My mastery of Latin was gleaned at the age of 13, when for one dizzying year I was elevated to the “A” stream of King Edward VI’s Grammar School for Girls, Louth, Lincolnshire. Then they realized I wasn’t that bright, after all, and down I went!
The result of this demotion is that I have never been able to decipher Latin inscriptions. No, not the ones from Ancient Rome, but those of the medieval period here in England, where there was a very annoying (to me) habit of writing things in Latin. I can limp by in Old French, but not Latin.
My difficulty right now is a need to know what a particular inscription means. Here it is:-
Militis o miserere tui, miserere parentum
Alme Deus regnis gaudeat ille tuis.(
I’m afraid I was low enough to try my hand with the Google translation service. While I could pick out words, what I could not do was string them together satisfactorily. So I appealed to my friends on Facebook, and they have been splendid. In advance, I thank Julia, Susan, Erik, Brian, Mary, Heather and last, but by no means least, Eileen!
Before I go on, I must point out that the o on its own in the inscription, is, of course, topped by something that I cannot make out. I thought, incorrectly, that it is an ö, but I’m told that an o with a little wiggle over it usually indicates an abbreviated word.
Then it seemed likely that the o might be short for ossis, which would make the first phrase “have mercy on the bones of your soldier” (As the knight in question died abroad on campaign and was brought back to England for burial, it would have been only his bones that were returned, not the rest of him!)
Another offered translation is:-
O, have mercy on your knight, have mercy on (his) parents;
Dear God, may he rejoice in this, your kingdom!
Oh, pity your soldier, pity the parents. Dear God, may he rejoice in your kingdom.
So, I now know what the inscription means, and it makes sense!
Finally, let me identify the occupant of the vanished tomb from which the inscription has been taken. It was that of 19-year old Sir Edward Holland, Count of Mortain, the youngest son of John Holland, 1st Duke of Exeter. John was executed in 1400, and buried as a traitor at Pleshey, having taken part in the Epiphany Rising to remove the usurper Henry IV and return Richard II to the throne. Richard was John’s half-brother. According to Weever’s Ancient Funeral Monuments, Edward—who adhered to Henry V—was buried close to his father, and Edward’s wife (whom I have not been able to identify yet) was buried there as well. None of the tombs at Pleshey have survived, and were it not to Weever’s Ancient Funeral Monuments, no record would have remained. Edward died at the Siege of Rouen in 1418, fighting for Henry V, and that king paid for his remains to be brought home to England, buried and entombed.
Sadly, it would not be all that long before Henry V himself was brought home in such a way.
More isn’t our favourite man by any stretch of the imagination, but he is important because of the immensely detrimental effect he has had upon the history and reputation of Richard III. He, the Tudors and Shakespeare conspired to ruin Richard’s honour, and we Ricardians will never forgive them. But, if you can bring yourself to go to to this source you will find some interesting documents that can be examined. Including The History of King Richard III in English and Latin.
‘Not exactly the horse’s mouth’
In Josephine Tey’s spellbinding novel ‘The Daughter of Time’, Detective Inspector Alan Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a villain on sight. Whilst in hospital with a broken leg, Grant is idly flipping through some old postcard portraits to while away the time. He turns over a portrait of a richly dressed medieval man in his thirties: a judge? A soldier? A prince? Certainly someone with authority and responsibility Grant supposes. Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he realises it is a portrait of Richard III. “The monster of nursery stories. The destroyer of innocents. A synonym for villainy.” Shocked that he could be so mistaken as to place Richard on the Bench instead of in the Dock, Grant delves deeper into the mysteries of his life and reign. A friend lends him a library copy of Thomas More’s ‘The History of King Richard III’, which he reads with a detective’s eye for detail and evidence. Pretty soon he realises the fatal flaw in More’s account and raises the problem on his friend’s return.
” ‘I wanted some information about history written in Richard III’s day. Contemporary accounts.’
‘ Isn’t the sainted Sir Thomas any good then?’
‘ The sainted Sir Thomas is nothing but an old gossip’ Grant said with venom. He had taken a wild dislike to the much-admired More.
‘Oh, dear. And the nice man in the library seemed so reverent about him. The Gospel of Richard III according to St Thomas More, and all that.’
‘Gospel nothing’ Grant said rudely. ‘He was writing down in a Tudor England what someone had told him about events that happened in a Plantagenet England when he himself was five.’
‘Five years old?’
‘Oh, dear. Not exactly the horse’s mouth.’ “
I doubt if there are many Ricardians, if any, who would disagree with Inspector Grant’s opinion of ‘the sainted Sir Thomas’ and his history book: and with some justification. It contains many demonstrable errors and falsehoods, which have shaped our perception of Richard III for centuries. Even today, when there is more or less a scholarly consensus about its unreliability, there remains a perception that it is not entirely useless as a historical source.
The man who wrote ‘The History of King Richard III’ was not Saint Thomas More the Catholic martyr or Sir Thomas More the king’s Lord Chancellor. He was plain ‘maister’ More of Lincoln’s Inn, a brilliant and successful humanist lawyer and writer. I hope in this article to explore aspects of More’s character and life that may explain why he wrote his history of King Richard, and the historical and literary influences that guided his quill. This is not, however, a critique of this book as literature or history.
‘This child will prove a marvelous man’
Thomas More was born in London on the 7th February 1478 (or 1477), the eldest son of Sir John More, a successful lawyer and later justice of the King’s Bench, who rose to prominence during the reign of Edward IV. Politically, Sir John was an Edwardian Yorkist rather than a Ricardian who, despite being unfairly imprisoned by Henry VII, prospered during the Tudor dynasty. He had an enormous influence on Thomas as a child and as an adult; being, largely responsible for his son’s choice of a career at the Bar rather than the Altar. The More’s were a wealthy family of merchants and professionals. Both Thomas’ grandfathers acquired fortunes. Each played a significant part in the governance and commercial life of London during the fifteenth century, and also in various financial and advisory capacities to the king. At the age of seven, Thomas was enrolled in St Anthony’s , a prestigious grammar school in Threadneedle Street not far from his home. It had a reputation for producing England’s finest Latin scholars and Thomas was no exception. His grounding in Latin was to stand him in good stead later in life. But it was his spell as a page in John Morton’s Household that was to mark young Thomas as a teenage prodigy.
As Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, Morton was the most powerful commoner in the realm. He united the affairs of church and state, and his service to Lancastrian and Yorkist kings established his reputation for integrity. Furthermore, his part in Henry VII’s conquest of King Richard and the unification of the red and white roses assured Tudor goodwill. His main responsibilities were implementing the king’s fiscal and foreign policies, for which he was amply rewarded with lucrative offices and beneficiaries. Morton was, however, deeply unpopular with the king’s subjects, who resented the heavy load of taxation and benevolences he collected from them. He is (perhaps mistakenly) believed to have been responsible for the cunning argument commonly known as Morton’s fork, which was used to extract forced loans from reluctant subjects and is best described as “persuading prodigals to part with their money because they did spend it most and the covetous because they could spare it best.”
In 1490, Thomas More walked the relatively short distance across the Thames to Lambeth Palace, there to take up his duties in the archbishop’s household. His position as a page was not demeaning. On the contrary, it was considered a privilege for gentlemens’ sons to serve in the household of a great lord. They would learn the etiquette of the privileged and mix with the good and the great. As a page, More led a strict and simple life but not a hard one. He slept on a straw mattress in a dormitory with other sons of the gentry. His principal duties as a servitor were to wait at table and clear away after the meal. Cleanliness was particularly important for pages and their dorm was well equipped with a long communal sink and pitchers of water. However, More’s life was not wholly one of servitude and menial labour. He continued his education as a scholar at a private school within the archbishop’s establishment. Apparently, his superior intellect and quickness of wit so impressed the archbishop, that More was soon attending him in his grace’s private chambers in the West Tower. William Roper (More’s son-in-law and first biographer) provides a colourful insight into More’s prodigious self-confidence at this time “…though he was young of years [Thomas] would be at Christmas-tide suddenly sometimes step in among the players and never studying the matter, make a part his own there presently among them, which made the lookers-on more sport than all the players besides. In whose wit and forwardness the cardinal [Morton was not a cardinal at the time.] would often say to the nobles that divers times dined with him ‘ This child there waiting at the table, whosoever shall live to see it, will prove a marvellous man‘.”
More had great respect for archbishop Morton, whom he considered to be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour. I am not myself convinced that Morton was such a paragon of virtue; yet, he was undoubtedly one of the most imposing political figures of Henry VII’s reign. His influence in shaping More’s career is undisputed. For example, in 1494 he was instrumental in arranging a place for him at Oxford University, where More could study canon and civil law under the watchful eye of the Benedictine monks of Canterbury College. Morton hoped that More would obtain his doctorate in law before taking holy orders and embarking on a career in government. However, after completing the curriculum, More left Oxford to join chambers in New Inn, there to continue his legal training. Whether this was his own choice or his father’s decision is unclear, but it is likely that it was always intended that he should practice law. If so, this was the preferred path for budding lawyers, who spent six or seven years learning their profession and ‘the affairs of men’ in the hurly-burly of the Inns of Court rather than in the cloisters of Oxford, which offered no such practical or material benefit. As Thomas More was to show throughout adult life, he was a practical and materialistic man. Quite apart from the influence of his father or archbishop Morton, the attraction of a legal career was obvious to him. Lawyers were held to be magni clarique that is important and distinguished. By the last decade of the fifteenth century, the rewards of prestige and wealth were such that the sons of the landed gentry preferred a legal career to one in the Church or in business. Just as importantly, an education in the law brought the ambitious More into contact with precisely those people who later administered the affairs of the king and state. Above all, he was temperamentally suited to be a lawyer. His advocacy skills were high quality and well honed. In the words of his most recent biographer “His polemical texts reveal the persistence, subtlety and inventiveness of his attacks against opponents; as a forensic orator and judicial examiner he [was] as fierce as he is persuasive, continually changing or extending his line of attack, looking for the smallest inconsistencies, finding weakness and deriding mistakes of terminology or presentation. More as a man is the apotheosis of the clever and practical man.” He maintained a curious detachment throughout his life and was always precise and shrewd. Nevertheless, the impression remains that he was playing some kind of game. In the words of William Roper, he never in his dealings showed “of what mind himself was therein.” These were the qualities of a perfect lawyer: skilful and objective, cautious yet theatrical, persuasive and practical.
‘An intensely practical and decisive man’
By the time he was thirty, More’s legal practice was flourishing. He was by training and by experience a generalist; appearing, as counsel in criminal cases at the Kings Bench and advising clients on, the common law, Canon law, Roman law and maritime law. He is reputed to have been ‘with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the dominant landowner) every day. He was also the legal representative for the City guilds and chief negotiator for the City mercers. He represented the City merchants in their dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and the Bishop of Norwich. In litigation he favoured advising a settlement between the parties to a trial, since this compromise suited his personal preference for good order and harmony. In Soper’s words“…sith there was at that time in none of the Prince’s courts of the laws of this realm any matter of importance in controversy wherein he was not with the one part of counsel. Of whom, for his learning, wisdom, knowledge and experience, men had such estimation that, before he came to the service of king Henry VIII at the suite and instance of the English merchants, he was by the king’s consent in certain great causes between them merchants and the merchants of [the Hanseatic League]…”
By the time he was forty, More’s legal future was assured. He was appointed Lent Leader of Lincoln’s Inn, where he lectured on ‘Law-French in Statutes’. His subsequent appointment as Double Reader suggested he could anticipate elevation to the bench. In 1510, he received his first judicial appointment as one of two Under-Sheriffs of London, hearing criminal trials in the Sherriff’s Court, Guildhall and acting as official counsel to various City bodies. He earned the respect and affection of the City for his fair and quick decisions and his habit of occasionally remitting the fees that the litigants were expected to pay. There is, however, another side to More’s legal character, which is revealed by his involvement in the ‘Hunne Case’. This controversial and notorious litigation involved a direct attack on the authority of the Catholic Church. It may even be taken as an indication of the Protestant reformation yet to come in England.
Richard Hunne was a wealthy Whitehall tailor who refused to make a customary offering to his local rector. His case was taken to Lambeth Palace, where Hunne was adjudged to be at fault. Still he refused to pay. On Hunne’s next attendance at his parish church, the priest (Thomas Dryfield) excommunicated him with the words ‘Hunne thou art accursed and thou standest accursed’. Exiled from his community and with his mortal soul at risk, Hunne hit back. He issued a writ of praemunire accusing Dryfield and his assistant of slander. By invoking the Praemunire Act of 1393, Hunne was asserting the king’s superiority over papal authority and clerical courts, as the final arbiter of his subject’s rights. He argued that the church authorities had no right to claim his property and further that the hearing at Lambeth Palace took place before a ‘foreign and illegal bar.’ The ecclesiastical authorities responded by charging Hunne with heresy and imprisoning him in the Lollard’s Tower. It seems to us like a fabricated charge; except, that Hunne did have Lollard sympathies and connections. His father-in-law was an evangelist in that cause. It may even have been Hunne’s Lollard beliefs that prompted him to challenge the legitimacy of the offering in the first place. The case had a sensational outcome as Hunne was found hanged in his cell before he could be brought to trial. The Church authorities said that he hanged himself; whereas, the Coroner’s inquest determined that Dr Horsey the bishop of London’s Chancellor had murdered Hunne. The public furore that followed was exacerbated by the Bishop of London’s decision to convict Hunne of heresy posthumously. His remains were exhumed and ceremoniously burned at Smithfield along with his books. Hunne’s death and the denial of secular justice against his murderer raised serious questions about the rights of clerics to be tried only in Church courts. The matter was considered so important that it was debated in parliament and in convocations. The king himself initiated a number of debates on the Hunne case and its consequences.
More was involved in the case. He attended a conference with the king where Hunne’s death was discussed. He was also present when the ecclesiastical judgement was passed on Hunne’s body. More was later to write ” I know it from top to toe. I suppose there are not many men who know it better.” Afterward, he wrote a colourful and amusing account of the conference with the king, in which he ‘goes to great pains’ to defend the Church from ‘each and every criticism’ and concludes that Hunne committed suicide when he realised his praemunire suite had failed. “There is no reason to believe that More was deliberately misrepresenting the truth he was only putting what was natural to him in putting a lawyers gloss on ambiguous circumstances.” Whilst, they must not mislead the court or conceal relevant information, it is not unusual for lawyers to put a positive spin on a weak case. After all, their professional duty is to their client and not to a search for truth. The jury (or the court in certain circumstances) are the sole arbiters of truth. What is disturbing, however, is Ackroyd’s explanation for More’s conclusion, which he suggests was based on More’s personal beliefs rather than the merits. “Lawyers are not necessarily supposed to be devout or principled except in the minutiae of legislation but for More the law was a central image of natural reason and authority. It furnished the principles which governed his behaviour in the world, established upon order in all its forms.” If Ackroyd’s is right, More’s apparent loss of objectivity goes beyond putting a positive spin on a weak case; it perpetuates an injustice. The fact that More admitted he did not shrink from mendaciolum (a small lie) suggests how difficult and tricky he could be.
‘A man for all seasons’
We know from More’s published works (poems, epigrams, polemics, letters and books) that he was well able to express his opinions and emotions on parchment or in print. Although his style was more Chaucer (bawdy, earthy) than Spenser (poetic), he had a flair for drama, and used his literary skills to educate rather than to entertain. It was while he was studying at Oxford and later in the Inns of Court that More came increasingly under the influence of a group of literary clerical scholars, known collectively as English renaissance humanists. He was well acquainted with the Latin grammarian John Holt and he studied Greek under William Grocyn, the first Englishman to teach it. Later he became associated with Thomas Linacre the eminent physician and scholar, and with the erudite John Colet. The term ‘renaissance humanism’ does not denote that these learned clerics and others like them held a common philosophical position, since they did not. Their appellation as humanists is derived simply from the fact that they studied a cluster of scholarly disciplines comprising grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and ‘moral philosophy’. Classical Latin and Greek were the languages of these men. It is possible, that More’s association with such erudite ecclesiastics caused him to contemplate swapping a temporal career for a spiritual calling. At any rate, at the turn of the century he abandoned his legal practice and entered the Carthusian Monastery at Charterhouse, just outside the city walls, where he remained for four years as a lay member, participating fully in the spiritual life of the monks without taking holy orders. Eventually, the call of his temporal ‘work in the world’ proved too enticing for More the practical man. He left the monastery to stand for parliament.
The most famous of all northern European humanists was Desiderius Erasmus (the ‘prince of humanists’), whom More met and became friends with in 1499. Erasmus described More as a ‘man for all seasons’ due to his ‘affability and sweetness of character’. In 1516, he published More’s most celebrated volume ‘Utopia’, which in its structure and content reveals the author’s humanist leanings; as does his most controversial book ‘The History of Richard III’. These two volumes are a clear indication of More’s philosophical interest in the contrast between just and unjust kingship, and that his concern was not restricted to the lessons of Richard III’s reign. In a Latin poem written to celebrate Henry VIII’s accession, More highlights the ‘atmosphere of fear and suspicion’ caused by Henry VII’s rapacity, which, incidentally, was an opinion shared by many of More’s contemporaries. Nonetheless, the promise of a ‘golden age’ that accompanied Henry VIII’s accession was the redeeming finale of More’s poem, in which he expressed the hope that Henry would repeal unjust laws and remit unfair debts, and that he would maintain the peace and stability that allowed piety and scholarship to blossom.
“One thing pretended and another meant”
I must now turn to More’s ‘History of Richard III, which I will refer to as the ‘History’ from now on. While we can speculate why More wrote it, we cannot dismiss it merely as Tudor propaganda. That is the opinion of professor Richard Sylvester In his definitive study of the History. Sylvester argues that More was neither pro-Tudor nor anti-Plantagenet. He was as much pro-Edward IV as he was anti Richard III. For instance, even as he welcomed the accession of Henry VIII he took the opportunity, in the celebratory poem to which I have already referred, to criticise the ‘oppressive acts and devious dealings of Henry VII. He makes a similar point, albeit obliquely, in the History: “…all things in later days were so covertly managed, one thing pretended another meant, that there was nothing so plain and openly proved but that for common custom of close and covert dealings men had it ever inwardly suspect…“ More is not here just referring to the reign of Richard III but also to the reign of Henry VII during the period when Perkin Warbeck was a threat to the Tudor hegemony. In Sylvester’s opinion, More has depicted Richard as a cacodemon because that is what his oral and written authorities told him. He accepted their narrative not because he was biased but because he trusted them. Chief among these authorities was John Morton. He played a big part in the downfall of king Richard and was an eyewitness of some events. He also possessed (in More’s opinion) ‘the very mother and mistress of wisdom and deep insight into the political world.‘ The fact that Morton died in 1500 and that More did not begin composing the History until about 1513 (leaving it unfinished around 1518-20) raises interesting questions about Morton’s contribution. What did he know? And, how did he contribute to the History?
I will deal with the second question first because it raises the issue of authorship. Beginning, with the early revisionist histories of king Richard’s life and reign, some scholars have doubted More’s authorship of either the English or the Latin, or both editions of the History. For revisionists’ the dichotomy between More’s reputation for integrity and his polemical History is explained by substituting the wily and inveterate schemer Morton as the author of (at least) the Latin version. Support for this contention was claimed from a piece of ‘literary gossip’ that appeared in an aside is Sir John Harrington’s book ‘The Metamorphosis of Ajax’ (1596) ‘”…the best, and best written part of all our Chronicles, in all mens opinions; is that of Richard III, written as I have heard by Morton, but as most suppose by that worthy and uncorrupt [sic] magistrate Sir Thomas More…”  As Dr Kincaid points out, ‘Harrington was an inveterate gossip, not necessarily to be believed’.
There is, however, better reason for believing that Morton gave More a ‘polemical tract’ attacking king Richard, which the latter probably used as an aide-memoire for his own narrative. Be that as it may, the case for More’s authorship of the English and Latin versions of the History is considered by modern scholars to be unanswerable.
On the question of what Morton knew, we must bear in mind that as important as he was, Morton was only an eyewitness to some of the events of 1483. There is much in More’s History that could not possibly have come from him or the clique of Lancastrian dissidents who shared Richmond’s exile and (no doubt) dined with the archbishop at Lambeth Palace. Morton was not, for example, present at Stony Stratford when the Duke of Gloucester arrested the king’s uncle and stepbrother. Neither was he present when the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son, Richard duke of York, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. Furthermore, Morton is not an eyewitness to the alleged murders of Edward V and his brother. Though, he might well be the instigator of the rumour that they had been murdered. More’s other oral sources included but were not limited to: Sir John More, John Roper, Richard Fitzjames, Sir Thomas Lovell (fought for Richmond at Bosworth), Christopher Urswick (priest and Tudor spy in 1483), Bishop Fox of Winchester (in exile with Richmond), Roger Lupton (Mayor of London) and Sir John Heron (an early adherent to Richmond). When he cites one of these ‘authorities’ or others who occupied similar positions, he usually refers to them in the phrase ‘men say’. The opinion of these ‘wise’ men was much valued by More. He relied on them when balancing different interpretations against each other. Generally, More is not too concerned about the accuracy of dates, names and places since these could be checked later (but never were). What is notable, however, is that he never spoke to anyone at Henry’ VII’s court who had served king Richard or who could even be said to have liked the dead king.
In addition to his oral authorities, More had a number of written works available for consultation. Some of these pre-date the History, whilst others are contemporary with it. Pietro Carmeliano was a court scholar during the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII who wrote the ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’. He extolled Richard’s princely virtues when he was alive and denounced him as a tyrant when he was dead. Bernard André’ was Henry VII’s official biographer. He wrote ‘Vita Henrici’, in which he to portrayed king Henry as angelic and king Richard as demonic. The sycophant John Rous wrote ‘Historia Regum Angliae’, during the reign of Henry VII. He denounced king Richard as the anti-Christ having previously acclaimed him for his nobility and virtues. Whether or not More used the Chronicles of Robert Fabyan, Polydore Vergil’s ‘Anglica Historia’ or Domenico Mancini’s ‘De Occupations Regni Anglie Per Ricardum Tercium Libellus’ is a matter of pure conjecture. Some of More’s factual inaccuracies suggest that either he did not know of the Second Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle or he had not read it. Even so, it is safe to say that he would hardly have credited a less defamatory portrait of king Richard than the one he describes in the History. In the words of professor Sylvester: “The indictment against the king had been drawn-up by men whose judgement he respected; it’s terms were supported not only by most of his oral informants but also by writers whose version of events had been set down before he began to compose his own narrative.” In early Tudor England there was hardly a voice raised in defence of the last Plantagenet. The official records such as Titular Regius and Richard’s signet letters were almost certainly not available to More. It is only by comparing his narrative with credible contemporary sources that we can test the historical accuracy of More’s History.
Although More’s portrait of Richard accurately reflects the opinion current in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII and some details can be corroborated by independent records (e.g. the allegation that Edward V was bastardised due to his parents’ bigamous marriage), there are some notable errors and omissions in the History for which there is no excuse. These range from getting Edward IV’s age wrong to naming Elizabeth Lucy as the lady alleged to have still been married to Edward IV when he wedded Elizabeth Butler. However, what Inspector Grant and others overlook in their criticism of More’s History, is that he never claimed it was anything other than a reflection of public opinion in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Neither did he claim to be more authoritative than his sources. “He asks us not to credit that ‘what men say’ happened, did happen, but that they really said it did happen.”
Professor Paul Kendall is not sure whether More ever intended the History to be factual. He suggests that what More learned from his sources, he used to fashion a version of events that satisfied his humanist leanings. “A dramatic boldly performed narrative soaring beyond actualities into art and seek psychological verisimilitude rather than factual accuracy.“ Writing from a purely literary perspective, professor EMW Tillyard also believed that More’s History was intentionally creative rather than historical. “More’s History transcends the sorting of evidence and abides as a classic record of fundamental human nature”. In Tillyard’s opinion it has tragedy and comedy. “The episode where Queen Elizabeth is persuaded to give her youngest son into the care of Richard Gloucester is more tragic than anything the English drama produced till the great age.” On the comic side, Tillyard draws attention to Dr Shaa’s pre-arranged Sermon at St Paul’s Cross, which descends from high drama to farce thanks to Gloucester’s mistimed entrance. Even so, there is no doubting More’s contribution to the shaping of Richard III’s black legend. He was the first to suggest that Richard had ‘long forethought’ to seize the throne, even before his brother was dead. And it is More’s narrative that names Richard as the prompter and guiding spirit behind all the events that followed Edward IV’s death.
Even though More’s reasons for writing the History are wholly obscure now, post-Tudor scholars have repeatedly question his motives and what he actually thought he was writing. For example, Kendall writes that he ‘undoubtedly set about his History for the same reason that according to Falstaff the earl of Worcester rebelled — ‘it lay in his way and he found it’. Whereas, Horace Walpole writing in 1768 believed that “[More] wrote his History to amuse his leisure and exercise his fancy.” These seemingly flippant reasons might be closer to the mark than we think. For instance, Peter Ackroyd raises the intriguing possibility that both the English and the Latin versions of the History were written as a rhetorical and grammatical exercise for Oxford students. The supporting evidence for this theory is both circumstantial and cryptic; yet, it does exist. First, there is More’s mysterious reference to a ‘schoolmaster of Poles’ (St Paul’s?): second, there is the fact that one of the extant manuscripts of this work is endorsed with the preface that it was written exercitationis gratia (‘for the sake of practice’). Finally, there is the fact that both the Latin and the English versions comply with More’s own methods of composition and revision, which he also impressed on his children. As Ackroyd notes, More’s humanism had a practical purpose, and as a successful lawyer he was more interested in the practice and usage of advocacy than its theory. It is possible, therefore, that the long and complex debates on the merits and abuses of sanctuary and on king Richard’s royal title, which dominate the History ,are lessons in the art of disputation similar to those experienced by More during his own education. The speechmaking is certainly more reminiscent of an exposition of the law than a record of what was actually said by those present in 1483. “One of the models of its form is clearly Sallust and More had been instructed to teach Sallust at Oxford. He had also recommended that author for his children’s’ reading. And what could be a better way of studying classical rhetoric and vocabulary than to apply them to the description of more recent events”  It is equally possible that More’s humanist leanings, his interest in history and in ‘kingship’, and his contact with Morton and the men who had fought King Richard, fuelled a ‘boyish interest’ in the dead king. His own interest in the classical Greek and Roman historians may have encouraged him to emulate them. In particular, he had a deep interest in the accounts of Tiberius’ tyranny, which were written by Tacitus and Suetonius.
It is more likely, however, that he wrote the History for a substantial reason other than mere interest. He may have intended it to be a metaphor for his own doubts and his fear of Henry VIII’s instinct for despotism, which was already apparent by the time he was writing the History. He could not make his thoughts plain on pain of death, so his message is more oblique and very cleverly constructed. Nothing in More’s History could be mistaken as applying to Henry VIII. Read literally, it coruscates king Richard’s tyranny whilst justifying the Henrician Tudors as the opponents of tyranny. More’s philosophical and psychological interest in tyranny and government is evidenced by his poems and other written works: especially Utopia. The History may have been an attack on the real-politick of his day. He may even have regarded it as a worked example wherein a ‘good’ monarch would benefit from its powerful depiction of monstrous injustice. Of course the corollary of this was that it might give the potential despot ideas about subtleties of policy, which later generations would identify as Machiavellian. It would indeed be unfortunate if it provided Henry VIII with a convincing illustration of what he could do given free rein to his powers.
Whatever More’s reason for writing the History may have been, he put down his quill sometime between 1518 and 1520. He never returned to his manuscripts, which remained unfinished and unrevised; clearly, it was not meant for publication. The reasons for this have troubled Scholars almost as much as More’s reason for picking-up his quill in the first place. There are many different theories, two of which, bear testament to More’s concerns about the Henry VIII despotic tendencies. Sylvester postulates that he might have been troubled by the possibility that it would become a kind of ‘manual’ for Henry if he wished to exercise his will unfettered. More could not take that risk and so the History remained unfinished. Professor Kendall notes that More stopped just as Richmond was about to enter the narrative. At which point it became too dangerous for More to write about Henry VII’s oppression even by analogy. And so, the History remained unfinished and unpublished in More’s lifetime. The third theory is more mundane but equally credible. It is possible that he simply lost interest in the project, particularly if it really was nothing more than a student exercise. Anyhow, by the second decade of the sixteenth century, More might still have been making-up his mind about the role he was to play in the king’s service. His life as a royal servant promised to be challenging, since the king was more often guided by his personal will and appetites than by reason. Although such wilful governance was anathema to More, he was confident of his ability to ‘bend with the wind’, so that what he couldn’t turn to good he could make less bad. He always gave his opinion according to his conscience when asked, but he never opposed the king’s will publicly. In view of the difficulty of maintaining a distinction between his private and public beliefs, it is possible the More simply abandoned the History in favour of his little booklet Utopia, which expertly expressed his own private views of governance and kingship even more obliquely than the History.
Finally, it is possible that More became too embroiled with advising the king on the Lutheran texts that were appearing in England around this time. He was one of those who advised Henry on his own written defence of the Catholic faith, which earned him the title ‘Fidei defensor (defender of the faith). More himself took up the cudgel in support of his king, trading insult for insult with Martin Luther in a series of booklets. Compared to the existential threat to the established Church posed by Luther’s heretical doctrine, More may have considered the History a self-indulgent trifle.
 Peter Ackroyd – The Life of Thomas More (Vintage 1999) p.31 quoting from E Foss – Judges of England (London 1848-64) p.66
 Ackroyd p.28
 Richard Sylvester and Davis Harding (Eds) – Two Early Tudor Lives: the Life and death of cardinal Wolsey by Geo Cavendish & the Life of Sir Thomas More by William Roper (Yale 1962) pp.197-98
 Ackroyd p.52
 Ackroyd p.148
 Sylvester (Roper) p.200
 Ackroyd p.151; citing The Complete Works of Thomas More (Yale) V6, p. 318
 Ackroyd p.152
 Ackroyd p. 163-164; in a letter to Wolsey, More explains that the post of Canonry of Tournai had previously been conferred on his friend Erasmus, and that as compensation for Erasmus withdrawing from it, a better or greater provision should be made for him. None of this was true, of course, but it illustrates More’s willingness to lie.
 Ackroyd p.127
 Richard Sylvester (Ed) – The History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More (Yale 1963) p. lxv and passim
 Sylvester (Roper) pp. 81-82 and n82/22 p.262; see also Paul Kendall (ed) – The Great Debate (Folio Society 1965) p.103; Kendall contains a useful modern English version of More’s History.
 Sylvester (History) p. lxvii
 Elizabeth Storey Donno (Ed) – Sir John Harrington: a new discourse of a stale subject, called The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) (London 1962) pp. 107-198
 AN Kincaid (Ed) – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) p.iii
 Sylvester (History) pp.lix-lxxiii; AN Kincaid (Ed) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir Geo Buck (1619) (Alan Sutton 1979) Chapter VII passim: Buck said he saw the tract, which is no longer extant
 Sylvester (History) ibid; citing RW Chambers – The authorship of ‘The History of King Richard III’ in WE Campbell (Ed) – The English Works of Sir Thomas More (London 1931) pp. 24-53; Kincaid
 Sylvester (History) ibid; citing AJ Pollard – The Making of Thomas More’s Richard III published in ‘Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait (Manchester 1933) pp.223-284
 Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure for Richard III’s biographical exhibition at the NPG 1973. Carmeliano’s ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’ was exhibited at the NPG in 1973 (No.100). It is a second copy dedicated to Sir Robert Brackenbury and contains a glowing description of king Richard’s virtues in peace and war (‘…what emperor or prince can compare with him in good works and munificence”.). However, in 1486 in a poem dedicated to the new-born Prince Arthur, he charged Richard ‘the tyrant’ with the murder of his nephews.
 Sylvester (History) p.lxxi-lxxv; see also CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. xix-xx. Dr Armstrong discusses the relationship between Mancini and More in which he raises concerns about the provenance of More’s information. The importance of this lies in the fact that Mancini substantiates More ‘on many points’. In fact, More and Mancini are closer to each other than to the Croyland Continuation or to Polydor Vergil. The point is, of course, that they were probably using the same informants. Given that these informants were Richard’s political and dynastic opponents it is hardly surprising that they coincide on some points. What is remarkable is that they don’t agree on much more, since there are some significant discrepancies. Furthermore, as Dr Armstrong acknowledges Mancini harboured an unreasoned animus towards king Richard (that he was all along aiming for the throne) (Mancini p.17)
 Sylvester (History) p.lxx
 Sylvester (History) p.lxxviii
 Kendal p.25
 EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) p.38
 Kendal p.25; this is a reference to a comment by Sir john Falstaff, a character in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV part 1.
 Kendal p.170
 Ackroyd p.157
 Sylvester (History) p.xii; in a ‘charming’ letter to his children, More admonishes them to write everything in English first ‘for then you will have far less trouble turning it into Latin; not having to look for the matter, your mind will be intent only on the language’. He also emphasises the need for revision to detect and correct solecisms. More was given to the careful revision of his own work, which, as Sylvester points out, may have served as a kind of paradigm for the complex sequence of drafts that were developed in the composition of the HISTORY
 Sylvester (History) pp.26-38`; see also Kendal pp.50-62. In the fifteenth century the abuses of sanctuary argued by Buckingham were a bone of contention between the laity and the clergy. By the time More was writing the History the privileges of sanctuary were much reduced.
 Ackroyd ibid; Goius Sallustius Crispus (‘Sallust’) (86 BC-35BC), was a Roman historian whose works were noted for their brevity, the use of rare words and unusual phrases.
 Sylvester (History) pp. xcviii-xcvix passim
 Sylvester (History) pp. cii-ciii; Kendall p.28; who notes the irony of More’s position in that his defamation of Richard III came in part from his detestation of Henry VII’s statecraft.
 George M Logan (ed) – Thomas More: Utopia (Cambridge UP 2016, 3 rd edition)
King’s College Chapel. Dr Argentine is buried in a chantry chapel on the south side close to the alter.
In Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, just south of the alter can be found the chantry chapel where Dr John Argentine, Provost of Kings College from 1501 until his death in February 1507/08, physician, astronomer and collector of books, lies buried. A fine memorial brass covering his tomb depicts Dr Argentine in his doctors robes.
Dr John Argentine’s funeral brass
Dr Argentine, who spelt his name variously as Argentem or Argentein (1) was born in Bottisham, Cambridgeshire 1443 into a family that were prominent supporters of the House of York and he is remembered mostly, thanks to Dominic Mancini, as being physician to Edward V, and, it could be assumed, also physician to Edward’s younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury. Mancini described Dr Argentine as being among the last of those to visit Edward and Richard in the Tower of London before their mysterious disappearance around June/July 1483. Mancini who spoke little if any English, would no doubt have been mightily relieved to meet someone who having spent a long time in his homeland, could converse easily with him in either his native Italian or Latin.
Mancini is responsible for passing on the learned doctor’s recollections of those visits to the Tower i.e. that the young Edward ‘like a victim prepared for sacrifice sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance’ (2) in the belief that death was staring him in the face. Alternatively Edward may have been merely suffering from low spirits and angst due to the fact that his imminent Coronation had been cancelled and the crown firmly removed from his grasp. Tellingly, Dr Argentine omitted any mention that Edward was suffering from a raging toothache which puts to bed any likelihood that the infamous urn in Westminster Abbey actually contains the bones of Edward and his brother, as the jaw bone of the oldest child shows clear signs of ‘a chronic and painful condition which led to deformities in the jaw bone … possibly either osteitis or osteomyelitis’ (3), a horrible disease which no-one would have failed to notice, especially his doctor but why let commonsense stand in the way of a good myth…, but I digress.
Dr Argentine, having served successfully under both Edward IV and Richard III went on to become physician and dean of the chapel to Henry VII’s son, Arthur, Prince of Wales and it is surely unfathomable that he was never asked, as far as we know, to examine that most convincing and troublesome of all the pretenders to the throne, Perkin Warbeck.
Arthur, Prince of Wales c1500
1) The Library of John Argentine, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society Vo.2 (1956) pp 210-212. Dr Argentine wrote in his own hand in several of his books..’Questo libro e mio Zouan (Giovanni) Argentein’ ‘ Questo libro e mio Johan Argentem’.
2) The usurpation of Richard III Dominic Mancini C A J Armstong p.93
3) Richard III The Maligned King Annette Carson p.219
An oft-asked question arose again the other day. Had Richard been originally intended for the Church? He was the youngest son of the 3rd Duke of York, and the Church was the fate of most aristocratic youngest sons. It has been suggested to me that such early training would explain his beautifully precise handwriting. After all, his letters and signature make his peers look uneducated!
Yes, his piety is frequently remarked upon, but then they were all pious in those days. Outwardly, at least. Richard’s piety seems to be have deeper, because the purity of his private life is also remarked upon. He does not seem to have strayed from the marriage bed, which was surely very unusual. He was a young king, and good-looking. His scoliosis wouldn’t been seen because good tailoring would hide it, so none of the awful lies perpetrated by Shakespeare would have applied. He would have been a prime target for female advances. These advances do not seem to have been welcomed. At least, if they were, post-marriage he hid it well! Before marrying Anne, he fathered illegitimate children and acknowledged them all, so he was red-blooded.
Was he a reluctant temporal lord? Was his brilliance on the battlefield, enjoyment of sumptuous fashionable clothes and penchant for lavish festivities a smokescreen? Would he much rather have been Archbishop of Canterbury? That might have depended upon which point in his life it was decided he should not enter the Church after all. When might that have happened? What might have prompted it?
I do not know the finer points of such things, and for all I know the precise proof of it all is known to exist, but if so, I am ignorant of it. So, simply looking on the surface, I would guess a decision to change his destiny was maybe made after Wakefield. The deaths of his father and brother Edmund might have decided the eldest brother, Edward, Earl of March, who would become King Edward IV, that his youngest brother would be better employed as a soldier, “going forth and multiplying” for the benefit of the House of York.
Richard (then eight years old) and his slightly older brother George were children at that time, and exiled safely to their aunt in Burgundy. After the soon-to-be Edward IV’s subsequent victory at Towton, they were brought home. Is that when and why it was agreed that Richard and the Church should no longer be an item? Richard was thus created Duke of Gloucester, and George, for whom the Church was not a consideration, became Duke of Clarence.
So, is it possible that until being sent into exile in Burgundy, Richard had been trained and prepared for the Church? I can remember how, at that same age of eight, I absorbed education like blotting paper. I read books by the score, and everything that was drummed into me at school was taken on board, as modern parlance has it. In the 15th century, when strictness and volume of tuition would have far exceeded that of the 20th century, Richard (being studious by nature) would have been much higher quality blotting paper! For instance, if the Church was involved, he’d have been be well on the way to a thorough knowledge of Latin. It nearly happened to his nephew and did happen to his great-nephew.
I’m sure there are those who will read this and have more informed thoughts and explanations. If so, I hope they will share them.
“The accounts for the Duchy of Cornwall for 1483 – a momentous year in English history – are to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts Sale in London on 21 March. They are estimated at £4,000-6,000.
“The records were taken to Bonhams offices in Exeter for valuation, having been bought as part of a job lot at a local auction in Devon. They were drawn up on the orders of Richard III who came to the English throne in June 1483. His brother Edward IV had died earlier that year, and Richard had been appointed Protector to his 12 year old nephew, who succeeded his father as Edward V. When Edward V was denounced as the product of an unlawful marriage, he was stripped of the crown and Richard declared the legitimate king in his place. Edward and his brother Richard were imprisoned in the Tower of London, where they were later famously murdered, traditionally on the orders of Richard III.”*
“The Duchy of Cornwall was created by Edward III in 1337, specifically to produce an income for the heir to the throne. It covered, and still covers, areas outside Cornwall -mainly in Devon, including Plympton, Tavistock and Exeter. The accounts for sale are for the period Michaelmas, 22nd year of Edward IV’s reign to Michaelmas, the first year of Richard III’s year i.e. 29 September 1482-29 September 1483. During this time, the position of Duke of Cornwall was held by the future Edward V, and then by Richard III’s son Edward (who died the following year at the age of 10).”
“The records are highly detailed, showing totals for rents, sales and court receipts for each manor within the Duchy, with the names of the bailiffs or reeves. The receipts for tin mines were particularly valuable. By this period, the profits from the Duchy were worth around £500 a year. By contrast, the annual average wage of a labourer was then about £2.00.
“Bonhams valuer in Exeter, Sam Tuke, said, ‘It is always exciting to come across something so special. The accounts are particularly interesting because they include details of properties in Devon as well as in Cornwall itself. They are of course, written in mediaeval Latin, but our specialists were able to decipher the text, and reveal their true value.’”
* Traditionally usually means “according to Tudor propaganda” and should not be believed in this case. It is not known what happened to the boys in the Tower, but to lay the blame solely at Richard III’s feet is naïve. If he was in the business of murdering his brothers’ children, there were many others he would have disposed of as well. On the other hand, there were people who would have benefited from the boys’ deaths, including Henry VII, Margaret Beaufort and the Duke of Buckingham. Henry certainly didn’t want them around when he had to make Elizabeth of York legitimate in order to marry her. So forget Richard in this matter, and look to his enemies.
Postscript: Here is a link to a further article about these accounts. It contains much more information about the discovery. Just look away when you reach that word “hunchback”!
Jukka Ammondt is a Finnish professor of literature who has translated some Elvis Presley songs into Latin. This BBC post from 2006 gives some examples, including “Cor Ligneum”. Is “Es Solus Canis Venaticus” is part of his repertoire? Do the Latin translations scan as well as the original lyrics?
It isn’t only modern music, either originally or in translation, that seems to feature Latin, but also cashpoint instructions in the Vatican City.
On Friday 13th June 1483 Cardinal Morton, along with others, was arrested at the Tower of London. It is well documented the role Morton played in the downfall of Richard lll. Morton was Richard’s arch enemy and his deviousness, cunning and powers of manipulation being well known, there is no need to go into them here in detail, only to recap briefly on his enforced stay at Brecknock castle where he latched on to the flawed Buckingham’s shallow and vainglorious character (what were you thinking of Richard?!) inveigling him to rebel and desert Richard, a result of the ensuing rebellion being that Buckingham was swiftly defeated, captured and ignominiously executed, while he, Morton, legged it to the Fens and his ‘see of Ely, where he found both money and friends’ (1) It should be noted that Margaret Beaufort’s estate at Collyweston was but a short distance of 40 miles from Ely. Morton then ‘sailed into Flanders, where he remained, doing good service to the the Earl of Richmond until the scheme at Brecknock had been realised and the Earl had become king of England’ (2 ). As Bishop of Ely Morton would have been very conscious of the sanctity of the Coronation ceremony but this did in no way deter him from playing a prominent role in the betrayal of King Richard. How he came to terms with his treachery is difficult to understand, and is of course something we will never know, but manage he did somehow and the rest is history.
His achievements are likewise well known and numerous, including “Tudor” promoting him to the see of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor in 1487, eventually prevailing on the Pope to make him a cardinal , the conceiving of the infamous Morton’s Fork – although to be fair some attribute this to Bishop Fox (3) – and his patronage of the young Thomas More who served in his household as a page. Morton was without doubt an enormous influence in poisoning the young More against Richard. More later went on to write his ‘History’ which has proven to be extremely damaging to Richard’s memory as it is oft quoted by ‘historians’ who should know better. It is believed by some that it was in fact Morton who was the original author including the late Professor A F Pollard who opined Morton wrote a latin version which More translated later into English (4).
It is easy to imagine, as he lay dying, after achieving what was a good age in those harsh times, that Morton felt rather pleased with himself for had he not been instrumental in achieving practically the impossible?..the slaughter of a rightful king and replacing him with someone with very tenuous claims to the throne. He had already made elaborate plans for where he wanted to be buried.in the Chapel of our Lady in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral beneath the pavement of the western bay.
‘He had chosen the spot himself as a quiet and retired one, “non in tumultu sed in secreto subterraneoque loco in criptis nuncupato, lapide duntaxat coopertus marmoreo coran Imagine Beatissime Virgin Marie, quam ex intimo diligebat sepulture locum elegit ubi ipsius corpus felicissimum jam quiescit” ‘ (5)
Which translates as he had chosen for his burial ‘not an ostentatious place but rather a secret one with a simple marble cover before an image of the most blessed Virgin Mary., whom he held in very high esteem and where his most fortunate body might rest in peace’
A splendid altar tomb/cenotaph was built nearby which incorporated Morton’s rebus of a bird (a mort) and a barrel (a tun), and the Tudor badges of portcullis and rose. And here he was laid to rest.
Morton’s rebus, a bird (a mort) and a barrel (a tun)
Morton’s altar tomb/cenotaph in the western bay of the chapel
Alabaster figure of Morton on his tomb/cenotaph
However, this is where his plans finally went awry. The crypt became a ‘repository for scaffolding poles and building material, and rendered unfit for sacred purposes’ (6)
Turner’s painting of the Crypt in the 18th century showing Morton’s Tomb/Cenotaph amid building rubble
The slab covering the tomb was eventually broken and smashed and the remains in their cere cloth revealed Over a period of time these were gradually stolen until none were left except his skull which a Ralph Sheldon rescued in 1670 leaving it to his niece on his death. Eventually the head found a final resting place at Stonyhurst College, where it still is to this very day. The head was recently loaned to an exhibition on the life of Thomas More in Washington DC (7). It is both ironic and just that the king that Morton callously betrayed, and whose remains were given a cut-price burial in Leicester, have now been reburied with the honour that he deserved, while all that remains of Morton is his head in a box in a cupboard. As they say man makes plans and the Gods laugh…
As a footnote to this story in my delving around I think I may have come across a ‘secret’ portrait of Morton in the wonderful medieval windows of St Mary’s Church, Fairford, Gloucestershire. These windows have survived it is believed because they show hidden portraits of the Tudor royal family and important members of Henry Vll’s court. One portrait is described as being that of Wolsey…but I believe this is erroneous..why would Wolsey’s portrait being included with those of Henry Vll and his family including Henry Vlll as a child. I have since compared it with that of the wooden bosses thought to represent Morton at Bere Regis Church. I show them here for comparison. Any thoughts?
The portrait in the nave of St Mary’s Church described as being of Wolsey? But could it possibly be Morton?
One of the bosses on the roof of Bere Regis Church thought to represent Morton for comparison.
(1) R L Woodhouse The Life of John Morton Archbishop of Canterbury p.75
(3) W E Hampton Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p96.
( 4) A F Pollard Luminarium Encyclopedia. On line article.
(5) C Eveleigh Woodruff.M.A. The Chapel of our Lady in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral p. 158.
(7) I am most grateful for this information kindly given to me by Mr J Reed, Assistant Curator of the College Collections and Museum by the Association, Stonyhurst College.
Where better to start this time than Colchester, with its John Ball connections, of course? Here, in a beer advert, a centurion has edited some graffiti to remind the natives of the Roman Empire’s authority. Perhaps he will enter a pub with four colleagues and order some, raising two fingers when asked how many? He might prefer a martinus – “You mean martini?” – “No, just the one, thankyou”.
This Latin graffiti habit seems to be catching, as shown by this recent protest in Cambridge. However, the artist’s, or artists’, grammar seems to be wanting, according to authorities such as Mary Beard. Perhaps they need help from someone like this?