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Are we still ruled by superstition….?

Above are the Venerable Bede and King Cnut, who are concerned in the following extract from Medieval Man by Frederick Harrison:-

“…Only Bede wrote about such subjects as astronomy and geography; and his knowledge of these was conditioned by the teaching of the Church. As time went on, as much reliance was placed on charms as on prayer and the skill of the leech. The need was met by the creation of the order of exorcists, which, in the third century A.D., was added to the other orders conferred by the Church. At certain periods of the year, evil spirits that were regarded as the cause of bodily or mental disorders were exorcised by the appointed ministers of the Church. The ministry was no sinecure, for the demand for it was great. Using his book of exorcisms, the exorcist would bid the evil spirit depart by invoking the Name of the Trinity.

“Side by side with the exorcist there lived and worked in Anglo-Saxon England the wizard, the witch and the “medicine man”, all of whom were ready to sell their skill in even such obscure and troublesome problems as unrequited love, to which end drugged beer and ale could work wonders.”

“…With the belief in witchcraft went a belief in elves, who were supposed to live on high land, in woods or near water. Anyone who suffered from the disease of the water-elf, one symptom of which was manifested by livid finger-nails and watery eyes, could be cured only by the used of certain herbs and incantations. There was a kind of hiccup known as the elf-hiccup. Dwarfs were shunned as workers of evil and as being in league with the devil. Their fabled power to make themselves invisible by wearing the “hell-cap” or “hell-clothing” made them specially fearsome. Storms and tempests and even death were caused by witches and wizards. An attempt was made by King Cnut to put a stop to these superstitious practices; his actual words are worth quoting as revealing his enlightened nature:

“…and we forbid earnestly every heathenship, that a man reverence idols, that is, that a man reverence heathen gods, the sun or the moon, fire or flood, waterwylls or stones, trees of the wood of any sort, or love witchcraft, or perform underhand work in any wise, either by way of sacrifice or divining, or perform any act of such delusions…

“Yet even Bede believed that storms could be raised by witches. He records that the ship in which Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, were voyaging home was driven out of its coursed by demons, who, however, dispersed when the two holy men bade them, in the Name of the Trinity, depart. Then the storm ceased.” Extract ends.

Cnut was indeed enlightened by the standards of his day, and although we smile when we hear the story of how he ordered the sea to retreat, he was actually teaching those around him a very wise lesson. Not that many were prepared to learn from it. And Bede not only believed in witches, but accepted that issuing orders in the Name of the Trinity would send demons packing. Why did it never occur to him that if that was all it took, how come the demons kept coming back for more?

For Christians, the Lord’s Prayer protects against evil, and is uttered in the Name of the Trinity, yet through the centuries, right until now, a great many continue to believe in witches, the black arts and Satanism.

In The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer writes:

“…The word which best sums up the medieval attitude to the Devil, miracles and everything in between, is superstition.” How true. There were all sorts of stories, such as so-and-so saw the Devil enter the local church, or in the dairy, souring the milk. Yet, a national disaster, which you might expect to be laid at Beelzebub’s door, would be taken as a sign of the Almighty’s displeasure with, say, wicked Londoners, or even humankind in general. One cannot help but wonder what Cnut might have had to say about the giant hailstones that fell during a terrible storm in 1360, killing many men and horses. How enlightened might he have been then?

Yet for all belief in witches, there were, apparently, no more than a dozen cases of supposed witches being executed for the whole period between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation, and most of these had been involved in plots against the monarch or his friends. (See Hibbert, The English – a Social History – 1066-1945, p.261) Witch-hunts and all that vile hysteria came to England in the Seventeenth Century.

So, what conclusion can be drawn from the above? Perhaps that for all their superstition and general gullibility, the people of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England were more tolerant than those of Seventeenth Century. Witches appear to have mingled with the general populace, and been treated with a reasonably healthy respect. And yet, in 1487, came the Malleus Maleficarum. Hardly a friendly treatise on witchcraft! Yet we are told there were only twelve executions of witches.

I don’t know what Cnut would have made or it all, because I’m darned if I know what even I think! Was witchcraft dreaded? Is it still dreaded? Does that uncertainty mean that beneath my modern veneer, I’m just as superstitious as my forebears?

Excuse me while I cross my fingers behind my back….




A further selection of Scropes….

The name “Scrope” was usually pronounced, and sometimes spelled, as “Scroop”.am

To follow yesterday’s post

William, Earl of Wiltshire c1351-1399

William was the second son of Richard Scrope, first Baron Scrope of Bolton. In his younger days he was sometimes associated with John of Gaunt, who made him Seneschal of Aquitaine in 1383.

Subsequently, he secured the favour of Richard II, who made him Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in 1393, and granted him the castle and lordship of Marlborough. In that same year his father purchased the Kingdom of Mann for him, an example of provision was made for a younger son without dividing the main inheritance. He was given the Garter in 1394, and after the fall of Arundel, Gloucester and Warwick in 1397 was made Earl of Wiltshire and given a share of the confiscated lands. In 1398 he was promoted to the important post of Lord Treasurer.

Although Scrope gets little mention in the accounts of Richard II’s reign it is clear that by this time he had become a very influential man. He was given the custody of a number of royal castles, including Wallingford and Beaumaris. He was left in England when Richard II went to Ireland in 1399, and was, in effect, the “active ingredient” in a government under the chairmanship of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York.

When Henry Bolingbroke invaded, Scrope was one of several men who abandoned the Duke of York and took refuge in Bristol. When that city fell to Bolingbroke’s forces, Scrope was captured and summarily beheaded. (He may have had a “trial” of sorts before the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, but this is by no means certain.)

When one considers the gallons of ink that have been used in bemoaning the execution of the saintly Anthony Rivers in 1483, it is rather surprising to discover that Henry IV has received no similar criticism for the execution of Scrope, which amounted to plain murder, Henry holding no office at the time and thus acting as a lawless, private individual. Historians do not seem to think Scrope worth arguing about, although it is hard to discern what he had done to Henry that merited such savage treatment.

Subsequently, Henry’s first parliament threw a cloak of legality over the murder and confirmed the forfeiture of Scrope’s lands and possessions.

William Scrope had married Isabel Russell, daughter of Sir Maurice Russell of Dorset and Gloucestershire. Although Sir Maurice was far from being a minor member of the gentry, and was particularly active in Gloucestershire, his daughter was not an aristocrat, still less a Plantagenet, and this may help explain why Henry allowed her almost nothing to live on.

Richard, Archbishop of York, 1350-1405

Richard was the third son of Henry, first Lord Scrope of Masham. He received his first rectorship as early as 1368, although he was not actually ordained priest until 1377. The very next year he was no less than Chancellor of the University of Cambridge! He had, of course, achieved considerable academic success, but it seems likely that patronage also played its part. He was a papal chaplain in Rome from 1382-1386, and became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1386. His diplomatic career included a visit to Rome to further Richard II’s attempt to have his grandfather, Edward II, canonised. He was translated to the see of York in 1398.

Richard was possibly under the influence of the Percy family, with whom his family had connections, and made no attempt to prevent the deposition of Richard II. Indeed, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he formally led Henry to the throne. On the other hand, when the Percy family rose in rebellion against Henry in 1403, there is no significant evidence that he was involved.

Henry IV remained deeply unpopular, not least in the North and there were a number of conspiracies against him in the years that followed. Unfortunately for them, his enemies never quite managed to coordinate their plans and bring their strength against him at the same time. 1405 was the year of the so-called Tripartite Indenture, the plan to divide England and Wales between Owain Glyndwr, the Earl of Northumberland. and Sir Edmund Mortimer. Owain had at last received armed French assistance, and was poised to invade England. It was in these circumstances that Richard Scrope, no doubt working in collaboration with Northumberland, raised an army of about 8,000 men which assembled on Shipton Moor. With the Archbishop were his nephew, Sir William Plumpton, and the young Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal and earl of Nottingham and Norfolk.

They were met by a force headed by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, which Northumberland had failed to intercept. Instead of engaging, the Archbishop agreed to parley and was tricked by false promises into disbanding his army. After that he, Plumpton and Mowbray were promptly arrested. After a travesty of a trial – a trial in which Chief Justice refused to participate – all three were beheaded.

Scrope was buried in York Minster and his tomb became an unofficial shrine. Lancastrian kings naturally sought to discourage to the cult, while the Yorkist kings, equally naturally, looked upon it with favour. However, Scrope was never officially canonised. It need hardly be said that Scrope was the first Archbishop to be executed in England – Becket, after all, was simply murdered – and with the sovereign’s full authority.  He was also the last prelate to be so dealt with until the Tudor era.

The Pope excommunicated all those involved in Scrope’s death, although the sentence was never published in England. Henry IV eventually secured a pardon by offering to found two religious houses; these were not, in fact, founded in his lifetime, but came to being under Henry V, and were the last such to be created in the medieval period.

It was soon after Scrope’s death that Henry was struck by the mysterious illness which made the rest of his life a misery. Naturally, his enemies ascribed his affliction to the vengeance of Richard Scrope.

Henry Scrope, Lord Scrope of Masham, c1370-1415

Henry Scrope was knighted by Richard II in 1392, and was retained by that king for life in 1396. Nevertheless he rapidly transferred his allegiance to Henry IV in 1399 and served him loyally in various capacities throughout his reign. His first wife, Philippa de Bryan, was a Welsh heiress (or perhaps more correctly a heiress of lands in Wales) and part of his effort was directed towards guarding her lands against the Glyndwr rising. He inherited the Masham barony from his father in 1406, but seems to have been “running the family business” so to speak for some years. He was briefly Lord Treasurer in 1410, possibly because of his connections to Prince Henry (who was running the government at the time because of Henry IV’s illness) and Sir Thomas Beaufort. In this role he was successful, and actually left a surplus in the Treasury at the end of his service.

In his private life, Scrope made a second marriage in 1410, to Joanne (or Joan) Holland, Duchess of York, the widow of Edmund of Langley. Joanne was a wealthy woman – T. B. Pugh estimated that her survival for thirty-two years after Langley’s death cost the York family in excess of £30,000. Quite apart from this, Joanne had a portion of the earldom of Kent (following the death of her brother, Edmund, in 1408) and also a share in the lands of her second husband, Lord Willoughby. The joint income of Scrope and his wife was around £1,800 a year, a vast amount for a mere baron.

Unfortunately Joanne and her husband did not live in wedded bliss, and it appears that around 1413 she left him, at least for a time, taking with her about £5,000 worth of his property and decamped to her Yorkist dower castle, Sandal. In his will of June 1415 he offered her a choice of his belongings to the value of £2000 in return for her abandoning any claim to one third or one half of his goods. This suggests his belongings must have amounted to more than £6,000! Since Joanne was already engaged in a quarrel with her Willoughby stepson over personal property, it seems she was not a lady who considered material possessions to be unimportant.

It should not be overlooked that Henry Scrope was a nephew of the late Archbishop of York, and it may be that his loyalty to the Lancastrian regime was not a fervent as it appeared on the surface. In any event he allowed himself to be drawn into the conspiracy known as the Southampton Plot led by Joanne’s stepson, Richard of York, Earl of Cambridge, which sought to replace Henry V with the Earl of March.

It is equally possible that Scrope went into the conspiracy with every intention of betraying it. It appears certain that he did his best to persuade the Earl of March not to get more deeply involved – hardly the action of a convinced plotter – and that he remonstrated with Walter Lucy, March’s close adviser over the matter. Scrope was not even invited to a crucial supper party at Cranbury, held by March and attended by Cambridge, Lucy and Lord Clifford.

However, it was March, not Scrope, who disclosed the conspiracy to Henry V, and the result was that Scrope was executed and all his lands and possessions forfeited. Duchess Joanne acted very promptly to secure a share of the proceeds, including a solid gold statue of the Virgin and various items of plate stamped with the Scrope arms that she claimed as her personal property. It appears nothing was done to retrieve the various expensive items she filched. Scrope’s brother and heir, and his mother, were not so fortunate. Although Henry V intended to permanently alienate most or all of the family’s lands, he had an attack of conscience on his death-bed, and the youngest Scrope brother, and eventual heir, John, was able to rebuild much of the inheritance.

It is, in fact, unlikely that Henry Scrope was guilty of intending the deaths of Henry V and his brothers. It is much more reasonable to say that his offence amounted to Misprision of Treason at worst.


Complete Peerage, G.E. Cokayne

Henry IV of England, J.L. Kirby

1415, Ian Mortimer.

The Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer

Henry V and the Southampton Plot, T.B. Pugh

The History of England Under Henry the Fourth, J.H. Wylie

This explains how closely the three rebels and Sir Ralph Scrope were related. Note that Sir William of Bracewell’s sons married two de Ros sisters and that the Bolton branch lived on into the seventeenth century although the Masham male line died out early in Henry VIII’s reign. Furthermore, Richard, Bishop of Carlisle, was Richard III’s cousin.

The royal seals of Richard III….


King John faces the barons at the sealing of the Magna Carta

According to Ian Mortimer in The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, in the fourteenth century the king’s two great seals were kept by different people; one by the chancellor for sealing Chancery documents, and the other by the treasurer for Exchequer documents. The seals were huge at 6 inches across, and the one for the Chancery used red wax, the Exchequer seal used green.

The king’s own letters were sealed with a much smaller personal seal, the privy seal. In the reign of Edward III the use of the privy seal was increasingly delegated to its keeper, who could deal with routine business as directed by the king.

The king himself had a new ‘secret seal’ or signet made, to authenticate his personal letters and directions. This is kept by his secretary and is the precursor to the seals of office held by today’s Secretaries of State.

So, by 1400 there were four royal seals in operation: the secret seal, privy seal and two versions of the great seal.

Below you will find a selection of illustrations of Richard III’s seals.

You will find out much more about the English Royal Chancery and seals here , although this stops short of the 15th century. Information about seals throughout history, and around the world, is here.

There are seals aplenty here and if you wish to know how they are cleaned, try here.

The Epiphany Plot of 1400

Following the deposition of Richard II, his leading supporters among the nobility were put on trial before Henry IV’s first parliament. Well, all apart from the Earl of Wiltshire who had – in plain terms – been murdered at Bristol on Henry’s orders before Henry became king. (As a Lancastrian, Henry was of course allowed to do this sort of thing without receiving any criticism from historians.)

Some brief pen-pictures of the men in question may be helpful, since they will be unfamiliar to many readers:-

Edward, Duke of Aumale, highest ranking of the accused, was the elder son of the Duke of York, and was thus first cousin to both Richard II and Henry IV. Despite his relative youth (26 in 1399) he had been high in Richard’s counsels since the early 1390s and had received an astonishing array of offices from the king, being, among other things, at one point both Lord High Constable and Lord High Admiral. A devious man of considerable ability, described by one chronicler as a ‘second Solomon’, his contribution tends to be underrated by historians. He was also a survivor. Despite involvement – or alleged involvement – in several plots against Henry IV, he was to survive long enough to be the leading English casualty of Agincourt. Nevertheless, in the Parliament of late 1399 he had a most torrid time. It is likely that Richard II intended Edward to be his heir.

John Holland, Duke of Exeter was King Richard’s half-brother – they shared the same mother, Joan of Kent. He was married to Henry IV’s sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster. Exeter was at this time in his late 40s. He had not always been a strong supporter of Richard, and had at one point been quite closely associated with his father-in-law. However, during the 1390s he had become increasingly important as a member of Richard’s inner circle.

Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey was Exeter’s nephew, the eldest son of Thomas Holland, late Earl of Kent. Another relatively young man, he had recently replaced his deceased brother-in-law, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (killed 1398) as Lieutenant of Ireland. He had also replaced Aumale as Lord High Admiral.

John Montagu (or Montacute) Earl of Salisbury, who was in his late 40s, had only succeeded to his uncle’s earldom in 1397, having been for many years merely Sir John Montagu. His uncle had alienated many of the family estates – there was bad blood between them – and Salisbury was by some way the least wealthy of the accused. Nor had he received any particular rewards in land from King Richard. Acting as Richard’s ambassador to France, he had been unfortunate enough to earn Henry Bolingbroke’s personal enmity because of the message he had brought to Charles VI on Richard’s behalf – which was essentially that Henry should be treated as persona non grata. Salisbury was known to be a Lollard – an early Protestant – and attracted some hostility for that reason. King Richard himself was generally hostile to the Lollards but nevertheless tolerated Salisbury and a few other followers of that movement at his court.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester was married to Constance of York and was thus Aumale’s brother-in-law and the Duke of York’s son-in-law. 26 years old at this time, he had commanded King Richard’s rearguard in the 1399 campaign in Ireland and been one of the king’s strongest supporters during the upheaval of 1397. Even without the rewards given to him in 1397, he was a very wealthy man, in terms of landed income much more so than his father-in-law. The jewel in his crown was the very valuable Marcher Lordship of Glamorgan.

They had all served as ‘counter-appellants’ in 1397, when Richard II had taken his revenge on his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick. All, except Salisbury, had received generous grants of forfeited lands. All except Despenser (Gloucester) and Salisbury had also participated in the partition of the Lancastrian estates earlier in 1399. As a group, they were very much Richard’s ‘Party’ and it cannot be denied that most of them had been very handsomely rewarded for their loyalty. Apart from Salisbury they were all closely linked to Richard by blood or marriage or both.

The outcome of the trial – to cut a long story short – was that the accused lost the lands granted to them in 1397 and those who had received upgraded titles (everyone except Salisbury) lost them and reverted to their pre-1397 status. For the purpose of this article, I shall continue to refer to them by their Ricardian titles, to avoid unnecessary confusion.

The group were placed into the temporary custody of the Abbot of Westminster, who was a Ricardian himself. It appears that they immediately began to conspire against Henry, although on the face of it the King meant to rehabilitate them fairly quickly. With the exception of Salisbury – against whom Henry maintained a rather obvious grudge – they were, for example, very quickly restored to the Council. Edward of Aumale even received confirmation of some valuable land grants, including the Lordship of the Isle of Wight. Of course, Edward was rather a special case, being the King’s cousin, and perhaps more importantly, York’s son. The Duke of York (who had been Richard’s Keeper of England during the King’s absence in Ireland) had given Henry quite strong support, almost from the minute he surrendered to him near Berkeley Castle a few months earlier.

In addition, Edward had not been aligned politically in quite the same way as the others. Richard divided his army in Ireland – allegedly on Edward’s advice – sending the smaller portion to North Wales under Salisbury while returning himself to South Wales with the remainder. When Richard broke up his army near Carmarthen he actually left Aumale behind, possibly fearing that his cousin was no longer reliable in view of the defection of the Duke of York at Berkeley. It seems likely that this defection was a principal cause – if not the main cause – of the King’s panic and his decision to join Salisbury in North Wales. (This decision led to the collapse of his cause and his eventual capture by Bolingbroke.) The other lords involved were all with the King to the bitter end.

A note on sources. The main sources for the Epiphany Rising are Walsingham and Traison et Mort. Both have their issues. Walsingham (though used as a principal source for the reign) is hopelessly biased against Richard II, and frequently reports rumours, however ridiculous, if they tend to Richard’s discredit. He can not infrequently be caught out in direct falsehoods. Traison, on the other hand, was written by a French member of Queen Isabelle’s household. He is heavily biased towards Richard, tends to blame Edward of York for the King’s downfall, and reports details of matters of which he cannot possibly have had direct knowledge, such as the manner of Richard’s death.

The key to the plot was an attempt to assassinate Henry IV (and perhaps his sons) at Windsor Castle. The great army that Henry had assembled to place himself on the throne had, for the most part, gone home. Therefore the King was vulnerable to an attack from a small force, which was all the conspirators could assemble. (Many of their retainers had found alternative patrons by this time, or were otherwise unreliable, and in any event, for obvious reasons, only the most loyal could be trusted in a scheme of this kind.)

At the same time, a number of risings were to be provoked across England, and King Richard was somehow to be released. (His exact location was almost certainly not known to the conspirators.) Richard was to be represented, in his absence, by his clerk and double, Richard Maudelyn, who was probably either a half-brother or cousin of the deposed monarch.

By one means or another, the plot was revealed to Henry at the last moment. Traison blames Aumale, who accidentally revealed the plot to his father, York. The pair of them then hurried to warn the King, Edward being immediately pardoned. Walsingham merely says that Henry was ‘forewarned’ but does not disclose the method. Another source, Continuatio Eulogii, says that one of the King’s squires picked up the intelligence from a prostitute who had previously slept with someone involved in the plot. A final possibility must be that Elizabeth of Lancaster got wind of her husband’s dealings and sent warning to her brother.

Most modern historians tend to dismiss Aumale’s ‘serious’ involvement in the plot. Even so, it is hard to see how he, with his connections, could have remained innocent of what was going on. On the other hand, it must be recognised that many in England (and even more in France!) were deeply suspicious of his motives throughout, and accusations or mutterings of treason against him continued regularly for some years. It is hard to discern how much of this was smoke and how much fire.

Be this as it may, the fact remains that Henry and his sons escaped from Windsor with only hours to spare, so whatever warning was received came at the last minute, in true dramatic style.

The King’s escape was, in effect, equivalent to the defeat of the conspiracy, as the rebels did not have the forces to match those which Henry was soon to raise from London and the surrounding counties. According to Traison they held the bridge at Maidenhead for some hours, which was probably as good a fight as they could make of it. They also sought to recruit from the various towns and villages they passed, and according to Walsingham also visited Queen Isabelle (Richard’s very young wife) at Sonning, seeking her support and that of her household.

Unfortunately, the news that Henry was not far behind them with a large and growing army could not be long concealed, and tended to put a damper on recruitment. The rebels’ retreat rapidly turned into flight, which came to an end at Cirencester, where, exhausted, their ‘army’ camped in the fields while the lords took up lodgings in various inns. What happened next is unclear, but it appears the inhabitants of the town realised that the lords were fugitives, and besieged them in their lodgings. A fire started, and Surrey and Salisbury surrendered, and were initially lodged in the abbey. However, when the townsfolk of Cirencester grasped the measure of the damage done to their town by the fire, they dragged the two lords out again, and summarily executed them without legal authority. Walsingham states that Salisbury, who was a Lollard, refused to make confession before his death.

The mystery of Exeter and Gloucester.

According to Traison these two lords were at Cirencester, escaped their burning inn by climbing out of the window, and fled in different directions. In the case of Exeter in particular this seems most unlikely. Walsingham states that he remained in London, which makes sense if his role was to raise the Ricardian element among the citizens. Such men were in a minority, but they certainly existed, and if Henry had not escaped they might well have put themselves forward. Exeter was eventually captured in Essex. He was also murdered by the local population without lawful authority, at Pleshey Castle, seat of the late Duke of Gloucester, the uncle Richard II had (possibly) had murdered in 1397. The location was, of course, highly significant.

Had Exeter been in Cirencester, he would surely have been wiser to flee towards Devon, where he had extensive land holdings, than eastward, directly into the teeth of Henry’s forces. I therefore conclude it is most unlikely he was at either Windsor or Cirencester. Though, as an experienced warrior and tough fighter he would have been something of an asset if he had been.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester, is barely mentioned by Walsingham at all, except in the matter of his escape and capture. Again, there is at least a possibility he was not at Windsor or Cirencester and that he never left Cardiff. Indeed, it may be he was guilty of nothing more than misprision of treason at worst. Hearing that the King’s men were on their way to arrest him, he took ship from Cardiff, carrying a considerable amount of portable wealth. However the ship’s captain refused to take him anywhere but Bristol, where the citizens chose to prove their loyalty to Henry by murdering him.

If Despenser was indeed innocent of any active involvement in the plot, it might help explain his widow’s bitter hatred of Henry, which culminated in her plot, in 1405, to remove the Mortimer heirs from Windsor Castle and place them in the protection of Owain Glyndwr.

Many of the lesser supporters of the plot were assembled at Oxford for trial. Maudelyn, Sir Bernard Brocas and William Feriby were brought to London, to be hanged and beheaded at Tyburn. Sir Thomas Blount and twenty-five others from Cirencester were hanged, drawn and quartered at Oxford. Another thirty-seven received pardons, and at least one, Salisbury’s stepson, was actually acquitted. Roger Walden (the deposed Archbishop of Canterbury), the Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Westminster were all imprisoned for a short time, and Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, fell beneath an uncomfortable level of suspicion, but was not proceeded against.

A number of small risings broke out across England in support of the plot, but all subsided with little fuss. The one in Chester was perhaps the most serious and led to a brief siege of the castle. Ironically the man who put it down, the Bishop of St. Asaph, was soon to number among Henry’s enemies as a firm supporter of Owain Glyndwr.

As for the widows, Henry treated Elizabeth of Lancaster and Constance of York with considerable generosity – of course they were his sister and first cousin respectively. These two remained very rich ladies indeed, and did superbly well compared to the widows of ‘traitors’ in the Tudor period or even the Yorkist era. The other widows had less kindly provision, although the worst treated of all, the Countess of Wiltshire, had suffered from Henry murdering her husband before he even became king, and had no connection to the plot.

In the aftermath of the plot it appears that Henry (and almost certainly his Council) decided that King Richard’s life should be cut short to discourage any further rebellions in his favour. Richard died at Pontefract on 14th February 1400. Various explanations are given, but the most likely seems to be that he was starved to death. Despite this, and the public display of his body in St. Paul’s, rumours that he had escaped and was alive and well in Scotland continued to plague Henry – and indeed his son. That a ‘Richard’ was living at the court of Scotland is an undoubted fact – whether he was the real Richard is quite another matter.


The most useful source by far is Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400 by Chris Given Wilson.

Other sources:

The Usurper King – Marie Louise Bruce

Fears of Henry IV – Ian Mortimer

Richard II – Nigel Saul





















An interesting view on Chronicle sources

In his excellent book The Greatest Traitor Ian Mortimer states (p.188)…’With regard to secret plots, most chronicles reflect contemporary rumour and popular opinion more closely than historical facts. To put the issue in perspective, imagine the results if several amateur historians – perhaps working in retirement homes, which monasteries sometimes were – began to write up accounts of a covert political assassination five, ten, or twenty years after the event. Imagine them trying to do the same thing in an age before literacy was common, without television, newspapers, radio or railways.’

Quite! Food for thought in a much wider context than the supposed murder of Edward II.

Now I understand the Year of Grace….


It is a truth that one learns something new every day. For me today it is an explanation of the phrase ‘Year of Grace’. I had not really given it any thought at all, imagining it simply meant the year granted by God’s Grace. Well, in point of fact, it does mean that, but not in the way that seems most obvious.

In Ian Mortimer’s excellent The Fears of Henry IV, I learned that on Maundy Thursday 1398, the soon-to-be Henry IV gave alms to mark the number of years he had lived. But he gave to thirty-three paupers, even though he was only thirty-one. This might be the first instance of this odd method of calculation. The custom arose to give not for the present year, or the next, but the one after that. In later years the payment by the king of an extra year’s alms was described as ‘the Year of Grace’, that is, the next year the king hoped that by God’s Grace he would live to see.

Thank you, Ian Mortimer. I  am now a little wiser!

The King In The Lab – Richard III’s Dissolute Diet


I recently had the opportunity to attend a talk by Professor Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey, co-author of the multi-isotope analysis which explored what the last Plantagenet king of England ate and drank. As I mentioned in a previous science post, this study formed the basis for the widely reported claim that, although he was a capable soldier, he overindulged on food and drink and that this “dissolute” diet was the reason for his unexpected defeat at the battle of Bosworth. As this seemed to be at odds with both historical sources and also the study itself, I was hoping to finally get to the bottom of the facts. I wasn’t disappointed.

What Isotopes Can Tell Us

Professor Evans began her talk by explaining that isotopes are particles which transmit information from geology to us via our food chain. Basically:

Rock > soil > plants > herbivores…

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Shakespeare’s Henry V – King Hal versus the real Henry Plantagenet

Giaconda's Blog

Following on from my recent post about the reception of the Agincourt campaign by later generations and the associated ‘myth-making’ which has informed our view of those events, I wanted to look at the character of the central figure in Shakespeare’s play and compare and contrast it with the ‘real’ Henry in the evidence that comes down to us today and the interpretations of some modern historians.

Hen Sha

Shakespeare makes his hero a paragon of virtue in so many respects that it would be well nigh impossible for the real, historical figure of King Henry to live up to his alter ego. Firstly, Shakespeare’s Hal is both stern and commanding yet also approachable and affable with his men. He is intelligent and charismatic, displaying all the qualities of a great leader and yet disarmingly gauche and awkward with Princess Catherine as he stumbles over his school boy French and tries to woo her in…

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Part 1-– Necessitas non habet leger – The Lancastrian title 1399


I am not arguing that Henry IV usurped the crown in 1399. That judgment has already been made and hardly challenged since the fifteenth century[1]. Neither will I rehearse the reasons for king Richard II’s downfall in 1399; they are already well enough known. My sole purpose in this essay is to make a few observations about an emerging historical debate concerning the true basis of Henry of Lancaster’s title to the throne.

The issue turns primarily on the meaning of Henry’s declaration to the quasi parliament that assembled on the 30 September 1399. According to contemporary sources, once bishop Asaph had declared the throne vacant, Henry rose from his seat, blessed himself and stepped towards the empty throne, which he claimed by right of inheritance (de jure), by conquest (de facto) and by the will of God. His claim is recorded in the Parliamentary Roll for the October 1399 parliament. This is what is written (modern spellings): “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, I, Henry of Lancaster challenge this realm of England and the crown with all the members and the appurtenances, as I that am descended by right line of the blood coming of the good lord Henry the third, and through that right that God of his grace has sent me with help of my kin and of my friends to recover it, the which realm was in point to be undone for default of governance and undoing of the good laws. ” These words form part of the ‘Record and Process’, which is a Lancastrian memorandum describing their version of Richard II’s dethronement. It was incorporated into the Parliamentary Roll (PR) as a matter of official record[2]. Any examination of this aspect of PR has to deal with two important preliminary questions. First, how far is the official account to be trusted? Second, was it Henry’s intention to seek parliamentary approval of his title?

Can the official account be trusted?

Professor E F Jacob describes the Lancastrian  account as “…tendentious and in certain material respects erroneous”.[3] And it is certainly contradicted by independent chronicle accounts. One eyewitness to the September gathering quotes Henry as actually claiming the throne, as the “nearest male heir and worthiest blood descendant of the good king Henry the third…”[4] Such a significant difference between the PR and the Chronicles requires explanation. The Record and Process part of the PR was almost certainly drafted by lawyers in the Lancastrian interest. Their intention was to justify Henry’s claim and disguise the profanity of deposing an anointed king and usurping the rights of Richard’s heir. The draftsman undoubtedly took great care over the wording of Henry’s claim and title to the crown, since the issue was a complex one and his title was doubtful. However, the fact that this is probably not what Henry actually said in September is immaterial; the PR represents the official, mature and considered Lancastrian position and even historians cannot go behind it in order it to absolve Henry from having usurped the crown.

We can be reasonably sure that If Henry of Lancaster had possessed an unequivocal title as heir male to Henry III it would have been recorded explicitly in the Roll. The fact that it isn’t suggests that in the interval between the September assembly and Henry’s first parliament wise counsel had prevailed on him to tone the claim down. The legitimacy of Henry’s title was still doubted by some lords, who were perhaps uncomfortable with such a bold and controversial proclamation of his hereditary right. These doubters needed to be pacified. Even Henry’s principal northern supporters, the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, had misgivings about dethroning Richard and were certainly (at first) thinking of Mortimer as his legitimate heir should the circumstances arises. It was in Henry’s best interest to keep the precise nature of his hereditary title ambiguous. It affected not only his right to the English throne but also the English claim to the French throne.[5] In the lawyers’ opinion there was virtue in obfuscating this claim. And that, according to Chris Given-Wilson,[6] is exactly what the draftsman of the Record and Process achieved.

S B Chrimes thinks that actually it is a very clever combination of claims since it conceals the weakness of his de jure title by paying lip service to it, “…without committing himself to any definition of what constituted a legally complete title.[7] Although the words ‘right line of blood’ imply a distinction between the ‘right’ line and the wrong line, Henry shrewdly, did not define the ‘right line’. The point being that these words could mean almost anything Henry wanted them to mean. The weakness of Henry’s hereditary title can also be gauged by the necessity to claim the crown on the additional grounds of conquest (cleverly disguised as being in defence of hereditary rights) and God’s will. K B McFarlane’s judgement is that Henry lacked a convincing de jure title; however, whilst his accession could never be regular, with some clever jiggery-pokery, “it could be made to look less illegal.”[8]

What was Henry’s intention?

The problem with this question is that the answer relies less on the facts than on the interpretation of his motives and intentions from the circumstances. The notion of a parliamentary solution would suggest a separation of character between the king and parliament, which is contrary to our understanding of their constitutional relationship in the fourteenth century. Besides, the assembly that gathered on the 30 September 1399 was not a parliament. It was a meeting of those who normally constituted a parliament, gathered in Westminster Hall to witness Richard’s abdication.[9]

Stubbs’ Victorian notion that Henry was a constitutional monarch[10] no longer holds sway with many historians. K B McFarlane is particularly critical of Stubbs’ assessment: “ Yet even in the ‘Record and Process’ there is no basis for supposing that Henry desired a parliamentary title in Stubbs’ sense. Henry neither owed his position to Parliament nor wished it to be thought that he did. He claimed the throne by right; acceptance of that claim was the most he expected of parliament.[11] Neither is there much evidence of ‘election’. Notwithstanding their obvious misgivings, the Lords accepted Henry’s accession, without comment. Henry’s personal challenge (‘I challenge this realm of England’) could not be taken up for obvious reasons. There can be no disguising the fact that it was the use of armed force and deception that had got Henry to Westminster in September, ready, willing and able to seize the crown. Notwithstanding that, he was regarded as the best man to restore good governance to the realm and England’s greatness. The English did not want another child king, or a weak old man to reign over them.

Heir male or heir general?

Seen in that light, the theories concerning the literal meaning of Henry’s declaration take on a different aspect. There are basically two theories; the first is that Henry’s words ‘by right line of blood’ were a reference to his matrilineal line from Edmund earl of Lancaster, called ‘Crouchback’.[12] This is, a Historians argument in the sense that it is based on a particular interpretation of his words and the circumstances. Henry’s words are ambiguous and he did try to exploit the Crouchback legend as a lever to gain the throne[13]. I think this theory is implausible for two reasons. First because it does not necessarily follow logically that the absence of a specific claim as ‘heir male’ automatically means the opposite. Second and more importantly, such a claim would be absurd. Nobody has been able to satisfactorily explain why Henry, despite robust legal advice to the contrary, would make a claim that he and everyone else knew was untrue and anyhow was inferior to Mortimer’s.

Second, we have what I would call a ‘lawyer’s case’. It is the antithesis of the Crouchback theory and is also based on a particular interpretation of Henry’s words. As Ian Mortimer’s points out, Henry of Lancaster was descended from Henry III through both his father and his mother, and: “a statement that [he] was heir to Henry III implies nothing more than that he claimed the throne from one (or both) of these two descents.”[14] Although Dr Mortimer’s understanding as there stated is unarguable, it is, nonetheless, testament to the equivocality of Henry’s title as set out in the PR. Furthermore, in my opinion, Dr Mortimer moves too quickly to the conclusion that Henry was referring to his descent as heir male to Henry III. That is equally improbable because it also is untrue. It could only be made true if Henry successfully overturned the history of the English succession, and conceded that the exercise of royal authority was subject to parliamentary approval.[15]

No king of England if not king of France

Dr Mortimer is, in fact making a hypothetical legal case that Henry never actually made at the time, and for good reason. It turns on two points of law. First, that a woman could not inherit the crown or transmit any title to her children. Second, that all the entails made by previous kings were unlawful because parliament was not consulted.[16] However, the facts are against him.  On the first point: two English kings (including, by the way, the progenitor of the Plantagenet dynasty) inherited the crown through the female line.[17] Furthermore, Edward I’s entail of 1290 made it impossible for Henry to either assert or to demand male domination of the crown.[18]  All these decisions demonstrate the fallacy to treating the succession as a matter of law. It is a political process and the settlements and entails of kings have all been made for political reasons.

On the second point, it is inconceivable that Henry would have been prepared to compromise his royal authority by submitting his will on the succession to parliament for approval. Henry was a legitimist not a constitutionalist and putting such power in the hands of parliament was against everything he believed in. Henry’s legal rights (such as they were) cannot be applied in a vacuum that ignores the realpolitik of the times. The notion that Henry wanted a ‘legal’ title is too simplistic. He wasn’t after a legal title per se. If he merely wanted a title that was legal then parliament could easily have given him one by constitutional election. The problem with that solution is that it would change the fundamental relationship between the king and his subjects. It was tantamount to recognising parliament’s power to hire and fire kings, which in the fourteenth century was something only God could do. No medieval king would voluntarily put himself at the mercy of parliament in such a way. It cannot be emphasized too much that Henry claimed the throne by divine hereditary right; all he required parliament to do was to accept that fact. As it happens, that is exactly what they did.[19] The strength of Henry’s declaration was in its precise ambiguity. It said neither too much nor too little; it neither inferred too much nor too little. It brilliantly preserved the fiction of parliamentary approval without in any way fettering royal authority or changing the constitutional relationship between the king and his parliament.

In addition, Henry had to maintain his claim to the French throne. If he  overturned previous English precedents enabling  women to pass on a regal title  to their children, it would undermine the credibility  of the English matrilineal claim to the French throne.  It was an issue that didn’t just affect the king. Most , if not all English nobility owned estates in France.The dual kingdom of England and France was not only the best way for them to protect their  estates, it offered the opportunity to increase them. The thought  that owing to their gender  the king’s heir might  inherit the French throne but not the English one,  did not bear thinking about. Basic common sense suggested an equitable settlement was necessary.

Necessitas non habet leger [20]

If Henry IV’s subjects thought he was the man to restore good government and  to restore England’s greatness, they were to be sadly disappointed. His was indeed a ‘reign of two halves’. In the first half there was rebellion; in the second half came debilitating illness. However in 1406,  necessity proved to be the mother of invention. The continuous rebellions, and the underlying threat from Edmund Mortimer drove him to seek a permanent parliamentary solution. The ‘Act for the Inheritance of the Crown’ [21] was meant secure the Lancastrian succession forever. It recognised, but did not create, Henry’s hereditary title and settled the throne exclusively down the male Lancastrian line. Professor Chrimes is uncertain whether this was making new law or simply confirming old law; but it really doesn’t matter, since the existence of a statutory title took the succession out of God’s hands without necessarily putting into parliaments. Ultimately, it all came to nought for Henry since the ‘Act for the Inheritance of the Crown’ was repealed before the end of the parliament in which it had been passed. It was replaced with a similar act, confirming that the throne could be inherited down male and female lines. Even by modern standards of flexible policy making, this was some U-turn[22]. However, as we shall see the tide of legitimism was running strong. Sixty-one years after Henry’s usurpation a statutory Lancastrian title could not stand in the face of a claim by one with an indefeasible right of inheritance. But that, as they say, is another story…

[1] There were three candidates for the crown in 1399. Edmund Mortimer, earl of March was descended through his mother from Lionel of Antwerp the third son of Edward III; whereas Henry of Lancaster’s father was John of Gaunt duke of Lancaster and fourth son to Edward III. The other candidate was Edmund of Langley duke of York and Edward’s fifth son. Mortimer had the best lineal title. Henry of Lancaster was the mob’s choice and Edmund was too old. Henry’s act of usurpation was not in deposing Richard II, but in  seizing the throne ahead of Mortimer.

[2] Chris Given-Wilson – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England: Chris Given-Wilson (ed) (The Boydell Press 2005) Vol 8, pp. 11-62. The ‘Record and Process’ occupies about one-third of the Roll record for this parliament. [PROME]

[3] E F Jacob –The Fifteenth Century (Oxford 1987 edition) at page 13. See also PROME Vol 8, pp. 11-62. For example, the Lancastrian account that Richard abdicated voluntarily is not supported by all independent contemporary accounts. The alternative version is that the king was taken prisoner and forced to abdicate. See Chris Given-Wilson – Chronicles of the Revolution (Manchester 1993).

[4] Chris Given-Wilson considers it doubtful that the Roll version contained Henry’s actual words. See Chronicles of the Revolution at page 45 citing the ‘ The Manner of King Richard’s Renunciation’ [Corpus Christi College, Cambridge MS 59 ff 230v-231]. The relevant portion of MS 59 can be found in ‘Chronicles’ at document 16 pp.162-167. See also Ian Mortimer – Medieval Intrigues: decoding royal conspiracies (Continuum 2010) p 298. Mortimer cites two other sources (the continuation of the Eulogium [p383] and an English Chronicle [Davies ed, English Chronicle p18]). In general terms these sources also suggest that Henry claimed the throne as ‘heir male’ to Henry III.

[5] The English kings’ title to the French throne was matrilineal. There was an awkward inconsistency in arguing a male hegemony for the English throne whilst claiming title to the French throne through the female line.

[6] PROME Vol 8 at page p3. Given-Wilson describes Henry’s claim as ambiguous and obsfucatory; “an uneasy compound of inexactly defined hereditary right, de facto conquest and alleged inadequacy…”

[7] S B Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936), pages 24 and 25.

[8] K B McFarlane – Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights (Oxford1998 SE) at p57

[9] Jacob – Fifteenth Century pp.16 and 17; Jacob quotes from ‘B Wilkinson – The deposition of Richard II and the accession of Henry IV (Eng Hist Rev liv p220) and discusses the constitutional relationship between the king and parliament, especially parliaments advisory role in matters of state and law at this time.

[10] W. Stubbs- Constitutional History of England (Oxford 1890). Stubbs placed his faith in the integrity of the Record and Process memorandum when assessing Henry’s title.

[11] See McFarlane – Lancastrian Kings and Lollard Knights pp. 56 and 57.

[12] There was a myth that Edmund earl of Lancaster was the first-born son of Henry III and therefore the heir apparent (He was called Crouchback because he wore the symbolic cross of a crusader on the back of his surcoat. He did not have a crooked back as some suppose). However, due to an (unspecified) infirmity, Edmund was passed over in the order of succession in favour of his brother Edward (later Edward I). The legend was complete nonsense. Edward was born in 1339, his sister Margaret was born in 1340 and Edmund did not arrive until 1345. We know from Adam of Usk’s eyewitness chronicle that Henry tried to exploit the Crouchback myth as a lever to gain the throne [See the Chronicles of the Revolution at pp. 157-161]. The emergence of the Crouchback mythology can be traced at least as far back as 1394 when John of Gaunt petitioned Parliament to have his son Henry Bolingbroke nominated as Richard’s heir, apparently on the grounds of his matrilineal descent from Edmund Crouchback. However, the evidence is inconclusive. We can, however, be sure that in 1399 Henry commissioned an inquiry into the claim that Edmund Crouchback was Henry III’s first-born son (See Chronicles of the revolution at page 196 and Michael Bennett – Richard II and the revolution of 1399 (Sutton 2006) at p61). The Inquiry’s conclusion was unequivocal; the Crouchback story was untrue.

[13] See L J F Ashdown-Hill – The Lancastrian claim to the throne (Ricardian, Vol 13, 2005) at page 27. Dr Ashdown-Hill’s article is intended to show that Henry VII’s claim to be the last Lancastrian heir is untrue (which it is). However, his suggestion that Henry IV claimed the throne from his ancestor Edmund Crouchback is merely an assumption. It is not a fact.

[14] See Ian Mortimer – Fears of Henry IV (Vintage 2008), pp. 183-86; York or Lancaster: who was the rightful heir to the throne in 1460? (Ricardian Bulletin autumn 2008) pp. 20-24, with subsequent correspondence. See also ‘Medieval Intrigues’, chapters 8 and 9, and ‘York or Lancaster’ a rejoinder (Ricardian Bulletin, spring 2009) pp. 44 and 45.

[15] Henry could not agree to this without weakening the whole concept of Royal authority.

[16] See ’Fears’ p 369. Dr Mortimer asserts that that on the 30 September 1399, the assembled Lords Spiritual and Temporal, removed the right of kings to choose their successor by voting for Henry as their king from the three candidates proffered: Mortimer, York and Henry, and because Henry’s title was ratified in 1406, in parliament. His conclusion that “ This then was the basis of the Lancastrian claim in 1399: that only males could inherit the throne and all attempts by previous kings to settle the inheritance without consulting parliament were without any basis in law and thus void.” does no more than beg the question.

[17] The civil war of 1135-1154 arose principally because king Henry I died in 1135, leaving only his daughter Matilda as heir. Henry obviously had no objection in principle to a woman succeeding to the throne and reigning in her own right, since he nominated Matilda as his successor.   In 1127 he forced the Anglo-Norman nobility to swear an oath supporting her succession. However, Matilda was wholly unacceptable to the barons. Their objection seems to have been less  to women in general succeeding to the throne than a specific objection to this woman succeeding. Matilda was unpopular due to her ‘Germanic’ ways and haughty demeanour. The Norman barons also hated her for her anti-Norman activities and her marriage to their archenemy Geoffrey count of Anjou. They feared French influence at the English court. Stephen, whose title came through his mother Adela, was able with the consent of the barons to seize the throne ‘in the twinkling of an eye’. There is a remarkable similarity between the Treaty of Winchester in 1153, and the Act of Accord agreed in 1460 between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. In 1153, the Norman king Stephen remained de facto king during his lifetime, whilst the Frenchman Henry of Anjou (Henry II) was his de jure heir, having inherited Matilda’s title to the English throne. In 1460, Henry VI remained de facto king during his lifetime, whilst York was recognized as his de jure heir. On both occasions the de facto king’s own heir was bypassed in the succession, and on both occasions the de jure heir’s title was matrilineal. The treaty of 1153 bought peace; the Act of Accord of 1460 bought civil war.

[18] Ian Mortimer – Medieval Intrigues at p286. Edward planned to marry his daughters Joan, Margaret and Eleanor to foreign royalty in 1290. Making them all eligible to inherit and rule in their own right, and to pass on the throne to their children, was a powerful inducement for their foreign royal suitors  to make the match. In the end, it didn’t matter; Edward of Caernarvon succeeded his father as Edward II. Whilst he was demonstrably imperfect, Edward II still managed to sire the perfect king — Edward III.

[19] Henry was able to get away with such a obviously dubious claim because it was not the issue uppermost in the lords’ minds. They were much too concerned about the legality of deposing a crowned and anointed monarch and the consequences of doing that to pay much attention to the legitimacy of Henry’s title.

[20] Necessitas non habet leger. It means ‘necessity has no law’ and Henry wrote those words on a signet letter in 1403. It is a saying that encapsulates his ruthless ambition to legitimize the Lancastrian dynasty. His desire for a hereditary title was all consuming.

[21] See Statutes 7, Henry IV, c 2; and PROME, Vol 8 pp. 341-348 and 354-357, articles 38 and 60.

[22] PROME Vol 8 p324. Given-Wilson suggests that the change was probably made because at the time Henry IV was negotiating with the French for the Prince of Wales to marry one of Charles VI’s daughters. The French clearly did not like the idea that any daughter borne to the union would be barred from the English succession.

What makes a good medieval king?


Why is Edward 1 considered a great king? That is a question that has haunted me ever since I fluffed it in an O level’ exam more than fifty summers ago. My answer proved that a good memory is better than thinking it would be all right on the day. By chance, I recently came across this question again in a book of O Level questions from the middle of the last century. It was a providential find for two reasons. First, it gave me an opportunity to answer the question properly. Second, and more important, it gave me a clue as to approach the question posed in this article: what make a good medieval king?

It is a hypothetical question, which can only be answered hypothetically; not very satisfactory you might think. Also, the word ‘good’ is a subjective and a relative adjective. That means that any answer I do give is only my personal opinion based on the circumstances of time, place and context. Our conception of good (and bad) varies not only between nations and cultures, but also between individuals.  It also changes over time as human political, cultural, social and religious values develop. Kathryn Warner in the introduction to her excellent biography of Edward II captures my point precisely “ Many of the character traits and behaviour that made him such a disastrous king, and were incomprehensible and even shocking to his contemporaries would be judged differently today

The solution to my dilemma, so fortuitously suggested by the book, is not to answer a hypothetical question for which there is no single answer, but to invite each reader to answer it in his or her own fashion. The purpose of this narrative being merely to provide a few examples of what others have thought to be the qualities of a good king (and the faults of a bad king). This is not a scholarly analysis but some layman’s ideas based three historical case studies.


The theory of kingship

Context is especially important when making judgments about historical characters. I am therefore prefacing my comments with a few salient points about the political environment in which medieval kings operated.

The last years of the old English state before the Conquest were noted for the efficiency and effectiveness of the government.   England had all the appearance of a constitutional monarchy, with the King and the Witenagemot (The King’s Council) taking joint responsibility for decisions. There was a strong elective element in the succession also involving the Witan, which frequently took the initiative. The selection of a king was considered to be far too important to be left to the royal family alone. Membership of the royal stock was an essential pre-requisite for any candidate but generally the crown went to the person who was thought best able to carry out the duties of a king. Although conventional Church doctrine suggested that the king was chosen through the Grace of God, personal rule was less prevalent in England than on the continent. The Witan were regularly consulted on affairs of state and, more significantly, they expected to be consulted. The governance of England at this time was superior to that in Normandy and probably also superior to that in France.

A king’s obligation to rule properly in the common interest is enshrined in the Coronation Oath, which is still used today. It was first devised in 973 at the coronation of the Saxon king Edgar and has remained virtually unchanged. It has three broad elements: to preserve the Church and religion, to preserve his subject’s peace and to be just and merciful in his actions.

It was this Saxon law that William the Conqueror inherited in 1066. Surprisingly, he made little or no changes to it. In fact, his son Henry 1 issued a proclamation in 1100 strengthening the king’s legal obligations to rule wisely and justly in the common interest.  It was called the Charter of Liberties and is a considered to be a landmark document, a forerunner to Magna Carta.

However by the start of the thirteenth century, the nature of monarchy was changing; it was becoming autocratic. King’s did not just reign, they governed and good government depended almost entirely on the king’s vigour and personality. He conducted his own foreign policy, led the army, declared war, had his own income derived from Crown Lands and feudal dues, and conducted the affairs of state.

John of Salisbury the English scholar, diplomat and Bishop of Chartres wrote ‘Policraticus’ in 1159. It was the first medieval English treatise on political and ethical philosophy. He argued for the ‘divine right of kings’, a concept common in Europe, but alien to the English polity. This is part of what he wrote:

“ The prince stands on a pinnacle which is exalted and made splendid with all the great and high privileges which he deems necessary for himself. And rightly so, because nothing is more advantageous to the people than that the needs of the prince should be fully satisfied; since it is impossible that his will should be found opposed to justice. Therefore, according to the usual definition, the prince is the public power, and a kind of likeness on earth of the divine majesty. Beyond doubt a large share of the divine power is shown to be in princes by the fact that at their nod men bow their necks and for the most part offer up their heads to the axe to be struck off, and, as by a divine impulse, the prince is feared by each of those over whom he is set as an object of fear. And this I do not think could be, except as a result of the will of God. For all power is from the Lord God, and has been with Him always, and is from everlasting.”

Policraticus emphasizes the king’s responsibility to venerate God, love his subjects, be self-disciplined and instruct his ministers. A king should punish lése majesté strictly but otherwise exercise mercy and restraint. In John of Salisbury’s opinion a tyrant sets a bad example and it was acceptable for a subject to assassinate him (Tyrannicide).

It was Henry II, who introduced the principle of primogeniture into the English succession. It replaced the sensible arrangement of choosing the king on merit with an arbitrary system based solely on paternity. This was a subtle change to the ‘divine right of kings’. Not only was the institution of kingship divine but so also was the right to succeed through inheritance. As Ian Mortimer has pointed out ‘it was a recipe for disaster’.

The signing of Magna Carta was a momentous event in English history. According A. L. Poole “The Great Charter was… a practical assertion of existing law and custom, and it imposed limitations on the arbitrary power of the crown. The king could no longer override the law. If he did so the twenty-five entrusted with the execution of the Charter were empowered together with the community of the whole land to ‘distrain him and distress him in every possible way’”. In other words if the king broke his agreement the people had a legal right to resist him. Nevertheless, the Great Charter made no difference to John’s reign; it’s significance lay in the future, over the next two to three hundred years, during which time it was re-issued and ratified, and grew in importance.

A perfect king?

By the turn of the fourteenth century there was a tension between absolute monarchs intent on maintaining their personal rule in the light of a supposed divinity, and their subjects who were increasingly seeking a more constitutional model of government in the wake of Magna Carta. The period between 1300 and 1400 was a watershed century in English history for many reasons. It saw the deposition of two kings, the Black Death, the Hundred Years war, the death of old style feudalism, the birth of bastard feudalism and the rise of common law (the law made by judges as opposed to law made by the king and parliament). It was also a period that saw the increasing power and influence of Parliament in affairs of state, including the succession.

In 1327 something happened that had never happened before: an English king was deposed. The deposition of Edward II is important because it was the first, and it was a warning to future kings. The English people would remove a king deemed unfit to rule. Kathryn Warner captures the broad reasons for Edward’s deposition expertly: “ He was incompetent to govern and allowed evil counselors too rule for him, he had lost Scotland and lands in France and Ireland, he had imprisoned, exiled, killed and disinherited many noblemen and churchmen, he neglected the business of his kingdom and pursued worthless hobbies fit only for peasants.” It is notable also as being an early example of Parliament’s involvement in serious affairs of state by ratifying the sacking of a king.

Edward III succeeded to the throne. He was in every way as unlike his father as it is possible to be (Rest assured: Mel Gibson was not his father.). According to Joshua Barnes, Edward was: “ Fortunate beyond measure, wise and provident in counsel, well learned in law, humanity and divinity. He understood Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and High and Low Dutch, besides his native language. He was of quick apprehension, judicious and skillful in nature, elegant in speech, sweet, familiar and affable, in behaviour; stern to the obstinate, but calm and meek to the humble. Magnanimous and courageous above all princes of his days; apt for war but a lover of peace; never puffed up with prosperity nor dismayed at adversity. He was of an exalted, glorious, and truly royal spirit, which never entertained anything vulgar or trivial as appears by the most excellent laws, which he made, by those two famous jubilees he kept, and by the most honourable Order of the Garter, which he first devised and founded. His recreations were hawking, hunting and fishing, but chiefly he loved the martial exercise of jousts and tournaments. In his buildings he was curious, splendid and magnificent, in bestowing graces and donations, free and frequent; and to the ingenious and deserving always kind and liberal; devout to God, bountiful to the clergy, gracious to his people, merciful to the poor, true to his word, loving to his friends, terrible to his enemies. In short he had the most virtues and the fewest vices of any prince that I ever read of. He was valiant, just, merciful, temperate and wise; the best lawgiver, the best friend, the best father and the best husband in his days”

Barnes wrote these words in 1688. The point is though, that they also reflected the views of Edward’s English contemporaries who lauded him to excess in his own lifetime. More recent opinions of Edward see things differently and his reputation has been under a sustained attack from politically conscious nineteenth and twentieth century historians more interested in highlighting social deprivation and the excesses of the ruling class, than in extolling deeds of chivalry. Most take the view that he was not a statesman, that he was ambitious, extravagant, ostentatious and unscrupulous. His military reputation is tarnished by insinuations that it was due more to luck than judgment; it is even said that he did not take his obligations as king seriously. In short, he was not a perfect king.

May McKistay is at a loss to understand this attitude. In a wonderfully observant and descriptive passage she points out the undeniable truth that: “Edward III succeeded, where nearly all his predecessors had failed in winning and holding the loyalty of his people and the affection of his magnates, even in the years of his decline. He accepted the chivalric and military ambitions of his age and used them, as he used the devotion of his wife and sons in the service of his dynasty. He raised that dynasty from unexampled depths of degradation to a place of high renown in western Christendom. His armies won for him and for themselves a military reputation seldom equaled and never surpassed at any period of English history before or since…”

The reality is that Edward III had a vision for his kingdom based on the romantic, chivalric model of king Arthur’s Camelot. He wanted to raise England to the level of prestige and power it enjoyed in the Arthurian Romances. The creation of the Order of the Garter, the manufacture of a Round Table at Winchester (Camelot?) and the importance of jousting to the king, and to his knights, are testament to his chivalric ideals. Even his personal challenge to fight the French king alone or with a select group of one hundred knights each is Arthurian in concept. Nor should it be taken as mere bravado; Edward meant what he said and Phillip VI’s refusal to fight him, whilst sensible and pragmatic, simply raised Edward’s stature as a the saviour of his nation. His vision also embraced the self-evident good governance and order that characterized Arthur’s court. Although, Edward was an autocrat by inclination and training, and although his was a personal rule, he knew enough to realise that unless he wanted to go the way of his father he had to get his people to accept his vision. He did this the only way he could, by example and a ‘follow me’ style of leadership, which rarely fails to motivate the British. He also astutely built a network of loyal and influential royal servants who could project his royal authority at a local level.

Edward’s countrymen shared his dream for England and endured much because of it. The king made many demands on them in terms of waging a bloody and expensive campaign in France, of levying taxes to pay for it and the inevitable restraint of trade that ensued. Moreover, his reign coincided, with the onset of the Black Death, which changed the social and economic fabric of the nation. It was no bed of roses in the middle years of the fourteenth century for the English or for their king; but they stuck together in what was essentially a joint enterprise. May McKistay sums-up the situation eloquently: “…Edward’s subjects, for the most part, acquiesced in the necessity: they saw him as the pattern of chivalry and the maker of England’s fame and when he lay on his death-bed they mourned the passing of a great English king. It is not altogether easy to share Stubbs’ confidence that they were wrong” (William Stubbs was a nineteenth century historian and Edward’s severest critic.). This harmony between king and subject was absent during the reigns of the deposed monarchs Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI. They were removed precisely because of the disjunction between their individual vision of kingship and their subjects’ expectations.

Finally, for those people who like lists, I have extracted a number of identifiable strength, qualities and skills possessed by Edward. It is not exhaustive but includes: courage in battle, good military leader, visionary, legislative reformer, hardworking, generous patron, arbiter of taste, appointed men based on ability, did not show favouritism, principled, idealistic, ‘he knew his business and did it’, forgiveness, magnanimity, good administrator. Ian Mortimer in his biography calls Edward III the ‘perfect king’, not because he was perfect, but because “he tried to be”. You cannot ask for more.

“We were not born to sue but to command!”

Richard II is an enigma; obviously intelligent, cultured and artistic, he was a generous patron of the arts. By supporting the creativity of English painters, sculptors and architects he encouraged them to reach new heights of creativity. His court was cultured and sophisticated, its stylishness being the envy of even the French. The paintings and illuminations done for him were exquisite. The magnificence of Westminster Hall, and the naves at Westminster and Canterbury cathedrals are tributes to the creativity and skill of English architects. One biographer (Anthony Steel) even went so far as to assert that Richard invented the handkerchief. It was, he said “…the chef d’œuvre of the dilettante genius.” Another historian (John Harvey) thought that in his search for the cultural avant-garde Richard bore comparison with Alexander the Great and the Roman Emperor Julian: “All alike shared the impossibly high ideals, the meteoric brilliance, the brittle glory. Not that there were many points of resemblance in their careers; but all three were conscious exponents of the highest type of monarchy: Alexander so nearly restored the world empire of remote antiquity; Julian in lonely isolation all but preserved the noble flame of paganism in a dying era; Richard made the most nearly successful attempt to combine the highest cultural aims with the welfare of the common man”. Richard had other good personal qualities. He was brave, loyal to his friends, a faithful husband and he was devout. He was also a man of peace, and struggled long and hard to get a treaty with France. And yet in 1399 in Parliament he was pronounced ‘useless, unfit and insufficient for the government of the realm, and deposed: what went wrong?

The above quote from Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’ sums-up his problem completely. Richard’s was a dictator. He was unlucky to succeed to the throne as a child and at a time when English fortunes at home and in France were declining. By the time he was old enough to understand the die was cast and he was under the control of a regency government. As a high-spirited youth like his father (the Black Prince) and grandfather, he chaffed under the constraints placed on him by his royal uncles, John duke of Lancaster and Thomas duke of Gloucester and his Council. He longed to exercise his personal rule; but such were the concerns about his fitness to rule that he did not come into his majority until he had reigned for twenty-two years, and then only on his own volition. In fact two years prior to that in 1387, a group of powerful nobles calling themselves the Lords Appellant gave serious consideration to his deposition on the grounds he was unfit to rule. He survived that challenge but had to endure rebukes and humiliation for his waywardness, which vexed him. Although he gave the impression of burying the hatchet he never forgot in whom he had (metaphorically) buried it.

Some authors have romantic illusions about Richard’s reign; they overlook the fact that for much of his reign and certainly in the last three years he was a tyrant. It is questionable whether he was even sane during this period. It seems almost inevitable that an immature young king might prefer the counsel of sycophants and hangers-on, who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Unfortunately, he was repeating the mistakes of his great grandfather Edward II. He preferred the advice of doubtful favourites to that of his sage counselors; he was willful, vindictive. He deprived people of their property unlawfully, he sentenced them to exile without just cause, he tampered with the Parliamentary record so that his enemies could be condemned as traitors, he imposed unjust taxes and he intimidated Parliament and his subject with armed force. In the words of May McKistay: “Whether or not he ever said that the laws were in his own mouth and in his own breast and that the lives and property of his subjects were at his disposal absolutely, it was on this assumption that he acted.

Thomas Walsingham, a contemporary chronicler had this to say about events in 1397 when Richard took his bloody revenge on the Lords Appellant: “ it was at this time, however, through the rashness, cunning and the pride of the young king, the whole kingdom was suddenly and unexpectedly thrown into confusion”. it is clear that Richard was regarded as untrustworthy; he was a man to whom an oath meant nothing. His dealings with parliament at this time show his utter contempt for the rule of law. His coronation oath meant no more to him than any other oath he was prepared to break. This was not how kings were expected to behave. A good king’s reign was seen as a force for justice, a bulwark against injustice and a refuge against oppression. Again, in the words of May McKistay: “ Strong and sagacious monarchs were the greatest need of the age and much might be forgiven of an autocrat like Edward III since under him the forms of law were, on the whole, preserved”

Ultimately, Richard’s deposition was due to his tyranny. The English rejected his vision of personal rule and his use of royal prerogative to enforce his will. He never showed any indication that he realized the limits of his authority: of what, even, a king could not do. It was this lack of judgment that led to his fatal error of disinheriting Henry Bolingbroke, a man very much in the chivalric Edwardian mold. He was a successful soldier, a renowned jouster, charismatic and popular.

Eventually, on the 29 September 1399, Richard was compelled to sign away his crown in the cession and renunciation document: “… I confess, acknowledge, recognise and from my own certain knowledge truly admit that I have been and am entirely inadequate and unequal to the task of ruling and governing the aforesaid kingdoms and dominions and all that pertains to them, and that on account of my notorious insufficiencies I deserve to be deposed from them…”

At Westminster the next day he faced his worst humiliation. Details of thirty-three grievances were read; they spelt out in graphic detail all of his insufficiencies and inadequacies. Despite his artistic and cultural achievements, it was his political failings that cost him his throne and his life. Whilst the manner of his deposition was cruel and shabby, there is little doubt that he had to go

The contrary king

“Richard the Third, of all the English monarchs, bears the greatest contrariety of character… Some few have conferred upon him almost angelic excellence, have clouded his errors, and blazened every virtue that could adorn a man. Others, as if only extremes would prevail, present him in the blackest dye; his thoughts were evil, and that continually, and his actions diabolical; the most degraded mind occupied the most deformed body… But Richard’s character, like every man’s has two sides… though most writers display but one”

These words of William Hutton are written in his book ‘The battle of Bosworth between Richard the Third and Henry earl of Richmond’, which was first printed in 1788. I stumbled upon Hutton when reading Charles Ross’ biography of Richard, and I have never forgotten him. This quote perfectly captures the essential feature of Ricardian literature then and now.

Was Richard III a good king? In the light of Hutton’s opinion, that would be a challenging question for any O level student to answer objectively. Everybody who bothers to write about Richard has an opinion for or against him. This debate sometimes takes on the appearance of a courtroom drama: guilty or not guilty? I do not propose to go down that road. It is not my intention to examine the minutiae of his reign; others have already done that already — and to death. I am only expressing a personal opinion about the general nature of Richard’s reign.

An obvious place to start is the contemporary opinion of Richard. I am ignoring the Tudor sources, as they are not contemporary to Richard. What contemporaneous material we have suggests that until his brother Edward’s death on the 9 April 1483, Richard enjoyed a reputation as a virtuous man. Dominic Mancini in 1483 wrote of him: “He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activity powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy to be undertaken it would be entrusted to his discretion and generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people and avoided the jealousy of the Queen from whom he lived far separated.” Mancini was no friend to Richard. He never met or even saw him.   What he knew of Richard’s reputation he heard from others. Given Mancini’s animus towards Richard, this unsolicited testimonial suggests that there was truth in his good reputation.

There are two other contemporary comments about Richard, which are worth noting since they were made by people who met him. Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s writing to a colleague in August 1483 during Richard’s progress: “ …he contents the people wherever he goes… many a poor man…have been relieved and helped by him in his commands in his progress…” And later: “ On my truth I liked never the condition of a prince as well as his. God has sent him to us for the weal of all.” The good Bishop was a brilliant and highly educated man who undoubtedly had known Richard since he was Duke of Gloucester. He was a benevolent, kind and caring man whose view cannot be dismissed as that of a Ricardian time-server. In May 1484 it was the Silesian knight errant and diplomat Nicolas Von Poppelau who met Richard at Pontefract and stayed with him for more than a week, dining with him every day. Von Poppelau said that Richard had a ‘great heart’, by which he meant that he was magnanimous.

The difficulty we have in establishing the reality is that the rumours and criticism of Richard come from southern sources, which were nearly all written after his death. Similarly, the October rebellion was almost exclusively a southern affair; there does not appear to have been a rebellion north of the Watford Gap. Considering the importance attached to this rebellion as an indicator of the popular revulsion at Richard’s supposed crimes, it seems not to have been a widespread national revulsion.   Professor A Pollard’s perceptive and scholarly article in 1981 in the Ricardian highlights the existence of a north-south divide during the latter half of the fifteenth century, which has undoubtedly coloured opinions about Richard. He refers to two contemporary views of Richard; a monstrous metropolitan-southern one and a noble northern one. This antipathy between north and south and its impact on the probity of some of the Tudor sources is often disregarded or sidelined by historians.

It is impossible to make any objective appraisal of Richards reign without at least acknowledging the elephants in the room: the manner in which he succeeded to the throne and the fate of his nephews, the so-called Princes in the Tower. I will try to keep it brief.   On the first point: Richard claimed the throne on the basis of Edward’s bigamy.  The pre-contract with Eleanor Butler pre-dated his clandestine marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. There are solid grounds for believing that the allegation was true, or at least that Richard genuinely believed it to be true. There are also grounds for believing that Richard had a good case in law and politically for assuming the crown.  Moreover, there is a strong elective element in Richard’s succession. He was petitioned by the Three Estates (the Lords Spiritual, Temporal and the Commons) to assume the crown. In fact he is the only medieval monarch with a genuine constitutional title to the throne. By petitioning Richard the Three Estates were consenting to the deposition of Edward V and they were disregarding Edward of Warwick’s prior claim.   Although, young Edward suffered under his father’s (Clarence) attainder, it could easily have been reversed if so desired. I think Richard was petitioned to take the throne because he had the title and he was the best man for the job.  Anyhow, Parliament ratified Richard’s claim by accepting Titulus Regius in 1484.  As to the fate of the Princes, nobody knows. There is no evidence that they even died during Richard’s reign, much less that he killed them. There was a rumour, which even Gairdner thinks was started deliberately to undermine Richard and to aid the Tudor cause. In fact there are better grounds for supposing they survived their uncle. Personally, I think that the attempts by pretenders to claim the Tudor throne — whether they were genuine or not — are per se indicative of the real doubt that existed in peoples’ minds as to whether either or both of the princes were actually dead.

Richard reputation as a capable administrator and brave and efficient soldier went before him. As Lord of the North for eight years he managed to win the support and affection of a predominantly Lancastrian populace. If we judge him by results, that speaks for itself. As teenager he fought in two important battles. His repute as a brave, resourceful and determined soldier was well earned in battle and by the faith his brother reposed in him.  It is because he is self-evidently such an able man that I find his struggle to come to terms with being king so baffling. He certainly aspired to be a good king, in that he wanted his subjects and the realm to prosper under him; and he tried to be a good king. However, ultimately he fell short of his aspiration. There are many reasons for this; some are undoubtedly due to his misjudgments. However, I want to concentrate on two issues, which I think were critical factors in his downfall: his disastrous loss of reputation and his state of mind.

I will deal with his state of mind first because that affected his judgment, his legendary ability to act decisively and his calmness under pressure. The Tudor sources like to portray Richard as a man on top of his game in 1483-1485. We see him as a man not just ready, willing and able to deal with the Tudor invasion, but eager to do so: even looking forward to it. This was still the Richard of Barnet, Tewkesbury and Stony Stratford. But then they would say that wouldn’t they. It was in their interests to exaggerate Richard’s performance to the greater glory of Henry Tudor, who had defeated such a formidable man in battle at God’s command. Personally, I think Richard was way off his a-game almost throughout his reign.   He made inexplicable errors of judgments in foreign affairs, in his provision for the defence of the realm and in his dealing with the men of the south. His morale seemed to have dipped; by this time he is not the man he was.

We have very little indication from Richard of his thoughts and state of mind between June 1483 and August 1485. What little we do have, however suggests a man under extreme stress. The scribbled note in his own hand in a formal letter to his Chancellor describing Buckingham as “ the most untrue creature living” is almost a cry of despair from a man hitherto noted for his coolness under fire. Even more revealing is his choice of personal prayer written in rough hand into his Book of Hours. It is probably Richard’s most personal and private possession, and was in all probability given to him by his wife. He carried it at Bosworth and it reflected his inner persona, the essence of who he was as a man. Although the prayer is traditional, this version was composed for Richard’s private use. The Brochure accompanying the NPG’s biographical exhibition of Richard in 1973 at which his Book of Hours was exhibited contains the following note: “ It reads with the incantation of a litany. The note of oppression and danger is very strong. It can only have been added to the manuscript in Richard’s reign and provides an insight into his private life of almost unparalleled intimacy. He begs to be delivered not from all tribulations, sorrows and anguish in which he might be placed, but in which he is placed (my emphasis). ‘Deign to assuage, turn aside, extinguish and bring to nothing the hatred that they bear against me’ and goes on to supply the great litany of the Old Testament salvations, including ‘…just as you freed Susanna from false testimony…’ He could hardly have put it more strongly. There is no doubt that Richard was a person of serious piety and this is the only place where deceit would have been unthinkable. Either he was a very advanced schizophrenic or he had reason to believe himself innocent of the charges…” We shouldn’t read too much from this, but it does suggest that Richard’s state of mind was fragile to say the least. By no stretch of the imagination could it be said that he was in his best form, and this affected his ability to deal effectively with his problems

The second issue is the loss of his reputation. This is important because it cost him the support of the southern gentry from the autumn of 1483 onwards. They had supported him as Lord Protector against the attempted Woodville coup but not as king: why? The consensus of traditional opinion is that they baulked at his usurpation of the crown. I am not convinced that that conclusion is correct. There was no rebellion against Richard’s rule until the autumn; until that is, a rumour was spread that the Princes had met a violent end. It is possible that Richard’s loss of reputation was due to the manner by which he came to the throne, but I think it is more likely to have been due to that rumour.

Whatever the cause, there is no doubt that the failure of the old Yorkist regime to support Richard was a critical factor in his ultimate fall. Edwards extensive network of royal servants, which Richard inherited and hoped to use to project his own royal authority, were powerful and influential people in their localities. Their support for the king was critical.  The king relied on this network of nobles and lesser gentry to enforce royal commands and charters in local areas. Richard’s problem was that these  southerners were Edward’s men: not his. Edward selected, knew and rewarded the, and they were confident he was acting in their interests. Richard, was from the north; he was an unknown quantity as king. There was no mutual bond of trust or loyalty between them. It was knew it was risky to rely on these men, but he probably felt he had little choice at the time.

Richard’s failure to make a serious effort to win them over is surprising. He rarely showed his face in the disaffected south and spent a disproportionate amount of time on the Great North Road visiting his friends in York, Pontefract and especially Nottingham. This baffling, because Richard clearly knew the importance of royal patronage in oiling the wheels of government; and he had proved his own ability to win the hearts and minds of men in the north. His decision after the October rebellion to replace the southern rebels with his own trusted men from the north, whilst understandable, was bitterly resented in the south. He was, of course, trying to build his own network of royal servants but was not given the time to see this bear fruit.   Although at no time did the administration of government breakdown, the truth was that Richard lacked the bedrock of support in the south, which he needed to consolidate his position. This is more apparent in the indifference of most of the southern nobility towards his call to arms in 1485. One of the notable features of Bosworth is that most of the English nobility did not take part on the either side.

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