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The Royal Progress of Richard III

Following his coronation, Richard III – like all medieval monarchs – went on his “royal progress” through the realm.  Along with an entourage in excess of 200 household men, ecclesiastics, supporters, and administrative officials, he visited towns and cities as far west as the River Severn, as far north as the River Ouse, and as far east as the River Witham.  It was while he was staying in Lincoln along the River Witham when he received the news that the Duke of Buckingham and others were in open rebellion in the south.  This required the king to respond accordingly by making his “Great Journey” towards Salisbury.  It was not unusual for uprisings to occur during the royal progress of a new monarch.  During his royal progress in 1461, Edward IV had to respond to insurrection in Wales and dispense hard justice by presiding over the execution of a Lancastrian traitor.[1]  This article will not cover Richard III’s “Great Journey” to suppress Buckingham’s rebellion, as that was not part of the planned royal progress and is better addressed elsewhere.  For this discussion, we will define Richard III’s royal progress as being from when he first left Windsor on July 21 to the time he received news of the rebellion on October 11.  We will also include the king’s January 1484 visit to Canterbury, as it seems to fit the pattern of the royal progress and may have been on the original itinerary.  First, however, it is important to understand the reason why a king went on royal progress.

The Iconography of Power

Sir John Fortescue (1397-1479), the preeminent Chief Justice under Henry VI and one of the most influential medieval writers about English government, wrote of the necessity for the monarch to use ceremony, etiquette, and organized pomp to advertise his status and strength to the realm and to foreign countries.  He encouraged the king to wear luxurious clothes, furs and jewels, to bedeck his household and chapels with rich tapestries, vessels and ornaments, and to acquire expensive horses with ostentatious trappings.  If he did not do so, wrote Fortescue, he would be living below his estate and would be overshadowed by ostentatious magnates, upsetting the natural balance of power.[2]  If Richard III had not gone on royal progress or had something less than magnificent, it would have sent a message that he was insecure in expressing his royal authority or was not “up to the job”. The Arrivall of Edward IV makes this very point when it depicts Henry VI, in the last days of his “readeption”, processing through the streets of London with such a lack of regality that the people lost confidence in him.[3]  The Great Chronicle of London makes a similar observation that it seemed “more like a play than the showing of a prince to win men’s hearts” and provides the infamous detail about Henry VI being dressed dowdily in a long blue gown, as though he had nothing more resplendent to wear.[4]

The progress taken by a king after his coronation was just one of the many ways the monarch could project what modern historians have called the “iconography of power” – a set of highly visual and ritualistic ceremonies that were shared by a common culture and used by the governing class to create or sustain political and social consent.  The goal was to persuade “opinion formers” and to secure the loyalty of the common people.[5]  Thus, an effective king would engage in “triumphant entries” into cities and towns – lavish parades with spectacles and religious ceremonies to celebrate military victories, welcome a foreign queen-consort to her new homeland, or entrench a hereditary claim to the throne.  The latter can be seen with the Duke of York’s reburial in 1476.[6]  The Crowland Chronicle was perfectly correct to make the observation that Richard III’s royal progress was aimed “to attract to himself the affection of many people” with many feasts and entertainments.[7]  But it was also a time for the king to mingle with his subjects and to hear and address their petitions and concerns.

Lest we think this was a phenomenon unique to England in the medieval age, the era that followed saw even more complicated and drawn-out spectacles.  The royal progress taken by the newly-minted Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Médicis in 1564-1566, for instance, lasted 27 months and took in more than 100 towns.[8]  As we shall see below, it was simultaneously important to the towns and cities that received the monarch and provided the infrastructure and performers to welcome him.  It was a display of their political status too: the grander their reception of the king, the more respect and favor they might hope to receive from him.

In terms of distance and days spent, Richard III’s royal progress was not dramatically different from Edward IV’s in 1461, the latter of which, over the course of two months, traveled 620 miles and involved great pomp and ceremony.  Edward’s itinerary, unlike Richard’s, focused on southern and western England and included Canterbury, Sandwich, Ashford, Lewes Priory, Arundel, Bishop’s Waltham, Salisbury, Bristol, Gloucester, Hereford, and Ludlow, returning to London via Stony Stratford.  This reflects how the north and midlands of England were not securely Yorkist following the Battle of Towton.  Edward IV had to deal with roiling insurrection in the north and in the Welsh Marches, and his royal progress was intended to involve a military campaign embarking from Hereford.  This turned out to be unnecessary, thanks to the successful efforts of Lords Herbert and Ferrers of Chartley in suppressing lawlessness.  Instead of a military campaign, Edward IV’s entourage went to his childhood home and family powerbase of Ludlow where, surprisingly, he was greeted with little fanfare thus suggesting it was an impromptu visit.[9]

Richard III’s royal progress not only skipped over Ludlow, but his itinerary also involved distinctly different geographical areas from those of his brother’s.  In a very literal sense, Richard was tracing a map of the cities having particular meaning to his personal history and his expression of royal authority.

The Royal Progress of Richard III 

July 21-August 1:  Reading (1 night) – Oxford (4) – Woodstock (2) – Minster Lovell (3)

The first leg of Richard III’s royal progress went in a northwest direction from Windsor Castle towards Oxfordshire.  The first destination was Reading, a relatively short 20-mile journey.  The king was in the company of John Lord Howard (recently made Duke of Norfolk), the Duke of Buckingham, the Bishops of St. Asaph and St. Davids, and many others. Queen Anne would later join the entourage at Warwick Castle. While staying in Reading, Richard executed an indenture guaranteeing the widow of William Lord Hastings, Katherine Neville, his protection and to secure for her the enjoyment of her husband’s lands, goods, and privileges, the custody their male heir, and the wardship of the young Earl of Shrewsbury who was married to their daughter, Anne.[10]  As we shall see, dispensing mercy and justice was an integral part of the king’s progress.

At Oxford University, an assembly of regents and scholars greeted the king.  This group was headed by William Waynflete (the Bishop of Winchester and founder of Magdalen College) and the University’s chancellor who at that time was Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury.[11]  The reference to Woodville has sparked some controversy amongst historians, as he had taken sanctuary earlier in June and had been under some suspicion.  Whatever those suspicions were, they were ostensibly resolved by the time of the king’s visit to Oxford and there is no hint of any discord.  Less certain is whether the Duke of Buckingham was present, for he is not specifically mentioned in the college register.  In any case, the king was entertained with academic debates in Latin on the subjects of philosophy and theology, and tours of the colleges.[12]  He rewarded the disputants and won the hearts of the fellows.  The register describing the visit closed with the words “Vivat Rex ineternum” (“let the king live forever”).[13]

The king then spent one or two nights at the royal hunting lodge at Woodstock, the birthplace of Edward III’s sons Edward the Black Prince and Thomas of Woodstock, the first Duke of Gloucester.  It had once been a splendid palace with an enclosed park in which lions and camels were kept, and this could have provided an opportunity to do some hunting and catch up on business.  A king never stopped working while on royal progress and had to respond to a constant flow of events, petitions, and diplomatic missives, which is why he would be accompanied by staff from various government offices.

Richard’s entourage traveled to Minster Lovell Hall, the home of Francis Viscount Lovell, his faithful friend and Lord Chamberlain.  This was one of the few times Richard III stayed in a private residence during his reign.  It had undergone several enlargements to its great hall and the building of a tower, both completed by 1455, so it would have been a suitable lodging for such distinguished guests.[14] Perhaps the most notable thing about the king’s time here is the text of a warrant dated July 29th issued from Minster Lovell and addressed to Chancellor John Russell, concerning a mysterious enterprise.  It has been suggested that it refers to a forthcoming trial of unnamed persons for the murder of the king’s nephews.  However, historian Rosemary Horrox believes that John Stow’s Annals gives a more accurate description of the enterprise as being one to rescue the princes from the Tower under cover of confusion caused by fires started in the city.  The four conspirators, two of whom served in Edward IV’s household, were tried at Westminster and executed.[15]

August 2-27:  Gloucester (2 nights) –Tewkesbury (1) – Worcester (3) – Warwick (6) – Coventry (2)  – Leicester (4) – Nottingham (8)

From Minster Lovell, Richard went on to Gloucester where he took up residence in St Peter’s Abbey (now Gloucester Cathedral) for two nights.  Here, for the place that bore the name of his ducal title, the king granted a charter of liberties releasing it from paying Ł45 of the Ł60 for the fee farm, giving its burgesses the right to choose their own mayor and coroner, allowing it to have its own sheriff to preside over a court, to incorporate themselves as an entity, to acquire lands and tenements, and to have standing to plead or interplead before the king’s justices or any other justices in the courts of England.  Some of these rights and privileges were retained by Gloucester up to 1974.[16]  In 1538, the borough was granted a coat of arms with the red and white roses of Lancaster and York along with a boar’s head – a reference to Richard III’s favorite badge.

Gloucester’s St Peter’s Abbey had wealth and prestige. It was the place where Henry III was crowned king of England, and where Edward II was buried following his deposition.  Parliaments had been summoned there twice (1378 and 1407), but due to a combination of factors, including the Black Death and competition from nearby Bristol, the town borough was having some economic difficulty.  Nevertheless, Gloucester had performed an extremely valuable service for the Yorkists when it closed its gates to Margaret of Anjou’s army in 1471, forcing it to march on to Tewkesbury.[17]

Undoubtedly with this history in mind, Richard bestowed the liberties mentioned above and also presented the city with a sword, which is believed to have been his own; it can still be viewed at Gloucester City Museum.  It was also at Gloucester that the Duke of Buckingham took his leave from the royal progress; what prompted this is unknown.  Buckingham’s manor house at Thornbury, from where Lionel Woodville would later be issuing letters on September 22, was only 25 miles away, and he was holding Bishop John Morton in custody in his castle in Brecon, in Wales, about 70 miles from Gloucester.

Although we have no description of Gloucester’s reception of Richard, we can assume that it was similar in pomp to the royal entry of Edward IV into Bristol in 1461.  When Edward arrived at Bristol’s Temple Gate, a “great giant” attended by three lords delivered the keys of the town to him and a poem comparing the king to William the Conqueror was recited.  As the entourage processed to Temple Cross, the king beheld the spectacle of Saint George on horseback “fighting with a dragon, and the king and queen on high in a castle, and his daughter beneath with a lamb.  And at the slaying of the dragon there was a great melody of angels.”[18]  Edward granted the town a royal charter, oversaw the trial and execution of the Lancastrian rebel Sir Baldwin Fulford, and left with an extra fifty marks in a loan from his host, mayor William Canynges.[19]  “The event provides a small snapshot of what the progress of the monarch involved in this fraught period of political insecurity and highlights the multifaceted role the king played.”[20]

From Gloucester, Richard progressed to Tewkesbury for one night, where he had been a commander in the battle of 1471 that regained the crown for Edward IV.  Tewkesbury Abbey was also the place where his brother George was buried following his execution for treason in 1478.  George apparently still had outstanding debts to the Abbot, and Richard ordered that those debts be satisfied with revenues from nearby royal manors.[21]  It is likely Richard paid his respects at the battlefield and George’s tomb, symbolically highlighting not only the Yorkist military triumph over the Lancastrians but also the implications of George’s death.[22]  Titulus Regius, the 1484 parliamentary act which settled the crown on Richard, would specifically mention the attainder of George and his heirs as a reason why Richard was the next legitimate heir to the throne.  Titulus Regius also sets out to show that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate due to the bigamy of their parents.  Therefore it is not surprising that Ludlow, where Edward IV’s Prince of Wales had had his household for almost a decade, was not part of Richard’s royal progress despite the fact that it could have easily been put on the itinerary.  It is probably safe to assume that Richard would not have had a very warm reception there.

The entourage traveled to Worcester, where the king resided at the Cathedral Priory, and then moved on to Warwick Castle, where Queen Anne joined the royal party, and there was a pause of several days.[23]  Warwick Castle had been the place where the Kingmaker imprisoned Edward IV in 1469, and became George of Clarence’s principal residence after his marriage to Isabel Neville.  Coming into possession of Warwick Castle after George’s attainder, Richard instigated the construction of two gun towers, the Bear and Clarence towers, and he probably spent time inspecting the ongoing work during his six days there.

The royal party then moved to Coventry before progressing to Leicester and then Nottingham.  The choice of Coventry may have been logistical, but the symbolic value of a Yorkist monarch making his royal progress there would have been noted.  In 1471, Coventry had lost its civic liberties as punishment for backing the Kingmaker during the readeption of Henry VI. In 1469, Edward IV suffered the humiliation of being captured near Coventry, and Earl Rivers and Sir John Woodville were executed by the Kingmaker at Gosford Green on the edge of the city the same month.  Coventry had strong Lancastrian connections, but in 1474 it worked hard to redeem itself by welcoming the king, his queen, and his heir, with festivities and streets filled with performers, music and singing, pipes running with wine, incense burning, and cakes and flowers being cast to observers.[24]  That Richard chose to honor Coventry with his royal progress shows how successfully it had been converted to a Yorkist city.

At Leicester, the king began to occupy himself with planning his royal entry into the city of York.  He issued a summons for 19 knights and 52 gentlemen to meet him at Pontefract on August 27 in anticipation of the procession.  Those summoned included Northumberland, Surrey, Lincoln, Lovell, Fitzhugh, Stanley, Strange, Lisle and Greystoke, and the bishops of Durham, Worcester, St Asaph, Carlisle and St David’s, with their attendants, to be with him when he reached York.[25]  Edward of Middleham was named Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with the powerful earl of Kildare being appointed as acting deputy.[26]  It was also from Leicester that Richard issued a letter to Louis XI, which was cheekily delivered by one of the grooms of his stable, in which he promised to honor past treaties and requested the French to refrain from molesting English merchant ships.[27]

The king then progressed to Nottingham Castle, where he would spend much of his reign and complete the remodeling work started by Edward IV.[28]  While there, Richard created his son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester:  “And we invest him as the custom is by the girding on of the sword, the handing over and setting of the garland on his head, and of the gold ring on his finger, and of the gold staff in his hand.”[29]  The decree uses language that suggests some trepidation (“We have turned the gaze of our inward eye to the greatness of this noble state and of its members, having great care that, in the great anxieties which press upon us, those who are necessary to support us should not now seem to be lacking”), but many historians believe the verbiage is typical for such proclamations.  It also poetically employs celestial imagery, and as historian Anne Sutton observed, presages the concept of the monarch being like the sun with his court surrounding him like planets:  “The clarity and charity of the sun’s light is so great that when it is poured on the other heavenly bodies the sun shines with no less light and splendor, nor does it suffer any diminution of its strength, rather it is pleased to be seen, to shine as a king in the midst of his nobles and to adorn the greater and lesser stars in the whole court of heaven with his outstanding light.  Which without doubt we should take as an example seeing the vocation to which we are called, that is, by the favour of the almighty to govern and be set at the head of all the mortals of this realm.”[30]

At Nottingham, Richard’s secretary John Kendall wrote to York’s mayor, recorder, aldermen, and sheriffs, complimenting the city, saying how fond the king was of it, and “hinting broadly that a splendid reception for the king and queen would be in order upon their arrival in York”.[31]  The civic leadership in York was ahead of Kendall, and had already been discussing the expected visit as early as the end of July.[32]

August 27-October 17:  Pontefract (2 nights), York (23), Pontefract (19), Gainsborough (1), Lincoln (6)

 Richard III’s royal progress spent the largest portion of its time in the north – a total of 44 days – indicating a dramatic shift from where Yorkists had traditionally drawn support.  Although Richard’s father and brother had borne the title Duke of York, the north was a bastion of Lancastrian support for much of the Wars of the Roses.  In 1460, the duke’s decapitated head was displayed at York’s Micklegate Bar in a mocking tribute; in 1461-64, there were Lancastrian uprisings in Carlisle and Hexham; in 1471, the city of York reluctantly opened its gates to Edward IV only after he promised to seek his ducal inheritance and not the crown.[33]  That Richard had chosen York as the city for his most prominent display of royal authority, one that the Crowland Chronicler described as a second coronation, shows how much had changed in the intervening years.[34]  The city of York was no longer repulsing a pretender to the throne, but was instead welcoming a king and paying tribute to a prince who had often interceded on its behalf.

The royal entry was carefully timed and organized to maximize its symbolic meaning. Those 71 lords and knights who had earlier been summoned now joined the king and queen at Pontefract, along with Prince Edward, who had journeyed from Middleham.  On August 29, the sheriff of York and other officials met the royal entourage with their rods of office at Tadcaster and led it towards the city.  At Breckles Milles, still outside the city, the procession was joined by the mayor and aldermen, dressed in scarlet, and by other civic officers and leading citizens in their ceremonial robes.  Although a litter had been provided for his journey from Middleham, the king’s 10-year old son rode on horseback during the entry into York, indicating he was not as frail as some have suggested.[35]  The residents of York were on hand to greet the procession as it passed by St James’ Chapel and into the city through Micklegate Bar.  Just within the walls, on streets hung with tapestries and arras, was staged the first of three pageants for the entertainment of the royal party, with the next being staged at the bridge crossing the River Ouse, and the third in Stayngate.

The date of the royal entry, August 29, was the Feast of the Decollation [Beheading] of St John the Baptist.  In 15th century England, the image of the head of St John the Baptist on a platter was symbolic of the Eucharist sacrament and the doctrine of transubstantiation.  This feast day had special importance to York’s Guild of Corpus Christi, of which the king and queen had been members since 1477, because it was dedicated to honoring the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.[36]  The guild was responsible for presenting the famous mystery plays (the Creed and Corpus Christi plays) in which the streets of York became venues for processions and staging of various scenes from the Bible and Christ’s life and passion.  Richard III’s royal progress in York drew upon these traditions.  Not only did he specifically request a performance of the Creed Play, but his royal entry through York also followed the same processional route used during the annual June Feast of Corpus Christi.  “As their actors trod the Via Crucis through their own streets, so now their king came among them as the incarnate and temporal representative of divine order.  Richard would not have missed the significance of making his triumphal entry on what was, in York, tantamount to a second Feast of Corpus Christi”.[37]  For Yorkist adherents who remembered the decapitation of Richard’s father and the display of his head on Micklegate Bar, the symbolic import of commemorating the Baptist’s decapitation would have been much more politically charged and may have represented a kind of atonement for the injustices of bygone days.

As the cavalcade moved through the city, the mayor, John Newton, delivered a speech of welcome and offered a gift to the king of one hundred marks of plate.  Newton himself had contributed Ł20 to the royal presents, and spent additional sums on entertainment during the royal visit.  The royal procession carried on through the city to York Minster for an ecclesiastical reception.  The Cathedral Church of St Peter of York would have been an impressive backdrop for the royal reception.  The great tower had been rebuilt early in the century, and the southwestern tower was almost new.  It was at the west door of York Minster that the king was formally received by a delegation of ecclesiastics headed by the dean.  The dean was Dr. Robert Booth, a Cambridge-educated legist and a member of a highly accomplished Lancashire family.  Booth became dean in 1477 through the patronage of his uncle, Archbishop Lawrence (d. 1480), who had been Keeper of the Privy Seal and Chancellor of England in the reign of Edward IV.[38]  The current Archbishop of York, Thomas Rotherham, was out of favor and thus not in attendance; he would, however, be restored not long after this event, and would serve as one of the triers of petitions during Richard’s III only parliament.

An eyewitness recorded the events as the dean and his fellow clergymen, all strikingly vested in copes of violet silk, welcomed the visitors.  The king was sprinkled with holy water and censed as he made his way into the cathedral church.  Richard was not a passive actor in the ceremonies taking place.  He made his way to a prie-dieu beside the baptismal font, and there he said a Paternoster; some historians suggest this was the first time an English king led a congregation in public prayer.  “The succentor of the vicars choral began the liturgical response De Trinitate with the words Honor, virtus, and it was finished by the choir standing before the steps of the high altar.  Then there was a pause long enough for a Paternoster and an Ave Maria.  Then Dean Booth began the prayer Et ne nos inducas for the benefit of the king.  Following the prayer, the dean and canons processed to their stalls in the cathedral choir, together with the other clergy, as the organ intoned the Amen.  We are told that the officiating prelate (prelate executor officii), most likely Dean Booth, began the psalm Te Deum laudamus, which was concluded by the choir and organ.  Immediately thereafter the succentor chanted the antiphon of the Trinity beginning with the words Gracias tibi, Deus, with a versicle and prayer to the Trinity.  The service now being concluded, the royal party left York Minster for the short walk northwest to the palace of the Archbishop of York where the royal family stayed during their visit.”[39]

On August 31st, the king decided to have his son invested as Prince of Wales while in York.  On this date, Richard sent an urgent message to Peter Courteys, keeper of the Great Wardrobe in London, outlining goods he wished transported to York.  These included two short gowns of crimson cloth of gold, a cloak with a cape of violet lined in black velvet, a stomacher of purple satin and another of tawny satin, enough white cloth of gold for the trappings of a horse, other gowns, spurs, and five coats of arms for heralds, together with forty trumpet banners and 13,000 badges of Richard’s white boar emblem.  Processional banners were requested of the Virgin Mary, Trinity, St George, St Edward, St Cuthbert, and one of Richard’s arms, along with three coats of arms beaten with fine gold for Richard himself.[40]

The week of September 1st to the 7th was filled with banquets and hospitality leading up to Prince Edward’s investiture.  On Sunday, September 7, the Creed Play (an abbreviated version of the cycle of mystery plays) was performed for an audience that included the king, the mayor, twelve aldermen, and York’s Council of Twenty-Four.  The next day, September 8th, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the occasion of Prince Edward’s investiture as the eighth Prince of Wales to be recognized by an English king.  The same eyewitness that recorded the king’s arrival in York provides the account of events.  “A procession led by the king and queen, both wearing crowns, entered York Minster for mass.  The procession included Prince Edward, temporal and spiritual lords, and other dignitaries.  The officiating prelate was Bishop William Dudley of Durham, and the focal point of the high altar of the cathedral was enhanced by silver figures of the twelve apostles, as well as other ornaments of gilt and numerous relics, all provided by the king.  The assemblage remained at mass until the sixth hour of evening.  Then, following mass, all returned to the archbishop’s palace, and there in the hall before dinner the king invested his son as Prince of Wales by arming or girding Edward with a sword, presenting him with a gold rod and ring, and placing a coronet on his head.  A four-hour dinner, during which the royal family sat crowned, continued into the evening.”[41]  On the same day, Richard made knights of his illegitimate son John of Gloucester and the ambassador from Queen Isabella of Castile (Gaufrid de Sasiola) who had joined the royal progress at Warwick in the company of Queen Anne and who had come to England expecting Edward V on the throne.[42] The ceremonial sword used in Prince Edward’s investiture is still on display at the British Museum.[43]

On September 17th, the king summoned the mayor, aldermen, and other citizens to meet with him in the Chapter House of York Minster.  “It soon became apparent that Richard had been dazzled by his reception in York.  The king, without any petition on their part (or so the record states), thanked the assembly for their good service to him before he came to the throne and at his recent coronation.  Richard cited the decay and poverty of the city, which was indeed experiencing an economic slump, although it was still likely second in size only to London in the kingdom.  He then went on to promise that the city would have a substantial reduction in the annual fee farm due to the crown, from a sum on the order of Ł160 to about Ł100, and Mayor Newton was appointed Richard’s chief serjeant-at-arms with an annual fee of Ł18 5s.  The financial arrangements were also meant to encourage trade in York by allowing any lawful non-resident to sell in the market of York without paying tolls.”[44]

The royal party departed York on September 20th or 21st, having stayed there for more than three weeks.  From there, the king went to Pontefract for 17-18 days, and then traveled to Gainsborough, where (according to local history) he spent the evening of October 10 at Gainsborough Old Hall, a grand manor house built by Sir Thomas Burgh in 1460.[45]  Richard was at Lincoln on October 11, and made a gift to Barnard Castle of Ł40 toward the building of the Church of Our Blessed Lady, and gave some money to the wardens for the feast of St. Martin.[46]  It was here that he first heard that a great rebellion had broken out in the southern counties, headed by his erstwhile ally, Henry Duke of Buckingham.  The uprising was originally meant to restore Edward V to the throne but when rumors of his death spread, the Lancastrian claimant Henry Tudor was invited to join the rebellion.[47]  On hearing the news of the rebellion, the king moved to Grantham, where he wrote to Chancellor Russell asking for the Great Seal, and expressed in a postscript, added in his own hand, his outrage at the desertion of Buckingham.[48]

January 10-17:  London to Canterbury and Sandwich

The southern rebellions cut short the king’s progress, but by January he was able to resume a “convivial and splendid” role.[49]  He invited the citizens of London to his Epiphany feast on January 6 at Westminster Palace’s White Hall, during which he wore his crown.  He presented the mayor with a gold cup set with pearls and gems, offered to make the borough of Southwark part of the city’s jurisdiction, and to give Ł10,000 for the building of walls and ditches around it.  “Richard was rewarding the citizens for their financial assistance, and he was also, like Edward IV before him, adeptly making available the luxuries of his court – its wines, cooking, fine napery, music and good manners – beyond its usual aristocratic confines, and welcoming to it his merchants and townsmen.”[50]

The king then traveled with an entourage to Canterbury, where there was a formal reception along the lines of how Edward IV had been received in 1461.  This can be deduced from the Canterbury City Archives, which date Richard’s entry from January 10-12, 1484: “For the Lord King on his first coming to Canterbury — And paid for a purse bought at London – 26s 8d, which purse with Ł33 6s 8d in gold, collected from the mayor and his brethren and thirty-six of the better sort of persons of the city of Canterbury, was given and offered to the Lord King and which the Lord King with gracious actions ordered to be redelivered to the said persons from whom the said sum had been collected.  This being done the said purse was given to Doctor Langton, at that time Bishop of St. Davids, on account of his many acts of kindness and favours to the citizens of Canterbury.  Upon all these considerations the aforesaid mayor and his brethren presented the following gifts to the Lord King.  Firstly paid to John Burton for four great fattened beefs – Ł7.  And paid to the same John Burton for twenty fattened rams – 66s 8d.  And paid for twenty capons of various prices given to the Lord King – 21s 10d.  And paid for six capons given to the Bishop of St Davids and other bishops then with the King – 6s.  And paid to John Stoubregge for two gold beads given to the Bishop of St Davids and the Bishop of ‘Seynt Tasse’ – 5s 4d.  TOTAL Ł13 6s 6d.”[51]

Richard then departed from Canterbury to Sandwich where he stayed several days overseeing the preparation of ships to send against the Bretons and French.[52]  Edward IV, similarly, had taken in Sandwich while on his royal progress.  Richard appears to have fitted in a visit to Dover where the citizens bought an ox and capons to feed him and his entourage at the castle.  A note in the Canterbury Chamberlain’s Account records that the King’s secretary was given three gallons of red wine and two gallons of white wine by order of the mayor on the occasion when “the Lord King returned from Sandwich to Canterbury”.[53]

The Canterbury records note that, rather than lodging at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace or St. Augustine’s Abbey, the king was accommodated at a place called “Le Hale” outside the city.  The Le Hale costs included payments for carpentry work, repairing the road, for the carriage of furniture, cushions and for hangings of cloth of gold and silver loaned by various citizens, and for the provision of wine and food.  This would explain the “first coming” or “first arrival” to be the occasion of the ceremony of the purse with presumably one or more other “arrivals” into the city after the king’s return from Sandwich.[54]

One author[55] has offered the theory that the mention of “Le Hale” refers to a hill in the Royal Forest of Blean near the town of Harbledown, the latter of which was part of the established route where pilgrims would remove their shoes and walk penitent to the Shrine of Thomas à Becket.  The road was likely quite travel-worn and in need of repairs although this could probably be said for other local roads.  The same author deduces that King Richard’s mental state was burdened by guilt from past nefarious deeds and his choice of Le Hale as base camp indicates he walked as penitent pilgrim from Harbledown to Canterbury.

Whether King Richard traveled on The Pilgrim’s Way cannot be determined with any accuracy since the precise location of “Le Hale” has never been ascertained.  But even if he did act as a pilgrim, this is no more evidence of a particularly guilty mind than when Henry V came on pilgrimage to Canterbury soon after Agincourt and then again the following year in 1416 with the Emperor Sigismund.[56]  It would have been an act of conventional piety, albeit with the added spectacle of the king’s presence.  Whatever we are to make of this leg of his progress, King Richard returned to London a few days before the opening of parliament on the 23rd of January, and proceeded to take the reigns of government without any outward signs of remorse or a guilty mind.

Final Observations

What can we conclude about Richard III’s royal progress?  Historians uniformly observe it shows he was well aware of the importance of public display as part of the art of kingship.  He was adept with the techniques used by a king to cultivate the good will of his subjects.  He achieved this by easing their financial burdens, granting charters, and – where possible – using his own money to defray expenses.[57]  One of the striking differences between Richard’s royal progress and Edward IV’s is how often Richard declined gifts of money compared to how often Edward accepted them.  It also shows he was effective at dealing with city officers and the ecclesiastical community.  So successful was the precedent of Richard III’s use of royal display in his coronation and progress that Henry VII copied much of it in 1485.[58]

Questions still remain.  For instance, where did Richard intend his royal progress to go before it was interrupted by “Buckingham’s Rebellion”?  Was he intending to progress from Lincoln to Fotheringhay, his birthplace and the final resting place of his father, brother Edmund, and uncle?  It would have been a fitting bit of symbolism.  Would he have then progressed to Cambridge University to visit the construction work on King’s College chapel or to tour Queen’s College, both of which would become beneficiaries of his royal generosity?  It is enticing to think of the possibilities.

Also, why did Richard seem to make a sudden decision to invest his son Edward as Prince of Wales in York when the precedent was to do so at Westminster?  Was this necessitated by the mysterious “enterprise” noted in his July 29th letter to Chancellor Russell, which may have required him to firmly establish Edward of Middleham as his heir and thus dilute any popular uprisings in the name of Edward IV’s sons?  Or was it merely a reflection that York was a more reliable ally than London during this politically delicate time?

Finally, how did the people of England respond to Richard III’s royal progress?  The Crowland Chronicler was particularly sour, noting that while King Richard was popularly received, his royal progress nevertheless wasted the large treasure acquired by Edward IV through diligence and thrift.  Although that has been shown to be untrue by Rosemary Horrox’s review of the financial memoranda,[59] we do have an eye-witness account rendered by Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s.  Langton was with the king at York, and later in Canterbury, and his words ring more faithful to the historical record than those of an unknown cleric who harbored a deep prejudice against northerners.

In Langton’s words:

He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress.  And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money given him which he hath refused.  On my troth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God hath sent him to us for the weal of us all.[60]

– Written and Copyrighted 2020 by Susan Troxell, originally published in the Ricardian Register, the journal of the American Branch of the Richard III Society

Author’s Note:  I would like to credit Dr. Compton Reeves and Pamela Tudor-Craig, in particular, for their very detailed descriptions and analyses of Richard III’s entry into York.  Their articles, which provided a wealth of information for this essay, are listed in the Sources below.  Rhoda Edwards’ Itinerary provides a definitive resource for Richard III’s whereabouts, citing to Signet Office and other government records.

SOURCES:

 Carolyn Donohue, “Public Display and the Construction of Monarchy in Yorkist England 1461-1485”, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of York, 2013.

Rhoda Edwards, The Itinerary of King Richard III 1483-1485 (Richard III Society, 1983)

P. W. Hammond, “Richard III at York”, The Ricardian, No. 41 (June 1473), pp. 3-4

P. W. Hammond & Anne F. Sutton, Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field (London 1985)

Rosemary Horrox, “Richard III and London”, The Ricardian, Vol.  VI, No. 85 (June 1984) pp. 322-329

Horrox & Hammond (eds.), British Library Harleian MS 433 (Richard III Society, 1980)

David M. Luitweiler, “A King, a Duke and a Bishop”, The Ricardian Register (Winter 2004) pp. 4-10

Mulryne, Aliverti, Tastaverde (eds.), “Ceremony and the Iconography of Power”, Ceremonial Entries in Early Modern Europe: the Iconography of Power (Ashgate, 2015)

Nicholas Pronay & John Cox (eds.): The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Alan Sutton, 1986)

Compton Reeves, “King Richard III at York in Late Summer 1483”, The Ricardian, Vol. XII, No. 159 (December 2002), pp. 542-553

Cora L. Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth King of England and of France and Lord of Ireland, Volume 1 (London, 1923)

Anne Sutton, “The Court and its Culture in the Reign of Richard III”, in Richard III: A Medieval Kingship (John Gillingham ed.), New York, 1993, pp. 75-92

Anne Sutton, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, The Ricardian, Vol. 5, No. 73 (June 1981), pp. 363-366

Anne Sutton & Peter Hammond (eds.), The Coronation of Richard III: the Extant Documents (Alan Sutton 1983)

H. Thomas & I. D. Thornley, The Great Chronicle of London (Alan Sutton 1983)

Pamela Tudor-Craig, “Richard III’s Triumphant Entry into York, August 29th, 1483, Richard III and the North (Horrox, ed.), University of Hull (1986), pp. 108-116

Pamela Tudor-Craig, Richard III NPG Exhibition, 2d ed. (1977)

Warkworth’s Chronicle (Camden Society, reprinted 1968)

 

[1] Scofield, p. 201.

[2] Sutton, Coronation, p. 76, quoting Fortescue.

[3] From The Arrivall:  “Hereupon, the ix. day of Aprell, th’Archbyshope callyd unto hym togethars, at Seint Powles, within the Citie of London, suche lords, gentlemen, and othar, as were of that partye, [with] as many men in harneys of theyr servaunts and othar as they cowthe make, which, in all, passed nat in nombar vj or vij{m} men, and thereupon, cawsed Henry, called Kynge, to take an horse and ryde from Powles thrwghe Chepe, and so made a circute abowte to Walbroke, as the generall processyon of London hathe bene accustomyd, and so returned agayne to Powles, to the Bysshops Palays, where the sayd Henry at that tyme was lodged, supposynge, that, whan he had shewed hym in this arraye, they shuld have provokyd the citizens, and th’enhabitants of the citie, to have stonde and comen to them, and fortified that partye; but, threwthe it is, that the rewlars of the citie were at the counsell, and hadd set men at all the gates and wardes, and they, seynge by this manner of doinge, that the power of the sayde Henry, and his adherents, was so litle and feble as there and then was shweyd, they cowld thereby take no corage to draw to them, ne to fortefye theyr partye, and, for that they fearyd, but rathar the contrary, for so moche as they sawe well that, yf they wolde so have done, ther myght was so lytle that it was nat for them to have ones attemptyd to have resystid the Kynge [Edward] in his comynge, whiche approched nere unto the citie, and was that nyght at Seint Albons.”

[4] Thomas, Great Chronicle, p. 215.

[5] Mulryne, p. 1.

[6] See, for instance, Anne Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs, “The Entry of Quyeen Elizabeth Woodville over London Bridge, 24 May 1465”, The Ricardian, 2009, pp 1-31.

[7] The Crowland Continuator was not as accurate when describing it as a squandering of Edward IV’s huge treasure.  As Rosemary Horrox showed in her study of the financial memoranda under Edward V, Edward IV’s treasury had already been depleted when Sir Edward Woodville was given charge of the fleet in the days following Edward IV’s death.  Horrox, Financial Memoranda of the Reign of Edward V, in Camden Miscellany, Vol. XXIX (London 1987), p. 213.

[8] Linda Briggs, “Concernant le service de leurs dictes Majestez et auctorité de leur justice: Perceptions of Royal Power in the Entries of Charles IX and Catherine de Médicis (1564-1566), in Mulrayne (ed.) Ceremonial Entries pp. 37-52

[9] Scofield, vol. 1, p 197.

[10] Harleian MS 433, vol. 2, pp. 4-5.

[11] Luitweiler, pp. 4-6, citing Magdalen College Register “A” f.27.b.

[12] Reeves, p. 545.

[13] Luitweiler, p. 9.

[14] Tudor-Craig, NPG, p. 55.

[15] Horrox, “Richard III and London”, p. 326, note 11.

[16] “Richard III and the City of Gloucester”, https://gloucestershirearchives.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/richard-iii-and-the-city-of-gloucester/

[17] http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/constituencies/gloucester

[18] Scofield, p. 199.

[19] Donohue dissertation, p. 30.

[20] Donohue dissertation, p. 30.

[21] Edward IV had earlier ordered that the same royal manors convey 100 marks to the Abbot of Tewkesbury to satisfy George’s debt.  However, it is interesting to see how Richard refers to his two brothers in this grant, referring to “oure late brothere the Duc of Clarence whome god pardonne” versus “the famous prince of moost noble memorie king Edward the iiijth”.  Horrox and Hammond, Harleian MS 433, vol. 2, p. 7.

[22] PRO C81/886/18Reeves, p. 545.

[23] Reeves, p. 545.

[24] Donohue, pp. 30-31.

[25] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109.

[26] Reeves p. 545, citing Horrox and Hammond, Harleian MS 433, vol. 1 p. 75; Hammond and Sutton, Richard III: The Road to Bosworth, pp. 130-34.

[27] Hammond/Sutton, pp. 128-129.

[28] Reeves p. 545.

[29] Pamela Tudor-Craig believed that the proclamation of Edward of Middleham as Prince of Wales may partially explain why Buckingham parted ways with Richard III and rebelled.  Under Edward V, Buckingham was appointed Chief Justice and Chamberlain of north and south Wales, and upon Edward V’s coronation, would remain so until the king had a male heir.  But with Edward V’s deposition, Richard III effectively and “prematurely” cut short Buckingham’s status (and revenue streams) in Wales since the new Prince of Wales would come into his majority within a half-dozen years or so.   “By declaring his son Edward Prince of Wales, Richard III in effect ended his minority.  The letters sent by the newly created prince from York to the knights and esquires of north and south Wales to continue to pay their dues to our ‘right trusty & righte entirely beloved Cousyne the duc of Buckingham’ did not convey the same message as they had contained on 15th May when Buckingham received those Welsh offices during the Protectorate.”  From that point onwards Buckingham was only the agent, who would be required to transfer the funds to the Prince of Wales.  The letters from the new Prince of Wales went out on September 16.  By October 11, Buckingham was known to be in rebellion.  Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, pp. 109-110.

[30] Hammond/Sutton, p. 138 citing Harleian MS 433 vol. 2, pp. 82-3.  Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109-110.

[31] Reeves, pp. 545-6.

[32] Hammond/Sutton 139-40, citing Harleian 433 MS, vol. 2, p, 42.

[33] Warkworth’s Chronicle, p. 14.

[34] “Wishing therefore to display in the North, where he had spent most of his time previously, the superior royal rank, which he acquired for himself in this manner, as diligently as possible, he left the royal city of London and passing through Windsor, Oxford and Coventry came at length to York. There, on a day appointed for the repetition of his crowning in the metropolitan church, he presented his only son, Edward, whom, that same day, he had created prince of Wales with the insignia of the gold wand and the wreath; and he arranged splendid and highly expensive feasts and entertainments to attract to himself the affection of many people.  There was no shortage of treasure then to implement the aims of his so elevated mind since, as soon as he first thought about his intrusion into the kingship, he seized everything that his deceased brother, the most glorious King Edward, had collected with the utmost ingenuity and the utmost industry, many years before, as we have related above, and which he had committed to the use of his executors for the carrying out of his last will.” Pronay & Cox, Crowland Chronicle, pp. 161-163.

[35] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109.

[36] Alexandra Johnson, “The Plays of the Religious Guilds of York:  The Creed Play and the Pater Noster Play,” Speculum, 1975, pp. 55-90.

[37] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, pp. 111-113, quotation from p 113.

[38] Reeves, p. 547.

[39] Reeves, p. 548.

[40] Reeves, pp. 548-9.

[41] Reeves, pp. 549-550.

[42] Reeves p. 550.

[43]http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=43481&partId=1

[44] Reeves p. 550.

[45] https://www.gainsborougholdhall.com/about-the-old-hall/royal-visitors

[46] Hammond/Sutton, Road to Bosworth, p. 137.

[47] Hammond/Sutton p. 141.

[48] Hammond/Sutton p. 144.

[49] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[50] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[51] Hammond/Sutton, 152-153, citing Canterbury City Archives, Chamberlains’ Accounts, Michaelmas 1483-Michaelmas 1484, f. 13b, quoted in The Ricardian, 1980, vol. 5, p. 283.

[52] Edwards, Itinerary of Richard III, p. xiii.

[53] Sutton/Hairsine, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, p. 365.

[54] Sutton, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, pp. 365-66.

[55] Amy License, “New evidence: Was Richard III guilty of murdering the Princes in the Tower?, New Statesman, 5 March 2013.

[56] “Canterbury and the Battle of Agincourt,” January, 2016 lecture given by Dr David Grummit, Canterbury Christ Church University, reported in https://blogs.canterbury.ac.uk/kenthistory/canterbury-and-the-battle-of-agincourt/.  Adam of Usk also reported that Henry V walked barefooted from Shrewsbury to St. Winefride’s Well, which is believed to have occurred in 1416.

[57] Reeves, p. 551.

[58] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[59] See note 7, above.

[60] Adapted from Hammond/Sutton, p. 135.  Richard developed the work of the royal council receiving the petitions of the poor who could not afford the usual processes of the law.  He appointed a special clerk to deal with these matters.  From this developed the Court of Requests.  (“December 27, 1483.  Grant for the life to the king’s servitor John Haryngton, for his good service before the lords and others of the council and elsewhere and especially in the custody, registration and expedition of bills, requests and supplications of poor persons, of an annuity of Ł20 at the receipt of the Exchequer and the office of clerk of the council of the said requests and supplications, with all commodities.”  Hammond/Sutton 151, citing Calendar of Patent Rolls 1476-1485, London 1954, no. 1152, p. 413.)

 

Shadow King: the Life and Death of Henry VI


Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

Head of Zeus Publications, 2020, paperback, 700 pages, £12.00
ISBN 978-1784-979645

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Henry VI has gone down in history as one of England’s worst kings. Not for being cruel or despotic; on the contrary, his nature was kindly and pliant, peace-loving and deeply devout – qualities that made him likeable as a person but hopeless as a monarch, a faint wavering shadow of his shrewd, martial father. His life would have been very different, and he may have become a better ruler, had he grown to manhood under the guidance of Henry V, this perfect model of the medieval warrior-statesman. Instead, by the latter’s untimely death in 1422 with his French kingdom far from pacified, the infant Henry only received the dire legacy of an unwinnable war, and perpetual bitter conflict between members of his family over the implementation of the late king’s will and their respective powers on the minority council.

Such is the context for the opening chapters of Lauren Johnson’s sympathetic new study, which sets out to ‘explore Henry VI as an evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation. In short, to consider him as a man.’ Recently released in paperback, Shadow King is a handsome volume, illustrated with 24 colour plates, family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, Beaufort and York, and three helpful maps, (France 1415 – 53; Wars of the Roses battles 1455 – 71; and 15th century noble landholding in England and Wales).

The well-referenced text falls into logical sections: Henry’s minority 1422 – 37; adult rule to 1453, including his marriage to Margaret of Anjou; political and mental breakdown, culminating in his deposition by Edward IV at Towton in 1461; his fugitive years, short-lived re-adeption, and eventual fate in the Tower of London. A brief ‘Afterlife’ and epilogue conclude the sad, strange stories of this unfortunate king and his queen, followed by two appendices, ‘Where did Henry VI die?’ and ‘Key Characters’, 68 pages of notes, and an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Stylistically, some passages read like an historical novel: ‘The inky waters of the River Thames rippled and slid beneath the wherrymen’s oars. In places the peaks of the waves glistened, light falling from the windows of Winchester Palace as bursts of laughter and music echoed out.’ (Page 45). Such imaginative touches bring the text to life for many readers, although my own preference is for Johnson’s straight prose, which I found admirably clear and refreshing. Why gild the lily?

As for content, I particularly enjoyed the first two sections. Johnson makes excellent use of some seldom-used sources to paint a convincing, detailed picture of Henry’s early life. Her exposition of the complex political situations in England and France, (riven by its own civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians), and the equally complex personal war between Henry’s kinsmen, is lucid and easy to follow; and she offers some perceptive analyses of the likely effects on an impressionable child of having to perform the rituals of royalty surrounded by such constant conflict and tension. Theoretically wielding absolute power but practically powerless to control his feuding councillors, it’s no wonder that Henry grew up hating discord, and wishing only to please and appease the people closest to him, emotionally or literally.

However, as the story moved into more familiar territory, I felt some disappointment. Plainly no fan of Richard, Duke of York, Johnson gives short shrift to his justifiable reasons for expecting a primary place on Henry’s council/in his confidence, and justifiable chagrin at being passed over for lesser men. York’s assumption of pre-eminence was based on his royal pedigree: descended from the second and fifth sons of Edward III via his mother and father respectively, he was one of England’s wealthiest magnates with a claim to the throne arguably stronger than Henry’s. This was not lost upon the king’s beloved Beaufort kin, a legitimated line sprung from John, Duke of Lancaster’s affair with Kathryn Swynford, who, (along with sundry other jealous rivals), persistently undermined York in Henry’s malleable affections. Had Henry managed to keep his powerful cousin on-side, the Wars of the Roses might never have happened; instead, he progressively alienated York, and wounded his pride, by showing an unfair and obvious partiality for the base-born Beauforts . It seems a shame that Johnson doesn’t extend her even-handed approach to Duke Richard, or treat him as another ‘evolving individual struggling in an extraordinary situation’ who, no less than Henry VI, deserves to be viewed ‘as a man’ trying to do his best for his country, his family and himself.

I was also disappointed by the brief, conventional accounts of the battles of Wakefield and Towton, the great Lancastrian victory followed shortly by the catastrophic defeat which cost Henry his crown, changing his life – and the course of English history – forever. In a work of this magnitude, it’s inevitable that some areas will be less well researched than others; nonetheless, for such a crucial episode, it was frustrating to see some old Wakefield myths perpetuated and enlarged. Like other commentators unfamiliar with the place, Johnson describes Sandal Castle as ‘majestic’ when, as castles go, it’s quite small (Sandal would fit inside the truly majestic Pontefract Castle several times over) and utilitarian. Interestingly, the ‘meagre’ household expenditure of £4 6s 7d for the Christmas – New Year period is cited to show that the castle was poorly provisioned, whereas to me it says precisely the opposite: it was already so well provisioned that little further spending was required. (I say ‘little,’ but the sum in question represents around 18 months – three years’ pay for a labourer, or six months’ pay for a liveried archer – it’s all relative!). This debatable interpretation is then used to present a version of the battle of Wakefield which simply doesn’t make sense: York, Salisbury, Rutland and their men, driven by hunger to hunt in the deer-park ‘north of the River Calder,’ ambushed by the Lancastrian army and slaughtered. Said deer park wasn’t just north of the river – it was the Outwood, some three miles north of Sandal and two miles north of Wakefield city, with its chantry chapel of St Mary perched on the Calder bridge; an unnecessarily long way to go when Sandal Castle had its own deer-park to the south, literally on its threshold, and miles of nearby river for fishing and wild-fowl hunting. (For my personal take on the battle, see this article ) I also found her treatment of Towton somewhat superficial, and lacking reference to more recent studies such as those by George Goodwin and Tim Sutherland.

Suffice to say, if I wasn’t such a pro-Yorkist anorak about this period in Wars of the Roses history, these criticisms wouldn’t have occurred, and I would have read the whole book with the same relish as I devoured the earlier sections! So, on the whole, I’m happy to recommend Shadow King as a worthwhile read, an enthralling tragedy which left me moved and thoughtful, and which will make a valuable addition to my bookshelves.

Was the younger Despenser buried in two places at the same time….?

Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger – Hereford, 24 November 1326

We Ricardians know all about the problems, if not to say mysteries, that can arise from the final resting places of famous figures from the past. It doesn’t help that in the medieval period especially a person’s remains could be moved from place to place. Edward IV had his father and brother moved from Pontefract south to Fotheringhay, and Richard III had Henry VI moved from Chertsey Abbey to St George’s Chapel, Windsor. And, of course, for centuries there was the puzzle as to whether the remains of Richard III himself were thrown contemptuously into Leicester’s River Soar, or actually buried at Greyfriars. The latter eventually and very famously proved to be the case.

Now I have happened on another “where was he buried?” mystery, this time from the end of the reign of Edward II. While researching a few details about the later-in-the-14th-century marital goings-on of the 10th/3rd Earl of Arundel, Richard Fitzalan, known as “Copped Hat”, I found myself reading about his first wife, Isabel le Despenser, whom he married on this day, 9 February, in 1321. She was the daughter of Hugh Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser, known to history as Despenser the Younger, to distinguish him from his father, who was, yes, Despenser the Elder. Both were favourites of Edward II, and came to the fore after the abduction, trial and execution of another of the king’s favourites, Piers Gaveston. All three came to nasty ends, as (probably) did Edward II himself, and there is there is a famous illustration of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the younger Despenser in Hereford, see above.

Because of her father’s attainder and shameful execution, Isabel became an inconvenience to Copped Hat. Besides which his lustful and ambitious eye had fallen upon Eleanor of Lancaster, who’d be a much more advantageous Countess of Arundel. As Copped Hat was one of the richest and most influential magnates in the England of Edward II’s son, Edward III, he didn’t have any trouble at all in gaining the Pope’s permission to annul his first marriage, thus clearing the way for Eleanor to slip into the earl’s marital bed.

Where is all this leading? Well, to the fact that the younger Despenser’s widow was apparently granted her husband’s remains (well some of them – ‘the head, a thigh bone and a few vertebrae’) and she had them buried in a lavish tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey.

But in 2004 there were reports that Despenser’s remains had been found during archaeological excavations at Hulton Abbey in Staffordshire. These “new” remains lacked the very bones that had been returned to the younger Despenser’s widow and buried at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.

So, if the Hulton Abbey remains are indeed those of the younger Despenser, why wasn’t all of him returned to his widow? Why send her some of him, and then bury the rest at Hulton Abbey? He died in Hereford, and was then buried in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire?

To read more about this medieval mystery, go to  the Reading University website and here 

The White Rose Of Mortimer?

RICARDIAN LOONS

Most historians now accept that, while the white rose of York was a heraldic badge used by the house of York during the Wars of the Roses, the origins of the red rose of Lancaster can only be traced back to Henry VII.1 After his accession to the throne in 1485 and marriage to Elizabeth of York he effectively invented it when he created the bi-coloured red and white Tudor rose, which symbolised the union of the houses of Lancaster and York. But what about the origins of the white rose of York?

The Welsh Marches – Yorkist Heartland

It is hard to over estimate the influence their Mortimer ancestry had on the Yorkists and their claim to the English throne. The Mortimers were descended from Lionel, duke of Clarence, the second surviving son of king Edward III, whereas the Lancastrian kings of England were descended from his third…

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If things had been different, might Richard and George have been buried at Fotheringhay….?

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

It occurs to me to wonder if Richard intended to be lain to rest at Fotheringhay with his father, the 3rd Duke of York, and brother, Edmund of Rutland. Wouldn’t he think he belonged with them – no matter how fond he was of his beloved Yorkshire?

Of course, things changed radically when he became king, because kings were (in general) buried at Westminster. Richard’s brother, Edward IV, was to start a new fashion for burials at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which he himself had completed. I know there are other exceptions to Westminster, e.g. John at Worcester and Edward II at Gloucester, but perhaps Edward, once he became king, wanted to start a new trend—which he did, because there are now ten monarchs in St George’s Chapel.

The tomb of Edward IV, King of England and Elizabeth Woodville at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, England (circa 15th century) from the Works of William Shakespeare. Vintage etching circa mid 19th century.

But do we know what George of Clarence really wanted? If he’d been a good boy and survived his considerable transgressions against Edward, would he still have picked Tewkesbury? That was where his wife Isabel was buried, but would he have wanted her to remain there when he himself died?

Entrance to vault of George of Clarence, Tewkesbury Abbey

Might he have wanted her to be moved to Fotheringhay, where they could lie together again? Moving remains around to suit later interments was quite common, as shown by the Duke of York and Edmund of Rutland being brought south to Fotheringhay. And Richard himself moved Henry VI from Chertsey to St George’s, Windsor. Maybe this latter act was an indication of what Richard Intended for himself? Who knows? He didn’t leave instructions, and so it is still a mystery to this day. All we do know is that he wouldn’t have chosen Leicester, because he had no connection with that city. He lies there today because at the time of his death it was the closest suitable place to the battlefield.

 

Tomb of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral of Saint Martin.

And from thinking all this, my musings wandered to whether or not Richard would think George wished to remain in Tewkesbury. On the instructions of Edward IV, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, had originally escorted the remains of his father and second eldest brother south from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, and that experience must have been a hugely emotional and important time for him. Fotheringhay was surely the place he too expected to eventually be lain to rest? After all, he didn’t know that for the last two years of his life he would be king.

York Minster

York is always put forward as his inevitable choice, but we don’t know for certain. Once he was crowned, no doubt he felt he had to conform. He’d buried Anne at Westminster, and maybe, had he lived, there would have been a tomb there for them both, and for their son, who’d have been brought from wherever he was laid to rest. We still do not know where little Edward of Middleham was buried, all record has been lost.

Or maybe Richard too would have chosen Windsor, after all, that was where he’d moved Henry VI. Perhaps he intended his wife and son to go there too? The guesswork is infinite. Oh, for his fifteenth-century iPhone, and a casual note left on Medieval Messenger on the eve of Bosworth. Not that Henry Tudor would have honoured such a wish anyway.

Tomb of Henry VI, St George’s, Windsor.

If Edward had lived on, and Richard had never become king, what would have happened to the remains of both Richard and George? Let’s imagine they died before Edward, leaving him the only surviving brother. Even if they had specified their choice of burial place, I have a feeling that he’d have laid them to rest at Fotheringhay, with their father and other brother. And surely he’d have had Anne and Isobel and their children moved to lie with them? Or is that just too simple and neat a solution?

The truth about the Christian New Year’s Eve….

From https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-sylvester-pope-101

New Year’s Eve now and New Year’s Eve in the mediaeval period actually refer to two different calendar days. Old New Year’s Eve was 24th March. For an easy-to-understand explanation, please go to here, but whichever the day, it was still New Year’s Eve. We now celebrate it with much fun, laughter and hope, but its history is rather different. And so this article of mine has appeared on the day as we know it now.

The name Sylvester is a reference to New Year’s Eve, because St Sylvester’s Day is celebrated then. This saint’s day is still widely celebrated, although not particularly here in the United Kingdom. The Germans, for instance, call New Year’s Eve Silvester. See this site

From https://www.eventbrite.de/e/mega-silvester-berlin-201920-tickets-67021094899?aff=ebdssbdestsearch

St Sylvester was first Pope Sylvester I, and was in office from 314 to 335. (see Brittanica Online) He died on 31st December 335, hence it is his feast day. He is the one who converted the Emperor Constantine to Christianity.

”The Donation of Constantine”, Gian Francesco Penni, Sala di Costantino in the Vatican

There was a second St Sylvester who was also a Pope, 999 to 1003, but apart from having taken the name Sylvester (he was originally Gerbert of Aurillac) I do not think he was connected with New Year’s Eve. He was the one who introduced Europe to the decimal system. Pope Sylvester III took office in 1045, and is believed by many to be an antipope (see explanation of antipopes here) Pope Sylvester IV was another who was considered to be an antipope.

New Year’s Eve was the birthday of Bonnie Prince Charlie. It was also the birthday of the French admiral who was defeated by Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Pierre-Charles-Baptiste-Silvestre de Villeneuve was born on 31st December 1763. Hence the name Silvestre being added.

Admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Sylvestre de Villeneuve from From https://www.frenchempire.net/biographies/villeneuve/

When it comes to English medieval history, the closest I can come to New Year’s Eve is the Battle of Wakefield, which took place the day before in 1460. To learn more, go to Battlefields of Britain As the 3rd Duke of York and his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, were killed at the battle, I imagine that New Year’s Eve was a time of utter sorrow for their remaining sons/siblings.

The Scots have their New Year’s Eve celebrations too. They call it Hogmanay. If you go to this article you can read all about it. The name is thought to have been used after the return of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Scotland from France in 1561. The origin of the name Hogmanay is not really known, but the above BBC Newsround link offers quite a number of possibilities.

Now, in the present day there is no ignoring the claims that most of our Christian feasts and festivals have a pagan origin. I don’t know whether to give this credence or not. Julius Caesar was said to have used 31st December/1st January to honour the two-faced Roman god Janus, god of changes and beginnings. Janus was said to look back into the past and forward into the future. That sounds logical enough to me.

The Roman God Janus
from https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/who-was-janus-the-roman-god-of-beginnings-and-endings/20868

So, while you’re all enjoying your parties tonight, seeing in the New Year and singing with gusto—and not a little alcoholic assistance!—perhaps you should raise your glasses to Julius Caesar, St Silvester I, Bonnie Prince Charlie, and poor old defeated Admiral Villeneuve (who, was returned to France by the British, and was quite amazingly supposed to have committed suicide by “six stab wounds in the left lung and one in the heart”. That, ladies and gentlemen, was quite feat, I think you’ll agree. I can’t imagine anyone believed it was self-inflicted!

Villeneuve was interred at the Church of Saint Germain in Rennes, pictured here in 1910
from http://www.wiki-rennes.fr/Fichier:Eglise_saint_germain.jpeg

I will end this now, but but not before reminding you of the very first Sylvester I ever knew – yes, Sylvester the Cat, who so wanted to eat that annoying Tweety-Pie. Personally I always hoped he’d succeed. Was there ever a more irritating, stupid-looking canary? Anyway, here’s a link to make you laugh as you see out 2019! I’ll bet a lot of you remember I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvNfPSXWZqw

 

Let’s Hope 2020 is a Good One!

Edmund, Earl of Rutland, a life cut short.

UPDATED POST AT sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/05/14/edmund-earl-of-rutland-a-life-cut-short/

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Fotheringhay Church and  Yorkist Mausoleum 1804.   Watercolour by unknown artist.  

A link here to an excellent article on Edmund, Earl of Rutland.  The History Geeks can be found on Facebook:

The article also give a plausible reason as to why Edmund’s christening ceremony at Rouen was much more opulent than his brother Edward’s earlier one – which has led to much debate and speculation that Edward was illegitimate.

I think Edmund may have become a dependable and worthy member of the Plantagenets  and his early death, at the age of 17, leads to a ‘what if?’.  Everything may well have been so different.  But it was not to be and its easy to imagine the grief that must have overwhelmed his mother, when the news was broken to her of the terrible outcome of Wakefield.  Not only did she lose Edmund but her husband, who must have been her rock throughout most of her life.  However Cicely was to carry on and to suffer even more tragedy later including the judicial murder of another son, Clarence,  and the violent death of her youngest surviving son Richard at Bosworth. But that is another story.

To focus back on Edmund –  his early life which he shared much of with his oldest brother Edward – is covered in the article as are the delightful letters written by the pair of them while at Ludlow to their father  which alway make me smile.  Assuring their ‘Lorde and Fader’ of their ‘wilfare’ at the writing of the letter, they tell him ‘We were in good helth of bodis thonked be God’ and ‘beseche your good Lordeschip that hit may plaese yowe to sende us Harry Lovedeyne grome of your kechyn whose svice is to us ryght agreable And we will sende yowe John Boyes to wayte on your good Lordeschip’ (1)!  Nice try boys!..sadly we dont know if it worked..

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Edmund’s and Edward’s signatures on a letter to their father June 1454.

But  the  madness  that become known as the Wars of the Roses was to end Edmund’s life in the cruellest way. Edmund fought along side his father and maternal uncle at the Battle of Wakefield – 30th December 1460 – and its hard to read the suggestion that, had Edmund had travelled west with his brother Edward, he may have survived. But stay with his father he did – and died – after a failed attempt to flee, murdered some say by Lord Clifford or at the very least on his orders.

After the battle Edmund and his father’s heads, together with that of his uncle Richard Earl of Salisbury, which had been detached ty a mob, were placed upon Micklegate Bar, York. A further heartache no doubt for Cicely but an act which spurred the Yorkists on. Determined to avenge his father and brother’s deaths, but three months later, Edward finally crushed the Lancastrians at Towton. One of his first actions was to have Edmund buried with his father at  the Cluniac Priory of St John in Pontefract. Later in 1476, they were both ceremoniously reburied at Fotheringhey in St Mary’s Church, York in the chancel, but it remains unclear whether Edmund was buried in the same vault as his father or in the Lady Chapel. When Cicely’s time came she was, presumably, buried in her husband’s vault according to a request in her will. Richard and Cicely’s bodies were moved into a joint tomb in 1573 on the instructions of Elizabeth I, where they rest to this day. The Lady Chapel was destroyed and it is not known whether Edmund was found and  re-buried with his parents – no mention of it was made – or found and lost again or still remains undiscovered. It would appear, sadly, that his remains were forgotten about at the time and are now lost (2). I do hope very much that, whether his remains were found or not, they still lay not far from his parents.

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The tomb of Richard Duke of York and Cicely Neville Edmund’s parents.  It is unknown whether Edmund was reburied with his parents.  Tomb erected at the instruction of Elizabeth Ist.

  1. Excerpta Histórica: Or, Illustrations of English History p9, Samuel Bentley.
  2. Creating and Recreating Yorkist Tombs in Fotheringhay online article Sofija Matich and Jennifer S Alexander.

Plantagenet Ireland and Poynings’ Law

It is fair to say that most medieval English kings had little interest in Ireland except as a source of revenue. (The same was probably true about England and Wales but it seems too cynical to say it, and at least they did live there.)

Prior to the Bruce invasion, Ireland yielded between £5000 and £20,000 a year to the Exchequer. Even the lower figure was a useful sum in medieval terms, bearing in mind that the “qualification” for an earldom at this point was about £666. So in a bad year, Ireland gave the king the equivalent of more than seven earldoms, after expenses.

By the 1350s the net revenue was down to between £1,000 and £2,000, while by the start of Richard II’s reign Ireland was running a deficit. Given the general state of the Exchequer this was a Very Bad Thing and Something Had To Be Done. (1)

Of course, simply pulling out of Ireland and making a saving was unthinkable. Instead various half-hearted measures were tried, and various people lined up to take the place in hand, ranging from Robert de Vere (created Duke of Ireland!) to Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, the King’s uncle. The matter was evidently seen as (relatively) a low priority, and in view of the state of England at this time, this is quite understandable.

Eventually, in 1394, Richard II himself, personally, set out for the Emerald Isle with a well-equipped army 7000-8000 men. By the standards of English military expeditions in Ireland it was extraordinarily successful and well-executed. Not that Richard II gets much credit for it. By January 1395 the various Irish chiefs had begun to submit to Richard and by early Spring the capitulation was complete.

Richard, writing to his Council in England, stated that rebellion arose from past failures of government and that unless mercy was shown his opponent would ally with the “wild Irish”. He therefore proposed to take them under his protection until their offences had been purged or excused. (2)

This conciliatory policy towards the Irish speaks strongly in Richard’s favour. He intended that from now on there should be “liege Irish” as well as “liege English” and he tried to settle some of the many grievances (mainly about land) between the two groups. Of course this was a major task, and probably could never have been completed to everyone’s satisfaction even if Richard had remained in Ireland for ten years. However, it was a settlement of sort.

Unfortunately Richard was forced to cut his visit short due to issues in England, leaving the young Earl of March behind as Lieutenant. March was of course also Earl of Ulster, and in that capacity had land issues of his own., particularly with the O’Neill family. By 1396 March was leading major raids into O’Neill territory, and the short period of peace was under extreme strain. By 1397 Leinster was also in a state very close to war.

In 1398, not long after extending March’s term of office, Richard II decided to replace him with the Duke of Surrey, Thomas Holland. Surrey, Richard’s nephew of the half-blood, was another young and inexperienced man, with the added disadvantage that he had no hereditary lands in Ireland at all. He required, therefore, heavy subsidy from the Exchequer. Before the change could be completed, March had been killed in the fighting, as was his son in 1425.

King Richard now decided on a second personal visit to Ireland. This was a strange decision, given that he had just annexed the lands of Bolingbroke and Mowbray, and that Bolingbroke was in France, poised to invade England. However, we have the benefit of hindsight. Richard had no reason to suspect that the French, his supposed allies, would allow any such thing – and but for a temporary shift in power at the French court, they would not have done.

Richard’s second visit to Ireland was less successful. In a parley between Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester and Art Macmurrough – who styled himself King of Leinster – the latter made it clear he was unwilling to submit. Before much more could be done Richard was forced to leave Ireland to confront Bolingbroke, and Ireland was once again left more or less to its own devices.

It is remarkable that any remnant of English lordship survived Henry IV’s reign, given the state of Henry’s Exchequer and the low priority given to Ireland by a king who was fighting on several fronts, including internal battles against his opponents. But the fact is that somehow, it did. Indeed Irish-based ships co-operated with Henry in the re-conquest of Anglesey.

Henry V and Henry VI were also unable (or unwilling) to give great priority to Ireland. Ralph A. Griffiths states “The isolated administration entrenched in Dublin and its ‘pale’ was more often than not subject to the rough dictates of Anglo-Irish magnates like Desmond and Ormond, and for some time past it had been assailed by a Celtic resurgence among the native Irish themselves that was cultural and social as well as military in character.” (3)

The attitude of the Anglo-Irish peers was to remain key, because unless and until the English government was willing and able to finance significant military intervention in Ireland, their power made them the most effective players on the island. Of course, the rivalries between them meant that the Crown was often able to play one family off against another.

In 1437 the author of The Libelle of Englysche Polycye expressed concern about the state of royal government in Ireland, suggesting the country could become a base for French, Scottish and even Spanish enemies, with whom hostile elements in Ireland could form an alliance. This fear of encirclement explains much of English/British policy towards Ireland over the next several hundred years, although in the short term very little was done about it, not least because England simply did not have the resources. (Such resources as were available were being thoroughly over-stretched in France.)

By this time the Irish revenues were failing to maintain the cost of government there, and even its most senior officers struggled to obtain their salaries. In 1441 it was reported that the charges of the Justiciar of Ireland and his underlings exceeded revenue by £1,456. (4)

In December 1447, Richard, Duke of York took on the role of Lieutenant of Ireland, with a salary of 4000 marks for the first year and £2000 in each of the following years of a supposed ten year appointment. York, who was very much at odds with Suffolk and Somerset at home, was effectively ‘promoted’ to a backwater. Those responsible doubtless thought that it would keep him quiet (and busy) for a long time. He was, of course, Earl of Ulster, and therefore had very significant landed interest in the country.

Not until summer 1449 did York actually set out – from Beaumaris. Even then he did so only because the King pressed him to go. He was received ‘ with great honour, and the earls of Ireland went into his house, as did also the Irish adjacent to Meath, and gave him as many beeves for the use of his kitchen as it pleased him to demand.’ (5)

That Richard, Duke of York, was a successful Lieutenant of Ireland is in some ways surprising. He was an aristocrat to his finger tips, and not generally noted for his people skills. If he had strengths they lay in his relative honesty and relative efficiency as an administrator and soldier. York failed miserably to unite the English nobility behind him, and yet he seems to have been well-regarded in Ireland. (In contrast to John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who was positively hated in the same role.)

York quickly summoned a great council at Dublin which ensured the protection of certain hard-pressed castles and towns and also sought to address some of the more extravagant abuses of the Irish government.

His problem was that the money he had been promised largely failed to appear. He received less than half of what he should have in the first two years, and that was in tallies. After December 1449 he received nothing at all. (6)

This helps explain why York eventually threw in his hand and returned to England.

However, after the debacle at Ludford Bridge, York was sufficiently confident of his welcome to return to Ireland (with his second son, Rutland) and was able to use it as a secure base to plot the overthrow of Henry VI’s government.

York encouraged or allowed the Irish Parliament to pass legislation which left the country almost, but not quite independent, Henry VI’s sovereignty being reduced to little more than a cipher. It was even declared that the introduction of English Privy Seal Letters into Ireland was a breach of the country’s liberties. In return the Parliament voted York men and money, and rejected Henry VI’s attempts to remove York from office. The duke was not quite King of Ireland, but he was something very close.

Thereafter Ireland became strongly Yorkist – even into early “Tudor” times. It may be that York’s almost accidental policy of granting autonomy was the answer to the Question. In May 1487, a young boy was crowned at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral (right) as “Edward VI”. He may actually have been the ill-fated Earl of Warwick by that name but is traditionally named as “Lambert Simnel”, who was taken to work in Henry VII’s kitchen after the battle of Stoke Bridge ended his insurrection the following month. In his identification of the boy (7), Ashdown-Hill uses historical, numismatic and physical evidence cogently, as ever, eliminating the other possibilities.

As a result of “Lambert”‘s coronation, Henry VII’s regime decided to control Ireland more closely. The “Statute of Drogheda” (left) (“An Act that no Parliament be holden in this Land until the Acts be certified into England”) was passed in early or mid-1494 and is described as 10 Hen.7 c4 or 10 Hen.7 c9. It is also known by the name of the newly appointed Lord Deputy at the time: Sir Edward Poynings (1459-1521) and specified that no Irish Parliament could meet until its proposed legislation had been approved by the Lord Deputy, his Privy Council, the English monarch and his Parliament. Ireland was thus legislatively subjugated and its status changed again under the “Crown in Ireland Act” in 1542, becoming a kingdom (“An Act that the King of England, his Heirs and Successors, be Kings of Ireland”) under the same monarch as England, in place of a lordship. Curiously, this was in the same year that Wales was subsumed by the Kingdom of England (Laws in Wales Acts). As the sands of the “Tudor” era ran out, the Earl of Essex was sent to suppress another Ulster rebellion but ignored his orders and returned home to aim for the crown. James VI/I’s subsequent plantations filled the power vacuum left by the O’Neills.

Consequently, the “English Civil War” is also known as the “War of the Three Kingdoms”, each of which had a different religious settlement as Charles I’s reign began. Similarly, legend has it that George I expressed to plant St. James’ Park with turnips and asked an aide the price: “Only three crowns, Sire”. Poynings’ Law is still in force in Northern Ireland, whilst it was fully repealed in the Republic as late as 2007.

Notes

(1) All figures are from Richard II, Nigel Saul, page 273

(2) For more detail see Saul, p 281.

(3) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 411.

(4) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 412.

(5) Irish chronicle quoted in The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(6) The Reign of King Henry VI, Ralph A. Griffiths page 421.

(7) The Dublin King, John Ashdown-Hill particularly chapters 1-5.

SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III: HERO OR VILLAIN?

” Never let it be said that fate itself could awe the soul of Richard.

           Hence babbling dreams, you threaten here in vain;

           Conscience avaunt, Richard’s himself again”

(The tragical history of King Richard the Third)[1]


 

Richard’s himself again: or is he?

There is a moment in Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ that is not Shakespearean. It occurs during the Bosworth scene just as the king is about to ride into battle. Unnerved by the ghostly apparitions in the night of his vengeful victims, Richard’s courage seems to desert him (‘O Ratcliffe, I fear, I fear ‘). However, the sight and sound of Richmond’s army approaching rouses his natural ‘heroical temperament’ and as he rides away he whispers in White Surrey’s ear ‘Richard’s himself again’, which is not a phrase you will find in any extant Quarto or Folio edition of the play. It is, in fact, an interpolation from Coley Cibber’s seventeenth century adaptation and a small but significant example of Olivier’s editing. Its purpose is to reinforce the notion that Richard’s courage and resolution are unimpaired on the morning of battle. Its importance to Cibber (and presumably to Olivier also) is that it counters the insinuation in some interpretations of the play that King Richard was demoralized by guilt, fear and desperation at Bosworth.

 

Even though Olivier’s film is so heavily modified that much the subtlety of Shakespeare’s original play is lost, it should not be thought that his adaptation is inartistic. He is simply one of a number of distinguished actors and directors who between the reigns of the first and second Elizabeth have imposed their artistic ambition on the play. The point is that Shakespeare’s plays are not fossils set in stone. They are each subject to historical relativity and usage. Succeeding generations of actors, directors and producers have adapted them according to their artistic taste or the cultural, social and political ethos of their society. Indeed, it is possible that this play was used as a metaphor for exploring the concerns of contemporary first Elizabethans as well as those of later cultures. Modern performances of the play have portrayed Richard as a proxy for Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and ‘Rikki Ortega’ (a fictitious Californian gangster) among others.[2] Henry Goodman in the RSC’s 2003 production found ‘parallels for Richard’s deranged mind’ in the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.[3] Anthony Sher (1984), looking for clues of Richard’s stage personality studied the psychology of the real serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least twelve men between 1978 and 1983. Contemporary socio-cultural themes such as physical and mental disability, gender, racial and class discrimination, and the importance of Richard III as a ‘case study’ of tyranny, are all now aspects of modern performances. [4] In fact, so different is the public taste for this play today that I wonder whether Shakespeare would recognize it as the one he wrote for Richard Burbage in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

 

Sign of the times

The play that Shakespeare actually wrote was an immediate smash-hit financially and critically. Moreover, Burbage’s portrayal of Richard was so powerful that it defined performances of the play for generations afterwards and contributed an epic snippet of Shakespearean erotic mythology, which we learn from John Manningham, a student at the Inner Temple, who wrote in his diary in 1602: ‘Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.’ I don’t know whether this anecdote is true or not, but it is at the very least an indication of the sensuousness of Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard and the popularity of his play.

 

The old adage that ‘plays are meant to be performed not read’ may be corny but it’s true nonetheless. The importance of actors and directors in shaping our opinion of this play cannot be overstated. In my copy of the RSC’s text, it states quite clearly that the best way to understand this play is to see or ideally to participate in it. It is my aim in this article to explore the theme of change in the production, presentation and performance of Richard III. Naturally, I am aware that it is this play that is in no small part responsible for the historical Richard’s bad reputation. Nevertheless, having written some articles in favour of the factual Richard III, I feel compelled to write a few lines in defence of the fictional one and the man who created him.

 

The distinction I make between the fictional and the factual Richard is not artificial and it is important. It is ignored or blurred too often and for too long in discussions and analysis of the play or the man. [5]  There are almost as many myths about the play as there are about Richard. Chief among these is the notion that Shakespeare is personally to blame for the misjudgement of history. I hope to show that is not true and that Shakespeare was far from being a Tudor stooge. While there is no doubt that he embraced the Tudor narrative of Richard as a villain or that he structured his play around the Tudor histories of Thomas More and Edward Hall, Shakespeare doesn’t make Richard out to be as bad as he might have done.

 

‘Matters of state, not fit to be suffered’

We now have a better appreciation of Tudor bias. The depiction of Richard as a monstrous villain without any redeeming characteristics was necessary to bolster Henry VII’s weak royal title. The fact is that in Tudor England and particularly during the Elizabethan period the condemnation of Richard in literature was practically unanimous. Regardless of his personal opinion, therefore, Shakespeare had little choice other than to conform to the ‘tenets of Tudor orthodoxy’. The Privy Council enforced strict censorship of ‘certain matters of state not fit to be suffered’. Shakespeare would have been extremely foolish to depart from the prescribed doctrine on touchy issues such as the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.[6] The contemporary notion of kingship held that it was contrary to God’s law to depose a crowned and anointed king. Even a tyrant enjoyed God’s protection; however, whereas a tyrant must be endured a usurper was outside God’s law and could be overthrown with impunity. It was, therefore, necessary to depict Richard III as a usurper and a tyrant. Otherwise, it would call into question Tudor legitimacy and, more importantly, the validity of Elizabeth’s succession.[7]

 

In that context, it is all the more remarkable that Shakespeare does not depict Richard as the unrelieved monster of Tudor dogma. He is charismatic and his sardonic humour soon has the audience laughing with him; indeed, they are, in a sense, his co-conspirators. From the moment he enters the stage, Richard takes control of the play and the audience. Conversely, Shakespeare does all he can to downplay Richmond’s role. He writes nothing to make him personally attractive to the audience. He is not even mentioned until the fourth act and doesn’t appear on stage until the last. There is no scope for the audience to form any sort of relationship with such a boring, distant and obscure antagonist. Neither does Shakespeare write anything to counter suggestions that Richmond’s claim to the throne is questionable. In fact, it is soon clear that Richard cannot be defeated by any human adversary, least of all Richmond whose sole purpose is to be the clunky deus ex machina figure who is still alive at the end;[8] it is an indication of his dramatic irrelevance. I will return to these points later but for now I want to mention the play’s textual history.

 

Textual problems

Shakespeare wrote this play either in 1692 or 1694. The case for 1692 is based entirely on speculation about Shakespeare’s professional relationship with Ferdinando Lord Strange, a descendant of William Stanley the earl of Derby.[9] Although that date cannot be dismissed out of hand, it seems more likely that the play was written in 1594 for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They were by far the most important and influential company of actors and in Richard Burbage they had the greatest actor of his generation. Writing for them was a good career move for Shakespeare who needed a star actor to play Richard. The Tragedy of Richard III together with the three parts of Henry VI comprised Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of history plays.[10] He wrote the second tetralogy about a few years later. Confusingly, these plays are about earlier kings: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. The two tetralogies together chart the course of English history from the reign Richard II to the death of Richard III.

 

It is disappointing — to say the least — that none of the surviving Quarto and Folio texts of this play were authorised by Shakespeare. Experts cannot even be sure whether the synthetic text currently used in performance is an accurate representation of the version first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Quarto text of the play (a small booklet) was printed in 1597 (Q1) and thereafter re-printed five times (in 1598,1602,1605,1612 and 1622). Unfortunately, each re-print was copied from the previous one, thus perpetuating existing errors and adding new ones. Consequently, every print after Q1 is different from every other print, which makes the Quarto version useless as a performance text. It is possible (I put it no higher) that Q1 is a ‘memorial’ version of the play assembled from memory by actors who had lost or forgotten their prompt sheets, or who wished to streamline the play for a provincial performance.[11] The First Folio (F1) version of the play was published in 1623 as part of a compendium of Shakespeare’s plays. It might have been copied from an independent manuscript that pre-dates Q1 (Is it Shakespeare’s original version? Who knows?) Understanding the relationship between these versions of the play is the most difficult textual problem of all Shakespeare’s plays; it has troubled scholars for years. F1 is longer than Q1. Whether, this us due to a reduction in Q1 or an enlargement of F1 is anyone’s guess. All we can truthfully say about these texts is that they differ from each other and are error-full.[12]

 

Coley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor-manager, who at the turn of the eighteenth century wrote and printed a vigorous and populist adaption of Shakespeare’s play. He reduced its length by cutting all but eight hundred lines from Shakespeare and adding two thousand of his own, together with lines from Henry V and Henry VI part 3. The characters of Clarence, Edward IV, Rivers and Queen Margaret are omitted altogether. Despite being mocked at the time for its crudity, Cibber version became the standard performance text from 1700 until 1821. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century that the F1 became the preferred stage text play. Cibber understood his audience. Shakespeare’s play was too long for eighteenth century playgoers who had no connection with, or understanding of fifteenth century politics. The real problem for purists is that Cibber’s adaptation concentrates attention even more on Richard at the expense of his lively interactions with Edward, Clarence, Margaret and Buckingham, which make Shakespeare’s play so compelling.[13] In that sense, Cibber’s alterations are crude.

 

‘The Play’s the thing…’

‘The tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is indubitably a psychological profile of a dramatic villain. Richard’s solo entrance and memorable opening soliloquy are indicative of his dramatic dominance and also of Shakespeare’s artistic intention to create a star theatrical villain rather than continue the cyclic theme of atrocity and revenge, as seen in the Henrician plays.[14] It is a change, which whether intended or not, challenges the idea that the first tetralogy represent a serial epic that is intended to be seen as a set and in sequence after the second tetralogy. It is a conundrum that has produced two distinctly different schools of thought. One is teleological in nature; the other is analogical.

 

The teleological theory interprets the cycle of history plays from Richard II to Richard III within the context of Tudor historiology and literature. The death of Richard III is seen as the preordained end of a curse that had afflicted England since the murder of Richard II. In the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare constantly links the present with the past. He never lets us forget that the usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke and the murder of Richard of Bordeaux were the root causes of division and tumult. Professor EMW Tillyard writing in the mid twentieth century argues that all four plays are united in political themes of order and chaos, and unity and civil war. : “The main business of the play [Richard III] is to complete [the] national tetralogy and to display the working out of God’s plan to restore England to prosperity…in its function of summing-up and completing what has gone before, Richard III inevitable suffers as a detached unit.” [15] He asserts that such a conclusion is inescapable in view of the ‘plays failure to remember’ Clarence’s perjury to Warwick, Queen Margaret’s mock crowning of York, the murder of Rutland and the murder of Prince Edward by York’s sons; If it were not so, implies Tillyard, the play would not make sense to audiences. ” For the purposes of the tetralogy and most obviously for this play, Shakespeare accepted the prevalent belief that God had guided England into the haven of Tudor prosperity” [16] Tillyard’s suggestion that Richard III is a religious play can only be substantiated if it is judged according to the traditional Tudor narrative, wherein both Richard and Richmond are God’s instruments. Richard is God’s scourge; Richmond, his emissary.

 

Tillyard’s only concession to Richard’s dramatic importance is that he is so evil and depraved, and his sins are so vast that his evil is absorptive and not contagious “He is the great ulcer of the body politic into which all impurity is drained and against which all the body politic are united.”[17] Nowadays, Tillyard’s ideas are regarded as sentimental “The view from a Cambridge college window looking out at a world at war [the Second World War] and nostalgic for a more stable and comprehensible historical process”[18] Whilst there are some obvious flaws in professor Tillyard’s logic, it is ridiculous to suggest that his ideas are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. However, his assumption that all Elizabethan’s shared the Tudor view of harmony is patently untrue. There was extreme political and religious division among the population.

 

The play’s theatrical history shows that from the sixteenth century until the twenty first century, political thinkers have used it as a medium for expressing their concerns in times of oppression and/or suppression. These performances use Richard’s rise to power, his elimination of opponents, his dissembling and his amorality as an oblique warning against the onset of tyranny in their own times. The fact that the play lends itself to this approach indicates that it is far more complicated than professor Tillyard suggests. It’s a point picked up by Sir Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of The National Theatre. His production of Richard III starring Ian Mckellen toured the world in 1990 and inspired the subsequent film. Eyre’s decision to set the play in the 1930’s during the rise of Fascism was an artistic one based on his opinion that ” We have to keep thinking of ways of doing Shakespeare’s plays. They don’t have absolute meanings. There is no fixed, frozen way of doing them. Nobody can mine a Shakespeare play and discover a ‘solution’ [sic].” [19] However, in 1991 he took the play to Rumania, which he regarded as its spiritual home and used its enduring political power as a warning against tyrants such as the Romanian despot Ceausescu, and others such as Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Eyre even suggests that Richard III could be seen as a handbook for Tyrants.

 

I must admit that the most memorable performances that I have seen (Olivier, Mckellen, Sher and Rylance) have been when the play was performed alone rather than as one of a sequence of plays. As a schoolboy, I watched the BBC’s 1960 production ‘Age of Kings’ in which  the first and second tetralogies were broadcast over many weeks. As I recall, Paul Daneman was a drab and unconvincing Richard and Sean Connery was a surreal Hotspur. I found Peter Hall’s 1963 RSC production of the Wars of the Roses, which was based on the first tetralogy, equally uninspiring. Ian Holm’s Richard being small of stature was incapable of dominating the play physically or dramatically. I was not impressed. I learned later that this casting was deliberate. The aim was to portray Richard as just another royal pretender.

 

My difficulty with the teleological and analogical concepts is that they are prescriptive. Tillyard’s Richard is God’s instrument and therefore not responsible for his actions as the end is pre-ordained. The notion that the play is actually a metaphor for tyranny is equally limiting since it dismisses Richard as nothing more than a cruel brute of a type that historically were responsible for countless innocent deaths. In my personal opinion, neither approach does justice to Shakespeare’s artistry and this play’s complexity. The reality is that Richard displays aspects of both theories and more. We cannot even be sure of the play’s genre. Shakespeare called it a ‘tragedy’; the compilers of the First Folio, classified it as a ‘history’. In the last century, professor AP Rossiter identified elements of comedy in the play. What are we supposed to think? I don’t believe that Shakespeare’s creativity was limited by anything so rigid as genre. Polonius’ suggests as much in this little speech to Hamlet wherein he introduces ‘the actors’ to the prince. “The best actors in the world either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, not Plautus too light for the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.” [20] I like to think that Shakespeare was writing from his experience with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

 

Shakespeare’s description of the play as a tragedy does not imply an ethical or emotional judgement. It is a definition of the plays structure, which is based on the classical Senecan tragedies that depict the rise of great men and their downfall at fortune’s wheel.[21] It is Shakespeare’s way of heralding his artistic transition from the dramatization of chronicle histories to the creation of a histrionic and complex theatrical protagonist as the centrepiece of his drama. It was professor A P Rossiter in a lecture given ten years after Tillyard’s book who drew attention to the paradoxicality of Richard’s character, which he suggests “…decisively complicates the plays moral and political significance.[22] The problem as Rossiter sees it, is the illogicality between the concept of Richard as ‘a huge triumphant stage figure’ and his depiction by Tillyard within a rigid Tudor concept of retributive justice. Richard contradicts the expressly Christian notion of the Vice character in medieval morality plays; he is “…a heroic exemplar of humankind as being able to exert will; the world is poorer for his loss.”[23] This characterization also undermines the simplistic analogical idea that Richard is simply an evil man in a long line of evil men.

 

Shakespeare’s apparent conformity with conventional Tudor historiography is therefore complicated by his depiction of Richard as a caricature combining features from three theatrical characters familiar to Elizabethan audiences: the ‘de Casibus tragedian’[24], the demonic-comedian Vice character of the morality plays and the Marlovian Machiavellian of the Elizabethan stage. Above all, Shakespeare’s Richard is an actor. He is charming, witty, intelligent and eloquent, and dissembles his many parts so brilliantly that those whom he intends to kill do not realise until the very last moment that he is not their friend. He is Shakespeare’s version of a ‘thoroughly bad man in the role of a monarch and hero’ Rossiter describes him thus: ” He [is] a mocking comedian, a ‘Vice’ king but with a clear inheritance from the old Vice moralities: part symbol of evil, part comic devil and chiefly — on stage — the generator of roars of laughter at wickedness the audience would …condemn in reality.”[25]

 

His sardonic sense of humour is not a conventional rendering of Tudor doctrine. He makes us laugh. We are on his side. We enjoy this gritty comedy because we are Richard’s confidantes. We see the fools he dupes through his eyes and with his mind. We rejoice in their downfall. Richard is not just a consummate actor; he is also a consummate villain. He knows what he wants. He delights in telling us what he is going to do, and he does it. He can assume any mood or passion at will. He is believed without question. He has perfected simulation of every feeling and phrase to serve his purpose. And he has eliminated any weakness that might betray him, such as feelings of compunction, pity and uncertainty of mind.[26] Richard has all the qualities of the complete Machiavellian: ” …lifelong and unremitting vigilance in relentless simulation and indomitable deception.” [27] By presenting Richard in this form, Shakespeare is neither proving nor de-bunking the Tudor myth. Instead of certainty we have only ambiguity.

 

[1] Coley Cibber – The tragical history of King Richard the Third. Altered from Shakespeare by Coley Cibber, Esq. (London 1769 print) p.66

[2] John Jowett (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Oxford 2000) p.17; Annalieze Connelly (ed) – Richard III: a critical reader (Bloomsbury/Arden 2013) pp.111-150 passim.

[3] Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Macmillan/RSC Shakespeare 2008) p.167.

[4] Bate ibid; Connolly pp.33-45 passim; the rise of Material Culturism has politicized the play. Material Culturists use a close examination of the play’s text to identify the ‘dominant hegemonic force in society’ (e.g. Crown, Church, Family and so forth) and the methods for disseminating their doctrine/ideology. By analyzing the text Material Culturists hope to spot examples of dissent and complicity with the dominant force’s doctrine/ideology. It is a methodology that tends to spotlight those people who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized by society, by virtue of their race, religion, gender, class or disability.

[5] Stephen Greenblatt – Tyrant: Shakespeare on power (The Bodley Head 2018) pp.53-95; professor Greenblatt has an interesting theory on tyrants and especially how they come to power. His view of Richard is wholly negative. He is a ‘worthless piece of work. There is no secret about his cynicism, cruelty and [treachery], no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe he could ever rule the country effectively… he leaves nothing behind except wreckage. It would have been better had he never been born’. Greenblatt is a professor of the Humanities and an expert on the works of Shakespeare: I am not. Nevertheless, there is much about his book with which I disagree. It is, I believe a good example of the simplistic thinking that comes from basing an opinion of the play on a study of the text conducted in an academic vacuum without the context of performance. But most of all I cannot accept his premise that Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard is an accurate representation of the real man, or that it was ever intended to be

[6] Greenblatt pp.1-23; contains a discussion on Shakespeare’s freedom of speech in the context of late Elizabethan religious fanaticism, domestic political intrigue and the threat to the English succession from a foreign power.

[7] Jowett pp.11-16

[8] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary – “dues ex machina (literally: ‘God from the machine’): a divine power, event, or person arriving in time to solve a difficulty (often rather contrived) interposition, esp. in a novel or play”. For example, ‘and then I woke up’.

[9] Jowett PP. 4-6; Shakespeare’s manipulation of history to put a positive spin on William Stanley’s part in Richard III’s downfall has tempted some scholars to speculate that the play was written in 1692 for Lord Strange’s Men. Ferdinando Lord Strange was a descendant of the said Thomas Stanley Earl of Derby and also of Henry VII (by Henry’s granddaughter Margaret Clifford). This may explain why Shakespeare has tactfully ignored Stanley’s acquiescence in Hastings’ execution, his part in crushing Buckingham’s rebellion, the rewards he received from King Richard and his ‘wait and see’ policy in 1485. Thomas Stanley is also portrayed as leading the Stanley contingent that surrounded and killed the King, whereas it was actually his brother William. It might also explain why Thomas Stanley has such a prominent role in the final scenes: presenting Henry with his crown and predicting the joyous union of York and Lancaster. Lord Strange and his family were noted for their Roman Catholic sympathies; however, in true Stanley fashion they managed to keep on the right side of the Reformation by hunting down Jesuits. From both the protestant and the catholic perspectives, Strange’s loyalty was suspect.

[10] Jowett pp. 73-74; the three Henrician plays were first published under the following titles: The First part of Henry VI (taken from the First Folio, there being no earlier text); The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster (now Henry VI part 2) and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (now Henry VI part 3).

[11] Bate p.18; the title of the 1597 print makes interesting reading: “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, containing the treacherous plots against his brother Clarence; the pitiful murder of his innocent nephews; his tyrannical usurpation; with the whole course of his detested life and deserved death. As has been lately performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s men, his servants”

[12] Jowett pp.110-120; Bate pp.9-15; both these editors provides extensive discussion on the textual chronology and problems arising from Quarto and Folio editions. See also Julie Hankey (ed) – Shakespeare’s Richard III in Performance (Junction Books 1981) pp. 27-32. It is also worth considering EAJ Honigmann (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1968) pp. 242-244. His textual notes were still helpful to me fifty years after they were written.

[13] Bate p.16; Richard had 32% of the lines in F1; more than any other Shakespearean protagonist except Hamlet (37%). Richmond by comparison has 4% of the lines, which is an index of his artistic importance. In Cibber’s adaptation, Richard’s share rises to 40%.

[14] Richards solo appearance and his opening soliloquy are unique in the Shakespearean canon. He is the only protagonist to open and speak first in his own play.

[15] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) pp.200-04

[16] Tillyard ibid

[17] Tillyard p.208

[18] Connelly pp. 33-45;

[19] Bate and Rasmussen p.200

[20] TJB Spencer (ed) – Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1996) p.115 Act 2, Scene 2; ‘the law of writ and the liberty plays’: Polonius is distinguishing between plays that follow classical principles, like Ben Johnson’s and plays like Shakespeare’s with greater freedom of structure. The mixture of tragical-comical-historical-pastoral seems absurd until we recall that Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline.

[21] Jowett pp. 23-24; Seneca (BC 4-AD 65) was a Roman stoic philosopher and dramatist. He is famous for ten tragical plays that depict the rise of great men and their ruination or self-destruction due to uncontrolled emotion or madness. Seneca was widely read in medieval and renaissance Christendom. His tragedies influenced Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers.

[22] AP Rossiter – Angels with Horns: fifteen lectures on Shakespeare (Longman 1989 edition) pp.1-22; see also Jowett p.10.

[23] Jowett pp.10-11 citing Nicholas Brooke – Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (1968) pp. 78-79.

[24] De Casibus vivorum illustrium (on the fate of famous men): this is an encyclopedia of historical biographies dealing with the fortunes and calamities of famous men from Adam until the fourteenth century: not only their lives, but also their moral virtues.

[25] Rossiter p.15

[26] Rossiter p.17

[27] Rossiter ibid

 

The story of Middleham Castle….

Middleham Castle

The Battle of Wakefield took place on 30th December, 1460. It ended when Richard, Duke of York, lost his life. As did his second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland. The victors were the Lancastrians, in the name of their feeble-minded king, Henry VI.

York’s claim to the throne finally came to fruition in the forms of two of his other sons, Edward IV and the youngest, Richard III. And one of Richard’s favourite homes—if not the most favourite—was Middleham Castle in Yorkshire.

But Middleham Castle was around for a long time before Richard came along, and was still there when he had gone. To read more of its history, which includes the great Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, go here.

 

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