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The King’s bishop? What did John Russell know in 1483?

 

“ ‘Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’

‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night time’

‘The dog did nothing in the night time’

‘That is the curious incident ‘ remarked Sherlock Holmes.”[1]

 

By applying his reasoning to this simple observation, the world’s foremost consulting detective was able to solve the mysterious disappearance of Silver Blaze and identify John Straker’s killer. Holmes’ recognized that the key to solving the case was to understand why the guard dog did not bark during the theft of Colonel Ross’ prize racehorse. It is a useful reminder for me that the key to a mystery often lies in understanding the patterns of behaviour of those involved: their actions and their inaction. The late Dr Pamela Tudor-Craig adopted a similar approach to the central mystery of King Richard’s life and reign: the disappearance of the Princess in the Tower. In a short essay entitled ‘People About Richard III’, she highlights Richard’s relationship with those bishops who accepted his patronage and invites the question, which is not altogether rhetorical, why did these holy men accept preferment at Richard’s hand if he was the monster of Tudor tradition? [2]

 

These bishops will be familiar names to students of the Wars of the Roses and especially to Ricardians: John Russell Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Langton Bishop of St David’s and later of Salisbury and John Shirwood Bishop of Durham. All these clerics served previously under Lancastrian and Yorkist kings; none could be described as Richard’s friend, and all were men of great learning and piety. Russell was the Lord Chancellor from 1483 until 1485; Stillington was, for a time, Lord Chancellor to Edward IV. It was Stillington who is purported to have reported Edward IV’s earlier marriage to Eleanor Talbot (the ‘pre-contract’). Shirwood owed his bishopric to Richard’s preferment. He was an early English humanist, an avid collector of classic Greek and Roman literature and a protégé of George Neville. During Edward IV’s reign his loyalty was suspect.[3] King Richard, who thought better of him, appointed Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Bishop Langton was also appointed at Richard’s behest.[4] He was a borderer and accompanied Richard in his first royal progress, writing approvingly of him to the prior of Christ Church Canterbury.[5] After Bosworth, Stillington was arrested for his part in Richard’s accession and then pardoned. Russell and Shirwood, however, continued in royal service; Russell, as a diplomat and Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Langton actually flourished under the first Tudor king, reaching the dizzy height of archbishop elect of Canterbury shortly before his death in 1500. Yet none of these men denounced Richard as a regicide or said anything about the disappearance of Edward IV’s sons, not even when it was a safe to accuse him of practically anything. Given the antipathy in the Tudor narrative towards the last Plantagenet, their silence is curious feature of the most famous of all English historical mysteries.

 

It is, of course, a moot point whether the bishops actually knew anything about what was happening to Edward’s sons in 1483. With the exception of Russell, none of them were at the centre of Richard’s government. Dr Tudor-Craig points to the chance that they might have known what was happening through a possible friendship between Shirwood and Dr John Argentine. It remains, however, no more than a possibility. The only known copy of Shirwood’s ‘Mathematical Game’ (no.106) is of particular relevance to this exhibition since it belonged to John Argentine, Edward V’s physician who gave such a foreboding report of his charge to Mancini.[6] Argentine may well have been an Italian and he was an industrious collector of books. The strong possibility that he knew Shirwood during the summer of 1483 in London reduces the likelihood that these distinguished prelates could have accepted patronage at Richard III’s hand in ignorance of the true state of affairs. Either Argentine’s words as reported by Mancini were not meant to carry a sinister gloss, or the clerics had accommodating consciences.[7]

 

Be that as it may, there was certainly one among them who was well placed to know the truth. It is likely that John Russell the Lord Chancellor was privy to Richard’s intention towards his nephews. Judging from the surviving signet and Chancery letters, their working relationship was close. Richard trusted Russell to deal with secret/confidential matters of great delicacy and moment, even those that occurred during his royal progress. Such trust is all the more remarkable since it appears that Russell was not, as some suppose, a trimmer or tame Ricardian but an outspoken critic of the petition presented to Parliament in 1484 setting out Richard’s royal title and also of Titulus Regius in the form it was enacted, and indeed, of the turbulence leading to Richard’s accession. It is not my intention to go into that issue now, since it is beyond my scope. I will confine myself to exploring Russell’s relationship with his king through three surviving letters from their correspondence. Obviously, the subject and the content of each letter is important because they each touch on events taking place between summer and autumn 1483, which is the critical period for analysing the disappearance of the two princes. All the same, they cannot be considered in a vacuum that ignores Russell’s constitutional position as Lord Chancellor and the evolving realpolitik of the times.

 

The Lord Chancellor

Professor Charles Ross describes the office of Lord Chancellor as ‘the most responsible clerical office in the gift of the crown’.[8] His use of the adjective ‘clerical’ perhaps betrays his ignorance of its several meanings (‘learned pertaining to the clergy, or clerk pertaining to copying and general office work’[9]) but more likely it reveals his unawareness of the constitutional importance of the Lord Chancellor. It was then, and remains, one of the great offices of state. Although Russell was indeed a cleric, his responsibilities were secular and serious; any implication that he was a glorified chief clerk is ludicrous. In the fifteenth century the Lord Chancellor was the nearest equivalent of a modern Prime Minister. He was a key official in the Royal Household the king’s principal advisor, and his formal link with parliament, and the machinery of government at Westminster. It was the Lord Chancellor who delivered the official sermon at the opening of parliament setting out the reason for its summons and the king’s plans. In addition, he had a judicial responsibility as the king’s liaison with the judiciary and presiding judge in the Chancery Court of England. It is true that Russell was a bureaucrat and not a politician; however, as an experienced, and talented administrator and lawyer he was eminently suitable for this office. His appointment had the unqualified approval of Sir Thomas More, probably the most famous Lord Chancellor of all, who described Russell as ‘ a wise man of much experience and one of the most learned men England had at this time’.[10] Dominic Mancini writing at the end of 1483 concurred with More’s opinion; he described Russell as a man of ‘great learning and piety.’[11]

 

‘The Chancellor is desperate and not content’

I need not describe the course of events between Edward IV’s untimely death in April 1483 and the bastardization of his heirs in June, since they are well known and, in any case, do not add to the substance of my argument. What matters from my perspective is Russell’s reaction to those events. For my purposes the narrative begins after lunch on Friday the 13 June 1483. William Lord Hastings had just been summarily executed on a convenient log for (it is alleged) plotting to kill the Lord Protector and Henry Stafford Duke of Buckingham, his henchman. The Archbishop of York (Thomas Rotherham), the Bishop Ely (John Morton) and assorted others have also been arrested. And there is panic on the streets of London. On the Monday following, the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son Richard the duke of York, the heir presumptive, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey to attend his brother’s coronation. That afternoon in council the coronation was postponed. The alarm of Londoners following these events is tangible and it seems from the evidence of two independent sources that the Chancellor John Russell was also deeply troubled by the turn of events.

 

The first source is an undated memorandum written by George Cely, an English wool merchant, which must have been written between the 13th and 25th of June 1483. It contains the key description of Russell’s mood: ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, [my emphasis] the bishop of Ely is dead, if the king, God save his life were deceased, the duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my lord prince, whom God defend were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.[12]

 

The other account is a letter written by Simon Stallworth (one of Russell’s secretaries) on the 21 June 1483 to Sir William Stonor. It is worth quoting in full. ‘Worshipful sir I commend me to you and for tidings I hold you happy that you are out of the press, for with us is much trouble and every man doubts [the] other. As on Friday last was the Chamberlain [Hastings] beheaded soon upon noon. On Monday last was at Westminster a great plenty of harnessed men, there was the deliverance of the Duke of York to my lord Cardinal, my Lord Chancellor and many other lords temporal and with him met my lord of Buckingham in the midst of the hall at Westminster…It is thought there shall be 20 thousand men of  my Lord Protector and my lord Buckingham’s men in London this week to which intent I know not but to keep the peace. My lord [Russell] has much            business and more than he is content with, if any other way would be taken [my emphasis]. The lord archbishop of York and the bishop of Ely are at the Tower with master Oliver King (I suppose they shall come out nevertheless). There are men in their places for safekeeping [guards?] And suppose that there shall be men of my Lord Protectors sent to his lordship’s place in the country. They are not  like to come out of ward yet. As for Forster he is in hold for his mew for (to plead for?) his life. Mistress Shore is in prison. What shall happen here I know not. I pray you pardon me from writing I am so sick I may not well hold my pen…All the Lord Chamberlain’s men become my lord of Buckingham’s men.’ [13]

 

These strictly contemporary accounts do not support the conclusion that Gloucester’s actions marked the opening moves of usurpation. Even less do they justify Dr Alison Hanham’s (surprisingly defensive) proposition that ‘even the most committed Ricardian must agree that it was a time of alarms and uncertainties when the suspicions of Richard’s intentions previously disseminated by the Woodvilles must he seemed to many to receive confirmation.[14] The implication that Londoners feared Gloucester’s actions were the prelude to a coup d’état and the insinuation that Russell shared their anxiety is simply not true.[15] There is no doubt that there was a great commotion in the capital over the weekend of the 14 and 15 of June and in the week that followed, with armed gangs on the street. However, Londoners in general did not see the threat as coming from Gloucester but from Woodville inspired conspirators. The Cely memorandum is explicit on this point. And there is nothing in Stallworth’s letter to gainsay the view that the public feared the ambition of the Queen and her Woodville kin whom they blamed for the unrest. Professor Michael Hicks — a renowned anti-Ricardian — also believes that the citizens did not at this time fear Gloucester’s motive; indeed, they supported his actions against the conspirators. Hicks rejects Mancini and the other vernacular chronicle accounts as hindsight, preferring to rely on the events that followed as a better guide to public opinion of Richard in May and June.[16] It would seem that despite Professor Ross’ assertion that we only have Gloucester’s word for the Hastings conspiracy, people believed that he and the king were threatened in June 1483.

 

Russell was not a neutral observer of these events, he participated in them; to that extent he was partisan. He neither liked nor trusted the Woodvilles. He believed that if they were allowed to control the king it would result in civil war and disorder. Russell craved unity not division. All of this is clear from the sermon he drafted for Edward V’s abortive first parliament, in which he set out the Council’s plans for minority governance after Edward’s coronation. It was intended to continue the protectorship after the king’s coronation and exceptionally to invest Gloucester with regency powers. This would of course have been in accordance with the earlier view of the ‘more foresighted’ councillors that the King’s maternal uncles and stepbrothers should be ‘absolutely forbidden’ from having control of the monarch before he reached his majority.[17] It would seem from Russell’s extant draft that having examined the Woodvilles suitability for government he found them wanting.[18] He writes, for example, ‘Then if there be any certainty or firmness in this world, such as may be found in Heaven, it is rather in the islands and lands environed with water than in the sea or any great rivers (an allusion to Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers)’. Further on we have this: ‘And therefore the noble persons of the world, which some for the merits of their ancestors, some for their own virtues being endowed with great honours and possessions, and riches may be conveniently resembled unto the firm ground that men see in Islands (an allusion to Gloucester and to England) than the lower people, which for the lack of such endowments, not possible to be shared among so many and therefore living by their casual labours be not without cause [compared] to the unstable and wavering running water: aque multe populus multus (a lot of water, a lot of people)’. Towards the conclusion, he extols the Lord Protector’s virtues; ‘…The necessary charges which in the kings tender age must needs be borne and supported by the right noble and famous prince the duke of Gloucester his uncle, protector of this realm. In whose great puissance, wisdom and fortunes rests at this season the execution of the defence of the realm as well against open enemies as against subtle and faint friends of the same.’ However, this sermon was never delivered due to the dramatic events that occurred between the 22 and 26 June. On Sunday the 22 June, Edward IV’s heirs were denounced as bastards. Three days later, Gloucester was offered the throne. The next day he was king. I now turn to the relevant correspondence.

 

A warrant to arrest persons unknown dated 29 July 1483

King Richard was crowned on the 6 July and left for his first royal progress on the 18 July. He dictated this intriguing letter, whilst sojourning for two or three days with his friend Francis Lovell: ‘ By the King RR. Right reverend father in God right trusty and wellbeloved; we greet you well. Whereas we understand that certain persons had of late taken upon themselves an enterprise — as we doubt not you have heard — and are in custody, we desire and will that you take our letters of commission to such persons as you and our council shall be advised, for to sit [in judgement] upon them and to proceed to the due execution of out laws on  that behalf. Fail not hereof as our perfect trust is in you. Given under our signet at the manor of Minster Lovell the 29 July.’

 

This is not a routine letter. Judging by the last sentence, Richard is responding to what he believes is an emergency at Westminster. He does not name the conspirators or the nature of their offence because he assumes Russell knows what he means. The implication being, of course, that this matter was secret and the detail could not be committed to paper. It is for that reason that historical interest in the letter has largely concentrated on the search for answers to the inevitable ‘who’ ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions that arise. Important though those questions are, I need not answer them here, since others have already done so.[19] It is useful, nonetheless, to outline the options considered.

 

Dr Tudor-Craig submits several possible motives for the letter. First, it might have related to an attempt to remove Edward’s daughters from sanctuary and take them overseas out of Richard’s reach. The Crowland Chronicle reports the rumour of such a plot, which caused the King to strengthen security around Westminster Abbey ‘so that the whole neighbourhood took on the appearance of a castle or fortress’. John Nesfield, who was captain in charge of the operation, ensured that no one could get in or out without his permission.[20] Dr Tudor-Craig rejects that possibility, however, on the ground that ‘The tenor of the letter suggests that the criminals had accomplished their deed, even though they had been caught, and yet the princesses remained in sanctuary’.[21] Alison Hanham challenges that proposition; she argues that they were arrested before the fact and not afterwards. Her point being that the word ‘had’ (as opposed to ‘have’) suggests that the plot had not come to fruition.[22] If one accepts Dr Hanham’s construction of the letter it would seem reasonable to suppose that the plot to send the princesses overseas remains a possibility. However, such a plot hardly warrants a surreptitious letter of this kind since according to Crowland it was almost certainly common knowledge in London anyway. A similar point could be made in relation to Dr Tudor-Craig’s second possibility: that it concerned mistress ‘Jane’ Shore. I think we can safely dismiss this on the ground that there was nothing secret about her activities.

 

Dr Tudor Craig’s third and final possibility is that it relates to the disappearance of the two princes. Unfortunately, she does not look beyond the possibility that they were murdered. Such a plot would certainly require secrecy. The problem with this, however, is that Richard’s instructions to Russell to discuss the matter with the council and proceed according to the law are incompatible with secrecy. Dr Tudor-Craig recognized this problem but is nonetheless unable to disregard Thomas More’s assertion that the murder of the princes was ordered when Richard was at Gloucester, which he must have reached soon after this letter was written. Dr Tudor-Craig also sees significance in the parting of the ways between the King and Buckingham, which also occurred around this time and which she suggests might have been the result of a policy disagreement about what to do with ‘the certain persons who had taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise’.[23] If her hypothesis is right it certainly adds credence to More’s account and also to the fears expressed for Edward V’s life reported to Mancini before he returned to France.[24]

 

Another possibility is that the letter referred to a plot to remove the boys from the Tower and to restore Edward V to the throne. The Crowland chronicler mentions such a plot, though his timing is problematic.[25] We also have a reference in John Stow’s ‘Annals’ of some such plot involving members of Edward IV’s former household with Woodville support.[26] ‘After this were taken for rebel against the king, Robert Russe sergeant of London, William Davy pardoner of Hounslow, John Smith groom of King Edward’s stirrup, and Stephen Ireland wardrober of the Tower, with many others, that they should have sent writings into the parts of Brittany to the earls of Richmond and of Pembroke and other lords; and how they were purposed to have set fire to divers parts of London, which fire whilst men had been staunching, they would have stolen out of the Tower the Prince Edward and his brother the Duke of York.’ [27]

 

Speculation that Lady Margaret Beaufort was involved in this conspiracy as the Woodville’s price for restoring Henry Tudor to his English dignitaries, is rejected by Professor Hicks on the ground that the link between the Beauforts, ‘the fact of a certain enterprise’ mentioned in the letter and the trial mentioned in Stowe is too tenuous to accept as evidence of the fact.[28] Certainly corresponding with Richmond was not per se treasonable (at this stage) and it seems from Hicks’ researches that there is no record of a commission of oyer & terminer or a trial, or even an indictment against these men. He postulates that although such a plot probably existed at this time, we do not have details of it.

 

Fortunately, I need not choose between these theories, since I am only concerned with Russell’s state of knowledge. Ironically, if the letter does relate to the boys’ murders, its tone and content tend to absolve the King from complicity. His instruction to bring the matter before the council and to judgement according to the law is only explicable on the basis that he was innocent and had nothing to hide or fear from a public airing of the facts. In that eventuality, Richard’s guilty secret would not be secret for very long. Alternatively, if the letter refers to a plot to remove the princes from the Tower, then it can be seen as a standard response to a treasonous threat to the crown. Of course, if such a plot existed, it confounds the contemporary suspicion that Edward V was dead before Mancini left England and demolishes More’s account of events. Either way, this letter raises some important questions about the state of Chancellor Russell knowledge, since he can hardly have been ignorant of the true state of affairs concerning the well-being or the fates of Edward IV’s sons in July. It also raises the questions of why Russell appears not to have been interrogated by the Tudor regime as to his knowledge of the fate of the princes or why there is no contemporary English accusation against King Richard.

 

 

Undated letter concerning the marriage of Thomas Lynom and Mistress Shore

I am referring to this this letter for two reasons; first, it gives us a brief but revealing ‘flash’ of Richard’s character and second, it gives rise to an equally illuminating difference of opinion between two of Richard’s many biographers; a difference of opinion, which, I might add, exhibits all the emotional prejudice that afflicts so much of Ricardian literature.

 

Thomas Lynom was King Richard’s solicitor; he sought permission to marry Mistress Jane Shore, who was languishing in Ludgate Prison for her part in the Hastings’ conspiracy. Richard’s moral rectitude caused him to take a hard line with Mistress Shore. She had, after all, plotted against him and she was a notorious harlot. Although it would have been easy for him to forbid the match in what he believed to be Lynom’s best interests, he wrote this letter instead.[29]…it is showed unto us that our servant and solicitor, Thomas Lynom is marvellously blinded and abused with the late wife of William Shore now being at Ludgate by our commandment, [and] hath made contract of matrimony with her, as it is said; and intends, to our full great marvel, to proceed to effect the same. We, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed and pray you therefore to send for him, in that you   may goodly may exhort and stir him to the contrary. And if you find him utter set for to marry her and none otherwise would be advertised, then if it may stand with the law of the church, we be content (the time of marriage being deferred to our coming next to London) that upon sufficient surety being found for her good behaviour, you send for her keeper and discharge him of our commandment by warrant of these; committing [her] to the rule of her father or any other by your discretion in the mean season.’

 

In his generally sympathetic biography of Richard III, Professor Paul Kendall uses this letter to illustrate Richard’s empathy with his fellows: ‘The harmony he never achieved within himself he did not cease to desire for others.[30] Richard’s use of vibrant phrases such as ‘marvellously blinded and abused’, and ‘to our full great marvel’ are testament to his astonishment and not his admonishment that his sober and correct solicitor should fall for the charms of the (no doubt) enchanting but wayward Jane Shore.

 

Professor Charles Ross in his less charitable biography of Richard III, uses the same letter to illustrate what he regards as the King’s bad character. Richard was, asserts Ross, the first English king to use character assassination as a deliberate instrument of policy. Richard’s ‘…public persecution of the delectable Mistress Shore has all the hallmarks of an attempt to make political capital by smearing the moral reputation of those who opposed him.’ Furthermore, he suggests that the ‘demure’ (his word) Mistress Shore would have been left to rot in Ludgate were it not for the fact that Richard’s solicitor wanted to marry her; a request which says Ross ‘obviously incurred Richard’s displeasure’. [31]

 

It is difficult to explain two such conflicting interpretations of the same letter. Ross represents the modern school of traditionalist historians who resist revisionist re-interpretations of Richard’s character. It seems obvious to me that he is entranced by the ‘delectable’ Mistress Shore whose virtues he extols at Richard’s expense. Professor Kendall writes more benevolently of Richard’s behaviour; though he has an occasional tendency to make excuses for him. His biography is now considered out of date by the academic establishment; nonetheless, it remains for me the most balanced and well-written account of King Richard’s life and reign yet published. Its strength is Kendall’s systematic use of BL Harleian Manuscript 433 to explain the events of 1483-85.[32]

 

Furthermore, professor Ross’ conclusion is based on a partial quote from the letter, starting at its beginning and ending with Richard’s comment ‘we, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed.’ This gives the false impression that King Richard was minded to prohibit the marriage because of his displeasure with Lynom and his vindictiveness towards Mistress Shore. Thus, Ross uses the letter as an example of Richard’s vindictive character. However, if one reads the whole letter, the absurdity of his argument becomes apparent. Indeed, there is nothing in the letter — even Ross’ edited version — that justifies his adverse characterization of Richard: quite the opposite in fact.

 

The letter is remarkable for its informality, Richard’s colourful language and his lightness of touch in dealing with the situation. He comes across as a concerned friend rather than an angry monarch. He has every reason to prohibit this marriage but his desire to do the right thing outweighs any animus he feels towards Mistress Shore. For Richard ‘doing the right thing’ means trying to save Thomas Lynom from his folly, which is why he asks Russell to urge him in a ‘goodly’ manner to think again. But if Lynom is ‘utter set to marry her and not otherwise’, then Richard consented. The letter is not indicative of a cruel or vindictive man. Its relaxed tone suggests that the king trusted his Chancellor and that they had a good rapport. After taking these factors into account, I prefer Kendall’s interpretation of the letter.

 

Letter dated the 12 October from King Richard to John Russell

Richard dictated this letter at Lincoln during his royal progress. It is considered to be one of the chief documents of his reign and contains a rare example of his handwriting: ‘By the King. Right reverend Father in God, right trusty and wellbeloved. We greet you          well. And in out heartfelt way thank you for the manifest presents that your servants on your behalf has presented to us here, which we assure you we took and accepted with a good heart and soul we have cause. And whereas we by Gods grace intend briefly [soon] to advance us towards our rebel and traitor the Duke of Buckingham to resist and withstand his malicious purpose as lately by our other letters we certified to you our mind   more at large. For which cause it behoves us to have our Great Seal here. We being informed that for such infirmities and disease you sustain you cannot conveniently come unto us in person with the same. Wherefore we desire and nonetheless charge you that forthwith upon the sight of these you safely do the same our Great Seal sent unto us and [by] such of the officers of our Chancery as by your wisdom shall be thought necessary. Receiving this our letter for your sufficient discharge in that behalf.  Given under our signet at our City of Lincoln the 12 day of October.   We would be most glad that you came yourself if that you may and if you may not we pray you not to fail but to accomplish in all diligence our said commandment to send our seal in contentment upon the sight hereof as we trust you with such as you trust the officers ‘pertenyng’ to attend with it praying you to ascertain us of your news here. Here loved be God is all well and truly determined and for to resist the malice of him that has best cause to be true the Duke of Buckingham the most untrue creature living whom with God’s grace we shall not be long till that we shall be in those parts and subdue his malice. We assure you that there was never false traitor better purveyed as this bearer Gloucester shall show you.”[33]

 

It is obvious that Richard and Russell were in touch and that Russell was aware of the King’s plans. Since Russell cannot bring the Great Seal himself owing to his illness, Richard added a postscript in his own hand (my emphasis above). It is one of the most revealing documents of Buckingham’s rebellion.

 

Dr Louise Gill considers that Richard’s request was unusual ‘since it put full control of the government in his hands‘ and implies that he no longer trusted his Chancellor.[34] Personally, I think Dr Gill’s appraisal of the situation is mistaken for two reasons: in the first place it is not supported by the facts and in the second place it offends against common sense. It was not in fact unusual for the Great Seal to be commandeered in times of crisis. Richard and the Council had done so in April/May 1483 after the then Chancellor, Thomas Rotherham archbishop of York, had improperly handed it to Elizabeth Woodville following the arrests of Earl Rivers and others. Richard was to call for it again in July 1485 when he was threatened by Henry Tudor’s invasion. The Great Seal was an instrument of strategic importance, to the king since it authenticated royal commands, documents and proclamations. Its close control was desirable at all times but absolutely essential when, as here, rebels aimed at deposing the king. If the king was at Westminster there was no problem, but King Richard was 150 miles from Westminster and his enemies were strategically placed to put themselves between him and the capital. He believed that the threat to him was mortal; Russell was well aware of this and of Richard’s plans from previous correspondence. Naturally, Richard wanted control of the Great Seal to authenticate his rule but just as importantly to deny it to his enemies. Similarly, the suggestion of a breakdown of trust between Richard and Russell does not bear close examination. Richard was many things but he was not stupid; it is inconceivable that he would entrust his plans ‘at large’ to someone he didn’t trust. There is also the evidence of Richard’s postscript wherein he expressed his faith that Russell would send the Great Seal to him. Its possession was of such overwhelming importance to Richard, and secrecy was so vital (There are obvious risks to it being carried by a single horseman.) that he is equally unlikely to have entrusted that task to anyone he didn’t trust. A distrustful Richard would probably have sent one of his own men of action to take possession of the seal. Indeed, in May, as duke of Gloucester, he sent his personal Herald to take it from Rotherham. If we judge men by their actions, the fact that Russell complied with the king’s wishes with such alacrity and that the Great Seal was later returned to him (Russell) before witnesses in the Star Chamber is a clear indication that the Lord Chancellor retained the king’s trust and confidence.

 

Conclusion

Although many people suspect Richard III of doing away with his nephews, suspicion is not evidence and there is no evidence that he murdered them or, indeed, that anyone murdered them. I do not know the princes’ fate and neither does anybody else. Nor do I pretend that these letters offer a solution to the mystery, since they leave too many unanswered and unanswerable questions for that. But they do sharpen our silhouette of England’s most enigmatic king and his relationship with his first minister of state during the crucial period of 1483-85. And they add substance to a neat epigram about those events, which I read somewhere. Those who knew most said least; those who knew least said most.

 

Quite what Holmes might have deduced from this correspondence is difficult to say, since he famously eschewed theorising without data. Of course, his prospect of solving the mysterious disappearance of the two princes would undoubtedly be enhanced if only John Russell was available to be interviewed.

[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1950) p.28

[2] Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure: Richard III (biographical exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery 1973) pp.39-41

[3] A. J. Pollard, ‘Shirwood, John (d. 1493)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25447, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[4] D. P. Wright, ‘Langton, Thomas (c.1430–1501)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16045, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[5] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.151 and note 16

[6] CJ Armstrong (Ed) – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini [1483] (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. 93 and 127 note 89. Mancini wrote: ’The physician Dr Argentine, the last of his servants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him’. Armstrong argues that Dr Argentine and Mancini were well acquainted: they were social equals and Argentine spoke fluent Italian (pp.19-20).

[7] Tudor-Craig p.44; Shirwood wrote ‘De Ludo Arithmomachia; De Ludo Philosophorum; Ludus Astronomorum’ (Treatise on a Mathematical Game) in about 1475. Tudor-Craig postulates that Shirwood personally gave Dr Argentine a copy of his treatise in London during the summer of 1483.

[8] Charles Ross- Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.132

[9] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2005); see also Chambers Dictionary (13th edition, 2014)

[10] Richard Sylvester – The Complete Edited Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of Richard III (Yale 1963) p.25

[11] Armstrong p.85

[12] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 184-85. See also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this note ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [damage] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor [Rotherham] is deprived and not content, the bishop of Ely is dead (my emphases)’. Professor Hicks is wrong, however, to suggest that Thomas Rotherham was the Chancellor, he was the archbishop of York; Russell was the Chancellor. Neither can it be easy to confuse ‘desperate’ with ‘deprived’, though the professor managed it

[13] Christine Carpenter (Ed) – Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers 1290-1483 (Cambridge UP 1996) pp.159-60. See also Alison Hanham – Varieties of Error and Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers (Ricardian, Vol 11, No.142, Sept 1998) p.350

[14] Alison Hanham – Remedying a Mischief: Bishop John Russell and the royal title (Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000) p.149

[15] Hanham (Ricardian) ibid

[16] Hicks pp. 114-16; to be fair, Professor Hicks argues that Richard always planned to seize the throne, but at this time nobody else realised it. His support soon fell away after he deposed Edward V

[17] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (The R3 and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) p.153

[18] S B Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.168-78; Chrimes reproduces all three of Russell’s draft speeches.

[19] Tudor-Craig ibid; Michael Hicks – Unweaving the Web: the plot of July 1483 against Richard III and its wider significance (Ricardian Vol 9, No.114, September 1991) pp.106-109; see also Annette Carson – Richard III; the maligned king (The History Press 2013 edition) pp. 151-68 passim. Both of these authors provide useful discussion about the July 1483 ‘plot’

[20] Pronay and Cox p.163

[21] Tudor-Craig pp.54-55

[22] Hanham (Ricardian) p.236: Hanham describes the word ‘had’ as ‘a subjunctive accusation of past possibility or past unreality…plainly they had been stopped before they could put their alleged plan into effect’. See also Hicks (Unweaving the web,,,), passim.

[23] Tudor-Craig ibid.

[24] Mancini left England shortly after Richard’s coronation (6 July 1483). Interestingly, he records only a suspicion that Edward V was ‘done away with’; he does not record any suspicion about the fate of the duke of York who was heir presumptive. The other interesting point is how this squares with the Cely memorandum, which expressed fears for the lives of king Edward V, his brother the Duke of York and his uncle the Duke of Gloucester.

[25] Pronay and Cox ibid

[26] Rosemary Horrox – Richard III and London (Ricardian Vol.6, 1984) pp325-26 and 329 citing: John Stow – The Annals or General Chronicle of England (1615) p.460. Also, Michael Jones – Richard III and Lady Margaret Beaufort: a re-assessment, in – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (PW Hammond [Ed] (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp. 30-31; Carson ibid and Henry Ellis (Ed) – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (Camden Society 1844) pp. 194-95

[27] Hicks (Unweaving the web…) p.107

[28] Hicks pp.107-109

[29] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) p.324

[30] Kendall ibid

[31] Ross p.137

[32] R Horrox and PW Hammond [Eds] – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 in four volumes (Sutton Publishing and the R3S 1979); it contains the strictly contemporary Register of Grants and Signet Letters written during Richard III’s reign and passing through Russell’s hands.

[33] Peter and Patricia Hairsine – The Chancellor’s File: published in J Petre [Ed] Richard III, crown and people (The Richard III Society 1984) p. 418, which reproduces the original letter (PRO reference C/1392/6); see also Tudor-Craig p.79

[34] Louise Gill – Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Sutton 2000 edition) p.6

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Francis, Viscount Lovell …

…, who became Lord Chamberlain today in 1483 and carried the third sword of state at Richard’s coronation three weeks later has been featured in his own blogCoat_of_Arms_of_Sir_Francis_Lovell,_1st_Viscount_Lovell,_KG since February 2017, thanks to Michelle (and apologies for the missing accent). She also makes a great effort to determine his fate.

King Arthur, King Richard and the Wars of the Roses….

 

Arthur and Richard

The following is just a little diversion; the result of that strange half–world we go into when we’re dropping off to sleep. There I was, not counting sheep, but matching Arthurian characters with figures from the Wars of the Roses. Now, I am not an expert on Arthur, or indeed on Richard, just an amateur who likes both.

The list isn’t complete, of course, and I have picked out facts to suit my pairings, but it proved an interesting exercise. No doubt many will disagree with my choices (and my interpretation) but that’s fine, I’d love to see other suggestions – polite ones, that is! And if anyone notices glaring omissions, please, please fill in the gaps. The greatest omission, of course, is Merlin. I just couldn’t think of anyone to fit that particular bill.

One thing – it was difficult to always distinguish between Gorlois and Uther, so I apologise for the odd hop between the two.

Here goes:– 

Arthur – a great king betrayed and killed in battle – son of Ygraine and Uther Pendragon:

Richard III – a great king betrayed and killed in battle son of Cecily, Duchess of York and Richard, Duke of York.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Agravain – joined Mordred:

Thomas, Lord Stanley – joined Henry “Tudor”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Bedivere – survives Camlann and throws Excalibur back to Lady of the Lake, dedicated to Arthur:

Francis Lovell – survives Bosworth and fights on for House of York, dedicated to Richard.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Bors the Elder –Arthur’s ally:

John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Arthur’s ally.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Camelot:

Middleham and England under Richard.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Claudas – Frankish king hostile to Arthur:

Charles VIII, King of France, Richard’s foe.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Constantine II of Britain – Arthur’s grandfather:

Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, Richard III’s grandfather.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dagonet, Arthur’s court jester:

Martin or John, Richard’s court jesters.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Elaine of Benoic, mother of Lancelot, sees him again after many years apart:

Margaret Beaufort – mother of Henry Tudor, sees him again after many years apart.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Galahad, Lancelot’s illegitimate son:

Roland de Vielleville – Henry Tudor’s rumoured illegitimate son – although, from all accounts, definitely lacking Galahad’s gallantry and purity.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Garlon a wicked, invisible knight who kills other knights:

John Morton, who works ‘invisibly’ behind the scenes to bring about Richard’s death. Nasty as they come!

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Gawain, Arthur’s brave nephew:

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, Richard’s brave nephew

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Gawain’s brothers killed by Lancelot:

Lincoln’s brothers – persecuted and executed by Henry Tudor.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Gorlois of Cornwall, cuckolded by Uther Pendragon:

Richard, Duke of York, who was allegedly cuckolded by the archer Blaybourne, resulting in birth of Edward IV.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Guinevere – accused of destroying Camelot because of her affair with Lancelot:

Elizabeth of York – ended the hopes of the House of York by marrying Henry Tudor.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Hector – raised Arthur in his household:

Warwick the Kingmaker – in whose household Richard was trained as a boy.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Hector de Maris, younger half–brother of Lancelot:

John Welles, Viscount Welles, younger half–brother of Margaret Beaufort and half-nephew of Henry Tudor.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Holy Grail:

Crown of England

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Iseult of Ireland, wife of Mark of Cornwall and adulterous lover of Sir Tristan:

Margaret of Anjou, queen of Henry VI, but probable lover of Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, who might have been the father of Edward of Lancaster.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kay – Arthur’s foster brother:

Robert Percy – close childhood friend of Richard III.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lady of the Lake/Nimue – provided weapon – Excalibur/Caliburn – for Arthur:

Margaret of Burgundy – provided weapons and finance for the House of York

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lynette – sister of Lyonesse:            

Isabel Neville, wife of George of Clarence

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lyonesse – Entrapped sister of Lynette; rescued by Gareth, whom she eventually marries:

Anne Neville, held by brother–in–law, George of Clarence but then rescued and married by Richard III.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lancelot – unfaithful to Arthur with Guinevere and as a consequence brought down Camelot:

Henry “Tudor” – thinks Richard is his rival for Elizabeth of York, and is responsible for destroying Richard and the House of York at Bosworth – through treachery on the field.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Llamrei, a mare owned by Arthur:

White Surrey, said to be the name of Richard’s horse.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Loholt – Arthur’s illegitimate son:

John of Gloucester, Richard’s illegitimate son.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Madoc, Uther’s son–

Edward IV – Richard, Duke of York’s son or Blaybourne’s son, but still acknowledged as York’s. (I can’t find another son of Uther Pendragon, and so conflate George of Clarence with Edward IV. Sorry.)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Merlin – (Can’t think of anyone of WOTR suited to this important role!)

(Sara Nur has now suggested Stillington for Merlin, which I think is a good idea.)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Mordred – who changed sides and killed Arthur at Camlann:

Sir William Stanley, who changed sides and was responsible for Richard’s death at Bosworth.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Morgan le Fay – Arthur’s implacable foe but is finally reconciled with him and is one of the queens who take him to Avalon:

Elizabeth Woodville – at first she is Richard’s implacable foe, but is then reconciled.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Nantres – a king married to Arthur’s sister and hostile to him:

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham – Richard’s cousin and enemy.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Pinel – a knight who tries to poison Gawain to avenge Lamerok’s murder:

William, Lord Hastings – who almost certainly plotted to overthrow Richard to avenge (as he saw it) the children of Edward IV. Was beheaded for his treachery.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Red and white dragons – Merlin predicts that the white dragon will win:

Houses of York and Lancaster – York wins when Edward IV topples Henry VI.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The Green Knight, enchanted by Morgan le Fay:

Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, influenced by his sister, Elizabeth Woodville.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Tristan, lover of Iseult of Ireland:

Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, probable lover of Margaret of Anjou.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Uther Pendragon – in the legends, Uther is transformed into the image of Gorlois in order to bed Ygraine:

Blaybourne – an archer – supposedly cuckolded the Duke of York and sired Edward IV – only a rumour.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Vortigern – king who eventually lost his throne to the ‘white dragon’:

Henry VI – his incompetence and inability led to the return to England of Edward IV.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Vortigern’s son, killed by Saxon invaders:

Edward of Lancaster, killed by the House of York at Tewkesbury.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Ygraine, Arthur’s mother through Uther Pendragon:

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Richard by the Duke of York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KING’S GAMES: A MEMOIR OF RICHARD III

A Verse Play in Two Acts with Commentaries

By Nance Crawford

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

(Hamlet)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

“ Well tears are for Heaven, not this place,

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

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

Your Pa and Edmund, even Georgie,

With Isobel and both their unborn babes —

The Lord be willing to forgive our debts”

 

In the second example, Cecily is angry with Richard:

 

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

To slander at the Cross the womb that bore

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

Yes, slandered sir! Held up to ridicule!

With such a loathsome story as would make

A harlot blush!

Anne. He’d never do you harm!

Cecily. The serpents tooth has struck the very breast

That sheltered him, the womb that gave him life,

And God alone knows what price he’ll pay”

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

Cecily.                                                      Can I not?”          

 

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

 

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

 

“ I contemplate my brother Edward’s flaws

And see myself a darker image there

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

My friend, I’m proved a rotten jurist when

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

 

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

 

“ Crowns, to me, were bitter, paper things

Cut out to top my brother Edmund’s brow,

To match that of my father’s sad display,

When both their heads had crowned the gates at York.

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

More tall and gold than any plated spire.

I asked him why he wanted to be king .

He said ‘it is the pleasure of a king

To find his pleasure at his own plaisir’

His instincts made him royal — but never mine”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A Slightly Different Ricardian Novel

I, RICHARD PLANTAGENET :TANTE LE DESIREE:

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

 

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

 

Debunking the Myths – Richard III’s Execution of a Political Lampoonist

Richard III’s Execution of Collingbourne. A new take.

RICARDIAN LOONS

Ripon Cathedral misericord “And in another isle toward the south dwell folk of foul stature and of cursed kind that have no heads. And their eyes be in their shoulders.” – Sir John Mandeville (14th c.)

It’s funny how myths and legends become a part of history. This column – Debunking the Myths – is devoted to exploring the many false rumors, tales, and impressions that have embedded themselves into our modern perception of Richard III and his times.  Join us, as we hunt down the Loch Ness monsters, Sasquatches, and Blemyae that have roamed the Ricardian historical landscape for centuries.  No need to bring a weapon.  Just bring an open mind!

Today’s blog is about the infamous lampoon posted on the doors of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in July 1484, during the second year of Richard III’s reign.  Even the casual reader of Ricardian history can recite it from memory:

“The Cat…

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Signs of the Times (4)

To conclude our series on royal graphology:

1.William Hastings

First of all you can see that this is quite a flowing signature with a lot of nice curves, not many ‘angry’ sharp top angles to the letters. This shows he was generally an affable, non-violent person, at least while he was writing this. His middle zone seems the most dominant – as many of these signatures have been – showing his concern with material things, prestige, self-importance and living in the moment.

Hastings sigLooking at the lower zone, he has quite an elaborate curl on the ‘g’, with the curl turning back to the left, in contrast to the ‘y’ which curls to the right. This suggests he might have ‘swung both ways’ when it came to sexual partners, which is possible considering his reputation for debauchery at the time. Note the phallic symbol in the ‘h’, indicating inability to keep within the sexual norms of his society.

In general the signature is legible with a slant to the right, indicating sociability.

His upper zone is pretty small, showing he wasn’t concerned with intellectual matters , nor was he a dreamer.

The end downward stroke, which doesn’t seem to represent any particular letter, suggests a dagger to me, perhaps the cause of his downfall.

  1. Anne Neville

I was quite surprised that Anne’s signature is not particularly legible (although not as illegible as Margaret Beaufort’s for instance), but perhaps it’s not surprising that she might feel the need to hide herself away, after some of the experiences she had (married young, widowed, hidden away by George, etc). She would not have revealed her true feelings easily. It seems to me her first name is easier to read than the surname (which I think is Warwick rather than Neville, though I could be wrong) and I take this to mean that she reveals more to those who know her better and more familiarly, as many people do.

She has a normal lower zone, showing a balanced and healthy sex life.

Anne and Richard sigHowever can you see the similarities between hers and Richard’s signature, that suggest to me they were compatible and on the same wavelength?. They both have balanced zones – pretty equal in size – showing well-balanced personalities.

They also both have upright letters, which show a need for control and particularly self-control. They are of similar size, his slightly larger, which would not be surprising considering that men were dominant in those times. It shows that he considered her to be more or less his equal and reveals his respect for her. Compare the signatures of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York where his dwarfs hers. Who do you think was the dominant personality here?

Henry and Eliz sigs3. Anthony Woodville

Well, this is a mess! As most of it is in upper case letters, it is hard to judge the zones so well, but can you see he has extended the vertical stroke of the ‘l’s so they are higher than the rest. He was meant to be an intellectual and well-read man, but his writing suggests to me that he wanted to be perceived as such more than actually being so, because the ‘l’s should not be taller and are therefore forced. But I could be judging him a bit harshly. His signature is not as clear as Richard’s or Clarence’s or Hastings’, but is decipherable more than Margaret Beaufort’s. There are no lower zone letters, but the upper and middle zones are more or less equal in his signature, so I think he was more intelligent than his sister, Elizabeth.

Rivers sig Rivers sig 2

There are no communication letters here but the ‘v’ and ‘s’ on the end are closed (when they needn’t be) suggesting a secretive nature.

The first example, with motto, looks very controlled to me and as I believe it was written when he was awaiting execution, it is understandable that he would be desperately trying to hold onto his emotions. The upper case letters support this conclusion.

The right hand signature is all over the place as regards slant, showing an unpredictable and mercurial personality.

He underlines the left hand one in a flamboyant way which suggests he wants attention – perhaps he doesn’t like to think of himself being forgotten after his death. The ‘x’s in the underline show his preoccupation with his demise.

  1. Thomas Grey

This is the signature of the son of Elizabeth. The zones are quite well balanced and the letters are upright, showing strong control over his emotions. The communication letter ‘o’ is open at the top, suggesting he was a big talker and couldn’t keep a confidence.

Thoams Grey sig

The letter ‘s’ (or ‘f’ as it appears) spans all three zones, but the upper zone is broken – perhaps he had a headache or an injury, but the signature as a whole is messy, suggesting he was also untidy. The ‘t’s are crossed very firmly and the cross stroke extends far to the right, showing ambition.

5. Edward V

This is the signature of Edward which appears alongside those of Richard and Buckingham. It is spidery and childlike, although legible. There is no curl in his lower zone which is perfectly to be expected as he was only 12 at the time.

The writing looks a bit shaky, suggesting he was nervous (understandable given the circumstances) or possibly unwell. The downward-pointing  cross stroke of the ‘t’ in quintus could show a control freak, but I think it also suggests a depressed or pessimistic nature, but that could be because his father had just died.

Ed V sigIt is interesting that the tops of the letters are more rounded than the lower edges. I don’t know what this means for sure but my intuition suggests he would have appeared softer and more easygoing on the surface than he was underneath – a hidden ruthless side. This is reinforced by the open bottomed ‘a’, which shows he could verbally argue his case – eat you up and spit you out – and wasn’t above using deception to achieve this. And see the dot of the ‘i’ which is more of a dash or a slashing stroke. This shows frustration and irritability.

  1. Henry VI

Henry VI was a weak king, as we know. We can see in his signature that there is a softness to his nature and that the very large upper zone shows he was intelligent but can also mean a dreamer or someone who has his head in the clouds. He had his head in heaven!

Henry VI sigThe upper and lower zones are roughly equal, showing he had a normal attitude to sex, perhaps surprisingly. However, his middle zone is the smallest which indicates he wasn’t concerned with everyday life, material possessions or his appearance.

It is upright, showing that he had strong control over his emotions and he was not at all deceptive.

Unfortunately it is the only sample I could find, and there isn’t really much else to glean from it.

  1. John Howard, Duke of Norfolk

‘Jocky’ of Norfolk, well, it looks first of all as if it is sloping slightly upwards, suggesting optimism and an upbeat nature. The slant varies, showing a changeable character.

The middle zone is most prominent, indicating the need for outward trappings of success, material possessions, as in many of the other hands I have looked at.

Norfolk sigLook at the wide open ‘o’s, especially the first! I wouldn’t trust him with a secret, I would think he could be indiscreet and a big talker.

There are a combination of rounded and sharp strokes showing he could be kind and thoughtful, but also hard and stern when needed.

I wouldn’t think he was particularly intellectual, nor was he very sensual, but that could have been his age – I don’t know how old he was when this was written.

There are a few resentment strokes on the beginning of the ‘n’ and ‘r’, which might refer to his resentment at having to wait for his rightful title of the Dukedom of Norfolk under Edward. Obviously he has it here as that’s the name he signs. His signature is neither very obscure nor very clear, suggesting he could dissemble if required.

I get the impression of a person who was quite modest in himself, shown by the small initial ‘j’ and ‘n’ of Norfolk.

  1. John de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Here is a signature from the Earl of Oxford, the nemesis of the Yorks, out to get revenge for the death of his father.

It is absolutely clear and easy to read, and seems to have been done with control and care. And look at the sweet little flower – but what is that loopy thing below it? Could it be a phallic symbol? This shows the willingness or need to break social taboos. Possibly gay? It would have been a big taboo in those days.

The zones are even, showing a well-balanced personality, which is quite surprising considering his reputation. However it could be seen as too perfect, which can show deception – a person disguising their natural way of writing and wanting to appear perfect.

Oxford sig

It is quite rounded and flowing and quite upright. This means he was sociable and unwarlike for the times – I think he was pushed into the whole war thing and he would have preferred a peaceful life. But the heavy line of the ‘f’ look like a dagger, so he could have been violent when needed. The lines through the ‘O’ , obliterating the clarity of the ‘O’ could show a forked-tongued liar – notice the extra little line in the second ‘o’ too.

9.Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey

Well this is a flamboyant signature! This is Jocky Howard’s son, Surrey.

Surrey sigIt is large and suggests the writer wants to be noticed, likes attention. The middle zone is huge, showing a preoccupation with himself and his immediate needs, outward show and possessions. The signature as a whole is huge, compared to the writing above. In fact when you look at the writing, the upper zone is more emphasised, showing he was quite intelligent, but didn’t show it to everyone, perhaps wanting to fit in with the court life where show and prestige was everything. I think this shows the writer felt inferior and is putting on a show of confidence – the whole thing screams over-compensation.

There are resentment strokes and angularity suggesting frustration and a temper.

Look at the lower zone – either this is another sign that the Earl of Surrey is overcompensating or he is gay – the tail of the ‘y’ goes way over to the left, suggesting the latter, as does the little flower sign.

Not sure what those unnecessary two dots are between the ‘T’ and ‘h’ but it could be another cry for attention.

  1. James Tyrell

I really like this signature. Tyrell was one of Richard’s men who was rewarded by him for unknown services and who was tortured and executed by Henry VII. Here the signature suggests a very optimistic and positive person – very sociable. See how the writing slants to the right and slopes up? Also there is not much space between the two names, suggesting he liked to be in the company of others.

.Tyrell sig

The signature is well balanced and has equal sized zones. It is also fairly clear and easy to read, showing a lack of dissimulation. However, the ‘a’ shows he could keep a secret when needed and the line through the two ‘l’s at the end look like eyes to me. Was he one of Richard’s spies?

Now, I have been thinking about the proliferation of phallic symbols in many of these signatures and the conclusion I have come to is that they were probably not overly perverted or sex mad (with a few notable exceptions!), but that they may have felt guilty about their sexual feelings because of the strict doctrines of the church in regard to these matters. So crossing the boundaries of the sexual norm of the times, might only have been ogling women, visiting prostitutes or an affair or two. I’ll leave that to you to decide.

  1. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

Finally, let us look at Richard Neville’s signature. The first thing I notice is that it is hard to read and slopes uphill more than any of the others. I think he was the eternal optimist and supremely confident in himself that things would work out for him.

Warwick sigIt is a firm and confident signature and this mirrors the man himself. He was certainly capable of deception as he pretended to be supporting Edward and was actually plotting against him – we can tell this because his writing is also deceptive with it being difficult to decipher. And his closed ‘a’ shows he can keep his mouth closed.

The varied slant of the letters shows another volatile, changeable character and the hard down strokes reveal he had a bad temper at times.

See the definite resentment stroke on the ‘R’ – he was certainly experiencing resentment here.

There is the ubiquitous phallic symbol, and we know he did have an illegitimate daughter. However do you see the break in the loop of the ‘y’ and also in the loop in the little logo thingy at the end? This shows there was a trauma of some kind, either physical or emotional regarding his sexual organs, sex life or lower body. We do not know if this was the case, but we do know that Warwick had no sons, so he may have felt subconsciously that he was inadequate in some way because of this. Both sexes can have this – for example a woman can show this sign if she has had a hysterectomy or has lost a lover. (In fact Henry VII has breaks in his lower loops as well).

I think, like Edward, he was also a ‘boob’ man – the rounded part of the underline and the shape of the letters above it suggest that.

What about the little end doodle? Well, it might be a device or coat f arms badge, or perhaps it is the crown that wasn’t his but that he bestowed on two kings, as Kingmaker. 😉

  1. Francis Lovell

Richard’s best friend – I found this after I had posted the draft so I had to include him!

Well, the zones are of equal height, which shows he was a well-balanced guy emotionally. He has a legible, clear signature – no deception there, and his communication letters, ‘a’ and ‘o’ are also clear, well-formed and closed normally, meaning he was a good communicator and could be trusted to keep a confidence.

Lovell sigYou can see there is a mixture of angular letters and rounded ones, showing he could have a tough side as well as a softer one. There are some heavy downward strokes on the first letters ‘ff’ which shows he could have a temper at times.

The slant is just slightly to the right, which indicates he was fairly sociable, and likewise the two names are close together, suggesting he enjoyed the company of others.

I’m not sure what the final letter/squiggle is nor the extra thing in the middle joining the ‘s’. These extra unnecessary bits might mean he was a bit obsessive compulsive. I would think that both he and Richard were tidy and neat, so this might have spilled over into OCD.

These analyses are, as I said before, just for fun and of course I am a little biased, I have to confess. Also, most of my subjects here are confined to just one signature, which is limiting and cannot be relied upon to be as accurate as if there were more samples.

However, on the whole, do you notice how much more well-balanced, rounded and ‘normal’ Richard’s and his friends’ signatures were, in comparison to most of the others?

Edward IV, The Woodvilles, and Lord Hastings

Charles Ross in his invaluable book Edward IV explains the utility of the Woodville family to Edward IV. The fact that they were (relatively) low-born and owned (relatively) little land was actually their selling point. Essentially (unlike for example Warwick, or even the Duke of Gloucester) their power and influence could not be exercised independently of Edward. They needed him rather more than he needed them. It is perhaps not inappropriate to think of them as members of staff in a modern company. They could be given tasks to do, but the Chief Executive (Edward) could determine and limit those tasks as he pleased, and he could also, in effect, dismiss them at will. It was much more difficult to ‘dismiss’ the likes of Warwick, who, to continue the analogy, could set up in business on his own account or become a valuable acquisition to a competitor.

Of late there has been an attempt to whitewash the Woodvilles in some quarters, but Ross (who was no raving Ricardian) has this to say: ‘More important in creating their unsavoury reputation was their own behaviour. As a family, the Woodvilles were not conspicuous for their charm and amiability. Like his daughter, Earl Rivers seems to have been greedy and grasping and the duchess of Bedford was not much better. They could also be vengeful and overbearing.’ (Edward IV, p97.)

In fairness, Ross goes on to say that Anthony was a more attractive figure. But then he says: ‘…the main source of the Woodville unpopularity was the contemporary belief that they exercised an excessive and malign influence upon the king.’ (Edward IV, p99.)

Now, just as it is mistaken to believe that Edward IV was entirely dominated by Richard of Gloucester, I believe it is equally mistaken to believe Edward was ruled entirely by the Woodvilles. Edward IV was his own man, and that is why the – dare I say evils? – of his reign must be blamed squarely on him, and not on either Richard or the Woodvilles. However, at the time, I believe it was easy for critics of Edward’s regime to blame the Woodvilles for the policies they disliked. In Warwick’s case, he was simply following the well-trodden path of blaming ‘the King’s advisers’ for the King’s policies. Rebels almost invariably did this, whether we are talking about the Lords Appellant in 1387 or the Parliament in 1641. It was simply the norm, as it implied that the King personally was not to blame but was the prisoner of a clique.

In Richard of Gloucester’s case, I suspect it was mentally more comfortable for him to blame the Woodvilles than to blame his once-adored elder brother. Though I suspect his adoration of Edward had dimmed a little by 1483, for a number of reasons.

On the other hand, the Woodvilles clearly had some influence. They were not around the court for the benefit of their health. It’s simply that they did not have quite the influence either they or their opponents imagined, and this was cruelly exposed by the death of their patron.

It may be that the Woodvilles simply had a different ‘vision’ of a Protectorate, that they envisaged something like the minority of Henry VI, when Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, although named Protector, had limited powers and functioned more or less as primus inter pares at the head of the Council, with no control of the person of the King. That is the most generous interpretation that can be put on their actions. A less generous interpretation is that they meant to destroy Gloucester (and possibly Buckingham and Hastings too) and rule themselves, perhaps with Rivers, or even Queen Elizabeth, at the head of the table. It’s impossible to be sure.

Richard of Gloucester quite clearly envisaged the role of Protector as akin to the power exercised by his own father during Henry VI’s periods of insanity – that is, that he would rule virtually as a king. If we assume that – and there really is little evidence that he was planning to take the crown himself – his reaction to the Woodvilles’ intrigues is fairly understandable.

As for Hastings, it is quite clear that he too felt threatened by the Woodvilles, and so we can safely say that the issue was not entirely in Richard’s head. His threat to debunk to Calais if Edward V’s escort was not limited to 2,000 says it all. (One wonders why an escort even as large as 2,000 was felt necessary unless the Woodvilles’ envisaged some sort of clash of arms.)

Hastings was (though you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise) as much a ‘new man’ as any of the Woodvilles. His father had been a knight, and the family had been in York family service for several generations. He was vaguely related to the Hastings earls of Pembroke (whose line died out in 1389) but so were lots of other people. Like the Woodvilles he had (relatively) little land. What he did have were remarkable political skills, a great deal of popularity, and the personal friendship with Edward IV. A lot of his power, though, depended on the offices he held. Lord Chamberlain, Lieutenant of Calais and Master of the Mint. (He was also employed as ‘steward’ by various lords and ladies, but only because of his influence, one imagines.)

Hastings was no friend of the Woodvilles, and indeed had apparently had something of a feud with them. He was reportedly delighted by their fall. So what went wrong? In my view, he very quickly realised that he was not going to be Richard’s right hand man. Buckingham, Howard and probably Lovel were in the queue ahead of him. Lacking the political influence he had enjoyed under Edward IV, he would be – well, perhaps not ruined but certainly diminished.

He may also have favoured the 1422 model of a Protectorate. Either he did not want Gloucester to have too much power, or he saw that Richard was planning to make himself King. Neither scenario would give Hastings the power he wanted and needed. He was not, in short, prepared to be relegated to the second violins.

This would explain why he started some plotting of his own, perhaps by making overtures to his Woodville rivals. Again, he may not have intended to do more than limit Richard’s power, put him back in his box, or it may have been something more lethal.

Yet another possibility is that Hastings knew of the Edward IV-Eleanor Talbot marriage, and that when the facts came out his position became untenable. However, given that Edward somehow apparently managed to keep Hastings out of the loop about Elizabeth for some time, this can by no means be certain.

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

Part 5 – …” these dukes showed their intention, not in private but openly…”

 “Catesby hath sounded Hastings in our business

And finds the testy gentleman so hot

That he will lose his head ere give consent

His master’s child, as worshipfully he terms it,              

Shall lose the royalty of England’s throne’

(William Shakespeare)

 

“A black day will it be to somebody”

It is 9 o’clock on Friday the 13th June 1483. William Lord Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain enters the council chamber at the Tower for a meeting with the Lord Protector. Already there and seated are the duke of Buckingham, Lord Stanley, the earl of Derby, Thomas Rotherham the Archbishop of York, John Morton the Bishop of Ely and others. Hastings doesn’t notice three men standing ominously in the shadow: the Rat, the Cat and Lovell the dog. Hastings sits down at the head of the table. Nobody speaks to him.

The clock ticks and still Richard has not arrived, it is now past the time appointed for the meeting. The silence is becoming oppressive and the tension palpable. Hastings plays anxiously with his chain of office. He is right to be nervous; last night he had a visit from Lord Stanley’s man. Stanley had dreamt ‘the boar razed off his helm’. Was it a sign they were discovered? Hastings’ palms are sweating and his mouth is dry. Gloucester’s personality dominates the chamber despite his absence. The silence is now thunderous, the tension physical.

Hastings shuffles nervously in his chair, coughs and speaks hesitantly: “Now noble peers, the cause why we are met is to determine of the coronation. In God’s name speak. When is the royal day?” Buckingham suggests that the Lord Chamberlain probably knows the Lord Protector better than anyone present; what does he think Gloucester would say? Hastings demurs: “…I know he loves me well, but for his purpose in the coronation I have not sounded him, nor he delivered his gracious pleasure in any way therein. But others may name the day and in the Duke’s behalf I’ll give my voice, which I presume he will take in good part”. Suddenly the door flies open. Gloucester, dressed in black, hunched and intimidating stands framed in the doorway. He fixes Lord Hastings with a demonic stare and steps purposefully into the chamber, grinning malevolently. He is dangerously cheerful: “ My noble lords and cousins all, good morrow, I have been long a sleeper…” After asking Morton to fetch some strawberries from his garden, Richard takes Buckingham outside for a private conference. Hastings, Stanley and Rotherham remain seated. They look at each other nervously, their fear unspoken. As Ratcliffe and Lovell step out from the shadows to stand threateningly behind Hastings, Stanley and Rotherham shuffle along to the other end of the table. The returning Morton sits with them. Their faces drawn and pale, they are all dreading what is to come and wishing themselves anywhere but in this chamber at this time.

On his return, Richard’s mood has changed. He asks pointedly “Pray you all tell me, what they deserve that do conspire my death with devilish plots?” Hastings gulps and fidgets in his chair. Richard is looking straight at him. He stammers “The tender love I bear your grace makes me most forward to doom the offenders. I say they have deserved death”. Richard moves forward, his hot breath on Hastings’ face: he roars: “ Then let your eyes be the witness of the evil. See how I am bewitched! Mine arm is like a blasted sapling all withered up…” Hastings can barely control his panic now; he stutters, “If they have done this deed — If! Talks thou to me of ifs! Though art a traitor! Off with his head, now by Saint Paul I will not dine till I see it done.” And that according to William Shakespeare (and Laurence Olivier) was how Lord Hastings met his end.

Thanks to Olivier’s definitive performance as Richard in his 1955 film, the sheer drama of this scene has overshadowed any doubts I may have had as to its accuracy. From the perspective of dramatic art, I doubt if it can easily be bettered. But is it historically correct?   Shakespeare got this version of events from Thomas More, who got it from John Morton, who was an eyewitness[1]. Yet, as we all know, John Morton was Richard duke of Gloucester’s mortal enemy: an inveterate dissembler and traducer of his posthumous reputation. Can we trust his account?   The answer to that question is an unequivocal ‘probably’.   Although there are differences between the various accounts, they generally confirm the gist of the Morton/More/Shakespeare version. That said, More’s history contains obvious falsehoods. For example, we now know from the recent medical opinion of Richard III’s scoliosis that there was no withered arm or claw hand. Also, Mancini is wrong to say that Hastings was killed in the scuffle and there is disagreement about whether Stanley was wounded, and whether Gloucester’s accused the queen of witchcraft. But generally, it seems to have gone pretty much as described in the sources. The Protector revealed his knowledge of the plot, the conspirators’ response was heated, the word treason was used, swords were drawn, the room was flooded with the Protector’s men, there was a scuffle and the plotters were swiftly overwhelmed. It was over in a trice. Stanley et al were taken into custody; Hastings was rushed outside to meet his maker.   The conspiracy was crushed[2].

However, the cries of ‘treason’ roused the city. There was consternation amongst the citizens. The tension was racking-up. Shortly, a herald appeared with a proclamation and the citizens listened in stunned silence to the Protector’s communiqué. It seemed to everybody that the Yorkist regime was imploding. So much for the deed: what about the consequences? To answer that question, we have to go back in the chronology to Wednesday 11 June 1483.

 

“ My friends are in the north…”

It was on the 11 June 1483 that Richard duke of Gloucester wrote to Ralph Neville of Raby. “My Lord Neville, I recommend you to me as heartily as I can; and as you love me and your own weal and security and this realm, that you come to me with that ye may make, defensibly arrayed, in all haste that is possible and that you give credence to Sir Richard Ratcliffe, this bearer that I now send to you, instructed with all my mind and intent”. The tone of this letter is so completely different from the duke’s earlier letter to the citizens of York that it suggests something else has happened since the 10 June to persuade him to move quickly. That and the fact that the letter was sent north immediately, suggests that the ‘something ‘ was of supreme importance and urgency.   In his earlier letter, Gloucester requested the Mayor and citizens of York to send troops with due diligence. Whereas, he asked Neville, to come as soon as possible with whatever troops he can muster. Is he panicking? I think not. Everything we know about Richard duke of Gloucester suggests that he is good at handling this type of situation. We will never know what knowledge of Gloucester’s private ‘mind and intent’ Sir Richard Ratcliffe carried north, but I think he is probably relaying verbal messages to the duke’s northern adherents with the real reason for his urgent request. The duke had just discovered that Hastings was involved with the Woodville’s in the plot to kill him. The revelation of the pre-contract had forced them to bring forward their plan to murder the Lord Protector and the duke of Buckingham, and to crown Edward V[3]. It seems that Hastings had known of the pre-contract for some time but had neglected to tell the Lord Protector. It was the most unforgivable example of a breach of trust that Richard duke of Gloucester could imagine

Whilst the knowledge of Hastings treachery had infuriated Gloucester, it also alarmed him. Hastings was a seasoned soldier. He was Captain of Calais; he had fought in Edward’s battles for the throne. He was a man of power and influence with a posse of armed retainers in London. And he was ferociously loyal to the dead king. Unlike the Woodville dilettantes at Stony Stratford, Hastings posed the most serious threat yet to Gloucester’s life.   He knew he must act quickly and decisively if he was to survive. The arrangement of two meetings fixed for the 13 June suited his purpose precisely. It separated the conspirators from the remainder of the Council. Bishop Russell would chair one meeting at Westminster with the non-aligned council members, who could discuss routine arrangements for the coronation. Richard, Buckingham and the conspirators would attend the other meeting in the Tower; ostensibly, they were going to give the formal go-ahead for the coronation. The reasons for holding this meeting at the Tower are self-evident. The Protector would face the conspirators on ground of his own choosing, in a place where the presence of his armed men would not be taken amiss and where he was secure from interference. He knew who the conspirators were, he knew about the pre-contract and —decisively— he knew what they knew. They were at a disadvantage because they only had part of the story: they had no idea what he knew or what he was planning.

If we look at this from Hastings’ point of view he believed that the conspiracy was going well and that time was still on his side. He knew of  the pre-contract before anybody else and he is anxious to keep that under wraps. Hastings’ interest is in the preservation of the status quo ante, which means ensuring that Edward V is crowned on the 22 June 1483. His alliance with the Woodville’s is one of convenience but he is confident he can thrive once he has disposed of Gloucester and Buckingham. However, Stillington’s revelation of the pre-contract was a setback. Gloucester was always going to be an obstacle to his plans. But now that he knew of the pre-contract, his uncompromising nature meant that he was unlikely to turn a blind eye to Edward IV’s bigamy[4].  It didn’t need a genius to see the threat to Edward V’s coronation. To ensure that the coronation did take place, Hastings was prepared to do anything; even to murder the man he had campaigned with and who shared his devotion to Edward IV.  Neither do I think Hastings motives were entirely driven by loyalty. Like other over-mighty subjects he was acquisitive; a grateful Edward V was his best chance of retaining and even enlarging the gifts, privileges, offices and the influence he had enjoyed during Edward IV’s reign.   It was an outcome not to be sniffed at and one he was unlikely to achieve should the morally conservative and pious duke of Gloucester extend his Protectorship after the coronation[5].

For the duke of Gloucester the execution of Hastings and the arrest of Stanley, Rotherham and Morton was a Rubicon. From his perspective the day was a success. He has crushed a dangerous conspiracy with ease. Of course, he doesn’t have the benefit of knowing what the future holds, as we do, and his mistakes are not yet apparent to him. Furthermore, he still has to grapple with the pre-contract problem and especially it’s bearing on the succession. He has yet to consider whether to depose his nephew, exclude Edward’s children from the succession and take the crown himself. He is not sure what to do. His inclination, as always, is ‘to do the right thing’ but what is the right thing? Is it doing right by Edward’s children, or doing right by the realm?

[1] Richard J Sylvester – The complete Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of King Richard III (Yale 1963) at page Ixvi. Morton was not More’s only source but he was an important one. There is much in the ‘History of King Richard III’ that is not taken from eyewitness testimony and is not from Morton. For instance, he was not present at Stony Stratford or during the disappearance of the Princes. However, More’s version of the events on the 13 June 1483 does have the ingredients of an eyewitness account: its obvious errors and embellishments notwithstanding.

[2] The main primary and Tudor sources support the gist of More’s version despite their differences of detail. See Mancini at pages 89-91 (AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III [Oxford, 1969]). See also the Great Chronicle at page 231 (AH Thomas et al [Eds] – The Great Chronicle of London [London 1938]) and the London Chronicle at page 190 (C L Kingsford – Chronicles of London [Oxford 1905]). The remaining primary sources need not trouble as they add little or nothing to the above. The only other worthwhile source is Vergil at page 180 (Sir Henry Ellis (ed) – Three books of Polydore Vergil’s English History; comprising the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III [The Camden Society 1844]). Vergil is the only source to suggest that Gloucester attributed his ‘blasted sapling’ to the queen’s witchcraft. It is worth pointing out however, that their credibility as accurate recorders of events is challenged by their collective failure to get the chronology right (Thomas More also got it wrong). They all Place the duke of York’s release from sanctuary before the council meeting on the 13 June 1483, whereas it actually happened on the Monday after Hasting’s execution. Thankfully, we have Simon Stallworths letter of the 21 June 1483 (See Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – [The History Press 2011] at Appendix 1, pages 158-59) and an entry in the duke of Norfolk’s household accounts to fix the correct dating sequence.

[3] Two possible reasons have been offered for Hastings’ involvement in this murder: one noble, the other ignoble. The noble reason is that owing to his loyalty to Edward IV, he would not countenance the deposition of Edward V. The ignoble reason was that he saw the coronation of Edward V as his best chance of continuing the licentious lifestyle of Edward IV’s courtiers, and preserve the privileges, grants and power he had enjoyed during the dead king’s reign.   It matters not for my purpose what Hastings reasons were. High treason is an absolute offence: if it is proved, there is only one outcome. For Gloucester’ enemies (then and later) the summary execution of Hastings is definitive proof of his intention to usurp the throne and that would stop at nothing to achieve his aim. The protector’s actions are also problematic for Ricardians. Even the staunch old Ricardian Sir George Buck is unable to exonerate him for that action, though he offers reasons of state (artes imperii) as mitigation.

[4] See Prof Mark Lansdale and Dr Julian Boons psychological profile of Richard III (The Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) at pages 46-56.

[5] Due to the absence of hard evidence, Ricardian history is a fruitful subject for personal speculation. I do not apologize for theorizing. What I offer is an explanation of events on the 13 June 1483 ; though I appreciate it may not be the explanation.

Our Knight’s Oath Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Historical Accuracy

"Do you want royalties with that, Sir Ridley?"

“Do you want royalties with that, Sir Ridley?”

I attended a renaissance faire in the U.S. recently and must relay something that happened.

The faire’s king knighted all ladies and lads (including adults) who wished to be knighted. But first, they had to sit through a vigorous lecture by one of the king’s minions.

First, said minion asked the audience to name some famous knights. Joan of Arc came first, and William Marshal was mentioned. Alas, Lancelot came in last, but that’s as it should be, considering he betrayed a king, seduced a queen, and helped destroy Camelot. We gave a shout out for Richard III and Francis Lovell. Strangely enough, there was no mention of any Tydder, regardless this faire was set in the English renaissance.

Next, the minion asked to be told what knights did. The kiddies all knew their knight-stuff: fighting came after rescuing damsels, serving God, and serving the king.

The minion then explained what the wannabe-knights were to do when the king told them to “Take a knee” during the coming ritual. Sir Minion then shared the actual words the king would use to knight the lads and lasses:

“Be without fear in the face of your enemies.
Be brave and upright that God may love thee.
Speak the truth even if it leads to your death.
Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong.
That is your oath.”

There it is, gentle lords and ladies: the definitive renaissance knight’s oath. It can now be stated with confidence that 16th-century English knights took the same oath as the one administered by Ballymena-born Liam Neeson, and again by Canterbury-born Orlando Bloom, in the Ridley Scott film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” which depicted the 12th-century siege of Jerusalem.

Then again, maybe not.

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