Not content with accusing Richard III of the death of nearly every notable in 15th century England, it seems of late there has been more ‘confusion in Cairo’ as the the traditionalists attempt to drag in Richard’s friends and relatives in order to back up their position. Recently, the loyal John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and even Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville the Duchess of York have been thrust into the fray. Heavens, there was even a recent ‘history magazine’ feature on ‘the Princes’ with interior artwork of not only a shifty, lank-tressed Richard, but a scowling, gimlet-eyed John Howard with a villainous moustache just ripe to be twirled!
This article put Howard forward as a potential suspect in the ‘murder’ of the Princes. It is interesting that he was never considered a ‘suspect’ in any of the early accounts but he seems to have become one in the last few years. According to some, it is ‘proof’ that the ‘Princes’ were dead when John Howard was made Duke of Norfolk in 1483, since the title was held by the younger Prince through his marriage to the late Anne Mowbray. This seems a case of ‘two plus two equals five’. Young Richard of Shrewsbury had his titles forfeited due to being declared illegitimate; therefore, it is hardly unexpected that John Howard, who had unfairly lost his rightful inheritance due to Edward IV tinkering with the law to benefit himself, would be rewarded by Richard for his support by receiving the Dukedom back. That this happened in 1483 does not in any way ‘prove’ that Richard of Shrewsbury was already deceased; simply he was no longer eligible to hold the title.
Then there’s been much ado about Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother, perhaps because in modern times there has been attempts to emphasise—and sometimes over-emphasise—the behind-the-scenes roles of medieval women. She was undoubtedly a powerful and sometimes outspoken woman, but that does not make her some kind of ‘Lady MacBeth.’ Apparently, we are told, she supported George for King in 1469 because her eldest son was indeed a bastard and not fit to hold the throne. Again, this makes little sense. If there was any truth in the rumours about Edward’s parentage, why was his kingship suddenly a problem in 1469 and not when he first became King in 1461? Yes, Cecily supposedly cried out that he was no true son and she would publicly swear to it, when she found out about his ill-thought out “marriage” to Elizabeth Woodville…but if she truly declared such a thing, she never mentioned it in public again and (according to traditionalist accounts) was most ‘put out’ by the rumours of Edward’s illegitimacy being resurrected around the time Richard became King. Like so many denialist accounts, the stories conflict—she’s hardly likely to have admitted an adulterous sin then act as if she was shocked and affronted that it was repeated. So only one of the above scenarios can be true (or neither of them.) My personal belief is she did lash out verbally at Edward during an angry confrontation over his marriage, and futilely tried to hold him in check with what turned out to be an idle threat.)
Following on from this series of contradictions, Cecily has also recently been made out as some sort of ‘Kingmaker’ in regards to her youngest son, ruthlessly forgetting her grandchildren (but think of the chhilldreenn, Cecily!) in order to support Richard’s claim (this is assumed mainly, I presume, because she allowed his use of Baynard castle during his bid for the crown) but in the very next instance, we have others claiming she showed her disapproval of his kingship by not attending Richard’s Coronation. (Although the latter may be another falsehood—Cecily may well have been there. As the late John Ashdown-Hill wrote in his book on the Duchess, the assumption of her absence comes from the fact there is no record of her having received fabric for her robes—Well, there is also no record of Richard and Anne receiving any fabric either, as their clothes would have been supplied by the Great Wardrobe. Cecily’s garments could quite possibly have come straight from the Great Wardrobe too, since she was the King’s Mother.)
Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with debating either John Howard or Dame Cecily’s involvement in the events of 1483. But let’s not end up with either rumour or theory being presented as fact (we have enough of that already!), such as some of the elements in this article on Cecily Neville, which is on the National Archives page:
And since I mentioned amusingly bad magazine art that isn’t even the little tiniest bit biased (cough), here you go: