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Why did Richard III allow Elizabeth of York such liberty at his court….?

 

Medieval Court – detail of a 15th-century miniature. (Royal 16 F II, f. 1) British Library

Today, 10th August, is my birthday, and on this date in 1485, the last Yorkist king, Richard III, was in Nottingham preparing for the imminent invasion of his realm by his Lancastrian foe, Henry Tudor, who didn’t have much of a blood claim to the throne but touted himself as the last remaining heir of the House of Lancaster.

Published by John Player & Sons, after Unknown artist.
Colour relief halftone cigarette card, 1935

Richard hadn’t had an easy time since coming to the throne, in fact he’d been through some harrowing experiences. His only legitimate son, 10-year-old Prince of Wales, had died on 9th April 1484, closely followed in March 1485 by Richard’s much-loved queen, Anne Neville. He’d had to repel an earlier invasion by Tudor, which had been aborted at the last minute, and put down the Buckingham rebellion. He’d endured many unpleasant rumours about murdering his nephews, aged twelve and nine, and also of having incestuous/marital intentions toward his own niece.

Richard III, Queen Anne and their son, Edward, Prince of Wales from Rous Roll

All this on top of his eldest brother Edward IV’s sudden death in April 1483, the revelation that his, Edward’s, marriage had been bigamous and that consequently Richard himself was the rightful king. He and Anne were crowned on 6th July that same year. Now he was alone, a grieving widower and father, with another invasion imminent. Small wonder he took some time out at Nottingham to go hunting with friends at Bestwood (Beskwood, as it was called then) just north of the city.

from Livre de La Chasse by Gaston Phoebus

It was while there that he heard of Tudor’s landing in Wales, and therefore the battle was fast approaching. On 22nd August 1485 the two armies met at Bosworth, where treachery brought about Richard’s violent death. He was only thirty-two, and was killed while fighting mightily to get at Tudor himself. Perhaps Richard was glad to go, to be with his wife and son again in a better place.

Henry Tudor’s arrival at Mill Bay 7 August 1485, by Graham Turner

My purpose today is to discuss something that happened over a year earlier a month before his son’s sudden death….the March 1484 appearance at his court of the illegitimate daughters (and possibly their mother) of his late brother, Edward IV. The 19-year-old eldest girl, Elizabeth of York, was the one Richard was soon to be accused of wanting in a way no uncle should.

Elizabeth of York and her sister Cicely/Cecily

When Richard died he left behind some mysteries that consume us to this day. First and foremost, of course, is what happened to Edward IV’s two sons, Edward V, aged twelve, and Richard of York, aged nine. On their father’s death, Richard became Lord Protector and took Edward V into his custody. The younger boy had always been with his sisters and mother, Elizabeth Woodville, in sanctuary at Westminster, where they’d fled when the Woodville plot against Richard failed—she had a large family in high places thanks to Edward IV’s indulgence—and the new boy king fell into the Lord Protector’s hands while en route to London. The Woodvilles had intended to seize Edward V, rush his coronation and keep him under their control. Richard would have been assassinated, so Elizabeth Woodville had good reason to fear him. Fleeing into sanctuary probably seemed her only option. As did taking a lot of crown treasure with her! It’s understood she had a hole broken in the sanctuary wall in order to haul all the loot through.

The boy Richard of York was eventually given into Richard’s keeping, to join his lonely brother in the apartments of state in the Tower in May 1483 (it was a palace as well as a fortress). They both seemed to disappear from history after late summer that same year, but had been seen practicing archery and playing in the Tower grounds. And Richard was still issuing writs in Prince Edward’s name as late as 16th September. Richard has always been blamed for their deaths (the usual accusation is that he had them smothered) even though no bodies/remains have ever been found. No, they are not in that urn in Westminster Abbey! Many of those bones are from animals.

The Princes in the Tower. Cigarette card, from series on Famous Boys, published by Godfrey Phillips, early 20th century

At the time it suited the Tudors, Lancastrians and Woodvilles—and still suits Tudorite historians to this day—to trumpet that Richard was the original murderous Wicked Uncle. If he was, why on earth didn’t he dispose of other awkwardly legitimate nephews and nieces too? The two boys weren’t the only Yorkists with claims to the throne. His other brother, George of Clarence, had a son and daughter too, but they were barred from the throne by their father’s treason and attainder. Attainders could be reversed, so these children were dangerous to Richard, if he wanted to view them that way. He could have binned the whole lot, his sisters’ offspring too, had he wanted, but he didn’t. It was left to the blood-drenched Tudors to rid the world of just about every Yorkist they could think of, women and all. Yet Richard is always accused as if he was a mass killer on a jaw-dropping scale.

Every single Tudor is much more deserving of being called a mass murderer. They even executed George of Clarence’s children, who had survived safe and well under Richard. The hero of Bosworth trumped up a charge against the by then 24-year-old Edward, Earl of Warwick, and chopped his head off. He beheaded Richard’s illegitimate son, John of Gloucester, as well. Among others. Henry VIII condemned to the block George of Clarence’s daughter, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who was sixty-eight. But then, the delightful ‘Bluff King Hal’ liked to chop off his wives’ heads for good measure. Including the one for whom he’d caused such upheavals in the Church, leading to the religious bloodbaths of the following reigns.

Tudor propaganda also spouted that, to secure his nephew’s throne for himself, Richard falsely declared Edward IV’s children illegitimate (this was thanks to evidence provided by Bishop Stillington in 1483 that Edward IV had been married to someone else before his bigamous union with Elizabeth Woodville). Well, the children of bigamy couldn’t inherit the throne. Period. Then it was said that once Richard became a widower (having poisoned his now-infertile wife, Anne, of course) he intended to marry his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York.

It would seem that her illegitimacy didn’t bother Uncle Richard as much as it was to bother Henry Tudor, who turned legal cartwheels in order to make her trueborn again. Henry  even tried to suppress/expunge all legal evidence of her illegitimacy by destroying royal and parliamentary documents. Indeed, if a copy of Richard’s right to the throne, known as the Titulus Regius, hadn’t survived, we might never have known what really happened. The Tudors were nothing if not thorough when it came to hiding their bloody tracks. See http://www.richardiii.net/2_7_0_riii_documents.php.

Extract from Titulus Regius

The warning signs were there from the moment Richard breathed his last at Bosworth, because Henry promptly declared his own reign to have commenced the previous day. Thus he branded traitor every man who had supported their anointed king, Richard III. It was a dangerous precedent to set, and ever afterward Henry remained jittery about suffering  the same fate. Serves him right. But he’d set the guidelines for the Tudor prospectus and it should have alerted everyone who’d supported him that they’d made a monumental mistake! But England was to suffer over a century of the gruesome House of Tudor.

Richard III had every true claim to the crown of England. He was Edward IV’s only surviving brother and had a son and heir of his own whose destiny was to follow his father on the throne. The latter wasn’t to happen, of course, but at the time Titulus Regius was drawn up, Richard’s queen and son were still very much alive.

Contrary to an intention to marry Elizabeth, on being widowed Richard embarked on arranging royal Portuguese matches for himself and his niece. He had no option but to marry again because kings needed heirs to secure their thrones. So these Portuguese matches were purely practical matters. He was still a young man and had no reason not to hope for more children through a much more acceptable and conventional marriage, so why risk a dangerously incestuous match, the very idea of which was anyway bound to be abhorrent to him? He was conventionally pious. Conventional in every way. Marrying his niece would be a line across which he would never tread.

There was, of course, a now-lost letter supposedly written by Elizabeth to Richard’s friend, cousin and ally, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, begging him to intercede with Richard on her behalf. When referring to Richard, this letter was couched in what appeared to be rather inappropriately affectionate terms. Whether the letter ever existed, I don’t know, but it’s certainly lost now. Maybe Elizabeth did have improper feelings for her uncle (Richard was a handsome young man and had been kind to her), but I doubt very much if he returned those sentiments. When he at last felt compelled to deny publicly that he had intentions toward his niece, he was definitely telling the truth. We’ll never know what Elizabeth thought of Richard, except that she didn’t once speak out against him. Nor for him either, of course. She stayed silent. I’m sure Henry Tudor would have loved her to accuse Richard of all sorts crimes, but she held her tongue. In public, at least.

Picture by viscountessw

I know you’ve read all the preceding before and have concluded that if anyone really needed to marry Elizabeth of York, it was Henry Tudor, whose success at Bosworth was solely due to the two-timing Stanley brothers, one of whom pulled a sickie to avoid the battle . The other turned Judas and set his men on Richard at a pivotal moment. With allies like them, who needed enemies? But mere conquest wasn’t enough to make Henry safe. You’ll probably be relieved to learn that I don’t intend to drone on about his Beaufort antecedents. The heir of the House of Lancaster? Give me a break. Richard’s supporters weren’t about to take Bosworth lying down, and Henry’s blood-claim to the throne was gossamer thin.

It was this very tenuousness that meant he had to do something to secure for good the support of the countless disaffected Yorkists swarming around his stolen realm. They’d given him their aid at Bosworth solely because they wanted Edward IV’s blood on the throne again, and he had vowed to marry Elizabeth. Should she have died, then he’d marry the most senior surviving daughter instead. If he didn’t keep his word, his reign was going to be as brief as Richard’s, if not briefer. And the good old unreliable Stanleys were just as likely to switch sides again. They were great at watching their own backs and stabbing everyone else’s.

Sir William Stanley places Richard’s crown on Tudor’s head

The younger of the brothers, Sir William Stanley, who’d struck the decisive blow against Richard, was said to be the man who found Richard’s crown in a bush and placed it on Henry’s head. I don’t think he stayed happy with the consequences, because he eventually turned coat again to join a Yorkist plot against Henry. Sir William believed the claimant Perkin Warbeck really was the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of York, and wanted Edward IV’s proper line back on the throne. Henry’s exertions with Elizabeth of York in the marriage bed weren’t enough for Sir William. Their offspring weren’t proper Yorkists, whereas Perkin was the Real McCoy! Hey-ho, what goes around comes around.

Perkin Warbeck

To return to the main narrative. Henry had realized before leaving exile in Brittany and France to invade England (France was financing him) on this, his second bid for the crown, that marrying Elizabeth of York was a necessary evil. Without her the clarion calls to the banners of the White Rose would soon echo across the countryside, and the lord regarded as Richard’s chosen heir, his sister’s eldest son, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had rather selfishly survived Bosworth.

Henry was to dither about Lincoln, at first trying to win him over (what a trophy he’d have been for Richard’s killer!) But Lincoln couldn’t stand Henry or what he embodied, and so the dithering eventually led to the last true battle between the warring houses of York and Lancaster. The Battle of Stoke in 1487 saw the end of Lincoln, and Henry dared to give a small sigh of relief. But the battle only went Henry’s way because Lincoln’s men believed (rightly or wrongly at that precise moment) that Lincoln had been killed. They fled the battlefield, and at some point Lincoln was indeed mown down, which didn’t please Henry, who wanted him alive to be “worked upon” for information..

Henry’s respite wouldn’t last, of course, the shadows and ghosts would always follow him. Lincoln (who had a number of brothers) was probably the reason why Henry began to systematically eliminate the remnants of the House of York, and why the succeeding Tudors continued the bloodfest.

Anyway, to return to 1485. As Henry prepared to sail with his army of English traitors, Frenchmen and other foreign mercenaries, he took a solemn vow in Rennes Cathedral that he would marry Elizabeth and through their children bring the warring factions in England together at last. Noble sentiments, but he just wanted the crown, make no mistake of that.

Rennes Cathedral

First, however, Elizabeth had to be legitimized again. Henry was in a delicate enough position already, without adding to it by marrying a baseborn queen, even if she was Edward IV’s eldest daughter. He had to be a legitimate king with a legitimate queen. But he made sure to have himself crowned first on 30th October 1485. He wasn’t about to be dubbed Elizabeth’s consort, so he didn’t marry her until 18th January 1486.

Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty

Elizabeth’s own coronation didn’t come until 25th November 1487, after she’d done the right thing and presented him with a son in the September. Hm, yes, the maths are a little iffy. The baby was a bouncing eight-monther. It was said to be a happy marriage, and that he didn’t stray from the marriage bed even once. I’d like to know how they can be sure of that!  Was he followed 24/7?

What Henry didn’t need was his wife’s tiresome brothers, whose claim to the throne had become legal and vastly superior to his own from the moment he legitimized her. The boys’ whereabouts were unknown, of course. They certainly weren’t in the Tower, because one of the first things Henry did on reaching London after Bosworth was instigate exhaustive searches. No one knew anything at this point…and so Henry crossed his fingers, but if he had found the boys in the Tower you can bet your bottom dollar he’d have them disposed of. Hellfire, their claim to the throne was going to be infinitely better than his own because he was going to legitimize their big sister in order to marry her and produce the vital half-York, half-Tudor offspring!

 So, if any such murdering of boys did go on in the Tower, my money would have been on Henry in the very early days of his reign. But there was no proof they died at all, let alone were murdered. It was all smoke and mirrors. Henry ordered the further spreading of rumours that Richard had done away with his nephews, but the Tudor fingers remained very tightly crossed. Richard murdered them! Richard murdered them! The mantra worked, in a great part because Richard had failed to produce the boys to refute the charges. Down through the centuries the same chant can still be heard by rote. And we all know Shakespeare’s part in the lies. But then, he did want to please a Tudor!

If Elizabeth knew that her brothers were still alive, she couldn’t have told Henry before she travelled south from Sheriff Hutton after Bosworth. They’d never met before then. Perhaps she did tell him—he was going to make her Queen of England, so it was in her interest to hitch her waggon to his. But by then he’d already set the ‘Richard was Evil’ ball rolling. And as he hadn’t found any bodies or any sign of where the boys were, he would ever afterward be angst-ridden that they were going to come after him for their throne. If Richard had set out to torment Henry from beyond the grave, he succeeded brilliantly!

Now, to my main point. (At last, did I hear you cry?) For me, Edward IV’s daughters appearing at Richard’s court presents an important and intriguing indication about their brothers. Two of the three youngest girls were children under Richard but made good marriages as Henry’s sisters-in-law. The youngest girl, Bridget, was little more than a baby in 1483, and became a nun. As for the two eldest girls, Richard not only welcomed them to his court, but treated them well—and he probably welcomed their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who’d schemed against him and whose family had almost certainly intended to assassinate him before he even reached London immediately after Edward IV’s sudden demise. Whether she returned to court or not isn’t quite certain, but she certainly accepted Richard, gave her younger son into his care in 1483 and permitted her two eldest girls to go to his court.

Elizabeth Woodville

Would a woman like Elizabeth Woodville have all done that if she really believed Richard murdered her sons? I think not. She had reason to fear Richard, having worked against him, but she apparently came to trust him. It was to be her sour Tudor son-in-law who’d steal her property and kick her off to the wilds of Bermondsey Abbey for the rest of her days. Under Richard she—or at least her daughters—enjoyed the luxury, privileges and entertainments of court life.

Nevertheless, her two senior daughters, Elizabeth and Cicely had presented Richard with a problem. Or so it seems to me. Even though they were illegitimate, they were still a magnet to ambitious enemies (Henry, for one—and if Elizabeth had died, he had his eye on Cicely instead), and what’s more, they were not only marriageable, but of beddable age too. In less than a year they could produce annoyingly legitimate sons whose calculating eyes would soon slide pensively toward the throne. Henry should know, for hadn’t his eyes turned to someone else’s throne?

Edward IV

It seems that Richard solved the Cicely problem first, by marrying her to Ralph Scrope, younger brother of one of his northern supporters, Thomas, 6th Baron Scrope.  It wasn’t a particularly grand union for a king’s daughter, even though she was baseborn, nor was it particularly lowly, but it still surprises me. To begin with it was low-key…its very existence was only discovered recently. Perhaps it was a lovematch? Perhaps they married behind Richard’s back? We’ll never know, and anyway, as soon as Henry stepped up to the throne, with Elizabeth of York safely tucked up as his wife, he had the Scrope marriage annulled. Cicely  was the second surviving daughter of Edward IV, and had to be plucked from a dangerously Yorkist marriage and placed in the custody of a safe Lancastrian relative. Take one pace forward his dependable half-uncle, Sir John Welles (Henry’s mother’s half-brother), who was rewarded by elevation to the rank of Viscount Welles.  And so Cicely became the first viscountessw! ☺

Cicely/Cecily of York, second surviving daughter of Edward IV

Thus, if we discount Cicely as being married to Ralph Scrope during Richard’s reign, and the three youngest girls as being too young, there remained the most important one of all, Elizabeth of York. There she was, beautiful, charming and desirable, welcomed by Richard and Anne, and wandering freely around court. Her importance would have been enhanced still more if Richard really had done away with her brothers. So, I have to ask, would he really have permitted her such freedom and access to court if her brothers were indeed dead?

Not everyone believed Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, nor did everyone want Richard on the throne. Yet Richard and Anne treated her and her sisters with overt generosity and kindness. Why? Simply because he was a benign uncle? Well, maybe—even probably —but I think he had an ulterior motive as well.

One of the first questions always asked is, if the boys were still alive why on earth didn’t Richard simply produce them and put a stop to the rumours? Why indeed. My feeling is that he couldn’t show them because they were no longer in the Tower or indeed in his personal care. No, they weren’t dead, rather do I think he’d sent them somewhere to safety very early on in his reign, well away from Lancastrians to whom they were a grave impediment to Henry’s ambitions…and from Yorkists who wanted Edward IV’s line back on the throne, illegitimate or not. But something eventually happened to the boys, I don’t know what, but believe it was after Richard’s death. Were they hidden with Richard’s sister, their aunt Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy? Did they die of some pestilence? Accidents? It could have been anything. Margaret—Yorkist to her elegant fingertips—loathed Henry, and certainly wouldn’t announce their deaths. She’d want him to stew in his own juice. Which he did.

Margaret of York, Duchess of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III

Without her brothers, Elizabeth would be the Number One of Edward IV’s children, in the eyes of many the true Queen of England, and Richard would have had to keep a very tight grip on her. But what does he do instead? He promises publicly to do all he can for them and provide for their future, and to always treat them well. Thus he entices them from sanctuary into his care. But he wasn’t saying and doing this under false pretenses. No, he meant every word. He would take good care of them. And they were delighted to go to him. They trusted him, and so enjoyed the complete liberty of court, new clothes, fine company, dancing, music…Oh, how they must have been missing all that when they were banged up in sanctuary.

It’s my contention that after his treacherous cousin Buckingham’s unsuccessful rebellion in October 1483, Henry’s aborted invasion of the south coast at the same time (it seems a two-pronged attack was intended, Buckingham from Wales and the west, Henry from the south, Devon and Dorset) as well as the ever-louder whispers about the murders of the boys in the Tower, Richard felt he had to do something to deal with the rumours and let Henry know that even if a second attempt at invasion were successful, the path to the throne wasn’t quite as pretty and primrose as he hoped. The boys stood in his way.

Richard knew his ploy had to be subtle—guileful even—to persuade at least some Lancastrians, Woodvilles and Edwardian Yorkists not to be too hasty about throwing in their lot with the Lancastrian upstart. Bringing the girls out of sanctuary would certainly give pause for thought in the relevant circles. Surely Richard wouldn’t let Edward IV’s daughters wander freely at court if they were their father’s principal heirs. Therefore their brothers had to be alive and well, and still in Richard’s care.

Henry wasn’t deterred from invading again—I think he’d gone too far to back out—but he was convinced the boys still lived and so scoured the Tower for them after Bosworth. He had to get rid of them, and maybe he managed to do just that. But his subsequent behaviour suggests he hadn’t a clue where they were. They’d vanished. Impasse. Where were they? Safe in some Yorkist haven, soon to grow to manhood and return to claim their rights?

If Richard really had been a murdering monster, he’d have killed and buried the boys and then imprisoned the girls before burying them as well. But he wouldn’t be able to stop there. He had other nieces and nephews, and they were legitimate. They were to die once Henry got hold of them, but they all lived happily while Richard was king, including John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who subsequently became useful as a temporary heir when Richard’s son and then his queen died. Richard obviously expected to have new heirs of his own when he remarried and didn’t for a moment think Lincoln would really become King John II, but if the worst happened, Lincoln was a man grown, experienced and a truly loyal Yorkist. He’d make a fine king.

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln – well, not really, there are no portraits of him. This picture has been adapted from Portrait of a Man with a Red Hat, Titian (15th century) by viscountessw in the 21st century!

There was no dark side to Richard III. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty monster or child-killer, but an honest man who in 1483 found himself in an impossible position. He would have become a great monarch if he’d lived long enough to prove it, but Henry got his way, stole the throne and married Elizabeth of York…having first made sure his coronation was safely over. He wasn’t about to be labelled her consort! He was kingy, and she had to wait to be his queeny. But he remained haunted by the missing boys throughout his reign. He dreaded their return. Maybe Perkin Warbeck was indeed the younger of the boys, Richard of York…in case he was, Henry sliced his head off. But there was still the older brother, the more important Edward V, who would have succeeded his father had his illegitimacy not come to light.

Is it a flight of Ricardian fantasy for me to perceive in Henry’s death mask the dying horror of seeing vengeful Yorkists coming for him at last? Yes, probably too much fantasy.

So there you have it. In my opinion, the arrival of Elizabeth of York at her uncle’s court suggests to me that Richard was letting his opponents know her brothers were still alive and under his protection. It was a risk, not least because Henry’s scheming mother, Margaret Beaufort, was also at court, and doing everything she could to support her son. Margaret was very definitely the enemy within, and there were others too, but Richard thought it worth the risk. And, as far as I’m concerned, it worked to some extent. But thanks to Tudor indoctrination, his not having actually produced the boys had the unwelcome side-effect of marring his reputation through the centuries.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour from a mural that was destroyed by fire at Whitehall Palace

Now I don’t doubt that many will disagree with this theory, and will probably say so. There may be holes in my reasoning, but I see these events as a strong indication that the boys in the Tower were still alive and remained so right to the end of Richard’s reign.

And for Henry, Richard’s ghost—and those of his nephews—always waited in the shadows, taunting the first Tudor king. Taunting the entire House of Tudor throughout its ascendancy.

The Battle of Bosworth fought again in the sky by ghostly armies
illustration by viscountessw

 

THE PALACE OF COLLYWESTON–NEW EXCAVATIONS

Collyweston is a small village in Northamptonshire, approximately three miles from the town of Stamford. It was not always so unassuming, however. In the 15th century there was a large fortified manor house that dominated Collyweston, of which today no trace remains above ground. The manor, sometimes known as ‘The Palace’ was first purchased by Ralph, Lord Cromwell, who fought with Henry V in France and later became a Yorkist supporter (he was probably at the first Battle of St Alban’s); his will was proved at Collyweston  after his death at South Wingfield, Derbyshire in 1456.

Later, in 1486, the property went to the Crown and was given to Margaret Beaufort for life. She enlarged it further and added to the park and gardens. It was leased off later on, and dismantling of the house began in the 1630’s. She also added to the church in the late 15th century, and ‘My Lady’s Chapel’ might have been named after her. There are also a pair of ‘mutilated beast gargoyles’ from Lady Margaret’s time–I dare say they are NOT meant to be her and Henry, unlike the pair of heads on the church in Langport.

New excavations hope to find the ground plan of the house, and the area it covered is  apparently so large it stretches into the back gardens of various properties throughout the village.

 

COLLYWESTON EXCAVATIONS

Below: Collyweston Church. The Palace gardens were just behind it.

colly

Henry VII…er…Henry of Windsor, and his badges….

Badges - royal - 1

The following excerpt, concerning royal badges, is from here:

“. . .Richard I, John, and Henry III. are all said to have used the device of the crescent and star (Fig. 680). Henry VII. is best known by his two badges of the crowned portcullis and the “sun-burst” (Fig. 681). The suggested origin of the former, that it was a pun on the name “Tudor” (i.e. two-door) is confirmed by the motto “Altera securitas” which was used with it, but at the same time is rather vitiated by the fact that it was also used by the Beauforts, who had no Tudor descent. Save a very tentative remark hazarded by Woodward, no explanation has as yet been suggested for the sun-burst. My own strong conviction, based on the fact that this particular badge was principally used by Henry VII., who was always known as Henry of Windsor, is that it is nothing more than an attempt to pictorially represent the name “Windsor” by depicting “winds” of “or.” The badge is also attributed to Edward III., and he, like Henry VII., made his principal residence at Windsor. Edward IV. also used the white lion of March (whence is derived the shield of Ludlow: “Azure, a lion couchant guardant, between three roses argent,” Ludlow being one of the fortified towns in the Welsh Marches), and the black bull which, though often termed “of Clarence,” is generally associated with the Duchy of Cornwall. Richard III., as Duke of Gloucester, used a white boar. . .”

Badges - royal - 2

I have queries about this. Was Henry VII really ‘always’ known as Henry of Windsor? And did he make Windsor his principal home?

Further, was he best known for his badges of ‘the crowned portcullis’ and the ‘sun burst’? The portcullis, yes, possibly, but not the sun burst. Henry used the Tudor rose and the Welsh dragon, but I don’t recall seeing sun bursts all over the place in the same way. As for a sunburst depicting ‘winds’ and ‘or’ to represent Windsor. . .

I’m not arguing with the writer of A Complete Guide to Heraldry, just curious about these statements regarding Henry VII. Any opinions, folks?

War, English Delusion, and the effect on the Economy (4)

It was fortunate for Henry V that someone on the Orleanist side of politics decided to murder the Duke of Burgundy. This persuaded the new duke, Philippe the “Good” to take Henry’s side, a development which led to the Treaty of Troyes and Henry’s marriage to fair Catherine of France. Henry had by this time conquered a fair chunk of Normandy, but this had stretched his resources considerably. Thanks to the new alliance he could paint himself as the legitimate ruler of France, and some Frenchmen, like Burgundy, were willing to come over to his side.

At the same time, although the cause of the Dauphin and the Orleanists looked bleak, the fact remains that they were in possession of the majority of French territory and the resources that went with it. Henry would need to conquer this, castle by castle, town by town, and every new garrison needed more soldiers and the means to supply them with necessaries.

The bright spot was that the conquered territories did provide a source of revenue. The bad news was that the English Parliament was increasingly of the view that the war was “nothing to do with us, guv.” In short, they saw the conquest as Henry’s conquest rather than England’s, and, in their view, it was up to Henry to defeat his “rebels” at the expense of the Kingdom of France.

That a typical Englishman of this time had his chest swelled with pride at the thought of English military glory, but at the same moment did not want to pay towards the costs should not really surprise us. It was a characteristic of the English almost all the way through.

Henry V’s early death in 1422, with nothing really resolved, was another good example of the “hospital pass”. To Henry V, the glory, to Henry VI the criticism for failing to do the impossible.

It was fortunate for the English that the management of their position in France fell to John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s next surviving brother, who just happened to be one of the most able men to grace the entire middle ages, let alone the fifteenth century. Bedford won a stunning victory at Verneuil (1424) which was, if anything, more impressive than Agincourt, though rather less famous.

After that, though, the Anglo-Burgundian position slowly but surely began to deteriorate. There were a number of reasons for this, and one was certainly that Philippe of Burgundy was never 100% committed, except to his own interests. Another key factor was that French gradually improved their military establishment, not least by investing heavily in artillery. But above all, the limitations of English resources in terms of both men and cash became increasingly apparent as the years went by.

As I have remarked before, what is astonishing about Lancastrian France was not that it fell when it did, but that it lasted so long. The Treaty of Arras (1435) detached Burgundy from the English side, and that should have been the end. As it was, the English were not finally expelled from Normandy until 1450, while the last English intervention in Gascony failed in 1453. The tactics of Agincourt no longer worked. The French had developed a well-organised, well-equipped, professional army, while England struggled to raise field armies of any size at all.

Much of this prolongation of the war was down to English pluck and determination, to say nothing of good fortification, but it was really a hopeless cause. If Henry VI had been a more talented ruler – which would not have been hard – or if some of his generals (notably the first Duke of Somerset) had been a bit more inspired than they were, then maybe, just maybe, the disaster might have been stretched out a little longer. Alternatively, if certain English statesmen – notably Humphrey of Gloucester – had been more realistic and less deluded, then something might have been saved of the English possessions in France. As it was, a losing fight against overwhelming odds could only have one end.

The effect on England, as a nation, was disastrous. The self-image of a country that was a great military power was shattered. The treasury was not only empty, but massively in debt, despite years of war taxation. The King’s government was feeble at best, and disorder was commonplace, even to the extent of outbreaks of fighting between rival families. Of course, it must be admitted that Henry VI was one of our least effective monarchs, and that his tendency to favour the incompetent Beauforts over the (relatively) competent Duke of York did not help. The political crisis began long before the final defeat in France, but that defeat added a whole new level to it.

Since all attempts at political compromise failed, it was all but inevitable that what we now call the Wars of Roses should break out, even though the first “battle” (St. Albans 1455) was little more than an unseemly squabble. But the root of political instability in England was the disastrous policy of war with France.

Does someone not understand science?

This blog suggests that the failure of Richard’s Y-chromosome to match that of the Dukes of Beaufort doesn’t make him a male line descendant of Edward III through the “illegitimacy” of Richard, Earl of Cambridge.

The issue it fails to address is this:
The inconsistent chromosome has several other, more likely explanations – that Richard III’s Y-chromosome has degraded, or that false paternity in the Beaufort-Somerset line is far more probable because the latter is much longer, as we explained here.

Furthermore, as pp. xii-xvi of Ashdown-Hill’s Cecily Neville explain, citing heraldic evidence, the “forked beard” portrait below, said to be of Richard Duke of York (with Cecily), as taken from Penrith church, is far more likely to be of his father-in-law Ralph Earl of Westmorland (with Joan Beaufort). That the portrait  doesn’t resemble Edward III is unsurprising because Westmorland’s most recent known royal ancestor was Ethelred II.

We have no DNA taken from Edward III to compare with Richard’s or the Beaufort family’s. Sorry to repeat ourselves, but if people repeat errors, we must do so.

 

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

 

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

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

‘The dog did nothing in the night time’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Lord Chancellor

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

 

‘The Chancellor is desperate and not content’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A warrant to arrest persons unknown dated 29 July 1483

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Undated letter concerning the marriage of Thomas Lynom and Mistress Shore

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Letter dated the 12 October from King Richard to John Russell

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

 

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

 

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Armstrong p.85

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

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

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

[15] Hanham (Ricardian) ibid

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

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

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

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

[20] Pronay and Cox p.163

[21] Tudor-Craig pp.54-55

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

[23] Tudor-Craig ibid.

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

[25] Pronay and Cox ibid

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

[27] Hicks (Unweaving the web…) p.107

[28] Hicks pp.107-109

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

[30] Kendall ibid

[31] Ross p.137

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

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

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

Where did the Tudors come from….?

HENRY AND MODEL OF OLD LONDON BRIDGE

For those of us who may wish to know where the name Tudor comes from, here’s a thorough explanation.

 

Henry VII’s “dubious” ancestress…?

Henry VII and John of Gaunt's Tomb

According to Alison Weir, Henry VII was a little twitchy about his descent from John of Gaunt’s notorious mistress (and eventual wife) Katherine de Roët/Swynford. Between them, Gaunt and Katherine produced an illegitimate line of children, the Beauforts, which wasn’t/was/wasn’t legitimate/in line of succession, according to different monarchs. Henry VII was a Beaufort, so you can imagine which side of the argument he was on! Katherine might also have still been married to her first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, when she conceived the first Beaufort, which was something else to make Henry VII shift uncomfortably. I am only surprised that Henry did not attempt to claim Katherine was descended from King Arthur. Henry was very keen indeed to prove that he and his line were rightful Kings of England because they had Arthur’s blood in their veins.

Anyway, I quote (from Weir’s biography of Katherine):-

“. . .The epitaph on John of Gaunt’s tomb in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, which was lost in the Great Fire of 1666, described Katherine as eximia pulchritudine feminam – ‘extraordinarily beautiful and feminine’. This epitaph was not contemporary but was placed on the restored sepulchre in the reign of Henry VII, who was desirous of restoring the good reputation of this rather dubious ancestress. It is unusual to find words of this kind in an epitaph – the emphasis is usually on virtue and good works – but since Henry VII could hardly laud Katherine’s virtue, it is possible that he ordered reference to be made to her beauty because it was one of the things people did remember her for, and it may even have been referred to in the original tomb inscription, which had been destroyed in living memory. . .”

So, Henry Tudor was up to more of his usual meddling tricks? Making sure posterity was recorded as he wanted it recorded? What a surprise. BUT, in one thing Katherine herself signally failed. Her extraordinary beauty did not descend to Henry or his Beaufort mother!

 

Sources for the above illustration: The lost tomb of John of Gaunt and his wife Blanche, old St.Paul’s Cathedral, London. From The History of St Paul’s Cathedral in London by William Dugdale, 1658. Originally from Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection at University of Toronto. Likeness of Henry VII from civ6customization.gamepedia.com

Henry VII’s iffy Beaufort claim….

There is always a howl of outrage if fingers are pointed at Katherine de Roet/Swynford and John of Gaunt, and the legitimacy of their Beaufort children is called into question. The matter is guaranteed to end up with someone’s digit jabbing toward Richard III. Why? Because in his proclamation against Henry Tudor, Richard derided the latter’s claim for relying on his mother’s Beaufort descent.

Richard and HT

Initially, the Beauforts were clearly illegitimate. Their parents were not married at the time of their birth, and even if Katherine’s first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, was dead, Gaunt’s second wife, Constance of Castile, certainly was not. The union of Katherine and Gaunt was adulterous. In those days a late marriage did not legitimise children born before the belated wedding vows. Unless one acquired a convenient papal bull, of course. Which Gaunt was quick to do on the death of his second duchess. He married Katherine, and Richard II was persuaded to make their offspring legitimate. Well, the pope’s invention had made them so anyway. Richard II merely tidied it all up.

Henry IV

But on Gaunt’s death, a spanner was thrown into the works. Henry IV (Gaunt’s very definitely legitimate heir through the duke’s first marriage to Blanche of Lancaster) made it very clear indeed that even though they had belatedly been made legitimate, they were excluded from the throne. And he was their half-brother! He was also a trueborn Lancastrian, his mother having been Blanche of Lancaster, the great Lancastrian heiress. Blanche was the daughter of Henry of Lancaster. It was through her that Gaunt became Duke of Lancaster. Gaunt himself was not a Lancastrian, he merely acquired the title through marriage. So any children he had with anyone other than Blanche of Lancaster were not true Lancastrians.

If Henry IV was empowered to make this stipulation, which clearly he was, then he was determined to deny the throne to the Beauforts. No question about it. Yet, late in the 15th century, along came Henry Tudor, presenting himself as Earl of Richmond and the Lancastrian heir. Yes, he descended from John of Gaunt (3rd son of Edward III), but through the Beauforts, whose legitimacy was suspect to say the least, and who had anyway been barred from the throne by Henry IV. This was the basis of Henry Tudor’s challenge for the crown of England. No wonder than when push came to shove, on miraculously/treacherously defeating Richard III at Bosworth, he wisely made his claim through conquest! The Beaufort side of it was a little too dodgy, and he knew it. Conquest, on the other hand, was plain, simple. . .and unchallengeable.

Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, with his second wife, Joan Beaufort

Joan Beaufort, 2nd wife of Ralph, 1st Earl of Westmorland.

But, I hear you cry, Richard had a Beaufort in his ancestry! Yes, he did, Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland, daughter of Katherine and Gaunt. No disputing the fact. I make no bones about it. However, Richard didn’t claim through Joan. His descent came from two of Edward III’s other sons, Lionel of Clarence (2nd son) and Edmund of York (4th son). The two lines were subsequently united when Richard of Conisbrough (York) married Anne Mortimer (Clarence). Their son, Richard, 3rd Duke of York, became the father of both Edward IV and Richard III, No link to any Beauforts.  There was nothing iffy in Richard’s descent, unless one wishes to challenge the fact that Edmund of York was his progenitor. The then Duchess of York was said to be frisky, and a certain Duke of Exeter was supposedly her lover, which, if true, made Edmund’s, er, input, a little questionable. But Richard of Conisbrough was accepted as Edmund’s son, and even if the rumour about Exeter and the duchess were  true, it still leaves Richard III’s descent from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, whose position as Edward III’s second son was superior to Gaunt’s, the latter being only the third son.

So there you have it. When Richard III derided Henry Tudor’s Beaufort descent, he was spot on. It was Tudor’s only claim, and placed him on thin ice. Which was why he vowed to marry Elizabeth of York (to benefit from her Yorkist lineage), and then claimed the throne through victory in battle in 1485. Richard wasn’t lying or conveniently forgetting anything. Yes, he had a Beaufort in his ancestry, but he didn’t claim anything through that line. His descent from Lionel of Clarence and Edmund of York was considerably stronger than anything Henry could produce.

Spare me your howls of outrage. Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt were deeply in love, there is no doubt of that, but in the beginning it was an adulterous romance on Gaunt’s part. Maybe on Katherine’s too, although that seems less likely. Not impossible, though. So the Beauforts were illegitimate, legitimate, forbidden the throne. In that order. Henry Tudor of the House of Beaufort had his eyes on that very thing, the crown of England. Gaunt himself probably wanted his children by Katherine to be in line for everything, and he schemed to exclude the female line—in order to negate any claim from the descendants of his elder brother, Lionel, who left a daughter. Gaunt also claimed the throne of Castile through his own second wife. How very selective of him.

Do not point your bony fingers at Richard for not mentioning his Beaufort blood. Why should he refer to something that was of no importance to him? So he focused instead on Henry Tudor, to whom that dodgy Beaufort blood provided an only link to English royalty? Take away the Beaufort element, and Henry Tudor had nothing whatsoever to bolster his claim. Richard’s claim, on the other hand, was not in the least reliant on the Beauforts. He was the rightful King of England. The only rightful king!

Richard III and Undercroft

See also:-

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/bulletin/2007_06_summer_bulletin.pdf In the article by David Candlin, page 22, are full details of Richard’s proclamation against Henry Tudor. Richard claims that Tudor’s Beaufort line was begotten in double adultery. He may have  believed that Katherine Swynford’s first husband, Sir Hugh Swynford, was still alive when she began her affair with Gaunt. Whatever, adultery was certainly involved, which made the children illegitimate.

 

 

 

 

 

Was Henry VII always so clever….?

drawing of young Henry VIIYet again, I tell you the old story of looking for one thing and happening on something else. This time an article that questions the ultimate effectiveness of Henry VII’s reign. Well, rather it raises questions that historians don’t seem to have asked before now. It is well worth reading, especially as there are links to other articles for those who follow our period.

 

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