” Never let it be said that fate itself could awe the soul of Richard.
Hence babbling dreams, you threaten here in vain;
Conscience avaunt, Richard’s himself again”
(The tragical history of King Richard the Third)
Richard’s himself again: or is he?
There is a moment in Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ that is not Shakespearean. It occurs during the Bosworth scene just as the king is about to ride into battle. Unnerved by the ghostly apparitions in the night of his vengeful victims, Richard’s courage seems to desert him (‘O Ratcliffe, I fear, I fear ‘). However, the sight and sound of Richmond’s army approaching rouses his natural ‘heroical temperament’ and as he rides away he whispers in White Surrey’s ear ‘Richard’s himself again’, which is not a phrase you will find in any extant Quarto or Folio edition of the play. It is, in fact, an interpolation from Coley Cibber’s seventeenth century adaptation and a small but significant example of Olivier’s editing. Its purpose is to reinforce the notion that Richard’s courage and resolution are unimpaired on the morning of battle. Its importance to Cibber (and presumably to Olivier also) is that it counters the insinuation in some interpretations of the play that King Richard was demoralized by guilt, fear and desperation at Bosworth.
Even though Olivier’s film is so heavily modified that much the subtlety of Shakespeare’s original play is lost, it should not be thought that his adaptation is inartistic. He is simply one of a number of distinguished actors and directors who between the reigns of the first and second Elizabeth have imposed their artistic ambition on the play. The point is that Shakespeare’s plays are not fossils set in stone. They are each subject to historical relativity and usage. Succeeding generations of actors, directors and producers have adapted them according to their artistic taste or the cultural, social and political ethos of their society. Indeed, it is possible that this play was used as a metaphor for exploring the concerns of contemporary first Elizabethans as well as those of later cultures. Modern performances of the play have portrayed Richard as a proxy for Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and ‘Rikki Ortega’ (a fictitious Californian gangster) among others. Henry Goodman in the RSC’s 2003 production found ‘parallels for Richard’s deranged mind’ in the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Anthony Sher (1984), looking for clues of Richard’s stage personality studied the psychology of the real serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least twelve men between 1978 and 1983. Contemporary socio-cultural themes such as physical and mental disability, gender, racial and class discrimination, and the importance of Richard III as a ‘case study’ of tyranny, are all now aspects of modern performances.  In fact, so different is the public taste for this play today that I wonder whether Shakespeare would recognize it as the one he wrote for Richard Burbage in the last decade of the sixteenth century.
Sign of the times
The play that Shakespeare actually wrote was an immediate smash-hit financially and critically. Moreover, Burbage’s portrayal of Richard was so powerful that it defined performances of the play for generations afterwards and contributed an epic snippet of Shakespearean erotic mythology, which we learn from John Manningham, a student at the Inner Temple, who wrote in his diary in 1602: ‘Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.’ I don’t know whether this anecdote is true or not, but it is at the very least an indication of the sensuousness of Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard and the popularity of his play.
The old adage that ‘plays are meant to be performed not read’ may be corny but it’s true nonetheless. The importance of actors and directors in shaping our opinion of this play cannot be overstated. In my copy of the RSC’s text, it states quite clearly that the best way to understand this play is to see or ideally to participate in it. It is my aim in this article to explore the theme of change in the production, presentation and performance of Richard III. Naturally, I am aware that it is this play that is in no small part responsible for the historical Richard’s bad reputation. Nevertheless, having written some articles in favour of the factual Richard III, I feel compelled to write a few lines in defence of the fictional one and the man who created him.
The distinction I make between the fictional and the factual Richard is not artificial and it is important. It is ignored or blurred too often and for too long in discussions and analysis of the play or the man.  There are almost as many myths about the play as there are about Richard. Chief among these is the notion that Shakespeare is personally to blame for the misjudgement of history. I hope to show that is not true and that Shakespeare was far from being a Tudor stooge. While there is no doubt that he embraced the Tudor narrative of Richard as a villain or that he structured his play around the Tudor histories of Thomas More and Edward Hall, Shakespeare doesn’t make Richard out to be as bad as he might have done.
‘Matters of state, not fit to be suffered’
We now have a better appreciation of Tudor bias. The depiction of Richard as a monstrous villain without any redeeming characteristics was necessary to bolster Henry VII’s weak royal title. The fact is that in Tudor England and particularly during the Elizabethan period the condemnation of Richard in literature was practically unanimous. Regardless of his personal opinion, therefore, Shakespeare had little choice other than to conform to the ‘tenets of Tudor orthodoxy’. The Privy Council enforced strict censorship of ‘certain matters of state not fit to be suffered’. Shakespeare would have been extremely foolish to depart from the prescribed doctrine on touchy issues such as the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty. The contemporary notion of kingship held that it was contrary to God’s law to depose a crowned and anointed king. Even a tyrant enjoyed God’s protection; however, whereas a tyrant must be endured a usurper was outside God’s law and could be overthrown with impunity. It was, therefore, necessary to depict Richard III as a usurper and a tyrant. Otherwise, it would call into question Tudor legitimacy and, more importantly, the validity of Elizabeth’s succession.
In that context, it is all the more remarkable that Shakespeare does not depict Richard as the unrelieved monster of Tudor dogma. He is charismatic and his sardonic humour soon has the audience laughing with him; indeed, they are, in a sense, his co-conspirators. From the moment he enters the stage, Richard takes control of the play and the audience. Conversely, Shakespeare does all he can to downplay Richmond’s role. He writes nothing to make him personally attractive to the audience. He is not even mentioned until the fourth act and doesn’t appear on stage until the last. There is no scope for the audience to form any sort of relationship with such a boring, distant and obscure antagonist. Neither does Shakespeare write anything to counter suggestions that Richmond’s claim to the throne is questionable. In fact, it is soon clear that Richard cannot be defeated by any human adversary, least of all Richmond whose sole purpose is to be the clunky deus ex machina figure who is still alive at the end; it is an indication of his dramatic irrelevance. I will return to these points later but for now I want to mention the play’s textual history.
Shakespeare wrote this play either in 1692 or 1694. The case for 1692 is based entirely on speculation about Shakespeare’s professional relationship with Ferdinando Lord Strange, a descendant of William Stanley the earl of Derby. Although that date cannot be dismissed out of hand, it seems more likely that the play was written in 1594 for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They were by far the most important and influential company of actors and in Richard Burbage they had the greatest actor of his generation. Writing for them was a good career move for Shakespeare who needed a star actor to play Richard. The Tragedy of Richard III together with the three parts of Henry VI comprised Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of history plays. He wrote the second tetralogy about a few years later. Confusingly, these plays are about earlier kings: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. The two tetralogies together chart the course of English history from the reign Richard II to the death of Richard III.
It is disappointing — to say the least — that none of the surviving Quarto and Folio texts of this play were authorised by Shakespeare. Experts cannot even be sure whether the synthetic text currently used in performance is an accurate representation of the version first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Quarto text of the play (a small booklet) was printed in 1597 (Q1) and thereafter re-printed five times (in 1598,1602,1605,1612 and 1622). Unfortunately, each re-print was copied from the previous one, thus perpetuating existing errors and adding new ones. Consequently, every print after Q1 is different from every other print, which makes the Quarto version useless as a performance text. It is possible (I put it no higher) that Q1 is a ‘memorial’ version of the play assembled from memory by actors who had lost or forgotten their prompt sheets, or who wished to streamline the play for a provincial performance. The First Folio (F1) version of the play was published in 1623 as part of a compendium of Shakespeare’s plays. It might have been copied from an independent manuscript that pre-dates Q1 (Is it Shakespeare’s original version? Who knows?) Understanding the relationship between these versions of the play is the most difficult textual problem of all Shakespeare’s plays; it has troubled scholars for years. F1 is longer than Q1. Whether, this us due to a reduction in Q1 or an enlargement of F1 is anyone’s guess. All we can truthfully say about these texts is that they differ from each other and are error-full.
Coley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor-manager, who at the turn of the eighteenth century wrote and printed a vigorous and populist adaption of Shakespeare’s play. He reduced its length by cutting all but eight hundred lines from Shakespeare and adding two thousand of his own, together with lines from Henry V and Henry VI part 3. The characters of Clarence, Edward IV, Rivers and Queen Margaret are omitted altogether. Despite being mocked at the time for its crudity, Cibber version became the standard performance text from 1700 until 1821. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century that the F1 became the preferred stage text play. Cibber understood his audience. Shakespeare’s play was too long for eighteenth century playgoers who had no connection with, or understanding of fifteenth century politics. The real problem for purists is that Cibber’s adaptation concentrates attention even more on Richard at the expense of his lively interactions with Edward, Clarence, Margaret and Buckingham, which make Shakespeare’s play so compelling. In that sense, Cibber’s alterations are crude.
‘The Play’s the thing…’
‘The tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is indubitably a psychological profile of a dramatic villain. Richard’s solo entrance and memorable opening soliloquy are indicative of his dramatic dominance and also of Shakespeare’s artistic intention to create a star theatrical villain rather than continue the cyclic theme of atrocity and revenge, as seen in the Henrician plays. It is a change, which whether intended or not, challenges the idea that the first tetralogy represent a serial epic that is intended to be seen as a set and in sequence after the second tetralogy. It is a conundrum that has produced two distinctly different schools of thought. One is teleological in nature; the other is analogical.
The teleological theory interprets the cycle of history plays from Richard II to Richard III within the context of Tudor historiology and literature. The death of Richard III is seen as the preordained end of a curse that had afflicted England since the murder of Richard II. In the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare constantly links the present with the past. He never lets us forget that the usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke and the murder of Richard of Bordeaux were the root causes of division and tumult. Professor EMW Tillyard writing in the mid twentieth century argues that all four plays are united in political themes of order and chaos, and unity and civil war. : “The main business of the play [Richard III] is to complete [the] national tetralogy and to display the working out of God’s plan to restore England to prosperity…in its function of summing-up and completing what has gone before, Richard III inevitable suffers as a detached unit.”  He asserts that such a conclusion is inescapable in view of the ‘plays failure to remember’ Clarence’s perjury to Warwick, Queen Margaret’s mock crowning of York, the murder of Rutland and the murder of Prince Edward by York’s sons; If it were not so, implies Tillyard, the play would not make sense to audiences. ” For the purposes of the tetralogy and most obviously for this play, Shakespeare accepted the prevalent belief that God had guided England into the haven of Tudor prosperity”  Tillyard’s suggestion that Richard III is a religious play can only be substantiated if it is judged according to the traditional Tudor narrative, wherein both Richard and Richmond are God’s instruments. Richard is God’s scourge; Richmond, his emissary.
Tillyard’s only concession to Richard’s dramatic importance is that he is so evil and depraved, and his sins are so vast that his evil is absorptive and not contagious “He is the great ulcer of the body politic into which all impurity is drained and against which all the body politic are united.” Nowadays, Tillyard’s ideas are regarded as sentimental “The view from a Cambridge college window looking out at a world at war [the Second World War] and nostalgic for a more stable and comprehensible historical process” Whilst there are some obvious flaws in professor Tillyard’s logic, it is ridiculous to suggest that his ideas are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. However, his assumption that all Elizabethan’s shared the Tudor view of harmony is patently untrue. There was extreme political and religious division among the population.
The play’s theatrical history shows that from the sixteenth century until the twenty first century, political thinkers have used it as a medium for expressing their concerns in times of oppression and/or suppression. These performances use Richard’s rise to power, his elimination of opponents, his dissembling and his amorality as an oblique warning against the onset of tyranny in their own times. The fact that the play lends itself to this approach indicates that it is far more complicated than professor Tillyard suggests. It’s a point picked up by Sir Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of The National Theatre. His production of Richard III starring Ian Mckellen toured the world in 1990 and inspired the subsequent film. Eyre’s decision to set the play in the 1930’s during the rise of Fascism was an artistic one based on his opinion that ” We have to keep thinking of ways of doing Shakespeare’s plays. They don’t have absolute meanings. There is no fixed, frozen way of doing them. Nobody can mine a Shakespeare play and discover a ‘solution’ [sic].”  However, in 1991 he took the play to Rumania, which he regarded as its spiritual home and used its enduring political power as a warning against tyrants such as the Romanian despot Ceausescu, and others such as Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Eyre even suggests that Richard III could be seen as a handbook for Tyrants.
I must admit that the most memorable performances that I have seen (Olivier, Mckellen, Sher and Rylance) have been when the play was performed alone rather than as one of a sequence of plays. As a schoolboy, I watched the BBC’s 1960 production ‘Age of Kings’ in which the first and second tetralogies were broadcast over many weeks. As I recall, Paul Daneman was a drab and unconvincing Richard and Sean Connery was a surreal Hotspur. I found Peter Hall’s 1963 RSC production of the Wars of the Roses, which was based on the first tetralogy, equally uninspiring. Ian Holm’s Richard being small of stature was incapable of dominating the play physically or dramatically. I was not impressed. I learned later that this casting was deliberate. The aim was to portray Richard as just another royal pretender.
My difficulty with the teleological and analogical concepts is that they are prescriptive. Tillyard’s Richard is God’s instrument and therefore not responsible for his actions as the end is pre-ordained. The notion that the play is actually a metaphor for tyranny is equally limiting since it dismisses Richard as nothing more than a cruel brute of a type that historically were responsible for countless innocent deaths. In my personal opinion, neither approach does justice to Shakespeare’s artistry and this play’s complexity. The reality is that Richard displays aspects of both theories and more. We cannot even be sure of the play’s genre. Shakespeare called it a ‘tragedy’; the compilers of the First Folio, classified it as a ‘history’. In the last century, professor AP Rossiter identified elements of comedy in the play. What are we supposed to think? I don’t believe that Shakespeare’s creativity was limited by anything so rigid as genre. Polonius’ suggests as much in this little speech to Hamlet wherein he introduces ‘the actors’ to the prince. “The best actors in the world either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, not Plautus too light for the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.”  I like to think that Shakespeare was writing from his experience with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
Shakespeare’s description of the play as a tragedy does not imply an ethical or emotional judgement. It is a definition of the plays structure, which is based on the classical Senecan tragedies that depict the rise of great men and their downfall at fortune’s wheel. It is Shakespeare’s way of heralding his artistic transition from the dramatization of chronicle histories to the creation of a histrionic and complex theatrical protagonist as the centrepiece of his drama. It was professor A P Rossiter in a lecture given ten years after Tillyard’s book who drew attention to the paradoxicality of Richard’s character, which he suggests “…decisively complicates the plays moral and political significance.“ The problem as Rossiter sees it, is the illogicality between the concept of Richard as ‘a huge triumphant stage figure’ and his depiction by Tillyard within a rigid Tudor concept of retributive justice. Richard contradicts the expressly Christian notion of the Vice character in medieval morality plays; he is “…a heroic exemplar of humankind as being able to exert will; the world is poorer for his loss.” This characterization also undermines the simplistic analogical idea that Richard is simply an evil man in a long line of evil men.
Shakespeare’s apparent conformity with conventional Tudor historiography is therefore complicated by his depiction of Richard as a caricature combining features from three theatrical characters familiar to Elizabethan audiences: the ‘de Casibus tragedian’, the demonic-comedian Vice character of the morality plays and the Marlovian Machiavellian of the Elizabethan stage. Above all, Shakespeare’s Richard is an actor. He is charming, witty, intelligent and eloquent, and dissembles his many parts so brilliantly that those whom he intends to kill do not realise until the very last moment that he is not their friend. He is Shakespeare’s version of a ‘thoroughly bad man in the role of a monarch and hero’ Rossiter describes him thus: ” He [is] a mocking comedian, a ‘Vice’ king but with a clear inheritance from the old Vice moralities: part symbol of evil, part comic devil and chiefly — on stage — the generator of roars of laughter at wickedness the audience would …condemn in reality.”
His sardonic sense of humour is not a conventional rendering of Tudor doctrine. He makes us laugh. We are on his side. We enjoy this gritty comedy because we are Richard’s confidantes. We see the fools he dupes through his eyes and with his mind. We rejoice in their downfall. Richard is not just a consummate actor; he is also a consummate villain. He knows what he wants. He delights in telling us what he is going to do, and he does it. He can assume any mood or passion at will. He is believed without question. He has perfected simulation of every feeling and phrase to serve his purpose. And he has eliminated any weakness that might betray him, such as feelings of compunction, pity and uncertainty of mind. Richard has all the qualities of the complete Machiavellian: ” …lifelong and unremitting vigilance in relentless simulation and indomitable deception.”  By presenting Richard in this form, Shakespeare is neither proving nor de-bunking the Tudor myth. Instead of certainty we have only ambiguity.
 Coley Cibber – The tragical history of King Richard the Third. Altered from Shakespeare by Coley Cibber, Esq. (London 1769 print) p.66
 John Jowett (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Oxford 2000) p.17; Annalieze Connelly (ed) – Richard III: a critical reader (Bloomsbury/Arden 2013) pp.111-150 passim.
 Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Macmillan/RSC Shakespeare 2008) p.167.
 Bate ibid; Connolly pp.33-45 passim; the rise of Material Culturism has politicized the play. Material Culturists use a close examination of the play’s text to identify the ‘dominant hegemonic force in society’ (e.g. Crown, Church, Family and so forth) and the methods for disseminating their doctrine/ideology. By analyzing the text Material Culturists hope to spot examples of dissent and complicity with the dominant force’s doctrine/ideology. It is a methodology that tends to spotlight those people who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized by society, by virtue of their race, religion, gender, class or disability.
 Stephen Greenblatt – Tyrant: Shakespeare on power (The Bodley Head 2018) pp.53-95; professor Greenblatt has an interesting theory on tyrants and especially how they come to power. His view of Richard is wholly negative. He is a ‘worthless piece of work. There is no secret about his cynicism, cruelty and [treachery], no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe he could ever rule the country effectively… he leaves nothing behind except wreckage. It would have been better had he never been born’. Greenblatt is a professor of the Humanities and an expert on the works of Shakespeare: I am not. Nevertheless, there is much about his book with which I disagree. It is, I believe a good example of the simplistic thinking that comes from basing an opinion of the play on a study of the text conducted in an academic vacuum without the context of performance. But most of all I cannot accept his premise that Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard is an accurate representation of the real man, or that it was ever intended to be
 Greenblatt pp.1-23; contains a discussion on Shakespeare’s freedom of speech in the context of late Elizabethan religious fanaticism, domestic political intrigue and the threat to the English succession from a foreign power.
 Jowett pp.11-16
 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary – “dues ex machina (literally: ‘God from the machine’): a divine power, event, or person arriving in time to solve a difficulty (often rather contrived) interposition, esp. in a novel or play”. For example, ‘and then I woke up’.
 Jowett PP. 4-6; Shakespeare’s manipulation of history to put a positive spin on William Stanley’s part in Richard III’s downfall has tempted some scholars to speculate that the play was written in 1692 for Lord Strange’s Men. Ferdinando Lord Strange was a descendant of the said Thomas Stanley Earl of Derby and also of Henry VII (by Henry’s granddaughter Margaret Clifford). This may explain why Shakespeare has tactfully ignored Stanley’s acquiescence in Hastings’ execution, his part in crushing Buckingham’s rebellion, the rewards he received from King Richard and his ‘wait and see’ policy in 1485. Thomas Stanley is also portrayed as leading the Stanley contingent that surrounded and killed the King, whereas it was actually his brother William. It might also explain why Thomas Stanley has such a prominent role in the final scenes: presenting Henry with his crown and predicting the joyous union of York and Lancaster. Lord Strange and his family were noted for their Roman Catholic sympathies; however, in true Stanley fashion they managed to keep on the right side of the Reformation by hunting down Jesuits. From both the protestant and the catholic perspectives, Strange’s loyalty was suspect.
 Jowett pp. 73-74; the three Henrician plays were first published under the following titles: The First part of Henry VI (taken from the First Folio, there being no earlier text); The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster (now Henry VI part 2) and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (now Henry VI part 3).
 Bate p.18; the title of the 1597 print makes interesting reading: “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, containing the treacherous plots against his brother Clarence; the pitiful murder of his innocent nephews; his tyrannical usurpation; with the whole course of his detested life and deserved death. As has been lately performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s men, his servants”
 Jowett pp.110-120; Bate pp.9-15; both these editors provides extensive discussion on the textual chronology and problems arising from Quarto and Folio editions. See also Julie Hankey (ed) – Shakespeare’s Richard III in Performance (Junction Books 1981) pp. 27-32. It is also worth considering EAJ Honigmann (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1968) pp. 242-244. His textual notes were still helpful to me fifty years after they were written.
 Bate p.16; Richard had 32% of the lines in F1; more than any other Shakespearean protagonist except Hamlet (37%). Richmond by comparison has 4% of the lines, which is an index of his artistic importance. In Cibber’s adaptation, Richard’s share rises to 40%.
 Richards solo appearance and his opening soliloquy are unique in the Shakespearean canon. He is the only protagonist to open and speak first in his own play.
 EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) pp.200-04
 Tillyard ibid
 Tillyard p.208
 Connelly pp. 33-45;
 Bate and Rasmussen p.200
 TJB Spencer (ed) – Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1996) p.115 Act 2, Scene 2; ‘the law of writ and the liberty plays’: Polonius is distinguishing between plays that follow classical principles, like Ben Johnson’s and plays like Shakespeare’s with greater freedom of structure. The mixture of tragical-comical-historical-pastoral seems absurd until we recall that Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline.
 Jowett pp. 23-24; Seneca (BC 4-AD 65) was a Roman stoic philosopher and dramatist. He is famous for ten tragical plays that depict the rise of great men and their ruination or self-destruction due to uncontrolled emotion or madness. Seneca was widely read in medieval and renaissance Christendom. His tragedies influenced Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers.
 AP Rossiter – Angels with Horns: fifteen lectures on Shakespeare (Longman 1989 edition) pp.1-22; see also Jowett p.10.
 Jowett pp.10-11 citing Nicholas Brooke – Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (1968) pp. 78-79.
 De Casibus vivorum illustrium (on the fate of famous men): this is an encyclopedia of historical biographies dealing with the fortunes and calamities of famous men from Adam until the fourteenth century: not only their lives, but also their moral virtues.
 Rossiter p.15
 Rossiter p.17
 Rossiter ibid
The above image depicts Henry V receiving a box of tennis balls from the French Dauphin. Right. I know this was supposed to have happened – well, Shakespeare said so – but this doesn’t look like Henry V to me! It looks more like a Tudorised Richard III! Wearing Nora Batty’s wrinkled stockings.
More bah, humbug! A load of balls, in fact.
Recently it hit the news that the key to Lumley Castle’s ancient banqueting hall had been returned after it was stolen during an event 40 years ago. Lumley Castle is currently a hotel (so another one to add to the list of interesting castles you can stay in!) and the family who lived there had some interesting connections to various personages during the Wars of the Roses.
The castle, which stands at Chester-le-Street, not far from Durham, was built in 1389 by Sir Ralph Lumley, replacing an earlier manor house. Unfortunately Ralph got involved in a plot to topple Henry IV and ended up on the block, leaving his widow Eleanor Neville, a daughter of Lord Neville of Raby Castle, in an almost destitute position. The castle was handed over to the Earl of Somerset, although Ralph’s son John was permitted to live in it. In 1421, however, when John died fighting for Henry V in France, the castle was granted back to Ralph’s grandson, John’s son Thomas.
Thomas Lumley was a Yorkist, and was at the seige of Bamburgh castle in 1464, when Warwick blased the walls with cannonfire, making it the first English castle to fall to gunfire.
His son, George, became an MP and Sheriff of Northumberland. He served Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and was one of his commanders when he took the town of Berwick-on-Tweed back for England. Richard knighted him, along with many other notables, in the Scottish Campaign. He also fought for Richard at Bosworth and survived.
George managed to make the transition to the new regime and accompanied Henry VII on his first progress in the north. He also once accompanied the Princess Margaret Tudor to Scotland. He seems to have been a feisty sort and slew his own wife’s bastard brother, Giles Thornton, in a duel in a ditch at Windsor Castle.
It is said that George’s son, Thomas, who predeceased his father, married an illegitimate daughter of Edward IV , “Elizabeth”, supposedly the daughter of Elizabeth Wayte, but this is a matter of debate.
THE MISSING KEY:
It was fortunate for Henry V that someone on the Orleanist side of politics decided to murder the Duke of Burgundy. This persuaded the new duke, Philippe the “Good” to take Henry’s side, a development which led to the Treaty of Troyes and Henry’s marriage to fair Catherine of France. Henry had by this time conquered a fair chunk of Normandy, but this had stretched his resources considerably. Thanks to the new alliance he could paint himself as the legitimate ruler of France, and some Frenchmen, like Burgundy, were willing to come over to his side.
At the same time, although the cause of the Dauphin and the Orleanists looked bleak, the fact remains that they were in possession of the majority of French territory and the resources that went with it. Henry would need to conquer this, castle by castle, town by town, and every new garrison needed more soldiers and the means to supply them with necessaries.
The bright spot was that the conquered territories did provide a source of revenue. The bad news was that the English Parliament was increasingly of the view that the war was “nothing to do with us, guv.” In short, they saw the conquest as Henry’s conquest rather than England’s, and, in their view, it was up to Henry to defeat his “rebels” at the expense of the Kingdom of France.
That a typical Englishman of this time had his chest swelled with pride at the thought of English military glory, but at the same moment did not want to pay towards the costs should not really surprise us. It was a characteristic of the English almost all the way through.
Henry V’s early death in 1422, with nothing really resolved, was another good example of the “hospital pass”. To Henry V, the glory, to Henry VI the criticism for failing to do the impossible.
It was fortunate for the English that the management of their position in France fell to John, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s next surviving brother, who just happened to be one of the most able men to grace the entire middle ages, let alone the fifteenth century. Bedford won a stunning victory at Verneuil (1424) which was, if anything, more impressive than Agincourt, though rather less famous.
After that, though, the Anglo-Burgundian position slowly but surely began to deteriorate. There were a number of reasons for this, and one was certainly that Philippe of Burgundy was never 100% committed, except to his own interests. Another key factor was that French gradually improved their military establishment, not least by investing heavily in artillery. But above all, the limitations of English resources in terms of both men and cash became increasingly apparent as the years went by.
As I have remarked before, what is astonishing about Lancastrian France was not that it fell when it did, but that it lasted so long. The Treaty of Arras (1435) detached Burgundy from the English side, and that should have been the end. As it was, the English were not finally expelled from Normandy until 1450, while the last English intervention in Gascony failed in 1453. The tactics of Agincourt no longer worked. The French had developed a well-organised, well-equipped, professional army, while England struggled to raise field armies of any size at all.
Much of this prolongation of the war was down to English pluck and determination, to say nothing of good fortification, but it was really a hopeless cause. If Henry VI had been a more talented ruler – which would not have been hard – or if some of his generals (notably the first Duke of Somerset) had been a bit more inspired than they were, then maybe, just maybe, the disaster might have been stretched out a little longer. Alternatively, if certain English statesmen – notably Humphrey of Gloucester – had been more realistic and less deluded, then something might have been saved of the English possessions in France. As it was, a losing fight against overwhelming odds could only have one end.
The effect on England, as a nation, was disastrous. The self-image of a country that was a great military power was shattered. The treasury was not only empty, but massively in debt, despite years of war taxation. The King’s government was feeble at best, and disorder was commonplace, even to the extent of outbreaks of fighting between rival families. Of course, it must be admitted that Henry VI was one of our least effective monarchs, and that his tendency to favour the incompetent Beauforts over the (relatively) competent Duke of York did not help. The political crisis began long before the final defeat in France, but that defeat added a whole new level to it.
Since all attempts at political compromise failed, it was all but inevitable that what we now call the Wars of Roses should break out, even though the first “battle” (St. Albans 1455) was little more than an unseemly squabble. But the root of political instability in England was the disastrous policy of war with France.
Henry IV had the image of a warrior. It was just as well as no sooner was he established on the throne than he was fighting in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France, as well as beating off his internal enemies. So it will not surprise you that the country was soon bankrupt, and that Henry was busy with his Parliaments, inevitably discontented by the necessary taxation to fund all this fun.
Of course, these wars were dull, low-level affairs. There were certainly no repeats of Crecy. The nearest to that was probably the defeat of the Scots at Homildon, 1402, a victory that was largely down to the tactics suggested by the renegade Scottish Earl of March, although naturally the Percy family were prominently involved.
As many of you know, I am not Henry Bolingbroke’s greatest fan. In many ways he was a sordid little creep, and the kindest thing I can say about him is that he liked books. However, you have to, however reluctantly, admire the sheer tenacity with which he held on against all the odds. Towards the end of his reign, as Henry himself fell more and more ill with his mysterious disease, the financial pressures eased and so did the military situation. It became possible to intervene in France again.
The King of France, Charles VI, had been more or less insane since Richard’s time, and was not improving. Factions within France, on the one hand the Burgundians, and on the other the Orleanists/Armagnacs, were tearing the country apart, indeed fighting a civil war over who should govern. After some consideration (and doubtless bidding) England decided to go in on the side of the Orleans faction.
This was quite a shrewd move, financially. The English effectively took part as mercenaries. They had barely landed before the contending parties decided to make peace. So the English returned home again, somewhat enriched and bearing with them certain hostages who were not to see France again for many a long year.
As soon as Henry V acceded in 1413, he decided to build on this. Some historians think he chose war because he was on shaky ground at home. However, Henry, for some bizarre reason, seems genuinely to have believed he was the rightful King of France in God’s eyes. (How he came to believe this when he was not even the rightful King of England is a great mystery, but that’s religious bigots for you.)
The French offered quite enormous concessions as an alternative, and a remotely sane King of England would have bitten their hand off. Not Henry. Parliament, temporarily gung-ho, proved willing to finance his expedition, and off Henry went.
This led to another one of the Great Victories – Agincourt. Henry attributed his success to God, and he may have been right to do so. He was extremely lucky, in that the French seemed to have forgot all the wisdom they had learned in the late 14th Century, and charged in as they had done in their earlier losing battles. Had they simply harassed Henry on a daily basis, and not engaged in battle at all, it is extremely likely that his small and sickly army would have been destroyed piecemeal.
Nevertheless, Agincourt massively boosted English morale, and massively dented that of the French. For the English, and certainly for Henry, it looked like God had shown the green light, and that the English claim to France (or at least major chunks of it) could now be realised. This was largely a delusion, because nothing of France had yet been conquered (unless you count Harfleur) and England’s resources (and willingness to spend them) were no greater. For France, the main problem, looked at objectively, was that it remained divided in itself. Much depended on whether one faction or the other could be persuaded to throw its lot in with the English. If it could, Henry (and English pretensions) had a real chance of success. Against a united France, there was virtually none, at least in the long term.
(This post is reblogged from The Yorkist Age.)
What is one of the first things we say on seeing a new baby? Something along the lines of how much the new arrival takes after his/her father/mother/uncle/aunt/grandfather etc. etc. For those of us with a great interest in history, it is almost irresistible to compare various historical figures in the same way. For instance, we think of Edward IV, 6’ 4”, handsome, glamorous and so on. Then we think of his grandson, Henry VIII, who was much the same. And the looks of both deteriorated abysmally as they aged. Birds of a feather.
I won’t even mention Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who were completely interchangeable!
The very proper Lady Eleanor Talbot was a well-connected widow for whom it seems the young King Edward IV fell so heavily that he was prepared to promise marriage in order to get her into his bed. It was the only way he’d have his wicked way. But when he consummated this promise, he made it a marriage in fact. Edward must have thought he had this inconvenience covered. His vows with Eleanor were exchanged in secret, and the whole clandestine marriage was kept under wraps afterward. Then he fell for another attractive widow, Elizabeth Woodville, who, the legend goes, waylaid him on the highway, wearing black, her arms around her fatherless sons. She would not give him what he wanted either, unless he married her. Aha, the incorrigible Edward no doubt thought, I’ll pull the same trick as before. This time, however, he chose the wrong lady. Elizabeth Woodville and her large family were a whole new ball game, as the saying goes.
Edward came clean about this dubious marriage, probably to spite the Earl of Warwick (the Kingmaker). Eleanor, the injured wife, said nothing, even though she lived on for four years after this unlawful second marriage. Elizabeth Woodville was never any more than Edward’s mistress, and all her children by him were illegitimate. The rest, they say, became England’s history.
I was asked to take two portraits—apparently reliable likenesses created by modern science—of two particular medieval ladies, Eleanor Talbot and her niece, Anne Mowbray (see The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, figs. 5-6)—to see if such a swap-over brought out any family likeness. Well, this particular tweaking was beyond my capabilities because the angles of the faces were too different. So my next thought was to see if these ladies bore any likeness to other members of their families. By examining their families, I mean parents and grandparents. If I try to go further, far too many of England’s aristocratic lines will be drawn into the equation. And what with there being so many remarriages and half-families, it can very quickly get out of hand.
I am very conscious, too, that all of these people can only be assessed from contemporary descriptions, tomb effigies, portraits or drawings. The first portrait of a king of England that is known to be a true likeness, is that of Richard II in Westminster Abbey. We know it’s accurate because he wanted it to be, and approved the result, complete with those strange, heavy-lidded eyes. Richard’s tomb effigy is therefore accurate as well, because the same features are there.
The Westminster Abbey effigy of his grandfather, Edward III, was clearly taken from a death mask, and shows his mouth with the droop that indicates a stroke. Accuracy, it seems. But what of Edward III’s eldest son, Richard II’s father, Edward of Woodstock, known to history as the Black Prince? Well, we have his effigy in Canterbury Cathedral, but it seems stylised. . .except, perhaps for the same heavy-lidded eyes? Or am I seeing something that isn’t actually there? Edward III does not seem to have resembled his grandson at all.
But these are royalty, with a capital R. Just how much accuracy was involved amid the nobility in general is impossible to assess. However, being a game lass, I’m prepared to have a go at detecting the all-important family likeness when it comes to Eleanor and Anne Mowbray, and Elizabeth Talbot, Eleanor’s full sister and Anne’s mother.
Let us discuss what is known of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s appearance. Eleanor appears to have been striking, with a large nose, longish face, slanting eyes and small chin. She has been given almost black hair and eyebrows. To me, Elizabeth has the same shape of face as Eleanor. Her portrait is from a medieval stained glass window, but there is, of course, no way of knowing if the creator of that window was attempting to produce a true likeness. The long face appears in turn to have been inherited from their father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. His tomb effigy, although damaged, seems to depict the same facial structure as Eleanor and Elizabeth. The only thing that can be said is (provided the effigy is meant to be accurate) he had a long face and fairly strong chin. Unless, of course, the chin is actually meant to be a small beard. I cannot tell, having only seen photographs.
One thing we do know about him is that he had dark, almost black hair. Here are three other likenesses of him that show this, albeit his hairstyle being that awful crop worn so unflatteringly by Henry V. By the time of John Talbot’s death, his hair was long again, or so his effigy suggests. Of the three images, the two smaller ones show the long face. The large one does not. Two out of three? I’ll go with the long face.
Subsequent Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury were of the half-blood to Eleanor and Elizabeth, descending from their father’s first marriage. Trying to work out which illustrations are of these earls, or more of the 1st earl, has proved most unsatisfactory. I thought I’d found the 2nd and 3rd earls, only to discover the same illustrations elsewhere claiming to be of the first John Talbot. So I left well alone, and stuck to likenesses that I know are of Eleanor and Elizabeth’s father, the 1st earl.
All in all, I feel it very likely that Eleanor—and maybe Elizabeth too— had John Talbot’s dark hair. Not necessarily, of course. My mother had very dark hair, and my father was blond. I am blonde. And Lady Anne Mowbray had red hair. Where did that come from? Eleanor and Elizabeth’s mother, Margaret Beauchamp? Or her own father, John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk? Or somewhere else entirely, after all she had Plantagenet blood too. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a reliable likeness of Margaret, but There is one source that shows us almost certainly the appearance of Margaret’s father, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick. I refer to his amazing chapel at St Mary’s in Warwick.
So, was he a prime example of the Beauchamps in general? Did they even have a “look”? Maybe they were all different. In his tomb effigy, we see him with that dreadful cropped hairstyle (albeit with curls) made famous by the best known portrait of Henry V. In Beauchamp’s case it’s hard to tell if it’s the cut that gives him a high, wide forehead, or if he did indeed have a high, wide forehead. His chin is small, his mouth thin and straight, and his nose small and pointed, but he too has rather heavy-lidded eyes. Or so they seem to me. And what colour was his hair? Red, perhaps? If there is a likeness between the 13th Earl of Warwick and little Anne Mowbray, it seems unlikely that her looks have anything to do with her Talbot or Mowbray blood, but come from her maternal grandfather, Richard Beauchamp. Yet who knows? The case is unproven.
Warwick married twice, and Margaret Beauchamp was the offspring of his first wife, Elizabeth Berkeley. What was she like? Hard to say. There are a number of mourners depicted on Warwick’s tomb, little figures swathed in robes. Is Elizabeth Berkeley one of them? They are not named, except for two, one being Richard Neville, the Kingmaker, and the other his sister. Both were the children of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury. She was the wife of Richard Beauchamp’s son and heir, Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick, whose early death brought greats riches and titles to her brother, the Kingmaker, who was married to Richard Beauchamp’s only other child, Anne Beauchamp.
Anne was the only child of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, and on his unexpected and early death, she became a great heiress. Was it from him, not Richard Beauchamp (or both) that she gained her red hair? I cannot find a portrait of John Mowbray, 4th Duke of Norfolk, but this is a representation of another John Mowbray (the 2nd Duke) that seems fairly reliable as being him. It is from Doyle’s ‘Official Baronage,’ after an engraving by W. Hollar, from a window in St. Mary’s Hall, Coventry. There is no way of knowing if he typifies the Mowbray “look”, and I do not detect him in Anne’s likeness.
Anne attracted the avaricious interest of Edward IV, who had had been her aunt’s husband. Eleanor Talbot had passed away in 1468, a few years before Anne’s birth. Edward IV decided to snap Anne up for his younger son, Richard, Duke of York (who would became one of the so-called “Princes in the Tower”. Both were still small children when they became husband and wife. She died shortly afterward, and Edward IV held on to her entire inheritance for her widower, Richard. The following illustration is imagined, of course!
Her Plantagenet kin are well-known to us all, of course, and I can’t say I look at her and think of any of them. In the picture below, one of the ladies on the left is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Edward IV and Richard III. I do not see any of these ladies as resembling Anne Mowbray. But then maybe these likenesses are run-of-the-mill, not serious attempts at portraits.
The next illustration is of Thomas Berkeley, 5th Lord Berkeley, who was Eleanor and Elizabeth’s maternal grandfather. His nose looks rather obviously repaired (invented, even) so his looks cannot really be assessed. He and Lord Lisle, one of the Talbots, were at each other’s throats for a long time, until he finally defeated and killed Lisle at the Battle of Nibley Green on 20th March 1469/70. Incidentally, Lisle was the brother of Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his tomb effigy looks like a carbon copy of the Black Prince’s at Canterbury.
Below is a drawing from the tomb of Henry Bourchier, 1st Earl of Essex, who was the son of William Bourchier, 1st Count of Eu and Anne of Gloucester. He was, therefore, Anne Mowbray’s great-uncle (I think!) Again, if there is a likeness that has passed down to Anne, I cannot perceive it.
So here is my conclusion. If there is a resemblance between Anne Mowbray and her aunt Eleanor, it is not evident to me. They do not seem in the least alike. Eleanor and her sister Elizabeth are Talbots through and through. Little Anne Mowbray is not a Mowbray or a Talbot, but a Beauchamp. I see a definite resemblance to her maternal great-grandfather, Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick.
I see no likeness between Richard Beauchamp and his granddaughters, Eleanor and Elizabeth, but his echo surely sounds strongly in little Anne. In Richard and his great-granddaughter I see the same high, wide forehead, small nose and chin, and general similarity, albeit between adult male and female child.
I anticipate that many who read this will disagree with my assessment, and I look forward to seeing comments. There will be no argument from me, because I know it all has to be conjecture.
Here’s how the great House of Mortimer petered out and was supplanted by a Lancastrian usurper who killed the reigning king and stole his throne. Then, under the House of York, the House of Mortimer triumphed again….until, in 1485, along came another Lancastrian usurper to kill the reigning king and steal the throne…..
Never trust a Lancastrian chancer named Henry. And if you’re a king called Richard, watch your back!
Catherine de Valois wooden funeral effigy on the left and the stone head thought to represent her on the right.
Westminster Abbey is the home to a collection of unique and wonderful medieval wooden funeral effigies. These are to go on show once again in June 2018 with the opening the Abbey’s new Jubilee Galleries. Some of them are definite death masks such as those of Edward III and Henry VII although there is very little doubt that they are all portraits of those they represent (1). The one I am focussing on here is that of Katherine de Valois, wife to Henry V. There are few if any surviving portraits of Katherine so her effigy is especially interesting as to how she actually looked. To give a brief résumé Katherine’s remains were removed from their original burial site in the old Lady Chapel when it was demolished to make way for Henry Tudor’s grandiose new Chapel. They were then left above ground, next to her husband’s monument for the next two hundred years. Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary on visiting the abbey he was able to take Katherine in his arms and kiss her on the lips. Poor Katherine. Eventually in 1778 Katherine was placed in a vault. Finally in the 19th century, Dean Stanley had her reburied beneath the alter in her husband’s chantry. Thank goodness for that!
Now fresh interest has recently been ignited by the discovery of a stone head in Meath, Ireland, which is believed to represent Katherine. Here is an interesting article covering the story.
Take a look at the wooden effigy and the stone head, compare and judge for yourselves.
Katherine’s effigy in Westminster Abbey
Whilst visiting Norwich to see the Whitefriars plaque to Lady Eleanor Talbot, Richard’s sister-in-law, in Tomblands near the Cathedral, I happened to take lunch in a particular hostelry, the Glass House. It is principally named for the city’s stained glass industry and various panels, also commemorate the author Harriet Martineau, the rebel Robert Kett, Cotman and the other “Norwich School” artists.
The panel nearest the main door was this one (left). Sir Thomas, who bore the name of a North Norfolk village, served John of Gaunt, helped to implement Henry IV’s usurpation before joining Henry V as an archery commander at Harfleur and Azincourt, and eventually dying in 1428. The other pictures are of Sir Thomas, Henry IV and the Upper Close at Norwich Cathedral.