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Colyngbourne was the rat….!

Colingbourne's buddies

The following passage is from The Darlington and Stockton Times

“The rat, the cat and Lovel our dog,
Rule all England under a hog.”

“This seemingly innocuous verse was in fact a searing criticism of those in power at the time it was written in 1484, and was found pinned to the door of St Paul’s Cathedral and other prominent places all over London. The rat was King Richard III’s confidante, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, the cat was Speaker of the Commons William Catesby, and Lovel was Viscount Lovel, who had a reputation for being the king’s ‘lap dog’ or ‘yes man’. King Richard’s emblem was a white boar, hence the reference to a hog.

“The poet was ultimately unmasked and found to be wealthy landowner William Collingbourne, a fierce opponent of the king, and he paid a heavy price for writing those few words as he was put to death for treason.”

Oh well, yet another writer who doesn’t realise that it wasn’t the verse that got Colyngbourne executed, but the treasonous plotting in which he was involved!

Here is the truth. Colyngbourne set himself against Richard III from the outset. He seems to have been caught up in Buckingham’s rebellion, apparently in favour of Henry Tudor. Clearly the fellow preferred a Lancastrian with no claim at all to the throne, to a king who was legally and truly on the throne.  

On 10 July, 1483 or 1484, Colyngbourne contacted Richard’s enemies, including Henry Tudor, “to declare unto them that they should very well to return into England with all such power as they might get before the feast of St Luke the Evangelist” (which was 18 October) and “to advise the French king, that negotiations with Richard were useless as the new King meant to make war on France.” He urged Tudor to invade and land at Poole. (Which Tudor did indeed try to do—unsuccessfully—during Buckingham’s Rebellion in October 1483). 

Colyngbourne was certainly stirring up dangerous trouble against Richard. His motives aren’t really known. He could simply have been in a miff for having lost positions, including that of being steward of the Wiltshire lands of the king’s mother, the Duchess of York. This position went to Francis Lovell, which probably accounts for the latter’s inclusion in the infamous lampoon. 

Whatever Colyngbourne’s reasons, he paid the price of communicating with and encouraging the exiled Henry Tudor to invade Richard’s realm and land at Poole. No king could let this pass without punishment, so Colyngbourne was arrested, tried, (rightly) found guilty and executed on Tower Hill. 

Yet even today, writers repeat that it was the verse that cost him his duplicitous life. According to Tudor author Edward Hall, Colyngbourne was executed “for making a small rhyme”. This was a charge that was picked up on by later writers, until Charles Ross corrected it, saying that Hall had carefully suppressed “the fact that the real indictment against him was that he had been encouraging Henry Tudor to land at Poole”.  

If I’d been Richard, I’d have condemned such a traitor as well! 

Wikipedia gives a fair account of Colynbourne’s activities.

 

 

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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

1484 – TITULUS REGIUS: FACT OR FICTION?

 

Introduction

‘This is indeed a mystery’ I remarked.’ What do you think it means?’‘I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suite theories, instead of theories to suite facts.’

 

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia,[1] Holmes and Watson are puzzled by an anonymous and undated note, which they have received. It was the only case in which Holmes was worsted by a cleverer adversary: the beautiful Irené Adler. Holmes seldom referred to her as anything other than the Woman because in his opinion ‘she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex’. Since this story first appeared in 1888, Holmes’ dictum has become the cornerstone of forensic investigation methodology. Criminologists, detectives, judges, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and many other professionals rely on factual data to support their judgement or opinion.

 

Facts are important to historians also; they are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong; as AE Houseman famously remarked, ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. The difficulty for English medieval historians is that the facts they rely on are often found in old manuscripts, which are hand written in ancient Latin or French by men who were not witnesses to the events they record, and whose narrative may reflect their particular political or geographic point of view. These difficulties increase where contemporary records are incomplete or not available. The historiography of King Richard III suffers from most if not all of these problems. Almost all the accounts we have of his life and reign were written by a small number of people in southern England after his death. We know quite a bit about how the people in London and the south viewed his reign and character, but little of what the rest of the country thought. Our opinion of Richard has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. The generally poor opinion of King Richard III stems from this incomplete material: the Tudor narrative. Horace Walpole, writing during the age of reason was not impressed; he declared that while Richard might well be as execrable as they say he was, there is no reason to believe so on the available evidence.[2]

 

Charles Ross in his biography of King Richard identified the ‘extraordinary problems of the evidence’ as the key issue for those seeking answers to the vital questions of when and why Richard claimed the throne.[3] They have to deal with the paradox of his good reputation prior to April 1483 and the crimes he is supposed to have committed thereafter. Ross’ modern solution to this problem was to ignore the Tudor narrative in favour of inferring Richard’s ‘character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions’; it has, he says, resulted in a more critical appraisal of the Tudor narrative and a better understanding of its value. Such objectivity is to be applauded; though, it does come at a cost. Ross also considers that because historians now have a better understanding of the Tudor tradition and of fifteenth century English politics, they are unwilling to throw the ‘whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.[4] What worries me about that proposition is that it presupposes that the contemporary sources and the Tudor writers are independent of each other: they are not. Of the major chronicles for this period, only Mancini’s narrative was written in King Richard’s lifetime. The other major source is the Second Continuation of Crowland, written about eight months after Bosworth. The English vernacular chronicles were not written until a decade or more afterwards and are so confused and contradictory that they have little or no probative value. Furthermore, the source of these accounts and also of some contemporary foreign chronicles was a member of a cabal of Tudor malcontents who wanted to seize Richard’s throne. It is illogical to think that two separate accounts emanating from the same witness can corroborate each other. The essence of corroboration is that two different witnesses give the same evidence independently.

 

Though modern authors may claim to be objective, the reality is that it is almost impossible to avoid taking sides. The contradiction in Richard’s reputation is such as raise ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’ within a hostile, adversarial situation in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign.[5] Consequently much of Ricardian historiography evinces a preconception of his guilt or innocence that biases judgment. In his defence, Richard’s apologists tend to excuse even his most doubtful actions; whereas his critics’ interpret everything he does negatively and in terms of his perceived vices: violence, greed, deceit, ruthless ambition and murderous intent. His good acts are regarded as self-serving; if he is kind it is because he wants something, if he is generous he is ‘buying’ support, if his justice is firm he is a ruthless tyrant and if his sleep is disturbed by grief for his dead son and wife it is because he has a bad conscience. This preconception stems, I believe, from historical hindsight; the outcome of events in the summer and autumn of 1483 is now a matter of historical record and some historians assume that because they resulted in Richard’s accession, he always intended that outcome. That conclusion is, of course, a non sequitur and, perhaps, an example of the ‘insensible twisting of facts to suit theories’ that Holmes’ deprecates. It is also an illustration what happens when historians’ copy from each rather than analysing the prime source material de novo and critically.

 

I see this tendency in two post 2012 biographies by David Horspool and Chris Skidmore respectively.[6] They are well written and researched, and make good of use local records, contemporary private documents and correspondence, and obscure manuscripts, identified only by their National Archives reference number, to highlight the minutiae of Richard’s life and reign. Unfortunately, on the ‘key questions of when and why Richard aimed for the throne, neither book tells us anything we didn’t already know or mounts an argument we haven’t heard before, or even contains an original thought. That is not a personal attack on the authors since I believe they genuinely aspired to do more; it is, however, a disappointment. David Horspool sought neutrality; he said he wanted to write an account of Richard’s life ‘without keeping a foot in either the anti or pro Ricardian camps’. Similarly, Chris Skidmore wanted to bring balance and ‘more accurate’ scholarship to his assessment of Richard. What I find particularly upsetting is the possibility that these authors, however sincere they are, may actually believe that the habitual, one might almost say ritualistic, recycling of the conventional Tudor narrative could pass for balanced and accurate scholarship. That said, I do think there is some force in the proposition explored by both writers (and others) that the pre-contract — whether true of false — was a device for deposing Edward V to pave the way for Richard’s accession. What I do not accept, however, is that he was motivated by personal ambition or that it was pre-planned. That explanation of his behaviour is superficial and smacks of lazy history. It gives too little weight to the wider impact of complex factional divisions in 1483, or the fear of civil war that was undoubtedly on the minds of Richard and the members of parliament. It also pays too little heed to the constitutional view that parliament as the national assembly had unfettered authority to pass legislation affirming the royal title and obviating the need for litigation, which was in any case impracticable.

 

Consequently, this seems an appropriate subject for me to write about; especially since it is five hundred and thirty-four years ago this month that parliament passed Titulus Regius onto the statute book. It is also an opportunity for me to revisit my previous articles on this subject and to renovate them with new research and fresh thinking. I make no apology for that. However, in view of the complex arguments raised by both sides in this controversy, I think it best to first summarise the relevant facts insofar as we know them.

 

The summer of discontent

The untimely death of Edward IV in the spring of 1483 exposed the deep division and animosity between the queen’s kindred, the old Yorkist nobility and dissident Lancastrians, which hitherto had been checked by the force of Edward’s personality and his political acumen. The king was barely laid in his coffin before Queen Elizabeth, her sons Thomas Marquis of Dorset and Sir Richard Grey, and her brother Anthony Earl Rivers attempted to seize the reins of power by crowning the boy King Edward V before suitable arrangements could be made for his minority rule. They were particularly keen to marginalise Richard Duke of Gloucester, Edward’s paternal uncle and the senior royal duke, and the man whom the late king had nominated as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm. Gloucester was on the Scottish border when he heard of his brother’s death. After a respectful but brief period of mourning, he came south to a pre-arranged rendezvous with the king, who was also travelling to his capital accompanied by his maternal uncle Rivers, his half-brother Sir Richard Grey and two thousand Woodville soldiers.

 

The story of Gloucester’s bloodless coup at Stony Stratford on the 30 April and 1 May 1483 is too well known to need repeating. The upshot was that Rivers and Grey were arrested with their servants, for plotting to kill the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham (who had rendezvoused with Gloucester at Northampton). The Woodville soldiers were dispersed peacefully and the king continued to London in the company of his uncle Gloucester and his cousin Buckingham. The Queen panicked on hearing of the arrests and fled into the comfortable sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, taking her youngest son and heir presumptive, and her daughters with her. On the 10 May 1483, the King’s Council unanimously appointed Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm pending the king’s coronation, which was fixed for the 22 June.

 

We do not know much about events during May and early June. The impression we have is that as late as the 5 June 1483 preparations for the coronation were proceeding normally. On that day Gloucester arranged for those who were to be knighted by King Edward, to come to London at least four days before the coronation. On the same say he wrote to the citizens of York apologising for the fact he that was too busy with the coronation preparations to deal with their recent request for financial relief. I mention these matters because of their ordinariness, which is in stark contrast to Gloucester’s second letter to the York citizens five days later. In that letter, he requested troops to help against the queen and her blood adherents who were planning to murder him and Buckingham. The inference that he was suddenly alarmed by a murderous conspiracy is doubtful, as he had known about that risk since Stony Stratford or earlier. If he was responding to that threat, he had left it too late. The troops from York could not reach London much before the end of June. I believe that something else happened between the 5 and 10 June 1483 to alarm Gloucester.

 

The ‘wicked bishop’

Philippé De Commynes a Flemish knight in the service of Louis XI provides a possible explanation for his change of attitude.

           

 ‘The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Robert Stillington) revealed to the duke of Gloucester that            King Edward, being enamoured of a certain English lady promised to marry her provided he could sleep with her first and she consented. The bishop said that he had married them             and only he and they were present. He was a courtier so did not disclose this fact and           helped to keep the lady quiet, and things remained like this for a while. Later King Edward       fell in love again and married the daughter of an English knight, Lord Rivers.’ [7]

 

If true, it made Edward’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Grey bigamous and their offspring illegitimate, and unable to succeed to the throne.[8]   I believe it was Stillington’s news that so shocked Gloucester. Sir Clement Markham suggests that Stillington told him and the council about the pre-contract on Sunday the 8 June 1483.[9] All we know about this meeting is what we can glean from a letter written by Simon Stallworth to Sir William Stonor dated the 9 June, in which he writes:

           

 ‘…My Lord Protector, my Lord of Buckingham and all other Lords, as well temporal as      spiritual [sic] were at Westminster in the council chamber from 10 until 2 but there was          none that spoke to the queen. There is great business against the coronation, which shall         be this day fortnight as we say…’[10]

 

The meeting lasted for four hours and was evidently not routine. The fact that nobody spoke to the queen suggests that negotiations with her had broken down and that something significant was afoot. Stallworth’s phrase”…great business against the coronation…” is ambiguous: perhaps deliberately so. Most historians think he meant ‘in preparation for or in anticipation of the coronation’ but such an interpretation is not supported by Stallworth’s use of the phrase ‘great business’, which hardly suggests routine administrative affairs. Moreover, the word ‘against’ has eighteen different meanings in the Oxford English Dictionary, five of which use it in the sense of ‘resistance to or opposition to…’ It is possible that Stallworth is referring obliquely to a discussion about Stillington’s revelation, including the propriety of proceeding with the coronation. This possibility is not entirely speculative, since within a week of the letter the coronation was postponed and soon after it was cancelled.

If we take as a working hypothesis that Gloucester was convinced it was true by the 10 June, it puts a different complexion on his second letter to York. It raises the possibility that far from, responding to a threat to his person, Gloucester was preparing for what may happen once Stillington’s allegation was made public. I doubt not that the fear of civil war weighed heavily on his mind; nor do I doubt that he was also conscious of the personal consequences for him and the opportunities it presented. The letter to York provides a convenient cover story, important enough for them to treat it urgently but that gives nothing new away if it falls into the wrong hands. Things came to a head on the morning of Friday 13 June 1483 at the Tower. There, Gloucester met Lord Hastings, Lord Stanley, the Archbishop of York (Rotherham), the Bishop if Ely (Morton) and others, whom he believed were conspiring against him. By lunchtime on the 13th the whole nature of the protectorship had changed irrevocably. Hastings was summarily executed on a convenient log. The Archbishop of York, the Bishop Ely and sundry others were arrested, and there was panic on the streets of London. Three days later Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury persuaded the Queen to allow the duke of York to leave sanctuary to attend his brother’s coronation. By lunchtime Gloucester had the king and the heir presumptive in his care and control. By teatime, in council, Edward’s coronation was postponed from June to November. Despite the turmoil, which these events inspired, Londoners in general blamed Woodville inspired conspirators for the unrest.[11] It was about this time that Gloucester made the decisive decision to issue warrants for the execution of the king’s uncle Rivers, his brother Sir Richard Grey and others. It is confirmation of Gloucester’s intention to claim the throne; he would not otherwise have ordered the execution of the king’s blood relatives.

 

Bastard slips shall not take root

Bastard slips shall not take root: that was the uncompromising theme of Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon on the 22 June 1483 at St Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Old Testament[12], Dr Shaa preached to the dukes’ of Gloucester and Buckingham, and a ‘huge audience of lords spiritual and temporal[13] on the illegitimacy of King Edward IV’s children. Exactly what he said, however, is a source of great controversy. The crux of the problem is the paucity of reliable accounts of what was said between 22 and 26 June 1483. The extant chronicles are, to use Paul Kendall’s colourful phrase, a ‘mosaic of conflicting detail’ about Gloucester’s title to the throne.[14] This confusion is in sharp contrast to the certainty of the Parliamentary Roll, which set out the chain of events and royal title with admirable clarity. Nevertheless, many historians are convinced that the allegations against the King’s legitimacy were invented by Gloucester to justify his usurpation. The best way to get to the bottom of that conundrum is to follow the chronologically of events.

 

Dr Shaa’s sermon was not a spontaneous outpouring of public indignation at the illegitimacy of Edwards’s offspring. It was pre-arranged by Gloucester or by others on his behalf to bring to public notice the illegitimacy of the dead king’s children and to put forward his royal title. Though, he was keen to distance himself from the question of deposition, Gloucester’s presence at the sermon is another indication of his intention to replace his nephew as king. Mancini describes how it was said that ‘the progeny of King Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward was, they said, conceived in adultery.’ This narrative is the only surviving account of the meeting written during Gloucester’s lifetime. [15] However, we must treat it with caution since it is hearsay and not eyewitness testimony; it may or may not be correct.   It is noteworthy that Mancini does not mention the pre-contract at this point in his narrative, though he does later on. Similarly, the reliability of the vernacular chronicles is questionable given that they were written a decade or more after Gloucester’s death and after King Henry VII’s deliberate attempt to expunge all knowledge and memory of Titulus Regius and the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage. The Great Chronicle follows Mancini in alleging that Shaa preached the illegitimacy of king Edward; whereas, Fabyan says that Shaa also declared the bastardy of Edward’s children. It is this confusion over what was or was not said by Dr Shaa that lies at the heart of the controversy. The importance of Shaa’s sermon, however, lay in the fact that it set in motion a train of events that were to put Gloucester on the throne with astonishing speed, even by modern standards. Within three days of this sermon, he was offered the crown. The next day he was king of England.

 

With the exception of Mancini, the sources refer to a meeting that took place on Tuesday the 24 June at the Guildhall, with the Duke of Buckingham in the chair. Present were the Mayor of London, his brethren ‘and a good many’ London citizens. Buckingham is supposed to have spoken wonderfully well for “a good half hour” on behalf of the duke of Gloucester, extorting the audience to admit the Lord Protector as their liege lord. Fabyan writes that Buckingham was so eloquent that he never even stopped to spit. The audience ‘to satisfy his mind more in fear than for love, had cried in small number yea! Yea!’.[16] Mancini records a speech made by Buckingham to the lords on the 24 June. This may be the same meeting referred to above, though this is not absolutely clear. According to Mancini, Buckingham argued at this meeting that ‘it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father King Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth, was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him. Indeed on Edward’s authority the [earl] of Warwick had espoused the lady by proxy — as it is called — on the continent.’ [17] This is an undoubted reference to a pre-contract, although Mancini has managed to get the details of Edward’s amour wrong. Our other primary source, the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle, simply records Richard’s title precisely as it is put in Titulus Regius.

 

The following day, that is the 25 June 1483, the three estates of the realm (the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons of England) met at Westminster. Gloucester’s decision to stop the writs of supersedeas cancelling Edward V’s planned parliament was probably deliberate. He doubtless saw the value of having the members of parliament in London to consider his claim to the throne. Although this was not a properly constituted parliament, pretty much all its members were present. Neither was this a tame Ricardian quorum; the lords spiritual, temporal and the commons who attended were those who would have constituted Edward V’s first parliament.   On any view this was a gathering of national authority.[18] Gloucester’s claim was put forward precisely; some parts were good, others not so good. The evil done to the realm by the Woodvilles, the falseness of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey were put forward and discussed by the three estates. The meeting approved a petition to Gloucester that he should assume the seat royal. On the 26 June 1483 at Baynard’s Castle the petition was presented to the duke who was pleased to accept it. He dated his reign from that day.

 

‘Doubts, questions and ambiguities’

King Richard III was crowned on the 6 July 1483. If he hoped it would unite the various noble factions behind a Yorkist king his hope was dashed. The power struggle that bought him to the throne was not decided; it had merely changed its nature. What we now call ‘Buckingham’s rebellion’ of October and November 1483 was not a national uprising against King Richard. It was a deliberate and carefully prepared dynastic challenge to his crown by the supporters of Henry Tudor assisted by the Woodvilles and disaffected Yorkists. Although, Richard crushed the rebellion and executed Buckingham, neither its cause nor the rebels were exterminated. Henry Tudor continued to make mischief from the sanctuary of France.

 

King Richard faced another and more urgent problem: Edward V’s deposition and his accession happened so quickly that many of his subjects were bemused by what had occurred. Quite apart from the effect of a rumour that two princes’ were dead, people had qualms about the status of the June petition and Richard’s election to the crown at a non-parliamentary meeting. The author of Titulus Regius recognised this problem and attempted to deal with it in the preface. He acknowledged that because the three estates were not on the 25 June assembled in proper form of parliament, ‘various doubts, questions and ambiguities are said to have been prompted and engendered in the minds of various people’. The preface continues, ‘…in order the truth may be known and perpetually kept in mind’ it is necessary for the petition to be incorporated in an act of settlement validating Richard’s royal title with the authority of parliament and removing ‘…the occasion for all doubts and uncertainties and all other legal consequences that might thereof ensue.’ [19] This is an important point, to which I shall return.

 

It is necessary to preface my following analysis with some general observations. First, when considering Titulus Regius from a historical point of view, it must always be borne in mind that it is, a legal document in which the draftsman (almost certainly a canon lawyer: possibly Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells) has been careful to cover all the key elements of the case. Charles Ross was wrong to dismiss it as ‘pure propaganda’; though, it is by its nature a partisan document intended to assert Richard’s royal title. Moreover, the attack on the validity of Edward IV’s marriage and the legitimacy of his children was a deliberate attempt to re-define a political problem as a legal one and therefore not entirely convincing in establishing its proponents good faith. Although there was neither a law of succession in medieval England nor hardly any strict rules governing the process, it was — with some notable exceptions — customary for the throne to pass from the king to his eldest surviving son. Prince Edward was the dead king’s eldest son and everyone naturally expected him to succeed to the throne; to deprive him of this inheritance on a point of law was incomprehensible to some people and seemed unjustified to others. In particular, parliament’s bastardization of Edward V without recourse to the judgement of a church court has attracted much historical criticism. It is important to understand in that context that Titular Regius is also an important constitutional document in which the author has been equally careful to define parliaments authority to validate King Richard’s title in legislation without recourse to litigation. It is important to distinguish between these legal and constitutional points.

 

Second, it is essential not to over simplify the circumstances leading to Titulus Regius in 1484. The common tendency to interpret them solely in the context of King Richard’s personal ambition ignores the wider influence and dynamics of factional interests. None of the legal impediments to Edward V’s accession were insuperable. His bastardy could have been ignored. Parliament could, had it so wished, have passed an Act of Succession for Edward V validating his title forever. After all, Edward IV and Elizabeth had lived openly as man and wife for many years and their son Edward Prince of Wales was acknowledged on oath by the entire English nobility as the heir apparent. Parliament could just as easily have revoked Clarence’s attainder to allow his son Edward Earl of Warwick to succeed to the throne ahead of Richard. And yet they did nothing to stop Titulus Regius: why? That is the key question in this debate

 

Third, too much emphasis is placed on the pre-contract allegation at the expense of considering Titulus Regius as a whole. The marriage of Edward and Elizabeth’s was attacked on four separate grounds, only one of which needed to be proved for the marriage to be invalidated. In this regard, the charge of witchcraft is significant. It was not a supplementary charge, and the assertion that it was notorious posed a serious problem (which I will come to) for those attempting to defend the marriage on legal grounds.

.

Titulus Regius

The main body of Titulus Regius is taken verbatim from the petition and is organised in three parts. The first part is an attack on Edward IV’s reign. Much has been made of this but it is a convention common to this type of document. The second part sets out the grounds for the disqualification of Edward’s children’ from the royal succession. The third part is a recapitulation of Richard’s title as the rightful king of England according to God’s law, natural law and the ancient customs of the realm by right of succession and election. It is, essentially, an attack on Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey on four grounds.

’The ‘feigned marriage between Edward and Elizabeth Grey was ‘presumptuously made without the knowledge or the assent of the lords of the land.’

           

And also by sorcery and witchcraft committed by the said Elizabeth and her mother Jaquetta duchess of Bedford as is the common opinion of the people and the public voice   and fame throughout the land, and as can be adequately proved hereafter at a convenient time and place if thought necessary.

 

The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly without publishing of bands, in a private chamber and a profane place and not openly in the face of the church according to the law of God’s church but contrary to it and the law and custom of the Church of England.

 

And also how, when he contracted the feigned marriage and previously for a long time after the said King Edward was and stood married and troth plighted to one dame Eleanor Butler, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury with whom the said King Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage with the said Elizabeth Grey.’

The document concludes that if all this is true ‘as in very truth it is’, then Edward and Elizabeth had lived together in adultery and that their children were bastards ‘unable to inherit and claim anything by inheritance by the law and custom of England.‘ Clarence’s son was also barred from the succession, as his father was a convicted traitor.[20]

 

It is necessary first to first dispose of a claim that the Titulus Regius did not reflect Gloucester’s royal title put forward in June. Charles Wood raised this issue over half a century ago.[21] His sole point was that the text of the petition as set down in the Parliamentary Roll does not agree with the various chronicle versions of the royal title claimed in June. He overlooks the fact that the chronicles also differ from each other and deduces that the original petition was altered later, possibly more than once. He further deduces that Mancini’s account is the correct one and dismisses the second Continuation of Crowland’s version because it is based on Richard’s Act of Settlement rather than actual events. He therefore argues that it cannot be relied upon as corroboration of the Parliamentary Roll. His conclusion is that Richard was clearly ‘making it up as he went along’ to justify his usurpation, by, for example, introducing Eleanor Butler who was conveniently dead. Others have since followed Wood’s line of argument uncritically.

 

The answer to this point is straightforward and contained in one of Richard’s signet letters. On the 28 June 1483 (that is two days after his accession), he wrote to the Captain of Calais and the townspeople in response to their concerns about the events in England and their effect on the garrison’s oaths of allegiance to the king etc. In his reply, Richard mentioned his accession and his royal title. After referring to the June petition, the letter goes on ‘…the copie of the whiche bille [petition] the king wille (i.e. desired/instructed/ordered) to be sent unto Calais and there to be redd and understanded togeder with these presentes’ Wood is not alone in construing this to mean that the petition will follow after the letter. He has, however, misread the letter, since it says no such thing. From their ordinary, everyday meaning, Richard’s words indicate that the petition was enclosed with the letter.[22]

 

David Horspool follows Wood’s line; he alludes to the difficulty of understanding the precise nature of Richard’s claim to the throne, ‘let alone what Richard actually believed’. [23] His argument on this point is best put in his own words: ‘The argument that the text of the petition was enclosed with the letter to Calais does not seem convincing as the letter clearly states that the petition “will be sent unto Calais and ther (sic) to be redd & understanded, togeder with these presentes’.’ I.e. it is not an enclosure but will come on later…’ Unfortunately, any misunderstanding’ is entirely David Horspool’s and of his own making. It results from a mistake, which were it not so serious might be dismissed as a schoolboy howler. Horspool has misread and misquoted, and thus completely changed the meaning of Richard’s letter by omitting the word ‘to’ after the word ‘wille’ in his extract quoted above. The fact that this misquotation supports his theory about the vagueness of Richard’s royal title may be the coincidental outcome of a careless mistake. It may equally be that his preconceived theory of Richard’s character has ‘insensibly’ led him to twist the facts to fit his theory.

 

Personally, I cannot think of a sensible reason why King Richard would refer in the letter to a petition setting out his title, which said petition was to be read in conjunction with the letter (‘these presents’), and not send the petition. It defies the facts and common sense. I must also question the rationale of Woods reasoning. The idea that the details of Richard’s royal title were changed after the June meeting is not a valid inference to draw from the differences between the various chronicle versions and the Parliamentary Roll text. There are many other reasons why they may differ, not the least of which is that the chroniclers misunderstood what was said. Neither does it follow logically that because Crowland quotes directly from the act of succession he is not reporting what actually happened. I must now turn to the substantive legal arguments for and against Titular Regius; in doing so, I will use headings adapted from the main body of Titular Regius.[24]

 

The ‘feigned’ marriage was made without the knowledge or assent of parliament.

Edward’s failure to get parliamentary approval did not invalidate his marriage to Elizabeth Grey; it was, however, a monumental political mistake since it alienated his most powerful subject, Richard Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker), and his most ambitious subject and heir presumptive, George Duke of Clarence. Royal marriages were matters of national policy, about which the whole realm had an opinion. A good match with foreign princess bought with it the benefits of alliances, power, prestige and (not to be sniffed at) trade. A king might love where he could; but he married for reasons of state. Edward’s clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Grey was by definition outwith the consent of his subjects. It might not be invalid but it was divisive.

 

The said ‘feigned’ marriage was achieved by sorcery and witchcraft

Everybody knows that the existence of sorcery and witchcraft was taken more seriously in the fifteenth century than it is today: much more seriously in fact. Fifteenth century English society believed implicitly in God and the Devil; in, the goodness of the Holy Spirit and the badness of evil spirits. The ancient arts of magic were widely acknowledged and took many forms. There were some whose activities were innocent, such as those who used herbal lore for healing the sick, or studied astronomy or astrology; however, there were others who practiced black magic. Significantly, cases of Devil worship, while common on the continent, are unusual in accounts of English witchcraft. On the continent, sorcery and witchcraft were held to be heresy, punishable by the most excruciatingly painful death; whereas in England, it was considered to be a felony and therefore not automatically a capital offence.

 

If you were high born, however, an allegation of sorcery and witchcraft could have devastating consequences. For example, in 1419, Henry V’s stepmother the Queen Dowager Joan of Navarre was convicted of witchcraft and imprisoned. In 1441, Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester was convicted of witchcraft and treason; she was imprisoned for life and forcibly divorced from Duke Humphrey. The draftsman of Titulus Regius knew this when he accused Elizabeth Grey and her mother Jaquetta of bewitching Edward IV into a clandestine marriage. It is not, as some historians seem to think, merely an add-on in the case against Edward’s marriage. The use of witchcraft could invalidate a marriage on its own, either because it caused impotence or the bewitched person could not give an informed consent to the marriage. I doubt that impotence was a problem for Edward IV, so this issue turns on consent, which in the canons falls under the heading of ‘force and fear’. ‘The decretal Cum locum begins “since consent does not take place where there is fear or coercion, it is necessary for all coercion to be eliminated when someone’s assent is required. Now marriage is contracted by consent alone, and, when it is sought the person whose intentions are in question should enjoy full security, lest he say out of fear that he is pleased with something he hates, with the result that usually follows from unwilling nuptials.” ‘ [25]

 

The trial in 1441 of Eleanor Cobham Duchess of Gloucester on charges of sorcery, witchcraft and treason was a precedent and a model for the accusation against Elizabeth and her mother. It is possible that some of the charges against Eleanor Cobham were fabricated in order to discredit her husband Humphrey Duke of Gloucester; but they were not entirely fanciful, since she had in her service priests of doubtful repute and she was politically ambitious. It was ambition that bought her down and destroyed her husband’s influence at court. In 1440, Humphrey was heir presumptive; if the king should die childless before him, Humphrey would succeed the throne. He was, in the general opinion, a man of power at court and influence over the king, much to the chagrin of his political opponents. Unfortunately, rather than wait for nature to take its course Duchess Eleanor tried to peer into the future to see when Henry would die ‘so that she would be queen.’[26] It was a foolish mistake since it played into the hands of her husband’s enemies, who were bent on destroying him. Eleanor Cobham was, herself, hated and mistrusted for her vaulting ambition, her self-importance and her voracity. In June 1441, her associates Roger Bolingbroke, Thomas Southwell, John Home and Marjery Jurdane (or Jourdemain, also known as the witch of Eye [-in-Westminster]) were arrested and charged with conspiring to bring about the king’s death: Bolingbroke through necromancy, Southwell by celebrating Mass unlawfully with strange heretical accoutrements and Home for taking part with both. Jurdane confessed that she had been long employed by the duchess as a sorceress to concoct potions and medicines to ‘make Duke Humphrey love and marry her.’ Thus incriminated, Eleanor was questioned by an ecclesiastical court on the accusations of sorcery and witchcraft, and by the King’s Council in connection with an alleged conspiracy to murder the king. At first, she strenuously denied all the allegations, but following the admissions by Bolingbroke and Jurdane, she confessed to five of the twenty-eight charges on the indictment, including the fact that she used witchcraft to make duke Humphrey marry her. After further enquiries, Bolingbroke, Southwell, Home and Jurdane were indicted on counts of treason, felony and sorcery in that ‘on various occasions after April 1440…they had used magic figures, vestments and instruments, and invoked evil spirits to anticipate when the [king] would die.’[27] It was also alleged that Eleanor Cobham as wife to the heir presumptive wanted to be queen and wanted to know when it would happen. The outcome was, of course, inevitable. Bolingbroke suffered the full horror of a traitor’s death; Jurdane, of a witch’s death. Southwell died in custody before he could be brought to the scaffold (suicide?). Home was pardoned.

 

For her spiritual offences, Eleanor Cobham was condemned by an ecclesiastical court of bishops to do public penance and divorced from her husband. She was never tried on the charge of treason. Instead, the King’s Council made administrative arrangements for her to be imprisoned for the remainder of her life. Duke Humphrey was by this time powerless to protect her. Nonetheless, her imprisonment without trial raised certain ‘doubts and ambiguities’ in the minds of some, about whether her case had been resolved by due process of law. It was clear that English peers were entitled to be tried by the judges and peers of the realm; however, there was no provision for the trial of a peeress. Consequently, in 1442 a petition was presented in parliament ‘that all doubt and ambiguity about the trial and judgement of (Eleanor Cobham’s) conviction for treason and felony be removed’. The trial for peeresses was put on the statutory basis that the ‘judges and peers of the realm’ must try them. Eleanor Cobham died still a prisoner in 1457.[28]

 

The allegation that Elizabeth and her mother had bewitched Edward into marriage is not the only allegation of witchcraft made against members of the Yorkist royal family: nor is it even the first. During Warwick’s rebellion of 1469/70, while the king was a prisoner in Warwick castle, Thomas Wake, one of Warwick’s men, accused Jaquetta of witchcraft. The details of her offence are obscure but it seems that Wake brought to the castle a small lead figure fashioned like a man. The figure was broken in the middle but had been repaired with wire. Wake said that Jaquetta made the figure for use in witchcraft. He also produced John Daunger a witness who said that Jaquetta had two more figures: one for the king, the other for the queen. As there is no accusation that she actually used the figure for supernatural purposes and unless it was held that the mere possession of a lead figures amounted to witchcraft, it is difficult to see on these facts what evidence there was to justify a prosecution. But that is hardly the point, since this accusation was, in all probability, an early attempt to impugn the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth; and it had Warwick’s bungling footprints all over it. Fortunately, for Jaquetta, the outcome was as predictable as the allegation. Edward recovered control of the kingdom and, unsurprisingly, the case against Jaquetta collapsed. Wake, who had a personal grudge against Jaquetta’s husband, Lord Rivers, was accused of being malicious and Daunger retracted his evidence. In February 1470 the King’s Council (Warwick being present) formally exonerated Edward’s mother-in-law.

 

Accusations of witchcraft continued to hound the royal family. The duke of Clarence’s conviction and execution for treason has its genesis in the earlier trial and convictions of Thomas Burdet, John Stacy and Thomas Blake for imagining the king and his heir’s deaths by necromancy. Burdet was a servant and close personal friend of Clarence. His involvement in a treasonous plot that could only benefit Clarence, threw suspicion on the duke who made things worse by challenging, what seems to have been, a just conviction and by accusing the king of practicing necromancy.[29] In 1483, Gloucester accused Elizabeth Woodville and her supporters of forecasting his death. I think we can disregard the assertion of the later Tudor historians that he also accused Elizabeth of bewitching his body. King Richard has, himself, disproved that possibility from the grave. I do not offer these examples as proof of the allegation in Titulus Regius but as an indication of the notoriety and significance of witchcraft/sorcery within Yorkist royal circles. The draftsman of Titulus Regius obviously appreciated this point since he inserted a clause at this point stating that the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey was a matter of public notoriety; thus reversing the burden of proof.[30] In law, if something was so well known as to be notorious ‘neither witness nor accuser is necessary’.[31] Henry Kelly’s assertion that notoriety only applied to the witchcraft charge and not to the pre contract is irrelevant, since Titulus Regius raised a presumption that the marriage was invalid and everybody knew it was; therefore the burden of proving it was valid fell on Edward and Elizabeth’s children or Elizabeth. Furthermore, Edward’s marriage to Eleanor Butler was secret; it could not by definition be notorious.

 

That is an important point since the circumstances of the wedding are inconclusive. The best account comes from the pen of Robert Fabyan and was written thirty years or more after the event he describes.

    ‘In most secret manner, upon the first day of May, King Edward spoused Elizabeth, which        spousals were solemnised early in the morning at a town called Grafton, near Stony Stratford; at which marriage were no persons present but the spouse, the spousess, the Duchess of Bedford her mother, the priest, two gentlewomen and a young man to help the priest sing. After which   spousals ended, he went to bed, and so tarried there three or fours hours, and after departed  and rode again to Stony Stratford, and came as though he had been hunting, and there went to  bed again’

 

It is a plausible story of a secret marriage; the date and the location of the king are corroborated from contemporary records of his known movements. There is nothing substantive in this narrative to support the proposition that Edward was bewitched into a marriage he did not want other than Fabyan’s insinuation about ‘What obloquy ran after this marriage, how the king was enchanted by the Duchess of Bedford and how after he would have refused her‘, which, infuriatingly, he passed over, along with ‘many other things concerning this matter’. This and perhaps the fact that the 30 April was St Walpurgisnacht (otherwise known as the ‘night of the witches’), has encouraged speculation that Edward might have attended a Black Mass at Grafton at which potions, and aphrodisiacs were used to enhance sexual pleasure and to deprive Edward of his senses, so that he could not say no to the marriage.[32] It is not impossible that that is indeed what happened but this material does not prove it. The contrary argument is that Fabyan got the date wrong; the wedding actually took place much later, possibly in August.[33] This argument is based on the premise that Edward is unlikely to have been able to keep his marriage a secret for five months, and that some grants made by the king would seem to be unnecessary if he had just married Elizabeth ‘who could be expected to give him an heir of his own body.‘ It is an explanation for Edward’s delay in revealing the marriage but not necessarily the explanation. The problem with this speculation is, however, that it flies in the face of the facts. Edward plainly did escape his attendants to marry Elizabeth in secret. It’s hard to believe that a man of his resourcefulness and sexual appetites could not successfully repeat the exercise. On the second point, there was no guarantee that the queen would or could bear him a son; indeed, she did not actually do so for six years. Besides, there are many other reasons why Edward might have made the grants. It might, for example, have been patronage expected of him by people who knew nothing of his marriage to Elizabeth and he did not wish to encourage their speculation by not making these grants, which on the face of it were reasonable.

 

Ultimately, I believe that the actual circumstances of the wedding are beside the point. The invalidation of Edward’s marriage on the ground that he was bewitched did not (in 1483) turn on proof that he was actually bewitched. Titulus Regius was expertly worded so that it was sufficient for the accusation of witchcraft to be plausible not only because of the notoriety surrounding previous allegations of witchcraft within the royal family but also because for many of the King’s subjects it was the only possible explanation for his otherwise inexplicable marriage to a commoner with no dowry or assets, and a large and voracious family to support.

 

The said feigned marriage was made privately and secretly

The historian Mortimer Levine dismisses the clandestinity of this marriage as a matter of no consequence[34]. He argues that clandestine marriages are valid, binding on the parties and enforceable in law. He is right in principle, but he has over simplified the law in 1483 and jumped to the wrong conclusion. In the fifteenth century, questions of legitimacy were not determined solely on the basis of whether the parents were validly married. There were many subsidiary principles used to determine legitimacy, the most famous being ‘legitimisation by subsequent marriage’. This principle also relied on the parents’ good faith. The reasoning was that parents and children should not be penalised for their ignorance of an impediment. If one of the parents was unaware of the impediment, the children of that union were presumed to be legitimate in law. However, it is unnecessary to consider this issue as the clandestinity of Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage raises the presumption of bad faith, which puts them outside this rule. If their marriage had been open, with banns declared, people would have had an opportunity to object and Edward’s previous marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler might have come to light. Contrary to what Levine says, the secrecy of their wedding is far from irrelevant; it goes to the heart of the problem of their children’s illegitimacy.

 

Edward had made a contract of matrimony long before he made the feigned marriage

The pre-contract raises two objections; first, that the pre-contract is an invention and second that in any case it would not, on these facts, bastardise Edward’s children. The first objection is a question of fact and turns on the supposed absence of written proof of Stillington’s allegation. It this perceived gap in the paper trail, which sceptics use to challenge the existence of the pre-contract. However, to suggest that there is no written evidence of Edward’s prior marriage is plainly nonsense in the face of the documents we do have: the Parliamentary Roll’s, which confirms the prior marriage, Commynes’ memoirs naming Stillington as the ‘whistle blower’, officiate and only witness apart from the bride and groom, and the Crowland Chronicle. What we do lack, however, is Stillington’s written testimony; we also lack the type of circumstantial detail that adds colour to the bishop’s revelation: the who, what, when, where, how and why questions.[35] Common sense suggests that the mere fact that it was a secret ceremony precludes the possibility of any written contract or promise and it is difficult to know what else would satisfy the sceptics if they doubt even parliament’s integrity in accepting the petition verbatim. Anyhow, it does not necessarily follow from the absence of written proof that Stillington was lying, or that he and Gloucester conspired to tell lies. Moreover, the absence of such written testimony or other proofs is hardly surprising due to the fact that in 1485, King Henry VII was intent in suppressing all knowledge of King Richard’s royal title.

 

He ordered Titulus Regius, to be repealed without being read (itself unusual in the annals of parliament). The repeal of Titulus Regius was necessary to bolster King Henry’s own weak title, which depended on the legitimacy of his wife Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. However, his order that all copies should be annulled and utterly destroyed’ on pain of punishment suggests there was more to it than that. Titulus Regius was, he said, ‘to be cancelled, burned and put into oblivion’. Henry’s intention was by his own admission to ensure ‘…that all things said and remembered in the said bill may be forever put out of remembrance and forgot.’ His explanation that he could not bear to have this infamy of his wife and her family remembered is doubtless true but it is not the whole truth. It was a blatant attempt to rewrite the history of King Richard’s royal title. I take Horspool’s point that it doesn’t necessarily follow that Henry thought the pre-contract story was true. However, when coupled with the arrest and subsequent pardoning of Stillington and Henry’s refusal to allow the bishop to be examined by his judges on the facts of the pre-contract, then the inference that he may have had something to hide is almost irresistible. At a time when King Henry would have welcomed proof positive that the pre-contract was a slanderous lie, he chose to suppress it rather than disprove it.

 

Neither are there any grounds for doubting Stillington’s credibility as a truthful witness to the marriage. Nobody has produced evidence that he invented the pre-contract story either on his own or as part of a conspiracy with Gloucester (as he then was), or that he allowed Gloucester to put him up to it. He did not receive any discernable reward for his revelation there is little force in the assertion that the pre-contract story was known to be false at the time. The only doubts that were expressed came from sources in southern England after his death, at a time when Henry VII was actively suppressing the true history of Titulus Regius.

 

The pre-contract story was also credible to King Edward IV’s subjects. His promiscuity was notorious. Crowland describes him in general terms as ‘a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion.’[36] Mancini is more descriptive:

 

‘He was licentious in the extreme: moreover it was said that had been most insolent to    numerous women after he had seduced them, for, as soon as he grew weary of the         dalliance, he gave up the ladies much against their will to the other courtiers [Hastings,   Rivers and Dorset?]. He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the    noble and the lowly: however he took none by force. He overcame all by money and         promises, and having conquered them, he dismissed them.’[37]

 

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that the draftsman of Titulus Regius had no need to allege bigamy. As I have already argued, the charge of witchcraft and the claim on notoriety were sufficient to invalidate Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth without the need of a court judgement. If the pre-contract story was not true it’s inclusion in Titulus Regius was a dangerous embellishment, a mistake of the first magnitude, which I do not see such a careful draftsman making.

The second objection raises two questions of law, which I shall deal with individually.[38]

  • The first point relies on the current principle of English law that that bigamy ceases once one of the spouse’s dies. Richard’s detractors argue that no objection could be raised against the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey or against the legitimacy of their children born after Eleanor Butler’s death on the 30 June 1468. However, in the fifteenth century the law was different; in those days under canon law, adultery when coupled with a present contract of marriage was an impediment to the subsequent marriage of the adulterous couple. Based on the facts of this case, the law in 1483 presumed that Edward had ‘polluted’ Elizabeth by adultery; consequently, they were forbidden from marrying at any time in the future, even after the death of Eleanor Butler. Medieval canonists considered this harsh, even unjust. Consequently, to mitigate its effect on an innocent party in a bigamous marriage, exceptions to the rule were allowed. For example, if Elizabeth Grey did not know of Edward’s previous marriage to Eleanor Butler, she would not be committing adultery knowingly and there would be no impediment to her marrying Edward after Eleanor’s death. Of course, whether this exception applied depends on facts we cannot now prove: did Elizabeth know about the pre-contract when she ‘married’ Edward? Unhappily for Edward and Elizabeth no investigation of the facts was or is necessary since the application of this exception rested on the legal presumption that Elizabeth acted in good faith. Owing to the fact that her marriage to Edward was clandestine, the law presumed bad faith on her part. Thus, she could not avail herself of its protection.[39]

 

  • The second point of law turns on the argument that as Edward and Elizabeth ‘had lived together openly and were accepted by the Church and the nation as man and wife’, King Richard’s claim was too late. Edward and Elizabeth lived openly together for nineteen years. Furthermore, fifteenth century matrimonial law recognised the validity of what we would call a ‘common law marriage’. It was also possible in certain circumstances to presume the legitimacy of any resulting children. However, the problem for Edward’s children continues to be the secrecy of their parents’ wedding. The presumption of validity only extended to marriages conducted in facie ecclesia. Furthermore, canon law specifically allowed questions of bastardy to be raised after the parents’ deaths, in order to settle issues of inheritance. Finally, it was and is a precept of English law that an illegal or improper act cannot be by its continuation over a long time. Far from making things better, Edward’s nineteen-year cohabitation with Elizabeth made them worse.

 

The Constitutional question

The constitutional question is simply whether Parliament had authority to determine the validity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth and the legitimacy of their children. The gist of the argument against parliament is that as a ‘secular court’ it had no such authority, which lay exclusively with the church courts. It is a superficially strong objection against Titulus Regius and no less so for being the first, and the only remotely contemporary one. The Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle contains this passage.

 

 ‘At this sitting [1484] parliament confirmed the title by which the king in the previous        summer ascended the throne and although that lay court found itself (at first) unable to give    a definition of his rights, when the question of the marriage was discussed, still, in          consequence of the fears entertained of the most persevering (of his adversaries), it             presumed to do so, and did so.”[40]

 

I have used Henry Riley’s nineteenth century translation because in my personal opinion, modern translations that simplify the text in the interests of clarity or ‘good English’ lose too much detail in the process. They are also symptomatic of a general dumbing down of discussion about Titulus Regius by historians. I believe Riley’s text is more accurate and better captures the events and the atmosphere in parliament: the difficulty in defining the king’s rights, the fact that it was only enacted after a debate and the great fear that afflicted even the most resolute. I feel sure that these emotions were present and expressed. We get an idea of the issues that troubled parliamentarians from John Russell’s draft sermon, which he prepared for the opening of parliament. Russell clearly opposed the enactment of Titulus Regius in the form of the petition. He went so far as to describe it as ‘a document conceived in malice and ending in corruption’. It is impossible to believe that after hearing the Lord Chancellor’s explosive sermon criticising the petition and the petitioners, the matter was not debated with keen interest on all sides. It is true that the debate is not recorded in the Parliamentary Roll but we know from an MP’s extant diary of the 1485 parliament that such debates took place, especially on important issues such as the royal title.[41]

 

Russell was not of course advocating that parliament should refuse to validate Richard’s succession: far from it. His objection was to process and not outcome. He argued that to ratify Richard’s title by inheritance was fraudulent because it was based on ‘false’ information and because it involved a determination on the validity of Edward’s marriage, which he believed parliament should not do. Russell feared above all things division and sedition. He had in mind the October rebellion, which was indicative of the continuing divisions in the English polity. He believed that Titulus Regius in this form was more likely to result in a disputed succession and civil war. He saw the need for an exclusively political solution, which he believed would avoid stepping on the Church’s toes and being more honest and open was something the realm could come to accept. Although he doesn’t say exactly what he had in mind it was probably a simple declaration by parliament that the crown was vested in King Richard and his heirs forever.[42] Russell’s sermon also contained the following statement on the nature and authority of parliament

 

 ‘In this great body of England we have many diverse members under one head. How be it            they may all be reduced to (iij) chief and principal, which make this high and great court at    this time, that is to say the lords spiritual, the lords temporal and the commons.’ [43]

 

That is a reference to parliaments political role; significantly, Russell does not imply that parliament is in this instance acting in its judicial capacity. Even so, there was a problem with the notion that parliament could simply declare Richard as king; it, would have been unacceptable to Richard. He was weaned on the Yorkist doctrine of ‘strict legitimacy’ (succession by inheritance). No medieval English king could willingly accept a ‘constitutional’ title granted by parliament since a) it undermined the divinity of kingship and b) what parliament gave it could take back.

 

Richard harshest biographers suggest that it was fear of his reprisal that encouraged parliament to pass the Act of Settlement;[44] but I disagree for three reasons. First, the sources for these statements are questionable since they are based on hearsay and they only emanate from Richard’s political opponents. Second, no reprisals were taken against Russell despite his public opposition to the petition, he was not discriminated against or ‘punished’ in any way and continued to serve King Richard throughout his reign. The whole theme of Russell’s sermon was unity, which brings peace and stability. I do not think it was the fear of Richard or his henchmen that afflicted the MPs, but fear that a disputed succession would result in a resumption of the Wars of the Roses.[45] Third, the Parliamentary Roll for the 1484 sets out Titulus Regius in full, adding simply that the bill was read, heard and fully understood by everybody present, and that the lords and commons agreed to it. As Rosemary Horrox points out “The enrolled text becomes a statement of the king’s right (and a very detailed one), but there is no suggestion that it was the king’s statement of that right. As presented here (in the Parliamentary Roll), Richard is entirely passive: his only input to receive the bill and send it to the commons for approval.   The lords then gave their assent, and the king, with that assent declared the contents of the bill (and therefore the Roll) to be true.” It would seem that king Richard was deliberately distancing himself from the bill. This may have been in part due to his realisation that the decision the decision to challenge the validity of Edward IV’s marriage was contentious.[46] It is also worth noting Horrox’s later opinion that although parliament seems to be acquiescent “… the impression from the Roll is that this was something to be earned. There is no suggestion, as the hostile Crowland Chronicler insisted, Richard was browbeating parliament from a position of strength.”

 

The depositions of Edward II and Richard II are testament to the need for parliamentary assent to the dethroning of a crowned and anointed monarch. The Duke of York’s disputed claim to the throne in 1460 is further evidence that a disputed royal succession was a matter of state, which could only be resolved by the king and parliament.[47] The precedents therefore support the necessity for parliamentary assent to a royal succession where the title is controversial.   Naturally, those involved in the fourteenth century depositions had to conform to the legal niceties; nevertheless, the decision in each case was political as was the outcome. The situation in 1483 was completely different; it was, to use legal jargon, sui generis (unique). Both Edward II and Richard II were demonstrably unfit to rule. Whereas, Edward V was a minor; he had not been crowned and was too young to be guilty of misrule. The attack on the validity of his parent’s marriage was therefore a device to give sufficient cause for Edward’s deposition and the barring of his siblings from the line of succession. The overriding raison d’état was the fear that Edward V’s minority would result in Woodville hegemony and a resumption of civil war. On that basis alone, the proposition that only the church courts had jurisdiction, is a doubtful one. To explain that argument I must delve briefly into the evolution of parliament into the king’s court of justice and a national assembly made up of the ‘three estates of the realm’.

 

In the beginning, the feudal parliament was the king’s court; it was the highest court he had. From the thirteenth century, it began to develop a dual role as a court of law and a political body involved in affairs of state. It became not just the king’s highest court but also his most solemn council. By the fifteenth century, the concept of parliament as a nationally representative body was prominent. Henry V famously told the Pope that he couldn’t change English law without the assent of Parliament. In 1420, the Treaty of Troyes had to be ratified by the English Parliament. By 1467 the Lord Chancellor, Robert Stillington was able to declare that justice depended on the ‘three estates’ of the realm that sat in parliament. It is in that context that Dr AR Myers considers that Parliament’s declaration of Richard III’s legitimacy and Edward V’s bastardy, and their recognition of Richard’s hereditary right, ‘justly grounded on the laws of God, nature and the realm’, was the most important step in the evolution of parliament at that time. ‘This is’, he writes, ‘a specially striking example of the way that the older notion of parliament had had grafted onto it the idea of a national assembly acting on behalf of the three estates, combining with the king to provide an authority of parliament, which would otherwise have been lacking.’ [48] The importance of this declaration cannot be overestimated since it sets out clearly parliament’s own definition of its authority and why it acted as it did on the question of the royal title. After acknowledging that the people at large may not have understood the royal title expressed in the petition, the declaration continues.

 

 ‘And moreover, the court of parliament is of such authority, and experience teaches that the  people of this land are of such nature and disposition that the manifestation and declaration  of any truth or right made by the three estates of this realm assembled in parliament, and   by authority of the same, before all other things commands the most faith and certainty,  and in quieting men’s minds, removes the occasion of all doubt and seditious language.  Therefore at the request and by the assent of the three estates of the realm, that is to say  the lords spiritual and temporal and the commons of this land assembled in this present   parliament by authority of the same, be it pronounced, decreed and announced that our   said sovereign lord the king was and is the true and undoubted king of this realm of  England … by right of consanguinity and inheritance, as well as by lawful election,     consecration and coronation.’[49]

 

So there we have it: parliament did not regard itself as a judicial body giving judgement in a court case. Indeed, it could not do so in the name of the three estates since the commons lacked judicial authority. Only the lords in parliament had the power to try court cases bought before them. The bill was passed as an Act of Settlement to which the king and the three estates assented.[50]

 

It is right to say, as Chrimes does, that whatever the prevailing relationship was between state and church, ‘ecclesiastical courts were neither expected nor required to enforce statutes in cases within their jurisdiction’.[51] Furthermore, fifteenth century civil judges were usually careful not to encroach on the English Church’s rights or authority where spiritual matters were concerned. Even so, the exclusivity of canon law in the ecclesiastical courts did not stop Parliament from passing statutes prescribing their jurisdiction and, on occasion, supplanting canon law.[52] Legislation was also enacted to prevent canon law overriding substantive ecclesiastical law; even matters that fell well within the Church’s purview did not escape statutory definition. For example, issues related to temporalities, sanctuary, benefit of clergy, legitimacy by subsequent marriage and heresy were not left entirely to Church judgement.[53] This was especially so, on cases (like this) that touched the boundary between church and state. By the last quarter of the fifteenth century statute law had surpassed common law and some canon law in importance. The view that parliamentary statutes bound judges was prevalent even then.

 

Even if we accept for the purposes of argument that a church court ought first to have determined the question of legitimacy, it was simply impracticable. First there is the problem of the ‘law’s delay. Following the sovereign’s death, time is of the essence. His successor has to assume the reins of government speedily to ensure the continuous peace, prosperity and defence of the realm. Litigation in those circumstances would have been unduly time-consuming. And it would also have raised the possibility of an appeal to the Pope, which were to happen would have had political repercussions rendering any legal judgement nugatory. It is unlikely that the English Parliament would accept the notion that a foreign power could determine the next king of England in a courtroom. Third, there is the factional dimension; a purely legal judgement was unlikely to resolve the factional dispute underlying this whole episode, or reduce the risk of civil war. The royal succession could not be decided by a lawyer or a foreigner or in any way that ignored the realpolitik in which the whole question of Edward V’s legitimacy arose. A legal solution was impossible to achieve in 1483.

 

The claim of Edward of Warwick

Finally, I must address the claim that even if Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, Edward of Warwick was the rightful heir to the throne ahead of Gloucester. Mortimer Levine challenges the view that Edward of Warwick was barred from succeeding because his father was an attainted traitor. There are two limbs to Levine’s argument. First that Clarence’s Act of Attainder only specifically barred Edward of Warwick from inheriting his father’s ducal title and second, the common-law principle against attainted people from inheriting, does not apply to the royal succession. By way of example, he cites Henry VI and Edward IV, both of whom succeeded to the throne after being attainted. Levine regards Clarence’s attainder as unimportant and an excuse to bar Warwick from the crown, and a legal pretext for Gloucester’s usurpation. He may be right about Warwick’s exclusion being a pretext but he has, nonetheless, underestimated the importance of the attainder and the difficulties posed for young Warwick. Professor Lander has described the attainders passed on the Yorkists in 1459, which gives us a feel for the nature of attainment “ They were to suffer the most solemn penalty known to the common law. Treason was the most heinous of all offences. Its penalties ruined the traitor’s descendants as well as the traitor himself. The offender was held worthy of death inflicted with extremities of bodily pain…his children, their blood corrupted, could succeed to neither the paternal nor the maternal inheritance. The traitor died in the flesh, his children before the law.” The children of an attainted traitor lost all their civil rights. They had no status.  Some even questioned their right to live after attainder.[54] It’s true, that that Henry VI and Edward IV succeeded to the throne after they were attainted, but they both had powerful armies at their back to enforce their right. In 1483, nobody was interested in supporting the child of traitor, who was incapable of ruling England anyway. It is quite possible that if a strong faction of nobles had supported him, his attainder might have been reversed. However, that never happened.[55]

 

Conclusion

There is something Dickensianly repellent about a ‘wicked uncle’ who, to benefit himself, deprives his nephews and nieces of their just inheritance through legal trickery and sharp practice; that is the opinion of King Richard III that persists. The reason for this, is found in the historical treatment of the king beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing to the twenty-first century. The early histories were influenced by the Tudor narrative, which described King Richard as irredeemably wicked. Later historians have, with a few exceptions, followed suite. The historiography is marked by a tendency to simplify the issues to overcome gaps in the evidence and to judge King Richard through the prism of modern attitudes and culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than the historical treatment of Titular Regius. It is natural that some people will think there is something unjust and dishonest about depriving children of their rights without them being heard. We don’t need the Tudor histories to realise that King Richard’s contemporaries had doubts and uncertainties about the manner by which he came to the throne, or that his title was ambiguous to some; we know that this was so from contemporary documents. Moreover, we also know that those doubts uncertainties and ambiguities were expressed at the time and they were resolved by the national Parliament. The problem. I have tried to highlight in this article is that the intellectual debate about the events of 1483 has become personalized and is prejudiced. Insufficient attention is paid to the realpolitik of the time. The underlying fear was of a resumption of the Wars of the Roses and was the driving force behind Edward V’s deposition. There was no appetite for a boy-king in such highly charged circumstances, especially one controlled by the Woodvilles

 

Although I have little doubt that Parliament was empowered to enact Richard’s Act of Settlement, I sympathize with Chancellor Russell’s view that to enact the petition verbatim was not the best way to resolve the doubts, uncertainties and ambiguities of doubters. it was possibly even disingenuous, in that it used the law to mask a crude political act. Having said that, I cannot escape the fact that the bill seemed to have been passed through the three estates without a mention of dissent in the Parliamentary Roll. I believe that those who argue that this was through fear of Richard and his henchmen do parliamentarians a disservice by suggesting they were so craven. Ultimately, the importance of Parliament as the national law–making institution under the King’s estate transcended the canon and the common law in resolving state issues of this weight and importance

 

I have written elsewhere of my belief that Richard III was an exceptionally brave man in the fullest sense: on the battlefield and in the council chamber. I also believe he liked to do the right thing. Evidence of these qualities and his potential for good are seen in the significant judicial reforms he made in what was his only parliament. However, I believe he relied overmuch on his courage to overcome all obstacles: consequently, he did not always do the right thing for himself. The thorny question of his royal title is arguably one of those issues wherein he might have done better to temper his strong sense of right and wrong with a more realistic stance. A simple parliamentary declaration that he was king would not have softened the blow for Edward IV’s children or have met the Yorkist ideal and it was not in his nature be less than the man he was; nevertheless, it may have had a better chance of acceptance, thus enabling him to consolidate his reign.[56]

 

[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1981) p.1

[2]. Horace Walpole -The Historic Doubts and Refutation of the Traditional Account of Richard III’s life and reign (1768) published in Paul Murray Kendall (editor) – Richard III: the Great Debate   (Folio Society 1965)

[3]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at p.64. This is still considered to be the standard biography of Richard III

[4]. Ross at p. LXVI

[5]. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) passim

[6] David Horspool – Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017); Chris Skidmore – Richard III: brother, protector, king (Weidenfield & Nicolson 2017)

[7] . Phillipé De Commynes – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-1483 (Penguin 1972) pp.353-354.

[8]. Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard III (Longman Green 1878) pp.113-115.

[9]  Sir Clement Markham –Richard III: his life and character (Alex Struick 2013 paperback edition) at p.101.

[10] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 159-160. Stallworth’s correspondence is helpfully reproduced in full in Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) Appendix 1, pp.158-59

[11] Hanham (Cely Letters) pp.184-85; see also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this letter.

[12] The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, Verse 3 ‘Bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor take firm hold.’ Scholars generally agree that the book of Wisdom deprecates any compromise with false idolatry. Richard’s strong sense of right and wrong was probably in tune with such views.

[13] AH Thomas et al [eds] – The Great Chronicle of London (London 1938) pp.231-233

[14] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin, 1955) p.477, note 21

[15] AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III (Oxford, 1969) at p. 95

[16] The Great Chronicle; ibid

[17] Mancini p. 97

[18] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.123-125

[19] Chris Givern-Wilson [Ed] – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England 1275-1504 (Boydell 2005), Vol XV. Rosemary Horrox [Ed] – Richard III 1484 p.14 [PROME]

[20] PROME pp.14-18

[21] Charles T Wood – The deposition of Edward V (Traditio Vol.30, 1935) p.236

[22] Anne Sutton-Richard III’s ‘Tytylle & Right’; a new discovery (Ricardian, Vol IV, No 57, June 1977) pp. 2-8, together with subsequent correspondence with Charles T Wood in J Petre (ed)-Richard III: crown and people (Richard III Society 1985) pp.51-56.

[23] David Horspool-Richard III: a ruler and his reputation (Bloomsbury 2017 edition) pp.164-165 and 290, note

[24] I am summarising three articles about this matter. Mary O’Regan – The Pre-Contract and its Effect on the Succession in 1483 (Ricardian) Vol IV, No 54 (Sept 1976) pp. 2-7; this is reproduced in Richard III: crown and people pp. 51-56; also, Anne Sutton (Tytylle & Right) ibid; also R H Helmholz – The Sons of Edward IV, a Canonical Assessment of the Claim they were Illegitimate, published in PW Hammond (ed) – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) pp. 91-103.

[25] HA Kelly – The Case Against Edward IV’s Marriage and Offspring: secrecy, witchcraft: secrecy: pre-contract (Ricardian Vol. XI No.142 September 1999) pp. 329-330.

[26] Ralph Griffiths – The Trial of Eleanor Cobham: an episode in the fall of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Diary 1969) 51(2) pp. 381-399

[27] Griffiths ibid

[28] Griffiths ibid

[29] Michael Hicks – False, Fleeting, Perju’d Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) chapter IV passim; see also, John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet: George Duke of Clarence (History Press 2014) chapters 11 and 12 passim. Both these biographies deal with the issues of the Burdet trial comprehensively and each contains a nuanced interpretation of events. David MacGibbon’s claim that Clarence accused Elizabeth of witchcraft did not form part of the accusation against him at his trial (See David MacGibbon – Elizabeth Woodville (Amberley 2013) pp.104 and 216, notes 18 and 21.

[30] PROME ibid

[31] PROME ibid; see also Helmholz p.98

[32] Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (History Press 2014) pp. 138-140 citing WE Hampton- Witchcraft and the Sons of York (Ricardian March 1980)

[33] David Baldwin -Elizabeth Woodville (History Press 2010) pp.10-11, pp150-154 passim; Susan Higginbottom – The Woodvilles (History Press 2015) pp.31-32

[34] Mortimer Levine – Tudor Dynastic Problems 1460-1571 (George Allen and Unwin 1973), esp pp.28-31; Professor Levine is a historian and not, in the legal sense, an expert witness on 15th century canon law.

[35] See John Ashdown-Hill – The Secret Queen: Eleanor Talbot (History Press 2016) pp.120-139 for an intriguing discussion of the circumstances of Edward’s alleged marriage to Eleanor: how they met, became lovers and were secretly married. See also Peter A Hancock – Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (History Press 2011) pp.33-43 for an alternative theory. Like all conjecture these theories are based on inferences drawn from circumstantial evidence. Though both theories are credible, differences in detail suggests that at least one of them is wrong.

[36]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.153.

[37]. Mancini p.67

[38] Levine ibid

[39] Helmholz ibid

[40] Henry Riley (Trans) – Ingulph’s Chronicle of the Abbey of Croyland with continuations by Peter Blois and anonymous authors (London 1854); see also Pronay and Cox, pp.169-170, which is an honest attempt to provide scholars with a serviceable edition of the second continuation. However, the authors’ simplification and modernization of complex Medieval Latin has changed the sense significantly, as can be seen by the following extract, which is provided for comparison. “…I come to the parliament which began about the 22 January (1484). In that assembly indeed the title by which the king, in the previous summer, had ascended to the height of the crown was corroborated even though that lay court was not empowered to determine on it since there was a dispute concerning the validity of a marriage, nevertheless, it presumed to do so and did so on account of the great fear affecting the most steadfast.” It is also worth considering Alison Hanham’s pithy translation, which is due, in part to her desire to translate Medieval Latin into ‘good English’. ‘Over and beyond confirmation of the title by which the king had ascended to the dignity of the crown the previous summer, that lay court took it upon itself to give a ruling on the validity of a marriage. It could not do so, but it did because of the great fear that afflicted the most staunch.’ (Alison Hanham – Remedying Mischief; Bishop John Russell and the royal title. [Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000 p.146])

[41] Nicholas Pronay et al – Parliamentary Texts of the Late Middle Ages (Clarendon, Oxford 1980) at p.186 (“A Colchester Account of Proceedings in Parliament 1485, by representatives of the Borough of Colchester Thomas Christmas and John Vertue’)

[42] Russell’s drafts are reproduced by JD Nichols [Ed] – Grants etc. from the Crown during the reign of Edward V (Camden Soc 1854) pp.xxxv-Lxiii; and also by Chrimes pp. 167-191; the draft sermons are also discussed extensively by professor Alison Hanham (Remedying Mischief) passim; see also PROME pp.2-4, 8. []

[43] Chrimes ibid

[44] Horspool pp. 161-165 passim; Horspool prefers innuendo to outright statement but it is clear the he damns Richard’s motives and his methods. Its a pity therefore that he undermines the credibility of his argument by cherry picking his examples and, even then, getting some of the facts wrong. For example, he states that Richard’s use of the pre-contract to bastardize Edward broke with ‘established precedent principally in not giving the children in question or their mother a chance to reply’. It is an erroneous point, since there was no ‘established precedent’ for this situation; it, was unique. What precedent does show, is that no king could be deposed without the assent of ‘three estates of parliament’ and it is in that context, and not a court case that the deposition should be seen. See also Skidmore pp.184-195.

[45] Pronay and John pp.169-171

[46] See PROME Vol XV pp. 5 and 7

[47] Anne Curry and R.E. Horrox – 1460 PROME, Vol XII, Henry VI Parliament, October at pages 510 and 518. Even though the situations in 1460 and 1483 were different, the principle that the royal accession was not justiciable was well established

[48] A R Myers – Parliament 1422 -1509 [published in RG Davies & J H Denton (eds) – The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester UP 1999 edition) pp.153-154].

[49] PROME Vol XV ibid; see also Myers p.153

[50] For the text of Titulus Regius see Rolls of Parliament (Rotuli Parliamentorum), 6 volumes (London 1776-77) vol. 6, at pp.240-42.  A photographic facsimile of the original (with the seal shown) is available online at http://partyparcel.co.uk . There are two versions: the first in Middle English and the second with modern spelling. Despite some suggestion that Titulus Regius is not an ‘Act of Parliament’, it clearly is. It states the ‘law’ of the land insofar as king Richard’s royal title is concerned. It is also is described in the Statute Book as an ‘Act of Settlement’. An ‘Act of Parliament ‘ is defined at: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/acts/

[51] Chrimes p.285

[52] Chrimes pp.285-288; see also Myers pp. 146,149 and 153

[53] Chrimes ibid

[54] J R Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.203; see also J G Bellamy – The Law of Treason in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge UP 1970) pp. 8-9, 13 and 21. Although the punishment of traitor depended on royal clemency, it usually involved a particularly gruesome, humiliating and painful death and forfeiture of everything the traitor owned. The children of an attainted man could inherit nothing from their father; as professor Bellamy points out, if he succeeded to anything after the attainder, it would happen by grace rather than right. One commentator even questioned why a traitor’s children should be suffered to live at all.

[55] See Charles Ross – Edward IV (BCA 1975) p.155, in which professor Ross discusses Clarence’s exemplification as Henry VI’s heir. See also Levine pp. 26-27 for his opinion. It is interesting to ponder Edward of Warwick’s wider significance as a Yorkist heir once Titulus Regius was repealed.   Henry VII’s response was to keep the hapless boy imprisoned in the Tower until he was old enough to be decently executed.

[56] PROME Vol XV p. 97; this was the solution to the conundrum of Henry VII’s lack of a royal title. In stark contrast to elaborate the justification of Richard’s title in Titulus Regius, Henry VII, in his first parliament, simply declared that the crown and all its possessions was vested in Henry and the heirs of his body forever and had been so since the 21 August 1485: justification was deemed unnecessary.

Was Lord Stanley present when Hastings was arrested….?

Thomas Stanley signature

Tomorrow is the 534th anniversary of the council meeting in the Tower that culminated in the arrest of Hastings. There have always been inconsistencies in accounts of that day, but the one I am concerned with is whether or not that treacherous snake, Thomas Stanley, was present. You see, according to whose version one reads, at the climactic moment of Hastings being accused of treason, Stanley could have:-

  • Dived under a table/been mildly hit with a pole-axe (!)/or had hands grab him.
  • Been imprisoned in the Tower/held in custody in his own London lodgings/taken to a separate room.
  • Wasn’t there at all.

You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

So, in an (ultimately unsuccessful) pursuit of the truth, I have tried to pinpoint mentions of him. To do this, the early chronicles etc. have to be consulted. I am not a historian or scholar, so I turned first to the truly excellent William, Lord Hastings, and the Crisis of 1483: An Assessment by Wendy Moorhen (Richard III Society). She examines these early accounts, and the following extracts are taken from her work.

“…[According to the Great ChronicleUpon the same [day] dyned the said lord hastynges with him [Richard] and afftyr dyner Rode behynd hym or behynd the duke of Bukkyngham unto the Towyr. When all were assembled a cry of treason was uttered and the usher burst upon ‘such as beffore were appoyntid’ and arrested Stanley and Hastings, the latter being executed without ‘processe of any lawe or lawfully examynacion’…

“…Mancini portrays the events as beginning with Hastings, Rotherham and Ely making a customary call upon Richard in the Tower at ten o’clock. The Protector at once accused them of arranging an ambush upon him ‘as they had come with hidden arms’ and again, by pre-arrangement, soldiers entered the room, this time accompanied by Buckingham, and despatched Hastings forthwith. ‘Thus fell Hastings, killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted…’

“…Crowland merely reported: ‘On 13 June, the sixth day of the week, when he came to the Council in the Tower, on the authority of the Protector, Lord Hastings was beheaded‘.

“…In More’s account…the most colourful and detailed version…During the scuffle Stanley received a blow that knocked him under a table, with blood about his ears, then with Rotherham and Morton, he was arrested. and they were taken to separate rooms while Hastings briefly made his confession, the Protector having declared he would not eat ’til I se thy hed of’…”

“…It is noticeable after reviewing these different accounts that Thomas Stanley only appears in the Tudor versions. Perhaps his fame was not so great in 1483 when Hastings, Morton and Rotherham took centre stage, but it is worth noting that although he is included with the plotters retrospectively, yet less than three weeks later he carried the constable’s mace at Richard’s coronation. Did Stanley, as the step-father of King Henry VII, need to be seen, in retrospect, as acting against Richard?…” 

I move on to other accounts, mostly modern. Next is a passage taken from Richard III and the Murder in the Tower by Peter Hancock. “……the Earl of Derby was hurt in the face and kept awhile under hold…” Hancock also says “…The consensus is that Lord Stanley (the Earl of Derby) suffered some injury to the face and that a number of blows were aimed at him. One account has it that he dived under the table to avoid attack…” 

Richard III by James Gairdner, who admits that his source is More, whose source in turn was Morton (“a statesman of high integrity” who must have told the truth! Eh?) “…The cautious Stanley had a blow aimed at his head with a pole-axe, but escaped with a slight wound in the face and was taken into custody…”) Hastings, of course, was beheaded immediately. Stanley was released on 4th July. A pole-axe??? And still the varmint survived!

Life of Richard III – Sir Clements Markham does not actually mention Stanley when Hastings was arrested. This writer does, however, say that Hastings was condemned and executed a week later, on 20th June. (Stallworthe to Sir William Stonor).

Henry VII by S.B. Chrimes apparently speculates that Hastings was killed during the confusion, not afterwards by execution. He also says “…for whatever precise reason, Richard ordered his [Morton’s] arrest along with Stanley and Hastings and others, in June 1483…”

Royal Blood – Bertram Fields. “…The other meeting was to take place in the Tower. It was to include Hastings, Morton, Stanley and Rotherham, as well as Richard and Buckingham…Lord Stanley, who was injured in the melee, was confined to his London home….”

Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall has it as follows. “…The second group was requested to attend in the council chamber in the Tower at ten o’clock in the morning. It consisted of Hastings, Stanley, Morton, Rotherham and Buckingham…Richard directly accused Hastings and Stanley and Morton and Rotherham of plotting with the Woodvilles against the protectorship…Perhaps Hastings and Stanley reached for a weapon…Stanley was put on detention in his own lodgings…Stanley’s art of landing on the winning side had not deserted him. In a few days he was not only released but restored to his place on the council….”

Richard III by Charles Ross. “…The two prelates were arrested and confined to the Tower; so too was Lord Stanley, who seems to have been slightly wounded in the affray…”

The Last Knight Errant – Sir Edward Woodville by Christopher Wilkins. “…There was a moment’s silence and then he [Richard] accused Hastings and the two bishops [Archbishop Rotherham and John Morton, Bishop of Ely] of treason. There was shock and fury, shouts of ‘treason’ and armed men rushed into the room. Stanley very sensibly fell to the floor. Hastings was grabbed, held by the guards and told he was to be executed immediately…” Wilkins gives no source for Stanley having flung himself to the floor intentionally. He goes on to say that Stanley was imprisoned in the Tower, as were the two bishops…”

At this point I decided that getting to the bottom of what happened on 13th June 1483 was going to be impossible. I should have known better, because these facts have eluded eminent historians, even though they give firm opinions of what went on and who was there.

So I will give an opinion too. Although Tudor accounts refer to him as the Earl of Derby, which he was not in 1483, other early accounts refer to him as Lord Stanley. I think he was there, that he was part of a conspiracy against Richard, and that it was amazing he not only survived but for some reason managed to be taken back into favour. Teflon Thomas. Richard was too trusting and/or a lousy judge of character. Why that pole-axe didn’t send Stanley into eternity I will never understand! There is no justice. The reptile actually died in his own bed, just like his equally serpentine and undeserving son-in-law, Henry VII!

Stanley's bed before restoration

Thomas Stanley’s bed, before restoration

Supposedly Thomas Stanley - Ormskirk

Believed to be Thomas Stanley and his first wife at Ormskirk church

Or, of course, he was never a conspirator and supported Richard loyally to the end,  which made him an embarrassingly Yorkist father-in-law for Henry Tudor, who was a bit cross about it. Margaret Beaufort adored her husband and feared for his life, so she doctored all the records and made Thomas vow to say he’d always opposed Richard and had even been wounded and arrested on 13th June. Henry believed his mother, made Thomas the Earl of Derby, and they all lived happily ever after. Oh, I don’t know. Over to you…

Stanley the Angel

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Private life of Edward IV, by John Ashdown-Hill….

There are some very gooNed Fourd biographies of Edward IV, by the likes of Pollard, Ross, Kleinke and Santiuste but surely none have tracked his movements, sometimes month by month, like this book does. This is not a full biography and it does not claim to be, but focuses on Edward’s romantic life – his known partners including his legal wife, Lady Eleanor Talbot, Henry Duke of Somerset (!), Elizabeth Lambert and Elizabeth Woodville, as well as the more … elusive … ones.

Edward had other children, apart from those born to Elizabeth Woodville, and Ashdown-Hill tries to identify their mothers. Two of these children were Lady Lumley and Arthur Wayte.

Having devoted much of his nine previous books to explaining the context of the Three Estates offering the throne to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the writer now goes further into the mystery of “Princes” through an excellent appendix by Glenn Moran, which takes their female line forward to a lady who died earlier this year. It also encompasses the complication of someone who definitely ended his life in the Tower about sixty years later and whose mtDNA would almost certainly be identical.

Together with this discovery, we know somewhere else that Edward V and his remaining brother cannot be found. It seems that we only have to wait for the urn to be accessible to determine its contents, one way or the other.

LORD OF THE NORTH

Richard duke of Gloucester: courage, loyalty, lordship and law[1]

 

“ Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality that guarantees all others.”

(Winston Churchill 1931)

 

Introduction

I do not suppose there are many men who in their heart-of-hearts would not rather be thought of as brave than by any other virtue ascribed to them. For medieval kings courage was not simply a virtue, it was the virtue: the physical courage to defend their throne was a prerequisite for a successful king, though not necessarily for a good one. As Field Marshall Lord Slim was apt to point out to young officer cadets at RMA Sandhurst, “It is possible to be both brave and bad, however, you can’t be good without being brave”. Slim was making the point that it needed more than battlefield courage to be a good man. Physical courage is important, especially to kings and soldiers, but it doesn’t guarantee a ‘good man’; to be a good man, one also needs moral courage. It was the possession of physical and moral courage, which Churchill believed guaranteed all the other human virtues.

 

King Richard III was a courageous soldier; even his enemies acknowledge that. However, the question is: was he also good man? Broadly speaking, the judgement of history is that he was at best deeply disturbed and at worst malevolent. It is a judgement based largely on the heinous crimes he is supposed to have committed during a six months period in 1483: the usurpation of the throne and the murders of king Edward’s male heirs. Although Richard is said to have committed or been complicit in many other serious crimes, I think it is fair to say that most historians accept that those allegations are not proven, and in one particular case (the death of Henry VI) it may have been more a question of raison d’état.

 

The trouble with this historical judgement is that it contradicts what Richard’s contemporaries said about him in 1483. Dominic Mancini an Italian priest visiting London during 1482/83 recorded what he was told about Richard duke of Gloucester. He is referring to the period after the duke of Clarence’s execution: “…he (Richard) came very rarely to court. He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people and avoided the jealousy of the queen from whom he lived far apart.[2]

 

Mancini’s testimonial also highlights the incongruity of Richard’s supposed crimes. The contrast between his blameless contemporary reputation and his purported crimes (particularly those after April 1483) perplexes historians; it is a dichotomy they struggle to explain.[3] Most of his critics rationalize it with a good dose of twentieth century cynicism: his good works are disingenuous and his mistakes are evidence of bad character. It is a constant theme of his harshest biographers that his ‘loyalty’ to Edward was feigned; that he was in reality a wicked and ruthless opportunist who was motivated by avarice and ambition. When the chance came, he used his great power — which he had either tricked or bullied from Edward — to usurp the throne and destroy the Yorkist line. It was the Yorkist doom that Edward whether purposely or inadvertently made his brother the most dangerous and the ‘mightiest of over-mighty subjects’.[4] This is, I believe a false and misleading argument, since it rests entirely on their interpretation of chronicles and later Tudor histories that are themselves controversial and of little probative value, being neither contemporary nor impartial. Furthermore, Anne Sutton makes a compelling case for the morality, if not the purity, of Gloucester’s motives, which stands against this modern cynicism.[5] Richard was an extra ordinarily complex human being. We know now that he faced some challenging physical problems and possibly some equally challenging psychological issues.[6] Furthermore, he lived in uncertain times. The circumstances under which he served the king were complex as were the difficulties he had to overcome. Problems of historical interpretation most frequently arise from misguided attempts to simplify his story by overemphasising some facets at the expense of others.[7] It is a defect in Ricardian historiography that cannot be corrected in this article; however, I hope to at least draw attention to the problem as I see it.

 

Inevitably, Richard duke of Gloucester’ was not universally popular: how could he be? His ‘dramatic intrusion into northern society’,[8] coupled with a monopoly of the public offices and the lion’s share of the Neville estates, was bound to ruffle the feathers of those northern magnates and prelates who resented the fact that the king’s largess had not fallen to them, and whose authority and independence were undermined by the presence of an assertive royal duke in northern society. Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, Thomas Lord Stanley and Laurence Booth bishop of Durham disliked him, to name but three: doubtless there were others. Neither do I ignore the possibility that Gloucester possessed human failings typical of active young men throughout the ages; he might have been a little headstrong and impetuous; he was probably also ambitious and possibly even acquisitive. However, these characteristics were no more nor less present in the duke than in any other fifteenth century magnate: certainly not any more than in Henry Percy or the Stanley brothers or any of the Woodvilles, or Margaret Beaufort, John Morton and Henry Tudor; nor indeed was he any more ambitious than any professional historian who aims to do well in his or her chosen discipline. Impetuosity and ambition are not crimes, nor is acquisitiveness. But if he was truly wicked and ruthless and cruel, then nobody who knew him said so at the time. There is a clear distinction to be made between the provenances and the probity of these opposite views of Richard’s character, which affect the weight we should give to each when making a judgement. The favourable opinions were almost all written during his lifetime by northerners who knew him. The unfavourable ones were almost all written after his death by southerners who did not know him personally. Horace Walpole identified the basic problem nearly three hundred years after Richard’s death: “Though he may well have been execrable, as we are told he was, we have little or no reason to suppose he was.[9]

 

It is a matter of historical record that, apart from the last two years, when he was king, Richard duke of Gloucester spent his entire adult life in the king’s service as ‘Lord of the North’. Quite what this meant for him and why it happened are less well appreciated. The term ‘Lord of the North’ embraced not only the duke’s inherited lands in the north and his associated responsibilities as a royal duke and a great magnate, but also a number of official offices held by him concurrently from 1469 until his own coronation in 1483. He was the Lord High Constable of England (1469), Warden of the West March ‘towards Scotland’ (1470), Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster (1471) Keeper of the Forests Beyond Trent and Steward of Ripon (1472) Sheriff of Cumberland (1475) and finally the King’s Lieutenant General of the North (1480 and 1482).[10] The consolidation of Gloucester’s inherited and appointed power was not gratuitous royal patronage. His promotions were acts of calculated policy by Edward. Having twice experienced the threat posed to the crown by the Scots and by his own ‘over mighty subjects’ in the north, Edward determined neutralize those threats by maintaining a truce with James III, and by securing the loyalty of his northern subjects. He wanted Gloucester to lead that vital task for the crown. It was no sinecure but a dirty, difficult and dangerous job, and his responsibility was great, since he was to be Edward’s mainstay in northern England.[11] Gloucester was the ideal man to implement that policy: he was brave, able and devotedly loyalty to Edward. Neither should it be forgotten that if Gloucester succeeded in stabilising the north, it would enable Edward to pursue his regal ambition in France. It is also worth noting, even at this stage, that Gloucester performed his duties so well that he set the standard of excellence for the governance of the north well into the sixteenth century.[12]

 

For all that, we should not exaggerate the scope of his powers or the impact of his achievements. First and foremost, he was only the instrument of his brother’s will. He could not make policy: Edward did that. Furthermore, his powers were constrained by feudal laws, liberties and customs. As a March Warden his military authority was limited to the West March. He did, however, have judicial powers in the West March and in his lands elsewhere by virtue of the king’s special commission as Justice of the Peace ‘es parties des north’. As Dr Rachel Reid points out, although the wardship of the West March was a necessary adjunct to the government of the north, ‘the sign and seal’ of Gloucester’s authority so to speak, and although his commission as a JP empowered him to act in civil and criminal matters, his greatest strength was the authority, power and influence he derived from being the greatest magnate in the region.[13] Gloucester’s estates and official offices gave him unparalleled influence and authority in the north, with the exception of those feudalities wherein the earl of Northumberland was lord; that is to say, in Northumberland and the East Riding of Yorkshire[14]

 

The northern ‘problem’ in retrospect

In the fifteenth century, the northern most counties of Westmorland, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire were important because of their proximity to the Scottish frontier. Anglo-Scottish relations were characterised by invasions and raiding, which had affected both populations for centuries. Cross border reiving and lawlessness was deeply ingrained into the English and Scottish border culture. The society was insular and feudalistic in nature and the hatred between English and Scot was mutual. Important though the Scottish problem was, the troubles in the north went deeper. Fifty-one years after Richard III’s death, Robert Aske summed them up to leading Yorkshire denizens at Pontefract “ The profits of the abbeys suppressed, tenths and first fruits, went out of those (northern) parts. By occasion whereof, within short space of years, there should be no money or treasure in those parts, neither the tenant to have pay his rent to the lord, nor the lord to have money to do the king service withal, for so much of those parts was neither the presence of his grace, execution of his laws, not yet but little recourse of merchandise, so that of necessity the said county should either make terms with the Scots, or of very poverty make commotions or rebellions.”

 

The chief problems identified by Aske of remoteness, poverty and lawlessness were present in the fifteenth century and not just in the North. Wales, the West Country and East Anglia were also remote and lawless, and possibly some were poor. However, none of them formed the frontier to a hostile and aggressive foreign kingdom. It was this that made the northernmost counties uniquely important to the security of the realm. That said, not everybody had to sleep with their weapon to hand for fear of Scottish reiving. For instance, Yorkshire was set back from the border counties, ‘If the Scots crossed the Tees it was not a raid but an invasion’ wrote FW Brooks more than half a century ago. [15] Yorkshire’s importance was that it was the largest and most populace county north of the Trent and it was a base for operations against marauding Scots. This was especially true of York, which during the reigns of the first three Edwards served as the royal capital for a time. The fourteenth century division of the border region into West, Middle and Eastern Marches under the control of the two most powerful Northern families (the Nevilles and the Percies) was seen as the solution to the governance problem. The alternative was for the king to keep a standing army on the border, which for financial and military reasons was impracticable.

 

The joint powers given to the Neville and Percy families proved ultimately not to be the complete solution. By the fifteenth century the north was practically ungovernable from London. This was due in part to the deficiencies highlighted by Aske and especially to the ‘absence of the king’s presence (he means royal authority) and his justice in the north’. But that was not the only problem; the feudal nature of border society contributed to the  troubles of  a region that was sparsely populated and economically poor.[16] The trouble with the fourteenth century solution was not so much in the idea as in its execution. The belief that the two most powerful northern magnates could cooperate to ensure the peace and security of the north was naïve to say the least. Good governance foundered on their feuding during peace and their fighting during the Wars of the Roses. Northern gentry of the second and third rank regarded the wars between York and Lancaster as an extension of the Neville-Percy feud. They supported one side or the other based on ancient feudal loyalties, or an assessment of their own self-interest. Their prime loyalty was not to a distant king but to their feudal overlord, or to some other overlord, who best served their interest.[17]

 

Percy power was destroyed at Towton on Palm Sunday 1461. Despite the heavy losses inflicted on the Lancastrians it was not a complete Yorkist victory. The former king, Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward and a few of their adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge and from whence they continued to oppose Edward IV[18]. Meanwhile, Richard Neville earl of Warwick and his brother John Lord Montagu continued to campaign against Lancastrian dissidents so as to secure Edward’s grip on the throne but mostly to cement their own grip on the north. In 1464, a force of ‘loyal northerners’ led by Montagu destroyed the Lancastrian cause at the battles Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. However, as Keith Dockray astutely points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not necessarily to the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick en block to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north.

 

‘He set out to acquire the loyalty of his people by favours and justice’

It is against that background that I now turn to consider Gloucester performance in the north in the context of the three virtues touched on by Mancini: loyalty, good lordship and justice.  I have added courage to these virtues on the basis that without courage, Gloucester was unlikely to have shown those other virtues .

 

Loyaulté me lie

Mancini’s reference to loyalty is interesting since it is a quality of particular importance to Gloucester. His personal motto was ‘loyaulté me lie’ (loyalty binds me) and it was the creed by which he lived. Mancini is, of course, referring to loyalty in its normal sense of ‘keeping faith’; however, Anne Sutton speculates that it was a word that might possibly have had other, additional, shades of meaning for Gloucester: legality, uprightness, obedience to the law and, maybe, justice. Dr Sutton’s speculation is based on the premise that Gloucester might have been familiar with ‘Piers Ploughman’, a work by William Langland in which loyalty carries those several meanings.[20] It is possible that Gloucester’s motto was subtler than we think, since the nuances of meaning found in ‘Piers Ploughman’ are all consistent with what we know of his character.

 

Whatever Gloucester may have meant by his mottos, it is clear from the contemporaneous records that he laboured hard to safeguard the interests and liberties of ‘his people’. [21] One historian writing in the twentieth century summarised his accomplishments as follows: “ Richard of Gloucester not only restored peace and stability to the north after the upheavals of the 1450s and 1460s but also provided sound government and administration. Frequently working in tandem with Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, he vigorously promoted the cause of impartial justice, whether by enforcing legislation more effectively than hitherto or arbitrating in private disputes[22]; his household council can evidently be regarded as a precursor of the Council of the North; the city of York certainly recognized the value of the duke’s good lordship and support;[23] and Dominic Mancini’s informants clearly left him to believe that Richard had deliberately ’set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice.” [24]

 

‘A right high and mighty prince and full tender and special good lord’[25]

The York Municipal and City Records add substance to the view that the duke of Gloucester was a good friend to York and to other towns in the north. There are many examples of his integrity on the record. They demonstrate his personal interest in local affairs and his integrity in using his influence in a private capacity for the common weal. He settled many disputes between the city council and their fellow citizens, between the city council and neighbouring landowners, between citizens, and between towns, all of which were referred to him for advice, assistance or resolution.[26] I have chosen three representative examples:

  • In 1478 he arbitrated a dispute between Roland Place and Richard Clervaux over hunting rights. Neither Place nor Clervaux was a retainer of the duke, but they lived on his estates in the North Riding. Professor Pollard has helpfully reproduced the arbitration agreement written in English under Gloucester’s name and titles. Pollard notes as an afterthought that the ancestors of Place and Clervaux continued to observe a clause concerning the seating arrangements in the parish church, well into the twentieth century.[27] Gloucester obviously took great care over a dispute that some  might  consider trivial. The rights and privileges of each party are defined in minute detail in the agreement, which was probably drafted by  one of Gloucester’s lawyers, since the language is repetitious and typical of legal documents.
  • At the request of the York City Council, Gloucester took steps to have fishgarths throughout Yorkshire inspected to guard against poaching and to protect the regional economy. It was not a petty matter, since the high prices paid for Pike and other fresh water fish provided a significant income for the fishermen and the city.[28] The erection of fishgarths in Yorkshire was regulated by legislation intended to prevent illegal fishing. The City Council spent much time and money trying to eradicate the problem and they were very grateful to their ‘good lord’, the duke of Gloucester for his interest and efforts to stop the criminality. Nonetheless, it was a perennial problem, which was still being recorded in the council minutes in 1484.
  • He mediated in ‘a serious dispute over the result of the York mayoral election of 1482’.[29] There were two candidates for election: Richard Yorke and Thomas Wrangwyshe. York was elected but Wrangwyshe’s supporters would not accept the vote. The argument assumed ‘alarming proportions’ when the city magistrates sent the certification of Yorke’s election to the king.  When  the king heard of the dispute, he stopped the certification process and ordered the pervious  mayor to continue in office pro tem, whilst the election was investigated. The city magistrates turned to the duke of Gloucester for help; he acted so swiftly that within two weeks he had secured the kings approval to confirm York as the mayor. The interesting point is that Wrangwyshe was considered to be the best soldier in York and stood high in the duke’s estimation, being one of his comrades in arms. Nonetheless, Gloucester upheld the honour and dignity of the city magistrates by supporting what he considered to be their just case against his friend[30].

 

 

‘Good and indifferent justice for all’

For all his good works at a local level, it was in his capacity as the leading magnate in the north that he did his greatest and most enduring service for the north. Although the King’s Council in the North was not officially born until late July 1484, it was conceived from Gloucester personal household council during his tenure as Lord of the North. To understand how and why this came about it is necessary to explain, as briefly as possible, the dysfunctional nature of English justice at the time.

 

The problems for those living north of the Trent were as stated by Aske: ‘the absence of royal authority and of royal justice’. The Assize Judges sat not more than once a year; and anyhow, could only act on a formal indictment, which juries habitually refused to present. The breakdown of the judicial system made enforcement difficult and the work of the sheriff and bailiffs became very hard. Although there were some good judges, many were corrupt and in the pay of great lords. These judges gave judgement as directed by their patrons.  Also, juries were  easily corrupted by fear and favour. “ It was…” writes Dr Reid “…the hardest thing in the world to get a judgement against a great lord or any man well kinned (sic) and allied.[31] JP’s could try cases and punish crime at the Quarter Sessions without the need for an indictment, but the reality was that no ordinary court could cure this widespread and systemic breakdown  of  royal  justice.  Previously, the King’s Council had filled gaps by exercising  its  extraordinary civil and criminal jurisdictions through writs of oyer and terminer, to ‘hear and determine’ all trespasses and breaches of the peace, and all causes between party and party’. However, this usually meant the parties going to London, which was expensive and time-consuming. This defect could easily have been remedied by establishing district courts with the same jurisdiction as the King’s Council. However, for some reason, it was a reform that three Lancastrian kings never even considered.

 

But it was in the realm of civil party and party litigation that the want of justice was felt most acutely. Dr Reid argues that the common law “…had hardened in the hands of professional lawyers into a premature fixity and precision and had become incapable of devising rules to govern the transactions of a changing society”; whereby, ‘the poor were placed at the mercy of the rich’. [32] Furthermore, the common law courts were neither sufficient nor competent to protect peoples’ civil rights, which were recognised by law even in the fifteenth century. The development of the Chancery Court and the courts of equity eased the situation for those who could afford to litigate but did not help the bulk of the population and certainly not those residing north of the Trent. The common law lent itself to abuse by the litigious and the malicious. Consequently, there was hardly a transaction of life that could not be litigated. The delays, the cost and the insularism of the courts denied justice to many people. In the absence of the king’s justice, therefore, the household councils of the great lords became progressively the de facto courts for resolving local disputes.

 

These feudal courts had survived longer in the north due partly to its remoteness but also because they filled the vacuum left by the absence of royal justice. They were able to try a range of cases covering personal actions, contractual disputes, trespass, libel, slander, assault, breach of warranty of title and some defamation cases. Moreover, there was no restriction on them determining cases for which the king’s law had no remedy and even if there was a remedy, these seigneurial court could do justice between the parties by consent. For example, by ordering the specific performance of a contract entered into or by protecting a tenant from unlawful eviction. By the fifteenth century, seigneurial courts were, as a matter of course, also hearing complaints against court officials, appeals against judgement, applications for pardon or respite, bills against fellow tenants, and quarrels between tenants and retainers. Useful though they were in providing rough and ready justice, feudal courts had their drawbacks. First, their jurisdiction was limited to the lord’s domain. A lord might arbitrate between his tenants and retainers but it was quite impossible to interfere between a landlord and his tenant no matter how tyrannical the landlord was, unless he was in some way ‘tied’ to the lord. Second, they could not escape the censure  of the king’s  justices, who said that they ‘sacrificed law and justice for interest and favour.’[33] There is probably some truth in this accusation since the importance of patronage in local society was such that it encouraged the preference of personal interest over the law. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that an appeal to the king’s courts was usually beyond the means of most litigants.

 

Of all the baronial councils offering seigneurial justice, Gloucester’s was the most important.  The records show that the governors of York and Beverley and other towns in Yorkshire were encouraged to turn to it whenever they were in difficulty. This was not simply because he was the greatest magnate but also because his council was the most efficient and impartial. It was constituted from the men of his household council who usually met at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale (which, by the way, he insisted on calling his ‘home’). Their primary function was to help the duke administer his vast estates. However, as we have seen the council quickly assumed a very important judicial role as a seigneurial court of requests. Among Gloucester’s permanent councillors were Lord Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke (Scrope and Greystoke were related to the duke by marriage), Sir Francis Lovell his closest friend and comrade in arms, Sir James Harrington, Sir William Parre, Sir Richard Nele, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalfe. Nele was a King’s Justice of Assize and Metcalfe was the Recorder of York; Parre and Pygott were both practising lawyers ‘learned in the law’. Ad hoc Councillors called occasionally by Gloucester  included Sir James Tyrell (a man of action, used for ‘bold affairs’), Sir Ralph Assheton and (probably) Richard Ratcliffe. The secretary to the Council was John Kendall, son of a loyal servant to the house of York. It was on any view a powerful bench of judges and ‘shrewd men of affairs’. Having said all of that, we must be careful not to overestimate the extent of Gloucester’s achievements. He could neither reform the law to make it more just, nor improve its administration to make justice more accessible. He was unable to alleviate poverty. He was not a liberal reformer and he lived a privileged life that few northerners could even imagine, much less share. And yet he did a wonderful thing; without the need for bloody revolution he made justice more accessible by offering, on a case-by-case basis, “…good and indifferent (that is impartial) justice to all who sought it.“[34]

 

Gloucester demonstrated through his council that he was prepared to remedy an injustice even if he did not have the authority accorded by a strict interpretation of the law; moreover, he was prepared to use his power to enforce a just settlement. The best example of this is his council’s support for custom tenants against bad landlords. In the time of the Lancastrian kings, the judges held that tenants faced with extortionate fines and illegal eviction had no other remedy but to sue the landlord by petition. [35] The common law courts were too rigid and their officials too easily intimidated to be of help. Nevertheless, in 1482, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian declared “that his opinion hath always been and shall ever be, that if such a tenant by custom paying his services be ejected by the lord he shall have action of trespass against him’. Brian CJ may, of course, have been expressing his personal view of the correct law as he saw it, which was in contrast to the accepted legal doctrine and practice of the courts. However, there are grounds for thinking that he might equally have been articulating the practice of Gloucester’s household council, which was to treat an illegal eviction by a landlord as a simple trespass. Although we don’t have a written record of such cases, Littleton in his treatise ‘Tenures’ assures us that they did try them.[36] Frankly, it is inconceivable that the council did not hear many petitions and requests from destitute tenants for relief against tyrannical landlords. If they dealt with them in the same way as the ‘King’s Council in the North’ was subsequently to deal with them after 1484, they must have generally upheld the rights of the tenant who had paid his services against the unjust landlord. If so, “ It is easy to understand how Gloucester won the love of the common people beyond the Trent, which was to stand him in such good stead’[37]

 

Lord High Commissioner

In 1482, on the verge of the invasion of Scotland, Edward made a significant change to the governance of the North. He issued a commission of oyer and terminer to Gloucester and Northumberland as ‘Lord High Commissioners’, which effectively combined their household councils. The composition of the Commission is interesting since it included not only Gloucester and Northumberland but also some significant members of their respective councils augmented by two important judicial appointments. However, there is no gainsaying that the bulk of its membership came from men associated with Gloucester’s council. Sir John Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke, Sir Francis Lovell, Sir Richard Nele, Sir William Parre, Sir James Harrington, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalf were all either legal or lay members of Gloucester’s council; of the remainder, Sir Guy Fairfax (an Assize Judge on the Northern Circuit) and (possibly) John Catesby were associated with Northumberland. The relationship of Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian and Sir Richard Clarke to either of the Lord High Commissioners is unclear. The significance of this change is that it turned the essentially private function of seigneurial courts into the king’s justice  in criminal and party and party litigation.

 

Officially, the commissioners were the king’s servants and in the absence of the duke and the earl who were off fighting the Scots, the remaining members  took steps to enforce  the kings justice.   Their success in repressing rioting that might otherwise lead to insurrection was such that it served to highlight the continuing and endemic lawlessness, which was partly due to a lack of royal authority and partly to the deficiencies in the law to which I have already referred. They also examined and arbitrated effectively in party and party disputes. This commission was valuable experience for the duke of Gloucester since it served as a model for his futuristic ‘King’s Council of the North’ and the basis upon which he reorganised the governance of the north once he became king. It is a fact that no permanent commission designed to keep the peace and provide party and party justice for northern England was set up during the reign of Edward IV and that “the credit for this most necessary reform belongs wholly to Richard III ”[38]

 

The King’s Council in the North

When Gloucester came to the throne in 1483 he had considerable practical experience of governing in the north and the provision of  justice for all; however, he did not begin immediately to formalise the work of his council. The reasons for this may seem obvious; he was busy dealing with the aftermath of Buckingham’s rebellion and ratifying his title in parliament. It is also possible that he intended to follow the precedent set by Edward IV in 1472 and set up his young son Edward Prince of Wales as the King’s Lieutenant in the North with a council to govern in his name.[39] If that was Richard’s hope, it was to be dashed. Edward Prince of Wales died in April 1484 “not far off Edward’s anniversary.” [40] It was a loss that shook king Richard as nothing else could and for a time he and Anne were almost out of their minds with grief.[41] However, Richard was king and duty-bound to turn his mind to affairs of state.

 

He decided to make some fundamental change to governance in the north. First, he separated Yorkshire administratively from the border Marches.  The earl of Northumberland was appointed as Warden in Chief of the Marches and granted several estates in Cumberland, which made him the  dominant border lord.  It was his reward for acquiescence in Richard’s accession. Next, Richard appointed John De La Pole, earl of Lincoln as the King’s Lieutenant (he had already been nominated as heir to the throne). [42]The king createdThe King’s  Council of the North from his former ducal  council and Lincoln was its first President.  Northumberland was appointed a member of the Council but was clearly subordinate to Lincoln (It was a downgrading that the proud Northumberland took hard, which may explain his treachery at Bosworth a year later.). To make these changes lawful, king Richard issued two permanent commissions: one authorising the Council to sit as Justices of the Peace, the other of oyer and terminer. With these in place, the council had full civil and criminal jurisdictions and was fit to dispense the king’s justice. Richard allocated an annual budget of 2000 marks for the maintenance of the Council, which was to be paid from the income of his northern estates.[43] The council chamber was moved from Middleham to Sandal and regulations drawn up for the council’s conduct, especially, its judicial function. In particular the regulations directed that the Council must sit at least four times a year. The preamble to these regulations captures Richard’s attitude to justice perfectly “…the Regulations as they are here called, proceed to give general directions that no member of the council, for favour, affection, hate, malice or meed (a bribe) do ne speak (sic) in the Council, otherwise than the King’s laws and good conscience shall require but shall be impartial in all things, and that if any matter comes before the Council in which one of its members is interested, that member shall retire.” [44] There is no need to discuss the detailed regulations since Richard’s respect for the law of the land is clear from the above quote.

 

It is helpful, however, to briefly mention one important case that came before the Council, which illustrates how Richard thought the legal process should work. In 1484 there was a riot in York that arose from the enclosure of some common land. Roger Layton and two other men ‘riotously destroyed the enclosure’. After some careful thought the Mayor and Council arrested and imprisoned the ringleaders, and sent their man to learn the king’s pleasure. The matter came before the king’s Secretary and Comptroller, Sir Robert Percy[45]; at the same time Lincoln, then at Sandal was informed. A week later Sir Robert arrived at York with a message from the king. The king was willing that the citizens should enjoy their common pasture; however, he reprimanded them for seeking to recover their rights by a riotous assembly, instead of putting their case to the Mayor and Council. If they failed to get justice there, they should have referred the matter to the King’s Council of the North. And if they failed to get lawful redress there they could lay the case before the king. This message was  a clear indication that the King’s Council in the North was to be a court of first instance. Matters were only laid before the King’s Council of State if the King’s Council of the North failed to do justice.  The Council remained throughout its existence, pretty much as it was in 1484 “ Neither its jurisdiction nor its procedures underwent any serious modification. Such changes as came, were just the changes of time.” [46]  In 1640, the Long Parliament abolished the King’s Council in the North.

 

Courage

This article is not really about Gloucester’s governance of the north, or the state of English justice in the second half of the fifteenth century; it is about moral courage. The type of courage described by General Sir Peter de la Billiére in his introduction to ‘The Anatomy of Courage’ by Charles Moran: “Moral courage is higher and rarer in quality than physical courage. It embraces all courage and physical courage flows from it…it is applicable to business, in law, within institutions such as schools and hospitals. It takes moral courage to stand up against a crowd, to assist a victim of bullying, or to reveal negligence where others would prefer it to remain hidden. Moral courage implies the belief that what you are doing or saying is right, and are willing to follow through your conviction regardless of personal popularity or favour: so easy to expound, so demanding to achieve. In my experience a person of high moral courage will seldom fail to demonstrate an equally distinguished level of physical courage”.

 

The reality is that Richard’s valour in battle, whilst admirable, is not enough to save him from the accusation that he was a bad man. To be given the benefit of the doubt, it is necessary to demonstrate his goodness, with examples of his moral courage and acts of kindness, justice and mercy. That is what I have tried to do in this essay. The examples of Richard’s governance to which I have referred, are merely illustrations of what I regard as his high moral courage. They demonstrate not merely his potential for goodness, but that those who lived under his governance for more than a decade thought he was a good lord.  It is not, of course, a defence against the accusations of, regicide, infanticide, incest and usurpation levelled against him; but then, it can be argued that  an active defence is hardly necessary anyway, since those accusations are only the result of  gossip, rumour and hearsay.

 

[1] I have taken the liberty of borrowing the idea for this title from the book ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ (PW Hammond (Ed) (R3 and Yorkist History Trust i 1986). It is an excellent volume containing a number of erudite papers presented at a symposium to mark the quincentenary of king Richard III’s reign.

[2] CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard the Third by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) p.65. There is a risk in inferring too much from a single source, especially as Mancini’s narrative is hearsay. Nevertheless, I am using it here for good reasons. First, Mancini provides a truly  contemporary assessment of Richard’s character (See Charles Ross–Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p. Lvii, for an opinion on the importance of Mancini’s narrative.). Second, Mancini was no friend of Richard’s; he never met or even saw him. What he knew of Richard’s character he heard from others. Third, given Mancini’s animus towards Richard (He assumed that Richard aimed to seize the throne all along.), this unsolicited testimonial suggests there was truth in his good reputation. Finally, there is contemporary, and independent evidence that corroborates this passage.

[3] Ross (R3) pp. Lxvi and 64: professor Ross acknowledges the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ (in deciding when and why Richard decided to assume the crown) and assures us that modern (20th century) historians ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s character and motives “ …from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” He further argues that they have a more critical appreciation of the worth of the Tudor tradition, ” …and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.” It is not clear quite how closely the events are scrutinised by modern historians given the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ already alluded to. Furthermore, the near contemporary material cannot corroborate the Tudor tradition since they are one and the same thing. Corroboration means evidence independently confirmed by other witnesses. The so-called ‘Tudor tradition’ is no more that an uncritical résumé of the earlier post Richard material and repeats their mistakes.

[4] Ross (E4) pp.199-203; Ross (R3) p.26; Hicks pp.83-86; Anthony Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books 1997 edition) pp.83-85; professor Hicks’ angst about Gloucester’s wickedness is so great that he couldn’t resist the following comment: “He was not a great soldier, general or chivalric hero, not a peacemaker, not even a northerner. The great estates he assembled, the north he united and the local tradition he fostered all resulted from a judicious mixture of violence, chicanery and self publicity” (p.85). Gloucester’s ‘dispute’ with Clarence over the Neville inheritance; his behaviour towards the dowager countess of Oxford whilst she was committed to his ‘keeping and rule’, his part in the trial and attainder  of Clarence and his preference for war against France are all cited as examples of his grasping, malicious  and violent  character. The trouble with this opinion is that its validity depends on accusations made after Bosworth by people with an axe to grind and at a time when it suited the Tudors to embroider his shortcomings for their own advantage. For a different opinion see Kendall pp.127-150. It is noteworthy that professor Kendall disregarded the Tudor myth, relying instead on contemporary source material to support his generally favourable interpretation of Gloucester’s behaviour as a duke.

[5] Anne F Sutton – A curious Searcher for our Weal Public: Richard III, piety, chivalry and the concept of the good prince’, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ pp.58-90. Ms Sutton’s essay provides an evidenced and balanced view of Richard as a good prince within the medieval context.

[6] Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon – Richard III: a psychological portrait (Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) pp.46-56. Professor Lansdale and Dr Boon offer a number of plausible hypotheses that might explain Richard’s behaviour. Although their professional opinions are necessarily speculative, they do not in my opinion go beyond what might be inferred from the available evidence.

[7] It is interesting (I put it no higher) to analyse the main biographies of Richard written in the last one hundred and fifty years. James Gairdner’s biography (1878) contains 332 pages, of which 52 relate to Richard’s life as duke of Gloucester; the remainder analyse Richard’s reign and the controversies surrounding it. Clement Markham wrote a biography (1898) in direct response to Gairdner’s work. Of its 327 pages, 42 deal with the period 1470-83. Paul Kendall’s biography (1955) is generally positive for Ricardians. Of its 393 pages (excluding appendices and notes), 152 are devoted to Richard as a duke, of those 49 are specifically about his time in the north. Charles Ross’ biography (1999) is — for the want of something better — considered to be the standard work on Richard’s life and reign. It contains 232 pages, of which 39 are devoted to Richard as a royal duke: including 20 pages as ‘Lord of the North’. Finally, Michael Hicks’ biography (2000 revised edition) analyses Richard’s actions in the context of a criminal trial in which Hicks’ prosecutes, defends, and is judge and jury. It contains 199 pages, the story of Richard’s life before April 1483 being compressed into 31 of them. My analysis is, of course, academic since it does no more than suggest that quantitatively, the first thirty years of Richard’s life get significantly less attention than the last two; it does not examine the reason for that. Nevertheless, it suggests to me that Ricardian studies may benefit from a new scholarly biography of Richard’s life and reign. Hopefully, it would be one that emulates in its breadth, thoroughness and objectivity Cora Scofield’s definitive account of Edward IV’s life and reign (including all that ‘merciless detail’ that professor Hicks found so tiresome), and Professor Ralph Griffiths’ equally comprehensive and objective biography of Henry VI. I live more in hope than expectation.

[8] Pollard (R3) p71-73

[9] Horace Walpole – Historic doubts on the life and reign of King Richard III (1768)

[10] Ross (R3) pp.24-26; Keith Dockray – Richard III: a source book (Sutton 1997) pp.32-33.

[11] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimis Imprimatur 2015) pp. 23-26 and 61 contains a guide to the office of constable of England and Gloucester’s chivalric, martial and judicial powers. The duchy of Lancaster had held palatine status since 1351 and was independent of royal authority. Its lands in the north were vast and its power great; so much so that the Lancastrian kings retained the title of duke of Lancaster to themselves to prevent diminution of royal authority. On ascending the throne, Edward IV held the dukedom in abeyance but reserved to himself its authority, benefits and responsibilities. As Chief Steward of the duchy, Gloucester was the chairman of the council appointed by the king to administer the duchy territories.

[12] Paul Kendall – Richard III (George Allen & Unwin 1955) pp. 129,456 note 7 (citing Letters and papers of the reign of Henry VIII by JS Brewer, London 1864-76, 1, 2, pp.1054, 1260). Lord Dacre, Warden of the West March complained to Wolsey that he shouldn’t be expected to match the accomplishments of Richard duke of Gloucester. Predictably, he was told that he must provide the same standard of effective governance as the duke.

[13] Rachel Reid – The King’s Council in the North (Longman Green & Co 1921) p.27 et al

[14] Ross (E4) p.199; professor Ross argues that that it is not true that Northumberland was placed under Gloucester’s ‘supervisory authority’ as suggested by Cora Scofield and Paul Kendall. He relies on the indentures made between the duke and the earl in 1473 and 1474, which did indeed separate their authority. On his interpretation of those indentures any subordination was a private matter and not official, and the earl’s freedom of action was assured. Unfortunately, professor Ross (not for the first time) fails to read between the lines to understand what was really happening. There was indeed some early friction between the duke and the earl, arising from Northumberland’s resentment that Gloucester had inherited the Neville mantle and was an obvious threat to Percy hegemony and independence in the north. The indenture of 28 July 1474 (Dockray [sources] p. 34) was intended to calm the situation by confirming their relationship as being that of a ‘good lord’ and his ‘faithful servant’, which was the conventional arrangement, since a royal duke trumped a belted earl in status. However, the caveat inserted into the indenture that Gloucester would not to interfere with Northumberland’s duties as warden of the east and middle marches or poach his servants, was a sensible recognition of the feudal reality and a concession to the touchy earl (see Dockray [sources] p.35 for evidence of Northumberland’s touchiness). The Percy’s were notorious trimmers; they had fought against a Lancastrian king at the turn of the fifteenth century and for a Lancastrian king during the Wars of the Roses. Although their power was effectively destroyed at Towton, they played a major and distinctly treacherous part in the northern rebellions of the early 1460’s. Although, Edward never forgot their treachery, he needed Percy assistance during the 1470’s and was keen not to upset them: Gloucester obviously concurred. There can be little doubt that the indentures were a fiction to preserve Northumberland’s pride. In reality he had less influence in the north than Gloucester. Significantly, Edward was quick to clarify his brother’s supreme authority by appointing him the king’s Lieutenant General in the North when he decided to invade Scotland: not once but twice. By 1482 Gloucester was endowed with what amounted to quasi-royal authority to conduct the war (or peace) with Scotland.

[15] FW Brooks – The Council of the North (Historical Association 1953, revised edition 1966) p.6

[16] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess).

[17] Brooks p.10

[18] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[19] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small entourage when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[20] Sutton (R3, piety etc.) p.62

[21] Robert Davies – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London, 1843); and the York Civic Records, supra; Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 14, pp. 412 & 425; Washington DC, Library of Congress, Thatcher 1004 (a letter from Gloucester to Sir Robert Claxton, 12 August 1480, which is reproduced in Pollard (R3) p.237) and Mancini supra

[22] Calendar Patent Rolls Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III -1476-85, p.339; T Stapleton (Ed) Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Soc 1839) pp.31-33 & 40 and A Raine (Ed) – York Civic Records (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series 1939) Vol 1, PP.2-3.

[23] YCR pp.15-16, 51-52 & 54

[24] Dockray (R3 sources) pp. 30, 34-37

[25] Davies p.89; this is a quote from a letter from the York City Council to the duke of Gloucester.

[26] Reid p.58; Davies passim

[27] Pollard (R3) pp.231-32, and Appendix 1, pp.234-236. The original arbitration agreement is in North Riding County Record Office, Clervaux Cartulary, ZQH.

[28] Davies pp.80-95; the cost of Pike ranged from 10s.3d to 11s.3d ‘a piece’ old money, which equates to about 52-62p today.

[29] Kendall pp135-37; see also Davies pp140-41

[30] Dorothy Mitchell – Richard III and York (Silver Boar 1987) p.27; Alderman Thomas Wrangwyshe was a colourful character indeed. Aged about forty-five in 1482. He commanded a company of archers in Gloucester’s Scottish campaigns. In 1483 he personally led 300 men from York to be at the king’s side during Buckingham’s rebellion. He was a rough diamond, with a distinctly ‘Ricardian’ sense of justice. In one case in January 1485, when he was the Mayor, he sent a man to the gaol for being cruel to another man, who was, in the stocks. The sergeants were escorting the prisoner to the city gaol, when a ‘large group of his heavily armed friends’ tried to release him. Wrangwyshe, hearing the violent affray, stormed into the street and settled the fight with his fists; thereafter he grabbed the prisoner in ‘his strong hands’ and  dragged him off to the gaol. Wrangwyshe was a  formidable fighter in and out of the council chamber and seems to have won Gloucester’s friendship.

[31] Reid p.47

[32] Reid p.48

[33] Reid p.54

[34] Reid p.58: the sub-heading for this section is paraphrased from a sentence in Dr Reid’s work on the council of the north, which reads as follows “Richard did not reserve his favour for the victims of economic change. In his Council he offered good and indifferent justice to all who sought it, were they rich or poor, gentle or simple”.

[35] There was an upsurge in unfair fines and illegal evictions due to economic factors on the continent, which was driving-up the price of wool and hides (the North’s most marketable commodity). As a consequence, the value of pastureland increased. Tenants who held manor lands by feudal custom were liable to have their land enclosed by ruthless landlords intent on turning arable land or rough common land into valuable pasture.

[36] Reid pp. 57-58 citing Sir Thomas de Littleton- Tenures (published 1482) (1841 edition) Sec 77; Brian CJ’s dictum was incorporated into the 1530 edition of Littleton. Sir Thomas de Littleton (1407-1481) was an English judge and jurist. His treatise on ‘tenure’ was the standard legal textbook on the law of property until the nineteenth century.

[37] Reid, ibid

[38] Reid p.59

[39] Reid pp.59-61

[40] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.171

[41] Pronay; ibid

[42] Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond (Eds) – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1982), Vol 3, pp. 107-08 [f264b]. The Commission creating the Council and appointing the earl of Lincoln as its first president is undated. However, Lincoln was at the time Richard’s heir and so the Commission must have been signed after the death of the Prince of Wales, probably around the 24 July 1484.

[43] Harleian MS433, Vol 3, pp. 114-117 [f 270]); see also Reid pp. 58-70 for a detailed appreciation of Richard’s regulations governing the council’s conduct.

[44] Harleian MS433, ibid; I think there may be  a double negative in Richard’s regulations.

[45] Mitchell p.30; Sir Robert Percy (not a member of the Northumberland Percies) was king Richard’s closest personal friend after Francis Lovell; the three had trained together at Middleham. Faithful to the end, he died fighting beside his king in the final charge at Bosworth. Percy’s son was attainted after the battle of Stoke in 1487.

[46] Reid p.62

THE ANGLO SCOTTISH WAR 1480-82

 

Richard duke of Gloucester – The King’s Lieutenant in the North

“And he governed those countries very wisely and justly in time of peace and war and preserved concord and amity between the Scots and English so much as he could. But the breaches between them could not so strongly be made up to continue long, And especially the borderers, whose best means of living grew out of mutual spoils and common rapines, and for the which cause they were ever apt to enter into brawls and feuds. And while the duke of Gloucester lay in these northern parts, and in the last year of the reign of the king, his brother, the quarrels and the feuds and despoils were much more outrageous and more extreme than before. And thereby there grew so great unkindness and so great enmity, and such hostile hatred between the kings of England and Scotland, and so irreconcilable that nothing but the sword and open war could compose or determine and extinguish them”

(Sir George Buck – The History of King Richard III, 1619)[1] 

Introduction

The fifteenth century writer and French courtier Philippe De Commynes ascribed this ancient enmity between the English and the Scots to God’s will: “All things considered I think that God has created neither man nor beast in this world without creating something to oppose them in order to keep them humble and afraid… Nor is it only in this nation (he is referring to his homeland of Ghent) that God has given some sort of thorn. For the kingdom of France he has opposed the English, to the English the Scots…”[2] Although Commynes’ theory about the will of God cannot be proved in human terms, he was surely right to bracket the interrelationship between England, France and Scotland as being a significant influence on the behaviour of their respective kings. From Commynes’ perspective it was an unholy trinity, which was necessary to correct the evil of princes and prevent the abuse of power. What we can say with some degree of certainty is that the military and diplomatic dynamics of the three kingdoms constrained Edward IV’s freedom of action when formulating English foreign policy. Put simply, he could not pursue his dynastic ambitions in France without first securing the frontier against a Scottish incursion[3], since: “… the old pranks of the Scots… is ever to invade England when the king is out.” [4]

Border Reivers

Edward’s problem was complicated by the fact that royal authority did not always extend to the English northern borderlands. Border society was feudal in nature; their focus was fixed on local issues and disputes. It was the local laird or lord who held sway, not necessarily the king or his policy.   The north of England was sparsely populated and economically poor[5]. English and Scottish borderers relied on reiving to survive. Crimes of murder, robbery, cattle rustling, kidnap, blackmail, extortion and looting were endemic.[6] Sean Cunningham explains the king’s difficulty: “…this cross-border network had a very different view of formal Anglo-Scottish conflict to that of the two royal governments. In addition, local and regional interests in the northern English or southern Scottish counties bred a different attitude to the opposing side. This existed within the sphere of wider foreign or diplomatic policy, but its micro focus on the effects of cross-border feuding and low-level warfare often confused and undermined otherwise clear national foreign policy objectives of either monarchy.[7] 

In the north of England the dominant nobles were the Neville family led by Richard earl of Warwick and the Percy family, headed by the hereditary earls of Northumberland (In the 1470’s and 80’s it was Henry Percy the 4th earl). Needless to say there was no love lost between these families who vied for hegemony in peace and were enemies during the Wars of the Roses. King James III’s problems of enforcing his authority in southern Scotland differed from Edward’s only in degree. The rugged and wild Scottish countryside made communication difficult; it was slow and in the highlands possibly dangerous. The feudal allegiances of the clans together with the jealous independence of the border lairds meant that royal authority north of the frontier went only so far as the monarch’s personal prestige and the laird’s goodwill would take it. Unfortunately, for James, his prestige was low and their goodwill was in short supply.[8]

Border rebels

The outcome of battle of the Towton in 1461 was a decisive Yorkist victory, though not a complete one. The former king Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward (styled) Prince of Wales and some Lancastrian adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge. James was complying with the Treaty of Lincluden, which his mother, Mary of Guelders, had negotiated with Margaret of Anjou, earlier in 1461. Under the terms of the treaty, James promised the Lancastrians military aid in return for the cession of Berwick to Scotland, and the possibility of a marriage between Edward Prince of Wales and the Princess Margaret the king’s sister.[9] James provided a secure base from which the Lancastrians with Scottish help could continue their struggle for the English throne[10]. Between 1461 and 1464 the Lancastrians, reinforced by Scottish and French troops, mounted some very destructive raids into northern England, reaching as far as Carlisle, which they besieged but could not take.

Edward adopted a carrot and stick approach for dealing with these rebels. The stick comprised a military campaign waged in the north by Richard and John Neville against die-hard Lancastrians and their foreign levies. The carrot was the offer of reconciliation to any dissidents that asked for it, even those who had rebelled violently against him. Simultaneously, Edward intrigued with Scottish malcontents to revoke support for Lancaster. These policies had mixed results. John Neville and his ‘loyal northern retinues’ succeeded in defeating the Lancastrians twice in 1464; first at Hedgeley Moor and again at Hexham. Those Lancastrian lords who did not die in battle were executed immediately afterwards. The defeat of Lancaster was followed by an Anglo-Scottish truce that was to subsist for the next ten years.

There is some doubt about the wisdom of Edward’s policy of conciliation. Professor Ross holds it to be a black mark against his record as a statesman; Michael Hicks argues that it was a rational policy in the circumstances, which, generally speaking, worked despite the odd spectacular failure. SJ Payling is not sure whether Edward should be congratulated for his magnanimity in forgiving some Lancastrians, or scolded for his vindictiveness in not forgiving them all.[11] It is a moot point, however, whether conciliation actually worked. As Keith Dockray points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians in 1464 were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north. As Edward was to discover, the north was no more Yorkist in 1471 than it had been in 1461.[12]

Border skirmishing 1471-80

Following his readeption in 1471, Edward IV sought to pursue his favoured foreign policy objectives of recovering English feudalities in France and enforcing his claim to the French crown. To do this he needed security on his northern border. His immediate aim, therefore, was to neutralize the duel threat of a foreign war with the Scots and rebellion in the north. He determined to achieve this by maintaining the truce with James III at all costs and being conciliatory towards his rebellious northern subjects, so as to secure their good will and obedience. The man he selected to implement this policy was his youngest brother Richard duke of Gloucester. Although still a teenager, Gloucester’s steadfast loyalty and effective battlefield leadership in the recent rebellion had confirmed him as Edward’s most reliable and able subordinate. Within the space of two years, Gloucester was given a monopoly of the important public offices north of the Trent, including military governorship of the important West March of the border ‘ towards Scotland’. He also acquired Warwick’s political mantle through his inheritance (by marriage) of the lion’s share of the earl’s estates in the north. Having spent his formative teenage years under Warwick’s tutelage at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, Gloucester was well equipped to fill the vacuum left by the destruction of the Nevilles; he knew the north and was known there. It seems from the evidence, that he achieved a remarkable degree of popularity and inspired deep loyalty from northerners.[13] Just as importantly he seems to have established an effective working relationship with the touchy, ambitious and untrustworthy earl of Northumberland, and the equally untrustworthy and ambitious Thomas Lord Stanley. Their working relationship was important in bringing stability to the area.

As the Warden of the West March, Gloucester’s military task was straightforward; he had to defend the West March against Scottish incursions. He could mobilise local levies for service on the border and enforce truces with the Scots. He could punish breaches of the truce summarily if the reivers were English; if they were Scots, he could hand them over to the Scottish Warden. However, he had no military authority over Henry Percy earl of Northumberland who was the Warden of the East and Middles Marches.

The peace treaty between England and Scotland, which was agreed in 1474, was meant to transform the ad hoc truce into a formal peace that would endure until at least 1519. In the shorter term the treaty secured Edward’s northern border against a Scottish incursion, which was a prerequisite for his planned invasion of France. The trouble was that the temporary truce was already under considerable strain from reiving by both sides. In 1473, Northumberland identified Scottish raids from Liddlesdale as a threat to the truce. Similarly, Scottish wardens pointed out that English reivers from Tynedale and Redesdale were also damaging the chances of an enduring peace. The Scottish reception of the English traitor John de Vere earl of Oxford, and the residence of the Scottish rebel Robert Lord Boyd at Alnwick further inflamed the tense situation.

Things seemed to be getting out of hand in 1474 when it was reported from Scotland that the duke of Gloucester was preparing an invasion.[14] Professor AJ Pollard obviously disapproves of Gloucester’s behaviour at this time since he characterises him as being ‘hot-headed and ambitious’, andalmost as much ‘of a handful’ for Edward as his other brother George duke of Clarence. “Now” writes Pollard ”… by his reluctance to implement the terms of the treaty and his own insubordinate acts of piracy (Gloucester) was threatening to undermine all of Edward IV’s efforts in the north.” [15] If the accusation were true, it would have been an appalling breach of the peace treaty and of the trust that existed between the king and the duke. Their personal bond though close, was unlikely to have survived intact such an injurious act of insubordination. After all, Gloucester was merely the instrument of the king’s will. And the king’s will at this time was to have peace with Scotland.

What professor Pollard overlooks, however, is the situation on the Anglo-Scottish border at the time, which might explain if not excuse Gloucester’s hostility towards the Scots. I have already referred to the tension caused by border reiving but what was potentially most dangerous was the intrigue between James III and Louis XI. The Scottish king had ‘for a pension of ten thousand crowns’ offered to ‘keep Edward at home by attacking him’.[16] It is unlikely that Gloucester was aware of James’ plotting; but he would almost certainly have been aware of the build-up of Scottish troops and their increasing violence towards the English, which was encouraged by James’ cavalier attitude to peace. In those circumstances, it is entirely probable that Gloucester was planning a counter-attack inside Scotland. He was the military governor on the spot, and was by training and instinct an aggressive commander. His tactic of aggressive defence was very popular with those who bore the brunt of Scottish depredations. It is hard to see how Gloucester could have possibly intended a serious ‘invasion’ of Scotland since his retinues combined with those of Northumberland and Thomas Lord Stanley were insufficient for such a task: he was an aggressive commander, not a stupid one. But the political reality was that Edward could not permit Gloucester to freelance a policy that might fuel the violence and undermine the crown’s wider foreign policy aims. When told of Gloucester’s belligerence, Edward was quick to admonish his brother, telling him in effect to behave himself and not to antagonise James.

The Treaty of Picquigny (1475) between Edward and Louis XI confirmed Edward’s inability to enforce a foreign policy, which had been the Plantagenet’s raison d’etre since the twelfth century: the recovery of their feudal territories in France and (after 1340) the enforcement of their claim to the French throne.[17] Unfortunately, Edward made peace for a down payment of 75,000 crowns and an annual pension of 50,000 crowns. He returned to England with his army to the chagrin of Gloucester and many other Englishmen.[18] Commynes scoffed that the indolent Edward was “…not cut out to endure the toil necessary from a king of England.” And the French boasted that they had bought off the troublesome English ‘with six hundred pipes of wine and a pension’.[19] Cora Scofield’s judgement is damning: “The great expedition to France was over and not an inch of territory conquered… no words could hide the truth. Edward had sold himself to the king of France.[20] Be that as it may, the treaty with Louis had financial advantages and one significant diplomatic benefit. Louis agreed not to ally himself to James III or interfere with events in Britain. This agreement enabled Edward to turn his mind to that other great plank of Plantagenet foreign policy: English overlordship of the British Isles, which in the late fifteenth century meant conquering Scotland.

In the aftermath of Picquigny, cross-border reiving continued to threaten peace in Britain. James III was simply unable to enforce his royal authority on semi autonomous highland chiefs and border lairds who, in the words of professor Mackie ”…pursued their private vendettas…(and)…defied all authority… and when, as sometimes happened, they made secret bonds among themselves, the power of the crown was in jeopardy.”[21] Worse still, it was James’ estrangement from his own family that most threatened royal authority. His brother Alexander duke of Albany thrived on border skirmishing and bitterly resented royal interference. James’ desire for peace was in part driven by his resentment of Louis XI who not only dilly-dallied about renewing the ‘auld alliance’ but also humiliated James over Scottish territorial ambitions in Guelders. Edward on the other hand, was progressively more irritated by Scottish reiving. The treaty with Louis merely increased his confidence that he could safely to turn his attention to the Scottish problem without interference. It was unlucky that James’ enthusiasm for peace waxed as Edward’s waned.

James’ attempt to strengthen the Anglo-Scottish treaty by a marriage between his sister Princess Margaret and George duke of Clarence foundered on Edward’s indifference (He did, however, allow proposals for a marriage between Princess Margaret and Edward Woodville to proceed.). It was hopeless: unlike similar situations in 1473 and in 1474, the English had no appetite to preserve the peace. The death of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy in 1477 had changed the political dynamic between England, Scotland and France. Edward was now more supportive of his widowed sister, Margaret the dowager duchess, in Burgundy’s dispute with France. As a consequence, Louis resumed his intrigue with the Scots against the English. By 1479 the Treaty of Edinburgh was in tatters. The Princess Margaret was pregnant by her lover, Lord Linton, a development that Edward regarded as a national humiliation. He demanded full restitution of the dowry he had paid to James in anticipation of the royal marriage between Cecily and young James Stuart, the Scottish heir.

a terrible and destructive war

The Crowland chronicler blamed the Scots for the war that now seemed inevitable, for “shamelessly’ breaking a thirty-year truce” for which treachery Edward proclaimed “ a terrible and destructive war against the Scots[22] In the early spring of 1480, Edward paid ‘advances against wages’ to Gloucester and Northumberland so that they could prepare for a possible Scottish attack. At the same time, he sent his formal envoy Alexander Leigh, canon of Windsor north to Edinburgh with instructions to demand (i) that James do homage to Edward for the Scottish crown, (ii) that he surrender his heir to English custody, (iii) that he return the towns of Berwick, Cordingham and Roxburgh to English dominion, and (iv) that the Scots make full restitution for the damage caused by their reiving. Whatever James might have thought about Edward’s other demands, it is obvious that he could never agree to do homage for his throne or to hand his heir over to the English. In truth, Edwards’s embassage was not a genuine diplomatic overture to avert war; it was a declaration of war.

Edward’s war aims seem obvious from his demands; his plan for winning that war is less obvious. Previous English experience suggested that war with the Scots was ‘costly, dangerous and inglorious’ and ‘rarely bought lasting results.’[23] The Scottish war of Independence showed that the English could be defeated in a pitched battle; nevertheless, such battles were rare. The last one between national armies (Nevilles Cross 1346) had been a catastrophic defeat for the Scots in which their king was captured and held prisoner by the English. In a defensive war the Scots relied on their terrain coupled with some impenetrable fortresses to disrupt and wear down the enemy, whose increasingly vulnerable lines of communication could then be attacked. At other times they attacked the English to keep them on the tactical defensive. Some of these attacks involved large local forces; the clashes at Otterburn (1388) and Nesbit moor (1402) being cases in point. The conquest of Scotland required a large, professional army for which the English had not the means; especially whilst fighting the French or facing the threat of fighting the French, or when they were fighting among themselves. Neither could they impose a puppet king on the Scots unless the lairds and nobles accepted him as legitimate and competent, which they rarely were. As Cunningham observes “Edward’s strategy for the war of 1480-82 struggled to shake off the previous disasters of English political and military attempts to subjugate the Scots.”[24]

Edward could ill-afford a repeat of the errors of 1475 when the invasion of France ended in recriminations and confusion. If the Scottish war was not to become bogged down in small-scale military raids and counter-raids, Edward needed a clear and concise plan and a new strategy that would give him a decisive victory. His first decision was a sensible one; he clarified the chain of command in the north. Command of all the English forces in the north was given to the duke of Gloucester; who was appointed Edward’s Lieutenant General with full authority to call to arms the border levies and those of adjacent counties. The earl of Northumberland reverted publicly to Gloucester’s 2IC, whilst Thomas Lord Stanley bought-up the rear. On the 20 June 1480, Gloucester issued Commissions of Array in Northumberland, Cumberland and Yorkshire for levies to serve on the border against the Scots. This was clearly a defensive measure, as the commissions issued would not provide a sufficient force capable of invading Scotland. If the response of the City of York is typical, it was not a rapid mobilisation. Their contingent had not left the city boundary when Gloucester wrote on the 30 August 1480, ordering the men to march north[25].

Within a few days of Gloucester’s letter, however, Archibald Douglas earl of Angus led a spectacular three-day raid into the heart of Northumberland, reaching and torching the coastal town of Bamburgh, about twenty miles from the border. Jean Froissart, writing towards the end of the fourteenth century describes Scottish raiding habits. Although his account was written a century or more before these events, his narrative provides a useful illustration of the nature of medieval border warfare; an experience that had not changed appreciably by the late fifteenth century despite advances in gunpowder technology and the development of handguns. “ The Scots are a bold, hardy people, very experienced in war. At that time they had little love or respect for the English, and the same is true today. When they cross the border they advance sixty or seventy miles in a day and night, which would seem astonishing to anyone ignorant of their customs. The explanation is that in their expeditions into England they all come on horseback, except the irregular who follow on foot. The knights and squires are all mounted on fine, strong horses and the commoners on small ponies. Because they have to travel over the wild hills of Northumberland they bring no baggage carts and so carry no supplies of bread or wine (save what they carry behind their saddle and can pillage from the land). Hence, it is not surprising that they can travel faster than other armies. So the Scots entered Northumberland. They ravaged and burnt it, finding more livestock than they knew what to do with. They were at least three thousand men in armour…”[26] The English marked Scottish progress by the smoke from the burning villages.

On the 7 September the earl Northumberland wrote urgently to his retainer Sir Robert Plumpton that the Scots ‘in great numbers’ had advanced ‘deep into Northumberland’; Sir Robert and his men were ordered to rendezvous with the earl at Topcliffe by 8 o’clock the following Monday.[27] The next day, that is the 8 September, Gloucester wrote equally urgently to the city of York: “…the Scots in great multitude intend this Saturday night to enter into [the] marches of these northern parts…We trusting to God [intend] to resist their malice [and] …desire you to send unto us at Durham on Thursday next, a servant of yours accompanied with such certain number of your city defensibly arrayed, as you intend and may deserve right special thanks from the king’s highness and us.”[28] Leaving aside the obvious confusion about whether the Scots had actually crossed the border, it is clear that it was (despite Gloucester’s intention) a successful Scottish raid and that the concentration of the northern levies was not yet complete. Having been caught-out by the boldness of Angus’ attack, Gloucester’s instinct was to counter-attack and teach the Scots a lesson that would, in professor Kendall’s words, ‘check their ardour’. In effect, this meant a counter-raid of sufficient weight to damage Scottish morale. Frustratingly, we do have any contemporary accounts of this operation[29]: the number of troops involved, their organisation their objective(s) and details of what happened are all unknown. However, we can perhaps make an educated guess based on what the military historian FL Petre called ’inherent military probability’.

In the mid to late fifteenth century English tactical doctrine was still influenced by their experiences in France during the Hundred Years War. We are not here concerned with the development of English infantry tactics in set-piece battles, since Gloucester had not the least intention at this stage of fighting a conventional battle. We must also distinguish between criminal border reiving, which though warlike in nature is irregular, localised and aimed at settling family feuds, cattle rustling and so forth, and the low-level specifically military operations planned by Gloucester. A more appropriate term for this type of operation would be ‘chevauchée’: a ride through enemy territory by swiftly moving, mobile columns of mounted men-at-arms and archers, unencumbered by a logistic tail of non-combatants.[30] A chevauchée could be used as a diversion intended to draw enemy troops away from the point of an intended attack or from a siege, or to destroy a military installation in enemy territory, or to undermine enemy morale by spreading fear and terror among their population.

We can be pretty sure that Gloucester’s objective in 1480 was to undermine Scottish morale by terrorising the civilian population and destroying their crops, livestock, buildings and chattels. It is important to understand that on a mission such as this, the rules of chivalry would not apply, since the people most in harm’s way such as the peasant farmers, labourers and the poor were outside the protection of the chivalric code. It is possible that Gloucester forbade the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians; but if so, it would almost certainly not have been on humanitarian grounds, but because it was bad for military discipline. Nevertheless, in a chevauchée such as this, it was impossible to prevent murder rape and arson altogether, since, to paraphrase Froissart, ‘there was bound to be some bad fellows and evil men of little feeling in Gloucester’s force’[31].

We can make a rough estimate of the number soldiers involved by using the strength of the northern contingent in the kings army in France as a guide. Sean Cunningham estimates that of the 14,000 men in Edward’s army, 3,000 were from the combined retinues of Gloucester, Northumberland, Stanley and Lord Scrope of Bolton; of these, about 500 were men at arms and the remainder were archers.[32] It is reasonable to assume that the borders would not have been denuded of all the men fit for active service, as some were needed to patrol the border, deal with low level Scottish reiving and garrison the castles at places like Norham and Carlisle. Based on these assumptions, my best guestimate is that in the autumn of 1480 Gloucester would have had about 4-4500 men for service on the Scottish border, of which perhaps 2,000 could be available for this operation.

Typically, English medieval armies were organised in three ‘battles’ or ‘divisions’ for set-piece battles and chevauchée type operations. And there is no reason to think that Gloucester did anything different this time. It is possible that each battle advanced on a separate axis with their ‘scourers’ scouting ahead and on the flanks. It is equally possible that they advanced in a single column, with one battle acting as the advance guard for the whole force. The men-at-arms and archers would have been mounted in the Scottish fashion and there may well have been some infantry for the defence of lines of communication and key points and pioneering tasks. The nature of the terrain and season would affect Gloucester choice of target. It would serve no purpose to attack in the wild Cheviot Hill since the population was sparse and the country rough. It would be hard to navigate or to spread panic swiftly and the risk of getting bogged down was great. A destructive attack along the fertile agricultural land of the Scottish east coast between Berwick and Dunbar would be much more effective in dousing Scottish ardour.

 

John Hardyng’s map of Scotland [33]scotland-circa-1480-a-1

(15th Century)

 

An attack along the east coast also had some tactical advantages since the sea offered protection for one flank and made navigation easier as they could advance confidently northwards keeping the sea on their right. Although we do not know what actually happened we can get a feel from the work of HJ Hewitt of how a typical chevauchée was conducted. He is writing about the fourteenth century; but I think the reference is valid since it illustrates standard operating procedures that were unchanged in the 1480’s. This is what Hewitt wrote: “ On reaching a village or town the troops usually have little difficulty in overcoming civilian resistance. Valuables are collected and are loaded into carts or heaped on the horses’ backs; cattle are driven away or killed; the work of destruction begins. Granaries, ricks of hay, corn or straw, barns, cattle–sheds, houses and their contents are fired Wooden bridges are broken, windmills and watermills are burned, or rendered unserviceable News of the army’s approach spreads very quickly and, as clouds of smoke by day and a red

glow by night mark the invaders route (or routes, for a large force may move in columns). The inhabitants, seized by panic, flee and thus facilitate the work of the troops; a deserted town stocked with a winters supply of food and fuel is a suitable place for a halt and some good meals. But the army never lingers long and there are days when the men have little to eat and the horses little to drink. Always there is the danger of ambushes, of homesteads having been fired by their occupants in order to destroy food and shelter, of houses in walled towns being set on fire at night be concealed enemies or drunken soldiers or bridges being broken to delay the invaders advance.”[34] And as if that was not enough, there was the danger of an engagement with the enemy’s army, which may try to encircle the raiders or force them to accept a pitched battle at disadvantage. If their escape route is cut they may be forced to withdraw over remote and rough terrain where a withdrawal might turn into a rout.

For these reasons, Gloucester’s force needed strike hard and swiftly. In the event, the chevauchée seems to have been of relatively short duration; Gloucester had returned to Sheriff Hutton by the 23 October 1480.[35] By the end of the year, Edward’s decision to make war was irrevocable and he resolved to go north to lead the army against the Scots personally, to ‘teach them a punishing lesson’. In view of this, Gloucester’s commission as Lieutenant General was not renewed[36] and preparations began in earnest for what promised to be a hard campaign against a tough enemy. Meanwhile, Gloucester busied himself in the north repairing Carlisle’s walls and strengthening England’s other border defences.

By the New Year, Edward’s strategic priority was to create an effective royal navy. John Howard was appointed Captain of the main fleet, to serve from May to August 1481.[37] His mission was to harry the east coast of Scotland and concurrently to protect the English east coast from the Scottish fleet and the more formidable French fleet.[38] Edward spent a considerable sum of money on the purchase, repair and maintenance of ships, and on patrolling the east coast. Naval supremacy on the North Sea was essential for a successful war, since ships were the surest and quickest method of transporting men, cannons, personal weapons and military stores to Gloucester’s northern army. By February 1481 eleven royal ships had been commissioned to patrol the east cost for six months. In May, Sir Thomas Fulford was commissioned to take command of an independent naval squadron on the west coast; a month later, Thomas Howard led his English flotilla manned by three thousand sailors and marines into the Firth of Forth. There, he cut out and carried off eight of the largest ships from their harbours in Leith, Kinghorn and Pettenween, and destroyed the smaller ones. He also effected an amphibious assault on Blackness where several hundred English marines torched the town along with another large ship. It was an outstanding effort by the navy and a demonstration of the benefits of amphibious warfare. By landing troops in the enemy’s rear worryingly close to Edinburgh, the English opened up the possibility of a war against Scotland on two fronts. It was never more than a possibility however, since the English commanders were unable to take advantage of the situation. Dr Michael Jones implies some criticism of Gloucester for not co-ordinating a land attack to coincide with Howard’s naval assault. Quite how Gloucester was expected to achieve this is a puzzle to me, since co-ordinating amphibious assaults with a complementary land attack can be difficult, even with modern communications (e.g. the Salerno and Anzio landings of WW2). Given that the naval and land elements in 1481 had no means of communicating quickly and regularly with each other; a co-ordinated attack would need a lot of luck to succeed. Nor is it even established that such co-ordination was ever intended in this operation. Frankly this is not the best point, in what is, anyway, a superficial appraisal of Gloucester’s military competence by Dr Jones. [39]

Winter War

Although Edward had signalled his intention to lead the army in person, he was no further north than Nottingham by the autumn. The consequence of his delay was to ‘paralyse the English invasion plans’ by depriving the army of his leadership and the reinforcement of troops that would accompany him[40]. Gloucester and Northumberland were, therefore, mainly reliant on the northern retinues and garrison troops to defend the border. The 3000 men raised by Thomas Lord Stanley were mainly needed for the siege of Berwick and so were not necessarily available for an invasion of Scotland. Even if sufficient troops were available to constitute an invasion force, they could not be deployed until the king arrived to take command. However, the northern commanders did not discover until November that Edward had turned south from Nottingham and would not lead the army that year. Charles Ross has no doubt that Edward’s indecision and his absence from the army was responsible for the English failure to invade Scotland in 1481.[41]

James III, on the other hand, had not been idle; he had assembled a large force in southern Scotland with which he could invade England, or make a thorough nuisance of himself in the border region. Cora Scofield thinks that ‘ on the whole’ the Scots came out of this year’s fighting quite well, with “at least as many victories as the English.” [42]  If the Scottish historian Lesley is to be believed, the Scots “ invaded the Marches of the English and took away many preys of goods and destroyed many towns and led many persons in Scotland.[43] James III even boasted to the Pope that his army had destroyed and ‘put to flight‘ 200,000 Englishmen. Unfortunately for Scottish egos, this was not true. It is true that the Scots had engaged in some destructive chevauchées of their own; however, they did not use their superior numbers to raise the siege of Berwick or to invade England: instead they withdrew meekly. James’ excuse that the withdrawal was at the personal request of the Pope who wanted to broker peace between England and Scotland, is not really credible.[44] Nonetheless, the winter of 1481-82 was a miserable one for the English army engaged in interminable skirmishing with the Scots.

A few passages from Froissart’s fourteenth century chronicle provide further illustrations of campaign life for Englishmen at the sharp end of a medieval winter war with the Scots. [45] In my first selection, the English are ‘advancing to contact’ with the elusive Scots. “ They began to move forward very raggedly over heaths, hills and valleys and through difficult woodland without a trace of level country. Among the mountains and valleys were great marshes and bogs, which were so dangerous to cross that it was surprising that more men were not lost in them. Each man rode steadily forward without waiting for his captain or companion and anyone who got stuck in those bogs would have been lucky to find help. Throughout the day there were many alerts, which made it appear that the foremost were engaging the enemy. Those behind urged their horses over swamps and rocky ground up hill and down dale, with their helmets on and their shields slung, their swords or lances in their hand, without waiting for father, brother or comrade. But when they had galloped a mile or so and reached the point from which the sounds came they found it was a false alarm. The cause was a herd of deer or other animals which abound in that wild country…[fleeing] in panic before the banners and the advancing horsemen

By the end of the day no contact had been made with the enemy. The English, exhausted and lacking the tools to build personal shelters, bivouacked as best they could. “ Mounts and riders were tired out, yet the men had to sleep in full armour, holding their horses by the bridles since they had nothing to tie them to having left their equipment in the carts which could not follow them over such country. For the same reason there were no oats or other fodder to give the horses and they themselves had nothing to eat all day and night except the loaves they had tied behind their saddles and these were all soiled and sodden by horses sweat. They had nothing to drink but [river water] except the commanders who had bought bottles of wine. They had no lights or fires and no means of kindling them except some knights who could light torches….”

In the morning, just before dawn, the English ‘stood to’. “Having spent the night thus miserably, without taking off their armour or unsaddling their horses they hoped for better as the day dawned. But as they were looking round for some prospect of food and shelter and for traces of the Scots, whom they eagerly wanted to fight in order to put an end to their own hardship, it began to rain…it never stopped raining the whole week and consequently their saddles, saddle-clothes and girths became sodden and most of the horses developed sores on their backs. They had nothing to cover them with except their own surcoat and no means of re-shoeing the horses that needed it. They themselves had nothing to keep out the wet and the cold save their tunics and armour. They remained like that for three days (without food), with the Scots on the mountain slope opposite…” From this point onwards, the English are in contact with the enemy “…there were skirmishes every day in which men were killed and prisoners taken. At nightfall the Scots lit great fires and raised such a din blowing their horns and whooping in chorus that it sounded to the English as all the devils in hell had been let loose.”

By the turn of the year (1482), English morale was low and there was unrest in the ranks due to a shortage of food for the men and grain for the horse. Money was also short and Gloucester was only able to alleviate the army’s suffering by purchasing wheat, rye, peas and beans with his own money. In February 1482, he received £10,000 for the army’s wages and Northumberland received the final instalment of a grant of 2,000 marks for the defence of the East March. Notwithstanding the difficulties it is clear that Gloucester and Northumberland managed to contain the worst of Scottish aggression. The Scots had not been able to relieve Berwick or mount a significant ‘invasion’ of English territory. Nonetheless, it was ‘a close-run thing’. The money, the equipment and the reinforcements being allocated to the army during the spring and summer of 1482 was a sure sign of Edward’s desperation that the they should continue to hold the line until he could devise a more cohesive and decisive strategy for vanquishing the Scots. It was, of course, still unclear when (if) the king would come north to take command, since he seemed as yet unready to relinquish his ambition of leading the army in a foreign war.

Things began to look up for the army by the spring. An improvement in the weather coupled with a plentiful re-supply of arms, equipment and provisions and a reinforcement of troops saw an improvement in the army’s morale and its efficiency. The establishment of a chain of fast moving messengers improved communications between London and the border, and all seemed set for a decisive campaign in 1482. Gloucester commenced active operations in May by leading a daring chevauchée into southwest Scotland, torching the strategically important town of Dumfries and many other lesser ones and skilfully withdrawing before a Scottish army could be bought against him.[46] This was not the presage of another year of inconclusive skirmishing since Gloucester knew quite well that to conquer Scotland the English needed to meet and defeat James III and his main army in a pitched battle. Kendall speculates that the Dumfries raid may have been meant to provoke the king of Scots to take the field with his whole army so that he and they could be defeated in a set-piece battle[47]. If so, Gloucester and Northumberland must have been supremely confident of winning such a confrontation. However, they must also have realised that the difficulty would be in engineering such an opportunity. The Scots were canny fighters and they knew they could not match the full weight of English resources in a conventional war. The irregular border warfare of 1480-81 was a good strategy for them since it degraded English strength and kept them on the defensive in the border. However, Gloucester, Northumberland and the other English commanders had weathered the storm and now, in the spring and summer of 1482 they had sufficient forces to invade Scotland in strength whilst besieging Berwick. The trouble was that king Edward who was needed in the north was still far away in the south; unable or unwilling to join the army. A combination of indolence, poor health and civil turmoil in England had cooled Edward’s ardour for active service; he was not the man of 1461 or even 1471. 

A Scottish Clarence

Paul Kendall described Alexander Stuart, duke of Albany as ‘Clarence in a kilt’. He was, in fact, the king of Scots’ brother and, like Clarence, renowned for his instability: being ‘restless, ambitious and unprincipled’.[48] It was Albany who gave Edward a new idea for securing overlordship of Scotland. Albany had fled to France 1479 after he was attainted for treason. He was something of an embarrassment to Louis who was trying to renew the Franco-Scottish alliance against England. While Albany was in France, Edward secretly sounded him out the possibility that he might assume the Scottish throne and swear fealty to Edward as his overlord. Louise was not averse to this since it got rid of the awkward Albany and promised to involve Edward in a Scottish war. Consequently, Albany was allowed to come to England, where he arrived in April 1482. In May, Edward recognised him as the true king of Scots by a proclamation indenting for men to serve the ‘king of Scotland’ on 14 days notice.

In early June, Gloucester was summoned to Fotheringhay to meet Edward and Albany, and to be briefed on Edward’s plan to put a pretender on the Scottish throne. His presence was also required (presumably) so that he could give his opinion of the new plan. Kendall implies that Gloucester may have had misgivings about Albany’s worth but nonetheless ‘ he readily approved’.[49] The Treaty of Fotheringhay was signed on the 11 June 1482. By it, Albany promised to do homage to Edward once he was placed on the Scottish throne, to return Berwick to English domain and to give up certain fortresses in the west. Finally, Edward spoke to his brother about command of the army. It was obvious, even to Edward, that he was unfit to command an invasion force in Scotland; his lascivious nature, his (even then) failing health and the ‘tumult’ in some parts of England meant that he would not mount a warhorse again. If Scotland was to be subdued, then it was Gloucester who must do it, aided by Albany for whatever that was worth. The next day, Gloucester’s commission as Lieutenant General in the North was reinstated; he was now the undisputed commander of all the king’s troops north of the Trent.

A month later, on the 15 July 1482, Gloucester, with Albany at his side left York for the border.[50] He had war treasure of £15,000, sufficient to keep his army of 20,000 in the field for twenty-eight days. It seems obvious that both he and the king expected a short decisive campaign after years of inconclusive raiding. It was of, course, a risky plan because it was so reliant on forcing James to accept battle for his throne, which was something he seemed prepared to do. Unfortunately, events did not go as planed, as we shall see. Gloucester marched swiftly north arriving at Berwick by the second or third week of July at the latest. The town rapidly surrendered but the castle, which was garrisoned by 500 Scots, refused terms. Gloucester, who had no intention of wasting time on a siege left a covering force to contain the garrison and moved swiftly on into Scotland with his main body. His march from the border to Edinburgh was in fact an unopposed chevauchée accomplished with astonishing speed and ruthless efficiency. Towns and villages en route were burned and terror spread throughout the countryside. After years of hard labour skirmishing with the Scots, this was easy work for the English army as it swept on towards the Scottish capital.

Meanwhile, things were looking decidedly bleak for James. A mere 600 men garrisoned in ‘six towers’ in addition to the now useless Berwick garrison, guarded the Scottish border. A general muster of Scottish troops had been called in late July to concentrate at Lauder in the Scottish Middle March to attempt to resist “…the largest and best-led English army seen in Scotland for eighty years’.[51] However, it seemed to most people at the time that if James faced the English in open battle it would almost certainly result in defeat and his capture or death.

The English entered Edinburgh unopposed at the beginning of August. Cora Scofield thought it was amazing that Gloucester should take the Scottish capital for Edward IV ‘without firing a gun or shooting an arrow’.[52] It was, however, also ominous, since English success depended on locating and destroying the king and his army speedily, and neither James nor his army were anywhere to be seen. It is greatly to Gloucester’s credit that the army took control of the city without molesting either the inhabitants or their goods.[53] His first task was to make a proclamation in the market place; he called on James (i) to honour his promises to Edward, (ii) to make amends for violations of the peace and (iii) to restore Albany’s rights, or face the destruction of himself and his kingdom. Thereafter he turned his attention to dealing with a Scottish force, which he believed to be waiting at Haddington. But there was no need of a battle since ‘some Scottish lords’ sued to him for a treaty. It soon became apparent that James III was a prisoner in Edinburgh castle. He had been abducted and taken there by his Stewart half-brothers who were prepared to withstand a siege. They bore James no good will but their dramatic intervention had saved him from defeat and deposition and confounded English hopes of success. Without the person of James in English custody there was no realistic prospect deposing him; nor, was there a legitimate Scottish government of with whom Gloucester could negotiate. It was also clear that the Scots would never accept Albany as either a legitimate or a competent monarch. Gloucester was now placed in an almost impossible situation. Time and money were running out for him; he had only enough money to keep his army in the field until the 11 August. A siege of Edinburgh castle would be costly in men and material, and time consuming. It would also provide an opportunity for loyal royalist forces to re-group and attack the English lines of communication. Albany true to his capricious nature had entered into public negotiations with the Scots for the restoration of his rights. By a process of elimination, therefore, Gloucester was forced to negotiate with James’ displaced and discredited former ministers: Scheves, Argyle and Avondale, who were only interested in getting rid of the English as soon as possible. They bound themselves to restore Albany to his 1479 holdings (it is doubtful they could do that in the absence of James III). The citizens of Edinburgh also bound themselves to refund at their own expense, all of the dowry paid by Edward IV for his daughter Cecily’s marriage to Prince James, if that marriage did not take place. By the 5 August, Gloucester had withdrawn to Berwick, where the castle was under siege   A week later, he discharged the army save for 1700 men needed for the siege.

Although the Scots tried to raise the siege, Gloucester seemed to have overawed them since they tried nothing more dangerous than a little more bargaining. The Scots offered to raze the walls of the castle, if Gloucester did similar to the town walls; alternatively, the English might garrison the town while the Scots garrisoned the castle. Gloucester spurned all these offers out of hand and demanded unconditional surrender of the Scottish garrison, which took place on the 24 August.

Postscript

According to the Crowland Chronicle, king Edward was less than impressed with the outcome of the campaign, particularly in view of the expense incurred; though, he was placated to some extent by the recovery of Berwick. The chronicler himself is in no doubt that Berwick was but a trifling gain for such ‘frivolous’ expenditure by Gloucester.[54] If we ignore for a moment the authors well known prejudice against northerners in general and Gloucester in particular, the point he is making is not wholly spurious. The campaign was not a complete success. The ‘largest and best led English army to invade Scotland in 80 years’ did not secure its primary objective of putting a puppet king on the Scottish throne: why? It is a good question and there are a number of possible answers: the English plan was flawed, Gloucester’s withdrawal threw away the English advantage, there was a fundamental change in circumstances which was not foreseen and which militated against complete success, or the failure was due to a combination of these factors.

Professor Charles Ross, in his biography of Edward IV, clearly blames Gloucester for the unsatisfactory outcome. There is no need for me to jump to Gloucester’s defence since his service record and military renown speak for themselves. Whether or not he was a military genius is an issue about which I have no view. However, I do feel obliged to reply to the professor’s criticism of Gloucester’s conduct of the campaign because it is so silly as to be more suggestive of his ignorance than of any dereliction by the duke. Having described Gloucester’s decision to withdraw to Berwick as ‘strange, professor Ross finds three sound military reasons that might have influenced the duke’s mind: the long lines of communications, the lack of victuals for his troops and the defection of Albany. Nevertheless, he comes to the following judgement: “Yet Gloucester’s precipitate withdrawal from Edinburgh threw away a great advantage: as commander of a powerful army installed in the capital he could surely have dictated far more satisfactory terms to a distracted Scottish government. He might have felt, following Albany’s defection that he lacked instructions on major issues, but he seems to have made no attempt to await further direction from the king in England, with whom a courier system ensured rapid communication. Gloucester’s lack of resolution meant the only practical outcome of an expensive campaign was the recovery of Berwick-Upon-Tweed…and the signing of a short truce to last until 4 November.”[55]

It is a perverse conclusion since it overlooks a number of salient and obvious mitigating factors. First, the English army was only indentured until the 11 August. There was neither the money nor the supplies to keep the English in the field after that date. Second, the abduction of James III by his own subjects and his incarceration in Edinburgh castle made it impossible for the English to capture or to kill him, either of which was a prerequisite to his deposition. Third, in the absence of the person of James III, there was no legitimate ‘Scottish Government’ with whom Gloucester might negotiate a favourable political settlement; he could only talk with James’ discredited former advisors and a deputation representing Edinburgh. Fourth, he might have tried to enforce a settlement by force of arms, except there was not the time. Moreover, An attack by loyal royalist forces was likely in the event of the English laying siege to Edinburgh castle, which was a very tough nut to crack anyway. Fifth, it was not feasible in the time available to secure the person of the queen or other members of the royal family to use as bargaining chips, since that were all safely behind the walls of Stirling castle thirty miles away (another tough nut). Sixth, there was no time to get instructions from the king, four hundred miles to the south, before the army would have to withdraw for reasons already given. Finally, it was obvious that Albany’s defection removed any chance of placing him on the throne in 1482. It was equally obvious that there was no chance of the Scots accepting him as their king. Any attempt to impose him would result in a Scottish civil war over the succession.[56] Far from his decision being irresolute or strange, Gloucester as the man on the spot was simply making the best of difficult situation. Macdougall (from the Scottish perspective) and Cunningham (from the English perspective) both make the points that the re-capture of Berwick was no mean feat since it was a useful base for continuing the war, a course that Gloucester had left open in his negotiations.

Neither should it be thought that Edward’s disappointment with the outcome meant he blamed his brother: far from it. In Parliament, in January 1483, he made an award to Gloucester, which in Cunningham’s view was the ultimate expression of Edward’s policy of endowing nominated regional lords with delegated royal authority.[57] Charles Ross writing about this award had no doubt as to its importance: “…Edward created for his brother a great hereditary lordship comprising the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland together with any parts of south-west Scotland he might afterwards conquer. This remarkable grant had two unique features. It was the first (and also the last) time since the creation of a county palatine in Lancashire in 1351 that any English shire had been made into a palatine; this meant that in practice the king’s writ did not run in the shire and the lord had full control over its affairs. Second, Richard and his heirs were to hold the office of Warden of the West March along with the palatinate. For the first time a major military command under the crown passed out of direct royal control and became instead a hereditary private possession. ” [58] It seems clear to me from this award that Edward and his brother intended to continue the war against Scotland.

In my personal opinion, the failure of the English army to achieve its primary objective was not due to poor execution, but to an unrealistic plan. The plan to subjugate the Scots and place a puppet king on their throne within twenty-eight days was only possible if the English achieved complete tactical surprise. Strategic surprise was never possible, as the Scots knew they were coming and from where: only the timing and the speed of the English attack were unknown to them. In fact, the English army had lost tactical surprise even before it crossed the Tweed. One only has to consider the timings to see what the problem was. The English army left York on the 15 July and arrived outside Berwick sometime between the 20 and 25 July. However, James III was abducted by his half-brothers on the 22 July and incarcerated in Edinburgh castle. Gloucester’s primary objective was therefore unattainable before he set foot in Scotland. The underlying cause of this was undoubtedly the failure to take Berwick in 1481; possession of Berwick then would have provided a useful operating base and jumping off point, and saved the army five or six days marching time in 1482, thereby increasing the chances of surprising James before he could be whisked to safety. Edward’s inability or unwillingness in 1481 to come north and command a national army or to provide sufficient siege resources to ensure the relatively quick capture of Berwick (town and castle) was the reason for this delay. Nor can Gloucester escape some responsibility for this failure of strategic planning; he must have thought it was achievable since he seems to have accepted  the objective and  the time limit. The fact that it might have worked if James had been left to his own devises cannot absolve either Edward or Gloucester from their responsibility in mounting a campaign that was poorly thought out and inadequately financed The simple stratagem of removal the gung-ho James to the safety of Edinburgh castle rendered the English objective unattainable in 1482. The death of Edward IV in 1483, saved Scotland from the threat of invasion and conquest. But it did not end the Anglo-Scottish conflict. Despite James’ desire for peace, Richard III continued a naval campaign. The Scots were finally forced to sue for terms in 1484; but that, as they say, is another story….

[1] Arthur Noel Kincaid (Ed) The History of King Richard the Third (1619) by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) p.21; although Buck sometimes gets confused about facts and chronology, his reasoned and evidence based defence of king Richard is still the basis of modern Ricardian theories.

[2] Philippe De Commynes (Michael Jones -Editor) – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-83 (Penguin edition 1972) p.339

[3] JD Mackie – A History of Scotland (Pelican Original 1964) p.75: the ‘auld alliance’ between Scotland and France was the natural result of English ambition and aggression. Although a formal alliance was not signed until 1295, the Scots and French were old friends having already aligned themselves to resist the Angevin kings. However, it is possible that historians over estimate the effectiveness of the ‘auld alliance’. Its terms were not equal, being more onerous for the Scots than for the French. Neither did it protect John Balliol from an English invasion and deposition by Edward I in 1296; nor, James III from an English invasion and near deposition in 1482. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how ineffective the alliance was in times of most need. However, that was not known before the event and the auld alliance was not something Edward could ignore.

[4] The Chronicle of the Union of the Two Noble & Illustrious Houses of Lancaster and York (London 1809) p.555

[5] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess). There was much antipathy between the north and south.

[6] Sean Cunningham – The Yorkists at War, published in Harlaxton Medieval Studies [Hannes Kleineke and Christian Steer-Eds] (Shaun Tyas and Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 2013) p.176, note 2. There is evidence of lawless behaviour by English highland clans in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (see Cynthia Neville – Violence, Custom and the Law: the Anglo Scottish Border Lands in the Later Middle Ages (Edinburgh 1998) pp.1-26). There is also extensive evidence of cross-border reiving from the mid-sixteenth century. There is, however, a dearth of official records or anecdotal accounts from the fifteenth century of low-level reiving. Nonetheless, it defies common sense to think that reiving diminished or ceased during the fifteenth century.

[7] Cunningham; ibid

[8] Norman Macdougall – Richard III and James III: contemporary monarchs, parallel mythologies, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty lordship and law’ (PW Hammond – Ed) (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp. 148-71 but esp 157-59. Macdougall provides a useful summary of Anglo-Scottish conflict in the 1470’s and 80’s from a Scottish perspective. See also Mackie, p.115 for a pithy assessment of James’ difficulties.

[9] Charles Ross – Edward IV (BCA edition 1975) p.29; Bertram Wolffe –Henry VI (Yale 2001 edition) p.326

[10] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[11] Ross (E4) p.51; Michael Hicks – The duke of Somerset and Lancastrian loyalism in the north: published in Richard III and his Rivals: magnates and motives in the War of the Roses (London 1991) pp.156-58; SJ Payling – Edward IV and the politics of conciliation in the early 1460’s: published in ‘The Yorkist Age’, Harlaxton Medieval Studies, Vol 23 (Hannes Kleineke and Shaun Tyas –Eds) (Shaun Tyas and the Richard III Historical Trust 2013) pp.81-94; Chris Given-Wilson (Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 13, pp. 42-53 (PROME). Sadly, it is impossible for me to do these complex arguments justice in this post. The argument turns turn on a detailed analysis of two lists of Lancastrians to be attainted. The first list is (presumably) a draft; the second list is that actually published in the Act of Attainder passed by the 1461 parliament and contained in PROME. There are many differences and inconsistencies between the two lists.

[12] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (PW Hammond Ed) (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small retinue when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[13] Dockray (R3 and the Yorkshire Gentry) p.41

[14] Norman Macdougall – James III: a political study (Edinburgh 1982) pp.128-29

[15] AJ Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books) pp.73-74; Cora Scofield – The Life and Reign of Edward IV (Fonthill 2016 revised edition) Vol 2 p.129 citing Edwards instructions to his ambassador in Edinburgh in BL Cotton MS Vespasian CXVI. ff 118-120. The piracy referred to by Pollard was a reference to an action by Gloucester’s ship Mayflower, which captured and plundered the ‘Yellow Carvel’, which was ’James III’s ‘own proper carvel’, off the English coast.

[16] Scofield Vol 2 p.54, note 1; Scofield cites Louis’ instructions to Alexander Monypenny in ‘Legrand’s collection, MS francais 6981 ff pp. 214-217. Legrand dates this document to 1474. There is no doubt it was the same offer James had made in 1473, though then he wanted a pension of sixty thousand crowns (Cal Milanese Papers, 1, pp. 174-175)

[17] PROME Vol 14, pp. 3, 14-24 & 341, Appendix 1; Edward summoned parliament on the 6 October 1472 to vote him a subsidy for the war with France. The debate was lively and interesting with guest speakers from home and abroad, including the duke of Burgundy (Pronay and John Cox – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-86 (Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) p.133). In a speech made on Edward’s behalf, the reasons given for waging ‘war outwards’ were that it averted ‘war inwards’ (civil war) by uniting the factional English nobility in a common cause and “… offered an opportunity not only to recover Normandy and Guyenne but also the crown of France in alliance with the dukes of Burgundy and Brittany.” In view of these reasons, it is difficult to give credence to a later suggestion that Edward was not serious about conquering France.

[18] Cunningham p.183.

[19] Commynes pp.264-66

[20] Cora Scofield – The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth (Fonthill 2016 edition) Vol 1, p155

[21] Mackie p.155; the Scottish nobles resented James’ inclination to make peace with England ‘the auld enemy’ and his attempts to curtail their independence by enforce a centralised royal authority.

[22] Pronay p.147

[23] Cunningham p.177

[24] Cunningham p.178

[25] Robert Davies (Ed) – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London 1843) p.107 & note.

[26] Jean Froissart – Chronicles (Penguin 1968) pp.46-47. Froissart is writing about a Scottish invasion, which took place in 1327. Whilst the technology may have been different in 1480, I doubt their miserable experience would have been much different for those on the sharp end in the winter of 1481-82.

[27] The Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Society 1839) p.40; Davies YMR p.107 note citing the Plumpton Correspondence

[28] YCR p.36; the dissonance between Northumberland’s certainty that the Scots had actually entered England and Gloucester’s belief a day later that they intended to do so ‘next Saturday’, is best explained by the ‘fog of war’.

[29] Ross (E4) p.279, note 2; Ross says ‘the evidence for the counter raid rests upon Edward’s own statements in a cygnet letter to Salisbury and on a report from James III to Louis XI mentioned in a despatch of 19 October 1480 (Benson and Hatcher, ‘Old and New Sarum’, p.199; CSP, Milan 1, P.244). All the main 20th century biographers (Kendall, Scofield and Ross) mention it en passant.

[30] Anthony Goodman –The Wars of the Roses: military activity and English society 1452-97 (Routledge & Kegan 1981) p.162; HJ Hewitt – The Black Prince’s Expeditions (Pen and Sword Edition 2004) pp.46-49, and Lt Col Alfred Burns – The Crecy War (Eyre and Spottiswoode 1955) p.246; I have taken my definition of chevauchée from Professor Goodman. Colonel Burns’ definition is substantially the same, though more precise (literally: ‘procession of mounted men’; troops (all-arms) on the march or on expedition; translated by most English writers as ‘raid’. Mr Hewitt suggests that it was generally taken to mean a specifically military operation carried out on a relatively small scale.

[31] Hewitt, pp.46-47

[32] Cunningham p.183 and note18; he cites the lists of wages from the Tellers Rolls for 1475, NA.E405/59 and E405/60.

[33] John Harding (1378-1464). Hardyng was a squire in the service of the earl of Northumberland. He fought at the battles of Shrewsbury (1403) and Agincourt (1415). Hardyng mapped Scotland over a period of three years on the orders of Henry V. This map was produced as an aid to any English invasion force.

[34] Hewitt, pp.47-48

[35] Davies (YMR) p108 and note; Scofield P.294; Cunningham p.186

[36] Ross (E4) pp. 280-81; Ross (R3) p.45; Scofield pp. 304-05

[37] John Ashdown-Hill – Richard III’s beloved cousin: John Howard and the House of York (The History Press 2015) p.62

[38] Scofield Vol 2 p.303-05; Ms Scofield provides useful details of Edward’s naval and military preparations

[39]  Michael K Jones – Richard III as a soldier, published in Richard III: a medieval kingship (J Gillingham –Ed) (Collins and Brown 1993) pp.99-100.

[40] Ross (E4) p. 282

[41] Ross (E4) pp.282-83

[42] Scofield Vol 2, p.321; Ross (E4) p.282

[43] John Lesley – The History of Scotland from the death of James I in the year 1436 to the year 1561 (Bannatyne Club 1830) p.45

[44] Scofield ibid

[45] Froissart pp.48-52

[46] Davies YMR pp.127-28, 174; York, already committed to providing 120 archers for active service in Scotland later provided an additional 80 horsemen at their own expense. It was good service that Gloucester would not forget when he became king.

[47] Davies YMR ibid; there is the slightest hint if this in Davies (p.127), which I paraphrase: ‘The right high and mighty prince the duke of Gloucester, by the grace of God intends, in his own person, to enter Scotland on Wednesday next and to subdue the king’s great enemy the king of Scots and his adherents’

[48] Kendall p.141; Ross (E4) pp.237-38

[49] Kendall ibid

[50] Davies p.129. Albany was styled ‘Alexander king of the Scots by the gift of the king of England’, a title that was bound to infuriate and motivate the Scots.

[51] Macdougall (J3 and R3) p.163; the advantage of using Macdougal is that he writes from a Scottish perspective

[52] Scofield Vol 2, p.345

[53] Kendal p.143; Pronay (CC) p. 149 The Crowland chroniclers actually seems to deplore Gloucester’s humanity!

[54] Pronay, ibid

[55] Ross (E4) pp. 289-90

[56] Macdougal (J3 and R3) pp. 164-65; Cunningham pp.192-94; Kendal pp141-43

[57] Cunningham p.183; PROME, Vol 14, pp.412-25

[58] Ross (R3) pp.25-26; as professor Ross observes, Edward’s policy of creating powerful independent warlords was dangerous since they might threaten the monarchy in future. He is unsure whether it is a case of Edward losing his grip or of Gloucester exerting undue influence; nonetheless, it seems to have been Edward’s deliberate policy to empower his brother.

 

 

Thomas Langton: Richard III’s Character Witness

RICARDIAN LOONS

Amongst the glories of Winchester Cathedral, there is a chantry chapel of outstanding beauty and magnificence. The man who is buried there, and for whom the roof bosses provide a rebus clue, is Thomas Langton, who died of plague in 1501 only days after being elected by Henry VII as Archbishop of Canterbury. Earlier, he had served as the Bishop of Winchester (1493-1501), Salisbury (1484-93) and St. David’s (1483-84), and acted as a servant to three — or four, depending on how you count — English kings. As the information plaque at Winchester Cathedral succinctly announces, Langton had been a chaplain to Edward IV and Richard III, and Ambassador to France and Rome.

Although his death came as a surprise in his 70th year, he did have the opportunity to make an extensive will, showing he died a very wealthy man. It runs to over 100 items, and contains…

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Come into my parlor said The Spider…

louis xi 2

An engraved portrait of Louis XI in 1450

 

One of the most intriguing and, let’s face it, entertaining characters in all of Ricardian history must be King Louis the Eleventh of France – known to history by his sobriquet The Spider.  Others may cite Margaret Anjou or Henry Tudor as a deeper thorn in the flesh of King Richard the Third but surely the relentless Louie got under his skin in a much more personal and pesky way.

Although King Edward IV had been dealing with this eccentric and conniving monarch for awhile, it was not until the peace treaty of Picquigny in the summer of 1475 that the young Duke of Gloucester got his first taste of Louis. Edward, along with his brothers Richard and George, had landed in Calais in July with the royal army prepared to do battle.

Meeting up with Charles the Duke of Burgundy, his erratic brother-in-law, the English king quickly became frustrated with the Duke’s lack of military support.  That, combined perhaps with the encroaching sloth that would eventually consume him, convinced Edward that a victory with France could not be exploited properly and might very well drain the treasury.  So, to the astonishment of his youngest brother, Edward sued for peace – and a major payoff.  The terms of that peace were a bit more than thirty pieces of silver delivered by Louis.  In fact, the deal included 75,000 gold crowns delivered immediately with an additional 50,000 to be given once a year; his young daughter, Elizabeth, was pledged in marriage to the French king’s son and a somewhat nasty pact was struck to crack down on rebellious subjects in either country.  To sign the treaty, the two monarchs met on a bridge; one dressed as a magnificent prince of the realm and the other looking like he had been dragged through a hedge backwards.

“Oh, he’s a very handsome King, that one!” Louis gleefully noted to his advisors.  “He’s crazy about girls!”

Meanwhile, the young Gloucester, ever ready for battle, fumed and refused to be a party to the treaty and was not seen upon the bridge.  Later, pushed by his big brother, Richard came into the parlor of The Spider where he was forced to dine and accept plate and fine horseflesh.  Apparently, it did not break the ice.  Instead, it reminded the French king that not every English royal or noble could be seduced with large bribes.  It would be the beginning of a long-running feud between the two stubborn monarchs.

King Louis the Eleventh reigned as King of France for approximately twenty years, dying in 1483.  But from his boyhood as Dauphin until adulthood, he managed to engage in so many feuds, so many intrigues and banishments by his harassed father Charles VII, that he early on acquired the name “The Universal Spider” and “The Cunning.”  Caring nothing for ceremony or dress – with the exception of a peculiar winged cap – he often sat with servants at suppertime and in old age indulged in a loopy obsession with exotic animals that included a vast number of large birds that were either caged or allowed to soar free inside his caltrop-encrusted fortress at Plessis-les-Tours.  But for all his eccentricities, he was no Henry VI.  He was a wily and formidable opponent who never gave Europe a minute of peace during all his years on the throne.

Is it any wonder that he has intrigued writers from Shakespeare to Sir Walter Scott, Balzac, Victor Hugo?  Or that he has been portrayed many times in  films, most notably the story of Francois Villon in “If I Were King” (in which he is played by Oscar-nominated Basil Rathbone) as well as the Charles Laughton version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” wherein the ubiquitous Hollywood actor Harry Davenport took the role?

harry davenport

Harry Davenport as Louis XI in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The next time Louis clashes with Richard was in 1483 shortly before his fatal illness.  Refusing to be stymied by mundane death, The Spider was still up to his old tricks.  He busily seized English ships and merchandise until merchants feared venturing into Bordeaux and other places under French authority.  These merchants were forced to stand by mutely as Louis happily trashed truces and treaties with all the rebellious spirit of his youth.  He ignored Richard’s coronation and when he did get around to congratulating him, did it in brief and dismissive tones.  At that point, Richard took up his pen rather than his sword and behaved without the murderous psychopathic anger ascribed to him by traditionalists and lady novelists turned historian.  Instead, he wrote the following:

“…in order that my subjects and merchants may not find themselves deceived as a result of this present ambiguous situation, I pray you that by my servant this bearer, one of the grooms of my stable (no more impressive envoy being called for!), you will let me know in writing your full intentions, at the same time informing me if there is anything I can do for you in order that I may do it with good heart.  And farewell to you, Monsieur mon cousin.”

Unfortunately, Richard never got to make good on his sly jest to place a knave before a king.  Shortly after he wrote this letter, The Spider popped off in his French fortress, undoubtedly surrounded by his beloved greyhounds and screeching parrots.

One wonders whether his court mourned or breathed a sigh of relief!

Louis_XI_of_France

A portrait of a younger Louis XI in which he’s no doubt thinking up various intrigues.

 

This essay is based on Paul Murray Kendal’s “Richard the Third” and “Louis XI” as well as “Richard III” by Charles Ross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STILL LOOKING FOR RICHARD 

Introduction

According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the noun Ricardianism means ‘support for or advocacy of Richard III’. Even though I have been a supporter of king Richard III for almost six decades, I am reluctant to describe myself as a Ricardian since it implies a narrow interest in one man. I prefer to call myself a Revisionist, which implies a wider interest. This is a personal eccentricity, which I have to bear. I mean no criticism or offence to Ricardians and I sincerely hope none is taken by my frankness. However, the distinction is important to me because it has informed my personal search for the real king Richard.  I have been looking for him since I was a pre-pubescent schoolboy in East London in the fifties. During that time I have met many different ‘Richards’; the purpose of this piece is to share a few of them with you.

 

Olivier’s Richard: the bravura baddie

Although William Shakespeare bears some responsibility for my interest in the last Plantagenet king, it was Laurence Olivier who fired my imagination with his electrifying performance of the king. The first thing to strike me about Olivier’s performance was his voice. It is, as he himself described, it “ …the thin reed of a sanctimonious scholar…it set the vision going thin and rapier like but all-powerful…the perfect hypocrite…. A mixture of honey and razor blades ”[1] Olivier’s Richard is a baddie, but he was an irresistibly captivating baddie. He is witty, he is heroic, and he is sexually potent. The passage wherein he woos Anne, the mourning widow of the man he has just murdered is one of the most lascivious scenes in cinematic history. Olivier’s brilliant and irresistible theatricality is only the posturing of power. He knows how wicked his deeds are but he does them anyway. His opening soliloquy sets the scene:

“Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York…

And

“Since I cannot prove a lover

To entertain these fair well spoken days

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of the day

Plots have I laid…”

And he doesn’t disappoint: from the moment he walks on the set, he frames each event for us. He announces it in advance, providing a running commentary and evaluating its success. He seduces a grieving widow as she accompanies her dead husband’s coffin. He murders anyone who gets in his way: his brother, his wife, his nephews, his friend and comrade in arms. He lies, tricks, boasts, leers, jeers and laughs his way to the throne, delighting in his own malignity and making the camera a mirror for his vanity. And then he falls: spectacularly. Richmond invades from France and takes the initiative. His ‘supporters’ desert him and the hunchback metaphor rises to the surface; he is racked with the ghosts of those he has murdered. Typically, his courage is unimpaired. At Bosworth on his last day on earth he tells us “Richard is himself again”. Fighting with supernatural courage and ferocity to retain his life and crown; finally his enemies overwhelm him. In the end only his voice sours: “ a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse... Ultimately, Richard’s death is as much a performance as his life. Great stuff! I still watch that film today and I still have an almost irresistible urge to punch Stanley Baker’s lights out.

 

Inspector Grant’s Richard: on the bench and not in the dock

To be honest I have only read three Ricardian novels and I only enjoyed two of them. Pride of place must go to Josephine Tey. Her novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ set a very high standard for novelists to aspire too during the sixty plus years since Inspector Alan Grant made his first appearance in Ricardian literature. As an experienced Scotland Yard detective Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a criminal on sight. However, when, on being shown the NPG portrait of Richard III, he places him on the bench rather than in the dock, Grant begins to fret. From his hospitable bed and with the help of a young American researcher called Brett Carradine he begins an investigation into the allegations against king Richard, which Grant thinks changes history. Grant sees Richard as a man much traduced and he blames the historians for this. His Richard is a virtuous man, honest and loyal to a fault, brave and an able administrator. He is just, with a genuine care for the common weal. As a former soldier himself, Grant is hugely impressed with Richard’s military career (‘he was a brigadier at eighteen’). It took me a few years to find out that Inspector Grant’s version of Richard was based on the work of Sir Clement Markham. Published at the turn of the twentieth century. Markham’s account is an elegant but flawed defence of Richard, which modern scholars tend to regard like the ‘curates egg’: it is good in parts.

 

The Tudor Richard: the facts do not always speak for themselves

It is the Tudor based history of Richard started by Sir Thomas More and completed by William Shakespeare, which still dominates the public’s perception of him as a regicide, homicide, usurper and tyrant. This is the Tudor view of Richard that took hold immediately after Bosworth. Mindful of his weak claim to the throne, Henry VII ‘encouraged’ his subjects to believe that his victory and accession was the preordained ending of Richard’s tyrannical reign and, further, that his marriage to Elizabeth of York was the heaven-sent ending of thirty years of internecine civil wars. It is this doctrine that Professor EMW Tillyard calls the ‘Tudor Myth’[2] It is intended to promote the Tudor worldview not just by blackening Richard’s name but by directing what people should think about the Tudors, their claim to the throne and English history. It was a political necessity to blacken Richard’s name to enable the purity of the Tudor dynasty to shine ever brighter.

Professor Paul Murray Kendall describes the growth of this process: “In the court of king Henry VII…there existed among the men who conspired against king Richard III and bought his overthrow a body of opinion, continually enlarged by tales and conjectures concerning the past, which they had conquered. It was out of this amorphous mass of fact, reminiscence, hearsay growing ever more colourful and detailed with the passing years, that the authors of Henry VIII’s day fashioned the (Tudor) tradition.” The problem with the Tudor tradition is not simply that it represents the history of the victors, but also that it is confused and conflicting, and it is based on nothing more than rumour and gossip. It is also clear that Henry VII tampered with the historical record. He ordered Titulus Regius, Richard’s Act of Settlement, to be destroyed without being read, on pain of punishment. He also allowed his official Tudor historian to publish a false account of Richards’s title and his accession[3]. This whole episode highlights the pivotal role played by historians in shaping our perception of history.

 

Self evidently, historical facts are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong. It was the historian EH Clark who wrote: “I am reminded of Houseman’s remark that ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. To praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using properly seasoned wood and properly mixed concrete in his buildings.”[4] Nonetheless, facts do not necessarily speak for themselves. Peoples’ opinions are influenced by the selection and arrangement of appropriate facts. And it is the historians who decide what facts are important, and their context. Necessarily, this is a subjective exercise; it is a mistake to think that facts exist independently of a historian’s interpretation. What constitutes an important ‘historical fact’ as opposed to an ordinary unhistorical fact depends on the historian’s viewpoint. For instance, our picture of England during Richard’s reign is incomplete. This is not just due to gaps in the sources or records but also to the fact that those we do have are largely written by a small number of people in southeastern England. We know quite a bit about the discontent of the Yorkist gentry in London and the south, but we know little or nothing about how his reign was viewed outside that area.   Our view of Richard’s reign has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. Not only are the facts we do have subjective; we almost certainly do not have all the facts.

 

The modern Richard: a study in polemics

These problems raise important ethical and professional questions about impartiality and objectivity. Can historians remain objective? Should they be objective? Professor John Gillingham explores these questions in an essay about Richard’s character.[5] He identifies the dichotomy between Richard’s behavior before 1483 and the nature of his alleged crimes thereafter as the central problem in explaining his character, which he argue raises ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’. It creates a hostile, adversarial environment in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign. He argues that the whole process has developed the features of a courtroom trial (indeed it has). This is awkward because (in the words of historian David Knowles) “…an historian is not a judge, much less a hanging judge” Professor Gillingham adds that it is this reluctance to judge historical characters, allied (in this case) to a realization that “… the evidence base is non-existent” that has led to an accommodation between the traditionalist historians and Ricardians.

He may well be right, but I see little or no evidence of any such ‘accommodation’. Indeed, traditionalist and Ricardian literature and their respective websites are replete with strident and in some cases intolerant views on Richard’s guilt or innocence. Unfortunately for the disinterested observer, too much of this writing is polemical: some for him but most against him.   Professor Charles Ross put his finger on the key issue for modern historians: “ The extraordinary problems of the evidence are highlighted by the difficulty historians have always found in providing an answer to the vital question: when and why did Richard seek the throne for himself?” [6] Clearly, anybody wishing to write a balanced piece about Richard has to struggle with the paradox of his behaviour before April 1483 and the crimes he is accused of thereafter. Professor Ross assures us that the modern approach is to ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s “…character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” Ross further argues that modern historians have a much better understanding of the Tudor tradition and a wider knowledge of fifteenth century English politics, adding for good measure that this has resulted in “…a more critical appreciation of the value of the Tudor tradition and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence…”[7] Even for a neutral observer, these comments raise two obvious issues. First, one wonders how closely the events of these times can be scrutinized given the ‘extraordinary problems’ of the evidence alluded to. Second, the suggestion that the Tudor tradition is confirmed by contemporary sources simply begs the question, since the probity of the contemporary material is precisely the issue disputed by Ricardians. The Tudor writers may simply be repeating the mistakes of fifteenth century sources.

 

The return of the king

The rescue of Richard’s bones from a municipal car park and their reinternment in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester is a historic moment, which I welcome. It enables people to focus on his humanity, which is a much-needed balance to the Tudor inspired caricature we are familiar with. We know what he looked like, what he ate, what he drank, that he had scoliosis, and exactly how he died — in graphic detail. Nevertheless, his reinternment with honour has done nothing to close the rift between Ricardians and traditionalists. More worryingly from my perspective, is the impression I get that the drama surrounding his discovery and reinternment, and the keen debate it has provoked, may be transforming the last Plantagenet king into a cult figure.   Moreover, the discovery of his bones, invaluable though this is, does not actually advance our knowledge and understanding of the defining events of his life: the bastardization and deposition of his nephew Edward V, and the disappearance of the two Princes in the Tower. A dearth of reliable contemporary sources, the growth of an enduring legend, epitomized by Shakespeare, and the passage of time have conspired to prevent us from being able to establish what truly happened during the critical period of Richard’s life. I accept that on the material we have now we cannot know the truth. We can interpret the material according to our personal agenda, we can analyse peoples’ movements and actions and we can infer their intentions and motives. But, as things, stand we can never know what the actual truth is.

For me, therefore, the search continues….

[1] Laurence Olivier – On Acting (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1986). I suspect Olivier was really a Ricardian. This is what the thought of Shakespeare’s history “I didn’t read any of the books that were around, protecting Richard from the false rumour written by this tinkerer with melodrama, whose name is William Shakespeare, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else. I just stayed with the man.” (p79)

[2]. EMW Tillyard Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1944); pp. 29-32

[3]. It was (and is) unheard of for a Parliamentary bill to be repealed without being read. It is indicative of Henry VII‘s desire to suppress the truth.

[4]. EH Clark- What is History? (Palgrave Macmillan 2001 edition) at page 5

[5]. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) pp 11

[6]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 64.

[7]. Ross at page LXVI

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