” 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)
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. Henry Goodman in the RSC’s 2003 production found ‘parallels for Richard’s deranged mind’ in the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter. 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.  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.  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. 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.
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; 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.”  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”  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.” 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” 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].”  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.”  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. 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.“ 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.” 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’, 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.”
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. Richard has all the qualities of the complete Machiavellian: ” …lifelong and unremitting vigilance in relentless simulation and indomitable deception.”  By presenting Richard in this form, Shakespeare is neither proving nor de-bunking the Tudor myth. Instead of certainty we have only ambiguity.
 Coley Cibber – The tragical history of King Richard the Third. Altered from Shakespeare by Coley Cibber, Esq. (London 1769 print) p.66
 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.
 Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Macmillan/RSC Shakespeare 2008) p.167.
 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.
 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
 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.
 Jowett pp.11-16
 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’.
 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.
 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).
 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”
 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.
 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%.
 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.
 EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) pp.200-04
 Tillyard ibid
 Tillyard p.208
 Connelly pp. 33-45;
 Bate and Rasmussen p.200
 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.
 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.
 AP Rossiter – Angels with Horns: fifteen lectures on Shakespeare (Longman 1989 edition) pp.1-22; see also Jowett p.10.
 Jowett pp.10-11 citing Nicholas Brooke – Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (1968) pp. 78-79.
 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.
 Rossiter p.15
 Rossiter p.17
 Rossiter ibid
‘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?’
‘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.”
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. 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‘.”
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.” 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’
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]…”
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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
‘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.
“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. 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…“ 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.‘ 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…”  As Dr Kincaid points out, ‘Harrington was an inveterate gossip, not necessarily to be believed’.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.” 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.”
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.“ 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. 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’. Whereas, Horace Walpole writing in 1768 believed that “[More] wrote his History to amuse his leisure and exercise his fancy.” 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. 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. 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. 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”  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. 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. 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.
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.
 Peter Ackroyd – The Life of Thomas More (Vintage 1999) p.31 quoting from E Foss – Judges of England (London 1848-64) p.66
 Ackroyd p.28
 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
 Ackroyd p.52
 Ackroyd p.148
 Sylvester (Roper) p.200
 Ackroyd p.151; citing The Complete Works of Thomas More (Yale) V6, p. 318
 Ackroyd p.152
 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.
 Ackroyd p.127
 Richard Sylvester (Ed) – The History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More (Yale 1963) p. lxv and passim
 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.
 Sylvester (History) p. lxvii
 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
 AN Kincaid (Ed) – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) p.iii
 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
 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
 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
 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.
 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)
 Sylvester (History) p.lxx
 Sylvester (History) p.lxxviii
 Kendal p.25
 EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) p.38
 Kendal p.25; this is a reference to a comment by Sir john Falstaff, a character in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV part 1.
 Kendal p.170
 Ackroyd p.157
 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
 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.
 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.
 Sylvester (History) pp. xcviii-xcvix passim
 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.
 George M Logan (ed) – Thomas More: Utopia (Cambridge UP 2016, 3 rd edition)
Recently the infamous ‘David’ has popped up yet again, this time stating that Northampton’s large medieval fair, which began on St George’s Day, lasted for ten days and may have provided a legitimate reason why Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, bypassed the town and went straight on to Stony Stratford with young Edward V, instead of meeting the Duke of Gloucester as arranged.
However, there is a problem with this theory. Although there was indeed a fair held in Northampton, a rather famous one which attracted traders from all over the Midlands, it was only in 1495 that Henry VII granted an extension to the days it was held, increasing them to eight. It would appear that the original fair was only about three days long.
Even had the fair been eight or ten days long, this was unlikely to prove terribly problematic as far as accomodation went. Northampton was an important centre (although it had been in decline since the Black Death in the 14th c) and had seen during its history several parliaments and the trial of Thomas Becket. There was even a crusade called at one of the town churches. It had every manner of religious house, scores of inns, and several hospitals. In the 15th c many high-ranking nobles had their own townhouses there; the Dukes of Buckingham had one such residence on Derngate, for instance.
If the fair was seen as a possible deterrant to Rivers entering the town with Edward V, surely Anthony, more than anyone, should have known the situation in advance, being from a Northamptonshire family, with the Woodville home at Grafton Regis little more than ten miles from Northampton! Why then agree to a date that would cause some kind of problem with overcrowding? Why not tell the Duke of Gloucester to meet him and the young king elsewhere? (It is also highly unlikely that Richard himself was unaware of the existence of this large, well-attended fair.)
Lastly, regarding room in the town, it seems that Gloucester, Buckingham, and their men, totalling about 600, had no problem finding their own lodgings in Northampton, fair or no fair.
*’David’ may think the content of this post is ‘un-fair.’*
map of medieval Northampton
The name “Scrope” was usually pronounced, and sometimes spelled, as “Scroop”.am
To follow yesterday’s post: –
William, Earl of Wiltshire c1351-1399
William was the second son of Richard Scrope, first Baron Scrope of Bolton. In his younger days he was sometimes associated with John of Gaunt, who made him Seneschal of Aquitaine in 1383.
Subsequently, he secured the favour of Richard II, who made him Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in 1393, and granted him the castle and lordship of Marlborough. In that same year his father purchased the Kingdom of Mann for him, an example of provision was made for a younger son without dividing the main inheritance. He was given the Garter in 1394, and after the fall of Arundel, Gloucester and Warwick in 1397 was made Earl of Wiltshire and given a share of the confiscated lands. In 1398 he was promoted to the important post of Lord Treasurer.
Although Scrope gets little mention in the accounts of Richard II’s reign it is clear that by this time he had become a very influential man. He was given the custody of a number of royal castles, including Wallingford and Beaumaris. He was left in England when Richard II went to Ireland in 1399, and was, in effect, the “active ingredient” in a government under the chairmanship of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York.
When Henry Bolingbroke invaded, Scrope was one of several men who abandoned the Duke of York and took refuge in Bristol. When that city fell to Bolingbroke’s forces, Scrope was captured and summarily beheaded. (He may have had a “trial” of sorts before the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, but this is by no means certain.)
When one considers the gallons of ink that have been used in bemoaning the execution of the saintly Anthony Rivers in 1483, it is rather surprising to discover that Henry IV has received no similar criticism for the execution of Scrope, which amounted to plain murder, Henry holding no office at the time and thus acting as a lawless, private individual. Historians do not seem to think Scrope worth arguing about, although it is hard to discern what he had done to Henry that merited such savage treatment.
Subsequently, Henry’s first parliament threw a cloak of legality over the murder and confirmed the forfeiture of Scrope’s lands and possessions.
William Scrope had married Isabel Russell, daughter of Sir Maurice Russell of Dorset and Gloucestershire. Although Sir Maurice was far from being a minor member of the gentry, and was particularly active in Gloucestershire, his daughter was not an aristocrat, still less a Plantagenet, and this may help explain why Henry allowed her almost nothing to live on.
Richard, Archbishop of York, 1350-1405
Richard was the third son of Henry, first Lord Scrope of Masham. He received his first rectorship as early as 1368, although he was not actually ordained priest until 1377. The very next year he was no less than Chancellor of the University of Cambridge! He had, of course, achieved considerable academic success, but it seems likely that patronage also played its part. He was a papal chaplain in Rome from 1382-1386, and became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1386. His diplomatic career included a visit to Rome to further Richard II’s attempt to have his grandfather, Edward II, canonised. He was translated to the see of York in 1398.
Richard was possibly under the influence of the Percy family, with whom his family had connections, and made no attempt to prevent the deposition of Richard II. Indeed, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he formally led Henry to the throne. On the other hand, when the Percy family rose in rebellion against Henry in 1403, there is no significant evidence that he was involved.
Henry IV remained deeply unpopular, not least in the North and there were a number of conspiracies against him in the years that followed. Unfortunately for them, his enemies never quite managed to coordinate their plans and bring their strength against him at the same time. 1405 was the year of the so-called Tripartite Indenture, the plan to divide England and Wales between Owain Glyndwr, the Earl of Northumberland. and Sir Edmund Mortimer. Owain had at last received armed French assistance, and was poised to invade England. It was in these circumstances that Richard Scrope, no doubt working in collaboration with Northumberland, raised an army of about 8,000 men which assembled on Shipton Moor. With the Archbishop were his nephew, Sir William Plumpton, and the young Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal and earl of Nottingham and Norfolk.
They were met by a force headed by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, which Northumberland had failed to intercept. Instead of engaging, the Archbishop agreed to parley and was tricked by false promises into disbanding his army. After that he, Plumpton and Mowbray were promptly arrested. After a travesty of a trial – a trial in which Chief Justice refused to participate – all three were beheaded.
Scrope was buried in York Minster and his tomb became an unofficial shrine. Lancastrian kings naturally sought to discourage to the cult, while the Yorkist kings, equally naturally, looked upon it with favour. However, Scrope was never officially canonised. It need hardly be said that Scrope was the first Archbishop to be executed in England – Becket, after all, was simply murdered – and with the sovereign’s full authority. He was also the last prelate to be so dealt with until the Tudor era.
The Pope excommunicated all those involved in Scrope’s death, although the sentence was never published in England. Henry IV eventually secured a pardon by offering to found two religious houses; these were not, in fact, founded in his lifetime, but came to being under Henry V, and were the last such to be created in the medieval period.
It was soon after Scrope’s death that Henry was struck by the mysterious illness which made the rest of his life a misery. Naturally, his enemies ascribed his affliction to the vengeance of Richard Scrope.
Henry Scrope, Lord Scrope of Masham, c1370-1415
Henry Scrope was knighted by Richard II in 1392, and was retained by that king for life in 1396. Nevertheless he rapidly transferred his allegiance to Henry IV in 1399 and served him loyally in various capacities throughout his reign. His first wife, Philippa de Bryan, was a Welsh heiress (or perhaps more correctly a heiress of lands in Wales) and part of his effort was directed towards guarding her lands against the Glyndwr rising. He inherited the Masham barony from his father in 1406, but seems to have been “running the family business” so to speak for some years. He was briefly Lord Treasurer in 1410, possibly because of his connections to Prince Henry (who was running the government at the time because of Henry IV’s illness) and Sir Thomas Beaufort. In this role he was successful, and actually left a surplus in the Treasury at the end of his service.
In his private life, Scrope made a second marriage in 1410, to Joanne (or Joan) Holland, Duchess of York, the widow of Edmund of Langley. Joanne was a wealthy woman – T. B. Pugh estimated that her survival for thirty-two years after Langley’s death cost the York family in excess of £30,000. Quite apart from this, Joanne had a portion of the earldom of Kent (following the death of her brother, Edmund, in 1408) and also a share in the lands of her second husband, Lord Willoughby. The joint income of Scrope and his wife was around £1,800 a year, a vast amount for a mere baron.
Unfortunately Joanne and her husband did not live in wedded bliss, and it appears that around 1413 she left him, at least for a time, taking with her about £5,000 worth of his property and decamped to her Yorkist dower castle, Sandal. In his will of June 1415 he offered her a choice of his belongings to the value of £2000 in return for her abandoning any claim to one third or one half of his goods. This suggests his belongings must have amounted to more than £6,000! Since Joanne was already engaged in a quarrel with her Willoughby stepson over personal property, it seems she was not a lady who considered material possessions to be unimportant.
It should not be overlooked that Henry Scrope was a nephew of the late Archbishop of York, and it may be that his loyalty to the Lancastrian regime was not a fervent as it appeared on the surface. In any event he allowed himself to be drawn into the conspiracy known as the Southampton Plot led by Joanne’s stepson, Richard of York, Earl of Cambridge, which sought to replace Henry V with the Earl of March.
It is equally possible that Scrope went into the conspiracy with every intention of betraying it. It appears certain that he did his best to persuade the Earl of March not to get more deeply involved – hardly the action of a convinced plotter – and that he remonstrated with Walter Lucy, March’s close adviser over the matter. Scrope was not even invited to a crucial supper party at Cranbury, held by March and attended by Cambridge, Lucy and Lord Clifford.
However, it was March, not Scrope, who disclosed the conspiracy to Henry V, and the result was that Scrope was executed and all his lands and possessions forfeited. Duchess Joanne acted very promptly to secure a share of the proceeds, including a solid gold statue of the Virgin and various items of plate stamped with the Scrope arms that she claimed as her personal property. It appears nothing was done to retrieve the various expensive items she filched. Scrope’s brother and heir, and his mother, were not so fortunate. Although Henry V intended to permanently alienate most or all of the family’s lands, he had an attack of conscience on his death-bed, and the youngest Scrope brother, and eventual heir, John, was able to rebuild much of the inheritance.
It is, in fact, unlikely that Henry Scrope was guilty of intending the deaths of Henry V and his brothers. It is much more reasonable to say that his offence amounted to Misprision of Treason at worst.
Complete Peerage, G.E. Cokayne
Henry IV of England, J.L. Kirby
1415, Ian Mortimer.
The Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer
Henry V and the Southampton Plot, T.B. Pugh
The History of England Under Henry the Fourth, J.H. Wylie
This explains how closely the three rebels and Sir Ralph Scrope were related. Note that Sir William of Bracewell’s sons married two de Ros sisters and that the Bolton branch lived on into the seventeenth century although the Masham male line died out early in Henry VIII’s reign. Furthermore, Richard, Bishop of Carlisle, was Richard III’s cousin.
On a whim, I acquired a copy of The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, edited by Marion Glasscoe. It concerns the papers that were the proceedings of the Exeter Symposium IV: Dartington 1987. And the first of these papers concerns The Mystics and the Early English Printers, and is by George R. Keiser.
I confess this is not my usual territory, but I found it all very interesting. The objective of this particular paper is to argue about points regarding Wynkyn de Worde’s significance in printing in England. Wynkyn was a Dutch emigrant who first worked with Caxton, but in 1500 set up on his own to approach printing from his own perspective. Caxton was apparently not much inclined to print in English, but Wynkyn de Worde did just that.
That is not my interest here, because my Ricardian leanings take me down a side road. By that I mean, a little delve into the literacy, or lack of it, of the royals of the late 15th century.
Caxton had done well under the Yorkist kings. There is a famous Victorian painting of Edward IV and his family visiting Caxton’s printing press, and according to Weiser, it is generally accepted that the kings who preceded Henry VII were well educated and prepared for their royal role. According to me, this is especially true of Richard III, Edward’s youngest brother, who was particularly literate.
Strangely, he doesn’t get a mention. I know he only reigned for two years, but that is no excuse for eliminating him, so I will rectify the omission by directing you to http://www.richardiii.net/2_1_0_richardiii.php where the section on his books reveals him to have been unusually steeped in literature. So, far from having little to do with printing, he was quite clearly very interested and involved. And he possessed a copy of the Bible in the English language.
Flourishing under the Yorkists meant life was not so easy after Bosworth, of course, and both Caxton and Wynkyn rather cannily approached Margaret Beaufort, who, whatever we may think of her, was a very literate woman. Wynkyn eventually styled himself “Prynter vnto the moost excellent Pryncesse my lady the Kynges mother”. She and Elizabeth of York were often approached together, and appear to have commissioned a number of book editions to give to their friends. It is not so well known how literate Elizabeth of York was, but there is, apparently, a surviving print book that contains the signatures of both ladies.
That the printers approached the ladies rather than King Henry VII might be explained by the following passage from Keiser’s paper: “…The new king had apparently come to the throne without the education and training that his predecessors had enjoyed (Chrimes Henry VII). Whether he had the literary, chivalric and devotional interests that might have inspired his patronage of the press remains an unanswered question; so too does the question why the new dynasty did not seize the opportunity to exploit the press for propaganda purposes…”
Huh??? Henry missed a chance for more propaganda? Hard to believe.
But I must be fair to Henry regarding his literacy. He spoke a number of languages, and was a highly intelligent man! Mind you, I must say that it is easier to speak a language than to write it. Even so, I have always regarded him as well educated, if not exactly well prepared to be king.
Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, (mother of Edward IV and Richard III, and grandmother of Elizabeth of York, and Henry’s grandmother-in-law) was particularly distinguished for her pious life and collection of devotional writings which she bequeathed to various granddaughters.
So the royal ladies of the late 15th century were educated and literate, a fact that is often overlooked. The men are credited with being as deft with the quill as they were with the sword, while the women did nothing in particular. Is that not the usual image with which we are presented?
Finally, a rather favourite of lady of mine; indeed, the lady after whom I called myself ‘viscountessw’. Cicely, Viscountess Welles, was Elizabeth of York’s next sister in age, and therefore another daughter of Edward IV. She became the wife of John Welles, Viscount Welles, who was Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother. Thus Cicely was also Henry VII’s sister-in-law…and his aunt by marriage was well! A very highly connected lady.
Above is an example of her signature, which has been described as ‘barely literate’. It has always grieved my modern self to think this description might indeed be appropriate. However, today, in this newly acquired book, I found the following:- “…A book-list preserved in British Library MS. Royal 15.D.2 attests that yet another of her [Cecily Neville’s] grand-daughters, Cicely Welles, had an extensive library of chivalric and devotional writings, some of which must have been printed books…”
Here is a transcript of the BL MS:-
“…Origin: England. Lionel de Welles (b. c.1406, d. 29 March 1461), 6th Baron Welles, perhaps owned by him (see M. Hamel, ‘Arthurian Romance’, Modern Language Quarterly, 51(1990)). John Welles, Viscount Welles (d. 1499), soldier and administrator, perhaps belonged to him: a list of woods sales mentioning John’s property in Well (now Welle Park, Lincolnshire) and other places in the proximity of his properties in Well and Belleau, including a reference to a personal property ‘a nacur in my nawn manour in modurwode [Motherwood, near Alferd]’, (f. 215v) (see Egbert, ‘The So-called “Greenfield” La Lumiere as lais’, Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 446-48); and a list of books in English, written probably in the same hand, including the present manuscript: inscribed, ‘In primus a boke in France clakld pokelypse / A boke of knghte hode / A boke of Caunturbere tlase / A boke of Charlman / A boke þe lyfe of our ladys lyfe / A boke the sheys of Thebes / A boke cald vita mixta / A boke cald þe vii poyntes of true love / A boke cald þe sheys of Jherusalem / A boke cald mort Arthro / A boke cald dyuys et paupar / A boke cald cronackols / A boke cald legend aure / A boke cald facekelus temporum [perhaps a text by the Carthusian Rolevink, printed in 1475]’, end of the 15th century (f. 211r).Cecilia Welles (d. 1507), daughter of Edward IV, king of England, wife of John Welles: inscribed with her name ‘Ciecyl Welles’ (now effaced…”
Well, the above paragraph does not say all the books were inscribed with Cicely’s name…or does it? I’m not quite sure. And yes, she may simply have liked looking at them, but on the other hand, perhaps she could read them perfectly well. I hope so. She became very close to Margaret Beaufort, which perhaps would not have been the case if Cicely had been an uneducated nitwit.
On the death of Edward IV, the young heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, set off from Ludlow in Shropshire for London, in the care of his maternal uncle, Sir Anthony Woodville. Tradition has it that they halted overnight at Upton Cressett Hall, prior to crossing the River Severn the following morning.
The britainexpress.com link below has information about the hall, but is horribly traditionalist about Richard. Read it if you have a carpet handy and feel like a good chew. If not, give it a miss!
The above illustration is of Edward IV receiving a book from Anthony Woodville. With the king are his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and his heir, the future Edward V.
Looking at it, I found myself wondering if the man in blue and ermine, third from left, might be Richard III. As Duke of Gloucester, of course. Ermine suggests he has to be of royal blood, which means that it could also be George of Clarence. My search for the answer commenced.
To begin with, when was the illustration painted? After all, George died in 1478, so a later date would eliminate him from the puzzle. Prince Edward seems to be under ten. Seven/eight or so, perhaps? He was born in 1470, so it is still possible that the man in blue is George. Richard remains well and truly in the running, of course.
A Google image search followed, with me examining the “page” of every version of the illustration. That is how I hunted it down to being Lambeth Palace “Ms 265, f.VI v Edward IV, with Elizabeth Woodville, Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, from the ‘Dictes of Philosophers,’ c.1477 (vellum). It is of Earl Rivers (Anthony Woodville 1440-1483) presenting his translation of the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers to the king and his family.
So, it is Richard!
Now, I do not claim to be the first to discover this. Indeed not, so please don’t think I seek laurels. Not even a pat on the head. To begin with, it has already been positively identified as him. No, I am just pleased to think that I saw something and followed it through to find out I was right. Would I like to be the first to find a new anything about Richard? You bet your bottom dollar!
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