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Witchcraft (3): Matthew Hopkins

matthew_hopkins_witch-finder-_wellcome_l0000812If the witchcraft trials at North Berwick in the 1590s and later in England, of which Pendle in 1610 is an example, happened because James VI/I fervently believed in witchcraft, as shown by the three characters in Macbeth, it can be argued that the subsequent decline in such cases came because judges and Charles I took a more sceptical approach, Charles being a more Anglican King than his father. There was, however, a significant case in his reign at Lancaster in 1634.

This trend was reversed in the early 1640s when the start of the First English Civil War saw Charles lose his authority over several parts of his largest kingdom but particularly Puritan-inclined counties such as Suffolk and Essex. To fill this vacuum, various individuals assumed some Parliamentary aut240px-st-_johns_church_great_wenham_suffolk_-_geograph-org-uk_-_213446hority in finding witches. Matthew Hopkins, born in about 1620, was the son of a Puritan vicar who had held the living of Great Wenham and land in Framlingham. By 1643, Matthew was an innkeeper near Manningtree but could also rely on an inheritance from his father and appointed himself Witchfinder General. With John Stearne and four followers, he began hunting witches the following year across the whole of East Anglia, subjecting them to the “swimming” ordeal, psychological torture and sending them for trial. By 1647, when his The Discovery of Witches was published, about three hundred people from Bury St. Edmunds to Chelmsford had been hanged, out of the five hundred such executions throughout England between 1400 and 1700.

Early that year, magistrates in Hopkins’ own region began to demand more evidence and the convictions stopped. Hopkins died that August, probably from tuberculosis. Stearne, a decade older, lived on in Bury St. Edmunds until 1670. Their methods had already spread to the New World Colonies, where there was a hanging in Connecticut in May 1647. The first American witch-hunt continued until 1663 but it wasn’t to be the last …

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A further selection of Scropes….

The name “Scrope” was usually pronounced, and sometimes spelled, as “Scroop”.am

To follow yesterday’s post

William, Earl of Wiltshire c1351-1399

William was the second son of Richard Scrope, first Baron Scrope of Bolton. In his younger days he was sometimes associated with John of Gaunt, who made him Seneschal of Aquitaine in 1383.

Subsequently, he secured the favour of Richard II, who made him Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in 1393, and granted him the castle and lordship of Marlborough. In that same year his father purchased the Kingdom of Mann for him, an example of provision was made for a younger son without dividing the main inheritance. He was given the Garter in 1394, and after the fall of Arundel, Gloucester and Warwick in 1397 was made Earl of Wiltshire and given a share of the confiscated lands. In 1398 he was promoted to the important post of Lord Treasurer.

Although Scrope gets little mention in the accounts of Richard II’s reign it is clear that by this time he had become a very influential man. He was given the custody of a number of royal castles, including Wallingford and Beaumaris. He was left in England when Richard II went to Ireland in 1399, and was, in effect, the “active ingredient” in a government under the chairmanship of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York.

When Henry Bolingbroke invaded, Scrope was one of several men who abandoned the Duke of York and took refuge in Bristol. When that city fell to Bolingbroke’s forces, Scrope was captured and summarily beheaded. (He may have had a “trial” of sorts before the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, but this is by no means certain.)

When one considers the gallons of ink that have been used in bemoaning the execution of the saintly Anthony Rivers in 1483, it is rather surprising to discover that Henry IV has received no similar criticism for the execution of Scrope, which amounted to plain murder, Henry holding no office at the time and thus acting as a lawless, private individual. Historians do not seem to think Scrope worth arguing about, although it is hard to discern what he had done to Henry that merited such savage treatment.

Subsequently, Henry’s first parliament threw a cloak of legality over the murder and confirmed the forfeiture of Scrope’s lands and possessions.

William Scrope had married Isabel Russell, daughter of Sir Maurice Russell of Dorset and Gloucestershire. Although Sir Maurice was far from being a minor member of the gentry, and was particularly active in Gloucestershire, his daughter was not an aristocrat, still less a Plantagenet, and this may help explain why Henry allowed her almost nothing to live on.

Richard, Archbishop of York, 1350-1405

Richard was the third son of Henry, first Lord Scrope of Masham. He received his first rectorship as early as 1368, although he was not actually ordained priest until 1377. The very next year he was no less than Chancellor of the University of Cambridge! He had, of course, achieved considerable academic success, but it seems likely that patronage also played its part. He was a papal chaplain in Rome from 1382-1386, and became Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield in 1386. His diplomatic career included a visit to Rome to further Richard II’s attempt to have his grandfather, Edward II, canonised. He was translated to the see of York in 1398.

Richard was possibly under the influence of the Percy family, with whom his family had connections, and made no attempt to prevent the deposition of Richard II. Indeed, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he formally led Henry to the throne. On the other hand, when the Percy family rose in rebellion against Henry in 1403, there is no significant evidence that he was involved.

Henry IV remained deeply unpopular, not least in the North and there were a number of conspiracies against him in the years that followed. Unfortunately for them, his enemies never quite managed to coordinate their plans and bring their strength against him at the same time. 1405 was the year of the so-called Tripartite Indenture, the plan to divide England and Wales between Owain Glyndwr, the Earl of Northumberland. and Sir Edmund Mortimer. Owain had at last received armed French assistance, and was poised to invade England. It was in these circumstances that Richard Scrope, no doubt working in collaboration with Northumberland, raised an army of about 8,000 men which assembled on Shipton Moor. With the Archbishop were his nephew, Sir William Plumpton, and the young Thomas Mowbray, Earl Marshal and earl of Nottingham and Norfolk.

They were met by a force headed by Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, which Northumberland had failed to intercept. Instead of engaging, the Archbishop agreed to parley and was tricked by false promises into disbanding his army. After that he, Plumpton and Mowbray were promptly arrested. After a travesty of a trial – a trial in which Chief Justice refused to participate – all three were beheaded.

Scrope was buried in York Minster and his tomb became an unofficial shrine. Lancastrian kings naturally sought to discourage to the cult, while the Yorkist kings, equally naturally, looked upon it with favour. However, Scrope was never officially canonised. It need hardly be said that Scrope was the first Archbishop to be executed in England – Becket, after all, was simply murdered – and with the sovereign’s full authority.  He was also the last prelate to be so dealt with until the Tudor era.

The Pope excommunicated all those involved in Scrope’s death, although the sentence was never published in England. Henry IV eventually secured a pardon by offering to found two religious houses; these were not, in fact, founded in his lifetime, but came to being under Henry V, and were the last such to be created in the medieval period.

It was soon after Scrope’s death that Henry was struck by the mysterious illness which made the rest of his life a misery. Naturally, his enemies ascribed his affliction to the vengeance of Richard Scrope.

Henry Scrope, Lord Scrope of Masham, c1370-1415

Henry Scrope was knighted by Richard II in 1392, and was retained by that king for life in 1396. Nevertheless he rapidly transferred his allegiance to Henry IV in 1399 and served him loyally in various capacities throughout his reign. His first wife, Philippa de Bryan, was a Welsh heiress (or perhaps more correctly a heiress of lands in Wales) and part of his effort was directed towards guarding her lands against the Glyndwr rising. He inherited the Masham barony from his father in 1406, but seems to have been “running the family business” so to speak for some years. He was briefly Lord Treasurer in 1410, possibly because of his connections to Prince Henry (who was running the government at the time because of Henry IV’s illness) and Sir Thomas Beaufort. In this role he was successful, and actually left a surplus in the Treasury at the end of his service.

In his private life, Scrope made a second marriage in 1410, to Joanne (or Joan) Holland, Duchess of York, the widow of Edmund of Langley. Joanne was a wealthy woman – T. B. Pugh estimated that her survival for thirty-two years after Langley’s death cost the York family in excess of £30,000. Quite apart from this, Joanne had a portion of the earldom of Kent (following the death of her brother, Edmund, in 1408) and also a share in the lands of her second husband, Lord Willoughby. The joint income of Scrope and his wife was around £1,800 a year, a vast amount for a mere baron.

Unfortunately Joanne and her husband did not live in wedded bliss, and it appears that around 1413 she left him, at least for a time, taking with her about £5,000 worth of his property and decamped to her Yorkist dower castle, Sandal. In his will of June 1415 he offered her a choice of his belongings to the value of £2000 in return for her abandoning any claim to one third or one half of his goods. This suggests his belongings must have amounted to more than £6,000! Since Joanne was already engaged in a quarrel with her Willoughby stepson over personal property, it seems she was not a lady who considered material possessions to be unimportant.

It should not be overlooked that Henry Scrope was a nephew of the late Archbishop of York, and it may be that his loyalty to the Lancastrian regime was not a fervent as it appeared on the surface. In any event he allowed himself to be drawn into the conspiracy known as the Southampton Plot led by Joanne’s stepson, Richard of York, Earl of Cambridge, which sought to replace Henry V with the Earl of March.

It is equally possible that Scrope went into the conspiracy with every intention of betraying it. It appears certain that he did his best to persuade the Earl of March not to get more deeply involved – hardly the action of a convinced plotter – and that he remonstrated with Walter Lucy, March’s close adviser over the matter. Scrope was not even invited to a crucial supper party at Cranbury, held by March and attended by Cambridge, Lucy and Lord Clifford.

However, it was March, not Scrope, who disclosed the conspiracy to Henry V, and the result was that Scrope was executed and all his lands and possessions forfeited. Duchess Joanne acted very promptly to secure a share of the proceeds, including a solid gold statue of the Virgin and various items of plate stamped with the Scrope arms that she claimed as her personal property. It appears nothing was done to retrieve the various expensive items she filched. Scrope’s brother and heir, and his mother, were not so fortunate. Although Henry V intended to permanently alienate most or all of the family’s lands, he had an attack of conscience on his death-bed, and the youngest Scrope brother, and eventual heir, John, was able to rebuild much of the inheritance.

It is, in fact, unlikely that Henry Scrope was guilty of intending the deaths of Henry V and his brothers. It is much more reasonable to say that his offence amounted to Misprision of Treason at worst.

Sources:

Complete Peerage, G.E. Cokayne

Henry IV of England, J.L. Kirby

1415, Ian Mortimer.

The Fears of Henry IV, Ian Mortimer

Henry V and the Southampton Plot, T.B. Pugh

The History of England Under Henry the Fourth, J.H. Wylie

Notes:
This explains how closely the three rebels and Sir Ralph Scrope were related. Note that Sir William of Bracewell’s sons married two de Ros sisters and that the Bolton branch lived on into the seventeenth century although the Masham male line died out early in Henry VIII’s reign. Furthermore, Richard, Bishop of Carlisle, was Richard III’s cousin.

Radio Interview Regarding the Leicester Cathedral Controversy

Having heard that Leicester Cathedral were staging a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III inside the Cathedral itself, feet from where Richard is buried, I felt I had to do something to protest. It is not that I object to Leicester putting plays on in the Cathedral, although some do. Nor do I hate Shakespeare’s Richard III per se – it is true that he would not be anywhere near as famous without Shakespeare, although perhaps many would feel it preferable if he were less well known and less vilified. And Shakespeare was, of course, a genius, a fact which serves Richard ill because the plays, including the Bard’s Richard III, will never stop being performed. We must try to ensure that any future production of it will incorporate a disclaimer stating that it is fiction and giving a summary of the true Richard.

But it is quite a different matter to stage the play beside Richard’s tomb. So, I started a petition and was lucky enough to be interviewed about it on my local radio station, BBC Essex. Here is the transcript of the interview (there is a link at the bottom to BBC iPlayer, but it will be there only until the end of May 2017):

Dave Monk: Now you may be familiar with the incredible story about Richard III. Now the king was killed following his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth, fought in 1485. His remains were found recently, unearthed beneath a Leicester car park. Well, they now reside in Leicester Cathedral, but a bit of a row has broken out because a production company wants to stage a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III right there. And funnily enough (he said, name-dropping) I was with the Duke of Gloucester this afternoon, who’s all part of that, of course, because he was Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Critics say it is disrespectful and insensitive as the play portrays Richard in a bad light. Oh, yes it does. Well, Essex author, Joanne Larner, from Rayleigh, is behind the petition calling for the performance to be stopped. And I’d like to know why that is. Joanne, great to have you on. Why have you set this up?

Joanne: Well, it’s just, I thought it was such, a…I was so disappointed. I’ve visited the Cathedral several times and I even was there for the reinterment and I thought they did it really well and they promised to treat Richard’s remains with dignity and honour and I’m so disappointed and saddened and completely disgusted now that they’re doing this because it is almost as if they are dancing on his grave, in a way and I don’t think they are keeping their side of the bargain of treating his remains with dignity and honour.

Dave: Because, let’s face it, Rich – sorry, Shakespeare’s Richard III, Richard was the bad guy. He was a scheming, nasty hunchback, a nasty king, and that’s how he was portrayed and we have no idea whether that’s the truth or not, have we?

Joanne: Oh yes we do!

Dave: Oh go on, then.

Joanne: Well. we think that that portrayal was partly Tudor propaganda – Shakespeare was writing in Tudor times and Tudor had to defame Richard’s character to justify his own taking of the throne. And also, I think as well that Shakespeare may have been doing a satire on a politician of his day, Robert Cecil, who was a hunchback and who was very unpopular. And so, it might not even necessarily be solely about Richard. But, in any case it’s fiction, it isn’t history and the real Richard actually did a lot of good things. I could give you some examples if you’d like to know some of the good things he did.

Dave: Yeah, I’d really like to know, yes.

Joanne: Well, he tried to stamp out corruption of the juries. He was only king for two years, as you know, and he only had one Parliament, but he did all this. He brought in a primitive form of legal aid for the poor, he encouraged reading and learning, he exempted books from taxes – that’s not the action of a tyrant, they usually discourage learning and reading. He had his laws made in English for the first time, so that more people could understand them, he was known before his brother died to be just, loyal and courageous. He was the last English king to die in battle, defending his country and his crown.

Dave: Well, let’s face it we’ve got to always remember, that it’s the victors who write the history books.

Joanne: Exactly, yes.

Dave: You’ve always got to keep that in mind, haven’t you? Why your fascination?

Joanne: Well, I only got interested, actually, after they found him and I saw the documentary and it absolutely fascinated me. And especially the lady, Philippa Langley, who was so passionate about him and I thought, well, how can someone be so passionate about someone who’s been dead five hundred years? And it made me research him and find out about him and I was so inspired that I’ve actually written three novels about him now.

Dave: Pretty good going, isn’t it, really?

Joanne: Mmm, and I’m just as passionate as she is. So – there’s a lot of us   and we all feel really strongly about him.

Dave: So, if it is, I mean you say it’s fiction, if Shakespeare’s Richard III is just fiction, why the big deal? Why the big problem?

Joanne: Well, simply because it portrays him in such a bad light. He’s portrayed as an evil hunchbacked tyrant who murdered his way to the throne and to perform that play literally feet from his grave, I think is just terrible.

Dave: How’s the petition going so far? Have you got much support?

Joanne: Well, it’s only been on for a few days, we’ve already over seven hundred, but obviously the more, the merrier, so anybody else who’d like to sign, I’d really welcome it. You know, it you feel as outraged as I do. I mean, I know Leicester Cathedral do have to make money and they’ve put on other plays there which some people don’t like but I understand that, you know, that they can’t, they don’t charge an entrance fee to the Cathedral, and they’ve put on Richard III before, so they say, but that was before Richard was there. And it’s this juxtaposition of that play and that place that’s the problem.

Dave: Oh alright, Joanne, thank you very much. Joanne Larner, Essex author, from Rayleigh and she is behind that petition to get that performance of Richard III stopped.

 

Since the interview, we have reached well over a thousand signatures – please add yours by clicking the picture of his tomb below.

Photo of Richard III's tomb

Clcik here for link to hear interview – starts near the end of the programme, about 2:45-46

The True History of King Richard III (Part IV)

The sack of Ludlow 1459


Richard’s first teacher was Lady Mortimer, who taught him handwriting and country dancing. As Lady Mortimer’s late husband had been on the very fringe (almost dropping off the end) of Richard’s family tree, she also taught him something of genealogy, and he discovered that he was descended from Lionel, Duke of Clarence, which made him senior in the succession to Henry VI himself! It turned out that when the Lancastrians (who were descended from John of Gaunt, Lionel’s younger brother) had stolen the throne in the early fifteenth century they had forced the York family to pretend that they were only descended from Edmund of Langley (Gaunt’s younger brother.)

This injustice set Richard seething, but he was also delighted to find that he was much nearer to the (rightful) possession of the crown than he had previously imagined.

Richard’s studies continued under the Reverend Doctor Stiffkey (of Stiffkey in Norfolk) who taught him Latin and Canon Law. George shared these lessons, but although he was Richard’s elder he was a dull pupil who was often reduced to copying from his brother’s book.

George and Margaret played together, as they were close in age, but Richard only had his pet pig, Henry. (Naturally he was already planning to turn Henry into sausages when Henry got big and fat enough.) It was having this pig that persuaded Richard to choose the White Boar as his personal badge. He also learned from Doctor Stiffkey that Ebor was York in Latin, so it was a pun as well, which Richard found amusing.

Margaret of Anjou called a Parliament to which neither York nor his friends were invited. This made York very suspicious so he sent for all his friends to join him at Ludlow with their soldiers. This led to at least one battle (Blore Heath) as Salisbury forced his way through from the north. Warwick came all the way from Calais and brought much of the garrison with him.

Margaret had an even bigger army, which she marched all the way to Ludford Bridge, just outside Ludlow. The even had Henry VI with them, and the sight of Henry’s banner was enough to make many of York’s followers desert, as the Lancastrian army was so much bigger they thought they might lose and then be executed as traitors.

This led to an urgent family conference. York, and his elder sons, Edward and Edmund, Salisbury and Warwick all slipped away in the night, taking only their hand luggage. Duchess Cecily, with only George and Richard and a pimply lad called William Hastings to protect her, walked down to Ludlow market cross, in the hope of picking up a lift to Fotheringhay,

The Lancastrian army arrived soon after dawn. The Duchess, drawing herself up to her full five foot eight plus hennin, told her children to be brave, and William Hastings waved a white flag as vigorously as he could.

The leaders of the Lancastrian army were in a foul mood, and they were just about to do terrible things to the Duchess and Margaret when they caught sight of the expression on Richard’s face. As one man, they stepped back in fear, and several of them, including Lord Clifford, actually soiled themselves, which was very inconvenient given that they were all wearing armour. The Duchess, who had closed her eyes to think of England, believed ever afterwards that the Holy Trinity had saved her, but it was actually her youngest son, already by far the scariest person in the land.

Henry VI himself showed up – he was far too holy to be scared, but he pardoned the Duchess and those with her on the spot and put them under the guard of trusted men, which, in the circumstances, was quite unnecessary.

There then took place what is known as the ‘sack of Ludlow’. This incident has been grossly exaggerated by Yorkist propaganda, much of it undoubtedly put about by Richard himself. In truth, no women were raped, no houses plundered to the bare walls. The Lancastrian soldiers merely knocked politely on doors and asked for contributions to ‘Lancastrians In Need’ which was a charity lately set up by Henry VI. The odd penny, or perhaps a loaf of bread, was all they wanted. The only real casualty was Henry the pig, who was slaughtered so that everyone could have a bacon sandwich.

Richard just HAD to be one of the seven….!

13c manuscript depicting coronation - believed Edward II

http://www.historyextra.com/article/richard-iii/7-medieval-kings-you-should-know-about

Richard HAD to be one of the seven. He may have only reigned for a couple of years, but what years they were. And if he’d won at Bosworth, what a wonderful age his reign would have been. The legislation passed at his parliament was a mere taste of what he wanted to do for England. A great king murdered by feckless traitors, who by their betrayals opened the door for the blood-stained House of “Tudor”.

Biased? Moi? Yes, of course, but that doesn’t make me wrong.

Edward, the Black Prince.

I came across a conversation recently where people were regretting the early death of the Black Prince, because apparently everything would have been much better had he lived.

Unfortunately, even people interested in English history tend not to appreciate that at the end of Edward III’s reign England was 1. losing the war with France (badly) and 2. almost bankrupt.

So unless the Black Prince was secretly a magician who could conjure gold out of the air – paper currency being a thing as yet unknown – he would have struggled with the same issues Richard II and his Council faced – that is, how to raise money without upsetting the easily-upset English taxpayer. And if you look at Edward’s track record with his taxpayers in Gascony, it would probably not have been pretty.

A rather similar conversation can be had around Henry V. It is true that at his death the English military position had not collapsed (as it had in 1377) but the problems with money had already started. Parliament was not for splashing out. Not even for Henry V. Poor old Henry VI never had a chance – arguably his followers did extremely well to hold on to as much as France as they did for as long as they did.

If I am going to regret anyone’s early death it would be Edward IV’s. Had he lived another ten years Richard of Gloucester could have continued happily in Yorkshire, Henry Tudor would be a mere footnote in history, and a whole lot of sorrow would have been avoided.

The Problem with ‘Usurpation’ (re-blogged from http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052370)

With my long-standing interest in treason and usurpation, I was fascinated to see the video of the mock trial of the Magna Carta barons staged in the wonderful surroundings of Westminster Hall on 31 July 2015.* I use the term ‘Magna Carta barons’ loosely, and indeed the trial itself could address only one arbitrary, early point in the long journey of the development of that charter which eventually gained its famous title. This was the moment in time at which King John had, after much ducking and diving, sealed the charter in June 1215 and immediately reneged by getting Pope Innocent III to repudiate it.

Though doubtless there will be historians who disagree, I take it – as did the script of the trial – that King John had hitherto behaved in a manner so thoroughly unacceptable as to be termed tyrannical. In giving his judgement, The Hon. Stephen Breyer from the USA cited John Locke’s (albeit anachronistic) assessment that for his subjects to have the right to rebel, a king should be seen to have systematically refused to adhere to the law of the land. Of course no method of testing a king’s behaviour in a court of law existed in 1215, but for his rule to be considered truly tyrannical I think this criterion would be taken as read.

Legal frameworks of the time would have been governed by the weight of precedent, and certainly the judges at our mock trial took the view that John himself had been ‘made king’ by a legal process. This process included religious ceremonial with sacred oath-taking, not only oaths of allegiance but also the coronation oath sworn by the king himself. In consequence of King John’s breaching of the latter, the rebellious barons invoked a long-standing custom and – therefore – legal right known as diffidatio, i.e. they exercised the right of a free man to repudiate his oath of loyalty to his overlord for a justifiable reason. Underpinning this right of diffidatio was the recognition that fealty was a two-way street: that for a subject to keep his oath, the king must do the same.

In our modern age, when promises made are routinely broken, and ‘God-fearing’ is no longer a term to be taken literally, the significance of an oath sworn while invoking the presence of God is scarcely understood and seldom respected: consider the context of judicial process, which is one of the few surviving circumstances when such oaths are still routinely encountered (and routinely flouted). Yet in the Middle Ages, as I have tried to indicate in writings such as my Small Guide to the Great Debate, the process of oath-swearing was one of the pillars of mediaeval society. It was a crucial matter if either party abandoned their solemn oath.

The bonds of this mutual compact defined the relationship between king and subject, already long-established by the 13th century, and gradually developing throughout the ages. It is this promise on the part of the king that is most often forgotten in the cries of ‘usurper!’ that are so widely bandied about in relation to certain monarchs; and it is key to my repeatedly asserted argument that most often the term ‘usurpation’ is a misnomer that merely reflects the prejudices of the person using it.

In pre-Conquest England there was in place a history of election of kings by the Saxon equivalent of Parliament (the Witangemot), based on the fundamental requirement of the office to perform a mutually understood function: the defence of the realm and its people. This was gradually extended to include wider responsibilities, notably for the proper administration of justice. In return, the king was entitled to call upon his people to perform whatever was understood to be due to enable him to fulfil such responsibilities. The principle that the king had a duty to perform a job of work continued to be understood for many centuries, and it was only by analogy with succession from father to son in other areas of life that a similar expectation developed in relation to the throne. Although kings often tried to influence who succeeded them, there was never any ‘law of succession’.

Requirements such as embodying the fount of justice as well as the office of leader and commander throw a clear light on crises of succession like the deposition of Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI who fell short of expectations. An even more relevant case is that of the conflict between Stephen and Matilda. Matilda might be the only surviving legitimate issue of Henry I, but his decision to make her his heir was self-serving and ultimately catastrophic: she was not born into an age when a woman could don harness and lead an army in the field. Returning to the mock trial of the barons, a question raised by the presiding judge exemplifies an abiding misapprehension on this point. Why, asked the judge, did the barons in 1215 not choose to replace John with his son, Henry (later Henry III), then aged seven? The question answers itself when you are not blinded by the assumption that the crown was governed by some imagined law of father-to-son succession: in a time of turmoil and civil strife, when the very rule of the land needed to be taken into strong hands, what fool was going to opt for rule by a seven-year-old? That he was later able to succeed upon his father’s death (now aged nine) was principally a function of the abilities and virtues of William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, his champion and Regent of England.

In 1399 a new dimension entered into the matter of the succession when Henry IV challenged Richard II for the crown and the latter abdicated, rather than defending his right to the death as would have been appropriate to the tradition of the warrior-king. Parliament was drawn into the front line in the disposition of the crown, going through the formal procedure of acknowledging the abdication of Richard and the succession of Henry. The new king is said to have publicly exhibited proof of his genealogy, but the record of the Rolls of Parliament is remarkably non-committal in regard to his descent, and much more specific as to the rewards of his victory over the ruinous former king:

‘In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I, Henry of Lancaster, claim this realm of England, and the crown with all its members and its appurtenances, inasmuch as I am descended by right line of the blood from the good lord King Henry the third, and through that right that God in his grace has sent me, with the help of my kin and of my friends in recovering it, which realm was at the point of ruin for lack of governance and destruction of the good laws.’ [Parliamentary Rolls of Mediaeval England, 1399 Part 1, vol. iii, pp.422-3.]

Here we have an echo of that same accusation as used by the barons against King John; and despite the fascinating arguments concerning precisely which line of royal descent Henry IV might have claimed, the salient point of this remarkable statement, as accepted and recorded by Parliament, was that God had favoured him in stepping in to avert the ruin of the realm. Had there existed a law of succession which stipulated primogeniture, there was in fact a royal descendant whose claim would have been superior to Henry’s: this was the young Mortimer heir Edmund, Earl of March, then the same age as the son of King John whom we encountered above. Clearly, when the option of the valorous and successful adult Henry was available, there was no support for the claims of a seven-year-old, however senior his line of descent. A child of that age, and one who lacked the support of a strong figure as Regent, ipso facto failed the basic qualification as warlord-cum-lawgiver.

It is also noteworthy that the childless Richard II, knowing that the succession to the crown was being eyed by his several uncles, had kept them guessing by naming alternative heirs at different times: another indication that primogeniture was not regarded as the primary criterion. Henry IV, once on the throne, tried to secure the succession to his line by statutory enactment in Parliament, but the view of Stanley Chrimes (in English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century, p.24) is that this was merely declaratory and did not determine the line of succession: it recognized but ‘did not create’ Henry’s title. By the same token, it made no general provision for a public law of succession.

Only in 1460, when Richard, Duke of York came to press his claim to the throne in opposition to Henry VI, was the emphasis on primogeniture brought to the fore. York’s claim depended on it wholly – it rested on his sharing the same senior line of descent as the Mortimer heir disenfranchised by Henry of Lancaster sixty years earlier. And although Parliament made several attempts to avoid passing judgement on the matter, when forced to reach a conclusion they decided in York’s favour. There were, of course, excellent reasons for striking the bargain that reduced Henry VI to a cipher, since his inept and compliant rule had bankrupted the crown and allowed England to degenerate into a smouldering civil war.

In the case of Henry IV, could the word ‘usurpation’ be applied? The historically literate answer is no. In 1399 Richard II had abdicated rather than defend his crown to the death, effectively abandoning the throne to the judgement of Parliament which accepted Henry of Lancaster’s argument that God had helped him rescue the realm from misgovernment and lawlessness. This echoed the complaints of the Magna Carta barons, namely that the king had resiled from his sacred oath to fulfil his responsibilities to his subjects. So by these standards, and as accepted by Parliament, Henry IV cannot be named a usurper in terms of the legal structure of the day.

It was only in 1460 that Richard, Duke of York secured a decision by Parliament which established primogeniture as an acknowledged criterion for the succession. How this criterion was applied in hindsight to the Lancastrian succession raises a thicket of legal questions, the untangling of which would take someone more expert in jurisprudence than me. Clearly York’s argument was that the first Lancastrian king was a usurper, and his statement to Parliament went into extensive genealogical detail to disprove Henry’s fanciful tale that his mother’s line of descent from Henry III was senior to the line of Edward III and Richard II. However, to this inexpert observer it seems that the Parliament of 1460 stopped short of disallowing the legitimacy of the Lancastrian dynasty, which fits with their desire to reach a compromise with Henry VI. It would have been simpler, and in hindsight would have prevented much unrest and loss of life, if they had declared him a scion of a usurping line, but that would have meant deposing him. Perhaps their legal advisers balked at the idea of retrospective legislation. And York himself had always vowed himself Henry’s true subject. Whatever their reasoning, an accommodation was cobbled together which permitted Henry to keep his crown on condition that York was acknowledged as his heir apparent. I am tempted to suppose that the Lords in Parliament recognized that Henry’s mental capacity was dubious, and that it would be unrealistic to hold him to oaths he had sworn as a child which he probably no longer remembered or comprehended. Whichever way you look at it, although York’s claim of primogeniture was accepted, the deal of 1460 was unique to the prevailing circumstances; it could scarcely be regarded as a precedent, and indeed it permitted the line of Lancaster to cling to the view that theirs remained the rightful royal house of England.

Thus Parliament had signally failed to grasp the opportunity to codify any law that stipulated primogeniture (or anything else) as a qualification for the succession. As Stanley Chrimes commented, ‘It does indeed seem that no such public law existed. In the absence of a direct and competent heir, politics, not law determined the succession. Hence both judges and commons avoided the topic.’ [Op. cit. p.22.]

The effect was that however the royal family’s internal issues were decided, whether by themselves or by any outside agency, the situation remained as it was in 1215: that he who took on the sworn obligations of kingship would be held to account for how he performed them. And if he should be adjudged deficient, it was not usurpation but a necessary service to the kingdom to remove and replace him.

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MU7tK6HM3Q. For those of us who have crossed swords in the past with James Eadie, QC, there was a particular piquancy to his defeat on this occasion.

YORK OR LANCASTER: WHO WAS THE RIGHTFUL KING OF ENGLAND?

Part 2 – For a kingdom any oath may be broken – York’s title 1460

 

Introduction

This is an essay about the legitimacy of the duke of York’s title to the English crown. I am not going to delve into the duke’s motive for claiming the crown, or into the details of the rebellion that led to his claim. I have covered both these issues in previous posts on this site[1].

Who was the true king of England: the Lancastrian Henry VI or his cousin Richard duke of York? That was the question uppermost in the minds of the lords spiritual and temporal in parliament in the autumn of 1460.[2] They were debating this question because: “…In October the duke of York came over from Ireland to Westminster at the beginning of parliament and as soon as he had entered the upper chamber of the royal palace, where the lords spiritual and temporal were sitting, he approached the royal throne and claimed the seat as his own; he put forward an account of his descent from Lionel duke of Clarence, to whose successors, he said, the kingdom of England belonged, since he was the elder, rather than to the descendants of John duke of Lancaster, the younger brother from whom king Henry was descended.[3] It was a claim as dramatic as it was unexpected and parliament was fully occupied for three weeks discussing the duke’s lineage and his rights.

The outcome of their discussion was so disconcerting to the anonymous author of

‘A Short Latin Chronicle’ that he lapsed into English when writing about it: ”Wherefore the king understanding the said title of the said duke [to be] just, lawful, and true and sufficient by the advice and assent of his Lords spiritual and temporal and the commons in the parliament and by the authority of the same parliament, approves, ratifies, confirms and accepts the said title (as) just, good, lawful and thereunto gives his assent and agreement of his free will and liberty. And moreover it is said by advice and authority, declared, called, established, affirmed, and reputed that the said Richard duke of York (is) very true and rightful heir to the crown of England and France.”[4] Everything is in the duke’s favour except the outcome. His title to the throne is thrice lawful; the Lancastrians are thrice usurpers. Nonetheless, York is not to be crowned until after Henry is dead. It was a recipe for disaster.

York was ten years older than Henry and statistically, at least, unlikely to outlive him. More importantly, the queen and her disinherited son were still at large with an armed force, embittered and well able to oppose this Act of Accord. Not for the first time, nor for the last, an English parliament had managed to make a bad situation worse. The only royal settlement likely to subsist now was one settled on a battlefield. Moreover, the Act of Accord presents a constitutional conundrum. If parliament judged York’s title to be unbeatable, why did they not give effect to their judgment? And, if York believed in the truth and justice of his title, why did he agree to bend his knee to the usurping Henry? The answers to these questions lie in the politics of the day.

York’s Petition

York submitted his written claim on the 16 October 1460[5]. It had the virtue of simplicity, being based solely on his hereditary right of succession. The only evidence adduced was York’s lineage. The main thrust of his case was that in 1399, when king Richard II was deposed, Henry of Lancaster seized the throne, which more properly belonged to Edmund Mortimer earl of March who was descended (through his grandmother Philippa) from Lionel duke of Clarence the third son of king Edward III; whereas, Henry of Lancaster was descended from John duke of Lancaster the king’s fourth son.

The Lords’ objections

The king, who was consulted next day, requested the lords to state objections to Yorks claim.[6] The lords prevaricated. They asked the king’s justices for advice. The justices declined to give it on the grounds that the succession was above the common law, and beyond their jurisdiction and competence. The sergeants-at-law also refused to give their counsel; they argued that if the succession was too weighty for the king’s justices, it was surely above the sergeants’ learning and authority. It seems that only those of the blood royal, and the lords spiritual and temporal were qualified to solve this problem. Freedom of speech was allowed and each lord was to put forward whatever he could to strengthen the king’s title and to defeat York’s. Eventually, five objections were raised:

  • First, the lords were bound to remember the great oaths of fealty that they had sworn to the king. These oaths argued against York’s claim since they could not be broken.
  • Second, the great and noble acts of parliament (unspecified) made in various earlier parliaments could be used against York’s title. Being statutes, these acts carried far more authority than any chronicle and defeated any claim made by any person.
  • Third, similarly, the various entails (again unspecified) made by the heirs male with regard to the crown of England argued against Yorks title, as may appear in various chronicles and parliaments
  • Fourth, York did not bear the arms of Lionel duke of Clarence; and
  • Fifth, Henry succeeded to the throne as the heir of king Henry III, and not as a conqueror

 

York’s response to the objections

The matter of oaths was important, which is why it was the first objection. Although it did not go directly to the merit of York’s title, it was a considerable barrier to the success of his claim. The lords were concerned about two things. First, their own oaths of allegiance to Henry as king “by succession, borne to reign” and to his son Prince Edward, which they had sworn less than twelve months previously at Coventry. Second, they were reminding York of his own oaths of allegiance and obedience, and many protestations of loyalty made to the king over the last decade. The breaking of these oaths was not merely a religious impropriety; it was sinfulness, the breaking of God’s law. To be forsworn was to court eternal damnation.

York responded in kind. He acknowledged every man’s duty to uphold God’s law and Commandments. However, he distinguished between oaths that preserve truth and justice and oaths that promote untruth and injustice. The first kind is obedient to Gods law, which prefers truth and justice; whereas, the second kind is contrary to God’s law. Moreover, since no man can absolve himself from obedience to God’s law to uphold truth and justice and since the oaths referred to by the lords are of the second kind, they are void and of no effect. An oath of allegiance does not bind a man to do anything unfitting or unlawful.

Despite the spiritual views expressed by both sides, Yorks final sentence contained an unmistakable temporal message for the king and his lords. It was a principle York had expressed in an open letter to the king just before first St Albans (1455). Whilst emphasizing, yet again, that he and his followers are the king’s true liegemen ready to live and die in his service he added “…to do all things as shall like your majesty to command us, if it be to the worship of the crown and the welfare of your noble realm (my emphasis).” York was putting conditions on his loyalty and obedience. He was making an important distinction between the institution of ‘the crown’ and the person of the king, and between them both and the rights of the realm. The implication is that although ‘royal authority’ is vested personally in the king, he must behave in accordance with the accepted norms of English monarchs as expressed in the coronation oath that binds them all. York is also introducing the concept of the ‘realm’ of England as a political entity distinct from the monarchy. It has its own rights to which the crown is ultimately responsible. This was more than just a device to protect him from accusations of treason or ‘oath-breaking’; it represents a fundamental tenet of England’s constitution, which we see put most forcibly in Magna Carta.

The second and third objections raise a significant constitutional issue. The key question is whether the Act of 1406, which gave statutory recognition to Henry IV’s title, was the final authority on the issue of succession. The lords obviously thought so, since they argued that it was of an “ authority to defeat any kind of title made to any person”. Having pointed out correctly that the only statute or entail made by any parliament in the past was the Act of 1406, York based his case on two mutually supporting grounds. First, if Henry IV’s title were valid as claimed, he would neither have needed nor wanted statutory recognition of it. Second, his own title being true according to God’s law and natural law was imperishable, even though it had not been asserted earlier. Henry’s title, however, was pretense and in passing the statute, parliament had recognized a title that Henry was not entitled to. The Inheritance Act of 1406 was, therefore, ultra vires. From a constitutional perspective, this was an important development; the theory of a parliamentary title was being subordinated to a theory that God’s law of inheritance determined the succession. York was not impugning the authority of statutes generally; he was simply saying that even though a statute (or an entail) might be binding in normal circumstances, it could not stand against his divine right of inheritance[7].

On the fourth objection that York did not wear the livery of his ancestor Lionel, his answer was predictable. The fact that he didn’t wear that livery did not mean he was not entitled to. He did not wear it for the same reason he had forborn from claiming the crown earlier, and which reason was well known.

The last objection was that Henry took the throne as the rightful heir to Henry III and not as conqueror[8]. York rejected this objection outright. It is simply not true, he said, that Henry IV was the lawful heir to Henry III “…and the opposite, which is the truth shall be readily enough shown, proved and justified by adequate authority and as a matter of record”. He added that Henry’s words were fraudulent and meant to disguise his “…violent and unlawful usurpation” from the people.

The Act of Accord

The Official account of the lords’ “sad and ripe communicacion in this matere[9] is brief but illuminating. The tension at Westminster is palpable. Under pressure from York to bring the matter to a rapid conclusion, the Chancellor seems on the verge of panic. He is desperate for a result that will reconcile York’s ‘unbeatable’ title with the lords corporate obligation to protect the common weal of the realm, their personal duty to king Henry and their consciences. The Chancellor proposed that Henry should retain the crown during his lifetime and when he dies, York should succeed him. It is, the Chancellor suggests, a resolution that avoids the trouble that might ensue, saves the king’s honour, preserves his dignity and estate, and may appease the duke of York — if he agrees! It also means the lords will not have broken the oaths they swore to the king at Coventry. The Chancellors plaintive call for anybody with a better idea to come forward is testament to his despair; as also, is his plea that the lords should stand by him when he explains the situation to the king. For want of something better, the lords readily agree to this outcome.

In truth, there was no appetite to depose a crowned and anointed king who had reigned for thirty-eight years, no matter how grave were his faults[10]. Although the lords sympathized with York’s predicament, they regarded his claim as inopportune. Notwithstanding the legality of his title, he was unable to overcome fifteenth century realpolitik. It was further confirmation that the succession was a political and not a legal process. For the lords the overriding consideration was to preserve the peace of the realm. It is a consideration that ordinarily would protect them from accusations of inconsistency and bad faith; however, in reality they were simply evading the issue and not solving the problem. Only the complete destruction of the Queen’s party or the Yorkists had any hope of procuring an effective peace. Furthermore, the disinheritance of the Prince of Wales guaranteed the continuance of war.

The historical opinion of York’s behaviour is unforgiving. At the time, the Lancastrians depicted him as a hypocrite whose claim to the crown was based on personal ambition and not on the common interest. Many modern historians endorse that view and it is easy to understand why. He swore at least two oaths of allegiance to the king and one of allegiance and obedience, and he made numerous declarations of his loyalty; yet in the end, he tried to depose Henry. York’s integrity can only be defended by examining his motives, which is outside my scope. Therefore, I will not comment on these accusations save to add a health warning. Most, if not all, of this opinion is derived from Lancastrian propaganda. The Yorkist counter-claims are clearly set out in the many political manifestos they produced during the 1450’s. These contained Yorkist propaganda for sure, but a balanced view of what was happening is only possible by considering both sides of the argument.

That said, I do believe that York’s action in accepting the Act of Accord, and his motive for so doing have been misconstrued by some historians. Parliament, it seems, is absolved from acting inconsistently or in bad faith because they moved to preserve the peace; whereas York is denounced for doing the same thing.[11] It is a strange judgment that simultaneously acquits the lords and convicts York for keeping the peace.

He had “taken the moral high ground and promptly compromised” writes John Watts, adding that “under the terms of his own argument, Duke Richard could not bind himself to the deferment of his right during Henry’s lifetime: any oath to do so would be contrary to God’s law and hence null and void.” The professor adds with a flourish “what true king would agree to be subject to a usurper?[12] The notion that York was prevented from accepting the Act of Accord since, on his own argument, it was untruthful and contrary to God’s law, is a shallow one. It ignores the reality of York’s situation and does his argument on the matter of oaths a disservice. The succession cannot be considered in the vacuum of religious doctrine, moral rectitude or personal right. It is, I repeat, a political process, not a legal or religious one. From York’s perspective, this action had been forced on him by constitutional system that made it impossible for him to protest against the excesses of a corrupt and incompetent Lancastrian regime and the breakdown in law and order, without committing treason. York’s cause of action had never been against the king, but against those household servant and royal favourites who abrogated royal authority.

For ten years York championed the cause of good governance in the common interest but he had achieved nothing, other than a reputation as an incorrigible rebel. This was the opportunity to put both the will and the means for good governance in one person. There is no discord between his argument on oaths and his acceptance of a compromise. Whilst the Act of Accord fell short of his objective, it commanded the most support and was self evidently in the common interest. It would indeed have been contrary to God’s law for York to insist on the strict letter of his right at this time and against the wishes of the English lords. He realized he lacked the broad spectrum of support necessary to depose Henry. The change from being the king’s true liegeman to wanting to replace him was too much too soon even for many of York’s supporters. The fact that this desire for a peaceful outcome was futile is neither here nor there from York’s perspective. Since he could do nothing to guarantee the pacification of Lancastrian dissidence, he could at least ensure his own good intentions.

Ultimately, York’s challenge ended in failure. A successful strategy depended on speed and surprise ‘…a speedy coronation; the swift removal of Henry…’[13] Once York was forced to claim the throne rather than seize it, his enemies had time to concert their opposition to him. However, by establishing the superiority of his title over the Lancastrians, York paved the way for his son Edward to seize the throne in 1461.

[1] See Richard 3rd duke of York (2) ‘The king’s true liegeman’ – 10 February 2015; and (3) ‘The man who would be king’ 8 March 2015 https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/

[2] Chris Given-Wilson (Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Anne Curry and Rosemary Horrox (Eds) Volume 12 pp. 509-510 (introduction) and 516 to 521 (PROME). York claimed the throne on the 10 October 1460. His written petition to parliament was read aloud on the 16 October 1460. It was the petition that the Lords spiritual and temporal were considering.

[3] Nicholas Cox and John Cox – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p111.

[4] James Gairdner- Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles (The Camden Society 1880) pp.170-71; the full title of the ‘Latin chronicle’ is ‘Compilatio de gestus Britonum et Anglorum’ (MS Arundel 5 College of Arms).

[5] PROME Vol 12, ibid: see also Margaret Lucille Kekewich et al (eds.) – The Politics of Fifteenth Century England: John Vale’s Book (Allan Sutton Publishing 1995) p 195 (ff.130v–134/111v–115. The title and claim of the crown by Richard duke of York in the 39th year of king Henry VI))

[6] PROME Vol 12, ibid; the lords spiritual and temporal were commanded to find “…the strongest objections to defend the king’s right and title and to defeat the title and claim of the said duke of York.”

[7] SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.27-30. This paragraph is based on Professor Chrimes’ lucid and succinct explanation, which has stood the test of time.

[8] The lords were wrong; Henry also claimed the throne as conqueror.

[9] PROME Vol 12; ibid

[10] Unlike, the deposition of Edward II, and the deposition of Richard II, there was no case against Henry VI of willful incompetence or tyranny. In fact he seems to have been a good, almost saintly, man personally. A regency government could have adequately managed during his periodic spells of mental infirmity.

[11] PROME, Vol 12 p 524. It is quite clear from the Parliamentary Roll that York accepted the compromise to preserve the peace.

[12] John Watts – Polemic and Politics in the 1450’s; Margaret Lucille Kekewich et al (Eds) – The Politics of Fifteenth Century England: John Vale’s Book (Allan Sutton Publishing 1995) at page 34; see also P A Johnson – Duke Richard of York 1411-1460 (Oxford1991 corrected edition) pp. 212-219.

[13] Watts at p35.

Part 2 of a review of Terry Breverton’s RICHARD III: THE KING IN THE CAR PARK….

Breverton - RIII Car Park

Part 2 of a review by Myrna Smith, Ricardian Reading Editor, of Richard III: The King in the Car Park.

EVISCERATING TERRY BREVERTON

Being an elaboration, with examples, of some of the points made in Part I. Let’s get the more trivial criticisms out of the way first.

Grammar: Pg. 82 –“Her son was only 14 years younger than her.” It should be “than she (was).” I can’t help it. I paid attention in English Composition.

Here’s one of my favorite gripes: “Devout believers in the Roman Church could literally get away with anything and still go to heaven if they confessed and paid enough to the Church. In Richard’s case his gifts to the Church, in exchange for forgiveness for his sins, came from illegal confiscations of properties and fees.” Literally? Literally?? You mean Richard is actually, literally, in Heaven right now, at the right hand of God? And more particularly, right next to Henry Tudor, who certainly made lavish gifts to the Church – which were a waste of good money, according to Mr. Breverton. More about that later. For right now, let’s just say that people who confuse ‘literally’ and ‘figuratively’ are quite annoying.

More a matter of syntax than grammar is the way the author , 99 times out of 100, uses ‘upon’ for ‘on’, as in ‘upon 20 January 1487.’ Another annoyance.

Further, he doesn’t seem to be able to count. Pg. 115: “Arthur was probably conceived two months before the couple wed. [My decimal digital computer says one month.] , and recent Ricardian novelists are attributing this to forcible rape.” [That’s one ‘Ricardian’ novelist, Philippa Gregory – who writes mostly about the Tudors.]

Did I mention that there are no footnotes or endnotes, and only a “Partial List of Sources?” And no index! Grr-rrr!

To go on to more factual criticisms: Terry Breverton hates Richard, to be sure, but not half as much as he hates Ricardians, it would seem: “Ricardians claim that [the Beaufort line] had been bastardised by Parliament” (not just Ricardians claim this) “so Henry, the son of Margaret Beaufort, had no claim to the throne. The same could be claimed against Richard – no recent books seem to mention that. Anti-Henry writers decry the fact that Henry’s real claim came via his mother, whereas in fact Richard’s real right also came via his mother. Both inherited through the female line.” No recent book mentions this, because it is simply not true. Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, had Beauforts in her family tree, but Richard’s, and his brother Edward’s, claim did not come through her. Breverton had just spent the better part of a paragraph telling us about Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, and Anne Mortimer, without mentioning that they were from senior lines. Richard’s father, from whom he derived his right to the throne, was the Duke of York, and he was descended from Edmund, Duke of York, the third son of Edward III. John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s great etc. grandfather, was the fourth son. Even if the Beauforts were unquestionably legitimate, Richard had primogeniture on his side.

“(T)he Richard III Society had always disputed that Richard had a crookbacked appearance, as usual blaming ‘Tudor propaganda,”, but the skeleton is the same as the body depicted by Richard’s contemporaries and later writers.” Most Ricardians accepted that Richard may well have had uneven shoulders, though not knowing the cause until his skeleton was discovered. Breverton is careful to use the words ‘crookbacked appearance’ in the text, but the blurb on the back cover clearly calls Richard a hunchback. The author thus confuses scoliosis (curvature of the spine) with kyphosis (commonly called ‘hunchback”) and hopes we won’t notice. Or maybe he doesn’t notice himself.

“A blog was recently set up called ‘The Henry VII Appreciation Society. Unlike the Richard III Society, with its royal patronage, it is a one-man-band…..This is one person facing the members of two national groups of the Richard III Society, plus their American, Continental, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand branches.” He thus argues, on the one hand, that Richard was certainly guilty – “What we can say is that nearly every important death in his time was connected with Richard contemporaneously” – and the majority is always right – and also argues from poverty and minority status. Poor little brave David, against the Goliath of the Richard III Society. You’re not going to root for Goliath, are you? (I have checked out that blog, which seems to be mainly a recording of significant dates in early Tudor history.)

That’s not enough for Terry Breverton, who decries ‘hagiographies’ of Richard, but proceeds to author one of Henry. “…Henry in his long reign was never involved in any estate-grabbing scandals, Richard was immured in them.” The reader picks his/her jaw up off the floor, and reads on: “Henry redistributed estates illegally confiscated by Yorkists, but had no truck with upsetting the balance of the great houses and creating potential resentment and conflict. “ He contrasts Richard’s shabby treatment of his mother-in-law, Anne Beauchamp, with Henry’s: “In November 1487 [when Henry had been king for over two years – he was in no hurry to do right by our Nell] an Act of Parliament…restored to her the family estates. One month later, the countess conveyed most of her lands back to the Crown…This led to the effective disinheritance of her grandson, Edward, Earl of Warwick.” And Breverton doesn’t find that just a little peculiar? Doesn’t necessarily mean that Henry bullied her, as TB accuses Richard of doing. He may simply have been a king of flim-flam artists (a viewpoint I rather favor, since I thought of it myself!).

On those occasions when Richard III and Henry VII did pretty much the same thing, such as post-battlefield executions, Breverton finds excuses for the latter, or points out that they are not the same thing at all, or Henry only did it a little bit. Henry’s inactions are held up as virtues: He did not display Richard’s head on a pole, “as Plantagenets were wont to do.” Yes, and many of those Plantagenets were Lancastrians, Henry’s ancestors and partisans. He deserves some credit for not being Margaret of Anjou, I suppose.

There is also the ‘man of his times’ argument, sometimes used in defense of Richard III. Breverton turns that argument on its head: “Plantagenet history is drenched in bloodshed and intrigue, whereby power was more important that legitimacy. This is Richard III’s background….Several of Richard’s predecessors had murdered their way to the crown or been usurpers, so his so–called royal bloodline was tangential at best…” Henry Tudor’s background? “Over 200 years of fighters for independence.” Welsh independence, he means. Honesty compels him to admit that Henry was twice as English (Boo! Hiss!) as he was Welsh, but he elides the fact that Henry actually did very little for the independence of Wales, though he did remove some of the anti-Welsh laws.

Breverton quotes copiously from Welsh poetry, hardly an unbiased source when dealing with an English king. One bard refers to King Richard (“the boar”) as a ‘Jew,’ a “Saracen,” and an “ape,” none of which he was, and as “little,” which was no doubt accurate. Breverton would not use such racial epithets himself, but the fact that someone in his own, less enlightened, time did, proves how much Richard was justifiably hated, and deservedly so!

Finally, Terry Breverton gives an annotated list of Richard’s crimes. Some so-called crimes might more accurately be described as civil torts (such as the Countess of Oxford affair). Some were undone almost as soon as they were done (the arrest of Stanley, et al). Some are just plain reaching. George Neville, Richard’s ward, ‘died in mysterious circumstances,’ so he was murdered? The circumstances are a ‘mystery’ only because no record survives of his cause of death. If Richard did kill him, he did so at the worst possible time for his long-term benefit, so it can be put to simple bloodthirstiness. Same with the death of sister-in-law Isabel Neville, for which he had no motive whatever. (He does name Richard’s guilt in her death as “unknown,” which, translated, means “ridiculous.”) He forgets to list Isabel’s infant son, who died at the same time she did.

Terry Breverton does bring up some points that pro-Ricardian, or neutral, historians should probably give more attention to, such as the executions of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, et al, But when one has said that, one has said just about everything. Not quite everything – the above is just a ‘partial list.’

Just to show how ecumenical and even-handed I am, I am now preparing to eviscerate John Ashdown-Hill – well, mildly anyway. If there is such a thing as a mild evisceration.

A Time for Truth, a Time for Lies…or for Pretended Obliviousness and Bullying Tactics

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

 My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.

An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard

A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.

The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.

There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.

I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.

In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.

It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.

Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.

Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research

If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this article and go read Annette Carson’s blog post entitled, “Proof … evidence … report … gossip … rumour,” and then get thee a copy of her Richard III: The Maligned King.

Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:

I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.

Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”

If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”

I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.

I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.

Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.

All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:

  1. What is contemporary source material and what is not
  2. How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
  3. How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
  4. Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
  5. Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.

Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.

Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel

If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.

If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.

If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]

You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:

  1. Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
  2. Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
  3. Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
  4. Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
  5. The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
  6. Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
  7. One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
  8. If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
  9. There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
  10. I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.

Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.

Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.

Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.

The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.

The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.

The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.

We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.

Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock

Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?

In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:

  1. Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
  2. Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
  3. Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
  4. Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.

The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:

I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…

So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am
.[iii]

More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?

Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?

Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]

There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.

What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.

This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.

That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.

Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise

Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.

What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?

My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.

“Do you think he did it?” I asked.

“Probably.”

That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.

I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.

__________

Notes

[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:

http://www.richardiii.net/6_3_1_the_ricardian_archive.php

or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/Ricardian/2006_vol16_ashdown_hill_lady_eleanor_talbot.pdf

[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.

[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.

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