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The Maligned Ricardians

Part 2 – Sir George Buck

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

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

 

Introduction

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

 

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

 

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

 

The History of King Richard III 1646

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

 

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

 

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

 

The History of King Richard III 1979

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The question of the authorship of More’s History

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[8] Crown and People; ibid

[9] Kincaid; ibid

[10] Kincaid, p191

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

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

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

[14] Kincaid at p 160

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

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

[17] Crown and People at p248

[18] Kincaid pp. 125-126

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

[20] Kincaid pp. cxx-cxxi and 127

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

[22] Kincaid pp.183 and 184

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

[24] The Great Debate; ibid

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

[26] Kincaid p121

[27] Kincaid; ibid

[28] Kincaid; ibid at 129v

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

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

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

[32] Sylvester pp. Ix-Ixi

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

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

 

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What was Stillington’s motive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An overheard Conversation

‘Edward,’ said the Duchess of York, in her sad-but-angry voice, ‘it is high time we had words. This ridiculous marriage you say you have made is simply the last straw. What sort of king marries in secret? And to someone, I may add, of no particular distinction of birth! You should be ashamed of yourself, letting us all down like this.’

King Edward IV sighed. He could always tell when his mother was really angry, because she stopped calling him ‘Ned’. And her curtseys became ironic. She was an awkward sort of person at the best of times, and wasn’t called ‘Proud Cis’ for nothing! And she was the only person in the whole kingdom who still dared to talk to him as though he was an errant schoolboy with his hose down for a birching. ‘Elizabeth is a widow,’ he said, attempting a winning smile, ‘and I am a bachelor, and we both have children. So you see, dear Mother, we have excellent hope of heirs. And besides, I love her.’

‘LOVE!’ Cecily almost screamed. ‘What the flipping flip does flipping love have to do with marriage among people like us?’ She didn’t actually use the word ‘flipping’ at all, but a somewhat stronger alternative. Edward was shocked. It wasn’t every day that his mother came out with rude words like that. Indeed it was a distinct novelty. He hadn’t realised that she even knew such language.

‘Mother!’ he said soothingly. ‘I beg you not so loud. The servants will hear.’

‘I don’t give a flipping sugar if every servant from here to Peterborough hears! In fact I hope they do, and that they repeat it to all their friends, with a few additions to make it more interesting. You stupid, stupid, little man! Call yourself King of England? You’re not fit to be the squire of Chipping Sodbury. I have scraped more kingly material off my shoes after a particularly prolonged visit to the kennels. Secret marriages, indeed! I wouldn’t mind, but it isn’t even the first time. Oh, yes, do you think I don’t know about Eleanor Talbot? I had her mother, Lady Shrewsbury, banging on about it to me for five solid hours. I thought it was a lie, and sent her on her way. But it wasn’t a lie, was it?’

The King looked as sheepish as a king possibly can without actually being a sheep. ‘Well,’ he admitted, ‘not exactly.’

Not exactly,’ she repeated impatiently. ‘I should have thought that even a mentally-challenged baboon would have realised that a Christian man cannot be married to two women at the same time. So this Elizabeth isn’t really your wife at all! And what does that make your future children?’

‘No one will ever find out, Mother. Eleanor Talbot is a very reasonable sort of woman, and has kept her mouth shut on the subject.’

No one will ever find out?’ Cecily shook her head, so sharply that the elaborate veiling descending from it shook like a sail split asunder by the wind. ‘The trouble with you, my boy, is you think that everyone in the world, except you, is stupid. This time you have gone too far. I wish I could say you were not my son, but unfortunately I remember the several hours of agonising pain all too well. I am tempted to tell everyone that you were fathered by the Archer Blackburn – or Blaeburn as we called him in the affected French accent we used during our time in Rouen. I liked the Archer Blackburn, and he was tall like you, and if he really was your father it would explain your total lack of nobility.’
Edward let out an awkward laugh. ‘Mother, no one would ever believe that you, of all women, would lie with a common archer.’

‘Would they not indeed?’ Cecily snorted. ‘You’d be surprised! Did you know that your birth came at a funny time? You were either very late or very early, and there was all manner of gossip in Rouen, especially when we only gave you a cheap baptism.

‘But I am York’s son?’

‘Probably.’

Probably?’ It was King Edward’s turn to become exasperated. ‘What sort of answer is that?’

‘A better one than you deserve. Can you imagine what people will say about you in the future? What they will write in their chronicles. Because I can, and it isn’t a pretty picture; a man who had it all when he came to the throne, and threw it all away because he couldn’t keep it inside his codpiece. Not that that in itself would particularly matter – if you had made a decent marriage first!

‘To somewhat like Bona of Savoy, I suppose? How on earth can a King of England marry someone called “Bona”? What a ridiculous name to put on a tomb! Or perhaps Isabella of Castile?’

‘Either would at least have been a respectable choice. At least compared to a Lancastrian widow, whose name no one seems to know how to spell.’

‘Mother, you have forgotten. I’m already married to Eleanor Talbot. If it does come out, the Woodvilles won’t be able to do much very about it. But a princess of France or Spain! Can you imagine the scandal? It would be casus belli.’

Cecily snorted. ‘I think that’s possibly the worst case of “making the best of a bad job” I’ve heard of in my entire life. I wash my hands of you – you bastard!

Just outside, a little man smiled to himself as he made a careful note with a stylus on a wax tablet. He worked for the Duke of Clarence. So far he had had very little to report, but this was going to mean a bonus. He studied his writing to be sure he had got the wording right. ‘On two separate occasions,’ it said, ‘the Duchess of York declared in my hearing that King Edward was a bastard. She said the gossip in Rouen was that he was the son of an archer called Blayburn.’

Marriage a la More.

More’s account of the marriage of Edward IV

The Duchess [of York] with these words nothing appeased, and seeing the King so set thereon that she could not pull him back, so highly she disdained it, that under pretext of her duty to Godward, she devised to disturb this marriage, and rather to help that he should marry one Dame Elizabeth Lucy, whom the King had also not long before gotten with child. Wherefore the King’s mother objected openly against his marriage, as it were in discharge of her conscience, that the King was sure to Dame Elizabeth Lucy and her husband before God. By reason of which words, such obstacle was made in the matter, that either the Bishops durst not, or the King would not, proceed to the solemnisation of this wedding, till these same were clearly purged, and the truth well and openly testified. Whereupon Dame Elizabeth Lucy was sent for. And albeit that she was by the King’s mother and many other put in good comfort, to affirm that she was ensure unto the King: yet when she was solemnly sworn to say the truth, she confessed that they were never ensured. Howbeit she said his grace spake so loving words unto her, that she verily hoped he would have married her. And that if it had not been for such kind words, she would never have showed such kindness to him, to let him so kindly get her with child. This examination solemnly taken, when it was clearly perceived that there was none impediment, the King with great feast and honourable solemnity, married Dame Elisabeth Gray and her crowned Queen that was his enemy’s wife, and many time had prayed full heartily for his loss. In which God loved her better, than to grant her boon.

Points to note:

  1. But for the chance survival of a copy of Titulus Regius this farrago of lies would doubtless be mistaken for historical truth, especially by the Legion of Richard-Haters.
  2. It is extremely unlikely that More pulled this account of the marriage out of thin air. It is more likely that his source (Morton?) set out to mislead him. This in turn suggests there was a truth that needed to be concealed. Otherwise, why come up with such an invention? Why not state that Richard claimed Edward was married to Eleanor Talbot, but the claim was a load of nonsense, and here are the proofs that it was…
  3. Why mention the Duchess of York’s protest, unless such a protest was so well remembered that it had to be ‘covered’ in some way? Richard (it might be supposed) made up the whole story out of his head over the course of a few days; More mentioning Duchess Cecily suggests that there was indeed some long-standing issue with the marriage.
  4. We know for a fact that the lady referred to by Richard was Eleanor Talbot not Elizabeth Lucy who was a known mistress of Edward IV and the mother of his children.
  5. We know for a fact that Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville ‘with great feast and honourable solemnity’ but in secrecy, possibly with a view to ditching her as he had previously ditched Eleanor. Ironically, if he had married Elizabeth ‘with great feast and honourable solemnity’ it would have made the marriage valid, in the absence of a protest from Eleanor – even if he had previously contracted a secret marriage! As a lawyer, and a man of the Church, More should have been well aware of this.

For Edward IV:

George Joseph Smith and the Talbot-York precontract

Following the comparison between the remains that purport to be Edward IV’s sons and those that purported to be Mrs. Crippen, we revisit early C20 crime, although in this case we can be sure that a crime took place.

George Joseph Smith was born in January 1872 and contracted a legal marriage in 1898, to Caroline Beatrice Thornhill of Leicester. Although he abandoned the real Mrs. Smith several times, he did not harm or divorce her so she was to become his widow in August 1915 when the trapdoor opened. Margaret Elizabeth Lofty of Highgate, Beatrice Munday of Dorset and Alice Burnham of Blackpool were less fortunate. All drowned in their bath, a few days after “marrying” Smith and during his supposed absence on an urgent erand

Critically, Mr. Justice Scrutton allowed evidence to be introduced that Smith had followed the same procedure in all three cases: “evidence of system”, by which the evidence in one case strengthened that in the others. He was convicted solelyof murdering Beatrice Munday but a precedent was created. There were other bigamous “wives” but Smith had been able to defraud them and flee.

Now let us apply this principle to Edward IV. Between 1461 and 1465, he went through two secret marriage ceremonies with Lady Eleanor Talbot (older than himself and the widow of a Lancastrian knight) and Elizabeth Woodville (older than himself and the widow of a Lancastrian knight). There may have been more than two but Lady Grey, as Elizabeth Woodville had become, had an assertive mother and a few extra witnesses. Straight away, we can observe “evidence of system” and motivation: The bigamist Edward IV was led by his groin, much as the bigamist Smith was led by the love of money.

Oh, for a wedding video!

Do you know that there are people out there who are absolutely convinced that Edward IV did not marry Eleanor Talbot? I don’t mean that they doubt the marriage, but that they know it didn’t happen. I can only think they were alive in the 15th Century and in constant attendance on Edward as this is the only way one could be certain of the facts. I really don’t know what more they need to change their minds, given that the marriage was er – secret, and that an actual Act of Parliament stated that it took place. There are a distinct shortage of marriage certificates or wedding DVDs for the period in question, so I don’t know what sort of proof they would find convincing. It would be nice if just once in a while they would admit the possibility that something might not have happened as they have decided it did.

Hastings, who practically lived in Edward’s pocket, was not immediately aware of his marriage to Elizabeth, as shown by the fact that he was giving her grief in some land dispute at the approximate time of her marriage to the king. That was how close Edward could keep a secret if he wanted to. But people in 2014 think they know that Edward couldn’t possibly have married Eleanor Talbot.

It’s apparently easier to believe was all made up by wicked Richard, a man so hard that he sprang his long-planned seizure of the throne by riding south with a massive 300 men, clearly a force easily capable of tackling the meagre Woodville escort of 2000 effete Marchers. Richard, the hardest man ever to usurp a throne, then waited for weeks before sending for reinforcements. Of course, it was all a carefully planned ploy. Presumably the northern thugs had secretly been hiding in wardrobes in Plaistow all along, just ready to spring out when required.

And then Richard had Hastings killed for no reason at all, just to show how hard he was. Of course he had a complete card index of all the English noblewomen who were unattached at the relevant time, just in case he had to invent a marriage for his brother. And Lady Eleanor’s brother and sister (still very much alive in 1483 and long afterwards) were so scared of Richard that they didn’t dare to denounce the lie even after he was dead. In fact Duchess Elizabeth (a woman apparently forced to attend Richard’s coronation at knifepoint) was so scared of his ghost that she ran off and hid in the Minories instead of telling Henry VII the truth, while Sir Humphrey Talbot was careful to go off and die abroad just in case someone asked him about Eleanor. The thought that Henry might reward them for telling the truth, or that they had some sort of duty to repair the damage to their beloved sister’s honour never seems to have crossed their minds.

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