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The merry widows of medieval England….?

The above illustrations show two royal widows. On the left Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III. On the right an imagined meeting between Edward IV and the widow he was to marry, Elizabeth Woodville.

In this modern age, when we are striving to live longer and longer, it’s hard to imagine what it could be like in the medieval period if someone, especially a widow, lived on into their eighties. Oh, yes, some did. We are always told that medieval widows had much more freedom than other women, but that is questionable. Merry widows? Not necessarily.

The following is based on Medieval Women by Henrietta Leyser.

In the twelfth century, Maud be Bohun was widowed at the age of ten. She married again, but through her long life (she was an octogenarian) she retained the dowry she had inherited as a child. This was to the considerable dismay and disadvantage of her first husband’s family, who had to wait for her eventual demise. The same can be said of Margaret of Brotherton of Framlingham, who survived two husbands, four children and died in the same year as her grandson (17-year-old John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, who was killed in a jousting accident at court of Richard II at the end of December, 1389).

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The seal of Margaret of Brotherton

 

stone-head-framlingham

This late medieval carving of a woman’s head is one of five at Framlingham Castle that may be likenesses of the Mowbrays, Margaret Brotherton’s descendants

More about Margaret of Brotherton, see http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/women-in-history/womens/margaret-brotherton/

During the long lives of such widows, their families and in-laws could suffer great hardship because the widows held large parts of the inheritance. The two ladies above were from aristocratic backgrounds, but those in lesser circumstances could cause penury! Mind you, even rich widows could find themselves forced into remarriage. They had to do all they could to stay one step ahead of forceful, unwelcome suitors. (see https://wordpress.com/post/murreyandblue.wordpress.com/27858) Or, of course, they could deliberately seek another marriage because of the protection afforded by a man. It depended on the woman, and was all a case of swings and roundabouts.

But under the Anglo-Norman and Angevin kings, widows had no choice in the matter, because they were in the gift of the king. Yes, really. Would-be suitors paid handsomely into the royal coffers for this gift of marriage to a particular widow of their choice! It must have been like selecting from a menu. Eventually, the coronation charter of Henry I contained promises regarding widows’ rights of dower and that they would not be forced into marriage. Then Magna Carta further supported the rights of these women, who were not to pay for their dower or be compelled to remarry. Empty promises, it seems, because the practice continued to fill the treasury. Of course, it could work the other way too, and a widow could (if she had sufficient funds) pay the king not to give her away. In either case, the king profited.

Then came the growing practice of holding lands in jointure, which gave widows greater financial security. Unfortunately for them, this also made them more desirable as wives. According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged dictionary, jointure is:

A – (1) : the joint tenancy of an estate; (2) : the estate so held

B – (1) : an estate settled on a wife to be taken by her in lieu of dower; (2) : a settlement upon the wife of a freehold estate (as in lands or tenements) for her lifetime at least to take effect upon the decease of the husband and to act as a bar to dower.

Yet another aspect of a widow’s trials came when they were urged in their late husband’s wills to “take the order of widowhood”. That is, not go into a convent, but to take a public vow of chastity. Failure to embark on such a course could result in the terms of the will severely reducing the widow’s income. The reason was not always male spite from beyond the grave, but could safeguard her and any children from a new husband who might not have their best interests at heart. Or whom she definitely did not want! Not so good if she wanted a physically loving relationship.

In the case of a third Margaret—Lady Margaret Beaufort—she was too powerful to be pushed around, and when it came to her final marriage, she took the public vow of chastity. A physical relationship cannot have appealed! She chose to marry Thomas Stanley, who presumably didn’t care if she was in his bed or not. A definite marriage of convenience and an alliance of great fortunes and power that was to cost Richard III his life when Margaret’s Tudor son usurped his throne. As you will see, Margaret and her boy were not high on the list of beautiful people. Sour pusses, both. Thomas Stanley, if this is a reasonable likeness, was better looking.

Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII and Thomas Stanley, who became 1st Earl of Derby

A medieval widow could therefore be caught in a vicious circle, and unable to rule her own life as she saw fit. That is something we just accept these days. Well, we do in the West, it is still very different in many other parts of the world.

So, as I said at the beginning, the freedom of medieval widows is debatable. Truly merry widows were probably rather thin on the ground.

Two more medieval widows, in the regulation black and white

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Elizabeth of York – her privy purse expenses

Henry_VII_in_Mourning-1.jpgHenry Vll and his children in mourning for Elizabeth of York.  An idealised presentation of Henry.    His children ,  Margaret and Mary  sitting in front of the fire while a young Henry weeps into his mother’s empty bed.  From the Vaux Passional, a 15th century manuscript.

And so on this day Elizabeth gave birth to her son Arthur.  Arthur’s life was destined to be short and he died on 2 April 1502.  And so the fickle wheel of fortune turned once more with Arthur’s parents feeling the same pain, despair and shock that are recorded as having engulfed Richard lll and his Queen, Anne Neville on the death of their small son Edward.  Perhaps Henry’s pain was cushioned somewhat by the knowledge that he had a spare heir, Henry Jnr.

Elizabeth is often quoted as having said, an in attempt to comfort Henry that they were young enough to have another child. (1)   Whether she said this or not – how would such a personal conversation be known to others?  –  as sure as eggs are eggs, Elizabeth did indeed become pregnant soon after , a pregnancy that we all know resulted in her death.  So thus in another strange coincidence Henry also lost his wife a few short months after the death of their son as did Richard.

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Elizabeth’s  bronze effigy on her tomb, Westminster Abbey, Torrigiano

It is said by some that Henry’s and Elizabeth’s marriage was a happy one, they both growing to love one another over the years.  Alternatively you will read that she was considered by some to have been kept subservient and that Henry was not uxorious.  You will have to form your own opinions over that  one dear reader.   Either way she has my sympathy with regard to her mother-in-law,  the formidable Margaret Beaufort,  to whom Henry remained close.   Indeed a certain yeoman of the crown John Hewyk ‘grumbled that he would have spoken more to the Queen  had it not been for that strong whore, the King’s mother ‘.(2)  with a Spanish observer  writing that ‘she is kept in subjection by the mother of the king. (3).   However there are some examples that demonstrate that Elizabeth was not entirely a  push over  nor totally ‘eclipsed’ by her mother-in-law    Rosemary Horrox gives us one such example where a Welsh tenant appealed to Elizabeth over an injustice involving the king’s uncle,  Jasper Tudor,  which led to Elizabeth ‘responding with a firm letter to the said Jasper. (4)    Bravo Elizabeth!

1466-1503 by unknown artist c.1502 the royal colle tion.jpg

Portrait by an unknown artist c 1503

Although much  has been written about her death and funeral ,  and I won’t go into that here,  interesting as it is,  nothing much is known about her personal feelings towards her husband,  the demise of the House of York,  the treatment of her mother, Elizabeth Wydeville,  and her ‘retirement’ in to Bermondsey Abbey,  the fates of her brothers or the identity of Perkin Warbeck.   However her Privy Purse Account have survived and perhaps some thing of her nature and true feelings may be gleaned from them.

Sir Nicholas Harris Nicholas, writing in 1830, was  editor of  The Privy Purse Expenses which also include   a memoir.  Sir Nicholas seems to have been a little in love with Elizabeth,  whose motto was ‘Humble and Reverent’ attributing to her ‘most if not all of the virtues which adorn the female character’.   He notes that her expenses consist chiefly of rewards to persons who brought her presents with often the reward being of greater value.  ‘Nothing was too contemptible to be received, nor was any person deemed too humble..Among the articles presented to Elizabeth were fish, fruit, fowls, puddings, tripe, a crane, woodcocks, a popinjay, quails and other birds, pork, rabbit, Llanthony cheeses, pease cods, cakes, a wild boar, malmsey wine, flowers, chiefly roses, bucks, sweetmeats, rose water, a cushion, and a pair of clarycords’.  All the bearers of these gifts would never go away empty handed.

There were disbursements for servants wages, for preparing her apartments when she removed from one place to another,  which she did frequently, for conveying her clothes and necessary furniture, for messengers, for the repairs of her barge and the pay of the bargemen, for her chairs and litters, the purchase of household articles, for silks, damasks, satins, cloth of gold, velvet, linen, gowns, kirtles,  petticoats for her own use or for the ladies she maintained;  for jewellery, trappings for horses, furs, gold chains and for the charges of her stables and greyhounds;  for the support of her sister Lady Katherine Courtney and her children, including the burial of some of them;  for the clothing and board of her Fool, gambling debts and so much more.  Sir Nicholas notes that ‘her Majesties revenue was not adequate to cover all these demands and she was ‘not infrequently obliged to borrow money’.  A look at Henry’s Privy Purse accounts shows that he, perhaps  being a good egg or because it was the least he could do under the circumstances,  frequently bailed his wife out although it was expected  these loans were to be repaid.

The accounts which cover the last year of Elizabeth’s life are too detailed to go into her but I list here a few :

MAY 1502 Item to Frary Clerc of St Johns for the buryeng of the men that were hanged at Wapping mylne  8 shillings

There are several examples of money being given to servants of her father, King Edward, who had perhaps fallen on hard times such as ;

JUNE 1502 Item ..and to a pore man in aulmouse somtyme being a servant of King Edwards IV   2s. 4d.  as well as cloth to a woman who had been nurse to her brothers –

Help was also given to people who had served other members of  her family :

DECEMBER 1502 item 3 yards of cloth delivered by commandment of the Queen to a woman what was ‘norice’ to the Princes brothers to the Queen grace

DECEMBER 1502 Item to a man of ‘Poynfreyt saying himself to lodge in his house Therl Ryvers in tyme of his death in almous  12 shillings’

For herself, other than her gambling debts , Elizabeth seemed to keep an eye on the purse strings with numerous mentions of her gowns being repaired.

DECEMBER 1502 item to the Quenes grace upon the Feest of St Stephen for hure disport at cardes this Cristmas 100 s.

She appeared to wear a lot of black during the period these accounts cover when  presumably the court were in mourning for Arthur –  an example being

NOVEMBER 1502 Item ..to Henry Bryan for 17 yards of black velvet for a gown for the Queen at 10 shillings 6d the yard.    13 yards of black  satin  delivered to Johnson for a riding gown and a yard  of black velvet for an edge and cuffs for the same gown.  Item black bokeram for lining  of the same gown, sarcenet for ‘fentes’ for the same gown and an elle of canvas for lining of the same gown –   although on a lighter note in

JUNE 1502 Item ..to William Antyne coper smyth for spangelles settes square sterrys dropes and pointes after silver and gold for garnisshing of jakettes against the disguysing lvj viiij d.

AUGUST 1502 ..to my Lady Verney for money by hur delivered by commaundement of the Queen to Fyll the Kinges paynter in reward   3s. 4d.  Item to John Reynold payntour for making of divers beestes and othere pleasires for the Quene at Windsore 10 s.

A short, interesting appraisal of Elizabeth including her expenses were included by Ann Wrote in her biography of Perkin Warbeck.  ‘The queen seems to have been a gentle passive creature.  Her world was one of frugally mended gowns, whicker baskets and works of charity.  She had little money of her own her allowance being one eighth of the king’s and she often gave it away. On Maundy Thursday she distributed new shoes to poor women but her own shoes cost no more than 12d each and had cheap latten buckles…Ayala writing in 1498 thought her’ beloved because she is powerless’ and believed as many did that her formidable mother in law kept her in subjection. Although Margaret  Beaufort showed her kindness she was undoubtedly a stronger character.  A citizen of Nottingham once tried to speak to Elizabeth when she visited that city, their pleasant conversation was stopped by that ‘strong whore’, Henry’s mother,  and Elizabeth acquiesced’ .(5)

Later it is poignant to read about the costs of trying, vainly,  to save her life when she was stricken  after giving birth to her last child, Katherine.

Itm To James Nattres for his costes going into Kent for Doctour Hallysworth phesicon to comme to the Quene by the Kinges commaundement.  Furst for his bote hyre from the Towre to Gravys ende and again iiij s, iiij d.   Itm to twoo watermen abiding at Gravys ende unto suche tyme the said James came again for theire expenses viij d.    Itm for horse hyre and to guydes by night and day ij s.iij d.and for his awe expenses xvj d.’

Elizabeth’s midwife Alice Massy was not forgotten; her wages being 12 shillings.

And thus Elizabeth,  with exemplary timing,  died on the anniversary  of her birthday, 11 February.  Its said that Henry took her death badly and it would seem that his behaviour and attitudes took a turn for the worse after he had been widowed but that is another story.   Perhaps theirs was not a passionate love,  duty having bound them together,  but I do get the impression from their Privy Purse accounts that they did rub along together quite nicely.

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  1. Collectanea v.373-4 Leland
  2. Records of the borough of Nottingham 1882-1956 W H Stevenson and others.
  3. CPS Spain 1485-1509, 164
  4. Elizabeth of York, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Rosemary Horrox
  5.  Perkin Warbeck: a Story of Deception Ann Wrote pp 458.9

 

Richard III’s lost queen….

Ann and Richard - Rous Roll

What follows is a word-for-word opinion of Anne Neville, and Richard’s attitude/feelings for her. I make no comment, the article by Elizabeth Jane Timms speaks for itself.

“Amidst the chronicle of lost tombs at Westminster Abbey is that of Queen Anne Neville, wife of King Richard III. Queen Anne’s invisibility in these terms underlines the purported neglect on behalf of Richard III; this lack of a memorial was rectified however when a bronze plaque was placed to Queen Anne’s memory at Westminster Abbey, in an attempt to redress this act of historical forgetting. The fact though that no memorial existed to Queen Anne Neville up until the 20th century meant that whatever hope there had been in establishing the exact location of where she was buried, was slim, given the fact that her tomb is generally described as ‘lost’. This also added to the sense of mystery which already surrounded Queen Anne’s death.

“Instead of Richard III, it is Henry VII – who won victory over the former at the great Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and is remembered at Westminster Abbey. His legacy to it is most apparent in the magnificent Henry VII Chapel. All of Henry VIII’s (legitimate) children are also buried in the Abbey, thus as branches of the Tudor rose, which the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York helped to create through the union of the two hitherto warring dynasties. Henry VII’s spouse, Queen Elizabeth of York – who Richard III seems to have regarded as a possible wife after Queen Anne’s death, no doubt in an effort to neutralise the threat his niece represented to him as the undoubted Yorkist heir – lies in glory, in the tomb created for her and Henry VII by the great sculptor Pietro Torrigiano. Queen Anne Neville by contrast, lay technically ‘forgotten’ at Westminster Abbey until 1960.

“Queen Anne Neville also does not share a tomb with King Richard III, whose skeleton was, of course, discovered under a car park in Leicester, once the site of the Grey Friars church where his body, ‘pierced with numerous and deadly wounds’, was buried after Bosworth and – subsequently reburied at Leicester Cathedral in 2015. This was done, however, due to Leicester’s proximity to Market Bosworth, as opposed to any statement on the royal marriage; Richard III was simply buried alone because of the battle. By the time of Bosworth, he had not remarried after the death of Queen Anne. The tomb that was erected for King Richard in the church’s choir was paid for by Henry VII; posthumous respect for a King who had fought ‘like a most brave and valiant prince’, as even those who were not sympathetic to Richard acknowledged. The body of Richard III was of huge importance to Henry VII because it underlined his victory at Bosworth, proclaimed his new dynasty and proved that the last Plantagenet King was indeed, dead.

“Henry’s own claim to the throne was understandably one about which he was extremely sensitive, as we can see from his attitude towards both the young Earl of Warwick and pretenders such as Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck; he was, however, keen to stress that his own right to the Crown rested on a divine right won at Bosworth, as opposed to simply through the Yorkist heiress, Princess Elizabeth. Elizabeth, of course, had a far stronger claim to the English throne than his own, for which reason she had to be rendered submissive to his authority; she could have been his greatest threat – instead, she became his wife – but that fact was obviously never forgotten by King Henry.

“Some short time before Queen Anne Neville’s death, she and King Richard lost their only son. Indeed, this was a strange turn of events, given the fact that Richard III was widely supposed to have had Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, the historical ‘Princes in the Tower’, murdered, and now had lost his own ‘heir male’, for which reason it was easy to understand why a superstitious age might have ascribed this to God’s will, to avenge Queen Elizabeth Woodville, their mother. Queen Anne’s son, Edward of Middleham, died on 9 April 1484; cutting off Richard III’s direct line like this, meant that Elizabeth of York remained the true heiress in many minds, despite Richard’s Act of 1484, the Titulus Regius, which had declared her illegitimate. We may believe though, the descriptions of the Croyland Chronicle when it described Queen Anne and Richard III ‘almost bordering on madness by reason of their sudden grief’; it was alluded to in Richard’s reburial service in 2015. In parallel, we might be reminded of the scene when the news that the two Princes were thought to have been killed by order of the King, was broken to their mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, who ‘shriek[ed]… struck her breast, tore and pulled out her hair’ (Alison Weir, Elizabeth of York, Pg  105, 2013).

“Perhaps it was the death of her son, which weakened Queen Anne Neville; we simply do not know. It is possible that grief may have debilitated her nervous system, making her more susceptible to a medieval infection. The grief could have brought a closeness between the King and Queen – instead, we read in the Croyland Chronicle, that the King ‘shunned her bed’ (Ibid, Pg 127). The ‘Chronicler’ further reported that Queen Anne fell ‘extremely sick’ several days after Christmas; common opinion had it that the cause was tuberculosis. Croyland emphasises the ‘wound in the Queen’s breast for the loss of her son’ when referring to Christmas, 1484 (Ibid, Pg 121).

“We know little about Queen Anne Neville, even her appearance is elusive – but then, Richard III’s reign was of course, short. She features in the famous Rous Roll, illustrated on several occasions. Richard III’s marriage to Anne – the widow of Prince Edward of Lancaster – was likely to have been one borne out of political strategy because of the mighty Warwick lands which she brought with her as a daughter of the great Richard Neville, Warwick the Kingmaker. However, Anne was also Richard’s cousin, so perhaps he chose a girl he knew, as well as understanding what she would bring with her. A papal dispensation had been granted for Anne Neville’s marriage to her Yorkist cousin, Richard. Their wedding took place – fittingly, in the light of Anne’s missing tomb – at Westminster. Anne was crowned with Richard on 6 July 1483; the King and Queen walked on red cloth from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. Lady Margaret Beaufort – mother of the future Henry VII – carried the Queen’s train (Ibid, Pg 102).

“Queen Anne died on 16 March 1485 – five months before the massively decisive Battle of Bosworth; she died ‘upon the day of a great eclipse of the sun’ (Ibid, Pg 128). On 22 March, less than ten days later, Richard III had sent an envoy to begin negotiations for a Portuguese marriage; this again was not a comment on his own personal feelings for Queen Anne Neville. Richard III would have been desperately aware of the fact that he had to maintain a tight grip on his throne and replace the son that had so recently died because his direct branch of the Plantagenet dynasty could die after him. After the Queen’s death, vicious rumour bussed about that the King had had her poisoned, but historically, there is no evidence for this. More importantly, these rumours show that the King was thought capable of such a thing, as he had been believed to have murdered the two Princes, so the attestation is valuable for how Richard may have been regarded by recent posterity. Although admittedly, this was a posterity in which Tudor propaganda was a powerful tool, as subsequent portraits of Richard which have been later tampered with, have shown. Any physical ‘deformity’ of Richard III would have been viewed significantly in an age when this was thought to be reflective of character; Richard III – as his skeleton shows – suffered from scoliosis, but apparently no – Shakespearean – withered arm.

“It was indeed a far cry from another Queen Anne by another King Richard; Queen Anne of Bohemia was greatly loved by Richard II, who was utterly distraught by her death from plague in 1394. They share a tomb at Westminster Abbey with clasping hands. There is nothing like this for Queen Anne Neville and Richard III.

“Queen Anne was believed to have been buried on the south side of the altar, according to the Victorian cataloguer of the Abbey’s monuments, A. P Stanley, Dean of Westminster, in his book Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey. The grave is unmarked, and the plaque instead commemorates the Queen herself. Westminster Abbey states that she was buried in this location, in front of the ‘Sedilia’, or chairs for the priests. It may have been exposed when Sir George Gilbert Scott was making preparations for his new High Altar in the late 19th century.

“A stained glass window exists in Cardiff Castle, depicting Anne Neville next to one of Richard III.

Anne and Richard - Cardiff Castle

“The bronze plaque in the south ambulatory to Queen Anne Neville was erected at the behest of the Richard III Society, bearing a quotation from the Rous Roll (‘full gracious’) and her heraldic shield is topped by a crown. It is the primary memorial that exists to an – almost – forgotten queen.”

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018

 

Um, where’s Lionel of Clarence in this scheme of things….?

Tudors

Well, well, this author appears to have expunged Lionel of Clarence and his line from the annals of history, in order to make the Lancastrian claim to the throne senior to that of York. When, thanks to Lionel, it ended up the other way around. Lionel was the 2nd son of Edward III, Lancaster the 3rd, and York the 4th. Put 2nd and 4th together, and you have something rather more superior than the 3rd. Yes? Yes.

 

The King’s bishop? What did John Russell know in 1483?

 

“ ‘Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’

‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night time’

‘The dog did nothing in the night time’

‘That is the curious incident ‘ remarked Sherlock Holmes.”[1]

 

By applying his reasoning to this simple observation, the world’s foremost consulting detective was able to solve the mysterious disappearance of Silver Blaze and identify John Straker’s killer. Holmes’ recognized that the key to solving the case was to understand why the guard dog did not bark during the theft of Colonel Ross’ prize racehorse. It is a useful reminder for me that the key to a mystery often lies in understanding the patterns of behaviour of those involved: their actions and their inaction. The late Dr Pamela Tudor-Craig adopted a similar approach to the central mystery of King Richard’s life and reign: the disappearance of the Princess in the Tower. In a short essay entitled ‘People About Richard III’, she highlights Richard’s relationship with those bishops who accepted his patronage and invites the question, which is not altogether rhetorical, why did these holy men accept preferment at Richard’s hand if he was the monster of Tudor tradition? [2]

 

These bishops will be familiar names to students of the Wars of the Roses and especially to Ricardians: John Russell Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Langton Bishop of St David’s and later of Salisbury and John Shirwood Bishop of Durham. All these clerics served previously under Lancastrian and Yorkist kings; none could be described as Richard’s friend, and all were men of great learning and piety. Russell was the Lord Chancellor from 1483 until 1485; Stillington was, for a time, Lord Chancellor to Edward IV. It was Stillington who is purported to have reported Edward IV’s earlier marriage to Eleanor Talbot (the ‘pre-contract’). Shirwood owed his bishopric to Richard’s preferment. He was an early English humanist, an avid collector of classic Greek and Roman literature and a protégé of George Neville. During Edward IV’s reign his loyalty was suspect.[3] King Richard, who thought better of him, appointed Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Bishop Langton was also appointed at Richard’s behest.[4] He was a borderer and accompanied Richard in his first royal progress, writing approvingly of him to the prior of Christ Church Canterbury.[5] After Bosworth, Stillington was arrested for his part in Richard’s accession and then pardoned. Russell and Shirwood, however, continued in royal service; Russell, as a diplomat and Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Langton actually flourished under the first Tudor king, reaching the dizzy height of archbishop elect of Canterbury shortly before his death in 1500. Yet none of these men denounced Richard as a regicide or said anything about the disappearance of Edward IV’s sons, not even when it was a safe to accuse him of practically anything. Given the antipathy in the Tudor narrative towards the last Plantagenet, their silence is curious feature of the most famous of all English historical mysteries.

 

It is, of course, a moot point whether the bishops actually knew anything about what was happening to Edward’s sons in 1483. With the exception of Russell, none of them were at the centre of Richard’s government. Dr Tudor-Craig points to the chance that they might have known what was happening through a possible friendship between Shirwood and Dr John Argentine. It remains, however, no more than a possibility. The only known copy of Shirwood’s ‘Mathematical Game’ (no.106) is of particular relevance to this exhibition since it belonged to John Argentine, Edward V’s physician who gave such a foreboding report of his charge to Mancini.[6] Argentine may well have been an Italian and he was an industrious collector of books. The strong possibility that he knew Shirwood during the summer of 1483 in London reduces the likelihood that these distinguished prelates could have accepted patronage at Richard III’s hand in ignorance of the true state of affairs. Either Argentine’s words as reported by Mancini were not meant to carry a sinister gloss, or the clerics had accommodating consciences.[7]

 

Be that as it may, there was certainly one among them who was well placed to know the truth. It is likely that John Russell the Lord Chancellor was privy to Richard’s intention towards his nephews. Judging from the surviving signet and Chancery letters, their working relationship was close. Richard trusted Russell to deal with secret/confidential matters of great delicacy and moment, even those that occurred during his royal progress. Such trust is all the more remarkable since it appears that Russell was not, as some suppose, a trimmer or tame Ricardian but an outspoken critic of the petition presented to Parliament in 1484 setting out Richard’s royal title and also of Titulus Regius in the form it was enacted, and indeed, of the turbulence leading to Richard’s accession. It is not my intention to go into that issue now, since it is beyond my scope. I will confine myself to exploring Russell’s relationship with his king through three surviving letters from their correspondence. Obviously, the subject and the content of each letter is important because they each touch on events taking place between summer and autumn 1483, which is the critical period for analysing the disappearance of the two princes. All the same, they cannot be considered in a vacuum that ignores Russell’s constitutional position as Lord Chancellor and the evolving realpolitik of the times.

 

The Lord Chancellor

Professor Charles Ross describes the office of Lord Chancellor as ‘the most responsible clerical office in the gift of the crown’.[8] His use of the adjective ‘clerical’ perhaps betrays his ignorance of its several meanings (‘learned pertaining to the clergy, or clerk pertaining to copying and general office work’[9]) but more likely it reveals his unawareness of the constitutional importance of the Lord Chancellor. It was then, and remains, one of the great offices of state. Although Russell was indeed a cleric, his responsibilities were secular and serious; any implication that he was a glorified chief clerk is ludicrous. In the fifteenth century the Lord Chancellor was the nearest equivalent of a modern Prime Minister. He was a key official in the Royal Household the king’s principal advisor, and his formal link with parliament, and the machinery of government at Westminster. It was the Lord Chancellor who delivered the official sermon at the opening of parliament setting out the reason for its summons and the king’s plans. In addition, he had a judicial responsibility as the king’s liaison with the judiciary and presiding judge in the Chancery Court of England. It is true that Russell was a bureaucrat and not a politician; however, as an experienced, and talented administrator and lawyer he was eminently suitable for this office. His appointment had the unqualified approval of Sir Thomas More, probably the most famous Lord Chancellor of all, who described Russell as ‘ a wise man of much experience and one of the most learned men England had at this time’.[10] Dominic Mancini writing at the end of 1483 concurred with More’s opinion; he described Russell as a man of ‘great learning and piety.’[11]

 

‘The Chancellor is desperate and not content’

I need not describe the course of events between Edward IV’s untimely death in April 1483 and the bastardization of his heirs in June, since they are well known and, in any case, do not add to the substance of my argument. What matters from my perspective is Russell’s reaction to those events. For my purposes the narrative begins after lunch on Friday the 13 June 1483. William Lord Hastings had just been summarily executed on a convenient log for (it is alleged) plotting to kill the Lord Protector and Henry Stafford Duke of Buckingham, his henchman. The Archbishop of York (Thomas Rotherham), the Bishop Ely (John Morton) and assorted others have also been arrested. And there is panic on the streets of London. On the Monday following, the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son Richard the duke of York, the heir presumptive, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey to attend his brother’s coronation. That afternoon in council the coronation was postponed. The alarm of Londoners following these events is tangible and it seems from the evidence of two independent sources that the Chancellor John Russell was also deeply troubled by the turn of events.

 

The first source is an undated memorandum written by George Cely, an English wool merchant, which must have been written between the 13th and 25th of June 1483. It contains the key description of Russell’s mood: ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, [my emphasis] the bishop of Ely is dead, if the king, God save his life were deceased, the duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my lord prince, whom God defend were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.[12]

 

The other account is a letter written by Simon Stallworth (one of Russell’s secretaries) on the 21 June 1483 to Sir William Stonor. It is worth quoting in full. ‘Worshipful sir I commend me to you and for tidings I hold you happy that you are out of the press, for with us is much trouble and every man doubts [the] other. As on Friday last was the Chamberlain [Hastings] beheaded soon upon noon. On Monday last was at Westminster a great plenty of harnessed men, there was the deliverance of the Duke of York to my lord Cardinal, my Lord Chancellor and many other lords temporal and with him met my lord of Buckingham in the midst of the hall at Westminster…It is thought there shall be 20 thousand men of  my Lord Protector and my lord Buckingham’s men in London this week to which intent I know not but to keep the peace. My lord [Russell] has much            business and more than he is content with, if any other way would be taken [my emphasis]. The lord archbishop of York and the bishop of Ely are at the Tower with master Oliver King (I suppose they shall come out nevertheless). There are men in their places for safekeeping [guards?] And suppose that there shall be men of my Lord Protectors sent to his lordship’s place in the country. They are not  like to come out of ward yet. As for Forster he is in hold for his mew for (to plead for?) his life. Mistress Shore is in prison. What shall happen here I know not. I pray you pardon me from writing I am so sick I may not well hold my pen…All the Lord Chamberlain’s men become my lord of Buckingham’s men.’ [13]

 

These strictly contemporary accounts do not support the conclusion that Gloucester’s actions marked the opening moves of usurpation. Even less do they justify Dr Alison Hanham’s (surprisingly defensive) proposition that ‘even the most committed Ricardian must agree that it was a time of alarms and uncertainties when the suspicions of Richard’s intentions previously disseminated by the Woodvilles must he seemed to many to receive confirmation.[14] The implication that Londoners feared Gloucester’s actions were the prelude to a coup d’état and the insinuation that Russell shared their anxiety is simply not true.[15] There is no doubt that there was a great commotion in the capital over the weekend of the 14 and 15 of June and in the week that followed, with armed gangs on the street. However, Londoners in general did not see the threat as coming from Gloucester but from Woodville inspired conspirators. The Cely memorandum is explicit on this point. And there is nothing in Stallworth’s letter to gainsay the view that the public feared the ambition of the Queen and her Woodville kin whom they blamed for the unrest. Professor Michael Hicks — a renowned anti-Ricardian — also believes that the citizens did not at this time fear Gloucester’s motive; indeed, they supported his actions against the conspirators. Hicks rejects Mancini and the other vernacular chronicle accounts as hindsight, preferring to rely on the events that followed as a better guide to public opinion of Richard in May and June.[16] It would seem that despite Professor Ross’ assertion that we only have Gloucester’s word for the Hastings conspiracy, people believed that he and the king were threatened in June 1483.

 

Russell was not a neutral observer of these events, he participated in them; to that extent he was partisan. He neither liked nor trusted the Woodvilles. He believed that if they were allowed to control the king it would result in civil war and disorder. Russell craved unity not division. All of this is clear from the sermon he drafted for Edward V’s abortive first parliament, in which he set out the Council’s plans for minority governance after Edward’s coronation. It was intended to continue the protectorship after the king’s coronation and exceptionally to invest Gloucester with regency powers. This would of course have been in accordance with the earlier view of the ‘more foresighted’ councillors that the King’s maternal uncles and stepbrothers should be ‘absolutely forbidden’ from having control of the monarch before he reached his majority.[17] It would seem from Russell’s extant draft that having examined the Woodvilles suitability for government he found them wanting.[18] He writes, for example, ‘Then if there be any certainty or firmness in this world, such as may be found in Heaven, it is rather in the islands and lands environed with water than in the sea or any great rivers (an allusion to Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers)’. Further on we have this: ‘And therefore the noble persons of the world, which some for the merits of their ancestors, some for their own virtues being endowed with great honours and possessions, and riches may be conveniently resembled unto the firm ground that men see in Islands (an allusion to Gloucester and to England) than the lower people, which for the lack of such endowments, not possible to be shared among so many and therefore living by their casual labours be not without cause [compared] to the unstable and wavering running water: aque multe populus multus (a lot of water, a lot of people)’. Towards the conclusion, he extols the Lord Protector’s virtues; ‘…The necessary charges which in the kings tender age must needs be borne and supported by the right noble and famous prince the duke of Gloucester his uncle, protector of this realm. In whose great puissance, wisdom and fortunes rests at this season the execution of the defence of the realm as well against open enemies as against subtle and faint friends of the same.’ However, this sermon was never delivered due to the dramatic events that occurred between the 22 and 26 June. On Sunday the 22 June, Edward IV’s heirs were denounced as bastards. Three days later, Gloucester was offered the throne. The next day he was king. I now turn to the relevant correspondence.

 

A warrant to arrest persons unknown dated 29 July 1483

King Richard was crowned on the 6 July and left for his first royal progress on the 18 July. He dictated this intriguing letter, whilst sojourning for two or three days with his friend Francis Lovell: ‘ By the King RR. Right reverend father in God right trusty and wellbeloved; we greet you well. Whereas we understand that certain persons had of late taken upon themselves an enterprise — as we doubt not you have heard — and are in custody, we desire and will that you take our letters of commission to such persons as you and our council shall be advised, for to sit [in judgement] upon them and to proceed to the due execution of out laws on  that behalf. Fail not hereof as our perfect trust is in you. Given under our signet at the manor of Minster Lovell the 29 July.’

 

This is not a routine letter. Judging by the last sentence, Richard is responding to what he believes is an emergency at Westminster. He does not name the conspirators or the nature of their offence because he assumes Russell knows what he means. The implication being, of course, that this matter was secret and the detail could not be committed to paper. It is for that reason that historical interest in the letter has largely concentrated on the search for answers to the inevitable ‘who’ ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions that arise. Important though those questions are, I need not answer them here, since others have already done so.[19] It is useful, nonetheless, to outline the options considered.

 

Dr Tudor-Craig submits several possible motives for the letter. First, it might have related to an attempt to remove Edward’s daughters from sanctuary and take them overseas out of Richard’s reach. The Crowland Chronicle reports the rumour of such a plot, which caused the King to strengthen security around Westminster Abbey ‘so that the whole neighbourhood took on the appearance of a castle or fortress’. John Nesfield, who was captain in charge of the operation, ensured that no one could get in or out without his permission.[20] Dr Tudor-Craig rejects that possibility, however, on the ground that ‘The tenor of the letter suggests that the criminals had accomplished their deed, even though they had been caught, and yet the princesses remained in sanctuary’.[21] Alison Hanham challenges that proposition; she argues that they were arrested before the fact and not afterwards. Her point being that the word ‘had’ (as opposed to ‘have’) suggests that the plot had not come to fruition.[22] If one accepts Dr Hanham’s construction of the letter it would seem reasonable to suppose that the plot to send the princesses overseas remains a possibility. However, such a plot hardly warrants a surreptitious letter of this kind since according to Crowland it was almost certainly common knowledge in London anyway. A similar point could be made in relation to Dr Tudor-Craig’s second possibility: that it concerned mistress ‘Jane’ Shore. I think we can safely dismiss this on the ground that there was nothing secret about her activities.

 

Dr Tudor Craig’s third and final possibility is that it relates to the disappearance of the two princes. Unfortunately, she does not look beyond the possibility that they were murdered. Such a plot would certainly require secrecy. The problem with this, however, is that Richard’s instructions to Russell to discuss the matter with the council and proceed according to the law are incompatible with secrecy. Dr Tudor-Craig recognized this problem but is nonetheless unable to disregard Thomas More’s assertion that the murder of the princes was ordered when Richard was at Gloucester, which he must have reached soon after this letter was written. Dr Tudor-Craig also sees significance in the parting of the ways between the King and Buckingham, which also occurred around this time and which she suggests might have been the result of a policy disagreement about what to do with ‘the certain persons who had taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise’.[23] If her hypothesis is right it certainly adds credence to More’s account and also to the fears expressed for Edward V’s life reported to Mancini before he returned to France.[24]

 

Another possibility is that the letter referred to a plot to remove the boys from the Tower and to restore Edward V to the throne. The Crowland chronicler mentions such a plot, though his timing is problematic.[25] We also have a reference in John Stow’s ‘Annals’ of some such plot involving members of Edward IV’s former household with Woodville support.[26] ‘After this were taken for rebel against the king, Robert Russe sergeant of London, William Davy pardoner of Hounslow, John Smith groom of King Edward’s stirrup, and Stephen Ireland wardrober of the Tower, with many others, that they should have sent writings into the parts of Brittany to the earls of Richmond and of Pembroke and other lords; and how they were purposed to have set fire to divers parts of London, which fire whilst men had been staunching, they would have stolen out of the Tower the Prince Edward and his brother the Duke of York.’ [27]

 

Speculation that Lady Margaret Beaufort was involved in this conspiracy as the Woodville’s price for restoring Henry Tudor to his English dignitaries, is rejected by Professor Hicks on the ground that the link between the Beauforts, ‘the fact of a certain enterprise’ mentioned in the letter and the trial mentioned in Stowe is too tenuous to accept as evidence of the fact.[28] Certainly corresponding with Richmond was not per se treasonable (at this stage) and it seems from Hicks’ researches that there is no record of a commission of oyer & terminer or a trial, or even an indictment against these men. He postulates that although such a plot probably existed at this time, we do not have details of it.

 

Fortunately, I need not choose between these theories, since I am only concerned with Russell’s state of knowledge. Ironically, if the letter does relate to the boys’ murders, its tone and content tend to absolve the King from complicity. His instruction to bring the matter before the council and to judgement according to the law is only explicable on the basis that he was innocent and had nothing to hide or fear from a public airing of the facts. In that eventuality, Richard’s guilty secret would not be secret for very long. Alternatively, if the letter refers to a plot to remove the princes from the Tower, then it can be seen as a standard response to a treasonous threat to the crown. Of course, if such a plot existed, it confounds the contemporary suspicion that Edward V was dead before Mancini left England and demolishes More’s account of events. Either way, this letter raises some important questions about the state of Chancellor Russell knowledge, since he can hardly have been ignorant of the true state of affairs concerning the well-being or the fates of Edward IV’s sons in July. It also raises the questions of why Russell appears not to have been interrogated by the Tudor regime as to his knowledge of the fate of the princes or why there is no contemporary English accusation against King Richard.

 

 

Undated letter concerning the marriage of Thomas Lynom and Mistress Shore

I am referring to this this letter for two reasons; first, it gives us a brief but revealing ‘flash’ of Richard’s character and second, it gives rise to an equally illuminating difference of opinion between two of Richard’s many biographers; a difference of opinion, which, I might add, exhibits all the emotional prejudice that afflicts so much of Ricardian literature.

 

Thomas Lynom was King Richard’s solicitor; he sought permission to marry Mistress Jane Shore, who was languishing in Ludgate Prison for her part in the Hastings’ conspiracy. Richard’s moral rectitude caused him to take a hard line with Mistress Shore. She had, after all, plotted against him and she was a notorious harlot. Although it would have been easy for him to forbid the match in what he believed to be Lynom’s best interests, he wrote this letter instead.[29]…it is showed unto us that our servant and solicitor, Thomas Lynom is marvellously blinded and abused with the late wife of William Shore now being at Ludgate by our commandment, [and] hath made contract of matrimony with her, as it is said; and intends, to our full great marvel, to proceed to effect the same. We, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed and pray you therefore to send for him, in that you   may goodly may exhort and stir him to the contrary. And if you find him utter set for to marry her and none otherwise would be advertised, then if it may stand with the law of the church, we be content (the time of marriage being deferred to our coming next to London) that upon sufficient surety being found for her good behaviour, you send for her keeper and discharge him of our commandment by warrant of these; committing [her] to the rule of her father or any other by your discretion in the mean season.’

 

In his generally sympathetic biography of Richard III, Professor Paul Kendall uses this letter to illustrate Richard’s empathy with his fellows: ‘The harmony he never achieved within himself he did not cease to desire for others.[30] Richard’s use of vibrant phrases such as ‘marvellously blinded and abused’, and ‘to our full great marvel’ are testament to his astonishment and not his admonishment that his sober and correct solicitor should fall for the charms of the (no doubt) enchanting but wayward Jane Shore.

 

Professor Charles Ross in his less charitable biography of Richard III, uses the same letter to illustrate what he regards as the King’s bad character. Richard was, asserts Ross, the first English king to use character assassination as a deliberate instrument of policy. Richard’s ‘…public persecution of the delectable Mistress Shore has all the hallmarks of an attempt to make political capital by smearing the moral reputation of those who opposed him.’ Furthermore, he suggests that the ‘demure’ (his word) Mistress Shore would have been left to rot in Ludgate were it not for the fact that Richard’s solicitor wanted to marry her; a request which says Ross ‘obviously incurred Richard’s displeasure’. [31]

 

It is difficult to explain two such conflicting interpretations of the same letter. Ross represents the modern school of traditionalist historians who resist revisionist re-interpretations of Richard’s character. It seems obvious to me that he is entranced by the ‘delectable’ Mistress Shore whose virtues he extols at Richard’s expense. Professor Kendall writes more benevolently of Richard’s behaviour; though he has an occasional tendency to make excuses for him. His biography is now considered out of date by the academic establishment; nonetheless, it remains for me the most balanced and well-written account of King Richard’s life and reign yet published. Its strength is Kendall’s systematic use of BL Harleian Manuscript 433 to explain the events of 1483-85.[32]

 

Furthermore, professor Ross’ conclusion is based on a partial quote from the letter, starting at its beginning and ending with Richard’s comment ‘we, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed.’ This gives the false impression that King Richard was minded to prohibit the marriage because of his displeasure with Lynom and his vindictiveness towards Mistress Shore. Thus, Ross uses the letter as an example of Richard’s vindictive character. However, if one reads the whole letter, the absurdity of his argument becomes apparent. Indeed, there is nothing in the letter — even Ross’ edited version — that justifies his adverse characterization of Richard: quite the opposite in fact.

 

The letter is remarkable for its informality, Richard’s colourful language and his lightness of touch in dealing with the situation. He comes across as a concerned friend rather than an angry monarch. He has every reason to prohibit this marriage but his desire to do the right thing outweighs any animus he feels towards Mistress Shore. For Richard ‘doing the right thing’ means trying to save Thomas Lynom from his folly, which is why he asks Russell to urge him in a ‘goodly’ manner to think again. But if Lynom is ‘utter set to marry her and not otherwise’, then Richard consented. The letter is not indicative of a cruel or vindictive man. Its relaxed tone suggests that the king trusted his Chancellor and that they had a good rapport. After taking these factors into account, I prefer Kendall’s interpretation of the letter.

 

Letter dated the 12 October from King Richard to John Russell

Richard dictated this letter at Lincoln during his royal progress. It is considered to be one of the chief documents of his reign and contains a rare example of his handwriting: ‘By the King. Right reverend Father in God, right trusty and wellbeloved. We greet you          well. And in out heartfelt way thank you for the manifest presents that your servants on your behalf has presented to us here, which we assure you we took and accepted with a good heart and soul we have cause. And whereas we by Gods grace intend briefly [soon] to advance us towards our rebel and traitor the Duke of Buckingham to resist and withstand his malicious purpose as lately by our other letters we certified to you our mind   more at large. For which cause it behoves us to have our Great Seal here. We being informed that for such infirmities and disease you sustain you cannot conveniently come unto us in person with the same. Wherefore we desire and nonetheless charge you that forthwith upon the sight of these you safely do the same our Great Seal sent unto us and [by] such of the officers of our Chancery as by your wisdom shall be thought necessary. Receiving this our letter for your sufficient discharge in that behalf.  Given under our signet at our City of Lincoln the 12 day of October.   We would be most glad that you came yourself if that you may and if you may not we pray you not to fail but to accomplish in all diligence our said commandment to send our seal in contentment upon the sight hereof as we trust you with such as you trust the officers ‘pertenyng’ to attend with it praying you to ascertain us of your news here. Here loved be God is all well and truly determined and for to resist the malice of him that has best cause to be true the Duke of Buckingham the most untrue creature living whom with God’s grace we shall not be long till that we shall be in those parts and subdue his malice. We assure you that there was never false traitor better purveyed as this bearer Gloucester shall show you.”[33]

 

It is obvious that Richard and Russell were in touch and that Russell was aware of the King’s plans. Since Russell cannot bring the Great Seal himself owing to his illness, Richard added a postscript in his own hand (my emphasis above). It is one of the most revealing documents of Buckingham’s rebellion.

 

Dr Louise Gill considers that Richard’s request was unusual ‘since it put full control of the government in his hands‘ and implies that he no longer trusted his Chancellor.[34] Personally, I think Dr Gill’s appraisal of the situation is mistaken for two reasons: in the first place it is not supported by the facts and in the second place it offends against common sense. It was not in fact unusual for the Great Seal to be commandeered in times of crisis. Richard and the Council had done so in April/May 1483 after the then Chancellor, Thomas Rotherham archbishop of York, had improperly handed it to Elizabeth Woodville following the arrests of Earl Rivers and others. Richard was to call for it again in July 1485 when he was threatened by Henry Tudor’s invasion. The Great Seal was an instrument of strategic importance, to the king since it authenticated royal commands, documents and proclamations. Its close control was desirable at all times but absolutely essential when, as here, rebels aimed at deposing the king. If the king was at Westminster there was no problem, but King Richard was 150 miles from Westminster and his enemies were strategically placed to put themselves between him and the capital. He believed that the threat to him was mortal; Russell was well aware of this and of Richard’s plans from previous correspondence. Naturally, Richard wanted control of the Great Seal to authenticate his rule but just as importantly to deny it to his enemies. Similarly, the suggestion of a breakdown of trust between Richard and Russell does not bear close examination. Richard was many things but he was not stupid; it is inconceivable that he would entrust his plans ‘at large’ to someone he didn’t trust. There is also the evidence of Richard’s postscript wherein he expressed his faith that Russell would send the Great Seal to him. Its possession was of such overwhelming importance to Richard, and secrecy was so vital (There are obvious risks to it being carried by a single horseman.) that he is equally unlikely to have entrusted that task to anyone he didn’t trust. A distrustful Richard would probably have sent one of his own men of action to take possession of the seal. Indeed, in May, as duke of Gloucester, he sent his personal Herald to take it from Rotherham. If we judge men by their actions, the fact that Russell complied with the king’s wishes with such alacrity and that the Great Seal was later returned to him (Russell) before witnesses in the Star Chamber is a clear indication that the Lord Chancellor retained the king’s trust and confidence.

 

Conclusion

Although many people suspect Richard III of doing away with his nephews, suspicion is not evidence and there is no evidence that he murdered them or, indeed, that anyone murdered them. I do not know the princes’ fate and neither does anybody else. Nor do I pretend that these letters offer a solution to the mystery, since they leave too many unanswered and unanswerable questions for that. But they do sharpen our silhouette of England’s most enigmatic king and his relationship with his first minister of state during the crucial period of 1483-85. And they add substance to a neat epigram about those events, which I read somewhere. Those who knew most said least; those who knew least said most.

 

Quite what Holmes might have deduced from this correspondence is difficult to say, since he famously eschewed theorising without data. Of course, his prospect of solving the mysterious disappearance of the two princes would undoubtedly be enhanced if only John Russell was available to be interviewed.

[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1950) p.28

[2] Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure: Richard III (biographical exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery 1973) pp.39-41

[3] A. J. Pollard, ‘Shirwood, John (d. 1493)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25447, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[4] D. P. Wright, ‘Langton, Thomas (c.1430–1501)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16045, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[5] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.151 and note 16

[6] CJ Armstrong (Ed) – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini [1483] (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. 93 and 127 note 89. Mancini wrote: ’The physician Dr Argentine, the last of his servants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him’. Armstrong argues that Dr Argentine and Mancini were well acquainted: they were social equals and Argentine spoke fluent Italian (pp.19-20).

[7] Tudor-Craig p.44; Shirwood wrote ‘De Ludo Arithmomachia; De Ludo Philosophorum; Ludus Astronomorum’ (Treatise on a Mathematical Game) in about 1475. Tudor-Craig postulates that Shirwood personally gave Dr Argentine a copy of his treatise in London during the summer of 1483.

[8] Charles Ross- Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.132

[9] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2005); see also Chambers Dictionary (13th edition, 2014)

[10] Richard Sylvester – The Complete Edited Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of Richard III (Yale 1963) p.25

[11] Armstrong p.85

[12] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 184-85. See also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this note ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [damage] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor [Rotherham] is deprived and not content, the bishop of Ely is dead (my emphases)’. Professor Hicks is wrong, however, to suggest that Thomas Rotherham was the Chancellor, he was the archbishop of York; Russell was the Chancellor. Neither can it be easy to confuse ‘desperate’ with ‘deprived’, though the professor managed it

[13] Christine Carpenter (Ed) – Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers 1290-1483 (Cambridge UP 1996) pp.159-60. See also Alison Hanham – Varieties of Error and Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers (Ricardian, Vol 11, No.142, Sept 1998) p.350

[14] Alison Hanham – Remedying a Mischief: Bishop John Russell and the royal title (Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000) p.149

[15] Hanham (Ricardian) ibid

[16] Hicks pp. 114-16; to be fair, Professor Hicks argues that Richard always planned to seize the throne, but at this time nobody else realised it. His support soon fell away after he deposed Edward V

[17] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (The R3 and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) p.153

[18] S B Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.168-78; Chrimes reproduces all three of Russell’s draft speeches.

[19] Tudor-Craig ibid; Michael Hicks – Unweaving the Web: the plot of July 1483 against Richard III and its wider significance (Ricardian Vol 9, No.114, September 1991) pp.106-109; see also Annette Carson – Richard III; the maligned king (The History Press 2013 edition) pp. 151-68 passim. Both of these authors provide useful discussion about the July 1483 ‘plot’

[20] Pronay and Cox p.163

[21] Tudor-Craig pp.54-55

[22] Hanham (Ricardian) p.236: Hanham describes the word ‘had’ as ‘a subjunctive accusation of past possibility or past unreality…plainly they had been stopped before they could put their alleged plan into effect’. See also Hicks (Unweaving the web,,,), passim.

[23] Tudor-Craig ibid.

[24] Mancini left England shortly after Richard’s coronation (6 July 1483). Interestingly, he records only a suspicion that Edward V was ‘done away with’; he does not record any suspicion about the fate of the duke of York who was heir presumptive. The other interesting point is how this squares with the Cely memorandum, which expressed fears for the lives of king Edward V, his brother the Duke of York and his uncle the Duke of Gloucester.

[25] Pronay and Cox ibid

[26] Rosemary Horrox – Richard III and London (Ricardian Vol.6, 1984) pp325-26 and 329 citing: John Stow – The Annals or General Chronicle of England (1615) p.460. Also, Michael Jones – Richard III and Lady Margaret Beaufort: a re-assessment, in – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (PW Hammond [Ed] (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp. 30-31; Carson ibid and Henry Ellis (Ed) – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (Camden Society 1844) pp. 194-95

[27] Hicks (Unweaving the web…) p.107

[28] Hicks pp.107-109

[29] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) p.324

[30] Kendall ibid

[31] Ross p.137

[32] R Horrox and PW Hammond [Eds] – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 in four volumes (Sutton Publishing and the R3S 1979); it contains the strictly contemporary Register of Grants and Signet Letters written during Richard III’s reign and passing through Russell’s hands.

[33] Peter and Patricia Hairsine – The Chancellor’s File: published in J Petre [Ed] Richard III, crown and people (The Richard III Society 1984) p. 418, which reproduces the original letter (PRO reference C/1392/6); see also Tudor-Craig p.79

[34] Louise Gill – Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Sutton 2000 edition) p.6

SHW once more

Today in 1509, Margaret Beaufort died …

Umbrella1500

Sir Reginald Bray – not by L.P. Hartley

Reginald Bray was born in Worcester in around 1440. He was the second son of Sir Richard Bray, a surgeon, and Joan Troughton. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School at Worcester. Leland mentioned that his father, Sir Richard Bray was Henry VI’s doctor. Reginald was married to Catherine Hussey.
Bray is described by The History Jar as “Margaret Beaufort’s man of business” and then as “Henry VII’s advisor – a sort of Tudor Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer all rolled into one politically astute package”.
Bray was Receiver-General for Sir Henry Stafford, third husband of Margaret Beaufort. After Stafford’s death Bray continued to serve Margaret Beaufort. In 1483 Bray acted as go between for Margaret and John Morton, Bishop of Ely, who was then drawing his jailer, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, into the conspiracy to dethrone Richard III in favour of Margaret’s son Henry Tudor. Bray raised much needed funds for Richmond and won several key gentlemen to the Tudor cause including Giles Daubeney and Richard Guildford.

Annette Carson reports in her book “The Maligned King” that “Margaret’s household included several useful people who later played a leading part in the secret preparations that led to her son’s invasion of England. One was her receiver general, Reginald Bray, who would become one of the Tudor king’s most prominent councillors”. This was on page 98 of the updated version of Annette’s book and dealt with Hastings and his fall from grace. Annette also reports that Bray was a close relative of Hastings’ wife, Catherine.

After Buckingham’s rebellion Richard pardoned Bray and some sources maintain that this was for being associated with Henry VI, however, others say that it was because of his part in Buckingham’s rebellion. Annette Carson, on page 162 of the updated version of her well researched book “The Maligned King”, tells us that according to Vergil it was Buckingham’s idea to marry Tudor to a female heir of Edward IV. According to Vergil after Buckingham had persuaded Morton of his plan Morton procures Bray as a messenger by presumably sending word to Margaret Beaufort in London that he needs a confidential go between. Vergil then produces a second version of the marriage negotiations where the plan for the marriage is hatched between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville. I think that there can be no doubt that Bray was engaged in spying for Margaret Beaufort and probably Morton too.

Bray was created Knight of the Bath at Henry Tudor’s coronation and afterwards Knight of the Garter. In the first year of Tudor’s reign he was given the Constableship of Oakham in Rutland and was appointed joint Chief Justice with Lord Fitzwilliam of all the Forest south of the Trent and chosen for the Privy Council, then made High Treasurer and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. So while we cannot be certain of the exact events of the summer of 1483, the fact that Bray was so well rewarded by Tudor surely means that he played a big part in securing Tudor’s usurpation of the throne. He eventually died in June 1503.

Modern woman just would not kowtow as expected to in the past. . .!

Medieval Maidens

 

There are times when researching the past is, for a woman of today, a very insulting experience. This morning at the hairdresser I dipped into a book called Medieval Maidens: Young Women and Gender in England, 1270-1540. (No Hello, Heat or OK for me!)

Yes, I knew before I started that I wouldn’t like a great deal of what went on for women back then, but I came upon some details I would rather not have known concerning the ladies who waited on queens. By ladies, I mean quite high-ranking women, like the Countesses of Oxford and Worcester, and Dame Katherine Grey.

Here is the passages that caught my eye:

“Women servants sometimes played a role at meals and feasts, but one more closely bodily and intimate than the service of food. At Elizabeth of York’s coronation feast two of her ladies, Dame Katherine Grey and Mistress Ditton, ‘went under the table where they sat on either side [of] the Queen’s feet all the dinner time’. It is difficult to see what purpose this could have served other than to convey an impression of feminine presence, but it is powerful as an expression of lowly but intimate service.

“Throughout the meal, served to the queen by Lord Fitzwalter as sewer and by knights, the Countess of Oxford and Countess of Rivers ‘kneeled either side of the Queen, and at certain times held a kerchief before her Grace’, to collect her spittle and wipe her mouth.”

“A few decades later the countesses of Oxford and Worcester stood by Anne Boleyn at her coronation feast and intermittently ‘did hold a fine cloth before the queen’s face when she list to spit or do otherwise at her pleasure’, and she too had two gentlewomen under the table at her feet.”

Ew. . .

Are we to take this at face value? They actually did kneel under the table by the queen’s feet? I looked online to see if I could find any contemporary illustrations that would confirm this, and only found one. It’s of a woman scrambling around on her knees to serve a group of men.

womanservant under table

Or did it mean they knelt before the table as in the  illustration that follows? But no again, for this woman is serving food, and Phillips specifically says that particular honour was left to men. At great royal do’s anyway. And this woman here could hardly dump the roast peacock and sprint around to attend to the queen’s spittle! So I guess that under the table meant just that. Underneath it.

serving on knees

Hey, now here’s a warming thought. If high-ranking ladies were expected to perform such tasks, wouldn’t it be nice to think of Margaret Beaufort having to kneel under Anne Neville’s coronation feast table? Ready to wipe the royal nose or whatever? Oh, joy.

Mad Margaret

Today we accept having to wipe the mouths and noses of our children, and of invalids and the very old and frail, but would we do that for healthy young women. . .???? It just goes to show how very different life was then. We like to have a romantic notion of court life, but there was so much about it that simply does not sit with our modern sensibilities. Fancy having to kneel under the table throughout a meal. Did they have to vie for space with the king’s hounds? Margaret would certainly win that scrap!

Henry VIII close stool

And then there is the close stool. I know it was regarded as an honour to be in charge of this for the king, and so the queen too, I imagine. But having to wipe their bottoms for them as well? I’m told that part of the reason for this was the awkwardness created by their rich, voluminous robes, and maybe so, but the thought revolts me. I’m a modern woman, without any real idea how very strict and inflexible etiquette and rules were for our predecessors. I wouldn’t last five minutes at a medieval court. Bow and scrape to those who consider themselves my superiors? No wonder the grandest women resented having to show deference to Katherine de Roët, the governess who made it to being Duchess of Lancaster! Catch her spittle for her? They’d rather do the spitting!

Maybe Katherine Swynford in blue, kneeling, front(Katherine may be the lady in blue and ermine kneeling at the front of this illustration. And other ladies in the scene may have considered themselves far superior!)

I’d see all these folk in Hades first. Um, well, I’d see Hades, but probably by my intractable self. The only person I’d be prepared to bow to would be the monarch herself/himself. The rest can go whistle! Right, I wouldn’t last long.

One thing I will say. If anything, this under-the-table grovelling demeaned the queen or king as much as, if not more than, the one doing the grovelling. But then again, this is my modern-day sensibility creeping in. I don’t view it in the same way they did back then, when all grovelling came from those below the monarch.

The book I mentioned at the beginning of this article is very interesting and full of details, with many actual cases. That women were second-class citizens I had always known, but it didn’t occur to me that such high-class women would be expected to perform such disagreeably menial tasks. Yes, we’ve come a long, long way since then, but, ladies, we’re still second class citizens in many ways! I do trust that in another 500 years our future selves will look back on the 21st century and marvel that women now are still paid less than men for the same work, and so on.

Wanna bet?

 

 

 

Where did the Tudors come from….?

HENRY AND MODEL OF OLD LONDON BRIDGE

For those of us who may wish to know where the name Tudor comes from, here’s a thorough explanation.

 

What happened to Coldharbour on Richard III’s death. . . .?

Coldharbour

Yes, another post about Coldharbour (above) which stood  in Upper Thames Street, London. But this time it concerns an apparent omission in ownership. It is a known fact that after Bosworth, Henry VII turfed the College of Heralds out of Coldharbour and handed the property over to his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Isn’t it? I mean, there’s no doubt about this?

Heralds_at_Garter_Service

Heralds in procession to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle for the annual service of the Order of the Garter

Well, while following up another trail, I found myself in British History Online, specifically Old and New London: Volume 2. Pages 17-28, published originally by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878. Even more specifically, the section deals with Upper Thames Street, and thus the mansion known as Coldharbour, which has strong connections with Richard III.

The name of the house changed and was given different spellings over the years, but the house itself remained there at least from the time of Edward II until it was pulled down by the Earl of Shrewsbury who was guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Here is the relevant extract:

“Among the great mansions and noblemen’s palaces that once abounded in this narrow river-side street, we must first of all touch at Cold Harbour, the residence of many great merchants and princes of old time. It is first mentioned, as Stow tells us, in the 13th of Edward II., when Sir John Abel, Knight, let it to Henry Stow, a draper. It was then called Cold Harbrough, in the parish of All Saints ad Fœnum (All Hallows in the Hay), so named from an adjoining hay-wharf. Bequeathed to the Bigots, it was sold by them, in the reign of Edward III., to the well-known London merchant, Sir John Poultney, Draper, four times Mayor of London, and was then called Poultney’s Inn. Sir John gave or let it to Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Essex, for one rose at Midsummer, to be given to him and his heirs for all services. In 1397 Richard II. dined there, with his halfbrother John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon, who then lodged in Poultney’s Inn, still accounted, as Stow says, “a right fair and stately house.” The next year, Edmund, Earl of Cambridge, lodged in it. It still retained its old name in 1410, when Henry IV. granted the house to Prince Hal for the term of his life, starting the young reveller fairly by giving him a generous order on the collector of the customs for twenty casks and one pipe of red Gascony wine, free of duty. In 1472 the river-side mansion belonged to Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter. This duke was the unfortunate Lancastrian (great-grandson of John of Ghent) who, being severely wounded in the battle of Barnet, was conveyed by one of his faithful servants to the Sanctuary at Westminster. He remained in the custody of Edward IV., with the weekly dole of half a mark. The duke hoped to have obtained a pardon from the York party through the influence of his wife, Ann, who was the king’s eldest sister. But flight and suffering had made both factions remorseless. This faithless wife obtaining a divorce, married Sir Thomas St. Leger; and not long after, the duke’s dead body was found floating in the sea between Dover and Calais. He had either been murdered or drowned in trying to escape from England. Thus the Duke of Exeter’s Inn suffered from the victory of Edward, as his neighbour’s, the great Earl of Worcester, had paid the penalties of Henry’s temporary restoration in 1470. Richard III., grateful to the Heralds for standing up for his strong-handed usurpation, gave Cold Harbour to the Heralds, who, however, were afterwards turned out by Cuthbert Tunstal, Bishop of Durham, whom Henry VIII. had forced out of Durham House in the Strand. In the reign of Edward VI., just before the death of that boy of promise, the ambitious Earl of Northumberland, wishing to win the chief nobles to his side, gave Cold Harbour to Francis, the fifth Earl of Shrewsbury, and its name was then changed to Shrewsbury House (1553), six days before the young king’s death. The next earl (guardian for fifteen years of Mary Queen of Scots) took the house down, and built in its place a number of small tenements, and it then became the haunt of poverty. . .”

Cuthbert Tunstall 1474–1559, Bishop of Durham, 1530–1559

Cuthbert Tunstall (1474–1559), Bishop of Durham (1530–1559)

Poor Cuthbert, he doesn’t look a happy man! But I digress. Ignoring the unworthy comment about Richard’s so-called ‘strong-handed usurpation’, there is, for Ricardians, a glaring omission in all this. What happened to Henry VII and Margaret Beaufort? The College of Heralds were turned out of Coldharbour before the Bishop of Durham ‘done the deed’ in the reign of Henry VIII. Yes?

Any comments, ladies and gentlemen? Is it just an error by the author of Old and New London?

 

 

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