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A WEDDING AT TITCHFIELD ABBEY

On April 9 of 1445, a determined fifteen-year-old French girl arrived at Southampton. She had been ill before her departure and seasickness from the crossing added to her discomfort. Nonetheless, she ploughed on further inland with her entourage toward  the house of the Premonstratensians at Titchfield in Hampshire.

Whether she looked forward to the journey or not, history does not record. But young Margaret of Anjou, daughter of Rene the Good,  was going there to marry a King.

History also does not record what the bride thought of her unworldly twenty-three year old groom, who was known for his monkish piousness and his prudery (he once became distressed at a banquet when he saw that the dresses of the dancing ladies showed too much cleavage!), nor does it say what Henry thought of this young girl, described as beautiful and intelligent  by some, by others called a she-wolf, although it is known he gave her a golden ring set with a ruby, made from a ring he had worn when he was crowned as King of France. Bishop William Ayscough of Salisbury conducted the marriage ceremony.

Interestingly and unusually, Margaret brought no dowry to England with her; instead Charles VII of France would be given Maine and Anjou by Henry.  Needless, to say this move was controversial in England with many factions deeply dissatisfied by this loss of English territories.

The countdown to war was on, and Margaret, a far stronger  figure than her weak and ailing husband, would have a large part to play in the forthcoming battles for the crown…

 

Today Titchfield Abbey stands as an impressive ruin in a small village. The large towers of the gatehouse remain from a later structure, Place House,  inserted after the Dissolution by Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. However,  he did not tear down the entire medieval buildings  but incorporated many of them, which are now visible again after its last owners, the Delme family, decided to dismantle the house and turn it into a ‘romantic ruin’ in 1781.

Among the ruins are some remarkable medieval floor tiles, perfectly preserved by the Tudor porch that went over them. The most striking are the tiles bearing a Latin inscription  which would have been seen by the canons as they gathered in the refectory at meal-time. The translation is as follows– ‘Before you sit down to meat at your table, first remember the poor’.

 

The Royal Progress of Richard III

Following his coronation, Richard III – like all medieval monarchs – went on his “royal progress” through the realm.  Along with an entourage in excess of 200 household men, ecclesiastics, supporters, and administrative officials, he visited towns and cities as far west as the River Severn, as far north as the River Ouse, and as far east as the River Witham.  It was while he was staying in Lincoln along the River Witham when he received the news that the Duke of Buckingham and others were in open rebellion in the south.  This required the king to respond accordingly by making his “Great Journey” towards Salisbury.  It was not unusual for uprisings to occur during the royal progress of a new monarch.  During his royal progress in 1461, Edward IV had to respond to insurrection in Wales and dispense hard justice by presiding over the execution of a Lancastrian traitor.[1]  This article will not cover Richard III’s “Great Journey” to suppress Buckingham’s rebellion, as that was not part of the planned royal progress and is better addressed elsewhere.  For this discussion, we will define Richard III’s royal progress as being from when he first left Windsor on July 21 to the time he received news of the rebellion on October 11.  We will also include the king’s January 1484 visit to Canterbury, as it seems to fit the pattern of the royal progress and may have been on the original itinerary.  First, however, it is important to understand the reason why a king went on royal progress.

The Iconography of Power

Sir John Fortescue (1397-1479), the preeminent Chief Justice under Henry VI and one of the most influential medieval writers about English government, wrote of the necessity for the monarch to use ceremony, etiquette, and organized pomp to advertise his status and strength to the realm and to foreign countries.  He encouraged the king to wear luxurious clothes, furs and jewels, to bedeck his household and chapels with rich tapestries, vessels and ornaments, and to acquire expensive horses with ostentatious trappings.  If he did not do so, wrote Fortescue, he would be living below his estate and would be overshadowed by ostentatious magnates, upsetting the natural balance of power.[2]  If Richard III had not gone on royal progress or had something less than magnificent, it would have sent a message that he was insecure in expressing his royal authority or was not “up to the job”. The Arrivall of Edward IV makes this very point when it depicts Henry VI, in the last days of his “readeption”, processing through the streets of London with such a lack of regality that the people lost confidence in him.[3]  The Great Chronicle of London makes a similar observation that it seemed “more like a play than the showing of a prince to win men’s hearts” and provides the infamous detail about Henry VI being dressed dowdily in a long blue gown, as though he had nothing more resplendent to wear.[4]

The progress taken by a king after his coronation was just one of the many ways the monarch could project what modern historians have called the “iconography of power” – a set of highly visual and ritualistic ceremonies that were shared by a common culture and used by the governing class to create or sustain political and social consent.  The goal was to persuade “opinion formers” and to secure the loyalty of the common people.[5]  Thus, an effective king would engage in “triumphant entries” into cities and towns – lavish parades with spectacles and religious ceremonies to celebrate military victories, welcome a foreign queen-consort to her new homeland, or entrench a hereditary claim to the throne.  The latter can be seen with the Duke of York’s reburial in 1476.[6]  The Crowland Chronicle was perfectly correct to make the observation that Richard III’s royal progress was aimed “to attract to himself the affection of many people” with many feasts and entertainments.[7]  But it was also a time for the king to mingle with his subjects and to hear and address their petitions and concerns.

Lest we think this was a phenomenon unique to England in the medieval age, the era that followed saw even more complicated and drawn-out spectacles.  The royal progress taken by the newly-minted Charles IX and his mother Catherine de Médicis in 1564-1566, for instance, lasted 27 months and took in more than 100 towns.[8]  As we shall see below, it was simultaneously important to the towns and cities that received the monarch and provided the infrastructure and performers to welcome him.  It was a display of their political status too: the grander their reception of the king, the more respect and favor they might hope to receive from him.

In terms of distance and days spent, Richard III’s royal progress was not dramatically different from Edward IV’s in 1461, the latter of which, over the course of two months, traveled 620 miles and involved great pomp and ceremony.  Edward’s itinerary, unlike Richard’s, focused on southern and western England and included Canterbury, Sandwich, Ashford, Lewes Priory, Arundel, Bishop’s Waltham, Salisbury, Bristol, Gloucester, Hereford, and Ludlow, returning to London via Stony Stratford.  This reflects how the north and midlands of England were not securely Yorkist following the Battle of Towton.  Edward IV had to deal with roiling insurrection in the north and in the Welsh Marches, and his royal progress was intended to involve a military campaign embarking from Hereford.  This turned out to be unnecessary, thanks to the successful efforts of Lords Herbert and Ferrers of Chartley in suppressing lawlessness.  Instead of a military campaign, Edward IV’s entourage went to his childhood home and family powerbase of Ludlow where, surprisingly, he was greeted with little fanfare thus suggesting it was an impromptu visit.[9]

Richard III’s royal progress not only skipped over Ludlow, but his itinerary also involved distinctly different geographical areas from those of his brother’s.  In a very literal sense, Richard was tracing a map of the cities having particular meaning to his personal history and his expression of royal authority.

The Royal Progress of Richard III 

July 21-August 1:  Reading (1 night) – Oxford (4) – Woodstock (2) – Minster Lovell (3)

The first leg of Richard III’s royal progress went in a northwest direction from Windsor Castle towards Oxfordshire.  The first destination was Reading, a relatively short 20-mile journey.  The king was in the company of John Lord Howard (recently made Duke of Norfolk), the Duke of Buckingham, the Bishops of St. Asaph and St. Davids, and many others. Queen Anne would later join the entourage at Warwick Castle. While staying in Reading, Richard executed an indenture guaranteeing the widow of William Lord Hastings, Katherine Neville, his protection and to secure for her the enjoyment of her husband’s lands, goods, and privileges, the custody their male heir, and the wardship of the young Earl of Shrewsbury who was married to their daughter, Anne.[10]  As we shall see, dispensing mercy and justice was an integral part of the king’s progress.

At Oxford University, an assembly of regents and scholars greeted the king.  This group was headed by William Waynflete (the Bishop of Winchester and founder of Magdalen College) and the University’s chancellor who at that time was Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury.[11]  The reference to Woodville has sparked some controversy amongst historians, as he had taken sanctuary earlier in June and had been under some suspicion.  Whatever those suspicions were, they were ostensibly resolved by the time of the king’s visit to Oxford and there is no hint of any discord.  Less certain is whether the Duke of Buckingham was present, for he is not specifically mentioned in the college register.  In any case, the king was entertained with academic debates in Latin on the subjects of philosophy and theology, and tours of the colleges.[12]  He rewarded the disputants and won the hearts of the fellows.  The register describing the visit closed with the words “Vivat Rex ineternum” (“let the king live forever”).[13]

The king then spent one or two nights at the royal hunting lodge at Woodstock, the birthplace of Edward III’s sons Edward the Black Prince and Thomas of Woodstock, the first Duke of Gloucester.  It had once been a splendid palace with an enclosed park in which lions and camels were kept, and this could have provided an opportunity to do some hunting and catch up on business.  A king never stopped working while on royal progress and had to respond to a constant flow of events, petitions, and diplomatic missives, which is why he would be accompanied by staff from various government offices.

Richard’s entourage traveled to Minster Lovell Hall, the home of Francis Viscount Lovell, his faithful friend and Lord Chamberlain.  This was one of the few times Richard III stayed in a private residence during his reign.  It had undergone several enlargements to its great hall and the building of a tower, both completed by 1455, so it would have been a suitable lodging for such distinguished guests.[14] Perhaps the most notable thing about the king’s time here is the text of a warrant dated July 29th issued from Minster Lovell and addressed to Chancellor John Russell, concerning a mysterious enterprise.  It has been suggested that it refers to a forthcoming trial of unnamed persons for the murder of the king’s nephews.  However, historian Rosemary Horrox believes that John Stow’s Annals gives a more accurate description of the enterprise as being one to rescue the princes from the Tower under cover of confusion caused by fires started in the city.  The four conspirators, two of whom served in Edward IV’s household, were tried at Westminster and executed.[15]

August 2-27:  Gloucester (2 nights) –Tewkesbury (1) – Worcester (3) – Warwick (6) – Coventry (2)  – Leicester (4) – Nottingham (8)

From Minster Lovell, Richard went on to Gloucester where he took up residence in St Peter’s Abbey (now Gloucester Cathedral) for two nights.  Here, for the place that bore the name of his ducal title, the king granted a charter of liberties releasing it from paying Ł45 of the Ł60 for the fee farm, giving its burgesses the right to choose their own mayor and coroner, allowing it to have its own sheriff to preside over a court, to incorporate themselves as an entity, to acquire lands and tenements, and to have standing to plead or interplead before the king’s justices or any other justices in the courts of England.  Some of these rights and privileges were retained by Gloucester up to 1974.[16]  In 1538, the borough was granted a coat of arms with the red and white roses of Lancaster and York along with a boar’s head – a reference to Richard III’s favorite badge.

Gloucester’s St Peter’s Abbey had wealth and prestige. It was the place where Henry III was crowned king of England, and where Edward II was buried following his deposition.  Parliaments had been summoned there twice (1378 and 1407), but due to a combination of factors, including the Black Death and competition from nearby Bristol, the town borough was having some economic difficulty.  Nevertheless, Gloucester had performed an extremely valuable service for the Yorkists when it closed its gates to Margaret of Anjou’s army in 1471, forcing it to march on to Tewkesbury.[17]

Undoubtedly with this history in mind, Richard bestowed the liberties mentioned above and also presented the city with a sword, which is believed to have been his own; it can still be viewed at Gloucester City Museum.  It was also at Gloucester that the Duke of Buckingham took his leave from the royal progress; what prompted this is unknown.  Buckingham’s manor house at Thornbury, from where Lionel Woodville would later be issuing letters on September 22, was only 25 miles away, and he was holding Bishop John Morton in custody in his castle in Brecon, in Wales, about 70 miles from Gloucester.

Although we have no description of Gloucester’s reception of Richard, we can assume that it was similar in pomp to the royal entry of Edward IV into Bristol in 1461.  When Edward arrived at Bristol’s Temple Gate, a “great giant” attended by three lords delivered the keys of the town to him and a poem comparing the king to William the Conqueror was recited.  As the entourage processed to Temple Cross, the king beheld the spectacle of Saint George on horseback “fighting with a dragon, and the king and queen on high in a castle, and his daughter beneath with a lamb.  And at the slaying of the dragon there was a great melody of angels.”[18]  Edward granted the town a royal charter, oversaw the trial and execution of the Lancastrian rebel Sir Baldwin Fulford, and left with an extra fifty marks in a loan from his host, mayor William Canynges.[19]  “The event provides a small snapshot of what the progress of the monarch involved in this fraught period of political insecurity and highlights the multifaceted role the king played.”[20]

From Gloucester, Richard progressed to Tewkesbury for one night, where he had been a commander in the battle of 1471 that regained the crown for Edward IV.  Tewkesbury Abbey was also the place where his brother George was buried following his execution for treason in 1478.  George apparently still had outstanding debts to the Abbot, and Richard ordered that those debts be satisfied with revenues from nearby royal manors.[21]  It is likely Richard paid his respects at the battlefield and George’s tomb, symbolically highlighting not only the Yorkist military triumph over the Lancastrians but also the implications of George’s death.[22]  Titulus Regius, the 1484 parliamentary act which settled the crown on Richard, would specifically mention the attainder of George and his heirs as a reason why Richard was the next legitimate heir to the throne.  Titulus Regius also sets out to show that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate due to the bigamy of their parents.  Therefore it is not surprising that Ludlow, where Edward IV’s Prince of Wales had had his household for almost a decade, was not part of Richard’s royal progress despite the fact that it could have easily been put on the itinerary.  It is probably safe to assume that Richard would not have had a very warm reception there.

The entourage traveled to Worcester, where the king resided at the Cathedral Priory, and then moved on to Warwick Castle, where Queen Anne joined the royal party, and there was a pause of several days.[23]  Warwick Castle had been the place where the Kingmaker imprisoned Edward IV in 1469, and became George of Clarence’s principal residence after his marriage to Isabel Neville.  Coming into possession of Warwick Castle after George’s attainder, Richard instigated the construction of two gun towers, the Bear and Clarence towers, and he probably spent time inspecting the ongoing work during his six days there.

The royal party then moved to Coventry before progressing to Leicester and then Nottingham.  The choice of Coventry may have been logistical, but the symbolic value of a Yorkist monarch making his royal progress there would have been noted.  In 1471, Coventry had lost its civic liberties as punishment for backing the Kingmaker during the readeption of Henry VI. In 1469, Edward IV suffered the humiliation of being captured near Coventry, and Earl Rivers and Sir John Woodville were executed by the Kingmaker at Gosford Green on the edge of the city the same month.  Coventry had strong Lancastrian connections, but in 1474 it worked hard to redeem itself by welcoming the king, his queen, and his heir, with festivities and streets filled with performers, music and singing, pipes running with wine, incense burning, and cakes and flowers being cast to observers.[24]  That Richard chose to honor Coventry with his royal progress shows how successfully it had been converted to a Yorkist city.

At Leicester, the king began to occupy himself with planning his royal entry into the city of York.  He issued a summons for 19 knights and 52 gentlemen to meet him at Pontefract on August 27 in anticipation of the procession.  Those summoned included Northumberland, Surrey, Lincoln, Lovell, Fitzhugh, Stanley, Strange, Lisle and Greystoke, and the bishops of Durham, Worcester, St Asaph, Carlisle and St David’s, with their attendants, to be with him when he reached York.[25]  Edward of Middleham was named Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with the powerful earl of Kildare being appointed as acting deputy.[26]  It was also from Leicester that Richard issued a letter to Louis XI, which was cheekily delivered by one of the grooms of his stable, in which he promised to honor past treaties and requested the French to refrain from molesting English merchant ships.[27]

The king then progressed to Nottingham Castle, where he would spend much of his reign and complete the remodeling work started by Edward IV.[28]  While there, Richard created his son Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester:  “And we invest him as the custom is by the girding on of the sword, the handing over and setting of the garland on his head, and of the gold ring on his finger, and of the gold staff in his hand.”[29]  The decree uses language that suggests some trepidation (“We have turned the gaze of our inward eye to the greatness of this noble state and of its members, having great care that, in the great anxieties which press upon us, those who are necessary to support us should not now seem to be lacking”), but many historians believe the verbiage is typical for such proclamations.  It also poetically employs celestial imagery, and as historian Anne Sutton observed, presages the concept of the monarch being like the sun with his court surrounding him like planets:  “The clarity and charity of the sun’s light is so great that when it is poured on the other heavenly bodies the sun shines with no less light and splendor, nor does it suffer any diminution of its strength, rather it is pleased to be seen, to shine as a king in the midst of his nobles and to adorn the greater and lesser stars in the whole court of heaven with his outstanding light.  Which without doubt we should take as an example seeing the vocation to which we are called, that is, by the favour of the almighty to govern and be set at the head of all the mortals of this realm.”[30]

At Nottingham, Richard’s secretary John Kendall wrote to York’s mayor, recorder, aldermen, and sheriffs, complimenting the city, saying how fond the king was of it, and “hinting broadly that a splendid reception for the king and queen would be in order upon their arrival in York”.[31]  The civic leadership in York was ahead of Kendall, and had already been discussing the expected visit as early as the end of July.[32]

August 27-October 17:  Pontefract (2 nights), York (23), Pontefract (19), Gainsborough (1), Lincoln (6)

 Richard III’s royal progress spent the largest portion of its time in the north – a total of 44 days – indicating a dramatic shift from where Yorkists had traditionally drawn support.  Although Richard’s father and brother had borne the title Duke of York, the north was a bastion of Lancastrian support for much of the Wars of the Roses.  In 1460, the duke’s decapitated head was displayed at York’s Micklegate Bar in a mocking tribute; in 1461-64, there were Lancastrian uprisings in Carlisle and Hexham; in 1471, the city of York reluctantly opened its gates to Edward IV only after he promised to seek his ducal inheritance and not the crown.[33]  That Richard had chosen York as the city for his most prominent display of royal authority, one that the Crowland Chronicler described as a second coronation, shows how much had changed in the intervening years.[34]  The city of York was no longer repulsing a pretender to the throne, but was instead welcoming a king and paying tribute to a prince who had often interceded on its behalf.

The royal entry was carefully timed and organized to maximize its symbolic meaning. Those 71 lords and knights who had earlier been summoned now joined the king and queen at Pontefract, along with Prince Edward, who had journeyed from Middleham.  On August 29, the sheriff of York and other officials met the royal entourage with their rods of office at Tadcaster and led it towards the city.  At Breckles Milles, still outside the city, the procession was joined by the mayor and aldermen, dressed in scarlet, and by other civic officers and leading citizens in their ceremonial robes.  Although a litter had been provided for his journey from Middleham, the king’s 10-year old son rode on horseback during the entry into York, indicating he was not as frail as some have suggested.[35]  The residents of York were on hand to greet the procession as it passed by St James’ Chapel and into the city through Micklegate Bar.  Just within the walls, on streets hung with tapestries and arras, was staged the first of three pageants for the entertainment of the royal party, with the next being staged at the bridge crossing the River Ouse, and the third in Stayngate.

The date of the royal entry, August 29, was the Feast of the Decollation [Beheading] of St John the Baptist.  In 15th century England, the image of the head of St John the Baptist on a platter was symbolic of the Eucharist sacrament and the doctrine of transubstantiation.  This feast day had special importance to York’s Guild of Corpus Christi, of which the king and queen had been members since 1477, because it was dedicated to honoring the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.[36]  The guild was responsible for presenting the famous mystery plays (the Creed and Corpus Christi plays) in which the streets of York became venues for processions and staging of various scenes from the Bible and Christ’s life and passion.  Richard III’s royal progress in York drew upon these traditions.  Not only did he specifically request a performance of the Creed Play, but his royal entry through York also followed the same processional route used during the annual June Feast of Corpus Christi.  “As their actors trod the Via Crucis through their own streets, so now their king came among them as the incarnate and temporal representative of divine order.  Richard would not have missed the significance of making his triumphal entry on what was, in York, tantamount to a second Feast of Corpus Christi”.[37]  For Yorkist adherents who remembered the decapitation of Richard’s father and the display of his head on Micklegate Bar, the symbolic import of commemorating the Baptist’s decapitation would have been much more politically charged and may have represented a kind of atonement for the injustices of bygone days.

As the cavalcade moved through the city, the mayor, John Newton, delivered a speech of welcome and offered a gift to the king of one hundred marks of plate.  Newton himself had contributed Ł20 to the royal presents, and spent additional sums on entertainment during the royal visit.  The royal procession carried on through the city to York Minster for an ecclesiastical reception.  The Cathedral Church of St Peter of York would have been an impressive backdrop for the royal reception.  The great tower had been rebuilt early in the century, and the southwestern tower was almost new.  It was at the west door of York Minster that the king was formally received by a delegation of ecclesiastics headed by the dean.  The dean was Dr. Robert Booth, a Cambridge-educated legist and a member of a highly accomplished Lancashire family.  Booth became dean in 1477 through the patronage of his uncle, Archbishop Lawrence (d. 1480), who had been Keeper of the Privy Seal and Chancellor of England in the reign of Edward IV.[38]  The current Archbishop of York, Thomas Rotherham, was out of favor and thus not in attendance; he would, however, be restored not long after this event, and would serve as one of the triers of petitions during Richard’s III only parliament.

An eyewitness recorded the events as the dean and his fellow clergymen, all strikingly vested in copes of violet silk, welcomed the visitors.  The king was sprinkled with holy water and censed as he made his way into the cathedral church.  Richard was not a passive actor in the ceremonies taking place.  He made his way to a prie-dieu beside the baptismal font, and there he said a Paternoster; some historians suggest this was the first time an English king led a congregation in public prayer.  “The succentor of the vicars choral began the liturgical response De Trinitate with the words Honor, virtus, and it was finished by the choir standing before the steps of the high altar.  Then there was a pause long enough for a Paternoster and an Ave Maria.  Then Dean Booth began the prayer Et ne nos inducas for the benefit of the king.  Following the prayer, the dean and canons processed to their stalls in the cathedral choir, together with the other clergy, as the organ intoned the Amen.  We are told that the officiating prelate (prelate executor officii), most likely Dean Booth, began the psalm Te Deum laudamus, which was concluded by the choir and organ.  Immediately thereafter the succentor chanted the antiphon of the Trinity beginning with the words Gracias tibi, Deus, with a versicle and prayer to the Trinity.  The service now being concluded, the royal party left York Minster for the short walk northwest to the palace of the Archbishop of York where the royal family stayed during their visit.”[39]

On August 31st, the king decided to have his son invested as Prince of Wales while in York.  On this date, Richard sent an urgent message to Peter Courteys, keeper of the Great Wardrobe in London, outlining goods he wished transported to York.  These included two short gowns of crimson cloth of gold, a cloak with a cape of violet lined in black velvet, a stomacher of purple satin and another of tawny satin, enough white cloth of gold for the trappings of a horse, other gowns, spurs, and five coats of arms for heralds, together with forty trumpet banners and 13,000 badges of Richard’s white boar emblem.  Processional banners were requested of the Virgin Mary, Trinity, St George, St Edward, St Cuthbert, and one of Richard’s arms, along with three coats of arms beaten with fine gold for Richard himself.[40]

The week of September 1st to the 7th was filled with banquets and hospitality leading up to Prince Edward’s investiture.  On Sunday, September 7, the Creed Play (an abbreviated version of the cycle of mystery plays) was performed for an audience that included the king, the mayor, twelve aldermen, and York’s Council of Twenty-Four.  The next day, September 8th, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the occasion of Prince Edward’s investiture as the eighth Prince of Wales to be recognized by an English king.  The same eyewitness that recorded the king’s arrival in York provides the account of events.  “A procession led by the king and queen, both wearing crowns, entered York Minster for mass.  The procession included Prince Edward, temporal and spiritual lords, and other dignitaries.  The officiating prelate was Bishop William Dudley of Durham, and the focal point of the high altar of the cathedral was enhanced by silver figures of the twelve apostles, as well as other ornaments of gilt and numerous relics, all provided by the king.  The assemblage remained at mass until the sixth hour of evening.  Then, following mass, all returned to the archbishop’s palace, and there in the hall before dinner the king invested his son as Prince of Wales by arming or girding Edward with a sword, presenting him with a gold rod and ring, and placing a coronet on his head.  A four-hour dinner, during which the royal family sat crowned, continued into the evening.”[41]  On the same day, Richard made knights of his illegitimate son John of Gloucester and the ambassador from Queen Isabella of Castile (Gaufrid de Sasiola) who had joined the royal progress at Warwick in the company of Queen Anne and who had come to England expecting Edward V on the throne.[42] The ceremonial sword used in Prince Edward’s investiture is still on display at the British Museum.[43]

On September 17th, the king summoned the mayor, aldermen, and other citizens to meet with him in the Chapter House of York Minster.  “It soon became apparent that Richard had been dazzled by his reception in York.  The king, without any petition on their part (or so the record states), thanked the assembly for their good service to him before he came to the throne and at his recent coronation.  Richard cited the decay and poverty of the city, which was indeed experiencing an economic slump, although it was still likely second in size only to London in the kingdom.  He then went on to promise that the city would have a substantial reduction in the annual fee farm due to the crown, from a sum on the order of Ł160 to about Ł100, and Mayor Newton was appointed Richard’s chief serjeant-at-arms with an annual fee of Ł18 5s.  The financial arrangements were also meant to encourage trade in York by allowing any lawful non-resident to sell in the market of York without paying tolls.”[44]

The royal party departed York on September 20th or 21st, having stayed there for more than three weeks.  From there, the king went to Pontefract for 17-18 days, and then traveled to Gainsborough, where (according to local history) he spent the evening of October 10 at Gainsborough Old Hall, a grand manor house built by Sir Thomas Burgh in 1460.[45]  Richard was at Lincoln on October 11, and made a gift to Barnard Castle of Ł40 toward the building of the Church of Our Blessed Lady, and gave some money to the wardens for the feast of St. Martin.[46]  It was here that he first heard that a great rebellion had broken out in the southern counties, headed by his erstwhile ally, Henry Duke of Buckingham.  The uprising was originally meant to restore Edward V to the throne but when rumors of his death spread, the Lancastrian claimant Henry Tudor was invited to join the rebellion.[47]  On hearing the news of the rebellion, the king moved to Grantham, where he wrote to Chancellor Russell asking for the Great Seal, and expressed in a postscript, added in his own hand, his outrage at the desertion of Buckingham.[48]

January 10-17:  London to Canterbury and Sandwich

The southern rebellions cut short the king’s progress, but by January he was able to resume a “convivial and splendid” role.[49]  He invited the citizens of London to his Epiphany feast on January 6 at Westminster Palace’s White Hall, during which he wore his crown.  He presented the mayor with a gold cup set with pearls and gems, offered to make the borough of Southwark part of the city’s jurisdiction, and to give Ł10,000 for the building of walls and ditches around it.  “Richard was rewarding the citizens for their financial assistance, and he was also, like Edward IV before him, adeptly making available the luxuries of his court – its wines, cooking, fine napery, music and good manners – beyond its usual aristocratic confines, and welcoming to it his merchants and townsmen.”[50]

The king then traveled with an entourage to Canterbury, where there was a formal reception along the lines of how Edward IV had been received in 1461.  This can be deduced from the Canterbury City Archives, which date Richard’s entry from January 10-12, 1484: “For the Lord King on his first coming to Canterbury — And paid for a purse bought at London – 26s 8d, which purse with Ł33 6s 8d in gold, collected from the mayor and his brethren and thirty-six of the better sort of persons of the city of Canterbury, was given and offered to the Lord King and which the Lord King with gracious actions ordered to be redelivered to the said persons from whom the said sum had been collected.  This being done the said purse was given to Doctor Langton, at that time Bishop of St. Davids, on account of his many acts of kindness and favours to the citizens of Canterbury.  Upon all these considerations the aforesaid mayor and his brethren presented the following gifts to the Lord King.  Firstly paid to John Burton for four great fattened beefs – Ł7.  And paid to the same John Burton for twenty fattened rams – 66s 8d.  And paid for twenty capons of various prices given to the Lord King – 21s 10d.  And paid for six capons given to the Bishop of St Davids and other bishops then with the King – 6s.  And paid to John Stoubregge for two gold beads given to the Bishop of St Davids and the Bishop of ‘Seynt Tasse’ – 5s 4d.  TOTAL Ł13 6s 6d.”[51]

Richard then departed from Canterbury to Sandwich where he stayed several days overseeing the preparation of ships to send against the Bretons and French.[52]  Edward IV, similarly, had taken in Sandwich while on his royal progress.  Richard appears to have fitted in a visit to Dover where the citizens bought an ox and capons to feed him and his entourage at the castle.  A note in the Canterbury Chamberlain’s Account records that the King’s secretary was given three gallons of red wine and two gallons of white wine by order of the mayor on the occasion when “the Lord King returned from Sandwich to Canterbury”.[53]

The Canterbury records note that, rather than lodging at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace or St. Augustine’s Abbey, the king was accommodated at a place called “Le Hale” outside the city.  The Le Hale costs included payments for carpentry work, repairing the road, for the carriage of furniture, cushions and for hangings of cloth of gold and silver loaned by various citizens, and for the provision of wine and food.  This would explain the “first coming” or “first arrival” to be the occasion of the ceremony of the purse with presumably one or more other “arrivals” into the city after the king’s return from Sandwich.[54]

One author[55] has offered the theory that the mention of “Le Hale” refers to a hill in the Royal Forest of Blean near the town of Harbledown, the latter of which was part of the established route where pilgrims would remove their shoes and walk penitent to the Shrine of Thomas à Becket.  The road was likely quite travel-worn and in need of repairs although this could probably be said for other local roads.  The same author deduces that King Richard’s mental state was burdened by guilt from past nefarious deeds and his choice of Le Hale as base camp indicates he walked as penitent pilgrim from Harbledown to Canterbury.

Whether King Richard traveled on The Pilgrim’s Way cannot be determined with any accuracy since the precise location of “Le Hale” has never been ascertained.  But even if he did act as a pilgrim, this is no more evidence of a particularly guilty mind than when Henry V came on pilgrimage to Canterbury soon after Agincourt and then again the following year in 1416 with the Emperor Sigismund.[56]  It would have been an act of conventional piety, albeit with the added spectacle of the king’s presence.  Whatever we are to make of this leg of his progress, King Richard returned to London a few days before the opening of parliament on the 23rd of January, and proceeded to take the reigns of government without any outward signs of remorse or a guilty mind.

Final Observations

What can we conclude about Richard III’s royal progress?  Historians uniformly observe it shows he was well aware of the importance of public display as part of the art of kingship.  He was adept with the techniques used by a king to cultivate the good will of his subjects.  He achieved this by easing their financial burdens, granting charters, and – where possible – using his own money to defray expenses.[57]  One of the striking differences between Richard’s royal progress and Edward IV’s is how often Richard declined gifts of money compared to how often Edward accepted them.  It also shows he was effective at dealing with city officers and the ecclesiastical community.  So successful was the precedent of Richard III’s use of royal display in his coronation and progress that Henry VII copied much of it in 1485.[58]

Questions still remain.  For instance, where did Richard intend his royal progress to go before it was interrupted by “Buckingham’s Rebellion”?  Was he intending to progress from Lincoln to Fotheringhay, his birthplace and the final resting place of his father, brother Edmund, and uncle?  It would have been a fitting bit of symbolism.  Would he have then progressed to Cambridge University to visit the construction work on King’s College chapel or to tour Queen’s College, both of which would become beneficiaries of his royal generosity?  It is enticing to think of the possibilities.

Also, why did Richard seem to make a sudden decision to invest his son Edward as Prince of Wales in York when the precedent was to do so at Westminster?  Was this necessitated by the mysterious “enterprise” noted in his July 29th letter to Chancellor Russell, which may have required him to firmly establish Edward of Middleham as his heir and thus dilute any popular uprisings in the name of Edward IV’s sons?  Or was it merely a reflection that York was a more reliable ally than London during this politically delicate time?

Finally, how did the people of England respond to Richard III’s royal progress?  The Crowland Chronicler was particularly sour, noting that while King Richard was popularly received, his royal progress nevertheless wasted the large treasure acquired by Edward IV through diligence and thrift.  Although that has been shown to be untrue by Rosemary Horrox’s review of the financial memoranda,[59] we do have an eye-witness account rendered by Thomas Langton, Bishop of St David’s.  Langton was with the king at York, and later in Canterbury, and his words ring more faithful to the historical record than those of an unknown cleric who harbored a deep prejudice against northerners.

In Langton’s words:

He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince; for many a poor man that hath suffered wrong many days have been relieved and helped by him and his commands in his progress.  And in many great cities and towns were great sums of money given him which he hath refused.  On my troth I liked never the conditions of any prince so well as his; God hath sent him to us for the weal of us all.[60]

– Written and Copyrighted 2020 by Susan Troxell, originally published in the Ricardian Register, the journal of the American Branch of the Richard III Society

Author’s Note:  I would like to credit Dr. Compton Reeves and Pamela Tudor-Craig, in particular, for their very detailed descriptions and analyses of Richard III’s entry into York.  Their articles, which provided a wealth of information for this essay, are listed in the Sources below.  Rhoda Edwards’ Itinerary provides a definitive resource for Richard III’s whereabouts, citing to Signet Office and other government records.

SOURCES:

 Carolyn Donohue, “Public Display and the Construction of Monarchy in Yorkist England 1461-1485”, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of York, 2013.

Rhoda Edwards, The Itinerary of King Richard III 1483-1485 (Richard III Society, 1983)

P. W. Hammond, “Richard III at York”, The Ricardian, No. 41 (June 1473), pp. 3-4

P. W. Hammond & Anne F. Sutton, Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field (London 1985)

Rosemary Horrox, “Richard III and London”, The Ricardian, Vol.  VI, No. 85 (June 1984) pp. 322-329

Horrox & Hammond (eds.), British Library Harleian MS 433 (Richard III Society, 1980)

David M. Luitweiler, “A King, a Duke and a Bishop”, The Ricardian Register (Winter 2004) pp. 4-10

Mulryne, Aliverti, Tastaverde (eds.), “Ceremony and the Iconography of Power”, Ceremonial Entries in Early Modern Europe: the Iconography of Power (Ashgate, 2015)

Nicholas Pronay & John Cox (eds.): The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Alan Sutton, 1986)

Compton Reeves, “King Richard III at York in Late Summer 1483”, The Ricardian, Vol. XII, No. 159 (December 2002), pp. 542-553

Cora L. Scofield, The Life and Reign of Edward the Fourth King of England and of France and Lord of Ireland, Volume 1 (London, 1923)

Anne Sutton, “The Court and its Culture in the Reign of Richard III”, in Richard III: A Medieval Kingship (John Gillingham ed.), New York, 1993, pp. 75-92

Anne Sutton, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, The Ricardian, Vol. 5, No. 73 (June 1981), pp. 363-366

Anne Sutton & Peter Hammond (eds.), The Coronation of Richard III: the Extant Documents (Alan Sutton 1983)

H. Thomas & I. D. Thornley, The Great Chronicle of London (Alan Sutton 1983)

Pamela Tudor-Craig, “Richard III’s Triumphant Entry into York, August 29th, 1483, Richard III and the North (Horrox, ed.), University of Hull (1986), pp. 108-116

Pamela Tudor-Craig, Richard III NPG Exhibition, 2d ed. (1977)

Warkworth’s Chronicle (Camden Society, reprinted 1968)

 

[1] Scofield, p. 201.

[2] Sutton, Coronation, p. 76, quoting Fortescue.

[3] From The Arrivall:  “Hereupon, the ix. day of Aprell, th’Archbyshope callyd unto hym togethars, at Seint Powles, within the Citie of London, suche lords, gentlemen, and othar, as were of that partye, [with] as many men in harneys of theyr servaunts and othar as they cowthe make, which, in all, passed nat in nombar vj or vij{m} men, and thereupon, cawsed Henry, called Kynge, to take an horse and ryde from Powles thrwghe Chepe, and so made a circute abowte to Walbroke, as the generall processyon of London hathe bene accustomyd, and so returned agayne to Powles, to the Bysshops Palays, where the sayd Henry at that tyme was lodged, supposynge, that, whan he had shewed hym in this arraye, they shuld have provokyd the citizens, and th’enhabitants of the citie, to have stonde and comen to them, and fortified that partye; but, threwthe it is, that the rewlars of the citie were at the counsell, and hadd set men at all the gates and wardes, and they, seynge by this manner of doinge, that the power of the sayde Henry, and his adherents, was so litle and feble as there and then was shweyd, they cowld thereby take no corage to draw to them, ne to fortefye theyr partye, and, for that they fearyd, but rathar the contrary, for so moche as they sawe well that, yf they wolde so have done, ther myght was so lytle that it was nat for them to have ones attemptyd to have resystid the Kynge [Edward] in his comynge, whiche approched nere unto the citie, and was that nyght at Seint Albons.”

[4] Thomas, Great Chronicle, p. 215.

[5] Mulryne, p. 1.

[6] See, for instance, Anne Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs, “The Entry of Quyeen Elizabeth Woodville over London Bridge, 24 May 1465”, The Ricardian, 2009, pp 1-31.

[7] The Crowland Continuator was not as accurate when describing it as a squandering of Edward IV’s huge treasure.  As Rosemary Horrox showed in her study of the financial memoranda under Edward V, Edward IV’s treasury had already been depleted when Sir Edward Woodville was given charge of the fleet in the days following Edward IV’s death.  Horrox, Financial Memoranda of the Reign of Edward V, in Camden Miscellany, Vol. XXIX (London 1987), p. 213.

[8] Linda Briggs, “Concernant le service de leurs dictes Majestez et auctorité de leur justice: Perceptions of Royal Power in the Entries of Charles IX and Catherine de Médicis (1564-1566), in Mulrayne (ed.) Ceremonial Entries pp. 37-52

[9] Scofield, vol. 1, p 197.

[10] Harleian MS 433, vol. 2, pp. 4-5.

[11] Luitweiler, pp. 4-6, citing Magdalen College Register “A” f.27.b.

[12] Reeves, p. 545.

[13] Luitweiler, p. 9.

[14] Tudor-Craig, NPG, p. 55.

[15] Horrox, “Richard III and London”, p. 326, note 11.

[16] “Richard III and the City of Gloucester”, https://gloucestershirearchives.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/richard-iii-and-the-city-of-gloucester/

[17] http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1386-1421/constituencies/gloucester

[18] Scofield, p. 199.

[19] Donohue dissertation, p. 30.

[20] Donohue dissertation, p. 30.

[21] Edward IV had earlier ordered that the same royal manors convey 100 marks to the Abbot of Tewkesbury to satisfy George’s debt.  However, it is interesting to see how Richard refers to his two brothers in this grant, referring to “oure late brothere the Duc of Clarence whome god pardonne” versus “the famous prince of moost noble memorie king Edward the iiijth”.  Horrox and Hammond, Harleian MS 433, vol. 2, p. 7.

[22] PRO C81/886/18Reeves, p. 545.

[23] Reeves, p. 545.

[24] Donohue, pp. 30-31.

[25] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109.

[26] Reeves p. 545, citing Horrox and Hammond, Harleian MS 433, vol. 1 p. 75; Hammond and Sutton, Richard III: The Road to Bosworth, pp. 130-34.

[27] Hammond/Sutton, pp. 128-129.

[28] Reeves p. 545.

[29] Pamela Tudor-Craig believed that the proclamation of Edward of Middleham as Prince of Wales may partially explain why Buckingham parted ways with Richard III and rebelled.  Under Edward V, Buckingham was appointed Chief Justice and Chamberlain of north and south Wales, and upon Edward V’s coronation, would remain so until the king had a male heir.  But with Edward V’s deposition, Richard III effectively and “prematurely” cut short Buckingham’s status (and revenue streams) in Wales since the new Prince of Wales would come into his majority within a half-dozen years or so.   “By declaring his son Edward Prince of Wales, Richard III in effect ended his minority.  The letters sent by the newly created prince from York to the knights and esquires of north and south Wales to continue to pay their dues to our ‘right trusty & righte entirely beloved Cousyne the duc of Buckingham’ did not convey the same message as they had contained on 15th May when Buckingham received those Welsh offices during the Protectorate.”  From that point onwards Buckingham was only the agent, who would be required to transfer the funds to the Prince of Wales.  The letters from the new Prince of Wales went out on September 16.  By October 11, Buckingham was known to be in rebellion.  Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, pp. 109-110.

[30] Hammond/Sutton, p. 138 citing Harleian MS 433 vol. 2, pp. 82-3.  Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109-110.

[31] Reeves, pp. 545-6.

[32] Hammond/Sutton 139-40, citing Harleian 433 MS, vol. 2, p, 42.

[33] Warkworth’s Chronicle, p. 14.

[34] “Wishing therefore to display in the North, where he had spent most of his time previously, the superior royal rank, which he acquired for himself in this manner, as diligently as possible, he left the royal city of London and passing through Windsor, Oxford and Coventry came at length to York. There, on a day appointed for the repetition of his crowning in the metropolitan church, he presented his only son, Edward, whom, that same day, he had created prince of Wales with the insignia of the gold wand and the wreath; and he arranged splendid and highly expensive feasts and entertainments to attract to himself the affection of many people.  There was no shortage of treasure then to implement the aims of his so elevated mind since, as soon as he first thought about his intrusion into the kingship, he seized everything that his deceased brother, the most glorious King Edward, had collected with the utmost ingenuity and the utmost industry, many years before, as we have related above, and which he had committed to the use of his executors for the carrying out of his last will.” Pronay & Cox, Crowland Chronicle, pp. 161-163.

[35] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, p. 109.

[36] Alexandra Johnson, “The Plays of the Religious Guilds of York:  The Creed Play and the Pater Noster Play,” Speculum, 1975, pp. 55-90.

[37] Tudor-Craig, Triumphant Entry, pp. 111-113, quotation from p 113.

[38] Reeves, p. 547.

[39] Reeves, p. 548.

[40] Reeves, pp. 548-9.

[41] Reeves, pp. 549-550.

[42] Reeves p. 550.

[43]http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=43481&partId=1

[44] Reeves p. 550.

[45] https://www.gainsborougholdhall.com/about-the-old-hall/royal-visitors

[46] Hammond/Sutton, Road to Bosworth, p. 137.

[47] Hammond/Sutton p. 141.

[48] Hammond/Sutton p. 144.

[49] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[50] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[51] Hammond/Sutton, 152-153, citing Canterbury City Archives, Chamberlains’ Accounts, Michaelmas 1483-Michaelmas 1484, f. 13b, quoted in The Ricardian, 1980, vol. 5, p. 283.

[52] Edwards, Itinerary of Richard III, p. xiii.

[53] Sutton/Hairsine, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, p. 365.

[54] Sutton, “Richard III’s visits to Canterbury”, pp. 365-66.

[55] Amy License, “New evidence: Was Richard III guilty of murdering the Princes in the Tower?, New Statesman, 5 March 2013.

[56] “Canterbury and the Battle of Agincourt,” January, 2016 lecture given by Dr David Grummit, Canterbury Christ Church University, reported in https://blogs.canterbury.ac.uk/kenthistory/canterbury-and-the-battle-of-agincourt/.  Adam of Usk also reported that Henry V walked barefooted from Shrewsbury to St. Winefride’s Well, which is believed to have occurred in 1416.

[57] Reeves, p. 551.

[58] Sutton, Court & its Culture, pp. 77-79.

[59] See note 7, above.

[60] Adapted from Hammond/Sutton, p. 135.  Richard developed the work of the royal council receiving the petitions of the poor who could not afford the usual processes of the law.  He appointed a special clerk to deal with these matters.  From this developed the Court of Requests.  (“December 27, 1483.  Grant for the life to the king’s servitor John Haryngton, for his good service before the lords and others of the council and elsewhere and especially in the custody, registration and expedition of bills, requests and supplications of poor persons, of an annuity of Ł20 at the receipt of the Exchequer and the office of clerk of the council of the said requests and supplications, with all commodities.”  Hammond/Sutton 151, citing Calendar of Patent Rolls 1476-1485, London 1954, no. 1152, p. 413.)

 

Things learned about most of our 15th-century kings….

The new year of 2020 commenced with this article dropping into my inbox. It’s an interesting list, each entry backed by an explanation, but I’ve limited my comments to the monarchs of the 15th century.

The thought of Henry VI requiring a sex coach is rather boggling, I have to say, but then he was a little, um, shy, shall we say? I have to feel sorry for him, although he was one of the worst kings England ever had to endure. He was the personification of incompetence, which is putting it mildly. And as for him accepting fatherhood of Margaret of Anjou’s child…. Words definitely fail me.

Did Elizabeth Woodville die of the plague? Well, we will never know, but it’s possible. As is the possibility that she was helped on her way by her son-in-law, who’d just had enough of her. Like the murderous Tudor line he sired, Henry VII was inclined to get rid of those he didn’t like. Unlike the king whose throne he usurped. Richard III should have done away with far more, including Henry’s pesky mother! But he didn’t, and paid the price of his honourable conduct.

Richard is actually dealt with quite well in this article. He isn’t routinely blackened, as has been the tiresome tradition, which failed to ever look properly at his record.

Henry VII’s bed bought for a couple of thousand pounds? Oh, well…whoever asked that low price must be kicking themselves. I wonder what Elizabeth of York felt as she lay there gazing up at the canopy, being bonked by her uncle’s killer? Did she participate in the proceedings? Or simply think of England?

Apart from the above examples, the rest of the article leaves the 15th century and deals with later kings and queens, so I will let you read them all and form your own opinions. As for my above comments…well, I just couldn’t resist…!

 

 

 

Henry VI: saint or sinner?

A gentle and devotional life

About seventy years ago, the historian John Harvey wrote this in an essay about King Henry VI: “The life and death, and the thwarting of his noble designs are one (sic) of the sorriest tragedies of English history. He was a victim of forces outside his control, for whose existence he was not responsible, but set in motion by his grandfather’s crime and his father’s one-sided ambition. Inheriting the love of justice of his Plantagenet forefathers and the a artistic culture and melancholia of Charles VI of France, his character was in sharp contrast with that of his age, possessed in marked degree by his wife. In his charity, his love of art and his spirit he was a true Plantagenet, though a paradoxical one…. He saw the world as a place of brief sojourn in which to do good, to learn courtesy and to seek God. There was nothing political in his martyrdom; except as the shadow of a name, and the crowned and anointed husband of Margaret, he represented no threat to anybody in the world. Yet the callous and sacrilegious hand that struck him down, though it ended a gentle and devotional life on earth, ensured that Henry’s virtues and lasting benefits should be perpetually bought to the mind of oblivious posterity” [1]

 

Harvey took this version of Henry’s life and death from a tract entitled ‘A Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI’, which is attributed to John Blacman and was published in 1510.[2] The tract is in fact a collection of anecdotes of Henry’s religious devotions from the recollection of one of his chaplains and other intimates of his personal life. The aim of the collection is to present Henry as a holy saint whose ‘kingdom’ was not worldly. He performed a miracle of loaves (but not fishes) for his troops and endured hunger, thirst, mocking, abuse and other hardships in his life including wounding in his side by a dagger. He foretold his own death but was not believed. And he suffered a violent death so that others might live in peace. Blacman’s depiction of Henry as an exemplar of Christian virtue, though not of this world was also the standard Tudor view echoed by Henry VII’s historian Polydore Vergil: “ King Henry was a man of mild and plain-dealing disposition who preferred peace before war, quietness before troubles, honesty before utility and leisure before business: and to be short, there was not in this world a more honest and a more holy creature. There was in him honest shamed-facedness, modesty, innocency and perfect patience taking all human chances, miseries and all afflictions in his life in good part as though he had justly by some offence deserved the same. And he ruled his own affections that he might more easily rule his own subjects; he gapped not after riches nor thirsted for honours and worldly estimation but was careful only for his souls sake; such things as tended to the salvation thereof he only esteemed for good; and that very wisely; such again as procured loss thereof he only accounted evil.[3]

 

To set against this Tudor narrative of the martyred Henry, we have his known failings as a king. Henry is mainly remembered as the king who lost the Hundred Years War and during whose rule the Wars of the Roses started. Indeed The late Bertram Wolffe thought that Henry as such an insubstantial and unsuccessful king that writing his biography was a long and dispiriting task. I do not deny that Henry was a weak and ineffective king. That judgement was made in his lifetime and has not been seriously challenged since. However, I do think that John Harvey may have an arguable point about Henry’s culpability. Was he wholly to blame for the calamities of his reign, or was he the victim of circumstances? That is the question I wish to discuss in this article; first, by setting Henry’s reign in the context of events from his accession until his mental breakdown in 1453; second, by discussing his performance in three key policy areas: maintenance of the dual monarchy, royal finances and the rule of law.

 

Divided opinions

Until the twentieth century, studies of Henry were dominated by the story of an innocent king at the mercy of greedy and violent nobles. However, modern biographies challenge that simple narrative and in doing so have broadened our understanding of the complexities of Henry’s reign. In 1981, two contrasting studies of Henry VI appeared almost simultaneously. The first was by Bertram Wolffe; whose, unforgiving verdict of King Henry goes well beyond the accusation that he was incompetent.[4] Wolffe judges Henry by what he did as revealed in the government records, and he completely rejects the notion of the mild, martyred king. In its place he describes an actively malign king, whose piety was too ostentatious to be virtuous, and whose nature was too unforgiving and vindictive to be saintly. He was also a poor judge of character, prone to interfering, and lacking in judgement and proportionality. He disregarded his royal oath and he was wilful. In essence the inconsistencies and failures of English foreign policy were due to Henry’s capricious changes of mind and his susceptibility to improper influences. Thus Wolffe rejects the whole idea that the loss of France was due to the divided opinion of the English aristocracy.[5] He does not doubt that Henry’s failures as a king left the establishment of Eton College and of King’s College Cambridge as his sole achievements.

 

Also in 1981, Ralph Griffith’s published his evaluation of Henry’s reign. It is a nuanced and detailed assessment of Henry’s performance as monarch and his qualities as a man. Griffiths recognises the military and fiscal difficulties that dogged Henry’s rule, and the factionalism of the nobility, which would have tested even a high performing and confident king. The essence of Griffiths’ evaluation of Henry is best put in his own words: “Henry VI was in reality a well-intentioned man with aspirations that were laudable enough, in an age when king’s could not rule by good intentions alone. He had an interest in the realities of government with the aim of realising those aspirations, especially in education, relations with Valois France, and the reward of friends and servants. Other of his qualities were obstacles to effective kingship. He was extravagant, credulous, over merciful and compassionate to those at fault yet fearful suspicious of those rumoured to be doing him harm. These are not the qualities of a shrewd and balanced judge of men and politics. Henry also lacked the foresight, prudence and calculation that make a king’s actions responsible ones; he showed little sagacity, subtlety or discrimination in his administrative actions and none of the political astuteness necessary to achieve an acceptable balance among his subjects competing interests — as contemporaries recognised who stressed his simplicity. Not that he was uneducated or unintelligent but he was the least experienced of English medieval kings at his succession and never shook off his youthful dependence on others in the routine and detail of affairs…With his naively defective judgement, Henry’s advisors were too often unworthy of his confidence.[6] Griffiths’ explains this last sentence later in his book. “Those contemporaries who …[observed]...Henry VI as a boy were agreed that he grew into a personable, intelligent and even precocious youth. His years as a minor between the ages of one and fifteen were naturally of considerable importance to his education as a monarch of two realms. His relatives had already created for him an atmosphere of political bitterness, even personal hatred, and after Bedford’s death, both (Humphrey duke of) Gloucester and (Henry) Beaufort (bishop of Winchester) strove to be the single most dominant influence on him as he grew older. They would be reluctant to allow him the exercise of free will as an adult king. The end result of these intense personal pressures was to accustom Henry to dependence, to being told what to do. Even after Gloucester and Beaufort had receded into the background he found other pillars on which to lean: the earl of Suffolk. Archbishop Kemp, the duke of Somerset and finally, when he was least able to fend for himself, the Queen.”[7] In Griffiths’ view, therefore, Henry is far less culpable for the disasters of his reign than those relatives and other advisors who instead of supporting the king betrayed his trust in them.

 

John Watts’ appraisal of Henry, which first appeared in 1999, is the antithesis of Wolf’s ‘active’ king.[8] He also questions Griffiths’ negative assessment of Henry’s relatives and advisors. Watts argues simpliciter that Henry was so passive that he created difficulties for the nobility, who in their own interactions tried to compensate for a king who was chronically unable to exercise royal authority, and was especially ‘incapable of giving judgements, managing the counsel of his advisors and making policy appear his own.’ This depiction of Henry as a simpleton is not a new one. In the opinion of at least one anonymous fifteenth century commentator, Henry was simple and easily led: “In the same time the realm of England was out of all good governance as it had been before, for the king was simple and led by covetous counsel and owed more than he was worth. His debts increased daily but payment there was none. All the possessions and lordships that pertained to the crown the king had given away, some to lords and some to other simple persons so that he had almost nothing left. For these misgovernances and for many others, the hearts of the people were turned away from them that had the land in governance and their blessings were turned to curses” [9]

 

Watts contends that what others describe as “‘the king’s unfair and unwise distribution of patronage and the opportunistic behaviour of his household servants’, should be judged in the context of ‘how this [patronage] was turned into power in the localities or why the nobility who might have been expected to resist the king’s agents did nothing until the 1450’s.[10] His own explanation is that: “The England of the 1440’s was governed by a very extensive network of men, including most of the old nobility; their difficulties stemmed more from lack of co-ordination and lack of authority than from partisanship.” Central to this thinking is late twentieth century research carried out by Christine Carpenter, Anthony Pollard, Helen Castor and others into the dynamics of local politics and relationships in the fifteenth century. These several studies suggest a different and more complex regional dynamic from the factional politics of the greater nobility.[11]

 

Local cooperation between landowners, merchants, farmers, artisans and labourers, coupled with the complex inter-relationships of the gentry forged by their arranged marriages, were the bonds that held English society together. The importance of these local transactions, whether they were commercial, legal, social, successional or familial, is that often they transcended the politicking of the great nobles. In view of Henry’s inability or unwillingness to govern and on the basis that ‘something had to be done’, it is argued that rather than fleecing Henry, his closest advisors were in fact trying to maintain the everyday cohesion of national and local life from collapsing into anarchy. This is an important new hypothesis; since even though the English nobility were a turbulent and quarrelsome bunch, their relationship with the king was based on mutual cooperation and benefit.[12] In the absence of a national police force or standing army, or civil service the king relied on the nobility to enforce his law, his peace and his policies through their network of local officials and law officers. In return, the king was expected to provided the national leadership that ensured “…an outward calm for the defence and surety of the realm”.[13]

 

Professor Christine Carpenter in her own leading study of this period holds the view that Henry was so deficient in kingly qualities that whilst he might be allowed to approve some insignificant grants and pardons, though not necessarily as an act of personal rule, he was hardly likely to be allowed to formulate foreign policy for the war in France, which “…was absolutely central to the domestic politics of England…It is scarcely conceivable that they would have allowed the king to dictate policy on which their very lives depended when they seem to have been able to dictate to the king on everything else that mattered.” [14] However, she does not deny the possibility that Henry’s wishes may be seen in some of his ‘over-generous grants and pardons and in the foreign policy of the 1440’s’, which may be the result of Henry’s genuine desire for peace rather than an example of his capriciousness.

 

It seems, therefore, that though modern scholars agree that Henry was in the general sense incompetent, there is less certainty about whether he was culpable for the deficiencies of his reign. In considering that question, it is important to bear in mind that Henry VI is unique among English monarchs. He was not only born to the purple, but also surrounded with the divinity of kingship from the cradle. The untimely death of his father Henry V bought baby Henry to the throne of two kingdoms before he was a year old. He is the only English king to have presided at his first parliament sitting on his mother’s lap. Consequently, his character and his performance can only be judged in a regal context and by bearing in mind that in respect of both his kingdoms he never had the benefit of growing-up under the wing of his father from whom he might have learned the art of kingship.

 

Kingship

The English had high expectations of Henry. He was, after all, the only son of a successful warrior king. They expected him to rule in the common interest and they recognised his absolute, personal and inalienable authority to do so. There was no conflict between these principles if the king was competent. Ideally, such a king was prudent and took representative advice before acting. He made sound decisions and implemented them efficiently. Sir John Fortescue in his treatise on fifteenth century governance noted with smug pride that though in theory English kings had the powers of a tyrant, they generally ruled responsibly ‘in the common weal’.

 

Much depended on the vigour and personality of the king. He was expected to devise his own foreign and domestic policies, conduct affairs of state, make peace or declare war, lead the army against enemies foreign and domestic, dispense justice, and live off his income from crown lands and feudal dues. In theory, baby Henry was expected to do all these things from the moment he ascended the throne. In practice, of course, that was impossible. Henry could neither walk nor talk, nor control his bodily functions, nor even chew his own food much less govern his realms. This practical problem was complicated by the established constitutional doctrine, which held that the person of the king and the institution of king (the Crown) were indivisible. Royal authority, therefore, rested solely in the king’s person from the very instant of his accession. No other person could exercise royal authority on behalf of the king under any circumstances; to do so, was treason.[15] In 1422, therefore, the king’s true subjects were wondering how their baby king could rule them if he was physically and intellectually incapable of exercising his authority.

 

‘The king’s tender years’

On his deathbed, Henry V entrusted the governance of England to his youngest brother Humphrey duke of Gloucester, signifying that the duke should have the principal safekeeping and defence ’of his beloved son’ (tutela et defensionem nostril carissimi filii principales).[16] These words implied that duke Humphrey was to have the powers of a regent answerable only to the king and then only after Henry reached his majority. It was a settlement that recognised the indivisibility of the person and office of king, and devolved royal authority to the regent. However, when the matter came before the lords in parliament in 1422 they disregarded Henry V’s will and rejected Gloucester’s claim to be regent[17]: they did so again in 1428.[18] Distrusting Gloucester’s motives and preferring a conciliar minority rule to his autocratic regency, the lords determined on legal advice that exceptionally during Henry’s minority the indivisible estate of the king was incomplete since it lacked will or reason, which must perforce be supplied by the lords of the King’s Council, who would exercise the king’s authority collectively, whether assembled in Parliament, in the king’s continual council or in the Great Council, until the king was able to assume his personal rule.[19] John duke of Bedford the heir presumptive was appointed to the specially created and limited position of Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm, and chief councillor to the king. Gloucester was allowed to hold that position only during Bedford’s absences abroad. Professor Watts regards this as a paradox in which the lords are both the king’s servants and his representatives, but in reality, it was a practicable solution to a practical problem. It was a settlement that prevented a non-regal autocracy, whilst enabling the realm to be governed during the king’s incapacity. It did not transfer royal authority to the lords and its legitimacy was founded squarely on the English lords’ collective responsibility. Moreover, this constitutional model stood the test of time. It was used again when Henry was incapacitated by mental illness in 1453, and also in 1483 when the child king Edward V succeeded to the throne. I am labouring these points now because of their importance in understanding the nature of Henry’s reign.

 

A minority council was therefore appointed to govern the kingdom collectively during the protectorship and throughout the king’s minority.[20] From the start, the council’s work was undermined by two long-term problems. First, a conflict of interests between the king’s relatives Gloucester and Beaufort soon became apparent. Gloucester, acting head of the council vice his absent elder brother, was overly ambitious and used his position to influence the direction of policy. Beaufort, the king’s Chancellor, was wealthy and used his wealth to promote his own policies. Their differences, which were personal as well as political, were irreconcilable. And their disgraceful behaviour did much to bring the council into disrepute. Second, many of the minority councillors exploited loopholes in the council’s financial regulations and abused their authority for their aggrandisement. There can be little doubt that Henry’s relatives and his venal councillors set a very poor example for the impressionable king. Even so, it is unlikely that Henry’s inadequacies were apparent when he was a child, since his involvement in affairs of state was notional.

 

A personable, intelligent and precocious youth

Henry’s transition from child king to adult king was a complex, and for some an arcane process. Unfortunately, a definitive appreciation of those events is hardly possible due to an academic disagreement between historians about what really happened and why. The undeniable facts that can be elucidated from the minutes and archives of government are straightforward. On the 1 October 1435, two months before his fourteenth birthday, Henry attended his first council meeting. Gloucester and Beaufort were also present since it was a strategically important gathering to appoint a new captain for the Calais garrison. Evidence of Henry’s subsequent attendances at minority council meetings and also at the less frequent but larger assemblies of his Great Council can be gleaned from the minutes of those meetings. In addition, petitions and warrants signed by the king signify that he regularly exercised his royal prerogative in matters of grace from at least the 28 July 1436, which was well before his fifteenth birthday. [21] For example, between the 7 November 1436 and the end of the month, he signed twenty-seven petitions and warrants.[22] Nor was Henry’s involvement in government restricted to matters of grace. There is evidence that he played a significant part in substantive foreign policy decisions such as the Duke of Orleans peace mission to France.[23] Despite the council’s natural concern about the liberality of Henry’s grants,[24] there was no obvious reason at this stage and on this evidence for anybody to think that Henry would not make a satisfactory king. He was young and could reasonably be expected to become more prudent as he gained experience and wisdom.

 

Following a meeting of the great Council, which lasted from the 12 to the 14 of November 1437, Henry declared the formal ending of his minority and assumption of his personal rule; he was not yet sixteen and the youngest English king since the Conquest to do so.[25] All the existing councillors were reappointed on oath to ‘counsel (Henry) well and truly and to keep his secrets, and to put forward their whole labours and diligence for his worship’.[26] Their terms and conditions of service were changed. Payment was now at the king’s discretion. The most contentious part of Henry’s declaration was the description of his future relationship with the new council, which was set out in a series of detailed ‘ordinances’ taken partly from those established for the council by Henry’s grandfather in 1406.[27] As far as I can see, the core of the declaration amounts to this: i) Henry’s prerogative on matters of grace is unfettered. ii) The council will continue to discuss ‘weighty matters’ moved before them, though no decision will be made or action taken without the king’s ‘advice’. iii) The council will continue to discuss and dispose of routine matters unless the council is divided or unable to make a judgement; in which case, the matter will be referred to the king for judgement. So much for the facts, I now turn to the debate about their meaning.

 

Professor Griffiths considers Henry’s declaration to have been no more than “…an announcement that Henry VI would take a prominent part in affairs henceforth, though without jettisoning the councillors who had served him during his youth.”[28] He dismisses the idea put forward by Watts et al that it was prompted by conciliar apprehension; neither does he accept that it was an attempt to restrain the king. It was, he argues, a material restraint on the council’s power vis-à-vis royal authority, as all matters of grace were in the king’s prerogative. “Pardons were his to give, all collations and benefits his to bestow, royal offices his to fill and anything pertaining to the Crown estates, bounty or favour were reserved to him”. [29] Moreover, though matters of weight might be discussed in council, nothing could be moved without reference to the king. Even routine matters must be referred to the king if the council were divided or unable to make a decision. Griffiths’ further suggests that the outcome was no more than Henry’s personal assumption of powers delegated to the council in 1422. The vagueness of the term ‘great weight or charge’ is an indication of Henry’s intention to intervene in anything important. Griffiths does not see this as a forceful return to personal rule or a wilful thrusting aside of wise councillors. Even less is the council attempting to preserve its authority by ‘ encircling the king with restrictions devised thirty years before’. “Henry’s declaration...[heralded]…the re-establishment, after fifteen years of conciliar government, of traditional royal rule in which the king’s councillors had an acknowledged part. Perhaps the only surprising feature was that it was published so soon in the young king’s life.”[30]

 

Bertram Wolffe’s conclusion is not materially different from that of Griffiths on this issue. Though, he is more vigorous in his assertion that, as far as could be judged in 1437, Henry possessed some kingly qualities such as physical strength, piety and ambition, and that there was a reasonable chance that wisdom and judgement would follow in due course. Henry was keen to assume the reins of power “just as soon, if not sooner than his advisors approved“.[31] Wolffe came to this conclusion after a careful and thorough analysis of the official record, minutes, petitions, warrants commissions and ‘the workings of government’, which demonstrate that Henry was not merely a cipher authorising everything and anything they put before him. In Wolffe’s opinion there were no grounds for the minority council to cling to their powers once the king determined he had come of age. The ordinances of 1437, though based on those of 1406, indicate that the council was shedding power, not increasing it. I do not think that either Wolffe or Griffiths is arguing that Henry was not an ineffectual adult king, or that his incapacity was not an important factor in the catastrophes of his reign. Their point is that these things were not necessarily obvious in 1437.

 

Professor Watts takes a completely different line.[32] For reasons I have already touched on, he argues that Henry insufficiencies were apparent before 1437. He rejects the notion that between 1435 and 1437 Henry was initiating his personal rule. The impetus for that, he argues, was coming from the council who managed his exercise of favour: “from grants made by the king and council in 1435-36 to grants made by the king alone but only during pleasure in 1436-37 and finally grants made for life from the spring of 1437 onwards.”[33] Watts adds that the council and wider nobility were worried that Henry was both unable and unwilling to rule the kingdom independently. He writes: “…if he had been behind the events of 1436, the whole tiresome process of recognition, definition and tentative restriction could have been avoided. The king would have begun to exercise his free will over the full range of royal responsibility, while counsellors, those of 1422 and others, advised him[34]

 

The emerging problems of 1437 were twofold. First, it was next to impossible to prevent individual petitioners seeking patronage from the young king, whose largess was well known. Second, the effective formulation of state foreign and justicial policy depended on active royal leadership and authority; in the absence of these two prerequisite, the effective management of the realm could only be achieved if the various factional groupings and vested interests reconciled their differences in a common approach. It was for these reasons, Watts suggests, that the council devised the 1437 declaration. “ [Since] the impetus for royal activity came from below…It was for the political community, if they could not bind the king, to define and govern the exercise of royal power.” [35]

 

The Suffolk years

The period between 1437 and 1450 saw the gradual but inexorable erosion of conciliar government and the establishment of an oligarchy based on the royal household and headed by William De La Pole earl (later duke) of Suffolk. As Steward of the King’s Household he had unrestricted access to the king and unrestrained influence over him.[36] As a result of this centralisation of government and the staff changes introduced by the council, state affairs were increasingly determined by only a small number of royal advisors, usually comprising Beaufort, Suffolk and their henchmen. Further administrative ordinances in 1444 aimed at streamlining administrative procedures and tightening the purse strings further reduced the number of royal advisors to, sometimes, not more than one or two. Finally, the deaths of Beaufort and Gloucester in 1447 consolidated Suffolk’s dominating position as the king’s chief advisor — sometimes his only advisor.[37]

 

Regardless of whether their motive was benign or malign, it is questionable whether the shift in power promoted by Suffolk’s and his affiliates was in the national interest. Even if the bulk of the English nobility acquiesced in the establishment of an oligarchy that pretended to be a monarchy, and even if the nature of the Henry’s incapacity was so desperate that ‘something had to be done’, Suffolk’s effort to prop up a non-functioning king by acting as his proxy was as reckless as it was treasonable.[38] It reduced the royal household to the status of a ‘faction’ and was the cause of such angst that it led eventually to civil war. If for whatever reason, the king lacked the will or reason to exercise his authority, then his royal estate was incomplete. In which case, the only proper course open to the lords was to resurrect the protectorship and the conciliar regime ratified by parliament in 1422.[39] Though this solution was not perfect, it had the dual benefits of legitimacy and utility. By thus broadening the government’s base and unblocking the king’s access to advice from the wider nobility there was a better prospect of consensual government during the king’s disability. Suffolk’s perseverance with the pretence that Henry was a functioning king damaged the Crown and fuelled public suspicions that he was acting in bad faith. Even professor Watts concedes that “Towards the end of the decade the court actually began to resemble the small body of household intimates and administrators depicted by its critics.”[40]

 

Of all the problems facing the English at this time, the most pressing were maintenance of the dual monarchy and Crown finances. These two problems were inextricably linked and could not be resolved separately. Moreover, an acceptable solution was more difficult to achieve owing to a conflict between the king’s peaceful ambition for his realms and the aspirations of his English subjects, for whom the conquest of France was a matter of national pride, prestige and power. Nevertheless, the key drivers that convinced Beaufort and the council (except Gloucester) of the need for peace were practical and not moral. The war was going badly for English arms. They were on the defensive everywhere. The conquest of the isle de France was no longer achievable or affordable. The burgeoning cost of defending the dual monarchy was pushing the Crown towards bankruptcy.

 

Negotiations for a permanent peace treaty began under Beaufort in 1437 and dragged on until 1444, when Suffolk agreed a temporary truce, which was only secured at the cost of two major English concessions. Henry was to marry a minor French princess, Margaret daughter of Renee of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar, and titular king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem. From the English point of view, it was an inauspicious choice for their queen. Though Margaret was related to Charles VII, she was not an heiress and her family were not important in diplomatic terms. Besides, the attitude towards her in England was likely to be suspicious, it not downright hostile. The second — and secret — English concession was the surrender of Maine, which Suffolk is supposed to have promised to Charles verbally. Henry confirmed the promise secretly in writing in 1445, at the entreaty of his French wife. The English, when they finally heard of this concession were naturally suspicious that Margaret aided by Suffolk had put undue pressure on the king. The English army refused to cooperate and Maine was not actually ceded to the French until 1448.

 

There was a third problem, which though not quite as pressing as the other two was important and getting worse. There is evidence of clashes between local gentry and also between national magnates in the north, in the midlands, in south wales, in the west and in the Home Counties.[41] The use of private armies to resolve local grievances and disputes alienated lords and commoners alike. Their resentment was aggravated by the belief that the king’s ministers and servants condoned this anarchy. These problems were about to come to a head and would change the course of history.

 

Annus horribilis

The year I have called annus horribilis began on the 6 November 1449 with the hasty recall of Parliament. Such was the magnitude of the emergency at home and abroad that only nine weeks after the dissolution of parliament in July, another was summoned in September. The members of parliament who assembled at Westminster on the 6 November 1449 had the crisis in Normandy and misgovernment at home uppermost in their minds, and they were looking for the culprits.[42] As the king’s most influential counsellor, it was Suffolk who bore the brunt of their resentment. His fall from power was triggered by his attempt to block a complaint by Lord Cromwell against William Tailboys from going before the King’s Council.[43] The infuriated Cromwell drew the matter to the attention of the Commons who included it in a list of charges they were compiling against Suffolk. Meanwhile, during the parliamentary recess, English sailors murdered the much-hated Adam Moleyns bishop of Chichester. As he lay dying, Moleyns ‘confessed’ to Suffolk’s many misdeeds. Following this, Suffolk felt it necessary to make a statement answering Moleyns allegations and the many ‘…slanders and misconceptions running throughout the land’.

 

The Lords’ refusal to commit Suffolk for trial on the basis that there were no specific charges provided the Common with the opportunity to present a formal petition (indictment) containing eight specific articles (counts) of high treason against the duke. The most serious charge was that Suffolk conspired with Charles Valois to destroy Henry and put his own son, John De La Pole, on the English throne. The other charges amounted in general terms to examples of his treason by aiding and abetting the king’s enemies. However, after Suffolk was called to answer the charges, the king put the whole matter in abeyance. Whereupon, the Commons presented Henry with a second petition containing eighteen articles setting out the details of Suffolk’s corruption (including Cromwell’s complaint) and financial mismanagement. For which “…offences, misprisions, faithless acts and false deceits specified“ the Commons “accused and impeached” Suffolk.[44] Henry tried to delay the proceedings but was unable to stop Suffolk’s impeachment. In a desperate attempt to save his most important advisor from a traitor’s death, Henry exercised his prerogative to declare the first indictment for high treason ‘neither declared nor charged’. In other words, he was simply not prepared to accept it. On the second indictment of misprision, he exercised his prerogative for clemency by banishing Suffolk for five years. Nevertheless, Henry’s effort to save Suffolk was unavailing. On the 1 May 1450, somewhere in the English Channel off the Kent coast, Suffolk’s ship was intercepted by a small flotilla, which included the Nicholas of the Tower. The Captain and crew of the Nicholas boarded Suffolk’s ship and ignoring his royal safe-conduct tried, convicted and executed him with a rusty sword. His headless body was dumped on the shore by Dover.[45]

 

Suffolk’s death did not alleviate England’s crisis in 1450 but it did pave the way for the Commons to petition Henry for a resumption of Crown lands alienated since the beginning of his reign, and the termination of all annuities, corrodes and pensions.[46] This Act would enable Henry to resume his economic and hereditary rights to all Crown properties, offices and custom taxes he gave as patronage. It was strongly resisted and there is no record in the Parliamentary Roll that Henry assented to it. However, without Suffolk to stiffen the king’s sinews it was passed into law; albeit, with 186 individual exceptions granted by Henry, which rendered it ineffective.[47] The Commons also made supplication to the king about purveyance abuses. They were concerned that money allocated for the defence of the realm was being used to pay the royal household’s subsistence expenses: this had to stop. It was the price Henry had to pay for the life of Suffolk and for obtaining a tax subsidy from the Commons.[48]

 

Charles VII invaded Normandy in 1449 and drove the English out. The English garrison were deficient in all the basic necessities of fifteenth century siege warfare except fighting spirit.[49] The professional French army was superior in numbers, leadership, tactics, arms, equipment and organisation. This situation is all the more discreditable since the English politicians were warned in good time by the English commander, Edmund Beaufort duke of Somerset, that the French were amassing a large army on the Normandy border and that the Duchy was defenceless without a large reinforcement of men and equipment. Measures were hastily put in hand to recruit and equip a force under the command of Sir Thomas Kyriell for service in France, but it was too little too late. On the 15 April 1450 the small English field army under Kyriell’s command was overwhelmed at Formigny near Bayeux; though outnumbered, they fought hard until virtually the last man.[50] The loss of Normandy was regarded as a national disgrace by most of the king’s subjects. There was also a general feeling that the heart of government was corrupt, and doubts that royal authority was being exercised properly.

 

Anybody looking for a connection between local and national politics need look no further than the rebellion that began in Kent in May 1450, and spread through the Home Counties and beyond during the summer. Jack Cade’s rebellion was short, sharp and brutal. Inevitably, the rebels were crushed and their leader killed. However, while it lasted, the rebellion shook the Lancastrian regime to its very core. The king fled from London, his household panicked and gave-up a few defenceless scapegoats to the rebels, and four hundred royal soldiers were defeated in the Kent Weald. Cade occupied London and in a series of quasi-judicial tribunals meted out rough justice to those whom he regarded as traitors. The rebellion was supported by a broad cross section of English society from powerful landowners to rural peasants. And they had put their grievances in writing. The ‘Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent’ and “The Articles of a Captain of Kent’ are distinguished by their intelligent articulation of local and national grievances and for their proposals for reform. The rebels’ grievances are neatly summarised: “…the king had false counsel for his laws are lost, his merchandise is lost, his commons destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, himself so poor that he may not have [pay for] his meat or drink…[51] It is clear that the rebels did not blame the king for this misgovernment; they, blamed his advisors.

 

Although Cade’s rebellion did not produce instant results, it was the catalyst for Richard duke of York’s intervention in English politics as a champion for reform. York did not hold a formal constitutional position within England. He was not a member of the king’s inner circle, nor did he have a natural line of communication to the king. He was, however, the king’s heir presumptive and the senior royal duke, and as such, neither the king nor his inner circle of advisors could ignore York. He served as the King’s Lieutenant in Normandy (twice) and also in Ireland, where he proved himself to be a brave soldier and an excellent administrator: in fact, the quintessential ‘good lord’. His sudden return from Ireland (where he had been sent by the king for ten years in 1447) in September 1450 still troubles scholars: was it due to private grievance or public right? Interesting though that question is, it is irrelevant for my purpose. My point is simply that York’s intervention, for whatever reason, was bound to change the whole nature of English politics, which it did. His criticisms of the government were essentially the same as those of Cade’s rebels. He did not question the king’s competence and embellished his own comments with the suggestion that Henry was the innocent victim of evil councillors. It was a situation from which York — the king’s true and loyal subject — would recue him; thus, allowing him to rule properly as he always intended. It is difficult to regard this approach as anything other than a tactic intended to prevent the imputation of treason against York. It was also an approach guaranteed to antagonize the duke of Somerset who had succeeded Suffolk as Henry’s chief advisor.

 

The hostility between York and Somerset, which had been an undercurrent in English politics from the late 1440’s, became dominant in 1451. Their mutual dislike matured into personal and intense hatred that expressed itself through the medium of opposing Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. And there was worst to come: soon Gascony would be lost, leaving Calais as the last remnant of the first English overseas empire. At home the violent disturbances and aristocratic lawlessness continued, together with real or imagined conspiracies against the king. There was and is a suspicion that York was behind these plots, for which the evidence is ambiguous to say the least. However, it is unlikely that he condoned efforts by his supporters to remove the king. He wanted to rescue Henry from the clutches of his evil advisors, not replace him. The problem with York’s simplistic approach is that it ignored the much profounder question of the king’s fitness to rule, which nobody — least of all York — was prepared to consider at this stage. More worrying from York’s perspective was the fact that whilst his power and influence waned, Somerset’s waxed. By 1452, York was politically isolated. The bulk of the unaligned lords regarded him as an incorrigible troublemaker with no constitutional legitimacy to challenge the king’s choice of advisors. The pretence that Henry was a fit to rule England persisted until he was deposed in 1461.

 

The king was ill. We know nothing about the illness except that it caused mental collapse and it was kept secret until after the birth of his heir on the 18 October 1453. Just prior to the birth, a Great Council meeting was called, from which York was excluded. Nevertheless, in Somerset’s absence on business, a group of non-aligned lords sent for York. Their decision was made on the grounds of his legitimate right to be involved in the discussion about the governance of the realm. It was their hope was that the dukes of York and Somerset would be able to work together and with the Great Council in the public interest: some hope! The mental collapse of Henry and the appointment of York as Lord protector and Defender of the Realm marks the end of this narrative. It is doubtful whether Henry ever recovered from this collapse and nobody even pretends that he was an independent functioning monarch thereafter. After Somerset’s death at St Albans in 1455, Henry was helpless and in the grip of his wife. After York’s death at Wakefield in 1460, Henry was deposed.

 

‘Chide him for faults, and do it reverently’

Personally, I doubt the historical significance of the various interpretations of Henry’s reign. Whether he was a malicious interventionist (Wolffe), a well-meaning duffer (Griffiths) or an inert simpleton (Watts et al) matters not in reality, since the outcome was the same on each case. Henry was a bad king. In fact, it is hard to imagine a man less suited to rule the kingdoms he inherited by an accident of birth. He did not look or behave like a king. Plainly he was incompetent and often disinterested in the minutiae of government. He failed to exercise royal authority properly and lacked the force of personality to uphold the king’s justice in his English kingdom. His shortcomings created a vacuum at the heart of government, which some of his overly ambitious subjects were quick to occupy and keen to exploit to the detriment of the common interest. It is unsurprising therefore that by the middle decade of his reign many of Henry’s English subjects were offended by the losses in France, oppressed for the want of royal justice at home and impoverished by the burden of taxation. These things are all matters of historical record and a blot on his rule. Nonetheless, despite his faults, Henry’s critics tend to underestimate contemporary evidence of the almost insuperable problems he faced from the moment of his accession, which would have tested even his renowned father. For all his heroic stature, Henry V’s legacy to his baby son was not a happy one.

Any hope the English had of conquering Valois France went to the grave with Henry V in 1422. Any realistic hope they had of preserving Henry VI’s sovereignty over his French possessions disappeared with the death of John duke of Bedford in 1435 and the defection of Burgundy from their English alliance that same year. Militarily and diplomatically, the tide had turned irretrievably against the English while Henry VI was still a minor. Their tactics were outmoded, their army was outmatched and the cost of the war was becoming unsustainable: none of this was Henry’s fault. Nonetheless, the subsequent failure to negotiate a realistic and workable peace treaty with Charles VII did bear his hallmark. Henry’s negotiating position was unrealistic. He thought that Charles would stop fighting and allow him to retain sovereignty of his French inheritance: that was a Lancastrian ‘red line’. It was one thing for Henry to be ejected from his French inheritance by the fortunes of war but he could never concede that he was not the king of France by right. In reality, of course, Henry had no leverage over Charles who was winning the war anyway. Besides, he regarded it as a war of liberation and could not allow Henry to retain his possessions except as a vassal of the French king: that was the Valois ‘red line’.

 

The truce with Charles VII that was agreed in 1444 and then extended, was broken by the Duke of Somerset, who enraged the Duke of Brittany by attacking his territory. It is unclear whether Somerset was ‘encouraged’ by the king to do that, but it seems likely. Even if Henry was dealt a bad hand, he played it badly. His pacifist nature was unsuited to the task of defending his French realm in the face of a warlike and implacable foe, and his lack of judgement showed in the promotion of commanders whose only qualification for the task was that they were his favourites. Henry was also hampered by a lack of money to pay for the war and the normal expenses of government.

 

The Crown’s financial difficulties began soon after the battle of Agincourt. The lay and clerical subsidies granted by parliament for 1415-1416 raised £216,868. However, the overall costs of maintaining Harfleur, negotiating with the Duke of Burgundy, the naval expedition of 1416 and fitting out a flotilla for service in 1417 came to £256,885. The deficit of £40,017 was made-up from loans at commercial rates and the ransom payments of French prisoners. These figures do not include expenses incurred during the Agincourt campaign, but not yet met.[52] By the end of Henry V’s reign, the English exchequer had a deficit of £30,000 and outstanding debts of £25,000 due mainly to war costs.

 

It was Henry V’s policy after 1418 to transfer the burden of the war to Normandy. The Duchy was supposed to pay for itself and also contribute money to the general war effort. However, the first complete financial accounts for the Norman Estates shows that all but 5,000 livre (li)[53] of Norman revenue was spent on the administration and defence of the Duchy; nor did finances improve over time. In fact, they deteriorated even further during Henry VI’s minority. In 1423, for example, the accounts show that of the 90,000(li) granted to Bedford by the Norman Estates, only 29,000(li) was available for defence. Between 1419 and 1435, the Norman estates met twenty four times and made impositions totalling 3,150,000(li). Even so, this revenue fell short of costs. The idea that Normandy could be self-funding was illusory; their treasury could only just about cover its own administrative costs if they did not also have to pay for military operations. Moreover, these financial demands alienated the Normans against their English overlords and demonstrated that without an English subsidy the Duchy was, more or less, defenceless.[54]

 

Whilst there is no doubt that Henry VI’s foolish generosity did not improve Crown finances, there is convincing evidence that even had he been judicious and thrifty with the grant of patronage, his means were barely sufficient for his needs. The inherited costs of defending his French inheritance, the expansion of the royal household, the costs of his marriage and the Queens household expenses were more than the Crown could bear without tax subsidies from parliament and the convocation. Significantly, during Henry’s minority neither parliament not the convocation gave generous subsidies; furthermore, the revenue raised was unpredictable. Exemptions given to poor towns and villages reduced the amount raised, as did fraud and administrative incompetence. The alternative of individual taxation was so unpopular that it was only imposed twice (1428 and 1436). Even then, the revenue raised was erratic due to resistance, fraud and administrative incompetence. It seems that the Crown was expected to manage cash flow and income by borrowing, using the Crown Jewels as security.[55]

 

So appalled was Ralph Lord Cromwell by the state of public finances in 1433 that he presented to parliament a highly detailed and precise analysis delineating to the last farthing the Crown’s insolvency. Having just succeeded Lord Hungerford as Treasurer, Cromwell was keen to highlight the problems he had inherited and to impose some fiscal discipline on the government by, for instance, vetting all requests for expenditure and patronage. The demands placed on the royal purse during the king’s minority were many: the royal household, the Queen’s household, Calais, France, Ireland, Scotland, Aquitaine, Fronsac, grants of Henry V’s will, and prisoner expenses etc. In summary, ordinary expenditure exceeded income by £47,887. 7s. 4d farthing, to which must be added provision for the repayment of debts totalling £164,814. 11s.1d halfpenny.[56] To control debt, Parliament set an arbitrary annual limit on Crown borrowing, which could now be secured against tax revenue. These measures under Cromwell’s capable stewardship delayed the inevitable but could not prevent it. By 1449, Cromwell had moved on from the Treasury and the Lancastrian regime was bankrupt. When Parliament met again later that year, the main thrust of the Commons’ criticisms was the belief that corruption and fraud were partly responsible for the crown’s bankruptcy. Their priority now was to put Henry’s finances on a sustainable basis.[57]

 

The aristocratic violence and lawlessness, and the corruption in high places that so oppressed Henry VI’s subjects were not unique to his reign. In fact, the preservation of law and order was a recurrent problem for most, if not all, medieval English monarchs. Late medieval England had an unenviable reputation among the rest of Christendom for lawlessness. While studying the legal records for 1348, the historian L O Pike was so shocked by what he found that he described that part of Edward III’s reign as a period of widespread depravity. E G Kimball, studying the Shropshire Peace Rolls for 1400-1414 concluded that ‘serious crime was not being punished in Shropshire or for that matter anywhere in England’. There are many scholarly studies and records of late medieval crime, none of which has identified even a few consecutive years of effective law enforcement between 1290 and 1485.[58] Neither is this simply a question of policing, since such lawlessness touched on the general lack of public confidence in the integrity of royal justice and the corrupt exercise of power that pre-dated Henry VI’s reign.[59]

 

The reasons for such pervasive criminality are many and complex, and are such that I cannot hope to address them all in this essay. However, there is a combination of circumstances that are part systemic and part behavioural, which I should explore in the context of Henry VI’s reign. The failure of successive medieval kings to outlaw ‘livery and maintenance’, coupled with the collapse of royal justice encouraged the lords and gentry to take grievances into their own hands.[60] The result during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was the creation of ‘over mighty subjects’ with their affinities, which very often included organised criminal gangs of violent men with a penchant for feuding and ignoring the law of property.[61] This undesirable situation was further aggravated by the king’s reliance on local magnates and gentry to administer, dispense and enforce the king’s justice. Chief among these royal officials were the permanent county Sheriff’s who were each had judicial and administrative responsibilities for overseeing and dispensing justice in their county. They presided in the Shire Courts and also framed and selected indictments for hearing in the king’s courts. Moreover they were also responsible for selecting and empaneling jurors to sit on Grand Juries and Trial Juries in the various courts within their bailiwick. Unfortunately, owing to the system of livery and maintenance, Sheriffs were themselves more often than not in the service of a lord and, therefore, were hardly likely to be impartial judges or administrators in any cases involving their lord or members of his family and affinity.[62]

 

Aristocratic lawlessness was a problem, even for strong monarchs such as Edward I and Edward III. A parliamentary petition of 1331 complained that gangs of men were “kidnapping for ransom and killing the king’s lieges, churchmen and royal judges…” [63] Edward tackled the problem with his customary vigour, which, nevertheless brought only temporary success. By 1443 even Edward had to admit that the law of the land was not well kept; it was a problem that only got worse during the king’s absence at the wars. Although Henry VI inherited a situation that was not of his own making, it is hard to refute professor Bellamy’s assertion that the criminality was worse in the fifteenth century than it had been during the fourteenth. Crime had not actually increased but it was more pernicious during Henry’s reign. I don’t think anybody can seriously dispute that this was due primarily to Henry’s lack of kingly qualities as previously discussed

 

My final point is about Henry’s mental health during his adult years prior to 1453, when we know he had some form of mental breakdown, which lasted until 1455 at least. The precise nature of his mental collapse cannot now be known. There is no evidence that Henry suffered mental ill-health prior to 1453, but the inference that he had inherited his grandfather’s (Charles VI) ‘melancholia’ is almost irresistible. It would explain his detachment from temporal affairs and the comments about him made by some of his subjects. It is not impossible, therefore, that he suffered from a mental illness: I put it no higher[64].

[1] John Harvey – The Plantagenets (T Batsford Ltd 1948): I have quoted from the 1967 Fontana edition (p.169)

[2] M R James [Ed] – Henry the Sixth: a reprint of John Blacman’s memoirs (Cambridge 1919): Blacman was a precentor at Eton College (1445-52) and subsequently of King’s Hall Cambridge. There is no evidence that he is the unnamed author who writes in the first person, since his name does not appear in the list of Henry’s chaplains or clerks. It is possible that the tract was simply found among his papers after death.

[3] Sir Henry Ellis [Ed] – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III (Camden Soc 1844) pp. 70-71

[4] Bertram Wolffe – Henry VI (Yale 2001 edition)

[5] Wolffe; pp.12-18 and passim

[6] RA Griffiths – The Reign of Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) pp.253-254

[7] Griffiths pp.231

[8] John Watts – Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge 1999)

[9] Griffiths p.2 note 5: Griffiths cites JS Davies [Ed] – An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI (Camden Soc 1856) p.79

[10] Wolffe pp. xxiv-xxv; introduction by John Watts

[11] Watts chs.5-7; Christine Carpenter – The Wars of the Roses: politics and constitution in England 1437-1509 (Cambridge 1997) passim; Christine Carpenter – Locality and Polity: a study of Warwickshire landed society 1401-1499 (Cambridge 2009; AJ Pollard – North Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: lay society war and politics (Oxford 1990); Helen Castor- The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: public authority and private power (Oxford 2000).

[12] JR Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.3

[13] Lander pp. 33-34; Lander is here quoting the words of Robert Stillington in 1468, when he was Lord Chancellor to Edward IV.

[14] Carpenter (WOTR) p.90

[15] Chris Givern-Wilson [General Ed] The Parliamentary Rolls Of Medieval England (Boydell 2005), Vol 10 (Anne Curry ed) PROME ibid; SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp. 35-37; by the fifteenth century the courts had declared that the royal prerogative ‘ must be intact in the king’s person alone’ (p.35, citing VYB. SEIV, Micho.fo 118-23 [App No 48]).

[16] PROME Vol 10 p.6; citing P Strong and F Strong – ‘The Last Will and Codicils of Henry V, (EHR, 96 [1981] 99) et al.

[17] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3 and 23-24; ‘it was not the English custom’, they said

[18] PROME Vol 10, pp. 347-348, items 24-27

[19] PROME ibid; Chrimes p.37

[20] JF Baldwin – The King’s Council in England during the Middle Ages (Oxford 1913) p.169; Henry VI’s first minority council comprised a representative body of twenty-one men, all of whom had served as councillors to his late father. The original list is as follows: the duke of Bedford (protector), the duke of Gloucester (protector in Bedford’s absence), the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Durham (Chancellor), William Kinewelmersh (Treasurer), John Stafford (Keeper of the Privy Seal), the bishops of London, Winchester, Norwich and Worcester, the duke of Exeter, the earls of March, Warwick, Northumberland, Westmorland and the Earl Marshall, Lord Fitzhugh (Chamberlain), Ralph Cromwell, Walter Hungerford, John Tiptoft and Walter Beauchamp, knights. In the absence of any specific instructions from parliament, the council defined its own terms of reference, which were intended to safeguard their superiority under the king by nullifying the autocratic ambitions of Bedford and Gloucester (p.172).

[21] Wolffe pp.87-88; Griffiths pp. 275-278 and Watts pp.127-131: Henry’s first recorded grant of patronage was to his uncle Cardinal Beaufort at Canterbury in July 1436. The king was in Kent to witness the embarkation of English reinforcements for the Calais garrison.

[22] Wolffe p.188: see also Watts p.130, Griffiths p.275 and Baldwin p.184. Baldwin notes: “already in1435-36 the king’s personal intervention in the matter of favours may be observed, as in his own boyish hand the royal signature appears upon various bills ‘R.H. nous avons graunte’.”

[23] Wolffe p.90: in the autumn of 1437, the council was divided on whether the king should pay Orleans’ expenses for his peace mission to France. They were worried that it might be construed as a concession and encourage Charles Valois to make further demands. The matter was put to Henry for a decision. He decided to pay the duke’s expenses from taxation.

[24] Baldwin; ibid

[25] Henry III was eighteen when he assumed his personal rule. Edward III was twenty before he shook off Mortimer’s yoke. The more problematic Richard was twenty-two before he ended his minority.

[26] Baldwin; ibid: the eighteen councillors were as follows: the duke of Gloucester, Cardinal Beaufort, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the bishops of Lincoln and St David’s, the earls of Huntingdon, Stafford, Salisbury, Northumberland, Suffolk and Devon, Lord Hungerford, Lord Tiptoft, the bishop of Bath (Chancellor), Lord Cromwell (Treasurer), William Lindwood (Keeper of the Privy Seal), William Phillip (Chamberlain), John Stourton (knight of the household) and Robert Rolleston (Keeper of the Wardrobe)

[27] PROME Vol 8 pp.321, 323 and 337-67: contains a useful analysis and details of the 1406 ordinances. They appear to have little relevance to the circumstances of 1437, since in 1406 a concerned parliament was seeking to restrain the king’s autocratic tendencies by increasing the council’s powers: arguably, that was not the case in 1437.

[28] Griffiths p.276

[29] Griffiths pp.274-278: see also Wolffe pp.87-92

[30] Griffiths p.277

[31] Wolffe p.92

[32] Watts chps. 4-7; see also Carpenter chps.1- 5, passim, which makes many of the same points

[33] Watts p.30, notes 27-30

[34] Watts p.132: this is a reference to Suffolk’s successful attempt to secure his personal hegemony of the council and of the royal household.

[35] Watts p.133

[36] Baldwin pp.190-191″ Suffolk did not frequently show himself in council but with excessive disregard of his enemies carried his policy with the king independently of colleagues.

[37] Griffiths pp. 284-286; Baldwin ibid; the Council Ordinances of 1444 were only intended to improve the government’s administrative efficiency. However, Henry’s more unscrupulous officials used the ordinances to consolidate the move of government from the council to the household.

[38] Watts chps 5 & 6, pp.181-254; contains detailed and complex arguments in defence of Suffolk’s actions. Put briefly, Watts’ argues that Suffolk’s service to the king forced him to exercise royal authority because the king was incapable of doing so. The real problem he suggests was not venal counselors but a useless king. Such a narrative suggests that England was governed by a group of aristocrats who abandoned the rule of law in favour of the edict ‘might is right’. The image of these royal officials and court favourites disposing of power, wealth and privilege among themselves in order to maintain a privileged status quo and regardless of the rights of others, whether noble or commoners is unedifying to say the least. It brought royal justice into disrepute and was the cause of the social unrest that erupted with catastrophic consequences in the summer of 1450. Watts’ detailed analysis of the working of government and interesting tables and statistics on attendances are meant to support his contention that between 1435 and 1445 Suffolk was acting with the tacit consent of almost all of the English nobility. That may be so, but it doesn’t make Suffolk’s ‘rule’ legitimate nor does it explain why Watts seems to think that such criminal behaviour was in the national interest. By ‘the later 1440’s, even Watt’s acknowledges the lords’ support for Suffolk’s policy was falling away and in any event was ‘insufficiently visible to the rest of political society’.

[39] That is exactly what happened in the 1454 and 1455 when Henry’s metal health collapsed. One wonders whether Henry was of sound mind earlier than this. Did he inherit his maternal grandfather’s ‘melancholia’?

[40] Watts P.240

[41] Griffiths Chapter 20, p.562-609, contains a detailed analysis of the lawlessness and aristocratic violence during Henry’s reign; see also Wolffe pp.106-125; IMW Harvey – Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 (Oxford 1991) Chp.2; and RL Storey – The end of the House of Lancaster (Sutton 1999 2nd Edition) passim for further extensive details of lawlessness

[42] PROME Vol 12, PP 72,73 & 159

[43] Roger Virgoe – William Tailboys and Lord Cromwell: crime and punishment in Lancastrian England (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Library 55, 1972-71973) pp. 459-482; the first charges brought against Suffolk were that he plotted with William Tailboys to murder Lord Cromwell on the 28 November 1449 at Westminster. Even though the incident might have been exaggerated, the fact that this offence was included in Parliament’s second petition for Suffolk’s impeachment is an indication of its seriousness.

[44] PROME Vol 12, pp. 75,76, 93-105 & 154-156 appendix1, article1; this is easily the most comprehensive account of Suffolk’s impeachment with the detailed petitions and and proof, and Suffolk’s own response. See also EF Jacob – The Fifteenth Century (Oxford 1987) pp. 492-495 for an excellent summary of these events.

[45] James Gairdner (ed) – The Paston Letters 1422-1509 (Cambridge Library edition 2010) six volumes, Vol 2 pp.146-147. This letter from William Lomer to John Paston is dated the 5 May; it contains a vivid and detailed account of Suffolk’s death at the hands of the hands of the Captain and crew of HMS Nicholas at Tower. This being a royal ship, it is inconceivable that they acted independently. It is impossible for obvious reasons that they either the king or the queen were behind this murder. However, the Duke of York is a suspect; though there is no evidence.

[46] PROME ibid

[47] PROME ibid; Wolffe p.230; Harvey p.189.

[48] PROME p.78

[49] Alfred H Burne – The Agincourt War (Greenhill Books 1991 edition) chp18 pp. 306-330: contains a useful summary of this campaign with a common sense assessment of numbers and tactics etc. Colonel Burne would, he wrote, gladly have passed over the loss of Normandy in silence since it was such a discreditable period in English history, for which he blamed Suffolk whom he described as ‘shuffling’, even ‘shifty’.

[50] Burne pp. 318-322

[51] Harvey ibid

[52] Jacob pp.202-220, & 255; Jacob provides a useful analysis, with tables, of the monetary grants made to Henry V from 1415 until the end of his reign. This information is extrapolated from the English and Norman exchequer records of the time and includes the detailed costs of in defending and administering Normandy.

[53] Livre: ‘old French currency equivalent to a pound of silver.’ (SOED)

[54] Jacob ibid

[55] Griffiths pp. 376-394 contains a detailed analysis of the crown’s financial problems and the measures taken to overcome them. Griffiths also provides useful tables of taxation trends and prominent Crown creditors.

[56] PROME Vol 11 pp.69, 70 and 102-113; Cromwell’s lengthy schedule is in the form of a petition to the king, which provides a fascinating and detailed description of the Crown’s estate and sources of income in 1433, together with its expenditure and indebtedness. See also Griffiths pp.107-122 for a instructive discussion of these financial problems and some very useful tables of taxation, loans etc. during the minority. It is clear from the evidence and Griffiths’ analysis that parliament underestimated the cost of the war and overestimated the ability of the French territories to pay for it. One consequence of borrowing was that any imbalance between unpaid debts and taxation would inevitably lead to bankruptcy. Significantly, in 1433 the Crown’s indebtedness was two-and-a-half times greater than its annual revenues.

[57] PROME Vol 12, p.77

[58] John Bellamy – Crime and Public Order in England in the Late Middle Ages (Routledge 1973) pp.4-6 citing LO Pike – A History of Crime in England (London 1873-73) i p.297; EG Kimball – The Shropshire Peace Rolls 1400-1414 (Shrewsbury 1959) p.45; RH Hilton – A Medieval Society (London 1966) p.258, who from an analysis of the Assize Rolls for the reign of Edward I formed the opinion that the sanctions of common law were ineffective in curbing violence and corruption; GO Sayles (Ed) – Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench, Edward II (Selden Society,74 1955) p.iii. See also PROME 1275-1504 all volumes, which contain hundreds of petitions attesting to the lawlessness and corruption of the Middle Ages. Finally, there is also a mass of unpublished material in the National Archives as described in Bellamy’s bibliography (pp. 205-206). “Every verdict seems unfavourable” (Bellamy p.4).

[59] Bellamy passim

[60] Livery and maintenance was the practice whereby individual lords recruited large numbers of retainers who were personally loyal to them and wore their livery. These men were expected to respond to calls for military and other services in return for their lord’s protection (‘maintain their part’) in litigation and/or any other disputes they were involved in, and their preferment on matters of patronage Prime examples of these over-mighty subjects during Henry VI’s reign were the dukes of York and Somerset, and the earls of Suffolk and Warwick. Livery and maintenance continued to plague the monarchy until Henry VII outlawed it.

[61] Bellamy pp.1-36 and 69-88

[62] A Harding – The Law Courts of Medieval England (Geo Allen and Unwin 1973) pp.51-53; see also Bellamy passim; from the twelfth century, civil and criminal cases in the country were dealt with under the general eyre. This was an itinerant system of justice introduced by Henry II, whereby professional judges and legal administrator’s from the curia regis (the King’s Court) accompanied the king during his progress around the kingdom and paid prolonged visits to individual counties. Their jurisdiction was wide-ranging and superior to that of the Hundred and Shire courts. The king’s judges were entitled to hear all pleas presented to them and not just those from a special group. Furthermore, their hearings were very thorough by medieval standards. More particularly, these judges were authorised to investigate any and all excesses, misdeeds, taking of bribes and other dishonest practices of sheriff’s and bailiffs, and to review the work of previous eyres. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the demands placed on the general eyre were too great for the limited number of professional judges available and the system fell into abeyance during the thirteenth century. It was a pity as the misconduct of the sheriffs’ was no longer monitored and corrected.

[63] Bellamy p.6; PROME Vol 4, pp. 164 and 166

[64] Wolffe pp.152-153; Griffiths pp. 715-718; Watts pp.301-325 passim and Storey p136 note 13

If Edward IV didn’t dispose of Henry Holand, 3rd Duke of Exeter, who did….?

I must state from the outset that I could not find any contemporary likenesses of Henry Holand, so the above is of him as played by an actor unknown to me.

The life of Henry Holand, 3rd Duke of Exeter—*actually 4th Duke, by my calculations, see below—has never been of particular interest to me, but I did think that he was murdered at sea, and his body dumped in the water. It was believed that as he was a tiresome Lancastrian, he fell victim to Yorkist retribution. Specifically, the retribution of his former brother-in-law, Edward IV. At least, that was my impression. Apart from that, I also understood that Henry Holand was a very unpleasant person.

Henry Holand’s coat of arms
Tower of London by Wenceslaus Hollar

Henry was born in the Tower of London on 27th June, 1430. At his baptism he was carried from the Tower to Coldharbour, and then taken by barge to St. Stephen’s Westminster, where he was christened. (I mention this because we all know Coldharbour, and its Ricardian connections.)

Coldharbour
Anne of York

Henry Holand married Anne of York, who was born in 1439 at Fotheringhay. She was the elder sister of Kings Edward IV and Richard III, and it was her mitochondrial DNA that proved the remains discovered in Leicester were those of Richard III.

When Henry was aged 19, in 1449, he became 3rd Duke of Exeter and Lord High Admiral. The Holands had started as Ricardians—Richard II—but had then Lancastrian supporters of Henry IV. Henry Hoiland supported Lancastrian Henry VI when the Yorkist Edward IV came to the throne. The duke was thus attainted after the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461, and fled to exile in Scotland.

The Lancastrians were routed at the Battle of Towton

His estates had been forfeited, but Holand regained many of them when Henry VI was returned briefly to the throne. But then the estates were forfeit again when Edward IV surged back to power.

Meanwhile, Holand’s wife had managed to obtain all his estates for herself. Such are the perks of being Edward IV’s sister. An Act of Parliament passed in 1464 meant that “such gifts and grants that the king made to Anne, his sister, wife of Henry, Duke of Exeter, were to all intents good in law to the only use of the said Anne.” (Tower Records). Edward granted her the Holand castles, manors, etc. in Wales, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Wilts to herself for life, with the remainder to her daughter by the Duke of Exeter.

Henry Holand returned to England in 1469, still supporting Lancaster, and was wounded at the Battle of Warwick.

Reenactment of the Battle of Warwick, 1469

Then, on 14th April, 1471, he fought at the Battle of Barnet, at which the Lancastrians were beaten, and the great Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker”, was killed.

Sir James Ramsey, in his book, Lancaster and York, vol. ii, p. 370, states that Henry Holand was in the Tower of London until June of 1475. On 21st June, 1471, a bill of 6s. 8d. was paid to William Sayer, purveyor to the Tower of London to feed “Henry, called Duke of Exeter”, for seven days from 26th May, and again 6s. 8d. for the week beginning 31st May. Rymer, vol. xi, p. 713. 

Anne of York and Sir Thomas St Leger

Henry Holand and Anne had parted in 1464, and were divorced on 11th December, 1467. They had one child, a daughter, also named Anne. Then the Duchess Anne married Yorkist Sir Thomas St Leger in 1474-ish. Another daughter was born of this second match, on 14th January, 1476, and they called her Anne as well! So, we have Anne of York, Lady Anne Holand and Lady Anne St Leger.

On learning that his wife was pregnant, St Leger engineered a legal settlement that would enable his child, Anne St Leger, to inherit everything in the event of his wife’s death and the death (without issue) of Lady Anne Holand. I’ll bet Henry Holand appreciated that!

Henry must have been a brooding presence for his ex-wife. In 1475, around the time that she realised she was expecting St Leger’s child, Henry Holand had redeemed himself enough with Edward IV to volunteer (and be accepted) by that king for an expedition/invasion of France. This venture began at around the time Anne realised she was expecting St Leger’s child.

Edward IV’s fleet leaving for France

It was on the return voyage from France that Henry’s body was found bobbing in the Channel (or on the beach at Dover, according to another version).

Dover in the 16th century

Everyone scratched their heads and spread innocent hands as to what had befallen him. Edward IV may or may not have had a tiresome Lancastrian eliminated—he wasn’t above such things—but there was someone else with a good reason to dispose of Henry Holand.

Thomas St Leger was also on the expedition to France, and had been prominent in the proceedings. “St Leger played a key role in ending the Hundred Years’ War when he signed the Treaty of Picquigny with Louis XI on 29 August 1475.” At this time he knew he was to be a father, and had accomplished the settlement that could so greatly benefit his child’s future. Thanks to his foresight, little Anne St Leger might one day inherit the entire Holand fortune!

Edward IV and King Louis of France meet prior to the signing of the Treaty of Picquigny, which effectively bought Edward off.

But while Henry Holand was still alive, there was a chance he’d return to complete favour, remarry and produce more legitimate offspring. Perhaps male. And that the king might decide he should have his inheritance back. The way politics were at that time, heaven knows who might occupy the throne? Another Lancastrian, perchance? Oh, no, I don’t think Thomas would have relished that scenario. So, as the English forces were returning to England from France, St Leger could have found an opportunity to see that Henry Holand was despatched to the hereafter. Heave-ho, over the side you go!

Well, that’s my theory. Far-fetched? I don’t think so. It’s a possible explanation for Henry’s immersion in the Channel.

Yes, there were others who loathed the very sight of Henry Holand, a man who seems to have signally lacked the famous Holand charm. But St Leger’s situation was different. He had a very personal reason to want Holand out of the way for good and all. Of course, let it not be forgotten that St Leger himself would one day become a treacherous brother-in-law. In 1483 he rebelled against Richard III, and paid the price. 

Here is another link https://thehistoryjar.com/2017/02/07/duke-of-exeter-was-he-murdered-or-did-he-slip/ that will take you to a version of Henry Holand’s life and rather dodgy demise. And another, that tells the story from Anne’s perspective. https://rebeccastarrbrown.com/2018/03/03/the-divorce-of-anne-of-york-duchess-of-exeter/

By a curious coincidence, just after writing this post, I happened upon the following https://twitter.com/liz_lizanderson/status/1016611053394976768, which shows part of the wheatear badge of Henry Holand, as found by “mudlarks” on the Thames foreshore.

*And I haven’t forgotten the asterisk at the beginning of this post. Why do I regard Henry Holland as the 4th Duke of Exeter? Because it is my belief that his grandfather’s (John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter, d. January 1400) eldest son, Sir Richard Holand, who died at the end of 1400, survived the 1st Duke’s death long enough to be considered of age, and had thus inherited the right to his father’s titles—as much as Edward IV’s eldest son was Edward V! I know the 1st ~Duke had been demoted and attainted at the time of his death, but the title was resurrected and then given to his second son, another John. I still think this would have made the 2nd Duke actually the 3rd. OK, so I’m an amateur and don’t know what I’m talking about!

Henry VI’s Bed-Chamber Tutor?

There’s a new book on Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou coming out, in which historian Lauren Johnson surmises that the over-pious Henry VI may have had a few problems in the bedroom department and hence had  attendants who would ‘guide’ him in the ways of  love. Henry was a notably prudish man who once erupted in shocked fury when some female dancers arrived at court wearing gowns that ‘exposed their bosom.’ He also suffered some kind of serious mental health issues, even becoming catatonic for an extended period, an illness inherited through his mother, Catherine of Valois, whose father Charles had also suffered severe mental illness (he thought he was made of glass), as did several other members of the extended family.

It was about 8 years before Henry  and Margaret produced a child, Edward of Westminster, and the baby was born during one of the King’s bouts of illness; the monarch did not respond or acknowledge his child, even when the Duke of Buckingham placed the baby in his arms. Later, he did come round but promptly exclaimed that the baby must have ‘been brought by the Holy Ghost’.

As one might expect, rumours went around that the child was not his, but was the son of Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

In his play Henry VI, Shakespeare had Margaret have a passionate fling with William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk but that does not seem to have been a contemporary rumour–however, it is interesting to note that one of the figures who was supposed to be helping Henry out in the ‘bedroom department’ was none other than the…Duke of Suffolk. Maybe the Duke decided to be a little TOO helpful on occasion… The other ‘attendant’ of note happens to be Ralph Botiller–that would be Eleanor Talbot‘s father-in-law, Lord Sudeley–although no one has ever accused him of having an affair with Margaret of Anjou. Her image, however, is on the exterior of the chapel he built at Sudeley, along with that of Henry.

 

HENRYVI

Article on Henry VI Sex Coach!

It’s history, Jim, but not as we know it….

Richard II

“Mad” King Richard II

OK, folks, bearing in mind that it’s from an article about Game of Thrones, here’s a portion of England’s history, both potted and potty:-

“To begin with, the House of Lannister seems to be pretty closely based on the real life House of Lancaster. To vastly simplify actual history, the War of the Roses was a struggle between the Yorks and the Lancasters over England’s throne. The Yorks/Starks were repped by white roses, while the Lancasters/Lannisters wore red roses (and yes, GRRM kept the color scheme). The whole trouble began when Henry IV, a Lancaster, led a rebellion against the “mad” king Richard II, because he’d inherited the throne ahead of his deceased older brother’s sons (and also he was boring and nobody liked him).”

“Henry IV won the crown, much to the annoyance of the Yorks, who felt that they were legally next in line to rule England. Fast forward a couple of Henrys, and the timid King Henry VI married a hot, wily French woman called Margaret of Anjou…”

Are you still with this load of codswallop? Game of Thrones is fiction, loosely based on some historic events in England, and the series is very, very successful, but if people are going to point out the “real” facts, at least get them right, for Heaven’s sake!

And for the record, the last thing either Richard II or Richard III could be charged with is being boring!

SHAKESPEARE’S RICHARD III: HERO OR VILLAIN?

” Never let it be said that fate itself could awe the soul of Richard.

           Hence babbling dreams, you threaten here in vain;

           Conscience avaunt, Richard’s himself again”

(The tragical history of King Richard the Third)[1]


 

Richard’s himself again: or is he?

There is a moment in Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tragedy of King Richard the Third’ that is not Shakespearean. It occurs during the Bosworth scene just as the king is about to ride into battle. Unnerved by the ghostly apparitions in the night of his vengeful victims, Richard’s courage seems to desert him (‘O Ratcliffe, I fear, I fear ‘). However, the sight and sound of Richmond’s army approaching rouses his natural ‘heroical temperament’ and as he rides away he whispers in White Surrey’s ear ‘Richard’s himself again’, which is not a phrase you will find in any extant Quarto or Folio edition of the play. It is, in fact, an interpolation from Coley Cibber’s seventeenth century adaptation and a small but significant example of Olivier’s editing. Its purpose is to reinforce the notion that Richard’s courage and resolution are unimpaired on the morning of battle. Its importance to Cibber (and presumably to Olivier also) is that it counters the insinuation in some interpretations of the play that King Richard was demoralized by guilt, fear and desperation at Bosworth.

 

Even though Olivier’s film is so heavily modified that much the subtlety of Shakespeare’s original play is lost, it should not be thought that his adaptation is inartistic. He is simply one of a number of distinguished actors and directors who between the reigns of the first and second Elizabeth have imposed their artistic ambition on the play. The point is that Shakespeare’s plays are not fossils set in stone. They are each subject to historical relativity and usage. Succeeding generations of actors, directors and producers have adapted them according to their artistic taste or the cultural, social and political ethos of their society. Indeed, it is possible that this play was used as a metaphor for exploring the concerns of contemporary first Elizabethans as well as those of later cultures. Modern performances of the play have portrayed Richard as a proxy for Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and ‘Rikki Ortega’ (a fictitious Californian gangster) among others.[2] Henry Goodman in the RSC’s 2003 production found ‘parallels for Richard’s deranged mind’ in the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.[3] Anthony Sher (1984), looking for clues of Richard’s stage personality studied the psychology of the real serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least twelve men between 1978 and 1983. Contemporary socio-cultural themes such as physical and mental disability, gender, racial and class discrimination, and the importance of Richard III as a ‘case study’ of tyranny, are all now aspects of modern performances. [4] In fact, so different is the public taste for this play today that I wonder whether Shakespeare would recognize it as the one he wrote for Richard Burbage in the last decade of the sixteenth century.

 

Sign of the times

The play that Shakespeare actually wrote was an immediate smash-hit financially and critically. Moreover, Burbage’s portrayal of Richard was so powerful that it defined performances of the play for generations afterwards and contributed an epic snippet of Shakespearean erotic mythology, which we learn from John Manningham, a student at the Inner Temple, who wrote in his diary in 1602: ‘Upon a time when Burbage played Richard III there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard III. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. The message being brought that Richard III was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard III.’ I don’t know whether this anecdote is true or not, but it is at the very least an indication of the sensuousness of Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard and the popularity of his play.

 

The old adage that ‘plays are meant to be performed not read’ may be corny but it’s true nonetheless. The importance of actors and directors in shaping our opinion of this play cannot be overstated. In my copy of the RSC’s text, it states quite clearly that the best way to understand this play is to see or ideally to participate in it. It is my aim in this article to explore the theme of change in the production, presentation and performance of Richard III. Naturally, I am aware that it is this play that is in no small part responsible for the historical Richard’s bad reputation. Nevertheless, having written some articles in favour of the factual Richard III, I feel compelled to write a few lines in defence of the fictional one and the man who created him.

 

The distinction I make between the fictional and the factual Richard is not artificial and it is important. It is ignored or blurred too often and for too long in discussions and analysis of the play or the man. [5]  There are almost as many myths about the play as there are about Richard. Chief among these is the notion that Shakespeare is personally to blame for the misjudgement of history. I hope to show that is not true and that Shakespeare was far from being a Tudor stooge. While there is no doubt that he embraced the Tudor narrative of Richard as a villain or that he structured his play around the Tudor histories of Thomas More and Edward Hall, Shakespeare doesn’t make Richard out to be as bad as he might have done.

 

‘Matters of state, not fit to be suffered’

We now have a better appreciation of Tudor bias. The depiction of Richard as a monstrous villain without any redeeming characteristics was necessary to bolster Henry VII’s weak royal title. The fact is that in Tudor England and particularly during the Elizabethan period the condemnation of Richard in literature was practically unanimous. Regardless of his personal opinion, therefore, Shakespeare had little choice other than to conform to the ‘tenets of Tudor orthodoxy’. The Privy Council enforced strict censorship of ‘certain matters of state not fit to be suffered’. Shakespeare would have been extremely foolish to depart from the prescribed doctrine on touchy issues such as the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.[6] The contemporary notion of kingship held that it was contrary to God’s law to depose a crowned and anointed king. Even a tyrant enjoyed God’s protection; however, whereas a tyrant must be endured a usurper was outside God’s law and could be overthrown with impunity. It was, therefore, necessary to depict Richard III as a usurper and a tyrant. Otherwise, it would call into question Tudor legitimacy and, more importantly, the validity of Elizabeth’s succession.[7]

 

In that context, it is all the more remarkable that Shakespeare does not depict Richard as the unrelieved monster of Tudor dogma. He is charismatic and his sardonic humour soon has the audience laughing with him; indeed, they are, in a sense, his co-conspirators. From the moment he enters the stage, Richard takes control of the play and the audience. Conversely, Shakespeare does all he can to downplay Richmond’s role. He writes nothing to make him personally attractive to the audience. He is not even mentioned until the fourth act and doesn’t appear on stage until the last. There is no scope for the audience to form any sort of relationship with such a boring, distant and obscure antagonist. Neither does Shakespeare write anything to counter suggestions that Richmond’s claim to the throne is questionable. In fact, it is soon clear that Richard cannot be defeated by any human adversary, least of all Richmond whose sole purpose is to be the clunky deus ex machina figure who is still alive at the end;[8] it is an indication of his dramatic irrelevance. I will return to these points later but for now I want to mention the play’s textual history.

 

Textual problems

Shakespeare wrote this play either in 1692 or 1694. The case for 1692 is based entirely on speculation about Shakespeare’s professional relationship with Ferdinando Lord Strange, a descendant of William Stanley the earl of Derby.[9] Although that date cannot be dismissed out of hand, it seems more likely that the play was written in 1594 for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. They were by far the most important and influential company of actors and in Richard Burbage they had the greatest actor of his generation. Writing for them was a good career move for Shakespeare who needed a star actor to play Richard. The Tragedy of Richard III together with the three parts of Henry VI comprised Shakespeare’s first tetralogy of history plays.[10] He wrote the second tetralogy about a few years later. Confusingly, these plays are about earlier kings: Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. The two tetralogies together chart the course of English history from the reign Richard II to the death of Richard III.

 

It is disappointing — to say the least — that none of the surviving Quarto and Folio texts of this play were authorised by Shakespeare. Experts cannot even be sure whether the synthetic text currently used in performance is an accurate representation of the version first performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Quarto text of the play (a small booklet) was printed in 1597 (Q1) and thereafter re-printed five times (in 1598,1602,1605,1612 and 1622). Unfortunately, each re-print was copied from the previous one, thus perpetuating existing errors and adding new ones. Consequently, every print after Q1 is different from every other print, which makes the Quarto version useless as a performance text. It is possible (I put it no higher) that Q1 is a ‘memorial’ version of the play assembled from memory by actors who had lost or forgotten their prompt sheets, or who wished to streamline the play for a provincial performance.[11] The First Folio (F1) version of the play was published in 1623 as part of a compendium of Shakespeare’s plays. It might have been copied from an independent manuscript that pre-dates Q1 (Is it Shakespeare’s original version? Who knows?) Understanding the relationship between these versions of the play is the most difficult textual problem of all Shakespeare’s plays; it has troubled scholars for years. F1 is longer than Q1. Whether, this us due to a reduction in Q1 or an enlargement of F1 is anyone’s guess. All we can truthfully say about these texts is that they differ from each other and are error-full.[12]

 

Coley Cibber (1671-1757) was an actor-manager, who at the turn of the eighteenth century wrote and printed a vigorous and populist adaption of Shakespeare’s play. He reduced its length by cutting all but eight hundred lines from Shakespeare and adding two thousand of his own, together with lines from Henry V and Henry VI part 3. The characters of Clarence, Edward IV, Rivers and Queen Margaret are omitted altogether. Despite being mocked at the time for its crudity, Cibber version became the standard performance text from 1700 until 1821. It was not until the last quarter of the nineteenth century that the F1 became the preferred stage text play. Cibber understood his audience. Shakespeare’s play was too long for eighteenth century playgoers who had no connection with, or understanding of fifteenth century politics. The real problem for purists is that Cibber’s adaptation concentrates attention even more on Richard at the expense of his lively interactions with Edward, Clarence, Margaret and Buckingham, which make Shakespeare’s play so compelling.[13] In that sense, Cibber’s alterations are crude.

 

‘The Play’s the thing…’

‘The tragedy of King Richard the Third’ is indubitably a psychological profile of a dramatic villain. Richard’s solo entrance and memorable opening soliloquy are indicative of his dramatic dominance and also of Shakespeare’s artistic intention to create a star theatrical villain rather than continue the cyclic theme of atrocity and revenge, as seen in the Henrician plays.[14] It is a change, which whether intended or not, challenges the idea that the first tetralogy represent a serial epic that is intended to be seen as a set and in sequence after the second tetralogy. It is a conundrum that has produced two distinctly different schools of thought. One is teleological in nature; the other is analogical.

 

The teleological theory interprets the cycle of history plays from Richard II to Richard III within the context of Tudor historiology and literature. The death of Richard III is seen as the preordained end of a curse that had afflicted England since the murder of Richard II. In the three parts of Henry VI, Shakespeare constantly links the present with the past. He never lets us forget that the usurpation of Henry Bolingbroke and the murder of Richard of Bordeaux were the root causes of division and tumult. Professor EMW Tillyard writing in the mid twentieth century argues that all four plays are united in political themes of order and chaos, and unity and civil war. : “The main business of the play [Richard III] is to complete [the] national tetralogy and to display the working out of God’s plan to restore England to prosperity…in its function of summing-up and completing what has gone before, Richard III inevitable suffers as a detached unit.” [15] He asserts that such a conclusion is inescapable in view of the ‘plays failure to remember’ Clarence’s perjury to Warwick, Queen Margaret’s mock crowning of York, the murder of Rutland and the murder of Prince Edward by York’s sons; If it were not so, implies Tillyard, the play would not make sense to audiences. ” For the purposes of the tetralogy and most obviously for this play, Shakespeare accepted the prevalent belief that God had guided England into the haven of Tudor prosperity” [16] Tillyard’s suggestion that Richard III is a religious play can only be substantiated if it is judged according to the traditional Tudor narrative, wherein both Richard and Richmond are God’s instruments. Richard is God’s scourge; Richmond, his emissary.

 

Tillyard’s only concession to Richard’s dramatic importance is that he is so evil and depraved, and his sins are so vast that his evil is absorptive and not contagious “He is the great ulcer of the body politic into which all impurity is drained and against which all the body politic are united.”[17] Nowadays, Tillyard’s ideas are regarded as sentimental “The view from a Cambridge college window looking out at a world at war [the Second World War] and nostalgic for a more stable and comprehensible historical process”[18] Whilst there are some obvious flaws in professor Tillyard’s logic, it is ridiculous to suggest that his ideas are based on nothing more than wishful thinking. However, his assumption that all Elizabethan’s shared the Tudor view of harmony is patently untrue. There was extreme political and religious division among the population.

 

The play’s theatrical history shows that from the sixteenth century until the twenty first century, political thinkers have used it as a medium for expressing their concerns in times of oppression and/or suppression. These performances use Richard’s rise to power, his elimination of opponents, his dissembling and his amorality as an oblique warning against the onset of tyranny in their own times. The fact that the play lends itself to this approach indicates that it is far more complicated than professor Tillyard suggests. It’s a point picked up by Sir Richard Eyre, former Artistic Director of The National Theatre. His production of Richard III starring Ian Mckellen toured the world in 1990 and inspired the subsequent film. Eyre’s decision to set the play in the 1930’s during the rise of Fascism was an artistic one based on his opinion that ” We have to keep thinking of ways of doing Shakespeare’s plays. They don’t have absolute meanings. There is no fixed, frozen way of doing them. Nobody can mine a Shakespeare play and discover a ‘solution’ [sic].” [19] However, in 1991 he took the play to Rumania, which he regarded as its spiritual home and used its enduring political power as a warning against tyrants such as the Romanian despot Ceausescu, and others such as Stalin and Mao Tse Tung. Eyre even suggests that Richard III could be seen as a handbook for Tyrants.

 

I must admit that the most memorable performances that I have seen (Olivier, Mckellen, Sher and Rylance) have been when the play was performed alone rather than as one of a sequence of plays. As a schoolboy, I watched the BBC’s 1960 production ‘Age of Kings’ in which  the first and second tetralogies were broadcast over many weeks. As I recall, Paul Daneman was a drab and unconvincing Richard and Sean Connery was a surreal Hotspur. I found Peter Hall’s 1963 RSC production of the Wars of the Roses, which was based on the first tetralogy, equally uninspiring. Ian Holm’s Richard being small of stature was incapable of dominating the play physically or dramatically. I was not impressed. I learned later that this casting was deliberate. The aim was to portray Richard as just another royal pretender.

 

My difficulty with the teleological and analogical concepts is that they are prescriptive. Tillyard’s Richard is God’s instrument and therefore not responsible for his actions as the end is pre-ordained. The notion that the play is actually a metaphor for tyranny is equally limiting since it dismisses Richard as nothing more than a cruel brute of a type that historically were responsible for countless innocent deaths. In my personal opinion, neither approach does justice to Shakespeare’s artistry and this play’s complexity. The reality is that Richard displays aspects of both theories and more. We cannot even be sure of the play’s genre. Shakespeare called it a ‘tragedy’; the compilers of the First Folio, classified it as a ‘history’. In the last century, professor AP Rossiter identified elements of comedy in the play. What are we supposed to think? I don’t believe that Shakespeare’s creativity was limited by anything so rigid as genre. Polonius’ suggests as much in this little speech to Hamlet wherein he introduces ‘the actors’ to the prince. “The best actors in the world either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited. Seneca cannot be too heavy, not Plautus too light for the law of writ and the liberty, these are the only men.” [20] I like to think that Shakespeare was writing from his experience with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

 

Shakespeare’s description of the play as a tragedy does not imply an ethical or emotional judgement. It is a definition of the plays structure, which is based on the classical Senecan tragedies that depict the rise of great men and their downfall at fortune’s wheel.[21] It is Shakespeare’s way of heralding his artistic transition from the dramatization of chronicle histories to the creation of a histrionic and complex theatrical protagonist as the centrepiece of his drama. It was professor A P Rossiter in a lecture given ten years after Tillyard’s book who drew attention to the paradoxicality of Richard’s character, which he suggests “…decisively complicates the plays moral and political significance.[22] The problem as Rossiter sees it, is the illogicality between the concept of Richard as ‘a huge triumphant stage figure’ and his depiction by Tillyard within a rigid Tudor concept of retributive justice. Richard contradicts the expressly Christian notion of the Vice character in medieval morality plays; he is “…a heroic exemplar of humankind as being able to exert will; the world is poorer for his loss.”[23] This characterization also undermines the simplistic analogical idea that Richard is simply an evil man in a long line of evil men.

 

Shakespeare’s apparent conformity with conventional Tudor historiography is therefore complicated by his depiction of Richard as a caricature combining features from three theatrical characters familiar to Elizabethan audiences: the ‘de Casibus tragedian’[24], the demonic-comedian Vice character of the morality plays and the Marlovian Machiavellian of the Elizabethan stage. Above all, Shakespeare’s Richard is an actor. He is charming, witty, intelligent and eloquent, and dissembles his many parts so brilliantly that those whom he intends to kill do not realise until the very last moment that he is not their friend. He is Shakespeare’s version of a ‘thoroughly bad man in the role of a monarch and hero’ Rossiter describes him thus: ” He [is] a mocking comedian, a ‘Vice’ king but with a clear inheritance from the old Vice moralities: part symbol of evil, part comic devil and chiefly — on stage — the generator of roars of laughter at wickedness the audience would …condemn in reality.”[25]

 

His sardonic sense of humour is not a conventional rendering of Tudor doctrine. He makes us laugh. We are on his side. We enjoy this gritty comedy because we are Richard’s confidantes. We see the fools he dupes through his eyes and with his mind. We rejoice in their downfall. Richard is not just a consummate actor; he is also a consummate villain. He knows what he wants. He delights in telling us what he is going to do, and he does it. He can assume any mood or passion at will. He is believed without question. He has perfected simulation of every feeling and phrase to serve his purpose. And he has eliminated any weakness that might betray him, such as feelings of compunction, pity and uncertainty of mind.[26] Richard has all the qualities of the complete Machiavellian: ” …lifelong and unremitting vigilance in relentless simulation and indomitable deception.” [27] By presenting Richard in this form, Shakespeare is neither proving nor de-bunking the Tudor myth. Instead of certainty we have only ambiguity.

 

[1] Coley Cibber – The tragical history of King Richard the Third. Altered from Shakespeare by Coley Cibber, Esq. (London 1769 print) p.66

[2] John Jowett (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Oxford 2000) p.17; Annalieze Connelly (ed) – Richard III: a critical reader (Bloomsbury/Arden 2013) pp.111-150 passim.

[3] Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Macmillan/RSC Shakespeare 2008) p.167.

[4] Bate ibid; Connolly pp.33-45 passim; the rise of Material Culturism has politicized the play. Material Culturists use a close examination of the play’s text to identify the ‘dominant hegemonic force in society’ (e.g. Crown, Church, Family and so forth) and the methods for disseminating their doctrine/ideology. By analyzing the text Material Culturists hope to spot examples of dissent and complicity with the dominant force’s doctrine/ideology. It is a methodology that tends to spotlight those people who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized by society, by virtue of their race, religion, gender, class or disability.

[5] Stephen Greenblatt – Tyrant: Shakespeare on power (The Bodley Head 2018) pp.53-95; professor Greenblatt has an interesting theory on tyrants and especially how they come to power. His view of Richard is wholly negative. He is a ‘worthless piece of work. There is no secret about his cynicism, cruelty and [treachery], no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe he could ever rule the country effectively… he leaves nothing behind except wreckage. It would have been better had he never been born’. Greenblatt is a professor of the Humanities and an expert on the works of Shakespeare: I am not. Nevertheless, there is much about his book with which I disagree. It is, I believe a good example of the simplistic thinking that comes from basing an opinion of the play on a study of the text conducted in an academic vacuum without the context of performance. But most of all I cannot accept his premise that Shakespeare’s characterization of Richard is an accurate representation of the real man, or that it was ever intended to be

[6] Greenblatt pp.1-23; contains a discussion on Shakespeare’s freedom of speech in the context of late Elizabethan religious fanaticism, domestic political intrigue and the threat to the English succession from a foreign power.

[7] Jowett pp.11-16

[8] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary – “dues ex machina (literally: ‘God from the machine’): a divine power, event, or person arriving in time to solve a difficulty (often rather contrived) interposition, esp. in a novel or play”. For example, ‘and then I woke up’.

[9] Jowett PP. 4-6; Shakespeare’s manipulation of history to put a positive spin on William Stanley’s part in Richard III’s downfall has tempted some scholars to speculate that the play was written in 1692 for Lord Strange’s Men. Ferdinando Lord Strange was a descendant of the said Thomas Stanley Earl of Derby and also of Henry VII (by Henry’s granddaughter Margaret Clifford). This may explain why Shakespeare has tactfully ignored Stanley’s acquiescence in Hastings’ execution, his part in crushing Buckingham’s rebellion, the rewards he received from King Richard and his ‘wait and see’ policy in 1485. Thomas Stanley is also portrayed as leading the Stanley contingent that surrounded and killed the King, whereas it was actually his brother William. It might also explain why Thomas Stanley has such a prominent role in the final scenes: presenting Henry with his crown and predicting the joyous union of York and Lancaster. Lord Strange and his family were noted for their Roman Catholic sympathies; however, in true Stanley fashion they managed to keep on the right side of the Reformation by hunting down Jesuits. From both the protestant and the catholic perspectives, Strange’s loyalty was suspect.

[10] Jowett pp. 73-74; the three Henrician plays were first published under the following titles: The First part of Henry VI (taken from the First Folio, there being no earlier text); The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster (now Henry VI part 2) and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and the Good King Henry the Sixth (now Henry VI part 3).

[11] Bate p.18; the title of the 1597 print makes interesting reading: “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, containing the treacherous plots against his brother Clarence; the pitiful murder of his innocent nephews; his tyrannical usurpation; with the whole course of his detested life and deserved death. As has been lately performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s men, his servants”

[12] Jowett pp.110-120; Bate pp.9-15; both these editors provides extensive discussion on the textual chronology and problems arising from Quarto and Folio editions. See also Julie Hankey (ed) – Shakespeare’s Richard III in Performance (Junction Books 1981) pp. 27-32. It is also worth considering EAJ Honigmann (ed) – Richard III by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1968) pp. 242-244. His textual notes were still helpful to me fifty years after they were written.

[13] Bate p.16; Richard had 32% of the lines in F1; more than any other Shakespearean protagonist except Hamlet (37%). Richmond by comparison has 4% of the lines, which is an index of his artistic importance. In Cibber’s adaptation, Richard’s share rises to 40%.

[14] Richards solo appearance and his opening soliloquy are unique in the Shakespearean canon. He is the only protagonist to open and speak first in his own play.

[15] EMW Tillyard – Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1962) pp.200-04

[16] Tillyard ibid

[17] Tillyard p.208

[18] Connelly pp. 33-45;

[19] Bate and Rasmussen p.200

[20] TJB Spencer (ed) – Hamlet by William Shakespeare (Penguin 1996) p.115 Act 2, Scene 2; ‘the law of writ and the liberty plays’: Polonius is distinguishing between plays that follow classical principles, like Ben Johnson’s and plays like Shakespeare’s with greater freedom of structure. The mixture of tragical-comical-historical-pastoral seems absurd until we recall that Shakespeare wrote Cymbeline.

[21] Jowett pp. 23-24; Seneca (BC 4-AD 65) was a Roman stoic philosopher and dramatist. He is famous for ten tragical plays that depict the rise of great men and their ruination or self-destruction due to uncontrolled emotion or madness. Seneca was widely read in medieval and renaissance Christendom. His tragedies influenced Shakespeare and other Elizabethan writers.

[22] AP Rossiter – Angels with Horns: fifteen lectures on Shakespeare (Longman 1989 edition) pp.1-22; see also Jowett p.10.

[23] Jowett pp.10-11 citing Nicholas Brooke – Shakespeare’s Early Tragedies (1968) pp. 78-79.

[24] De Casibus vivorum illustrium (on the fate of famous men): this is an encyclopedia of historical biographies dealing with the fortunes and calamities of famous men from Adam until the fourteenth century: not only their lives, but also their moral virtues.

[25] Rossiter p.15

[26] Rossiter p.17

[27] Rossiter ibid

 

Talbot Country

There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.

bell-talbot-bridgnorth-600x409

The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth

The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.

Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.

shrewsbury_book_f.2_(talbot-dog)

The Shrewsbury Book, presented by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.

For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.

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The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon

For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.

The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?

Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.

Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.

Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.

Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?

There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).

It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.

The Earl of Suffolk’s “drifting” hips….!

Margaret of Anjou and Suffolk

Pictured above are the characters of Margaret of Anjou and her lover, Suffolk, in a scene from the Bard’s Henry VI. Why have I posted it? Well, because a passage from the review from which the picture is taken, made me giggle. The picture it created in my head was just too funny. Here it is:-

 

Really?

http://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/connecting-voices-to-bodies-to-the-bard-himself-at-shakespeare-co,530478

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