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Why Shakespeare repeated the Tudors’ fake news….

Elizabeth l and ShakespeareAs Ricardians, we all know that Shakespeare toed the Tudor line. He repeated the falsehoods of More and the like, and labelled Richard III for all time as a deformed monster. But this article discusses the circumstances that compelled the Bard to write as he did. Well worth a read.

 

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A genealogical illustration …

… of Lewis’ The Survival of the Princes in the Tower. Here is the pedigree, incorporating the “Simnel” and “Warbeck” hypotheses but also Jack Leslau’s theory involving More and Hans Holbein’s painting.

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

The Bones in the Urn again!…a 17th Century Hoax?

 

IMG_4616.JPG

19th century painting of the Henry VII Chapel by an unknown artist.  The entrance to the area where the urn stands is to the left of the tomb of Henry VII

Helen Maurer, in her wonderful article, Whodunnit: The Suspects in the Case  mentioned in the notes  ‘As for why the bones should have been discovered more or less where More said they would be, might it be profitable, if only in the interest of leaving no stone unturned, to forget about Richard, Henry and the late 15th century for the moment and concentrate upon Charles II and the political pressures and perceived necessities of the 1670s.  Any takers?’ Maurer then went on to cover this more fully in her articles Bones in the Tower – Part 2 (1).

IMG_4617

CHARLES II ‘THE MERRY MONARCH’ 

On going to the article, which was printed in the Ricardian in March 1991 pp 2-22, I was intrigued by this theory which seems plausible and makes much sense than the infamous  and ludicrous story given out by More.    In brief, a summary is given of Charles’ reign and the problems he encountered at the time including ‘an abiding public mistrust and rejection of  anything that smacked of absolutism’, religious intolerance, a Parliament who controlled Charles’ pursestrings and a general mistrust of each other.  As Maurer points out ‘As adjunct to these general observations it must be remembered that Charles was the son of a despised and executed monarch.  Experience made him wary.  Unable to  foresee the future, he could only know that tenure of the throne came without guarantees.  It should surprise no-one that Charles became a master of dissimulation….with an overriding concern to preserve what he could of royal power, while ensuring the succession'(2).  It would seem that perhaps the Merry Monarch was not so merry after all.

IMG_4610.JPG

THE INFAMOUS URN ……

Having found this theory plausible,  imagine my delight (and surprise) when listening to Pepys Diary that Pepys made the entry on 25 March 1663 that having gone to the chapel of  White Hall, with the King being present he heard a sermon by Dr Critton (Creighton).  The Dr  ‘told the king and ladies, plainly speaking of death and of skulls, how there is no difference, that nobody could tell that of the great Marius or Alexander from a pyoneer, nor, for all the pain the ladies take with their faces, he that should look into a charnel house should not distinguish which was Cleopatra’s or fair Rosamund’s or Jane Shore‘s (3).  This begs the question that having had  this idea planted in Charles head, and moving on to 1674, with building work being undertaken in the area of the Tower where a stair case was being demoralised. that the opportunity arose to get hold of some bones and plant them.  Bones would have been obtainable with ease considering the numerous  charnel houses and plague pits that abounded at that time.     Furthermore the ‘discovery’ of the bones was reported to Charles by Sir Thomas Critcheley, Master of the Ordnance , someone he was on friendly terms with and with whom he played tennis.  Maurer goes on to say ‘No doubt Critcheley’s report was verified by Charles’ chief surgeon Knight’.  The plot thickens as they say.

In summary Maurer wrote ‘Assessments of Charles’ character and of the situation in 1674 makes it high probable that the decision to commemorate these bones did not stem entirely from Charles’ mercy, as eventually inscribed upon the urn.  The inurnment was a political act, fraught with a political message for Charles’ own time.  This view is strongly supported by the manner in which it was accomplished.  The carelessness with which the remains were interred along with the bones of other animals, including chicken and fish and 3 rusty nails is striking evidence that the chief concern at the time was not reverent burial but the political statement made by a display of the urn.  It did not matter whose bones were placed in it, or whether they were all the same bones found in 1674 or even human bones, so long as something was put in it to be visibly commemorated’.

Samuel_Pepys.jpg

SAMUEL PEPYS, ARTIST JOHN HAYLES. SECRETARY TO THE ADMIRALTY  UNDER King Charles  MP, DIARIST AND FRIEND TO JAMES DUKE OF YORK

If this is indeed what happened and whether Pepys himself had a hand in it – he was indeed on very friendly terms with Charles’ brother James Duke of York, visiting him at the Duke’s home on numerous  occasions according to his diary – is a matter of speculation.  Did the old sermon preached on that day pop into someone’s head. That the bones of Edward IV’s sons, Edward and Richard, the so called ‘princes in the Tower’ would be non discernible from those of the sons of a beggar? And was it used to demonstrate to people that this fate is one that can easily befall disposed monarchs – and was this something to be desired?  Frustratingly Pepys stopped writing his Diary in 1669 and the bones not being ‘discovered’ until 1674 he made no entry pertaining to it.  It also begs the further question, if this speculation was correct, would he have ever written about it anyway?   Pepys wrote in shorthand and possibly he never intended  his diary to come into the public domain.  But it remains a tantalising thought that if only Pepys had continued with his diaries for longer one of the most enduring mysteries of all time may never have arisen.

1200px-James_II_by_Peter_Lely.jpg

JAMES II PAINTED BY LELY.   JAMES’  REIGN WAS ALSO TROUBLED LEADING TO HIM REPLACED BY HIS DAUGHTER MARY.

1.Whodunit The Suspects in the Case Helen Maurer note 30.

2.  Bones in the Tower Part 2 Helen Maurer Ricardian p10

3.  Pepys Diary Chapter 4 March 25 1663

 

 

 

 

 

Another view on that urn

This excellent post from Nerdalicious, whose tabs appropriately include “History of Folk and Fairy Tales”, shows just how desperately ridiculous the Cairo case really is, particularly when they treat More’s first half as a Fifth Gospel and ignore his second.

After all, we have already shown that the small coffins buried with Edward IV are irrelevant, that several different discoveries were made during the seventeenth century, that Charles II benefited from the find in 1674 and that the “Princes” mtDNA could well be available soon.

Did the Princes Survive?

A great review of Matthew Lewis’s new book: The Survival of the Princes in the Tower

 

princes-book

 

The Scrope and Welles marriages of Edward IV’s daughter….

Ralph, 9th Baron Scrope of Masham, was—through his Greystoke mother—the great-grandson of Joan Beaufort and therefore great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roët.

The tombs of Katherine de Roet and her daughter, Joan Beaufort - Lincoln Cathedral

The tombs of Katherine de Roet and her daughter Joan Beaufort in Lincoln Cathedral

This made him the great-great-great-grandson of Edward III. (For the path, follow the purple line in the following chart.) What this blood did not do was give him expectations.

Scrope-Welles-Plantagenet

* I apologise for the poor resolution in the above chart. The problem just seems to be with this published version. It can be seen more clearly on my Facebook page, one of the entries for 6th August 2017. Click on the chart in the collage, and it will pop up in a crisper version. See https://www.facebook.com/sandra.heathwilson.9

As the third of four brothers, Ralph could not have expected to inherit the family title, nevertheless, as plain Ralph Scrope, he married a princess. Cicely of York was the daughter of the late Yorkist king, Edward IV, and therefore the niece of Richard III. She was also very beautiful, if Sir Thomas More’s description is anything to go by: Not so fortunate as fair. Some say she was the loveliest of Edward’s daughters.

Cicely, daughter of Edward IV

Cicely, daughter of Edward IV

However, this early Scrope marriage has only recently come to light. Until its unexpected discovery, it was thought that Cicely only married twice, first John Welles and secondly one Thomas Kymbe or Kyme. Now, it seems, she had three husbands.

It was Richard III who arranged this astonishingly advantageous marriage for Ralph. True, Cicely and her siblings had been declared illegitimate at the time, but they were still the acknowledged offspring of one king, and the nieces and nephews of another, and therefore considerable catches.

Richard III

Ralph was not exactly in the forefront of royal blood, but he did have some. His maternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ferrers, was the granddaughter of John of Gaunt, and half-sister of Cicely Neville, Duchess of York, who was the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. So Ralph had some very important royal connections indeed, but didn’t have the clout to go with it. He had no title at the time, and wasn’t expected to ever have one. The family seat at Masham was never likely to be his. So he would never be a great landowning noble who might develop designs on the throne. But he was safely Yorkist. Maybe all these were good reasons for Richard to select him for an illegitimate niece.

Whether desired or not, the marriage probably took place in 1484, when Ralph was about 23, and Cicely a mere 15, possibly 16. The only certain thing, apart from the marriage’s existence, is that when Richard was killed at Bosworth and Henry VII usurped the throne, the Scrope match was swiftly set aside, as if Cicely had never been a bride at all. But presumably it had been consummated? We can’t even say that, but by medieval standards she was certainly of age.

Henry VII

Henry VII

The reason for the jettisoning of the Scrope union is another thing that is not known, but the outcome was that Cecily was swiftly married off to Sir John Welles instead. He was not Viscount Welles at the time, that came later. Why did Henry choose John? Well, he was Henry’s half-uncle to start with, and a Lancastrian who had shared exile with him.

Bletsoe Castle - much altered since John Welles's day

Bletsoe Castle, a residence known to John Welles. His mother was born there.

Another reason is probably that Henry, by now married to Cicely’s elder sister, Elizabeth of York, had no desire at all to have his new sister-in-law married to a mere Scrope of no rank or expectation of a title. A Yorkist, to boot. All these things probably had a lot to do with it. Henry’s claim to the throne was by conquest, because his line of descent wasn’t exactly direct. His Yorkist queen—once made legitimate again—had a better title. He had no real blood claim at all, because his mother was a Beaufort, and the Beauforts had been forbidden the throne at the beginning of the century by John of Gaunt’s trueborn son, the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV. Who, as it happens, was another usurper. So the usurper at the end of the century, Henry VII, did all he could to bolster his personal prestige. Therefore, exit poor Ralph Scrope, stage left.

John Welles was about twenty years older than Cicely and had not been married previously, but Henry’s half-uncle or not, he wasn’t royal himself. He was related to royalty, because his mother’s first marriage had been to John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, who was of course—like Ralph Scrope—descended from John of Gaunt. On the death of the duke, John’s mother married Lionel, 6th Baron Welles, and John was the result. Another piece of bad luck for John was that his father, Lionel, had also been married before, so the family title of Baron Welles and the lands went to the son of his first marriage. John got nothing from either parent.

It was John’s Beaufort half-sister, Margaret, who received the all-important royal blood and a huge fortune in money and lands, albeit through an illegitimate line that had been legitimised. She was perhaps the greatest heiress in the realm, and was snapped up at a very early age by Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond (another half-brother of a king, this time Henry VI). Their only child was to become Henry VII. Something useful for John at last? Yes, as it turns out.

John, Viscount Welles

John, 1st Viscount Welles

Ignoring Henry’s probable haste to be rid of an inconveniently lowly Yorkist brother-in-law-by-marriage, might it have been that John Welles actually loved the beautiful Cicely? Did he ask his half-sister to mediate with her son Henry? Or maybe Henry had some fondness for his half-uncle, and simply wanted to increase John’s importance with a royal wife, and then a title? Henry wasn’t exactly overloaded with blood relatives, so was obliged to keep and placate the few he had. Plus, of course, a royal wife for Uncle John would make Henry himself look better.

Certainly John Welles appears to have looked after and appreciated his highborn bride. His will was very affectionate, and according to one report (Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 163, p.33. Funeral of John Viscount Welles, 9th February 1498) she was quite distracted on losing him. The word used for her distress is actually “incontinent”, in its meaning of “distraught”. So I have reason to think that whatever her feelings for him at the outset of the marriage, there was warmth at the end. They had two daughters together, both of whom died tragically young.

One thing can be said of Cicely first two husbands: they were cousins. But not royally so, of course. Ralph’s great-grandfather, Stephen Scrope, 2nd Baron Scrope of Masham married Margery de Welles, the sister of John’s great-grandfather, the 5th Baron Welles.  John Welles also had the same Greystoke blood as Ralph, but alas, not from the member who married the granddaughter of John of Gaunt! Poor old John, missed out again. First because he wasn’t from his mother’s Beaufort marriage or his father’s first marriage, and also because he wasn’t from the right Greystoke marriage either. Dag nam it thrice times over!

However, that other Greystoke marriage was of great benefit to Ralph, upon whom it bestowed that royal Beaufort blood. What it did not do was bring him the family title, until he was nearing the end of his life and in a second childless marriage. He was the third of four brothers, who all failed to leave heirs—except for one, who produced a daughter, but she left no children either. So Ralph had to wait to eventually become the 9th Baron Scrope of Masham. His successor, the fourth brother and 10th baron, Geoffrey, also died childless, and on his death in 1517, the title fell into abeyance.

But Cicely did not stop at two husbands. She chose to marry again, and this time she certainly followed her heart. Not royal instructions! A few years after the death of John Welles, she married Thomas Kymbe or Kyme, a Lincolnshire gentleman of Friskney in Lincolnshire. His family home was probably Friskney Hall, the remains of which are shown in the map below.

Site of Friskney Hall - Kymbe residence

As may be imagined, Henry VII went blue in the face. He erupted into a fury, took away all her possessions (presumably to deny her upstart husband her wealth) and banished her. He was beside himself over what she’d done behind his back. His sister-in-law, married to a mere gentleman? It wasn’t to be tolerated!

The scandalous situation was smoothed by none other than Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who had formed a close friendship with Cicely. Margaret mediated with Henry, and managed to smooth his ruffled feathers. To a certain extent, anyway. He allowed Cicely some of her possessions, but he never again referred to her third husband. To Henry, and therefore the rest of the court, she was Viscountess Welles until the day she died. She did eventually appear at court again, but not often, and I imagine she kept out of Henry’s way.

She and Thomas went to reside in the Isle of Wight, where she eventually died as was laid to rest in old Quarr Abbey (although there is a school of thought that she died at Margaret Beaufort’s residence in Hatfield Old Palace).

Ruins of old Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight

Ruins of old Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight

It is thought that she and Thomas had children, a boy and a girl. There seems evidence of this, but all trace of any further descendants has been lost. So it is possible that there are folk around now who can trace their descent from this remarkable royal lady’s third marriage. But not, alas to her first two.https://www.facebook.com/sandra.heathwilson.9

History of Royals Tackles the Princes

I was excited to be asked to contribute to an article in Issue 18 of History of Royals magazine about the fate of the Princes in the Tower. It helps when I have a book on the way next month called The Survival of the Princes in the Tower – and it probably gives away the theme of my contribution.

The other six contributors are full-on big hitters of medieval history: Derek Wilson, John Ashdown-Hill, Michael Hicks, Josephine Wilkinson, Alison Weir and AJ Pollard. Dizzying company to find myself in! That list of names will most likely give away the themes of each of their contributions too.

HistoryOfRoyalsArticle

There is a lot of traditionalist mantra on display, relying heavily on Sir Thomas More or the lack of evidence of their survival as damning proof of Richard III’s guilt. There is also plenty of interpretation and several statements to take pretty strong issue with, but I’m certain some readers will be saying the same about my contribution and writing it off as revisionist, Ricardian lunacy.

I wonder whether that’s because there’s no answer to the suggestion that the boys weren’t killed in 1483 at Richard’s instruction. Evidence? Well, that would be telling. You’ll just have to grab a copy of the book next month!

Was Lord Stanley present when Hastings was arrested….?

Thomas Stanley signature

Tomorrow is the 534th anniversary of the council meeting in the Tower that culminated in the arrest of Hastings. There have always been inconsistencies in accounts of that day, but the one I am concerned with is whether or not that treacherous snake, Thomas Stanley, was present. You see, according to whose version one reads, at the climactic moment of Hastings being accused of treason, Stanley could have:-

  • Dived under a table/been mildly hit with a pole-axe (!)/or had hands grab him.
  • Been imprisoned in the Tower/held in custody in his own London lodgings/taken to a separate room.
  • Wasn’t there at all.

You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

So, in an (ultimately unsuccessful) pursuit of the truth, I have tried to pinpoint mentions of him. To do this, the early chronicles etc. have to be consulted. I am not a historian or scholar, so I turned first to the truly excellent William, Lord Hastings, and the Crisis of 1483: An Assessment by Wendy Moorhen (Richard III Society). She examines these early accounts, and the following extracts are taken from her work.

“…[According to the Great ChronicleUpon the same [day] dyned the said lord hastynges with him [Richard] and afftyr dyner Rode behynd hym or behynd the duke of Bukkyngham unto the Towyr. When all were assembled a cry of treason was uttered and the usher burst upon ‘such as beffore were appoyntid’ and arrested Stanley and Hastings, the latter being executed without ‘processe of any lawe or lawfully examynacion’…

“…Mancini portrays the events as beginning with Hastings, Rotherham and Ely making a customary call upon Richard in the Tower at ten o’clock. The Protector at once accused them of arranging an ambush upon him ‘as they had come with hidden arms’ and again, by pre-arrangement, soldiers entered the room, this time accompanied by Buckingham, and despatched Hastings forthwith. ‘Thus fell Hastings, killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted…’

“…Crowland merely reported: ‘On 13 June, the sixth day of the week, when he came to the Council in the Tower, on the authority of the Protector, Lord Hastings was beheaded‘.

“…In More’s account…the most colourful and detailed version…During the scuffle Stanley received a blow that knocked him under a table, with blood about his ears, then with Rotherham and Morton, he was arrested. and they were taken to separate rooms while Hastings briefly made his confession, the Protector having declared he would not eat ’til I se thy hed of’…”

“…It is noticeable after reviewing these different accounts that Thomas Stanley only appears in the Tudor versions. Perhaps his fame was not so great in 1483 when Hastings, Morton and Rotherham took centre stage, but it is worth noting that although he is included with the plotters retrospectively, yet less than three weeks later he carried the constable’s mace at Richard’s coronation. Did Stanley, as the step-father of King Henry VII, need to be seen, in retrospect, as acting against Richard?…” 

I move on to other accounts, mostly modern. Next is a passage taken from Richard III and the Murder in the Tower by Peter Hancock. “……the Earl of Derby was hurt in the face and kept awhile under hold…” Hancock also says “…The consensus is that Lord Stanley (the Earl of Derby) suffered some injury to the face and that a number of blows were aimed at him. One account has it that he dived under the table to avoid attack…” 

Richard III by James Gairdner, who admits that his source is More, whose source in turn was Morton (“a statesman of high integrity” who must have told the truth! Eh?) “…The cautious Stanley had a blow aimed at his head with a pole-axe, but escaped with a slight wound in the face and was taken into custody…”) Hastings, of course, was beheaded immediately. Stanley was released on 4th July. A pole-axe??? And still the varmint survived!

Life of Richard III – Sir Clements Markham does not actually mention Stanley when Hastings was arrested. This writer does, however, say that Hastings was condemned and executed a week later, on 20th June. (Stallworthe to Sir William Stonor).

Henry VII by S.B. Chrimes apparently speculates that Hastings was killed during the confusion, not afterwards by execution. He also says “…for whatever precise reason, Richard ordered his [Morton’s] arrest along with Stanley and Hastings and others, in June 1483…”

Royal Blood – Bertram Fields. “…The other meeting was to take place in the Tower. It was to include Hastings, Morton, Stanley and Rotherham, as well as Richard and Buckingham…Lord Stanley, who was injured in the melee, was confined to his London home….”

Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall has it as follows. “…The second group was requested to attend in the council chamber in the Tower at ten o’clock in the morning. It consisted of Hastings, Stanley, Morton, Rotherham and Buckingham…Richard directly accused Hastings and Stanley and Morton and Rotherham of plotting with the Woodvilles against the protectorship…Perhaps Hastings and Stanley reached for a weapon…Stanley was put on detention in his own lodgings…Stanley’s art of landing on the winning side had not deserted him. In a few days he was not only released but restored to his place on the council….”

Richard III by Charles Ross. “…The two prelates were arrested and confined to the Tower; so too was Lord Stanley, who seems to have been slightly wounded in the affray…”

The Last Knight Errant – Sir Edward Woodville by Christopher Wilkins. “…There was a moment’s silence and then he [Richard] accused Hastings and the two bishops [Archbishop Rotherham and John Morton, Bishop of Ely] of treason. There was shock and fury, shouts of ‘treason’ and armed men rushed into the room. Stanley very sensibly fell to the floor. Hastings was grabbed, held by the guards and told he was to be executed immediately…” Wilkins gives no source for Stanley having flung himself to the floor intentionally. He goes on to say that Stanley was imprisoned in the Tower, as were the two bishops…”

At this point I decided that getting to the bottom of what happened on 13th June 1483 was going to be impossible. I should have known better, because these facts have eluded eminent historians, even though they give firm opinions of what went on and who was there.

So I will give an opinion too. Although Tudor accounts refer to him as the Earl of Derby, which he was not in 1483, other early accounts refer to him as Lord Stanley. I think he was there, that he was part of a conspiracy against Richard, and that it was amazing he not only survived but for some reason managed to be taken back into favour. Teflon Thomas. Richard was too trusting and/or a lousy judge of character. Why that pole-axe didn’t send Stanley into eternity I will never understand! There is no justice. The reptile actually died in his own bed, just like his equally serpentine and undeserving son-in-law, Henry VII!

Stanley's bed before restoration

Thomas Stanley’s bed, before restoration

Supposedly Thomas Stanley - Ormskirk

Believed to be Thomas Stanley and his first wife at Ormskirk church

Or, of course, he was never a conspirator and supported Richard loyally to the end,  which made him an embarrassingly Yorkist father-in-law for Henry Tudor, who was a bit cross about it. Margaret Beaufort adored her husband and feared for his life, so she doctored all the records and made Thomas vow to say he’d always opposed Richard and had even been wounded and arrested on 13th June. Henry believed his mother, made Thomas the Earl of Derby, and they all lived happily ever after. Oh, I don’t know. Over to you…

Stanley the Angel

 

 

 

 

 

 

JANE SHORE—TART WITH A HEART?

Medieval mistresses seem to get a raw deal from most contemporary and near-contemporary chroniclers, being seen as falling ‘outside the accepted norm’ in regards to sexual mores. Prim Victorian authors also enjoyed making moral judgments on them, and even modern historians, while less interested in the prurient details, often paint them as scheming she-wolves or similar.
Some famous mistresses who at one time suffered slights to name or reputation include:
Katherine Swynford. Although she did marry her lover John of Gaunt in the end, she had to had to temporarily part from him for several years, due to their relationship ‘tarnishing his reputation’ (I do love how when they later made it legal, Katherine boldly told the Pope how the middle-aged newlyweds had spent their wedding night having sex!)
Alice Perrers. Much younger than Edward III, Alice was known as greedy and grasping, with claims made that she had yanked off Edward s rings and gold collar when he lay dead and fled with them.
Rosamund Clifford. The lover of Henry II, Fair Rosamund’s bones were cast out of the abbey church at Godstow on the orders of St Hugh of Lincoln, who told the nuns a whore should not be allowed to lie before the High Altar. Later, it was claimed these words were written on her tomb: king's mistress(“Here in the tomb lies the rose of the world, not a pure rose; she who used to smell sweet, still smells–but not sweet.”)
Jane Shore, however, seems the exception to this general rule. Although of common stock, and mistress to at least three powerful men (possibly several at once!) she was supposedly loved by all the ordinary folk of London, who looked at her with admiration and refused to jeer at her as she was forced upon her ‘cruel’ penance for harlotry (walking in her kirtle holding a taper in her hand) by the heartless Richard III.
Jane was said to be witty, intelligent, kind and generous, and often interceded with her lover Edward IV on the behalf of those who had fallen afoul of the King, hence the love borne her by the ordinary Londoners. According to one version of the legend, after Jane had been released from prison, Richard decreed no one was to aid her, and finding herself destitute because Richard had confiscated her belongings, she eventually fell down in a ditch, withered and starving and tragically expired.
However, how much of this is fact?
Reading posts and internet biographies on Jane, certain myths come up repeatedly, often presented as fact. What do we really know about this amazing woman whose sexual exploits with the rich and powerful were almost overlooked by those who wrote about her, even in more morally repressed eras, to be replaced instead by fulsome praise of her kindly and generous qualities as if she was almost a modern day St Theresa?
1) Jane is not her real name; she was born Elizabeth Lambert to John and Amy Lambert. The name Jane starts appearing the writings of the 1700’s, along with more melodramatic versions of her story.
2) She was married to a William Shore but managed to get an annulment on the grounds of his impotence the same year she began her affair with Edward. (As the proof needed for impotence could be terribly embarrassing to all concerned, it does not make her sound as terribly kind as she was supposed to be.) Some rumours purport William Shore was old, but it seems in reality he was not much older than she was. Despite the annulment, she still was still often known as Shore’s Wife.
3) One of Richard’s lawyers, Thomas Lynom, fell in love with her while she was still cooling her heels in Ludgate prison (not the Tower as some writers make it) after the Hastings incident. For all his supposed harshness towards her, Richard agreed to the match if Lynom could not be persuaded otherwise. Records appear to show she did indeed marry Lynom, and went on to have a daughter Julian(a) with him (so the idea of her coming out of prison and dying shortly thereafter of neglect is clearly false.)
4) Many writers state she was accused of ‘witchcraft’ over the ‘withered arm’ incident described in More and Shakespeare…well, we now know Richard had no withered arm, so if Jane was indeed accused of sorcery, that incident was not the origin. The prominence of the ‘witchcraft’ accusation seems to come mainly from later Tudor authors especially the notoriously unreliable Holinshed, who provided source material for many of Shakespeare’s plays.
5) Richard was a mean-spirited prude who forced her to walk about the city in scanty clothes. Richard did not do anything of the sort. Jane’s ‘penance’ was decreed via an ecclesiastical court held by the Bishop of London and was the standard punishment for harlotry. Her imprisonment came from her associations with Hastings, Dorset and Elizabeth Woodville, to whom she carried messages; you could say she was something of a minor spy. That was why she was imprisoned, not for sleeping with Edward IV and his friends, nor for any alleged witchcraft (for which she was never formally charged.)
6) Jane may have well died in penury but her death happened many years after the events of 1483 so could hardly be blamed on Richard III. As mentioned above, she did indeed marry the enamoured Thomas Lynom, who, although he lost his position after Bosworth, went on to work for Henry Tudor, including having a place at Ludlow in Prince Arthur’s household. So, unless the marriage came to an unrecorded end or Lynom met extreme financial hardship, it is highly likely that a penniless Jane collapsed dead in a ditch! Possibly, she outlived her husband and then fell upon hard times. Thomas More claimed to have seen her when she was ‘old’ (so her death is clearly in no wise attributable to any harsh treatments by Richard III!)
Jane’s story often reads like bad melodrama, and it seems her true story actually declined into such quite rapidly. One Victorian author, realizing that she (supposedly) died in poverty in HenryVIII’s reign, quickly made haste to defend the Tudor king and his father as to negligence regarding Jane’s unhappy end. He insisted that it was not up to Henry to look after her, and her misfortunes were all down to Richard’s vendetta against her and by his confiscation of her possessions. Never mind that either of the Henrys could have (had they so wished) given these meagre goods back …let alone that Richard had been dead a good forty years when Jane herself passed away.
Thomas More’s account of Jane is so sugary it almost makes your teeth ache. Indeed, as has been noted, all the people ‘maltreated’ by Richard in More’s book are portrayed as kind and perfect and noble, but beautiful Jane gets a double-dose of sickly platitudes. More does manage to get in a bit of moralizing, though, about the transience of beauty and misspent youth, when he describes her wretched appearance at the end of her life!
Overall, it seems like Jane Shore was given the role of fair though fallen womanhood, innocence subverted, mainly so that Richard III could be further demonized for his supposed ‘ill treatment’ of her (which amounted to very little, to be honest.) If authors such as More and Holinshed did not have a ‘drum to beat’ regarding Richard, I would imagine Jane would have met the fate of most other royal mistresses in the writings of their time and later, and been described, realistically or not, as an immoral, grasping and inconstant woman.
Instead, she ended up the ultimate medieval ‘tart with a heart.’

sources

The Life And Death Of Jane Shore; Containing The Whole Account Of Her Amorous Intrigues With King Edward The Ivth. And The Lord : Her Penitence, Punishment and Poverty. …

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