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Richard III, Henry VII, north, south…and a soupçon of Robin Hood….

Picture this, as Blondie once sang:-

“…[In 1486] many of the southern nobility and prominent gentry of the kingdom accompanied Henry VII on what an attendant herald described as the first progress of his reign. This took them to Nottingham and then after Easter onwards toward York.

royal progress

A royal progress (not in England, clearly)

“And by the wayside in barnesdale, a littil beyond Robin Hoddez stone, therle of Northumreland with a right a great and noble company, mete and yave his attendaunce upon the kiing – that is to say with xxxiii knightes of his feed men, beside esquires and yeomen. (BL, Cotton Julius B.XII, fo 10. An edition of this text is being prepared by Emma Cavell for the Richard III and Yorkist History Trust.)

“The herald knew that this was a tense political moment, for there had been risings in Yorkshire, whence, as the nervous author of the second continuation of the Croyland Chronicle was shortly to remark, all evil rose. The earl of Northumberland, who had only three months earlier been released from prison, was still on probation. He and his feed men had stood, although they had not been engaged, on Richard III’s side at Bosworth Field the previous August. Was there something pre-planned and stage-managed about the earl and his meyney [sic] coming to ‘submit’ and welcome his king at Robin Hood’s Stone, just as Robin Hood in the story had been pardoned and welcomed into the king’s service in Barnsdale? Or was the detail added by the herald himself, who was struck by the manner in which life on this royal progress seemed to have imitated art?

“Southerners, heralds, East Anglian gentry, or college bursars, were neither ignorant of what the north was really like, nor unaware that the Robin Hood stories were set in an imaginary north. The portrayal of the north as wild and unruly, and its inhabitants as savages, was, by the fifteenth century, a well-established literary convention. It was a convention, moreover, which could be called upon quit shamelessly for political propaganda when it suited governments so to do.”

thus

“…with Henry VII responding in 1489 to a localised tax revolt in the North Riding of Yorkshire (which had also led to the death of the Earl of Northumberland) with the claim that the rebels were intending to ‘rob, despoil and destroy all the south parts of his realm’. Men and women, one is supposed to believe, were lying awake at night in fear of these wild savages from the north. (See A.J. Pollard North, South and Richard III)

Northumberland's signature

Durham Cathedral, Northumberland’s place of burial. Plus his Garter stall plate and signature.

“There can be no doubting that a distinction was made conventionally between the north and south countries. By the fifteenth century the dividing line had broadly settled on the river Trent, especially as far as administrative boundaries were concerned…” (End of quote from Imagining Robin Hood: The Late Medieval Stories in Historical Context by A.J. Pollard. The illustrations are my inclusion.)

We have heard much about Richard III being mistrusted in the south, and of resentment of his appointments of his faithful northerners to plum positions. Was this true? Pollard says that the ‘portrayal of the north as wild and unruly, and its inhabitants as savages, was, by the fifteenth century, a well-established literary convention’. Literary, not literal. Did the south really fear its northern neighbours? Was that the reason for some of the defections from ‘northerner’ Richard at Bosworth?

If so, how clever of Henry VII to call upon the widespread love of the entire English people for their mythical hero, Robin Hood. There, on the Great North Road, by Robin’s stone, the forgiven Earl of Northumberland is received back into the favour of his king.

Robin Hood and Lionheart

Mind you, I do not see Henry Percy as Robin Hood. Nor was Henry Tudor a Lionheart. Cravenheart, more like, for he cowered away at the two battles in which he was in any way physically involved. But he was a brilliant manipulator. It’s written all over his portraits!

Henry VII - manipulator

Henry VII, Master Manipulator

PS. Regarding Robin Hood’s Stone: “A landmark named ‘the Stone of Robert Hode’…was located in the Barnsdale area, and once stood on the eastern side of the Great North Road, a mile south of Barnsdale Bar.”  From http://www.yorkshireguides.com/wentbridge.html

 

 

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A further selection of Scropes….

The name “Scrope” was usually pronounced, and sometimes spelled, as “Scroop”.am

To follow yesterday’s post

William, Earl of Wiltshire c1351-1399

William was the second son of Richard Scrope, first Baron Scrope of Bolton. In his younger days he was sometimes associated with John of Gaunt, who made him Seneschal of Aquitaine in 1383.

Subsequently, he secured the favour of Richard II, who made him Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in 1393, and granted him the castle and lordship of Marlborough. In that same year his father purchased the Kingdom of Mann for him, an example of provision was made for a younger son without dividing the main inheritance. He was given the Garter in 1394, and after the fall of Arundel, Gloucester and Warwick in 1397 was made Earl of Wiltshire and given a share of the confiscated lands. In 1398 he was promoted to the important post of Lord Treasurer.

Although Scrope gets little mention in the accounts of Richard II’s reign it is clear that by this time he had become a very influential man. He was given the custody of a number of royal castles, including Wallingford and Beaumaris. He was left in England when Richard II went to Ireland in 1399, and was, in effect, the “active ingredient” in a government under the chairmanship of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York.

When Henry Bolingbroke invaded, Scrope was one of several men who abandoned the Duke of York and took refuge in Bristol. When that city fell to Bolingbroke’s forces, Scrope was captured and summarily beheaded. (He may have had a “trial” of sorts before the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, but this is by no means certain.)

When one considers the gallons of ink that have been used in bemoaning the execution of the saintly Anthony Rivers in 1483, it is rather surprising to discover that Henry IV has received no similar criticism for the execution of Scrope, which amounted to plain murder, Henry holding no office at the time and thus acting as a lawless, private individual. Historians do not seem to think Scrope worth arguing about, although it is hard to discern what he had done to Henry that merited such savage treatment.

Subsequently, Henry’s first parliament threw a cloak of legality over the murder and confirmed the forfeiture of Scrope’s lands and possessions.

William Scrope had married Isabel Russell, daughter of Sir Maurice Russell of Dorset and Gloucestershire. Although Sir Maurice was far from being a minor member of the gentry, and was particularly active in Gloucestershire, his daughter was not an aristocrat, still less a Plantagenet, and this may help explain why Henry allowed her almost nothing to live on.

Richard, Archbishop of York, 1350-1405

Richard was the third son of Henry, first Lord Scrope of Masham. He received his first rectorship as early as 1368, although he was not actually ordained priest until 1377. The very next year he was no less than Chancellor of the University of Cambridge! He had, of course, achieved considerable academic success, but it seems likely that patronage also played its part. He was a papal chaplain in Rome from 1382-1386, and became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1386. His diplomatic career included a visit to Rome to further Richard II’s attempt to have his grandfather, Edward II, canonised. He was translated to the see of York in 1398.

Richard was possibly under the influence of the Percy family, with whom his family had connections, and made no attempt to prevent the deposition of Richard II. Indeed, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he formally led Henry to the throne. On the other hand, when the Percy family rose in rebellion against Henry in 1403, there is no significant evidence that he was involved.

Henry IV remained deeply unpopular, not least in the North and there were a number of conspiracies against him in the years that followed. Unfortunately for them, his enemies never quite managed to coordinate their plans and bring their strength against him at the same time. 1405 was the year of the so-called Tripartite Indenture, the plan to divide England and Wales between Owain Glyndwr, the Earl of Northumberland. and Sir Edmund Mortimer. Owain had at last received armed French assistance, and was poised to invade England. It was in these circumstances that Richard Scrope, no doubt working in collaboration with Northumberland, raised an army of about 8,000 men which assembled on Shipton Moor. With the Archbishop were his nephew, Sir William Plumpton, and the young Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal and earl of Nottingham and Norfolk.

They were met by a force headed by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, which Northumberland had failed to intercept. Instead of engaging, the Archbishop agreed to parley and was tricked by false promises into disbanding his army. After that he, Plumpton and Mowbray were promptly arrested. After a travesty of a trial – a trial in which Chief Justice refused to participate – all three were beheaded.

Scrope was buried in York Minster and his tomb became an unofficial shrine. Lancastrian kings naturally sought to discourage to the cult, while the Yorkist kings, equally naturally, looked upon it with favour. However, Scrope was never officially canonised. It need hardly be said that Scrope was the first Archbishop to be executed in England – Becket, after all, was simply murdered – and with the sovereign’s full authority.  He was also the last prelate to be so dealt with until the Tudor era.

The Pope excommunicated all those involved in Scrope’s death, although the sentence was never published in England. Henry IV eventually secured a pardon by offering to found two religious houses; these were not, in fact, founded in his lifetime, but came to being under Henry V, and were the last such to be created in the medieval period.

It was soon after Scrope’s death that Henry was struck by the mysterious illness which made the rest of his life a misery. Naturally, his enemies ascribed his affliction to the vengeance of Richard Scrope.

Henry Scrope, Lord Scrope of Masham, c1370-1415

Henry Scrope was knighted by Richard II in 1392, and was retained by that king for life in 1396. Nevertheless he rapidly transferred his allegiance to Henry IV in 1399 and served him loyally in various capacities throughout his reign. His first wife, Philippa de Bryan, was a Welsh heiress (or perhaps more correctly a heiress of lands in Wales) and part of his effort was directed towards guarding her lands against the Glyndwr rising. He inherited the Masham barony from his father in 1406, but seems to have been “running the family business” so to speak for some years. He was briefly Lord Treasurer in 1410, possibly because of his connections to Prince Henry (who was running the government at the time because of Henry IV’s illness) and Sir Thomas Beaufort. In this role he was successful, and actually left a surplus in the Treasury at the end of his service.

In his private life, Scrope made a second marriage in 1410, to Joanne (or Joan) Holland, Duchess of York, the widow of Edmund of Langley. Joanne was a wealthy woman – T. B. Pugh estimated that her survival for thirty-two years after Langley’s death cost the York family in excess of £30,000. Quite apart from this, Joanne had a portion of the earldom of Kent (following the death of her brother, Edmund, in 1408) and also a share in the lands of her second husband, Lord Willoughby. The joint income of Scrope and his wife was around £1,800 a year, a vast amount for a mere baron.

Unfortunately Joanne and her husband did not live in wedded bliss, and it appears that around 1413 she left him, at least for a time, taking with her about £5,000 worth of his property and decamped to her Yorkist dower castle, Sandal. In his will of June 1415 he offered her a choice of his belongings to the value of £2000 in return for her abandoning any claim to one third or one half of his goods. This suggests his belongings must have amounted to more than £6,000! Since Joanne was already engaged in a quarrel with her Willoughby stepson over personal property, it seems she was not a lady who considered material possessions to be unimportant.

It should not be overlooked that Henry Scrope was a nephew of the late Archbishop of York, and it may be that his loyalty to the Lancastrian regime was not a fervent as it appeared on the surface. In any event he allowed himself to be drawn into the conspiracy known as the Southampton Plot led by Joanne’s stepson, Richard of York, Earl of Cambridge, which sought to replace Henry V with the Earl of March.

It is equally possible that Scrope went into the conspiracy with every intention of betraying it. It appears certain that he did his best to persuade the Earl of March not to get more deeply involved – hardly the action of a convinced plotter – and that he remonstrated with Walter Lucy, March’s close adviser over the matter. Scrope was not even invited to a crucial supper party at Cranbury, held by March and attended by Cambridge, Lucy and Lord Clifford.

However, it was March, not Scrope, who disclosed the conspiracy to Henry V, and the result was that Scrope was executed and all his lands and possessions forfeited. Duchess Joanne acted very promptly to secure a share of the proceeds, including a solid gold statue of the Virgin and various items of plate stamped with the Scrope arms that she claimed as her personal property. It appears nothing was done to retrieve the various expensive items she filched. Scrope’s brother and heir, and his mother, were not so fortunate. Although Henry V intended to permanently alienate most or all of the family’s lands, he had an attack of conscience on his death-bed, and the youngest Scrope brother, and eventual heir, John, was able to rebuild much of the inheritance.

It is, in fact, unlikely that Henry Scrope was guilty of intending the deaths of Henry V and his brothers. It is much more reasonable to say that his offence amounted to Misprision of Treason at worst.

Sources:

Complete Peerage, G.E. Cokayne

Henry IV of England, J.L. Kirby

1415, Ian Mortimer.

The Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer

Henry V and the Southampton Plot, T.B. Pugh

The History of England Under Henry the Fourth, J.H. Wylie

Notes:
This explains how closely the three rebels and Sir Ralph Scrope were related. Note that Sir William of Bracewell’s sons married two de Ros sisters and that the Bolton branch lived on into the seventeenth century although the Masham male line died out early in Henry VIII’s reign. Furthermore, Richard, Bishop of Carlisle, was Richard III’s cousin.

Uncle Richard?

richard-iii-huffington

A long time ago, I posted a short article about one of my ancestors, Thomas Snellgrove, who was a portrait artist and painted an actor portraying Richard III. Here is the link.

Portrait of actor playing Richard by Snellgrove

George Frederick Cooke playing Richard III by T.W. Snellgrove

I have been researching my family history for over thirty years and it used to be a very slow and painstaking process. The internet has obviously made things easier and quicker in many ways and I now have some other interesting Ricardian links to report.

I found a probable direct ancestor called Sir Henry Vane, the Younger – I had not heard of him, but discovered that he was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War and was beheaded on Tower Hill after Charles II returned to the throne. Interesting, so I started tracing his family back further and came upon a Vane who had married a lady called Joan Haute. As you probably know, there was a Katherine Haute to whom Richard gave an annuity of £5 and this was considered suggestive of her having been his mistress and mother of one or both of his illegitimate children. I did find a Katherine, married to a James Haute, brother of my ancestor.

I carried on further and found that Joan Haute’s grandfather, Richard, was married to an Elizabeth Tyrrell, brother of James Tyrrell, one of Richard’s henchmen, accused of murdering the ‘Princes in the Tower’ on his orders. It was odd to think I had recently visited the Tyrrell chapel at Gipping and seen the memorials for the Tyrrell family in the church at Stowmarket – how strange that these could be my relatives!  James was executed at the Tower too, by Henry VII.

And Richard Haute’s mother was a Woodville, sister to Richard Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s father. Elizabeth, as we know, was Richard’s sister-in-law (or at least was thought to be until it was found the marriage was invalid).

Sir Henry Vane’s wife was Frances Wray, and I next followed her line back. Her father married Albinia Cecil, great granddaughter to William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. One of his sons (half-brother to my presumed ancestor, Thomas Cecil) was Robert Cecil, who was thought to be the ‘model’ for Shakespeare’s Richard III; he was an unpopular politician of the time and also a hunchback.

Pic of Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Thomas Cecil meanwhile was married to a Neville! This was Lady Dorothy Neville, descended from George Neville, brother to Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother! This would make Richard my 1st cousin 17 times removed.

It’s not all good though; there are four connections to the Stafford family, two of which are direct lines to Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who betrayed Richard and was called by him ‘the most untrue creature living’ – another executed ancestor.  And, of course, via the Nevilles, I would also be related to Margaret Beaufort and Henry Tudor through the John of Gaunt line. ☹

Another not-so-good link is to the Percy family and thence to Henry Percy, who was lynched by a mob when he tried to raise taxes in Yorkshire, for not supporting Richard at Bosworth.

Yet another is to the Brandon family via the sister of William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s Standard Bearer, whom Richard personally killed at Bosworth. He would be my 16 x great uncle.

Other significant names that I haven’t fully explored yet are: Howard, Harrington, De Vere, Zouche, Somerset, Bourchier and  Clifford.  I haven’t found any Stanleys yet!

One of the Stafford links also leads to Margaret, daughter of George of Clarence and there is another to Margaret Courtenay, whose mother could be Katherine of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (her father married twice and it isn’t known which wife Margaret was born to – the second one was descended from John Neville, brother of Warwick the Kingmaker). These connections would make Richard also my 16 x great uncle. This would mean that one 16 x great uncle (Richard III) killed the other (William Brandon)!

Graham Turner painting of Richard III at Bosworth killing William Brandon

The Battle of Bosworth (Richard III killing William Brandon) by artist Graham Turner, copyright Graham Turner. N.B. Prints and cards of this and many other Ricardian scenes are available – click on the picture above to see.

How convoluted and complicated were the relationships in those days. But it just reveals how, if you can just find one key link into the nobility, you are basically related to them all!! It is also said that nearly all English people are descended from Edward III, so going by my experience (and Danny Dyer’s!) it could be true. I encourage anyone to have a go at researching their family – it is fascinating.

One caveat if you use the internet to do your research though – you have to be careful not to replicate others’ mistakes – I have found Cecily Neville given as the mother of Elizabeth Woodville and someone getting married before they were born – I know they married young in those days, but really!

 

 

Cecil image credit: John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Miles Metcalf, or how the city of York defied Henry VII…

Medieval York

In a book called The Fifteenth Century – 3: Authority and Subversion, edited by Linda Clark, there is an interesting essay by James Lee entitled Urban Recorders and the Crown in Late Medieval England. I have taken from the article to illustrate the situation of the city of York with regard to the vital position of recorder. Specifically, an incumbent by the name of Miles Metcalf (of whom, regretfully, I have been unable to find a portrait).

York Minster

The rise of the recorder (a large number of whom were professional lawyers) came about because of provincial towns’ need to ensure their lines of communication with the central authorities were both adequate and secure. This was in order to push for their own demands and to respond to those of central government. Such matters were especially important at times of a change in dynasty, when recorders were, essentially, go-betweens or intermediaries between urban and central government. They were also sources of news. For instance, after the Battle of Stoke in 1487, the York council received notification of Henry VII’s victory from ‘the mouthe of a servaunt of master recorder coming strught from the said field’.

medieval messenger

Some recorders found themselves with unenviable tasks, such as the one in York in 1471 who had to meet Edward IV at the gates of the city to tell him he was not welcome. After the Battle of Tewkesbury a few months later, Edward was, of course, very welcome.

EIV landing Ravenspur - 1471

The recorders’ offices provided consistent and detailed corporation records, especially from the towns of Coventry, York and Norwich, and to a lesser extent from Exeter and Bristol. Recorders had considerable social status, not only in urban politics, but often on the national scene as well, and the rise of their individual careers took many of them to high places. Perhaps the most famous example is Thomas Cromwell, who was recorder at Bristol from 1553-40. Some became attorney-generals and privy councillors, so for a privileged few, becoming a recorder was most certainly a useful rung on a lofty ladder.

Richard III - my composite

York enjoyed special relations with Richard III, who for many years, as Duke of Gloucester, lived in Yorkshire, where he was held in very high regard. The city of York was embroiled in an attempt to reduce its fee-farm (details of the dispute are to be found in L.C. Attreed, York’s Fee Farm and the Central Government). Richard III promised a reduction, but the civic authorities struggled through two more reigns before the matter was settled. Throughout this time, York’s recorders and representatives were involved in the very heart of government.

Good king Richard

The York recorder from 1477-86 was Miles Metcalf, who loaned Richard III £20 on one of the latter’s visits to the city, an act that is thought indicative of his particularly close relations with the king. The man’s later resistance to Tudor rule revealed him to be remained staunch for Richard. Metcalf’s career as recorder is of particular interest. His predecessor, Guy Fairfax, had let it be known that he intended to quit in 1477, and Richard III (Duke of Gloucester at the time) wanted Metcalf to take his place. There was no objection, and on 1st September 1477, Metcalf was ‘unanimously chosen in his [Fairfax’s] place’. Richard, Duke of Gloucester was popular and known to be a fair lord, so presumably this was why his wishes were accepted. And presumably Metcalf was the best man for the job.

Barley Hall, York

Then came 1485, Bosworth, and the usurper Henry VII’s attempts to be rid of Metcalf by nominating a man of his own, Richard Green, who was a counsellor of the Earl of Northumberland. Henry wished Green to be in office “‘unto such tyme as it shall pleas the kings highnesse to call Miles Metcalfe, late occupying the said office unto his grace and favour’.

In the Days of Our Forefathers: Britain Becomes a Maritime Power

Metcalf family loyalty could not be reconciled with the Tudor regime and Henry was particularly scathing in his condemnation, proclaiming that he ‘hath done moch ayenst us which dishableth hyme to exercise things of auctoritie concernyng an hool commonaltie, which by his sedicious means might…and falle to diverse inconvenients’. A proclamation of 24th September 1485 excluded Metcalf and his brother Thomas from a general pardon, although both did receive pardons on 29th November following. Thomas was saved from execution by producing his pardon from the king.”

pardoned

[Henry’s man, Green] “was duly appointed by the city authorities but only on a temporary basis, until Metcalf was restored to favour. However, Green, Northumberland and Henry seem to have assumed that his office was now secured permanently. The city’s authorities procrastinated in clarifying the issue, buying time for the return of senior members of their council and also for the chance to discuss the matter with the Archbishop of York.

“When they reached their decision, it was a rebuff for Henry. The corporation promised to consider the king’s will in the matter and, as a gesture of reconciliation, elected Green as a counsellor. This, they claimed, would give them an opportunity to assess Green’s ‘demeanaunce and lernyng’ until Metcalf died and the vacancy arose.

“After the death of Metcalf on 19th February 1486, both Northumberland and Henry again made their nominations for the vacant position clear. In early March the earl again proposed Green, and the York council again delayed their decision. Even Northumberland’s wife became embroiled in the negotiations, calling before her members of the York hierarchy and urging them to leave the matter of the recorder in abeyance until she came unto York or wrote to the contrary. [She died 27th July 1485, so did not go anywhere. In fact, I do not see how she could have become involved after Metcalf’s death. If at all, it had to be before. Unless her date of death is incorrect.]

4th Northumberland

“By the end of the month the king had put forward the name of Thomas Middleton for the recordership. Perhaps this left the York authorities in an even more delicate position than before, as it would surely have been wholly inappropriate for them to favour one patron’s choice over another’s. This might explain the decision of the York council eventually to appoint John Vavasour, a relatively small political figure. Taken as a whole, such consistent royal interest in the position of recorder reminds us of the importance of the role in communications between the crown and the towns.

“[That this episode] occurred early in Henry VII’s reign may also be instructive with regard to Henry’s rather precarious position as a usurper with little in the way of local support. Henry was clearly very keen to impose his authority in a number of major towns, and regarded the appointment of recorders as an opportune means of achieving this.”

henry-Pietro-Torrigiano-bust

The struggles between York authorities and the crown continued, with the city making plain its determination to act independently, but I will end with Metcalf’s demise.

As Bacon’s oft-quoted assessment of Henry VII goes: ‘…as he governed his subjects by his laws, so he governed his laws by his lawyers’. Tudor oppression increased relentlessly. The entire realm must have regretted the loss of Richard III. York citizens certainly did, because in 1489, in protest against Henry VII’s punitive taxes, they murdered the Earl of Northumberland, who had failed Richard III at Bosworth and become a Tudor toady.

 

LORD OF THE NORTH

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

 

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

(Winston Churchill 1931)

 

Introduction

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The northern ‘problem’ in retrospect

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Loyaulté me lie

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

‘Good and indifferent justice for all’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Lord High Commissioner

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

 

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

 

The King’s Council in the North

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

 

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

 

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

 

Courage

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Pollard (R3) p71-73

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[17] Brooks p.10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[26] Reid p.58; Davies passim

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

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

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

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

[31] Reid p.47

[32] Reid p.48

[33] Reid p.54

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

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

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

[37] Reid, ibid

[38] Reid p.59

[39] Reid pp.59-61

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

[41] Pronay; ibid

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

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

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

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

[46] Reid p.62

THE ANGLO SCOTTISH WAR 1480-82

 

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

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

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

Introduction

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

Border Reivers

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

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

Border rebels

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

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

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

Border skirmishing 1471-80

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a terrible and destructive war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

(15th Century)

 

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

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

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

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

Winter War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Scottish Clarence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Cunningham; ibid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Cunningham p.183.

[19] Commynes pp.264-66

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

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

[22] Pronay p.147

[23] Cunningham p.177

[24] Cunningham p.178

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

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

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

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

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

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

[31] Hewitt, pp.46-47

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

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

[34] Hewitt, pp.47-48

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

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

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

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

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

[40] Ross (E4) p. 282

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

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

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

[44] Scofield ibid

[45] Froissart pp.48-52

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

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

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

[49] Kendall ibid

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

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

[52] Scofield Vol 2, p.345

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

[54] Pronay, ibid

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

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

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

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

 

 

KING’S GAMES: A MEMOIR OF RICHARD III

A Verse Play in Two Acts with Commentaries

By Nance Crawford

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”

(Hamlet)

To be honest, I am not much taken with modern Ricardian fiction. I think that in the last five centuries too much fiction and too little fact has  been written about king Richard III. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I volunteered to review Nance Crawford’s book ‘King’s Games; a memoir of Richard III’. It is (to misquote a modern footballing cliché) a game of two parts. The first part is a play about king Richard written in verse; the second, comprises the authors commentaries on late medieval England and her account of how the play was conceived, written and ultimately produced for the stage.

 

I have always thought that plays are better performed than read and since I have not seen Kings Games performed I am at a disadvantage in forming a valid opinion of its merit. The absence of actors and a director to ‘suite the words to the action and the action to the words’ (Hamlet again!) is not just inconvenient; it is a substantial hindrance to a full appreciation of the author’s art as I have only my own imperfect imagination and understanding to rely on. Nonetheless, whilst I cannot vouchsafe an opinion about how well this play transfers from the page to the stage, I can say with some conviction that I enjoyed reading it.

 

King’s Games is a mixture of fact and fiction. The author has tried to ensure the historical accuracy; however, inevitably, she has had to fill the gaps in our knowledge with her imagination. Though only eight of the twenty-one scenes are based on verified historical facts all the scenes conform to the general Ricardian narrative of Richard’s life and times, partly taken from Paul Kendall’s 1955 biography. Naturally the dialogue is imaginary. Considering how influential Shakespeare’s melodrama has been in embedding the black legend of Richard in the public psyche it is not surprising that a modern Ricardian playwright would wish to portray him in a different light; though mercifully, not the pure white legend that some would have us believe but in shades of grey. This Richard is a decent man, but fallible.

 

Apart from the use of verse, this play bears no relationship to Shakespeare’s work; the characters are less melodramatic the action is more restrained. Neither does the author try to compete with Shakespearean verse. Her own distinctive mixture of colloquial Anglo-American English and Standard English is refreshingly modern and contributed greatly to my own appreciation of her efforts. The character of Cecily Neville provides two example of this; in the first, Cecily is comforting her dying son Edward:

 

“ Well tears are for Heaven, not this place,

No, not for partings short as this, I think,

And Heaven’s waiting for you, that we know —

Your Pa and Edmund, even Georgie,

With Isobel and both their unborn babes —

The Lord be willing to forgive our debts”

 

In the second example, Cecily is angry with Richard:

 

Cecily. But it’s not cruel to scar my name?

To slander at the Cross the womb that bore

And nurtured you, to live to this sad pass? (Turning to Richard)

Yes, slandered sir! Held up to ridicule!

With such a loathsome story as would make

A harlot blush!

Anne. He’d never do you harm!

Cecily. The serpents tooth has struck the very breast

That sheltered him, the womb that gave him life,

And God alone knows what price he’ll pay”

Anne. Please, no, you can’t blame Dickon.

Cecily.                                                      Can I not?”          

 

The first act opens in June 1487. Francis 1st viscount Lovell is a fugitive from the battle of Stoke where Henry Tudor crushed England’s the last hope for a Plantagenet king. Hot from the battle he takes refuge in his family seat at Minster Lovell. There, exhausted and encrusted with the mud and blood of battle he sits alone in a secret room to ponder his desperate future and the destruction of the House of York. It is through Lovell’s lonely and sometimes anguished reminiscences that — in the form of flashbacks — we witness Richard’s pathetic descent from the most powerful subject in the kingdom, to a lonely guilt-ridden king.

 

The brutal truth is that this Richard is not cut out to be a successful medieval king. He is brave, loyal and efficient but he lacks the judgment, arrogance, guile and ruthlessness necessary to survive for long in the vicious realpolitik of late medieval England. He is naïve even gullible in the trust he places in untrustworthy men. He is not selfish enough to do what he wants to do rather than what his advisors say he should do. Ultimately, he is too given to introspection.  On hearing  of Buckingham’s rebellion he confides to his friend Francis Lovell:

 

“ I contemplate my brother Edward’s flaws

And see myself a darker image there

In my soul’s mirror, for, except for you,

My friend, I’m proved a rotten jurist when

It comes to judging men. I have now learned.”

 

It is doubtful that he ever wanted to be a king.

 

“ Crowns, to me, were bitter, paper things

Cut out to top my brother Edmund’s brow,

To match that of my father’s sad display,

When both their heads had crowned the gates at York.

Ned could not know my cares, he was now king,

More tall and gold than any plated spire.

I asked him why he wanted to be king .

He said ‘it is the pleasure of a king

To find his pleasure at his own plaisir’

His instincts made him royal — but never mine”

 

Richard is also inhibited from freedom of action by his personal and unforgiving creed of loyalty. He could not  seize a  crown merely to take his pleasure at his pleasure. For him kingship is a solemn duty, a burden to be borne. He is unable to reconcile the conflict between his loyalty to those he loved and his broader regal responsibility to rule justly in the common interest. Inevitably,since he is a man of conscience, he is consumed with guilt about his inability to protect his wife, his son, his mother and his brothers’ children.

 

On the night before Bosworth, Anne visits him in a dream. Although she cannot offer him redemption for all his sins, her ghostly presence enables him.  to unburden his guilt and his grief for their lost son who died “all alone while his parents played at Crowns” and his lost love Anne, whom he abandoned in her hour of greatest need as she lay dying.  Anne’s love for Richard is unconditional and her forgiveness fortifies him; he is able to face his fate, whatever that may be.

 

In the morning his courage and resolve are unimpaired. He knows he cannot trust Stanley or Northumberland but he is confident of dispatching Henry Tudor if he can just get to within a sword’s length of him. He is also aware that whatever happens England has changed forever and if he survives he must change also. As he puts on his helm encircled with the English Crown he whispers silently to Anne’s spirit “Well Anna they will all know the king.” Indeed they will. Everybody knows how the last Plantagenet king met his end.

 

The second part of King’s Games is altogether different in kind and in form. Richard is no longer centre stage; the author and the play now occupy that space. The summary of the Wars of the Roses is neither scholarly nor measured. It is tolerably accurate without providing any new historical material or insight into those times: yet I found it gripping. What made it so, is the author’s colourful, informal writing style and her feisty opinions. Her history is frank and informative, her style is anything but pompous and she avoids the use of pseudo intellectual ‘babble’ (“Playwrights have no use for numbered footnotes”). Together, these qualities create a warm relationship between the author and the reader that is almost personal; it’s as though we are discussing history together, over coffee. It is the very antithesis of so many dry, intellectual and academic histories that I have read.

 

I also thought the author’s story of her play from its conception to the first night’s performance was enthralling. The gestation was a long one since originally she had intended to write a stage version of Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. That proved to be impossible as the rights were not readily available and anyhow, she concluded, a play built around a policeman confined to his hospital bed lacked dramatic impact. It was the fortuitous discovery of a mystery surrounding the eventual fate of Francis Lovell that provided the mechanism to bring King’s games to the stage; he could become ‘Alan Grant’ for the purpose of guiding us through the action.

 

Ultimately King’s Games is a lively and entertaining example of Ricardian literature and a breath of fresh air.

The True History of King Richard III (Part 2)

The Battle of St. Albans, 1455.

Having been two years in the womb, Richard was naturally a forward child, and in no time at all he was not only walking but wearing a little suit of armour. The Duke of York had this made for him by the village blacksmith,  an advanced craftsman who doubled as the castle armourer. This meant it could easily be adjusted as Richard grew.

Richard was not yet strong enough to lift what we call a two-handed sword, or a poleaxe, but he could manage what is politely described as a kidney dagger, and rapidly became an expert with it, through long hours of practice with the dagger in one hand and a rusk in the other.

The King at this time was Henry VI. As he was a Lancastrian he was obviously a very good man, but more than that he was saintly, so saintly that at times he didn’t know who he was or where. His wife, Margaret of Anjou, was by this time doing most of the heavy lifting. People didn’t like Margaret, even though she was Queen, as she was also French, and a woman, and had too much to say for herself. She also favoured men who weren’t the Duke of York, especially the Duke of Somerset, who hated York and was also grossly incompetent. This team had already comprehensively lost the war with France, and the Government owed the Duke of York a lot of money. This made York very cross.

York got together with his brother-in-law, Salisbury, and his wife’s nephew, Salisbury’s son, the Earl of Warwick. (It’s easier to refer to these two by their titles as the were both called Richard Neville, which was confusing even at the time.) There were other lords there too, but these men were less important and it might confuse you if I gave them names. Just imagine them grunting agreement in the background.

York and his friends had a few beers and they decided they must go to the King and tell him to get rid of Somerset. As the King had lots of people about him they didn’t trust, this meant that for safety’s sake they had to take an army with them.

York decided to take his youngest son Richard with him as a sort of mascot. The idea was that Warwick would hold little Richard’s hand and lead him onto the battlefield before things started, to exchange pennons with the King’s mascot.

However, when they got to St. Albans and met the King’s army, it soon became apparent that none of this was going to happen. The King wasn’t prepared to negotiate and he certainly wasn’t ready to hand over Somerset. He and his men were well dug in behind barricades in the centre of the town, and York and his friends were at something of a loss.

Then little Richard suggested to Warwick that if they (and Warwick’s men) sneaked around the back alleys and gardens, they could take the enemy in the flank and surprise them, And because no one had any better ideas, that’s what they did.

The plan worked wonderfully, and soon Warwick, Richard and a host of followers were cutting their way through the Lancastrian leadership. As they charged they cried ‘A Warwick! A Warwick!’ which confused the Lancastrians, who thought they were in St. Albans – as they were.

Richard, of course, was very small, but he was just the right size to run between men’s legs and stab them in the groin through the gaps in their armour. In no time at all he had killed the Earl of Northumberland, Lord Clifford, and the Duke of Somerset in just this fashion. Whereupon the enemy lost heart and surrendered, much to Richard’s disappointment. He had really enjoyed stabbing those lords and now wanted to stab Henry VI.

His father forbade this. York was now quite content because Somerset was dead, and he and his friends were in a position to force the King to allow them to form his government. When Richard had a tantrum over this decision, York gave him a severe ticking-off and sent him to bed without supper.

Interlude


It is now time for a little housekeeping and explanation. The political situation between 1455 and 1459 is too boring and complicated to go into here. Suffice it to say that sometimes the Duke of York was in power, and sometimes the Duke of Somerset and Queen Margaret were. Of course, this Somerset was not the one Richard had killed, but his son, who most confusingly had the same title. Similarly King Henry VI was sometimes insane, and sometimes what passed for ‘normal’ in the case of Henry VI. In other words, he wasn’t actually catatonic, and gave the impression that he was merely unworldly, and in fact quite holy. Had he been a friar, he’d quite possibly been made a saint while he still lived, but as a king he was more in the way of an inconvenience, often signing things he was not supposed to sign, and quite frequently granting the same thing to two different people.

Richard had a number of brothers and sisters alive at this time. The eldest was Anne, who was no longer at home, being married to the Duke of Exeter. The idea of these arranged marriages was to build alliances with other noble houses, but unfortunately Exeter hated both Anne and her father, the Duke of York. (This is no reflection on Anne or York. as Exeter hated everyone except Lord Egremont, and was always going around annoying people and getting thrown into the Tower.)

The next eldest were Edward and Edmund. Everyone knows Edward, who was later to become King Edward IV. He was very tall and good looking, and all the ladies liked him, so he always got extra chips on his plate when he lined up for dinner. Eventually, as a direct result, he became rather fat. No one knows much about Edmund, though he was probably similar to Edward, but nicer. These two lived in their own establishment, which may have been at Ludlow, where they were mercilessly bullied by a boy named Croft. Or, as they called him, Bonzo. Later this same Croft became a faithful servant, which probably proves something about bullies.

Next was Elizabeth, who was married to the Duke of Suffolk. If you’d met Suffolk in the street, you’d have thought him a moderately prosperous turnip farmer with no more wits than he needed for the job. But he was in fact a duke, and Elizabeth must have loved him as they had lots of babies together.

Then there was Margaret, of whom little needs to be said except that she was exceptionally tall. Had the House of York put out a ladies’ football team, Margaret would have played centre half. Then there was George, who shouted a lot and tried to be a bully. Then Richard himself. These three were in the nominal care of their mother. However the Duchess Cecily was very devout. She spent most of her time kneeling in the chapel, praying for the souls of her deceased children and also praying that she would have no more, just in case it turned out to be a three year pregnancy.

They were not always at Fotheringhay. Sometimes they would move to Ludlow, or to Berkhampstead, or to Baynard’s Castle in London, which must not be confused with Barnard Castle, a place they did not own. Occasionally they even went to Sandal, which is in Yorkshire, although not very deep into the county. Although the Duke of York had ‘York’ in his title, he actually owned very little of Yorkshire. Indeed, much of the county belonged to Henry VI (in his role as Duke of Lancaster) or to various other nasty Lancastrian persons, like Lord Clifford for example. This had been set up just to confuse foreigners.

 

A Slightly Different Ricardian Novel

I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET :TANTE LE DESIREE:

Richard III fiction is ‘big business’ these days, after some years of stagnation in the 1990’s and first decade of this century. Many of the new novels, in order to keep their subject matter fresh, have added fantasy elements or alternative history, or have been written from the viewpoints of invented or minor characters.
The newest Ricardian novel to appear is ‘I, Richard Plantagenet’: Tante le Desiree by J.P. Reedman. This novel, part 1 of two ( the second, due out in March deals with Richard’s accession to the throne and all that comes with it) covers Richard’s years as Duke of Gloucester, from the Battle of Barnet in 1471 through to the end of the Scottish Campaigns in 1482. Several things make this offering slightly different from the more standard novels on Richard’s life.
One is that the story is told in first person—from Richard’s point of view. Very few authors have attempted to use this first person voice—Rhoda Edwards wrote a chapter or two from Richard’s POV in her excellent novel The Broken Sword, and one other alternative novel uses it as well. However, I, Richard Plantagenet is the first novel to use Richard himself as first person narrator in a complete, detailed account of his entire adult life.
A second difference is that the book uses humour. Now, it is not in any way, shape or form a comedy book, and the battles don’t pull any punches, but the medieval world was more ribald and bawdy than many believe—just look at Geoffrey Chaucer’s works! (Interestingly, Geoffrey is related to Richard by marriage.) Many of the Ricardian novels out there are so sad and mournful (and yes, of course it is a tragic tale and many of these are wonderful books that truly stir the emotions)…but didn’t the poor guy have any fun at any time in his short life? Richard had several illegitimate children, so he must have experienced young love or lust (presumably pleasurable for him!) and no doubt, he had amusing or even raucous times with the other young men who were his friends, such as Francis Lovell and Robert Percy. And doubtless he spent what were surely enjoyable times with his wife at Middleham and Barnard castles, as well as Christmas at the Lendal in York, and attending the York Corpus Christ celebrations (he and Anne were members of the Guild) where elaborate religious plays took place in huge carts that rolled about the city. These events have been fictionalised in I, Richard Plantagenet to show that there was more to his existence than high drama and war; a lighter view of Richard’s life, you might say. (And who could resist poking a bit of fun at Anthony Woodville’s poetry?)
The dialogue used also is of a more modern style than is usual in Ricardian novels, and even (gasp!) contains occasional usage of a well-known swear word…which may seem very modern to those used to reading ‘medieval speak’ in novels but was actually in use and gaining vogue in the 15th century… This hopefully gives a slightly more natural and less formal feel; although they were nobles, these were also young men who were soldiers. Soldiers swear. They just do.
Most important perhaps, is the fact that events in Richard’s life that are lesser known or often glossed over in fiction have been included and brought to some prominence. Richard and the Bastard of Fauconberg, a little known trip to Norwich in 1471, the reburial of the Duke of York, Richard’s visit with Louis the Universal Spider at Amiens, his attendance at Prince Richard’s wedding to Anne Mowbray (along with Buckingham), and the Scottish wars all are covered, several of these in depth. Memories of the death and then the subsequent exhumation and reburial of the Duke of York are a recurring theme throughout…and foreshadow the future events in the next book (and the momentous finding of Richard within our own century.)RICHARDCOVER1net

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-Plantagenet-Book-Tante-Desiree-ebook/dp/B0187RJR7E

 

Fabricating Precontracts: Richard III vs Henry VIII

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

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

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

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

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

1) Anne Boleyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Anne of Cleves

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

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

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

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

3) Catherine Howard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… there is great rumour in the realm, the Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, the Bishop of Ely is dead, if the King, God save his life, were deceased, the Duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my Lord Prince, who God defend, were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.”

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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