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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 19th century British reference to the Portuguese marriage

The facts of the proposed marriages of Richard III to Joana of Portugal and of Manoel of Beja to Elizabeth of York had, of course, been known in Portugal for a long time, before being published by Domingos Mauricio Gomes dos Santos in 1963.

Arthur Kincaid picked up on this and mentioned the marriages in his 1979 publication of his edition of Buck. Barrie Williams then wrote about the matter at length in the Ricardian in the 1980s and Jeremy Potter mentioned the marriages also in his 1983 book Good King Richard? And it was Williams, of course, who inspired Annette Carson to look into the matter more deeply, and write at length about it in The Maligned King.

Yet, there has been no evidence that earlier Ricardians (ie before 1963) knew anything about the matter. Paul Murray Kendall did not know about the marriages, and bemoaned the “fact” that Richard had made no effort to marry off his nieces to get them out of Henry Tudor’s reach (he did not know about Cecily and Ralph Scrope, either). It does not feature in The Daughter of Time; nor in Philip Lindsay’s glowing biography in 1933, nor in Sir Clements Markham’s 1906 book, nor any of the earlier authors, such as Halsted and Buck. Yet, at least one near-contemporary of Markham did know, and mentioned it in one of his books. Unfortunately, he was not a Ricardian…..

Henry (H) Morse Stephens was born in 1857 in Edinburgh and attended Balliol College, Oxford where he obtained a BA in 1880 and an MA in 1892. He was a staff lecturer there until 1894. He also lectured at Cambridge University on Indian history, while writing articles for a number of magazines and papers.

Stephens also wrote a number of books including works about Sir Robert Peel, the French revolution, Indian history … and a history of Portugal, which appears to have been written in the early 1890s. In discussing the reign of Joana’s brother, King (Dom) João II (still popular in Portugal today, by the way, with at least one Algarve hotel named after him!), Stephens talks about João’s relationship with Edward IV and Richard III, in particular relating to the renewals of the Treaty of Windsor by both Kings. He then has this to say:

“In 1485 the King of Portugal proposed in a Cortes held at Alcobaça, that his only sister, Joanna (sic), should be given in marriage to Richard III, but the princess, who … wished to become a nun … refused the alliance”.

Interestingly, it was at that Cortes that the Portuguese discovered, to their dismay, that Richard was exploring the possibility of marrying Isabel of Aragon if Joana would not have him. This, of course, pretty much ensured a favourable reply from the Portuguese, and led to Annette Carson’s interesting and very plausible interpretation of Buck’s Elizabeth of York letter: that she was asking Norfolk to speak to Richard to ensue he pursued the Portuguese marriage (which offered marriage with Manoel of Beja), rather than the Spanish one, which offered her nothing.

So…… there were indeed people before the 20th Century in this country, and not just in Portugal, who knew perfectly well that Richard was not trying to marry his niece and yet none of the people who would have benefited from the information – like Markham – knew anything about it. In the case of Stephens’s book, it was a specialised subject that a Ricardian author would have no reason to read, unless he also happened, by chance, to be interested in Portugal. Another problem in this particular case was that Stephens emigrated to America in 1894, becoming Professor of History at Berkeley, in California. Following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, he spent the rest of his life (he died in 1919) collecting as much information as possible about that tragedy.

The cynic in me, though, does wonder whether others (ie those not well disposed towards Richard) might have known – and chosen to keep the information to themselves.

One final point about Markham, he visited Portugal at least once (and was actually staying in Estoril when he heard of the death of his friend Robert Scott (of the Antarctic)). If only he had known……

References:

Wikipedia – Henry Morse Stephens

Arthur Kincaid – edition of George Buck’s original work

Jeremy Potter – Good King Richard?

Annette Carson – The Maligned King

H Morse Stephens – The Story of Portugal (described in the Kindle version as a Short History of Portugal)

A 1950’s Kids’ Book with a Different View

We tend to think of anything relating to Richard  III prior to the last  forty years to be biased towards traditional views, with the exceptions of Josephine Tey’s novel, Paul Murray Kendall’s biography, a few other novels like Patrick Carlton’s Under the Hog, and the early  ‘defenders’ such as Buck, Markham and Halsted. Children’s books in particular seem to tow the Shakespearean line, with illustrations of shadowy, black clad, limping uncles menacing angelic golden haired children depicted as little more than toddlers. Royal Children of English History  by  famous author E. Nesbit was one of these, containing not only the More-inspired story of the princes finished by a line  that went something like ‘he (Richard) was killed at Bosworth by a much better man, as he throughly deserved.’ (She seemed unaware that Henry Tudor placed a young child, Edward of Warwick, into the Tower shortly thereafter. There were also references to ‘the great Henry VIII’ and a story that made Edward of Lancaster seem to be a young child going into battle rather than a young man).

However, there were exceptions:  in the 1950’s a softcover book for children appeared Mediaeval Britain Told in Pictures by C.W. Aime. This book covered the medieval era  but used the medium of art rather than text, with the drawing based of portraits and illustrations of the day. We see pilgrimages and we see the burning of Lollards (older kids’ books tenders NOT to skirt around such things) and we have the wedding of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou, an armoured Richard Duke of York…and even the  murder of Edmund of Rutland at Wakefield (who tends to get forgotten in favour of Edward of Lancaster.) Sopeaking of which, the book goes on then to illustrated Edward IV’s reign including a scene in which  the King strikes Edward of Lancaster who is then murdered by his men.

This is where it gets interesting. Under the caption there is no mention of Richard having any involvement at all, despite the overwhelming Shakespearean influence of the time. The blame seems to be laid firmly at Edward’s door. The next page features drawings of both Edward V and Richard III and facsimiles of their signatures…and not a mention of  murders in the Tower, hunchbacks,  smothering, dolorous babes or usurpation.

Instead at the bottom of the page is a very interesting comment : ‘The brief reigns of Edward V (1483) and Richard III (1483-1485) are important chiefly as transition periods introducing the Tudor Despotism.’

An unusual opinion in that particular era especially in a book primarily intended for children–but certainly a refreshing one.

aime1aime2

 

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

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

Part 4 – “… the corruption of a blemished stock “

A beauty-waning and distressed widow,

   Even in the afternoon of her best days,

   Made prize and purchase of his wanton eye

   Seduced the pitch and height of his degree

   To base declension and loathed bigamy. “

   (William Shakespeare)

 

“ Is all things ready for the royal time?”

There is very little contemporary material about what was happening in May 1483, after the Council meeting. The picture we have is of everybody busy preparing for the king’s coronation on the 22 June. The council, led by the Lord Protector, was in a difficult if not an impossible position trying to govern and defend the realm without the royal treasure (stolen by the Woodvilles) and the fleet (commandeered by the Woodville’s)[1]. Nevertheless, the Lord Protector continued to act with propriety and it is evident that he intended to crown Edward V. Despite the queen’s intransigence, he acted lawfully and was especially careful to try and negotiate a peaceful end to her sanctuary[2].

As late as the 5 June 1483, the Protector summoned all those who were to be knighted, to come to London at least four days prior to the coronation. The same day he wrote to the citizens of York apologizing for the fact he that was too busy with the coronation preparations to deal with their recent request for financial relief. The significance of this letter is its ordinariness, which is in stark contrast to his letter to the same citizens five days later. In the second letter, the Protector requested troops to help against the queen and her blood adherents who were planning to murder him and Buckingham. It was a noticeable change in tone. The inference that he was suddenly alarmed by this murderous conspiracy is doubtful, as he had known of the threat to his life since Stony Stratford or earlier. If it was in response to that threat, he has left it too late; York’s troops could not reach London much before the end of June. I believe that something else has happened between the 5 and 10 June 1483, which alerted the Protector to a new and very serious threat to the stability of the realm and to him.[3]

The ‘wicked bishop’

It is Philippé De Commynes a Flemish knight in the service of Louis XI who 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.” [4] It would be wrong to say, as James Gairdner did, that the evidence of this pre contract rests on the ‘single testimony’ of Robert Stillington, since the truth is we do not have his testimony: not a word of it. We do not know when or where Edward and Eleanor were married[5], or even when Stillington revealed all to the protector. What we do know is that this revelation, if true, had serious implications for the royal succession. It would make, Edward’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Woodville bigamous and their offspring illegitimate, and unable in law to succeed to the throne[6]. I believe it was this news that worried the Protector.

Sir Clement Markham suggests that Stillington told Gloucester and the council about the pre-contract on Sunday the 8 June 1483[7]. All we know about this meeting is what we get from a letter written by Simon Stallworth to Sir William Stonor, in which he writes: “My Lord Protector, my Lord of Buckingham and all other Lords, as well temporal as spiritual [sic] were at Westminster”. It’s a pity that Stallworth either doesn’t know or declines to reveal what was actually discussed. The meeting lasted for four hours, which is unusually long for an update on preparations for the coronation. Also, Stallworth writes that they discussed great business about the coronation’. I infer from this phrase that this was not a routine meeting. It is also interesting to note that nobody spoke to the queen’, which suggests that negotiations between the Lord Protector and the queen had broken down and something important was happening.

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’. However, the word ‘against’ has eighteen different meanings in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, five of which use the word in the sense of ‘resistance to or opposition to…’ Is it possible that Stallworth is referring obliquely to a discussion about the pre-contract, including the propriety of proceeding with the coronation? However, Stallworth could just as easily have been disseminating a sanitized version of events meant for publication. It is also likely that the Protector needed more time to investigate the veracity of Stillington’s claim. Whilst there may well have been a serious discussion about the situation, it was more likely to take place in camera[8].

I think that by the 10 June 1483, Gloucester was convinced that Stillington’s story was true. In his letter to York of the same date he is not reacting to a new threat from Dorset and Hastings, but preparing himself for the possibility of a Woodville counterstroke, once the existence of the pre-contract became public knowledge. He was obviously worried about the increased prospect of civil war breaking out again. Neither can there be any doubt that the personal consequences were also on his mind. The letter to York provides a convenient cover story, which gives nothing new away if it falls into the wrong hands.

Robert Stillington (d1491)[9] rose from humble origins to become Edward IV’s Chancellor in 1467. This suggests that Kendall’s description of him, as “a man of mediocre talents, not remarkable for strength of character” was both unfair and untrue[10]. He served Edward IV as Chancellor until 1473, when he retired through ill health. Thereafter he fell from favour. In 1478, he was imprisoned for “uttering words prejudicial to the king and state”.[11] After paying a ‘round sum’ he was forgiven and released. However, he never worked for Edward IV again. It is possible that he revealed the pre-contract in 1483 out of resentment over his fall from grace and a desire for revenge against the Woodville’s. If so, he received no discernible reward from Gloucester. It is equally possible that he felt bound to raise such a grave impediment to the succession of Edward V once it became obvious that he would be a figurehead under the control of the Woodvilles. We simply don’t know, essentially. There is nothing in his private or public life to suggest he was untrustworthy. Neither has anybody been able to produce evidence that he invented the pre-contract story either on his own or as part of a conspiracy with Gloucester, or that he allowed Gloucester to put him up to it.   There are no grounds for doubting Stillington’s credibility as a truthful eyewitness to the marriage of the king and Eleanor Butler. Neither is there much force in the argument that Stillington’s story was known to be false at the time. The only doubts that were expressed came from sources in southern England, which was a region hostile to king Richard during his lifetime. Furthermore, they were written after his death at a time when Henry VII was actively trying to re-write the official history of king Richard’s protectorship and reign.

“He that filches me of my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor”

It is unfortunate, that whatever proofs of evidence Stillington provided have not survived. It is this gap in the paper trail that encourages some historians to believe that the pre-contract story was a fabrication. Even if we disregard the illogicality of such a belief (It does not necessarily follow from the absence of written proof that Stillington was lying, much less that he and Gloucester conspired to tell lies.), it overlooks or disregards the fundamental importance of Titulus Regius (The King’s Title) in ratifying king Richard’s election by the ‘three estates’ and his title to the crown. In the absence of evidence of coercion or deception it requires more that Crowland’s cavalier comment that Parliament acquiesced through fear, to convince me that king Richard’s election was a fraud[12].

There are other circumstantial details, which taken together indicate the truth of Stillington’s story. Henry VII’s actions after Bosworth are of special importance. In his first Parliament (November 1485), Henry repealed Titulus Regius without being read. This was unheard of in Parliamentary history. Furthermore, the king ordered all existing copies of Titulus Regius to be destroyed on pain of punishment[13]. This was a deliberate attempt by Henry VII to pervert our understanding of historical events.   It is obvious that he had to repeal Titulus Regius, since he relied on his wife’s (Elizabeth of York) title to bolster his own weak title. There was no question of allowing the declaration of her bastardy to remain. However, his attempt to expunge Titulus Regius from the official record, as though it had never existed calls into question his motive. His own explanation, that he could not bear to have this infamy of his wife and her family remembered, is no doubt the truth, but it is not the whole truth. If we combine this parliamentary manoeuvre with his treatment of Robert Stillington, we gain some insight into the king’s possible motive. Almost before king Richard’s corpse was cold on the field of Bosworth, Henry Tudor issued a warrant for the arrest of Robert Stillington. The bishop was arrested, convicted of ‘horrible and heinous offences imagined [This means ‘planned: Stillington was not convicted for his naughty thoughts.] and done’, and imprisoned.   And then Henry pardoned him: why? He also refused a request by his judges to examine Stillington as to the facts of the pre contract: why? It may well have been due to Stillington’s age and infirmity; though such considerations never usually stopped Henry from ruthlessly enforcing his interests. It may equally be that he believed the story was true and feared that a formal investigation would fatally undermine his own pretensions to the crown.

“He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber “

Finally, the existence of the pre-contract was plausible. In fact, king Edward IV’s lascivious behaviour was notorious. Crowland describes him in general terms as “ …a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion…”[14] 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.”[15] That is strong stuff indeed.   And if we want an example of how he used his power to promise anything to get into bed with women, we need look no further than his clandestine ‘marriage’ to Elizabeth Grey. It is a classic example of the king’s modus operandi.  The question of the notoriety of Edward’s behaviour and his marriage to Eleanor Butler is also important in a legal context and it is something I will be dealing with in another essay.

I leave the last word to Sir James Gairdner: “ The story of the pre-contract has been generally discredited by historians; but without pretending that it rests on very satisfactory evidence, we may still affirm that there are no sufficient grounds for regarding it as a mere political invention.”[16]

[1]. Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1979) 4 Volumes, V3 at pages 29-30. Lord Dynham, the commander of the Calais garrison wrote to the Lord Protector, explaining his intention to petition Parliament to find ways for ensuring the continuing payment of the Calais garrison.

[2]. BL Harl 443, V1 at page 16; the Protector wrote to Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury sometime between the 16 and 19 May. He wanted an urgent meeting with all the senior clergy to discuss “certain difficult and urgent matters”, which would be made clearer at the meeting: a crisis? It is possible that the Protector was trying to secure a peaceful and legal end to the queen’s sanctuary. Unfortunately, we do not know that outcome of this request.

[3]. The tendency to regard Gloucester’s change of attitude as being due to the recent discovery of a plot to kill him and Buckingham is understandable since that is what he wrote in his letter to York.   However, there is another possible explanation. It is based on the premise that Gloucester was alarmed by the consequences for the realm if Stillington’s revelation proved true. No doubt, he wanted to test the truth of Stillington’s story and think about those consequences. Viewed in this light, his request to York was a sensible and timely call for reinforcements to guard against the possibility of civil disorder once the pre-contract became common knowledge. He used the murder plot as an excuse to ensure that the citizens of York took him seriously and to keep his knowledge secret. I accept that this is speculation, but it does explain why Gloucester apparently waited until it was too late to get help. If the ‘plot’ was so alarming and urgent, his delay bordered on incompetence: not what I would expect from a man acknowledged by all to be an efficient soldier and administrator.

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

[5] See John Ashdown-Hill- Eleanor: the secret queen (The History Press 2009) at pages 99-116 for intriguing speculation about when and where Edward and Eleanor met, became lovers and were secretly married. See also Peter A Hancock – Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) at 33-43 for an alternative theory about Eleanor and Edward’s marriage. Like all conjecture these are based on inferences drawn from the surrounding circumstances, which may or may not be true. Though both theories are conceivable they differ considerably in their detail, which suggests that at least one of them may be wrong.

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

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

[8]. Stallworth’s correspondence is helpfully reproduced in full in Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) at Appendix 1, pages 158-59.

[9]. Michael Hicks -Robert Stillington BNG entry.

[10] Paul Murray Kendal – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) at pages 217-219 and the note 14, page 475; this contains an excellent analysis of Stillington’s reliability as a witness.

[11]. See MA Hicks – False, Fleeting, Perjured Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) at pages 163-164; and Dr John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet (The History Press) at pages 138-146. There is speculation that Stillington had earlier told George Duke of Clarence about the pre-contract, which was the secret reason for Clarence’s execution in 1478. Both Hicks and Ashdown-Hill demolish that theory, though they differ from each other in their explanation of what happened. Personally, I think that the words ‘prejudicial’ uttered by Stillington are much more likely to have been an objection to the lack of ‘due process’ at Clarence’s trial.

[12]. I am not going into the detail of the legal and political problems of king Richard’s constitutional title. I hope to deal with those issues and Titular Regius in another essay.

[13]. See Rotuli Parliamenterum AD1485, 1 Henry VII. The language of Henry’s Act repealing king Richard’s Titular Regius is revealing. First: “ That the original be destroyed and that any copies should be either destroyed or returned to Parliament on pain of fine or imprisonment.” And in case that was not clear enough, second: “ That the said Bill, Act and Record be annulled and utterly destroyed, and that it be ordained by the said authority that the said Act be taken out of the Roll of Parliament and be cancelled, burned and be put into oblivion.” See also R.E. Horrox – Henry VII Parliament, November 1485 in Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (ed C. Given-Wilson), 16 volumes, Vol XV at pages 97 and 328; and Nicholas Pronay et al – Parliamentary Texts of the Late Middle Ages (Clarendon, Oxford 1980) at page 186 (“A Colchester Account of Proceedings in Parliament 1485, by representatives of the Borough of Colchester Thomas Christmas and John Vertue’). This latter (diary) account contains an interesting entry for Wednesday the 15 November 1485, the sixth day of parliament: “there ware qwestionns moved for the commonwel of thise false persons whiche hath reyned many dayes amongs us, and (non) conclusion”. This entry also appears in the appendix of PROME but not in the Roll itself: is it an oblique reference to the discussion surrounding Henry’s Act?

[14]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 153.

[15]. Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (AJ Armstrong, editor) (Oxford 1969 ed) at page 67.

[16]. Gairdner at page 115.

The Fotheringhay Boar(s)

In all my travels to England, I had yet to visit Fotheringhay, the place where Richard III was born on October 2, 1452, and where his grand-uncle, father, mother and brother Edmund are buried. So, when planning our latest trip this past October, I made it a high priority that my husband and I should visit this important Yorkist site; my main goal was to set eyes on the carved Boar that dates from Richard III’s lifetime. My interest in the boar was because Richard had adopted the white (or silver) boar as his personal badge while he was a young teenaged (or preteen) duke of Gloucester. It is located within St. Mary and All Saints church, only a few hundred yards from the castle remains. Much to my surprise, many visitors overlook the carved boar because it is not easy to locate, and it is not even mentioned in the church’s guidebook.

We were traveling by car from Leicester to Bury St. Edmunds, and Fotheringhay was an easy detour along our route towards East Anglia. It was our first foray into Northamptonshire, and we were excited to be visiting the place where not only the Yorkists had a major family home, but also the place where the Woodvilles had their home base. We were planning visits to other places historically significant to the Wars of the Roses: Ely Cathedral; Croyland Abbey; Cambridge; and Bury St. Edmund. But, for me, the boar was the paramount thing.

Many writers have described the pleasant perspective that greets the eye when approaching Fotheringhay, and they were not wrong. The church is situated in a very large field, at the top of a hill. From miles away, one can see the octagonal lantern at the top of its tower, and can catch a glint of gold from the falcon-in-a-fetterlock flagpole.

photo-21

The fetterlock-and-falcon symbol was adopted by Edward III’s fifth son, Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York, and became perhaps one of the more predominant cognizances of the house of York, even to the point that Langley used it for the groundplan for his renovation of Fotheringhay Castle.

 

flagpole

It was Langley who projected a college at Fotheringhay, and it is believed he built a “large and magnificent” choir adjoining the ancient parish church in the town that huddled close to the castle, near the River Nene. Langley’s son, Edward of Norwich, second Duke of York, obtained a charter in 1412 for its endowment, to include a master, 8 clerks, and 13 choristers. In 1415, the duke obtained a royal license to enlarge the foundation, but did not live to see it built. It was his nephew, Richard, third Duke of York, who carried his uncle’s designs into execution and on the 24th of September, 1435, he signed by commission a contract with William Horwood, freemason of Fotheringhay, for the rebuilding on a scale and in a style exactly corresponding to those of the choir erected by Langley.

model

Edward IV carried on his father’s interest in the church, and gave it new windows of stained glass to the cloisters, along with the windows in the college which were ornamented with shields of arms.   He also gave it a new charter, 300 acres of land, and various privileges and liberties, amongst many grants of income from estates and lands in surrounding communities. The goal was straightforward: it was to be a Yorkist shrine of a grand scale and suitable for the remains of his father and brother Edmund when they were reinterred here in July of 1476.

The lavish scale of the shrine is exemplified by the design of the hearse delivered to Fotheringhay to anticipate the final resting place of the Duke of York and the Earl of Rutland. It was originally designed in 1463. “The hearse and its many pennons and banners were mainly the work of John Stratford, the king’s painter. He made the ‘majesty cloth’ of Christ sitting in judgment on the rainbow, a symbolic scene which was to hang over the effigy [of the duke] before the ‘eyes’ of the dead man.” [Sutton/Visser-Fuchs] The hearse was decorated with 51 gilded wax images of kings and 420 gilded wax images of angels. As if that were not grand enough, the hearse was “dusted” with painted silver roses, over which a gilded single great sun, Edward IV’s personal badge, dominated.

The church at Fotheringhay must never have seen a grander day than that of 29 July 1476. This is when an enormous procession led by the king’s youngest brother, Richard, duke of Gloucester, arrived with the funeral cortege. It must have been quite a colorful sight, as a multitude of banners were carried, many depicting religious subjects, such as the Trinity, Our Lady, St. George, St. Edmund and St. Edward – the saints revered by the house of York. Also depicted were heraldic symbols of importance to York: the white hart, the white lion, the falcon-in-fetterlock, and the white rose.

Behind Richard, who was chief mourner, came several distinguished magnates: Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland; Thomas, Lord Stanley; Richard Hastings, Lord Welles; Ralph, Lord Greystoke; Humphrey, Lord Dacre; and John Blount, Lord Mountjoy. The bodies of the dead were accompanied by 3 kings of arms (March, Norroy, Ireland); 5 heralds (Windsor, Falcon, Chester, Hereford); and 4 pursuivants (Guisnes, Comfort, Ich Dien, Scales). Scores of nobles and their household officers on horseback formed a long cortege, and 400 “poor men” on foot carried torches. According to financial records, tents erected outside the church, could accommodate seating space for 1,500 people. And guests attending could expect to be fed very well by the King’s generosity, as this was an opportunity for him to display his munificence to the subjects of his realm. [Sutton/Visser-Fuchs]

When we entered the church last month, it was with this history in mind. As I walked to the north porch entrance, I imagined the spectacle of all the tents and the hundreds of people being fed. I imagined cups of small ale being raised in honor to the Duke, perhaps people telling stories about his life, and how the surviving children resembled their father in looks or deed.

But my goal was to see the boar. I had read about it in David Baldwin’s text, and he described it as being near or within the pulpit. It’s impossible to miss the pulpit, as it is remarkably colorful and elaborate, when contrasted to the rather plain white walls of the interior:

pulpit

In 1821, H.K. Bonney, archdeacon, made the following observation about the pulpit during his site survey of Fotheringhay, which was undergoing renovations at the time: “The pulpit is original and in good preservation. It is hexagonal, supported on one pillar, and adored with carved panels inserted in a border of tracery. Above are the remains of the canopy, which probably was surmounted by a high crotcheted pinnacle; but which has, since the reformation, given way to a large sounding board. On examining the canopy, whilst it was under repair, some of the ancient gilding, that covered this part of the pulpit, was discovered.”

According to an 1841 treatise by John Henry Parker, the pulpit was presented by Edward IV “as his arms and supporters are carved upon it”. These were carefully cleaned and restored by Archdeacon Bonney in 1821, “whose zeal in antiquarian researches is deserving of the gratitude of this [the Oxford] Society” he wrote. In 1890, C. A. Markham wrote that the pulpit at Fotheringhay was a good example of a paneled oak pulpit of the Perpendicular style, albeit of a design uncommon in Northamptonshire. Markham asserted the pulpit was “erected soon after the year 1440, when the body of the church was built”.

At first I walked around the pulpit several times, admiring the painted panels, but I did not see any carvings as described by these men. After my fifth go-about, I finally realized I had to walk up the pulpit steps in order see the carvings. So glad I did so, because it is there that I found the object of my search:

carvings

No doubt, this was the panel described by Markham as the shield of arms bearing France and England quarterly, surmounted by an imperial crown, and supported on the dexter side by lion rampant quadrant for the Earldom of March, and a bull for Clare; and on the sinister side by a hart, showing the descent from Richard II who took that device, and by a boar for the honour of Windsor possessed by Richard III, the silver boar being his badge.”

I have been researching the use of the boar badge for several months now, and I’ve always been curious about the statement that it was originally from the honour of Windsor. I have yet to locate any confirmed usage of a boar associated with Windsor. Some heraldic experts suggest that the boar was one of the badges of Edward III. Again, I have yet to confirm that. The oldest surviving Garter stall plate at St. George’s, by coincidence, does depict a boar’s head as a crest, but not the full creature.

Also, I think it odd that Markham would conclude the carving dated to the early 1440s under the supervision of the third Duke of York, Richard III’s father. That does not make sense to me since I am not aware of the house of York employing the boar as one of its badges. Yet, it is uncontested that Richard, his son, chose the boar probably when he was in his early teens or pre-teen, and was charged with arraying troops. (Badges were depicted on standards to identify the lord commissioned with the array.) So, the first confirmed Yorkist use of the boar would be somewhere in the mid-1460s, and that coincided exactly with when initial designs for the hearse had been made, in anticipation of the reinterment.

That the boar was designed and made during Edward IV’s reign would lend important information about its iconography. The message conveyed here seems to be that the King announces his descent from the Mortimer line which held the earldom of March and used the cognizance of the white lion. Edward IV is also announcing his claim to be Richard II’s legal heir by depicting that deposed king’s well-known hart cognizance. The black bull of Clarence flanking the dexter side would represent Edward IV’s brother, George, who employed that device as one of his badges. And Edward IV included his youngest brother, Richard, by portraying his badge of the white boar. It’s as though the three sons of York are illuminated here, and they are shown within a unified scheme, with the brothers’ badges being of equal size and support. At the time of the reinterment in 1476, this may have seemed literally true; sadly, only two years would pass, much would change with George’s execution.  How times change.

Much to my surprise, I discovered recently that there had been yet another carved boar in the church at Fotheringhay that also dated to the 15th century. The choir that had been built there by the third duke was dismantled and its furniture sold to various purchasers in 1553, during the reign of Edward VI. Some of those choir stalls still exist in the neighboring church of Hemington. According to written accounts, those stalls had misericords depicting a falcon-inside-fetterlock, a rose, a feather issuing from a ducal coronet, a grotesque, and a boar.

Although I wasn’t aware of the Hemington boar when we were at Fotheringhay, I was able to find a photo of the boar on-line:

Hemington_boar
So, perhaps Markham was right that there was a boar carving in Fotheringhay in the 1440s. And possibly, one could speculate that Richard III as a young lad, might have first set eyes on the boar while he lived there during his first 7-8 years of life, and possibly was impressioned with its symbolism well before he was arraying troops. It would make for an interesting story.

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