‘Did Richard III Marry His Sister?’
Lurid headlines blared off a rag on sale during Richard’s re-interment week in March 2015. A certain anti-Richard professor was, once again, insisting that because Isabel Neville was sister to Anne Neville and married to Richard’s brother George, that made Richard Isabel’s ‘brother’ and therefore his union with Anne ‘incestuous’ under the laws of the time.
This claim appears to have little foundation. There were several other notable marriages where two royal brothers married two sisters. In 1236, King Henry III of England married the young and beautiful Eleanor of Provence, daughter of Raymond Berenger and his clever, refined wife Beatrice. A few years later, in 1243, Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall, married Eleanor’s equally attractive younger sister, Sanchia.
No accounts from the time suggest anything was considered irregular about either marriage due to two brothers marrying two sisters. There was some worry about the legality of Henry’s marriage, but this was because he had previously made a proxy marriage to Joan of Ponthieu. The marriage was not consummated, as Henry was eager to state (he and Joan probably never met) and hence was swiftly annulled.
Interestingly, there was another pairing of two brothers and sisters involving the Provencal daughters of Raymond Berenger, only these marriages took place in France rather than England. King Louis IX married the eldest of the four girls, the clever Margaret or Marguerite, and some time later, when she was of age, Louis’s brother Charles married the youngest one, Beatrice.
Another case of brothers marrying sisters in English royalty concerns John of Gaunt and his youngest brother Edmund of Langley. Gaunt took Constance of Castile as his second wife, while Edmund of Langley wed Constance’s sister Isabella…and from this latter union was born Richard of Conisbrough, the father of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and grandfather to Richard III and his siblings.
Isabella and Edmund were said to be an ill-matched pair…but there were no suggestions at the time that their marriage was considered incestuous because two brothers had married two sisters.
Indeed, such unions did not seem all that uncommon or frowned upon at all….
Sherlock and Watson are on a case. They have time travelled back to the C15th to try and uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ but the trail has gone cold with multiple possibilities and suspects, if they were indeed murdered at all. Sherlock hopes to find new clues about their fate in the legend of Perkin Warbeck.
Rain is falling and a dank mist rising off the river as Sherlock and Watson emerge from the precincts of the Tower and make their way along the web of lanes which lead to the area known as the ‘minories’.
Sherlock wraps his great coat around him to keep out the chill air. Watson looks wary. There are thieves in the shadows and a drunken brawl going on in one of the ale houses nearby.
‘Where now then?’ askes Watson.
‘Deeper into our net of intrigue, Watson.’ Sherlock…
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In BBC History, Richard III Special Edition, Professor Hicks returns to his theory that Richard III’s marriage to Anne Neville was incestuous because of the prior marriage of his brother, George Clarence, to Isabel Neville.
I have to confess to surprise that a historian of Professor Hicks’ fame and academic stature is still chasing this particular cat down the alley. He must surely be aware from his extensive reading that such marriages were not uncommon in the later middle ages.
For example, Edmund of Langley married Isabel of Castile, despite the undoubted fact that his brother, John of Gaunt, was already married to her sister, Constance of Castile.
In the 1430s, Richard Neville (later to be the ‘Kingmaker’) married Anne Beauchamp. At roughly the same time (possibly on the same day, I don’t remember) his sister Cecily, or Cecille, married Anne’s brother, Henry Beauchamp, Lord Despenser, later Duke of Warwick.
These are two relatively famous examples. There were plenty of similar cases lower down the social scale.
Were Edmund of Langley and Warwick the Kingmaker incestuous and their children illegitimate? Were their parents really so careless when arranging their marriages? I think we should be told.
See also this Marie Barnfield article. Affinity does not beget affinity. QED.
Yet again the rumour about whether or not Edmund of Langley was the father of Richard of Conisburgh. The following article tells a fascinatingly true story of love, betrayal, treachery, revenge and just about everything else of that nature. How anyone cannot be riveted by 14th-15th century England, I really do not know.
In this excellent blog post Kathryn Warner refreshes our understanding of Constanza, Duchess of Lancaster, with her usual eye for false myth.
However, one particularly interesting fact arising from the post (in that it relates to the House of York) is that Pedro I, King of Castile, (Constanza’s father) was six feet tall with light blond hair!
This will be a shock to those who mistakenly believe that all Spaniards are dark-haired. (They are not and never have been.) It is also an indication that Catherine of Aragon’s light colouring may not have come purely from her Lancastrian ancestors, but also from her Spanish ones.
Moving lightly on, we should recall, of course, that Constanza’s sister, Isabella, or Isabel, married Edmund of Langley, first Duke of York. So the House of York will have inherited these genes as well. (It seems likely that Langley himself was also blond or auburn-haired and he was almost 6ft tall himself.)
It seems strange then that it is often assumed that Edward IV inherited his (supposed) blond colouring and stature from the Nevilles. Especially as I have yet to see evidence that the Nevilles were particularly tall or particularly tall.
(Reblogged from The Yorkist Age.)
It doesn’t have to have been in Spain but I expect that most of you will have been to a party at which tapas was served. One of the main components of this is a type of ham known as jamon iberico or serrano. Have you wondered why this is the principal meat in tapas?
Again, many of you will have watched Carry On Columbus, made for the quincentenary of the eponymous explorers 1492 expedition. Jim Dale played one of the Columbus brothers, Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield were Ferdinand and Isabella whilst Bernard Cribbins starred as Mordecai Mendoza, a map maker and converso, or Jewish-born Christian convert. Think of Duarte Brandao (Sir Edward Brampton), the real-life example who came from Portugal to be baptised by Edward IV before serving Richard III on several missions, being knighted by him and then … but I digress.
In one early scene, the Spanish Inquisition, which dates from 1478, suspects that Mendoza is still following Jewish practices, which would make him a heretic with a rather obvious, heavily implied, fate. Two of the Inquisition’s representatives resort to their most fiendish torture – a plate of ham sandwiches. Mendoza’s arrest would be disastrous for the expedition, almost as much as for himself. He examines the sandwiches and declares that he cannot eat them. “Why not?” ask the Columbuses. “There’s no mustard on them”, declares Mendoza.
Now, thanks to Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent “Blood and Gold” history of Spain (BBC4), it is apparent that the real Inquisition, in their efforts to trace fake conversos, in the wake of the 1492 expulsion of the Jewish population, resorted to similar culinary tactics as the Carry On version. Montefiore explains, in the programme(1) and in an article(2) , that an ancestor and two of her siblings fell victim to them in this way, with fatal results.
Richard of Conisbrough was Richard III’s grandfather on the paternal side. He is a shadowy figure, the last son of Edmund of Langley and his wife Isabella of Castile. Even his date of birth is uncertain, varying in different accounts by up to ten years. His father left him no inheritance, and there were rumours that Edmund and his eldest son suspected that Richard was not Langley’s child, but that of John Holland, with whom Isabella of Castile was known to have had an affair. (Some have suggested that this may account for the y-Dna mismatch between Richard and the current Beauforts, and this is a possibility, although it is far more likely it occurred somewhere in the past 16 Beaufort generations.)
At any rate, Richard was known to be the ‘poorest Earl’ due to his lack of income; he was his mother’s heir but monies due to be paid him came only irregularly after Richard II was deposed and Henry IV came to the throne. In 1408, he married Anne Mortimer in secrecy, without parental permission. It appears to have been a love match as Anne came with no particular wealth. With Anne, he had three children, the latter of whom was named Richard— he eventually became Duke of York, and the father of Edward IV and Richard III
When Anne Mortimer died in 1411, Richard of Conisbrough married the heiress Maud Clifford and swiftly had a daughter Alice.
Then in 1415, he fell in with a plot against the reigning Henry V shortly before the King was meant to sail to France for Agincourt. Along with Lord Scrope of Masham and Thomas Grey, he plotted to replace Henry with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, Anne’s brother, who also had a strong claim to the throne. However, Edmund himself informed Henry, and the conspirators were arrested in Southampton after they had made several meetings. They seemed to have expected mercy, with a heavy fine…but no mercy was forthcoming from the stern Henry.
All three men were executed; Grey hanged, drawn and quartered; Scrope decapitated and his head sent to York; and Conisbrough executed by the headsman but allowed to ‘keep his head’ with him after death due to his royal ancestry. He was buried without ceremony in the tiny St Julien’s church, which formed part of the God’s House hospital. Dating from 1185, this chapel still stands in the shadow of a massive towered gateway, although it is in private hands and can only be viewed from the exterior.
So one may think Richard got his just dues for plotting against King Henry. But how serious was this plot? Was there even a plot at all? Professor Anne Curry has doubts as to its veracity as does historian T.B. Pugh. It is just as likely that Henry was simply removing a few disgruntled lords (Conisbrough had some reason to be disgruntled—he had been charged a 10,000 mark marriage fine) and sending a harsh warning to anyone who thought to defy him when he was away on campaign in France. The three plotters were not terribly organised and their supposed plots vague at best, and none of them seemed particularly supportive or loyal to Edmund of Mortimer, which may make it unlikely that they truly wanted him as king—apparently, they called him a hog and a pig!
So whatever the case, Conisbrough lost his life aged somewhere between the ages of 30 or 40, but luckily, because he was not attainted, he was able to pass on his estates to his orphaned son, four year old Richard. Shortly thereafter, Conisbrough’s elder brother died at Agincourt, and in due time young Richard was acclaimed as his heir and inherited his titles and lands.
Conisbrough is rather a forgotten figure, except as dealt with in a Shakespeare play. Despite the possibility he had done very little against Henry V other than grumble a bit with a few other northern lords, no one seems to mourn his execution overmuch…unlike, for instance Anthony Rivers, executed for treason by Richard III in 1483. There is certainly just as much if not more evidence that Rivers was plotting against the Duke of Gloucester on behalf of his Woodville kin; the fact that no one spoke up for him after his arrest speaks volumes. They had weeks to do so. But it seems, alas, Conisbrough did not have Rivers’ charisma…or write poetry.
Anne Curry: Agincourt-A New History
TB Pugh: Henry V and the Southampton Plot of 1415
I wanted to write a piece about the man who we know as Perkin Warbeck or Piers Osbeck or Richard Plantagenet or King Richard IV or whoever he may have been if he was none of these other men after reading Ann Wroe’s excellent biography on this most appealing of enigmas.
Firstly I need to pay tribute to Wroe’s wonderful book which I found impossible to put down. Her writing is exceptionally beautiful and multi-layered, particularly in the first few chapters where the poetic and philosophical meet the straight historical narrative.
She begins with a very detailed description of the copy of the portrait which survives of the man who called himself Richard, Duke of York, son of King Edward IV. You could be forgiven for falling in love with him right there, not because of his strikingly gorgeous looks, his elegant poise or suggested sophistication but because of his vulnerability…
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Most of us are familiar with the story of “Perkin Warbeck” and the letters he wrote back to the Low Countries. Depending on his identity, his parents hailed from there if he was an impostor or his aunt was Dowager Duchess of Burgundy if he was Richard of Shrewsbury, the former Duke of York and hitherto illegitimate son of Edward IV. In the decade leading up to his execution in autumn 1499, he had travelled widely, married Lady Katherine Gordon (James IV’s cousin), issued a proclamation of his rights and written various other letters. It seems to be a mantra of the Cairo dwellers, or have they reached Alexandria yet, that this proclamation refers to his kidnap and his brother’s (the erstwhile Edward V) death at the hands of “a certain lord”, an uncle who it later names as Richard III.
The most obvious question mark over this document is that later identification. Even if you assume that it was written whilst he was an untortured free man, you assume that he wasn’t portraying his brother Edward as dead for some complex reason or other (by-passing or protecting him) and you forget that Edward IV’s sons had many uncles, by birth or marriage, including Buckingham and St. Leger , alive in summer 1483, in which language was it written? Latin, which is quite likely, has separate words (patruus and avunculus respectively) for paternal and maternal uncles, which would help here. In Cairo, however, they assure us that the document is not in Latin and that “Perkin”‘s own hand names Richard III, “proving” that it is bad news for Richard whether “Perkin” is Shrewsbury or not.
Well, here is the proclamation, transcribed by Sir Robert Cotton:
You will note that “Perkin”‘s own words are clearly separate whilst his letter to Isabel of Castile is indeed in Latin. You will also note that John Speed, in his 1610 “Historie of Great Britain” compiled a century after Tyburn 1499, has appended an imaginary speech to James IV and the specific accusation of Richard III appears only in this later addition. You will also note that Bacon has appended even more. You will remember that this is the same John Speed (c.1552-1629) who confused Leicester’s Greyfriars with the Blackfriars, gaining the sobriquet “the Colourblind Cartographer”:
Speed and Bacon were, of course, writing for an early Stuart interest.
In other words, nowhere does “Perkin” name the “certain lord” who features in his convenient tale. QED.