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Bishop Stillington’s Lost Chapel

The beautiful Cathedral of Wells  is a medieval visual delight. It was, of course, the See of Bishop Robert Stillington who sought out Richard Duke of Gloucester and announced that King Edward IV had been secretly married to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, prior to wedding  Elizabeth Woodville in a second secret ceremony, thus making his second marriage bigamous and invalid. He knew the matter was true, he said, because he was the one who had officiated at the marriage of Edward and Eleanor..

Stillington was Archdeacon of Taunton when Edward might have met and married Eleanor Talbot, probably around 1461. He was, of course, not then a Bishop but the Canon Stillington. He also served in Edward’s government as Keeper of the Privy seal. He was elected to his Bishopric in 1465–at King Edward’s insistence, as the the Pope initially proposed a different candidate. He was also intermittently Lord Chancellor, though he appears to have been dismissed in 1473. A few years later, Stillington was briefly imprisoned for unspecified offences which seem to have been connected with George of Clarence’s treason charges.

After Richard III’s death at Bosworth, Henry VII immediately ordered Stillington imprisoned . Upon his release, rather than retiring somewhere far from court or bowing to the new Tudor regime, he immediately involved himself in the Lambert Simnel uprising. Once Stoke Field was fought and Tudor victorious , Stillington fled to Oxford, where for a while the University protected him. However, eventually he was captured and thrown in prison in Windsor Castle–this time for the rest of his days. He died in 1491 and was taken to Somerset for burial at Wells Cathedral.

During his lifetime, Stillington did not spend much time in Wells but he did complete building work within the cathedral and raised his own mortuary chapel there in the 1470’s, complete with huge gilded bosses bosses of suns and roses. This chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, was built on one side of the cloisters near the holy springs that give Wells its name and on  the foundations of an earlier Saxon church. During the Reformation, in the reign of Edward VI, Sir John Gates destroyed the chapel and tomb and, according to old accounts,ripped the Bishop’s remains out of his lead coffin.

Rather interestingly, Stillington’s Chapel is the ONLY part of Wells Cathedral that was severely damaged during the Reformation, the Bishop’s tomb not only being desecrated but the building itself razed to the ground – and some would have it that there’s no such thing as Tudor propaganda? Of course, the roof was later pillaged by Monmouth’s rebels to make ammunition for use at Sedgemoor.

The foundations of Stillington’s chapel have been excavated, and if you visit Wells Cathedral today, you can see scant stonework sticking out of the ground in Camery Gardens. Nearby, in the cloisters, several massive chunks of his tomb canopy are on display, decorated with symbols of the House of York.

 

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SIR THOMAS MORE , A MAN FOR ALL REASONS: SAINT OR SINNER?

‘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?’

‘Yes.’

‘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.”[1]

 

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.[2] 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‘.”[3]

 

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.”[4] 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’[5]

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]…”[6]

 

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.”[7] 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.”[8] 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.”[9] 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.[10]

 

‘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.[11]

 

“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.[12] 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…[13] 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.[14] 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…” [15] As Dr Kincaid points out, ‘Harrington was an inveterate gossip, not necessarily to be believed’.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

 

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.[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] 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.”[22] 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.”[23]

 

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.[24] 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.[25] 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’.[26] Whereas, Horace Walpole writing in 1768 believed that “[More] wrote his History to amuse his leisure and exercise his fancy.”[27] 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.[28] 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.[29] 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.[30] 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” [31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34]

 

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.

[1] Peter Ackroyd – The Life of Thomas More (Vintage 1999) p.31 quoting from E Foss – Judges of England (London 1848-64) p.66

[2] Ackroyd p.28

[3] 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

[4] Ackroyd p.52

[5] Ackroyd p.148

[6] Sylvester (Roper) p.200

[7] Ackroyd p.151; citing The Complete Works of Thomas More (Yale) V6, p. 318

[8] Ackroyd p.152

[9] Ibid

[10] 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.

[11] Ackroyd p.127

[12] Richard Sylvester (Ed) – The History of King Richard III by Sir Thomas More (Yale 1963) p. lxv and passim

[13] 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.

[14] Sylvester (History) p. lxvii

[15] 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

[16] AN Kincaid (Ed) – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) p.iii

[17] 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

[18] 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

[19] 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

[20] 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.

[21] 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)

[22] Sylvester (History) p.lxx

[23] Sylvester (History) p.lxxviii

[24] Kendal p.25

[25] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) p.38

[26] Kendal p.25; this is a reference to a comment by Sir john Falstaff, a character in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV part 1.

[27] Kendal p.170

[28] Ackroyd p.157

[29] 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

[30] 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.

[31] 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.

[32] Sylvester (History) pp. xcviii-xcvix passim

[33] 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.

[34] George M Logan (ed) – Thomas More: Utopia (Cambridge UP 2016, 3 rd edition)

A History Walk in Wiltshire

Sometimes, in this very old country of ours,  even a simple afternoon’s walk out along the river  can come up with some rewarding historical data relating to the Middle Ages and the Wars of the Roses period. Recently I went for a walk near the Wiltshire Avon, from Figheldean to Netheravon, taking in  two little-known rural medieval churches, which proved to be of some interest.

At the Church of St Michaels and All Angels, where the worn effigies of two unknown 13thc knights lie in the porch, having been brought there from a now-lost nearby church or chapel, the advowsen was held in 1485-1487 by Francis Stourton. Stourton was the son of John Stourton who attended Richard III’s Parliament when attainders were passed on the Duke of Buckingham’s rebels. Unfortunately for Baron Stourton, his brother–in-law, Sir William Berkeley, had actually joined the Duke’s Rebellion. Richard said he would pardon Berkeley as long as John Stourton came up with a bond of 1000 marks. He agreed to pay the bond–but unfortunately, ungrateful William Berkeley promptly shot off to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, leaving Baron Stourton with a hefty bill. In-laws, eh?

One of the local manors, Alton Magna, also happened to belong at one time to the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville. It is not certain  how he aquired it, as it had descended with the Honour of Leicester from Simon de Montfort, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s daughter Maud, then her sister Blanche, the wife of John of Gaunt. When Blanche’s son became Henry IV in 1399 the honour of Leicester passed to the Crown.

Going along a pleasant leafy back road from Figheldean church, the traveller eventually comes to the village of Netheravon. Its church of All Saints has some similarities architectural qualities to that in Figheldean, including a very tall, stark tower. There was probably a Saxon  church originally  on site, and there is  visible Norman work that survives, including a carving of beasts on the capital of an exterior pillar.

The church was a prebendal church and one of the prebendaries in the 15th c happened to be Thomas Rotherham,who was first Bishop of Rochester, then Bishop of Lincoln and finally Archbishop of York. He was Keeper of the Privy Seal for King Edward IV and was appointed Lord Chancellor. When Edward died, Rotherham unlawfully handed the Great Seal to Elizabeth Woodville, and hence lost his position as Chancellor. He was present at the council meeting where Lord Hastings was arrested and then executed, and was himself arrested as part of the conspiracy. He went to the Tower, but not for very long; he was soon released and continued to be a player on the scene.

  As at Figheldean, the manor of Netheravon was held by the Duchy of Lancaster, first half of it, then eventually the whole. At one point one of the halves was held by the notorious Hugh Depenser the Elder and his family during  the reign of Edward II.  Upon their downfall, Queen Isabella was granted the estate  for life.  However, when her son, Edward III, captured her and Roger Mortimer at Nottingham in 1330, Edward gave the estate to Edward de Bohun. Later, through Mary, wife of Henry IV, it became part of the Duchy of Lancaster. Other local Despenser lands went to the Earl of Salisbury, which may be how Richard Neville came to own a manor in Figheldean.

Several local estates were also held by Sir William Beauchamp, husband to Elizabeth, suo jure Baronness St Amand; upon his death she held them jointly with her next husband, Sir Roger Tocotes. Sir Roger was a local landowner and sheriff who served George of Clarence for a while, but ended up as one of Buckingham’s rebels.

There is one other interesting feature of Netheravon. As you pass down the lane near the church, you will see the name ‘Beaufort’ clearly affixed  to a gate. The large, rather sombre mansion in the next field was owned by the Dukes of Beaufort -although not in medieval times, but rather from the middle of the 18th century, when the surname (Beaufort) and title (Somerset)  were reversed. Their stately pile, built by one Henry Somerset,  stands close to a Roman villa and is likely on the site of the medieval manor house of the Cormayles family.

 

 

CARDINAL JOHN MORTON’S TOMB CHAPEL OF LADY UNDERCROFT CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL.

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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.

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Morton’s rebus, a bird (a mort) and a barrel (a tun)

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Morton’s  altar tomb/cenotaph in the western bay of the chapel

IMG_3631.JPGAlabaster 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)

 

1798 Turner.jpg

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?

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The portrait in the nave of St Mary’s Church described as being of Wolsey? But could it possibly be Morton?  

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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

(2) Ibid

(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.

(6) Ibid

(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.

John Guy on More …

… or how a Lord Chancellor fell victim to the King he idolised and one historian stayed loyal to his mentor but another didn’t:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/tudor-terror-john-guy-is-on-a-mission-to-bring-history-to-the-masses-876441.html

Debunking the Myths – Richard the Secret Usurper

A coin from the Lord Protectorate period… Does it shed any light into the state of affairs in May and June of 1483? Read more to find out…

RICARDIAN LOONS

Ripon Cathedral misericord “And in another isle toward the south dwell folk of foul stature and of cursed kind that have no heads. And their eyen be in their shoulders.” – Sir John Mandeville (14th c.)

Today’s blog focuses on the long-standing myth and rumor that, upon Edward IV’s sudden and unexpected death on the 9th of April, 1483, Richard secretly conspired to usurp the throne from his nephew, the 12-year old Edward V. The rumor finds dramatic presentation in Shakespeare’s play, but some contemporary chroniclers say it had been in circulation from the very beginning of the boy’s 11-week reign.

Dominic Mancini, an Italian cleric and diplomat who was sent to London to report intelligence back to the French king Louis XI, wrote in 1483 that the fear of usurpation found root even before Richard left his castle in Yorkshire to accompany the young king to London for his coronation. Mancini…

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A Time for Truth, a Time for Lies…or for Pretended Obliviousness and Bullying Tactics

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

 My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.

An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard

A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.

The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.

There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.

I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.

In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.

It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.

Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.

Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research

If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this article and go read Annette Carson’s blog post entitled, “Proof … evidence … report … gossip … rumour,” and then get thee a copy of her Richard III: The Maligned King.

Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:

I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.

Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”

If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”

I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.

I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.

Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.

All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:

  1. What is contemporary source material and what is not
  2. How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
  3. How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
  4. Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
  5. Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.

Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.

Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel

If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.

If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.

If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]

You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:

  1. Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
  2. Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
  3. Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
  4. Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
  5. The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
  6. Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
  7. One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
  8. If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
  9. There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
  10. I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.

Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.

Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.

Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.

The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.

The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.

The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.

We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.

Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock

Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?

In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:

  1. Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
  2. Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
  3. Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
  4. Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.

The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:

I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…

So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am
.[iii]

More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?

Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?

Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]

There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.

What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.

This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.

That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.

Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise

Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.

What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?

My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.

“Do you think he did it?” I asked.

“Probably.”

That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.

I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.

__________

Notes

[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:

http://www.richardiii.net/6_3_1_the_ricardian_archive.php

or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/Ricardian/2006_vol16_ashdown_hill_lady_eleanor_talbot.pdf

[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.

[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.

Russell & Rotherham, Lord Chancellors of King Richard III

Archbishop of York, Thomas Rotherham, Richard's second Lord Chancellor.

Archbishop of York, Thomas Rotherham, Richard’s second Lord Chancellor.

The office of Lord Chancellor is one of the oldest of the Great Offices of State, second in rank only to the Lord High Steward. It dates from Herfast, the first Lord Chancellor of England, appointed in 1068 by King William I, Duke of Normandy.

King Richard III had two Lord Chancellors, John Russell and Thomas Rotherham. Intriguingly Thomas Rotherham, his second Lord Chancellor, was appointed shortly before his death despite an earlier betrayal in which Rotherham handed the Great Seal to Elisabeth Woodville rather than to Richard.

Thomas Rotherham, born in the town of that name, went to Eton and Kings College, Cambridge. He studied Divinity and was a Fellow of King’s. He lectured in Grammar, Theology & Philosophy. Appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1468, Lincoln in 1472 and then Archbishop of York in 1480, Rotherham was Ambassador to France in 1468, joint Ambassador to Burgundy in 1471 and was appointed Lord Chancellor by Edward IV in 1474.

Why start with Rotherham? He was, after all, Richard’s second Lord Chancellor. Perhaps because his relationship with Richard, and his subsequent reappointment as Lord Chancellor on 29th July 1485, is fascinating.

Rotherham, you see, knew Elizabeth Woodville from his time as chaplain to John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. From before she met Edward IV. He was appointed Lord Chancellor, after a series of rapid promotions, by Edward IV, in 1474. The Lord Chancellor is traditionally the keeper of the Great Seal; when Edward died, Rotherham refused to hand over the Great Seal to Richard as Lord Protector, instead handing it to Elizabeth Woodville. Rotherham was stripped of his office and imprisoned in the Tower of London; accused of being a part of the Hastings conspiracy. This all happened before Richard became King Richard III on 26th June 1483, so while Rotherham was well known to Richard as Lord Chancellor to his older brother Edward IV, he was not Richard’s Lord Chancellor until the very end of his reign.

Rotherham was replaced by John Russell, whose career mimicked Rotherham’s in so many ways. A student at Winchester College, Russell went to New College, Oxford, before entering Royal Service. Russell was sent to treat with Charles the Bold in 1467, when Rotherham was made Keeper of the Privy Seal. Russell was made Keeper of the Privy Seal in 1474, when Rotherham became Lord Chancellor. Russell was made Bishop of Rochester in 1476, and then when Rotherham became Archbishop of York in 1480, Russell became Bishop of Lincoln.

When Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector, asked John Russell to be Lord Chancellor, he was reported to be reluctant. However the sources for this are even more interesting than the suggestion; given Rotherham had just been arrested and imprisoned, it makes sense for Russell to be nervous at taking the job, especially as he had followed Rotherham’s career thus far. What makes the source so interesting is that it was the Croyland Chronicle.

The Croyland Chronicle, as Ricardians will know, was written at Croyland Abbey, in Lincolnshire, between 655 and 1486. The last section, from 1459 to 1486, was written in April 1486, after the crowning of the usurper Henry (who called himself Henry VII). It was therefore clearly going to be influenced by a desire not to incense the power of the throne. In as much as Shakespeare, several decades later, wrote propaganda to please the “Tudor” dynasty, Croyland was never going to be pro Richard.

Nobody knows who wrote the relevant passages of Croyland. But one of the suspects is none other than John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln. Which would certainly explain why Croyland says Russell was reluctant to take on a post he held for almost the entirety of Richard’s reign – he would want to ingratiate himself with the new regime, by saying he was never really one of Richard’s courtiers, that he was never really against Elizabeth Woodville, the Dowager Queen, who was suddenly mother-in-law to the Queen, Elizabeth of York.

Russell was appointed as Lord Chancellor on 13th May 1483 by Richard as Lord Protector. He had been a close advisor of Edward IV and was executor of his will. Richard dismissed him as Lord Chancellor on 29th July 1485, replacing him with none other than Rotherham. Eight days later the usurper landed at Milford Haven. The events of August 1485 are well enough documented elsewhere.

Postscript:

The story doesn’t quite end there, however. Rotherham, Lord Chancellor once more when Henry stole the throne, was dismissed by Henry and replaced by the Bishop of Winchester, John Alcock, who served as Lord Chancellor for two years and became one of Henry’s closest advisors. Alcock had been a close advisor of both Edward IV and Richard III; while he was arrested by the latter at Stony Stratford, he was soon forgiven and returned to the Council. Alcock is worthy of note because he had been tutor to Edward IV’s son, Edward. Yet he was happy to work alongside Richard III, even after the boys disappeared. Had Richard been guilty of the crime with which the “Tudors” do most to blacken his name, that of killing his nephews, does anyone think that John Alcock would have happily sat alongside him at Council meetings?

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