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

 

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

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

‘The dog did nothing in the night time’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Lord Chancellor

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

 

‘The Chancellor is desperate and not content’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A warrant to arrest persons unknown dated 29 July 1483

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Undated letter concerning the marriage of Thomas Lynom and Mistress Shore

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Letter dated the 12 October from King Richard to John Russell

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

 

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

 

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Armstrong p.85

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

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

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

[15] Hanham (Ricardian) ibid

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

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

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

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

[20] Pronay and Cox p.163

[21] Tudor-Craig pp.54-55

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

[23] Tudor-Craig ibid.

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

[25] Pronay and Cox ibid

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

[27] Hicks (Unweaving the web…) p.107

[28] Hicks pp.107-109

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

[30] Kendall ibid

[31] Ross p.137

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

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

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

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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 6 – “The peace of England, and our safety enforced us to this…”

“So mighty and many are my defects

That I would rather hide me from my greatness

Being a bark to brook no mighty sea

Than in my greatness covet to be had

And is the vapour of my glory smothered”

(William Shakespeare)

 

“ I am unfit for state or majesty”

Richard duke of Gloucester had to put his thinking cap on. His hopes for a peaceful transition from the reign of Edward IV to that of Edward V were dashed. The bishop of Bath and Wells’ revelation that Edward IV was still wed to Eleanor Butler when he married queen Elizabeth had cast a deep almost impenetrable shadow over the royal succession. If true, it meant that he, and not any of his brothers’ children, was the legitimate Yorkist heir.[1] All the while he believed that Edward’s children were legitimate, the duke saw it as his duty to work towards Edward V’s enthronement regardless of his personal feelings. However, the truth was that England was not ready for a boy king, especially a Woodville one. The knowledge that young Edward and all his siblings were illegitimate presented the best opportunity to secure the peace and stability of the realm by putting a proven soldier and administrator on the throne instead of a callow youth. Once the duke was sure that the pre-contract was true his course was obvious. He must take the crown in the national interest and his own. The problem was that that course cut right across the creed he lived by: ‘Loyaulte Me Lie’. Duke Richard was a soldier, a practical man, a ‘doer not a wooer’. The requests for help from York and from his northern adherents were Gloucester’s military solution to a security problem. However, Gloucester the politician was in denial. Catesby’s news that Hastings had joined the conspiracy to murder him and Buckingham and that he (Hastings) had known of the pre-contract for some time raised another practical crisis he could get his teeth into. He had faced danger and death many times in his relatively short life. Ironically, it put him in his comfort zone to deal with this problem like a good soldier rather than a savvy politician[2].

My contention is that since emotionally he was unable to solve the paradox between what he — in his heart of hearts — knew he must do and what he wanted to do about the pre contract he took it out on Hastings. This dilemma clouded his judgment and led him to make two huge mistakes. His first and most serious mistake was to underestimate the role of Margaret Beaufort with Morton in this and in other conspiracies. His second mistake was his failure to bring Hastings before a properly constituted law court for his treason. The outcome was that it allowed his opponents to circulate adverse rumours about him and to defame his posterity. Worst of all, it united disaffected Yorkists and ambitious Lancastrians against him. All this, however, lay in the future. For the moment, he had retained the trust of the council and the city fathers, who believed he was acting in Edward V’s best interest.   They were pleased that he had curbed Woodville power and removed the king from under their baleful influence.

“Look to see a troubled World”

We know from contemporary private sources that whilst there may have been an air of crisis over the weekend with armed gangs on the streets, Londoners in general (and I include the merchant middle class guilds and aldermen in this) and the councilors in particular did not see the threat as coming from the duke of Gloucester. Professor Hicks sums-up the situation nicely: “ Hastings’ death did not stir fears amongst the political leadership that Richard aimed for the throne, but, if anything served to reinforce fears of the queen and the Wydevilles (Woodvilles) and to strengthen trust in Richard.” Hicks also cites the enigmatic note of George Cely as evidence that Richard was not seen as the threat to the peace and stability of the realm: “There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [damage] in England. The Chancellor [Rotherham] is deprived and not content. The bishop of Ely is dead. If the king, God save his life, were to die; the duke of Gloucester were in any peril.   If my lord Prince, whom God protect, were troubled. If my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled. If my lord Howard were slain.” This is not only a good indication of the fear and rumour prevalent, but it also shows that Cely (a Lancastrian wool merchant) feared for the safety of Richard.[3] Notwithstanding Charles Ross’ assertion that the evidence of a Hastings/Woodville conspiracy rests entirely on Richard’s say so,[4] Michael Hicks and Annette Carson both provide evidence that people believed him at the time[5]. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the accounts of Mancini, Crowland and the vernacular London Chronicles included ex post facto embellishments of these events, which were added for partisan reasons to blacken Gloucester’s reputation. They seriously exaggerated the backlash against him.

 

“You break not sanctuary be seizing him”

It is early Monday morning the 16 June 1483: grey and cheerless. An unseasonal chill wind is blowing from the east as the king’s councilors gathered at the Tower. They were understandably wary and nervous. The sudden execution of the Lord Chamberlain last Friday has caused consternation in the city. Notwithstanding the Lord Protector’s calming proclamation, treason is in the air; ordinary people had their swords and daggers to hand; armed men roamed the city streets. Everybody was edgy and suspicious. The tension was tangible. Once the council had assembled and the royal dukes were ready, the whole party moved to Westminster in boats, accompanied by ‘eight boatloads’ of soldiers. Thomas Bourchier the Archbishop of Canterbury together with Lord Howard and other councilors preceded to the Abbots house at Westminster escorted by the soldiers. The dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham with the remainder of the council adjourned to the Star Chamber at Westminster Palace to await events.

After an emotional exchange with the Archbishop, the queen allowed her youngest son to leave sanctuary. She is said to have done so graciously, ‘as far as words went’. Nevertheless, she and the remainder of her family remained in sanctuary. Following a brief reception at Westminster Palace, the young duke of York was escorted to be with his brother in the royal apartments at the Tower. The council then turned to the other main business of the day: the king’s coronation. The councilors were satisfied that the Lord Protectors actions on Friday were justified. The Woodville faction was still regarded as the biggest danger to the stability of the realm. Two important decisions were made. First, the coronation was postponed from the 22 June until the 9 November 1483. Second, the Parliament fixed for the 25 June was cancelled. The business of the day was done[6].

It is obvious that Gloucester had prepared for the removal of York from sanctuary. The eight ‘boatloads’ of troops did not magically appear. They were organised and tasked for their role beforehand. Similarly, the decision to pierce the sanctuary boil had to have been taken over the weekend. Things like that cannot be done extempore. It suggests some basic rethinking by Gloucester. The presence of the young prince was desirable at his brother’s coronation; it was unthinkable that king Edward should be crowned without him there. Indeed, that was the reason given to the queen by the Archbishop when requesting York’s release. The subsequent postponement of the coronation and the cancellation of Parliament were the inevitable consequences of the events of the previous week. In theory it gave more time for reconciliation between the Lord protector and council, and the queen. However, the reality was that reconciliation was almost impossible now. Though in practical terms, the cancellations gave Gloucester more time to resolve the pressing problem of the pre-contract.

If Gloucester decided to seize the crown the possession of both Princes was a pre-requisite. This may explain the ambiguous use of troops. It’s true that the soldiers could have been there simply to protect the royal family and the councilors from the armed gangs in London. It might have been just happenstance, but there is little doubt that the presence of troops was meant to put pressure on the queen to release her son. Mancini reports that Gloucester intended to use force if necessary, and the credulous Professor Charles Ross believes that Gloucester would have risked the ‘moral obloquy’ of forcing sanctuary’ if need be[7]. I’m not so sure he risked obloquy by forcing sanctuary. It would not have been his preference, but he had tried all reasonable means to persuade the queen to re-join the court and she was obdurate. He was a deeply religious man, almost puritan in his piety and it would have grieved him. However, he had the backing of the council, and I doubt if the Archbishop of Canterbury would have acted as his spokesman if he thought Gloucester was a threat to Edward V; neither could Gloucester compel him to do so.

I have been thinking about what has happened over this weekend 532 years ago. What does it mean for Richard duke of Gloucester? Did he do the right thing? And what should he do next? I suspect that those were also his thoughts half a millennium ago. From his perspective, the weekend was a success. The plan was good and its implementation almost flawless.   He crushed a dangerous conspiracy with ease; three of the conspirators are in custody and Hastings is dead. Reinforcements from the north are being organised and he now has custody of both of Edward’s sons. Nevertheless, I have the feeling this was the weekend when Richard won a battle but lost the war. Fatally, his ‘victory’ was nor decisive. His most dangerous and inveterate enemies escaped, and those he did capture were allowed to continue their treasonous plotting unhindered. Even that peerless Ricardian Sir George Buck criticizes Richard for not executing John Morton and keeping Margaret Beaufort incommunicado under lock and key.

Anthony Woodville Lord Rivers, Sir Richard Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan were executed on the 25 June 1483. Sir Richard Ratcliffe supervised their execution under the auspices of the earl of Northumberland and Ralph Neville. Both Mancini and Crowland say that they were executed without trial or justice. However, the presence of Northumberland suggests that there may have been some form of judicial process. Mancini says that Richard gave the order for this execution on his own authority and in defiance of the council’s earlier decision not to charge Rivers et al with treason. However, Gloucester had no reason to flaunt the council, nor was he likely to do so as he was dependent on their support.  He ordered their execution in his capacity as the Lord Protector and Defensor of the realm, with specific responsibility for defending England against external enemies and internal traitors. I have little doubt myself that Rivers, Grey and Vaughan fall into the category of traitors.

Be that as it may, more important to me in this essay, is what this tells us about Gloucester decision to claim the throne by right of strict inheritance. For the executions to take place on the 25 June, they had to have been ordered by the 16 or 17 June 1483 at the latest. Hicks infers that Sir Richard Ratcliffe carried the death warrants north on the 11 June 1483 with Gloucester’s urgent plea for help: but he is mistaken[8]. Crowland writes explicitly that Sir Richard Ratcliffe with the northern lords and their troops were moving south when they interrupted their journey at Pontefract to execute these prisoners[9]. Indeed, they bought Rivers and Grey with them from where they were incarcerated to the place of execution. This indicates to me that they knew the duke’s need for troops was no longer so urgent since he had already foiled the Woodville conspiracy. It is also clear that at the same time they received instructions to execute the Woodville traitors. The inference that I draw from this is that duke Richard sent another message north; one, which, by its secret nature, we may never know about. This contained not only the details of the arrest and execution of Hastings but also the warrants for the execution of Rivers Grey and Vaughan and it must have been sent after the 13 June and before the 17 June 1483. That is when I believe Gloucester decided to assume the crown in place of his nephew. He could not have contemplated executing Rivers and Grey unless he intended to become king of England.

[1] I have not forgotten Edward of Warwick, Clarence’s infant son. It is simply that he was never a serious contender for the throne. First he was the son of an attainted traitor and second, he had no support amongst the English nobility for the reversal of the attainder or for his succession.

[2] As the youngest son of a duke, Richard was not expected to succeed to the throne. Consequently, his upbringing, training and experience had done very little to prepare him for this situation.   Throughout his adult life he had served his brother faithfully and well in a subordinate capacity. His training and aptitude for soldiering, and his military experience, combined with his successful tenure as ‘Lord of the North’, demonstrated that duke Richard was a capable governor and certainly not a soft touch. However, his voluntary absence from Edward’s decadent court meant that he was unused to the intensity and causticity of Beaufort and Woodville intriguing when he had to deal with it. A shrewder politician might have seen the danger of the Beaufort/Tudor/Morton axis earlier, and dealt with it.

[3] Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 revised edition) at pages 114-116. Hicks’ analysis of the contemporary opinion of Richard during May and June 1483 supports the view that his action in curbing the Woodvilles was popular and the execution of Hastings was justified. In fact, Hicks makes a point of rejecting Mancini’s account as hindsight, along with other chronicle accounts. He observes, “The events that follow are a better guide.”

[4] Charles Ross- Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 81

[5] See Hicks, ibid. See also Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (The History Press 2013 revised edition) at pages 102-104. Carson is a particularly useful reference since the author has helpfully collated the relevant sources for this episode in one place. It obviates the need for me to go into any more detail.

[6] I have followed the following sources in reconstructing this event. AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III [Oxford, 1969]) at pages 89 and 124, note 74. See also Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 159; and also Richard J Sylvester – The complete Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of King Richard III (Yale 1963) at pages 45-49 and note 46/7-47/1 page 216.

[7] Ross, page 87.

[8] Hicks, at pages 132-133; Hicks makes the point that Northumberland and Neville were hardly likely to comply with Gloucester’s instructions unless they were assured of immunity from any recriminations. His inference that they knew of Gloucester’s intended usurpation before they set out from the north is inescapable. However, and not for the first time, professor Hicks has failed to explore other possibilities. Instead, he confines himself to an inference that fits his pre-conceived conclusion that Gloucester was deceiving the council and manipulating public opinion. It is a conclusion based on the premise that usurpation was always his intention. A premise, which is not supported by the evidence of what actually happened between April and June 1483.

[9] Crowland at page 161

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