invalid and everybody knew it was; therefore the burden of proving it was valid fell on Edward and Elizabeth’s children or Elizabeth. Furthermore, Edward’s marriage to Eleanor Butler was secret; it could not by definition be notorious.

 

That is an important point since the circumstances of the wedding are inconclusive. The best account comes from the pen of Robert Fabyan and was written thirty years or more after the event he describes.

    ‘In most secret manner, upon the first day of May, King Edward spoused Elizabeth, which        spousals were solemnised early in the morning at a town called Grafton, near Stony Stratford; at which marriage were no persons present but the spouse, the spousess, the Duchess of Bedford her mother, the priest, two gentlewomen and a young man to help the priest sing. After which   spousals ended, he went to bed, and so tarried there three or fours hours, and after departed  and rode again to Stony Stratford, and came as though he had been hunting, and there went to  bed again’

 

It is a plausible story of a secret marriage; the date and the location of the king are corroborated from contemporary records of his known movements. There is nothing substantive in this narrative to support the proposition that Edward was bewitched into a marriage he did not want other than Fabyan’s insinuation about ‘What obloquy ran after this marriage, how the king was enchanted by the Duchess of Bedford and how after he would have refused her‘, which, infuriatingly, he passed over, along with ‘many other things concerning this matter’. This and perhaps the fact that the 30 April was St Walpurgisnacht (otherwise known as the ‘night of the witches’), has encouraged speculation that Edward might have attended a Black Mass at Grafton at which potions, and aphrodisiacs were used to enhance sexual pleasure and to deprive Edward of his senses, so that he could not say no to the marriage.[32] It is not impossible that that is indeed what happened but this material does not prove it. The contrary argument is that Fabyan got the date wrong; the wedding actually took place much later, possibly in August.[33] This argument is based on the premise that Edward is unlikely to have been able to keep his marriage a secret for five months, and that some grants made by the king would seem to be unnecessary if he had just married Elizabeth ‘who could be expected to give him an heir of his own body.‘ It is an explanation for Edward’s delay in revealing the marriage but not necessarily the explanation. The problem with this speculation is, however, that it flies in the face of the facts. Edward plainly did escape his attendants to marry Elizabeth in secret. It’s hard to believe that a man of his resourcefulness and sexual appetites could not successfully repeat the exercise. On the second point, there was no guarantee that the queen would or could bear him a son; indeed, she did not actually do so for six years. Besides, there are many other reasons why Edward might have made the grants. It might, for example, have been patronage expected of him by people who knew nothing of his marriage to Elizabeth and he did not wish to encourage their speculation by not making these grants, which on the face of it were reasonable.

 

Ultimately, I believe that the actual circumstances of the wedding are beside the point. The invalidation of Edward’s marriage on the ground that he was bewitched did not (in 1483) turn on proof that he was actually bewitched. Titulus Regius was expertly worded so that it was sufficient for the accusation of witchcraft to be plausible not only because of the notoriety surrounding previous allegations of witchcraft within the royal family but also because for many of the King’s subjects it was the only possible explanation for his otherwise inexplicable marriage to a commoner with no dowry or assets, and a large and voracious family to support.

 

The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly

The historian Mortimer Levine dismisses the clandestinity of this marriage as a matter of no consequence[34]. He argues that clandestine marriages are valid, binding on the parties and enforceable in law. He is right in principle, but he has over simplified the law in 1483 and jumped to the wrong conclusion. In the fifteenth century, questions of legitimacy were not determined solely on the basis of whether the parents were validly married. There were many subsidiary principles used to determine legitimacy, the most famous being ‘legitimisation by subsequent marriage’. This principle also relied on the parents’ good faith. The reasoning was that parents and children should not be penalised for their ignorance of an impediment. If one of the parents was unaware of the impediment, the children of that union were presumed to be legitimate in law. However, it is unnecessary to consider this issue as the clandestinity of Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage raises the presumption of bad faith, which puts them outside this rule. If their marriage had been open, with banns declared, people would have had an opportunity to object and Edward’s previous marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler might have come to light. Contrary to what Levine says, the secrecy of their wedding is far from irrelevant; it goes to the heart of the problem of their children’s illegitimacy.

 

Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage

The pre-contract raises two objections; first, that the pre-contract is an invention and second that in any case it would not, on these facts, bastardise Edward’s children. The first objection is a question of fact and turns on the supposed absence of written proof of Stillington’s allegation. It this perceived gap in the paper trail, which sceptics use to challenge the existence of the pre-contract. However, to suggest that there is no written evidence of Edward’s prior marriage is plainly nonsense in the face of the documents we do have: the Parliamentary Roll’s, which confirms the prior marriage, Commynes’ memoirs naming Stillington as the ‘whistle blower’, officiate and only witness apart from the bride and groom, and the Crowland Chronicle. What we do lack, however, is Stillington’s written testimony; we also lack the type of circumstantial detail that adds colour to the bishop’s revelation: the who, what, when, where, how and why questions.[35] Common sense suggests that the mere fact that it was a secret ceremony precludes the possibility of any written contract or promise and it is difficult to know what else would satisfy the sceptics if they doubt even parliament’s integrity in accepting the petition verbatim. Anyhow, it does not necessarily follow from the absence of written proof that Stillington was lying, or that he and Gloucester conspired to tell lies. Moreover, the absence of such written testimony or other proofs is hardly surprising due to the fact that in 1485, King Henry VII was intent in suppressing all knowledge of King Richard’s royal title.

 

He ordered Titulus Regius, to be repealed without being read (itself unusual in the annals of parliament). The repeal of Titulus Regius was necessary to bolster King Henry’s own weak title, which depended on the legitimacy of his wife Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. However, his order that all copies should be annulled and utterly destroyed’ on pain of punishment suggests there was more to it than that. Titulus Regius was, he said, ‘to be cancelled, burned and put into oblivion’. Henry’s intention was by his own admission to ensure ‘…that all things said and remembered in the said bill may be forever put out of remembrance and forgot.’ His explanation that he could not bear to have this infamy of his wife and her family remembered is doubtless true but it is not the whole truth. It was a blatant attempt to rewrite the history of King Richard’s royal title. I take Horspool’s point that it doesn’t necessarily follow that Henry thought the pre-contract story was true. However, when coupled with the arrest and subsequent pardoning of Stillington and Henry’s refusal to allow the bishop to be examined by his judges on the facts of the pre-contract, then the inference that he may have had something to hide is almost irresistible. At a time when King Henry would have welcomed proof positive that the pre-contract was a slanderous lie, he chose to suppress it rather than disprove it.

 

Neither are there any grounds for doubting Stillington’s credibility as a truthful witness to the marriage. Nobody has produced evidence that he invented the pre-contract story either on his own or as part of a conspiracy with Gloucester (as he then was), or that he allowed Gloucester to put him up to it. He did not receive any discernable reward for his revelation there is little force in the assertion that the pre-contract story was known to be false at the time. The only doubts that were expressed came from sources in southern England after his death, at a time when Henry VII was actively suppressing the true history of Titulus Regius.

 

The pre-contract story was also credible to King Edward IV’s subjects. His promiscuity was notorious. Crowland describes him in general terms as ‘a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion.’[36] Mancini is more descriptive:

 

‘He was licentious in the extreme: moreover it was said that had been most insolent to    numerous women after he had seduced them, for, as soon as he grew weary of the         dalliance, he gave up the ladies much against their will to the other courtiers [Hastings,   Rivers and Dorset?]. He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the    noble and the lowly: however he took none by force. He overcame all by money and         promises, and having conquered them, he dismissed them.’[37]

 

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the draftsman of Titulus Regius had no need to allege bigamy. As I have already argued, the charge of witchcraft and the claim on notoriety were sufficient to invalidate Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth without the need of a court judgement. If the pre-contract story was not true it’s inclusion in Titulus Regius was a dangerous embellishment, a mistake of the first magnitude, which I do not see such a careful draftsman making.

The second objection raises two questions of law, which I shall deal with individually.[38]

  • The first point relies on the current principle of English law that that bigamy ceases once one of the spouse’s dies. Richard’s detractors argue that no objection could be raised against the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey or against the legitimacy of their children born after Eleanor Butler’s death on the 30 June 1468. However, in the fifteenth century the law was different; in those days under canon law, adultery when coupled with a present contract of marriage was an impediment to the subsequent marriage of the adulterous couple. Based on the facts of this case, the law in 1483 presumed that Edward had ‘polluted’ Elizabeth by adultery; consequently, they were forbidden from marrying at any time in the future, even after the death of Eleanor Butler. Medieval canonists considered this harsh, even unjust. Consequently, to mitigate its effect on an innocent party in a bigamous marriage, exceptions to the rule were allowed. For example, if Elizabeth Grey did not know of Edward’s previous marriage to Eleanor Butler, she would not be committing adultery knowingly and there would be no impediment to her marrying Edward after Eleanor’s death. Of course, whether this exception applied depends on facts we cannot now prove: did Elizabeth know about the pre-contract when she ‘married’ Edward? Unhappily for Edward and Elizabeth no investigation of the facts was or is necessary since the application of this exception rested on the legal presumption that Elizabeth acted in good faith. Owing to the fact that her marriage to Edward was clandestine, the law presumed bad faith on her part. Thus, she could not avail herself of its protection.[39]

 

  • The second point of law turns on the argument that as Edward and Elizabeth ‘had lived together openly and were accepted by the Church and the nation as man and wife’, King Richard’s claim was too late. Edward and Elizabeth lived openly together for nineteen years. Furthermore, fifteenth century matrimonial law recognised the validity of what we would call a ‘common law marriage’. It was also possible in certain circumstances to presume the legitimacy of any resulting children. However, the problem for Edward’s children continues to be the secrecy of their parents’ wedding. The presumption of validity only extended to marriages conducted in facie ecclesia. Furthermore, canon law specifically allowed questions of bastardy to be raised after the parents’ deaths, in order to settle issues of inheritance. Finally, it was and is a precept of English law that an illegal or improper act cannot be by its continuation over a long time. Far from making things better, Edward’s nineteen-year cohabitation with Elizabeth made them worse.

 

The Constitutional question

The constitutional question is simply whether Parliament had authority to determine the validity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth and the legitimacy of their children. The gist of the argument against parliament is that as a ‘secular court’ it had no such authority, which lay exclusively with the church courts. It is a superficially strong objection against Titulus Regius and no less so for being the first, and the only remotely contemporary one. The Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle contains this passage.

 

 ‘At this sitting [1484] parliament confirmed the title by which the king in the previous        summer ascended the throne and although that lay court found itself (at first) unable to give    a definition of his rights, when the question of the marriage was discussed, still, in          consequence of the fears entertained of the most persevering (of his adversaries), it             presumed to do so, and did so.”[40]

 

I have used Henry Riley’s nineteenth century translation because in my personal opinion, modern translations that simplify the text in the interests of clarity or ‘good English’ lose too much detail in the process. They are also symptomatic of a general dumbing down of discussion about Titulus Regius by historians. I believe Riley’s text is more accurate and better captures the events and the atmosphere in parliament: the difficulty in defining the king’s rights, the fact that it was only enacted after a debate and the great fear that afflicted even the most resolute. I feel sure that these emotions were present and expressed. We get an idea of the issues that troubled parliamentarians from John Russell’s draft sermon, which he prepared for the opening of parliament. Russell clearly opposed the enactment of Titulus Regius in the form of the petition. He went so far as to describe it as ‘a document conceived in malice and ending in corruption’. It is impossible to believe that after hearing the Lord Chancellor’s explosive sermon criticising the petition and the petitioners, the matter was not debated with keen interest on all sides. It is true that the debate is not recorded in the Parliamentary Roll but we know from an MP’s extant diary of the 1485 parliament that such debates took place, especially on important issues such as the royal title.[41]

 

Russell was not of course advocating that parliament should refuse to validate Richard’s succession: far from it. His objection was to process and not outcome. He argued that to ratify Richard’s title by inheritance was fraudulent because it was based on ‘false’ information and because it involved a determination on the validity of Edward’s marriage, which he believed parliament should not do. Russell feared above all things division and sedition. He had in mind the October rebellion, which was indicative of the continuing divisions in the English polity. He believed that Titulus Regius in this form was more likely to result in a disputed succession and civil war. He saw the need for an exclusively political solution, which he believed would avoid stepping on the Church’s toes and being more honest and open was something the realm could come to accept. Although he doesn’t say exactly what he had in mind it was probably a simple declaration by parliament that the crown was vested in King Richard and his heirs forever.[42] Russell’s sermon also contained the following statement on the nature and authority of parliament

 

 ‘In this great body of England we have many diverse members under one head. How be it            they may all be reduced to (iij) chief and principal, which make this high and great court at    this time, that is to say the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons.’ [43]

 

That is a reference to parliaments political role; significantly, Russell does not imply that parliament is in this instance acting in its judicial capacity. Even so, there was a problem with the notion that parliament could simply declare Richard as king; it, would have been unacceptable to Richard. He was weaned on the Yorkist doctrine of ‘strict legitimacy’ (succession by inheritance). No medieval English king could willingly accept a ‘constitutional’ title granted by parliament since a) it undermined the divinity of kingship and b) what parliament gave it could take back.

 

Richard harshest biographers suggest that it was fear of his reprisal that encouraged parliament to pass the Act of Settlement;[44] but I disagree for three reasons. First, the sources for these statements are questionable since they are based on hearsay and they only emanate from Richard’s political opponents. Second, no reprisals were taken against Russell despite his public opposition to the petition, he was not discriminated against or ‘punished’ in any way and continued to serve King Richard throughout his reign. The whole theme of Russell’s sermon was unity, which brings peace and stability. I do not think it was the fear of Richard or his henchmen that afflicted the MPs, but fear that a disputed succession would result in a resumption of the Wars of the Roses.[45] Third, the Parliamentary Roll for the 1484 sets out Titulus Regius in full, adding simply that the bill was read, heard and fully understood by everybody present, and that the lords and commons agreed to it. As Rosemary Horrox points out “The enrolled text becomes a statement of the king’s right (and a very detailed one), but there is no suggestion that it was the king’s statement of that right. As presented here (in the Parliamentary Roll), Richard is entirely passive: his only input to receive the bill and send it to the commons for approval.   The lords then gave their assent, and the king, with that assent declared the contents of the bill (and therefore the Roll) to be true.” It would seem that king Richard was deliberately distancing himself from the bill. This may have been in part due to his realisation that the decision the decision to challenge the validity of Edward IV’s marriage was contentious.[46] It is also worth noting Horrox’s later opinion that although parliament seems to be acquiescent “… the impression from the Roll is that this was something to be earned. There is no suggestion, as the hostile Crowland Chronicler insisted, Richard was browbeating parliament from a position of strength.”

 

The depositions of Edward II and Richard II are testament to the need for parliamentary assent to the dethroning of a crowned and anointed monarch. The Duke of York’s disputed claim to the throne in 1460 is further evidence that a disputed royal succession was a matter of state, which could only be resolved by the king and parliament.[47] The precedents therefore support the necessity for parliamentary assent to a royal succession where the title is controversial.   Naturally, those involved in the fourteenth century depositions had to conform to the legal niceties; nevertheless, the decision in each case was political as was the outcome. The situation in 1483 was completely different; it was, to use legal jargon, sui generis (unique). Both Edward II and Richard II were demonstrably unfit to rule. Whereas, Edward V was a minor; he had not been crowned and was too young to be guilty of misrule. The attack on the validity of his parent’s marriage was therefore a device to give sufficient cause for Edward’s deposition and the barring of his siblings from the line of succession. The overriding raison d’état was the fear that Edward V’s minority would result in Woodville hegemony and a resumption of civil war. On that basis alone, the proposition that only the church courts had jurisdiction, is a doubtful one. To explain that argument I must delve briefly into the evolution of parliament into the king’s court of justice and a national assembly made up of the ‘three estates of the realm’.

 

In the beginning, the feudal parliament was the king’s court; it was the highest court he had. From the thirteenth century, it began to develop a dual role as a court of law and a political body involved in affairs of state. It became not just the king’s highest court but also his most solemn council. By the fifteenth century, the concept of parliament as a nationally representative body was prominent. Henry V famously told the Pope that he couldn’t change English law without the assent of Parliament. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes had to be ratified by the English Parliament. By 1467 the Lord Chancellor, Robert Stillington was able to declare that justice depended on the ‘three estates’ of the realm that sat in parliament. It is in that context that Dr AR Myers considers that Parliament’s declaration of Richard III’s legitimacy and Edward V’s bastardy, and their recognition of Richard’s hereditary right, ‘justly grounded on the laws of God, nature and the realm’, was the most important step in the evolution of parliament at that time. ‘This is’, he writes, ‘a specially striking example of the way that the older notion of parliament had had grafted onto it the idea of a national assembly acting on behalf of the three estates, combining with the king to provide an authority of parliament, which would otherwise have been lacking.’ [48] The importance of this declaration cannot be overestimated since it sets out clearly parliament’s own definition of its authority and why it acted as it did on the question of the royal title. After acknowledging that the people at large may not have understood the royal title expressed in the petition, the declaration continues.

 

 ‘And moreover, the court of parliament is of such authority, and experience teaches that the  people of this land are of such nature and disposition that the manifestation and declaration  of any truth or right made by the three estates of this realm assembled in parliament, and   by authority of the same, before all other things commands the most faith and certainty,  and in quieting men’s minds, removes the occasion of all doubt and seditious language.  Therefore at the request and by the assent of the three estates of the realm, that is to say  the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons of this land assembled in this present   parliament by authority of the same, be it pronounced, decreed and announced that our   said sovereign lord the king was and is the true and undoubted king of this realm of  England … by right of consanguinity and inheritance, as well as by lawful election,     consecration and coronation.’[49]

 

So there we have it: parliament did not regard itself as a judicial body giving judgement in a court case. Indeed, it could not do so in the name of the three estates since the commons lacked judicial authority. Only the lords in parliament had the power to try court cases bought before them. The bill was passed as an Act of Settlement to which the king and the three estates assented.[50]

 

It is right to say, as Chrimes does, that whatever the prevailing relationship was between state and church, ‘ecclesiastical courts were neither expected nor required to enforce statutes in cases within their jurisdiction’.[51] Furthermore, fifteenth century civil judges were usually careful not to encroach on the English Church’s rights or authority where spiritual matters were concerned. Even so, the exclusivity of canon law in the ecclesiastical courts did not stop Parliament from passing statutes prescribing their jurisdiction and, on occasion, supplanting canon law.[52] Legislation was also enacted to prevent canon law overriding substantive ecclesiastical law; even matters that fell well within the Church’s purview did not escape statutory definition. For example, issues related to temporalities, sanctuary, benefit of clergy, legitimacy by subsequent marriage and heresy were not left entirely to Church judgement.[53] This was especially so, on cases (like this) that touched the boundary between church and state. By the last quarter of the fifteenth century statute law had surpassed common law and some canon law in importance. The view that parliamentary statutes bound judges was prevalent even then.

 

Even if we accept for the purposes of argument that a church court ought first to have determined the question of legitimacy, it was simply impracticable. First there is the problem of the ‘law’s delay. Following the sovereign’s death, time is of the essence. His successor has to assume the reins of government speedily to ensure the continuous peace, prosperity and defence of the realm. Litigation in those circumstances would have been unduly time-consuming. And it would also have raised the possibility of an appeal to the Pope, which were to happen would have had political repercussions rendering any legal judgement nugatory. It is unlikely that the English Parliament would accept the notion that a foreign power could determine the next king of England in a courtroom. Third, there is the factional dimension; a purely legal judgement was unlikely to resolve the factional dispute underlying this whole episode, or reduce the risk of civil war. The royal succession could not be decided by a lawyer or a foreigner or in any way that ignored the realpolitik in which the whole question of Edward V’s legitimacy arose. A legal solution was impossible to achieve in 1483.

 

The claim of Edward of Warwick

Finally, I must address the claim that even if Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, Edward of Warwick was the rightful heir to the throne ahead of Gloucester. Mortimer Levine challenges the view that Edward of Warwick was barred from succeeding because his father was an attainted traitor. There are two limbs to Levine’s argument. First that Clarence’s Act of Attainder only specifically barred Edward of Warwick from inheriting his father’s ducal title and second, the common-law principle against attainted people from inheriting, does not apply to the royal succession. By way of example, he cites Henry VI and Edward IV, both of whom succeeded to the throne after being attainted. Levine regards Clarence’s attainder as unimportant and an excuse to bar Warwick from the crown, and a legal pretext for Gloucester’s usurpation. He may be right about Warwick’s exclusion being a pretext but he has, nonetheless, underestimated the importance of the attainder and the difficulties posed for young Warwick. Professor Lander has described the attainders passed on the Yorkists in 1459, which gives us a feel for the nature of attainment “ They were to suffer the most solemn penalty known to the common law. Treason was the most heinous of all offences. Its penalties ruined the traitor’s descendants as well as the traitor himself. The offender was held worthy of death inflicted with extremities of bodily pain…his children, their blood corrupted, could succeed to neither the paternal nor the maternal inheritance. The traitor died in the flesh, his children before the law.” The children of an attainted traitor lost all their civil rights. They had no status.  Some even questioned their right to live after attainder.[54] It’s true, that that Henry VI and Edward IV succeeded to the throne after they were attainted, but they both had powerful armies at their back to enforce their right. In 1483, nobody was interested in supporting the child of traitor, who was incapable of ruling England anyway. It is quite possible that if a strong faction of nobles had supported him, his attainder might have been reversed. However, that never happened.[55]

 

Conclusion

There is something Dickensianly repellent about a ‘wicked uncle’ who, to benefit himself, deprives his nephews and nieces of their just inheritance through legal trickery and sharp practice; that is the opinion of King Richard III that persists. The reason for this, is found in the historical treatment of the king beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing to the twenty-first century. The early histories were influenced by the Tudor narrative, which described King Richard as irredeemably wicked. Later historians have, with a few exceptions, followed suite. The historiography is marked by a tendency to simplify the issues to overcome gaps in the evidence and to judge King Richard through the prism of modern attitudes and culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than the historical treatment of Titular Regius. It is natural that some people will think there is something unjust and dishonest about depriving children of their rights without them being heard. We don’t need the Tudor histories to realise that King Richard’s contemporaries had doubts and uncertainties about the manner by which he came to the throne, or that his title was ambiguous to some; we know that this was so from contemporary documents. Moreover, we also know that those doubts uncertainties and ambiguities were expressed at the time and they were resolved by the national Parliament. The problem. I have tried to highlight in this article is that the intellectual debate about the events of 1483 has become personalized and is prejudiced. Insufficient attention is paid to the realpolitik of the time. The underlying fear was of a resumption of the Wars of the Roses and was the driving force behind Edward V’s deposition. There was no appetite for a boy-king in such highly charged circumstances, especially one controlled by the Woodvilles

 

Although I have little doubt that Parliament was empowered to enact Richard’s Act of Settlement, I sympathize with Chancellor Russell’s view that to enact the petition verbatim was not the best way to resolve the doubts, uncertainties and ambiguities of doubters. it was possibly even disingenuous, in that it used the law to mask a crude political act. Having said that, I cannot escape the fact that the bill seemed to have been passed through the three estates without a mention of dissent in the Parliamentary Roll. I believe that those who argue that this was through fear of Richard and his henchmen do parliamentarians a disservice by suggesting they were so craven. Ultimately, the importance of Parliament as the national law–making institution under the King’s estate transcended the canon and the common law in resolving state issues of this weight and importance

 

I have written elsewhere of my belief that Richard III was an exceptionally brave man in the fullest sense: on the battlefield and in the council chamber. I also believe he liked to do the right thing. Evidence of these qualities and his potential for good are seen in the significant judicial reforms he made in what was his only parliament. However, I believe he relied overmuch on his courage to overcome all obstacles: consequently, he did not always do the right thing for himself. The thorny question of his royal title is arguably one of those issues wherein he might have done better to temper his strong sense of right and wrong with a more realistic stance. A simple parliamentary declaration that he was king would not have softened the blow for Edward IV’s children or have met the Yorkist ideal and it was not in his nature be less than the man he was; nevertheless, it may have had a better chance of acceptance, thus enabling him to consolidate his reign.[56]

 

[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1981) p.1

[2]. Horace Walpole -The Historic Doubts and Refutation of the Traditional Account of Richard III’s life and reign (1768) published in Paul Murray Kendall (editor) – Richard III: the Great Debate   (Folio Society 1965)

[3]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at p.64. This is still considered to be the standard biography of Richard III

[4]. Ross at p. LXVI

[5]. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) passim

[6] David Horspool – Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017); Chris Skidmore – Richard III: brother, protector, king (Weidenfield & Nicolson 2017)

[7] . Phillipé De Commynes – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-1483 (Penguin 1972) pp.353-354.

[8]. Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard III (Longman Green 1878) pp.113-115.

[9]  Sir Clement Markham –Richard III: his life and character (Alex Struick 2013 paperback edition) at p.101.

[10] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 159-160. Stallworth’s correspondence is helpfully reproduced in full in Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) Appendix 1, pp.158-59

[11] Hanham (Cely Letters) pp.184-85; see also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this letter.

[12] The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, Verse 3 ‘Bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor take firm hold.’ Scholars generally agree that the book of Wisdom deprecates any compromise with false idolatry. Richard’s strong sense of right and wrong was probably in tune with such views.

[13] AH Thomas et al [eds] – The Great Chronicle of London (London 1938) pp.231-233

[14] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin, 1955) p.477, note 21

[15] AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III (Oxford, 1969) at p. 95

[16] The Great Chronicle; ibid

[17] Mancini p. 97

[18] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.123-125

[19] Chris Givern-Wilson [Ed] – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (Boydell 2005), Vol XV. Rosemary Horrox [Ed] – Richard III 1484 p.14 [PROME]

[20] PROME pp.14-18

[21] Charles T Wood – The deposition of Edward V (Traditio Vol.30, 1935) p.236

[22] Anne Sutton-Richard III’s ‘Tytylle & Right’; a new discovery (Ricardian, Vol IV, No 57, June 1977) pp. 2-8, together with subsequent correspondence with Charles T Wood in J Petre (ed)-Richard III: crown and people (Richard III Society 1985) pp.51-56.

[23] David Horspool-Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017 edition) pp.164-165 and 290, note

[24] I am summarising three articles about this matter. Mary O’Regan – The Pre-Contract and its Effect on the Succession in 1483 (Ricardian) Vol IV, No 54 (Sept 1976) pp. 2-7; this is reproduced in Richard III: crown and people pp. 51-56; also, Anne Sutton (Tytylle & Right) ibid; also R H Helmholz – The Sons of Edward IV, a Canonical Assessment of the Claim they were Illegitimate, published in PW Hammond (ed) – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) pp. 91-103.

[25] HA Kelly – The Case Against Edward IV’s Marriage and Offspring: secrecy, witchcraft: secrecy: pre-contract (Ricardian Vol. XI No.142 September 1999) pp. 329-330.

[26] Ralph Griffiths – The Trial of Eleanor Cobham: an episode in the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Diary 1969) 51(2) pp. 381-399

[27] Griffiths ibid

[28] Griffiths ibid

[29] Michael Hicks – False, Fleeting, Perju’d Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) chapter IV passim; see also, John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet: George Duke of Clarence (History Press 2014) chapters 11 and 12 passim. Both these biographies deal with the issues of the Burdet trial comprehensively and each contains a nuanced interpretation of events. David MacGibbon’s claim that Clarence accused Elizabeth of witchcraft did not form part of the accusation against him at his trial (See David MacGibbon – Elizabeth Woodville (Amberley 2013) pp.104 and 216, notes 18 and 21.

[30] PROME ibid

[31] PROME ibid; see also Helmholz p.98

[32] Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (History Press 2014) pp. 138-140 citing WE Hampton- Witchcraft and the Sons of York (Ricardian March 1980)

[33] David Baldwin -Elizabeth Woodville (History Press 2010) pp.10-11, pp150-154 passim; Susan Higginbottom – The Woodvilles (History Press 2015) pp.31-32

[34] Mortimer Levine – Tudor Dynastic Problems 1460-1571 (George Allen and Unwin 1973), esp pp.28-31; Professor Levine is a historian and not, in the legal sense, an expert witness on 15th century canon law.

[35] See John Ashdown-Hill – The Secret Queen: Eleanor Talbot (History Press 2016) pp.120-139 for an intriguing discussion of the circumstances of Edward’s alleged marriage to Eleanor: how they met, became lovers and were secretly married. See also Peter A Hancock – Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (History Press 2011) pp.33-43 for an alternative theory. Like all conjecture these theories are based on inferences drawn from circumstantial evidence. Though both theories are credible, differences in detail suggests that at least one of them is wrong.

[36]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.153.

[37]. Mancini p.67

[38] Levine ibid

[39] Helmholz ibid

[40] Henry Riley (Trans) – Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland with continuations by Peter Blois and anonymous authors (London 1854); see also Pronay and Cox, pp.169-170, which is an honest attempt to provide scholars with a serviceable edition of the second continuation. However, the authors’ simplification and modernization of complex Medieval Latin has changed the sense significantly, as can be seen by the following extract, which is provided for comparison. “…I come to the parliament which began about the 22 January (1484). In that assembly indeed the title by which the king, in the previous summer, had ascended to the height of the crown was corroborated even though that lay court was not empowered to determine on it since there was a dispute concerning the validity of a marriage, nevertheless, it presumed to do so and did so on account of the great fear affecting the most steadfast.” It is also worth considering Alison Hanham’s pithy translation, which is due, in part to her desire to translate Medieval Latin into ‘good English’. ‘Over and beyond confirmation of the title by which the king had ascended to the dignity of the crown the previous summer, that lay court took it upon itself to give a ruling on the validity of a marriage. It could not do so, but it did because of the great fear that afflicted the most staunch.’ (Alison Hanham – Remedying Mischief; Bishop John Russell and the royal title. [Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000 p.146])

[41] Nicholas Pronay et al – Parliamentary Texts of the Late Middle Ages (Clarendon, Oxford 1980) at p.186 (“A Colchester Account of Proceedings in Parliament 1485, by representatives of the Borough of Colchester Thomas Christmas and John Vertue’)

[42] Russell’s drafts are reproduced by JD Nichols [Ed] – Grants etc. from the Crown during the reign of Edward V (Camden Soc 1854) pp.xxxv-Lxiii; and also by Chrimes pp. 167-191; the draft sermons are also discussed extensively by professor Alison Hanham (Remedying Mischief) passim; see also PROME pp.2-4, 8. []

[43] Chrimes ibid

[44] Horspool pp. 161-165 passim; Horspool prefers innuendo to outright statement but it is clear the he damns Richard’s motives and his methods. Its a pity therefore that he undermines the credibility of his argument by cherry picking his examples and, even then, getting some of the facts wrong. For example, he states that Richard’s use of the pre-contract to bastardize Edward broke with ‘established precedent principally in not giving the children in question or their mother a chance to reply’. It is an erroneous point, since there was no ‘established precedent’ for this situation; it, was unique. What precedent does show, is that no king could be deposed without the assent of ‘three estates of parliament’ and it is in that context, and not a court case that the deposition should be seen. See also Skidmore pp.184-195.

[45] Pronay and John pp.169-171

[46] See PROME Vol XV pp. 5 and 7

[47] Anne Curry and R.E. Horrox – 1460 PROME, Vol XII, Henry VI Parliament, October at pages 510 and 518. Even though the situations in 1460 and 1483 were different, the principle that the royal accession was not justiciable was well established

[48] A R Myers – Parliament 1422 -1509 [published in RG Davies & J H Denton (eds) – The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester UP 1999 edition) pp.153-154].

[49] PROME Vol XV ibid; see also Myers p.153

[50] For the text of Titulus Regius see Rolls of Parliament (Rotuli Parliamentorum), 6 volumes (London 1776-77) vol. 6, at pp.240-42.  A photographic facsimile of the original (with the seal shown) is available online at http://partyparcel.co.uk . There are two versions: the first in Middle English and the second with modern spelling. Despite some suggestion that Titulus Regius is not an ‘Act of Parliament’, it clearly is. It states the ‘law’ of the land insofar as king Richard’s royal title is concerned. It is also is described in the Statute Book as an ‘Act of Settlement’. An ‘Act of Parliament ‘ is defined at: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/acts/

[51] Chrimes p.285

[52] Chrimes pp.285-288; see also Myers pp. 146,149 and 153

[53] Chrimes ibid

[54] J R Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.203; see also J G Bellamy – The Law of Treason in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge UP 1970) pp. 8-9, 13 and 21. Although the punishment of traitor depended on royal clemency, it usually involved a particularly gruesome, humiliating and painful death and forfeiture of everything the traitor owned. The children of an attainted man could inherit nothing from their father; as professor Bellamy points out, if he succeeded to anything after the attainder, it would happen by grace rather than right. One commentator even questioned why a traitor’s children should be suffered to live at all.

[55] See Charles Ross – Edward IV (BCA 1975) p.155, in which professor Ross discusses Clarence’s exemplification as Henry VI’s heir. See also Levine pp. 26-27 for his opinion. It is interesting to ponder Edward of Warwick’s wider significance as a Yorkist heir once Titulus Regius was repealed.   Henry VII’s response was to keep the hapless boy imprisoned in the Tower until he was old enough to be decently executed.

[56] PROME Vol XV p. 97; this was the solution to the conundrum of Henry VII’s lack of a royal title. In stark contrast to elaborate the justification of Richard’s title in Titulus Regius, Henry VII, in his first parliament, simply declared that the crown and all its possessions was vested in Henry and the heirs of his body forever and had been so since the 21 August 1485: justification was deemed unnecessary.

1066: THE YEAR OF THREE KINGS

“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days”

(Winston Churchill)

 

“I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.”

(Catherine Morland on ‘history’ – Northanger Abbey)

 

Prologue

In the summer of 1066 William the Bastard, seventh duke of Normandy, prepared to launch and king Harold II to repel an invasion of England. William was coming, or so he said, to take the English throne that was promised to him by the late King Edward and to punish Harold for his perjury for breaking his oath of fealty to the duke. At the same time, the Norwegian king Harald Sigurdsson (Hadradi–‘the ruthless’) was also planning to invade England with the same intention of seizing the English crown, which he claimed was his by right of a promise made by king Harthacnut to the king of Norway. Meanwhile, King Harold assembled the largest army England had ever known to defend the south coast opposite Normandy against the invasion he expected to come from across the English Channel. As summer gave way to autumn and William had still not come, the concentration of English land and naval forces became problematic since they could no longer be victualed and their temper was uncertain. The fleet, which was stationed off the Isle of Wight, was therefore ordered to sail for London and the army stood down. It was undoubtedly a setback for King Harold, which was made worse by the surprise news of an invasion in the north: not by Normans but by Northmen.

 

In early September, the contrary wind that had kept William’s ships in port, swept Harald Hadradi’s fleet across the North Sea to land on the northeast coast of England. Hadradi came with between six and eight thousand Viking warriors in three hundred ships. Reinforced from Scotland by Harold’s estranged younger brother Tostig, the Vikings met and defeated a Northumbrian army at Fulford, and captured York.[1] Harold, having hastily reassembled his army, forced-marched them north as soon as possible; on the 25 September at Stamford Bridge near York he surprised and defeated the Norse invaders. At the end of a vicious no-quarter battle the gigantic frame of Harald Hadradi, the most fearsome warrior in Christendom, lay dead in the field together with Tostig and ninety per cent of the Viking force. The survivors were so few they were allowed to sail back to Norway in twenty-four ships.[2] The battle of Stamford Bridge marked the end of Viking power in the North Sea and two centuries of conflict with the English. It also bought honour and disaster in equal measure to the last of the old English kings. Four days later, the Norman army landed unopposed at Pevensey Bay, Sussex.

 

Harold was probably at York on the 1 October when he heard the news of William’s landing. In what was by any standard an impressive military achievement, he had resettled the north, re-organised his army and force-marched them 200 miles to London by the 6 October; once there he ordered the Fyrd to assemble for a battle against William. Two days after leaving London, Harold was approaching the battlefield near Hastings. Next day the 14 October 1066 the two sides met in perhaps the most decisive battle fought on British soil. The battle of Hastings is generally depicted as a classic English infantry battle. The men standing stoically behind their shield wall repelling repeated assaults by Breton infantry and Norman cavalry. It was a bitter fight, which lasted all day; but eventually, the English were undone by indirect fire. A chance arrow fired over the shield wall found its mark in king Harold. Whether it killed the king instantly or disabled him is immaterial since he was very quickly hacked to pieces where he lay. Soon after, the English shield wall, being much reduced, was overwhelmed[3]. Within two months, William was crowned King William I of England. The Norman Conquest was a defining moment in history. It bought an end to the old Anglo-Danish kingdom of England and changed the history of Christendom. Henceforth, English attention was focused south towards the Latin world and not north to the Nordic one.

 

The period between 1042 and 1066 is veiled in a mist of legend and half-truths in which fact has become almost indistinguishable from fiction. Penetrating this mist to learn the truth about the years leading up to the Conquest is no easy matter for three good reasons: first, the passage of time, second the nature and relative scarcity of contemporary chronicles, and third because I am conscious of Miss Morland’s stricture that much of what we call history is invention. Nor should I ignore Winston Churchill’s memorable description of the historians’ burden, from a speech given in 1940 when Britain faced a greater existential threat from across the Channel. Later scholars have echoed Churchill’s meaning, albeit with less eloquence. Professor Frank Barlow makes the point rather better than most: “To write a history of Edward (the Confessor) and his reign (1042-66), we have to scrape the barrel with care; every scrap of information is precious… Any historical reconstruction must be a personal creation, and the scarcer and more untrustworthy the evidence the greater the artifice. The facts simply do not speak for themselves. Nor can facts and the historian’s contribution be separated. A history is not made of bricks and mortar. The historian does his best and writes in good faith. He meets uncertainty at every turn and offers his solution. Sometimes, the only course that he can honestly follow is to offer several equally plausible possibilities between which he cannot decide. He has to steer between bland assurances for which he has no warrant, and complete scepticism, which denies his craft.”[4]

 

More recently, Dr Michael Lawson has focused on the practicability of extracting the truth from the available material, which he likens to a jigsaw with pieces missing and without a picture as a guide. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that (to continue Lawson’s metaphor) we are dealing with puzzle pieces from different jigsaws. What students of the Norman Conquest have to work with are two incompatible versions of history: the Norman narrative and the English narrative, neither of which prove anything.[5]

 

According to the Norman narrative, William never did a bad thing or fought an unjust war. He was promised the English throne by a grateful King Edward and denied it by the treacherous Harold. However virtuous the Normans may have thought William was and regardless of whether they actually believed he was promised the English crown, the reality is that the duke of Normandy made no impression on the English chroniclers. His activities obviously did not affect them and there is absolutely no suggestion in the contemporary English sources that Edward ever considered duke William, or any foreigner, as heir to his throne. Insofar as king Edward nominated a successor, he only ever considered Englishmen.

 

Historians have been trying since the early twelfth century to interpret the Norman Conquest in the context of these contrasting historical narratives. Their general opinion is that the Norman sources can be accepted despite their faults for want of anything to disprove them. The passage of time has seen the emergence of a number of different theories, which for the most part are little more than variations of the traditional narratives. William may be presented as a little less virtuous and Harold as a little more so, but the pro-Norman opinion is broadly intact. Lately, however, a school of thought has emerged that challenges the traditional Norman narrative. Modern historians seem more disposed to criticise Norman sources for being partial, and spreading propaganda intended to justify the Norman Conquest and to placate a critical Pope. There is even a modern insinuation that the whole thing was a monumental misunderstanding, which was caused by a renegade Norman cleric called Robert Champart former abbot of Jumiéges, who misled William into thinking that King Edward had bequeathed the English crown to him. It was untrue, of course, but the duke believed it implicitly.

 

To an objective observer, none of these theories is convincing or complete, since none explain the inter-relationships between England’s three kings in 1066: Edward the Confessor, Harold II and William I. Their inter-personal relations are the ‘hidden history’ that traverses this period; that, between Edward and William being of singular importance: “With both Edward and William, so much was taking place within their minds and the minds of others that the roots of the drama are ultimately unknowable. The thread that runs through everything is Edward and William’s personal relationship, a story during which nothing discernable happened for years on end, yet, which was constantly ongoing. That they met only once between 1041 and 1066 should give pause for thought.”[6]

 

It is regrettable that efforts to resolve this evidential conundrum have divided historical opinion and unwittingly diverted the historiography of the Conquest from its proper course. Instead of enlightening us, it has become in professor Bates words a ‘barrier to the truth’.[7] It seems, therefore, that to understand the Norman Conquest one first has to understand the history of its historiography. Since it is ridiculous to think that I can solve mysteries that have puzzled scholars for centuries, I will not try to do so. In this article, I am focused on what I believe are the important issues: the relationship between the three kings, Edward’s ‘promise’ and Harold’s ‘oath’. These are the elements that I believe form the basis of William’s claim to the English crown and his justification for the Conquest. But first things first: I need to start with a brief explanation of the sources I have used.

 

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle et al

The main contemporary English source is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC).[8] Written in English, the ASC is a series of seven separate manuscript annals of English history from the late ninth to the mid twelfth centuries. They were probably copied from a common source (now lost) and completed at different monasteries each with its local interest, priorities and political bias. Historians have always treated the seven manuscripts as one chronicle; though for convenience, each is designated by a letter: Ã, A, B, C, D, E and F. My interest is in manuscripts C, D and E, which cover this period of the eleventh century. In view of the number of manuscripts and the regional variations, the ASC contains errors of fact and chronology.[9] Nevertheless, these faults notwithstanding, it has great historical value as the relevant parts were written contemporaneously, without the benefit of hindsight or the necessity to explain the Norman Conquest.

 

My other primary English source is the Vita Edwardi Regis (the ‘Vita’), which was written in about 1066 by an anonymous Flemish monk for king Edward’s queen Edith. Its express purpose is to glorify her father earl Godwin of Wessex, and her siblings Harold and Tostig. Consequently, the Vita is prone to exaggerate their role and importance during the period concerned. Broadly, the Vita’s message is that king Edward and his kingdom prospered whilst he was being advised and mentored by earl Godwin and his sons.. The Vita makes use of a lost original of manuscript E and provides a few facts not in the ASC. However, its bias and the author’s relative ignorance of English history, reduces its evidential value. It should be used cautiously, even though it is a useful balance to hostile Norman accounts.[10] There are also references to twelfth century historians in my text. I have used these selectively where I believe they add value to this piece. Anglo-Norman chroniclers such as Florence of Worcester (also called John of Worcester), William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Orderic Vitalis and the Saxon monk Eadmer, wrote their histories within a hundred years of the conquest. They relied principally on the remnants of an oral tradition and the written sources, some of which are no longer extant. Naturally, they should be used cautiously since they are not contemporaneous and authors were writing under Norman hegemony. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to disregard them altogether since, as Professor Frank Barlow points out, ‘they may help’.

 

The Normans writers – William of Poitiers and William of Jumiéges

The Norman written narrative is contained in the works of William of Poitiers and William of Jumiéges. Poitiers (1020-1080) was a Norman knight turned cleric who served as duke William’s chaplain and accompanied him on campaign. He wrote ‘The Life of William Duke of Normandy and King of England’ (Gesta Willelmi ducis Normannorum et Regis Anglorum). It is by his own admission a long and detailed panegyrical account of the duke’s achievements. Poitiers missed no opportunity to exaggerate William’s virtues and Harold’s vices. Jumiéges (b 1000) was a Norman monk who wrote ‘The Life of the Duke of Normandy’ (Gesta Normannorum Ducum). It is a plain tale of the Norman victory over the ‘perfidious’ English. It lacks Poitiers’ embellishments and is generally regarded as the more reliable of the two sources. The fundamental weakness in the Norman narrative is that it did not emerge in written form until after the Conquest. Inevitably therefore, it has drawn criticism from suspicious scholars who regard it is as propaganda, concocted with the benefit of hindsight after the event to justify the Norman Conquest.

 

The Bayeux Tapestry

In his monumental six-volume history of the Norman Conquest, Edward Freeman held the Bayeux Tapestry to be the highest of the Norman authorities. His belief was founded on the way the Tapestry’s narrative unfolds. It is told from the Norman perspective but ” …with hardly any of the invention, exaggeration, or insinuation of the other Norman authorities.” [11] The Tapestry is without doubt a masterpiece of medieval narrative art and an important historical document. It records in pictorial form a course of events in England and Normandy between 1064 and 1066, and it has moulded our perception of the Norman Conquest in much the same way as a Shakespearean melodrama has for the life and reign of Richard III. So much has been written about the Tapestry since it was rediscovered in the early eighteenth century that it is impossible for me to do it justice in a paragraph or two. I will, therefore, confine myself to a couple of general but important observations. First, notwithstanding its artistic merit, the Tapestry is not art for art’s sake. Although its antecedents are uncertain, the bulk of modern scholarly opinion is that William’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, commissioned it between 1077 and 1082 as a public testament to William’s conquest of England but more particularly to glorify bishop Odo’s part therein. Traditionally it is regarded as a pro-Norman story of English oath breaking.[12]

 

My second point is that the storyline is not as simple as first thought; modern re-interpretations of the Tapestry bear witness to its complexity. One of the main problems is that observers can only interpret the tapestry from what they see. The images are not accompanied by adequate textual explanation or dialogue; furthermore, the text is confusing and possibly even misleading. There is, therefor, a natural tendency to interpret the Tapestry’s story by reference to the written works of Poitiers and Jumiéges, which results in its pro-Norman treatment. In the last fifty years, however, a different interpretation has emerged, as Professor Bates explains: “ Over recent decades, its allusive captions, often ambiguous imagery, and likely audience, its treatment less often as a source that tells the story of William’s triumph and more frequently as one that in significant respects echoes Eadmer and the Vita Edwardi Regis, together mean it is taken as a moral tale relevant to all the participants in the story.[13]

 

Dramatis personae

Edward Æthelredesson, the eldest son of the Saxon king Æthelrede and his second wife Emma of Normandy, was born at a time of great tribulation for the king his father and the Saxon people. The golden age of Anglo-Saxon England had long waned. The last decade of the tenth century and the first, of the eleventh saw a new wave of Viking raids from across the North Sea. King Æthelrede, who was not called the ‘unraede’ (ill-advised) for nothing, adopted a policy of appeasement. He paid the Norsemen to go away. It was a futile policy, which imposed an unpopular tax on the Saxon population without stopping the raids. Sensing Æthelrede’s weakness, Viking ambition turned from plunder to conquest. The Danish king Cnut invaded England in early 1016 bent on seizing the English throne; before the year’s end he had destroyed the royal Saxon house and was acknowledged king of all England by the Saxon thegns. Æthelrede was dead and his widow Emma fled to her native Normandy with their two sons Edward and Alfred. Although we know little of Edward’s life in Normandy the experience affected him profoundly in later life. He left England as a child and returned in his middle age. It will be necessary to deal with his treatment in the duchy in more detail later; for now, however, I wish only to draw attention to two contextual points.

 

First: even though England’s and Normandy had a close alliance at the turn of the eleventh century, it was not a love match but an alliance driven by force of circumstance and ballasted by Æthelrede’s marriage to Emma of Normandy in 1002.[14] Both sides were adversely affected by the resumption of Viking raiding and fearful of Scandinavian territorial ambition. From duke Richard’s perspective, Emma’s marriage secured a useful alliance that gave the duke some influence at the English court. Æthelrede’s death and Cnut’s succession did not affect this arrangement since almost immediately the duke offered Emma as a bride for her late husband’s antagonist. Emma married Cnut in 1017. She bore him one son, Harthacnut, who displaced Edward and Alfred from the English succession. The secure possession of the two English Æthelings (princes of the royal blood) was of great political and diplomatic importance to successive Norman dukes as pawns in their relations with England’s de facto Danish king. The alacrity, with which uncle Richard and their mother discarded the Æthelings’ cause in order to secure an alliance with Cnut, indicates that their value as political levers outweighed family sentiment. [15]

 

Second: there is no evidence other than what the Normans tell us that Edward felt any filial connection with his maternal relatives. It is true that he was treated honourably as a member of the ducal household; yet, he was kept in the background and his cause as the senior English Ætheling was not taken seriously until the Anglo-Norman alliance began to break down in the 1030’s; at which time, it suited the duke to use the threat posed by Edward’s Ætheling status as another control mechanism against Cnut

 

William the seventh duke of Normandy was the bastard son of duke Robert and his concubine Herleve. He inherited his ducal title at the age of seven in 1035 together with his birthright: “relations with England were…conditioned by an interconnection between the Duchy and the Kingdom, which had been formed before his birth.”[16] Of course, by 1035 that relationship had changed dramatically. The alliance with Cnut was worthless and duke Robert became increasingly involved in English affairs on the side of Edward and his younger brother Alfred. Theoretically, that policy continued after William became duke; in practice, however, there was very little that he could do to support his English cousins. As a bastard son, his minority was a tumultuous time for Normandy. The ducal court was a shambles, William’s guardians were nearly all murdered and he himself was frequently moved from place to place at night to escape his enemies. Elsewhere, the Norman nobles pursued their own private wars and vendettas. It was a time of lawlessness, which William survived only because of the inherited authority invested in his ducal office. Despite the unrest and the violence, ducal revenues continued to be collected and the church remained supportive of him.

 

David Douglas described William’s character as paradoxical. There is little doubt that the general impression of William that emerges from the pages of history is repellent (to use Douglas’ words): though not, of course, to everyone. A Norman monk, writing after William’s death, described him as the wisest prince in Christendom of his generation; he possessed ‘the largest soul’, was brave, intelligent, determined, articulate and temperate, and a good Christian. Others thought differently: an Englishman who met William and lived at his court agreed that he was a wise and powerful king, possibly the most powerful yet known to English history. He was, however, also a ‘harsh oppressor’, brutal, avaricious and above all cruel. Whilst these characteristics were not uncommon among secular leaders of the time, William was considered to have been exceptionally wanton in his disregard for human suffering. Examples of his tyranny abound in Norman and English history; suffice to say that William had an unattractive personality. Despite that, Douglas tries hard to defend him from the accusation that he was nothing more than a ruffian, a brute. He was a clever and able man, and an effective war leader. Despite his rough justice and harshness William restored the rule of law to Normandy. As king, he enforced English laws strictly; so much so, that It was said that any innocent man could wander the realm without fear of bandits or cut purses. He was also abstentious and pious. No doubt his childhood experiences had much to do with his savagery in war; but as Douglas points out it was not mindless savagery. For example, his sack of Romney in 1066 allowed for the bloodless occupation of Dover. The devastation of London and its surrounds in 1066 was a strategic necessity, which crushed defiance in the south. And his brutality in the north was successful in finally quelling resistance to his rule.[17]

 

Poitiers writes that Edward loved duke William ‘like a brother or son’; if so, such a close relationship can only have developed while Edward was in Normandy, since if they ever met afterwards (and that’s a big ‘if’), it was not more than once. It is not impossible that William, who lost his own father in 1034, regarded Edward as a father figure or perhaps as an elder brother, but it is unlikely to have occurred before duke Robert’s death. It is possible that as the Æthelings’ stock rose, Edward was admitted into the duke’s inner circle as a confidante to the boy duke; he may even have bonded with William on an emotional level. The fact remains however, that as the duke got older he became increasingly adept at separating his emotions from his political sense. Neither was Edward so foolish nor so saintly that he did not understand the political imperative of not allowing emotion to govern state policy, especially when was a king.

 

Harold Godwinson was the second son of Godwin earl of Wessex and his Danish wife Gytha. He was born sometime between the years 1020 and 1023. His father, even then, was the most famous and the most influential of king Cnut’s English earls, and the king’s principal enforcer. Earl Godwin was the son of Wulfnoth a minor Saxon thegn and a pirate; his rise under a Danish monarch is remarkable, since he was a staunch supporter of king Æthelrede during the Danish invasion. Indeed, his efforts on behalf of the doomed king so impressed Cnut that Godwin was quickly recruited as one of the ‘new men’ with whom the Danish king intended to rule his new kingdom. Godwin’s subsequent rise to the summit of the Anglo-Danish nobility was due to his achievements in royal service at a time when the king was struggling to control his dual kingdoms of England and Denmark. We cannot be certain whether Godwin led an elite force of English soldiers on Cnut’s Danish campaign or whether, more importantly, he held England as Regent for the king during his frequent absences on campaign. What is certain, however, is that by the time young Harold reached puberty his father was the established power behind the throne. Moreover, his prestige and influence continued after Cnut’s death. Earl Godwin survived the uncertain and dangerous reigns of Harold I and Harthacnut, and prospered during the reign of king Edward. It was during these years that Harold established himself as his father’s most loyal and effective lieutenant: his ‘eldest and wisest son’ and earl of East Anglia in his own right.

 

Earl Godwin’s unexpected death bought Harold to the fore in 1053.[18] He succeeded to the earldom of Wessex and to his father’s place at King Edward’s side. His role as the chief administrator of the king’s household and government (‘Mayor of the Palace’) is acknowledged by modern historians; though, there is no consensus on the nature of his influence over Edward: was it benign or malign? The ASC for all its faults has a singular advantage over other sources; it was compiled from annals written before Edward’s death. Its matter-of-fact reporting of historic events between 1053 and 1066, including war with the Scots and with the Welsh, and the steps taken to ensure an English succession does not suggest any cause for concern about the king’s relationship with Harold. Manuscripts C and D capture the prevailing contemporary English opinion of Harold as “The noble earl who ever faithfully obeyed his noble lord an words and deeds, neglecting nothing whereof the national king stood in need.[19] Predictably, the Vita Edwardi gives an even more impressive report of Harold’s service: “He wielded his father’s power even more actively and walked his ways, that is in patience and mercy, and with kindness to men of good will. But disturbers of the peace, thieves and robbers this champion of the law threatened with the face of a lion.”[20] The Vita also describes Harold as being (I paraphrase): ‘distinctly handsome, graceful, and brave. He possessed great stamina and strength, being able to go without sleep of food, which was coupled with a mildness of temper and a ready understanding. He took contradiction in good part without retaliating even once where Englishmen of compatriots were concerned. He was not rash or flippant. He was also good at concealing or disguising his intentions, so that someone who did not know him was in doubt what to think. Alas, he was also rather too generous with oaths’.[21]

 

This assessment of Harold is born out by entries in the Waltham Chronicle, which Harold’s twenty-first century biographer summarises: “The [Waltham] Chronicle too saw Harold as a fine soldier, tall in stature and incredibly strong’ more handsome than all the leading men of the land’. He was skilled in the military arts, knowledgeable, astute, vigorous, prudent, with all knightly prowess and wisdom, and well conversant with the laws of the land. Yet he could be headstrong and prone to trust too much to his own courage.” [22] We also have what is said to be a copy of Harold’s epitaph written on his tomb at Waltham (now destroyed): ” [he was the]…blessed father of our country…brave…renowned among men, a man of character and authority.[23] If these English sources are agreed on Harold’s virtues, the Norman’s are equally agreed on his vices. Though they accept he was wise and brave (thus, making William’s victory all the greater), the Normans regarded Harold as a treacherous perjurer who usurper the English throne and met a just end.

 

His contemporary reputation notwithstanding, it is difficult to make an objective judgement of Harold’s life and reign without taking account of his ambition. Due to the efforts of earl Godwin, his family were already immensely rich and powerful before his death. They were, however, politically isolated and unable to overcome opposition to their own foreign policy proposals or to resist the machinations of Robert Champart who seems to have been pushing the king towards a pro-Norman policy. Harold was every bit as ambitious as his father and even cleverer. He quickly built on the late earl’s legacy by building a pro-Godwin consensus among the English nobility. He achieved this by the force of his personality and , more importantly, by ensuring that as far as possible the key government offices and titles were filled by members of his family or their proxies. Consequently, on important issues, such as the succession he carried the weight of opinion in the Witan. Furthermore, he assiduously increased Godwin wealth, power and prestige by the acquisition of significant land holdings in the south. The Doomsday Book provides ample evidence of the massive increase in the House of Godwin’s estates during Harold’s tenure as earl. It has even been said that he was richer than the king. Such ambition raises the inference that Harold might well have considered himself to be the next king of England in the absence of a suitable English prince of royal blood. It is also a reasonable inference in these circumstances that King Edward might have felt threatened by Harold’s power. In which case, he might well look to his second cousin William as an ally against the over-mighty Godwins.

 

The English succession in 1042

Medieval English monarchs reigned with the consent of their subjects; that much is implicit in the coronation oath, which has been sworn by every English (later British) monarch since 973. By their oath English kings swore to uphold the law of the land, to protect the English church, and to be merciful and just in their governance. In return, they were crowned and anointed, which is a process that transformed their status from human to divine. As God’s representative on earth, kings could not be judged or chastised by mortal man. Indeed, the history of the British Isles gives many examples of how difficult it is to remove a bad king once he is crowned and anointed. Nevertheless, there were no hard and fast rules governing the royal succession in pre-conquest England; the guiding principle was political pragmatism, rather than hereditary right or precedent. The Anglo-Saxon Witan considered the royal succession to be far too important to be decided by the lottery of birth and they introduced a strong (occasionally decisive) element of election into the process. It is axiomatic, therefore, that nobody no matter how high born they were, nobody could expect to succeed to the throne unless they possessed the necessary qualities to rule according to their oath. It was important but not critical that any contender was of royal blood, though not necessarily the late king’s heir. A good example of this constitutional flexibility can be seen in the accession of Harold Harefoot in 1035. He was Cnut’s eldest son but not his appointed heir. Yet, he seized the throne, disinherited his half-brother Harthacnut and reigned for five years until his death in 1040. His success was due principally to the support he received from the English nobility who preferred the ‘English’ Harold to the ‘Danish’ Harthacnut.

 

In the absence of a suitable royal candidate, the throne might pass to an acceptable commoner, which is precisely what happened in 1066. The Ætheling Edgar was passed over because he was considered too young to reign; instead, Harold, a commoner was nominated by the late king and recognised by the Witan as king. It was always useful to have the late king’s nomination, which raised a presumption of competence. However, the deceased king’s wishes were not paramount, they could be, and sometimes were, ignored. For example, Cnut’s nomination of Harthacnut was ignored by the bulk of the English nobles in 1035.

 

Edward’s returned to England only twice between 1016 and 1042. His first visit, in 1035, was a foolish attempt to assert his title as Ætheling. However, he lacked English support and his mission was unsuccessful. Alfred’s later visit in the same year was equally foolish since it resulted in his capture and death in circumstances that were to blight Edward’s later relationship with earl Godwin.[24] Edward’s second visit in 1041 was presumably at the king Harthacnut’s invitation, since he still lacked support in England. Harthacnut’s reason for inviting his half brother to England is obscure; it is, nevertheless, evident that Edward was ‘associated’ with the crown from the beginning and was nominated by Harthacnut as his successor. This was doubly significant since it put Edward in a strong position to compete for the crown ahead of other claimants and it bought Edward and Godwin earl of Wessex into an association that was to prove important in the future. For the present, however, Harthacnut’s sudden and unexpected death in 1042 placed the sovereignty of England in jeopardy.

 

Edward was well qualified to wear the crown. He was the son of a king, he was Harthacnut’s nominated successor and he was born in England of mixed Saxon and Nordic blood; yet his succession was uncertain. The Scandinavians Swein Estrithson and Magnus the Good (king of Norway) also had claims to the English throne. Swein Estrithson was the grandson of Swein Forkbeard and the best Danish bloodline candidate. Magnus’ title was based on the terms of his peace settlement between with Harthacnut, in which — he claimed — Harthacnut had promised him the English throne should he (Harthacnut) die first. There was by now a well of support for Edward among the English laity but it was not limitless. Some key players maintained cautious neutrality in the beginning. Edward had to make a positive case for his succession. Ultimately, Edward’s descent from the West Saxon line of Cerdic ensured his succession in preference to the Scandinavian claimants. Swein Estrithson accepted f Edward’s succession but Magnus continued to assert his prior claim until he died. Although, Norman knights accompanied Edward on his return to England, they were an honour guard rather than a fighting force with which he could enforce his claim. If Edward owed his throne to anyone other than his parents then according to English sources that man was earl Godwin. In the English narrative, there is no doubt that it was Godwin’s status and influence that persuaded the doubtful Witan to acknowledge Edward as their liege lord.[25]

 

It is tempting to look back on Edward’s life as the story of his path to sainthood and his reign as merely the prelude to the battle of Hastings, during which time the Norman threat was ever present. However, we must resist that temptation, since that was not how it was, or even how it seemed to people at the time. Edward canonization in 1161 had more to do with twelfth century politics than with events prior to 1066. His enrolment into the ranks of the ‘Holy Confessors’ (hence his title) has influenced some modern interpretations of his kingship; however, its connection with the Conquest is so tenuous that I need say no more about it.

 

It is true that the question of the succession occupied English minds for much of Edward’s reign; however, it only became a problem once it was realised the he was not going to sire an Ætheling. The lack of a royal birth left the way open for Magnus to press his claim. Indeed, he was only prevented from doing so in 1045 by the distraction of his continuing war with Swein Estrithson. In the event, Magnus’ sudden death in 1047 probably saved Edward from disaster; it did not, however, end the Norse threat, since Harald Hadradi inherited Magnus’ claim and posed a formidable threat to Edward’s crown. Consequently, it was the risk of invasion from Scandinavia that continued to drive English foreign policy.

 

The Promise

William’s justification for the conquest of England and the validity of his title to the throne is devastatingly simple. Poitiers conveniently summarises it in the form of a message from the duke to Harold before the battle of Hastings: “The duke instructed a monk from Fecamp to carry a message to Harold. ‘It is neither boldness not injustice but mature reflection and the quest for justice, which have led me to cross to this land, of which King Edward, my lord and relative, made me the heir, as Harold himself admits, because of the high honours and benefices which I and my ancestors conferred on him and his brother, as well as their men, and because all the men of his race, he believed me to be the most worthy and capable of supporting him in his lifetime, and of governing the kingdom after his death. He would not have done this without the agreement of his magnates, by the advice of archbishop Stiggard, earl Godwin, earl Leofric and earl Siward: all of them subscribed under oath that they would receive me as lord after the death of Edward and would never in his lifetime attempt to seize the kingdom by plotting against me. He gave as hostages Godwin’s son and grandson. Finally, he sent Harold himself to Normandy, so that he and I, both being present, he would swear what his father and other men already named had sworn in my absence. But in this voyage towards me, he was in danger of being taken prisoner and I rescued him by strength and wisdom. Harold made himself my vassal by doing homage and gave me surety in writing for my claim for the kingdom of England.[26]

 

Jumiéges’ version of events is simpler: “Edward, king of the English, being according to the dispensation of God, without an heir, sent Robert [Champart], archbishop of Canterbury to the duke with a message appointing the duke as heir to the kingdom which God had entrusted to him. He also at a later time sent to the duke, Harold the greatest of all the counts in his kingdom alike in riches and honour and power. This he did in order that Harold might guarantee the crown to the duke by his fealty and confirm the same with an oath according to Christian usage…Harold thereupon…performed fealty to him in respect of the kingdom with many oaths.”[27]

 

These two sources lie at the heart of our understanding of the Norman Conquest. For centuries, historians have disregarded their deficiencies because they believed that the authors were honest reporters and duke William’s claim was essentially just. Take, for example, the following comment by Sir Frank Stenton: “William of Normandy had a direct claim to Edward’s interest as the son of the man who protected him in exile. That he carried his interest to the point of recognizing William as his heir is placed beyond reasonable doubt by the reiterated assertions of the Norman writers that there was on occasion when he promised the kingdom to William. They do not agree about the date of the promise…but there is much to suggest that some recognition of the kind was an incident … in the English revolution of 1051.[28] Sir Frank Stenton is such a distinguished historian that it is difficult to accept that he believed its repetition was sufficient to prove the Norman claim ‘beyond serious doubt’. Proof to that high standard requires independent corroboration or unimpeachable documentary evidence, neither of which is present for this claim. It is an example of the tendency of some historians to accept the Norman account without any genuine critical analysis. Dr Michael Lawson makes an even stranger assertion about the credibility of the Norman narrative as evidence: “Even though they (Poitiers and Jumiéges) had every reason to be biased on the issue, and say some things that are difficult to believe, much of what followed becomes intelligible if this an other statements by William of Jumiéges and his fellow Norman writer William of Poitiers…are accepted.[29]

 

Inevitably, some historians dismiss the Norman narrative as propaganda on the several grounds that it is biased, unsubstantiated and incredible.[30] Professor Frank Barlow baulked at describing it as ‘wholly fictitious’ but he did think it was ‘ex parte’ (one-sided) and ‘ex post facto’ (after the fact).[31] The accusation of bias, though undoubtedly true, goes only to its evidential value; it is not proof of its falseness. Similarly, the lack of corroboration by an independent source goes to the weight to be attributed to the Norman texts as evidence; it does not disprove them. Indeed, in the context of eleventh century diplomacy and international politics, it is questionable whether an independent witness actually existed: they all had an axe to grind. The force of the sceptics’ argument lies in the cumulative effect of all three grounds advanced, especially the last. The assertion that the Norman tradition is far-fetched provides disbelieving scholars with the means to probe for and to exploit the flaws of commission and omission contained in it.

 

The contention that Edward bequeathed his throne to William out of gratitude does not bear close examination.[32] Whilst in exile, Edward never abandoned his Ætheling status or allowed people to forget his noble lineage. His actions after he left Normandy in 1041 certainly support the view that his thoughts about exile were not particularly kindly or forgiving. Indeed, such was his bitterness towards Emma, the mother who abandoned him, that in 1043 he reduced her to penury and kept her in close, though not uncomfortable, confinement. William of Malmesbury also relates how earl Godwin convinced Edward that the ‘miseries and poverty’ he endured in exile would discipline him to be a just king.[33] Neither is there any evidence that the Normans did much to promote his succession. Malmesbury wrote this about Edward and Alfred’s situation in 1017: “I find that their uncle Richard took no steps to restore them to their country: on the contrary, he married his sister Emma to the enemy and invader; it may be difficult to say whether, to the greater ignominy of him who bestowed her, or of the woman who consented to share the nuptial couch of that man who had cruelly molested her husband and driven her children into exile”[34] It’s true, as Malmesbury states, that duke Robert considered restoring Edward to his inheritance in the 1030’s after he and Cnut became alienated, but that came to nothing. When Harthacnut died in 1042, William was still struggling to establish his own hegemony in Normandy and anyhow Norman help was unnecessary since “ …the whole nation then received Edward as king, as was his right by birth”. [35]   In fact, he seems to have been ‘elected’ even before Harthacnut’s funeral

 

Neither is it true that Edward deliberately packed his court and the Church with influential Normans, in preparation for an eventual Norman succession. Of the five nobles he created, none were Norman; of his twenty-nine ecclesiastical appointments, seven were foreigners and three of those were Norman.[36] Most of the men who accompanied Edward to England were friends and acquaintances from his time in exile; few, were men of substance in their homeland. They came to England to make their fortune. Edward actually promoted more Lotharingians than Normans. Robert Champart the former Norman abbot of Jumiéges, was the only Norman chosen for high ecclesiastical office and that was a disastrous appointment.

 

Sceptical historians also assert that regardless of what Edward may or may not have wanted, William was barred from the English succession because he was a bastard. The ancient Synod of Chelsea (787) proclaimed that only legitimate kings were to be chosen ‘none resulting from adulterous or incestuous relationships.’ The weakness of this argument is that although it represented the considered policy of the English church and English custom, it was not representative of Scandinavian or Norman culture at the time.[37] Bastardy was not the stigma on the continent that it was in England. That said, it is inconceivable that the English nobility would have considered it an honour to have a foreign bastard on the throne. This is an important point because it highlights the cultural and constitutional difference between England and Normandy, where inheritance was by primogeniture (the inheritance of the first born son). I think this point further militates against the view that Edward’s promise, if he made it, was valid or even that he meant it to be taken seriously.

 

It is a curious feature of the English narrative that it is not based on what is written in the ASC or the Vita Edwardi, but on what is omitted therefrom. Neither text contains any reference to Edward’s bequest. There are two references to the English succession in the ASC. The D and the E manuscripts each refer to the fact that in 1057, king Edward recalled his nephew Edward the Exile from banishment in Hungary. William of Malmesbury adds that the king specified that Edward the Exile was to be accompanied by all his family, since it was the king’s intention “ as he declared that either he or his sons should succeed to the hereditary kingdom of England ”, Florence of Worcester concurring. [38] Unfortunately nothing came of this, as Edward the Exile died en route to England, leaving his infant son Edgar as the remaining English Ætheling. The other reference to the succession is for the year 1066, when king Edward was on his deathbed: “ yet did the wise king entrust his kingdom to a man of high rank, to Harold himself, the noble earl who ever faithfully obeyed his noble lord in words and deeds neglecting nothing, whereof the national king stood in need.” [39] This leads me to an argument raised by the late Peter Rex; he argues that whatever Edward may or may not have promised to William, he changed his mind twice; first in 1057 and again in 1066. According to Rex Edward was entitled to do this under English civil inheritance law, which held that each new bequest superseded the previous one. Consequently, any bequest he might have made to William was cancelled in any event. While this is an attractive argument, it fails because it is based on the premise that English ‘kingship’ (i.e. the ‘Crown’ as a concept) is the heritable property of the royal family, which is wrong. The office of king (the crown) is not royal property to be bequeathed as though it was land or jewellery or money. The analogy with civil law is inappropriate because, as I have already said elsewhere, the succession is a political process and not a legal one. The reality is that Edward could not promise, bequeath or grant the throne to anybody, since that person would only ascend the throne if he had the support of the Witan. King’s could and often did make their preference known, which may or may not be accepted by the English nobility.[40]

 

The only reference to duke William in the ASC, is the following entry in manuscript D for the year 1051/52: “Then soon came duke William from beyond the sea with a great retinue of Frenchmen, and the king received him and as many of his companions as it pleased him, and let him go again.”[41] It is odd that this entry is unsupported by other contemporary English sources, especially in view of the tense political and diplomatic situation at the time. It raises two possibilities: i) that there was no contact or diplomatic arrangement between England and Normandy, or ii) it was of no consequence to the English chroniclers. Though this silence cannot be ignored or dismissed, it doesn’t actually prove anything. There are many reasons why Edward’s bequest was not recorded by the English; for example: it never happened, it was not newsworthy or perhaps they did not realise they needed to refute a hypothetical future claim of Norman legitimacy.

 

The combination of Norman ambiguity and English reticence has forced historians to speculate about if, when and how Edward might have bequeathed the throne to William. The general opinion is that, if it happened at all, it probably happened during or soon after a conflict between the King and Earl Godwin that erupted in 1051. Edward had not forgiven earl Godwin for his part in the death of Alfred the Ætheling and, stirred-up by Robert Champart the archbishop of Canterbury, wanted to bring Godwin down a peg or two. Godwin, for his part, resented his loss of influence at court caused by Champart’s machinations. The tension between king and earl came to a head in the summer of 1051. A violent clash in Dover between the townsfolk and the retinue of Count Eustace of Boulogne proved to be the catalyst for rebellion. Many people were killed in the affray and Eustace complained to Edward about the violence done to his men. The king therefore commanded Godwin to sack Dover as punishment for the brawl. The earl refused to do so on the grounds that the town lay within his estates and he did not wish to impose such a crushing punishment on his own vassals; especially if, as he believed, the king had acted hastily without knowing all the facts. Thus, it was that Godwin and his sons assembled a ‘great army’ and marched to within fifteen miles of where the king held court at Gloucester.[42]

 

The ASC (D) reports that the rebels were resolved to fight the king, unless count Eustace was handed over to them. However, the more sympathetic (to Godwin) E manuscript reports that they merely wanted to get the king’s and his council’s advice on how they might redress the wrongs done to them. It doesn’t really matter which of these two versions we believe since despite his wealth and power, Godwin was in this instance politically isolated. Loyalists’ flocked to Edward’s cause with their retinues and Godwin was soon outmuscled. Both sides withdrew from armed conflict to consider their positions. The king, now further reinforced, demanded that Godwin and his sons should appear before the Witan to explain their conduct. Unfortunately, the breach of trust was too serious for Godwin and his sons to place themselves at the king’s mercy. They refused to appear and were forced to flee the country. Earl Godwin went to Flanders with three of his sons; Harold went to Ireland with his youngest brother.

 

One of the significant features of the rebellion was the king’s repudiation of his wife Edith, which may have been at the behest of Robert Champart. In David Douglas’ opinion, the importance of this whole episode is that it bought the king’s childlessness and the problem of the succession to the fore at a time when earl Godwin’s influence at court had been removed. It is about this time, ‘before the end of 1051’ as Douglas writes, that Edward nominated William of Normandy as his heir.[43]The rebellion of the earl of Wessex may even have been caused by knowledge of this transaction and the affair at Dover would in that case have been regarded as a secondary cause of the upheaval that followed.”[44] In any event, and this is the point, Edward was now free to establish closer ties with Normandy. it has been suggested that William came to England personally to receive Edward’s promise. The authority for this proposition is the single entry in manuscript D of the ASC to which I have already referred. Florence of Worcester’s repetition of this entry may have led some historians to link William’s visit to Edward’s royal promise. Others doubt the visit ever took place.[45] Fortunately, we do not need to decide between the different opinions, since even if the visit did take place, there is nothing in manuscript D or in Florence of Worcester’s account or even in the Norman texts to suggest it was concerned with the English succession. Neither William of Poitiers nor William of Jumiéges ever assert that William received his promise directly from Edward, which they surely would have done had they known about it; it would have strengthened William’s claim immeasurably.[46] In fact, they do not mention the visit at all.

 

If we accept that William’s visit did take place, it is inconceivable that he would have come uninvited. So, why would he come? It was not for his aunt Emma’s funeral, which he never attended. If William came to see Edward at all, it is probable he came as a petitioner to seal a treaty of friendship between Normandy and England. Pete Rex thinks that is a possibility based on his interpretation of the single entry in the ASC (D): “ When king Edward accepted William and some (not all of) his men, he accepted them as vassals…William had done homage and fealty to Edward, probably to seal a treaty of friendship or alliance between them.” [47] On this interpretation, William’s visit had ‘no connotations’ of making him king of England. If William came as a petitioner, it might explain why the Norman writers do not mention the visit. They could never bring themselves to represent William as a petitioner seeking a favour of Edward. Equally, William may have come to support his cousin against the English rebels, or even to size-up his chances of claiming the English throne. In view of this last possibility, Sir Frank Stenton’s speculation that William might have had ‘designs’ on the English crown from as early as 1047 has implications he might not have intended. It implies that William’s aspiration for the English crown may have stemmed from imperial ambition rather than the recovery of his inheritance.[48]

 

The Norman sources are, however, explicit. It was Robert of Jumiéges who conveyed Edward’s promise to duke William. Unfortunately, they do not date Robert’s visit, which has given rise to some intense speculation about when it might have taken place. If, as some scholars suggest, it was in 1051, during Robert’s visit to Rome for his pallium as archbishop of Canterbury, one wonders why no mention of it is made in the ASC or in the Vita in the context of earl Godwin’s rebellion, which they report in great detail. The difficulty is that Poitiers asserts that the three great English earls and archbishop Stigand agreed with Edward’s promise. If that is true, it dates the promise to 1052, after Godwin had recovered his authority with the king. In which case, Robert of Jumiéges could hardly have been the messenger since he had fled the country by then.[49] There is no right answer to this conundrum; the ‘evidence ‘ is just not there to do other than theorise.

 

The Oath

Harold’s visit to Normandy provides different challenges. It is possibly the most important episode in the pre-conquest story since it goes to the core of the William’s claim. Harold’s perjury was his raison d’etre for invading England. The whole episode as it is described stems from the pens of the Norman writers. They assert king Edward sent his greatest lord, Harold Godwinson, to Normandy to guarantee Williams succession on oath. On his way to Normandy, Harold was captured and imprisoned at Ponthieu by Count Guy of Abbeville. Harold was released following the duke’s personal intervention and taken to Normandy where he ‘sojourned’ as the duke’s ‘guest’ for a while. Whilst in Normandy, he swore an oath of allegiance to the duke ‘according to Christian usage’ and as he had been commanded to do by king Edward.

 

The challenge for those writing about this affair now is that the truth cannot be established. The evidence is too unreliable. For instance, there is obvious confusion about the venue for Harold’s oath swearing: Poitiers puts it at Bonneville, the Bayeux Tapestry shows Bayeux, Orderic Vitalis suggests Rouen and William of Jumiéges says nothing. What are we supposed to think? We also have to take into account Poitiers’ tendency to exaggerate, which is apparent in the passage where he suggests that Harold’s embassage was meant to increase Edward’s honour; presumably, by the acquisition of such a distinguished heir. That is nonsense, since it is patently obvious that it was the king who honoured the duke if he named him as heir.[50] Despite his position in the duke’s household and despite his glorification of William’s character and achievements, Poitiers is evidently not an eyewitness to the events he describes.  It is most likely that he was using information contained from a complex and sophisticated legal case, which William had submitted to his fellow Christian Princes and to the Pope, in support of his title to the English crown and to reassure them about his intentions.[51]

 

Finally, on the issue of Norman credibility, I refer to Poitier’s statement that Harold gave his oath willingly as a quid pro quo for retaining his titles and estates after William’s accession. This version of events is too improbable to accept. Harold was the king’s wealthiest, most powerful and most important subject. He was England’s most redoubtable warrior, an excellent diplomat and a wise administrator. As head of the king’s household and his principal advisor, Harold took on the burden of the governance and administration of the realm while the king concentrated on his own priorities: religious devotion and hunting. The political reality is that Harold was easily the best person to succeed Edward after his death.[52] The idea that Harold would willingly give this up merely to maintain his status quo as an earl in William’s court is absurd. Paul Hill regards this whole thing as akin to a negotiation in which Harold was bargaining for his own demands.[53] Even if we accept Hill’s analogy, it is impossible to think that Harold would accept so little in exchange for so much unless, of course, he had no choice.

 

Even though the truth of Harold’s visit can never be known, there are some agreed facts that need not trouble us. First, it is indisputable that Harold visited the Continent probably in 1064. Second, it is accepted that, whether by design or misadventure, Harold fell into the hands of duke William and spent time in Normandy as the duke’s guest. Third, we can be sure that whether under duress or voluntarily Harold swore an oath to William of some sort. What remain in dispute are: (i) the purpose of Harold’s visit, (ii) the type and meaning of his oath and (iii) whether the oath was given as a result of deception and/or under duress.

 

The Tapestry’s treatment of this episode is revealing. As Freeman recognised and others have argued, it owes more to Eadmer’s Saxon tradition than Poitiers’ or Jumiéges’ Norman one.[54] According to Eadmer, Harold persuaded a reluctant king to allow him to travel to Normandy to bring back his brother and his nephew who were hostages there. The king did not trust William; he believed he would seek to gain ” some great advantage to himself. ” Despite his fear that the trip would end badly for Harold and for the kingdom, the king did not veto it. Harold sailed for Normandy but was shipwrecked in a great storm, captured by the Lord of Ponthieu and imprisoned. He managed to bribe a guard with the promise of reward and the duke of Normandy was told what had happened. The duke secured Harold’s release and took him to Normandy ‘for a few days’. William agreed to release the hostages on condition that Harold supported his claim to the English crown, which, he said, was promised to him by Edward when he was in Normandy and “when they were both young.”   Perceiving the danger, Harold agreed to William’s condition; whereupon, he was made to swear an oath on holy relics. Harold returned to England with his nephew (his brother remaining as surety for Harold’s help). “When, on being questioned by the king he told him what had happened and what he had done, the king exclaimed: ‘Did I not tell you that I knew William and that your going might bring untold calamity on this kingdom!’ Shortly after this Edward died.” [55]

 

The Tapestry gives no hint as to the purpose of Harold’s visit and to understand the Saxon interpretation we must begin at the end, with the scene showing Harold’s return and his meeting with the king: “It captures the scene of Harold’s return to Edward brilliantly. Harold is shown in an astonishingly but deliberately contorted stance; his head is bent low, his neck stretched out, his shoulders remarkably hunched, his hands raised in a vain attempt at explanation.”[56] It is plain to see that Harold is no longer considered to be a knight above reproach; indeed, “he is an outcast devoid of honour, his hunched and twisted figure announces his moral depravity much as does Shakespeare’s that of Richard III.” [57]

 

  1. The Bayeux Tapestry: Harold reporting the outcome of his journey to Edward Bayeux Tapestry 02.jpg

 

The artist’s skill is in the fact that a Norman audience (for whom this was intended) would see exactly what they expected to see: perfidious Harold. Whereas, on a more thoughtful appreciation, we can see that this scene does not depict Harold returning from a successful mission upon which the king had sent him (and as the Norman case requires). Edward’s admonishing finger pointed at the earl only makes sense in the context of Eadmer’s account that the king disapproved of the trip and even more of the outcome. This interpretation might explain the ambiguity of the opening scene of the Tapestry; wherein, the king and the earl are portrayed in a master-servant relationship.

 

  1. Edward and Harold ‘discuss’ the earls planned journey to NormandyBayeux Tapestry 01.jpg

The Norman lord who commissioned the tapestry and Norman the audiences would have little difficulty in perceiving this as Edward commanding Harold to go to Normandy to confirm William’s designation as heir to the throne; though, significantly that is not at all obvious from the accompanying textual inscription. The reason for the visit is not made clear from the text, as it very easily could have been. This ambiguity may have been deliberate so as to make a dual interpretation possible without it being obvious to the Normans. Furthermore, in the context of the final scene, Edward’s finger pointed at Harold’s chest coupled with the king’s facial expression and the manner in which he leans towards Harold suggests that he could very easily having been making the point forcefully that Harold’s proposed journey was a bad idea.

If Harold was not sent by Edward to guarantee Williams succession, then why did he go to Normandy? It could have been, as Eadmer states, to recover hostages. We know that William held two English hostages, one of whom returned to England with Harold.[58] That said, the question of hostages is a matter of some controversy among scholars. Poitiers declared that in order to confirm his grant of the succession Edward surrendered Godwin’s unnamed son and nephew as hostages to the duke. Eadmer not only names the hostages as Godwin’s son Wulfnoth and his nephew Hakon but he also links their presence in Normandy to the reconciliation of the king and earl Godwin in 1052. According to Eadmer, Edward demanded hostages as sureties for Goodwin’s loyalty. Eadmer implies that Robert Champart, archbishop of Canterbury, conveyed the hostages to Normandy at the same time as he fled there to avoid Godwin’s vengeance.[59] The ASC (E) supports Eadmer’s account. According to it, bishop Stigand and the ‘wise men both inside and outside the city’ intervened with God’s help in what was a standoff between the king and the earl “…and advised that hostages should be given as surety on either side, and so it was done.” Barlow is inclined to regard this as ‘unconvincing’ support for Eadmer; he quibbles about whether hostages were actually exchanged. The fact the ASC says explicitly ‘this was done’ is convincing enough for me.

 

Harold may have been trying to arrange a dynastic marriage between the duke’s family and his own. The author of ‘King Harald’s Saga’ certainly thinks that the problem between the two men was caused by a broken marriage promise; it seems, that much of Christendom thought the same.[60] According to Peter Rex: ” Most accounts of the matter, outside Normandy, state that Harold had agreed to marry a daughter of the duke and that the quarrel between was because he broke his word to do so. It was that and not an oath about the English succession that was widely known throughout Western Europe.”[61] William of Malmesbury is not sure what to believe. He half-heartedly rejects the claim that Edward sent Harold to Normandy to confirm William’s succession, on grounds that “he imagined (that) device to extricate himself…(from the clutches of Guy of Abbeville).”[62] In Malmesbury’s view, it is ‘nearest the truth’ to say that Harold went sea fishing and was blown onto the shore at Ponthieu by a tempest, and seized by Guy’s men, who imprisoned him. Subsequently, he was liberated at William’s command and taken personally to Normandy by Guy. There he ingratiated himself to the Normans by his courage and ability: “Of his own accord (he) confirmed to (William) by oath the castle of Dover, which was under his jurisdiction and the kingdom of England, after the death of Edward.[63] It is at this point that Harold is supposed to have been betrothed to William’s daughter.

 

Peter Rex offers what he considers to be the natural explanation for Harold’s journey; namely, that he was scrutinizing the possible opposition.[64] The Vita Edwardi describes Harold’s fondness for using foreign trips to spy out the land, and to familiarise himself with the character, policy and strength of the princes of Gaul. This is espionage, which Harold carried out “…personally and adroitly…and by God’s grace, he came home passing with watchful mockery through all ambushes as was his way.[65] The simplest explanation of a mystery is often the correct one and it may be so here: who knows? Rex is surely right, though, to conclude that none of these conflicting accounts are watertight or compelling. What they do tell us, however, is that the Norman narrative was not universally accepted outside the duchy.

 

I turn now to the third question. The belief that Harold was an oath breaker was widespread Europe after of the Conquest. The Norman sources are partial and they have embellished the circumstances of the oath; nevertheless, they are unlikely to have fabricated it. Given what we are told of his character, the idea that Harold was tricked is preposterous. The relevant question is whether he swore an oath readily rather than willingly to escape the danger he perceived. It would be the rational thing to do and in keeping with his apparent fondness for oath taking. By all accounts, Harold was a savvy politician, diplomat and soldier. He was well able to conceal his feelings and his intentions, and to dissemble if necessary. It is inconceivable that he was not aware of the posturing taking place in Normandy. He surely realised that, in the absence of a suitable prince of the royal blood, he was the best English candidate to succeed Edward. And he must also have realised, if not before then certainly during his sojourn in Normandy, that William was a rival for the throne. There were other rivals, he knew, but William was the most dangerous. I don’t think Harold had any intention of curtailing his own regal ambition by supporting William’s claim, or of marrying the duke’s daughter. Yet, discretion being the better part of valour, he probably thought there was less risk in pretending he might.

 

Eadmer’s ‘History’ supports the above interpretation. Even though he is not an eyewitness and his account is unique, Eadmer is probably reporting a Saxon tradition current in England after the Conquest. Indeed, we can infer as much from the Bayeux Tapestry, to which I have already referred. The importance of this is that it confirms that even the Saxons believed Harold swore an oath of some sort about the English succession. Eadmer describes how William wrote to the newly crowned Harold, demanding that he send his sister to Normandy as he promised and reproaching Harold for violating his other promises, given on oath. Harold’s reply as described by Eadmer is a potent mixture of sarcasm and contempt, which indicates that Harold was not inclined to appease the duke: ” My sister, whom according to our pact you ask for, is dead. If the duke wishes her body, such as it now is, I will send it, that I may not be held to have violated my oath. As to the stronghold at Dover and the well of water in it, I have completed that according to our agreement, although for whose use I cannot say. As for the kingdom, which was not then mine, by what right could I give or promise it? If it is about his daughter he is concerned, whom I ought, as he asserts, take to be my wife, he must know that I have no right to set any foreign woman upon the throne of England without having first consulted the princes. Indeed, I could not do so without committing a great wrong.”[66] Harold’s scornful attitude is even clearer as the continuing ‘correspondence’. William, now incensed, replies that unless Harold keeps his promise to marry his daughter, he will enforce his right to the English succession by force of arms; to which, Harold replies: “I will not do the one and I do not fear the other.” [67]

 

The point that Harold had no authority to promise the throne to William is certainly true, as both men well knew. It is, however, beside the point since that is not accusation made against Harold. He is alleged to have pledged his support for the duke’s succession. The reply that Eadmer attributes to Harold avoids the issue, possibly because the accusation cannot be denied. The possibility remains that Harold was confident he could wriggle out of an oath obtained under duress and, furthermore he didn’t fancy the duke’s chances of enforcing it. This is pure speculation of course, since we cannot know the absolute objective truth after the passage of nine hundred and fifty years.

We covered a sequel to Hastings here

[1] Tostig Godwinsson was the former earl of Northumberland. In 1065, the Northumbrians rebelled against him and rejected him as their ldeao Stephen Morillo (Ed) – The battle of Hastings (Boydell 1996) rd. He fled to Flanders where his wife’s kin were. He was resentful of Harold for not coming to his aid and threw in his lot with the Norwegians in 1066. Harald Sigurdsson said he had inherited King Magnus of Norway’s title, which was derived from a treaty with the late king Harthacnut of England. Tostig had attempted his own invasion in May but was driven northwards where he harried the English coast until he sailed for Norway. Harold perceived Tostig’s raiding as a precursor to William’s planned invasion. The actual number of warriors involved on both sides is unknown but best estimates suggest between 5-6000 men on each side at Fulford and probably similar numbers at Stamford Bridge. However, the English losses at Fulford were heavy in their best troops, who could not be replaced in time to face the Normans in the south. These northern troops were sorely missed at Hastings. It is probable that Harold would have defeated the Norman invaders, were it not for the distraction of the Norwegian invasion. This is all I propose to say about the Norwegian invasion and the role of Tostig in English politics since they are not strictly germane to my main article.

[2] Magnus Magnusson and Herman Pálsson (Trans) – King Harald’s Saga from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (Penguin Classics 1966) pp.140-155; this is the most detailed Scandinavian source for the Norwegian invasion of 1066. It cannot, however, be taken literally since it was not written contemporaneously with events and Snorri was an inveterate storyteller with a tendency to embellish the facts.

[3] The battle of Hastings is itself the subject of a controversy that raises issue I cannot deal with in this article. The traditional depiction of the fighting and the course of the battle have been contradicted by military experts, as has its location. See, for example, Stephen Morillo (Ed) – The battle of Hastings (Boydell 1996); MK Lawson   – The Battle of Hastings 1066 (The History Press 2016 edition); John Grehan and Martin Mace – The Battle of Hastings 1066: the uncomfortable truth (Pen & Sword Books 2012).

[4] Frank Barlow – Edward the Confessor (Yale 1997 edition) p.xxix

[5] Lawson, p.17

[6] David Bates – William the Conqueror (Yale 2016) p.7

[7] Bates, ibid

[8] GN Garmonsway (ed and trans) – The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (JM Dent, Everyman edition 1972)

[9] Ian Walker – Harold: the last Anglo-Saxon king (Sutton 1997) p.xx

[10] Frank Barlow (ed and trans) – Vita Edwardi Regis (The Life of King Edward) (Nelson Medieval Texts 1962) pp.9-10; Thomas Forester (trans) – The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester with two continuations (London 1854) passim; see also Barlow (Edward) passim: esp Appendix A, pp.291-300.

[11] E A Freeman – The Authority of the Bayeux Tapestry [published in ‘The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry’ [Richard Gameson (Ed)] (Boydell 1997) pp.7-15]; this essay was reproduced from Freeman’s ‘The Norman Conquest of England: its causes and results (Oxford 1875) pp.563-575

[12] Lawson pp.77-85 for example; Dr Lawson’s interpretation of Tapestry is a typical example of the general opinion that its storyline has a theme of English oath breaking.

[13] Bates p.194; Peter Rex – Harold II: the doomed Saxon king (Tempus 2005) passim, but esp pp.157-178; NP Brooks and HE Walker – The authority and interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry: published in Richard Gameson (Ed) – The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry (Boydell Press 1997) pp. 63-92; this is a seminal article on modern thinking about the Tapestry; see also Andrew Bridgeford -1066: the hidden history of the Bayeux Tapestry (Walker & Co 2006) et passim; see also Carola Hicks – The Bayeux Tapestry: the story of a modern masterpiece (Vintage 2008) Chp 1 passim.

[14] Emma was the half-Viking sister to Richard I duke of Normandy (942-996). Her nephew, Richard II (996-1027) was Edward’s first cousin. As the (illegitimate) son of duke Richard’s younger brother Robert (1027-1035), William the Bastard was Edward’s second cousin

[15] Mk Lawson – Cnut: England’s Viking king (The History Press 2011 edition) pp.104-107. Dr Lawson raises the possibility that Cnut offered to share the of England kingdom with Æthelrede’s sons; however, duke Robert death in 1034 and Cnut’s death soon after prevented this proposal being taken forward.

[16] David Douglas – William the Conqueror (Yale1999 edition) pp.160-67 (esp161)

[17] Douglas pp.364-376. I make no apology for extrapolating this paragraph from Douglas’ biography; Bates pp.513-528 offers a different approach. He rejects Douglas’ straightforward ‘paradoxical’ interpretation of William’s character in favour of a more subtle judgement, which frankly was too elusive for my taste.

[18] Vita p.30; Swein Godwinsson was the eldest of Godwin’s sons; however, he died in 1052.

[19] Garmonsway pp.194-195

[20] Vita; ibid

[21] Rex (Harold) pp.86 and 87; Vita p.30

[22] Rex (Harold) ibid, citing L Watkins and M Chibnal (Eds) – The Waltham Chronicle (Oxford Medieval Texts 1994). the author of the Waltham Chronicle claimed that his information came from Turkill the Sacristan, an old man who was a contemporary of Harold.

[23] Rex (Harold) p.87 citing: Harleian MS3776. Fol. 62n & 62v.

[24] Alfred was captured on his way to London by earl Godwin and his men, and handed over to king Harold I’s men who killed him in particularly gruesome circumstances; whether this was through negligence or by design is not known. Edward never forgave Godwin for his part in the death of his brother.

[25] Frank Stenton – Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1971 3rd edition) p.560

[26] Morillo, p.11; this is a useful text book because it contains extracts from the Norman and English sources, from which my quote is taken

[27] Morillo p.18

[28] Stenton p.561;

[29] Lawson pp.23 and 97; even though Dr Lawson acknowledges the difficulties of the Norman accounts (see also my note 3 above) he chooses to either reject or ignore his own concerns.

[30] Barlow (Edward) passim; Rex (Edward) chapter 13 et passim; Peter Rex – Harold II; the doomed Saxon king (Tempus 2005) Chapter 8 et passim. All these authors challenge the Norman tradition in detail that is impossible to repeat in this article.

[31] Barlow (Edward) p.107

[32] Barlow (Edward) ibid: citing Poitiers pp. 30-32,158,168 and 174-176, and Jumiéges p.132.

[33] William of Malmesbury p. 217

[34] William of Malmesbury p 198

[35] Garmonsway pp.162-163 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record of Edward’s succession with its accustomed brevity

[36] Rex (Harold) p.35; Walker p.25

[37] Rex (Edward) p.173; of course, bastardy was treated differently in Norman culture, which was Scandinavian in origin. See also Bates pp. 513-528

[38] William of Malmesbury p.253 and Florence of Worcester p.159; Malmesbury and Florence were writing in the twelfth century, by which time England was a hereditary kingdom. It was the Normans who introduced the continental practice of succession by strict inheritance and primo geniture. Although that was not the case in England during the Saxon dynasty, the Anglo-Norman chroniclers may have simply reflected 12th century pro-Norman opinion as they were given to understand it.

[39] Garmonsway p.195

[40] Rex (Edward) pp.176-179; this sets out Rex’s argument and his reasoning

[41] Garmonsway p.176; see also Florence of Worcester p.152. Florence mentions the duke’s visit with a retinue, adding that “on their return (Edward) made them many valuable presents”

[42] Stenton p.563

[43] Douglas p.169

[44] Douglas ibid

[45] Lawson p.24, believes that William visited England “presumably to thank king Edward for the offer of the throne and to accept it ”; see also Paul Hill – The Road to Hastings: the politics of power in Anglo-Saxon England (Tempus 2005) pp.108-110. Hill treats the visit and Edward’s promise as established facts. For a different opinion see Douglas at P.169; he thinks the visit is unlikely to have taken place, as William was too busy campaigning against his enemies in Normandy.

[46] Rex (Edward) pp.113-114 contains a helpful discussion on this topic

[47] Rex (Edward) ibid; Rex’s point is legalistic since it depends on the construction and context of the language used in the text to describe the visit. Put simply, Rex argues that the words used imply that Edward was the ‘lord’ and William was the ‘vassal’ in their relationship, and that William did fealty to Edward. Given the obvious disparity in their status, it is reasonable to consider the king superior to the duke.

[48] Frank Stenton – Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 1971 3rd edition) p.560

[49] Rex (Harold) pp.148-149; Rex is merely exploring the possibilities

[50] Barlow (Edward) p.225

[51] Barlow (Edward) pp.223; Bates p.193; Poitiers account is described as ‘the exposition of a legal case”

[52] Rex (Harold) pp.150-151

[53] Hill p.135

[54] Geoffrey Bosanquet (Trans) – Eadmer’s History of Recent Events in England [Historia Novorum in Anglia] (London 1964) pp.6-8; Eadmer (1060-1127) was a Saxon monk from Canterbury who was born before the battle of Hastings. His Historia Novorum in Anglia is primarily a history of the public life of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury and Eadmer’s hero. Eadmer has a good reputation among scholars for his prose and his objectivity. He had what Malmesbury called ‘a chastened elegance of style’. He anticipated modern historians by concentrating his history on a specific subject and provides useful insight into the reigns of the Norman kings. His account of events before he was born probably reflects an Anglo-Saxon oral tradition.

[55] Eadmer ibid

[56] Brooks and Walker p.73

[57] MEJ Cowdrey – Towards an interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry: published in Richard Gameson (Ed) – The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry (Boydell Press 1997) p.101

[58] Barlow (Edward) pp. 124 and 301 citing Poitiers at pp100 & 114

[59] There is a school of thought that argues the possibility that it was at this point that Robert Champart misled the duke into believing he (William) was Edward’s nominated heir. Robert may even have suggested that the ‘hostages’ were Edward’s surety for that bequest. This is pure speculation, which only makes sense if we accept the fact that Robert abducted Wulfnoth and Hakon, and forcibly and illegally removed them from Edward’s power. Otherwise, it is inconceivable that Edward, a crowned and anointed monarch would offer surety to mere a duke for a promise that he had no need to make and could not be enforced after his death.

[60] Magnus Magnusson and Herman Pálsson (Trans) – King Harald’s Saga from Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla (Penguin Classics 1966) pp.131-133: of all the accounts of this visit, this Scandinavian one is the most entertaining. Intriguingly Snorri records William’s jealousy and his suspicion that his wife Matilda was flirting with Harold.

[61] Rex (Edward) p.175 citing a number of obscure references, including ‘an anonymous writer of Cambrai’ and De Inviventione S Crucis: see also Rex (Harold) pp.157-178 for a useful discussion with references, concerning Christendom’s perception of Harold’s visit and his agreement with William. However, Rex is mistaken to write that Harold was supposed to have agreed to be William’s vicar, from the word ‘vicarius’. A ‘vicar’ is specifically God’s representative on earth (SOED). Vicarious in this context means no more than representative or proxy.

[62] Malmesbury pp.254-255

[63] Malmesbury ibid

[64] Rex (Edward) p.174; Vita Edwardi p.33

[65] Vita Edwardi ibid

[66] Eadmer p.8

[67] Eadmer p.9

ENGLAND’S MINORITY KINGS 1216-1483

Introduction

This essay was prompted by a sentence in John Ashdown-Hill’s latest book ‘The Private Life of Edward IV’: “ According to English custom, as the senior living adult prince of the blood royal, the duke of Gloucester should have acted as Regent — or Lord Protector as the role was then known in England — for the young Edward V, eldest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, who had been proclaimed king in London.” Not only is this casual generalization about the status of Gloucester’s protectorship at odds with Dr Ashdown-Hill’s otherwise careful attention to detail, it is misleading. It exposes a misconception about the constitutional position in May 1483, which is unfortunately shared by many historians and helps to perpetuate a pejorative myth about the vires of Gloucester’s actions during the late spring and summer of 1483.

 

It is a misunderstanding that is all the more trying since it is so needless. As long ago as 1953, Professor JS Roskell explained the origin of the office of Lord Protector[i]. More recently, Annette Carson (one of Dr Ashdown-Hill’s colleague on the Looking For Richard Project and co-author of their written account of the project) incorporated some of Roskell’s thinking along with contemporary fifteenth century evidence in her detailed study of Gloucester’s constitutional role as ‘Lord Protector’, which explains the position perfectly well.[ii] What these authors establish is that the office of Lord Protector, to which the king’s council appointed Gloucester on the 10 May 1483, was a limited one. The ‘Protector and Defender of the Realm and the Church in England and Chief Councilor to the King’ (to give its full title) was an office created by parliament in 1422 as part of the constitutional settlement that followed the death of Henry V. As the title implies, it is not synonymous with the position of Regent, which was a title and position that reflected authoritarian French practices, which Ralph Griffiths tells us were ‘repugnant to the English mind‘.[iii] However, as we shall see later, change was afoot due to the unique political circumstances of 1483.

 

In the four centuries that separated the Normans from the Tudors, only four English kings succeeded to the throne as children: Henry III, Richard II, Henry VI and, of course, Edward V. I will not dwell on Edward V’s minority for the reason I have already given; however, it is useful to consider the other three minorities since they provide the contextual background for what happened in 1483.

 

Henry III (1216-1272)

Henry III ascended the throne on the 18 October 1216 by right of ‘perpetual hereditary succession’; he was just of nine years old and his future looked decidedly bleak. Three-quarters of the English barons had rebelled against his father, king John, and ‘elected’ Prince Louis of France to replace him. In 1216, Louis came to England with an army of Frenchmen and English rebels to take the crown. By October, he controlled half the kingdom including London and the southern ports with the exception of Dover. In addition, John’s tyranny had damaged royal authority and the infrastructure of government to such an extent that anarchy was endemic. Henry did not have an organised executive or an exchequer with which he could re-establish governance and royal authority; he did not even possess a royal seal. But worse than that he lacked the forces with which to fight the pretender Louis. His situation was desperate but not yet hopeless.

 

In May 1213 king John had signed a charter yielding his kingdoms of England and Ireland to the Roman Church as a vassal.[iv] Although as far as John was concerned this was only a means of gaining papal support for a war against his own subjects, it had beneficial repercussions for Henry and for England since it placed them under papal protection, and unified the English church and crown in what was to become a holy war against Louis and the rebel barons. It also had the immediate practical effect of ensuring that no English bishop was prepared to crown Louis, which was .a considerable handicap for him since he was unable to transform his status as a royal claimant into the divine status of a crowned and anointed king.[v] Henry’s own coronation on the 28 October in the Abbey Church, Gloucester gave him a distinct advantage in establishing his superior claim to the throne. It was, however, a condition of the service that he paid homage to Pope Honorius II for his throne; it was a small price to pay to acquire the divinity that protected him from death or deposition by his human enemies, unless it was God’s will. He still had to avoid being conquered by Louis, since that might be regarded as a sign of God’s will. Following the coronation, loyalists minds turned to the formation of a minority council, the nature and form of which was dictated by the circumstances and not custom.

 

Although it was necessary to organise resistance against Louis’ invasion, the most pressing need was to restore the English barons’ faith in royal authority. Only thus would they be willing to pledge their loyalty to Henry instead of Louis. The Henricians knew the dead king’s wishes as they had his will, in which he entrusted his posterity to the Pope and appointed a council of thirteen men, ‘those whom he most relied upon’, “to render assistance to his sons for the recovery of their inheritance”.[vi] In particular, he commended the guardianship of Henry to William Marshall, earl of Pembroke; for he feared that his heir would ‘never hold the land save through him’.[vii] Although William Marshal was the most famous of Henry’s chosen councilors, he was not the first. Lord Guala Bicchieri Legate of the Apostolic See bore the prime responsibility for consolidating Henry’s succession and restoring royal authority. As Henry’s feudal overlord and head of the Roman Church, Pope Honorius III ‘recognized no bounds on the authority he could exercise in England’.[viii] He sanctioned Guala’s to do whatever was expedient to help young Henry and his kingdom ‘without appeal’. Loyalist councilors were urged to submit to the Legate ‘humbly and devotedly’. Consequently, this minority council is unique in our history.

 

Despite Guala’s authority, it was obvious that he was unsuited to fight the king’s war or to conduct the day-to-day affairs of state. So, those present at the coronation prevailed ‘by their ‘common counsel’ upon William Marshall to assume the mantle of Henry’s guardian as envisaged by the late king. William Marshall had remained faithful to king John from personal loyalty and not from conviction. It was well known that he quarreled with John about policy and he was not tainted with his tyranny. [ix] Marshall’s participation in the minority council was necessary because he was the man most able to unite the English barons against the French invader and despite his old age he was still a redoubtable warrior. He planned and led the successful war against Louis and carried out the day-to day administration of state business. He was particularly adept at using royal patronage to ‘buy’ the rebel barons’ support for Henry. Marshall’s appointment was not a nominal appointment, but neither was Guala a titular leader of the council. He was heavily involved in the council’s major decisions and issued orders to Marshal on purely secular matters, requiring him ‘to do as he was bound to do for the honour of king and kingdom.’[x] The third member of a triumvirate at the head of the council was Peter de Roche, bishop of Winchester. He was appointed as Henry’s tutor. It was a sensible arrangement since neither Guala nor Marshall would be able to take personal care of the king. Later, an argument developed about whether de Roche derived his authority from the council or from Marshall.

 

Henry III’s minority lasted for eleven years. Even after Guala’s resignation in 1218 (He was replaced by Pandulf as Legate.) and Marshall’s death in 1219 (He was succeeded by Hubert de Burgh.) it proved to be the most remarkable minority rule in English history. During it, the Plantagenets rather than the Capetian kings of France were confirmed as the ruling dynasty; England was recued from anarchy and Magna Carta was enshrined into English law.[xi] It also had significant constitutional ramifications. The ‘Great Council’ that met regularly to advise the king during his minority and later during his personal rule was the first conception a national Parliament, which became an institution that existed regardless of whether the king was young or old, weak or strong. [xii] I mention these events because they inform our understanding of the respective roles of William Marshall and Legate Guala, and their successors in the minority government.

 

Professor David Carpenter’s describes William Marshall as “the (sole) Regent” because he granted royal patronage, restored royal authority and dispensed justice.[xiii] It is a reasonable description of Marshall’s position; especially, as Henry’s own appellation for Marshall was ‘our ruler and the ruler of our kingdom‘, which is compatible with the notion of a regent. However, as we shall see, the relationship between Marshall and Guala was not straightforward. Its complexity is best illustrated in the revised version of Magna Carta that was issued in November 1216; wherein, the king declares: “But because we have not as yet any seal, we have caused the present Charter to be sealed with the seals of our venerable father the Lord Gualo (sic), Cardinal Priest by the title of Saint Martin, Legate of the Apostolic See; and of William Marshal Earl of Pembroke, the guardians (my emphasis) of us and of our kingdom, at Bristol the twelfth day of November, in the first year of our reign.” [xiv] The description of Guala and Marshall as ‘our guardians’ necessarily casts doubt on the suggestion that Marshall governed alone as regent. More significant though, is the fact that both of the guardians’ seals were used to authenticate the charter. All of which is inconsistent with the notion of Marshall as regent; a position, which by definition involves the personal rule by an individual exercising royal authority (my emphasis) where the monarch is a minor, absent or incapacitated.[xv]

 

Even more serious, is the possibility that Marshall did not actually exercise the authority of a regent. For example, it was Guala who proposed and sanctioned the re-issuing of Magna Carta as a peace offering to the English rebels.[xvi] Naturally, he acted in unison with the council, including Marshall, but it seems unlikely that the charter could have been issued without Guala’s agreement. It is a hypothesis that does not rely on the fact that the Pope had previously opposed Magna Carta, but on the premise that as the late king’s feudal overlord, he held wardship of his heir until he came of age. Thus, Guala was acting with papal authority as the leader of the minority council. Conversely, William Marshall’s authority was political and limited since it relied on his election by the great council. He acted only with and by the consent of the English polity.[xvii] Marshall was the public face of the council because he was best suited to that role; however, the implication that he was unable to initiate high-policy without deference to Guala is inescapable. The fact that Guala and Marshall worked harmoniously together in the common interest does not render this anomaly irrelevant since a regent is defined by his authority and not by his workload.

 

Richard II (1377-99)

When Richard II inherited his grandfather’s throne in 1377 his subjects hoped he would reverse England’s failing fortunes. The chancellor, bishop Houghton caught the public mood in his opening address to Richard’s first parliament. “Richard, he said, had been sent by God in the same way that God had sent his only son into the world for the redemption of his people.”[xviii] The expectation that he was England’s new messiah was a burden Richard found hard to bear.

 

Insofar as Henry III’s minority may have been a model, it was disregarded in 1377. Then as in 1216 the nature and form of Richard’s minority was determined by circumstances. Edward III’s senility and the illness of the Black Prince had left a power vacuum at court that was filled by Alice Ferrers the king’s unscrupulous mistress and her shifty associates. The Good Parliament (1376) had restored some order and probity by taking conciliar control of the government. However, John duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt) in his capacity as Steward of the Realm restored the primacy of the royal authority by overturning the parliament’s conciliar approach, much to the chagrin of the three estates. Unfortunately, there was nobody of the stature of William Marshall to unite the Lancastrian faction with their opponents, or anyone of the sagacity of Guala to lead them with moderation and wisdom. The king’s paternal uncles who might ordinarily be expected to fulfill that function were considered to be either untrustworthy or incapable, or both. John of Gaunt was the senior royal adult and the most powerful man in England: he was also the most unpopular. Ambitious to a fault, ‘time honoured Lancaster’ had his own regal ambitions, if not in England and France then in the Iberian Peninsular. However, as a failed soldier and diplomat in the French wars, and a disastrous Steward of the Realm, Gaunt was simply unacceptable to the three estates. Richard’s other royal uncles, Edmund Earl of Cambridge and Thomas Earl of Buckingham were considered dilettantes in affairs of state, lacking the prestige or gravitas to lead a minority government. If the idea of a regent was ever mooted in council, it was quickly dropped

 

If the councilors who met shortly after Richard’s coronation had a plan, it seems to have been to prevent Lancaster or any other powerful individual from seizing the reigns of government. Their presumption that the pre-pubescent Richard was fully competent to rule personally was probably based on the notion that the royal estate was inseparable from the king’s person. It might have been naïve to presume so, but it was not mindless. The legal doctrine of capacities was known to parliament but its scope was limited. For example, a legal distinction could be made between the spiritual and temporal capacities of a prelate, or between the private and public capacities of the king’s Chancellor; however, the office of king and the person of the king were considered to be indivisible. Doubts about this were expressed during the troubled reign of Edward II but they were condemned by the barons and were not raised again during the fourteenth century. According to the English constitutional view, the royal estate (i.e. sovereignty) could not be alienated or delegated save in certain specific circumstances, which were not relevant in 1377. Therefore, even if the king was a minor or infirm his royal authority was held to be unimpaired. In practical terms this meant that anyone wanting to control policy had to control the king. That is why there was an increasing preponderance of the late Black Prince’s household servants on the continual councils at the expense of Lancastrians.[xix] It was by those means that the continual council excluded Gaunt from active government. Nonetheless, the presumption of the king’s competence was a subterfuge. He was little more than the public face of monarchy, the visual representation of order and justice. The continual council, though ostensibly the king’s advisors, was in reality the controlling force of government.

 

The composition of the council varied considerably over the three years of its existence. It was meant to be representative of the different strata of the landed classes: two prelates, two earls, two barons, two bannerettes and four knights. As I have already said, the actual membership reflected political affiliations that exposed the diminution of Lancastrian power. Neither Gaunt nor his brothers sat on the council; even if we allow for the possibility that parliament allocated them some general oversight of the government, the absence of the king’s uncles from the council suggests a remarkable change in the balance of power. Between 1377 and 1380, there were three different continual councils, the last two being slimmer and included an even greater preponderance of the Black Prince’s men.[xx] They achieved some success in restoring stability to the government and prudence to public finances, and they did not succumb to the corruption of previous administrations. Nonetheless, their domestic and foreign policies were generally regarded as failures at the time and since: “ A conciliar regime by its very nature was unlikely to excel in either clarity of vision and efficiency of policy making. It’s strength lay in the opportunity it afforded to achieve harmony through consensus.”[xxi] The tragedy of the time was that harmony was probably never achievable among such a dysfunctional polity. In the parliament of 1380, the Speaker, John Gisburgh accused the continual council of financial mismanagement and demanded their dismissal, adding: “…the king was now of great discretion and handsome stature, and bearing in mind his age, which is very near that of his noble grandfather, whom God absolve, at the time of his coronation (not so!); and at the beginning of his reign had no other councilors than the customary five principal officers of his kingdom.” What Gisburgh was advocating was an end to Richard’s minority and a return to normal government.[xxii] It marked the end of this type on conciliar minority but not the end of the need for continual councils to control Richard’s later excesses.

 

Henry VI (1422-1461 and 1470)

King Henry VI succeeded to the English throne following the death of his father on the 31 August 1422; he was barely nine months old. On his deathbed Henry V disposed of his two kingdoms in a codicil to his will. France he entrusted to the regency of his brother John Duke of Bedford. To his youngest brother Humphrey Duke of Gloucester he committed England, signifying that the duke should have ‘the principal safekeeping and defence’ of his beloved son’ (tutela et defensionem nostril carissimi filii principales).[xxiii] These words are important; especially ‘tutela’, since it implied that duke Humphrey was to have the powers of a regent. When parliament met in November to settle the constitutional arrangements for Henry VI’s minority, they had two alternatives. They could grant the late king’s wishes and allow Humphrey to govern the realm as he claimed or they could heed the lessons of the past to devise a tailored settlement. The settlements of 1216 and were of little or no practical value as a precedent, since their circumstances were irrelevant to the situation in the first quarter of the fifteenth century. Initially, the force of Henry’s will and codicil attracted the support of some lords towards Gloucester’s claim (according to the duke anyway). That changed, however, when they realized the implication of his construction of the codicil. The principal objector was Bedford whose position as the senior royal duke and heir presumptive would be prejudiced if Gloucester obtained the regency of England. The other English lords were also anxious; they were not unnaturally keen to preserve English sovereignty in the dual Anglo-French monarchy that subsisted.[xxiv] Therefore, they could not ignore Bedford’s interests by giving away powers that might belong to him, particularly as he was necessarily detained in France.[xxv]

 

The constitutional debate that began on the 5 December 1422 was parliament’s most important business. The lords were determining the governance and defence of the realm and the importance of the occasion cannot have been lost on them. Not only was Henry VI a babe in arms and therefore, unlikely to be crowned for many years but also there were two thrones to consider.[xxvi] At least one historian considers the untimely death of Henry V to have been the ‘most consequential event in the history of Lancastrian monarchy between 1399 and 1461’. Doubtless it was also a significant factor in ‘moulding’ English constitutional ideas for many years to come.[xxvii] It is all the more disappointing, therefore, that neither the debate nor the arguments are recorded in the Parliamentary Roll. It contains only the details of the outcome. Eventually the lords, with the assent of the commons, devised a compromise.[xxviii] John duke of Bedford was appointed ‘Protector and Defender of the Realm and of the English Church, and Chief Councilor of the king’. In Bedford’s absence, that title and its accompanying powers would fall to the duke of Gloucester. It was a pragmatic solution that recognized existing constitutional doctrine and also probably reflected parliament’s fear that either or both the royal uncles might try to impose a regency government on England. The creation of a protectorate scotched that idea. Bedford accepted the decision gracefully; Humphrey, through gritted teeth. He was clearly unhappy at not being given the authority he wanted.

 

Though we do not have an official record of the debate, we do have an unenrolled ex post facto note of Gloucester’s claim, which has been incorporated as an Appendix to the modern translation of the Parliamentary Roll. It is almost certainly a self-serving document as suggested by Anne Curry. Nevertheless, it gives us the gist of Gloucester’s protest and an inkling of his ambition. He claimed the principal tutelage and protection of the king by right of his brother’s codicil, “which codicil was read, declared and assented to by all the lords” who ‘beseeched’ him to take the principal tutelage and protection of the king and promised to help his cause. He alluded to a commons petition that he should to possess the governance of the realm; which petition, he argued, was not satisfied by the proposal that he should be merely ‘defender of the realm and chief councilor’. He also claimed tutelage of the kingdom by right of law: “Whereupon, my lord, wishing that neither his brother of Bedford nor himself should be harmed by his negligence or default, has had old records searched, and has found that, in the time of Henry the third, William Marshall, earl of Pembroke, who was not so close to the king as my lord is to our liege lord, was called ruler of the king and kingdom of England [rector regis et regni Angliae]. So in conclusion, he thinks it reasonable that either he should, in accordance with the desire of the commons, be called a governor or else, according to this record, ruler of the kingdom [rector regni] but not of the king [regis][xxix] as he does not wish to claim as much authority as William Marshall did. So he desires to take upon himself this charge by the assent of the council with the addition of the word defender according to the desire and appointment of the lords.[xxx] The note concludes with Gloucester’s assurances that (being ‘ruler’) he would do nothing of substance or flout the common law, save by the advice of council. He also acknowledged that nothing agreed could be to the prejudice of his brother Bedford’s rights.

 

Given Gloucester’s conviction that the governance of the realm belonged to him personally as of right and by virtue of his late brother’s will, it is hardly surprising that the next few years were marked by his resentment and consequently by disharmony within the conciliar regime. On the 3 March 1428 (during the 1427 parliament), while Bedford was away, Gloucester made another attempt to redefine authority in his favour[xxxi]. ‘Having had’, he said, ‘diverse’ opinions from several persons concerning his authority, he desired the lords to deliberate and carefully reconsider his power and authority for the avoidance of doubt’. He declared himself willing to leave the chamber whilst his request was debated. Indeed, so strong was his attitude that he refused to return to the chamber unless the lords reached a decision. The lords, without the commons (Presumably the lords were acting in a judicial capacity.) gave judgement through Henry Chichele archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop reminded Gloucester that in 1422 the lords had given mature consideration to his claim, during which they discussed the law and precedent And they had adjudged his claim to be illegitimate since it was not based on the law of England; which law, the late king had no power to alter or change in his lifetime or by his will, without the assent of parliament. However, to keep the peace they had determined that ”… you (Gloucester), in the absence of my Lord Bedford, your brother, should be chief of the king’s council, and have therefore devised for you a different name from the other councilors, not the name of ‘tutor’, lieutenant, governor or of regent, nor any name that might imply governance of the realm, but the name of protector and defender, which implies a personal duty of attention to the actual defence of the realm both against enemies overseas, if necessary, and against rebels within.[xxxii] If the lords had wished Gloucester to have more power, said the archbishop, they would have granted it to him. Furthermore they were amazed that he should now ask for more, especially as he and his brother had accepted this compromise when it was made; since when, of course, the king ‘had advanced in years and intelligence’. Finally, Gloucester was required to be satisfied with his current position and to remember that he had no power in parliament in the presence of the king, save as a duke and that his office was held at the king’s pleasure. It was an unequivocal rejection of the notion that Gloucester (or indeed Bedford for that matter) was regent or had the authority of a regent, during the king’s minority. The lords explicitly reserved to themselves the right to govern during the minority or incapacity of the king, whether in council or in parliament. Although the lords’ anger is palpable and Gloucester received a stern rebuke for his cheek such as no royal duke usually experienced, their decision was not made in pique but only after careful consideration. By rejecting the king’s codicil and by their words, parliament was making a distinction between the civil inheritance of an estate by a will and the constitutional disposal of the kingdom by royal prerogative.[xxxiii] It is a clear that they did not consider the crown to be normal heritable property or subject to the civil laws of inheritance.

 

Gloucester’s claim for tutelage also raised a grave constitutional issue since it included the power to exercise the delegated royal authority, implying a separation of the king’s estate between his person and his office. This was contrary to English law since it was generally held that whatever the disability of the king (‘nonage or infirmity’ to use Chrimes’ quaint phrase), his royal authority was unimpaired; furthermore, this authority resided in the king’s person alone and could not be exercised by any other individual. We see this principle enunciated in a council meeting that took place in 1427, whilst Bedford was in England; wherein it was pronounced that (and I am paraphrasing) ‘even though the king is now of tender age, the same authority rests in his person this day as shall rest in the future when he comes of age.’ Moreover, the council concluded that if, due to ‘the possibility of nature’, the king could not indeed rule in person then ‘neither God nor reason would that this land should stand without governance’; in such a case royal authority rested with the lords spiritual and temporal.[xxxiv] Nobody can doubt that in 1422 Henry’s royal estate was incomplete by virtue of his infancy, ‘since it lacks will or reason, which must be supplied by the council or parliament’. The impossibility of alienating or delegating royal authority is further illustrated by the care with which both parliament and the protector avoided any imputation that their settlement established a partition of the source of authority. Gloucester claimed to be rector regni (governor of the kingdom); he did not claim to be rector regis (governor [tutor?] of the king).

 

Conclusion

The historiographies of these three reigns chart the evolution of English minority governments from the ambiguity of William Marshall’s ‘regency’ in 1216 until parliament’s rejection of duke Humphrey’s claim for tutelage in 1428. During that period the guiding   principle was to preserve the integrity of royal authority through consensus rather than autocracy. Although there was undoubtedly an ideological element to this thinking, the real driving force was political pragmatism. It was believed necessary in each reign, though for different reasons, to protect the integrity of royal authority from the possibility of abuse by an unscrupulous or overly ambitious regent. Consequently, each settlement was driven by the realpolitik of the day rather than by precedent or custom. This is also true of Edward V’s minority.

 

Edward IV’s death was unexpected and unexplained; consequently, its dramatic consequences could not be foreseen by Richard duke of Gloucester or the Council. Edward V’s maternal family led by his mother Elizabeth Grey (née Woodville)[xxxv] mounted a coup d’état against the lawful government and the late king’s wishes. Their aims were to crown young Edward before the Privy Council could arrange a protectorship and to rule the kingdom through a compliant king. Their attempt to persuade the council to their cause in the absence of the king’s senior uncle and their disregard for Edward’s deathbed codicil, whilst not illegal, were not benevolent acts. They raised the spectre of civil war and a return to the social unrest and injustice that had blighted the 1440’s and 1450’s, and triggered the Wars of the Roses. Ultimately, the coup was unsuccessful due to Gloucester’s timely intervention and, more significantly, because the Woodvilles lacked support among the lords. In May 1483 the council’s appointed Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector. This was consistent with the 1422 settlement and with Edward IV’s deathbed codicil, and it consolidated Gloucester’s position as leader of the minority government. However, as we shall see, the council did not exclude the possibility that his powers might be enlarged later, as a bulwark against Woodville ambition.

 

The sermon drafted by the Chancellor (bishop John Russell) for Edward V’s first parliament provides an insight into the councils thinking and their intention. They proposed to enlarge the Lord Protectors powers to include tutelage and oversight of the king and the kingdom.[xxxvi] It is neither necessary nor desirable for me to repeat or to summarize Annette Carson’s analysis of the chancellor’s draft sermon, or to comment on her conclusions about the form of post-coronation government envisaged by the council. My only interest is in emphasizing the radicalism of this proposal, which was completely outwith the conciliar principles of past minorities and challenged the traditional English view of kingship. Quite why the council thought it was necessary to abandon the safeguards afforded by the 1422 model is not certain. However, there are sufficient clues in the draft sermon for us to draw the reasonable inference that political pragmatism was their primary motivation. It was considered necessary for Gloucester had to have full ‘tutelage and oversight’ of the king’ because the Woodvilles were manifestly unfit to do so and/or they had abandoned their responsibility for the king’s person. [xxxvii]. Nobody doubted that they would continue their attempt to control the king, which if successful would be to the detriment of the peace and stability of the kingdom. This speaks well of the trust they espoused in Gloucester and the profundity of their mistrust of the king’s maternal relatives . Although I take note of the fact that Edward V’s coronation never took place and his first parliament never met, it is beyond my scope to examine the reasons for that

[i] JS Roskell – The Office and Dignity of Protector of England with special reference to its origins (English Historical Review Volume 68 April 1953) pp. 193-233

[ii] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimus/Imprimatur 2015). See also http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052362 for a useful and freely available summary of Carson’s analysis.

[iii] Ralph Griffiths – The Reign of King Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) p.19

[iv] W L Warren – King John (Eyre Methuen 1978, 2nd edition) p. 208.

[v] Sir Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century 1216-1307 (Oxford 1988 2nd edition) pp.1-8; the acts of anointing and crowning a king transformed the nature of monarchy. Not only was the office of king divine but now the person of the king was also divine. Humankind could not remove a crowned and anointed king, unless it was the will of God. Any resistance to him was treason and a sin against God’s law.

[vi] Warren p. 255; John’s executors were: the lord Guala, Legate of the Apostolic See, Peter lord bishop of Winchester, Richard lord bishop of Chichester, Silvester lord bishop of Worcester, Brother Amery of Saint Maurie, William Marshall earl of Pembroke, Ranulph earl of Chester, William earl Ferrers, William Brewer, Walter Lacy, John of Monmouth, Savary de Mauléon, and Fawkes de Breauté. John’s last will and testament is the earliest surviving example of a royal will. Considering its importance, it is a remarkably short document, which is more concerned with ensuring John’s acceptance into Heaven than the detailed disposition of his estate

[vii] D A Carpenter – The Minority of Henry III (Methuen 1990), p 52; William Marshall (1146-1219) was not of royal stock; he was the younger son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble and expected to earn his way in the world. As an errant knight, Marshall earned a fearsome reputation as a jouster and an equally impressive reputation of faithful service to five English kings in peace and in war. Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury, eulogized him as ‘the best knight who ever lived’ and he was dubbed by his first (anonymous) biographer as ‘the greatest knight in the world.’ Marshall inherited his earldom through marriage and by 1216 he was a man of considerable wealth and power. Despite his age (he was now seventy), Marshall promised to be a stabilizing influence for the king and his government.

[viii] Carpenter, p. 13

[ix] Carpenter, p. 18

[x]  Carpenter, p. 52, note7

[xi] Carpenter, p.6

[xii] Sir Maurice Powicke – The Thirteenth Century (Oxford 1988 2nd edition) pp. 1-8

[xiii] Carpenter, pp.13-54

[xiv]file:///Volumes/RICHARD%20III/Murrey%20and%20Blue%20essays/11.%20Lord%20Protector/1216%20Magna%20Carta,%20the%20full%20text.webarchive

[xv] The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 5th edition (2005); ‘Regent: 1) that which rules, governs or has sovereignty; a ruling power or principle, 2) a person invested with royal authority by or on behalf of another; esp a person appointed to administer a kingdom or state during the minority, absence or incapacity of a monarch or hereditary ruler’. See also Chambers Dictionary 13th edition (2014); ‘Regent: a ruler or person invested with interim or vicarious authority on behalf of another.’

[xvi] Carpenter, p.23

[xvii] Carpenter, p. 55

[xviii] Nigel Saul – Richard II (Yale 1997) p.18

[xix] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp. 35-37; by the fifteenth century the courts had declared that the royal prerogative ‘ must be intact in the king’s person alone’ (p.35, citing VYB. SEIV, Micho.fo 118-23 [App No 48]).

[xx] Saul pp.31-55, provides an analysis of the membership and a narrative of their downfall.

[xxi] Saul p.45

[xxii] C. Given-Wilson (ed) – The Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, Volume 6 (Geoffrey Martin and Chris Given-Wilson eds) (The Boydell Press 2005) p.149 [PROME].

[xxiii] PROME Vol 10 (Anne Curry ed) p.6; citing P Strong and F Strong ‘ The last will and codicils of Henry V, EHR, 96 (1981) 99 et al.

[xxiv] PROME Vol 10 p.7; Curry suggests that fears were first expressed about the dual monarchy following the Treaty of Troyes (1420). See also Bertram Wolffe – Henry VI (Yale 1981) pp. 28-35, & 44; and Griffiths pp.19-24.

[xxv] Griffiths p.21; Bedford’s friends were in the House and they knew of his ‘position’. Furthermore his letter to the Mayor and Corporation of London setting out his objections was before the lords. The respective appointments of Bedford and Gloucester under Henry’s will were determined largely by circumstances. Ordinarily, Bedford remained in England as Keeper of the Realm in the king’s absence abroad, whilst Gloucester generally accompanied the king. However, in 1422 Bedford went to France with reinforcements for the army and Humphrey returned to England as Keeper of the Realm. The weakness of Gloucester’ position became clear at a council meeting on the 5 November 1422 when the council determined that his tenure as Keeper of the Realm expired with Henry’s death and that he could only open parliament with their consent. It was a body blow to the ambitious Gloucester.

[xxvi] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3

[xxvii] Griffiths p.20

[xxviii] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3 and 23-24

[xxix] PROME Vol 10, p.6; Anne Curry suggests that the Latin word rector could be translated as Regent.

[xxx] PROME Vol 10, Appendix, item 1. ‘The issue of the title of the duke of Gloucester’, p.61; citing as a source PRO C 47/53/12 (in Middle English), printed in SB Chrimes, ‘The pretensions of the duke of Gloucester in 1422 EHR 45 (1930). 102-3

[xxxi] PROME Vol 10, pp. 347-348, items 24-27

[xxxii] PROME Vol 10, ibid

[xxxiii] PROME; ibid

[xxxiv] Chrimes pp. 36-37; citing Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council (Sir Harris Nicolas – ed) iii, pp. 231-36

[xxxv] I write on the basis that the ‘marriage’ of Edward IV and Elizabeth was bigamous.

[xxxvi] Chrimes pp. 167-190 with notes; see also Carson pp. 57-60 and 168-78

[xxxvii] This is a reference to Elizabeth Grey’s flight to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey

LORD OF THE NORTH

Richard duke of Gloucester: courage, loyalty, lordship and law[1]

 

“ Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality that guarantees all others.”

(Winston Churchill 1931)

 

Introduction

I do not suppose there are many men who in their heart-of-hearts would not rather be thought of as brave than by any other virtue ascribed to them. For medieval kings courage was not simply a virtue, it was the virtue: the physical courage to defend their throne was a prerequisite for a successful king, though not necessarily for a good one. As Field Marshall Lord Slim was apt to point out to young officer cadets at RMA Sandhurst, “It is possible to be both brave and bad, however, you can’t be good without being brave”. Slim was making the point that it needed more than battlefield courage to be a good man. Physical courage is important, especially to kings and soldiers, but it doesn’t guarantee a ‘good man’; to be a good man, one also needs moral courage. It was the possession of physical and moral courage, which Churchill believed guaranteed all the other human virtues.

 

King Richard III was a courageous soldier; even his enemies acknowledge that. However, the question is: was he also good man? Broadly speaking, the judgement of history is that he was at best deeply disturbed and at worst malevolent. It is a judgement based largely on the heinous crimes he is supposed to have committed during a six months period in 1483: the usurpation of the throne and the murders of king Edward’s male heirs. Although Richard is said to have committed or been complicit in many other serious crimes, I think it is fair to say that most historians accept that those allegations are not proven, and in one particular case (the death of Henry VI) it may have been more a question of raison d’état.

 

The trouble with this historical judgement is that it contradicts what Richard’s contemporaries said about him in 1483. Dominic Mancini an Italian priest visiting London during 1482/83 recorded what he was told about Richard duke of Gloucester. He is referring to the period after the duke of Clarence’s execution: “…he (Richard) came very rarely to court. He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people and avoided the jealousy of the queen from whom he lived far apart.[2]

 

Mancini’s testimonial also highlights the incongruity of Richard’s supposed crimes. The contrast between his blameless contemporary reputation and his purported crimes (particularly those after April 1483) perplexes historians; it is a dichotomy they struggle to explain.[3] Most of his critics rationalize it with a good dose of twentieth century cynicism: his good works are disingenuous and his mistakes are evidence of bad character. It is a constant theme of his harshest biographers that his ‘loyalty’ to Edward was feigned; that he was in reality a wicked and ruthless opportunist who was motivated by avarice and ambition. When the chance came, he used his great power — which he had either tricked or bullied from Edward — to usurp the throne and destroy the Yorkist line. It was the Yorkist doom that Edward whether purposely or inadvertently made his brother the most dangerous and the ‘mightiest of over-mighty subjects’.[4] This is, I believe a false and misleading argument, since it rests entirely on their interpretation of chronicles and later Tudor histories that are themselves controversial and of little probative value, being neither contemporary nor impartial. Furthermore, Anne Sutton makes a compelling case for the morality, if not the purity, of Gloucester’s motives, which stands against this modern cynicism.[5] Richard was an extra ordinarily complex human being. We know now that he faced some challenging physical problems and possibly some equally challenging psychological issues.[6] Furthermore, he lived in uncertain times. The circumstances under which he served the king were complex as were the difficulties he had to overcome. Problems of historical interpretation most frequently arise from misguided attempts to simplify his story by overemphasising some facets at the expense of others.[7] It is a defect in Ricardian historiography that cannot be corrected in this article; however, I hope to at least draw attention to the problem as I see it.

 

Inevitably, Richard duke of Gloucester’ was not universally popular: how could he be? His ‘dramatic intrusion into northern society’,[8] coupled with a monopoly of the public offices and the lion’s share of the Neville estates, was bound to ruffle the feathers of those northern magnates and prelates who resented the fact that the king’s largess had not fallen to them, and whose authority and independence were undermined by the presence of an assertive royal duke in northern society. Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, Thomas Lord Stanley and Laurence Booth bishop of Durham disliked him, to name but three: doubtless there were others. Neither do I ignore the possibility that Gloucester possessed human failings typical of active young men throughout the ages; he might have been a little headstrong and impetuous; he was probably also ambitious and possibly even acquisitive. However, these characteristics were no more nor less present in the duke than in any other fifteenth century magnate: certainly not any more than in Henry Percy or the Stanley brothers or any of the Woodvilles, or Margaret Beaufort, John Morton and Henry Tudor; nor indeed was he any more ambitious than any professional historian who aims to do well in his or her chosen discipline. Impetuosity and ambition are not crimes, nor is acquisitiveness. But if he was truly wicked and ruthless and cruel, then nobody who knew him said so at the time. There is a clear distinction to be made between the provenances and the probity of these opposite views of Richard’s character, which affect the weight we should give to each when making a judgement. The favourable opinions were almost all written during his lifetime by northerners who knew him. The unfavourable ones were almost all written after his death by southerners who did not know him personally. Horace Walpole identified the basic problem nearly three hundred years after Richard’s death: “Though he may well have been execrable, as we are told he was, we have little or no reason to suppose he was.[9]

 

It is a matter of historical record that, apart from the last two years, when he was king, Richard duke of Gloucester spent his entire adult life in the king’s service as ‘Lord of the North’. Quite what this meant for him and why it happened are less well appreciated. The term ‘Lord of the North’ embraced not only the duke’s inherited lands in the north and his associated responsibilities as a royal duke and a great magnate, but also a number of official offices held by him concurrently from 1469 until his own coronation in 1483. He was the Lord High Constable of England (1469), Warden of the West March ‘towards Scotland’ (1470), Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster (1471) Keeper of the Forests Beyond Trent and Steward of Ripon (1472) Sheriff of Cumberland (1475) and finally the King’s Lieutenant General of the North (1480 and 1482).[10] The consolidation of Gloucester’s inherited and appointed power was not gratuitous royal patronage. His promotions were acts of calculated policy by Edward. Having twice experienced the threat posed to the crown by the Scots and by his own ‘over mighty subjects’ in the north, Edward determined neutralize those threats by maintaining a truce with James III, and by securing the loyalty of his northern subjects. He wanted Gloucester to lead that vital task for the crown. It was no sinecure but a dirty, difficult and dangerous job, and his responsibility was great, since he was to be Edward’s mainstay in northern England.[11] Gloucester was the ideal man to implement that policy: he was brave, able and devotedly loyalty to Edward. Neither should it be forgotten that if Gloucester succeeded in stabilising the north, it would enable Edward to pursue his regal ambition in France. It is also worth noting, even at this stage, that Gloucester performed his duties so well that he set the standard of excellence for the governance of the north well into the sixteenth century.[12]

 

For all that, we should not exaggerate the scope of his powers or the impact of his achievements. First and foremost, he was only the instrument of his brother’s will. He could not make policy: Edward did that. Furthermore, his powers were constrained by feudal laws, liberties and customs. As a March Warden his military authority was limited to the West March. He did, however, have judicial powers in the West March and in his lands elsewhere by virtue of the king’s special commission as Justice of the Peace ‘es parties des north’. As Dr Rachel Reid points out, although the wardship of the West March was a necessary adjunct to the government of the north, ‘the sign and seal’ of Gloucester’s authority so to speak, and although his commission as a JP empowered him to act in civil and criminal matters, his greatest strength was the authority, power and influence he derived from being the greatest magnate in the region.[13] Gloucester’s estates and official offices gave him unparalleled influence and authority in the north, with the exception of those feudalities wherein the earl of Northumberland was lord; that is to say, in Northumberland and the East Riding of Yorkshire[14]

 

The northern ‘problem’ in retrospect

In the fifteenth century, the northern most counties of Westmorland, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire were important because of their proximity to the Scottish frontier. Anglo-Scottish relations were characterised by invasions and raiding, which had affected both populations for centuries. Cross border reiving and lawlessness was deeply ingrained into the English and Scottish border culture. The society was insular and feudalistic in nature and the hatred between English and Scot was mutual. Important though the Scottish problem was, the troubles in the north went deeper. Fifty-one years after Richard III’s death, Robert Aske summed them up to leading Yorkshire denizens at Pontefract “ The profits of the abbeys suppressed, tenths and first fruits, went out of those (northern) parts. By occasion whereof, within short space of years, there should be no money or treasure in those parts, neither the tenant to have pay his rent to the lord, nor the lord to have money to do the king service withal, for so much of those parts was neither the presence of his grace, execution of his laws, not yet but little recourse of merchandise, so that of necessity the said county should either make terms with the Scots, or of very poverty make commotions or rebellions.”

 

The chief problems identified by Aske of remoteness, poverty and lawlessness were present in the fifteenth century and not just in the North. Wales, the West Country and East Anglia were also remote and lawless, and possibly some were poor. However, none of them formed the frontier to a hostile and aggressive foreign kingdom. It was this that made the northernmost counties uniquely important to the security of the realm. That said, not everybody had to sleep with their weapon to hand for fear of Scottish reiving. For instance, Yorkshire was set back from the border counties, ‘If the Scots crossed the Tees it was not a raid but an invasion’ wrote FW Brooks more than half a century ago. [15] Yorkshire’s importance was that it was the largest and most populace county north of the Trent and it was a base for operations against marauding Scots. This was especially true of York, which during the reigns of the first three Edwards served as the royal capital for a time. The fourteenth century division of the border region into West, Middle and Eastern Marches under the control of the two most powerful Northern families (the Nevilles and the Percies) was seen as the solution to the governance problem. The alternative was for the king to keep a standing army on the border, which for financial and military reasons was impracticable.

 

The joint powers given to the Neville and Percy families proved ultimately not to be the complete solution. By the fifteenth century the north was practically ungovernable from London. This was due in part to the deficiencies highlighted by Aske and especially to the ‘absence of the king’s presence (he means royal authority) and his justice in the north’. But that was not the only problem; the feudal nature of border society contributed to the  troubles of  a region that was sparsely populated and economically poor.[16] The trouble with the fourteenth century solution was not so much in the idea as in its execution. The belief that the two most powerful northern magnates could cooperate to ensure the peace and security of the north was naïve to say the least. Good governance foundered on their feuding during peace and their fighting during the Wars of the Roses. Northern gentry of the second and third rank regarded the wars between York and Lancaster as an extension of the Neville-Percy feud. They supported one side or the other based on ancient feudal loyalties, or an assessment of their own self-interest. Their prime loyalty was not to a distant king but to their feudal overlord, or to some other overlord, who best served their interest.[17]

 

Percy power was destroyed at Towton on Palm Sunday 1461. Despite the heavy losses inflicted on the Lancastrians it was not a complete Yorkist victory. The former king, Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward and a few of their adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge and from whence they continued to oppose Edward IV[18]. Meanwhile, Richard Neville earl of Warwick and his brother John Lord Montagu continued to campaign against Lancastrian dissidents so as to secure Edward’s grip on the throne but mostly to cement their own grip on the north. In 1464, a force of ‘loyal northerners’ led by Montagu destroyed the Lancastrian cause at the battles Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. However, as Keith Dockray astutely points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not necessarily to the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick en block to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north.

 

‘He set out to acquire the loyalty of his people by favours and justice’

It is against that background that I now turn to consider Gloucester performance in the north in the context of the three virtues touched on by Mancini: loyalty, good lordship and justice.  I have added courage to these virtues on the basis that without courage, Gloucester was unlikely to have shown those other virtues .

 

Loyaulté me lie

Mancini’s reference to loyalty is interesting since it is a quality of particular importance to Gloucester. His personal motto was ‘loyaulté me lie’ (loyalty binds me) and it was the creed by which he lived. Mancini is, of course, referring to loyalty in its normal sense of ‘keeping faith’; however, Anne Sutton speculates that it was a word that might possibly have had other, additional, shades of meaning for Gloucester: legality, uprightness, obedience to the law and, maybe, justice. Dr Sutton’s speculation is based on the premise that Gloucester might have been familiar with ‘Piers Ploughman’, a work by William Langland in which loyalty carries those several meanings.[20] It is possible that Gloucester’s motto was subtler than we think, since the nuances of meaning found in ‘Piers Ploughman’ are all consistent with what we know of his character.

 

Whatever Gloucester may have meant by his mottos, it is clear from the contemporaneous records that he laboured hard to safeguard the interests and liberties of ‘his people’. [21] One historian writing in the twentieth century summarised his accomplishments as follows: “ Richard of Gloucester not only restored peace and stability to the north after the upheavals of the 1450s and 1460s but also provided sound government and administration. Frequently working in tandem with Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, he vigorously promoted the cause of impartial justice, whether by enforcing legislation more effectively than hitherto or arbitrating in private disputes[22]; his household council can evidently be regarded as a precursor of the Council of the North; the city of York certainly recognized the value of the duke’s good lordship and support;[23] and Dominic Mancini’s informants clearly left him to believe that Richard had deliberately ’set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice.” [24]

 

‘A right high and mighty prince and full tender and special good lord’[25]

The York Municipal and City Records add substance to the view that the duke of Gloucester was a good friend to York and to other towns in the north. There are many examples of his integrity on the record. They demonstrate his personal interest in local affairs and his integrity in using his influence in a private capacity for the common weal. He settled many disputes between the city council and their fellow citizens, between the city council and neighbouring landowners, between citizens, and between towns, all of which were referred to him for advice, assistance or resolution.[26] I have chosen three representative examples:

  • In 1478 he arbitrated a dispute between Roland Place and Richard Clervaux over hunting rights. Neither Place nor Clervaux was a retainer of the duke, but they lived on his estates in the North Riding. Professor Pollard has helpfully reproduced the arbitration agreement written in English under Gloucester’s name and titles. Pollard notes as an afterthought that the ancestors of Place and Clervaux continued to observe a clause concerning the seating arrangements in the parish church, well into the twentieth century.[27] Gloucester obviously took great care over a dispute that some  might  consider trivial. The rights and privileges of each party are defined in minute detail in the agreement, which was probably drafted by  one of Gloucester’s lawyers, since the language is repetitious and typical of legal documents.
  • At the request of the York City Council, Gloucester took steps to have fishgarths throughout Yorkshire inspected to guard against poaching and to protect the regional economy. It was not a petty matter, since the high prices paid for Pike and other fresh water fish provided a significant income for the fishermen and the city.[28] The erection of fishgarths in Yorkshire was regulated by legislation intended to prevent illegal fishing. The City Council spent much time and money trying to eradicate the problem and they were very grateful to their ‘good lord’, the duke of Gloucester for his interest and efforts to stop the criminality. Nonetheless, it was a perennial problem, which was still being recorded in the council minutes in 1484.
  • He mediated in ‘a serious dispute over the result of the York mayoral election of 1482’.[29] There were two candidates for election: Richard Yorke and Thomas Wrangwyshe. York was elected but Wrangwyshe’s supporters would not accept the vote. The argument assumed ‘alarming proportions’ when the city magistrates sent the certification of Yorke’s election to the king.  When  the king heard of the dispute, he stopped the certification process and ordered the pervious  mayor to continue in office pro tem, whilst the election was investigated. The city magistrates turned to the duke of Gloucester for help; he acted so swiftly that within two weeks he had secured the kings approval to confirm York as the mayor. The interesting point is that Wrangwyshe was considered to be the best soldier in York and stood high in the duke’s estimation, being one of his comrades in arms. Nonetheless, Gloucester upheld the honour and dignity of the city magistrates by supporting what he considered to be their just case against his friend[30].

 

 

‘Good and indifferent justice for all’

For all his good works at a local level, it was in his capacity as the leading magnate in the north that he did his greatest and most enduring service for the north. Although the King’s Council in the North was not officially born until late July 1484, it was conceived from Gloucester personal household council during his tenure as Lord of the North. To understand how and why this came about it is necessary to explain, as briefly as possible, the dysfunctional nature of English justice at the time.

 

The problems for those living north of the Trent were as stated by Aske: ‘the absence of royal authority and of royal justice’. The Assize Judges sat not more than once a year; and anyhow, could only act on a formal indictment, which juries habitually refused to present. The breakdown of the judicial system made enforcement difficult and the work of the sheriff and bailiffs became very hard. Although there were some good judges, many were corrupt and in the pay of great lords. These judges gave judgement as directed by their patrons.  Also, juries were  easily corrupted by fear and favour. “ It was…” writes Dr Reid “…the hardest thing in the world to get a judgement against a great lord or any man well kinned (sic) and allied.[31] JP’s could try cases and punish crime at the Quarter Sessions without the need for an indictment, but the reality was that no ordinary court could cure this widespread and systemic breakdown  of  royal  justice.  Previously, the King’s Council had filled gaps by exercising  its  extraordinary civil and criminal jurisdictions through writs of oyer and terminer, to ‘hear and determine’ all trespasses and breaches of the peace, and all causes between party and party’. However, this usually meant the parties going to London, which was expensive and time-consuming. This defect could easily have been remedied by establishing district courts with the same jurisdiction as the King’s Council. However, for some reason, it was a reform that three Lancastrian kings never even considered.

 

But it was in the realm of civil party and party litigation that the want of justice was felt most acutely. Dr Reid argues that the common law “…had hardened in the hands of professional lawyers into a premature fixity and precision and had become incapable of devising rules to govern the transactions of a changing society”; whereby, ‘the poor were placed at the mercy of the rich’. [32] Furthermore, the common law courts were neither sufficient nor competent to protect peoples’ civil rights, which were recognised by law even in the fifteenth century. The development of the Chancery Court and the courts of equity eased the situation for those who could afford to litigate but did not help the bulk of the population and certainly not those residing north of the Trent. The common law lent itself to abuse by the litigious and the malicious. Consequently, there was hardly a transaction of life that could not be litigated. The delays, the cost and the insularism of the courts denied justice to many people. In the absence of the king’s justice, therefore, the household councils of the great lords became progressively the de facto courts for resolving local disputes.

 

These feudal courts had survived longer in the north due partly to its remoteness but also because they filled the vacuum left by the absence of royal justice. They were able to try a range of cases covering personal actions, contractual disputes, trespass, libel, slander, assault, breach of warranty of title and some defamation cases. Moreover, there was no restriction on them determining cases for which the king’s law had no remedy and even if there was a remedy, these seigneurial court could do justice between the parties by consent. For example, by ordering the specific performance of a contract entered into or by protecting a tenant from unlawful eviction. By the fifteenth century, seigneurial courts were, as a matter of course, also hearing complaints against court officials, appeals against judgement, applications for pardon or respite, bills against fellow tenants, and quarrels between tenants and retainers. Useful though they were in providing rough and ready justice, feudal courts had their drawbacks. First, their jurisdiction was limited to the lord’s domain. A lord might arbitrate between his tenants and retainers but it was quite impossible to interfere between a landlord and his tenant no matter how tyrannical the landlord was, unless he was in some way ‘tied’ to the lord. Second, they could not escape the censure  of the king’s  justices, who said that they ‘sacrificed law and justice for interest and favour.’[33] There is probably some truth in this accusation since the importance of patronage in local society was such that it encouraged the preference of personal interest over the law. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that an appeal to the king’s courts was usually beyond the means of most litigants.

 

Of all the baronial councils offering seigneurial justice, Gloucester’s was the most important.  The records show that the governors of York and Beverley and other towns in Yorkshire were encouraged to turn to it whenever they were in difficulty. This was not simply because he was the greatest magnate but also because his council was the most efficient and impartial. It was constituted from the men of his household council who usually met at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale (which, by the way, he insisted on calling his ‘home’). Their primary function was to help the duke administer his vast estates. However, as we have seen the council quickly assumed a very important judicial role as a seigneurial court of requests. Among Gloucester’s permanent councillors were Lord Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke (Scrope and Greystoke were related to the duke by marriage), Sir Francis Lovell his closest friend and comrade in arms, Sir James Harrington, Sir William Parre, Sir Richard Nele, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalfe. Nele was a King’s Justice of Assize and Metcalfe was the Recorder of York; Parre and Pygott were both practising lawyers ‘learned in the law’. Ad hoc Councillors called occasionally by Gloucester  included Sir James Tyrell (a man of action, used for ‘bold affairs’), Sir Ralph Assheton and (probably) Richard Ratcliffe. The secretary to the Council was John Kendall, son of a loyal servant to the house of York. It was on any view a powerful bench of judges and ‘shrewd men of affairs’. Having said all of that, we must be careful not to overestimate the extent of Gloucester’s achievements. He could neither reform the law to make it more just, nor improve its administration to make justice more accessible. He was unable to alleviate poverty. He was not a liberal reformer and he lived a privileged life that few northerners could even imagine, much less share. And yet he did a wonderful thing; without the need for bloody revolution he made justice more accessible by offering, on a case-by-case basis, “…good and indifferent (that is impartial) justice to all who sought it.“[34]

 

Gloucester demonstrated through his council that he was prepared to remedy an injustice even if he did not have the authority accorded by a strict interpretation of the law; moreover, he was prepared to use his power to enforce a just settlement. The best example of this is his council’s support for custom tenants against bad landlords. In the time of the Lancastrian kings, the judges held that tenants faced with extortionate fines and illegal eviction had no other remedy but to sue the landlord by petition. [35] The common law courts were too rigid and their officials too easily intimidated to be of help. Nevertheless, in 1482, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian declared “that his opinion hath always been and shall ever be, that if such a tenant by custom paying his services be ejected by the lord he shall have action of trespass against him’. Brian CJ may, of course, have been expressing his personal view of the correct law as he saw it, which was in contrast to the accepted legal doctrine and practice of the courts. However, there are grounds for thinking that he might equally have been articulating the practice of Gloucester’s household council, which was to treat an illegal eviction by a landlord as a simple trespass. Although we don’t have a written record of such cases, Littleton in his treatise ‘Tenures’ assures us that they did try them.[36] Frankly, it is inconceivable that the council did not hear many petitions and requests from destitute tenants for relief against tyrannical landlords. If they dealt with them in the same way as the ‘King’s Council in the North’ was subsequently to deal with them after 1484, they must have generally upheld the rights of the tenant who had paid his services against the unjust landlord. If so, “ It is easy to understand how Gloucester won the love of the common people beyond the Trent, which was to stand him in such good stead’[37]

 

Lord High Commissioner

In 1482, on the verge of the invasion of Scotland, Edward made a significant change to the governance of the North. He issued a commission of oyer and terminer to Gloucester and Northumberland as ‘Lord High Commissioners’, which effectively combined their household councils. The composition of the Commission is interesting since it included not only Gloucester and Northumberland but also some significant members of their respective councils augmented by two important judicial appointments. However, there is no gainsaying that the bulk of its membership came from men associated with Gloucester’s council. Sir John Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke, Sir Francis Lovell, Sir Richard Nele, Sir William Parre, Sir James Harrington, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalf were all either legal or lay members of Gloucester’s council; of the remainder, Sir Guy Fairfax (an Assize Judge on the Northern Circuit) and (possibly) John Catesby were associated with Northumberland. The relationship of Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian and Sir Richard Clarke to either of the Lord High Commissioners is unclear. The significance of this change is that it turned the essentially private function of seigneurial courts into the king’s justice  in criminal and party and party litigation.

 

Officially, the commissioners were the king’s servants and in the absence of the duke and the earl who were off fighting the Scots, the remaining members  took steps to enforce  the kings justice.   Their success in repressing rioting that might otherwise lead to insurrection was such that it served to highlight the continuing and endemic lawlessness, which was partly due to a lack of royal authority and partly to the deficiencies in the law to which I have already referred. They also examined and arbitrated effectively in party and party disputes. This commission was valuable experience for the duke of Gloucester since it served as a model for his futuristic ‘King’s Council of the North’ and the basis upon which he reorganised the governance of the north once he became king. It is a fact that no permanent commission designed to keep the peace and provide party and party justice for northern England was set up during the reign of Edward IV and that “the credit for this most necessary reform belongs wholly to Richard III ”[38]

 

The King’s Council in the North

When Gloucester came to the throne in 1483 he had considerable practical experience of governing in the north and the provision of  justice for all; however, he did not begin immediately to formalise the work of his council. The reasons for this may seem obvious; he was busy dealing with the aftermath of Buckingham’s rebellion and ratifying his title in parliament. It is also possible that he intended to follow the precedent set by Edward IV in 1472 and set up his young son Edward Prince of Wales as the King’s Lieutenant in the North with a council to govern in his name.[39] If that was Richard’s hope, it was to be dashed. Edward Prince of Wales died in April 1484 “not far off Edward’s anniversary.” [40] It was a loss that shook king Richard as nothing else could and for a time he and Anne were almost out of their minds with grief.[41] However, Richard was king and duty-bound to turn his mind to affairs of state.

 

He decided to make some fundamental change to governance in the north. First, he separated Yorkshire administratively from the border Marches.  The earl of Northumberland was appointed as Warden in Chief of the Marches and granted several estates in Cumberland, which made him the  dominant border lord.  It was his reward for acquiescence in Richard’s accession. Next, Richard appointed John De La Pole, earl of Lincoln as the King’s Lieutenant (he had already been nominated as heir to the throne). [42]The king createdThe King’s  Council of the North from his former ducal  council and Lincoln was its first President.  Northumberland was appointed a member of the Council but was clearly subordinate to Lincoln (It was a downgrading that the proud Northumberland took hard, which may explain his treachery at Bosworth a year later.). To make these changes lawful, king Richard issued two permanent commissions: one authorising the Council to sit as Justices of the Peace, the other of oyer and terminer. With these in place, the council had full civil and criminal jurisdictions and was fit to dispense the king’s justice. Richard allocated an annual budget of 2000 marks for the maintenance of the Council, which was to be paid from the income of his northern estates.[43] The council chamber was moved from Middleham to Sandal and regulations drawn up for the council’s conduct, especially, its judicial function. In particular the regulations directed that the Council must sit at least four times a year. The preamble to these regulations captures Richard’s attitude to justice perfectly “…the Regulations as they are here called, proceed to give general directions that no member of the council, for favour, affection, hate, malice or meed (a bribe) do ne speak (sic) in the Council, otherwise than the King’s laws and good conscience shall require but shall be impartial in all things, and that if any matter comes before the Council in which one of its members is interested, that member shall retire.” [44] There is no need to discuss the detailed regulations since Richard’s respect for the law of the land is clear from the above quote.

 

It is helpful, however, to briefly mention one important case that came before the Council, which illustrates how Richard thought the legal process should work. In 1484 there was a riot in York that arose from the enclosure of some common land. Roger Layton and two other men ‘riotously destroyed the enclosure’. After some careful thought the Mayor and Council arrested and imprisoned the ringleaders, and sent their man to learn the king’s pleasure. The matter came before the king’s Secretary and Comptroller, Sir Robert Percy[45]; at the same time Lincoln, then at Sandal was informed. A week later Sir Robert arrived at York with a message from the king. The king was willing that the citizens should enjoy their common pasture; however, he reprimanded them for seeking to recover their rights by a riotous assembly, instead of putting their case to the Mayor and Council. If they failed to get justice there, they should have referred the matter to the King’s Council of the North. And if they failed to get lawful redress there they could lay the case before the king. This message was  a clear indication that the King’s Council in the North was to be a court of first instance. Matters were only laid before the King’s Council of State if the King’s Council of the North failed to do justice.  The Council remained throughout its existence, pretty much as it was in 1484 “ Neither its jurisdiction nor its procedures underwent any serious modification. Such changes as came, were just the changes of time.” [46]  In 1640, the Long Parliament abolished the King’s Council in the North.

 

Courage

This article is not really about Gloucester’s governance of the north, or the state of English justice in the second half of the fifteenth century; it is about moral courage. The type of courage described by General Sir Peter de la Billiére in his introduction to ‘The Anatomy of Courage’ by Charles Moran: “Moral courage is higher and rarer in quality than physical courage. It embraces all courage and physical courage flows from it…it is applicable to business, in law, within institutions such as schools and hospitals. It takes moral courage to stand up against a crowd, to assist a victim of bullying, or to reveal negligence where others would prefer it to remain hidden. Moral courage implies the belief that what you are doing or saying is right, and are willing to follow through your conviction regardless of personal popularity or favour: so easy to expound, so demanding to achieve. In my experience a person of high moral courage will seldom fail to demonstrate an equally distinguished level of physical courage”.

 

The reality is that Richard’s valour in battle, whilst admirable, is not enough to save him from the accusation that he was a bad man. To be given the benefit of the doubt, it is necessary to demonstrate his goodness, with examples of his moral courage and acts of kindness, justice and mercy. That is what I have tried to do in this essay. The examples of Richard’s governance to which I have referred, are merely illustrations of what I regard as his high moral courage. They demonstrate not merely his potential for goodness, but that those who lived under his governance for more than a decade thought he was a good lord.  It is not, of course, a defence against the accusations of, regicide, infanticide, incest and usurpation levelled against him; but then, it can be argued that  an active defence is hardly necessary anyway, since those accusations are only the result of  gossip, rumour and hearsay.

 

[1] I have taken the liberty of borrowing the idea for this title from the book ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ (PW Hammond (Ed) (R3 and Yorkist History Trust i 1986). It is an excellent volume containing a number of erudite papers presented at a symposium to mark the quincentenary of king Richard III’s reign.

[2] CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard the Third by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) p.65. There is a risk in inferring too much from a single source, especially as Mancini’s narrative is hearsay. Nevertheless, I am using it here for good reasons. First, Mancini provides a truly  contemporary assessment of Richard’s character (See Charles Ross–Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p. Lvii, for an opinion on the importance of Mancini’s narrative.). Second, Mancini was no friend of Richard’s; he never met or even saw him. What he knew of Richard’s character he heard from others. Third, given Mancini’s animus towards Richard (He assumed that Richard aimed to seize the throne all along.), this unsolicited testimonial suggests there was truth in his good reputation. Finally, there is contemporary, and independent evidence that corroborates this passage.

[3] Ross (R3) pp. Lxvi and 64: professor Ross acknowledges the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ (in deciding when and why Richard decided to assume the crown) and assures us that modern (20th century) historians ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s character and motives “ …from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” He further argues that they have a more critical appreciation of the worth of the Tudor tradition, ” …and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.” It is not clear quite how closely the events are scrutinised by modern historians given the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ already alluded to. Furthermore, the near contemporary material cannot corroborate the Tudor tradition since they are one and the same thing. Corroboration means evidence independently confirmed by other witnesses. The so-called ‘Tudor tradition’ is no more that an uncritical résumé of the earlier post Richard material and repeats their mistakes.

[4] Ross (E4) pp.199-203; Ross (R3) p.26; Hicks pp.83-86; Anthony Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books 1997 edition) pp.83-85; professor Hicks’ angst about Gloucester’s wickedness is so great that he couldn’t resist the following comment: “He was not a great soldier, general or chivalric hero, not a peacemaker, not even a northerner. The great estates he assembled, the north he united and the local tradition he fostered all resulted from a judicious mixture of violence, chicanery and self publicity” (p.85). Gloucester’s ‘dispute’ with Clarence over the Neville inheritance; his behaviour towards the dowager countess of Oxford whilst she was committed to his ‘keeping and rule’, his part in the trial and attainder  of Clarence and his preference for war against France are all cited as examples of his grasping, malicious  and violent  character. The trouble with this opinion is that its validity depends on accusations made after Bosworth by people with an axe to grind and at a time when it suited the Tudors to embroider his shortcomings for their own advantage. For a different opinion see Kendall pp.127-150. It is noteworthy that professor Kendall disregarded the Tudor myth, relying instead on contemporary source material to support his generally favourable interpretation of Gloucester’s behaviour as a duke.

[5] Anne F Sutton – A curious Searcher for our Weal Public: Richard III, piety, chivalry and the concept of the good prince’, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ pp.58-90. Ms Sutton’s essay provides an evidenced and balanced view of Richard as a good prince within the medieval context.

[6] Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon – Richard III: a psychological portrait (Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) pp.46-56. Professor Lansdale and Dr Boon offer a number of plausible hypotheses that might explain Richard’s behaviour. Although their professional opinions are necessarily speculative, they do not in my opinion go beyond what might be inferred from the available evidence.

[7] It is interesting (I put it no higher) to analyse the main biographies of Richard written in the last one hundred and fifty years. James Gairdner’s biography (1878) contains 332 pages, of which 52 relate to Richard’s life as duke of Gloucester; the remainder analyse Richard’s reign and the controversies surrounding it. Clement Markham wrote a biography (1898) in direct response to Gairdner’s work. Of its 327 pages, 42 deal with the period 1470-83. Paul Kendall’s biography (1955) is generally positive for Ricardians. Of its 393 pages (excluding appendices and notes), 152 are devoted to Richard as a duke, of those 49 are specifically about his time in the north. Charles Ross’ biography (1999) is — for the want of something better — considered to be the standard work on Richard’s life and reign. It contains 232 pages, of which 39 are devoted to Richard as a royal duke: including 20 pages as ‘Lord of the North’. Finally, Michael Hicks’ biography (2000 revised edition) analyses Richard’s actions in the context of a criminal trial in which Hicks’ prosecutes, defends, and is judge and jury. It contains 199 pages, the story of Richard’s life before April 1483 being compressed into 31 of them. My analysis is, of course, academic since it does no more than suggest that quantitatively, the first thirty years of Richard’s life get significantly less attention than the last two; it does not examine the reason for that. Nevertheless, it suggests to me that Ricardian studies may benefit from a new scholarly biography of Richard’s life and reign. Hopefully, it would be one that emulates in its breadth, thoroughness and objectivity Cora Scofield’s definitive account of Edward IV’s life and reign (including all that ‘merciless detail’ that professor Hicks found so tiresome), and Professor Ralph Griffiths’ equally comprehensive and objective biography of Henry VI. I live more in hope than expectation.

[8] Pollard (R3) p71-73

[9] Horace Walpole – Historic doubts on the life and reign of King Richard III (1768)

[10] Ross (R3) pp.24-26; Keith Dockray – Richard III: a source book (Sutton 1997) pp.32-33.

[11] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimis Imprimatur 2015) pp. 23-26 and 61 contains a guide to the office of constable of England and Gloucester’s chivalric, martial and judicial powers. The duchy of Lancaster had held palatine status since 1351 and was independent of royal authority. Its lands in the north were vast and its power great; so much so that the Lancastrian kings retained the title of duke of Lancaster to themselves to prevent diminution of royal authority. On ascending the throne, Edward IV held the dukedom in abeyance but reserved to himself its authority, benefits and responsibilities. As Chief Steward of the duchy, Gloucester was the chairman of the council appointed by the king to administer the duchy territories.

[12] Paul Kendall – Richard III (George Allen & Unwin 1955) pp. 129,456 note 7 (citing Letters and papers of the reign of Henry VIII by JS Brewer, London 1864-76, 1, 2, pp.1054, 1260). Lord Dacre, Warden of the West March complained to Wolsey that he shouldn’t be expected to match the accomplishments of Richard duke of Gloucester. Predictably, he was told that he must provide the same standard of effective governance as the duke.

[13] Rachel Reid – The King’s Council in the North (Longman Green & Co 1921) p.27 et al

[14] Ross (E4) p.199; professor Ross argues that that it is not true that Northumberland was placed under Gloucester’s ‘supervisory authority’ as suggested by Cora Scofield and Paul Kendall. He relies on the indentures made between the duke and the earl in 1473 and 1474, which did indeed separate their authority. On his interpretation of those indentures any subordination was a private matter and not official, and the earl’s freedom of action was assured. Unfortunately, professor Ross (not for the first time) fails to read between the lines to understand what was really happening. There was indeed some early friction between the duke and the earl, arising from Northumberland’s resentment that Gloucester had inherited the Neville mantle and was an obvious threat to Percy hegemony and independence in the north. The indenture of 28 July 1474 (Dockray [sources] p. 34) was intended to calm the situation by confirming their relationship as being that of a ‘good lord’ and his ‘faithful servant’, which was the conventional arrangement, since a royal duke trumped a belted earl in status. However, the caveat inserted into the indenture that Gloucester would not to interfere with Northumberland’s duties as warden of the east and middle marches or poach his servants, was a sensible recognition of the feudal reality and a concession to the touchy earl (see Dockray [sources] p.35 for evidence of Northumberland’s touchiness). The Percy’s were notorious trimmers; they had fought against a Lancastrian king at the turn of the fifteenth century and for a Lancastrian king during the Wars of the Roses. Although their power was effectively destroyed at Towton, they played a major and distinctly treacherous part in the northern rebellions of the early 1460’s. Although, Edward never forgot their treachery, he needed Percy assistance during the 1470’s and was keen not to upset them: Gloucester obviously concurred. There can be little doubt that the indentures were a fiction to preserve Northumberland’s pride. In reality he had less influence in the north than Gloucester. Significantly, Edward was quick to clarify his brother’s supreme authority by appointing him the king’s Lieutenant General in the North when he decided to invade Scotland: not once but twice. By 1482 Gloucester was endowed with what amounted to quasi-royal authority to conduct the war (or peace) with Scotland.

[15] FW Brooks – The Council of the North (Historical Association 1953, revised edition 1966) p.6

[16] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess).

[17] Brooks p.10

[18] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[19] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small entourage when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[20] Sutton (R3, piety etc.) p.62

[21] Robert Davies – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London, 1843); and the York Civic Records, supra; Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 14, pp. 412 & 425; Washington DC, Library of Congress, Thatcher 1004 (a letter from Gloucester to Sir Robert Claxton, 12 August 1480, which is reproduced in Pollard (R3) p.237) and Mancini supra

[22] Calendar Patent Rolls Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III -1476-85, p.339; T Stapleton (Ed) Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Soc 1839) pp.31-33 & 40 and A Raine (Ed) – York Civic Records (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series 1939) Vol 1, PP.2-3.

[23] YCR pp.15-16, 51-52 & 54

[24] Dockray (R3 sources) pp. 30, 34-37

[25] Davies p.89; this is a quote from a letter from the York City Council to the duke of Gloucester.

[26] Reid p.58; Davies passim

[27] Pollard (R3) pp.231-32, and Appendix 1, pp.234-236. The original arbitration agreement is in North Riding County Record Office, Clervaux Cartulary, ZQH.

[28] Davies pp.80-95; the cost of Pike ranged from 10s.3d to 11s.3d ‘a piece’ old money, which equates to about 52-62p today.

[29] Kendall pp135-37; see also Davies pp140-41

[30] Dorothy Mitchell – Richard III and York (Silver Boar 1987) p.27; Alderman Thomas Wrangwyshe was a colourful character indeed. Aged about forty-five in 1482. He commanded a company of archers in Gloucester’s Scottish campaigns. In 1483 he personally led 300 men from York to be at the king’s side during Buckingham’s rebellion. He was a rough diamond, with a distinctly ‘Ricardian’ sense of justice. In one case in January 1485, when he was the Mayor, he sent a man to the gaol for being cruel to another man, who was, in the stocks. The sergeants were escorting the prisoner to the city gaol, when a ‘large group of his heavily armed friends’ tried to release him. Wrangwyshe, hearing the violent affray, stormed into the street and settled the fight with his fists; thereafter he grabbed the prisoner in ‘his strong hands’ and  dragged him off to the gaol. Wrangwyshe was a  formidable fighter in and out of the council chamber and seems to have won Gloucester’s friendship.

[31] Reid p.47

[32] Reid p.48

[33] Reid p.54

[34] Reid p.58: the sub-heading for this section is paraphrased from a sentence in Dr Reid’s work on the council of the north, which reads as follows “Richard did not reserve his favour for the victims of economic change. In his Council he offered good and indifferent justice to all who sought it, were they rich or poor, gentle or simple”.

[35] There was an upsurge in unfair fines and illegal evictions due to economic factors on the continent, which was driving-up the price of wool and hides (the North’s most marketable commodity). As a consequence, the value of pastureland increased. Tenants who held manor lands by feudal custom were liable to have their land enclosed by ruthless landlords intent on turning arable land or rough common land into valuable pasture.

[36] Reid pp. 57-58 citing Sir Thomas de Littleton- Tenures (published 1482) (1841 edition) Sec 77; Brian CJ’s dictum was incorporated into the 1530 edition of Littleton. Sir Thomas de Littleton (1407-1481) was an English judge and jurist. His treatise on ‘tenure’ was the standard legal textbook on the law of property until the nineteenth century.

[37] Reid, ibid

[38] Reid p.59

[39] Reid pp.59-61

[40] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.171

[41] Pronay; ibid

[42] Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond (Eds) – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1982), Vol 3, pp. 107-08 [f264b]. The Commission creating the Council and appointing the earl of Lincoln as its first president is undated. However, Lincoln was at the time Richard’s heir and so the Commission must have been signed after the death of the Prince of Wales, probably around the 24 July 1484.

[43] Harleian MS433, Vol 3, pp. 114-117 [f 270]); see also Reid pp. 58-70 for a detailed appreciation of Richard’s regulations governing the council’s conduct.

[44] Harleian MS433, ibid; I think there may be  a double negative in Richard’s regulations.

[45] Mitchell p.30; Sir Robert Percy (not a member of the Northumberland Percies) was king Richard’s closest personal friend after Francis Lovell; the three had trained together at Middleham. Faithful to the end, he died fighting beside his king in the final charge at Bosworth. Percy’s son was attainted after the battle of Stoke in 1487.

[46] Reid p.62

THE ANGLO SCOTTISH WAR 1480-82

 

Richard duke of Gloucester – The King’s Lieutenant in the North

“And he governed those countries very wisely and justly in time of peace and war and preserved concord and amity between the Scots and English so much as he could. But the breaches between them could not so strongly be made up to continue long, And especially the borderers, whose best means of living grew out of mutual spoils and common rapines, and for the which cause they were ever apt to enter into brawls and feuds. And while the duke of Gloucester lay in these northern parts, and in the last year of the reign of the king, his brother, the quarrels and the feuds and despoils were much more outrageous and more extreme than before. And thereby there grew so great unkindness and so great enmity, and such hostile hatred between the kings of England and Scotland, and so irreconcilable that nothing but the sword and open war could compose or determine and extinguish them”

(Sir George Buck – The History of King Richard III, 1619)[1] 

Introduction

The fifteenth century writer and French courtier Philippe De Commynes ascribed this ancient enmity between the English and the Scots to God’s will: “All things considered I think that God has created neither man nor beast in this world without creating something to oppose them in order to keep them humble and afraid… Nor is it only in this nation (he is referring to his homeland of Ghent) that God has given some sort of thorn. For the kingdom of France he has opposed the English, to the English the Scots…”[2] Although Commynes’ theory about the will of God cannot be proved in human terms, he was surely right to bracket the interrelationship between England, France and Scotland as being a significant influence on the behaviour of their respective kings. From Commynes’ perspective it was an unholy trinity, which was necessary to correct the evil of princes and prevent the abuse of power. What we can say with some degree of certainty is that the military and diplomatic dynamics of the three kingdoms constrained Edward IV’s freedom of action when formulating English foreign policy. Put simply, he could not pursue his dynastic ambitions in France without first securing the frontier against a Scottish incursion[3], since: “… the old pranks of the Scots… is ever to invade England when the king is out.” [4]

Border Reivers

Edward’s problem was complicated by the fact that royal authority did not always extend to the English northern borderlands. Border society was feudal in nature; their focus was fixed on local issues and disputes. It was the local laird or lord who held sway, not necessarily the king or his policy.   The north of England was sparsely populated and economically poor[5]. English and Scottish borderers relied on reiving to survive. Crimes of murder, robbery, cattle rustling, kidnap, blackmail, extortion and looting were endemic.[6] Sean Cunningham explains the king’s difficulty: “…this cross-border network had a very different view of formal Anglo-Scottish conflict to that of the two royal governments. In addition, local and regional interests in the northern English or southern Scottish counties bred a different attitude to the opposing side. This existed within the sphere of wider foreign or diplomatic policy, but its micro focus on the effects of cross-border feuding and low-level warfare often confused and undermined otherwise clear national foreign policy objectives of either monarchy.[7] 

In the north of England the dominant nobles were the Neville family led by Richard earl of Warwick and the Percy family, headed by the hereditary earls of Northumberland (In the 1470’s and 80’s it was Henry Percy the 4th earl). Needless to say there was no love lost between these families who vied for hegemony in peace and were enemies during the Wars of the Roses. King James III’s problems of enforcing his authority in southern Scotland differed from Edward’s only in degree. The rugged and wild Scottish countryside made communication difficult; it was slow and in the highlands possibly dangerous. The feudal allegiances of the clans together with the jealous independence of the border lairds meant that royal authority north of the frontier went only so far as the monarch’s personal prestige and the laird’s goodwill would take it. Unfortunately, for James, his prestige was low and their goodwill was in short supply.[8]

Border rebels

The outcome of battle of the Towton in 1461 was a decisive Yorkist victory, though not a complete one. The former king Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward (styled) Prince of Wales and some Lancastrian adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge. James was complying with the Treaty of Lincluden, which his mother, Mary of Guelders, had negotiated with Margaret of Anjou, earlier in 1461. Under the terms of the treaty, James promised the Lancastrians military aid in return for the cession of Berwick to Scotland, and the possibility of a marriage between Edward Prince of Wales and the Princess Margaret the king’s sister.[9] James provided a secure base from which the Lancastrians with Scottish help could continue their struggle for the English throne[10]. Between 1461 and 1464 the Lancastrians, reinforced by Scottish and French troops, mounted some very destructive raids into northern England, reaching as far as Carlisle, which they besieged but could not take.

Edward adopted a carrot and stick approach for dealing with these rebels. The stick comprised a military campaign waged in the north by Richard and John Neville against die-hard Lancastrians and their foreign levies. The carrot was the offer of reconciliation to any dissidents that asked for it, even those who had rebelled violently against him. Simultaneously, Edward intrigued with Scottish malcontents to revoke support for Lancaster. These policies had mixed results. John Neville and his ‘loyal northern retinues’ succeeded in defeating the Lancastrians twice in 1464; first at Hedgeley Moor and again at Hexham. Those Lancastrian lords who did not die in battle were executed immediately afterwards. The defeat of Lancaster was followed by an Anglo-Scottish truce that was to subsist for the next ten years.

There is some doubt about the wisdom of Edward’s policy of conciliation. Professor Ross holds it to be a black mark against his record as a statesman; Michael Hicks argues that it was a rational policy in the circumstances, which, generally speaking, worked despite the odd spectacular failure. SJ Payling is not sure whether Edward should be congratulated for his magnanimity in forgiving some Lancastrians, or scolded for his vindictiveness in not forgiving them all.[11] It is a moot point, however, whether conciliation actually worked. As Keith Dockray points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians in 1464 were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north. As Edward was to discover, the north was no more Yorkist in 1471 than it had been in 1461.[12]

Border skirmishing 1471-80

Following his readeption in 1471, Edward IV sought to pursue his favoured foreign policy objectives of recovering English feudalities in France and enforcing his claim to the French crown. To do this he needed security on his northern border. His immediate aim, therefore, was to neutralize the duel threat of a foreign war with the Scots and rebellion in the north. He determined to achieve this by maintaining the truce with James III at all costs and being conciliatory towards his rebellious northern subjects, so as to secure their good will and obedience. The man he selected to implement this policy was his youngest brother Richard duke of Gloucester. Although still a teenager, Gloucester’s steadfast loyalty and effective battlefield leadership in the recent rebellion had confirmed him as Edward’s most reliable and able subordinate. Within the space of two years, Gloucester was given a monopoly of the important public offices north of the Trent, including military governorship of the important West March of the border ‘ towards Scotland’. He also acquired Warwick’s political mantle through his inheritance (by marriage) of the lion’s share of the earl’s estates in the north. Having spent his formative teenage years under Warwick’s tutelage at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, Gloucester was well equipped to fill the vacuum left by the destruction of the Nevilles; he knew the north and was known there. It seems from the evidence, that he achieved a remarkable degree of popularity and inspired deep loyalty from northerners.[13] Just as importantly he seems to have established an effective working relationship with the touchy, ambitious and untrustworthy earl of Northumberland, and the equally untrustworthy and ambitious Thomas Lord Stanley. Their working relationship was important in bringing stability to the area.

As the Warden of the West March, Gloucester’s military task was straightforward; he had to defend the West March against Scottish incursions. He could mobilise local levies for service on the border and enforce truces with the Scots. He could punish breaches of the truce summarily if the reivers were English; if they were Scots, he could hand them over to the Scottish Warden. However, he had no military authority over Henry Percy earl of Northumberland who was the Warden of the East and Middles Marches.

The peace treaty between England and Scotland, which was agreed in 1474, was meant to transform the ad hoc truce into a formal peace that would endure until at least 1519. In the shorter term the treaty secured Edward’s northern border against a Scottish incursion, which was a prerequisite for his planned invasion of France. The trouble was that the temporary truce was already under considerable strain from reiving by both sides. In 1473, Northumberland identified Scottish raids from Liddlesdale as a threat to the truce. Similarly, Scottish wardens pointed out that English reivers from Tynedale and Redesdale were also damaging the chances of an enduring peace. The Scottish reception of the English traitor John de Vere earl of Oxford, and the residence of the Scottish rebel Robert Lord Boyd at Alnwick further inflamed the tense situation.

Things seemed to be getting out of hand in 1474 when it was reported from Scotland that the duke of Gloucester was preparing an invasion.[14] Professor AJ Pollard obviously disapproves of Gloucester’s behaviour at this time since he characterises him as being ‘hot-headed and ambitious’, andalmost as much ‘of a handful’ for Edward as his other brother George duke of Clarence. “Now” writes Pollard ”… by his reluctance to implement the terms of the treaty and his own insubordinate acts of piracy (Gloucester) was threatening to undermine all of Edward IV’s efforts in the north.” [15] If the accusation were true, it would have been an appalling breach of the peace treaty and of the trust that existed between the king and the duke. Their personal bond though close, was unlikely to have survived intact such an injurious act of insubordination. After all, Gloucester was merely the instrument of the king’s will. And the king’s will at this time was to have peace with Scotland.

What professor Pollard overlooks, however, is the situation on the Anglo-Scottish border at the time, which might explain if not excuse Gloucester’s hostility towards the Scots. I have already referred to the tension caused by border reiving but what was potentially most dangerous was the intrigue between James III and Louis XI. The Scottish king had ‘for a pension of ten thousand crowns’ offered to ‘keep Edward at home by attacking him’.[16] It is unlikely that Gloucester was aware of James’ plotting; but he would almost certainly have been aware of the build-up of Scottish troops and their increasing violence towards the English, which was encouraged by James’ cavalier attitude to peace. In those circumstances, it is entirely probable that Gloucester was planning a counter-attack inside Scotland. He was the military governor on the spot, and was by training and instinct an aggressive commander. His tactic of aggressive defence was very popular with those who bore the brunt of Scottish depredations. It is hard to see how Gloucester could have possibly intended a serious ‘invasion’ of Scotland since his retinues combined with those of Northumberland and Thomas Lord Stanley were insufficient for such a task: he was an aggressive commander, not a stupid one. But the political reality was that Edward could not permit Gloucester to freelance a policy that might fuel the violence and undermine the crown’s wider foreign policy aims. When told of Gloucester’s belligerence, Edward was quick to admonish his brother, telling him in effect to behave himself and not to antagonise James.

The Treaty of Picquigny (1475) between Edward and Louis XI confirmed Edward’s inability to enforce a foreign policy, which had been the Plantagenet’s raison d’etre since the twelfth century: the recovery of their feudal territories in France and (after 1340) the enforcement of their claim to the French throne.[17] Unfortunately, Edward made peace for a down payment of 75,000 crowns and an annual pension of 50,000 crowns. He returned to England with his army to the chagrin of Gloucester and many other Englishmen.[18] Commynes scoffed that the indolent Edward was “…not cut out to endure the toil necessary from a king of England.” And the French boasted that they had bought off the troublesome English ‘with six hundred pipes of wine and a pension’.[19] Cora Scofield’s judgement is damning: “The great expedition to France was over and not an inch of territory conquered… no words could hide the truth. Edward had sold himself to the king of France.[20] Be that as it may, the treaty with Louis had financial advantages and one significant diplomatic benefit. Louis agreed not to ally himself to James III or interfere with events in Britain. This agreement enabled Edward to turn his mind to that other great plank of Plantagenet foreign policy: English overlordship of the British Isles, which in the late fifteenth century meant conquering Scotland.

In the aftermath of Picquigny, cross-border reiving continued to threaten peace in Britain. James III was simply unable to enforce his royal authority on semi autonomous highland chiefs and border lairds who, in the words of professor Mackie ”…pursued their private vendettas…(and)…defied all authority… and when, as sometimes happened, they made secret bonds among themselves, the power of the crown was in jeopardy.”[21] Worse still, it was James’ estrangement from his own family that most threatened royal authority. His brother Alexander duke of Albany thrived on border skirmishing and bitterly resented royal interference. James’ desire for peace was in part driven by his resentment of Louis XI who not only dilly-dallied about renewing the ‘auld alliance’ but also humiliated James over Scottish territorial ambitions in Guelders. Edward on the other hand, was progressively more irritated by Scottish reiving. The treaty with Louis merely increased his confidence that he could safely to turn his attention to the Scottish problem without interference. It was unlucky that James’ enthusiasm for peace waxed as Edward’s waned.

James’ attempt to strengthen the Anglo-Scottish treaty by a marriage between his sister Princess Margaret and George duke of Clarence foundered on Edward’s indifference (He did, however, allow proposals for a marriage between Princess Margaret and Edward Woodville to proceed.). It was hopeless: unlike similar situations in 1473 and in 1474, the English had no appetite to preserve the peace. The death of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy in 1477 had changed the political dynamic between England, Scotland and France. Edward was now more supportive of his widowed sister, Margaret the dowager duchess, in Burgundy’s dispute with France. As a consequence, Louis resumed his intrigue with the Scots against the English. By 1479 the Treaty of Edinburgh was in tatters. The Princess Margaret was pregnant by her lover, Lord Linton, a development that Edward regarded as a national humiliation. He demanded full restitution of the dowry he had paid to James in anticipation of the royal marriage between Cecily and young James Stuart, the Scottish heir.

a terrible and destructive war

The Crowland chronicler blamed the Scots for the war that now seemed inevitable, for “shamelessly’ breaking a thirty-year truce” for which treachery Edward proclaimed “ a terrible and destructive war against the Scots[22] In the early spring of 1480, Edward paid ‘advances against wages’ to Gloucester and Northumberland so that they could prepare for a possible Scottish attack. At the same time, he sent his formal envoy Alexander Leigh, canon of Windsor north to Edinburgh with instructions to demand (i) that James do homage to Edward for the Scottish crown, (ii) that he surrender his heir to English custody, (iii) that he return the towns of Berwick, Cordingham and Roxburgh to English dominion, and (iv) that the Scots make full restitution for the damage caused by their reiving. Whatever James might have thought about Edward’s other demands, it is obvious that he could never agree to do homage for his throne or to hand his heir over to the English. In truth, Edwards’s embassage was not a genuine diplomatic overture to avert war; it was a declaration of war.

Edward’s war aims seem obvious from his demands; his plan for winning that war is less obvious. Previous English experience suggested that war with the Scots was ‘costly, dangerous and inglorious’ and ‘rarely bought lasting results.’[23] The Scottish war of Independence showed that the English could be defeated in a pitched battle; nevertheless, such battles were rare. The last one between national armies (Nevilles Cross 1346) had been a catastrophic defeat for the Scots in which their king was captured and held prisoner by the English. In a defensive war the Scots relied on their terrain coupled with some impenetrable fortresses to disrupt and wear down the enemy, whose increasingly vulnerable lines of communication could then be attacked. At other times they attacked the English to keep them on the tactical defensive. Some of these attacks involved large local forces; the clashes at Otterburn (1388) and Nesbit moor (1402) being cases in point. The conquest of Scotland required a large, professional army for which the English had not the means; especially whilst fighting the French or facing the threat of fighting the French, or when they were fighting among themselves. Neither could they impose a puppet king on the Scots unless the lairds and nobles accepted him as legitimate and competent, which they rarely were. As Cunningham observes “Edward’s strategy for the war of 1480-82 struggled to shake off the previous disasters of English political and military attempts to subjugate the Scots.”[24]

Edward could ill-afford a repeat of the errors of 1475 when the invasion of France ended in recriminations and confusion. If the Scottish war was not to become bogged down in small-scale military raids and counter-raids, Edward needed a clear and concise plan and a new strategy that would give him a decisive victory. His first decision was a sensible one; he clarified the chain of command in the north. Command of all the English forces in the north was given to the duke of Gloucester; who was appointed Edward’s Lieutenant General with full authority to call to arms the border levies and those of adjacent counties. The earl of Northumberland reverted publicly to Gloucester’s 2IC, whilst Thomas Lord Stanley bought-up the rear. On the 20 June 1480, Gloucester issued Commissions of Array in Northumberland, Cumberland and Yorkshire for levies to serve on the border against the Scots. This was clearly a defensive measure, as the commissions issued would not provide a sufficient force capable of invading Scotland. If the response of the City of York is typical, it was not a rapid mobilisation. Their contingent had not left the city boundary when Gloucester wrote on the 30 August 1480, ordering the men to march north[25].

Within a few days of Gloucester’s letter, however, Archibald Douglas earl of Angus led a spectacular three-day raid into the heart of Northumberland, reaching and torching the coastal town of Bamburgh, about twenty miles from the border. Jean Froissart, writing towards the end of the fourteenth century describes Scottish raiding habits. Although his account was written a century or more before these events, his narrative provides a useful illustration of the nature of medieval border warfare; an experience that had not changed appreciably by the late fifteenth century despite advances in gunpowder technology and the development of handguns. “ The Scots are a bold, hardy people, very experienced in war. At that time they had little love or respect for the English, and the same is true today. When they cross the border they advance sixty or seventy miles in a day and night, which would seem astonishing to anyone ignorant of their customs. The explanation is that in their expeditions into England they all come on horseback, except the irregular who follow on foot. The knights and squires are all mounted on fine, strong horses and the commoners on small ponies. Because they have to travel over the wild hills of Northumberland they bring no baggage carts and so carry no supplies of bread or wine (save what they carry behind their saddle and can pillage from the land). Hence, it is not surprising that they can travel faster than other armies. So the Scots entered Northumberland. They ravaged and burnt it, finding more livestock than they knew what to do with. They were at least three thousand men in armour…”[26] The English marked Scottish progress by the smoke from the burning villages.

On the 7 September the earl Northumberland wrote urgently to his retainer Sir Robert Plumpton that the Scots ‘in great numbers’ had advanced ‘deep into Northumberland’; Sir Robert and his men were ordered to rendezvous with the earl at Topcliffe by 8 o’clock the following Monday.[27] The next day, that is the 8 September, Gloucester wrote equally urgently to the city of York: “…the Scots in great multitude intend this Saturday night to enter into [the] marches of these northern parts…We trusting to God [intend] to resist their malice [and] …desire you to send unto us at Durham on Thursday next, a servant of yours accompanied with such certain number of your city defensibly arrayed, as you intend and may deserve right special thanks from the king’s highness and us.”[28] Leaving aside the obvious confusion about whether the Scots had actually crossed the border, it is clear that it was (despite Gloucester’s intention) a successful Scottish raid and that the concentration of the northern levies was not yet complete. Having been caught-out by the boldness of Angus’ attack, Gloucester’s instinct was to counter-attack and teach the Scots a lesson that would, in professor Kendall’s words, ‘check their ardour’. In effect, this meant a counter-raid of sufficient weight to damage Scottish morale. Frustratingly, we do have any contemporary accounts of this operation[29]: the number of troops involved, their organisation their objective(s) and details of what happened are all unknown. However, we can perhaps make an educated guess based on what the military historian FL Petre called ’inherent military probability’.

In the mid to late fifteenth century English tactical doctrine was still influenced by their experiences in France during the Hundred Years War. We are not here concerned with the development of English infantry tactics in set-piece battles, since Gloucester had not the least intention at this stage of fighting a conventional battle. We must also distinguish between criminal border reiving, which though warlike in nature is irregular, localised and aimed at settling family feuds, cattle rustling and so forth, and the low-level specifically military operations planned by Gloucester. A more appropriate term for this type of operation would be ‘chevauchée’: a ride through enemy territory by swiftly moving, mobile columns of mounted men-at-arms and archers, unencumbered by a logistic tail of non-combatants.[30] A chevauchée could be used as a diversion intended to draw enemy troops away from the point of an intended attack or from a siege, or to destroy a military installation in enemy territory, or to undermine enemy morale by spreading fear and terror among their population.

We can be pretty sure that Gloucester’s objective in 1480 was to undermine Scottish morale by terrorising the civilian population and destroying their crops, livestock, buildings and chattels. It is important to understand that on a mission such as this, the rules of chivalry would not apply, since the people most in harm’s way such as the peasant farmers, labourers and the poor were outside the protection of the chivalric code. It is possible that Gloucester forbade the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians; but if so, it would almost certainly not have been on humanitarian grounds, but because it was bad for military discipline. Nevertheless, in a chevauchée such as this, it was impossible to prevent murder rape and arson altogether, since, to paraphrase Froissart, ‘there was bound to be some bad fellows and evil men of little feeling in Gloucester’s force’[31].

We can make a rough estimate of the number soldiers involved by using the strength of the northern contingent in the kings army in France as a guide. Sean Cunningham estimates that of the 14,000 men in Edward’s army, 3,000 were from the combined retinues of Gloucester, Northumberland, Stanley and Lord Scrope of Bolton; of these, about 500 were men at arms and the remainder were archers.[32] It is reasonable to assume that the borders would not have been denuded of all the men fit for active service, as some were needed to patrol the border, deal with low level Scottish reiving and garrison the castles at places like Norham and Carlisle. Based on these assumptions, my best guestimate is that in the autumn of 1480 Gloucester would have had about 4-4500 men for service on the Scottish border, of which perhaps 2,000 could be available for this operation.

Typically, English medieval armies were organised in three ‘battles’ or ‘divisions’ for set-piece battles and chevauchée type operations. And there is no reason to think that Gloucester did anything different this time. It is possible that each battle advanced on a separate axis with their ‘scourers’ scouting ahead and on the flanks. It is equally possible that they advanced in a single column, with one battle acting as the advance guard for the whole force. The men-at-arms and archers would have been mounted in the Scottish fashion and there may well have been some infantry for the defence of lines of communication and key points and pioneering tasks. The nature of the terrain and season would affect Gloucester choice of target. It would serve no purpose to attack in the wild Cheviot Hill since the population was sparse and the country rough. It would be hard to navigate or to spread panic swiftly and the risk of getting bogged down was great. A destructive attack along the fertile agricultural land of the Scottish east coast between Berwick and Dunbar would be much more effective in dousing Scottish ardour.

 

John Hardyng’s map of Scotland [33]scotland-circa-1480-a-1

(15th Century)

 

An attack along the east coast also had some tactical advantages since the sea offered protection for one flank and made navigation easier as they could advance confidently northwards keeping the sea on their right. Although we do not know what actually happened we can get a feel from the work of HJ Hewitt of how a typical chevauchée was conducted. He is writing about the fourteenth century; but I think the reference is valid since it illustrates standard operating procedures that were unchanged in the 1480’s. This is what Hewitt wrote: “ On reaching a village or town the troops usually have little difficulty in overcoming civilian resistance. Valuables are collected and are loaded into carts or heaped on the horses’ backs; cattle are driven away or killed; the work of destruction begins. Granaries, ricks of hay, corn or straw, barns, cattle–sheds, houses and their contents are fired Wooden bridges are broken, windmills and watermills are burned, or rendered unserviceable News of the army’s approach spreads very quickly and, as clouds of smoke by day and a red

glow by night mark the invaders route (or routes, for a large force may move in columns). The inhabitants, seized by panic, flee and thus facilitate the work of the troops; a deserted town stocked with a winters supply of food and fuel is a suitable place for a halt and some good meals. But the army never lingers long and there are days when the men have little to eat and the horses little to drink. Always there is the danger of ambushes, of homesteads having been fired by their occupants in order to destroy food and shelter, of houses in walled towns being set on fire at night be concealed enemies or drunken soldiers or bridges being broken to delay the invaders advance.”[34] And as if that was not enough, there was the danger of an engagement with the enemy’s army, which may try to encircle the raiders or force them to accept a pitched battle at disadvantage. If their escape route is cut they may be forced to withdraw over remote and rough terrain where a withdrawal might turn into a rout.

For these reasons, Gloucester’s force needed strike hard and swiftly. In the event, the chevauchée seems to have been of relatively short duration; Gloucester had returned to Sheriff Hutton by the 23 October 1480.[35] By the end of the year, Edward’s decision to make war was irrevocable and he resolved to go north to lead the army against the Scots personally, to ‘teach them a punishing lesson’. In view of this, Gloucester’s commission as Lieutenant General was not renewed[36] and preparations began in earnest for what promised to be a hard campaign against a tough enemy. Meanwhile, Gloucester busied himself in the north repairing Carlisle’s walls and strengthening England’s other border defences.

By the New Year, Edward’s strategic priority was to create an effective royal navy. John Howard was appointed Captain of the main fleet, to serve from May to August 1481.[37] His mission was to harry the east coast of Scotland and concurrently to protect the English east coast from the Scottish fleet and the more formidable French fleet.[38] Edward spent a considerable sum of money on the purchase, repair and maintenance of ships, and on patrolling the east coast. Naval supremacy on the North Sea was essential for a successful war, since ships were the surest and quickest method of transporting men, cannons, personal weapons and military stores to Gloucester’s northern army. By February 1481 eleven royal ships had been commissioned to patrol the east cost for six months. In May, Sir Thomas Fulford was commissioned to take command of an independent naval squadron on the west coast; a month later, Thomas Howard led his English flotilla manned by three thousand sailors and marines into the Firth of Forth. There, he cut out and carried off eight of the largest ships from their harbours in Leith, Kinghorn and Pettenween, and destroyed the smaller ones. He also effected an amphibious assault on Blackness where several hundred English marines torched the town along with another large ship. It was an outstanding effort by the navy and a demonstration of the benefits of amphibious warfare. By landing troops in the enemy’s rear worryingly close to Edinburgh, the English opened up the possibility of a war against Scotland on two fronts. It was never more than a possibility however, since the English commanders were unable to take advantage of the situation. Dr Michael Jones implies some criticism of Gloucester for not co-ordinating a land attack to coincide with Howard’s naval assault. Quite how Gloucester was expected to achieve this is a puzzle to me, since co-ordinating amphibious assaults with a complementary land attack can be difficult, even with modern communications (e.g. the Salerno and Anzio landings of WW2). Given that the naval and land elements in 1481 had no means of communicating quickly and regularly with each other; a co-ordinated attack would need a lot of luck to succeed. Nor is it even established that such co-ordination was ever intended in this operation. Frankly this is not the best point, in what is, anyway, a superficial appraisal of Gloucester’s military competence by Dr Jones. [39]

Winter War

Although Edward had signalled his intention to lead the army in person, he was no further north than Nottingham by the autumn. The consequence of his delay was to ‘paralyse the English invasion plans’ by depriving the army of his leadership and the reinforcement of troops that would accompany him[40]. Gloucester and Northumberland were, therefore, mainly reliant on the northern retinues and garrison troops to defend the border. The 3000 men raised by Thomas Lord Stanley were mainly needed for the siege of Berwick and so were not necessarily available for an invasion of Scotland. Even if sufficient troops were available to constitute an invasion force, they could not be deployed until the king arrived to take command. However, the northern commanders did not discover until November that Edward had turned south from Nottingham and would not lead the army that year. Charles Ross has no doubt that Edward’s indecision and his absence from the army was responsible for the English failure to invade Scotland in 1481.[41]

James III, on the other hand, had not been idle; he had assembled a large force in southern Scotland with which he could invade England, or make a thorough nuisance of himself in the border region. Cora Scofield thinks that ‘ on the whole’ the Scots came out of this year’s fighting quite well, with “at least as many victories as the English.” [42]  If the Scottish historian Lesley is to be believed, the Scots “ invaded the Marches of the English and took away many preys of goods and destroyed many towns and led many persons in Scotland.[43] James III even boasted to the Pope that his army had destroyed and ‘put to flight‘ 200,000 Englishmen. Unfortunately for Scottish egos, this was not true. It is true that the Scots had engaged in some destructive chevauchées of their own; however, they did not use their superior numbers to raise the siege of Berwick or to invade England: instead they withdrew meekly. James’ excuse that the withdrawal was at the personal request of the Pope who wanted to broker peace between England and Scotland, is not really credible.[44] Nonetheless, the winter of 1481-82 was a miserable one for the English army engaged in interminable skirmishing with the Scots.

A few passages from Froissart’s fourteenth century chronicle provide further illustrations of campaign life for Englishmen at the sharp end of a medieval winter war with the Scots. [45] In my first selection, the English are ‘advancing to contact’ with the elusive Scots. “ They began to move forward very raggedly over heaths, hills and valleys and through difficult woodland without a trace of level country. Among the mountains and valleys were great marshes and bogs, which were so dangerous to cross that it was surprising that more men were not lost in them. Each man rode steadily forward without waiting for his captain or companion and anyone who got stuck in those bogs would have been lucky to find help. Throughout the day there were many alerts, which made it appear that the foremost were engaging the enemy. Those behind urged their horses over swamps and rocky ground up hill and down dale, with their helmets on and their shields slung, their swords or lances in their hand, without waiting for father, brother or comrade. But when they had galloped a mile or so and reached the point from which the sounds came they found it was a false alarm. The cause was a herd of deer or other animals which abound in that wild country…[fleeing] in panic before the banners and the advancing horsemen

By the end of the day no contact had been made with the enemy. The English, exhausted and lacking the tools to build personal shelters, bivouacked as best they could. “ Mounts and riders were tired out, yet the men had to sleep in full armour, holding their horses by the bridles since they had nothing to tie them to having left their equipment in the carts which could not follow them over such country. For the same reason there were no oats or other fodder to give the horses and they themselves had nothing to eat all day and night except the loaves they had tied behind their saddles and these were all soiled and sodden by horses sweat. They had nothing to drink but [river water] except the commanders who had bought bottles of wine. They had no lights or fires and no means of kindling them except some knights who could light torches….”

In the morning, just before dawn, the English ‘stood to’. “Having spent the night thus miserably, without taking off their armour or unsaddling their horses they hoped for better as the day dawned. But as they were looking round for some prospect of food and shelter and for traces of the Scots, whom they eagerly wanted to fight in order to put an end to their own hardship, it began to rain…it never stopped raining the whole week and consequently their saddles, saddle-clothes and girths became sodden and most of the horses developed sores on their backs. They had nothing to cover them with except their own surcoat and no means of re-shoeing the horses that needed it. They themselves had nothing to keep out the wet and the cold save their tunics and armour. They remained like that for three days (without food), with the Scots on the mountain slope opposite…” From this point onwards, the English are in contact with the enemy “…there were skirmishes every day in which men were killed and prisoners taken. At nightfall the Scots lit great fires and raised such a din blowing their horns and whooping in chorus that it sounded to the English as all the devils in hell had been let loose.”

By the turn of the year (1482), English morale was low and there was unrest in the ranks due to a shortage of food for the men and grain for the horse. Money was also short and Gloucester was only able to alleviate the army’s suffering by purchasing wheat, rye, peas and beans with his own money. In February 1482, he received £10,000 for the army’s wages and Northumberland received the final instalment of a grant of 2,000 marks for the defence of the East March. Notwithstanding the difficulties it is clear that Gloucester and Northumberland managed to contain the worst of Scottish aggression. The Scots had not been able to relieve Berwick or mount a significant ‘invasion’ of English territory. Nonetheless, it was ‘a close-run thing’. The money, the equipment and the reinforcements being allocated to the army during the spring and summer of 1482 was a sure sign of Edward’s desperation that the they should continue to hold the line until he could devise a more cohesive and decisive strategy for vanquishing the Scots. It was, of course, still unclear when (if) the king would come north to take command, since he seemed as yet unready to relinquish his ambition of leading the army in a foreign war.

Things began to look up for the army by the spring. An improvement in the weather coupled with a plentiful re-supply of arms, equipment and provisions and a reinforcement of troops saw an improvement in the army’s morale and its efficiency. The establishment of a chain of fast moving messengers improved communications between London and the border, and all seemed set for a decisive campaign in 1482. Gloucester commenced active operations in May by leading a daring chevauchée into southwest Scotland, torching the strategically important town of Dumfries and many other lesser ones and skilfully withdrawing before a Scottish army could be bought against him.[46] This was not the presage of another year of inconclusive skirmishing since Gloucester knew quite well that to conquer Scotland the English needed to meet and defeat James III and his main army in a pitched battle. Kendall speculates that the Dumfries raid may have been meant to provoke the king of Scots to take the field with his whole army so that he and they could be defeated in a set-piece battle[47]. If so, Gloucester and Northumberland must have been supremely confident of winning such a confrontation. However, they must also have realised that the difficulty would be in engineering such an opportunity. The Scots were canny fighters and they knew they could not match the full weight of English resources in a conventional war. The irregular border warfare of 1480-81 was a good strategy for them since it degraded English strength and kept them on the defensive in the border. However, Gloucester, Northumberland and the other English commanders had weathered the storm and now, in the spring and summer of 1482 they had sufficient forces to invade Scotland in strength whilst besieging Berwick. The trouble was that king Edward who was needed in the north was still far away in the south; unable or unwilling to join the army. A combination of indolence, poor health and civil turmoil in England had cooled Edward’s ardour for active service; he was not the man of 1461 or even 1471. 

A Scottish Clarence

Paul Kendall described Alexander Stuart, duke of Albany as ‘Clarence in a kilt’. He was, in fact, the king of Scots’ brother and, like Clarence, renowned for his instability: being ‘restless, ambitious and unprincipled’.[48] It was Albany who gave Edward a new idea for securing overlordship of Scotland. Albany had fled to France 1479 after he was attainted for treason. He was something of an embarrassment to Louis who was trying to renew the Franco-Scottish alliance against England. While Albany was in France, Edward secretly sounded him out the possibility that he might assume the Scottish throne and swear fealty to Edward as his overlord. Louise was not averse to this since it got rid of the awkward Albany and promised to involve Edward in a Scottish war. Consequently, Albany was allowed to come to England, where he arrived in April 1482. In May, Edward recognised him as the true king of Scots by a proclamation indenting for men to serve the ‘king of Scotland’ on 14 days notice.

In early June, Gloucester was summoned to Fotheringhay to meet Edward and Albany, and to be briefed on Edward’s plan to put a pretender on the Scottish throne. His presence was also required (presumably) so that he could give his opinion of the new plan. Kendall implies that Gloucester may have had misgivings about Albany’s worth but nonetheless ‘ he readily approved’.[49] The Treaty of Fotheringhay was signed on the 11 June 1482. By it, Albany promised to do homage to Edward once he was placed on the Scottish throne, to return Berwick to English domain and to give up certain fortresses in the west. Finally, Edward spoke to his brother about command of the army. It was obvious, even to Edward, that he was unfit to command an invasion force in Scotland; his lascivious nature, his (even then) failing health and the ‘tumult’ in some parts of England meant that he would not mount a warhorse again. If Scotland was to be subdued, then it was Gloucester who must do it, aided by Albany for whatever that was worth. The next day, Gloucester’s commission as Lieutenant General in the North was reinstated; he was now the undisputed commander of all the king’s troops north of the Trent.

A month later, on the 15 July 1482, Gloucester, with Albany at his side left York for the border.[50] He had war treasure of £15,000, sufficient to keep his army of 20,000 in the field for twenty-eight days. It seems obvious that both he and the king expected a short decisive campaign after years of inconclusive raiding. It was of, course, a risky plan because it was so reliant on forcing James to accept battle for his throne, which was something he seemed prepared to do. Unfortunately, events did not go as planed, as we shall see. Gloucester marched swiftly north arriving at Berwick by the second or third week of July at the latest. The town rapidly surrendered but the castle, which was garrisoned by 500 Scots, refused terms. Gloucester, who had no intention of wasting time on a siege left a covering force to contain the garrison and moved swiftly on into Scotland with his main body. His march from the border to Edinburgh was in fact an unopposed chevauchée accomplished with astonishing speed and ruthless efficiency. Towns and villages en route were burned and terror spread throughout the countryside. After years of hard labour skirmishing with the Scots, this was easy work for the English army as it swept on towards the Scottish capital.

Meanwhile, things were looking decidedly bleak for James. A mere 600 men garrisoned in ‘six towers’ in addition to the now useless Berwick garrison, guarded the Scottish border. A general muster of Scottish troops had been called in late July to concentrate at Lauder in the Scottish Middle March to attempt to resist “…the largest and best-led English army seen in Scotland for eighty years’.[51] However, it seemed to most people at the time that if James faced the English in open battle it would almost certainly result in defeat and his capture or death.

The English entered Edinburgh unopposed at the beginning of August. Cora Scofield thought it was amazing that Gloucester should take the Scottish capital for Edward IV ‘without firing a gun or shooting an arrow’.[52] It was, however, also ominous, since English success depended on locating and destroying the king and his army speedily, and neither James nor his army were anywhere to be seen. It is greatly to Gloucester’s credit that the army took control of the city without molesting either the inhabitants or their goods.[53] His first task was to make a proclamation in the market place; he called on James (i) to honour his promises to Edward, (ii) to make amends for violations of the peace and (iii) to restore Albany’s rights, or face the destruction of himself and his kingdom. Thereafter he turned his attention to dealing with a Scottish force, which he believed to be waiting at Haddington. But there was no need of a battle since ‘some Scottish lords’ sued to him for a treaty. It soon became apparent that James III was a prisoner in Edinburgh castle. He had been abducted and taken there by his Stewart half-brothers who were prepared to withstand a siege. They bore James no good will but their dramatic intervention had saved him from defeat and deposition and confounded English hopes of success. Without the person of James in English custody there was no realistic prospect deposing him; nor, was there a legitimate Scottish government of with whom Gloucester could negotiate. It was also clear that the Scots would never accept Albany as either a legitimate or a competent monarch. Gloucester was now placed in an almost impossible situation. Time and money were running out for him; he had only enough money to keep his army in the field until the 11 August. A siege of Edinburgh castle would be costly in men and material, and time consuming. It would also provide an opportunity for loyal royalist forces to re-group and attack the English lines of communication. Albany true to his capricious nature had entered into public negotiations with the Scots for the restoration of his rights. By a process of elimination, therefore, Gloucester was forced to negotiate with James’ displaced and discredited former ministers: Scheves, Argyle and Avondale, who were only interested in getting rid of the English as soon as possible. They bound themselves to restore Albany to his 1479 holdings (it is doubtful they could do that in the absence of James III). The citizens of Edinburgh also bound themselves to refund at their own expense, all of the dowry paid by Edward IV for his daughter Cecily’s marriage to Prince James, if that marriage did not take place. By the 5 August, Gloucester had withdrawn to Berwick, where the castle was under siege   A week later, he discharged the army save for 1700 men needed for the siege.

Although the Scots tried to raise the siege, Gloucester seemed to have overawed them since they tried nothing more dangerous than a little more bargaining. The Scots offered to raze the walls of the castle, if Gloucester did similar to the town walls; alternatively, the English might garrison the town while the Scots garrisoned the castle. Gloucester spurned all these offers out of hand and demanded unconditional surrender of the Scottish garrison, which took place on the 24 August.

Postscript

According to the Crowland Chronicle, king Edward was less than impressed with the outcome of the campaign, particularly in view of the expense incurred; though, he was placated to some extent by the recovery of Berwick. The chronicler himself is in no doubt that Berwick was but a trifling gain for such ‘frivolous’ expenditure by Gloucester.[54] If we ignore for a moment the authors well known prejudice against northerners in general and Gloucester in particular, the point he is making is not wholly spurious. The campaign was not a complete success. The ‘largest and best led English army to invade Scotland in 80 years’ did not secure its primary objective of putting a puppet king on the Scottish throne: why? It is a good question and there are a number of possible answers: the English plan was flawed, Gloucester’s withdrawal threw away the English advantage, there was a fundamental change in circumstances which was not foreseen and which militated against complete success, or the failure was due to a combination of these factors.

Professor Charles Ross, in his biography of Edward IV, clearly blames Gloucester for the unsatisfactory outcome. There is no need for me to jump to Gloucester’s defence since his service record and military renown speak for themselves. Whether or not he was a military genius is an issue about which I have no view. However, I do feel obliged to reply to the professor’s criticism of Gloucester’s conduct of the campaign because it is so silly as to be more suggestive of his ignorance than of any dereliction by the duke. Having described Gloucester’s decision to withdraw to Berwick as ‘strange, professor Ross finds three sound military reasons that might have influenced the duke’s mind: the long lines of communications, the lack of victuals for his troops and the defection of Albany. Nevertheless, he comes to the following judgement: “Yet Gloucester’s precipitate withdrawal from Edinburgh threw away a great advantage: as commander of a powerful army installed in the capital he could surely have dictated far more satisfactory terms to a distracted Scottish government. He might have felt, following Albany’s defection that he lacked instructions on major issues, but he seems to have made no attempt to await further direction from the king in England, with whom a courier system ensured rapid communication. Gloucester’s lack of resolution meant the only practical outcome of an expensive campaign was the recovery of Berwick-Upon-Tweed…and the signing of a short truce to last until 4 November.”[55]

It is a perverse conclusion since it overlooks a number of salient and obvious mitigating factors. First, the English army was only indentured until the 11 August. There was neither the money nor the supplies to keep the English in the field after that date. Second, the abduction of James III by his own subjects and his incarceration in Edinburgh castle made it impossible for the English to capture or to kill him, either of which was a prerequisite to his deposition. Third, in the absence of the person of James III, there was no legitimate ‘Scottish Government’ with whom Gloucester might negotiate a favourable political settlement; he could only talk with James’ discredited former advisors and a deputation representing Edinburgh. Fourth, he might have tried to enforce a settlement by force of arms, except there was not the time. Moreover, An attack by loyal royalist forces was likely in the event of the English laying siege to Edinburgh castle, which was a very tough nut to crack anyway. Fifth, it was not feasible in the time available to secure the person of the queen or other members of the royal family to use as bargaining chips, since that were all safely behind the walls of Stirling castle thirty miles away (another tough nut). Sixth, there was no time to get instructions from the king, four hundred miles to the south, before the army would have to withdraw for reasons already given. Finally, it was obvious that Albany’s defection removed any chance of placing him on the throne in 1482. It was equally obvious that there was no chance of the Scots accepting him as their king. Any attempt to impose him would result in a Scottish civil war over the succession.[56] Far from his decision being irresolute or strange, Gloucester as the man on the spot was simply making the best of difficult situation. Macdougall (from the Scottish perspective) and Cunningham (from the English perspective) both make the points that the re-capture of Berwick was no mean feat since it was a useful base for continuing the war, a course that Gloucester had left open in his negotiations.

Neither should it be thought that Edward’s disappointment with the outcome meant he blamed his brother: far from it. In Parliament, in January 1483, he made an award to Gloucester, which in Cunningham’s view was the ultimate expression of Edward’s policy of endowing nominated regional lords with delegated royal authority.[57] Charles Ross writing about this award had no doubt as to its importance: “…Edward created for his brother a great hereditary lordship comprising the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland together with any parts of south-west Scotland he might afterwards conquer. This remarkable grant had two unique features. It was the first (and also the last) time since the creation of a county palatine in Lancashire in 1351 that any English shire had been made into a palatine; this meant that in practice the king’s writ did not run in the shire and the lord had full control over its affairs. Second, Richard and his heirs were to hold the office of Warden of the West March along with the palatinate. For the first time a major military command under the crown passed out of direct royal control and became instead a hereditary private possession. ” [58] It seems clear to me from this award that Edward and his brother intended to continue the war against Scotland.

In my personal opinion, the failure of the English army to achieve its primary objective was not due to poor execution, but to an unrealistic plan. The plan to subjugate the Scots and place a puppet king on their throne within twenty-eight days was only possible if the English achieved complete tactical surprise. Strategic surprise was never possible, as the Scots knew they were coming and from where: only the timing and the speed of the English attack were unknown to them. In fact, the English army had lost tactical surprise even before it crossed the Tweed. One only has to consider the timings to see what the problem was. The English army left York on the 15 July and arrived outside Berwick sometime between the 20 and 25 July. However, James III was abducted by his half-brothers on the 22 July and incarcerated in Edinburgh castle. Gloucester’s primary objective was therefore unattainable before he set foot in Scotland. The underlying cause of this was undoubtedly the failure to take Berwick in 1481; possession of Berwick then would have provided a useful operating base and jumping off point, and saved the army five or six days marching time in 1482, thereby increasing the chances of surprising James before he could be whisked to safety. Edward’s inability or unwillingness in 1481 to come north and command a national army or to provide sufficient siege resources to ensure the relatively quick capture of Berwick (town and castle) was the reason for this delay. Nor can Gloucester escape some responsibility for this failure of strategic planning; he must have thought it was achievable since he seems to have accepted  the objective and  the time limit. The fact that it might have worked if James had been left to his own devises cannot absolve either Edward or Gloucester from their responsibility in mounting a campaign that was poorly thought out and inadequately financed The simple stratagem of removal the gung-ho James to the safety of Edinburgh castle rendered the English objective unattainable in 1482. The death of Edward IV in 1483, saved Scotland from the threat of invasion and conquest. But it did not end the Anglo-Scottish conflict. Despite James’ desire for peace, Richard III continued a naval campaign. The Scots were finally forced to sue for terms in 1484; but that, as they say, is another story….

[1] Arthur Noel Kincaid (Ed) The History of King Richard the Third (1619) by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) p.21; although Buck sometimes gets confused about facts and chronology, his reasoned and evidence based defence of king Richard is still the basis of modern Ricardian theories.

[2] Philippe De Commynes (Michael Jones -Editor) – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-83 (Penguin edition 1972) p.339

[3] JD Mackie – A History of Scotland (Pelican Original 1964) p.75: the ‘auld alliance’ between Scotland and France was the natural result of English ambition and aggression. Although a formal alliance was not signed until 1295, the Scots and French were old friends having already aligned themselves to resist the Angevin kings. However, it is possible that historians over estimate the effectiveness of the ‘auld alliance’. Its terms were not equal, being more onerous for the Scots than for the French. Neither did it protect John Balliol from an English invasion and deposition by Edward I in 1296; nor, James III from an English invasion and near deposition in 1482. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how ineffective the alliance was in times of most need. However, that was not known before the event and the auld alliance was not something Edward could ignore.

[4] The Chronicle of the Union of the Two Noble & Illustrious Houses of Lancaster and York (London 1809) p.555

[5] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess). There was much antipathy between the north and south.

[6] Sean Cunningham – The Yorkists at War, published in Harlaxton Medieval Studies [Hannes Kleineke and Christian Steer-Eds] (Shaun Tyas and Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 2013) p.176, note 2. There is evidence of lawless behaviour by English highland clans in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (see Cynthia Neville – Violence, Custom and the Law: the Anglo Scottish Border Lands in the Later Middle Ages (Edinburgh 1998) pp.1-26). There is also extensive evidence of cross-border reiving from the mid-sixteenth century. There is, however, a dearth of official records or anecdotal accounts from the fifteenth century of low-level reiving. Nonetheless, it defies common sense to think that reiving diminished or ceased during the fifteenth century.

[7] Cunningham; ibid

[8] Norman Macdougall – Richard III and James III: contemporary monarchs, parallel mythologies, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty lordship and law’ (PW Hammond – Ed) (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp. 148-71 but esp 157-59. Macdougall provides a useful summary of Anglo-Scottish conflict in the 1470’s and 80’s from a Scottish perspective. See also Mackie, p.115 for a pithy assessment of James’ difficulties.

[9] Charles Ross – Edward IV (BCA edition 1975) p.29; Bertram Wolffe –Henry VI (Yale 2001 edition) p.326

[10] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[11] Ross (E4) p.51; Michael Hicks – The duke of Somerset and Lancastrian loyalism in the north: published in Richard III and his Rivals: magnates and motives in the War of the Roses (London 1991) pp.156-58; SJ Payling – Edward IV and the politics of conciliation in the early 1460’s: published in ‘The Yorkist Age’, Harlaxton Medieval Studies, Vol 23 (Hannes Kleineke and Shaun Tyas –Eds) (Shaun Tyas and the Richard III Historical Trust 2013) pp.81-94; Chris Given-Wilson (Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 13, pp. 42-53 (PROME). Sadly, it is impossible for me to do these complex arguments justice in this post. The argument turns turn on a detailed analysis of two lists of Lancastrians to be attainted. The first list is (presumably) a draft; the second list is that actually published in the Act of Attainder passed by the 1461 parliament and contained in PROME. There are many differences and inconsistencies between the two lists.

[12] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (PW Hammond Ed) (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small retinue when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[13] Dockray (R3 and the Yorkshire Gentry) p.41

[14] Norman Macdougall – James III: a political study (Edinburgh 1982) pp.128-29

[15] AJ Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books) pp.73-74; Cora Scofield – The Life and Reign of Edward IV (Fonthill 2016 revised edition) Vol 2 p.129 citing Edwards instructions to his ambassador in Edinburgh in BL Cotton MS Vespasian CXVI. ff 118-120. The piracy referred to by Pollard was a reference to an action by Gloucester’s ship Mayflower, which captured and plundered the ‘Yellow Carvel’, which was ’James III’s ‘own proper carvel’, off the English coast.

[16] Scofield Vol 2 p.54, note 1; Scofield cites Louis’ instructions to Alexander Monypenny in ‘Legrand’s collection, MS francais 6981 ff pp. 214-217. Legrand dates this document to 1474. There is no doubt it was the same offer James had made in 1473, though then he wanted a pension of sixty thousand crowns (Cal Milanese Papers, 1, pp. 174-175)

[17] PROME Vol 14, pp. 3, 14-24 & 341, Appendix 1; Edward summoned parliament on the 6 October 1472 to vote him a subsidy for the war with France. The debate was lively and interesting with guest speakers from home and abroad, including the duke of Burgundy (Pronay and John Cox – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-86 (Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) p.133). In a speech made on Edward’s behalf, the reasons given for waging ‘war outwards’ were that it averted ‘war inwards’ (civil war) by uniting the factional English nobility in a common cause and “… offered an opportunity not only to recover Normandy and Guyenne but also the crown of France in alliance with the dukes of Burgundy and Brittany.” In view of these reasons, it is difficult to give credence to a later suggestion that Edward was not serious about conquering France.

[18] Cunningham p.183.

[19] Commynes pp.264-66

[20] Cora Scofield – The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth (Fonthill 2016 edition) Vol 1, p155

[21] Mackie p.155; the Scottish nobles resented James’ inclination to make peace with England ‘the auld enemy’ and his attempts to curtail their independence by enforce a centralised royal authority.

[22] Pronay p.147

[23] Cunningham p.177

[24] Cunningham p.178

[25] Robert Davies (Ed) – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London 1843) p.107 & note.

[26] Jean Froissart – Chronicles (Penguin 1968) pp.46-47. Froissart is writing about a Scottish invasion, which took place in 1327. Whilst the technology may have been different in 1480, I doubt their miserable experience would have been much different for those on the sharp end in the winter of 1481-82.

[27] The Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Society 1839) p.40; Davies YMR p.107 note citing the Plumpton Correspondence

[28] YCR p.36; the dissonance between Northumberland’s certainty that the Scots had actually entered England and Gloucester’s belief a day later that they intended to do so ‘next Saturday’, is best explained by the ‘fog of war’.

[29] Ross (E4) p.279, note 2; Ross says ‘the evidence for the counter raid rests upon Edward’s own statements in a cygnet letter to Salisbury and on a report from James III to Louis XI mentioned in a despatch of 19 October 1480 (Benson and Hatcher, ‘Old and New Sarum’, p.199; CSP, Milan 1, P.244). All the main 20th century biographers (Kendall, Scofield and Ross) mention it en passant.

[30] Anthony Goodman –The Wars of the Roses: military activity and English society 1452-97 (Routledge & Kegan 1981) p.162; HJ Hewitt – The Black Prince’s Expeditions (Pen and Sword Edition 2004) pp.46-49, and Lt Col Alfred Burns – The Crecy War (Eyre and Spottiswoode 1955) p.246; I have taken my definition of chevauchée from Professor Goodman. Colonel Burns’ definition is substantially the same, though more precise (literally: ‘procession of mounted men’; troops (all-arms) on the march or on expedition; translated by most English writers as ‘raid’. Mr Hewitt suggests that it was generally taken to mean a specifically military operation carried out on a relatively small scale.

[31] Hewitt, pp.46-47

[32] Cunningham p.183 and note18; he cites the lists of wages from the Tellers Rolls for 1475, NA.E405/59 and E405/60.

[33] John Harding (1378-1464). Hardyng was a squire in the service of the earl of Northumberland. He fought at the battles of Shrewsbury (1403) and Agincourt (1415). Hardyng mapped Scotland over a period of three years on the orders of Henry V. This map was produced as an aid to any English invasion force.

[34] Hewitt, pp.47-48

[35] Davies (YMR) p108 and note; Scofield P.294; Cunningham p.186

[36] Ross (E4) pp. 280-81; Ross (R3) p.45; Scofield pp. 304-05

[37] John Ashdown-Hill – Richard III’s beloved cousin: John Howard and the House of York (The History Press 2015) p.62

[38] Scofield Vol 2 p.303-05; Ms Scofield provides useful details of Edward’s naval and military preparations

[39]  Michael K Jones – Richard III as a soldier, published in Richard III: a medieval kingship (J Gillingham –Ed) (Collins and Brown 1993) pp.99-100.

[40] Ross (E4) p. 282

[41] Ross (E4) pp.282-83

[42] Scofield Vol 2, p.321; Ross (E4) p.282

[43] John Lesley – The History of Scotland from the death of James I in the year 1436 to the year 1561 (Bannatyne Club 1830) p.45

[44] Scofield ibid

[45] Froissart pp.48-52

[46] Davies YMR pp.127-28, 174; York, already committed to providing 120 archers for active service in Scotland later provided an additional 80 horsemen at their own expense. It was good service that Gloucester would not forget when he became king.

[47] Davies YMR ibid; there is the slightest hint if this in Davies (p.127), which I paraphrase: ‘The right high and mighty prince the duke of Gloucester, by the grace of God intends, in his own person, to enter Scotland on Wednesday next and to subdue the king’s great enemy the king of Scots and his adherents’

[48] Kendall p.141; Ross (E4) pp.237-38

[49] Kendall ibid

[50] Davies p.129. Albany was styled ‘Alexander king of the Scots by the gift of the king of England’, a title that was bound to infuriate and motivate the Scots.

[51] Macdougall (J3 and R3) p.163; the advantage of using Macdougal is that he writes from a Scottish perspective

[52] Scofield Vol 2, p.345

[53] Kendal p.143; Pronay (CC) p. 149 The Crowland chroniclers actually seems to deplore Gloucester’s humanity!

[54] Pronay, ibid

[55] Ross (E4) pp. 289-90

[56] Macdougal (J3 and R3) pp. 164-65; Cunningham pp.192-94; Kendal pp141-43

[57] Cunningham p.183; PROME, Vol 14, pp.412-25

[58] Ross (R3) pp.25-26; as professor Ross observes, Edward’s policy of creating powerful independent warlords was dangerous since they might threaten the monarchy in future. He is unsure whether it is a case of Edward losing his grip or of Gloucester exerting undue influence; nonetheless, it seems to have been Edward’s deliberate policy to empower his brother.

 

 

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