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THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF EDWARD IV

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Edward IV 1442-1483

For a king whose reign is otherwise well documented it is curious that the cause of Edward’s death remains a mystery.  It would appear that his death was unexpected.  It seems he was first taken ill at the end of March and despite having access to some of the best medical care available at that time, died on the 9 April at his Palace of Westminster.

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Edward IV’s Coat of Arms, British Library royal manuscripts

Mancini attributed his illness to a cold caught while fishing.  Commynes mentions a stroke while the Croyland Chronicler wrote he ‘was affected neither by old age nor by any known kind of disease which would not have seemed easy to cure in a lesser person’ – in other words the doctors didn’t have a name for the illness that sent Edward to his grave.  How strange.  Rumours abounded of death by poisoning some even going so far as to blame it on a gift of wine from the French king.  Molinet ascribed it as the result of eating a salad after he had become overcome by heat (in April! in England!!)  which caused a chill, others said it was an apoplexy brought on by the treaty of Arras, malaria was even suggested.  Later,  Sir Winston Churchill in his History of the English Speaking Peoples,  would put it down fair and square to debauchery.  But at the end of the day , as Richard E Collins points out (1) most people were concerned with what happened AFTER Edward’s death, rather than what caused it.

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The Old Palace of Westminster where Edward died 9 April 1483

Collins wrote an essay on Edward’s death that was included in Secret History the Truth About Richard lll and the Princes.  He had a considerable knowledge of medical matters and having done some very through research into the death of Edward presented his findings to other medical professionals for their opinions.  They all concluded ‘that the cause of death which best explained all the known facts was poison, probably by some heavy metal such as arsenic’.

First of all an attempt to solve the mystery  was to run though Edwards symptoms but first of all deal with the timescale.  Given that the Croyland Chronicler wrote that Edward took to his bed around Easter and since Easter Sunday was on the 30 March ‘we are dealing with a period of around 10-12 days from inception to death.  If peoples behaviour was anything to go by his death came as a surprise to the Court’.    As Edwards body was laid out naked for viewing,  Collins was then able to rule out death caused by violence, there being no traumas/injuries, accidental or deliberate, no puncture wounds, bruises etc.,  Furthermore there were no marks to be seen of specific diseases such as mumps, smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, chicken pox, bubonic plague, typhus, enteric fever.  Other non-infectious conditions that mark the skin are also able to be ruled out such as purpuras (blotches caused by bleeding under the skin) which can be caused by leukaemia, haemophilia, plague and alcoholism.  Thirdly there was not the  ‘wasting’ caused by cancer, unrelated diabetes, septicaemia or starvation caused by malabsorption.

Anything sudden such as a massive coronary, stroke, pulmonary embolism or a perforated ulcer can be ruled out due to the timescale.  Long drawn out conditions such as ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis and cancer can also be ruled out.

Collins then considers the contemporary sources beginning with Sir Thomas More, who writing 30 years after the event makes no comment on the cause of death save ‘he perceived his natural strength was so sore enfeebled that he despaired all recovery’.  More, as was his wont, wrote a pages long speech delivered on his deathbed.  Collins who had been present at  least on 200 natural deaths had never heard a deathbed speech.  However as we know More never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.  The Crowland Chronicler also gave no cause while Vergil wrote that ‘he fell sick of an unknown disease’.  The only definite accounts actually come from those who were least likely to be in the know such as Mancini and de Commines,  Mancini puts Edward’s death down to a mix of ‘sadness’ plus a cold he caught while on a fishing trip.  According to Collins this does not add up as the suggestions of Edward dying of grief cannot be taken seriously and as for the chill he would not have been able to indulge in such a frivolity during Holy Week – therefore the latest this trip would have been taken place was the 22 March –  which would mean that Edward hung around in a fever for 10 days without treatment which is also unlikely.  Collins add ‘Mancini is remarkably popular with those who dislike Richard and it is sad to proclaim that their supporter is a speaker of Rubbish’ – priceless!  De Commines ascribes his death to apoplexy and ‘while it is possible to have a stroke 10 days apart, the second proving fatal, it is quite impossible to believe that no-one expected him to die after the first, but obviously they didn’t’.

Hall later wrote ‘whether it was with the melancholy and anger that he took with the French king…or were it by any superfluous surfeit to which he was much given, he suddenly fell sick and was with a grevious malady taken, yes so grievously taken, that his vital spirits begun to fail and wax feeble..’.  Basically Hall didn’t know how Edward died either.

Collins makes the observation that ‘medieval physicians had at best a poor understanding of medicine and at worse a ridiculous and dangerous one.  This represented a falling away from the common sense views and practices of the Greeks, which if they could not cure much knew how not to make a patient worse.  In 1483 most medieval practices were designed to do just that – make the patient worse that is – and they succeeded well.  Almost any condition was treated by drawing off a pint of blood or more and administering emetics and laxatives to ‘purge evil humours’.  Such a regime is seldom good for a sick person and will often kill rather than cure by dehydration if you go slowly or by shock if quickly.  Only rarely did they have a treatment that was effective, one case in point is apoplexy where bleeding will reduce the blood on the cerebral vessels…medieval medicine was more often more dangerous than the disease and most people avoided doctors if they could.  Despite this medieval doctors were rarely at a loss for a diagnosis and the terms they used are a joy to read – Chrisomes, Frighted, Griping-in-the-Guts (a small town in Gloucestershire?), Head-moult-Shot, Rising of the Lights Lethargy and meagrome’.

Collins sums up with it may well worth be listening to Crowland after all, he may have been present at Westminster at the time and spoken to physicians about the case, when he said that Edward was affected by ‘no known disease’.

As to why someone would want to send Edward to an early grave by poisoning, that dear reader is another story.  I have drawn heavily from R E Collins excellent treatise on the subject but would mention that anyone who is interested in this theory would do well to read (if they have not already done so) The Maligned King by Annette Carson, who also covers this theory thoroughly in chapter 1.

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ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE, EDWARD’S ‘QUEEN’ WHOM HE MARRIED BIGAMOUSLY

  1. Secret History Part II  R E Collins

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

Enigmatic signs and messages in a portrait of Richard III….

Everyone knows about Leslau and his theories concerning the Hans Holbein portrait of Sir Thomas More and his family. In Leslau’s opinion, the portrait reveals much about the fates of the “Princes in the Tower”. Another Holbein painting, “The Ambassadors” is also filled with secret messages. Or so it is said. I cannot argue one way or another, because I do not know.

Now it seems there are similar mysteries to be solved in the National Portrait Gallery of Richard III. The hands/rings are crafted to expose cryptic clues and give answers concerning his supposed involvement in the deaths of the same two boys mentioned in regard to the More portrait above.

If you follow this link:-

http://www.holbeinartworks.org/efaqssevenkrichardiiitwentyone.htm you will come to a long article (some 70 pages in all) about Richard III. It details Richard’s activities from early on, for instance, when still Duke of Gloucester, he would not accept a French bribe. It dissects the likes of Commynes and Mancini, revealing how the use of invisible ink (probably lemon juice) added information for certain  eyes only, almost like a 15th-century le Carré. And at the centre of it all is Richard, plotted against and lied about, his fault being to “underestimate his enemies and overestimate his friends”. His fate being to be innocent, yet proven guilty by his self-interested foes, especially the French and Henry VII, often working in unison.

So here we go into the pages of ENIGMAS: THE PRINCES AND THE KING: RICHARD III, which commences:-

“#1. “Apart from the Holbein evidence, does “new” documentary evidence exonerate Richard III from the charge of having murdered his two nephews?” 

“Apart from the Holbein allegations, you ask if “new” documentary evidence exonerates Richard III from the charge of having murdered Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. The short answer is ‘No’. However, if DNA findings are positive it means that new evidence can be added to old evidence that will exonerate Richard III for all time. In the event, we will request further instructions from the inquiry. For the present, we continue to test ALL evidence by NIET criteria. The aim and objective is to plan on paper and build on rock.

“To this end, I offer for the first time some seventy or more pages of abstracts from the files of new NIET positive and negative evidence entitled The Princes and the King : Richard III. The pages are divided in ‘Parts’, 1 through 8.”

Given the length and depth of all this, I trust you will forgive me for not attempting to go into great detail.

This link gives more details concerning the NPG portrait, and in particular the configuration of Richard’s fingers and rings.

I will not spoil it all by revealing too much here, but suggest that if you don’t know about all this already, then an hour or so spent delving through the articles will be rather rewarding. Even if you end up pooh-poohing the whole thing.

Whether one believes such theories or not, unravelling them is fascinating, and always—always—there are some points that have enough ring of truth about them to get us wondering if there’s something in it after all.  Please excuse the awful pun.

THE ANGLO SCOTTISH WAR 1480-82

 

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

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

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

Introduction

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

Border Reivers

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

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

Border rebels

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

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

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

Border skirmishing 1471-80

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a terrible and destructive war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

(15th Century)

 

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

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

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

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

Winter War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Scottish Clarence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Cunningham; ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Cunningham p.183.

[19] Commynes pp.264-66

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

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

[22] Pronay p.147

[23] Cunningham p.177

[24] Cunningham p.178

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

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

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

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

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

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

[31] Hewitt, pp.46-47

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

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

[34] Hewitt, pp.47-48

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

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

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

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

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

[40] Ross (E4) p. 282

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

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

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

[44] Scofield ibid

[45] Froissart pp.48-52

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

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

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

[49] Kendall ibid

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

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

[52] Scofield Vol 2, p.345

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

[54] Pronay, ibid

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Maligned Ricardians

Part 2 – Sir George Buck

“The historiographer must be veritable and free from all prosopolepsies and partial respects; he must not add or omit anything, either of partiality or of hatred.”

(Sir George Buck – The History of King Richard III)

 

Introduction

Sir George Buck (1560-1622) faithfully served two English Monarchs in a distinguished career spanning forty years. He was variously a sailor, soldier, diplomat, courtier, Member of Parliament, member of the Privy Chamber and last the King’s Master of Revels from 1610 until shortly before his death in 1622. He was also a noted antiquarian and highly regarded by other leading scholars of his day. The duke of Buckingham thought he was one of the few scholars qualified to compose an English Academy.[1] In addition, he was an author who wrote seriously about serious subjects. He published a number of historical treatises and other works, some of which are no longer extant. Those that we have show him to be a conscientious and thorough researcher and a learned scholar. His work in the Revels office is testament to his literary and gentlemanly qualities; during his tenure he made regulations and strictures about profanity, blasphemy, religious controversy, the presentation of royalty on stage and politically sensitive issues. And yet his notoriety is derived chiefly from the publication in 1646 of his magnum opus, the History of King Richard III, which for convenience I shall call ’Buck’s History’.

 

My idle curiosity about Buck was first aroused by something Paul Kendall wrote in his biography of king Richard III. His poor opinion of Buck’s History seems so incongruous compared to his good opinion of the author and his historical achievement that the circumstances are worth quoting in full: “The first substantial assault [on the Tudor tradition] was delivered about the same time by Sir George Buc (sic), Master of the Revels to king James I and a man of considerable learning and industry, one of whose ancestors had fought for Richard at Bosworth Field. His “History of King Richard III in five books, first published in 1646 and then included in White Kennett’s ‘ Complete History of England’ 1710, is so desultory in organisation as to make for grim reading; it is blundering and uncritical, and as prejudiced in its direction as the tradition it attacks. Yet it is Buc (sic) who first makes use of the manuscript of the Croyland Chronicle to point out some of the inaccuracies in Vergil and More, who seeks sources more nearly contemporary with Richard than the Tudor writers, and who was the first to reveal that the tradition was not inviolable.”[2], Kendall referred to Buck again In his introduction to the ‘Great Debate, describing him as a Yorkist partisan and his History as ‘cumbersome and capricious’.[3]

 

I was at a loss to understand how a man of such learning, industry and achievement could write something so dreadful that Kendal thought it desultory, blundering, uncritical, prejudiced and capricious. Sadly, idleness and not curiosity got the better of me. I did not bother to read Buck’s History until after the discovery of king Richard’s grave in 2012. The recovery of his earthly remains re-awakened my long dormant interest in his life and times. I soon realized that almost every historian who bothered to write about Buck’s History in the three centuries since its first publication shared Kendall’s disdain for it. The list of its faults and deficiencies is far too long for me to catalogue here. At the very least Buck is accused of partiality, of singularity and of being a professional panegyrist. His professional competence and integrity have been attacked by implications that he fabricated evidence and misread his sources. The consensus of historical opinion is that Buck’s History’ is worthless. The sharp contradiction between the good opinions of Buck’s learning and industry and the denigration of his History raises a literary conundrum, which I hope to explain in this piece and thereby showing why Buck’s reputation as a careless and irresponsible historian is undeserved.

 

The History of King Richard III 1646

Dr Arthur Kincaid has no doubt that “ The picture which critics over the intervening centuries have handed down to us of Buck as a careless and irresponsible scholar has attached to him accidentally from two major causes. The first is the carelessness of those who wrote about him and did not seek far enough for his sources.” I pause there simply to point out, as Kincaid does, that there may be many genuine reasons why documents referred to by Buck are no longer extant or cannot be found: fire, vermin and other calamities may have destroyed or damaged some documents, and miscataloguing might result in others being lost, It is worth also briefly referring to one example of the “extraordinary carelessness” of a t least one twentieth century historian when criticizing Buck. It concerns AR Myers’ introduction to the 1973 reprint of the 1646 Edition. Myers gives three examples of what he says is Buck’s unreliability. The first, is an assertion that Buck omitted ‘the crucial’ Latin word (violenti) when quoting from Croyland. Kincaid contends that quite apart from the question of whether ‘violenti’ was a crucial word in the context of Buck’s point, Myers fails to explain that there is no way anybody can ascertain whether Buck actually did exclude the word, since the section of the original manuscript where it would have appeared has been burned away. Myers second point is, in Kincaid’s opinion, “ so blatant an example of either carelessness or perversity on Myers part that it vitiates anything else he may have to say. It is a claim that Buck ‘quotes a statement from Camden that no one has seen since’.” Kincaid comments that, leaving aside the impossibility of proving that ‘nobody has seen a document’, the statement from Camden’s ‘Britannia’ to which Buck referred “ can be most easily be located in that work by looking-up ‘Richard III’ in the index and turning to the page number there listed.” It seems that Myers had not even bothered to check Camden’s ‘Britannia’ for himself. Myer’s third point cannot be investigated, since he cites an incorrect page number.[4] Another notable feature of Buck’s History, which his critics fail to mention is that of the many hundreds of sources he has cited only a handful remain unaccounted for.[5]

 

However, in Kincaid’s opinion: “by far the worst damage to Sir George’s scholarly reputation derives from the amazing alterations made to his work by the mysterious George Buck, Esq., who in the year 1646, twenty-four years after the author’s death published a truncated and heavily revised version of the ‘History’ under his own name.” [6] One gets a feel for just how truncated the 1646 edition is from the fact that it is less than half the length of Buck’s original. As usual, the devil is in the detail and Kincaid goes to considerable lengths to examine that detail.[7]. I can only summarise the changes. Some are stylistic and the work benefits from these since the original tends to verbosity and lacks “grammatical subordination”.[8] Unfortunately, the substantive revisions went too far; brevity was achieved only by drastically summarising important material. The result is a loss of nuance and a briefness that undermines the effectiveness of Buck’s arguments. Any criticism of John Morton is softened. Much of the marginal documentation (equivalent of today’s footnotes) is either omitted altogether or copied incorrectly. Information that Buck obtained by word of mouth (e.g. from the antiquarian John Stow) is reduced to the status of hearsay. Printing and copying errors abound and the younger Buck’s florid style masks the sense of the Buck original. The list of defects goes on.[9]

 

A good example of the damage done to Buck’s original can be seen in the treatment of the famous letter from Elizabeth of York to the duke of Norfolk in which, inter alia, she expressed her concern that Queen Anne would never die.[10] In his original manuscript, Buck is responding to the accusation that Richard murdered his wife and afterwards proposed marriage to his niece, Elizabeth. He offers this letter as a supplement to his main point that Richard had no reason to murder Anne if he wished to re-marry; he could have divorced her. The letter is merely indicative of Elizabeth’s youthful naivety in not realizing that a man did not need to kill his wife in order to re-marry. In the original, this letter is not offered as proof positive of anything.[11] In the 1646 edition, the context of Buck’s original discussion is changed. Now, the emphasis is on the accusation that Richard proposed marrying Elizabeth after murdering Anne and that Elizabeth detested the prospect, as if these were the main points to be disproved. The younger Buck then cites the letter as evidence disproving them. Regrettably, he fails to mention that the Sir George Buck had actually seen and read this letter, which was shown to him by his patron Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, a descendant of the Duke of Norfolk.   It was a crass misrepresentation Buck’s original argument and an omission that would cause later historians to question his integrity.[12]

 

The History of King Richard III 1979

The truth is that Scholars have known of the existence of Buck’s original manuscripts for centuries. However, they seemed to have casually assumed that the original and the printed edition were so similar as not to matter. It wasn’t until the first quarter of the twentieth century that Frank Marcham, whilst writing of Sir George Buck, suggested that “ because ‘the edition of 1646 is nearly worthless,’ and the original ‘contains a good deal of interesting information on literary matters’, the History’ should be carefully edited’”.[13] In the last quarter of the twentieth century Dr Arthur Kincaid produced such a work. His modern edition of Buck’s original manuscripts is both scholarly and comprehensive. From it we get a much more accurate appreciation of Buck’s contribution to the Ricardian narrative and his historiological achievement.

Although Buck was naturally sympathetic to Richard, he approached his ‘History’ like a defence lawyer: on the basis of evidence where it exists, and where it does not exist he attacks the prosecution’s lack of evidence. If he cannot exonerate Richard, he mitigates on the basis of precedent or raison d’état. His prolixity, which some complain of, is deliberate. It is a lawyerly characteristic, which though annoying to those who like a more analytical style, has the virtue of ensuring comprehensiveness by providing facts with explanation, thereby reducing the risk of misunderstanding caused by a casual précis. For example, Buck believes he has already produced sufficient evidence to prove that Perkin Warbeck is actually Richard duke of York.[14] However, more evidence is available if required, which from an abundance of caution Buck includes (abundans cautela non nocet). This was the method by which he constructed Richard’s defence and it was his thoroughness that enabled him, for instance, to be the first historian to recognize the irony underlying Sir Thomas More’s own History of king Richard III. Nonetheless, it is true that sometimes he allowed his enthusiasm too much scope; his long genealogical digressions add nothing to the Richard’s defence. The criticism that his style is pedantic is probably justified.

 

Buck’s research is truly extensive[15]. He uses classical and religious sources as well continental ones, which he deploys as evidence or precedents. For example, when he is arguing that the historic judgment of Richard is unduly harsh compared to the judgments passed on other kings who committed the same or worse acts, he uses Henry IV as an example of a king with a good reputation who actually deposed an anointed king and usurped the crown. Of the Tudor sources, he relies primarily on Thomas More and Polydore Vergil, supplemented by cross-references to the likes of Rouse, Fabyan, Grafton, Hall and Holinshed. He also trusted his friend, the antiquarian and historian, John Stow who was a discerning and relatively objective source with whom Buck could discuss his work.

 

Buck’s best contribution to the Ricardian debate is his use of the second continuation of the Croyland Chronicle to undermine the veracity of the Tudor tradition. The importance of Croyland lay in its independence from Sir Thomas More and the official Tudor sources. Buck was also the first to use Titulus Regius to prove both More and Vergil wrong about the basis of Richard’s title to the crown[16]. His documentation was methodical. He indicated in the margins of his manuscript all his primary sources and their whereabouts. He made a point of seeing sources for himself; where that was impossible, he quoted trusted colleagues who had seen the relevant source (e.g. Sir Edward Hoby who had seen Morton’s polemic).

 

Buck’s ethical approach to historiography is described in his dedication: The historiographer must be veritable and free from all prosopolepsies and partial respects; he must not add or omit anything, either of partiality or of hatred.” As Dr Kincaid observes that is an ethical standard any historian would be proud of.[17] Buck had no interest in concealing the truth. His motives are charitable, since he believed that all historians should show charity. He wrote the History of King Richard the Third because he believed the common chronicles were wrong. The accusation that he was uncritical, is not only unfair it is also untrue. He fully appreciated the difficulty of judging the reliability of sources. He had this general advice for those following Tudor sources: “And I advertise this by way of caution, because they that read their books should be well advised to consider and examine what they read, and make trial of such doubtful things as are written before giving credit unto them” and later “ For it is a hard thing to find that prince’s story truly and faithfully written, who was so hateful to the writers then; for when they wrote they might write no better. And therefore, these reasons being considered, their writings must be regarded and the author’s censured.[18]

 

His handling of Thomas More is an indication of his critical alertness and advocacy skills. He was the first historian to realise that More writes ironically and that if one ignores the irony and takes the statements seriously, a more sympathetic picture of Richard emerges; one that is much more in accord with the objective records we have of his life and reign. For example, in the scene where Buckingham, with the citizens, begs Richard to assume the crown for the common good, More writes: “These words much moved the protector, which else as every man may wit, he would never in likelihood have inclined to the suite.”[19] In writing this, he means the opposite. He is writing with what Kincaid calls a ‘knowing sneer’ at Richard’s dissimulation. Buck habitually disregards the sneers, and quotes More as if he wrote in all seriousness. By this means, he uncovers the basic matrix of fact upon which More’s History is based. As Kincaid writes: “The facts remain stable; only the interpretation varies, as Buck demonstrates. More chooses to attribute to these facts vicious motives, Buck to apply charity. Any good deed, Buck says, may be depraved by a foul interpretation.”[20] Nonetheless, and despite his undoubted accomplishments, it would be wrong to think that Buck was perfect, because he wasn’t. He made mistakes; some were inconsequential, others were crass but none were dishonest or malicious.

 

He got into a muddle about Bishop Stillington’s part in the pre-contract scandal. Having quoted Commynes that it was Stillington who told Richard that his brother’s marriage to the widow Elizabeth Grey was bigamous because Edward was already married to another English lady (Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot),[21] he got the chronology wrong. In Buck’s History, The Talbot family complained to Stillington about the wrong done by Edward to Lady Eleanor and her family, and sought redress. Stillington agreed to intercede with the king on their behalf; however, he was afraid to speak to Edward direct and raised the matter with Richard, then duke of Gloucester. Buck describes what happened next: “…the duke of Gloucester dealt with the king about this business, but he could do no good for all the affect thereof was naught, and that was that. The king grew exceedingly wrath with the bishop of Bath for revealing his marriage.” The outcome was a bad one for Stillington as he was disgraced and imprisoned; although, “not long after king Edward died.”[22] Dr Kincaid cannot say where Buck got this story. He suggests that it may have been something Stow (or somebody like him) had said or he may have constructed a plausible chronology from the few known facts, or he may simply have been “indulging his taste for elaborating dramatic scenes from meager suggestions.” Be that as it may, Buck’ s account is hardly credible since his own source, Commynes, makes it clear that Stillington told Gloucester about the pre-contract after the death of king Edward IV.[23]

 

It would be equally wrong to ignore the allegation that Buck is biased. Kendall thought he was. In his Ricardian biography he said Buck was prejudiced; later, he called him a Yorkist partisan.[24] The fact is, Buck is not a disinterested observer: how could he be? He came from a Yorkist family. His great grandfather was wounded at Barnet and killed at Bosworth fighting for Yorkist kings. His grandfather and his father had been taken under the wing of the Norfolk Howards who were also Yorkists by affiliation and temperament. Buck’s dislike of John Morton has an edge of loathing that only a confirmed Ricardian could replicate. He makes his views known in the opening paragraph of Book three: “…some politic and malicious clerks hating king Richard and seeking to be gracious to his enemies employed their wits and their pens to make king Richard odious and abhorred, and his memory infamous forever…for this purpose they devised and divulged many scandalous reports, and made false accusations of him. And they made libels and railing pamphlets of him…And so vehement and constant they were in their malicious prosecution thereof, as that they did not only defame and belie him in his lifetime, but as farforth as lay in them, they persecuted even his shadow and his ghost and they scandalised extremely the memory of his fame and name.” [25] However, despite his personal aversion to Morton, Buck remains true to his own creed and uses only evidence, particularly Titular Regius and the virtually contemporary second continuation of Croyland, to prove the factual errors of the Tudor tradition.

 

The question of the authorship of More’s History

It is not essential for my limited purposes to consider the question, of who wrote More’s History. However, it is a loose end, which in an earlier post I promised to deal with. We need not doubt that Buck believed that Morton wrote a polemical ‘book’ in Latin about king Richard. We have Buck’s word for it in a passage wherein he describes Morton as “…a good clerk who made his pen the weapon and instrument of his malice and of his rancour and of his hatred. And for this purpose he made a book in Latin of king Richard and reported his acts and charged him with many foul crimes and aggravated them. And on the other side he extenuated or suppressed all his virtues and good parts. And this book of Dr Morton came afterwards to the hands of Mr More.”[26] Neither, should we doubt that Buck thought that More had edited and adapted Morton’s book and added a bit to it before publishing it; we have Buck’s word for that also, in a subsequent passage: “…and this More having been a servant of Morton…accordingly, he translated and interpreted and glosed (sic) and altered his master’s book at his pleasure, and then he published it.”[27] And we cannot doubt that Morton’s book existed, since Buck’s closest friend Sir Edward Hoby (1560-1617) told him so. In a marginal note to his original manuscript Buck wrote: “This book was lately in the hands of Mr Roper of Eltham, as Sir Edward Hoby, who saw it, told me.[28] These comments and other circumstantial details have raised doubts about the authorship of More’s History (I shall continue to call it that) in the minds of some historians.

 

Professor Richard Sylvester in his definitive modern edition of More’s History has examined this issue carefully. [29] He is at pains to distinguish questions about the accuracy of More’s History from those about its authorship. This is important because the controversy surrounding the life and reign of king Richard and More’s account of that time is so inflammatory that any analyst commenting on these issues needs to keep a cool, objective head. First, we have what Sylvester calls ‘literary gossip’ in Sir John Harrington’s ‘Metamorphosis of Ajax” (1596): “ the best and best written part of all our Chronicles in all mens opinions; is that of Richard the third, written as I have heard by Moorton, but as most suppose by that worthy, and uncorrupt Magistrate Sir Thomas More.” [30]Next we have another marginal note written by Buck. This one is next to the entry for bishop John Morton in Buck’s copy of Francis Godwin’s “Catalogue of the Bishops of England’. It reads thus: “This Morton wrote in Latin the life of K.R.3, which goeth in Sir Thomas More’s name — as S. Ed. Hoby saith & that Sir William Roper has the original.[31] Last, we have an assumption that there are passages in More’s History, which he cannot possibly have written as he was a child at the time when the events described occurred . For example, there is a scene in the Grafton texts that appears to prove the author was present at Edward IV’s deathbed. [32]

 

I will deal with the last point first since it is a non sequitur. The fact that More could not have been present at some of the events he describes does not prove he was not the author. It serves only to confirm that he was not writing as an eyewitness. Harrington’s comment and Buck’s note in Godwin can be dealt with equally briskly since neither comment is proof of Morton’s authorship. In fact, they both emanate from the same source. Sir Edward Hoby was a fried of Harrington and buck’s closest friend: he is almost certainly the source for both these comments.[33]

 

The evidence against Morton’s authorship when taken together is almost overwhelming. First there is the objection that he could not have written any of the extant versions of the texts, since they contain details of events that took place after his death in 1500 (e.g. Tyrell’s confession in 1502). There are also stylistic similarities between More’s History and his other literary works, which suggest he is the author. Sylvester suggests “ …the man who could describe Pico’s complexion as ‘entermengled with comely ruddes’, was probably the same man who described Jane Shore walking through the streets of London’ while the wondering of the people caste a comely rud in her cheeks.” Of course, this argument by analogy might be inconclusive were it not supplemented be the testimonies of Halle (1458) and Bab (1557), A Scham (1552) and Harpsfield (1556) along with Rastell and Stapleton (1588) who all acknowledge More as the author.

 

Fortunately, Sylvester has an explanation that is much more sensible. He argues that Morton was an important source for More but he was not the only one. More may well have used part, or all, of Morton’s uncompromising tract as a source of information but he did not incorporate it wholesale and claim credit where it was not due. Such an opinion is not inconsistent with what Buck says himself. It is noteworthy also that More’s History was never finished, which may explain why he never mentioned it. He never mentioned any of his other literary works so why would he bother to mention an unfinished manuscript? It is impossible to escape the conclusion that More probably only used Morton’s polemic tract about Richard as a source of information in his own work.[34]

 

Conclusion

The solution to this literary riddle is now obvious to me. The criticism aimed at Buck and his History is based on what is a fake copy of his original, which was cobbled together well after Buck’s death. On that basis, the criticisms are justified since it is not even a good fake. However, now that original manuscript of Buck’s History is easily accessible in the form Buck intended, we get a much better idea of its merit and its flaws. As a defence of king Richard it is undoubtedly showing its age. Not only are Buck’s language and his writing style three hundred years out of date, he got a few things wrong. His History has been overtaken by the march of time and the discoveries made about Richard’s life and reign, about which Buck could never know.

 

Nevertheless, Buck’s achievement is impressive. He was the first Ricardian to use the second continuation of Croyland and Titular Regius to prove the falsehood contained in More’s and Vergil’s histories. Not only that, but the core of his defence of king Richard still forms the basis of Ricardian literature today. That is not to ignore Buck’s weaknesses: he was partial, he made mistakes and he loathed Richard’s accusers. He was the unashamed defence lawyer who believed passionately that his client’s had suffered a historical injustice and that his reputation was worth defending. However, he built that defence on evidence rather than innuendo, gossip and rumour.

 

[1] AE Kincaid – Dictionary of National Biography online version.

[2] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) at pp.427-428

[3] Paul Murray Kendall (Ed)- The Great Debate (BCA edition 1965) pp. 7-9

[4] AE Kincaid (Ed) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) pp. xcvii-xcviii

[5] Kincaid pp.cxii-cxiii; of the many hundreds of Buck’s sources, Dr Kincaid identifies eight (“not counting commonplace books and collections of proverbs”), which cannot be found. Of these eight, less than half are of material importance. They are: (i) the letter from Elizabeth of York to the duke of Norfolk concerning her marriage, which Arundel showed to Buck, (ii) a polemic tract about king Richard written by Morton and reputedly the source of Sir Thomas More’s ‘History of Richard III, which was seen by Sir Edward Hoby and (iii), ‘an old manuscript book’ referencing a plot by Morton and Margaret Beaufort to poison the Princes.

[6] J Petre (Ed) – Crown and People (Richard III Society 1984) p247. (Crown and People). George Buck Esq was Sir George Buck’s nephew. he was a man of straw and bad character who  came into possession of Buck’s original manuscript following a dispute over Buck’s will. Nephew George published Buck’s History as his own, along with some of Buck’s other writings.

[7] Kincaid at chapters 5 and 6, pp. Ixiv-ci; Dr Kincaid examines most, if not all the relevant changes to Buck’s text and sources of criticism in a detail I cannot emulate.

[8] Crown and People; ibid

[9] Kincaid; ibid

[10] Kincaid, p191

[11] Crown and People, p249; it is possible that Buck’s main reason for mentioning the letter was to compliment Arundel on his wonderful collection of documents; perhaps he shouldn’t have bothered. Correspondence between Dr Alison Hanham and Dr Arthur Kincaid in the pages of the Ricardian during 1987 and 1988 has raised the possibility that Buck had himself misunderstood the letter.   Dr Kincaid has suggested that Elizabeth was indeed referring to her ‘hoped-for marriage’, but not necessarily with king Richard. Buck may have confused ‘mediating with the king’ for ‘marriage to the king’. The judicious placement of a comma makes all clear. See Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (The History Press 2013) at pp. 297-303 for a comprehensive discussion and analysis of this point and also Dr John Ashdown-Hill – The last Days of Richard III (The History Press 2010) at pp.32-33 for a discussion of Richard’s negotiations for a Portuguese marriage after Anne’s death.

[12] See Kincaid pp. xc-xciv and Crown and people ibid

[13] Kincaid at p xcix, citing Frank Marcham – The King’s Office of the Revels 1610-1622 (London 1925) at p3.

[14] Kincaid at p 160

[15] Kincaid at pp. cviii-cxviii provides a detailed analysis of Bucks sources and his documentation

[16] Buck referred to Titulus Regius in his 1619 manuscript, which was not made public in its truncated form until 1646 and in its correct form until 1979. It was the historian John Speed who first drew public attention to Titulus Regius in his ‘History of Great Britaine (1623)’

[17] Crown and People at p248

[18] Kincaid pp. 125-126

[19] Richard S Sylvester (Ed) – The History of King Richard III by St Thomas More (Yale 1963) at p.79

[20] Kincaid pp. cxx-cxxi and 127

[21] Phillip Commynes: memoirs (Penguin 1972) at pp.353-354.

[22] Kincaid pp.183 and 184

[23] Kincaid p304, notes 183/44-184/9; there is nothing to substantiate the story that Stillington revealed the pre-contract to anybody before Edward’s death, or that his imprisonment in 1478 was due to his knowledge of the pre contract, or for revealing it to Clarence. The bishop’s imprisonment may have been due to an association with Clarence, as suggested by Kincaid. But it is more likely to have been for his criticism of the lack of due process at Clarence’s trial. See also MA Hicks – False, Fleeting Perju’d Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) at pp.183-184. For a different theory see John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet (The History Press 2014) at pp.141-146.

[24] The Great Debate; ibid

[25] Kincaid p120; Kincaid suggests that Buck’s dislike of Morton may have been exaggerated to deflect blame from Henry VII, from whom James I was directly descended. He overcame his difficulty by flattering James about his ancestry. By this means Buck achieves two things. First, he establishes that the breach in the English succession caused by Edward IV’s marriage, was repaired by Richard III and second he restores Richard to his proper place in history by not depicting him in his traditional role as the disruptor of the succession but as the restorer of it.

[26] Kincaid p121

[27] Kincaid; ibid

[28] Kincaid; ibid at 129v

[29] Sylvester at pp. Iix-Ixiii and Ixv-Ixvii

[30] Kincaid p.ciii; citing Elizabeth Story Dono (Ed)-Sir John Harrington; the Metamorphosis of Ajax (London 1962) at p 107f;

[31] Kincaid p. ciii, citing Francis Godwin – Catalogue of the Bishops of England (1601) p.5

[32] Sylvester pp. Ix-Ixi

[33] Hoby was probably Buck closest fried and comrade from their service together on the Cadiz expedition

[34] See also A E Kincaid and J A Ramsden – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) at p.vii

 

A Time for Truth, a Time for Lies…or for Pretended Obliviousness and Bullying Tactics

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

 My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.

An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard

A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.

The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.

There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.

I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.

In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.

It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.

Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.

Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research

If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this article and go read Annette Carson’s blog post entitled, “Proof … evidence … report … gossip … rumour,” and then get thee a copy of her Richard III: The Maligned King.

Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:

I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.

Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”

If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”

I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.

I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.

Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.

All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:

  1. What is contemporary source material and what is not
  2. How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
  3. How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
  4. Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
  5. Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.

Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.

Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel

If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.

If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.

If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]

You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:

  1. Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
  2. Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
  3. Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
  4. Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
  5. The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
  6. Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
  7. One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
  8. If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
  9. There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
  10. I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.

Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.

Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.

Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.

The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.

The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.

The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.

We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.

Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock

Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?

In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:

  1. Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
  2. Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
  3. Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
  4. Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.

The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:

I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…

So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am
.[iii]

More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?

Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?

Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]

There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.

What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.

This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.

That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.

Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise

Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.

What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?

My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.

“Do you think he did it?” I asked.

“Probably.”

That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.

I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.

__________

Notes

[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:

http://www.richardiii.net/6_3_1_the_ricardian_archive.php

or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/Ricardian/2006_vol16_ashdown_hill_lady_eleanor_talbot.pdf

[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.

[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.

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.

What was Stillington’s motive?

Although Commines is the principal source for Robert Stillington being the clergyman who informed Richard of the alleged marriage between Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Talbot, the treatment of the bishop after the accession of Henry VII does appear to support the idea that he was the man involved. Indeed it appears that the Lords wished to (at least) examine the bishop, but that Henry protected him from such an inquisition.

On the assumption that Stillington was the person responsible, what was his motive? This was a man already in his 60s, who had in our terms settled into a comfortable retirement. He had held high office under Edward IV, notably as Lord Chancellor from 1467-1473 (with a gap during the restoration of Henry VI.) Given the nature of the job, it seems reasonable to assume that he was a senior administrator of considerable ability.

Now of course Edward sacked him in 1473, and later, following the fall of Clarence, the bishop spent a short time in prison, apparently for speaking out of turn. Neither experience was unique, and neither seems to justify a burning desire for revenge. It’s not as if the bishop spent the rest of his life on Job Seekers Allowance. He had, for a start, the very substantial revenues of the See of Bath and Wells, the equivalent of which today would be a very handsome pension pot indeed.

So did Stillington look for any reward? If so, he must have been sorely disappointed. There is no evidence that Richard III did anything to advance him. He certainly did not appoint him to high office or translate him to a better see. Nor was he in any sense part of Richard’s affinity.

So are we really to believe that the bishop woke up one morning, and thought up a secret marriage for Edward IV, just for the hell of it? It was a risky thing to do, surely. Why should he be believed? What were the likely consequences if he were not believed? He risked, at the minimum, another spell in the Tower. Indeed, would he have dared to come forward with nothing more than his unsupported word? Say for the sake of argument it was pure invention. Would he not at least have had to ‘square’ the remaining members of the Talbot family, to be sure that his statement would not be met with universal contradiction? If he had been disbelieved, his future under Edward V would have been very far from rosy!

On balance, the easiest explanation seems to be that he genuinely had something on his conscience. Moreover, it seems likely he had some form of proof. We know that proofs of some kind were offered, even if we have no idea what the ‘proofs’ were. If you think the contrary, you must surely ask yourself what kind of man this Stillington was, and what was his motive. I think you would have to conclude that he was very odd indeed, malicious and exceptionally vengeful.

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