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It is well documented how, through the treasonable and treacherous actions of Sir William Stanley at Bosworth, Richard lost his crown and his life. He was hacked to death after Stanley, who brought 3000 men with him, intervened at the crucial point when Richard, with his household cavalry in a heroic charge, came within a hair’s breadth of reaching Tudor and despatching him.  There is a story that after Richard’s crown was found under a hawthorn bush, it was Stanley who crowned him.

Sir William seems to have been one of those people who can run with the hounds and play with the foxes, doing well under Edward IV, who made him Chamberlain of Chester and, interestingly, Steward of the Prince of Wales’ Household(1).  Later Richard made Stanley Chief Justice of North Wales and finally Tudor made him Lord Chamberlain and Knight of the Garter.  It is said that Stanley – step-uncle to Tudor and brother-in-law to Margaret Beaufort – was one of the richest men in England.  Bacon estimated his income at 3000 pounds a year.  Stanley was also step-father to Francis Lovell, having married Lovell’s mother, Joan Beaufort, widow of John Lovell, 8th Baron Lovell, but I digress!

Fast forward 10 years and it all ended ignominiously at Tower Hill, where Stanley was beheaded on 16 February 1495 for the treasonable act of communicating with Perkin Warbeck.  Stanley was accused of telling Robert Clifford, who informed on him, that if he was sure Perkin was indeed Edward’s son ‘he would never take up arms against him’.

The question I am raising here is not so much about Stanley’s interminable fence-sitting, which is common knowledge  – and a penchant he shared with his brother Thomas – but rather, did Sir William, an apparent dyed-in-the-wool turncoat, capable of the greatest untrustworthiness, actually possess a latent streak of honour, perhaps dating from the time when he was Steward to the Princes of Wales’ Household?  Did his time there give birth to a fierce loyalty to Edward’s sons, that later emerged with such a passion that he risked all, absolutely all,  when he joined the Perkin Warbeck plot?  Did he grow fond of young Edward, later focusing this affection on Edward’s brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, whom Warbeck purported to be?  OR, was he, as the historian Gairdner (2) suggested, merely attempting to secure his position in the event of an invasion?

(1)  Ramsay, Lancaster and York, ii 482

(2) W A J Archbold ‘Sir William Stanley and Perkin Warbeck’ English Historical Review 14( 1899) pp 529-534. ‘On 14 March (year unknown) Gairdner suggested in a note to Archbold that Stanley may ‘simply have wanted to secure his position with both sides in case of an invasion’.  I am grateful for this information which I have gleaned from Helen Maurer’s ‘Whodunit – The Suspects in the Case’.































Richard duke of Gloucester: courage, loyalty, lordship and law[1]


“ Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality that guarantees all others.”

(Winston Churchill 1931)



I do not suppose there are many men who in their heart-of-hearts would not rather be thought of as brave than by any other virtue ascribed to them. For medieval kings courage was not simply a virtue, it was the virtue: the physical courage to defend their throne was a prerequisite for a successful king, though not necessarily for a good one. As Field Marshall Lord Slim was apt to point out to young officer cadets at RMA Sandhurst, “It is possible to be both brave and bad, however, you can’t be good without being brave”. Slim was making the point that it needed more than battlefield courage to be a good man. Physical courage is important, especially to kings and soldiers, but it doesn’t guarantee a ‘good man’; to be a good man, one also needs moral courage. It was the possession of physical and moral courage, which Churchill believed guaranteed all the other human virtues.


King Richard III was a courageous soldier; even his enemies acknowledge that. However, the question is: was he also good man? Broadly speaking, the judgement of history is that he was at best deeply disturbed and at worst malevolent. It is a judgement based largely on the heinous crimes he is supposed to have committed during a six months period in 1483: the usurpation of the throne and the murders of king Edward’s male heirs. Although Richard is said to have committed or been complicit in many other serious crimes, I think it is fair to say that most historians accept that those allegations are not proven, and in one particular case (the death of Henry VI) it may have been more a question of raison d’état.


The trouble with this historical judgement is that it contradicts what Richard’s contemporaries said about him in 1483. Dominic Mancini an Italian priest visiting London during 1482/83 recorded what he was told about Richard duke of Gloucester. He is referring to the period after the duke of Clarence’s execution: “…he (Richard) came very rarely to court. He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people and avoided the jealousy of the queen from whom he lived far apart.[2]


Mancini’s testimonial also highlights the incongruity of Richard’s supposed crimes. The contrast between his blameless contemporary reputation and his purported crimes (particularly those after April 1483) perplexes historians; it is a dichotomy they struggle to explain.[3] Most of his critics rationalize it with a good dose of twentieth century cynicism: his good works are disingenuous and his mistakes are evidence of bad character. It is a constant theme of his harshest biographers that his ‘loyalty’ to Edward was feigned; that he was in reality a wicked and ruthless opportunist who was motivated by avarice and ambition. When the chance came, he used his great power — which he had either tricked or bullied from Edward — to usurp the throne and destroy the Yorkist line. It was the Yorkist doom that Edward whether purposely or inadvertently made his brother the most dangerous and the ‘mightiest of over-mighty subjects’.[4] This is, I believe a false and misleading argument, since it rests entirely on their interpretation of chronicles and later Tudor histories that are themselves controversial and of little probative value, being neither contemporary nor impartial. Furthermore, Anne Sutton makes a compelling case for the morality, if not the purity, of Gloucester’s motives, which stands against this modern cynicism.[5] Richard was an extra ordinarily complex human being. We know now that he faced some challenging physical problems and possibly some equally challenging psychological issues.[6] Furthermore, he lived in uncertain times. The circumstances under which he served the king were complex as were the difficulties he had to overcome. Problems of historical interpretation most frequently arise from misguided attempts to simplify his story by overemphasising some facets at the expense of others.[7] It is a defect in Ricardian historiography that cannot be corrected in this article; however, I hope to at least draw attention to the problem as I see it.


Inevitably, Richard duke of Gloucester’ was not universally popular: how could he be? His ‘dramatic intrusion into northern society’,[8] coupled with a monopoly of the public offices and the lion’s share of the Neville estates, was bound to ruffle the feathers of those northern magnates and prelates who resented the fact that the king’s largess had not fallen to them, and whose authority and independence were undermined by the presence of an assertive royal duke in northern society. Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, Thomas Lord Stanley and Laurence Booth bishop of Durham disliked him, to name but three: doubtless there were others. Neither do I ignore the possibility that Gloucester possessed human failings typical of active young men throughout the ages; he might have been a little headstrong and impetuous; he was probably also ambitious and possibly even acquisitive. However, these characteristics were no more nor less present in the duke than in any other fifteenth century magnate: certainly not any more than in Henry Percy or the Stanley brothers or any of the Woodvilles, or Margaret Beaufort, John Morton and Henry Tudor; nor indeed was he any more ambitious than any professional historian who aims to do well in his or her chosen discipline. Impetuosity and ambition are not crimes, nor is acquisitiveness. But if he was truly wicked and ruthless and cruel, then nobody who knew him said so at the time. There is a clear distinction to be made between the provenances and the probity of these opposite views of Richard’s character, which affect the weight we should give to each when making a judgement. The favourable opinions were almost all written during his lifetime by northerners who knew him. The unfavourable ones were almost all written after his death by southerners who did not know him personally. Horace Walpole identified the basic problem nearly three hundred years after Richard’s death: “Though he may well have been execrable, as we are told he was, we have little or no reason to suppose he was.[9]


It is a matter of historical record that, apart from the last two years, when he was king, Richard duke of Gloucester spent his entire adult life in the king’s service as ‘Lord of the North’. Quite what this meant for him and why it happened are less well appreciated. The term ‘Lord of the North’ embraced not only the duke’s inherited lands in the north and his associated responsibilities as a royal duke and a great magnate, but also a number of official offices held by him concurrently from 1469 until his own coronation in 1483. He was the Lord High Constable of England (1469), Warden of the West March ‘towards Scotland’ (1470), Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster (1471) Keeper of the Forests Beyond Trent and Steward of Ripon (1472) Sheriff of Cumberland (1475) and finally the King’s Lieutenant General of the North (1480 and 1482).[10] The consolidation of Gloucester’s inherited and appointed power was not gratuitous royal patronage. His promotions were acts of calculated policy by Edward. Having twice experienced the threat posed to the crown by the Scots and by his own ‘over mighty subjects’ in the north, Edward determined neutralize those threats by maintaining a truce with James III, and by securing the loyalty of his northern subjects. He wanted Gloucester to lead that vital task for the crown. It was no sinecure but a dirty, difficult and dangerous job, and his responsibility was great, since he was to be Edward’s mainstay in northern England.[11] Gloucester was the ideal man to implement that policy: he was brave, able and devotedly loyalty to Edward. Neither should it be forgotten that if Gloucester succeeded in stabilising the north, it would enable Edward to pursue his regal ambition in France. It is also worth noting, even at this stage, that Gloucester performed his duties so well that he set the standard of excellence for the governance of the north well into the sixteenth century.[12]


For all that, we should not exaggerate the scope of his powers or the impact of his achievements. First and foremost, he was only the instrument of his brother’s will. He could not make policy: Edward did that. Furthermore, his powers were constrained by feudal laws, liberties and customs. As a March Warden his military authority was limited to the West March. He did, however, have judicial powers in the West March and in his lands elsewhere by virtue of the king’s special commission as Justice of the Peace ‘es parties des north’. As Dr Rachel Reid points out, although the wardship of the West March was a necessary adjunct to the government of the north, ‘the sign and seal’ of Gloucester’s authority so to speak, and although his commission as a JP empowered him to act in civil and criminal matters, his greatest strength was the authority, power and influence he derived from being the greatest magnate in the region.[13] Gloucester’s estates and official offices gave him unparalleled influence and authority in the north, with the exception of those feudalities wherein the earl of Northumberland was lord; that is to say, in Northumberland and the East Riding of Yorkshire[14]


The northern ‘problem’ in retrospect

In the fifteenth century, the northern most counties of Westmorland, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire were important because of their proximity to the Scottish frontier. Anglo-Scottish relations were characterised by invasions and raiding, which had affected both populations for centuries. Cross border reiving and lawlessness was deeply ingrained into the English and Scottish border culture. The society was insular and feudalistic in nature and the hatred between English and Scot was mutual. Important though the Scottish problem was, the troubles in the north went deeper. Fifty-one years after Richard III’s death, Robert Aske summed them up to leading Yorkshire denizens at Pontefract “ The profits of the abbeys suppressed, tenths and first fruits, went out of those (northern) parts. By occasion whereof, within short space of years, there should be no money or treasure in those parts, neither the tenant to have pay his rent to the lord, nor the lord to have money to do the king service withal, for so much of those parts was neither the presence of his grace, execution of his laws, not yet but little recourse of merchandise, so that of necessity the said county should either make terms with the Scots, or of very poverty make commotions or rebellions.”


The chief problems identified by Aske of remoteness, poverty and lawlessness were present in the fifteenth century and not just in the North. Wales, the West Country and East Anglia were also remote and lawless, and possibly some were poor. However, none of them formed the frontier to a hostile and aggressive foreign kingdom. It was this that made the northernmost counties uniquely important to the security of the realm. That said, not everybody had to sleep with their weapon to hand for fear of Scottish reiving. For instance, Yorkshire was set back from the border counties, ‘If the Scots crossed the Tees it was not a raid but an invasion’ wrote FW Brooks more than half a century ago. [15] Yorkshire’s importance was that it was the largest and most populace county north of the Trent and it was a base for operations against marauding Scots. This was especially true of York, which during the reigns of the first three Edwards served as the royal capital for a time. The fourteenth century division of the border region into West, Middle and Eastern Marches under the control of the two most powerful Northern families (the Nevilles and the Percies) was seen as the solution to the governance problem. The alternative was for the king to keep a standing army on the border, which for financial and military reasons was impracticable.


The joint powers given to the Neville and Percy families proved ultimately not to be the complete solution. By the fifteenth century the north was practically ungovernable from London. This was due in part to the deficiencies highlighted by Aske and especially to the ‘absence of the king’s presence (he means royal authority) and his justice in the north’. But that was not the only problem; the feudal nature of border society contributed to the  troubles of  a region that was sparsely populated and economically poor.[16] The trouble with the fourteenth century solution was not so much in the idea as in its execution. The belief that the two most powerful northern magnates could cooperate to ensure the peace and security of the north was naïve to say the least. Good governance foundered on their feuding during peace and their fighting during the Wars of the Roses. Northern gentry of the second and third rank regarded the wars between York and Lancaster as an extension of the Neville-Percy feud. They supported one side or the other based on ancient feudal loyalties, or an assessment of their own self-interest. Their prime loyalty was not to a distant king but to their feudal overlord, or to some other overlord, who best served their interest.[17]


Percy power was destroyed at Towton on Palm Sunday 1461. Despite the heavy losses inflicted on the Lancastrians it was not a complete Yorkist victory. The former king, Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward and a few of their adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge and from whence they continued to oppose Edward IV[18]. Meanwhile, Richard Neville earl of Warwick and his brother John Lord Montagu continued to campaign against Lancastrian dissidents so as to secure Edward’s grip on the throne but mostly to cement their own grip on the north. In 1464, a force of ‘loyal northerners’ led by Montagu destroyed the Lancastrian cause at the battles Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. However, as Keith Dockray astutely points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not necessarily to the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick en block to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north.


‘He set out to acquire the loyalty of his people by favours and justice’

It is against that background that I now turn to consider Gloucester performance in the north in the context of the three virtues touched on by Mancini: loyalty, good lordship and justice.  I have added courage to these virtues on the basis that without courage, Gloucester was unlikely to have shown those other virtues .


Loyaulté me lie

Mancini’s reference to loyalty is interesting since it is a quality of particular importance to Gloucester. His personal motto was ‘loyaulté me lie’ (loyalty binds me) and it was the creed by which he lived. Mancini is, of course, referring to loyalty in its normal sense of ‘keeping faith’; however, Anne Sutton speculates that it was a word that might possibly have had other, additional, shades of meaning for Gloucester: legality, uprightness, obedience to the law and, maybe, justice. Dr Sutton’s speculation is based on the premise that Gloucester might have been familiar with ‘Piers Ploughman’, a work by William Langland in which loyalty carries those several meanings.[20] It is possible that Gloucester’s motto was subtler than we think, since the nuances of meaning found in ‘Piers Ploughman’ are all consistent with what we know of his character.


Whatever Gloucester may have meant by his mottos, it is clear from the contemporaneous records that he laboured hard to safeguard the interests and liberties of ‘his people’. [21] One historian writing in the twentieth century summarised his accomplishments as follows: “ Richard of Gloucester not only restored peace and stability to the north after the upheavals of the 1450s and 1460s but also provided sound government and administration. Frequently working in tandem with Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, he vigorously promoted the cause of impartial justice, whether by enforcing legislation more effectively than hitherto or arbitrating in private disputes[22]; his household council can evidently be regarded as a precursor of the Council of the North; the city of York certainly recognized the value of the duke’s good lordship and support;[23] and Dominic Mancini’s informants clearly left him to believe that Richard had deliberately ’set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice.” [24]


‘A right high and mighty prince and full tender and special good lord’[25]

The York Municipal and City Records add substance to the view that the duke of Gloucester was a good friend to York and to other towns in the north. There are many examples of his integrity on the record. They demonstrate his personal interest in local affairs and his integrity in using his influence in a private capacity for the common weal. He settled many disputes between the city council and their fellow citizens, between the city council and neighbouring landowners, between citizens, and between towns, all of which were referred to him for advice, assistance or resolution.[26] I have chosen three representative examples:

  • In 1478 he arbitrated a dispute between Roland Place and Richard Clervaux over hunting rights. Neither Place nor Clervaux was a retainer of the duke, but they lived on his estates in the North Riding. Professor Pollard has helpfully reproduced the arbitration agreement written in English under Gloucester’s name and titles. Pollard notes as an afterthought that the ancestors of Place and Clervaux continued to observe a clause concerning the seating arrangements in the parish church, well into the twentieth century.[27] Gloucester obviously took great care over a dispute that some  might  consider trivial. The rights and privileges of each party are defined in minute detail in the agreement, which was probably drafted by  one of Gloucester’s lawyers, since the language is repetitious and typical of legal documents.
  • At the request of the York City Council, Gloucester took steps to have fishgarths throughout Yorkshire inspected to guard against poaching and to protect the regional economy. It was not a petty matter, since the high prices paid for Pike and other fresh water fish provided a significant income for the fishermen and the city.[28] The erection of fishgarths in Yorkshire was regulated by legislation intended to prevent illegal fishing. The City Council spent much time and money trying to eradicate the problem and they were very grateful to their ‘good lord’, the duke of Gloucester for his interest and efforts to stop the criminality. Nonetheless, it was a perennial problem, which was still being recorded in the council minutes in 1484.
  • He mediated in ‘a serious dispute over the result of the York mayoral election of 1482’.[29] There were two candidates for election: Richard Yorke and Thomas Wrangwyshe. York was elected but Wrangwyshe’s supporters would not accept the vote. The argument assumed ‘alarming proportions’ when the city magistrates sent the certification of Yorke’s election to the king.  When  the king heard of the dispute, he stopped the certification process and ordered the pervious  mayor to continue in office pro tem, whilst the election was investigated. The city magistrates turned to the duke of Gloucester for help; he acted so swiftly that within two weeks he had secured the kings approval to confirm York as the mayor. The interesting point is that Wrangwyshe was considered to be the best soldier in York and stood high in the duke’s estimation, being one of his comrades in arms. Nonetheless, Gloucester upheld the honour and dignity of the city magistrates by supporting what he considered to be their just case against his friend[30].



‘Good and indifferent justice for all’

For all his good works at a local level, it was in his capacity as the leading magnate in the north that he did his greatest and most enduring service for the north. Although the King’s Council in the North was not officially born until late July 1484, it was conceived from Gloucester personal household council during his tenure as Lord of the North. To understand how and why this came about it is necessary to explain, as briefly as possible, the dysfunctional nature of English justice at the time.


The problems for those living north of the Trent were as stated by Aske: ‘the absence of royal authority and of royal justice’. The Assize Judges sat not more than once a year; and anyhow, could only act on a formal indictment, which juries habitually refused to present. The breakdown of the judicial system made enforcement difficult and the work of the sheriff and bailiffs became very hard. Although there were some good judges, many were corrupt and in the pay of great lords. These judges gave judgement as directed by their patrons.  Also, juries were  easily corrupted by fear and favour. “ It was…” writes Dr Reid “…the hardest thing in the world to get a judgement against a great lord or any man well kinned (sic) and allied.[31] JP’s could try cases and punish crime at the Quarter Sessions without the need for an indictment, but the reality was that no ordinary court could cure this widespread and systemic breakdown  of  royal  justice.  Previously, the King’s Council had filled gaps by exercising  its  extraordinary civil and criminal jurisdictions through writs of oyer and terminer, to ‘hear and determine’ all trespasses and breaches of the peace, and all causes between party and party’. However, this usually meant the parties going to London, which was expensive and time-consuming. This defect could easily have been remedied by establishing district courts with the same jurisdiction as the King’s Council. However, for some reason, it was a reform that three Lancastrian kings never even considered.


But it was in the realm of civil party and party litigation that the want of justice was felt most acutely. Dr Reid argues that the common law “…had hardened in the hands of professional lawyers into a premature fixity and precision and had become incapable of devising rules to govern the transactions of a changing society”; whereby, ‘the poor were placed at the mercy of the rich’. [32] Furthermore, the common law courts were neither sufficient nor competent to protect peoples’ civil rights, which were recognised by law even in the fifteenth century. The development of the Chancery Court and the courts of equity eased the situation for those who could afford to litigate but did not help the bulk of the population and certainly not those residing north of the Trent. The common law lent itself to abuse by the litigious and the malicious. Consequently, there was hardly a transaction of life that could not be litigated. The delays, the cost and the insularism of the courts denied justice to many people. In the absence of the king’s justice, therefore, the household councils of the great lords became progressively the de facto courts for resolving local disputes.


These feudal courts had survived longer in the north due partly to its remoteness but also because they filled the vacuum left by the absence of royal justice. They were able to try a range of cases covering personal actions, contractual disputes, trespass, libel, slander, assault, breach of warranty of title and some defamation cases. Moreover, there was no restriction on them determining cases for which the king’s law had no remedy and even if there was a remedy, these seigneurial court could do justice between the parties by consent. For example, by ordering the specific performance of a contract entered into or by protecting a tenant from unlawful eviction. By the fifteenth century, seigneurial courts were, as a matter of course, also hearing complaints against court officials, appeals against judgement, applications for pardon or respite, bills against fellow tenants, and quarrels between tenants and retainers. Useful though they were in providing rough and ready justice, feudal courts had their drawbacks. First, their jurisdiction was limited to the lord’s domain. A lord might arbitrate between his tenants and retainers but it was quite impossible to interfere between a landlord and his tenant no matter how tyrannical the landlord was, unless he was in some way ‘tied’ to the lord. Second, they could not escape the censure  of the king’s  justices, who said that they ‘sacrificed law and justice for interest and favour.’[33] There is probably some truth in this accusation since the importance of patronage in local society was such that it encouraged the preference of personal interest over the law. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that an appeal to the king’s courts was usually beyond the means of most litigants.


Of all the baronial councils offering seigneurial justice, Gloucester’s was the most important.  The records show that the governors of York and Beverley and other towns in Yorkshire were encouraged to turn to it whenever they were in difficulty. This was not simply because he was the greatest magnate but also because his council was the most efficient and impartial. It was constituted from the men of his household council who usually met at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale (which, by the way, he insisted on calling his ‘home’). Their primary function was to help the duke administer his vast estates. However, as we have seen the council quickly assumed a very important judicial role as a seigneurial court of requests. Among Gloucester’s permanent councillors were Lord Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke (Scrope and Greystoke were related to the duke by marriage), Sir Francis Lovell his closest friend and comrade in arms, Sir James Harrington, Sir William Parre, Sir Richard Nele, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalfe. Nele was a King’s Justice of Assize and Metcalfe was the Recorder of York; Parre and Pygott were both practising lawyers ‘learned in the law’. Ad hoc Councillors called occasionally by Gloucester  included Sir James Tyrell (a man of action, used for ‘bold affairs’), Sir Ralph Assheton and (probably) Richard Ratcliffe. The secretary to the Council was John Kendall, son of a loyal servant to the house of York. It was on any view a powerful bench of judges and ‘shrewd men of affairs’. Having said all of that, we must be careful not to overestimate the extent of Gloucester’s achievements. He could neither reform the law to make it more just, nor improve its administration to make justice more accessible. He was unable to alleviate poverty. He was not a liberal reformer and he lived a privileged life that few northerners could even imagine, much less share. And yet he did a wonderful thing; without the need for bloody revolution he made justice more accessible by offering, on a case-by-case basis, “…good and indifferent (that is impartial) justice to all who sought it.“[34]


Gloucester demonstrated through his council that he was prepared to remedy an injustice even if he did not have the authority accorded by a strict interpretation of the law; moreover, he was prepared to use his power to enforce a just settlement. The best example of this is his council’s support for custom tenants against bad landlords. In the time of the Lancastrian kings, the judges held that tenants faced with extortionate fines and illegal eviction had no other remedy but to sue the landlord by petition. [35] The common law courts were too rigid and their officials too easily intimidated to be of help. Nevertheless, in 1482, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian declared “that his opinion hath always been and shall ever be, that if such a tenant by custom paying his services be ejected by the lord he shall have action of trespass against him’. Brian CJ may, of course, have been expressing his personal view of the correct law as he saw it, which was in contrast to the accepted legal doctrine and practice of the courts. However, there are grounds for thinking that he might equally have been articulating the practice of Gloucester’s household council, which was to treat an illegal eviction by a landlord as a simple trespass. Although we don’t have a written record of such cases, Littleton in his treatise ‘Tenures’ assures us that they did try them.[36] Frankly, it is inconceivable that the council did not hear many petitions and requests from destitute tenants for relief against tyrannical landlords. If they dealt with them in the same way as the ‘King’s Council in the North’ was subsequently to deal with them after 1484, they must have generally upheld the rights of the tenant who had paid his services against the unjust landlord. If so, “ It is easy to understand how Gloucester won the love of the common people beyond the Trent, which was to stand him in such good stead’[37]


Lord High Commissioner

In 1482, on the verge of the invasion of Scotland, Edward made a significant change to the governance of the North. He issued a commission of oyer and terminer to Gloucester and Northumberland as ‘Lord High Commissioners’, which effectively combined their household councils. The composition of the Commission is interesting since it included not only Gloucester and Northumberland but also some significant members of their respective councils augmented by two important judicial appointments. However, there is no gainsaying that the bulk of its membership came from men associated with Gloucester’s council. Sir John Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke, Sir Francis Lovell, Sir Richard Nele, Sir William Parre, Sir James Harrington, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalf were all either legal or lay members of Gloucester’s council; of the remainder, Sir Guy Fairfax (an Assize Judge on the Northern Circuit) and (possibly) John Catesby were associated with Northumberland. The relationship of Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian and Sir Richard Clarke to either of the Lord High Commissioners is unclear. The significance of this change is that it turned the essentially private function of seigneurial courts into the king’s justice  in criminal and party and party litigation.


Officially, the commissioners were the king’s servants and in the absence of the duke and the earl who were off fighting the Scots, the remaining members  took steps to enforce  the kings justice.   Their success in repressing rioting that might otherwise lead to insurrection was such that it served to highlight the continuing and endemic lawlessness, which was partly due to a lack of royal authority and partly to the deficiencies in the law to which I have already referred. They also examined and arbitrated effectively in party and party disputes. This commission was valuable experience for the duke of Gloucester since it served as a model for his futuristic ‘King’s Council of the North’ and the basis upon which he reorganised the governance of the north once he became king. It is a fact that no permanent commission designed to keep the peace and provide party and party justice for northern England was set up during the reign of Edward IV and that “the credit for this most necessary reform belongs wholly to Richard III ”[38]


The King’s Council in the North

When Gloucester came to the throne in 1483 he had considerable practical experience of governing in the north and the provision of  justice for all; however, he did not begin immediately to formalise the work of his council. The reasons for this may seem obvious; he was busy dealing with the aftermath of Buckingham’s rebellion and ratifying his title in parliament. It is also possible that he intended to follow the precedent set by Edward IV in 1472 and set up his young son Edward Prince of Wales as the King’s Lieutenant in the North with a council to govern in his name.[39] If that was Richard’s hope, it was to be dashed. Edward Prince of Wales died in April 1484 “not far off Edward’s anniversary.” [40] It was a loss that shook king Richard as nothing else could and for a time he and Anne were almost out of their minds with grief.[41] However, Richard was king and duty-bound to turn his mind to affairs of state.


He decided to make some fundamental change to governance in the north. First, he separated Yorkshire administratively from the border Marches.  The earl of Northumberland was appointed as Warden in Chief of the Marches and granted several estates in Cumberland, which made him the  dominant border lord.  It was his reward for acquiescence in Richard’s accession. Next, Richard appointed John De La Pole, earl of Lincoln as the King’s Lieutenant (he had already been nominated as heir to the throne). [42]The king createdThe King’s  Council of the North from his former ducal  council and Lincoln was its first President.  Northumberland was appointed a member of the Council but was clearly subordinate to Lincoln (It was a downgrading that the proud Northumberland took hard, which may explain his treachery at Bosworth a year later.). To make these changes lawful, king Richard issued two permanent commissions: one authorising the Council to sit as Justices of the Peace, the other of oyer and terminer. With these in place, the council had full civil and criminal jurisdictions and was fit to dispense the king’s justice. Richard allocated an annual budget of 2000 marks for the maintenance of the Council, which was to be paid from the income of his northern estates.[43] The council chamber was moved from Middleham to Sandal and regulations drawn up for the council’s conduct, especially, its judicial function. In particular the regulations directed that the Council must sit at least four times a year. The preamble to these regulations captures Richard’s attitude to justice perfectly “…the Regulations as they are here called, proceed to give general directions that no member of the council, for favour, affection, hate, malice or meed (a bribe) do ne speak (sic) in the Council, otherwise than the King’s laws and good conscience shall require but shall be impartial in all things, and that if any matter comes before the Council in which one of its members is interested, that member shall retire.” [44] There is no need to discuss the detailed regulations since Richard’s respect for the law of the land is clear from the above quote.


It is helpful, however, to briefly mention one important case that came before the Council, which illustrates how Richard thought the legal process should work. In 1484 there was a riot in York that arose from the enclosure of some common land. Roger Layton and two other men ‘riotously destroyed the enclosure’. After some careful thought the Mayor and Council arrested and imprisoned the ringleaders, and sent their man to learn the king’s pleasure. The matter came before the king’s Secretary and Comptroller, Sir Robert Percy[45]; at the same time Lincoln, then at Sandal was informed. A week later Sir Robert arrived at York with a message from the king. The king was willing that the citizens should enjoy their common pasture; however, he reprimanded them for seeking to recover their rights by a riotous assembly, instead of putting their case to the Mayor and Council. If they failed to get justice there, they should have referred the matter to the King’s Council of the North. And if they failed to get lawful redress there they could lay the case before the king. This message was  a clear indication that the King’s Council in the North was to be a court of first instance. Matters were only laid before the King’s Council of State if the King’s Council of the North failed to do justice.  The Council remained throughout its existence, pretty much as it was in 1484 “ Neither its jurisdiction nor its procedures underwent any serious modification. Such changes as came, were just the changes of time.” [46]  In 1640, the Long Parliament abolished the King’s Council in the North.



This article is not really about Gloucester’s governance of the north, or the state of English justice in the second half of the fifteenth century; it is about moral courage. The type of courage described by General Sir Peter de la Billiére in his introduction to ‘The Anatomy of Courage’ by Charles Moran: “Moral courage is higher and rarer in quality than physical courage. It embraces all courage and physical courage flows from it…it is applicable to business, in law, within institutions such as schools and hospitals. It takes moral courage to stand up against a crowd, to assist a victim of bullying, or to reveal negligence where others would prefer it to remain hidden. Moral courage implies the belief that what you are doing or saying is right, and are willing to follow through your conviction regardless of personal popularity or favour: so easy to expound, so demanding to achieve. In my experience a person of high moral courage will seldom fail to demonstrate an equally distinguished level of physical courage”.


The reality is that Richard’s valour in battle, whilst admirable, is not enough to save him from the accusation that he was a bad man. To be given the benefit of the doubt, it is necessary to demonstrate his goodness, with examples of his moral courage and acts of kindness, justice and mercy. That is what I have tried to do in this essay. The examples of Richard’s governance to which I have referred, are merely illustrations of what I regard as his high moral courage. They demonstrate not merely his potential for goodness, but that those who lived under his governance for more than a decade thought he was a good lord.  It is not, of course, a defence against the accusations of, regicide, infanticide, incest and usurpation levelled against him; but then, it can be argued that  an active defence is hardly necessary anyway, since those accusations are only the result of  gossip, rumour and hearsay.


[1] I have taken the liberty of borrowing the idea for this title from the book ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ (PW Hammond (Ed) (R3 and Yorkist History Trust i 1986). It is an excellent volume containing a number of erudite papers presented at a symposium to mark the quincentenary of king Richard III’s reign.

[2] CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard the Third by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) p.65. There is a risk in inferring too much from a single source, especially as Mancini’s narrative is hearsay. Nevertheless, I am using it here for good reasons. First, Mancini provides a truly  contemporary assessment of Richard’s character (See Charles Ross–Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p. Lvii, for an opinion on the importance of Mancini’s narrative.). Second, Mancini was no friend of Richard’s; he never met or even saw him. What he knew of Richard’s character he heard from others. Third, given Mancini’s animus towards Richard (He assumed that Richard aimed to seize the throne all along.), this unsolicited testimonial suggests there was truth in his good reputation. Finally, there is contemporary, and independent evidence that corroborates this passage.

[3] Ross (R3) pp. Lxvi and 64: professor Ross acknowledges the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ (in deciding when and why Richard decided to assume the crown) and assures us that modern (20th century) historians ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s character and motives “ …from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” He further argues that they have a more critical appreciation of the worth of the Tudor tradition, ” …and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.” It is not clear quite how closely the events are scrutinised by modern historians given the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ already alluded to. Furthermore, the near contemporary material cannot corroborate the Tudor tradition since they are one and the same thing. Corroboration means evidence independently confirmed by other witnesses. The so-called ‘Tudor tradition’ is no more that an uncritical résumé of the earlier post Richard material and repeats their mistakes.

[4] Ross (E4) pp.199-203; Ross (R3) p.26; Hicks pp.83-86; Anthony Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books 1997 edition) pp.83-85; professor Hicks’ angst about Gloucester’s wickedness is so great that he couldn’t resist the following comment: “He was not a great soldier, general or chivalric hero, not a peacemaker, not even a northerner. The great estates he assembled, the north he united and the local tradition he fostered all resulted from a judicious mixture of violence, chicanery and self publicity” (p.85). Gloucester’s ‘dispute’ with Clarence over the Neville inheritance; his behaviour towards the dowager countess of Oxford whilst she was committed to his ‘keeping and rule’, his part in the trial and attainder  of Clarence and his preference for war against France are all cited as examples of his grasping, malicious  and violent  character. The trouble with this opinion is that its validity depends on accusations made after Bosworth by people with an axe to grind and at a time when it suited the Tudors to embroider his shortcomings for their own advantage. For a different opinion see Kendall pp.127-150. It is noteworthy that professor Kendall disregarded the Tudor myth, relying instead on contemporary source material to support his generally favourable interpretation of Gloucester’s behaviour as a duke.

[5] Anne F Sutton – A curious Searcher for our Weal Public: Richard III, piety, chivalry and the concept of the good prince’, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ pp.58-90. Ms Sutton’s essay provides an evidenced and balanced view of Richard as a good prince within the medieval context.

[6] Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon – Richard III: a psychological portrait (Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) pp.46-56. Professor Lansdale and Dr Boon offer a number of plausible hypotheses that might explain Richard’s behaviour. Although their professional opinions are necessarily speculative, they do not in my opinion go beyond what might be inferred from the available evidence.

[7] It is interesting (I put it no higher) to analyse the main biographies of Richard written in the last one hundred and fifty years. James Gairdner’s biography (1878) contains 332 pages, of which 52 relate to Richard’s life as duke of Gloucester; the remainder analyse Richard’s reign and the controversies surrounding it. Clement Markham wrote a biography (1898) in direct response to Gairdner’s work. Of its 327 pages, 42 deal with the period 1470-83. Paul Kendall’s biography (1955) is generally positive for Ricardians. Of its 393 pages (excluding appendices and notes), 152 are devoted to Richard as a duke, of those 49 are specifically about his time in the north. Charles Ross’ biography (1999) is — for the want of something better — considered to be the standard work on Richard’s life and reign. It contains 232 pages, of which 39 are devoted to Richard as a royal duke: including 20 pages as ‘Lord of the North’. Finally, Michael Hicks’ biography (2000 revised edition) analyses Richard’s actions in the context of a criminal trial in which Hicks’ prosecutes, defends, and is judge and jury. It contains 199 pages, the story of Richard’s life before April 1483 being compressed into 31 of them. My analysis is, of course, academic since it does no more than suggest that quantitatively, the first thirty years of Richard’s life get significantly less attention than the last two; it does not examine the reason for that. Nevertheless, it suggests to me that Ricardian studies may benefit from a new scholarly biography of Richard’s life and reign. Hopefully, it would be one that emulates in its breadth, thoroughness and objectivity Cora Scofield’s definitive account of Edward IV’s life and reign (including all that ‘merciless detail’ that professor Hicks found so tiresome), and Professor Ralph Griffiths’ equally comprehensive and objective biography of Henry VI. I live more in hope than expectation.

[8] Pollard (R3) p71-73

[9] Horace Walpole – Historic doubts on the life and reign of King Richard III (1768)

[10] Ross (R3) pp.24-26; Keith Dockray – Richard III: a source book (Sutton 1997) pp.32-33.

[11] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimis Imprimatur 2015) pp. 23-26 and 61 contains a guide to the office of constable of England and Gloucester’s chivalric, martial and judicial powers. The duchy of Lancaster had held palatine status since 1351 and was independent of royal authority. Its lands in the north were vast and its power great; so much so that the Lancastrian kings retained the title of duke of Lancaster to themselves to prevent diminution of royal authority. On ascending the throne, Edward IV held the dukedom in abeyance but reserved to himself its authority, benefits and responsibilities. As Chief Steward of the duchy, Gloucester was the chairman of the council appointed by the king to administer the duchy territories.

[12] Paul Kendall – Richard III (George Allen & Unwin 1955) pp. 129,456 note 7 (citing Letters and papers of the reign of Henry VIII by JS Brewer, London 1864-76, 1, 2, pp.1054, 1260). Lord Dacre, Warden of the West March complained to Wolsey that he shouldn’t be expected to match the accomplishments of Richard duke of Gloucester. Predictably, he was told that he must provide the same standard of effective governance as the duke.

[13] Rachel Reid – The King’s Council in the North (Longman Green & Co 1921) p.27 et al

[14] Ross (E4) p.199; professor Ross argues that that it is not true that Northumberland was placed under Gloucester’s ‘supervisory authority’ as suggested by Cora Scofield and Paul Kendall. He relies on the indentures made between the duke and the earl in 1473 and 1474, which did indeed separate their authority. On his interpretation of those indentures any subordination was a private matter and not official, and the earl’s freedom of action was assured. Unfortunately, professor Ross (not for the first time) fails to read between the lines to understand what was really happening. There was indeed some early friction between the duke and the earl, arising from Northumberland’s resentment that Gloucester had inherited the Neville mantle and was an obvious threat to Percy hegemony and independence in the north. The indenture of 28 July 1474 (Dockray [sources] p. 34) was intended to calm the situation by confirming their relationship as being that of a ‘good lord’ and his ‘faithful servant’, which was the conventional arrangement, since a royal duke trumped a belted earl in status. However, the caveat inserted into the indenture that Gloucester would not to interfere with Northumberland’s duties as warden of the east and middle marches or poach his servants, was a sensible recognition of the feudal reality and a concession to the touchy earl (see Dockray [sources] p.35 for evidence of Northumberland’s touchiness). The Percy’s were notorious trimmers; they had fought against a Lancastrian king at the turn of the fifteenth century and for a Lancastrian king during the Wars of the Roses. Although their power was effectively destroyed at Towton, they played a major and distinctly treacherous part in the northern rebellions of the early 1460’s. Although, Edward never forgot their treachery, he needed Percy assistance during the 1470’s and was keen not to upset them: Gloucester obviously concurred. There can be little doubt that the indentures were a fiction to preserve Northumberland’s pride. In reality he had less influence in the north than Gloucester. Significantly, Edward was quick to clarify his brother’s supreme authority by appointing him the king’s Lieutenant General in the North when he decided to invade Scotland: not once but twice. By 1482 Gloucester was endowed with what amounted to quasi-royal authority to conduct the war (or peace) with Scotland.

[15] FW Brooks – The Council of the North (Historical Association 1953, revised edition 1966) p.6

[16] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess).

[17] Brooks p.10

[18] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[19] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small entourage when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[20] Sutton (R3, piety etc.) p.62

[21] Robert Davies – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London, 1843); and the York Civic Records, supra; Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 14, pp. 412 & 425; Washington DC, Library of Congress, Thatcher 1004 (a letter from Gloucester to Sir Robert Claxton, 12 August 1480, which is reproduced in Pollard (R3) p.237) and Mancini supra

[22] Calendar Patent Rolls Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III -1476-85, p.339; T Stapleton (Ed) Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Soc 1839) pp.31-33 & 40 and A Raine (Ed) – York Civic Records (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series 1939) Vol 1, PP.2-3.

[23] YCR pp.15-16, 51-52 & 54

[24] Dockray (R3 sources) pp. 30, 34-37

[25] Davies p.89; this is a quote from a letter from the York City Council to the duke of Gloucester.

[26] Reid p.58; Davies passim

[27] Pollard (R3) pp.231-32, and Appendix 1, pp.234-236. The original arbitration agreement is in North Riding County Record Office, Clervaux Cartulary, ZQH.

[28] Davies pp.80-95; the cost of Pike ranged from 10s.3d to 11s.3d ‘a piece’ old money, which equates to about 52-62p today.

[29] Kendall pp135-37; see also Davies pp140-41

[30] Dorothy Mitchell – Richard III and York (Silver Boar 1987) p.27; Alderman Thomas Wrangwyshe was a colourful character indeed. Aged about forty-five in 1482. He commanded a company of archers in Gloucester’s Scottish campaigns. In 1483 he personally led 300 men from York to be at the king’s side during Buckingham’s rebellion. He was a rough diamond, with a distinctly ‘Ricardian’ sense of justice. In one case in January 1485, when he was the Mayor, he sent a man to the gaol for being cruel to another man, who was, in the stocks. The sergeants were escorting the prisoner to the city gaol, when a ‘large group of his heavily armed friends’ tried to release him. Wrangwyshe, hearing the violent affray, stormed into the street and settled the fight with his fists; thereafter he grabbed the prisoner in ‘his strong hands’ and  dragged him off to the gaol. Wrangwyshe was a  formidable fighter in and out of the council chamber and seems to have won Gloucester’s friendship.

[31] Reid p.47

[32] Reid p.48

[33] Reid p.54

[34] Reid p.58: the sub-heading for this section is paraphrased from a sentence in Dr Reid’s work on the council of the north, which reads as follows “Richard did not reserve his favour for the victims of economic change. In his Council he offered good and indifferent justice to all who sought it, were they rich or poor, gentle or simple”.

[35] There was an upsurge in unfair fines and illegal evictions due to economic factors on the continent, which was driving-up the price of wool and hides (the North’s most marketable commodity). As a consequence, the value of pastureland increased. Tenants who held manor lands by feudal custom were liable to have their land enclosed by ruthless landlords intent on turning arable land or rough common land into valuable pasture.

[36] Reid pp. 57-58 citing Sir Thomas de Littleton- Tenures (published 1482) (1841 edition) Sec 77; Brian CJ’s dictum was incorporated into the 1530 edition of Littleton. Sir Thomas de Littleton (1407-1481) was an English judge and jurist. His treatise on ‘tenure’ was the standard legal textbook on the law of property until the nineteenth century.

[37] Reid, ibid

[38] Reid p.59

[39] Reid pp.59-61

[40] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.171

[41] Pronay; ibid

[42] Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond (Eds) – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1982), Vol 3, pp. 107-08 [f264b]. The Commission creating the Council and appointing the earl of Lincoln as its first president is undated. However, Lincoln was at the time Richard’s heir and so the Commission must have been signed after the death of the Prince of Wales, probably around the 24 July 1484.

[43] Harleian MS433, Vol 3, pp. 114-117 [f 270]); see also Reid pp. 58-70 for a detailed appreciation of Richard’s regulations governing the council’s conduct.

[44] Harleian MS433, ibid; I think there may be  a double negative in Richard’s regulations.

[45] Mitchell p.30; Sir Robert Percy (not a member of the Northumberland Percies) was king Richard’s closest personal friend after Francis Lovell; the three had trained together at Middleham. Faithful to the end, he died fighting beside his king in the final charge at Bosworth. Percy’s son was attainted after the battle of Stoke in 1487.

[46] Reid p.62

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

     Part 8 – “Rumour it abroad…”


“ I, from the orient to the drooping west,

Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold

The acts commenced on this ball of earth;

Upon my tongues continual slanders ride;

The which in every language I pronounce

Stuffing the ears of men with false reports…

And no such matter? Rumour is a pipe

Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures:

And of so easy and so plain a stop,

That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,

Can play upon it”

(William Shakespeare)[1]

If William Shakespeare had any deficiencies as a historian, he surely compensated  for them with his dramatic and often beautiful insights into human behaviour. He knew full well that rumour was a nasty, insidious thing. It is dangerous to those who spread it and to its victims, but it is even more dangerous to those who believe it. Rumour sows the seed of doubt, fear and discord wherever it appears, which is precisely why it is such powerful social, political or military weapon in the hands of unscrupulous people.

In the early autumn of 1483 “a rumour arose” in southern England “that king Edward’s sons, by some unknown manner of violent destruction, had met their fate.”[2] This was a particularly damaging rumour, since ultimately it bought low the York dynasty and destroyed the last Plantagenet king’s life and reputation. The accusation that king Richard III murdered the princes in the Tower has its genesis in this rumour and the historical narrative of his life and reign is dominated by it. Beginning after Bosworth, professional historians and academics have consistently and briskly dismissed any attempt to defend Richard or to cast doubt on the veracity or probity of the material used against him. That he was a usurper, a regicide and an infanticide is now an established fact for most of the establishment of professional historians and scholars. It is a position based partly on their natural caution and dislike of revisionist history, partly on their trust of the sources and partly on their belief that Richard’s contemporaries thought he was guilty.

Professor Charles Ross speaks best for this traditional narrative of Richard’s life and reign in his biography of Richard. He begins the chapter on the fate of the princes by quoting the great English statesman (and no mean historian in Ross’ opinion) Winston Churchill ” … no fact stands forth more unchallengeable than that the overwhelming majority of the nation was convinced that Richard had used his power as protector to usurp the crown and that the princes disappeared in the Tower. It will take many ingenious books to raise this issue to the dignity of a historical controversy”[3]. So convinced is professor Ross of Richard’s guilt that he doesn’t think it would even be necessary to commit pen to paper were it not for the many ‘ingenious books’ written on the subject over the centuries[4]. I make no pretense that this essay is ingenious, and it is certainly not scholarly. It merely asks just the sort of silly question that an untrained, unqualified and disinterested observer might think was important: how can we be so certain king Richard was guilty of this crime if all we have is a rumour? For the avoidance of doubt, I should add that it is not my intention in this piece to explore the deeper issues concerning the actual fate of the boys: were they murdered, and if so by whom? Or did they escape to survive king Richard? I am interested only in the provenance and impact on English history of the Crowland rumour.

Expressions of concern for the fate of the boys can be found in the extant private papers, manuscripts and chronicles of the times. And certainly some writers were quick to point their accusing finger at king Richard. However, there is no extant eyewitness testimony; by and large the material we do have reports rumour and not events. The story begins with Mancini: “ I have seen many men burst forth in tears and lamentations when mention is made of him [Edward V] after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, however, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered.”[5] Mancini does not vouch for the accuracy of the suspicions; neither does he mention any fears for the safety Richard duke of York, the king’s brother and heir presumptive. Since he is describing what he saw for himself, he must be referring to a time before he returned to France in July 1483. I think he is describing the fear and uncertainty in London following Hastings’ execution and the arrest of Morton, Rotherham et al. George Cely expresses similar concerns.[6] The absence of a direct domestic accusation against Richard is notable. In fact, the only allegations against Richard in his lifetime are foreign. Casper Weinreich writing in Germany in 1483 believes that Richard murdered the princes, as does Guillaume de Rochefort in France in January 1484. I think it is fair to say that both these sources (and others) can be traced to the Lancastrian rebels then exiled in France.[7] They are in fact a regurgitation of the Crowland rumour, to which I now turn.

Our main source of information for events during the summer and autumn of 1483 is the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle. Its importance is threefold: it fixes the start of rumour in time, in place and in context. The anonymous author (who, by the way, was no friend to king Richard) wrote: “…the two sons of king Edward remained in the Tower of London with specially appointed guards.[8] In order to release them from such captivity people of the south and the west of the kingdom began to murmur greatly to form assemblies and to organise associations to this end”[9] And later: “When at last the people around the city of London and in Kent, Essex, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Berkshire and in some other southern counties of the kingdom, just referred to, began considering vengeance, public proclamation having been made that Henry, duke of Buckingham, then living in Brecknock in Wales, being repentant of what had been done would be captain-in-chief in this affair a rumour arose that king Edward’s sons, by some unknown manner of violent destruction, had met their fate.[10] “ What we learn from this is that the rumour began in the early autumn of 1483, in southern England and after the duke of Buckingham had joined the plot to restore Edward V[11].

The impact was almost immediate. Crowland continues: “…For this reason all those who had begun this agitation, realizing that if they could not find someone new at their head for their conquest it would soon be all over for them, remembered Henry, earl of Richmond who had already spent many years in exile in Brittany. A message was sent to him by the duke of Richmond on the advice of the lord [bishop] of Ely (i.e. John Morton), his prisoner at Brecknock, inviting him to hasten into the kingdom of England to take Elizabeth, the dead kings elder daughter, to wife and with her, at the same time, possession of the whole kingdom.”   The affect of the rumour was to subvert the insurrection from its original purpose of restoring Edward V, to one aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne. This traditional narrative raises two important questions that deserve greater attention: who started the rumour and why?

I will come straight to the point. It has been suggested by Sir James Gairdner that the rebels started the rumour deliberately as political propaganda against the king.[12] If so, it means that on the 24 September 1483 when Buckingham invited Henry Tudor to come and take possession of the realm, he must have known beyond doubt that the boys were dead. If not, Henry had absolutely no title to the crown and was unlikely to be supported by the southern (Yorkist) malcontents. Gairdner believes that as the rumour was not reported until the verge of the revolt, Buckingham was probably keeping a guilty secret. Either he knew the boys were dead or he was lying. Of course, this doesn’t exculpate king Richard since Buckingham might have joined the rebellion genuinely in the belief that Richard had murdered his nephews. Nonetheless, his behaviour does cast doubt over the rebels’ intentions. Furthermore if Buckingham knew, it is inconceivable that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton did not also know the boys’ fates[13].

When the king left London on the 19 July 1483 on his royal progress, he left behind a web of Lancastrian and Woodville treachery that would have done justice to any Italian renaissance court. At its centre was Margaret Beaufort: self-styled countess of Richmond and mother of the Lancastrian adventurer Henry Tudor.   The ultimate victim of this treason was to be king Richard III, whose downfall she planned using Elizabeth Woodville and Henry Stafford as her unsuspecting tools. Margaret’s purpose was simple. One day her darling boy would rule England. The key to Tudor ambition was Buckingham’s defection to their camp. We can only speculate as to his reasons: remorse (Crowland), greed (Vergil) and ambition (More) are all possibilities, which fortunately, I need not trouble with in this essay. Buckingham’s motive is immaterial for my purpose; what matters to me are his actions. It is difficult to unravel the sequence of events as we are reliant on two Tudor histories (by Thomas More and Polydor Vergil respectively) both of which were written more than two decades after these events and neither of which has much (if any) value as historical evidence. Nonetheless, we have to do our best to reconstruct a plausible narrative with the material we have.

The king met Buckingham for the last time on the 2 August 1483 at Gloucester[14]. Nobody knows what they talked about but we do know that this meeting marked the end of their collaboration. The king continued his royal progress northwards to the heartland of his support. Buckingham continued his journey west to the Stafford family seat in South Wales. He arrived at Brecon on the 9 or 10 of August 1483;[15] waiting for him there was the ubiquitous John Morton: incorrigible Lancastrian intriguer and king Richard’s mortal enemy. In Thomas More’s view Morton (“a clever man”) turned the credulous Buckingham’s head by the simple stratagem of flattery; he suggested that Buckingham would probably make a better king than Richard. Sadly, More’s narrative breaks off just as it is getting interesting[16].

Vergil gives a more detailed account of the Morton-Buckingham plot. According to him, Morton was cautious and did not respond immediately to Buckingham’s treacherous talk. It was only when Buckingham produced his master plan for uniting the red and white roses by bringing Henry Tudor over from Brittany to marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter that Morton took control of the situation. Within a fortnight (around the 21 August 1483) he had informed Margaret Beaufort of the recruitment of Buckingham and welcomed Reginald Bray to Brecon. Bray was sent by Margaret to act as a go-between and to convey her instructions on the next steps. By the 26 or 27 August Bray was back in London, where Henry Tudor’s marriage to Elizabeth of York was already settled[17]. Henry, in Brittany, was informed by the end of the month of Buckingham’s recruitment and the plan for his proposed royal marriage.

It seems inconceivable to me that Elizabeth Woodville would consent to this marriage if she thought it would disinherit her two sons. She might have consented because she believed her sons were already dead. Equally, she might have simply believed that a royal marriage was the Tudor’s price for supporting Edward V’s restoration. Duke Francis of Brittany was sponsoring Henry and he could provide a powerful force of ships and soldiers to support the deposition of king Richard. By the ‘first weeks of September’ the duke had kitted out a force of fifteen ships and five thousand soldiers for the Tudor descent on England.[18] By giving duke Francis the benefit of the doubt, we can say that he might have believed he was supporting the restoration of Edward V and was buoyed by the news from England. However, the duke feared a French invasion of his Duchy and about this time had sent his envoy to England to blackmail king Richard into providing men and money for the defence of Brittany; otherwise, he said he could not guarantee that Henry Tudor would not fall into French hands. It seems that the Bretons and also the French regarded Henry as a pawn to be used in the furtherance of their foreign policy aims against England[19].

The implication of this conspiracy is obvious. If Margaret Beaufort’s son was to succeed to the throne, it could only be over the dead bodies of Edward V and his brother Richard duke of York[20]. The rumour that the boys were dead was a masterstroke for the Tudors. It didn’t matter for their purposes whether they were dead or alive. All that mattered was that people believed that king Richard had killed them and that the rumour spread doubt and mistrust in England. It would keep king Richard on the back foot and prevent him consolidating his reign. Professor Ross holds that the boys alive were dangerous to Richard as they would provide a rallying point for rebellion. If they were indeed dead or were simply not produced to scotch the rumours, it would confirm Richard as their murderer in peoples’ minds. Ross is right when he writes that Richard was placed in an almost impossible predicament: damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

I do not propose to enter the debate about what happened to the princes because that is a mystery. Nothing that I have referred to herein or have read or seen proves that the boys were even dead, much less that they were murdered. All we know with certainty is that they disappeared during the summer of 1483. Sir James Gairdner’s rhetorical question is illuminating: “ What could have induced Richard to time his cruel policy so ill, and to arrange it so badly? The order for the destruction of the children could have been much more easily and safely and secretly executed when he was in London than when he was in Gloucester or Warwick (or in York for that matter [21]. It’s a good question because it highlights a weakness in the case against Richard: the inherent improbability that he would have botched it so badly. There was no benefit to him in killing the boys and keeping it a secret. In fact, it would produce the worst of all worlds. The ruthless tyrant of Tudor tradition would have arranged for the boys to die tragically of natural causes. Their bodies would be displayed without a mark on them and with reverence, for all to see that they were dead. This could not of itself prevent Tudor conspiracies but it would have made it harder for them to depose Richard. Alternatively, he could simply have blamed Buckingham once he was captured. It is right that Richard should bear some vicarious responsibility for the death of his nephews. However, he could minimize this by arguing that the deed was done without his knowledge after he had left on his progress, and he that he had placed his trust in Buckingham.   Given the chance to consolidate his reign, his culpability in not protecting his nephews sufficiently would not have mattered[22].

Ultimately, I believe it was this rumour that undid king Richard III. His accession was not decidedly unpopular with nobles or the general the population: at least initially . Only some of the old Yorkist establishment and Lancastrian opportunists were opposed to him, and I think he could have defeated them. Things went wrong for the king after the rumour of his nephew’s deaths was spread.   He was never quite able to recover his equilibrium thereafter.

[1] PH Davies – Henry IV, Part 2 (Penguin 1979) at page 51, with the editors note at pages 164-167

[2] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors)–The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 163.

[3] Winston Churchill – A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956) Vol 1 at pages 383-384

[4] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 96.

[5] Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (CAJ Armstrong, editor) (Oxford 1969 ed) at page 93 and editors note 91, pages 127-128. Mancini returned to France shortly after Richard’s coronation on 6 July 1483. He did not write his narrative for his sponsor Angelo Cato, until December 1483. He had plenty of time to catch-up with events in London from the Lancastrian rebels in France.

[6] H E Malden (editor) – The Cely Papers (Camden Society, 3rd Series, 1980) at pages 132 and 133. See also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 revised edition) at page 115 for a modern language translation. This is a handwritten note by George Cely based on information he got from Sir John Weston. The note reflects the uncertainty in London after Hastings’ execution. Interestingly, Cely’ has concerns for the king (“…if the king, God save his life, were to die…) and the Lord Protector (‘[if] the duke of Gloucester were in peril”). As Hicks correctly points out, Cely did not blame Richard for the uncertainty of June1483.

[7] Josephine Wilkinson – The Princes in the Tower (Amberley 2013) at pages 129-152. Wilkinson analyses the provenance of these and later accusations against king Richard.

[8] See Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1979) 4 Volumes, Volume 2, at pages 2 and 211. This is a contemporary household account showing the final payment to the Princes’ own servants. Its existence indicates that the chronicler is referring to a time after the 18 July 1483, when king Richard’s men replaced the princes’ servants.

[9] See Pronay and Cox at page 163. See also Riley’s translation for a comparison between early Victorian and late twentieth century Latin-English usage. In addition to Crowland’s statement that there was a plot to liberate the sons of Edward IV from the Tower, we have a Privy Seal Warrant from king Richard to John Russell, his Chancellor (PRO, C81/1392/1).   This warrant was written whilst Richard was at Minster Lovell on the 29 July 1483. The original was exhibited at the NPG in 1973 and is transcribed at page 98 of the exhibition brochure. The king had learned that “…certain persons as such as of late had taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise as we doubt not you have heard, are attached and in ward…” Russell was instructed to place the matter before the king’s council for them to appoint somebody to sit in judgment on the criminals “…and to proceed to the execution of our laws in that behalf.“ Although we do not have a trial record, the antiquarian John Stow (The Annals, or General Chronicle of England (1615) at page 460) names those involved, adding that they were condemned and publicly beheaded on Tower Hill. There appears to have been a second Lancastrian plot to gain control of the boys in August 1483 (see Annette Carson – Richard III; the maligned king (History Press 2013 edition) at pages 152-156 for a discussion of these incidents).

[10] Crowland, ibid; it is illuminating to compare John Cox’s translation of the original Latin with Henry Riley’s 1854 translation, especially this passage: “…a rumour was spread that the sons of king Edward before named had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how.” This early Victorian translation creates a more explicit impression that the rumour was deliberate than does Cox’s modern translation.

[11] My best guess is that the rumour ‘arose’ in about mid-September 1483.

[12] Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third (Longman Green 1878) at pages 169-170.

[13] It would be wrong to completely ignore the possibility that the boys were murdered, with or without Richard’s knowledge. Buckingham might have joined the rebels from remorse or he might have been trying to further his own ambition as a potential monarch in ‘leaking’ this damaging information. Personally, I am reasonably certain that Henry Tudor was not told what happened to the Princes (plausible deniability?). His actions and behaviour in the aftermath of Bosworth and throughout his reign suggests he was ignorant of their fate. Of course, it doesn’t follow that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton were also unaware of what happened: they might even have been responsible but kept it from Henry for obvious reasons.

[14] Kendall at page 266, and note 9, page 480. More and Vergil assert that Buckingham accompanied the king on his progress as far as Gloucester, where they split. However, I prefer Kendal’s suggestion that Buckingham remained in London for a few days after the king left on his progress and only joined the king later, when he was at Gloucester.   Kendall makes a cogent case for this, using contemporary records.

[15] Carson at pages 161-164 postulates this date and others. Although her reconstructed timetable is conjecture the assumptions are reasonable and based on Vergil’s account of the Morton- Buckingham conversations.

[16] I am ignoring Grafton’s later continuation of More’s ‘History’, which simply repeats Vergil.

[17] If Henry Tudor was to succeed to the throne he needed a legitimate title; the problem was he didn’t have one.   A marriage to Edward’s eldest daughter would give him a title of sorts, but that would only be true if Elizabeth’s brothers were dead. If they were alive, she had no royal title to pass to Henry. It is certainly possible to infer from these circumstances that either the boys were already dead, or they soon would be. Neither is it a great leap of the imagination to infer that Margaret had a clear motive for killing them and blaming Richard. The legitimacy of Henry’s title to the throne is a subject in its own right; one, that I cannot explore here. However, see John Ashdown-Hill – The Lancastrian Claim to the Throne (Ricardian Vol XIII, 2003) at page 27 for a full analysis of the issues. For a different opinion see Ian Mortimer – York or Lancaster: who was the rightful heir to the throne in 1460? (The Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008 at page 20).

[18] Carson at page 164 cites R A Griffiths and R S Thomas – The Making of the Tudor Dynasty (Stroud 1993) at page 102 as evidence that a flotilla was being assembled and Vergil (page 201) for details of the ship and troop numbers. On her chronology it is obvious that these preparations were being made well before Crowland’s rumour of the princes’ deaths arose.

[19] Colin Richmond (1485 and All That: published in Lordship, Loyalty and Law [P W Hammond, ed] (R3S and the Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) at pages 172-206) has an interesting theory that French support for Henry Tudor was the last remnants of the Hundred Years War. Their implacable hostility to Richard arose from his opposition to the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475. Edward IV’s failure to wage a successful French campaign at that time turned the natural aggression of the English nobility inwards, resulting in the division that led to Bosworth ten years later and the collapse of the York dynasty. Richmond adds it is arguable that Bosworth was the last battle of the Hundred Years War.

[20] A.N. Kincaid (editor) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) at pages ccxxvi and 163. Buck refers to ‘good testimony’ that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton murdered the boys “ For I have read in an old manuscript book it was held for certain that Dr Morton and a certain countess [he means Margaret Beaufort] conspiring the deaths of the sons of king Edward and some others, resolved that these treacheries should be executed by poison and, and by sorcery…” Unfortunately, the ‘old manuscript book’ seen by Buck is no longer extant. Nevertheless, his comment should not be dismissed out of hand. Thanks to Dr Kincaid we now know that Sir George was in fact an impeccably conscientious, diligent and honest writer. If he says he saw a manuscript, we have no reason to doubt his word.

[21] Gairdner at page154

[22] The enduring problem for Ricardians is that any theory which conceives the boys being killed, whether by Buckingham or Margaret Beaufort or by any one else, for that matter, makes Richard vicariously responsible even though he may have had nothing to do with it. The buck stops with the king: res ipsa loquitur.

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

Part 4 – “… the corruption of a blemished stock “

A beauty-waning and distressed widow,

   Even in the afternoon of her best days,

   Made prize and purchase of his wanton eye

   Seduced the pitch and height of his degree

   To base declension and loathed bigamy. “

   (William Shakespeare)


“ Is all things ready for the royal time?”

There is very little contemporary material about what was happening in May 1483, after the Council meeting. The picture we have is of everybody busy preparing for the king’s coronation on the 22 June. The council, led by the Lord Protector, was in a difficult if not an impossible position trying to govern and defend the realm without the royal treasure (stolen by the Woodvilles) and the fleet (commandeered by the Woodville’s)[1]. Nevertheless, the Lord Protector continued to act with propriety and it is evident that he intended to crown Edward V. Despite the queen’s intransigence, he acted lawfully and was especially careful to try and negotiate a peaceful end to her sanctuary[2].

As late as the 5 June 1483, the Protector summoned all those who were to be knighted, to come to London at least four days prior to the coronation. The same day he wrote to the citizens of York apologizing for the fact he that was too busy with the coronation preparations to deal with their recent request for financial relief. The significance of this letter is its ordinariness, which is in stark contrast to his letter to the same citizens five days later. In the second letter, the Protector requested troops to help against the queen and her blood adherents who were planning to murder him and Buckingham. It was a noticeable change in tone. The inference that he was suddenly alarmed by this murderous conspiracy is doubtful, as he had known of the threat to his life since Stony Stratford or earlier. If it was in response to that threat, he has left it too late; York’s troops could not reach London much before the end of June. I believe that something else has happened between the 5 and 10 June 1483, which alerted the Protector to a new and very serious threat to the stability of the realm and to him.[3]

The ‘wicked bishop’

It is Philippé De Commynes a Flemish knight in the service of Louis XI who provides a possible explanation for his change of attitude. “ The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Robert Stillington) revealed to the duke of Gloucester that king Edward, being enamoured of a certain English lady promised to marry her provided he could sleep with her first and she consented. The Bishop said that he had married them and only he and they were present. He was a courtier so did not disclose this fact and helped to keep the lady quiet, and things remained like this for a while. Later king Edward fell in love again and married the daughter of an English knight, Lord Rivers.” [4] It would be wrong to say, as James Gairdner did, that the evidence of this pre contract rests on the ‘single testimony’ of Robert Stillington, since the truth is we do not have his testimony: not a word of it. We do not know when or where Edward and Eleanor were married[5], or even when Stillington revealed all to the protector. What we do know is that this revelation, if true, had serious implications for the royal succession. It would make, Edward’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Woodville bigamous and their offspring illegitimate, and unable in law to succeed to the throne[6]. I believe it was this news that worried the Protector.

Sir Clement Markham suggests that Stillington told Gloucester and the council about the pre-contract on Sunday the 8 June 1483[7]. All we know about this meeting is what we get from a letter written by Simon Stallworth to Sir William Stonor, in which he writes: “My Lord Protector, my Lord of Buckingham and all other Lords, as well temporal as spiritual [sic] were at Westminster”. It’s a pity that Stallworth either doesn’t know or declines to reveal what was actually discussed. The meeting lasted for four hours, which is unusually long for an update on preparations for the coronation. Also, Stallworth writes that they discussed great business about the coronation’. I infer from this phrase that this was not a routine meeting. It is also interesting to note that nobody spoke to the queen’, which suggests that negotiations between the Lord Protector and the queen had broken down and something important was happening.

Stallworth’s phrase”…great business against the coronation…” is ambiguous: perhaps deliberately so. Most historians think he meant ‘in preparation for or in anticipation of the coronation’. However, the word ‘against’ has eighteen different meanings in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, five of which use the word in the sense of ‘resistance to or opposition to…’ Is it possible that Stallworth is referring obliquely to a discussion about the pre-contract, including the propriety of proceeding with the coronation? However, Stallworth could just as easily have been disseminating a sanitized version of events meant for publication. It is also likely that the Protector needed more time to investigate the veracity of Stillington’s claim. Whilst there may well have been a serious discussion about the situation, it was more likely to take place in camera[8].

I think that by the 10 June 1483, Gloucester was convinced that Stillington’s story was true. In his letter to York of the same date he is not reacting to a new threat from Dorset and Hastings, but preparing himself for the possibility of a Woodville counterstroke, once the existence of the pre-contract became public knowledge. He was obviously worried about the increased prospect of civil war breaking out again. Neither can there be any doubt that the personal consequences were also on his mind. The letter to York provides a convenient cover story, which gives nothing new away if it falls into the wrong hands.

Robert Stillington (d1491)[9] rose from humble origins to become Edward IV’s Chancellor in 1467. This suggests that Kendall’s description of him, as “a man of mediocre talents, not remarkable for strength of character” was both unfair and untrue[10]. He served Edward IV as Chancellor until 1473, when he retired through ill health. Thereafter he fell from favour. In 1478, he was imprisoned for “uttering words prejudicial to the king and state”.[11] After paying a ‘round sum’ he was forgiven and released. However, he never worked for Edward IV again. It is possible that he revealed the pre-contract in 1483 out of resentment over his fall from grace and a desire for revenge against the Woodville’s. If so, he received no discernible reward from Gloucester. It is equally possible that he felt bound to raise such a grave impediment to the succession of Edward V once it became obvious that he would be a figurehead under the control of the Woodvilles. We simply don’t know, essentially. There is nothing in his private or public life to suggest he was untrustworthy. Neither has anybody been able to produce evidence that he invented the pre-contract story either on his own or as part of a conspiracy with Gloucester, or that he allowed Gloucester to put him up to it.   There are no grounds for doubting Stillington’s credibility as a truthful eyewitness to the marriage of the king and Eleanor Butler. Neither is there much force in the argument that Stillington’s story was known to be false at the time. The only doubts that were expressed came from sources in southern England, which was a region hostile to king Richard during his lifetime. Furthermore, they were written after his death at a time when Henry VII was actively trying to re-write the official history of king Richard’s protectorship and reign.

“He that filches me of my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor”

It is unfortunate, that whatever proofs of evidence Stillington provided have not survived. It is this gap in the paper trail that encourages some historians to believe that the pre-contract story was a fabrication. Even if we disregard the illogicality of such a belief (It does not necessarily follow from the absence of written proof that Stillington was lying, much less that he and Gloucester conspired to tell lies.), it overlooks or disregards the fundamental importance of Titulus Regius (The King’s Title) in ratifying king Richard’s election by the ‘three estates’ and his title to the crown. In the absence of evidence of coercion or deception it requires more that Crowland’s cavalier comment that Parliament acquiesced through fear, to convince me that king Richard’s election was a fraud[12].

There are other circumstantial details, which taken together indicate the truth of Stillington’s story. Henry VII’s actions after Bosworth are of special importance. In his first Parliament (November 1485), Henry repealed Titulus Regius without being read. This was unheard of in Parliamentary history. Furthermore, the king ordered all existing copies of Titulus Regius to be destroyed on pain of punishment[13]. This was a deliberate attempt by Henry VII to pervert our understanding of historical events.   It is obvious that he had to repeal Titulus Regius, since he relied on his wife’s (Elizabeth of York) title to bolster his own weak title. There was no question of allowing the declaration of her bastardy to remain. However, his attempt to expunge Titulus Regius from the official record, as though it had never existed calls into question his motive. His own explanation, that he could not bear to have this infamy of his wife and her family remembered, is no doubt the truth, but it is not the whole truth. If we combine this parliamentary manoeuvre with his treatment of Robert Stillington, we gain some insight into the king’s possible motive. Almost before king Richard’s corpse was cold on the field of Bosworth, Henry Tudor issued a warrant for the arrest of Robert Stillington. The bishop was arrested, convicted of ‘horrible and heinous offences imagined [This means ‘planned: Stillington was not convicted for his naughty thoughts.] and done’, and imprisoned.   And then Henry pardoned him: why? He also refused a request by his judges to examine Stillington as to the facts of the pre contract: why? It may well have been due to Stillington’s age and infirmity; though such considerations never usually stopped Henry from ruthlessly enforcing his interests. It may equally be that he believed the story was true and feared that a formal investigation would fatally undermine his own pretensions to the crown.

“He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber “

Finally, the existence of the pre-contract was plausible. In fact, king Edward IV’s lascivious behaviour was notorious. Crowland describes him in general terms as “ …a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion…”[14] Mancini is more descriptive: “ He was licentious in the extreme: moreover it was said that had been most insolent to numerous women after he had seduced them, for, as soon as he grew weary of the dalliance, he gave up the ladies much against their will to the other courtiers [Hastings, Rivers and Dorset?]. He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the noble and the lowly: however he took none by force. He overcame all by money and promises, and having conquered them, he dismissed them.”[15] That is strong stuff indeed.   And if we want an example of how he used his power to promise anything to get into bed with women, we need look no further than his clandestine ‘marriage’ to Elizabeth Grey. It is a classic example of the king’s modus operandi.  The question of the notoriety of Edward’s behaviour and his marriage to Eleanor Butler is also important in a legal context and it is something I will be dealing with in another essay.

I leave the last word to Sir James Gairdner: “ The story of the pre-contract has been generally discredited by historians; but without pretending that it rests on very satisfactory evidence, we may still affirm that there are no sufficient grounds for regarding it as a mere political invention.”[16]

[1]. Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1979) 4 Volumes, V3 at pages 29-30. Lord Dynham, the commander of the Calais garrison wrote to the Lord Protector, explaining his intention to petition Parliament to find ways for ensuring the continuing payment of the Calais garrison.

[2]. BL Harl 443, V1 at page 16; the Protector wrote to Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury sometime between the 16 and 19 May. He wanted an urgent meeting with all the senior clergy to discuss “certain difficult and urgent matters”, which would be made clearer at the meeting: a crisis? It is possible that the Protector was trying to secure a peaceful and legal end to the queen’s sanctuary. Unfortunately, we do not know that outcome of this request.

[3]. The tendency to regard Gloucester’s change of attitude as being due to the recent discovery of a plot to kill him and Buckingham is understandable since that is what he wrote in his letter to York.   However, there is another possible explanation. It is based on the premise that Gloucester was alarmed by the consequences for the realm if Stillington’s revelation proved true. No doubt, he wanted to test the truth of Stillington’s story and think about those consequences. Viewed in this light, his request to York was a sensible and timely call for reinforcements to guard against the possibility of civil disorder once the pre-contract became common knowledge. He used the murder plot as an excuse to ensure that the citizens of York took him seriously and to keep his knowledge secret. I accept that this is speculation, but it does explain why Gloucester apparently waited until it was too late to get help. If the ‘plot’ was so alarming and urgent, his delay bordered on incompetence: not what I would expect from a man acknowledged by all to be an efficient soldier and administrator.

[4] . Phillipé De Commynes – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-1483 (Penguin 1972) at pages 353-354.

[5] See John Ashdown-Hill- Eleanor: the secret queen (The History Press 2009) at pages 99-116 for intriguing speculation about when and where Edward and Eleanor met, became lovers and were secretly married. See also Peter A Hancock – Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) at 33-43 for an alternative theory about Eleanor and Edward’s marriage. Like all conjecture these are based on inferences drawn from the surrounding circumstances, which may or may not be true. Though both theories are conceivable they differ considerably in their detail, which suggests that at least one of them may be wrong.

[6]. Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard III (Longman Green 1878) at pages 113-115.

[7] Sir Clement Markham –Richard III: his life and character (Alex Struick 2013 paperback edition) at page 101.

[8]. Stallworth’s correspondence is helpfully reproduced in full in Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) at Appendix 1, pages 158-59.

[9]. Michael Hicks -Robert Stillington BNG entry.

[10] Paul Murray Kendal – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) at pages 217-219 and the note 14, page 475; this contains an excellent analysis of Stillington’s reliability as a witness.

[11]. See MA Hicks – False, Fleeting, Perjured Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) at pages 163-164; and Dr John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet (The History Press) at pages 138-146. There is speculation that Stillington had earlier told George Duke of Clarence about the pre-contract, which was the secret reason for Clarence’s execution in 1478. Both Hicks and Ashdown-Hill demolish that theory, though they differ from each other in their explanation of what happened. Personally, I think that the words ‘prejudicial’ uttered by Stillington are much more likely to have been an objection to the lack of ‘due process’ at Clarence’s trial.

[12]. I am not going into the detail of the legal and political problems of king Richard’s constitutional title. I hope to deal with those issues and Titular Regius in another essay.

[13]. See Rotuli Parliamenterum AD1485, 1 Henry VII. The language of Henry’s Act repealing king Richard’s Titular Regius is revealing. First: “ That the original be destroyed and that any copies should be either destroyed or returned to Parliament on pain of fine or imprisonment.” And in case that was not clear enough, second: “ That the said Bill, Act and Record be annulled and utterly destroyed, and that it be ordained by the said authority that the said Act be taken out of the Roll of Parliament and be cancelled, burned and be put into oblivion.” See also R.E. Horrox – Henry VII Parliament, November 1485 in Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (ed C. Given-Wilson), 16 volumes, Vol XV at pages 97 and 328; and Nicholas Pronay et al – Parliamentary Texts of the Late Middle Ages (Clarendon, Oxford 1980) at page 186 (“A Colchester Account of Proceedings in Parliament 1485, by representatives of the Borough of Colchester Thomas Christmas and John Vertue’). This latter (diary) account contains an interesting entry for Wednesday the 15 November 1485, the sixth day of parliament: “there ware qwestionns moved for the commonwel of thise false persons whiche hath reyned many dayes amongs us, and (non) conclusion”. This entry also appears in the appendix of PROME but not in the Roll itself: is it an oblique reference to the discussion surrounding Henry’s Act?

[14]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 153.

[15]. Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (AJ Armstrong, editor) (Oxford 1969 ed) at page 67.

[16]. Gairdner at page 115.


(some personal reflections on events in England between April and the autumn 1483)

Part 1: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent…’

“ …O, full of danger is the Duke of Gloucester,

And the Queen’s sons and brothers haught and proud;

And were they to be ruled, and not to rule.

This sickly land might solace as before.”

(William Shakespeare – Richard the Third)

 ‘Edward, my Lord, thy son, our king, is dead!

King Edward IV died unexpectedly at Westminster on the 9 April 1483[1] after a short illness; the cause of his death is unknown[2]. It was expected that his eldest son Edward Prince of Wales would succeed to the throne as king Edward V. On his deathbed, the king appointed his brother Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector during Edward’s minority. Duke Richard was by common consent a loyal and devoted servant to the king, who obviously realised the worth of his young brother. Yet within a few months of Edward’s death, he had deposed the boy-king Edward V, bastardized his nephews and nieces, executed four leading magnates and imprisoned others, and crowned himself king. He fought no battles and there was relatively little bloodshed. On any view, the transfer of power was spectacularly effective. The events of 1483 have divided opinion ever since. There are those who reflect the traditional “Tudor” opinion of Gloucester as a bloodthirsty usurper and tyrant. There are others who believe that his reputation has been much traduced by his enemies after his death. And there is a new, emerging, opinion that judges him as being no better, nor any worse, than the standards of his time.

A major problem in interpreting the events of April-June 1483 is establishing what actually happened and when.   As Professor Charles Ross points out, the source material is scanty, conflicting and uncertain.[3] The two primary contemporary sources for this period are Dominic Mancini the Italian cleric who was in London during the relevant period, and the second continuation of the Crowland Chronicle written in the Lincolnshire Fens by an unknown hand. As we shall see, neither source is wholly satisfactory. They are unclear, uncertain and ambiguous on many of the major events, and on the chronology. They are also partial.

“ As soon as it was clear that King Edward was dying, the queen and the marquis (of Dorset) began to develop their hopes….[4] Paul Kendall’s comment emphasizes the opportunistic character of the Woodville clan but does scant justice to their prescience. Not only were they prepared to assume the reins of government and to dominate the council but also they were well placed to deal with any opposition there might be. In early March 1483, three weeks before Edward was even ill, Earl Rivers took steps to consolidate the Woodville’s control of the heir to the throne. He obtained a written copy of the king’s patent granting him power to govern the Prince of Wales and to raise troops in the principality. Rivers also delegated his authority as Deputy Governor of the Tower of London to his nephew, Dorset. It was a risky thing to do because Rivers had no authority to delegate his power, which was in the royal prerogative. However, the risk was justified because it put power and the king’s treasury into Woodville hands where it was most needed: in London. It looks as though the Woodville’s were preparing to strengthen their control of the king’s heir with military force and positioning themselves to assume the reins of government.[5]

Within two days of the king’s death the decision was made to crown his successor on the 4 May 1483[6]. It was a decision made in haste and apparently without reference to the Privy Council or the Lord Protector. It is indicative — to say the least — of a Woodville intention to gain unfettered control of the boy king and set-up their own regency government disregarding the dead king’s intention and Gloucester’s authority as the Lord Protectors. Although for form’s sake the date for the coronation would have to be confirmed by the Privy Council, neither the queen nor her son the marques of Dorset expected any problem in getting agreement from a docile council.

‘ Tis time to speak my pains are quite forgot’

Even though Gloucester was in far away Yorkshire, he knew of the king’s death and the events in London from William Lord Hastings, a council member. His reaction to Edward’s death is not indicative of a ruthless usurper. He wrote “…the most pleasant letters to console the queen…”[7], in which he pledged his allegiance to king Edward V. He also reminded the queen of his loyalty and service to the dead king and expressed the desire that his brother’s children “might endure in their father’s realm”. He added a request that the council should reach a decision, which his services to his brother and the state alike deserved, and reminded everyone that“…nothing contrary to the law and his brothers wishes could be decreed without harm” [8]. Next, he journeyed from Middleham to York accompanied by “ … an appropriate company all dressed in mourning” Once in York, he “… held a solemn funeral ceremony for the king, full of tears. He bound by oath, all the nobility of those parts in fealty to the king’s son; he himself swore first of all”[9].

 ‘…the guilty kindred of the queen…’

The decisive meeting took place at Westminster as soon as Edward IV was buried. The Woodville aims were twofold 1) to secure Edward V’s speedy coronation and 2) to settle a regency government in their favour. The Lord Protector was a notable absentee. There are two accounts of this meeting. One is from Mancini; the other is from the Crowland Chronicler. Neither was written contemporaneously with the event or is a verbatim note of the discussion. Their value is further diminished by the fact that each author recorded only those discussions that interested him. Nonetheless, despite these handicaps, it is possible to re-construct a reasonable explanation of what was said and done at this meeting

According to Mancini, the first order of business was to settle the governance of the realm during the king’s minority. Two possibilities were discussed: first, that Gloucester should govern personally as Lord Protector in accordance with Edward’s wishes and second, that a regency government, of which the Lord Protector would be the chief member, should govern during the minority. Mancini emphasizes the queen’s fear that if Gloucester ruled alone he would usurp the throne. The Crowland Chronicle ignores this discussion, and emphasises the serious opposition to the queen’s family holding the reins of government and controlling the young king. This split in the council was a reflection of the Woodville’s unpopularity amongst some of the old Yorkist courtiers.

At some point Gloucester’s letter was read. It is important because it conveys his position quite clearly to the queen, her family and supporters and the remainder of the Privy Council. It is fully in accord with Gloucester’s reputation for integrity in public life, his duty to the realm and to his deceased brother. There is nothing here except a timely warning about the risk if the law and his brother’s wishes are ignored. The letter is doubly important because even Mancini acknowledges that it was well received by the council in general. Many members who already favoured Gloucester now openly supported his claim to govern personally as Lord Protector. Nevertheless, the Woodville dominated council rejected his request. It was another overt sign of Woodville ambition and a clear indication that they intended to exclude the senior royal duke from any serious role in government during the king’s minority. As alarming as this undoubtedly was to many members of the Privy Council, there was worse to come.

The Marquess of Dorset proposed that the king should be crowned as soon as possible. He suggested Sunday the 4 May 1483: scarcely three weeks away. The discussion turned to arrangements for bringing the king from Ludlow to his capital for the coronation. The Woodville’s and their supporter favoured a large armed escort for the king. Hastings was so disturbed by this proposal that he openly declared that he would retire to Calais unless the king’s escort was more modest. This was a threat the queen and her family could not ignore. The prospect of the Captain of Calais retreating to his stronghold from where he could command an effective fighting force to oppose them was not something they could face with equanimity. Queen Elizabeth proposed a compromise, which was agreed. A force of only two thousand soldiers would escort the King.[10]  Hastings only agreed to this because he believed that Gloucester would not bring less.   The Crowland Chronicler’s description of events highlights the division within the council and touches on Woodville unpopularity: “ All who were present keenly desired that this prince should follow his father in all his glory. The more foresighted members of the council, however, thought that the uncles and brothers on the mother’s side should be absolutely forbidden to have control of the person of the young man until he comes of age. They believed that this could not easily be achieved if those of the queen’s relatives who were most influential with the prince were allowed to bring his person to the ceremonies of the coronation with an immoderate number of horse. The view of Lord Hasting, the captain of Calais, was sound and prevailed for he protested he would rather flee than await the arrival of the new king if he did not come with a modest force”.

When it was suggested that it may be more sensible to await the Lord Protector’s views, Dorset is said to have replied scornfully: “ We are so important that even without the King’s uncle we can make and enforce these decisions.” Thus was the date of the coronation set, and also the arrangements for bringing the king to his capital.[11]

‘They do me wrong and I will not endure it!’

The temptation to see this as a Woodville coup d’état backed with force is almost irresistible. Nonetheless, the Privy Council meeting was not itself unlawful, as suggested by Kendall. It made sense after the death of Edward to ensure that the business of the realm continued as normal.   Some practical decisions were necessary. The appointment and reappointment of Judges was needed to keep the wheels of justice turning and the defence of the realm against French privateers was an urgent necessity. Furthermore, it was not unlawful to ignore the dead king’s wishes. It had happened in 1377 and again in 1422. On this occasion, the whole country expected the Prince of Wales to succeed his father on the throne. Certainly, Hastings and the anti-Woodville faction expected that to happen. Gloucester in Yorkshire thought that was what would happen, and he saw it as his duty to work towards that end. What was of concern to the more forward thinking members of the Council was the amount of control that the Woodville’s would exercise over the boy King. It is fair to assume that the Lord Protector had his own views on this as well.

Even if these actions did not amount to a conspiracy against Gloucester (itself an doubtful thesis), he would undoubtedly have seen them as a threat to him personally, and an attempt to overrule the law and his dead brother’s will. There is little doubt that he feared the Woodville’s; he would have been acutely aware of the unhappy fate of the last protector, Humphrey duke of Gloucester and other ‘protectors’ who did not always live long once the king reached his majority. It is Gloucester’s perception of the threat that is the key to his actions hereafter. The suggestion by some historians that even at this early stage he was actively trying to overthrow the young king and his government does not bear close examination. There is no doubt from the facts, as we know them, that it was the queen and her family who were the aggressors by mounting a coup. Their actions in proceeding with arrangements for a hasty coronation and settling the form of government without waiting for Gloucester to reach London suggests they wanted to achieve a fait accompli before he was in a position to stop them. Moreover, their seizure of the royal treasury and the fleet, and their provision to raise troops in Wales speak loudly for their intention to use force if necessary.

This was a power struggle in which Gloucester was at a distinct disadvantage. He had not received any official notification concerning the late king’s death or his own appointment as Lord Protector. What little he knew of events in London he got from Hastings, who was inciting him to assert his authority as protector. Second, from where he was all he could do was to react as best he could to events being driven by the Woodville agenda, as and when he heard about them. Finally, he neither controlled nor even knew the boy King Edward V. A Plantagenet in name only, Edward was raised as a Woodville by his uncle Rivers on the Welsh border. Gloucester was not a fool; he knew the danger to him if his authority as protector could not be upheld. This was the conspiracy that bedevilled his whole protectorship. What began as a political takeover aimed at marginalising him soon became an all out attempt to destroy him. He realised that for his own safety and to prevent another civil war, he must secure the person of the King[12]. Factors in his favour were: Woodville unpopularity and their apparent over confidence. They believed they were untouchable.

[1]. The mayor and citizens of York had received a (apparently false) message that the king had died on the 6 April 1483. A dirge was held for him on the 8 April 1483. See Robert Davies (editor) – Extracts from the York City Records (Nichol & Son 1843) at page 142. Davies points out that there is no reason to disbelieve the authenticity of the message. It was sufficiently convincing for a dirge to be arranged.

[2]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors): The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986). According to the Chronicle (page 151) the king died “…though he was not affected by old age nor by any known type of disease which would not have seemed easy to cure in a lesser person”. See also R E Collins: ‘the death of Edward IV’, published in ‘Secret History: the truth about Richard III and the Princes’ by the Rev John Denning (Laversham Press 1996) and Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (History Press 2013) at pages 15-28 for discussions about the ingenious, though untested and unproven, theory that king Edward was murdered by the Woodville’s so they could rule England through a compliant boy-king.

[3]. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 63

[4] Paul Murray Kendall Richard the Third (George Allen and Unwin 1955) at page 133.

[5]. See Dominic Mancini – the Usurpation of King Richard III (G J Armstrong trans) (Oxford 1969 edition) note 42 at page 114. Professor Armstrong speculates that the queen and her family were attempting to recreate the regency government of 1475, when king Edward was in France. The Prince of Wales (an infant) was declared Keeper of the Realm and lodged in Elizabeth Woodville’s house.

[6]. Sir James Gairdner – The Life and Reign of king Richard III (Longman 1878) at pages 56 and 57; see also, Professor Michael Hicks – Richard III (The History Press 2009 edition) at pages 159 and 160. I have followed Gairdner and Hicks in dating this decision no later than the 11 April 1483, possibly earlier. We also have Edward V’s letter to the town of Lynn (where his uncle Rivers had connections) dated the 14 April 1483, announcing his decision to come to London for his coronation as soon as practicably convenient. Given the timing and the distances involved, it seems logical for the queen to have written to her son with the news of his fathers death and the proposal for his coronation no later than the 11 April,

[7]. Crowland at page 155

[8]. Mancini at page 73

[9]. I have quoted extensively from Crowland because he makes the point better than I could. It is indeed fortunate for historians that Crowland is recording Richard’s movements at this time. Mancini, who never left London, had no idea what was happening outside the capital unless his sources told him.

[10]. If it is seriously suggested that a force of two thousand soldiers is a modest escort for the king, one wonders how many men the queen and her family had in mind: an army?

[11]. See Mancini at pages 74 and 75; see also Kendall at pages 168 to 171.If the King could be crowned by 4 May 1483, Richard’s protectorship would be shorn of all power and the future for him personally would be very bleak

[12]. E F Jacob – The Fifteenth Century (Oxford University 1961) at page 483. Humphrey Duke of Gloucester was appointed Lord Protector to the boy-king Henry VI during his minority. As soon as the king reached a suitable age, Humphrey was discredited and arrested on a trumped-up charge. Three days later he died of a stroke. There is no evidence he was mistreated, much less murdered, but people were suspicious. See also Ross at page 71: he shows a shrewd understanding of Gloucester’s situation, especially in view of the fact that the judicial murder of Clarence at the urging of the queen had occurred only five years prior to Edward’s death. Ross readily acknowledges that Richard’s decision to take control of the king was understandable.

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