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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.)

 

Thomas More and the Removal Men

Thomas More’s detailed and heart-wrenching account of the murders of Edward IV’s sons is well known, and is usually either accepted or dismissed in toto so it would probably be useful to pause at this point to remind ourselves exactly what it was that Thomas More claimed had happened to the boys and why opinions as to the veracity of his story are so divided.
Richard, said More, set off on his progress leaving the boys in the Tower with four keepers (one being an habitual murderer named Miles Forest) and just one of their old servants (William Slaughter). The King’s intention was to kill the boys at some point in order to secure his position, and when he reached Gloucester (say, 31 July or 1 August) he finally made up his mind to get on with the business. He sent one John Grene ‘whom he specially trusted’ to carry a letter and a verbal credence to Sir Robert Brackenbury, the Constable of the Tower, instructing him to put the boys to death; but, contrary to the royal plan, Brackenbury replied that he would rather die. Grene returned with the bad news, finding the King at Warwick (this would have been the second week of August). That night, Richard complained to a ‘secret page’ of his that no one could be trusted, to which the page replied that there was an overlooked attendant lying in the antechamber who, he was sure, would do anything in return for recognition. At this Richard got up, roused Tyrell from his pallet and instructed him to organise the boys’ deaths. The next day, Richard sent Tyrell off with a letter commanding Brackenbury to hand him the keys of the Tower for one night.
Having decided he would need two murderers, Tyrell enlisted his own horsekeeper John Dighton as the first, trusting that the homicidal Miles Forest would have no objection to being the second. At the Tower, Brackenbury obligingly handed Tyrell his keys, and that night Tyrell dismissed all the boys’ attendants except for Forest. At about midnight Dighton and Forest crept into the Princes’ chamber, smothered them with their own bedding then laid out the bodies for Sir James’ inspection.

Tyrell inspects Forest and Dighton’s handiwork

Satisfied that they were dead, Tyrell commanded Dighton and Forest to bury them at the foot of the stairs (presumably those leading down from their bedchamber in the White Tower, though this is not specified), ‘meetly deep in the ground under a great heap of stones’.
When all this had been done, Sir James galloped back to Richard with the good tidings. Richard thanked him profusely but was unhappy with the ‘vile’ burial arrangements. Thus (it was said) Sir Robert Brackenbury had a priest of his disinter the bodies and rebury them somewhere more fitting; but, since Richard, Brackenbury and the priest were all dead by the time More wrote, there was no longer any way of discovering where this was. More supports his story, picked up (so he claims) from ‘them that much knew and little cause had to lie’, with the assertion that Tyrell and Dighton had confessed to the crime when they were questioned in the Tower prior to Tyrell’s trial and execution in 1502 (but note that More did not claim this confession to have been written down, still less to have seen a transcript of it).

The flaws in this account are many. First, though we are told that Richard ‘before had intended’ to kill his nephews, he had clearly not thought to sound out Brackenbury about it before leaving London. And, when Brackenbury rejects his orders, does Richard have him removed from post, or quietly despatched on account of his dangerous knowledge? No, he simply asks him to hand over the keys to Tyrell for the night (actually, it is not clear from More’s tale why Tyrell needed the Tower keys). This time Brackenbury meekly does as he is told although he evidently knows what is afoot as he later has one of his priests move the remains. More puzzling still, the real-life Sir Robert continued in post as Constable of the Tower throughout Richard’s reign and died fighting for him at Bosworth.
As for Sir James himself, More’s picture of a frustrated servant overlooked for promotion simply does not fit the facts although there have been recent attempts to rehabilitate it. Tyrell was one of Richard’s most prominent knights and the rewards he enjoyed after this period were by no means out of keeping with his previous career. Miles Forest existed, but the real-life job of this alleged serial-killing hard man had been looking after Richard’s wardrobe up at Barnard Castle, and he does not appear to have ever been in any trouble with the law. More’s depiction of him seems no more than a device to explain how Tyrell had felt able to count on his co-operation without having had an opportunity to sound him out about the murders in advance.
The burial of the bodies, even ‘meetly deep’ as described by More, would have been a challenging task for two men during the course of a short August night. If the murderers had crept into the Princes’ room at about midnight, then work on the gravedigging is unlikely to have been started before 12.30 am, giving them a window of little more than four hours to complete their task before the keys would be needed for the reopening of the Tower at sunrise. And if we try, as is generally done, to reconcile More’s description of the Princes’ burial with the discovery of the 1674 remains, the problems merely multiply. The 1674 remains were not found ‘meetly’ deep at the foot of an internal staircase, but 10 ft down under the foundations of an external staircase that was being removed. The two descriptions do not match, and the 1674 burial could never have been effected and made good in the space of four hours. Another possibility is that the remains were found in 1674 where Brackenbury’s priest had removed them, but such an interment place would have been no less ‘vile’ than the original burial place, and a solitary priest would scarcely have been able to dig the bodies up and rebury them in such a location with total discretion.

More’s staircase (supposedly). Note: Not the one removed in 1674.

Against these objections, however, must be set the fact that Polydore Vergil, writing at a roughly similar time, also pinned the blame for the boys’ deaths on the late Sir James Tyrell and, like More, has Richard write from Gloucester to the Constable of the Tower ordering him to find a suitable means of despatching the princes. But according to Vergil the Constable merely prevaricated and Richard went on waiting for him to act, finally losing patience during his stay in York (31 August to 20 September) and despatching a woeful Sir James to do the deed. Vergil’s chronology is not precise but he seems to be placing Tyrell’s departure from York after Prince Edward’s investiture (8 September), which is just as well because Sir James had a special role in the investiture procession as Master of the Henchman. Nor does Vergil mention any confession; indeed, he flatly states the manner of the boys’ death to be unknown and attributes the rumour of the murders to Richard himself. The nature of the story, however, is such that – if there is any truth in it at all – it is most likely to have emanated from individuals working at the Tower.

The only details in the accounts of More and Vergil that might have been witnessed by third parties are Richard’s despatch of a messenger (possibly John Grene) to Brackenbury from the city of Gloucester, the later despatch of Sir James Tyrell to the Tower, and the absence of any sightings of the Princes by Tower staff after the night of Tyrell’s visit; these are also the only details upon which More and Vergil are agreed. After Bosworth there was only one acceptable explanation for the disappearance of Edward IV’s sons, which was that they had died during Richard III’s reign, preferably on his orders, and so any theories built around the boys’ disappearance had to fit into that framework.
It is interesting, and probably relevant, that two separate sources describe a failed attempt by supporters of Edward V to rescue the boys from the Tower after Richard left the capital; the ringleaders were identified and arrested, and are probably those who had ‘taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise’ about whom Richard wrote to his Lord Chancellor from Minster Lovell on 29 July. This foiled attack on the Tower might have suggested to Richard that the boys would have to be killed, had he been so inclined, but it is equally – if not more – likely, given his rivals’ youth and innocence, that Richard’s response would have been to have them discreetly removed to secret locations far from the city, where they would no longer be the focus of discontent.
For this plan to work well, it would have been reasonable for Brackenbury to have been given some advance warning so that bags could be packed for the boys’ journey, and so that one or two of their attendants could be enlisted to accompany them; the delivery of such a warning could have been the real purpose of Grene’s mission to Brackenbury. On this reading of events, Tyrell’s mission would not have been dependent upon Brackenbury having rejected the orders from Grene, and Miles Forest may have come under suspicion simply because he too disappeared from the Tower that night, having been brought along to attend upon the boys during the journey. The hours of darkness would have been the best time to smuggle the boys out of the Tower, and if there was any concern that they might not wish to co-operate then they could have been sufficiently sedated to enable Tyrell and his men to carry them both out without waking them. The Tower keys would have been needed in order to get the little party out of the fortress under cover of darkness, and Sir Robert Brackenbury would have had no reason to interfere with such a mission.

This scenario is merely offered as a suggestion as to the sort of reality that might possibly underlie More’s implausible murder tale. I would be the first to admit that there is no evidence that this is what occurred, but it would see off the inconsistencies in More’s story remarkably well. I make no suggestion as to where the boys might have been taken next, how they might have travelled, or what might have become of them in the longer term: those are separate questions.


SOURCES

Sir Thomas More: ‘The History of King Richard III’ and Selections from the English and Latin Poems, ed. Richard S. Sylvester, Yale, 1976

The History of King Richard the Third, ed. Richard Bear, website of the American Branch of the Richard III Society

Polydore Vergil, ‘Anglica Historia’ (1555 Version), ed. Dana F. Sutton, Philological Museum website of the University of Birmingham

https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/the-ceremony-of-the-keys/#gs.7frn87

Histoire des Règnes de Charles VII et Louis XI par Thomas Basin, Evéque de Lisieux, ed. J. Quicherat, vol 3, Paris, 1857, p. 137

Signet Warrants for the Great Seal and Signet Letters to the Chancellor, transcribed R. C. & P. B. Hairsine for the Richard III Society, 1979

‘Observations of the Wardrobe Account for the Year 1483’, Rev. Dr. J. Milles, Dean of Exeter, Archaeologia, Vol. 1, 1770, p.375

Helen Maurer, ‘Bones in the Tower: A Discussion of Time, Place and Circumstance, Part 2’, The Ricardian, No. 112, March 1991

John Stow, Annales of England, 1600 edition, p. 767

Doggeing “Tudor” footsteps?

Michele Schindler’s seminal biography of Francis Viscount Lovell, one of the trio named in Colyngbourne‘s doggerel, is published today. Hopefully, it will go towards solving the great mystery of his fate.

Could he really have suffocated in a Minster Lovell chamber, after the estate was given to Jasper “Tudor”? Could he have ended his days in Scotland, under a safe conduct complicated by the Sauchieburn rebellion, or was that a red herring?

Down with Reggie Bray: hooray for Francis Lovell….!

Well, here are two stories from two English villages. Firstly, the present Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, will be at St Mary’s Parish Church at Eaton Bray, Bedfordshire, to mark its 800th anniversary. Unfortunately, the Bray part of the village’s name comes from Reggie Bray, upon whose memory we, er, frown. Reggie, of course, is one of a number of men at Bosworth Field who laid claim to having found the crown of Richard III and placed it on Henry Tudor’s undeserving, usurping head. If all these men were telling the truth, I think there must have been a very undignified scrum to grab the crown, which hitherto had graced the brow of the true King of England. However, methinks some porkies were told…it was probably Tudor himself who scrambled around on hands and knees, looking for the crown to which he he had no honourable right whatsoever.

To read about the royal visit to Eaton Bray, please  click here.

However, there is also news about a much more agreeable gentleman from the past, Francis Lovell, whose family name attaches to an Oxfordshire village, Minster Lovell. Unlike Bray, he was true to Richard III throughout, and now there is a new book out about him:-

“….’Dynasty and Disappearance: Francis Lovell, Richard III and The Tudors’ takes place at the Old Swan hotel in Minster Lovell on Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

“….Author Steve David will launch his first ever book published on Francis Lovell, an ally of Richard III in the War of the Roses, and part of the family that gave the village its name.

“….The book argues that Mr Lovell returned to his ancestral home in the village and hid from Henry VII after the Battle of Stoke in 1487.”

I’m not sure Viscount Sir Francis would have appreciated being demoted to mere gentleman! However, it’s always hooray for him, and bah, humbug, to Reggie Bray!

To read more about the new book, please go to this article.

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

 

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

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

‘The dog did nothing in the night time’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Lord Chancellor

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

 

‘The Chancellor is desperate and not content’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A warrant to arrest persons unknown dated 29 July 1483

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Undated letter concerning the marriage of Thomas Lynom and Mistress Shore

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Letter dated the 12 October from King Richard to John Russell

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

 

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

 

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Armstrong p.85

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

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

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

[15] Hanham (Ricardian) ibid

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

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

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

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

[20] Pronay and Cox p.163

[21] Tudor-Craig pp.54-55

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

[23] Tudor-Craig ibid.

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

[25] Pronay and Cox ibid

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

[27] Hicks (Unweaving the web…) p.107

[28] Hicks pp.107-109

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

[30] Kendall ibid

[31] Ross p.137

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

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

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

Francis, Viscount Lovell …

…, who became Lord Chamberlain today in 1483 and carried the third sword of state at Richard’s coronation three weeks later has been featured in his own blogCoat_of_Arms_of_Sir_Francis_Lovell,_1st_Viscount_Lovell,_KG since February 2017, thanks to Michelle (and apologies for the missing accent). She also makes a great effort to determine his fate.

KING’S GAMES: A MEMOIR OF RICHARD III

A Verse Play in Two Acts with Commentaries

By Nance Crawford

The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”

(Hamlet)

To be honest, I am not much taken with modern Ricardian fiction. I think that in the last five centuries too much fiction and too little fact has  been written about king Richard III. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I volunteered to review Nance Crawford’s book ‘King’s Games; a memoir of Richard III’. It is (to misquote a modern footballing cliché) a game of two parts. The first part is a play about king Richard written in verse; the second, comprises the authors commentaries on late medieval England and her account of how the play was conceived, written and ultimately produced for the stage.

 

I have always thought that plays are better performed than read and since I have not seen Kings Games performed I am at a disadvantage in forming a valid opinion of its merit. The absence of actors and a director to ‘suite the words to the action and the action to the words’ (Hamlet again!) is not just inconvenient; it is a substantial hindrance to a full appreciation of the author’s art as I have only my own imperfect imagination and understanding to rely on. Nonetheless, whilst I cannot vouchsafe an opinion about how well this play transfers from the page to the stage, I can say with some conviction that I enjoyed reading it.

 

King’s Games is a mixture of fact and fiction. The author has tried to ensure the historical accuracy; however, inevitably, she has had to fill the gaps in our knowledge with her imagination. Though only eight of the twenty-one scenes are based on verified historical facts all the scenes conform to the general Ricardian narrative of Richard’s life and times, partly taken from Paul Kendall’s 1955 biography. Naturally the dialogue is imaginary. Considering how influential Shakespeare’s melodrama has been in embedding the black legend of Richard in the public psyche it is not surprising that a modern Ricardian playwright would wish to portray him in a different light; though mercifully, not the pure white legend that some would have us believe but in shades of grey. This Richard is a decent man, but fallible.

 

Apart from the use of verse, this play bears no relationship to Shakespeare’s work; the characters are less melodramatic the action is more restrained. Neither does the author try to compete with Shakespearean verse. Her own distinctive mixture of colloquial Anglo-American English and Standard English is refreshingly modern and contributed greatly to my own appreciation of her efforts. The character of Cecily Neville provides two example of this; in the first, Cecily is comforting her dying son Edward:

 

“ Well tears are for Heaven, not this place,

No, not for partings short as this, I think,

And Heaven’s waiting for you, that we know —

Your Pa and Edmund, even Georgie,

With Isobel and both their unborn babes —

The Lord be willing to forgive our debts”

 

In the second example, Cecily is angry with Richard:

 

Cecily. But it’s not cruel to scar my name?

To slander at the Cross the womb that bore

And nurtured you, to live to this sad pass? (Turning to Richard)

Yes, slandered sir! Held up to ridicule!

With such a loathsome story as would make

A harlot blush!

Anne. He’d never do you harm!

Cecily. The serpents tooth has struck the very breast

That sheltered him, the womb that gave him life,

And God alone knows what price he’ll pay”

Anne. Please, no, you can’t blame Dickon.

Cecily.                                                      Can I not?”          

 

The first act opens in June 1487. Francis 1st viscount Lovell is a fugitive from the battle of Stoke where Henry Tudor crushed England’s the last hope for a Plantagenet king. Hot from the battle he takes refuge in his family seat at Minster Lovell. There, exhausted and encrusted with the mud and blood of battle he sits alone in a secret room to ponder his desperate future and the destruction of the House of York. It is through Lovell’s lonely and sometimes anguished reminiscences that — in the form of flashbacks — we witness Richard’s pathetic descent from the most powerful subject in the kingdom, to a lonely guilt-ridden king.

 

The brutal truth is that this Richard is not cut out to be a successful medieval king. He is brave, loyal and efficient but he lacks the judgment, arrogance, guile and ruthlessness necessary to survive for long in the vicious realpolitik of late medieval England. He is naïve even gullible in the trust he places in untrustworthy men. He is not selfish enough to do what he wants to do rather than what his advisors say he should do. Ultimately, he is too given to introspection.  On hearing  of Buckingham’s rebellion he confides to his friend Francis Lovell:

 

“ I contemplate my brother Edward’s flaws

And see myself a darker image there

In my soul’s mirror, for, except for you,

My friend, I’m proved a rotten jurist when

It comes to judging men. I have now learned.”

 

It is doubtful that he ever wanted to be a king.

 

“ Crowns, to me, were bitter, paper things

Cut out to top my brother Edmund’s brow,

To match that of my father’s sad display,

When both their heads had crowned the gates at York.

Ned could not know my cares, he was now king,

More tall and gold than any plated spire.

I asked him why he wanted to be king .

He said ‘it is the pleasure of a king

To find his pleasure at his own plaisir’

His instincts made him royal — but never mine”

 

Richard is also inhibited from freedom of action by his personal and unforgiving creed of loyalty. He could not  seize a  crown merely to take his pleasure at his pleasure. For him kingship is a solemn duty, a burden to be borne. He is unable to reconcile the conflict between his loyalty to those he loved and his broader regal responsibility to rule justly in the common interest. Inevitably,since he is a man of conscience, he is consumed with guilt about his inability to protect his wife, his son, his mother and his brothers’ children.

 

On the night before Bosworth, Anne visits him in a dream. Although she cannot offer him redemption for all his sins, her ghostly presence enables him.  to unburden his guilt and his grief for their lost son who died “all alone while his parents played at Crowns” and his lost love Anne, whom he abandoned in her hour of greatest need as she lay dying.  Anne’s love for Richard is unconditional and her forgiveness fortifies him; he is able to face his fate, whatever that may be.

 

In the morning his courage and resolve are unimpaired. He knows he cannot trust Stanley or Northumberland but he is confident of dispatching Henry Tudor if he can just get to within a sword’s length of him. He is also aware that whatever happens England has changed forever and if he survives he must change also. As he puts on his helm encircled with the English Crown he whispers silently to Anne’s spirit “Well Anna they will all know the king.” Indeed they will. Everybody knows how the last Plantagenet king met his end.

 

The second part of King’s Games is altogether different in kind and in form. Richard is no longer centre stage; the author and the play now occupy that space. The summary of the Wars of the Roses is neither scholarly nor measured. It is tolerably accurate without providing any new historical material or insight into those times: yet I found it gripping. What made it so, is the author’s colourful, informal writing style and her feisty opinions. Her history is frank and informative, her style is anything but pompous and she avoids the use of pseudo intellectual ‘babble’ (“Playwrights have no use for numbered footnotes”). Together, these qualities create a warm relationship between the author and the reader that is almost personal; it’s as though we are discussing history together, over coffee. It is the very antithesis of so many dry, intellectual and academic histories that I have read.

 

I also thought the author’s story of her play from its conception to the first night’s performance was enthralling. The gestation was a long one since originally she had intended to write a stage version of Josephine Tey’s ‘The Daughter of Time’. That proved to be impossible as the rights were not readily available and anyhow, she concluded, a play built around a policeman confined to his hospital bed lacked dramatic impact. It was the fortuitous discovery of a mystery surrounding the eventual fate of Francis Lovell that provided the mechanism to bring King’s games to the stage; he could become ‘Alan Grant’ for the purpose of guiding us through the action.

 

Ultimately King’s Games is a lively and entertaining example of Ricardian literature and a breath of fresh air.

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