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Busting yet another Cairo myth

Bishop Robert Stillington was imprisoned soon after Bosworth and died in captivity in 1491, definitely by 15 May. It is generally thought that this was a punishment for providing the copious evidence that convinced the Three Estates, in June 1483, of Edward IV’s bigamy. This rendered Elizabeth of York and all her siblings legally illegitimate, which was highly inconvenient for Henry “Tudor”, who sought to marry her. Stillington’s arrest and Catesby‘s summary execution fall into the first four days of Henry VII’s actual reign and the first five of the reign he claimed.

There has been an alternative view, based on the writings of Edward Hall, compiled after More but before Shakespeare. In 1475-6, just after the planned invasion of France was cancelled, an embassy was sent to Francis, Duke of Brittany, seeking to capture “Tudor”. Both Vergil and Hall comment that “the Bishop of Bath and Wells” was part of the party in question. Several Cairo dwellers rely on that interpretation, identifying Stillington as the man in question.

Oliver King the snooker player. For some reason, we couldn’t find a photo of the Bishop.

In 1475-6, Robert Stillington was indeed Bishop of Bath and Wells but there are several convincing reasons to conclude that he wasn’t the man in question. By the time Polydore Vergil put quill to paper, Oliver King (1495-1503) occupied that see and Hall “redialled” to King’s predecessor but one for convenience. King was among those arrested but released at the time of Hastings’ plot.

Secondly, Stillington was not a well man by the time Edward IV’s second reign began, taking leave of absence as Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor at least twice, and the Foedera evidence shows that he was never actually sent abroad. In the ODNB, based on the Yorkshireman’s early academic career, Hicks concludes that he was born by 1410 and ordained at a comparatively late age, living into his eighties. Based on this revelation, it is possible that his own children were actually legitimate and that their mother died before he took holy orders in c.1447.

Now think about the implications of this. Canon Stillington, who almost certainly witnessed Edward IV’s real marriage, was more than thirty years older than his monarch. Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, a probable witness born in about 1394, was nearly fifty years older than Edward, imprisoned from 1469-73 when he died, and Lady Eleanor herself was over six years older. In other words, Edward IV need only to have lived to 49 to ensure that all those with first-hand knowledge were dead, so the ceremony would have been deniable. He didn’t, of course, thereby ending Yorkist rule.

h/t Marie Barnfield

Excavations at Bath Abbey

In 1485, there were 22 monks residing at Bath Abbey, the place where Edgar was crowned ‘King of the English’ in 973 AD. However, the abbey was in decline and by 1499, when Bishop Oliver King visited it, to his shock the building was ruinous. King began a rebuilding project, making it the last great medieval religious building erected in England.

Unfortunately, from this time forward there were upwards of 4000 burials placed beneath theĀ  floor, which has caused it, in modern times, to sink and become unstable, with large craters and gaps forming underneath through subsidence. Archaeologists have therefore been called in to excavate in anticipation of repairing and consolidating the dangerous floor.

BODIESUNDERBATHABBEY

Besides human remains and coffins from the 1500’s to Victorian times, they have also uncovered beautiful and well-preserved floor tiles from the earlier medieval abbey. These date to the 12th or 13th C and the coloursĀ  are still remarkably vivid and bright.

BATHABBEYTILESARTICLE/PIX

tilesatBath

The consequences of the Human Shredder

We already know that William, Lord Hastings, was one of several people arrested on the morning of 13 June for a conspiracy against the Duke of Gloucester, who was both Constable and Lord Protector. We know that Bishop Morton was among the others but that Hastings alone was executed, that the Constable had the right to order a summary trial and that Hastings was not attainted. We also know that Morton’s nephew, Robert, as Master of the Rolls, is a leading candidate to have been the “Human Shredder” who destroyed several documents, probably including Hastings’ trial records. These records would also have exposed John Morton’s complicity.

Consequently, lazy historians and others have relied upon More’s “History”, which assumes that the destruction of the trial records suggests that there wasn’t a trial. Now More either adapted an earlier work by Cardinal Morton, as the Bishop had become, or he didn’t. If he did then his source was a defendant at the trial, seeking to expunge his guilt. If he didn’t then his “History” was composed of his own memories as a five year-old who was surely not at the meeting. Either way, it is unworthy of serious consideration in this context.

The way records were kept is also of interest. Richard’s Titulus Regius, which we absolutely know to have been destroyed in 1486, was kept on a “membrane”. Similarly, the Hastings-Stanley-Morton-Rotherham-Lambert-King trial records would have shared a membrane with other judicial matters. We no longer have a record of the 1486 treason trials of five men in York, of Sir Thomas Metcalfe and Roger Layton in 1487 or of the thousands of Bodmin rebels in 1497, although they were taken in overt treason. Does this prove that the York quintet, Metcalfe and Layton were not tried or does it suggest that Robert Morton/ Vergil destroyed the membrane with their trial records on?

Do we now wait for the Cairo dwellers to accuse Henry VII of at least seven executions without trial or attainder within a year and a half? Consistency has never been their strong point so it might be a long wait.

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