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“THE MEMORY OF KING RICHARD STILL LAID LIKE LEES AT THE BOTTOM OF MENS HEARTS’ Sir Francis Bacon

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Entry from the York City House book…’King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northefolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitiously slain and murdred to the grey hevynesse of this citie’ (1)

“The memory of King Richard was so strong it  laid like lees at the bottom of mens hearts and if the vessels were once stirred it would come up’…thus wrote Francis Bacon in his History Of Henry VII.  He was writing about the North Of England, particularly Yorkshire and Durham but no doubt this could have applied in particular to the City of York and its stout citizens although of course,  in many other places memories of the good and fair reign of King Richard still endured but lies unrecorded.

However York’s constancy to Richard’s memory has been well documented and snippets can be found in the surviving York House Books. In the aftermath of Bosworth it was recorded that “Tudor”‘s messenger , Sir Roger Cotam,  was so in fear of his life to enter the city – despite the offer of a gift of  ‘ii.gallons of wyne’  –  that it was thought prudent that the ‘maire and his brethe shuld goo unto him’ instead.  Which they did, meeting with the snivelling  coward at the ‘sign of the boore’.   Shame on you Sir Roger (2)

This affection and loyalty for Richard dates from the time he was Duke of Gloucester…

24 June 1482

John Davyson, a tailor, was sent to appear before the Mayor,  Richerd Yorke.  Davyson said he and  others had heard Master William Melrig say that he, in turn, had heard Master Roger Brere   say regarding ‘my lorde of Gloucestr’   ‘What myght he do for the city?  Nothing bot grin for us’ (2).   Oh dearie me, big mistake Master Roger!   As Shakespeare was later to write “Give thy thoughts no tongue’ especially if they are daft.   Melrig was sent for that very day and demands made as to what seditious words he had ‘at any time’ heard Master  Roger utter against Gloucestr.  Whether in truth or to pour oil on troubled waters Melrigh replied ‘noon’.  The words ‘Nothing bot grin for us’ were repeated to him in an attempt  to jog his memory. But Melrig stuck to his story…deftly batting the ball back into their court by assuring them he would not have stood for such words to be used unchallenged against the Duke.  And that ended the matter.  The truth is lost in time but begs the question did Master Roger utter those word or was a lie made up knowing that a very dim view would be taken over such utterances and  would land him in deep and muddy waters?

Tellingly,  years later,   it was still  remained  hazardous  to malign Richard,  for  on the 14 May 1491   an argument between a man called John Payntour and a schoolmaster William Burton (Burtan) was recorded in the Municipal Records.  Payntour alleged he had heard the said Master  Burton  call Richard ‘an ypocryte’ and furthermore a ‘crochebake’ and  who had ended up buried in a ditch ‘like a Dogge’.   John Payntour, skilfully avoided getting into trouble with the new King (clearly it was not wise to be seen to stick up for Richard too  stoutly) by adding that Burton had lied, obviously, because ‘the Kynges (Tudor) good grace had beried hym like a noble gentilman’! (3). Take it outta that Master William!    I really, really   like the sound of this man, Payntour, who earlier, in 1490,  had to deny slandering the Earle of Northumberland by saying he was a traitor who had betrayed King Richard.  .  Kudos to you John Payntour and I hope, when you finally  popped your clogs,  you got to join good King Richard in Heaven…

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The medieval Guild Hall in York where Richard  and his consort Anne Neville were entertained at a great banquet in 1483.

Finally here are a selection of artworks, which I find preferable to photographs for catching the ethos of Old York from the time of King Richard, John Davyson, William Melrig, Roger Bere and the indomitable John Payntour.  Their names live on…

fill.jpegPetergate, York.  A painting by C Monkhouse 1849

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Monk Bar.  William Etty date unknown.

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Bootham Bar..Anonymous c.1800

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The Shambles Ernest Haslehurst 1920

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Bootham Bar and the Minster c.1920 Noel Harry Leaver

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The York House Books in two volumes.  Editor Dr Lorraine C Atreed.

  1. York House Books Vol.1. p368.9  Edited Lorraine C Atreed
  2. Ibid Vol.2 p734
  3. Ibid vol .2 p707
  4. York Records: Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York 1843. R Davies.pp220.221

The coronation of Elizabeth of York….

found on Pinterest

Here is a description of the coronation of Elizabeth of York, which took place on 25 November 1487:-

“….Another magnificent procession was that in which Elizabeth, Henry VII.’s Queen, and, in the minds of many, the lawful heiress of the Crown, received her Coronation, when the King perceived that there would be discontent until that honor was paid to her. But she was not crowned, as Mary II. was afterward crowned, as Queen Regnant, but as the Queen Consort. This nice distinction, however, was not comprehended by the people.

“….The Queen came first from Greenwich to the Tower by water: “There was attending upon her there the mayor, sheriffs, and aldermen of the city, and divers and many worshipful commoners, chosen out of every craft, in their liveries, in barges freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk, richely beaton with the ‘armes and bagges’ of their crafts; and in especial a barge called the bachelors’ barge, garnished and apparelled passing all other; wherein was ordeynid a great red dragon spouting flames of fire into the Thames, and many other gentlemanly pageants, well and curiously devised to do her highness sport and pleasure with. And her grace, thus royally apparelled and accompanied, and also furnished in every behalf with trumpets, claryons, and other mynstrelles as apperteynid and was fitting to her estate Royal, came from Greenwich aforesaid and landed at the Tower wharf and entered into the Tower.”

“….Next day the court went in procession from the Tower to Westminster, the Queen dressed in white cloth of gold of damask, with a mantle of the same furred with ermine. She reclined on a litter and wore her fair yellow hair hanging down behind her back, “with a calle of pipes over it.” Four knights carried over her a canopy of cloth of gold; four peeresses{168} rode behind her on gray palfreys; the streets were cleaned and swept; the houses were hung with tapestry and red cloth; the crafts of London in their liveries lined the way, and singing children came dressed as angels, singing welcomes as the Queen was borne along….”

From https://www.gutenberg.org/files/58672/58672-h/58672-h.htm#ill_22

Thames procession from the time of Elizabeth 1 – from Gutenberg

 

Hooray Henry & his Horse

And here it is, folks.  Proof at last.

We are told by some that apparently Henry “Tudor” really, really wanted to fling himself into  the fray at Bosworth (instead of lurking behind his bodyguard), and here finally is the proof of that intent. Henry,  waving his trusty sword Cash-Bringer in defiance of the foe, spurs on his noble but unfortunately rather stationary steed ‘Sandy,’ whose name is now forever-immortalised in  one of the alternative names for the  Battle of Bosworth–the Battle of Sandeford.

Believe It Or Not.

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The Queen of England the Tudors chose to overlook….

Yes, of course the Tudors dismissed the fact that Eleanor Talbot (Butler) was Edward IV’s first wife. Well, only wife, as it happens, because she was still alive when he “married” Elizabeth Woodville, whom he never did wed legally. In law, she was little more than a glorified mistress, and as a consequence, all the children she bore to Edward were illegitimate. So the usurper Henry VII pretended Eleanor had barely existed, let alone had married Edward IV.

It mattered to him because he wanted to marry Edward’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York. Ostensibly to unite the warring Houses of York and Lancaster; in reality to give himself some credibility. It was all very well to claim the throne through conquest, but knew his hold on the throne was very shaky. Elizabeth of York was rather necessary to him, and the sooner she could produce an heir, the better for Henry!

But he couldn’t marry a bastard. So he overturned Richard III’s legitimate right to the throne, declared Elizabeth trueborn, married her and gave us the delightful Henry VIII. Thank you very much. But, of course, by making her trueborn, he also did the same to her two brothers, whose claim to the throne immediately became far superior to his own. Oh, dear. Poor Henry. What a dilemma. The result was that he was hounded throughout his reign by the fear that one or other of these Plantagenet “princes” would come to take the crown from him. My heart breaks for him,. Natch.

If you go to this article you can read an explanation of what happened. It doesn’t do Richard III any favours, of course, but then that’s par for the course! Always the slight nudge into the rough or the bunker. Never the hole in one he so rightly merited. Here’s a sample:

“…. Eleanor never claimed a crown for herself but as the Wars of the Roses raged to their bloody end at Bosworth Field, she became a central figure in the path to the throne. She was actually already dead by the time her name was passed through parliament in the fight for the right to rule but the fact that she had ever lived at all was a vital part of the hold that Richard III had on the title of King of England following the death of his brother, Edward IV, in 1483…..”

Fight for the right to rule? Um, read the Woodvilles trying to seize power and get rid of Richard of Gloucester, Edward IV’s only surviving brother. A vital part of the hold Richard III had….? If Eleanor and Edward IV were married, which clearly they were because the Three Estates believed in it sufficiiently to beg him to become king, Richard was the rightful heir to the throne. It wasn’t a case of his having a “hold” on being King of England, he WAS the King of England. Rightfully. Lawfully. By blood. Even by invitation, because everyone wanted Richard to wear the crown, except the Woodvilles and some of Edward’s old buddies, who feared a loss of influence. If the traditionalists can’t swallow this fact, then they’re even more blinkered than I thought.

Oh, and BTW, the above illustration seems to be solely of Henry VIII and his offspring. There is no sign of Old Miseryguts VII, not even a portrait on the wall. What an oversight. After all, he was the Tudor who made sure Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV was ignored. Henry VIII and his children owed their thrones to his sleight of hand and devious brain. And the treacherous support of the Stanleys at Bosworth.

If things had been different, might Richard and George have been buried at Fotheringhay….?

Richard, 3rd Duke of York

It occurs to me to wonder if Richard intended to be lain to rest at Fotheringhay with his father, the 3rd Duke of York, and brother, Edmund of Rutland. Wouldn’t he think he belonged with them – no matter how fond he was of his beloved Yorkshire?

Of course, things changed radically when he became king, because kings were (in general) buried at Westminster. Richard’s brother, Edward IV, was to start a new fashion for burials at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which he himself had completed. I know there are other exceptions to Westminster, e.g. John at Worcester and Edward II at Gloucester, but perhaps Edward, once he became king, wanted to start a new trend—which he did, because there are now ten monarchs in St George’s Chapel.

The tomb of Edward IV, King of England and Elizabeth Woodville at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, England (circa 15th century) from the Works of William Shakespeare. Vintage etching circa mid 19th century.

But do we know what George of Clarence really wanted? If he’d been a good boy and survived his considerable transgressions against Edward, would he still have picked Tewkesbury? That was where his wife Isabel was buried, but would he have wanted her to remain there when he himself died?

Entrance to vault of George of Clarence, Tewkesbury Abbey

Might he have wanted her to be moved to Fotheringhay, where they could lie together again? Moving remains around to suit later interments was quite common, as shown by the Duke of York and Edmund of Rutland being brought south to Fotheringhay. And Richard himself moved Henry VI from Chertsey to St George’s, Windsor. Maybe this latter act was an indication of what Richard Intended for himself? Who knows? He didn’t leave instructions, and so it is still a mystery to this day. All we do know is that he wouldn’t have chosen Leicester, because he had no connection with that city. He lies there today because at the time of his death it was the closest suitable place to the battlefield.

 

Tomb of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral of Saint Martin.

And from thinking all this, my musings wandered to whether or not Richard would think George wished to remain in Tewkesbury. On the instructions of Edward IV, Richard, as Duke of Gloucester, had originally escorted the remains of his father and second eldest brother south from Pontefract to Fotheringhay, and that experience must have been a hugely emotional and important time for him. Fotheringhay was surely the place he too expected to eventually be lain to rest? After all, he didn’t know that for the last two years of his life he would be king.

York Minster

York is always put forward as his inevitable choice, but we don’t know for certain. Once he was crowned, no doubt he felt he had to conform. He’d buried Anne at Westminster, and maybe, had he lived, there would have been a tomb there for them both, and for their son, who’d have been brought from wherever he was laid to rest. We still do not know where little Edward of Middleham was buried, all record has been lost.

Or maybe Richard too would have chosen Windsor, after all, that was where he’d moved Henry VI. Perhaps he intended his wife and son to go there too? The guesswork is infinite. Oh, for his fifteenth-century iPhone, and a casual note left on Medieval Messenger on the eve of Bosworth. Not that Henry Tudor would have honoured such a wish anyway.

Tomb of Henry VI, St George’s, Windsor.

If Edward had lived on, and Richard had never become king, what would have happened to the remains of both Richard and George? Let’s imagine they died before Edward, leaving him the only surviving brother. Even if they had specified their choice of burial place, I have a feeling that he’d have laid them to rest at Fotheringhay, with their father and other brother. And surely he’d have had Anne and Isobel and their children moved to lie with them? Or is that just too simple and neat a solution?

Where was Henry (Percy)?

After reading Michael Jones‘ book “Bosworth 1485 The Psychology of a Battle”, I have leaned towards his site of the Battle of Bosworth. Since the book was published more evidence has come to light that shows that the battle probably did not take place around Ambion Hill. I have also read John D Austin’s book “MEREVALE and Atherstone”. John lives in the Atherstone area and his book provides lots of local evidence to suggest that the battle may well have been fought in the area.

Michael Jones cites The Crowland Chronicle, one of the earliest sources of the battle, which refers to Richard having camped near to Merevale Abbey ready to meet Tudor’s challenge and names their clash the next day as the Battle of Merevale.

In the Spring 2004 Ricardian Bulletin I came across an article by Lynda M Telford entitled “War Horses at Bosworth”. Lynda Telford states that thirty years of experience with horses leads her to believe whether Dadlington or Atherstone is the battle site, it cannot have been Ambion Hill. This is due to the cramped area thought to be the battlefield which is quite unsuitable for large numbers of horses.

We have recently fought the second Battle of Bosworth with Ricardians pitted against Hinckley Borough Council which ended with them giving planning consent to Horiba Mira so that they could build an electric car testing site on the battlefield site. Unfortunately, the second battle was lost as was the first, however, it appears to confirm that the battle was fought in the area suggested by Michael Jones.

So, if this is the case it begs the question: where was the Earl of Northumberland during the battle? When it was thought that the battle was fought at Ambion Hill, it was said that Northumberland was posted to rear of Richard as the reserve and that he didn’t become involved in the battle. This was taken to mean that Northumberland deserted Richard too, as did the Stanleys.

I am going to suggest that, given the new site of the battle with Richard to north of Atherstone and Tudor to the south of it, Northumberland was to the south of “Tudor”. What if he was guarding the road to London to ensure that “Tudor” didn’t take off down Watling Street? On page 22 of his book ”Merevale and Atherstone”, John D Austin comments “ Tudor marched Northwards through Wales from Milford Haven hopefully to gather Welsh supporters and then he intended to march south from Shrewsbury, more or less down Watling Street to London. Henry had never fought in a battle before and particularly with his puny forces and lack of experience the last thing he wanted to do was to search out and attack Richard” It makes sense, why would Tudor turn east off Watling St to confront Richard when he could have hopefully carried on marching south to London?

Richard would have realised that the battle would have to be in a place of his choosing and he would have remembered that when he and Edward returned from Burgundy in 1471 and they challenged Warwick at Coventry, they moved off and found that the road to London was unguarded and so they set off immediately and entered London unchallenged. He may well have instructed Northumberland to guard the road and ensure that no one got through. What if his instructions to Northumberland were not to leave the road unguarded in any circumstances?

I have read that it was considered strange that “Tudor” went to Leicester after the battle and not straight to London. I wonder if that was because having turned east to do battle he knew that Northumberland was still guarding the road and Tudor, not being battle hardened at all, couldn’t face an encounter with troops who would have been relatively fresh in comparison with his troops.

Christmas under Henry VII, complete with “foot sheets”. . .!

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Henry VII in royal robes

 I was browsing, and came upon the following interesting details about how Henry VII celebrated Christmas and Twelfth Night. It is from Christmas: Its Origin and Associations by William Francis Dawson, which I found in Google Books.

The following extract has been tweaked a little by me, to create more paragraphs and thus make it more legible. Huge paragraphs can become a strain to follow. In my opinion, anyway. The illustrations are my additions. Here goes. . .with my comments at the end:-

. . . Christmases . . . “were kept by Henry VII. at Westminster Hall with great hospitality, the King wearing his crown, and feasting numerous guests, loading the banquet-table with peacocks, swans, herons, conger, sturgeon, brawn, and all the delicacies of the period.

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At his ninth Christmas festival the Mayor and Aldermen of London were feasted with great splendour in the great hall, the King showing them various sports on the night following in the great hall, which was richly hung with tapestry: ‘which sports being ended in the morning, the king, queen, and court sat down at a table of stone, to 120 dishes, placed by as many knights and esquires, while the Mayor was served with twenty-four dishes and abundance of wine.

medieval feast

And finally the King and Queen being conveyed with great lights into the palace, the Mayor, with his company in barges, returned to London by break of the next day.

mayor's barge leaving Whitehall

“From the ancient records of the Royal Household it appears that on the morning of New Year’s Day, the King ‘sitting in his foot-sheet’, received according to prescribed ceremony a new year’s gift from the queen, duly rewarding the various officers and messengers, according to their rank. The Queen also ‘sat in her foot-sheet’, and received gifts in the same manner, paying a less reward.

King Henry VII Christmas feast

Were Henry and Elizabeth employing their “foot sheets”…?

“And on this day, as well as on Christmas Day, the King wore his kirtle, his surcoat and his pane of arms; and he walked, having his hat of estate on his head, his sword borne before him, with the chamberlain, steward, treasurer, comptroller, preceding the sword and the ushers; before whom must walk all the other lords except those who wore robes, who must follow the king. The highest nobleman in rank, or the King’s brother, if present, to lead the Queen; another of the King’s brothers, or else the Prince, to walk with the King’s train-bearer.

Henry VII at coronation

The coronation, yes, but it’s an illustration of Henry VII in procession in his royal robes.

“On Twelfth Day the King was to go ‘crowned, in his royal robes, kirtle, and surcoat, his furred hood about his neck, and his ermines upon his arms, of gold set full of rich stones with balasses, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, and pearls’. This ornament was considered so sacred , that ‘no temporal man’ (none of the laity) but the King was to presume to touch it; an esquire of the body was to bring it in a fair handkerchief, and the King was to put it on with his own hands; he must also have his sceptre in his right hand, the ball with cross in his left hand, and must offer at the altar gold, silver, and incense, which offering the Dean of the Chapel was to send to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and this was to entitle the Dean to the next vacant benefice. The King was to change his mantle when going to mean, ansd to take off his hood and lay it about his neck, ‘clasping it before with a rich owche [brooch].’

Henry VII with sceptre

“The King and queen on Twelfth Night were to take the void (evening repast) in the hall; as for the wassail, the steward and treasurer were to go for it, bearing their staves; the chapel choir to stand on the side of the hall, and when the steward entered at the hall door, he was to cry three times, ‘Wassail! Wassail! Wassail!’ and the chapel to answer with a good song; and when all was done the King and queen retired to their chamber.

Wassail

Wassail!

“Among the special features of the banquets of this period with the devices for the table called subtleties, made of paste, jelly or blanc-mange, placed in the middle of the board, with labels describing them; various shapes of animals were frequent; and on a saint’s day, angels, prophets, and patriarchs were set upon the table in plenty.

“Certain dishes were also directed as proper for different degrees of persons; as ‘conies parboiled, or else rabbits, for they are better for a lord’; and ‘for a great lord take squirrels, for they are better than conies’; a whole chicken for a lord; and ‘seven mackerel in a dish, with a dragge of fine sugar’, was also a dish for a lord.

“But the most famous dish was ‘the peacock enkakyll, which is foremost in the procession to the king’s table’. Here is the recipe for this royal dish: Take and flay off the skin with the feathers, tail, and the neck and head thereon; then take the skin, and all the feathers, and lay it on the table abroad, and strew thereon ground cinnamon; then take the peacock and roast him, and baste him with raw yolks of eggs; and when he is roasted, take him off, and let him cool awhile, and take him and sew him in his skin, and gild his comb, and so serve him with the last course.”

roast peacock for medieval banquet

Me: It all sounds very grand. . .and incredibly stilted. Can they really have enjoyed the occasion? All those rules of precedence, etc. I can only suppose that Richard III must have endured the same?

And speaking of Richard, what, exactly, were the ermines that adorned Henry’s arms? They had to be basically fur, I suppose, and laden with so many jewels they must have felt heavy. Were they made especially for Henry? Or were they among the “crown jewels”, and therefore had been worn by Richard before him, and Edward IV, etc. I have never heard of ermine being donned separately on the arm. Maybe it was a Tudor innovation, to emphasise Henry’s right to the throne. Well, the right he usurped. My lack of knowledge does not mean much, for I am constantly faced with new things of which I have never heard before.

The same applies to “foot sheets”. What were they? In modern parlance they appear to be akin to plasters that are applied to the bottom of the feet. Hmm. I cannot imagine that if Henry and Elizabeth wore such items, it would warrant such particular mention. So, what were foot sheets? It was winter, so were they something to ensure the royal feet did not get too cold?

Prince-Philip-snuggled-under-blanket-Queen-Elizabeth-II

Were foot sheets something like this?

If anyone knows more, pray enlighten me! To learn a little more about medieval Christmases, go to:- https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/medieval-christmas-how-was-it-celebrated/

And finally, I wish you all the compliments of the season!

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Coming Upon the King: My Accidental Path Toward Becoming a Ricardian

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Late 16th century painting of Richard III

I’ll be perfectly honest with you: I was never really that interested in Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III. In school I had avoided the Anglo-Saxons like the plague, and Richard, well, perhaps like a round of the flu. He wasn’t quite as intimidating, despite the double-murder allegation lodged, and I got away with not having to write about him once my father, who was big on essays, unearthed a book about the famous American swamp fox. Not that it was easy to outsmart my dad; there was just so much history to know and he loved imparting it. In fact, he adored learning of most kinds, and almost every time I saw him he had a book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. Every weekday morning before work he would sit at the dining room table for about two hours, enjoying his study in the quiet atmosphere between night and day. He read almost anything he could get his hands on, with the notable exception of Shakespeare, of whom he was not a huge fan, though he never said why.

By the time I reached university I’d managed to evade Richard a few more times (and those fearsome Anglo-Saxons!), despite his seeming determination to capture my attention. I had to capitulate a bit when Shakespeare (him again) showed up in his own required course. I quite liked his poetry and how he played with language, but frankly didn’t care about star-crossed lovers (everyone read that in high school), a brooding Danish prince (that one too) or evil kings who seemed to be a dime a dozen. And the evil king who repeatedly crossed my path was none other than – you guessed it, Richard III.

I had to read Richard III three times because the professor, who in my opinion was quite brilliant but mystifyingly static in his forward movement, could present it in his sleep. So we read it in two regular lit classes and then in Shakepeare, in which our fearless leader liked to occasionally take on the parts of people he was teaching about. He had a larger audience here, and the more sizable lecture area gave him the space to move around as he caricatured his way through Richard’s role and the frequent trivia he was fond of. At the end of the semester I was appalled to discover that not only did 75% of our grade rest on a ten-question quiz, but also the questions had little to do with, say, history, critical theory or literary devices. A representative sample’s answer was, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” I wasn’t a snobbish student, but did possess the expectation I be delivered the education I was paying for, not a bunch of trivia and phrases repeated so often, here and elsewhere, that they became cliché.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was in equal parts driven away from all talk of Richard III and hauled back to him by the frustration of knowing that even I considered the standard presentation tiresome. Students way more brilliant than myself repeated the stock phrases, though, and I felt like shaking them as I cried out, “Wake up, man! I want to read King Lear and Huntingdon won’t teach it!” My actual response consisted of acquiring a fish (the only pet I could get away with) and calling it Richard, as if that somehow revenged a king, allowing him to be something besides the pitiful stock bad man. I was irked, perhaps even irritated, but not yet inspired.

At the time I knew nothing of the Richard III Society and wouldn’t for some years, for after I graduated, my poor fish had been given last rites and I was just so relieved to have passed statistics and survived senior year burnout. But, as the universe seemed to want to have it, Richard came up in casual conversation, at this point two years before the discovery of his remains in a parking lot. I admitted I really knew very little of the man I’d previously complained kept coming, uninvited, into my life, and determined I’d remedy that. The universe, being as accommodating as it so often is, arranged for a car crash that left me immobile for an extended period, which in turn provided for quite a lot of reading time to fill.

Sir John Everett Millais’ The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1473 (1878). Privileged placement of the work on the cover of Alison Weir’s 1992 edition of The Princes in the Tower is utilized toward this author’s assertion regarding Richard: the “two pale, innocent, bewildered boys” of her blurb paired with existing stereotypes of medieval society, seek to convince viewers of Richard’s culpability. 

I started with Alison Weir’s The Princes in the Tower. It had a fairly beckoning cover and I really had no idea of any given book on this topic to another. Mainly I was looking for details. My intention was, quite simply: read one and be done with it. And so it began. Here was an account that claimed to have studied the case of the missing princes, one heir to the throne, both rumored to have been murdered by their “usurper” uncle, King Richard III, the bodies of the two “pale, innocent, bewildered boys” never found.

It didn’t initially strike me as odd that Weir would contradict herself—on the same page of her preface, no  less—with two opposing statements of direction: “The historian’s job is to weigh the evidence available, however slender and circumstantial” and “We are dealing here with facts, not just speculation or theories.” In all honesty, I was unaccustomed to reading like an historian; instead I read for elements such as repetition, privileged position, arcs and development. Still, my literary training had served me well—even including the aforementioned professor, who really did have good reason to be on staff; the pince-nez and dressing gown during office hours was an added bonus—and I began to wonder that perhaps historical writing really does have much in common with literary.

For example, Weir’s placement of Image 15 of the insert photos: One of, if not the most biased image in the insert collection, is a picture of two child-sized skeletons, discovered nearly two centuries after the princes’ disappearance. It is cleverly shadowed with near-opposing black and white shading that easily grabs the eye. Set in the page’s upper left corner, its positioning exploits our societal left-to-right reading direction as well as the “above-the-fold” tendency book browsers often engage when skimming though potential purchases. Its caption reads: “The remains found in 1674: ‘They were small bones of lads in their teens, fully recognised to be the bones of those two Princes’ (Eye-witness report, 1674; Archaeologia).”

Should the casual observer take the time to scan the rest of the page, the two remaining images—one of the urn in which the skeletal bones now rest, another of the exhumed skull of the princes’ eight-year-old relative Anne Mowbray—each play their role in telling the story the author wants readers to believe. Anne’s stark and startling skull, shown in a fairly large photo at bottom, plays on reader emotion with the mouth in its characteristic gaping position, not unlike a scream. It is included, positioned and designed to evoke pity, for both the untimely death of this little girl as well as the boys she was once close to. Of this Weir writes: “The skull of Anne Mowbray: York’s [the younger prince, Richard, Duke of York] child-bride and the Princes’ cousin, exhumed in 1964. Dental evidence indicates a familial relationship between her bones and those in the urn.”

The urn image is somewhat sympathetic, but rather generic and positioned to the right, closer to the book’s binding. Still, it has its role in this page-long tale, with its insinuation of finality. These bones are those of the boys, Anne’s remains prove it, end of story. Three statements, three images, we’re done here. A would-be consumer who saw even only the most privileged photo (the skeletons) before placing the book back on the shelf stands a high chance of walking away believing these were indeed the missing princes—a question not even entertained on the page discussed—and with Weir’s use of the word “murder” and the accusation against Richard in the jacket blurb, we’re a handshake away. Actually reading the story within all three captions and the deal is sealed. I am inclined to believe that readers have been lazy in every age, but also know that Weir and her publishers are very aware of how the demand for instant gratification and disintegration of critical reading skills in our era has further influenced the formation of opinions.

A quick disclaimer here: I personally don’t begrudge Weir her manipulation of privileged position or other literary techniques; these are what make books appealing, literature fascinating and history come alive. Human forms in photos engage our minds in a way an inanimate object doesn’t. We don’t relate to an urn, especially if we don’t know this is what that image is, but we do relate to images of people who were once alive, especially if they are children. However, I do take issue with the dishonest verbiage she carefully chooses to create the impression discussed above. For instance, the caption below Image 15 doesn’t say what year the princes died, presumed to have died, or disappeared (c. 1483). Yet an “Eye-witness report” from 1674 “recognised” the bones to be those of the missing princes? Did this eyewitness dabble in alchemy in his 200 + year lifespan? And where did he obtain his forensic expertise, with which he surely would be able to differentiate this set of remains from the twelve-year-old sons of Henry VIII’s cousins, whose families ended up in the Tower of London, where the Plantagenet brothers were last seen? Are there any signs of cause of death? The name dropping of Archaeologia lends some needed credibility, as does the dental evidence that “indicates” a familial relationship amongst all three deceased. These are only some of the questions Weir understands all too many consumers won’t ask; they’ll just take her word for it because they are in a hurry, don’t care enough or it doesn’t occur to them. There probably are other reasons as well, but the end result is that many will accept the information at face value.

Still, this was an awareness I came to later in my reading of The Princes in the Tower, or actually, even after I had finished and contemplated what I’d read. I had a niggling feeling about the perceptions I’d experienced. As I moved deeper into the book, Weir seemed to become more aggressive in her voice, and in previous remembrances I thought I even recalled a bit of name calling, which might have been the initial turnoff. (I could be wrong; stay tuned for another entry addressing this.)

The White Tower, Tower of London. Romanticized with its modern artificial lighting, we must imagine it in the days when the complete darkness of night, the likes of which many of us have never experienced, shrouded much in and around it.

As I sat with my casted leg propped up one evening, I realized with a grunt of dissatisfaction that I could not let it go until I read some more. My back was healing, but at this point pained easily after short periods, and my best friend was dispatched to collect a book or two from the university library. She returned with about fifteen, one of which was, by chance, Josephine Wilkinson’s Richard: The Young King to Be. She ignored my pointed stare.

It wasn’t long before I recognized a quote in Wilkinson’s book that Weir had utilized—in part. I suppose it was my naiveté with regard to historical reading that surprised me a little as I realized Weir had cherry picked what supported her agenda and left the rest. (Here also, stay tuned for more specifics.) At this point it really began to annoy me, and I was flummoxed as to how so many people could have gushed about what a fabulous book this was when I so easily picked out inconsistencies. Actually, I’ll have to revise that a bit: I read several reviews in which the authors did criticize Weir, but dismissed her liberties because “there’s no real way to tell” or “he probably did it anyway.” I’m pretty sure none of these people or any of us would want that standard upheld at our own trials.

Unknown to me, at roughly this time, the now-late historian John Ashdown-Hill published Eleanor: The Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. An analysis of the life of Eleanor Talbot, the woman said to have been married to Edward IV, Richard’s elder brother, before making Elizabeth Wydville his queen, the work follows a number of pathways, including those secreted in forensic dentistry. Ashdown-Hill discusses Anne Mowbray’s line of descent, an important angle given Weir’s assertion regarding the similarities between the teeth of the young bride and those of the bodies discovered in 1674, and a condition of congenitally absent teeth. The author notes that Anne Mowbray was related to the princes via a number of lines of descent, some more distant than others.

If those who have claimed that Anne Mowbray’s congenitally missing teeth prove that she was related to TLand 2 (and that therefore these were Edward V and Richard, Duke of York [the princes]), are correct, Anne’s dental anomaly must almost certainly have descended to her via her Neville ancestry (184-5).

Ashdown-Hill goes on to relate information about the battlefield identification of Anne’s grandfather, John Talbot, in connection to an absent left molar. This provides some evidence of the congenital condition being a Talbot trait, further leading to the speculation that if Anne did indeed inherit her dentition from her grandfather, “then those same missing teeth cannot very well be cited as evidence that TLand TLare Edward V and his brother, since the relationship of these latter to [Anne’s grandfather] was extremely remote.” Of course, it is possible John Talbot lost the tooth in some other manner and Ashdown-Hill further advises that Talbot’s remains had been disturbed several times, thus making elucidation on this point difficult (184-5).

Weir, in contrast, utilizes very little more than coincidence and contradictory information when aiming to prove that the bodies discovered in 1674 are Richard’s nephews, including the discovery to begin with. This position continues with her insistence that, apparently, only Plantagenet royalty could possibly have worn velvet, a type of material present with the bones and, given its availability timeframe, unlikely to indicate the remains were Roman, as had been suggested. She even goes on quite at length about all the experts and authors who examined the 1933 reports of Wright and Tanner, who themselves examined only an urn full of bones picked apart from those of animals (!) centuries after their initial discovery and under questionable chain of custody. Nevertheless, on all of this Weir categorically pushes the conclusion that “the evidence that the bones in the urn are those of the Princes is as conclusive as could be desired” (by whom?)(255-6).

Historian John Ashdown-Hill’s analysis of Eleanor Talbot’s life includes a far deeper discussion of the dental angle as glossed over by Weir, despite the absolute nature of her accusation against the king. (Click image for more information.)

It is easy to deduce there is much more to what I have summarized here, let alone the captions under three pictures in the middle of a book on the Bestsellers! table. As mentioned earlier, this dental information I didn’t know about when I first read Weir’s book – and she counts on that as well as the likelihood that few readers will check up on her words. The truth is, she’s right: few do follow up. For how long had my professor posited the claim that Richard III died shouting the line about the horse? How many from my class still believe this today? And this is counting just the influence of one person. Multiplied by how many readers Weir (and others) has persuaded, most of whom have very little time and/or inclination to look into what she says—some of whom, frankly, are as willing to manipulate the truth—it’s no wonder there is such widespread belief that Richard did the deed.

Of course, many people simply don’t care. At one point I was one of them. I liked history but wanted it on my own lazy terms, not having to deal with dates or the same few recycled names. Others view eras such as the Middle Ages with an attitude of “life is cheap,” which perhaps explains their willingness to allow an anointed king to be so maligned, and when looking back I found it curious that it stirred something within my being. I am, after all, an American with not a single drop of royalist blood running through my veins.

This, however, may be the because rather than the despite, thanks to our Magna Carta-inspired Constitution, the law of the land guaranteeing our rights, including those of the accused, a topic on which Richard III also had something to say. The widespread reliance upon and acceptance of misinformation to convict someone from the past bothers me for the same reason similar attitudes light a fire in me today. It doesn’t matter if someone dislikes or even hates Richard or any other political figure: Anyone who claims to value justice should be alarmed when someone is prosecuted and convicted under such inconclusive evidence, especially for the sake of bragging rights to having solved a centuries-old puzzle. This king may have lived and died over 500 years ago, but thirst for power and willingness to tyrannize others to achieve it is alive and well. Why would any tyrant stop with politicians? As we have seen throughout history, they don’t.

I had the great benefit of a father who taught me how to look a bit deeper, and though I don’t have quite the historian’s mind he did, I believed fiercely in justice. I also loved a good yarn, so followed with rapture as my father related to me tales from a variety of eras.

I only vaguely recall him telling me of Richard’s ability to fight, even something favorable about Henry VII (I used to refer to him as “the Henry after Richard the last”). His narratives often changed direction and he occasionally refused to answer questions, and at some point I understood he was teaching me to think. This surely colored my perception of Weir’s ridiculous portrayal of modern writers of Richard III as those who (a) believe the monarch guilty but too timid to admit it or (b) believe he is basically a saint (1). I also question the word “revisionist” as applied to Ricardians. It seems to me the revisionism began full force August 22, 1485, with the backdating of Henry Tudor’s reign to the 21.

I also grew up with a Scottish mother who never let me forget the Stuarts; at some points my eyes simply glazed over, and it all probably contributed to my lazy childhood approach toward history, despite my love of its people. This laissez-faire attitude extended to Richard, and for most of my life I didn’t care enough about him to have an opinion on his culpability. Interestingly, it was his detractors who chipped away at this armor as they repeated ad nauseum their claims, much of which was rank hypocrisy or projection. This entry has focused on one who chose as her work’s epigraph a Shakespeare quote that illustrates both, which reads in part: “Insulting tyranny begins to jet” (Richard III, Act II, Scene IV). Here Elizabeth Wydville wigs out over fears for her family, Shakespeare conveniently ignoring her role in all of this, as does Weir. (Talk about revisionism!)

There have since been others, but Alison Weir ended up accomplishing, in my case, the opposite of her intention in that I found her scholarship to be suspect, so I looked into it; what I came to believe through further reading and discussion was that Richard III, while certainly no saint, cannot justly be convicted of a double murder on the evidence she presents. That she has to go into stealth mode and employ manipulation, insults and overreach says much more about her than it ever could about King Richard III.

Despite Weir’s preface statement that “it is unlikely the truth of the matter will ever be confirmed by better evidence than we already have,” since the 2012 discovery of the king’s remains in a parking lot, more of consequence has been learned. For example, the Shakespearean depiction of Richard as a hunchback is in fact the propaganda it has long been characterized as. Rather, the king suffered from scoliosis, resulting in a sideways, spiraling twist to his spine, as discussed in a 2014 press release from the University of Leicester, a deformity not immediately visible to those encountering him. The hunchback myth traces back to Thomas More, on information from John Morton, Bishop of Ely, instrumental in Henry Tudor’s seizure of the throne. (This alone makes their party line suspect.) Owing to this accomplishment, Tudor historians, and not Plantagenet, were the ones relating the history. As my father drilled into my mind many times, and we have all heard in history class, the winner writes the story.

Shakespeare strove to be part of that winning group, though doing it for Elizabeth I, Henry Tudor’s granddaughter, over one hundred years after the fact, illustrating the reality that low-information readers (playgoers) existed long before the rampant misinformation pushers of our own time. Granted, we are often over-saturated with details, but this also gives us advantage in having the ability to track down more than ever before, even from places far removed from a small corner of England, within which one king and his men fought within the loyalty to which they were bound, and so became we.

—Lisl P.

Sources

Ashdown-Hill, John. Eleanor, the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Stroud: History Press, 2010.

Weir, Alison. The Princes in the Tower. United States: Ballantine, 1992.

Images

All images courtesy Wikimedia unless otherwise noted. Click any image for more details and, if any, annotations.

Nothing but a Hound Dog?

My sister thinks this photo of my little dog, Hunter, resembles Henry Tudor. Obviously, the collar adds to the likeness, but what about his other features? Some have said his long nose is like Henry’s, others that his ears are similar to H’s hair. I think, because he is showing the whites of his eyes, his expression is suspicious, just like Henry’s. Of course, Hunter is much better looking than Henry, isn’t he? What do YOU think?

Matthew Lewis on YouTube: 2) Mancini

Here is the second in my series of Top 10’s. This one is focussing on Dominic Mancini’s account of the events of 1483. It’s a hugely problematical source, both in terms of Mancini himself, who spoke no English, had no grasp of English politics and very limited sources, and in terms of the current translation in use which often chooses weighted words to make Mancini’s account darker.

It’s a negative source, without a doubt, written for a French audience hostile to England and Richard III and gripped by their own minority succession crisis, but it’s also misused and misunderstood. Mancini explains that he has had his arm twisted by Angelo Cato to write the account, which he had not wished to commit to paper. Cato worked at the French court, so had his own agenda is seeking to make Richard and his England seem like a land of murderous monsters.

More than this, Mancini admits, when complaining about being brow beaten into writing his account, that he knows almost nothing for certain. He wrote ‘I indeed decided that I ought not to expatiate so freely in writing as in talking, for, although on your account I did not shrink from pains, yet I had not sufficiently ascertained the names of those to be described, the intervals of time, and the secret designs of men in this whole affair.’ He adds ‘Wherefore you should not expect from me the names of individual men and places, nor that this account should be complete in all details; rather shall it resemble the effigy of a man, which lacks some of the limbs, and yet a beholder delineates for himself a man’s form.’

If Mancini had visited Torquay in the 1970’s, he might have given Manuel a run for his money.

Manuel

I know nothing…

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