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A treacherous herald….

No, these two aren’t treacherous! They’re pursuivants at Windsor Castle in 2006 – picture from Wikipedia

Here is a link to an interesting paper about a certain Roger Machado, who is known to have been Henry VII’s herald. It seems that before then he’d been Leicester Herald to Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III, but deserted Richard late in 1483 to go over to the Dark Side. Er, sorry, to Henry Tudor.

I don’t know how these things were done in the 15th century, or who appointed heralds, but if this one actually was Leicester Herald to Edward V, surely this is a pointer to Richard’s having fully expected to see his nephew on the throne? This, to me, is evidence that the accusations of More, Shakespeare & Company were untrue. The Duke of Gloucester didn’t have an eye on the throne from the outset. So his preparations for Edward V’s coronation were honest.

Herald, 1597

A documentary to watch only if you believe in Tudor myths about Richard….!

 

Oh, indeed, as Captain Bertorelli would have said, “What a mistake-a to make-a!”

I certainly made one when I turned to the PBS America channel on TV, and they were showing Who Killed the Princes in the Tower? Well, it might contain one voice of reason (John Ashdown-Hilll) but it also has much more of Starkey. He believes More, he KNOWS Richard murdered the boys, and he KNOWS that from the luxurious royal apartment in the Tower they were moved down to much “darker” places. The entire realm was appalled when Richard became king; just ask Starkey. He KNOWS. There ain’t nothin’ about Richard that Starkey doesn’t KNOW for a FACT. Clearly Richard sends him confessions from beyond the grave! (Although I can’t imagine for a moment that Richard, guilty or innocent, would choose Starkey with whom to communicate!)

Of course, the actor playing Richard portrays him as of an unsmiling, sinister, threatening disposition. He peers ominously from around a curtain of suspiciously dark hair, his eyes craft and dangerous. Oh yes, he has FIEND and MURDERER written all over him. The entire country fainted in horror when he became king. And presumably regained consciousness when treachery put Henry VII on the throne. How it managed to stay conscious throughout the next dreadful century or so of Tudors, I really don’t know.

So sure was the world that Richard disposed of the princes, that Henry never for a MOMENT believed Perkin Warbeck could be genuine. Really? Then why did said Henry spend the first part of his reign turning the world upside down looking for the boys, and why was he haunted throughout the rest of his life by the thought of a pretender arriving to usurp him as he’d usurped Richard?

Be warned. Starkey rules supreme in this load of junk. He has far more to say than anyone else, and there isn’t a myth he doesn’t KNOW is FACT! The man’s a loony. Don’t bother to watch.

But if you must, you can see all of it here.

from PBS trailer, not the You Tube link above

 

Archbishop Octavian and the Simnel Plot

A couple of months ago, this post attracted a reply from an individual who has commented before. He was responding to the suggestion that the boy crowned in at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin (see illustration opposite) may actually have been Edward V rather than an earl of Warwick (false or otherwise). Whilst he is correct in stating that there is evidence that the boy was crowned as Edward VI, unfortunately the evidence he has chosen, whilst it sounds impressive, is actually not what it seems.

The article to which this post linked is Dr. Mario Sughi’s biography of Octavian de Palatio or Palagio, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland at the time of the Simnel Rebellion . Dr. Sughi is the acknowledged expert on Octavian, being the editor of the published version of his archiepiscopal register and other scholarly articles regarding his clerical career. Dr. Sughi’s edition of Octavian’s register is a remarkable work, comprising a transcript of the complete contents of the register and an introduction that shows the depth of Dr. Sughi’s understanding of his subject.[1] The Lambert Simnel Rebellion, however, is a different area of study, and a veritable minefield because of the rewriting of its history which very quickly occurred.

Not this Octavian …

Just for convenience, I will quote directly the passage of Dr. Sughi’s online article to which “David” drew our attention:-

This principal adviser of the king, with whom Octavian corresponded throughout this period, informed Octavian that the new Tudor king, Henry VII, had entirely discredited Lambert Simnel’s credentials by parading the real Earl of Warwick, then a prisoner at the Tower of London, through the streets of London. We know of the existence of that letter, the “Addition in Antiquities”, because we are informed by Octavian himself that at this point of the crisis he took the initiative of briefing Pope Innocent VIII about developments:

The clergy and secular are all distracted at this present with a king and no king, some saying he is the son of Edward, Earl of Warwick, others saying he is an impostor; but our brother of Canterbury hath satisfied me of the truth, how his majesty the king of England hath showed the right son of the said earl to the publick view of all the City of London, which convinceth me that it is an error willingly to breed dissension.

The careful reader will notice that this quotation is neither in Latin – the language in which Octavian would have corresponded with the Pope – nor in modern English, which one would expect if this were Dr. Sughi’s own translation. There is a reason for this: the only known source for this alleged letter is a work published in the early 18th century.  The background, in brief, is as follows:

There was an Irish antiquarian by the name of Sir James Ware (1594-1666), a collector of manuscripts who authored several scholarly works during his lifetime, all in Latin.[2] Late in his life he published a history of Ireland in two volumes; the first edition, which went out under the none-too-snappy title De Hibernia et Antiquitatibus ejus Disquisitiona, was published in London in 1654 (vol. 1) and 1658 (vol. 2); a revised edition was  published in Dublin in 1664 as Annales Hibernicarum Rerum. Both editions include a section on Henry VII’s dealings with Ireland, with considerable focus on the Simnel Rebellion. Ware’s account of the rebellion is based largely on Polydore Vergil,[3] although he does include brief references to some original documents, such as a papal Bull, and a letter written by Octavian to an English prelate after Sir Richard Eggecombe’s visit in 1488, in which the Archbishop insists that he alone had opposed the boy’s coronation and asks his correspondent (generally assumed to be Morton) to use his influence with King Henry to have him appointed Chancellor of Ireland. Dr. Sughi includes in his online article his translation of a small part of this letter, which still exists in Octavian’s Register.[4] This letter, however, nowhere refers to the name or title claimed by the defeated pretender and provides only Octavian’s retrospective assertions of loyalty.

Four decades after Ware’s death, the Dublin printing house that had published the Annales put out an English translation of it entitled The Antiquities and History of Ireland by the Right Honourable Sir James Ware, Knt; the translators have been identified as Sir William Domvile and Sir James’ son Robert Ware.[5] Unfortunately, it is not sufficiently often realised that they appended some extra material to the end of each chapter (each of these sections is marked with the word ‘Addition’ in the right-hand margin). The alleged letter written by Octavian to the Pope during the Rebellion forms the Addition to the chapter covering the events of 1486, and it serves the purpose of proving that Octavian was already hostile to the pretender’s cause in the weeks leading up to his coronation.[6]

The lead-in insinuates (but does not absolutely state) that this is one of the letters from Octavian to Pope Innocent that are to be found in his register. Actually, it is not there. There are eleven letters to Pope Innocent in Octavian’s register, and none of them refers to political events. Were this letter in the Archbishop’s register, Dr. Sughi would have been able to identify it and provide his own translation. It should be acknowledged at this point that some material had gone missing from Octavian’s register before it was bound, but since the binding took place during the 1600s this item, if it ever had been in the register, cannot have been there in 1705. Nor does it appear in any catalogue of Sir James Ware’s manuscripts.

It would seem that no historians, even those writing within a generation of the 1705 translation, have ever been able to lay their hands on the original of this letter. In 1739 Ware’s grandson-in-law and the then owner of his manuscripts, Walter Harris, included a reference to the letter in his entry on Archbishop Octavian in his Whole Works of Sir James Ware, though he was unable to provide any more solid reference for it than the Addition in the 1705 Antiquities and History.[7] James Gairdner accessed Sir James Ware’s manuscript collection for his Letters and Papers; from this, he obtained Ware’s copy of Octavian’s 1488 epistle (which he reproduced in full), but not, apparently, the epistle to the Pope, concerning which he was only able to report: “A letter of this prelate is mentioned in Harris’ Ware, vol 1, p. 88. . . .”[8]

But there is more reason to doubt the authenticity of this letter conjured into print by Robert Ware and his colleague than merely the fact that it is missing: the situation it reports, whilst it fits the Tudor tradition (for which Polydore Vergil is largely responsible), does not actually fit the facts as they can be established from genuinely contemporary documents; this is something about which I mean to write at more length in the future. It is also rather surprising that, in this mysterious letter, Octavian twice mistakenly refers to the boy as claiming to be the son of Edward Earl of Warwick, thereby carelessly amalgamating the two alternative ways in which he was actually described at the time, i.e. as the son of the Duke of Clarence and as Edward Earl of Warwick. If Octavian had really written such a letter to the Pope in the weeks leading up to the boy’s coronation, it is difficult to understand why in the immediate aftermath of the rebellion King Henry believed him to have been heavily complicit in the conspiracy; why Pope Innocent initiated an investigation of his role in the affair as late as January 1488; and why Octavian was forced to swear an oath of allegiance before Sir Richard Edgecombe in the summer of 1488 along with all the other rebel Irish VIPs.[9]

The answer to the riddle is probably to be found in the extra-curricular activities of Robert Ware. He was as unlike his father as a son could possibly have been, both in his religious and political leanings and in his attitude to historical research. Where Sir James Ware was an assiduous collector and rescuer of genuine ancient documents, his son Robert employed forgery to bolster his favoured – Establishment – view of history.[10]Ware’s method of forgery was to insert material in blank pages of the manuscripts of his father, whose high reputation (as well as that of James Ussher) he exploited to give credibility to these inventions when he published them.”[11] The letter from Octavian to the Pope, however, he did not even bother to write it up in his father’s collection.

In a nutshell, the letter is spurious. As an expert said in 2007 of an old letter that had surfaced in Scotland and appeared to corroborate More’s story of Sir James Tyrell’s murder of the Princes on the orders of Richard III:  “It has fake written through it like Brighton through a stick of rock….”[12] There is no evidence that Archbishop Octavian wrote to the Pope, or anyone else, during the period of the rebellion, denouncing the pretender as a fake.

© Marie Barnfield, 2020

[1] M. Sughi, Registrum Octaviani Alias Liber Niger: the Register of Octavian de Palatio, Archbishop of Armagh 1478-1513, 2 vols., Dublin, 1999.

[2] G. Parry, ‘Ware, Sir James (1594-1666)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

[3] Anglica Historia. An online version can be found here: http://www.philological.bham.ac.uk/polverg/

[4] M. Sughi (ed.), Registrum Octaviani, vol. 2, p. 429.

[5] Alfred Webb, ’Sir James Ware’, A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878, https://www.libraryireland.com/biography/SirJamesWare.php .

[6] Antiquities and History, 1705: ‘The Annals of Ireland’: ‘The Reign of Henry VII’, p. 5.

[7] W. Harris, The Whole Works of Sir James Ware concerning Ireland, vol 1, 1739, p. 88.

[8] J. Gairdner, Letters and Papers Illustrative of the Reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, vol 1, London, 1861, p. 283.

[9] Gairdner, Letters & Papers, vol 1, pp. 94-96; J. A. Twemlow (ed.), Calendar of Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 14, London, 1960, pp. 305-309, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-papal-registers/brit-ie/vol14/pp305-309; The Voyage of Sir Richard Edgecomb into Ireland, in the Year 1488, Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT) edition, https://celt.ucc.ie//published/E480001-001.html .

[10] Mark Williams, “’Lacking Ware,withal’: Finding Sir James Ware among the Many Incarnations of his Histories”, The Perils of Print Culture: Book, Print and Publishing History in Theory and Practice, ed. J. McElligott & E. Patten, Springer, 2014, pp. 70-71: https://orca.cf.ac.uk/73576/1/WILLIAMSREF3%20EDITEDVOLUMEARTICLE.pdf .

[11] John Bergin, ‘Ware, Robert’, Dictionary of Irish Biography, https://dib.cambridge.org/viewReadPage.do?articleId=a8929&searchClicked=clicked&quickadvsearch=yes .

[12] Wendy Moorhen, ‘A Death Warrant for the Princes?’ The Ricardian Bulletin, Spring 2007.

Dismal Sewage

They say every writer should find a niche. Unfortunately, certain ‘popular historians’ seem to have leapt onto  ‘gimmicks’ than a niche and write all or most of their books in similar vein, often to the detriment of their work and a growing lack of credibility with each further tome.

A trend amongst several notable authors seems to be the cynical and sarcastic slagging off of the historical figures they write about, most likely to stir up controversy in the hopes of making sales—who knows? Any sense of being non-partisan or unbiased is thrown out the window pretty much on page 1.

 ‘Jack of All Trades’ history writer Desmond Seward (Demon Sewer? Dismal Sewage?) is a prime offender. Most of us will remember Demon’s jaw-dropping book on Richard III, titled, so menacingly…’The Black Legend’. (Oooh, shades of Sauron and Mordor!) Without tramping over old turf, this totally unbiased (choke) book contains such wonderful remarks as (paraphrasing here), ‘If he was two fingers shorter than Richard, Von Poppelau must have been a dwarf…’ In his updated version of the same tired tosh he chides Ricardians for seeking the truth about Richard because “…the White Legend continues to appeal to every Anglo-Saxon lover of a lost cause and, in particular, to lady novelists.” (Very odd application of ‘Anglo Saxon’ as well as showing an unpleasant Starkey-esque strain of sexism.) He also is a true believer in the words of the sainted Thomas More because he was, after all, a SAINT, so presumably infallible—yes, the ‘saint’ who burned people at the stake and poetically wrote long insulting tracts containing multiple references to faeces. True story. What a scholar. What a charmer.

Recently Sewer returned to the Wars of the Roses period with a new book, THE LAST WHITE ROSE, and continued in the same vein, with a combination of vitriol and errors. Edmund de la Pole was apparently haughty, pompous and unintelligent (the latter deduced apparently from his bad handwriting!) John, Duke of Suffolk was called a nonentity and given the wrong date of death. John of Lincoln was saupposedly devious, and even accused of abducting the young, hapless Lambert Simnel from his family! (Sewer appears to believe there really WAS a child ridiculously named after a cake, even although the surname is rarer than a blue moon and there is no record of any family by that name). Worst of all, however, is a supposed quote from Croyland about Elizabeth of Suffolk, complete with page number. It does not exist in Croyland, if anywhere at all, yet is masquerading as a quote from a primary source!!

I haven’t read all of Demon Sewer’s books, needless to say, but some of the customer reviews are noteworthy and often rather hilarious. Apparently any strong women in history are described as ‘viragos’ or worse. In his Eleanor of Aquitaine bio, not only does he seem to dislike Eleanor herself, he has a bit of a fixation with Richard the Lionheart’s homosexuality. Which is a bit odd, as there is no actual evidence that Lionheart WAS homosexual, and that theory of the mid-20th century is pretty much discredited today. In fact, there is some evidence that Lionheart, in his misspent youth, ravished his enemy’s wives and then gave them to his men!

Perhaps the funniest error Dismal made, though, was found in one of his other books, The King over the Water, which is about the Jacobites. Apparently, he wrote that  the maternal grandparents of Lord Derwentwater were Charles II and Moll Flanders. MOLL FLANDERS? She is a character in a novel by Daniel Defoe!

Maybe Dismal should write a book on Moll next. Non-fiction, of course.

A Demon Sewer and…Desmond Seward. Purportedly…but might not be….

Westminster Abbey is biased because of those Tudors….!

Ten facts about Westminster Abbey? Well yes, this article does indeed provide such a list, but I do have to find fault with some of its statements. For instance, the Boys in the Urn were probably murdered by Richard’s henchmen.

With luck that urn will one day fall off its plinth and break – then the contents can be examined properly. What’s the betting that the evidence will reveal (a) Roman remains, or (b) a cow’s shin bone, a pig’s jaw and various other animal bits, courtesy of the Stuarts? Whatever, it WON’T show the remains of the boys in question.

As for their deaths at the hands of anyone to do with Richard III…well, prove it. If the remains are Roman, then he couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with it. If most of the bones are indeed animal and from any handy human remains found in the Stuart period, then Richard can’t have had anything to do with that either. We don’t even know if the boys were killed at all. There’s no evidence. It’s just convenient to follow the Tudor clarions and blame Richard for everything. The original wicked uncle!

If he was guilty of anything, I hope it was something like a particularly painful ulcer on Henry VII’s scrawny backside. He was indeed to blame for many unpleasant things. As was the whole of his House. Compared with them, Richard III was a pussycat.

Then I must also object to the following: “…The most influential kings and queens in English history have elaborate tombs at the heart of Westminster Abbey….” Does this mean that anyone who isn’t buried there isn’t of sufficient conseqence or influence? Really?

So, the first Lancastrian king (and usurper) Henry IV, had to go to Canterbury because he wasn’t worthy of Westminster? Um, methinks Henry IV chose to go to Canterbury because he was sucking up to Becket. King John may not have been an all round good egg, but he lies at Worcester. Edward II is at Gloucester. Henry II is in France. Richard I is also somewhere in France…anywhere, so long as it’s not England! Let’s face it, he hardly knew what the place looked like. He stayed away but bled the country dry in order to finance his endless thirst for crusades, and yet eyes still go all dewy when he’s mentioned. Ah, our great and noble warrior king. Yuk.

No doubt there are others who escape my memory at the moment – obviously this blank in my grey cells is due to their absence from Westminster’s sacred portals. Anyway, we’re to think that these monarchs were too insignificant enough for Westminster?

Aha, is the anti-Richard III stance due to the abbey being in a miff about him being laid to rest in Leicester? Does Westminster resent all the interest and income he’s brought to that abbey? If Henry VII’s spirit still rattles around the place, it will have been wailing and shaking its chains in anguish to think that Leicester is benefiting. Henry always clawed all the money he could, whether it was his to claw or not. Scrooge personified.

It was all very well to say at the time that there wasn’t any room for him at Westminster, but maybe the fact is that too many darned Tudors are cluttering up the place. If you want to make the most of the all-too-prevalent fashion for grovelling around anything to do with that House, then a much finer king like Richard is obviously incompatible. He just wouldn’t fit – a little like Gulliver in Lilliputania. Well, he may not have reigned for long before being treasonously murdered, but in that brief time he did a great deal of good for the people of England.

His reward throughout history has been to have Tudor lies about him believed. Past historians have fallen for the propaganda hook, line and sinker. Thank you More. Thank you, Shakespeare. Above all, thank you Henry VII – I cordially hope you did indeed have an abscess on your posterior and that it hurt like Hell every time you sat down!

Well, I’ve huffed and puffed my outrage for long enough, but think I’ve nailed why Westminster Abbey can’t help but suggest that Richard had his nephews murdered! The place is too darned Tudor!

 

Matthew Lewis on YouTube: 1) More

I’ve decided to have a little go at some YouTube stuff. My first foray is a breakdown of my Top 10 problems with Sir Thomas More’s story of Richard III. It’s so full of problems that I’m left dismayed that academic historians I speak to still insist on relying on More’s evidence even today. There is a lingering insistence that More was a contemporary source, or at least had the chance to speak to witnesses so that he’s as good as primary material.

In truth, More was 7 during the events of 1485 and wrote 30 years later. He can’t possibly have remembered the complex political events of 1483 with clarity, or have been witness to any of the moments he describes in excruciating detail. Anyone he spoke to in Henry VIII’s England had reason to distance themselves from Richard III and his reign. Richard was already the monster from which the Tudors had rescued England. Who would have been brave enough to offer a different narrative?

I also think More, like Shakespeare, was never writing history in the way that we would recognise it – as a literal, factual retelling of events. He wrote allegory, a humanist exercise in moral tales veiled behind a convenient trope. More wrote about murderous tyranny and the dangers it posed, both to the kingdom and the king who indulged in it. In the years just after Henry VIII’s accession, when he had executed Empson and Dudley for following his father’s instructions, who might More have been really writing about? He could hardly name the king and risk his wrath. Richard offered a convenient front for what More had to say. Like Shakespeare, it has been wrongly accepted as the truth.

What else is wrong with More’s Richard III? Plenty. My top 10 problems are outlined here.

Ricardian Heavy Metal & Tyrell’s Rotten Rap

RUNNING WILD–BLOODY RED ROSE

I came across this heavy metal song from the 1980’s a while back– BLOODY RED ROSE by Running Wild.  It is ‘pro-Richard III’  and here are the lyrics:

In the war of the roses, the tragedy source
King Edward was bound to die
Richard III the new “lord protector”
Ruled with “loyalty me lie”
A vigilant guardian to the sons of the king
As sure as an eagle will fly
He died in a battle in 1485
And Henry defamed Richard with lies

Richard was charged in the “act of attainder”
With tyranny, murder and gain
Henry revoked the “titulus regius”
With the smile of the vicious insane
Henry (8th?)that rotten bastard
Executed the whole house of York
Elizabeth Woodville was (injured?)for life
And Tyrrel the liar was acquitted by court

The poisoned thorns of the bloody red rose
Red venom of deepest dye
Henry the traitor, the victor by sin
Soiled Richard’s blood with a grin

While Richard was ruling, the boys were alive
When he died the boys disappeared
Henry killed them to get onto the throne
But the book of truth was sealed
Henry paid Tyrrel to say that he had murdered
In the name of Sir Richard the brave
Henry killed Tyrrel without any trial
So Tyrrel took the truth to his grave

The poisoned thorns of the bloody red rose
Red venom of deepest dye
Henry the traitor, the victor by sin
Soiled Richard’s blood with a grin
The poisoned thorns of the bloody red rose
Red venom of deepest dye
Henry the traitor, the victor by sin
Soiled Richard’s blood with a grin.

While it was nice to have a Ricardian point of view in Running Wild’s song, I could not help but feel rather sorry for James Tyrell, whom I  think has been  defamed in a similar manner to Richard with no strong proof. And to think almost 30 years after this song was written, David Starkey was still pointing (a very shaky) finger at Tyrell in the ‘Princes  in the Tower’ documentary that, rather ungraciously, appeared at the time of Richard’s reinterment.

The so called ‘confession’ Tyrrell made appears to be mythical; there is not one shred of evidence it actually existed, and one has to wonder if it were true, why Tyrell was not executed for regicide and murder but for treason in aiding Edmund de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk. Starkey seemed to make a huge deal of the fact Henry was at the Tower with Elizabeth of York at the time of the trial ‘so something was clearly going on.’ A pretty weak ‘finding’, I would say, since James Tyrell was not tried at the Tower but at Guildhall, and while Starkey’s beloved Thomas More wrote about the ‘confession’, other writers of the time such as Polydore Vergil make no mention of it. A pretty important thing to miss, no?

More, it might be worth saying, also had Tyrrell knighted by Richard for killing the princes when ,in reality, he had been knighted years before by Edward IV at Tewkesbury.  The whole scene by More regarding  the Princes ‘murder’ smacks of farce to me–Richard on the toilet telling his wicked plans to a random page boy, then stepping into the corridor and stumbling  upon some  convenient thugs lying on a pallet outside the door whom he casually asks to do the wicked deed alongside Tyrell. I think More may will have been writing some  form of satire here–and let us not forget that he starts off his book  with the death of Edward IV, but the age of the King at his death is WRONG by many years. The age More gives is that of  Henry Tudor at HIS death! So what was he really trying to say?

Clearly, certain historians like to cherry-pick More’s work and perhaps, lacking as it would seem, a sense of humour, take every word  literally  and far more seriously than  perhaps was ever intended by the author (who, incidentally, neither finished nor published it in his lifetime.)

bloodyred

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

‘Not exactly the horse’s mouth’

In Josephine Tey’s spellbinding novel ‘The Daughter of Time’, Detective Inspector Alan Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a villain on sight. Whilst in hospital with a broken leg, Grant is idly flipping through some old postcard portraits to while away the time. He turns over a portrait of a richly dressed medieval man in his thirties: a judge? A soldier? A prince? Certainly someone with authority and responsibility Grant supposes. Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he realises it is a portrait of Richard III. “The monster of nursery stories. The destroyer of innocents. A synonym for villainy.” Shocked that he could be so mistaken as to place Richard on the Bench instead of in the Dock, Grant delves deeper into the mysteries of his life and reign. A friend lends him a library copy of Thomas More’s ‘The History of King Richard III’, which he reads with a detective’s eye for detail and evidence. Pretty soon he realises the fatal flaw in More’s account and raises the problem on his friend’s return.

” ‘I wanted some information about history written in Richard III’s day. Contemporary accounts.’

‘ Isn’t the sainted Sir Thomas any good then?’

‘ The sainted Sir Thomas is nothing but an old gossip’ Grant said with venom. He had taken a wild dislike to the much-admired More.

‘Oh, dear. And the nice man in the library seemed so reverent about him. The Gospel of Richard III according to St Thomas More, and all that.’

‘Gospel nothing’ Grant said rudely. ‘He was writing down in a Tudor England what someone had told him about events that happened in a Plantagenet England when he himself was five.’

‘Five years old?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh, dear. Not exactly the horse’s mouth.’ “

 

I doubt if there are many Ricardians, if any, who would disagree with Inspector Grant’s opinion of ‘the sainted Sir Thomas’ and his history book: and with some justification. It contains many demonstrable errors and falsehoods, which have shaped our perception of Richard III for centuries. Even today, when there is more or less a scholarly consensus about its unreliability, there remains a perception that it is not entirely useless as a historical source.

 

The man who wrote ‘The History of King Richard III’ was not Saint Thomas More the Catholic martyr or Sir Thomas More the king’s Lord Chancellor. He was plain ‘maister’ More of Lincoln’s Inn, a brilliant and successful humanist lawyer and writer. I hope in this article to explore aspects of More’s character and life that may explain why he wrote his history of King Richard, and the historical and literary influences that guided his quill. This is not, however, a critique of this book as literature or history.

 

‘This child will prove a marvelous man’

Thomas More was born in London on the 7th February 1478 (or 1477), the eldest son of Sir John More, a successful lawyer and later justice of the King’s Bench, who rose to prominence during the reign of Edward IV. Politically, Sir John was an Edwardian Yorkist rather than a Ricardian who, despite being unfairly imprisoned by Henry VII, prospered during the Tudor dynasty. He had an enormous influence on Thomas as a child and as an adult; being, largely responsible for his son’s choice of a career at the Bar rather than the Altar. The More’s were a wealthy family of merchants and professionals. Both Thomas’ grandfathers acquired fortunes. Each played a significant part in the governance and commercial life of London during the fifteenth century, and also in various financial and advisory capacities to the king. At the age of seven, Thomas was enrolled in St Anthony’s , a prestigious grammar school in Threadneedle Street not far from his home. It had a reputation for producing England’s finest Latin scholars and Thomas was no exception. His grounding in Latin was to stand him in good stead later in life. But it was his spell as a page in John Morton’s Household that was to mark young Thomas as a teenage prodigy.

 

As Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, Morton was the most powerful commoner in the realm. He united the affairs of church and state, and his service to Lancastrian and Yorkist kings established his reputation for integrity. Furthermore, his part in Henry VII’s conquest of King Richard and the unification of the red and white roses assured Tudor goodwill. His main responsibilities were implementing the king’s fiscal and foreign policies, for which he was amply rewarded with lucrative offices and beneficiaries. Morton was, however, deeply unpopular with the king’s subjects, who resented the heavy load of taxation and benevolences he collected from them. He is (perhaps mistakenly) believed to have been responsible for the cunning argument commonly known as Morton’s fork, which was used to extract forced loans from reluctant subjects and is best described as “persuading prodigals to part with their money because they did spend it most and the covetous because they could spare it best.”[1]

 

In 1490, Thomas More walked the relatively short distance across the Thames to Lambeth Palace, there to take up his duties in the archbishop’s household. His position as a page was not demeaning. On the contrary, it was considered a privilege for gentlemens’ sons to serve in the household of a great lord. They would learn the etiquette of the privileged and mix with the good and the great. As a page, More led a strict and simple life but not a hard one. He slept on a straw mattress in a dormitory with other sons of the gentry. His principal duties as a servitor were to wait at table and clear away after the meal. Cleanliness was particularly important for pages and their dorm was well equipped with a long communal sink and pitchers of water. However, More’s life was not wholly one of servitude and menial labour. He continued his education as a scholar at a private school within the archbishop’s establishment. Apparently, his superior intellect and quickness of wit so impressed the archbishop, that More was soon attending him in his grace’s private chambers in the West Tower.[2] William Roper (More’s son-in-law and first biographer) provides a colourful insight into More’s prodigious self-confidence at this time “…though he was young of years [Thomas] would be at Christmas-tide suddenly sometimes step in among the players and never studying the matter, make a part his own there presently among them, which made the lookers-on more sport than all the players besides. In whose wit and forwardness the cardinal [Morton was not a cardinal at the time.] would often say to the nobles that divers times dined with him ‘ This child there waiting at the table, whosoever shall live to see it, will prove a marvellous man‘.”[3]

 

More had great respect for archbishop Morton, whom he considered to be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour. I am not myself convinced that Morton was such a paragon of virtue; yet, he was undoubtedly one of the most imposing political figures of Henry VII’s reign. His influence in shaping More’s career is undisputed. For example, in 1494 he was instrumental in arranging a place for him at Oxford University, where More could study canon and civil law under the watchful eye of the Benedictine monks of Canterbury College. Morton hoped that More would obtain his doctorate in law before taking holy orders and embarking on a career in government. However, after completing the curriculum, More left Oxford to join chambers in New Inn, there to continue his legal training. Whether this was his own choice or his father’s decision is unclear, but it is likely that it was always intended that he should practice law. If so, this was the preferred path for budding lawyers, who spent six or seven years learning their profession and ‘the affairs of men’ in the hurly-burly of the Inns of Court rather than in the cloisters of Oxford, which offered no such practical or material benefit. As Thomas More was to show throughout adult life, he was a practical and materialistic man. Quite apart from the influence of his father or archbishop Morton, the attraction of a legal career was obvious to him. Lawyers were held to be magni clarique that is important and distinguished. By the last decade of the fifteenth century, the rewards of prestige and wealth were such that the sons of the landed gentry preferred a legal career to one in the Church or in business. Just as importantly, an education in the law brought the ambitious More into contact with precisely those people who later administered the affairs of the king and state. Above all, he was temperamentally suited to be a lawyer. His advocacy skills were high quality and well honed. In the words of his most recent biographer “His polemical texts reveal the persistence, subtlety and inventiveness of his attacks against opponents; as a forensic orator and judicial examiner he [was] as fierce as he is persuasive, continually changing or extending his line of attack, looking for the smallest inconsistencies, finding weakness and deriding mistakes of terminology or presentation. More as a man is the apotheosis of the clever and practical man.”[4] He maintained a curious detachment throughout his life and was always precise and shrewd. Nevertheless, the impression remains that he was playing some kind of game. In the words of William Roper, he never in his dealings showed “of what mind himself was therein.” These were the qualities of a perfect lawyer: skilful and objective, cautious yet theatrical, persuasive and practical.

 

‘An intensely practical and decisive man’[5]

By the time he was thirty, More’s legal practice was flourishing. He was by training and by experience a generalist; appearing, as counsel in criminal cases at the Kings Bench and advising clients on, the common law, Canon law, Roman law and maritime law. He is reputed to have been ‘with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the dominant landowner) every day. He was also the legal representative for the City guilds and chief negotiator for the City mercers. He represented the City merchants in their dispute with the Duke of Buckingham and the Bishop of Norwich. In litigation he favoured advising a settlement between the parties to a trial, since this compromise suited his personal preference for good order and harmony. In Soper’s words“…sith there was at that time in none of the Prince’s courts of the laws of this realm any matter of importance in controversy wherein he was not with the one part of counsel. Of whom, for his learning, wisdom, knowledge and experience, men had such estimation that, before he came to the service of king Henry VIII at the suite and instance of the English merchants, he was by the king’s consent in certain great causes between them merchants and the merchants of [the Hanseatic League]…”[6]

 

By the time he was forty, More’s legal future was assured. He was appointed Lent Leader of Lincoln’s Inn, where he lectured on ‘Law-French in Statutes’. His subsequent appointment as Double Reader suggested he could anticipate elevation to the bench. In 1510, he received his first judicial appointment as one of two Under-Sheriffs of London, hearing criminal trials in the Sherriff’s Court, Guildhall and acting as official counsel to various City bodies. He earned the respect and affection of the City for his fair and quick decisions and his habit of occasionally remitting the fees that the litigants were expected to pay. There is, however, another side to More’s legal character, which is revealed by his involvement in the ‘Hunne Case’. This controversial and notorious litigation involved a direct attack on the authority of the Catholic Church. It may even be taken as an indication of the Protestant reformation yet to come in England.

 

Richard Hunne was a wealthy Whitehall tailor who refused to make a customary offering to his local rector. His case was taken to Lambeth Palace, where Hunne was adjudged to be at fault. Still he refused to pay. On Hunne’s next attendance at his parish church, the priest (Thomas Dryfield) excommunicated him with the words ‘Hunne thou art accursed and thou standest accursed’. Exiled from his community and with his mortal soul at risk, Hunne hit back. He issued a writ of praemunire accusing Dryfield and his assistant of slander. By invoking the Praemunire Act of 1393, Hunne was asserting the king’s superiority over papal authority and clerical courts, as the final arbiter of his subject’s rights. He argued that the church authorities had no right to claim his property and further that the hearing at Lambeth Palace took place before a ‘foreign and illegal bar.’ The ecclesiastical authorities responded by charging Hunne with heresy and imprisoning him in the Lollard’s Tower. It seems to us like a fabricated charge; except, that Hunne did have Lollard sympathies and connections. His father-in-law was an evangelist in that cause. It may even have been Hunne’s Lollard beliefs that prompted him to challenge the legitimacy of the offering in the first place. The case had a sensational outcome as Hunne was found hanged in his cell before he could be brought to trial. The Church authorities said that he hanged himself; whereas, the Coroner’s inquest determined that Dr Horsey the bishop of London’s Chancellor had murdered Hunne. The public furore that followed was exacerbated by the Bishop of London’s decision to convict Hunne of heresy posthumously. His remains were exhumed and ceremoniously burned at Smithfield along with his books. Hunne’s death and the denial of secular justice against his murderer raised serious questions about the rights of clerics to be tried only in Church courts. The matter was considered so important that it was debated in parliament and in convocations. The king himself initiated a number of debates on the Hunne case and its consequences.

 

More was involved in the case. He attended a conference with the king where Hunne’s death was discussed. He was also present when the ecclesiastical judgement was passed on Hunne’s body. More was later to write ” I know it from top to toe. I suppose there are not many men who know it better.”[7] Afterward, he wrote a colourful and amusing account of the conference with the king, in which he ‘goes to great pains’ to defend the Church from ‘each and every criticism’ and concludes that Hunne committed suicide when he realised his praemunire suite had failed. “There is no reason to believe that More was deliberately misrepresenting the truth he was only putting what was natural to him in putting a lawyers gloss on ambiguous circumstances.”[8] Whilst, they must not mislead the court or conceal relevant information, it is not unusual for lawyers to put a positive spin on a weak case. After all, their professional duty is to their client and not to a search for truth. The jury (or the court in certain circumstances) are the sole arbiters of truth. What is disturbing, however, is Ackroyd’s explanation for More’s conclusion, which he suggests was based on More’s personal beliefs rather than the merits. “Lawyers are not necessarily supposed to be devout or principled except in the minutiae of legislation but for More the law was a central image of natural reason and authority. It furnished the principles which governed his behaviour in the world, established upon order in all its forms.”[9] If Ackroyd’s is right, More’s apparent loss of objectivity goes beyond putting a positive spin on a weak case; it perpetuates an injustice. The fact that More admitted he did not shrink from mendaciolum (a small lie) suggests how difficult and tricky he could be.[10]

 

‘A man for all seasons’

We know from More’s published works (poems, epigrams, polemics, letters and books) that he was well able to express his opinions and emotions on parchment or in print. Although his style was more Chaucer (bawdy, earthy) than Spenser (poetic), he had a flair for drama, and used his literary skills to educate rather than to entertain. It was while he was studying at Oxford and later in the Inns of Court that More came increasingly under the influence of a group of literary clerical scholars, known collectively as English renaissance humanists. He was well acquainted with the Latin grammarian John Holt and he studied Greek under William Grocyn, the first Englishman to teach it. Later he became associated with Thomas Linacre the eminent physician and scholar, and with the erudite John Colet. The term ‘renaissance humanism’ does not denote that these learned clerics and others like them held a common philosophical position, since they did not. Their appellation as humanists is derived simply from the fact that they studied a cluster of scholarly disciplines comprising grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and ‘moral philosophy’. Classical Latin and Greek were the languages of these men. It is possible, that More’s association with such erudite ecclesiastics caused him to contemplate swapping a temporal career for a spiritual calling. At any rate, at the turn of the century he abandoned his legal practice and entered the Carthusian Monastery at Charterhouse, just outside the city walls, where he remained for four years as a lay member, participating fully in the spiritual life of the monks without taking holy orders. Eventually, the call of his temporal ‘work in the world’ proved too enticing for More the practical man. He left the monastery to stand for parliament.

 

The most famous of all northern European humanists was Desiderius Erasmus (the ‘prince of humanists’), whom More met and became friends with in 1499. Erasmus described More as a ‘man for all seasons’ due to his ‘affability and sweetness of character’. In 1516, he published More’s most celebrated volume ‘Utopia’, which in its structure and content reveals the author’s humanist leanings; as does his most controversial book ‘The History of Richard III’. These two volumes are a clear indication of More’s philosophical interest in the contrast between just and unjust kingship, and that his concern was not restricted to the lessons of Richard III’s reign. In a Latin poem written to celebrate Henry VIII’s accession, More highlights the ‘atmosphere of fear and suspicion’ caused by Henry VII’s rapacity, which, incidentally, was an opinion shared by many of More’s contemporaries. Nonetheless, the promise of a ‘golden age’ that accompanied Henry VIII’s accession was the redeeming finale of More’s poem, in which he expressed the hope that Henry would repeal unjust laws and remit unfair debts, and that he would maintain the peace and stability that allowed piety and scholarship to blossom.[11]

 

“One thing pretended and another meant”

I must now turn to More’s ‘History of Richard III, which I will refer to as the ‘History’ from now on. While we can speculate why More wrote it, we cannot dismiss it merely as Tudor propaganda.[12] That is the opinion of professor Richard Sylvester In his definitive study of the History. Sylvester argues that More was neither pro-Tudor nor anti-Plantagenet. He was as much pro-Edward IV as he was anti Richard III. For instance, even as he welcomed the accession of Henry VIII he took the opportunity, in the celebratory poem to which I have already referred, to criticise the ‘oppressive acts and devious dealings of Henry VII. He makes a similar point, albeit obliquely, in the History: “…all things in later days were so covertly managed, one thing pretended another meant, that there was nothing so plain and openly proved but that for common custom of close and covert dealings men had it ever inwardly suspect…[13] More is not here just referring to the reign of Richard III but also to the reign of Henry VII during the period when Perkin Warbeck was a threat to the Tudor hegemony. In Sylvester’s opinion, More has depicted Richard as a cacodemon because that is what his oral and written authorities told him. He accepted their narrative not because he was biased but because he trusted them. Chief among these authorities was John Morton. He played a big part in the downfall of king Richard and was an eyewitness of some events. He also possessed (in More’s opinion) ‘the very mother and mistress of wisdom and deep insight into the political world.[14] The fact that Morton died in 1500 and that More did not begin composing the History until about 1513 (leaving it unfinished around 1518-20) raises interesting questions about Morton’s contribution. What did he know? And, how did he contribute to the History?

 

I will deal with the second question first because it raises the issue of authorship. Beginning, with the early revisionist histories of king Richard’s life and reign, some scholars have doubted More’s authorship of either the English or the Latin, or both editions of the History. For revisionists’ the dichotomy between More’s reputation for integrity and his polemical History is explained by substituting the wily and inveterate schemer Morton as the author of (at least) the Latin version. Support for this contention was claimed from a piece of ‘literary gossip’ that appeared in an aside is Sir John Harrington’s book ‘The Metamorphosis of Ajax’ (1596) ‘”…the best, and best written part of all our Chronicles, in all mens opinions; is that of Richard III, written as I have heard by Morton, but as most suppose by that worthy and uncorrupt [sic] magistrate Sir Thomas More…” [15] As Dr Kincaid points out, ‘Harrington was an inveterate gossip, not necessarily to be believed’.[16]

There is, however, better reason for believing that Morton gave More a ‘polemical tract’ attacking king Richard, which the latter probably used as an aide-memoire for his own narrative.[17] Be that as it may, the case for More’s authorship of the English and Latin versions of the History is considered by modern scholars to be unanswerable.[18]

 

On the question of what Morton knew, we must bear in mind that as important as he was, Morton was only an eyewitness to some of the events of 1483. There is much in More’s History that could not possibly have come from him or the clique of Lancastrian dissidents who shared Richmond’s exile and (no doubt) dined with the archbishop at Lambeth Palace. Morton was not, for example, present at Stony Stratford when the Duke of Gloucester arrested the king’s uncle and stepbrother. Neither was he present when the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son, Richard duke of York, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. Furthermore, Morton is not an eyewitness to the alleged murders of Edward V and his brother.[19] Though, he might well be the instigator of the rumour that they had been murdered. More’s other oral sources included but were not limited to: Sir John More, John Roper, Richard Fitzjames, Sir Thomas Lovell (fought for Richmond at Bosworth), Christopher Urswick (priest and Tudor spy in 1483), Bishop Fox of Winchester (in exile with Richmond), Roger Lupton (Mayor of London) and Sir John Heron (an early adherent to Richmond). When he cites one of these ‘authorities’ or others who occupied similar positions, he usually refers to them in the phrase ‘men say’. The opinion of these ‘wise’ men was much valued by More. He relied on them when balancing different interpretations against each other. Generally, More is not too concerned about the accuracy of dates, names and places since these could be checked later (but never were). What is notable, however, is that he never spoke to anyone at Henry’ VII’s court who had served king Richard or who could even be said to have liked the dead king.

 

In addition to his oral authorities, More had a number of written works available for consultation. Some of these pre-date the History, whilst others are contemporary with it. Pietro Carmeliano was a court scholar during the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII who wrote the ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’. He extolled Richard’s princely virtues when he was alive and denounced him as a tyrant when he was dead.[20] Bernard André’ was Henry VII’s official biographer. He wrote ‘Vita Henrici’, in which he to portrayed king Henry as angelic and king Richard as demonic. The sycophant John Rous wrote ‘Historia Regum Angliae’, during the reign of Henry VII. He denounced king Richard as the anti-Christ having previously acclaimed him for his nobility and virtues. Whether or not More used the Chronicles of Robert Fabyan, Polydore Vergil’s ‘Anglica Historia’ or Domenico Mancini’s ‘De Occupations Regni Anglie Per Ricardum Tercium Libellus’ is a matter of pure conjecture.[21] Some of More’s factual inaccuracies suggest that either he did not know of the Second Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle or he had not read it. Even so, it is safe to say that he would hardly have credited a less defamatory portrait of king Richard than the one he describes in the History. In the words of professor Sylvester: “The indictment against the king had been drawn-up by men whose judgement he respected; it’s terms were supported not only by most of his oral informants but also by writers whose version of events had been set down before he began to compose his own narrative.”[22] In early Tudor England there was hardly a voice raised in defence of the last Plantagenet. The official records such as Titular Regius and Richard’s signet letters were almost certainly not available to More. It is only by comparing his narrative with credible contemporary sources that we can test the historical accuracy of More’s History.

 

Although More’s portrait of Richard accurately reflects the opinion current in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII and some details can be corroborated by independent records (e.g. the allegation that Edward V was bastardised due to his parents’ bigamous marriage), there are some notable errors and omissions in the History for which there is no excuse. These range from getting Edward IV’s age wrong to naming Elizabeth Lucy as the lady alleged to have still been married to Edward IV when he wedded Elizabeth Butler. However, what Inspector Grant and others overlook in their criticism of More’s History, is that he never claimed it was anything other than a reflection of public opinion in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Neither did he claim to be more authoritative than his sources. “He asks us not to credit that ‘what men say’ happened, did happen, but that they really said it did happen.”[23]

 

Professor Paul Kendall is not sure whether More ever intended the History to be factual. He suggests that what More learned from his sources, he used to fashion a version of events that satisfied his humanist leanings. “A dramatic boldly performed narrative soaring beyond actualities into art and seek psychological verisimilitude rather than factual accuracy.[24] Writing from a purely literary perspective, professor EMW Tillyard also believed that More’s History was intentionally creative rather than historical. “More’s History transcends the sorting of evidence and abides as a classic record of fundamental human nature”. In Tillyard’s opinion it has tragedy and comedy. “The episode where Queen Elizabeth is persuaded to give her youngest son into the care of Richard Gloucester is more tragic than anything the English drama produced till the great age.” On the comic side, Tillyard draws attention to Dr Shaa’s pre-arranged Sermon at St Paul’s Cross, which descends from high drama to farce thanks to Gloucester’s mistimed entrance.[25] Even so, there is no doubting More’s contribution to the shaping of Richard III’s black legend. He was the first to suggest that Richard had ‘long forethought’ to seize the throne, even before his brother was dead. And it is More’s narrative that names Richard as the prompter and guiding spirit behind all the events that followed Edward IV’s death.

 

Even though More’s reasons for writing the History are wholly obscure now, post-Tudor scholars have repeatedly question his motives and what he actually thought he was writing. For example, Kendall writes that he ‘undoubtedly set about his History for the same reason that according to Falstaff the earl of Worcester rebelled ‘it lay in his way and he found it’.[26] Whereas, Horace Walpole writing in 1768 believed that “[More] wrote his History to amuse his leisure and exercise his fancy.”[27] These seemingly flippant reasons might be closer to the mark than we think. For instance, Peter Ackroyd raises the intriguing possibility that both the English and the Latin versions of the History were written as a rhetorical and grammatical exercise for Oxford students.[28] The supporting evidence for this theory is both circumstantial and cryptic; yet, it does exist. First, there is More’s mysterious reference to a ‘schoolmaster of Poles’ (St Paul’s?): second, there is the fact that one of the extant manuscripts of this work is endorsed with the preface that it was written exercitationis gratia (‘for the sake of practice’). Finally, there is the fact that both the Latin and the English versions comply with More’s own methods of composition and revision, which he also impressed on his children.[29] As Ackroyd notes, More’s humanism had a practical purpose, and as a successful lawyer he was more interested in the practice and usage of advocacy than its theory. It is possible, therefore, that the long and complex debates on the merits and abuses of sanctuary and on king Richard’s royal title, which dominate the History ,are lessons in the art of disputation similar to those experienced by More during his own education.[30] The speechmaking is certainly more reminiscent of an exposition of the law than a record of what was actually said by those present in 1483. “One of the models of its form is clearly Sallust and More had been instructed to teach Sallust at Oxford. He had also recommended that author for his children’s’ reading. And what could be a better way of studying classical rhetoric and vocabulary than to apply them to the description of more recent events” [31] It is equally possible that More’s humanist leanings, his interest in history and in ‘kingship’, and his contact with Morton and the men who had fought King Richard, fuelled a ‘boyish interest’ in the dead king. His own interest in the classical Greek and Roman historians may have encouraged him to emulate them. In particular, he had a deep interest in the accounts of Tiberius’ tyranny, which were written by Tacitus and Suetonius.

 

It is more likely, however, that he wrote the History for a substantial reason other than mere interest.[32] He may have intended it to be a metaphor for his own doubts and his fear of Henry VIII’s instinct for despotism, which was already apparent by the time he was writing the History. He could not make his thoughts plain on pain of death, so his message is more oblique and very cleverly constructed. Nothing in More’s History could be mistaken as applying to Henry VIII. Read literally, it coruscates king Richard’s tyranny whilst justifying the Henrician Tudors as the opponents of tyranny. More’s philosophical and psychological interest in tyranny and government is evidenced by his poems and other written works: especially Utopia. The History may have been an attack on the real-politick of his day. He may even have regarded it as a worked example wherein a ‘good’ monarch would benefit from its powerful depiction of monstrous injustice. Of course the corollary of this was that it might give the potential despot ideas about subtleties of policy, which later generations would identify as Machiavellian. It would indeed be unfortunate if it provided Henry VIII with a convincing illustration of what he could do given free rein to his powers.

 

Whatever More’s reason for writing the History may have been, he put down his quill sometime between 1518 and 1520. He never returned to his manuscripts, which remained unfinished and unrevised; clearly, it was not meant for publication. The reasons for this have troubled Scholars almost as much as More’s reason for picking-up his quill in the first place. There are many different theories, two of which, bear testament to More’s concerns about the Henry VIII despotic tendencies. Sylvester postulates that he might have been troubled by the possibility that it would become a kind of ‘manual’ for Henry if he wished to exercise his will unfettered. More could not take that risk and so the History remained unfinished. Professor Kendall notes that More stopped just as Richmond was about to enter the narrative. At which point it became too dangerous for More to write about Henry VII’s oppression even by analogy. And so, the History remained unfinished and unpublished in More’s lifetime.[33] The third theory is more mundane but equally credible. It is possible that he simply lost interest in the project, particularly if it really was nothing more than a student exercise. Anyhow, by the second decade of the sixteenth century, More might still have been making-up his mind about the role he was to play in the king’s service. His life as a royal servant promised to be challenging, since the king was more often guided by his personal will and appetites than by reason. Although such wilful governance was anathema to More, he was confident of his ability to ‘bend with the wind’, so that what he couldn’t turn to good he could make less bad. He always gave his opinion according to his conscience when asked, but he never opposed the king’s will publicly. In view of the difficulty of maintaining a distinction between his private and public beliefs, it is possible the More simply abandoned the History in favour of his little booklet Utopia, which expertly expressed his own private views of governance and kingship even more obliquely than the History.[34]

 

Finally, it is possible that More became too embroiled with advising the king on the Lutheran texts that were appearing in England around this time. He was one of those who advised Henry on his own written defence of the Catholic faith, which earned him the title ‘Fidei defensor (defender of the faith). More himself took up the cudgel in support of his king, trading insult for insult with Martin Luther in a series of booklets. Compared to the existential threat to the established Church posed by Luther’s heretical doctrine, More may have considered the History a self-indulgent trifle.

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

[2] Ackroyd p.28

[3] Richard Sylvester and Davis Harding (Eds) – Two Early Tudor Lives: the Life and death of cardinal Wolsey by Geo Cavendish & the Life of Sir Thomas More by William Roper (Yale 1962) pp.197-98

[4] Ackroyd p.52

[5] Ackroyd p.148

[6] Sylvester (Roper) p.200

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

[8] Ackroyd p.152

[9] Ibid

[10] Ackroyd p. 163-164; in a letter to Wolsey, More explains that the post of Canonry of Tournai had previously been conferred on his friend Erasmus, and that as compensation for Erasmus withdrawing from it, a better or greater provision should be made for him. None of this was true, of course, but it illustrates More’s willingness to lie.

[11] Ackroyd p.127

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

[13] Sylvester (Roper) pp. 81-82 and n82/22 p.262; see also Paul Kendall (ed) – The Great Debate (Folio Society 1965) p.103; Kendall contains a useful modern English version of More’s History.

[14] Sylvester (History) p. lxvii

[15] Elizabeth Storey Donno (Ed) – Sir John Harrington: a new discourse of a stale subject, called The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) (London 1962) pp. 107-198

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

[17] Sylvester (History) pp.lix-lxxiii; AN Kincaid (Ed) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir Geo Buck (1619) (Alan Sutton 1979) Chapter VII passim: Buck said he saw the tract, which is no longer extant

[18] Sylvester (History) ibid; citing RW Chambers – The authorship of ‘The History of King Richard III’ in WE Campbell (Ed) – The English Works of Sir Thomas More (London 1931) pp. 24-53; Kincaid

[19] Sylvester (History) ibid; citing AJ Pollard – The Making of Thomas More’s Richard III published in ‘Historical Essays in Honour of James Tait (Manchester 1933) pp.223-284

[20] Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure for Richard III’s biographical exhibition at the NPG 1973. Carmeliano’s ‘Life of St Catherine of Egypt’ was exhibited at the NPG in 1973 (No.100). It is a second copy dedicated to Sir Robert Brackenbury and contains a glowing description of king Richard’s virtues in peace and war (‘…what emperor or prince can compare with him in good works and munificence”.). However, in 1486 in a poem dedicated to the new-born Prince Arthur, he charged Richard ‘the tyrant’ with the murder of his nephews.

[21] Sylvester (History) p.lxxi-lxxv; see also CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. xix-xx. Dr Armstrong discusses the relationship between Mancini and More in which he raises concerns about the provenance of More’s information. The importance of this lies in the fact that Mancini substantiates More ‘on many points’. In fact, More and Mancini are closer to each other than to the Croyland Continuation or to Polydor Vergil. The point is, of course, that they were probably using the same informants. Given that these informants were Richard’s political and dynastic opponents it is hardly surprising that they coincide on some points. What is remarkable is that they don’t agree on much more, since there are some significant discrepancies. Furthermore, as Dr Armstrong acknowledges Mancini harboured an unreasoned animus towards king Richard (that he was all along aiming for the throne) (Mancini p.17)

[22] Sylvester (History) p.lxx

[23] Sylvester (History) p.lxxviii

[24] Kendal p.25

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

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

[27] Kendal p.170

[28] Ackroyd p.157

[29] Sylvester (History) p.xii; in a ‘charming’ letter to his children, More admonishes them to write everything in English first ‘for then you will have far less trouble turning it into Latin; not having to look for the matter, your mind will be intent only on the language’. He also emphasises the need for revision to detect and correct solecisms. More was given to the careful revision of his own work, which, as Sylvester points out, may have served as a kind of paradigm for the complex sequence of drafts that were developed in the composition of the HISTORY

[30] Sylvester (History) pp.26-38`; see also Kendal pp.50-62. In the fifteenth century the abuses of sanctuary argued by Buckingham were a bone of contention between the laity and the clergy. By the time More was writing the History the privileges of sanctuary were much reduced.

[31] Ackroyd ibid; Goius Sallustius Crispus (‘Sallust’) (86 BC-35BC), was a Roman historian whose works were noted for their brevity, the use of rare words and unusual phrases.

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

[33] Sylvester (History) pp. cii-ciii; Kendall p.28; who notes the irony of More’s position in that his defamation of Richard III came in part from his detestation of Henry VII’s statecraft.

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

Richard III wasn’t the only dog to be given a bad name….

We all know how Richard III’s reputation has been besmirched over the centuries. He was turned into a monster because the likes of More and Shakespeare pandered to the Tudors’ need to justify their seizure of the throne. Thus he became a creature of misshapen body and mind, capable of putting his own child nephews to death, and disposing of righteous opponents who only stood up for the truth.

Hmm, yes. Well, in this present day and age, people are becoming more enlightened about Richard, who has an army of supporters prepared to stand up and be counted on his behalf.

King John is another monarch with a bad reputation, although in his case it is more deserved, I think. Yet something that first happened in his reign has come down in history as being the work of a 14th-century nobleman, John Holand, 1st Duke of Exeter, half-brother of King Richard II. What was this horrible crime? The instigation of the bloody sport of bull-running in the Lincolnshire town of Stamford.

Stamford 2015

Bull-running was a St Brice’s Day (13th November) fixture in the town for centuries, although it has disappeared now, ending up as a colourful nod toward something akin to a carnival.

Records state quite categorically, that it originated in the 12th century, in the time of King John. So how did King Richard II’s 14th-century half-brother get the blame? Simply because John Holand is another bogeyman. It is almost a tradition to point accusing fingers at him and denigrate him, à la Richard III. If there is a connection between John Holand and Stamford, it appears to be the burial of his parents at Greyfriars, i.e. Princess Joan of Kent and Sir Thomas Holand, 1st Earl of Kent.

 

Gatehouse of Stamford Greyfriars

John Holand had his faults, and in his youth was a hothead, passionate and hasty, but that appears to have only applied to his youth. Later on he was a steadfast supporter of Richard II, and eventually lost his life in the first half of January 1400 (the actual date of his summary and illegal execution isn’t known) while rebelling in Richard’s favour against the Lancastrian usurper, King Henry IV.

 

John Holand is said to be one of the two riders on the right

There are two murders in which his name is involved, that of a Carmelite friar who was tortured most cruelly because of a supposed plot against the king. The other, in 1385, occurred when Richard II’s army was moving north toward the Scottish border. One of John Holand’s favourite squires was murdered during a quarrel with men of Sir Ralph Stafford, son and heir of the Earl of Stafford. John Holand’s mercurial temper burst forth, and he took some men to ride to be avenged on Stafford’s men. On the way, in the dark, he came up against Stafford himself. What happened next is uncertain, except that the outcome was Stafford’s death at the end of John Holand’s sword. Some accounts say he simply killed Stafford without warning, others that there was an argument that got out of hand. Whatever the truth, John Holand fled into sanctuary at Beverley.

‘Beverley Minster, (across the rooftops)’ by Ian Appleyard

He was eventually received back at court, and obliged to make abject apologies, etc. etc. But one sad result of the whole incident was said to have been the death of Joan of Kent, who could not withstand the state of affairs when one of her sons (Richard II) swore to severely punish another (John Holand, who was said to be Joan’s favourite, perhaps because he reminded her so of the husband she had loved so much – but that’s another story).

 So, these are the two bloodthirsty crimes that have come down through history to attach to his memory. I defend neither of them. He didn’t or couldn’t control his temper. Today he’d receive treatment for anger management. But, to his credit, he does seem to have overcome this flaw in his character, for I have found no further evidence of it.

His other sins appear to be have been of an amorous nature. He is said to be the actual father of Richard of Conisburgh, from whom the House of York descended. And he seduced John of Gaunt’s daughter, Elizabeth of Lancaster, putting her in the family way, as the quaint expression goes. They were married hastily, and bundled off to Castile with John of Gaunt’s expedition to claim the crown of that land.

John Holand was a fiery but devastatingly charming man who was said to have been charismatic, and I am prepared to believe this describes him well. He was also a famous and flambuoyant jouster, a regular rock star of the tournament circuit, who always put on a great display of skill and theatre.

But as for introducing bull-running to Stamford. . . Well, it had been going on for a century or more before he came along, so it would be a miracle indeed if he had anything to do with it. Yet, he has been given the blame. So, like Richard III, he has been given a bad name. Yes, he was a sinner at one time, which Richard III never was, but even so, he’s being castigated for things he couldn’t have done.

For further examples of John Holand being accused of starting the bull-running, go here, here and here.

Richard and the invisible snake….?

 

 Coventry Tapestry - 3

I must have read about this before, but it feels new somehow. Supposedly, the man in blue (see below) is Richard of Gloucester/Richard III. The illustration is part of the Coventry Tapestry, which is housed in St Mary’s Guild Hall, and which is still in the place for which it was created. I wasn’t sure if the kneeling king on the bottom left was EIV or HVII (the latter didn’t seem likely, as the figure is alive, and Richard certainly wasn’t when Henry became king).

Then it was pointed out to me that the king was most probably HVI. This prompted me to look into it a little more, and I came upon the following from the Coventry Telegraph

“Coventry Tapestry reveals car park king

“A figure depicted in the magnificent 500 year old tapestry at St. Mary’s Guildhall could well be one of the earliest depictions of King Richard III, whose remains, discovered in 2012 beneath a Leicester car park, were recently confirmed as those of the controversial English monarch.

“The tapestry’s highly detailed design includes seventy five individual characters, including angels, saints, apostles, and noble members of a royal court, arranged around a central image of the Virgin Mary. Whilst no contemporary records exist as to the exact identity of many of the characters, certain clues have been observed that strongly suggest that Richard is amongst them.

[See illustrations below for the footnotes in the text.]

“Firstly, the figure is shown carrying a coin ¹ in his right hand, used elsewhere in art of the time to represent a ‘Judas’ character with a history of treachery for personal gain, whilst in his left hand the figure was originally depicted holding a snake ² – another emblem of evil and deviousness – which at a later date was removed leaving a distinctive outline.

“By way of further evidence, the figure bears a striking resemblance to two of the earliest, and most trusted, portraits of King Richard III in the collection of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, from eye colour and hair curls, right down to slightly deformed hands and misshapen shoulders ³. Intriguingly, it has been proposed that one of these portraits was painted by Sir Thomas More, who may have been familiar with the tapestry as he came to Coventry on several occasions to visit his sister who lived in the city.

“Whilst Richard III had died a few years before the dating of the tapestry, it is thought that the tapestry depicts an earlier period, that of King Henry VI – who is also shown on the tapestry – when Richard was Richard of Gloucester. Henry VI was revered for many years after his death, with miracles even recorded in his name, and he was fondly remembered in Coventry where he chose to base himself and his royal court for a period during the Wars of the Roses. Under the new Tudor monarchy of Henry VII it was politically wise to maintain, and even encourage, adoration of the much-loved Henry VI. Moreover, showing such respect for the old Lancastrian King Henry, gave the Tudor monarch a chance to boost his image, tarnished by his weak claim to the throne and the manner in which he seized it from the Yorkist Richard III in battle.

“There were suspicions that Richard was linked to the death of King Henry VI in 1471, and placing Richard in the tapestry with symbols of dastardly deeds may have been a subtle piece of propaganda, with those behind the tapestry not only remembering their favourite king, but also pleasing the new Tudor monarchy by presenting Richard as the baddie in this wonderful woven story.”

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