Edward IV 1442-1483
For a king whose reign is otherwise well documented it is curious that the cause of Edward’s death remains a mystery. It would appear that his death was unexpected. It seems he was first taken ill at the end of March and despite having access to some of the best medical care available at that time, died on the 9 April at his Palace of Westminster.
Edward IV’s Coat of Arms, British Library royal manuscripts
Mancini attributed his illness to a cold caught while fishing. Commynes mentions a stroke while the Croyland Chronicler wrote he ‘was affected neither by old age nor by any known kind of disease which would not have seemed easy to cure in a lesser person’ – in other words the doctors didn’t have a name for the illness that sent Edward to his grave. How strange. Rumours abounded of death by poisoning some even going so far as to blame it on a gift of wine from the French king. Molinet ascribed it as the result of eating a salad after he had become overcome by heat (in April! in England!!) which caused a chill, others said it was an apoplexy brought on by the treaty of Arras, malaria was even suggested. Later, Sir Winston Churchill in his History of the English Speaking Peoples, would put it down fair and square to debauchery. But at the end of the day , as Richard E Collins points out (1) most people were concerned with what happened AFTER Edward’s death, rather than what caused it.
The Old Palace of Westminster where Edward died 9 April 1483
Collins wrote an essay on Edward’s death that was included in Secret History the Truth About Richard lll and the Princes. He had a considerable knowledge of medical matters and having done some very through research into the death of Edward presented his findings to other medical professionals for their opinions. They all concluded ‘that the cause of death which best explained all the known facts was poison, probably by some heavy metal such as arsenic’.
First of all an attempt to solve the mystery was to run though Edwards symptoms but first of all deal with the timescale. Given that the Croyland Chronicler wrote that Edward took to his bed around Easter and since Easter Sunday was on the 30 March ‘we are dealing with a period of around 10-12 days from inception to death. If peoples behaviour was anything to go by his death came as a surprise to the Court’. As Edwards body was laid out naked for viewing, Collins was then able to rule out death caused by violence, there being no traumas/injuries, accidental or deliberate, no puncture wounds, bruises etc., Furthermore there were no marks to be seen of specific diseases such as mumps, smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, chicken pox, bubonic plague, typhus, enteric fever. Other non-infectious conditions that mark the skin are also able to be ruled out such as purpuras (blotches caused by bleeding under the skin) which can be caused by leukaemia, haemophilia, plague and alcoholism. Thirdly there was not the ‘wasting’ caused by cancer, unrelated diabetes, septicaemia or starvation caused by malabsorption.
Anything sudden such as a massive coronary, stroke, pulmonary embolism or a perforated ulcer can be ruled out due to the timescale. Long drawn out conditions such as ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis and cancer can also be ruled out.
Collins then considers the contemporary sources beginning with Sir Thomas More, who writing 30 years after the event makes no comment on the cause of death save ‘he perceived his natural strength was so sore enfeebled that he despaired all recovery’. More, as was his wont, wrote a pages long speech delivered on his deathbed. Collins who had been present at least on 200 natural deaths had never heard a deathbed speech. However as we know More never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. The Crowland Chronicler also gave no cause while Vergil wrote that ‘he fell sick of an unknown disease’. The only definite accounts actually come from those who were least likely to be in the know such as Mancini and de Commines, Mancini puts Edward’s death down to a mix of ‘sadness’ plus a cold he caught while on a fishing trip. According to Collins this does not add up as the suggestions of Edward dying of grief cannot be taken seriously and as for the chill he would not have been able to indulge in such a frivolity during Holy Week – therefore the latest this trip would have been taken place was the 22 March – which would mean that Edward hung around in a fever for 10 days without treatment which is also unlikely. Collins add ‘Mancini is remarkably popular with those who dislike Richard and it is sad to proclaim that their supporter is a speaker of Rubbish’ – priceless! De Commines ascribes his death to apoplexy and ‘while it is possible to have a stroke 10 days apart, the second proving fatal, it is quite impossible to believe that no-one expected him to die after the first, but obviously they didn’t’.
Hall later wrote ‘whether it was with the melancholy and anger that he took with the French king…or were it by any superfluous surfeit to which he was much given, he suddenly fell sick and was with a grevious malady taken, yes so grievously taken, that his vital spirits begun to fail and wax feeble..’. Basically Hall didn’t know how Edward died either.
Collins makes the observation that ‘medieval physicians had at best a poor understanding of medicine and at worse a ridiculous and dangerous one. This represented a falling away from the common sense views and practices of the Greeks, which if they could not cure much knew how not to make a patient worse. In 1483 most medieval practices were designed to do just that – make the patient worse that is – and they succeeded well. Almost any condition was treated by drawing off a pint of blood or more and administering emetics and laxatives to ‘purge evil humours’. Such a regime is seldom good for a sick person and will often kill rather than cure by dehydration if you go slowly or by shock if quickly. Only rarely did they have a treatment that was effective, one case in point is apoplexy where bleeding will reduce the blood on the cerebral vessels…medieval medicine was more often more dangerous than the disease and most people avoided doctors if they could. Despite this medieval doctors were rarely at a loss for a diagnosis and the terms they used are a joy to read – Chrisomes, Frighted, Griping-in-the-Guts (a small town in Gloucestershire?), Head-moult-Shot, Rising of the Lights Lethargy and meagrome’.
Collins sums up with it may well worth be listening to Crowland after all, he may have been present at Westminster at the time and spoken to physicians about the case, when he said that Edward was affected by ‘no known disease’.
As to why someone would want to send Edward to an early grave by poisoning, that dear reader is another story. I have drawn heavily from R E Collins excellent treatise on the subject but would mention that anyone who is interested in this theory would do well to read (if they have not already done so) The Maligned King by Annette Carson, who also covers this theory thoroughly in chapter 1.
ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE, EDWARD’S ‘QUEEN’ WHOM HE MARRIED BIGAMOUSLY
The origins of these devices is set out in Richard III as Duke of Gloucester and King of England by Caroline A. Halsted, volume 1, pages 404-5. The source quoted is Archoelogia vol. xxii, p.226. The main change here is to convert the text into modern English:
The dukedom of York – the falcon and fetterlock.
Conisbrough (presumably relating to ownership of the castle.) – The falcon, with a maiden’s head with her hair hanging about her shoulders and a crown on her head.
The Castle of Clifford – note, a property inherited from the Mortimers – a white rose.
The earldom of March – a white lion.
The earldom of Ulster – a black dragon.
(From Edward III) – a blue boar with his tusks and “cleis” and members of gold.
(From Richard II) – a white hart and the sun shining.
The honour of Clare – a black bull, his horns and his “cleys” and his members of gold.
(From the “Fair Maid of Kent” – a white hind.
(The principal connection with Joan Holland “the Fair Maid of Kent” is that Alianore Holland, Countess of March, her granddaughter, was the maternal grandmother of the 3rd Duke of York. Another granddaughter, Joan or Joanne, Alianore’s younger sister, married Edmund of Langley as his second wife.)
This document shows the descent of the known “wives”, secret wives, mistresses, illegal wives and alleged partners of five English and British kings, taken from Ashdown-Hill’s Royal Marriage Secrets:
As a bonus, Laura Culme-Seymour, from a naval family, including Admiral Thomas Lord Seymour; Admiral Rodney and the first three Culme-Seymour baronets, has a famous great-great-niece alive today.
This new York Dungeon series of the Yorkshire Rogues & Legends series may start this month with Cartimandua, but Richard is in the offing, and as he’s described as “much-maligned” it doesn’t seem to be in the Tudor camp!
“…The next in line in the Yorkshire Rogues & Legends series will feature Knaresborough psychic Mother Shipton from May, followed by the much maligned last Plantagenet king, Richard III…”
Cartimandua, of course, is either a vile and murderous collaborator or a clever patriot who played the Romans at their own game. Which description you subscribe to is entirely a matter of personal choice. But then, we choose to believe in Richard III as a betrayed and wrongly besmirched king. I have no doubt at all that he was the rightful King of England, and was killed by treachery. A good, courageous, just man whose enemies didn’t want such a man on the throne. They fancied—and got!—corruption!
So, is Cartimandua, the so-called killer queen, actually a wronged queen? Or did she earn her bloodthirsty reputation?
In May this series about Yorkshire’s “rogues and villains” will turn its attention to the Knaresborough psychic, Mother Shipton, and from July we will have Richard III. Then in October will come the Pearl of York, Saint Margaret Clitheroe, a 16th century martyr of the Roman Catholic Church, of whom I confess I have never heard.
“…The York Dungeon, in Clifford Street, brings to life 2,000 years of York’s “horrible history” in a 75-minute journey that combines theatrical actors, special effects, stages, scenes, black comedy and storytelling for a “walkthrough experience that you see, hear, touch, smell and feel”. For more information on the shows, visit thedungeons.com/york. …”
… by a thing called the internet. The internet may only have been invented by (Sir) Tim Berners-Lee (left) during the eighties but it has a much older patron saint – the seventh century Archbishop of Seville, Isidore.
St. Isidore (right), who died in 636, was chosen because he wrote the Etymologiae, an early encyclopedia that unified several classical works that would otherwise have been lost to us.
So, if you are deeply religious and your connection drops out, instead of cursing, you know exactly what to do …
Easter is here again, and in these modern times it is only too often thought of as a time of pretty bunnies, fluffy chicks, chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and the joys of spring. But in the past it was a very different occasion, for it was the most important time of the year for the Christian church, because it marked Holy Week. Many of us still regard it in this more solemn light, of course, but what was it like in the time of Richard III? In particular, what did Richard himself do at this particular time?
I confess here and now that a lot of what follows has been paraphrased from John Ashdown-Hill’s Last Days of Richard III, in which a great many more details can be found.
In 1485, Easter came only a week or so after Queen Anne’s death (Wednesday, 16th March) and Richard must have been feeling bereft and alone. He had lost his son, and now his wife. . .and the king’s Easter duties had to be attended to. I doubt if he felt like doing anything except shut himself away to grieve, but that was not allowed.
On Sunday, 27th March, Richard must have appeared in public for the Palm Sunday procession at Westminster. It was the beginning of Holy Week, and Richard had to attend to certain religious obligations, not least the traditional “touching” for the disease known as the King’s Evil, better known to us now as scrofula. The ritual had been enacted in England since at least the time of Henry II, and was not confined to Easter, but Holy Week was the main occasion. English and French kings were believed to have healing hands that could cure sufferers; only for scrofula, not for any other condition. And first, the monarch had confessed, received absolution and taken Holy Communion, so that he was in a state of grace.
Then, when he was seated, the sufferers came before him one by one. He washed his hands and then touched the terrible sores of each person. At the same time, a chaplain chanted “Super egros manus imponent et bene habebunt.” (“They will lay their hands upon the sick and they will recover.” Mark 11:18.)
When each person had received the royal touch (perhaps one of the new gold angels, with the Archangel Michael on one side, and “Per crucem tuam salva nos Christe Redemptor” (“Christ, Redeemer, save us by your cross”) on the other.
Richard’s ordeal may not have been as great as those afflicted with this dreadful ailment, but it was bad enough because on Wednesday, 30th March, he had to appear at the Priory of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers) in Clerkenwell to publicly deny that he intended to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. And this so swiftly upon Anne’s death.
The next day, Maundy Thursday, he must have appeared at St Paul’s Cathedral for the mass of the Last Supper. After a reading from John 13, it was the ancient custom for the monarch to don an apron and go down on his knees to wash the feet of thirty-two poor men – one for every year of Richard’s life. He then presented them with the apron he had worn and the towel with which he had dried them. “Additional gifts followed, including for each man a gown, a hood, a pair of shoes, bread, fish, wine and a purse containing thirty-two silver pennies.”
On the first day of the new month of April, Richard performed the penitential rite of ‘creeping to the Cross’. This required him to “prostrate himself, and then—without getting up, “slowly approach the symbol of the crucifixion” in a semi-prostrate condition.
There was more, but this is enough to show how much was demanded of the monarch during Holy Week. And in this particular year, 1485, it must have been particularly harrowing for Richard. It was also the last time he would ever see Easter, for on 22nd August that year he died at Bosworth.
As so often happens, acquiring a book for a specific reason leads to something else that is quite thought-provoking. In this case, the book is The Medieval Python: The Purposive and Provocative Work of Terry Jones, in which the subject of one of the eighteen contributions is Catherine of Aragon and her two marriages.
Do not make the mistake of thinking this volume is light or Pythonesque, because Terry Jones is not only brilliant when it comes to humour, but also very dedicated, knowledgeable and educated on medieval matters. The sections within the pages are not all by Terry himself, but by illustrious names that include Chris Given-Wilson, and Nigel Saul.
Now, before I get to the nitty-gritty, let me say that the item that prompted the essay A Prayer Roll Fit for a Tudor Prince, by John J. Thompson, is a fairly recent acquisition of the British Library (MS Additional 88929), and for a brief explanation about it, I suggest a quick glance at http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2011/02/henry-viii-prayer-roll.html, which describes the roll as follows:
21 February 2011 – by Andrea Clarke
Henry VIII Prayer Roll
“The British Library has recently acquired a unique medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII, and contains one of only three surviving examples of his handwriting from before his accession in 1509. Produced in England in the late 15th century, it is one of the finest English prayer rolls, and consists of four parchment strips sewn end to end that measure some four metres long when fully unrolled. The roll contains thirteen illuminations — images of Christ, focusing on the Passion, its Instruments and the Sacred Blood, as well as depictions of various saints and their martyrdoms. Accompanying these are prayers in Latin and rubrics (religious instructions) in English. The rubrics promise that the recital of certain of the prayers will offer safety from physical danger, sickness or disease; others will shorten, by specified amounts, the agony of Purgatory, while the placing of the roll on the belly of a woman in labour will ensure a safe childbirth.
“The prayer roll was once owned and used by Prince Henry, evidenced by the inclusion of his royal badges at the head of the roll. These include two Tudor roses, the Prince of Wales crowned ostrich feather, as well as Katherine of Aragon’s personal symbol of the arrow-sheaf of Aragon. At some point prior to 1509 Henry presented the roll to William Thomas, a Gentleman of his Privy Chamber, and added an inscription at the top of the second membrane, under the central image of Christ’s Passion: ‘Wylliam thomas I pray yow pray for me your lovyng master Prynce Henry’.
“The Henry VIII Prayer Roll is now London, British Library, MS Additional 88929. It is currently on display in our Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and will also be displayed in our Royal exhibition which opens in November 2011.”
The roll displays Tudor badges and emblems, but also the sheaf of arrows (maybe arrows passing through a tower) of Katherine of Aragon, who in November 1501 married Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur died six months later, at Ludlow Castle, of the “sweating sickness”, and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb displays the same Tudor symbols as the roll.
Arthur’s younger brother, Henry (to be Henry VIII) soon became Prince of Wales. His father, Henry VII, waited until he was sure the widowed Katherine was not pregnant and then proposed that she married the new Prince of Wales. Katherine swore her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated. This was essential, because the Church forbade a man to marry his brother’s widow. It was, and still is, in the Bible, and is one of the Ten Commandments.
The roll does not name a Prince of Wales, but it was surely made for Arthur, and emerges as a very important relic of this fraught time in history. It cannot be dated to much before 1490, when Arthur became Prince of Wales, and if it includes Katherine’s emblem, then it was probably around the time of their engagement or marriage. Its later ownership by the young Henry VIII is confirmed by his writing on it, and it is suggested that what he wrote reveals him to have been as devout a Catholic as everyone else. At least, he was at that point. Then the roll came into the hands of a devoted Tudor servant, William Thomas, before disappearing from history for 500 years, reappearing in the 19th century. If it were not for it coming to light again, its existence would never have been known at all. Its real purpose is still not known.
It is usually imagined that Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon were content enough together (I certainly had that impression), but now a truly remarkable fact has been uncovered in the register of briefs in the Vatican archives. It is dated 20th October 1505 and notes Pope Julius II’s response to Arthur, Prince of Wales, who by that date had been dead for over three years. So Arthur had to have sent a letter to the pope, whose answer had been mislaid or at least misfiled. The prince’s request also contained mention of his wife, so had to have been written within that six-month period before the prince died.
The pope’s response has not survived, and we do not know if it was ever sent (I strongly suspect it did, and it arrived in England) but it apparently granted papal authority to Prince Arthur to restrain his wife (Katherine of Aragon) from continuing to engage in “excessive religious observances injurious to her health since these would imperil the maritalis consuetudo (marital custom) of Roman law and endanger her ability to bear children”.
So, when it was too late, the Pope authorised Arthur to insist his pious wife conduct less strenuous religious exercises, these to be determined on the advice of her confessor. From which, it would seem all was not well in the young people’s marriage. Arthur (and Henry VII, no doubt!) was alarmed by discovering just how intensely devout his new wife was. I do not know what Katherine was doing to cause such concern, but whatever it was, she was clearly going far further than the conventional Tudors liked. Well, conventional at that time, because Henry VIII’s Great Matter lay in the future. The begetting of heirs was the whole point of royal marriage, so anything that might get in the way of this was to be stopped immediately, if not sooner!
After Arthur’s untimely death, a treaty for marriage was drawn up for the widowed Katherine to marry his younger brother, the future King Henry VIII. It was signed on 23rd June 1504, and the two were formally betrothed on 25th June. Henry was 12, Katherine 17. Two years later, on 27th June, 1505, Henry appeared before Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and the Lord Privy Seal. The young prince had reached his maturity, and wished it to be formally recorded that he disowned his part of the marriage contract.
Now, why? What brought this about? Had the Pope’s response to Arthur finally arrived, and Prince Henry seen it? Whenever the letter from Rome turned up, I think that Henry read it in the first half of 1505.
The fact that the register of briefs at the Vatican is dated October 1505, does not mean the pope’s letter was written then. It merely records the letter. So was Henry now warned of exactly how extreme and pious his new bride would be? Arthur had learned too late, after marriage. Henry, Prince of Wales, may have also been devout, but clearly not to the same degree as Katherine. However, on the death in 1509 of his father, Henry VII, the marriage took place anyway. Something else had clearly happened since his appearance before Bishop Fox. Might it have been that the Pope’s instructions had taken effect, and Katherine had moderated her religious devotions? I have no idea what else it might have been, only that once old Henry VII was dead and buried, his son married Katherine after all.
It is always said that for a number of years Henry and Katherine were happy together, until the absence of a male heir—and the increasing likelihood of Katherine’s age preventing such an heir—prompted Henry to start looking around. Had this lack of an heir caused such anxiety to Katherine that she resumed her former devotions? Certainly she would turn to God for divine help.
Did it then become a vicious circle, with Henry being more and more alienated by such extreme religion, and Katherine seeking more and more comfort from her devotions? Was this another cause of his suggestion that she and Arthur had after all consummated their marriage, making his own marriage to her invalid? If such a charge could be made to stick, so to speak, it would certainly rid him of an increasingly inconvenient wife. By then he wanted to marry the enchanting vixen Anne Boleyn, of course, but infuriatingly, the Pope wouldn’t agree to it! If the Pope had granted Henry his wish, would we still be a predominantly Catholic country? Certainly we would have been for a lot longer than actually happened.
The fact that Arthur had approached the Pope on the matter of Katherine’s religious activities being detrimental to the bearing of children, was something that I believe Henry pounced upon. Leviticus 20:21 was very clear: “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”
So, was it in Henry’s mind that by continuing such extreme devotions, Katherine was knowingly preventing further living births? Did he believe that this was why his marriage had resulted in one living child, a girl, all other pregnancies having ended in miscarriages or stillbirths? It would also have been easy enough for Henry to convince himself that Katherine’s marriage to Arthur had been consummated. All this, and fascinatingly desirable Anne Boleyn was there, tantalising Henry with her inaccessible charms. But even without Anne, would Henry have wanted to end his marriage anyway, because he so desperately wanted a male heir and knew that Katherine’s age, apart from anything else, was against such a likelihood?
So, was Anne only one aspect of Henry’s wish to be free of Katherine? Were there in fact two Great Matters wrapped up as one? The first due to religion having led to childlessness; the other due to lust, that was to prompt a change of religion?
The above has been prompted by the essay by John J. Thompson, and is my conclusion from the facts as presented. I recommend that the essay be read in its entirety, because its details about the prayer roll are fascinating. Although, one thing does need pointing out. Henry VII was never the Duke of Richmond!
It occurred to me today that when it comes to being so very supportive of Richard III, we are helped (in a manner of speaking) by Henry Tudor being such a visual horror. Yes, truly. He was ugly inside and out. Loathsome. And his legacy of the House of Tudor was only brightened by Elizabeth I. The rest you can keep. Every last one of them. What a bunch. It’s difficult to picture, I know, but if Henry had been a handsome, delightful chap, what then?
So, might later reaction to Henry Tudor have been different if he too were good-looking, a brave warrior, and a just man with charm aplenty? Let’s face it, not one of those adjectives could be applied to Henry, who even cowered at the back when it came to battles. He was a miserly liar, coward and cheat, a dull clerk and an accountant with a full set of claws, whom fate conspired to put on the throne. Because of him, we lost Richard III, who would have gone on to be one of our great kings.
Oh, I make no bones about my totally biased and carved-in-stone judgement of both men. Henry even managed to die in his bed. How grossly unfair and unjust was that? He had overseen the hacking to death of the King of England, and had only been able to do that because Richard had been betrayed. Hm, Sir William Stanley sure as hell paid the price for that! No sympathy from me for him either.
And I do know that the book from which the above illustration is taken is far from complimentary about Richard – who is portrayed as Shakespeare’s fictional monster. Henry, I believe, is portrayed as his true self!
It’s hard, I know, but if you can just picture Henry as being more like Richard, would we still condemn him so savagely? Yes, we would. Perhaps not quite so savagely, but we’d still condemn him. He had no right to the throne, but stole it through treachery, without having any blood claim. It’s difficult to forgive that, but I still wonder if we’d be quite so vitriolic if the two men were a more balanced match?