murreyandblue

A great WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “Elizabeth Lucy”

SIR THOMAS MORE , A MAN FOR ALL REASONS: SAINT OR SINNER?

‘Not exactly the horse’s mouth’

In Josephine Tey’s spellbinding novel ‘The Daughter of Time’, Detective Inspector Alan Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a villain on sight. Whilst in hospital with a broken leg, Grant is idly flipping through some old postcard portraits to while away the time. He turns over a portrait of a richly dressed medieval man in his thirties: a judge? A soldier? A prince? Certainly someone with authority and responsibility Grant supposes. Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he realises it is a portrait of Richard III. “The monster of nursery stories. The destroyer of innocents. A synonym for villainy.” Shocked that he could be so mistaken as to place Richard on the Bench instead of in the Dock, Grant delves deeper into the mysteries of his life and reign. A friend lends him a library copy of Thomas More’s ‘The History of King Richard III’, which he reads with a detective’s eye for detail and evidence. Pretty soon he realises the fatal flaw in More’s account and raises the problem on his friend’s return.

” ‘I wanted some information about history written in Richard III’s day. Contemporary accounts.’

‘ Isn’t the sainted Sir Thomas any good then?’

‘ The sainted Sir Thomas is nothing but an old gossip’ Grant said with venom. He had taken a wild dislike to the much-admired More.

‘Oh, dear. And the nice man in the library seemed so reverent about him. The Gospel of Richard III according to St Thomas More, and all that.’

‘Gospel nothing’ Grant said rudely. ‘He was writing down in a Tudor England what someone had told him about events that happened in a Plantagenet England when he himself was five.’

‘Five years old?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, dear. Not exactly the horse’s mouth.’ “

 

I doubt if there are many Ricardians, if any, who would disagree with Inspector Grant’s opinion of ‘the sainted Sir Thomas’ and his history book: and with some justification. It contains many demonstrable errors and falsehoods, which have shaped our perception of Richard III for centuries. Even today, when there is more or less a scholarly consensus about its unreliability, there remains a perception that it is not entirely useless as a historical source.

 

The man who wrote ‘The History of King Richard III’ was not Saint Thomas More the Catholic martyr or Sir Thomas More the king’s Lord Chancellor. He was plain ‘maister’ More of Lincoln’s Inn, a brilliant and successful humanist lawyer and writer. I hope in this article to explore aspects of More’s character and life that may explain why he wrote his history of King Richard, and the historical and literary influences that guided his quill. This is not, however, a critique of this book as literature or history.

 

‘This child will prove a marvelous man’

Thomas More was born in London on the 7th February 1478 (or 1477), the eldest son of Sir John More, a successful lawyer and later justice of the King’s Bench, who rose to prominence during the reign of Edward IV. Politically, Sir John was an Edwardian Yorkist rather than a Ricardian who, despite being unfairly imprisoned by Henry VII, prospered during the Tudor dynasty. He had an enormous influence on Thomas as a child and as an adult; being, largely responsible for his son’s choice of a career at the Bar rather than the Altar. The More’s were a wealthy family of merchants and professionals. Both Thomas’ grandfathers acquired fortunes. Each played a significant part in the governance and commercial life of London during the fifteenth century, and also in various financial and advisory capacities to the king. At the age of seven, Thomas was enrolled in St Anthony’s , a prestigious grammar school in Threadneedle Street not far from his home. It had a reputation for producing England’s finest Latin scholars and Thomas was no exception. His grounding in Latin was to stand him in good stead later in life. But it was his spell as a page in John Morton’s Household that was to mark young Thomas as a teenage prodigy.

 

As Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, Morton was the most powerful commoner in the realm. He united the affairs of church and state, and his service to Lancastrian and Yorkist kings established his reputation for integrity. Furthermore, his part in Henry VII’s conquest of King Richard and the unification of the red and white roses assured Tudor goodwill. His main responsibilities were implementing the king’s fiscal and foreign policies, for which he was amply rewarded with lucrative offices and beneficiaries. Morton was, however, deeply unpopular with the king’s subjects, who resented the heavy load of taxation and benevolences he collected from them. He is (perhaps mistakenly) believed to have been responsible for the cunning argument commonly known as Morton’s fork, which was used to extract forced loans from reluctant subjects and is best described as “persuading prodigals to part with their money because they did spend it most and the covetous because they could spare it best.”[1]

 

In 1490, Thomas More walked the relatively short distance across the Thames to Lambeth Palace, there to take up his duties in the archbishop’s household. His position as a page was not demeaning. On the contrary, it was considered a privilege for gentlemens’ sons to serve in the household of a great lord. They would learn the etiquette of the privileged and mix with the good and the great. As a page, More led a strict and simple life but not a hard one. He slept on a straw mattress in a dormitory with other sons of the gentry. His principal duties as a servitor were to wait at table and clear away after the meal. Cleanliness was particularly important for pages and their dorm was well equipped with a long communal sink and pitchers of water. However, More’s life was not wholly one of servitude and menial labour. He continued his education as a scholar at a private school within the archbishop’s establishment. Apparently, his superior intellect and quickness of wit so impressed the archbishop, that More was soon attending him in his grace’s private chambers in the West Tower.[2] William Roper (More’s son-in-law and first biographer) provides a colourful insight into More’s prodigious self-confidence at this time “…though he was young of years [Thomas] would be at Christmas-tide suddenly sometimes step in among the players and never studying the matter, make a part his own there presently among them, which made the lookers-on more sport than all the players besides. In whose wit and forwardness the cardinal [Morton was not a cardinal at the time.] would often say to the nobles that divers times dined with him ‘ This child there waiting at the table, whosoever shall live to see it, will prove a marvellous man‘.”[3]

 

More had great respect for archbishop Morton, whom he considered to be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour. I am not myself convinced that Morton was such a paragon of virtue; yet, he was undoubtedly one of the most imposing political figures of Henry VII’s reign. His influence in shaping More’s career is undisputed. For example, in 1494 he was instrumental in arranging a place for him at Oxford University, where More could study canon and civil law under the watchful eye of the Benedictine monks of Canterbury College. Morton hoped that More would obtain his doctorate in law before taking holy orders and embarking on a career in government. However, after completing the curriculum, More left Oxford to join chambers in New Inn, there to continue his legal training. Whether this was his own choice or his father’s decision is unclear, but it is likely that it was always intended that he should practice law. If so, this was the preferred path for budding lawyers, who spent six or seven years learning their profession and ‘the affairs of men’ in the hurly-burly of the Inns of Court rather than in the cloisters of Oxford, which offered no such practical or material benefit. As Thomas More was to show throughout adult life, he was a practical and materialistic man. Quite apart from the influence of his father or archbishop Morton, the attraction of a legal career was obvious to him. Lawyers were held to be magni clarique that is important and distinguished. By the last decade of the fifteenth century, the rewards of prestige and wealth were such that the sons of the landed gentry preferred a legal career to one in the Church or in business. Just as importantly, an education in the law brought the ambitious More into contact with precisely those people who later administered the affairs of the king and state. Above all, he was temperamentally suited to be a lawyer. His advocacy skills were high quality and well honed. In the words of his most recent biographer “His polemical texts reveal the persistence, subtlety and inventiveness of his attacks against opponents; as a forensic orator and judicial examiner he [was] as fierce as he is persuasive, continually changing or extending his line of attack, looking for the smallest inconsistencies, finding weakness and deriding mistakes of terminology or presentation. More as a man is the apotheosis of the clever and practical man.”[4] He maintained a curious detachment throughout his life and was always precise and shrewd. Nevertheless, the impression remains that he was playing some kind of game. In the words of William Roper, he never in his dealings showed “of what mind himself was therein.” These were the qualities of a perfect lawyer: skilful and objective, cautious yet theatrical, persuasive and practical.

 

‘An intensely practical and decisive man’[5]

By the time he was thirty, More’s legal practice was flourishing. He was by training and by experience a generalist; appearing, as counsel in criminal cases at the Kings Bench and advising clients on, the common law, Canon law, Roman law and maritime law. He is reputed to have been ‘with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the dominant landowner) every day. He was also the legal representative for the City guilds and chief negotiator for the City mercers. He represented the City merchants in their dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and the Bishop of Norwich. In litigation he favoured advising a settlement between the parties to a trial, since this compromise suited his personal preference for good order and harmony. In Soper’s words“…sith there was at that time in none of the Prince’s courts of the laws of this realm any matter of importance in controversy wherein he was not with the one part of counsel. Of whom, for his learning, wisdom, knowledge and experience, men had such estimation that, before he came to the service of king Henry VIII at the suite and instance of the English merchants, he was by the king’s consent in certain great causes between them merchants and the merchants of [the Hanseatic League]…”[6]

 

By the time he was forty, More’s legal future was assured. He was appointed Lent Leader of Lincoln’s Inn, where he lectured on ‘Law-French in Statutes’. His subsequent appointment as Double Reader suggested he could anticipate elevation to the bench. In 1510, he received his first judicial appointment as one of two Under-Sheriffs of London, hearing criminal trials in the Sherriff’s Court, Guildhall and acting as official counsel to various City bodies. He earned the respect and affection of the City for his fair and quick decisions and his habit of occasionally remitting the fees that the litigants were expected to pay. There is, however, another side to More’s legal character, which is revealed by his involvement in the ‘Hunne Case’. This controversial and notorious litigation involved a direct attack on the authority of the Catholic Church. It may even be taken as an indication of the Protestant reformation yet to come in England.

 

Richard Hunne was a wealthy Whitehall tailor who refused to make a customary offering to his local rector. His case was taken to Lambeth Palace, where Hunne was adjudged to be at fault. Still he refused to pay. On Hunne’s next attendance at his parish church, the priest (Thomas Dryfield) excommunicated him with the words ‘Hunne thou art accursed and thou standest accursed’. Exiled from his community and with his mortal soul at risk, Hunne hit back. He issued a writ of praemunire accusing Dryfield and his assistant of slander. By invoking the Praemunire Act of 1393, Hunne was asserting the king’s superiority over papal authority and clerical courts, as the final arbiter of his subject’s rights. He argued that the church authorities had no right to claim his property and further that the hearing at Lambeth Palace took place before a ‘foreign and illegal bar.’ The ecclesiastical authorities responded by charging Hunne with heresy and imprisoning him in the Lollard’s Tower. It seems to us like a fabricated charge; except, that Hunne did have Lollard sympathies and connections. His father-in-law was an evangelist in that cause. It may even have been Hunne’s Lollard beliefs that prompted him to challenge the legitimacy of the offering in the first place. The case had a sensational outcome as Hunne was found hanged in his cell before he could be brought to trial. The Church authorities said that he hanged himself; whereas, the Coroner’s inquest determined that Dr Horsey the bishop of London’s Chancellor had murdered Hunne. The public furore that followed was exacerbated by the Bishop of London’s decision to convict Hunne of heresy posthumously. His remains were exhumed and ceremoniously burned at Smithfield along with his books. Hunne’s death and the denial of secular justice against his murderer raised serious questions about the rights of clerics to be tried only in Church courts. The matter was considered so important that it was debated in parliament and in convocations. The king himself initiated a number of debates on the Hunne case and its consequences.

 

More was involved in the case. He attended a conference with the king where Hunne’s death was discussed. He was also present when the ecclesiastical judgement was passed on Hunne’s body. More was later to write ” I know it from top to toe. I suppose there are not many men who know it better.”[7] Afterward, he wrote a colourful and amusing account of the conference with the king, in which he ‘goes to great pains’ to defend the Church from ‘each and every criticism’ and concludes that Hunne committed suicide when he realised his praemunire suite had failed. “There is no reason to believe that More was deliberately misrepresenting the truth he was only putting what was natural to him in putting a lawyers gloss on ambiguous circumstances.”[8] Whilst, they must not mislead the court or conceal relevant information, it is not unusual for lawyers to put a positive spin on a weak case. After all, their professional duty is to their client and not to a search for truth. The jury (or the court in certain circumstances) are the sole arbiters of truth. What is disturbing, however, is Ackroyd’s explanation for More’s conclusion, which he suggests was based on More’s personal beliefs rather than the merits. “Lawyers are not necessarily supposed to be devout or principled except in the minutiae of legislation but for More the law was a central image of natural reason and authority. It furnished the principles which governed his behaviour in the world, established upon order in all its forms.”[9] If Ackroyd’s is right, More’s apparent loss of objectivity goes beyond putting a positive spin on a weak case; it perpetuates an injustice. The fact that More admitted he did not shrink from mendaciolum (a small lie) suggests how difficult and tricky he could be.[10]

 

‘A man for all seasons’

We know from More’s published works (poems, epigrams, polemics, letters and books) that he was well able to express his opinions and emotions on parchment or in print. Although his style was more Chaucer (bawdy, earthy) than Spenser (poetic), he had a flair for drama, and used his literary skills to educate rather than to entertain. It was while he was studying at Oxford and later in the Inns of Court that More came increasingly under the influence of a group of literary clerical scholars, known collectively as English renaissance humanists. He was well acquainted with the Latin grammarian John Holt and he studied Greek under William Grocyn, the first Englishman to teach it. Later he became associated with Thomas Linacre the eminent physician and scholar, and with the erudite John Colet. The term ‘renaissance humanism’ does not denote that these learned clerics and others like them held a common philosophical position, since they did not. Their appellation as humanists is derived simply from the fact that they studied a cluster of scholarly disciplines comprising grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and ‘moral philosophy’. Classical Latin and Greek were the languages of these men. It is possible, that More’s association with such erudite ecclesiastics caused him to contemplate swapping a temporal career for a spiritual calling. At any rate, at the turn of the century he abandoned his legal practice and entered the Carthusian Monastery at Charterhouse, just outside the city walls, where he remained for four years as a lay member, participating fully in the spiritual life of the monks without taking holy orders. Eventually, the call of his temporal ‘work in the world’ proved too enticing for More the practical man. He left the monastery to stand for parliament.

 

The most famous of all northern European humanists was Desiderius Erasmus (the ‘prince of humanists’), whom More met and became friends with in 1499. Erasmus described More as a ‘man for all seasons’ due to his ‘affability and sweetness of character’. In 1516, he published More’s most celebrated volume ‘Utopia’, which in its structure and content reveals the author’s humanist leanings; as does his most controversial book ‘The History of Richard III’. These two volumes are a clear indication of More’s philosophical interest in the contrast between just and unjust kingship, and that his concern was not restricted to the lessons of Richard III’s reign. In a Latin poem written to celebrate Henry VIII’s accession, More highlights the ‘atmosphere of fear and suspicion’ caused by Henry VII’s rapacity, which, incidentally, was an opinion shared by many of More’s contemporaries. Nonetheless, the promise of a ‘golden age’ that accompanied Henry VIII’s accession was the redeeming finale of More’s poem, in which he expressed the hope that Henry would repeal unjust laws and remit unfair debts, and that he would maintain the peace and stability that allowed piety and scholarship to blossom.[11]

 

“One thing pretended and another meant”

I must now turn to More’s ‘History of Richard III, which I will refer to as the ‘History’ from now on. While we can speculate why More wrote it, we cannot dismiss it merely as Tudor propaganda.[12] That is the opinion of professor Richard Sylvester In his definitive study of the History. Sylvester argues that More was neither pro-Tudor nor anti-Plantagenet. He was as much pro-Edward IV as he was anti Richard III. For instance, even as he welcomed the accession of Henry VIII he took the opportunity, in the celebratory poem to which I have already referred, to criticise the ‘oppressive acts and devious dealings of Henry VII. He makes a similar point, albeit obliquely, in the History: “…all things in later days were so covertly managed, one thing pretended another meant, that there was nothing so plain and openly proved but that for common custom of close and covert dealings men had it ever inwardly suspect…[13] More is not here just referring to the reign of Richard III but also to the reign of Henry VII during the period when Perkin Warbeck was a threat to the Tudor hegemony. In Sylvester’s opinion, More has depicted Richard as a cacodemon because that is what his oral and written authorities told him. He accepted their narrative not because he was biased but because he trusted them. Chief among these authorities was John Morton. He played a big part in the downfall of king Richard and was an eyewitness of some events. He also possessed (in More’s opinion) ‘the very mother and mistress of wisdom and deep insight into the political world.[14] The fact that Morton died in 1500 and that More did not begin composing the History until about 1513 (leaving it unfinished around 1518-20) raises interesting questions about Morton’s contribution. What did he know? And, how did he contribute to the History?

 

I will deal with the second question first because it raises the issue of authorship. Beginning, with the early revisionist histories of king Richard’s life and reign, some scholars have doubted More’s authorship of either the English or the Latin, or both editions of the History. For revisionists’ the dichotomy between More’s reputation for integrity and his polemical History is explained by substituting the wily and inveterate schemer Morton as the author of (at least) the Latin version. Support for this contention was claimed from a piece of ‘literary gossip’ that appeared in an aside is Sir John Harrington’s book ‘The Metamorphosis of Ajax’ (1596) ‘”…the best, and best written part of all our Chronicles, in all mens opinions; is that of Richard III, written as I have heard by Morton, but as most suppose by that worthy and uncorrupt [sic] magistrate Sir Thomas More…” [15] As Dr Kincaid points out, ‘Harrington was an inveterate gossip, not necessarily to be believed’.[16]

There is, however, better reason for believing that Morton gave More a ‘polemical tract’ attacking king Richard, which the latter probably used as an aide-memoire for his own narrative.[17] Be that as it may, the case for More’s authorship of the English and Latin versions of the History is considered by modern scholars to be unanswerable.[18]

 

On the question of what Morton knew, we must bear in mind that as important as he was, Morton was only an eyewitness to some of the events of 1483. There is much in More’s History that could not possibly have come from him or the clique of Lancastrian dissidents who shared Richmond’s exile and (no doubt) dined with the archbishop at Lambeth Palace. Morton was not, for example, present at Stony Stratford when the Duke of Gloucester arrested the king’s uncle and stepbrother. Neither was he present when the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son, Richard duke of York, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. Furthermore, Morton is not an eyewitness to the alleged murders of Edward V and his brother.[19] Though, he might well be the instigator of the rumour that they had been murdered. More’s other oral sources included but were not limited to: Sir John More, John Roper, Richard Fitzjames, Sir Thomas Lovell (fought for Richmond at Bosworth), Christopher Urswick (priest and Tudor spy in 1483), Bishop Fox of Winchester (in exile with Richmond), Roger Lupton (Mayor of London) and Sir John Heron (an early adherent to Richmond). When he cites one of these ‘authorities’ or others who occupied similar positions, he usually refers to them in the phrase ‘men say’. The opinion of these ‘wise’ men was much valued by More. He relied on them when balancing different interpretations against each other. Generally, More is not too concerned about the accuracy of dates, names and places since these could be checked later (but never were). What is notable, however, is that he never spoke to anyone at Henry’ VII’s court who had served king Richard or who could even be said to have liked the dead king.

 

In addition to his oral authorities, More had a number of written works available for consultation. Some of these pre-date the History, whilst others are contemporary with it. Pietro Carmeliano was a court scholar during the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII who wrote the ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’. He extolled Richard’s princely virtues when he was alive and denounced him as a tyrant when he was dead.[20] Bernard André’ was Henry VII’s official biographer. He wrote ‘Vita Henrici’, in which he to portrayed king Henry as angelic and king Richard as demonic. The sycophant John Rous wrote ‘Historia Regum Angliae’, during the reign of Henry VII. He denounced king Richard as the anti-Christ having previously acclaimed him for his nobility and virtues. Whether or not More used the Chronicles of Robert Fabyan, Polydore Vergil’s ‘Anglica Historia’ or Domenico Mancini’s ‘De Occupations Regni Anglie Per Ricardum Tercium Libellus’ is a matter of pure conjecture.[21] Some of More’s factual inaccuracies suggest that either he did not know of the Second Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle or he had not read it. Even so, it is safe to say that he would hardly have credited a less defamatory portrait of king Richard than the one he describes in the History. In the words of professor Sylvester: “The indictment against the king had been drawn-up by men whose judgement he respected; it’s terms were supported not only by most of his oral informants but also by writers whose version of events had been set down before he began to compose his own narrative.”[22] In early Tudor England there was hardly a voice raised in defence of the last Plantagenet. The official records such as Titular Regius and Richard’s signet letters were almost certainly not available to More. It is only by comparing his narrative with credible contemporary sources that we can test the historical accuracy of More’s History.

 

Although More’s portrait of Richard accurately reflects the opinion current in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII and some details can be corroborated by independent records (e.g. the allegation that Edward V was bastardised due to his parents’ bigamous marriage), there are some notable errors and omissions in the History for which there is no excuse. These range from getting Edward IV’s age wrong to naming Elizabeth Lucy as the lady alleged to have still been married to Edward IV when he wedded Elizabeth Butler. However, what Inspector Grant and others overlook in their criticism of More’s History, is that he never claimed it was anything other than a reflection of public opinion in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Neither did he claim to be more authoritative than his sources. “He asks us not to credit that ‘what men say’ happened, did happen, but that they really said it did happen.”[23]

 

Professor Paul Kendall is not sure whether More ever intended the History to be factual. He suggests that what More learned from his sources, he used to fashion a version of events that satisfied his humanist leanings. “A dramatic boldly performed narrative soaring beyond actualities into art and seek psychological verisimilitude rather than factual accuracy.[24] Writing from a purely literary perspective, professor EMW Tillyard also believed that More’s History was intentionally creative rather than historical. “More’s History transcends the sorting of evidence and abides as a classic record of fundamental human nature”. In Tillyard’s opinion it has tragedy and comedy. “The episode where Queen Elizabeth is persuaded to give her youngest son into the care of Richard Gloucester is more tragic than anything the English drama produced till the great age.” On the comic side, Tillyard draws attention to Dr Shaa’s pre-arranged Sermon at St Paul’s Cross, which descends from high drama to farce thanks to Gloucester’s mistimed entrance.[25] Even so, there is no doubting More’s contribution to the shaping of Richard III’s black legend. He was the first to suggest that Richard had ‘long forethought’ to seize the throne, even before his brother was dead. And it is More’s narrative that names Richard as the prompter and guiding spirit behind all the events that followed Edward IV’s death.

 

Even though More’s reasons for writing the History are wholly obscure now, post-Tudor scholars have repeatedly question his motives and what he actually thought he was writing. For example, Kendall writes that he ‘undoubtedly set about his History for the same reason that according to Falstaff the earl of Worcester rebelled ‘it lay in his way and he found it’.[26] Whereas, Horace Walpole writing in 1768 believed that “[More] wrote his History to amuse his leisure and exercise his fancy.”[27] These seemingly flippant reasons might be closer to the mark than we think. For instance, Peter Ackroyd raises the intriguing possibility that both the English and the Latin versions of the History were written as a rhetorical and grammatical exercise for Oxford students.[28] The supporting evidence for this theory is both circumstantial and cryptic; yet, it does exist. First, there is More’s mysterious reference to a ‘schoolmaster of Poles’ (St Paul’s?): second, there is the fact that one of the extant manuscripts of this work is endorsed with the preface that it was written exercitationis gratia (‘for the sake of practice’). Finally, there is the fact that both the Latin and the English versions comply with More’s own methods of composition and revision, which he also impressed on his children.[29] As Ackroyd notes, More’s humanism had a practical purpose, and as a successful lawyer he was more interested in the practice and usage of advocacy than its theory. It is possible, therefore, that the long and complex debates on the merits and abuses of sanctuary and on king Richard’s royal title, which dominate the History ,are lessons in the art of disputation similar to those experienced by More during his own education.[30] The speechmaking is certainly more reminiscent of an exposition of the law than a record of what was actually said by those present in 1483. “One of the models of its form is clearly Sallust and More had been instructed to teach Sallust at Oxford. He had also recommended that author for his children’s’ reading. And what could be a better way of studying classical rhetoric and vocabulary than to apply them to the description of more recent events” [31] It is equally possible that More’s humanist leanings, his interest in history and in ‘kingship’, and his contact with Morton and the men who had fought King Richard, fuelled a ‘boyish interest’ in the dead king. His own interest in the classical Greek and Roman historians may have encouraged him to emulate them. In particular, he had a deep interest in the accounts of Tiberius’ tyranny, which were written by Tacitus and Suetonius.

 

It is more likely, however, that he wrote the History for a substantial reason other than mere interest.[32] He may have intended it to be a metaphor for his own doubts and his fear of Henry VIII’s instinct for despotism, which was already apparent by the time he was writing the History. He could not make his thoughts plain on pain of death, so his message is more oblique and very cleverly constructed. Nothing in More’s History could be mistaken as applying to Henry VIII. Read literally, it coruscates king Richard’s tyranny whilst justifying the Henrician Tudors as the opponents of tyranny. More’s philosophical and psychological interest in tyranny and government is evidenced by his poems and other written works: especially Utopia. The History may have been an attack on the real-politick of his day. He may even have regarded it as a worked example wherein a ‘good’ monarch would benefit from its powerful depiction of monstrous injustice. Of course the corollary of this was that it might give the potential despot ideas about subtleties of policy, which later generations would identify as Machiavellian. It would indeed be unfortunate if it provided Henry VIII with a convincing illustration of what he could do given free rein to his powers.

 

Whatever More’s reason for writing the History may have been, he put down his quill sometime between 1518 and 1520. He never returned to his manuscripts, which remained unfinished and unrevised; clearly, it was not meant for publication. The reasons for this have troubled Scholars almost as much as More’s reason for picking-up his quill in the first place. There are many different theories, two of which, bear testament to More’s concerns about the Henry VIII despotic tendencies. Sylvester postulates that he might have been troubled by the possibility that it would become a kind of ‘manual’ for Henry if he wished to exercise his will unfettered. More could not take that risk and so the History remained unfinished. Professor Kendall notes that More stopped just as Richmond was about to enter the narrative. At which point it became too dangerous for More to write about Henry VII’s oppression even by analogy. And so, the History remained unfinished and unpublished in More’s lifetime.[33] The third theory is more mundane but equally credible. It is possible that he simply lost interest in the project, particularly if it really was nothing more than a student exercise. Anyhow, by the second decade of the sixteenth century, More might still have been making-up his mind about the role he was to play in the king’s service. His life as a royal servant promised to be challenging, since the king was more often guided by his personal will and appetites than by reason. Although such wilful governance was anathema to More, he was confident of his ability to ‘bend with the wind’, so that what he couldn’t turn to good he could make less bad. He always gave his opinion according to his conscience when asked, but he never opposed the king’s will publicly. In view of the difficulty of maintaining a distinction between his private and public beliefs, it is possible the More simply abandoned the History in favour of his little booklet Utopia, which expertly expressed his own private views of governance and kingship even more obliquely than the History.[34]

 

Finally, it is possible that More became too embroiled with advising the king on the Lutheran texts that were appearing in England around this time. He was one of those who advised Henry on his own written defence of the Catholic faith, which earned him the title ‘Fidei defensor (defender of the faith). More himself took up the cudgel in support of his king, trading insult for insult with Martin Luther in a series of booklets. Compared to the existential threat to the established Church posed by Luther’s heretical doctrine, More may have considered the History a self-indulgent trifle.

[1] Peter Ackroyd – The Life of Thomas More (Vintage 1999) p.31 quoting from E Foss – Judges of England (London 1848-64) p.66

[2] Ackroyd p.28

[3] Richard Sylvester and Davis Harding (Eds) – Two Early Tudor Lives: the Life and death of cardinal Wolsey by Geo Cavendish & the Life of Sir Thomas More by William Roper (Yale 1962) pp.197-98

[4] Ackroyd p.52

[5] Ackroyd p.148

[6] Sylvester (Roper) p.200

[7] Ackroyd p.151; citing The Complete Works of Thomas More (Yale) V6, p. 318

[8] Ackroyd p.152

[9] Ibid

[10] Ackroyd p. 163-164; in a letter to Wolsey, More explains that the post of Canonry of Tournai had previously been conferred on his friend Erasmus, and that as compensation for Erasmus withdrawing from it, a better or greater provision should be made for him. None of this was true, of course, but it illustrates More’s willingness to lie.

[11] Ackroyd p.127

[12] Richard Sylvester (Ed) – The History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More (Yale 1963) p. lxv and passim

[13] Sylvester (Roper) pp. 81-82 and n82/22 p.262; see also Paul Kendall (ed) – The Great Debate (Folio Society 1965) p.103; Kendall contains a useful modern English version of More’s History.

[14] Sylvester (History) p. lxvii

[15] Elizabeth Storey Donno (Ed) – Sir John Harrington: a new discourse of a stale subject, called The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) (London 1962) pp. 107-198

[16] AN Kincaid (Ed) – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) p.iii

[17] Sylvester (History) pp.lix-lxxiii; AN Kincaid (Ed) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir Geo Buck (1619) (Alan Sutton 1979) Chapter VII passim: Buck said he saw the tract, which is no longer extant

[18] Sylvester (History) ibid; citing RW Chambers – The authorship of ‘The History of King Richard III’ in WE Campbell (Ed) – The English Works of Sir Thomas More (London 1931) pp. 24-53; Kincaid

[19] Sylvester (History) ibid; citing AJ Pollard – The Making of Thomas More’s Richard III published in ‘Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait (Manchester 1933) pp.223-284

[20] Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure for Richard III’s biographical exhibition at the NPG 1973. Carmeliano’s ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’ was exhibited at the NPG in 1973 (No.100). It is a second copy dedicated to Sir Robert Brackenbury and contains a glowing description of king Richard’s virtues in peace and war (‘…what emperor or prince can compare with him in good works and munificence”.). However, in 1486 in a poem dedicated to the new-born Prince Arthur, he charged Richard ‘the tyrant’ with the murder of his nephews.

[21] Sylvester (History) p.lxxi-lxxv; see also CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. xix-xx. Dr Armstrong discusses the relationship between Mancini and More in which he raises concerns about the provenance of More’s information. The importance of this lies in the fact that Mancini substantiates More ‘on many points’. In fact, More and Mancini are closer to each other than to the Croyland Continuation or to Polydor Vergil. The point is, of course, that they were probably using the same informants. Given that these informants were Richard’s political and dynastic opponents it is hardly surprising that they coincide on some points. What is remarkable is that they don’t agree on much more, since there are some significant discrepancies. Furthermore, as Dr Armstrong acknowledges Mancini harboured an unreasoned animus towards king Richard (that he was all along aiming for the throne) (Mancini p.17)

[22] Sylvester (History) p.lxx

[23] Sylvester (History) p.lxxviii

[24] Kendal p.25

[25] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) p.38

[26] Kendal p.25; this is a reference to a comment by Sir john Falstaff, a character in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV part 1.

[27] Kendal p.170

[28] Ackroyd p.157

[29] Sylvester (History) p.xii; in a ‘charming’ letter to his children, More admonishes them to write everything in English first ‘for then you will have far less trouble turning it into Latin; not having to look for the matter, your mind will be intent only on the language’. He also emphasises the need for revision to detect and correct solecisms. More was given to the careful revision of his own work, which, as Sylvester points out, may have served as a kind of paradigm for the complex sequence of drafts that were developed in the composition of the HISTORY

[30] Sylvester (History) pp.26-38`; see also Kendal pp.50-62. In the fifteenth century the abuses of sanctuary argued by Buckingham were a bone of contention between the laity and the clergy. By the time More was writing the History the privileges of sanctuary were much reduced.

[31] Ackroyd ibid; Goius Sallustius Crispus (‘Sallust’) (86 BC-35BC), was a Roman historian whose works were noted for their brevity, the use of rare words and unusual phrases.

[32] Sylvester (History) pp. xcviii-xcvix passim

[33] Sylvester (History) pp. cii-ciii; Kendall p.28; who notes the irony of More’s position in that his defamation of Richard III came in part from his detestation of Henry VII’s statecraft.

[34] George M Logan (ed) – Thomas More: Utopia (Cambridge UP 2016, 3 rd edition)

Advertisements

A Tale of Three Mistresses – Mangled by More

mistress(from http://www.annettecarson.co.uk)

Our primary source of gossip about Edward IV’s mistresses is attributable to the pen of Thomas More (1478–1535), knight and latterly saint. While writing about Richard III, More found space for a lengthy diversion into the career of ‘Mistress Shore’, perhaps Edward’s most notorious extra-marital concubine, about whose present and past conditions the writer claimed much knowledge. Unfortunately it appears he never thought to consult the lady on the accuracy of what he wrote, strewn as it is with avoidable errors of fact.1 This article will refer to her by her proper name, Elizabeth Lambert. Her brief marriage to the London mercer William Shore was annulled in 1476 on grounds of non-consummation. And although she is almost always referred to as ‘Jane’, this forename was given her arbitrarily in the two-part True Tragedy of Edward IV (written around 1600 by Thomas Heywood), the writer being clearly ignorant of her proper Christian name and being concerned, like More, only with her notoriety. The prominence of his ‘Jane’ character may have led to the play afterwards being referred to as Jane Shore.2

Despite the high esteem in which More is held by historians, he was clearly too young to have had personal knowledge of reigns earlier than the Tudor period, and his family’s history reveals no intimacy with fifteenth-century royalty; whatever he wrote about them can only have been hearsay. Moreover, in the opinions of leading literary scholars Thomas More’s dissertation on Richard III was conceived and executed as a bravura exercise in satirical drama to which the facts of history had no particular relevance. Nevertheless, More’s reference to Edward and his ‘three mistresses’ is continually retold as if he had a direct line to the full facts. The relevant passage occurs after he has devoted several pages to Elizabeth Lambert:

“The king would say that he had three concubines, which in three diverse properties diversely excelled: one the merriest, another the wiliest, the third the holiest harlot in his realm, as one whom no man could get out of church lightly to any place but it were to his bed. The other two were somewhat greater personages, and nevertheless of their humility content to be nameless and to forbear the praise of those properties. But the merriest was this Shore’s wife, in whom the king therefore took special pleasure. For many he had, but her he loved …” (etc.).

That the king had three concubines is almost certainly an understatement, but More helpfully gives the name of one other as ‘Dame Lucy’. She appears in More’s questionable version of an incident from as far back as 1464 which seems to have become an urban myth. The original surviving record of this incident was related by the Italian Dominic Mancini in 1483 after visiting England for a few months: even so, nearly twenty years after the event itself.

Mancini’s story tells of how Edward IV’s mother Cecily, Duchess of York, was so scandalized by the king’s secret marriage to the widowed commoner Elizabeth Woodville, who became his queen, that she vowed the Duke of York was not the father of this disgraceful son. As the story ran in Mancini’s day, the duchess insisted she would voluntarily testify that Edward IV was no son of York.3 Mancini had been asked to write down, for the benefit of the French royal court, all that he had discovered about Richard III’s dramatic accession to the throne – which he admitted was little enough – so he was given to embellishing his narrative with extraneous details which we now know contained inaccuracies. Although we can accept it was probably based on a kernel of truth, we need to bear two things in mind: first, he may have been given a highly coloured account of some considerably less dramatic reality; and second, it suited him to disparage English royalty for his French readers and hence, like many writers of history before and since, he tended to exaggerate for effect. We have no idea how many tongues had embroidered the story between 1464 and 1483, so the wisest course is to reduce it to its essence: the duchess flew into a fury and went so far as to threaten some kind of legal challenge.

Edward IV’s affairs with women subsequently embroiled all England in a crisis, when it was discovered after his death and later confirmed by Parliament that his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was not his first such secret wedding. Some years earlier he had secretly married Lady Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Briefly summarized, under the laws of the Church this meant that Lady Eleanor was still his wife when he secretly and bigamously married Elizabeth, and this combination of illicit actions rendered the children of his Woodville marriage illegitimate. The government of the day elected to offer the crown to Richard III as the senior qualified heir.4

Such high matters of state, of Parliament and of canon law were scarcely understood by the majority of Englishmen, and moreover they impugned the honour and dignity of the late king and his abandoned first wife; doubtless they were spoken of in hushed tones by those in the know. Thus the name of the long-deceased Lady Eleanor became consigned to obscurity. England soon had greater concerns when the pretender Henry Tudor revealed his designs on the English crown, eventually mounting a successful invasion under the patronage of France in 1485 when against all probability King Richard was killed. Since the new king had to devise some believable grounds for his invasion and some legitimate reason for aspiring to the throne, he declared Richard’s accession unlawful. He repealed the Act of Parliament which had set out Richard’s right to succeed, insisting it be repealed unread and every copy destroyed. His aim was to remove from history what was probably the only official government document that articulated Richard’s legitimacy as king, together with the grounds for setting aside Edward IV’s offspring owing to their father’s prior marriage (in legal terminology ‘precontract’) to Eleanor Talbot.5 Since Henry planned to appease Yorkist partisans by marrying Edward IV’s eldest daughter, this process was vital to removing public knowledge of her illegitimacy.

A century would pass before records began to be found which revealed the truth, but by then Richard III was indelibly cast as a usurper in the national consciousness. It was with this certainty that Thomas More embarked upon his literary polemic for which he chose Richard III as his exemplar of tyranny. This was more than fifty years after the Woodville marriage that caused Cecily so much wrath, and more than thirty years after Mancini wrote his tale of her angry outburst. Incidentally, we need not believe she ever volunteered to swear publicly to her own adultery! It is not difficult to conceive of at least one possible legal challenge she might have considered bringing against the match … but in all probability her real grounds of objection never formed part of the story picked up by Mancini. Nevertheless he would have been aware of a certain malicious calumny Louis XI delighted in putting about, that Edward IV was the bastard son of an archer named Blaybourne, so maybe it was Mancini who supplied this extra flourish knowing it would appeal to his readers.

If we turn to what More says about the same incident, we find that after three decades of Tudor rule the story has vastly changed. It is still recognizably a version of Mancini’s tale of the duchess raging and threatening to resort to law. But what makes this new version interesting is that it conflates some vestige of recollection that a precontract to an earlier wife was involved. Perhaps it had been thought politically advisable to incorporate this persistent memory into the well-known tale of ‘Proud Cis’ and her rage against her son, at the same time using it to repudiate that there ever was anything untoward about his Woodville marriage. It takes up a lot of space in More’s Richard III, with plenty of dialogue to and fro between mother and son debating her objections. At last, and as a ‘pretext’ says More, plainly undermining the integrity of the duchess’s final argument, she protests that Edward ought instead to marry ‘one Dame Elizabeth Lucy, whom the king had also not long before gotten with child’ making him in consequence ‘her husband before God’. So this ‘Elizabeth Lucy’ is duly called and ‘solemnly sworn’, says More. This portion of his tale obviously echoes the ‘public enquiry’ mentioned in the earlier Mancini version, only this time it is Dame Lucy who is subjected to examination and denies the precontract which Cecily is trying to foist on her son.6 With our current knowledge we can see this as a transparent ruse to discredit the existence of Edward’s genuine precontract with Eleanor Talbot. But thanks to More its effect is fully achieved: he declares it proves the falsity of the charges made in 1483 against Edward’s marriage.

There is another feature that also shows this to be a manufactured story: the incident supposedly occurs before Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, with Cecily trying to prevent it. The Mancini version correctly places Cecily’s outburst after their marriage, which famously took place in secret and remained totally unknown for several months. More is so much deceived as to write that the king’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was celebrated ‘with great feast and honourable solemnity’!

It has been important to emphasize how very little Thomas More really knew about the women in Edward IV’s life, because our next step demonstrates how thoroughly his stories have misled historians and commentators.7 Dispensations to marry granted by the Church are extremely helpful in establishing genealogies, and a recent article by Marie Barnfield and Stephen Lark cites one that adds new information to what was previously known, deduced or assumed about some of Edward IV’s mistresses and children.8

One of the king’s most well-known bastards was Arthur, later Viscount Lisle, hitherto almost universally believed to have been fathered on ‘Elizabeth Lucy’. However, references to Dame Lucy place her and her child in Edward’s life prior to his Woodville marriage. Whereas what is known of Arthur Plantagenet’s life and career is scarcely compatible with a birth date before mid-1464.9

If we seek an alternative identity for Dame Lucy’s child we find a much better candidate in a bastard daughter attributed to Edward hitherto known as Elizabeth, later Lady Lumley, thought to have been born in the 1460s. It has now been established that this child’s Christian name was not Elizabeth (as erroneously claimed in a herald’s visitation of 1530) but Margaret (in a grant dated 1479 where she is identified as the wife of Thomas, later Lord Lumley). Further genealogical research supports this identification.

These indications about the daughter have opened up more opportunities to identify her putative mother. The problems in pinning down information about Dame Lucy have always been compounded by assumptions about her. Copious evidence exists that Arthur, Lord Lisle, was certainly connected with the Wayte family, therefore he was known as a Wayte and it was assumed his mother was too. On the general presumption that his mother was Dame Lucy, she was automatically assigned the maiden name of Wayte. For example, this was propounded by Sir George Buck who described her as ‘the daughter of one Wayte of Southampton, a mean gentleman, if he were one. And she was the wife of one Lucy, as mean a man as Wayte. … And she was the mother of the bastard Arturus.’10 Arthur Plantagenet had verifiable links with the Waytes of Segenworth, near Southampton, but genealogical records cannot reconcile Dame Lucy as a member of the Wayte family at all, nor is there any evidence of any Wayte family member having links with a family named Lucy or even mentioning the name Lucy in correspondence. Which again strongly suggests that Arthur was not born to a mother surnamed Lucy.

It now appears that Dame Lucy may ALSO have been a Margaret misnamed Elizabeth! Her correct maiden name, if so, was Margaret FitzLewis, and she was the young widow of Sir William Lucy of Dallington and Richards Castle (d. 1460). This would fit with the child she bore Edward being not his bastard son Arthur but his bastard daughter Margaret, later Lady Lumley, born in the 1460s some time before Margaret FitzLewis’s own death in 1466. Contrary to Buck, the title ‘Dame’ Lucy suggests her husband was a knight or baronet, not a mean man.11 Other than Sir William Lucy of Dallington there existed one other knighted Lucy at that time, viz. Sir William Lucy of Charlcote (d. 1466). This Sir William Lucy certainly did marry an Elizabeth, but she was Elizabeth Percy who died in 1455; he remarried and was survived by a widow, but her name was Agnes.

It is impossible to be certain, of course, but the result of all this would suggest two distinct ladies who were erroneously conflated:

* Edward IV’s early mistress before his Woodville marriage. Dame Lucy, née Margaret FitzLewis (misnamed Elizabeth), daughter of Sir Lewis John (or John Lewis) of Welsh parentage, and widow of Sir William Lucy. Her probable liaison with Edward would have occurred after her husband’s death in 1460, resulting in a daughter Margaret Plantagenet in the early 1460s (also misnamed Elizabeth) who married Sir Thomas Lumley (c. 1458–1487).

* Edward’s later mistress during his Woodville marriage. She was a Wayte, probably a Wayte of Segenworth, and gave birth to Edward’s bastard son Arthur Plantagenet (who jousted with the young Henry VIII in 1510, married for the first time in 1511, was created Viscount Lisle in 1523, and died in 1542). It has been suggested that her father was a Thomas Wayte of Hampshire (d. 1482), but as far as we know Thomas died without legitimate issue (he left one bastard daughter, Alice); if he had any other children they must have predeceased him without legitimate issue of their own. Several other factors in the research by Barnfield and Lark also militate against Thomas as her father, including the obscurity of his family and its extreme southern location.

This leaves just one more mistress of whose existence we know, namely Elizabeth Lambert, married name Shore, misnamed Jane. She was current at the time of the king’s death but no offspring have been directly attributed to her. It is not impossible that Thomas More, sufficiently taken with this lady to devote several pages to her, may well have superimposed her name of Elizabeth on the ‘Dame Lucy’ of his false precontract story. Misled by his reputation as some kind of authority on fifteenth-century royalty, writers of history duly copied him unthinkingly.

Doubtless other mistresses existed, and indeed other bastards. But the purpose of this essay is not to rehearse the tedious details of Edward IV’s amours – nor yet to claim knowledge of precisely who they were – it is simply to demonstrate how easy it was (and is) for history to be misrepresented by placing uncritical faith in false prophets.

NOTES

1. He failed even to verify the full name of her later lover William Hastings, whose gifts to her became the subject of a court case reported by The Great Chronicle.

2. Appreciation to Dr A.N. Kincaid for this information.

3. Mancini, ed. C.A.J. Armstrong, De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium, Gloucester 1989, pp. 60–62: ‘Even his mother fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public enquiry, asserting that Edward was not the offspring of her husband the Duke of York but was conceived in adultery and therefore in no wise worthy of the honour of kingship.’

4. This matter is fully covered in Carson, Richard III: The Maligned King, Stroud, 2013, pp. 75–88.

5. Nor (perhaps unsurprisingly) has any official record survived of the deliberations of the King’s Council during that crucial succession crisis of 1483 when Edward IV’s bigamy and the illegitimacy of his children were debated.

6. More pp. 63–67.

7. Clearly More knew nothing of Lady Eleanor Talbot (married name Butler), pace R.S. Sylvester who supposed Eleanor was one of the ‘three mistresses’ More referred to; we now see Sylvester was also probably wrong in stating definitively that Dame Lucy was the mother of Arthur Plantagenet: The History of King Richard III, Yale University Press 1976, p. 57 fn. 3 and p. 65 fn. 2.

8. ‘The Paternity of Lady Lumley: Some New Evidence’, The Ricardian, Vol. XXVI, June 2016, pp. 113–20. Readers are referred to that article and its footnotes for sources of the information summarized here.

9. David Grummitt’ (ODNB) offers a birth date ‘before 1472’ but this is based on a reference in royal household accounts to ‘my Lord the Bastard’, unidentified, which may refer to some other person; a suggested birth date of 1462-1464 is rightly discounted as too early to be compatible with the known events of his life and career. Grummitt states without comment that ‘most authorities’ identify his mother as Elizabeth Lucy, ‘probably the daughter of Thomas Waite of Hampshire’.

10. Buck did know the truth that the lady of the precontract was Eleanor Talbot and realized that the alleged precontract with Dame Lucy was false; but he accepted Thomas More’s claim that Dame Lucy was Arthur’s mother: Sir George Buck, The History of King Richard the Third, ed. A.N. Kincaid, Gloucester, 1979, pp. 181–2. It is not correct that he named her as Lady Lumley’s mother.

11. And More in his Latin text states that she came from a noble family.

THE MALIGNED RICARDIANS

Part 1 – Sir William Cornwallis the younger

“ His virtues I have sought to revive, his vices to excuse”

(The Encomium of Richard III, Sir William Cornwallis)

It is conceivable that historians do not take the early revisionist histories of king Richard III seriously owing to an assumption that the authors were not themselves serious. If so, they are probably mistaken about Sir William Cornwallis (1579-1614) the author of the ‘Encomium of Richard III’, the earliest extant defence of the last Plantagenet king and the subject of this post. And they are definitely wrong about Sir George Buck, the author of a second and more substantial defence of Richard entitled ‘The History of King Richard the Third’. My purpose in this post and a further one about Buck is to draw attention to these undervalued and misunderstood revisionists, whose pioneering works have provided the template for subsequent defences of king Richard.

Life

Sir William Cornwallis the younger (so called, to distinguish him from his uncle) was probably born at Fincham, Norfolk. He was the eldest child of Sir Charles Cornwallis a diplomat and court official. The Cornwallis’ were well known recusants and too prominent during catholic Mary’s time to prosper much under protestant Elizabeth: they were always under suspicion. Within that parameter the young Cornwallis’ upbringing was gratifyingly orthodox. He studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. In 1595 he married Katherine Parker; they had thirteen children, eight of whom survived him. In 1599 he saw action in the earl of Essex’s Irish campaign, and was knighted by the earl for his service . On his return to England he lived quietly during the remainder of Elizabeth’s reign.

In 1603 on the accession of James I he was appointed a member of the king’s Privy Chamber. In 1604 he was elected MP for Orford in Suffolk in support of the union between England and Scotland, and in 1605 was sent on a minor diplomatic mission to Spain. His extravagant lifestyle resulted in considerable debt and despite a gift of £2000 from the king he died in penury in 1614, leaving his widow and eight children destitute.

Literary works

Cornwallis’ literary career was that of a gentleman amateur writing ‘familiar’ paradoxical essays at the turn of seventeenth century. According to Kincaid “His style is fluent but incursive, his periods short but balanced. Illustrative examples are drawn from his own experience, though with evident modesty. He is concerned with self-improvement, particularly for statesman, stressing stoic virtues such as resolution, fortitude and endurance. His method is influenced by Montaigne, his ethics by Seneca . The paradoxes range from satirical praise of misfortune (e.g. ‘The French Pox’ and ‘Debt’) to what seem, at least partly, serious defences of historical figures (e.g. Julian the Apostate and Richard III).” Even though the contemporary essays of Sir Francis Bacon and John Donne overshadowed Cornwallis’ own literary achievement, the paradoxical essay tradition as it re-emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries owes more to his method than to theirs.

The Encomium of King Richard III – Background

It was commonplace for the original manuscripts of familiar essays to circulate among groups of literary friends. It was also commonplace for the author and for others to copy the manuscript: sometimes adding further comments, sometimes correcting errors. The Encomium of Richard III was no exception to the rule; there are ten surviving manuscript copies of it, each being different from the earliest and from each other. Although many of the changes are minor and stylistic, there are some important ‘political’ interpolations in later versions.

Cornwallis’ original manuscript is a mixture of the serious and the paradoxical. It does not sit easily in the form of a paradox. However, later additions indicate crude attempts to formalize it as a conventional paradox. Efforts have also been made to de-personalize it; whereas Cornwallis attacks a single ‘corrupt chronicler’, later versions change that to ‘our corrupt chroniclers’. The most interesting additions are those that are politically motivated. These additions though ostensibly enhancing Richard’s defence are really political propaganda linked to the Essex plot of 1600, and have wrenched Cornwallis’ original Encomium out of context. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many literary scholars regard the Encomium as a rather poor paradoxical essay and so many historians disregard it as a serious defence of king Richard III. It is also unfortunate that the latest version was published in 1616, as it is the one most commonly known and it distorts Cornwallis’ own views. It is in this context that we should assess the worth of the ‘Encomium’. In this post I am concentrating on three aspects of the Encomium. First the questions of authorship and motive, second an overview of Cornwallis’ technique for defending king Richard’s reputation, and finally the influence of late Elizabethan and early Jacobean politics on later versions of the Encomium.

Authorship

In the first half of the twentieth century, Professor W Gordon Zeeveld argued that ‘The Encomium of Richard III’ was in response to a manuscript account of king Richard’s reign written by Cardinal John Morton soon after Bosworth. This manuscript had been circulating amongst Tudor intellectuals for many years. According to Zeeveld it was copied by Sir Thomas More and published by his nephew John Rastell as More’s ‘History of King Richard III. Zeeveld argues that the traces of personal hatred towards Morton contained in early versions of the Encomium are evidence that it was inspired by Morton’s tract.

Zeeveld also believed that the Encomium was a palimpsest concealing an earlier defence of Richard, with Cornwallis as the continuator rather than the originator of that work. He postulates that an anonymous contemporary supporter of Richard took it upon himself to defend his dead master from Morton’s tract. Unfortunately there is no evidence that this earlier defence existed; neither does it follow that the personal bitterness evident in the Encomium places the author in the 1490’s. As Dr Kincaid points out, it could just as easily result from intellectual stimulus affecting somebody in the 1590’s.

Nobody knows why Cornwallis wrote this essay or why he chose to do so in a hybrid form. His animosity towards one Tudor chronicler suggests an emotional involvement that is at odds with his otherwise reasoned and intellectual approach. However, the editors of Kincaid’s excellent edition of the Encomium have conducted a careful and minute study of all ten original manuscripts and they are perfectly satisfied about two things: first, the Encomium is not a palimpsest, it is Cornwallis’ original work; second, Morton wrote a tract about Richard that was still extant in the 1590’s.Notwithstanding these conclusions, the evidence of a link between Cornwallis and Morton’s tract is circumstantial at best; it does no more than establish the possibility that Cornwallis had access to the tract.

Last on this aspect, the suggestion that Morton wrote a tract which was still in circulation well into Elizabeth I’s reign has wider significance, particularly regarding the authorship of More’s ‘History’ and its impact on Sir George Buck ‘History of King Richard the Third’. I hope to address both these issues in a future post.

The defence of king Richard

Cornwallis’ defence of Richard is unique in pro Ricardian literature in that generally he does not challenge the traditional Tudor version of the facts. The importance of the Encomium to the Ricardian narrative is simply that it is the first reasoned defence of Richard. The absence of an evidence base to accompany Cornwallis’ reasoning does not damage his contribution to that narrative, since Buck and others have been well able to supply that evidence. Although largely ignored by academics and historians, the Encomium has had a significant influence on future revisionists. For example, Buck structured his first three books around the Encomium (though he was working from a later manuscript) and Walpole adopted a similarly reasoned approach. The Encomium contains most, if not all, of the reasoned, logical defensive arguments that we see in modern Ricardian literature to this day.

Cornwallis makes four broad points. First, some of the accusations against Richard are so frivolous that they must have been prompted by malice (e.g. his physical appearance, born with teeth etc.). Second, there is no objective evidence that he committed many of the offences alleged against him (e.g. the murder of Henry VI and the allegation that he ‘commanded’ Dr Shaw’s sermon on the 22 June 1483, for which others are clearly implicated). Third, he is not guilty of usurpation or of regicide by reasons of state. It is only the third point that I want to explore in a little detail since the allegation of regicide is by far the most serious charge laid against king Richard III.

In 1601 Cornwallis (and not the later interpolators) wrote this about the disappearance of the two Princes: “In this time chanced the death of his two young nephews in the Tower, whose deaths promising quiet unto him, are wholly imposed upon him, how truly I have reason to doubt, because his accusers are so violent and impudent, that those virtues which in other men are embraced, for which they are esteemed as gods, they impute to him to be rather enablers of vices than really virtues. His humility they term pride, his liberality prodigality, his valour cruelty and bloodthirstiness and so through malice, not truth turn all things to their contrary. But if it were so that he contrived and consented to their deaths the offence was to God and not to the people, for the depriving of their lives freed them (the people) from dissention and how could he demonstrate his love more amply than to venture his soul for their quiet, But who knows whether it were not God’s secret judgement to punish the father’s transgressions on the children, and if so complain their fate, not his cruelty.”

Turning his attention to the grim realities of medieval power politics, Cornwallis continues: “…yet in policy princes never account competitors however young or innocent since the least colour of right provokes innovating humours to stir-up sedition, which once being kindled threatens both the subversion of princes and people. Therefore, the removing (of) such occasions of civil wars is well governed. (The) commonwealth is most profitable, most commendable, being no cruelty but pity a jealousy of their subjects and a regard for their own safety”. However, king Richard does not entirely escape Cornwallis’ censure: “If for this action he ought to be condemned, it is for indiscretion in the managing; for as safely might he have had the realms general consent in disposing of their lives, as in disposing them from the crown, and had he held a secret execution best he might have effected it more secretly…”

Cornwallis eschews a substantive defence of king Richard; instead, he emphasizes his personal virtues and his good works, and excuses his actions as being in the public interest and done from a high sense of public duty. Albeit we cannot establish a firm link between Cornwallis and Morton’s tract it seems that the Encomium was indeed a response to More/Morton account. For instance, when condoning Richard’s seizure of the crown, Cornwallis refers to Edward IV’s betrothal to ‘Elizabeth Lucy’. That is a name he can only have found in the work(s) of More/Morton.

Politics

Cornwallis had ‘ high views of the royal prerogative and his Encomium shows no exception.’ For example, he writes “…chroniclers should not criticise kings because kings are accountable only to a jury of kings and to God.” In Kincaid’s edition of the Encomium, the editors identify four distinct ways in which later additions of the British Museum manuscript turned this essentially pro-monarchist work into a revolutionary text.

The first change is subtle alteration to the notion of divine authority. The most obvious example of this occurs in the extract I have referred to above. At the point where Cornwallis suggests that the death of the Princes might be God’s judgement on the sins of their father we get this interpolation (highlighted): “…if so complain of their fate, not his cruelty (FOR IN THESE FATAL THINGS IT FALLS OUT THAT HIGH WORKING POWERS MAKE SECOND CAUSES, UNWITTINGLY ACCESSORY TO THEIR DETERMINATION) yet in policy princes…” This insertion introduces a controversial, political tone; though the point being made is hardly new or novel. The notion that temporal kings were subject to God’s law, which upholds truth and justice against deceit and injustice, was argued by the Yorkists in the 1450’s to justify their rebellion against the misuse of royal authority. It follows that if God’s law forbids tyranny it must be His will that subjects should resist and even overthrow tyrants, by force if necessary. This interpolation reflects the seventeenth century’s revolutionary agenda whereby the exponents of change rejected the divine right of king, in favour of the principle, enshrined in Magna Carta, that the king was subject to the common law of the land. Rex is not lex; lex is rex (The king is not law; the law is king.).

Second, the text was changed to show the Tudors in a much worse light than hitherto. For example, Cornwallis praises Richard for abolishing forced loans. However, this is altered slightly with the insertion “ THOUGH HE CAME TO MANAGE A STATE WHOSE TREASURE WAS EXCEEDINGLY EXHAUSTED.” It is a comment that would strike a cord with late Elizabethans struggling under an inequitable tax system. The costs of the continuing Spanish war and the troubles in Ireland had increased the parliamentary subsides granted to the Crown fourfold between 1589 and 1601, with a disproportionate burden falling on the poor. Indeed, the demand for increased subsidy in 1589 was so onerous for the rich that Sir Francis Bacon declared in parliament: “Gentlemen must sell their plate, farmers their brass pots ere this will be paid”. In desperation the Queen resorted to levying forced loans and benevolences on the wealthy through the privy seal. She also imposed ship money on inland towns; yet still the exchequer was in deficit. In 1601 parliament debated the plight of the poor. There were calls for the wealthy to pay more: “Some thought that three-pound men should be spared; others that four-pound men should pay double, with a corresponding increased charge on the rest upwards.” The tendency of Stuart monarchs to raise taxes without the consent of parliament through forced loans, increased custom duties and ship money was an issue (there were others) that eventually led the king to kill his subjects and his subjects to kill their king.

Third, Cornwallis defends Richard’s seizure of the throne on the basis that Edward V was too young to govern himself, much less the realm; anyhow, he would be too much under the bad influence of his mother and maternal uncles who were “…the duke’s mortal enemies such as through the lowness of their birth had never been inured to government, whose new nobility was more likely to ruinate than to fortify the Ancient, could not but draw a true discerning spirit to favour himself to maintain the ancient nobility to commiserate the people much wasted by dissensions…” This can certainly be interpreted as a veiled criticism of William and Robert Cecil, who between them controlled the queen and the government in the 1590’s. However, the later insertion of the words “ AND OPPRESSED” between ‘wasted and ‘by’ in the above extract is a much more explicit reproach of the Cecil’s. A reproach that becomes even more obvious in the interpolation at the point where Cornwallis justifies Richard’s execution of Rivers and Grey: “…jealous of his own preservation OF THE SAFETY OF THE COMMONWEALTH AND OF THE ANCIENT NOBILITY with great reason and justice he executed them.” The reference to the safety of the realm is an allusion to England’s Cecil-inspired foreign policy . The criticism is even more explicit in an insertion at the point when Cornwallis is defending the summary execution of William Lord Hastings, which he says was just because Hastings was in the pay of the French king; furthermore, it was he who persuaded Edward IV not to support Burgundy against the French: “WHEREAS NOW IN A FEW YEARS IT IS DEVOLVED TO A PROUD AND INSOLENT NATION (Spain) WHO HAVE GRIEVOUSLY OPPRESSED THOSE NETHERLANDS WITH EXECRABLE CRUELTIES AND ARE AT THIS DATE CAPITAL ENEMIES OF OUR STATE…”

At the turn of the seventeenth century England was in turmoil; people were uncertain about the future, confused and frightened. The queen was ageing and various political factions were jockeying for power and influence in preparation for her demise. Poor harvests had brought famine, the war with Spain dragged on accompanied by genuine war weariness and the economy was a shambles. Militarily and diplomatically England was weaker in 1600 than it had been in1588, whilst Spain was stronger.The Spanish army occupying Holland was a direct threat to England’s flank and her independence. On top of all this the protestant reformation was not secured, nor the succession settled. Of the two foreign candidates, one was a Roman Catholic and the other a protestant flirting with Catholicism . The Cecil clique, pacific by inclination, wanted peace with Spain, which was abhorrent to the protestants. In 1601 Robert Devereux the earl of Essex accused Robert Cecil of favouring the succession of the Spanish Infanta to the English throne. It was dismissed as nonsense at the time. However, with the benefit of five hundred years of hindsight and official correspondence we can see that at best, Cecil’s behaviour was disingenuous.

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, is the insertion of an unambiguous appeal to force against legitimacy. Cornwallis is writing of the necessity for Richard to assume the crown for the common good and in particular to prevent another civil war, then this paragraph is inserted into Cornwallis’ narrative: “…THE DUTY WE OWE OUR COUNTRY EXCEEDS ALL OTHER DUTIES, SINCE IN ITSELF IT CONTAINS THEM ALL. THAT FOR RESPECT THEREOF NOT ONLY ALL TENDER RESPECTS OF KINDRED, OR WHATSOEVER OTHER RESPECTS OF FRIENDSHIP ARE TO BE LAID ASIDE, BUT THAT EVEN LONG HELD OPINIONS (RATHER GROUNDED ON SECRET GOVERNMENT THAN ANY GROUNDS OF TRUTH) ARE TO BE FORSAKEN SINCE THE END WHERETO ANYTHING IS DIRECTED IS EVER TO BE OF MORE NOBLE RECKONING THAN THE THING THERETO DIRECTED, THAT THEREFORE THE PUBLIC WEAL IS MORE TO BE REGARDED THAN A PERSON OR MAGISTRATE THAT THEREUNTO IS ORDERED…IF ANY MAN SHOULD OBJECT TO THIS COURSE LET HIM KNOW THAT NECESSITIES REQUIRE NEW REMEDIES AND FOR HIM (Richard) THERE WAS NO REMEDY BUT THIS ONE.” It is a sentiment that needs no explanation.

Kincaid and Ramsden argue that this insertion was probably aimed at Sir Henry Neville who had an ambiguous role in Essex’s attempted coup of 1600 and who was related to Robert Cecil. They postulate that Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton sent this amended copy of the Encomium to Neville to reassure him that he could disregard ties of kinship since it was God’s will that the Cecil’s should be overthrown. It is, they say, the only explanation for this insertion, which is so contrary to Cornwallis’ own philosophy.

[1] Elizabeth I was furious with Essex for personally knighting so many of his officers in the wake of his shameful truce with the Irish rebels; the queen called these officers ‘idle knights’ and there is no suggestion that Cornwallis’ preferment suggested a softening of attitude towards him. The Cornwallis’ – we are told – ‘were always under suspicion’.

[2] Michel Eyquem Montaigne (1533-1592) was an influential French renaissance philosopher who wrote anecdotally on the human condition. His stated objective was to describe humanity and especially himself ‘with utter frankness’.

[3] Seneca the Younger (BC1-AD65) was a Roman stoic philosopher. He was forced to commit suicide after being implicated in a plot to assassinate the Emperor Nero.

[4] Arthur Kincaid – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition, ref:odnb/6345) (DNB)

[5] Arthur Noel Kincaid- The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) at pp.civ-cv: Kincaid writes: ‘Rosalie L Colie in her study of paradox’s gives Cornwallis’ Encomium as an example that fails because it does not surprise of dazzle by its incongruities, for it strikes the reader as an all but serious defence. Instead of appearing skillful many of its arguments give the impression of being sincere but lame…” (See Rosalie L Collie – Paradoxia Epidemica (Princeton 1966) at p8)

[6] Arthur Kincaid and J A Ramsden – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) at p.5 (Kincaid)

[7] Kincaid at pv

[8] Kincaid at p20: interestingly, this was Charles I’s grounds for refusing to recognize the jurisdiction of the court appointed by Parliament to try him for crimes against the State in 1649. In 2001 Slobodan Milosevic also pleaded sovereign immunity when arraigned for war crimes (See Geoffrey Robertson – The Tyrannicide Brief (Vintage 2006) for an illuminating discussion on the powers of the law to bring tyrants to book for their crimes.)

[9] Kincaid at p17

[10] Kincaid p14

[11] Professor J B Black – The Reign of Elizabeth I (Oxford 1987) pp. 228-234.

[12] Black at p231

[13] Kincaid p9

[14] Kincaid p8

[15] Kincaid p10

[16] It was Philip II’s ambition to launch an invasion of England from the Netherlands

[17] Christopher Hill – God’s Englishman (Penguin 1972) at pp.20-25: Dr Hill suggests that the Elizabethan golden age was long past: if it ever existed. The legend of a time “…when parliament and crown worked in harmony, in which the Church was resolutely protestant, in which bishops were subordinated to secular power and protestant sea dogs brought gold and glory back from the Spanish Main…owed more to a criticism of what was happening (or not happening) under Stuarts than anything that had really existed under Elizabeth.”

[18] James VI was a Protestant and his apparent willingness to convert to Roman Catholicism was only a diplomatic/political ploy to unsettle Elizabeth and the English: it worked.

[19] Black at pp.445-451: Professor Black refers to correspondence, which suggests that Robert Cecil sounded out the feasibility of the Infanta and her husband the Archduke Albert succeeding Elizabeth. He certainly seems to have considered the ditching James VI of Scotland as heir to the throne.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: