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Did Elizabeth Wydville die of the plague….?

Elizabeth Woodville

We all know that on 8th June, 1492, Elizabeth Woodville died in relative obscurity in Bermondsey Abbey, and it has been imagined that she died a natural death, perhaps brought on by her greatly reduced circumstances and exclusion from court. (Although perhaps she preferred to hide away because she’d simply had enough of court life and court intrigue?) Anyway, she came to prominence because of her scandalous (at the time and since) marriage to Edward IV.

Edward IV

Henry VII disliked her, and because of this, maybe her daughters saw the wisdom of “dropping” her. Maybe. It just isn’t known. What is known is that Henry, being a fond son-in-law, relieved her of her possessions.

Now, thanks to a recently discovered letter, there is a new theory about the actual reason for her death. According to this article :-

“….Euan Roger is a records specialist at the National Archives and while looking through 16th century documents, he found a letter from the Venetian ambassador to London which seems to indicate Elizabeth’s death came about because of the feared illness. The document was written in 1511, some nineteen years after she had died, but Euan Roger believes its description of ”the Queen-Widow, mother of King Edward” can only refer to the most famous Woodville of them all.

“….The letter states that she has died of the plague and “the king is disturbed”….”

Being written some nineteen years after Elizabeth’s demise casts a rather curious light on the tenses used in the letter. She “has” died of the plague? The king “is” disturbed? Would the Venetian ambassador really express himself like that so many years after the event? And which king? Henry VII had died in 1509, and the present king in 1511 was his son, Henry VIII.

Something doesn’t seem quite right, and yet, as Mr Roger concludes, to which other Queen Elizabeth could the letter refer? Henry VII’s queen, Elizabeth of York (eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville) died in 1503, but she wasn’t a widow and did not have a son who could be termed “King Edward”. Elizabeth Woodville was a widowed queen, and her eldest son by Edward IV is still referred to as King Edward (V), so she does indeed seem to be the only candidate.

Elizabeth of York

It is an interesting thought that Elizabeth Woodville passed away of the plague, but it doesn’t alter the fact that she was sidelined and virtually ignored. And that the reason was probably (in my opinion) Henry VII’s gut-wrenching fear that the truth about her clandestine marriage would out. He depended upon his marriage to Elizabeth of York to legitimise his reign, because it “united” the warring factions in the realm. It was to make such a marriage possible that he very carefully overturned Richard III’s claim to the throne, which was based upon the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s marriage, and therefore of the children born of it. Yet by doing this, Henry also legitimised his new queen’s missing brothers, and I think he spent the rest of his life agonising about the triumphant return of one or the other of the missing boys he himself had given a superior claim to the throne than his own.

While Elizabeth Woodville lived, she was a danger to him. She could at any time confirm that Richard III had been correct to take the throne, because her children were baseborn and Richard was the true heir. Would this thought “disturb” Henry VII? Yes, I rather think so.

Which brings another possibility to mind. Was Elizabeth perilously close to broadcasting the truth? Had something happened to trigger this? If so, her sudden demise might be very desirable. Blaming the plague for what was actually a murder might be a neat solution. There is no proof to support such a theory, of course, but I have always believed that Elizabeth of York’s brothers, the “princes in the Tower” were disposed of after the Battle of Bosworth, and were therefore Tudor victims. Richard III did not do it, but has borne the brunt of the blame throughout history. Maybe the plague/unhappiness didn’t dispose of Elizabeth Woodville either.

But the tenses in the letter are still problematic, and, like Mr Roger, I can only arrive at the same conclusion: the king and queen in question are Elizabeth Woodville and Henry VII.

Henry VII

 

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BOOK REVIEW

Stuart Bradley – JOHN MORTON: adversary of Richard III, power behind the Tudors (Amberley 2019)

 

John Morton served the English crown for a almost forty years during one of the most turbulent periods in English history. He wielded considerable influence at the courts of three kings. First, in the Lancastrian household of Henry VI: as an eminent lawyer, he was one of the draftsmen of the bill of attainder against the Yorkists in 1459, which triggered Richard, duke of York’s claim to the throne. In 1471, after the final defeat of the Lancastrians, Morton entered the service of the Yorkist king Edward IV, by whom he was pardoned. He soon became a valued member of Edward’s inner circle of advisors and was appointed Master of the Rolls in1472. Following the death of Edward IV in 1483, he rebelled against Richard III and became a pivotal player in the subsequent Tudor conquest of England. From 1485 until his death in 1500, Morton served as Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor, and as Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury. At various time during his career, therefore, Morton had been head of the judiciary, head of the church in England and head of the king’s government. For the last fourteen years of his life he was, excepting the king, the most powerful man in England. He was the archetypal Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer and the Cecils. And yet despite his fame, a serious study of Morton’s life has been much neglected. Although historians have explored aspects of his career, Dr Stuart Bradley’s recent book is only the second biography of Morton to be published in the five centuries since his death and the first to be published since Victorian times. It seems strange that such an important historical figure is chiefly remembered — if he is remembered at all — for his association with a shabby piece of Tudor logic known as Morton’s Fork. A reassessment of his whole life is, therefore, well overdue.

 

A major difficulty facing any biographer of John Morton is that we know so little about the private man. What we know of his character and interests we get only from his public works and from what others tell us about him. We know of his personal interest in religious architecture from the church building works he commissioned or patronized. We know of his preoccupation with civil and canon law, and oratory from his few surviving books, and we can gauge his piety and his spirituality from his will. But we have little from him that provides insight into his political reasoning or actions. Even examples of his signature are rare. His cenotaph at Canterbury Cathedral was broken centuries ago and his bones scattered. All that remains of the earthly John Morton is his skull. We do not even have a painted portrait of him.

 

It is against that background that Dr Bradley has approached his task. He believes that John Morton was a “…man whose story needs to be told in full and who deserves to be brought from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden.” To that end he has published a volume containing 288 pages, of which less than half (125) are devoted to a narrative of Morton’s life. In addition, there are 75 pages of appendices, 44 pages of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The narrative comprises a conventional rendering of people, dates and places in more or less chronological order, and is focused mainly on Morton’s contribution to the Tudor state. Consequently, the major part of Morton’s life and particularly his career during the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV, and his controversial rebellion against Richard III receive substantially less consideration. That is a regrettable lacuna in this biography, which is made worse, for me, by the author’s rather glib analysis of Morton’s political motives after 1471.

 

I mention these things now because they are relevant to a question that has puzzled me from the start: is Dr Bradley’s book aimed at the general reader or the scholar? The book’s subtitle, the presentation of the sleeve and the scarcity of detailed analysis in the narrative suggested to me that it is intended for a general readership; however, the quality and the quantity of the footnotes are more indicative of a book aimed at the specialist scholar. If Dr Bradley was writing for the casual reader, his tendency to quote from medieval manuscripts written in 15th century English or Latin, without a modern English translation, is baffling. It is a problem with the main narrative but more particularly with some footnotes, which are written in Latin. Moreover, some of the footnotes might in my personal opinion have been better incorporated into the main narrative, to aid the reading flow and prevent the crosschecking of footnotes becoming a distracting chore.

 

It would also have helped, I think, if Dr Bradley had included in his introduction information about the process of writing and publishing this book. There is no indication, for instance, whether other scholars saw the manuscript before publication, or commented on it with advice or correction.  Finally on this aspect, the schedule of Morton’s clerical and secular appointments was an invaluable source in helping me to quickly chart Morton’s career and his rewards. Similarly, the schedule overview of Henry VII’s and Morton’s itineraries, though long-winded, provided a visual representation of the author’s assertion that Henry VII relied completely on Morton to protect the crown’s interests during his own absence from London.

 

Even so, and despite my reservation, it is impossible not to admire the depth of Dr Bradley’s research of original manuscript and calendar sources, and of secondary works. This is nothing if not a thoroughly researched account of Morton’s life, which brings to life his learning and the softer, artistic side of his nature to counter the harshness of his reputation as a wily and inveterate schemer.

 

Dr Bradley makes a good case for Morton’s value and effectiveness as a royal servant. The longevity of his service, the speed with which he became one of Edward IV’s intimates, the trust placed in him by Henry VII and the rich rewards he received for his services are testament to his efficiency and capacity for hard work in a royal cause. His political acumen and his networking skills were particularly important to Henry VII in establishing his reign against the Yorkist remnants after Bosworth. Morton had learned the lessons of the past. He understood the damage done to the authority of the crown by ‘over-mighty subjects’ during the Wars of the Roses. Throughout the closing decades of the fifteenth century, therefore, he worked tirelessly to enforce law and order, and the primacy of royal authority. It was principally with his advice that Henry established his authority, rebuilt royal finances and founded the Tudor dynasty. Morton was also a restraining influence on Henry; a feature that is more obvious after Morton’s death, when Henry’s avaricious nature becomes more pronounced.

 

The claim that Perkin Warbeck was the youngest son of Edward IV had, if true, obvious, serious consequences for Henry and for Morton. When asked by the Milanese Ambassador if Warbeck was really one of the Princes in the Tower, as claimed by the King of Scots and the Duchess of Burgundy, Morton replied: ‘indeed he is nor reputed the son of King Edward in this kingdom.’ It is a curiously oblique answer and certainly not a plain denial of Warbeck’s claim. “Was this duplicity?’ asks Dr Bradley “Was Morton so implicated in the Tudor regime that recognizing the true claimant was impossible and that by standing with Henry he was seeking to save his own skin? “ Those are good questions and they are important ones. The fate of Edward IV’s sons is the defining mystery of the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, and it is immensely disappointing that having asked these questions, Dr Bradley dismisses the various possibilities out of hand (“It seems highly unlikely”), on the basis that Morton believed the two Princes were already dead and that Warbeck was obviously an imposter – a ‘mawmet‘.

 

Dr Bradley’s treatment of Morton’s life and service during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III is perhaps one of the least satisfactory aspects of this book. Central to his vindication of Morton’s behaviour is the notion that he was a honourable man whose loyalty to the crown was both absolute and principled. For example, he justifies Morton’s ten year rebellion against Edward IV after Towton thus: “This behaviour pre-figures his actions between 1483 and 1485 when he actively worked against Richard III during his second period in exile. When reviewing Morton’s career it seems he held firmly to principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy, and while Henry may [sic] have been defeated comprehensively in the field he was still the anointed king to whom Morton had sworn allegiance.” To be frank, this statement smacks of special pleading since it ignores the facts. Richard Duke of York claimed the throne in 1460 by right of inheritance; subsequently, the combined lords in parliament confirmed the superiority of his hereditary title over that of the Lancastrian incumbent. As York’s heir, Edward IV confirmed the lords’ judgement in trial by combat at Towton. The corollary of Yorkist legitimacy is, of course, Lancastrian illegitimacy. It was the central tenet of York’s claim that Henry VI, his father and his grandfather were — and always had been — usurpers. In that context, Morton’s adherence to the claim of a usurping Lancastrian and his efforts to gain the support of a foreign power against the legitimate Yorkist king of England can be seen for what they were: treason. To suggest that he remained loyal to Henry from his belief in ‘principles of heredity legitimacy’ is implausible. As an attainted traitor, he had no choice but to flee the realm and join Henry’s retinue if he was to avoid the consequences of his actions. The death of Henry’s heir in battle at Tewkesbury, followed soon afterwards by the death of Henry himself, marked the end of the Lancastrian cause but not the end of Morton’s political career. He accepted an offer to serve at the court of Edward IV.

 

Dr Bradley’s reason for this volte-face is simply that, “Henry [VI] was now dead and the dispensation of God had to be accepted. It was not what Morton had foreseen, or even wanted, but this was how events had transpired and now he must accept divine justice and accept the new status quo…He was there to serve and serve he did. The principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy came to the fore again.” It is, I have to say an unconvincing explanation, which ignores the possibility that Morton was motivated by political expediency and personal ambition to accept service with Edward IV, a motivation that might better fit what we know of his character. Mancini, writing about the events of the summer 1483 described Morton as being ‘trained in party intrigues under Henry VI’. Francis Bacon, Henry VII’s seventeenth century biographer wrote rather more on Morton’s character. “He was”, we are told “a wise man, and an eloquent, but in his nature harsh and haughty; much accepted by the king, but envied by the nobility and hated by the people.” He won the king by his ‘diligence and secrecy’, and his ‘subterfuge’. By contrast, Thomas More who knew him personally, thought Morton was be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour; I am, nonetheless, mindful of professor Sylvester’s sardonic caveat to More’s opinion: “A less shrewd man than More might well have seen a good deal of political conniving in Morton’s career

 

Similarly, Dr Bradley justifies Morton’s implacable disloyalty to Richard III on the rather limited ground of his unswerving loyalty to Edward V, who was the legitimate king (“Morton was clearly not swayed by the tales of bastardy…”). He is depicted as a leading member of the ‘resistance’, and his behaviour is rationalised only “…in terms of what he [Morton] regarded as Richard’s unacceptability as king…..He had no obligation of loyalty to the usurper; indeed, Richard’s actions gave him a moral responsibility to act against him, and the events of 1483 to 1485 show him doing just that.” A few weeks after being arrested and imprisoned by Richard, Morton transferred his allegiance to Henry Tudor. “The single logical explanation for this” suggests Dr Bradley ” is that he along with others …was convinced of the death of the two princes by this time.” It is a view that runs contrary to the opinion of Francis Bacon, who wrote that Morton won Henry Tudor’s favour because he had’…an inveterate malice against the House of York, under whom he had been in trouble.”

 

I am not going to enter the heated debate between Richard’s critics and his apologists, concerning the events of 1483. However, Dr Bradley’s analysis into Morton’s involvement in those events is, in my personal opinion, so punctuated with misconceptions and anomalies that it is positively misleading. No review could be complete if I didn’t at least mention some of these matters. For example, he dismisses without reason the possibility that Edward IV’s progeny were illegitimate. The Lords petition to Richard asking him to assume the throne and the parliamentary confirmation of his title in Titulus Regius are not even mentioned. Not only that, but Dr Bradley ignores the complex political dynamics of 1483. Edward IV’s legacy to his heirs was a kingdom divided. The force of his personality and his political acumen had held things together for many years. However, following his sudden and unexpected death, the fear of Woodville power resurfaced among the old nobility. William Lord Hastings and the other Yorkist lords were desperate for the duke of Gloucester to come south as Lord Protector to counter Woodville aspirations. The Chronicles and some private correspondence confirm that initially at least Richard was seen as a force for good, since the fear of another civil war was very real. Of course, support for Richard ebbed away once a rumour was spread that the ‘sons of Edward IV had been done away with’. Dr Bradley does not analyse or discuss these issues or the fact that the accusation of regicide against Richard III is based entirely on that rumour, which in all likelihood was started deliberately (possibly by Morton) to subvert a plot to seize custody of Edward V, into a rebellion aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne.

 

But most problematic of all is the absence of any critical analysis of Morton’s motive for transferring his allegiance from Edward IV’s sons to Henry Tudor and also of what he knew about the fate of the two princes. Dr Bradley recognizes the significance of these issues but does not address their complexities. He is satisfied simply to argue that Morton thought the boys were dead. In accepting this explanation so readily, he seems to have overlooked Vergil’s account of a conspiracy that took place during August 1483 between Morton, Henry Stafford the ambitious duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort the equally ambitious mother of Henry Tudor. If it is true, the implication of Vergil’s account is that by early August at the latest Morton had decided to support a Tudor invasion to depose Richard III. Did he know then that the boys were dead?   If so, when, why and how did he know? What role did the Tudor conspirators play in the fate of the princes? Furthermore, the rumour of the boys’ death began only after Buckingham had joined the conspiracy. So, when Buckingham wrote to Henry Tudor on the 24 September, inviting him in effect to claim the English throne, he must have known the boys were dead, or he was keeping a guilty secret. It is disappointing that Dr Bradley chose not to explore these questions or to deal with the inferences arising therefrom.

 

Dr Bradley’s stated aim was to tell John Morton’s story in full. And, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the value of this contribution to that story. This is a reasonable, modern reassessment of John Morton’s life and career, which raises Morton’s historical profile beyond mere responsibility for Morton’s Fork.It demonstrates that despite his softer side, he was in fact the archetypal early Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell and Cranmer. Though by no means a panegyrical work, this biography lacks, in my opinion, a balanced critical analysis of the contentious aspects Morton’s actions and his behaviour prior to 1485: particularly his political motivation. I think, therefore, that the full story of Morton’s life and career is still not written.

The real life of the last Stuart

Television history is rarely focused upon Anne (left), except as the final act of the Stuart drama like this or her unfortunate reproductive history in this series. Discussion is, therefore, reduced to the cliches of her fragile family, her weight and her fondness for brandy. She is also omitted from most dramatisations of the time, such as Lorna Doone or By the Sword Divided. Anne was the first Queen Regnant of England to have given birth, albeit through the reigns of her uncle, father, sister and brother-in-law but not her own. She was also the first Queen Regnant of England to be widowed, (except by a few minutes).

The Favourite, a rather bawdy film with Olivia Colman (below left), Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone that is very appropriately named from the awards point of view, ought to be very refreshing from this perspective. To become pregnant on fifteen to twenty occasions requires a husband, George of Denmark, the Oldenburg great-nephew of her great-grandmother and Duke of Cumberland who shared half of her reign. However, he seems to have been omitted from the film, which concentrates on Anne’s friendships with Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill, the latter’s cousin, whilst implying rather more about their friendships than the evidence bears out.

Although she was, as she knew before succeeding, the last eligible Stuart, Anne oversaw the formal Acts of Union that crystallised her great-grandfather’s plans, the Act of Settlement that excluded her half-brother and other Catholic claimants and the last refusal of Royal Assent to a Bill. Jeremiah Clarke composed a march for George in 1707, the year before the Consort died, a piece now known as the Trumpet Voluntary. Despite the good will that seemed to flow from the “Glorious Revolution”, William III was widowed for about eight years and failed to remarry – it was this, together with the Duke of Gloucester’s death in 1700, that surely led to the inevitable Hanoverian succession to Anne in August 1714.

13 of the biggest mysteries of the British monarchy….

Edward, eldest son of Edward IV

Oh, dear. The fate of Edward V (if he ever was a king) tops the Reader’s Digest list of 13 of the ‘Biggest Mysteries Surrounding the British Royal Family’. Hm. As the following quoted paragraph is a sample of the article’s accuracy, I won’t be bothering to read the other twelve.

“….In April 1483, King Edward IV of England died, and his eldest son, Edward V, age 12, ascended the throne with his uncle, his father’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester, as “protector of the realm.” But soon after, the Duke sent Edward V and his next youngest brother, aged 10 (Richard, Duke of York) to the Tower of London (both a residence and a prison)—for their own “protection.” In June, the Duke declared himself King Richard III. Edward and his brother were never seen again. Two skeletons found in the Tower are believed to be the brothers, and Richard III has long been suspected of having his nephews murdered….”

The Trial That Should Have Happened in 1483

RICARDIAN LOONS

Putting aside the mystery of what ultimately happened to Edward IV’s two sons, one enduring difficulty for a student of history is whether Richard III used the proper legal procedure in having them declared illegitimate because of their father’s precontracted marriage to Eleanor Talbot.  The most (and only) significant defect appears to be the failure to refer the issue to a church court for determination.[1]  But it seems no one has fleshed out how an ecclesiastical tribunal would have litigated such an extraordinary and unprecedented matter, let alone identified which church court would have had authority to hear it.

As a retired litigator of 20 years, I undertook the challenge of researching medieval English church court procedures and precedent cases to answer four questions: Which church court would have decided the precontract issue? How would it have conducted the litigation? What evidence would it have heard? How conclusive would…

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The “mysterious” disappearance of Edward V….?

 

I have a number of beefs about the following extract from this article, which concerns eight unsolved royal mysteries. No, not about the present family, as shown in the above illustration (which is from the article). In the list, the third one is all that is of interest to Ricardians:-

“….3. The mysterious disappearance of King Edward V — shortly after he ascended the throne, his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester and ‘protector of the realm,’ sent him and his younger brother to London ‘for their protection.’ After the brothers were never seen again, the duke declared himself King Richard III….”

Firstly, I don’t really think Edward V ascended the throne. He never was the anointed king. This required a coronation. Secondly, we have the usual inference that Richard did away with his nephews. Thirdly, the younger boy wasn’t sent to London, he was already there. Fourthly, Richard accompanied the older boy to London, fully intending to arrange his coronation. Subsequent events took over, and Richard was invited to take the throne because he was the legitimate heir!

Not again: “Britain’s bloody Crown” (3)

Here at Murrey and Blue, we are not in the habit of reviewing repeats, not even when we have commented on them before. This time, it is the very fact and timing of the repeat of Channel Four’s “Who killed the Princes in the Tower?”, with the ubiquitous Dan Jones, that is at issue, together with the assumptions made by Jones in the programme and even in the title. In the show, a bearded (!) Richard is shown ordering the murder of two individuals who were declared illegitimate by the Three Estates, a verdict that some of his rivals disagreed with, giving those rivals a motive he didn’t have.

The programme is the very apogee of denialism, based upon Jones’ imagination and Domenico Mancini’s wholly discredited account, presented with at least a dozen disproven “facts”, such as the definition of treason, the Constable‘s court and the boys’ “house arrest”. Mancini’s name is also wrongly rendered as “Dominic”, and Jones fails to mention that he was a spy for Angelo Cato, speaking little English. So, if you want to watch the investigation of a “crime” that may never have happened …

These assumptions include:
1) That Edward IV’s sons qualified as “Princes” – as Ashdown-Hill pointed out, their illegitimacy means that this cannot be the case.
2) That they have died – we can let him have that one!
3) That they died together – for which we have no evidence whatsoever.
4) That they died in the Tower  -again no evidence.
5) That they died in 1483 – a little suggestive evidence in one case.
6) That anyone killed them or ordered their deaths – again no evidence.
7) That Richard III was that person – again no evidence.

The timing of this repeat is also at issue because Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of the “Princes”‘ mtDNA has provided us with the opportunity to test what some people still regard as “evidence” – the remains, of whatever age, gender, era, quantity or even species, in the Westminster Abbey urn. One might argue that this repeat was scheduled “in the teeth of the evidence”.

Still, what can we expect, knowing Jones’ mentor?

Disastermind

On a previous occasion, we posted a case of a quiz show host who really should have known the details of the Wars of the Roses better. Now it has happened again.

The second contestant on this episode of Mastermind took Richard III as her specialist subject and did well in a close heat. One of the questions was “Which brother of the Mayor of London preached that Edward the FOURTH was illegitimate?” Obviously, the question meant “fifth” and the answer was Dr. Ralph Shaa. Are we being unfair to the quizmaster, as in the previous case, in that the specialist question setters are responsible for such a display of manifest ignorance?

Talbot Country

There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.

bell-talbot-bridgnorth-600x409

The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth

The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.

Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.

shrewsbury_book_f.2_(talbot-dog)

The Shrewsbury Book, presented by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.

For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.

talbotmonumentcastillon

The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon

For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.

The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?

Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.

Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.

Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.

Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?

There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).

It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.

7 things to know about the struggle between York and Lancaster….

york and lancaster roses

This link provides some interesting reading about the origins of the Wars of the Roses, as most people describe the civil wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster. A lot of the points are from very early on in the proceedings, which makes them all the more interesting to me.

 

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