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CAN A PICTURE PAINT A THOUSAND WORDS?

It’s said a picture can paint a thousand words.  It certainly can but not always accurately.  It can distort the truth.  Art work based on the Ricardian period is certainly true of this.  Take for example the stunning painting by Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester and the Lady Anne.

800px-Edwin_Austin_Abbey_richard_duke_of_gloucester_and_the_lady_anne_1896.jpgRichard Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1896.

Here we have an angst ridden Anne, while a definitely humpbacked Gloucester offers her a ring.  It just makes you want to shout at the canvas ‘run, run Anne and don’t look back..!’ although it should in fairness be remembered the painting is based on a scene from Shakespeare’s version of Richard lll rather than the actual facts.

There have been numerous paintings of Richard of Shrewsbury being removed from his mother, a distressed looking Elizabeth Wydeville, and although for all I know Elizabeth may well have been distressed on that day,  it aint looking good for the ‘wicked uncle’ is it?

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This version is by Philip Calderon.  Young Richard gazes tenderly at his mother   while being yanked away by his arm by a portly gentleman in red..poor little blighter.

A couple of paintings of the ‘princes’ do stand out for me.  The beautiful one by Millais (he used his daughter as a model for one of the princes) where he has the boys, standing in a darkened stairway of the Tower (where,  to add poignancy to the scene, some believe their remains were found buried) clinging to each other while a dark shadow lurks ominously at the top of the stairs…Yikes!

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The Princes in the Tower,  John Everett Millais 1878.

Another one. this time by Paul Delaroche, King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower,  depicts the two young boys, gazing into the middle distance, unaware, hopefully,  of their impending doom, while their spaniel’s attention, tail between his legs, is drawn to the door.  These artists certainly knew how to twang on the old heart strings!  Great stuff but  maybe not very helpful to some in forming positive perceptions of Richard’s character.

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King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower, Paul Delaroche 1831.

But finally, one that is actually closer to the truth, from a mural in the Royal Exchange by the artist Sigismund Goetz, and one   I can clearly remember, as a small child, from its inclusion in Cassell’s History of the English People.  I would gaze at it, not properly understanding what it actually represented, but nevertheless entranced.  It was not until years later that I could understand what was going on and who the people were in the painting.  A grave, noble,  and rather handsome humpless Duke of Gloucester being offered the Crown at Baynards Castle.  Beautiful ladies in butterfly headdresses look down at the scene from the top of the stairs….its Cicely and Anne!.  A rather frivolous looking young man, leaning nonchalantly against the stairs,  as an elderly man, almost hidden from sight, leans over and surreptitously whispers in his ear..ah!..tis Buckingham and Morton..meanwhile in the background Gloucester supporters , in harness, roar their approval.  Splendid stuff and about time too.

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Mural in the Royal Exchange,  Offer of the Kingship to Richard Duke of Gloucester at Baynards Castle June 26 1483 Sigismund Goetz

Paul Delaroche also painted The Execution of Lady Jane Grey..not one of our Ricardian characters… but a descendant of  one, Elizabeth Wydeville, via her son Thomas Grey, lst Marquess of Dorset.  Delaroche again gave his artistic license free reign..Jane was in fact executed in the open air, in the part of the Tower that is known as Tower Green where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and also Margaret of Salisbury, Clarence’s daughter were executed.

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The execution of Lady Jane Grey, Paul Delaroche 1833

So at least one of these extremely gifted artists managed to get it right in terms of accuracy as to what actually happened.    What gifts for the art world but for the greater part, I do wonder if in the past,  these paintings proved for some people  to be rather a hindrance for the rehabilitation of Richard’s character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloody tales of the Tower….

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I have only just found the series Bloody Tales of the Tower, previously on National Geographic and now on Channel 5 (http://www.channel5.com/show/bloody-tales-of-the-tower and http://www.natgeotv.com/za/bloody-tales-of-the-tower), and have to say that I enjoyed it very much. The presenters, Suzannah Lipscomb and Joe Crowley, are at ease in their roles and with each other, and do not adopt a patronising, superior attitude, as some do. Suzannah is a Tudor historian, and very sensible with it.

There is a good format of setting the scene and then dividing the tasks in two, then going their separate ways until coming together again toward the end, to weave their discoveries together. Suzannah leads us effortlessly through the story itself and the sources, while Joe discovers how things worked, who did them, what they looked like and so on. It may sound as if it’s aimed at teenagers tops, but it isn’t. I’m no teenager, and it was fine by me.

The most innovative series/presenter at the moment has to be Lucy Worsley, who dresses in costume and blends effortlessly into the docudramas she talks about. She is marvellous. Although a Tudor historian, she didn’t gild the Tudors. There were no controversial remarks for the sake of it. She said it how it was. It was all very natural and flowing. Good informative entertainment. As for all the other presenters of television history documentaries, mostly posing males who think more of their own vanity than their subject matter, they would do well to learn a few lessons from Worsley, Lipscomb and Crowley.

Bloody Tales of the Tower told its stories in compelling docudramas, sometimes set in the very spots where it all happened. Sometimes rather grisly! There are three episodes, Royals on the Block, Death to Traitors and Deadly Love, and each contains three separate stories from various centuries.

In episode one, Royals on the Block, the royals in question are James, Duke of Monmouth, Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, and Lady Jane Grey, who was, of course, Queen Jane. I’m not sure how the archbishop is included, unless it is the implication that Richard II’s life should have been forfeit, not Sudbury’s!

James, Duke of Monmouth, was something of a 17th-century superstar and the people’s favourite, but he rebelled against his uncle, James II, because he believed the throne should have been his, even though he was illegitimate. Such was his fame and popularity, that for the huge crowds gathered for his beheading on Tower Green (the programme drew a likeness between his execution and the Wembley Cup Final for crowd-pulling power). There followed a butchering by one Jack Ketch, who was a hangman but not a competent wielder of an axe. Monmouth’s head was finally severed with a knife! Ketch later blamed Monmouth for not presenting his head properly.

Simon of Sudbury was Richard II’s Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, and when the Peasants’ Revolt began in 1381, he was the object of the mob’s hatred because of all the taxes and unfair laws over which he had presided. He, the king and the court took refuge in the Tower, which was impregnable. Nevertheless the mob got inside and Sudbury (whose head is still preserved) was torn to pieces. How did they get in? Well, Richard II gave the order to let them through all the gates. Richard consigned the old man to his death. A lamb to the slaughter.

The last story in Royals on the Block was that of Lady Jane Grey, another lamb to the slaughter. She was only sixteen, but her cousin, Bloody Mary, sent her to the block. Mary went on to earn the soubriquet Bloody Mary, so I imagined there were soon many in the realm who wished they hadn’t risen to support her against Jane. Oh, well, it’s always easy to be wise after the event. It was pointed out that Lady Jane should be referred to as Queen Jane, because although she did not have a coronation, she was, nevertheless, the queen. Just as was Edward V (cue picture of the urn) and, more recently, Edward VIII. They are always referred to as kings, so why not Jane as queen?

The second part of the trilogy is called Death to Traitors, and covered the tales of Father John Gerard, who survived secretly in Elizabeth I’s Protestant England. He escaped from the Tower and lived to his 70s on the Continent. He wrote his story, which is how we know so much about his escape. (One oddity I noticed during this story was the careful use of white gloves to examine an old copy of Gerard’s story, yet earlier I noticed there were no gloves at all for poking around in a beautifully illustrated copy of Walsingham! Isn’t there a rule on this sort of thing?)

Next we went to Guy Fawkes, whose story was related with overtones of modern terrorism. The blowing up of King James and Parliament was an intended spectacular which would see Catholics triumph over Protestants. We all know it failed—some nasty Protestant informer!—and Guy was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. Not a pleasant way to go, but he confounded everyone by managing to fling himself from a ladder and break his neck, so he was dead before they even hanged him, let alone the drawing and quartering. The senior member of the conspiracy were eventually cornered in a country house (they included one Catesby, a descendant of Richard III’s Catesby) and went out in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style by rushing out into a hail of musket fire.

The third story in Death to Traitors was that of Josef Jacobs, a German spy in World War II. Yes, the last person to be executed in the Tower was in 1941. He was parachuted into England, injured and captured.  As he was a military officer, the sentence was death by shooting at the Tower. There he was duly despatched. There was part of this story that seemed to throw all sympathy on Jacobs, a family man who left a wife and children behind. His final letter to them was produced, and his Canadian granddaughter was there with the presenter at his graveside. Yes, the story had a very human side, but should it not have been said that if a British man had been captured in similar circumstances in Germany, he would have suffered the same fate? A spy in wartime is a spy in wartime.

Deadly Love, the final episode of this first series is entitled Deadly Love, and covers the deaths in the Tower of three famous women, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Arbella Stuart. The first two ladies are very well known, of course, and the only thing I would pick out particularly where Anne was concerned was the portrayal of her supposed lover, Mark Smeaton. It seems that he paid the price of arousing jealousy and resentment among his “betters”. He was lowborn, talented and handsome, and had risen very high very quickly. Anne’s fall from grace was a useful way to get rid of him too.

Catherine Howard was young, and yes she was probably a puppet, but she was also very silly. How could anyone think of trying to deceive a bloodthirsty old monster like Henry VIII? Had she never heard of Anne Boleyn? I am afraid she doesn’t earn my sympathy – I feel more for Lady Jane Grey than I do for Catherine.

The story of Arbella Stuart was the most interesting for me, and what a very sad tale it was, especially as although her marriage to William Seymour, 2nd Duke of Somerset, was dynastic at first, I think it soon became a matter of love. But any children would have presented a great threat to the security of James I, the first Stuart king, so Arbella and William were arrested. She was held under house arrest in Barnet, while he was imprisoned in the Tower. By means of an intricate but successful plot involving exchanging clothes with his barber, William managed to escape. Arbella, dressed as a man also escaped and they arranged to meet at Blackwall. They never did. She took to the sea alone, afraid he was not coming, and he arrived too late, two hours later. He escaped to Calais, but she was captured. No Barnet for her this time, it was the Tower, under much stricter conditions than had applied to William.

She gradually succumbed to ill health (maybe porphyria)—or perhaps lost the will to live—and died a few years later. Her death rendered William harmless to James, so he was permitted to return to England. He eventually married again and lived another fifty years. A tragic love story.

An excellent series, and I hope there is another. Bloody Tales of the Tower is well worth watching.

The story of a spirited Duchess of Norfolk….

 

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The above illustration is by Hans Holbein the Younger – Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (Royal Collection)

 This post, about Edward IV’s daughter Catherine, prompted me to post this, about the husband of another of Edward IV’s daughter, Anne, Countess of Surrey. Thomas Howard, eventually 3rd Duke of Norfolk, was the grandson of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, who fell with Richard at Bosworth. I am not impressed with Thomas Howard, and whether or not he treated Anne well I do not know, but after her death, he certainly did not do right by his second wife. The marriage became a scandal second to none, and if Thomas thought he could do as he pleased with Lady Elizabeth Stafford, he soon learned better. She was made of stern stuff.

I have taken the following from the extremely interesting http://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Elizabeth%20Stafford%2C%20Duchess%20of%20Norfolk&uid=1575 , and make no claim to authorship. If you follow the link, you will find more information, and sources.

“Lady Elizabeth Stafford (later Duchess of Norfolk) (c.1497 – 30 November 1558) was the eldest daughter of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, and Lady Eleanor Percy. By marriage she became Duchess of Norfolk. Her stormy marriage to  Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, created a public scandal.

“Before 8 January 1513, when she was only fifteen and he was thirty-five years of age, Elizabeth married, as his second wife, Thomas Howard, then Earl of Surrey. He had previously been married to Anne Plantagenet (2 November 1475 – 23 November 1511), the daughter of King Edward IV, by whom he had a son, Thomas, who died 3 August 1508.

“Elizabeth had earlier been promised in marriage to her father’s ward, Ralph Neville, 4th Earl of Westmorland. The young Elizabeth and Ralph Neville seem to have been mutually devoted, and years later, in a letter to Thomas Cromwell, dated 28 September 1537, Elizabeth recalled that,

“‘He and I had loved together two years, an my lord my husband had not sent immediately word after my lady and my lord’s first wife was dead, he made suit to my lord my father, or else I had been married before Christmas to my Lord of Westmorland’.

“Elizabeth’s father initially attempted to persuade Howard to marry one of his other daughters, but according to Elizabeth, ‘He would have none of my sisters, but only me’.

“Elizabeth brought Howard a dowry of 2000 marks, and was promised a jointure of 500 marks a year, although Howard apparently never kept that promise. In her later letters she asserted that she had been a dutiful wife, continuing to serve at court daily ‘sixteen years together’ while her husband was absent in King Henry VIII’s wars, and accompanying him to Ireland when he was posted there in 1520–22. She bore him five children, and according to Graves, as late as 1524, when he became 3rd Duke of Norfolk, ‘they appeared to be bonded by mutual love’.

“However, in 1527 Norfolk took a mistress, Bess Holland, the daughter of his steward, with whom he lived openly at Kenninghall, and whom the Duchess described variously in her letters as a bawd, a drab, and ‘a churl’s daughter’, ‘which was but washer of my nursery eight years’. It appears the Duchess’ anger caused her to exaggerate Bess Holland’s inferior social status, as her family were probably minor gentry, and she eventually became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn.

“During the long period in which King Henry VIII sought to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, the Duchess remained staunchly loyal to Queen Catherine and antagonistic towards her husband’s niece, Anne Boleyn, with whom the King was infatuated. Late in 1530 it was noted that the Duchess was secretly conveying letters to Queen Catherine from Italy concealed in oranges, which the Queen passed on to the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, and at one time the Duchess told Chapuys that her husband, the Duke, had confided in her that Anne would be ‘the ruin of all her family’. In 1531 the Duchess was exiled from court at Anne Boleyn’s request for too freely declaring her loyalty to Catherine.

“According to Graves, the Duchess also quarrelled with Anne over Anne’s insistence that the Duchess’ daughter, Mary Howard, should marry Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. When Anne Boleyn was crowned on 1 June 1533, the Duchess refused to attend the coronation ‘from the love she bore to the previous Queen’.

“Meanwhile, the Duchess’ own marriage continued to deteriorate. The Duke refused to give up his mistress, and resolved to separate from his wife. Both the Duke and Thomas Cromwell requested the Duchess’ brother to take her in, a suggestion he utterly rejected.The Duchess wrote of her husband’s abuse of her during this period, claiming that when she was recovering after the birth of her daughter, Mary, he had pulled her out of bed by the hair, dragged her through the house, and wounded her with a dagger. In three separate letters to Cromwell the Duchess repeated the accusation that the Duke had ‘set his women to bind me till blood came out at my fingers’ ends, and pinnacled me, and sat on my breast till I spit blood, and he never punished them’. Howard responded to the stream of allegations by writing that ‘I think the apparent false lies were never contrived by a wife of her husband that she doth daily increase of me’.

“Whatever the truth of the allegations, continued cohabitation was clearly impossible, and on 23 March 1534 Howard forced a separation. According to the Duchess, the Duke had ridden all night, and arriving home in a furious temper had locked her in a chamber and taken away all her jewels and apparel. She was sent to a house in Redbourne, Hertfordshire, from which she wrote a stream of letters to Cromwell complaining that [she] was kept in a state of virtual imprisonment with a meagre annual allowance of only £200. At first the Duchess attempted to reconcile with her husband, but when she received no reply to her ‘kind letters’ to the Duke, she declared to Cromwell in a letter dated 30 December 1536 that ‘from this day forward I will never sue to the King, nor to none other, to desire my lord my husband to take me again’. On his part, Norfolk refused to give up Bess Holland, and attempted to persuade the Duchess to agree to a divorce, offering to return her jewels and apparel and give her a great part of his plate and stuff of household, but she rebuffed his offers. She received little or no support from her family. Her eldest son and daughter became estranged from her, while her brother condemned her behaviour

“Forsaken by almost everyone, the Duchess remained obdurate. On 3 March 1539, she wrote to Cromwell that:

“I am of age to rule myself, as I have done these five years, since my husband put me away. Seeing that my lord my husband reckoned me to be so unreasonable, it were better that I kept me away, and keep my own house still, and trouble no other body. . . I pray you, my lord, take no displeasure with me, although I have not followed your lordship’s good counsel, and your letters, as touching my lord my husband for to come home again, which I will never do in my life.

“The Duchess’ entreaties to Cromwell ceased with his fall from power in 1540. She and her brother were eventually reconciled, and at some time before 1547 he sent one of his daughters to live with her, whom the Duchess treated very generously.

“During Henry VIII’s last years  Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, and Henry’s last Queen, Catherine Parr, both of whom favoured the reformed faith, gained influence with the King while the conservative Duke of Norfolk became isolated politically. The Duke attempted to form an alliance with the Seymours through a marriage between his widowed daughter, Mary Howard, and Hertford’s brother, Thomas Seymour, but the effort was forestalled by the provocative conduct of the Duke’s eldest son and heir, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who had displayed in his own heraldry the royal arms and insignia. On 12 December 1546 both Norfolk and Surrey were arrested and sent to the Tower. On 12 January 1547 Norfolk acknowledged that he had ‘concealed high treason, in keeping secret the false acts of my son, Henry Earl of Surrey, in using the arms of St. Edward the Confessor, which pertain only to kings’, and offered his lands to the King. Norfolk’s family, including the Duchess, his daughter Mary, and his mistress, Bess Holland, all gave evidence against him. Surrey was beheaded on 19 January 1547, and on 27 January 1547 Norfolk was attainted by statute without trial. The dying King gave his assent to Norfolk’s death by royal commissioners, and it was rumoured that he would be executed on the following day. He was saved by the King’s death on 28 January and the Council’s decision not to inaugurate the new reign with bloodshed.

“Norfolk remained in the Tower throughout the reign of King Edward VI. He was released and pardoned by  Queen Mary in 1553, and in Mary’s first parliament (October–December 1553), his statutory attainder was declared void, thereby restoring him to the dukedom. He died at Kenninghall on 25 August 1554, and was buried at St Michael’s Church at Framlingham in Suffolk. The Duchess was not named in his will.

“Elizabeth Howard died 30 November 1558 at Lambeth, and was buried in the Howard chapel in the Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth. Her brother wrote a brief but apparently heartfelt epitaph:

“Thou wast to me, both far and near, A mother, sister, a friend most dear.”

 

 

 

HENRY VIII: THE EVEN HANDED PERSECUTOR

Some folks out there have recently been trying to justify the long list of people executed by Henry VIII  because ‘at least they had a trial’ or ‘because it was over religion, and there were always beheadings, pressings, burnings over religion.’

Well, surprisingly, I must agree with them on one thing. Henry sure could be fair and evenhanded.

He dealt out his brand of ‘justice’/punishment to both Catholics and Protestants, peasant and nobles, strangers and relatives, men  and women, and young and old alike!

From the Protestant side, the list of victims  include twelve clergymen, 3 monks, 2 lawyers, a courtier, several servants, an apprentice, a leatherseller and a tailor, a player and a musician, a painter and a mercer. Poignantly, there is also listed a poor artificer and a poor labourer, a  wife, a man called Valentine Freese alongside his wife, a child under 15 called Richard Mekins, and an ‘aged father.’ All were burnt at the stake save for the ‘aged father’ who had his brains bashed out prior to the fire taking hold. (I presume this was meant to be merciful.)

From the Catholic side, we have a list of well over 200, mostly priests and monks, but also the Nun of Kent, and some laymen and laywomen, including  67-year-old Margaret Pole, who was charged with nothing but faced death because her son was out of vengeful Henry’s reach.

Of the ‘rich and famous/infamous’ there are approximately 25 executed nobles and some ordinary folk  connected with the  supposed nobles’ misdeeds,  such as  Mark Smeaton, who was tortured into confessing a fling with Anne Boleyn.  The executed include Edward Stafford, son of Henry Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham (who raised rebellion against Richard III) , Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, de la Poles and Poles (including a young boy who was imprisoned in the Tower and was never seen again…he might be there still*!), a Courtenay and a Hungerford (both  of these families had helped Henry’s father to his throne), Jane Boleyn, and of course wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

As we can see,  Henry was a very even handed chap indeed. No one got favouritism. No one got out alive.

* https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/whatever-happened-to-henry-pole-the-younger-2011/

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Only Richard III ever broke the law…(apparently)

This post is provoked by a comment I came across the other day that claimed that the tens of thousands of people killed by the Tudor dynasty somehow don’t count as it was all done within the law. Albeit the rough-and-ready version of the law as it was at that time.

Snags with this argument:

  1. A number of highly unpleasant 20th century dictatorships and war criminals would have offered a similar defence. This does not make them moral or admirable.
  2. Henry VIII, certainly, was not above changing the law after the offence was committed and then applying the change to the offence. Examples, the Bishop of Rochester’s unfortunate cook; Lady Rochford – in the latter case the law was changed to permit the execution of insane people! If this is ‘legality’ it stinks.
  3. What about people disposed of via Acts of Attainder? Examples Katherine Howard, Lady Rochford, Margaret Countess of Salisbury. These people were not even given a drum-head court martial, let alone a trial, and absolutely no opportunity was given to them to mount a defence. Legal? After a fashion.
  4. Tyrants make their own laws as they go along. Anyone can stay within the law if they can amend it as they choose.

 

LONDON’S GUILDHALL: Where Buckingham Did Not Spit

In the heart of the City of London stands the medieval Guildhall. Built between 1411 and 1440 on the site of a much older structure, for the most part it survived the Great Fire of London, and still dominates the square in which it stands, a true relic of the London of Richard’s day.

Legend has it that the palace of Britain’s first king, Brutus of Troy, stood on this spot, and the hall itself is graced by two wooden giants Gog and Magog, who are also mythical guardians of London—there were carvings of this pair here at an early date but the ones towering above the hall today date only from 1706, the earlier pair having been destroyed in the Great Fire.

Many notable events have taken place within the Guildhall, including a number of famous Tudor era trials including Thomas Howard, Thomas Cranmer, martyr Anne Askew, Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guilford Dudley, and the lovers of Queen Katherine Howard, Thomas Culpeper and Francis Dereham.

It was here too that Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham came on June 24, 1483, Midsummer’s Eve, to deliver before the mayor and other important persons, a speech in support of Richard III’s assumption of the Crown. He was supposed to have delivered an amazing oratory in which he condemned the Woodvilles and mentioned that the ruling of a country was not fitting for a child. Apparently, he spoke so suavely and convincingly, with such fluid ease, that he ‘did not even pause to spit’ between his sentences.

At the end of the impassioned speech, however, it was claimed by certain writers that he was greeted by stony silence. However, we have no way of knowing how true this is, or whether it was simply added in by hostile sources—knowing the determination and forthrightness of medieval Londoners, if they had not approved even in a small way, it would be surprising if no protest was registered. It was not as if either Richard or Buckingham had huge contingents of men in London at the time to intimidate them into agreement. Of course, silence, if indeed silence
there was, could have come merely from surprise and the gravity of what the Duke was suggesting. At any rate, minutes later Buckingham’s entourage reportedly hurled their hats in the air and cried, ‘King Richard! King Richard!’
The Guildhall is well worth a visit and is open most weekdays, though it is best to check on the website as it can close at short notice for functions. Its entrance is directly opposite that of the adjoining Art Gallery (which is also well worth a visit, especially the Roman Amphitheatre,which was once the largest in all Britain.)
 

 

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London’s Guildhall

 

Henry VIII – the ultimate feminist?

1) He created two peeresses in their own right – Margaret Pole as Countess of Salisbury and Anne Boleyn as Marquess of Pembroke (see point 2).
2) He gave noblewomen, such as the above, Lady Margaret (Stafford) Bulmer, Catherine Howard and Viscountess Rochford, an equal opportunity to be executed.
3) He gave women, such as Anne Askew, an equal opportunity to be tortured.
4) Having left only one male heir, not fated to survive him for long, all realistic claimants by 1553 were female thus England had a Queen Regnant.

Fabricating Precontracts: Richard III vs Henry VIII

On 10 and 11 June 1483, Richard duke of Gloucester wrote to his affinity in the North and asked for troops to support him against the Woodvilles who, he claimed, were plotting his destruction. On 22 June Ralph Shaa preached his “bastard slips” sermon, followed by similar speeches by the duke of Buckingham, and on 26 June a quasi-parliamentary assembly of the Three Estates of the Realm – the nobles, bishops and representatives of the commons who had come to London for the coronation and subsequent first Parliament of Edward V – offered Richard the crown in place of his nephew. Allegedly Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had come forward and testified that the boy’s father, Richard’s brother Edward IV, had secretly entered into a legally binding marriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was still alive when he, again secretly, married his queen, Elizabeth Woodville. This second marriage was therefore invalid, which meant that young Edward was illegitimate and couldn’t inherit his father’s title.

This was a key turning point: Richard had been staunchly loyal to his brother and all surviving evidence suggests that up until mid-June he had every intention of pressing ahead with his nephew’s coronation. He had sworn allegiance to him, had spent the month and a half since his arrival in London preparing robes and food, issued letters of summons for the 40 esquires who were to receive the knighthood of the Bath on the occasion and even paid £800 of his own money towards the royal household, which appears to have been on the verge of bankruptcy. Moreover, his own political future in his nephew’s government seemed secure: a speech drafted by Chancellor John Russell for Edward V’s first Parliament proposed not only to extend his Protectorate beyond the coronation, but to expand its remit from keeping law and order to in the future also have “tutele and oversight of the king’s most royal person during his years of tenderness”, effectively making him regent.

Nevertheless, some believe that the sudden revelation of the precontract was too convenient to be true. They argue that the executions of William Hastings, Antony Woodville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan and the threat of troops advancing from the North terrified the council – the same council which only two months earlier had successfully persuaded the queen to limit her son’s escort from Ludlow to 2000 men – and the Three Estates into accepting a fabricated precontract so Richard could satisfy his hitherto secret ambition of becoming king. As brother and uncle of kings, Lord Protector, Constable and Lord High Admiral of England, Richard was indeed a powerful man, so could it be true?

The precontract that deposed Edward V tends to be viewed as some kind of exotic technicality, but precontracts were common not only in medieval England, but well past the Reformation and affected all levels of society, even kings. A well documented example is Richard’s great-nephew Henry VIII, who tried to have three of his six marriages annulled because of an alleged precontract. In all three cases the claim was highly dubious, but Henry was not only an anointed and firmly established – if not feared – King of England, but also head of the Church. So how did he fare?

Surprisingly, he failed in two out of three cases. Let’s look at each of them in turn:

1) Anne Boleyn

Henry had defied the Pope and changed his country’s religion in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but in early 1536 their marriage was one the rocks and Henry was looking for pastures new. One of the tools he tried to use to get rid of her was her former relationship with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

In 1527, when Anne had been lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, a romance had developed between her and Percy and they had become secretly “engaged”, presumbably by making a de futuro marriage vow (“I will marry you”). Henry, who had his eye on Anne for himself, asked his then Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, to intervene and “after much debate and consultation about lord Percy’s case it was finally decided that his engagement to Anne Boleyn should be dissolved and that he should instead marry one of the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughters, Lady Mary Talbot, which he later did.”

The fact that the engagement had been dissolved at his own insistence didn’t stop Henry from claiming now, nine years later, that it was in fact a legally binding contract and therefore invalidated his marriage to Anne. His new Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, tried to persuade Percy to confess, but he refused to be bullied. On 13 May 1536 he wrote to Cromwell:

“I perceive by Raynold Carnaby that there is supposed a pre-contract between the Queen and me; whereupon I was not only heretofore examined upon my oath before the archbishops of Canterbury and York, but also received the blessed sacrament upon the same before the duke of Norfolk and other the King’s highness’ council learned in the spiritual law, assuring you, Mr. Secretary, by the said oath and blessed body, which afore I received and hereafter intend to receive, that the same may be to my damnation if ever there were any contract or promise of marriage between her and me.”

There’s little reason to doubt his sincerity. His marriage to Mary Talbot was extremely unhappy and in 1532 Mary had tried to get it annulled by claiming that Percy had blurted out during an argument that they weren’t really married as he had been precontracted to Anne. However, when the matter was investigated he swore on the Blessed Sacrament in front of the duke of Norfolk, the archbishops of Canterbury and York and Henry’s canon lawyers that this wasn’t the case. He should have jumped at the opportunity to regain his freedom, but de futuro marriage vows only became binding if followed by sexual intercourse, so if he hadn’t slept with Anne then there was no binding contract.

Faced with Percy’s refusal, the king had to find another reason why his marriage to Anne was invalid. In the end it was declared null and void due to unspecified impediments supposedly confessed by Anne herself, but if she had hoped that this would save her life it wasn’t to be. She was accused of adultery with a number of men, including her own brother, and of planning to replace Henry with one of her lovers, which was treason. All but one of the accused, a musician who had been pressured into confessing, pleaded not guilty, but to no avail. On 15 May Anne was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death. How she could have committed adultery if her marriage to the king was invalid was not explained. Percy, who sat on the jury that convicted her, fainted and had to be carried out. He died eight months later of natural causes. On 17 May the queen’s supposed lovers were executed, followed two days later by Anne herself, her sentence having been commuted from burning to beheading. Incredibly, Henry had been able to make the unlikely incest charge stick – the spectators at George Boleyn’s trial were betting ten to one that he would be acquitted – but not the claim of the precontract.

2) Anne of Cleves

Henry’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was a political match and not a happy one. They were married in January 1540 and by June Henry was actively looking for a way out, complaining that he was unable to have sex with her because she was too ugly, that she wasn’t a virgin and even that she smelled bad. Sir John Wallop, the English ambassador in France, was therefore instructed to speak to the Cardinal of Lorraine about Anne’s former marriage negotiations with his brother, duke Francis of Lorraine.

Henry knew that many years ago Anne and Francis had been contracted to marry; in fact, he had questioned this after meeting her for the first time in a bid to call off the wedding, but her brother’s ambassadors had dismissed his concerns. They declared that they had not only read the agreement, but also been present when the ambassador of the Duke of Gueldres, who had arranged the match, declared it null and void, and promised to provide copies of both the agreement and its dissolution. However, all they had been able to produce was a notarised statement that they had investigated the Cleves archives and found a report which stated that the negotitations “were not going to take their course”. Crucially, they had been unable to confirm whether the marriage contract was per verba de praesenti (“I marry you”) or de futuro (“I will marry you”) and Henry now used this to his advantage.

On 6 July Anne was asked to agree for a church court to investigate her marriage, which she did. The following day a convocation presided over by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer began to consider the evidence and after two days of “mature deliberation” found the marriage “null by reason of a precontract between lady Anne and the marquis of Lorraine, that it was unwillingly entered into and never consummated, and that the King is at liberty to marry another woman, and likewise the lady Anne free to marry.” Specifically, it was argued that Anne’s marriage contract with Francis had likely been per verba de praesenti and therefore binding even without consummation and that, far from not being able to get it up, Henry had deliberately abstained from sleeping with Anne while awaiting clarification of the matter since, if the precontract turned out to be valid, it would have made their children bastards.

On 12 July Parliament announced Anne’s agreement to the annulment of her marriage to Henry, including her confirmation “that she remaineth not carnally known to the King’s Highness’s body”. Henry showed his gratitude by deciding “to endow you with 4,000l. of yearly revenue. We have appointed you two houses, that at Richemont where you now lie, and the other at Blechinglegh, not far from London, that you may be near us and, as you desire, able to repair to our Court to see us, as we shall repair to you. When Parliament ends, we shall, in passing, see and speak with you, and you shall more largely see what a friend you and your friends have of us.” In return Anne sent him the ring she had received for their “pretensed marriage”, asking for it to be broken into pieces. It was a good deal: although she endured public humiliation and had to give up her title as queen, her cooperation with Henry’s wishes not only saved her life, but made her one of the wealthiest women in England.

3) Catherine Howard

Only 19 days after his marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, she was a niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and her fall from grace was just as spectacular. On 2nd November 1541 Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, passed a letter to Henry which alleged that while growing up in the household of her step-grandmother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk, Catherine had affairs with Henry Manox, her music teacher, and Francis Dereham, a servant of the Howard family and now the queen’s secretary. The claims were made by a chambermaid who had shared a dormitory with her. Stunned, Henry ordered an investigation.

The chambermaid and Manox were questioned and Manox admitted that he “had commonly used to feel the secrets and other parts of the Queen’s body”, but denied sleeping with her, unlike Dereham who “used to haunt her chamber rightly and banquet there until 2 or 3 a.m.” Dereham and a number of Howard servants were arrested and sent to the Tower. Dereham confessed under torture that he “had known her carnally many times, both in his doublet and hose between the sheets and in naked bed”, but insisted that this had ended before her marriage to the king and that Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, had “succeeded him in the Queen’s affections”. Culpeper was arrested, tortured and confessed that “he intended and meant to do ill with the Queen and that in like wise the Queen so minded to do with him.”

On 8 November, Catherine herself was interrogated and made a written confession, in which she admitted to sexual relations with Dereham, but denied that they were contracted to be married:

“Examined whether I called him Husband, and he me Wife.— I do Answer, that there was Communication in the House that we Two should Marry together; and some of his Enemies had Envy thereat, wherefore he desired me to give him Leave to call me Wife, and that I would call him Husband. And I said I was content. And so after that, commonly he called me VVife, and many times I called him Husband. And he used many Times to Kiss me, and so he did to many other commonly in the House… As for Carnall Knowledge, I confess as I did before, that diverse Times he hath lyen with me, sometimes in his Doublet and Hose, and Two or Thre Times naked: But not so naked that he bad nothing upon him, for he had al wayes at the least his Doublet, and as I do think, his Hose also, but I mean naked when his Hose were putt down.”

In a letter to Henry she implied that Dereham had forced himself on her:

“Also Frauncez Derame by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obteyned first to lye uppon my bedde with his doblett and hose and after within the bedde and fynally he lay with me nakyd and used me in suche sorte as a man doith his wyfe many and sondry tymez but howe often I knowe not and our, company ended almost a yere before the Kynges majestye was maried to my lady Anne of Cleve and contynued not past oon quarter of a yere or litle above. Nowe the holl trouythe beyng declared unto your majestye I most humble beseche the same to considre the subtyll persuasions of young men and the ignorans and fraylnez of young women.”

Catherine clearly hadn’t learnt from the experiences of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Admitting to a precontract with Dereham might have saved her life since, having been consummated, it would have invalidated her marriage to the king; denying it meant that her dalliance with Culpeper came dangerously close to treason. Henry’s advisors on the other hand were only too aware and interrogated the dowager duchess about a possible precontract between Dereham and her step-granddaughter.

Denying the precontract sealed Catherine’s fate. Henry now sought to establish adultery, which again proved easier than establishing a precontract. She had admitted to secret meetings with Culpeper, calling him her “little sweet fool” and giving him presents, but both denied a sexual relationship. Nevertheless, on 1 December Dereham and Culpeper were convicted of treason and on 10 December Culpeper was beheaded and Dereham hanged, drawn and quartered. Their heads were put on spikes and displayed on London Bridge, where they remained until 1546.

On 21 January an Act of Attainder was passed against Catherine, which found her guilty of wanting to “return to her old abominable life” with Dereham and to “bring her vicious and abominable purpose to pass with Thos. Culpeper.” Since a mere intention wasn’t actually treason, it also declared “that an unchaste woman marrying the King shall be guilty of high treason” and on 13 February Catherine was executed. The same bill found the elderly dowager duchess, her eldest son William, his wife, two of her daughters and several of their servants, who had all spent Christmas in the Tower, guilty of concealing this treason. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and their property confiscated.

As the above examples show, even a King and head of the Church couldn’t simply declare that a precontract existed; he had to prove it and there was no guarantee that he would succeed. Henry’s position was well-established – Anne Boleyn’s trial took place in the 27th year of his reign, that of Catherine Howard in the 32nd – and he had all the tools of his office(s) at his disposal to assemble evidence and intimidate witnesses, including imprisonment and torture, but he only succeeded in one case – Anne of Cleves – and only because the lady played along. Canon law hadn’t changed since the Middle Ages, so let’s compare Henry’s experience to Richard’s claim of a precontract between Edward IV and Eleanor Talbot.

While Richard had been confirmed as Lord Protector by the council and was working in co-operation with its members, he was in a considerably weaker position than Henry. He wasn’t an anointed king, merely de-facto regent, had only recently arrived in London and only had 200–300 retainers at his disposal (500–600 including Buckingham’s men). Unlike Anne of Cleves, neither Stillington nor Lady Eleanor’s family appear to have been rewarded for accepting the precontract. There’s also no indication that they were intimidated, imprisoned or tortured, like the families and supposed lovers of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

The Crowland Chronicle, written with hindsight in 1486, speaks of “armed men, in fearful and unheard-of numbers, from the north, Wales, and all other parts” marching on London in response to Richard’s letters, but Simon Stallworth, in his letter to Sir William Stonor dated 21 June 1483, doesn’t sound fearful or suspicious. On the contrary, he assumes they’re a peace keeping force:

“Yt is thoughte ther shalbe 20 thousand of my Lorde Protectour and my lorde of Bukyngham menne in London this weike to what intent I knowe note but to kep the peas.”

As it turned out, the 4000 men who answered Richard’s call didn’t arrive until his coronation and were sent home without seeing any action. Clearly he expected trouble, either due to a plot against his life, as he claimed in his letters, or the revelation of the precontract or both, but in the end reinforcements weren’t needed. The executions of Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan may have contributed to a general feeling of uncertainty, but a contemporary fragment in the Cely papers suggests that, far from seeing Richard as the culprit, people were worried about his safety:

“… 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, 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, who God defend, were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.”

The logical conclusion therefore has to be that the precontract was accepted because the evidence – at the very least Stillington’s testimony – was convincing.

Sources:

H. A. Kelly: “The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII”, Wipf and Stock; Reprint edition (2004)

Annette Carson: “Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England”, Imprimis Imprimatur (2015)

Claire Ridgway: “Henry Percy Won’t Play Ball”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/13-may-1536-henry-percy-wont-play-ball

Marilee Hanson: “The relationship between Henry Percy & Anne Boleyn 1523”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/henry-percy-anne-boleyn-relationship

Claire Ridgway: “9 July 1540 – The End of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/9-july-1540-the-end-of-henry-viiis-marriage-to-anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Anne of Cleves: Facts, Biography, Information & Portraits”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Catherine Howard: Facts, Biography, Portraits & Information”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/catherine-howard

Claire Ridgway: “The Fall of Catherine Howard”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-fall-of-catherine-howard

Claire Ridgeway: “The Bill of Attainder against Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/21-january-1541-bill-attainder-catherine-howard-lady-rochford

Marilyn Roberts: “470 Years Ago – Terror for the Howards at Christmas”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/470-years-ago-terror-for-the-howards-at-christmas

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