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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

 

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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.

 

Was a chapel for the House of York planned at Westminster Abbey in 1483…?

A short while ago, I came upon a reference to the foundation stone of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey (visible in this illustration of the abbey as it may have been in the Tudor period) have been laid first in April 1483. It was from here, as follows:-

“. . .Elizabeth [of York] was given a lavish funeral. She lay in state at the Tower, and was interred later at Henry VII Lady Chapel (the foundation stone of which was laid in April, 1483). She and Henry lay there together, their graves topped with an elaborate bronze effigy. . .”

I asked the Henry “Tudor” Society blog if they could clarify this date, which I thought would probably mean that Edward IV had some input or other. There was no response. I decided the whole thing must be an error, because the date  for laying of the foundation stone is always given as 1503.

Nevertheless, the point niggled away. What if it were true? What if that foundation stone had indeed been laid in April 1483? This, of course, led me to consider what was going on in that month of that year. Answer? The death of Edward IV. Not yet the accession of Richard III, because Edward’s eldest son was to be Edward V. Was Edward IV’s sudden death merely a curious coincidence? Regarding the date, not anything untoward.

I thought no more of it. Then, while pursuing the part of the reference below that refers to Richard III having removed Henry VI’s remains from Chertsey by violence, I noticed the accompanying details about the so-called saintly king’s intended resting place in Westminster Abbey.

It reads as follows, from The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy by John Steane, page 183:

“. . .While Edward [IV] was king the remains of Henry VI were left in obscurity at Chertsey, whither they had been removed after his [Henry’s] mysterious death in the Tower. The government had given out that Henry died from ‘pure displeasure and melancholy’, but popular belief was that he had been murdered, possibly by the Duke of Gloucester. . . (Pause for savage expletives!!!) . . . Prominent political figures who died by violence were likely to earn a popular reputation for sanctity. In Henry VI’s case, bouts of insanity and a reputation for other-worldliness in his own lifetime may have encouraged the formation of a saintly cult. Richard III took steps to supervise this phenomenon more closely when he authorized the removal of the body of Henry VI from Chertsey to Windsor. Although not canonized he [Henry VI] was popularly regarded as a saint and pilgrims flocked to Windsor, contributing to a decline in the numbers wending their way to the shrine of St Thomas at Canterbury.

Tomb of Henry VI at St George’s Chapel, Windsor

“. . .A rather unseemly wrangle followed. [My note: When, exactly? In Richard’s reign, or after Bosworth?] The abbeys of Chertsey and Westminster both put forward claims to the body. Chertsey’s claim was on the grounds that Richard III had taken it by violence to Windsor [Huh? I hope this is just a generally accepted term for moving remains around, not yet another accusation to lay at Richard’s door.] Westminster based its case on the fact that workmen and vergers at the abbey had clear recollections that Henry had marked out a place for himself in the abbey choir during his lifetime. The canons of Windsor joined in, strenuously arguing in favour of the saintly royal corpse remaining there. The upshot was that the new chapel prepared at Westminster was used for its founder, Henry VII, while Windsor kept Henry VI under the south aisle of St George’s chapel. His arms are carved in the fan vaulting over the bay in which he had been reburied after his arrival from Chertsey. . .”

The above details are also to be found in Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey by Dean Stanley, who says that Henry VII intended a new Westminster chapel for Henry VI, whom he thought would soon be canonised. But Henry VI wasn’t canonised, and Stanley believes Henry VII wasn’t prepared to lavish money on a non-saint. So he appropriated the planned chapel for himself alone. (This is on page 138 of my February 1911 edition.) All of which suggests that the present Henry VII chapel certainly wasn’t originally intended just for Tudor himself, but for him to rest beside St Henry VI. And presumably soak up the reflected glory.

So, a chapel at Westminster, already commenced for Henry VI, was eventually used for solely for Henry VII. .Oh, and by the way, this would presumably mean that Henry VII would be removing Henry VI’s remains by violence, since Windsor was hardly likely to surrender their royal golden goose without protest. And there is a strong suggestion that the remains were actually brought to Westminster, and when the canonisation failed to materialize, were returned to Windsor. Very respectfully, of course. And maybe followed by a Tudor scowl.

However, Henry VI had apparently already chosen his place in Westminster, but in the abbey choir, not Henry VII’s new chapel, which was erected on the site of the old Lady Chapel, behind the altar. This made me wonder if Henry VI’s known personal choice of Westminster had led to an earlier plan to accommodate the saintly king’s wish. OK, it’s a possible flight of fancy on my part, but it could perhaps offer an explanation for the intriguingly rogue mention of April 1483

I don’t think there is any doubt that in 1503 Henry VII commenced his own chapel, the one that is still there now. But just how much of a previous “new” Henry VI chapel might have remained very close by? An earlier foundation stone, perhaps laid around the time of Edward IV’s death in April 1483? It would have been superseded by the 1503 foundation stone, of course, but there is still the thought (mine, I own up) that another chapel could have been planned from the time of Edward IV/Richard III.

Then again, maybe in April 1483, this originally planned new chapel was not intended for Henry VI at all. Might Edward IV, knowing he was on his deathbed, have decided he wanted to be laid to rest in Westminster? I know he left in his will that it was to be Windsor, but might he have changed his mind at the eleventh hour? He surely wouldn’t normally have built anything for holy but pesky Henry VI, whom he’d despatched to obscurity in Chertsey. Out of sight, out of mind. Edward had no reason to think fondly of Henry VI, unless, of course, his own imminent death made him want to take precautions for an assured entry into heaven. In which case, of course, why not bring the holy chap to Windsor? But just maybe, with the Grim Reaper approaching the castle,  a grand joint venture with Henry VI at Westminster would seem just the necessary safeguard? Being nice to the royal “saint” would earn brownie points in heaven and on earth, which I’m sure is what Henry VII was to think in turn. Edward would also have been content that his son and brother, Richard of Gloucester, would carry out these last-minute plans. Edward had no scruples about intending his illegitimate son to ascend the throne at Richard’s expense. In fact, I don’t think Edward had many scruples at all. If any. But that’s beside the point.

However, if Edward had decided belatedly on his own burial in Westminster, it did not come to fruition. He was interred in Windsor. That is not to say that his successor, Richard III, did not intend to honour his late brother’s possible last wish (if such a wish had existed). Who knows what Richard had in mind? He left no record, so people like me have to read the facts and try to interpret them, and as I am not a historian, the result is rambling articles like this!

Moving human remains around to different places was quite common back then. In 1476, on Edward’s instructions, his father and brother had been removed from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, escorted on the journey by Richard, so it was certainly established practice in their immediate family. Richard had Henry VI brought from Chertsey to Windsor, even though Henry had wanted to rest in neither, but in Westminster. But this may have been expediency on Richard’s part, to accommodate the growing cult around Henry’s tomb. Maybe even to reflect a heavenly glow over Edward IV? Like so many things with Richard, we cannot know anything for certain.

So. . .what was this possible other chapel at Westminster? Surely not anything to do with the old Lady Chapel, which was definitely pulled down to accommodate Henry VII’s grand plan. No, for there seems to be a suggestion that this enigmatic earlier project was something new in April 1483. Might it have been a magnificent tomb for the House of York? Might Richard have eventually planned to bring Edward IV from Windsor and George of Clarence from Tewkesbury? Maybe his father and older brother Edmund from Fotheringhay? Perhaps even Henry VI from Windsor? Whatever his motives and final intentions, the chapel if it existed (for this is all “reading between the lines” on my part) was somewhere Richard would have seen, with great sadness, as a final resting place for his queen, his son. All too soon, of course, it would have been his own too.

But it was never built. Maybe never even planned. Who knows? I just have this feeling that Henry VII was almost pipped at the post by a Yorkist chapel. If only everyone today flocked to see the York Chapel, with all the grand tombs of the family of Richard III. If only. . .

 

 

 

BLOOD OF ROSES (A Novella of Edward IV’s Victory at Towton)

Richard, Duke of York and his second son Edmund were killed at the battle of Wakefield at the bitter end of  1460. Within weeks, the Duke’s eldest son Edward was on the road with a mighty army, seeking revenge–and a crown.

The novella BLOOD OF  ROSES by J.P. Reedman covers the period  from the Duke’s death to Edward’s Coronation on June 28 1461. Edward’s early battles are curiously sidelined  in most fiction, despite their importance, while his amorous pursuits often seem to take the fore! This ‘slice of life’ fiction book tries to redress that balance slightly.

In February 1461 Edward fought the first of his battles for the throne at Mortimer’s Cross, where the parhelion, the Three Suns, appeared  in the sky. Edward sensed the fear and doubt growing in his men at the sight of this phenomena, and, aged only 18, showed great cleverness in convincing them it was a GOOD omen–the sign of the Holy Trinity. The battle went decively for the Yorkists, with Jasper Tudor’s father Owen being executed in Hereford’s town square. Legend says a deranged lady took his head and sat on the market cross crooning to it as she brushed its hair…

With Edward were the Croft family of Croft Castle, which is on the Welsh borders. This is the family made famous by the letter sent from Ludlow to the Duke of York by his young sons, Edward and Edmund, asking for bonnets and other items. At first reading, one section of the letter seems to  be against bullying behaviour by the Croft sons, who were also at Ludlow, but is in fact, on second reading,  against the ‘odious and demeaning’ treatment of them, a fact recently noted by Dr John Ashdown-Hill. Richard Croft went on to serve Edward IV (so clearly no  friction there!), then Richard III and Henry Tudor.

Mortimer’s Cross was a great victory but there was then a distinct setback when the Earl of Warwick was defeated by the Lancastrians at St Albans, and King Henry, until then a Yorkist prisoner, taken  to rejoin his wife, Margaret of Anjou. Nonetheless, Edward entered London and was proclaimed king, although he sworehe would not wear the crown until he had defeated his enemies utterly. Gathering his army, he began a hard march north.

At Ferrybridge, the Lancastrians attacked the Yorkists over the damaged bridge crossing the Aire, in a night-raid led by Lord Clifford, the presumed murderer of Edmund of Rutland, who had appeared suddenly with his ‘chosen’ men, the Flower of Craven. At first the Yorkists were thrown into disarray, with Lord Fitzwalter being hewn down the moment he stepped from his tent to see what the commotion outside was about. Luckily, William Neville, Lord Fauconberg, the most experienced commander of the Yorkist host, took the lead and crossed near Castleford to attack the Lancastrian flank. Fauconberg was a small-framed man, often described as ‘little Fauconberg’ who had a long military career, having served in France, including at the famous Siege of Orleans. He was an uncle of Edward, being the third son of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland and his wife Joan Beaufort (Edward’s maternal grandparents.) Fauconberg  made short work of Clifford’s Flower of Craven, and Clifford himself was killed, mostly like by an arrow when removing his gorget.

Then the Yorkist army pushed on to Towton, fought on Palm Sunday and in a fierce snowstorm. Some have questioned the possibility of a  snowstorm that late in the year, but looking at our recent March weather, it is not impossible at all that there was indeed heavy snow! The bad weather was advantageous to the Yorkists, with the worst of the weather being at their backs and driving into the faces of their enemies. The Lancastrian archers were at a distinct disadvantage with the strong wind blowing their arrows astray.

The battle was hard fought, nevertheless, as the Lancastrian forces far outnumbered those of the Yorkists. However, when the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent arrived, led by John Howard, the battle finally turned in Edward’s favour. A rout ensued and the battlefield became a killing field. The waters of nearby Cock Beck ran red with blood and filled with bodies. The area was afterwards called Bloody Meadow.

It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on English’s soil, with figures as high as 28,000 stated for the casualties. Even given the exaggeration of the chroniclers of the day, it was undoubtedly a huge amount of slain. In recent years some of the remains of the fallen have been recovered, mostly around Towton Hall, where archaeologists recently found the remains of Richard III’s chapel to the fallen soldiers subsumed into the inner fabric of the hall. The skeletons recovered showed the terrifying brutality of medieval warfare–shattered skulls, slashing injuries, facial mutilation, slicing marks that may have been the removal of ears…

Chivalry died a death upon this field of blood. But England had a new king–Edward of York, the Sunne in Splendour.

BLOOD OF ROSES IS AVAILABLE IN KINDLE AND PRINT FROM AMAZON

BLOOD OF ROSES

 

Might Richard have become Archbishop of Canterbury….?

 

Richard as Archbishop - WordPress

An oft-asked question arose again the other day. Had Richard been originally intended for the Church? He was the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of York, and the Church was the fate of most aristocratic youngest sons. It has been suggested to me that such early training would explain his beautifully precise handwriting. After all, his letters and signature make his peers look uneducated!

Yes, his piety is frequently remarked upon, but then they were all pious in those days. Outwardly, at least. Richard’s piety seems to be have deeper, because the purity of his private life is also remarked upon. He does not seem to have strayed from the marriage bed, which was surely very unusual. He was a young king, and good-looking. His scoliosis wouldn’t been seen because good tailoring would hide it, so none of the awful lies perpetrated by Shakespeare would have applied. He would have been a prime target for female advances. These advances do not seem to have been welcomed. At least, if they were, post-marriage he hid it well! Before marrying Anne, he fathered illegitimate children and acknowledged them all, so he was red-blooded.

Was he a reluctant temporal lord? Was his brilliance on the battlefield, enjoyment of sumptuous fashionable clothes and penchant for lavish festivities a smokescreen? Would he much rather have been Archbishop of Canterbury? That might have depended upon which point in his life it was decided he should not enter the Church after all. When might that have happened? What might have prompted it?

I do not know the finer points of such things, and for all I know the precise proof of it all is known to exist, but if so, I am ignorant of it. So, simply looking on the surface, I would guess a decision to change his destiny was maybe made after Wakefield. The deaths of his father and brother Edmund might have decided the eldest brother, Edward, Earl of March, who would become King Edward IV, that his youngest brother would be better employed as a soldier, “going forth and multiplying” for the benefit of the House of York.

Richard (then eight years old) and his slightly older brother George were children at that time, and exiled safely to their aunt in Burgundy. After the soon-to-be Edward IV’s subsequent victory at Towton, they were brought home. Is that when and why it was agreed that Richard and the Church should no longer be an item? Richard was thus created Duke of Gloucester, and George, for whom the Church was not a consideration, became Duke of Clarence.

So, is it possible that until being sent into exile in Burgundy, Richard had been trained and prepared for the Church? I can remember how, at that same age of eight, I absorbed education like blotting paper. I read books by the score, and everything that was drummed into me at school was taken on board, as modern parlance has it. In the 15th century, when strictness and volume of tuition would have far exceeded that of the 20th century, Richard (being studious by nature) would have been much higher quality blotting paper! For instance, if the Church was involved, he’d have been be well on the way to a thorough knowledge of Latin. It nearly happened to his nephew and did happen to his great-nephew.

I’m sure there are those who will read this and have more informed thoughts and explanations. If so, I hope they will share them.

 

How Edward IV ascended the throne of England….

 

The Wars of the Roses did not commence, à la Bard, with white and red roses snatched and brandished in a garden by opposing lords, but they were foreshadowed at the turn of the fifteenth century when Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, usurped and murdered Richard II.

Bolingbroke was the son and heir of Richard II’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, through Gaunt’s first marriage, to Blanche of Lancaster. It was through Blanche that the dukedom came to Gaunt. Bolingbroke was therefore the undisputable heir of the House of Lancaster.

But Gaunt had other children by other women, especially a nest of illegitimate Beauforts by his liaison with Katherine de Roët/Swynford, who had been governess to his children by Blanche. Gaunt wanted the Beauforts to be legitimized, and Richard II eventually agreed. Letters Patent were issued in 1397.

When Bolingbroke stole the throne and murdered Richard, he also made sure that his half-siblings, the Beauforts, could not succeed to the throne. He did this by adding a clause to the original Patent of legitimation. This was popularly regarded as valid, but maybe it was not, because the original patent had received parliamentary sanction.

The Lancastrian line held power until the reign of Bolingbroke’s grandson, the weak, ineffectual Henry VI. At first childless, Henry had to decide on an heir. If the Beauforts were set aside, the next legitimate heir to the throne was Richard, 3rd Duke of York, who descended from Gaunt’s younger brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. But, York was also descended, through his Mortimer mother, from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, who was an older brother of Gaunt’s. Not the oldest, of course. That honour went to the Black Prince, father of Richard II.

Gaunt and the Lancastrians did their utmost to insist that rights to the throne could not descend through a female line. They were wrong. For instance, Henry II’s claim came through his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose opponent, Stephen, also claimed through his mother. So, the Lancastrians were good at dealing from the bottom of the pack. Gaunt himself laid claim to the throne of Castile in right of his second wife! And he had gained the incredibly wealthy and important dukedom of Lancaster through his first wife. But that was different, of course. Oh, of course. So, they were hypocrites.

This was the situation when Henry VI needed an heir. York felt, rightly, that he was the legitimate heir. He did not claim that the House of Lancaster had no right to the throne, only that he was the next heir. Then, miraculously (or by the divine intervention of the Beaufort Earl of Somerset) Henry VI’s queen provided the much-needed son. In the nick of time, eh? Poor Henry believed he was the father, but a lot of people saw hanky-panky at work…and Somerset’s Beaufort fruitfulness.

York’s claims went quiet again. But as the years passed, Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, grew fearful that York’s designs on the crown would be at the expense of her son. She was aided and abetted in this by the powerful Duke of Somerset. York realized that he and his House were in danger of extinction, and chose to stand up for his rights.

Thus began the Wars of the Roses, a tussle that went on for decades and resulted in the crown going from Lancaster to York, and then back to Lancaster….if Henry Tudor can be described as a Lancastrian. He was descended through the Beauforts, who, according to Henry IV, could not succeed to the throne. But that is yet another story. So, too, is the fact that if the claim to the throne could descend through the female line, then Philippa, one of Gaunt’s daughters by Blanche of Lancaster, and thus full sister of Henry IV, had to be considered. She had married the King of Portugal, and had sons. Philippa’s younger sister, Elizabeth, had married the Duke of Exeter, but their line was not considered either. Besides, Philippa was the older sister, and her line not only legitimate, but secure. However, as far as I can ascertain, her claim does not appear to have been even vaguely considered.

By this time York was the father of four sons: Edward, Earl of March (Edward IV), Edmund, Earl of Rutland, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III). The first two were old enough to fight. Another of York’s great assets was the Earl of Warwick, who is now known to us as the “Kingmaker”.

With Margaret determined to protect her son’s rights, battles commenced, and fortunes swung. Then York and his second son, Edmund, were slain by treachery (the same fate as that suffered by the last of the sons, the brave Richard III) at the Battle of Wakefield. York and Edmund’s heads were displayed on the gate of York city. At least Richard III did not suffer that.

Now York’s eldest son, Edward, the new Duke of York, became the figurehead of the Yorkist cause. Bitterly angry about the fate of his father and brother, he took up the cudgels and, with Warwick at his side, triumphed over the Lancastrians to take the throne. He was proclaimed king on 4th March 1461. After a few years there was a hiccup, and he was forced to flee the country with his younger brother, George and Richard. Henry VI was reinstated. Edward returned, and after another bout of battles (and quarrelling with and alienating Warwick, to say nothing of having George switch sides more than once) Edward finally demolished Lancaster at the Battle of Tewkesbury on 4th May 1471. He gained victory with his brothers fighting at his side. Somerset was captured and beheaded. Margaret of Anjou’s son, the Prince of Wales, was also slain, and Margaret’s will finally broken. Days later, Henry VI, died in the Tower of “melancholy”. Hmm. Let’s just say that his survival would have been inconvenient to Edward, who wouldn’t want him returning to the throne again.

 

And so England had her first Yorkist king for the second time. If you see what I mean. The above is clearly somewhat condensed, and many of the finer points have had to be omitted, but it’s the gist of how handsome, dashing, charming Edward, Earl of March, became King Edward IV.

Tales of a Ricardian Traveler: A Visit to King’s Cliffe Church and its Fotheringhay Artifacts

Although the entire eastern portion of St Mary and All Saints Church in Fotheringhay was demolished in 1573, it is still possible to see original woodwork and painted glass from the Yorkist Age.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Lady on Horseback Lady on Horseback, mid-15th c., British Museum

My husband and I had the good fortune to spend two weeks in England and Wales in October, 2017. I had been asked to moderate a conference about Richard III and 15th century warfare at the Leicester Guildhall, sponsored by the Richard III Foundation. During our stay in Leicester, we drove into Northamptonshire in order to explore a small parish church at King’s Cliffe that purported to have a number of objects from Richard III’s birthplace of Fotheringhay. What we discovered surpassed all our expectations.

Scene of Destruction: St Mary and All Saints Church

Like many tales of discovery, this one begins with a tale of loss. The year was 1566. Queen Elizabeth I was on progress through her realm, having already occupied the throne for 8 years. Her itinerary took her to Fotheringhay Castle, a short distance from the parish church…

View original post 1,638 more words

Treason among the Roses….or….Who betrayed whom at Wakefield….?

treason among the roses

The scene above is fictitious, with roses being brandished nobly, but the strife known to posterity as The Wars of the Roses was full of treachery. Turncoats abounded, loyalty could be non-existent, and men’s names dragged down. Not always dragged down, of course, because if the traitor defected to the ultimately winning side, he did very nicely, thank you very much.

The Battle of Northampton, 10th July 1460, for instance, was won by the Yorkists because the Lancastrians were betrayed by the commander of their own vanguard, Edmund Grey, Lord Grey of Ruthin. It was a prearranged plan, with the Earl of Warwick’s Yorkists told not to attack anyone in Grey’s colours. Grey’s reward was to be made Earl of Kent.

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Edmund Grey, Lord Grey of Ruthin

But five months later, on 30th December that same year, was fought the Battle of Wakefield, at which the tables were turned and York lost to Lancaster, in the process forfeiting the lives of the Duke of York himself, his prominent supporter the Earl of Salisbury, and York’s 17-year-old second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland.

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Impression of Sandal Castle, near Wakefield

York was trapped at Sandal Castle near Wakefield, with (it is estimated) round 5,000 men compared with the (equally estimated) 20,000 of the Lancastrians. Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury (not his namesake, the Earl of Warwick) was at York’s side throughout. The Nevilles were one of the great families in the north, but were divided because Salisbury’s cadet branch had risen above the senior branch, which was led by his great-nephew, the Earl of Westmorland. Westmorland was ill, and his younger brother, John Neville of Raby, had a great deal to gain by the destruction of both York and Salisbury.

Raby Castle

Raby Castle

The Percys were another great northern family, who, resentful of the jumped-up Nevilles, opposed York and Salisbury. John Neville of Raby was soon colluding with the Percys and other Lancastrians. A plot was hatched by the northern veteran Andrew Trollope to fool the Duke of York into coming out to join battle, when he should have stayed safely in Sandal Castle, waiting for the help that was on its way from his son and heir, Edward, Earl of March, the future Edward IV, and from the Earl of Warwick.

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Sir Andrew Trollope

Trollope had been a Yorkist, but changed sides after feeding York with false information about the strength of the Lancastrians. Then, after concealing most of the Lancastrian army in the woods surrounding the intended battlefield in front of the castle, Trollope marched a much smaller contingent into the open to challenge York and deceive him into thinking the opposition was much smaller than it really was.

It would also seem that the scheming John Neville of Raby further fooled York with false colours, so that he thought some Yorkist reinforcements had arrived from Warwick. Another version is that Neville pretended he would raise men for York, but raised them for Lancaster instead. Either way he was a lying turncoat. And all this went on while a Christmas truce was in force! Not very honourable or chivalrous.

Oh, sneaky, sneaky Lancastrian traitors, yet York appears to have had faith in these men. Certainly it is thought he believed that if he gave battle, a large portion of the Lancastrian army would come over to his side. He was strongly advised to stay in the castle and just wait for his son Edward and real allies to arrive to save him, but something convinced him to march out and not only be confronted by the Lancastrians he could see, but surrounded too by the greater numbers hidden in the woods. Was he incredibly brave and sure of his cause? Or deluded and a complete fool? As we do not know what was in his mind, we will probably never know. All we do know is that he was betrayed by so-called friends.

The battle was short. York, Salisbury and young Edmund were all slain and beheaded, and their heads displayed ignominiously on Micklegate Bar in York. York’s head was ridiculed with a paper crown, and a notice: York overlooks the city of York.

richardyorkdeath

It was a disaster for the Yorkist cause, but now Edward of March took over as head of the House. He triumphed, became Edward IV, and after one brief blip when he had to flee to his sister in Burgundy, he returned to vanquish Lancaster and reign for twelve peaceful years. He passed away at a relatively young age, but death came in his bed, not on a battlefield.

Of course, being a Ricardian, I have to think of Bosworth, where the greatest betrayal of them all brought about the brutal death of the Duke of York’s youngest son, Richard III. The name Stanley is all I need to say. Back-stabbing and fence-sitting was their game. The Stanleys benefited greatly from their shameful treachery. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

As I have commented here, if only York had stayed put in Sandal Castle, how different might things have been. Would he, not his youngest son, have become King Richard III? Edmund could have lived to marry and perhaps have progeny. George of Clarence might never have rebelled and been condemned for treason. And if York had been around, might his eldest son Edward have been prevented from making the disastrous Woodville “marriage” that was to eventually lead to the horror of Bosworth? Bosworth, where it might have been King Richard IV who was hacked to death.

Who knows? Without the Woodville marriage, there wouldn’t have been a King Richard to die at Bosworth. There wouldn’t have been a Bosworth, because Richard, Duke of Gloucester, would probably have happily lived out his days as Lord of the North, maintaining a peaceful balance between the Nevilles and the Percys.

Richard's standard at Bosworth

 

A SWORD OF EDWARD IV IN IRELAND

The House of York  always had a strong connection with Ireland. Richard Duke of York and his family lived there from a while, sometimes at the imposing Trim Castle (beloved of movie makers from Excalibur to Braveheart) and sometimes at Dublin Castle where George of Clarence was born.  Later, after the battle of Ludford Bridge, the Duke fled to Ireland with his second son, Edmund, while the elder, Edward, hurried to Calais with the Earl of Warwick.

When Edward IV came to the throne, he kept up the connection, and established a mint at Waterford in Reginald’s Tower.  Richard III also wanted to strengthen ties with Ireland, sending a letter to Thomas Barrett, Bishop of Annaghdown, with instructions as to what sentiments the Bishop must impart in a planned  meeting with James Fitzgerald,  the Earl of Desmond. In his letter to the Bishop, Richard commended the actions of Desmond’s father in assisting the Duke of York, saying he felt ‘inward compassion’ for the fate of the elder Desmond, who had been executed ‘by certain persons having the rule and governence there’.

The Irish remained  favourable to the Yorkist cause  even after Bosworth Field, with the uprisings connected with Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck both having connections to Ireland. Many of the soldiers who fought and died at Stoke Field were Irish.

Ireland still retains some ceremonial items given to the town of Waterford by Edward IV, including a sword and maces. These, along with a charter regarding the mint, can still be viewed in the ‘Medieval Treasures Museum’ in Waterford.

 

edward_sword_300_230_c1

(I feel there could be a trip to the Emerald Isle on the cards sometime soon!)

http://www.waterfordtreasures.com/medieval-museum/whats-inside/sword-of-edward-iv

 

 

 

And now for the height and appearance of Edmund, Earl of Rutland….

Well, OK, I admit it, the picture right above is NOT Edmund. It’s just an image of a young knight, which is what Edmund was at the time of his death. The trouble is, what did Edmund of Rutland actually look like? Another giant like his elder brother Edward IV? Or…smaller and more delicate, like his younger brothers, George of Clarence and Richard III? Well, certainly as Richard III was, and it is now suggested that George was the same. (To read more about this, click here.)

Back to Edmund. First, a little background to his life and premature death. Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, descended paternally from Edward of Langley, youngest son of King Edward II. He was born at Rouen on 17th May, 1443 (574 years ago this month), and besides his English title, had an Irish one, Earl of Cork. His father was Richard Duke of York, Protector of England and supposed heir to the English throne. His mother, Cecily Neville, was a daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland.

I will not go into the details of York’s claim to the throne, suffice it that the House of Lancaster was seated there but King Henry VI was weak-minded and ineffectual, and York (rightly) disagreed with his right to the crown. Henry’s fierce queen, Margaret of Anjou, was certainly not weak-minded, and she had a seven-year-old son to protect, Edward, Prince of Wales. She had no intention of endangering his eventual succession, and in 1449 York was appointed Viceroy of Ireland, and thus was (for the time being) safely out of the Lancastrian way. York’s second son, Edmund, Earl of Rutland, was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland and went with his father.

In July 1449, York and Edmund, together with York’s pregnant duchess (on 12th October she would give birth to George, Duke of Clarence), set sail for Howth, then the chief port of Dublin. They landed on 14th of the month. York soon gained the appreciation of the Irish, as well as the resident English, and the House of York was to retain that land’s support.

Howth-harbour-1818.jpg

Not all York’s children went with him to Ireland, for his eldest son and heir, Edward, Earl of March, was holding Calais with York’s brother-in-law, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. The great Kingmaker. At that time Warwick supported York’s claims. It would not always be thus, of course.

Edward and Warwick raised an army and invaded England to defeat the Lancastrians at the Battle of Northampton.

capture of Henry VI at Northampton 1460

King Henry was captured, and London fell into Yorkist possession. York returned from Ireland with Edmund, and was reaffirmed as heir to the throne. The Yorkist ascendancy was soon imperilled, however, and York and Edmund found themselves trapped in Sandal Castle, near Wakefield.

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Wakefield-Battlemap Military History Monthly

They and a mere 5,000 men were besieged by the Lancastrians with 20,000 men. Help was on the way from Edward, but although York was urged to stay tight, he insisted on going out to give battle. There are varying reasons given for his decision to fight, one being that he was convinced he had enough friends in the opposing army who would come over to him. If this reason is true, he was wrong. If he’d held back, we might have had a different Richard III! And our Richard III would have been Richard IV.

The following is taken from The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of Ireland: From the Earliest Times to the Reign of Queen Victoria, Volume 1, by James Roderick O’Flanagan. The illustrations are my insertions. O’Flanagan (1814-1900) wrote a great deal about Irish history, and may have had access to a source that gives the description of Edmund. Or it might be his own invention, of course. One cannot always tell with writers of the 19th century.:-

“…On the eve of Christmas, December 24, 1460, the Duke’s army marched out of the castle and offered the Lancastrians battle. By the side of the Duke fought his second son, the young Chancellor of Ireland, whose years had not past their teens, but who, under a fair and almost effeminate appearance, carried a brave and intrepid spirit. The forces of the Queen resolved to annihilate their audacious foes, and soon the duke found how little reason he had to hope of finding friends in the camp of Queen Margaret. The historian Hume says,1 ‘the great inequality of numbers was sufficient alone to decide the victory, but the queen, by sending a detachment, who fell on the back of the Duke’s army, rendered her advantage still more certain and undisputed. The duke himself was killed in the action; and when his body was found among the slain the head was cut off by Margaret’s orders and fixed on the gates of York, with a paper crown upon it, in derision of his pretended title.’

Micklegate Bar, in York, where the heads were displayed.

“…The fate of the young Chancellor was soon over. Urged by his tutor, a priest named Robert Aspell, he was no sooner aware that the field was lost than he sought safety by flight. Their movements were intercepted by the Lancastrians, and Lord Clifford made him prisoner, but did not then know his rank. Struck by the richness of his armour and equipment, Lord Clifford demanded his name. ‘Save him,’ implored the Chaplain; ‘for he is the Prince’s son, and peradventure may do you good hereafter.’

“….This was an impolitic appeal, for it denoted hopes of the House of York being again in the ascendant, which the Lancastrians, flushed with recent victory, regarded as impossible. The ruthless noble swore a solemn oath:— ‘Thy father,’ said he, ‘slew mine; and so will I do thee and all thy kin;’ and with these words he rushed on the hapless youth, and drove his dagger to the hilt in his heart. Thus fell, at the early age of seventeen, Edmund Plantagenet, Earl of Rutland, Lord Chancellor of Ireland…”

1Hume’s History of England, vol iii, page 304.

The above, in a nutshell, is the life and death of Edmund Plantagenet, the York brother who is mostly forgotten.

I am intrigued by the description of Edmund as being of a fair and almost effeminate appearance. Given the similar description of Richard III as being delicate with gracile bones, and the fact that he was certainly handsome without being rugged,  I am forced to wonder if Richard wasn’t the only brother with those attributes. I know ‘fair’ doesn’t necessarily mean blond—more likely ‘good-looking’—but ‘effeminate’ (rightly or wrongly) presents us with a definite type of appearance. Edward IV may have been 6’ 4”, but was he the only tall brother? Richard would have been 5’ 8” if it were not for his scoliosis, and that was a good height for the 15th century.

We’ve had speculation about the height of George of Clarence when compared with Richard (George may have been smaller), but what about Edmund of Rutland? Yes, he could have been 6’ 4” and still be effeminate, but I’m inclined to doubt it. Comment was made about Edward’s height. If Edmund had been like that, surely he too would get a mention? I had never seen a description of Edmund before, apart from Edward Hall’s Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre & Yorke: ‘While this battaill was in fightyng, a prieste called sir Robert Aspall, chappelain and schole master to the yong erle of Rutland ii. sonne to the aboue named duke of Yorke, scace of y age of. xii. yeres, a faire getlema, and a maydenlike person….’ Just what might ‘maydenlike’ actually mean? Young? Virginal? Like a girl? All three?

In 1476, the bodies of both York and Edmund were moved to Fotheringhay, and the magnificent church that honours so many members of the House of York.

And now a curiosity, which may or may not be actually connected with Edmund, beyond his name and title. On the other hand, perhaps it’s another indication of his physical appearance.:—hawking rings

Medieval silver vervel / Circa 1440-1460 |/ A silver hawking leg ring or vervel inscribed ‘+Earle of Rutland’ in derivative black letter script, for a female merlin or sparrowhawk (due to the youth of Edmund Plantagenet who died aged 17). Silver, 0.56g, 8.81mm.

Might a female merlin or sparrowhawk be a reference of Edmund’s looks, not simply his youth? Equally, it might not indicate any such thing, of course, but if the ring is dated to circa 1440-60 (and if the inscription is contemporary), the maker could certainly have known/seen him. But the inscription does not look 15th century to me. I’m no expert, though.

And finally, the  novelty of a ‘conspiracy theory’ about Edmund’s death (or survival!) go to https://doublehistory.com/tag/edmund-earl-of-rutland/.

 

 

 

 

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