Some of you will know that in the 1970s I wrote a trilogy about Cicely/Cecily, daughter of Edward IV. I called her Cicely back then, and have stuck with it, but now she is generally known as Cecily. She had been the third daughter, but on the death of her sister Mary, because second only to Elizabeth of York, who became Henry VII’s queen. At the time of this early trilogy it wasn’t known that Cicely had made a first marriage to Ralph Scrope of Upsall.
Then, in the 21st century, came the discovery of the remains of Cicely’s uncle, Richard III. My interest was sparked anew, and I rewrote my books about Cicely, this time incorporating her marriage to Ralph. In my fictional story, the “marriage” was untrue, and came about because Richard III erroneously believed she wished to marry Ralph, Young love, and all that.
The facts about the Cicely-Ralph marriage may never be known, but the admirable Marie Barnfield has now written an article about the ending of the marriage. You’ll find it at the Society’s Research blog, and a very interesting read it is.
Alas, it seems unlikely we’ll ever get to the bottom of the matter, but it’s now certain that John, Viscount Welles, was not her first husband. Nor was he the last, because on his death she married a Lincolnshire gentleman named Thomas Kymbe, a match about which Henry VII (who was both her brother-in-law and her nephew-in-law, Welles having been Henry’s half-uncle) was downright livid. Absolutely beside himself, it seems, and it was his mother Margaret Beaufort (John Welles’s half-sister) who managed to smooth things out for the unlikely newlyweds. She was very friendly with the wayward Cicely.
Cicely was a very interesting lady. She was only in her late thirties when she died; if she’d survived to old age, who knows who else might have been added to her marriage CV! She was certainly prepared to defy the grim Henry Tudor in order to have Kymbe, who was clearly the man she wanted. Third time lucky!
Today, 10th August, is my birthday, and on this date in 1485, the last Yorkist king, Richard III, was in Nottingham preparing for the imminent invasion of his realm by his Lancastrian foe, Henry Tudor, who didn’t have much of a blood claim to the throne but touted himself as the last remaining heir of the House of Lancaster.
Richard hadn’t had an easy time since coming to the throne, in fact he’d been through some harrowing experiences. His only legitimate son, 10-year-old Prince of Wales, had died on 9th April 1483, closely followed in March 1485 by Richard’s much-loved queen, Anne Neville. He’d had to repel an earlier invasion by Tudor, which had been aborted at the last minute, and put down the Buckingham rebellion. He’d endured many unpleasant rumours about murdering his nephews, aged twelve and nine, and also of having incestuous/marital intentions toward his own niece.
All this on top of his eldest brother Edward IV’s sudden death in April 1483, the revelation that his, Edward’s, marriage had been bigamous and that consequently Richard himself was the rightful king. He and Anne were crowned on 6th July that same year. Now he was alone, a grieving widower and father, with another invasion imminent. Small wonder he took some time out at Nottingham to go hunting with friends at Bestwood (Beskwood, as it was called then) just north of the city.
It was while there that he heard of Tudor’s landing in Wales, and therefore the battle was fast approaching. On 22nd August 1485 the two armies met at Bosworth, where treachery brought about Richard’s violent death. He was only thirty-two, and was killed while fighting mightily to get at Tudor himself. Perhaps Richard was glad to go, to be with his wife and son again in a better place.
My purpose today is to discuss something that happened over a year earlier a month before his son’s sudden death….the March 1484 appearance at his court of the illegitimate daughters (and possibly their mother) of his late brother, Edward IV. The 19-year-old eldest girl, Elizabeth of York, was the one Richard was soon to be accused of wanting in a way no uncle should.
When Richard died he left behind some mysteries that consume us to this day. First and foremost, of course, is what happened to Edward IV’s two sons, Edward V, aged twelve, and Richard of York, aged nine. On their father’s death, Richard became Lord Protector and took Edward V into his custody. The younger boy had always been with his sisters and mother, Elizabeth Woodville, in sanctuary at Westminster, where they’d fled when the Woodville plot against Richard failed—she had a large family in high places thanks to Edward IV’s indulgence—and the new boy king fell into the Lord Protector’s hands while en route to London. The Woodvilles had intended to seize Edward V, rush his coronation and keep him under their control. Richard would have been assassinated, so Elizabeth Woodville had good reason to fear him. Fleeing into sanctuary probably seemed her only option. As did taking a lot of crown treasure with her! It’s understood she had a hole broken in the sanctuary wall in order to haul all the loot through.
The boy Richard of York was eventually given into Richard’s keeping, to join his lonely brother in the apartments of state in the Tower in May 1483 (it was a palace as well as a fortress). They both seemed to disappear from history after late summer that same year, but had been seen practicing archery and playing in the Tower grounds. And Richard was still issuing writs in Prince Edward’s name as late as 16th September. Richard has always been blamed for their deaths (the usual accusation is that he had them smothered) even though no bodies/remains have ever been found. No, they are not in that urn in Westminster Abbey! Many of those bones are from animals.
At the time it suited the Tudors, Lancastrians and Woodvilles—and still suits Tudorite historians to this day—to trumpet that Richard was the original murderous Wicked Uncle. If he was, why on earth didn’t he dispose of other awkwardly legitimate nephews and nieces too? The two boys weren’t the only Yorkists with claims to the throne. His other brother, George of Clarence, had a son and daughter too, but they were barred from the throne by their father’s treason and attainder. Attainders could be reversed, so these children were dangerous to Richard, if he wanted to view them that way. He could have binned the whole lot, his sisters’ offspring too, had he wanted, but he didn’t. It was left to the blood-drenched Tudors to rid the world of just about every Yorkist they could think of, women and all. Yet Richard is always accused as if he was a mass killer on a jaw-dropping scale.
Every single Tudor is much more deserving of being called a mass murderer. They even executed George of Clarence’s children, who had survived safe and well under Richard. The hero of Bosworth trumped up a charge against the by then 24-year-old Edward, Earl of Warwick, and chopped his head off. He beheaded Richard’s illegitimate son, John of Gloucester, as well. Among others. Henry VIII condemned to the block George of Clarence’s daughter, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who was sixty-eight. But then, the delightful ‘Bluff King Hal’ liked to chop off his wives’ heads for good measure. Including the one for whom he’d caused such upheavals in the Church, leading to the religious bloodbaths of the following reigns.
Tudor propaganda also spouted that, to secure his nephew’s throne for himself, Richard falsely declared Edward IV’s children illegitimate (this was thanks to evidence provided by Bishop Stillington in 1483 that Edward IV had been married to someone else before his bigamous union with Elizabeth Woodville). Well, the children of bigamy couldn’t inherit the throne. Period. Then it was said that once Richard became a widower (having poisoned his now-infertile wife, Anne, of course) he intended to marry his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York.
It would seem that her illegitimacy didn’t bother Uncle Richard as much as it was to bother Henry Tudor, who turned legal cartwheels in order to make her trueborn again. Henry even tried to suppress/expunge all legal evidence of her illegitimacy by destroying royal and parliamentary documents. Indeed, if a copy of Richard’s right to the throne, known as the Titulus Regius, hadn’t survived, we might never have known what really happened. The Tudors were nothing if not thorough when it came to hiding their bloody tracks. See http://www.richardiii.net/2_7_0_riii_documents.php.
The warning signs were there from the moment Richard breathed his last at Bosworth, because Henry promptly declared his own reign to have commenced the previous day. Thus he branded traitor every man who had supported their anointed king, Richard III. It was a dangerous precedent to set, and ever afterward Henry remained jittery about suffering the same fate. Serves him right. But he’d set the guidelines for the Tudor prospectus and it should have alerted everyone who’d supported him that they’d made a monumental mistake! But England was to suffer over a century of the gruesome House of Tudor.
Richard III had every true claim to the crown of England. He was Edward IV’s only surviving brother and had a son and heir of his own whose destiny was to follow his father on the throne. The latter wasn’t to happen, of course, but at the time Titulus Regius was drawn up, Richard’s queen and son were still very much alive.
Contrary to an intention to marry Elizabeth, on being widowed Richard embarked on arranging royal Portuguese matches for himself and his niece. He had no option but to marry again because kings needed heirs to secure their thrones. So these Portuguese matches were purely practical matters. He was still a young man and had no reason not to hope for more children through a much more acceptable and conventional marriage, so why risk a dangerously incestuous match, the very idea of which was anyway bound to be abhorrent to him? He was conventionally pious. Conventional in every way. Marrying his niece would be a line across which he would never tread.
There was, of course, a now-lost letter supposedly written by Elizabeth to Richard’s friend, cousin and ally, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, begging him to intercede with Richard on her behalf. When referring to Richard, this letter was couched in what appeared to be rather inappropriately affectionate terms. Whether the letter ever existed, I don’t know, but it’s certainly lost now. Maybe Elizabeth did have improper feelings for her uncle (Richard was a handsome young man and had been kind to her), but I doubt very much if he returned those sentiments. When he at last felt compelled to deny publicly that he had intentions toward his niece, he was definitely telling the truth. We’ll never know what Elizabeth thought of Richard, except that she didn’t once speak out against him. Nor for him either, of course. She stayed silent. I’m sure Henry Tudor would have loved her to accuse Richard of all sorts crimes, but she held her tongue. In public, at least.
I know you’ve read all the preceding before and have concluded that if anyone really needed to marry Elizabeth of York, it was Henry Tudor, whose success at Bosworth was solely due to the two-timing Stanley brothers, one of whom pulled a sickie to avoid the battle . The other turned Judas and set his men on Richard at a pivotal moment. With allies like them, who needed enemies? But mere conquest wasn’t enough to make Henry safe. You’ll probably be relieved to learn that I don’t intend to drone on about his Beaufort antecedents. The heir of the House of Lancaster? Give me a break. Richard’s supporters weren’t about to take Bosworth lying down, and Henry’s blood-claim to the throne was gossamer thin.
It was this very tenuousness that meant he had to do something to secure for good the support of the countless disaffected Yorkists swarming around his stolen realm. They’d given him their aid at Bosworth solely because they wanted Edward IV’s blood on the throne again, and he had vowed to marry Elizabeth. Should she have died, then he’d marry the most senior surviving daughter instead. If he didn’t keep his word, his reign was going to be as brief as Richard’s, if not briefer. And the good old unreliable Stanleys were just as likely to switch sides again. They were great at watching their own backs and stabbing everyone else’s.
The younger of the brothers, Sir William Stanley, who’d struck the decisive blow against Richard, was said to be the man who found Richard’s crown in a bush and placed it on Henry’s head. I don’t think he stayed happy with the consequences, because he eventually turned coat again to join a Yorkist plot against Henry. Sir William believed the claimant Perkin Warbeck really was the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of York, and wanted Edward IV’s proper line back on the throne. Henry’s exertions with Elizabeth of York in the marriage bed weren’t enough for Sir William. Their offspring weren’t proper Yorkists, whereas Perkin was the Real McCoy! Hey-ho, what goes around comes around.
To return to the main narrative. Henry had realized before leaving exile in Brittany and France to invade England (France was financing him) on this, his second bid for the crown, that marrying Elizabeth of York was a necessary evil. Without her the clarion calls to the banners of the White Rose would soon echo across the countryside, and the lord regarded as Richard’s chosen heir, his sister’s eldest son, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had rather selfishly survived Bosworth.
Henry was to dither about Lincoln, at first trying to win him over (what a trophy he’d have been for Richard’s killer!) But Lincoln couldn’t stand Henry or what he embodied, and so the dithering eventually led to the last true battle between the warring houses of York and Lancaster. The Battle of Stoke in 1487 saw the end of Lincoln, and Henry dared to give a small sigh of relief. But the battle only went Henry’s way because Lincoln’s men believed (rightly or wrongly at that precise moment) that Lincoln had been killed. They fled the battlefield, and at some point Lincoln was indeed mown down, which didn’t please Henry, who wanted him alive to be “worked upon” for information..
Henry’s respite wouldn’t last, of course, the shadows and ghosts would always follow him. Lincoln (who had a number of brothers) was probably the reason why Henry began to systematically eliminate the remnants of the House of York, and why the succeeding Tudors continued the bloodfest.
Anyway, to return to 1485. As Henry prepared to sail with his army of English traitors, Frenchmen and other foreign mercenaries, he took a solemn vow in Rennes Cathedral that he would marry Elizabeth and through their children bring the warring factions in England together at last. Noble sentiments, but he just wanted the crown, make no mistake of that.
First, however, Elizabeth had to be legitimized again. Henry was in a delicate enough position already, without adding to it by marrying a baseborn queen, even if she was Edward IV’s eldest daughter. He had to be a legitimate king with a legitimate queen. But he made sure to have himself crowned first on 30th October 1485. He wasn’t about to be dubbed Elizabeth’s consort, so he didn’t marry her until 18th January 1486.
Elizabeth’s own coronation didn’t come until 25th November 1487, after she’d done the right thing and presented him with a son in the September. Hm, yes, the maths are a little iffy. The baby was a bouncing eight-monther. It was said to be a happy marriage, and that he didn’t stray from the marriage bed even once. I’d like to know how they can be sure of that! Was he followed 24/7?
What Henry didn’t need was his wife’s tiresome brothers, whose claim to the throne had become legal and vastly superior to his own from the moment he legitimized her. The boys’ whereabouts were unknown, of course. They certainly weren’t in the Tower, because one of the first things Henry did on reaching London after Bosworth was instigate exhaustive searches. No one knew anything at this point…and so Henry crossed his fingers, but if he had found the boys in the Tower you can bet your bottom dollar he’d have them disposed of. Hellfire, their claim to the throne was going to be infinitely better than his own because he was going to legitimize their big sister in order to marry her and produce the vital half-York, half-Tudor offspring!
So, if any such murdering of boys did go on in the Tower, my money would have been on Henry in the very early days of his reign. But there was no proof they died at all, let alone were murdered. It was all smoke and mirrors. Henry ordered the further spreading of rumours that Richard had done away with his nephews, but the Tudor fingers remained very tightly crossed. Richard murdered them! Richard murdered them! The mantra worked, in a great part because Richard had failed to produce the boys to refute the charges. Down through the centuries the same chant can still be heard by rote. And we all know Shakespeare’s part in the lies. But then, he did want to please a Tudor!
If Elizabeth knew that her brothers were still alive, she couldn’t have told Henry before she travelled south from Sheriff Hutton after Bosworth. They’d never met before then. Perhaps she did tell him—he was going to make her Queen of England, so it was in her interest to hitch her waggon to his. But by then he’d already set the ‘Richard was Evil’ ball rolling. And as he hadn’t found any bodies or any sign of where the boys were, he would ever afterward be angst-ridden that they were going to come after him for their throne. If Richard had set out to torment Henry from beyond the grave, he succeeded brilliantly!
Now, to my main point. (At last, did I hear you cry?) For me, Edward IV’s daughters appearing at Richard’s court presents an important and intriguing indication about their brothers. Two of the three youngest girls were children under Richard but made good marriages as Henry’s sisters-in-law. The youngest girl, Bridget, was little more than a baby in 1483, and became a nun. As for the two eldest girls, Richard not only welcomed them to his court, but treated them well—and he probably welcomed their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who’d schemed against him and whose family had almost certainly intended to assassinate him before he even reached London immediately after Edward IV’s sudden demise. Whether she returned to court or not isn’t quite certain, but she certainly accepted Richard, gave her younger son into his care in 1483 and permitted her two eldest girls to go to his court.
Would a woman like Elizabeth Woodville have all done that if she really believed Richard murdered her sons? I think not. She had reason to fear Richard, having worked against him, but she apparently came to trust him. It was to be her sour Tudor son-in-law who’d steal her property and kick her off to the wilds of Bermondsey Abbey for the rest of her days. Under Richard she—or at least her daughters—enjoyed the luxury, privileges and entertainments of court life.
Nevertheless, her two senior daughters, Elizabeth and Cicely had presented Richard with a problem. Or so it seems to me. Even though they were illegitimate, they were still a magnet to ambitious enemies (Henry, for one—and if Elizabeth had died, he had his eye on Cicely instead), and what’s more, they were not only marriageable, but of beddable age too. In less than a year they could produce annoyingly legitimate sons whose calculating eyes would soon slide pensively toward the throne. Henry should know, for hadn’t his eyes turned to someone else’s throne?
It seems that Richard solved the Cicely problem first, by marrying her to Ralph Scrope, younger brother of one of his northern supporters, Thomas, 6th Baron Scrope. It wasn’t a particularly grand union for a king’s daughter, even though she was baseborn, nor was it particularly lowly, but it still surprises me. To begin with it was low-key…its very existence was only discovered recently. Perhaps it was a lovematch? Perhaps they married behind Richard’s back? We’ll never know, and anyway, as soon as Henry stepped up to the throne, with Elizabeth of York safely tucked up as his wife, he had the Scrope marriage annulled. Cicely was the second surviving daughter of Edward IV, and had to be plucked from a dangerously Yorkist marriage and placed in the custody of a safe Lancastrian relative. Take one pace forward his dependable half-uncle, Sir John Welles (Henry’s mother’s half-brother), who was rewarded by elevation to the rank of Viscount Welles. And so Cicely became the first viscountessw! ☺
Thus, if we discount Cicely as being married to Ralph Scrope during Richard’s reign, and the three youngest girls as being too young, there remained the most important one of all, Elizabeth of York. There she was, beautiful, charming and desirable, welcomed by Richard and Anne, and wandering freely around court. Her importance would have been enhanced still more if Richard really had done away with her brothers. So, I have to ask, would he really have permitted her such freedom and access to court if her brothers were indeed dead?
Not everyone believed Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, nor did everyone want Richard on the throne. Yet Richard and Anne treated her and her sisters with overt generosity and kindness. Why? Simply because he was a benign uncle? Well, maybe—even probably —but I think he had an ulterior motive as well.
One of the first questions always asked is, if the boys were still alive why on earth didn’t Richard simply produce them and put a stop to the rumours? Why indeed. My feeling is that he couldn’t show them because they were no longer in the Tower or indeed in his personal care. No, they weren’t dead, rather do I think he’d sent them somewhere to safety very early on in his reign, well away from Lancastrians to whom they were a grave impediment to Henry’s ambitions…and from Yorkists who wanted Edward IV’s line back on the throne, illegitimate or not. But something eventually happened to the boys, I don’t know what, but believe it was after Richard’s death. Were they hidden with Richard’s sister, their aunt Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy? Did they die of some pestilence? Accidents? It could have been anything. Margaret—Yorkist to her elegant fingertips—loathed Henry, and certainly wouldn’t announce their deaths. She’d want him to stew in his own juice. Which he did.
Without her brothers, Elizabeth would be the Number One of Edward IV’s children, in the eyes of many the true Queen of England, and Richard would have had to keep a very tight grip on her. But what does he do instead? He promises publicly to do all he can for them and provide for their future, and to always treat them well. Thus he entices them from sanctuary into his care. But he wasn’t saying and doing this under false pretenses. No, he meant every word. He would take good care of them. And they were delighted to go to him. They trusted him, and so enjoyed the complete liberty of court, new clothes, fine company, dancing, music…Oh, how they must have been missing all that when they were banged up in sanctuary.
It’s my contention that after his treacherous cousin Buckingham’s unsuccessful rebellion in October 1483, Henry’s aborted invasion of the south coast at the same time (it seems a two-pronged attack was intended, Buckingham from Wales and the west, Henry from the south, Devon and Dorset) as well as the ever-louder whispers about the murders of the boys in the Tower, Richard felt he had to do something to deal with the rumours and let Henry know that even if a second attempt at invasion were successful, the path to the throne wasn’t quite as pretty and primrose as he hoped. The boys stood in his way.
Richard knew his ploy had to be subtle—guileful even—to persuade at least some Lancastrians, Woodvilles and Edwardian Yorkists not to be too hasty about throwing in their lot with the Lancastrian upstart. Bringing the girls out of sanctuary would certainly give pause for thought in the relevant circles. Surely Richard wouldn’t let Edward IV’s daughters wander freely at court if they were their father’s principal heirs. Therefore their brothers had to be alive and well, and still in Richard’s care.
Henry wasn’t deterred from invading again—I think he’d gone too far to back out—but he was convinced the boys still lived and so scoured the Tower for them after Bosworth. He had to get rid of them, and maybe he managed to do just that. But his subsequent behaviour suggests he hadn’t a clue where they were. They’d vanished. Impasse. Where were they? Safe in some Yorkist haven, soon to grow to manhood and return to claim their rights?
If Richard really had been a murdering monster, he’d have killed and buried the boys and then imprisoned the girls before burying them as well. But he wouldn’t be able to stop there. He had other nieces and nephews, and they were legitimate. They were to die once Henry got hold of them, but they all lived happily while Richard was king, including John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who subsequently became useful as a temporary heir when Richard’s son and then his queen died. Richard obviously expected to have new heirs of his own when he remarried and didn’t for a moment think Lincoln would really become King John II, but if the worst happened, Lincoln was a man grown, experienced and a truly loyal Yorkist. He’d make a fine king.
There was no dark side to Richard III. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty monster or child-killer, but an honest man who in 1483 found himself in an impossible position. He would have become a great monarch if he’d lived long enough to prove it, but Henry got his way, stole the throne and married Elizabeth of York…having first made sure his coronation was safely over. He wasn’t about to be labelled her consort! He was kingy, and she had to wait to be his queeny. But he remained haunted by the missing boys throughout his reign. He dreaded their return. Maybe Perkin Warbeck was indeed the younger of the boys, Richard of York…in case he was, Henry sliced his head off. But there was still the older brother, the more important Edward V, who would have succeeded his father had his illegitimacy not come to light.
Is it a flight of Ricardian fantasy for me to perceive in Henry’s death mask the dying horror of seeing vengeful Yorkists coming for him at last? Yes, probably too much fantasy.
So there you have it. In my opinion, the arrival of Elizabeth of York at her uncle’s court suggests to me that Richard was letting his opponents know her brothers were still alive and under his protection. It was a risk, not least because Henry’s scheming mother, Margaret Beaufort, was also at court, and doing everything she could to support her son. Margaret was very definitely the enemy within, and there were others too, but Richard thought it worth the risk. And, as far as I’m concerned, it worked to some extent. But thanks to Tudor indoctrination, his not having actually produced the boys had the unwelcome side-effect of marring his reputation through the centuries.
Now I don’t doubt that many will disagree with this theory, and will probably say so. There may be holes in my reasoning, but I see these events as a strong indication that the boys in the Tower were still alive and remained so right to the end of Richard’s reign.
And for Henry, Richard’s ghost—and those of his nephews—always waited in the shadows, taunting the first Tudor king. Taunting the entire House of Tudor throughout its ascendancy.
The following passage is taken from RITES OF PASSAGE: Cultures of Transition in the Fourteenth Century, edited by Nicola F. McDonald and W. M. Ormrod
“….to become ‘mature’ (in every sense of the word) demanded the achievement of progeny. And this, of course, is what Edward III and Queen Philippa had done – ultimately, indeed, spectacularly so. Their case emphasizes most particularly the point I am making about the birth of children in the coming to power of youthful kings, for it was precisely the public disclosure of Philippa’s first pregnancy in 1330 that created an effective fracture in Queen Isabella’s assumed powers of regency. It was held imperative that Philippa be crowned before she gave birth (an interesting perspective worthy of discussion in its own right); and her elevation to the full rank of crowned and anointed royal consort inevitably raised issues about the basis on which Isabella herself continued to exercise royal power….”
While reading the above paper, it occurred to me that maybe there was a little more to the delay in Elizabeth of York’s coronation than I at first thought. Granted, the quoted passage concerns an earlier century, and a more youthful king and queen, but I couldn’t help thinking of Elizabeth’s case.
We all know that ultimately Henry VII’s marriage was a successful one, and probably happy, but it wasn’t necessarily like that in the beginning. Setting aside all the whispers that the birth of their son Arthur only eight months after the wedding meant the pair had anticipated their vows, and that Henry was simply loath to give Elizabeth the position she warranted at his side in case it diminished his own claim to the throne, might there have been another reason for the delay? They were married on 18 January 1486, their first son was born on 20 September 1486, and Elizabeth’s coronation took place on 25 November 1487, almost two years after the marriage.
What if the names in the quoted passage were changed, and it referred to Henry, Elizabeth and Margaret Beaufort, a lady who most certainly didn’t want to give any ground whatsoever to her daughter-in-law. What if it wasn’t Henry who was loath to fully acknowledge his Yorkist wife, but his strong, influential, bitterly determined mother, who at that time was undoubtedly the most important woman in the realm?
It seemed to take Henry a very long time to finally stand up to Margaret and take his wife’s side. Was he a hen-pecked son, too timid to overrule his formidable mother? Margaret would obviously be pleased that a son would cement her son’s hoped-for dynasty, but might she also be jittery because the baby enhanced Elizabeth’s standing? Maybe the last thing Margaret would want was Elizabeth’s coronation, in case the new queen turned out to be stronger than expected. Margaret thoroughly enjoyed being queen in all but crown.
I’m not an expert on these things, but after reading this exceedingly interesting paper, I have to wonder if Margaret’s spoon was at work in this particular royal soup. After all, she knew all about usurpation.
The above illustration is from the Spectator. Margaret Beaufort‘s machinations were indeed vital in the overthrow of the rightful king of England, Richard III. By treachery, of course, because she and her odious son never did anything honestly and up-front.
Maybe she couldn’t help her face, but the sourpuss above was probably spot-on. And she passed her Beaufort features on to her equally disagreeable son (below) Neither of them was good for England that’s for sure.
The illustration above is from Dan Jones’s book Summer of Blood: the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Part of the caption is “Queen Joan, Richard II’s mother, pleading with the rebels as the Savoy burned”. Elsewhere in the same book, Joan is referred to as the queen mother.
According to Merriam Webster, the first known use of ‘queen mother’ is 1560, and it is defined as “a queen dowager who is mother of the reigning sovereign”. Joan, of course, was never a queen. She was married to Edward, Prince of Wales (the Black Prince) who died before he ascended the throne. So Joan was only Princess of Wales. This applied even when her son became Richard II. Being the mother of the king didn’t make her a queen (ask Margaret Beaufort!) so Dan Jones’s caption is incorrect, and should read “Joan, Princess of Wales, Richard II’s mother, pleading with the rebels as the Savoy burned”.
The new year of 2020 commenced with this article dropping into my inbox. It’s an interesting list, each entry backed by an explanation, but I’ve limited my comments to the monarchs of the 15th century.
The thought of Henry VI requiring a sex coach is rather boggling, I have to say, but then he was a little, um, shy, shall we say? I have to feel sorry for him, although he was one of the worst kings England ever had to endure. He was the personification of incompetence, which is putting it mildly. And as for him accepting fatherhood of Margaret of Anjou’s child…. Words definitely fail me.
Did Elizabeth Woodville die of the plague? Well, we will never know, but it’s possible. As is the possibility that she was helped on her way by her son-in-law, who’d just had enough of her. Like the murderous Tudor line he sired, Henry VII was inclined to get rid of those he didn’t like. Unlike the king whose throne he usurped. Richard III should have done away with far more, including Henry’s pesky mother! But he didn’t, and paid the price of his honourable conduct.
Richard is actually dealt with quite well in this article. He isn’t routinely blackened, as has been the tiresome tradition, which failed to ever look properly at his record.
Henry VII’s bed bought for a couple of thousand pounds? Oh, well…whoever asked that low price must be kicking themselves. I wonder what Elizabeth of York felt as she lay there gazing up at the canopy, being bonked by her uncle’s killer? Did she participate in the proceedings? Or simply think of England?
Apart from the above examples, the rest of the article leaves the 15th century and deals with later kings and queens, so I will let you read them all and form your own opinions. As for my above comments…well, I just couldn’t resist…!
I came upon an interesting Instagram post by Royalty-now where someone had taken the Society of Antiquaries portrait of Richard III, removed his hat and long hair and blended his face with that of a 21st century man. Although I miss the hair personally, I think he scrubbed up rather well! A few folk commenting noticed a resemblance to certain actors–Richard Armitage came up (Richard who was named for OUR Richard and was born on August 22) and also Dr Who actor Arthur Darvill.
For comparison, here is someone doing something similar with a couple of the Tudors–Elizabeth I (also looking spookily as I’d imagine Margaret Beaufort did), looks like a very intimidating cutthroat business woman or politician…while her dad, Henry VIII, looks more like a night-club bouncer!
Some folk also claim to see a resemblance to some of Richard’s modern day descendants too–here is an article on Michael Ibsen and his family that is not often seen as it is from a Canadian source. I personally don’t see much similarity to Michael, although some others do…but perhaps a little in his brother Jeff?
I always thought Starkey was a waspish prig (his public opinion of those who support Richard III is just as derogatory!) but having read this article, I think he’s slap-dash as well. Certainly he can’t be checking what goes out to herald the latest of his lectures – this one will no doubt manage to be another anti-Richard diatribe. It’s based around Christopher Urswick, and here’s a quote from the above link:-
“Born in Furness, Cumbria, in 1448 Christopher Urswick had a remarkable life….He was a priest but and [sic] became a confessor of Margaret Beaufort. She had married King Edward III’s son, John of Gaunt, when she was just 13. Not long after she gave birth to his child, Henry, she was widowed.”
I had no idea that Margaret and her son were that old…or that such an extra skeleton lurked in their capacious cupboard. Henry VII would have been cock-a-hoop to claim Gaunt as his father! But I wonder if Gaunt was aware of this extra wife and son?
Jacob’s Island formed by a loop in the River Neckinger c1860. Formerly known as Folly Ditch. Watercolour J L Stewart 1829-1911
Here is a link to a very interesting article on London’s lost and forgotten rivers with details of some interesting finds including, my favourites , a 12th century triple toilet seat, a Roman bracket cast in the shape of a thumb, Bronze Age and medieval swords and a dogs collar finally engraved with ‘Gray Hound’
12th century triple toilet seat..
As The London Museum curator Kate Sumnall succinctly puts it “They are still there, and they’re flowing. Some off them you can still see, others are beneath our feet, but the little clues around London survive. Once you start paying attention to them the rivers jump out at you and you realise that you know far more about them than you think’.
The River Fleet shown on the ‘Copperplate’ map of London c 1553.
The Fleet rose on Hampstead Heath, flowed beneath Fleet Bridge , now the site of Ludgate Circus, and Holborn Bridge past Bridewell Palace, built by Henry VIII and into the Thames.
Bridewell Palace and Blackfriars Monastery at the entrance to the River Fleet. From a model by John B Thorp
Archaeologists still argue about the exact route of the River Tyburn but it is agreed that it flowed from the Hampstead Hills, across Regents Park to form an eyot which was called Thorney Island whereupon stood Westminster Abbey and the old Palace of Westminster.
Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster once stood on the eyot formed from the River Tyburn known as Thorney Island..
The eyot known as Thorney Island
The River Walbrook, short, but as it was the only watercourse to flow through the City it was both an important source of water as well as a conduit to remove sewerage. It may have come by its names because it flowed through London Wall. The source of the Walbrook is still argued over but one plausible suggestion is that it begun its life near St Leonards Church, Shoreditch, meandering down and under what is now The Bank of England and entering the Thames close to where Cannon Street Station now stands. As time passed it was vaulted over, paved and made level to the streets and lanes and thus built over …alas.
Map of London c.1300 with the River Walbrook shown
TheRiver Walbrook, as it now flows beneath the Bank of England. Photograph taken by Steve Duncan 2007
The River Wandle, one of the longest of London’s rivers, passed through the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton, Wandsworth and Lambeth to join the Thames on the tideway. It flowed through the grounds of Croydon Old Palace, sometime residence of Margaret Beaufort and where the young widowed Katherine of Aragon lived for a time, when that place was but a quiet village and at one time renowned for its fish, particularly trout. However eventually becoming an open sewer leading to outbreaks of cholera and typhoid , it too was culverted over in the 19th century.
Croydon Church with the River Wandle flowing past …
The Neckinger is believed to have risen close to where the Imperial War Museum now stands, crossed the New Kent Road and flowed either past or through Bermondsey Abbey, where disgraced Queens were sent to languish and die. A loop in the Neckinger became known as Jacob’s Island. The Neckinger met the Thames via St Saviours Dock which was created by the Cluniac monks of the Abbey in the 13th century who named it after their patron saint and built a watermill there.
Are there any South Londoners out there? You have your very own river..the Effra. Now culverted it once flowed, roughly, from the hills of Norwood, once part of the Great North Wood, Upper Norwood, Dulwich, Brixton and Kennington until it met the River Thames at Vauxhall.
I have only touched upon the copious amount of information that is readily available on London’s lost rivers. Its amazing to think that these historic rivers survive beneath the feet of thousands of Londoners as, totally unaware, they go about their business…
For anyone interested to find out more about London’s rivers, there is an exhibition ‘Secret Rivers’ at The London Museum from 24 May to 27 October 2019 covering the histories of the Rivers Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn and Walbrook.