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BOOK REVIEW

Stuart Bradley – JOHN MORTON: adversary of Richard III, power behind the Tudors (Amberley 2019)

 

John Morton served the English crown for a almost forty years during one of the most turbulent periods in English history. He wielded considerable influence at the courts of three kings. First, in the Lancastrian household of Henry VI: as an eminent lawyer, he was one of the draftsmen of the bill of attainder against the Yorkists in 1459, which triggered Richard, duke of York’s claim to the throne. In 1471, after the final defeat of the Lancastrians, Morton entered the service of the Yorkist king Edward IV, by whom he was pardoned. He soon became a valued member of Edward’s inner circle of advisors and was appointed Master of the Rolls in1472. Following the death of Edward IV in 1483, he rebelled against Richard III and became a pivotal player in the subsequent Tudor conquest of England. From 1485 until his death in 1500, Morton served as Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor, and as Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury. At various time during his career, therefore, Morton had been head of the judiciary, head of the church in England and head of the king’s government. For the last fourteen years of his life he was, excepting the king, the most powerful man in England. He was the archetypal Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer and the Cecils. And yet despite his fame, a serious study of Morton’s life has been much neglected. Although historians have explored aspects of his career, Dr Stuart Bradley’s recent book is only the second biography of Morton to be published in the five centuries since his death and the first to be published since Victorian times. It seems strange that such an important historical figure is chiefly remembered — if he is remembered at all — for his association with a shabby piece of Tudor logic known as Morton’s Fork. A reassessment of his whole life is, therefore, well overdue.

 

A major difficulty facing any biographer of John Morton is that we know so little about the private man. What we know of his character and interests we get only from his public works and from what others tell us about him. We know of his personal interest in religious architecture from the church building works he commissioned or patronized. We know of his preoccupation with civil and canon law, and oratory from his few surviving books, and we can gauge his piety and his spirituality from his will. But we have little from him that provides insight into his political reasoning or actions. Even examples of his signature are rare. His cenotaph at Canterbury Cathedral was broken centuries ago and his bones scattered. All that remains of the earthly John Morton is his skull. We do not even have a painted portrait of him.

 

It is against that background that Dr Bradley has approached his task. He believes that John Morton was a “…man whose story needs to be told in full and who deserves to be brought from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden.” To that end he has published a volume containing 288 pages, of which less than half (125) are devoted to a narrative of Morton’s life. In addition, there are 75 pages of appendices, 44 pages of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The narrative comprises a conventional rendering of people, dates and places in more or less chronological order, and is focused mainly on Morton’s contribution to the Tudor state. Consequently, the major part of Morton’s life and particularly his career during the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV, and his controversial rebellion against Richard III receive substantially less consideration. That is a regrettable lacuna in this biography, which is made worse, for me, by the author’s rather glib analysis of Morton’s political motives after 1471.

 

I mention these things now because they are relevant to a question that has puzzled me from the start: is Dr Bradley’s book aimed at the general reader or the scholar? The book’s subtitle, the presentation of the sleeve and the scarcity of detailed analysis in the narrative suggested to me that it is intended for a general readership; however, the quality and the quantity of the footnotes are more indicative of a book aimed at the specialist scholar. If Dr Bradley was writing for the casual reader, his tendency to quote from medieval manuscripts written in 15th century English or Latin, without a modern English translation, is baffling. It is a problem with the main narrative but more particularly with some footnotes, which are written in Latin. Moreover, some of the footnotes might in my personal opinion have been better incorporated into the main narrative, to aid the reading flow and prevent the crosschecking of footnotes becoming a distracting chore.

 

It would also have helped, I think, if Dr Bradley had included in his introduction information about the process of writing and publishing this book. There is no indication, for instance, whether other scholars saw the manuscript before publication, or commented on it with advice or correction.  Finally on this aspect, the schedule of Morton’s clerical and secular appointments was an invaluable source in helping me to quickly chart Morton’s career and his rewards. Similarly, the schedule overview of Henry VII’s and Morton’s itineraries, though long-winded, provided a visual representation of the author’s assertion that Henry VII relied completely on Morton to protect the crown’s interests during his own absence from London.

 

Even so, and despite my reservation, it is impossible not to admire the depth of Dr Bradley’s research of original manuscript and calendar sources, and of secondary works. This is nothing if not a thoroughly researched account of Morton’s life, which brings to life his learning and the softer, artistic side of his nature to counter the harshness of his reputation as a wily and inveterate schemer.

 

Dr Bradley makes a good case for Morton’s value and effectiveness as a royal servant. The longevity of his service, the speed with which he became one of Edward IV’s intimates, the trust placed in him by Henry VII and the rich rewards he received for his services are testament to his efficiency and capacity for hard work in a royal cause. His political acumen and his networking skills were particularly important to Henry VII in establishing his reign against the Yorkist remnants after Bosworth. Morton had learned the lessons of the past. He understood the damage done to the authority of the crown by ‘over-mighty subjects’ during the Wars of the Roses. Throughout the closing decades of the fifteenth century, therefore, he worked tirelessly to enforce law and order, and the primacy of royal authority. It was principally with his advice that Henry established his authority, rebuilt royal finances and founded the Tudor dynasty. Morton was also a restraining influence on Henry; a feature that is more obvious after Morton’s death, when Henry’s avaricious nature becomes more pronounced.

 

The claim that Perkin Warbeck was the youngest son of Edward IV had, if true, obvious, serious consequences for Henry and for Morton. When asked by the Milanese Ambassador if Warbeck was really one of the Princes in the Tower, as claimed by the King of Scots and the Duchess of Burgundy, Morton replied: ‘indeed he is nor reputed the son of King Edward in this kingdom.’ It is a curiously oblique answer and certainly not a plain denial of Warbeck’s claim. “Was this duplicity?’ asks Dr Bradley “Was Morton so implicated in the Tudor regime that recognizing the true claimant was impossible and that by standing with Henry he was seeking to save his own skin? “ Those are good questions and they are important ones. The fate of Edward IV’s sons is the defining mystery of the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, and it is immensely disappointing that having asked these questions, Dr Bradley dismisses the various possibilities out of hand (“It seems highly unlikely”), on the basis that Morton believed the two Princes were already dead and that Warbeck was obviously an imposter – a ‘mawmet‘.

 

Dr Bradley’s treatment of Morton’s life and service during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III is perhaps one of the least satisfactory aspects of this book. Central to his vindication of Morton’s behaviour is the notion that he was a honourable man whose loyalty to the crown was both absolute and principled. For example, he justifies Morton’s ten year rebellion against Edward IV after Towton thus: “This behaviour pre-figures his actions between 1483 and 1485 when he actively worked against Richard III during his second period in exile. When reviewing Morton’s career it seems he held firmly to principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy, and while Henry may [sic] have been defeated comprehensively in the field he was still the anointed king to whom Morton had sworn allegiance.” To be frank, this statement smacks of special pleading since it ignores the facts. Richard Duke of York claimed the throne in 1460 by right of inheritance; subsequently, the combined lords in parliament confirmed the superiority of his hereditary title over that of the Lancastrian incumbent. As York’s heir, Edward IV confirmed the lords’ judgement in trial by combat at Towton. The corollary of Yorkist legitimacy is, of course, Lancastrian illegitimacy. It was the central tenet of York’s claim that Henry VI, his father and his grandfather were — and always had been — usurpers. In that context, Morton’s adherence to the claim of a usurping Lancastrian and his efforts to gain the support of a foreign power against the legitimate Yorkist king of England can be seen for what they were: treason. To suggest that he remained loyal to Henry from his belief in ‘principles of heredity legitimacy’ is implausible. As an attainted traitor, he had no choice but to flee the realm and join Henry’s retinue if he was to avoid the consequences of his actions. The death of Henry’s heir in battle at Tewkesbury, followed soon afterwards by the death of Henry himself, marked the end of the Lancastrian cause but not the end of Morton’s political career. He accepted an offer to serve at the court of Edward IV.

 

Dr Bradley’s reason for this volte-face is simply that, “Henry [VI] was now dead and the dispensation of God had to be accepted. It was not what Morton had foreseen, or even wanted, but this was how events had transpired and now he must accept divine justice and accept the new status quo…He was there to serve and serve he did. The principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy came to the fore again.” It is, I have to say an unconvincing explanation, which ignores the possibility that Morton was motivated by political expediency and personal ambition to accept service with Edward IV, a motivation that might better fit what we know of his character. Mancini, writing about the events of the summer 1483 described Morton as being ‘trained in party intrigues under Henry VI’. Francis Bacon, Henry VII’s seventeenth century biographer wrote rather more on Morton’s character. “He was”, we are told “a wise man, and an eloquent, but in his nature harsh and haughty; much accepted by the king, but envied by the nobility and hated by the people.” He won the king by his ‘diligence and secrecy’, and his ‘subterfuge’. By contrast, Thomas More who knew him personally, thought Morton was be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour; I am, nonetheless, mindful of professor Sylvester’s sardonic caveat to More’s opinion: “A less shrewd man than More might well have seen a good deal of political conniving in Morton’s career

 

Similarly, Dr Bradley justifies Morton’s implacable disloyalty to Richard III on the rather limited ground of his unswerving loyalty to Edward V, who was the legitimate king (“Morton was clearly not swayed by the tales of bastardy…”). He is depicted as a leading member of the ‘resistance’, and his behaviour is rationalised only “…in terms of what he [Morton] regarded as Richard’s unacceptability as king…..He had no obligation of loyalty to the usurper; indeed, Richard’s actions gave him a moral responsibility to act against him, and the events of 1483 to 1485 show him doing just that.” A few weeks after being arrested and imprisoned by Richard, Morton transferred his allegiance to Henry Tudor. “The single logical explanation for this” suggests Dr Bradley ” is that he along with others …was convinced of the death of the two princes by this time.” It is a view that runs contrary to the opinion of Francis Bacon, who wrote that Morton won Henry Tudor’s favour because he had’…an inveterate malice against the House of York, under whom he had been in trouble.”

 

I am not going to enter the heated debate between Richard’s critics and his apologists, concerning the events of 1483. However, Dr Bradley’s analysis into Morton’s involvement in those events is, in my personal opinion, so punctuated with misconceptions and anomalies that it is positively misleading. No review could be complete if I didn’t at least mention some of these matters. For example, he dismisses without reason the possibility that Edward IV’s progeny were illegitimate. The Lords petition to Richard asking him to assume the throne and the parliamentary confirmation of his title in Titulus Regius are not even mentioned. Not only that, but Dr Bradley ignores the complex political dynamics of 1483. Edward IV’s legacy to his heirs was a kingdom divided. The force of his personality and his political acumen had held things together for many years. However, following his sudden and unexpected death, the fear of Woodville power resurfaced among the old nobility. William Lord Hastings and the other Yorkist lords were desperate for the duke of Gloucester to come south as Lord Protector to counter Woodville aspirations. The Chronicles and some private correspondence confirm that initially at least Richard was seen as a force for good, since the fear of another civil war was very real. Of course, support for Richard ebbed away once a rumour was spread that the ‘sons of Edward IV had been done away with’. Dr Bradley does not analyse or discuss these issues or the fact that the accusation of regicide against Richard III is based entirely on that rumour, which in all likelihood was started deliberately (possibly by Morton) to subvert a plot to seize custody of Edward V, into a rebellion aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne.

 

But most problematic of all is the absence of any critical analysis of Morton’s motive for transferring his allegiance from Edward IV’s sons to Henry Tudor and also of what he knew about the fate of the two princes. Dr Bradley recognizes the significance of these issues but does not address their complexities. He is satisfied simply to argue that Morton thought the boys were dead. In accepting this explanation so readily, he seems to have overlooked Vergil’s account of a conspiracy that took place during August 1483 between Morton, Henry Stafford the ambitious duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort the equally ambitious mother of Henry Tudor. If it is true, the implication of Vergil’s account is that by early August at the latest Morton had decided to support a Tudor invasion to depose Richard III. Did he know then that the boys were dead?   If so, when, why and how did he know? What role did the Tudor conspirators play in the fate of the princes? Furthermore, the rumour of the boys’ death began only after Buckingham had joined the conspiracy. So, when Buckingham wrote to Henry Tudor on the 24 September, inviting him in effect to claim the English throne, he must have known the boys were dead, or he was keeping a guilty secret. It is disappointing that Dr Bradley chose not to explore these questions or to deal with the inferences arising therefrom.

 

Dr Bradley’s stated aim was to tell John Morton’s story in full. And, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the value of this contribution to that story. This is a reasonable, modern reassessment of John Morton’s life and career, which raises Morton’s historical profile beyond mere responsibility for Morton’s Fork.It demonstrates that despite his softer side, he was in fact the archetypal early Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell and Cranmer. Though by no means a panegyrical work, this biography lacks, in my opinion, a balanced critical analysis of the contentious aspects Morton’s actions and his behaviour prior to 1485: particularly his political motivation. I think, therefore, that the full story of Morton’s life and career is still not written.

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Henry VI: saint or sinner?

A gentle and devotional life

About seventy years ago, the historian John Harvey wrote this in an essay about King Henry VI: “The life and death, and the thwarting of his noble designs are one (sic) of the sorriest tragedies of English history. He was a victim of forces outside his control, for whose existence he was not responsible, but set in motion by his grandfather’s crime and his father’s one-sided ambition. Inheriting the love of justice of his Plantagenet forefathers and the a artistic culture and melancholia of Charles VI of France, his character was in sharp contrast with that of his age, possessed in marked degree by his wife. In his charity, his love of art and his spirit he was a true Plantagenet, though a paradoxical one…. He saw the world as a place of brief sojourn in which to do good, to learn courtesy and to seek God. There was nothing political in his martyrdom; except as the shadow of a name, and the crowned and anointed husband of Margaret, he represented no threat to anybody in the world. Yet the callous and sacrilegious hand that struck him down, though it ended a gentle and devotional life on earth, ensured that Henry’s virtues and lasting benefits should be perpetually bought to the mind of oblivious posterity” [1]

 

Harvey took this version of Henry’s life and death from a tract entitled ‘A Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of King Henry VI’, which is attributed to John Blacman and was published in 1510.[2] The tract is in fact a collection of anecdotes of Henry’s religious devotions from the recollection of one of his chaplains and other intimates of his personal life. The aim of the collection is to present Henry as a holy saint whose ‘kingdom’ was not worldly. He performed a miracle of loaves (but not fishes) for his troops and endured hunger, thirst, mocking, abuse and other hardships in his life including wounding in his side by a dagger. He foretold his own death but was not believed. And he suffered a violent death so that others might live in peace. Blacman’s depiction of Henry as an exemplar of Christian virtue, though not of this world was also the standard Tudor view echoed by Henry VII’s historian Polydore Vergil: “ King Henry was a man of mild and plain-dealing disposition who preferred peace before war, quietness before troubles, honesty before utility and leisure before business: and to be short, there was not in this world a more honest and a more holy creature. There was in him honest shamed-facedness, modesty, innocency and perfect patience taking all human chances, miseries and all afflictions in his life in good part as though he had justly by some offence deserved the same. And he ruled his own affections that he might more easily rule his own subjects; he gapped not after riches nor thirsted for honours and worldly estimation but was careful only for his souls sake; such things as tended to the salvation thereof he only esteemed for good; and that very wisely; such again as procured loss thereof he only accounted evil.[3]

 

To set against this Tudor narrative of the martyred Henry, we have his known failings as a king. Henry is mainly remembered as the king who lost the Hundred Years War and during whose rule the Wars of the Roses started. Indeed The late Bertram Wolffe thought that Henry as such an insubstantial and unsuccessful king that writing his biography was a long and dispiriting task. I do not deny that Henry was a weak and ineffective king. That judgement was made in his lifetime and has not been seriously challenged since. However, I do think that John Harvey may have an arguable point about Henry’s culpability. Was he wholly to blame for the calamities of his reign, or was he the victim of circumstances? That is the question I wish to discuss in this article; first, by setting Henry’s reign in the context of events from his accession until his mental breakdown in 1453; second, by discussing his performance in three key policy areas: maintenance of the dual monarchy, royal finances and the rule of law.

 

Divided opinions

Until the twentieth century, studies of Henry were dominated by the story of an innocent king at the mercy of greedy and violent nobles. However, modern biographies challenge that simple narrative and in doing so have broadened our understanding of the complexities of Henry’s reign. In 1981, two contrasting studies of Henry VI appeared almost simultaneously. The first was by Bertram Wolffe; whose, unforgiving verdict of King Henry goes well beyond the accusation that he was incompetent.[4] Wolffe judges Henry by what he did as revealed in the government records, and he completely rejects the notion of the mild, martyred king. In its place he describes an actively malign king, whose piety was too ostentatious to be virtuous, and whose nature was too unforgiving and vindictive to be saintly. He was also a poor judge of character, prone to interfering, and lacking in judgement and proportionality. He disregarded his royal oath and he was wilful. In essence the inconsistencies and failures of English foreign policy were due to Henry’s capricious changes of mind and his susceptibility to improper influences. Thus Wolffe rejects the whole idea that the loss of France was due to the divided opinion of the English aristocracy.[5] He does not doubt that Henry’s failures as a king left the establishment of Eton College and of King’s College Cambridge as his sole achievements.

 

Also in 1981, Ralph Griffith’s published his evaluation of Henry’s reign. It is a nuanced and detailed assessment of Henry’s performance as monarch and his qualities as a man. Griffiths recognises the military and fiscal difficulties that dogged Henry’s rule, and the factionalism of the nobility, which would have tested even a high performing and confident king. The essence of Griffiths’ evaluation of Henry is best put in his own words: “Henry VI was in reality a well-intentioned man with aspirations that were laudable enough, in an age when king’s could not rule by good intentions alone. He had an interest in the realities of government with the aim of realising those aspirations, especially in education, relations with Valois France, and the reward of friends and servants. Other of his qualities were obstacles to effective kingship. He was extravagant, credulous, over merciful and compassionate to those at fault yet fearful suspicious of those rumoured to be doing him harm. These are not the qualities of a shrewd and balanced judge of men and politics. Henry also lacked the foresight, prudence and calculation that make a king’s actions responsible ones; he showed little sagacity, subtlety or discrimination in his administrative actions and none of the political astuteness necessary to achieve an acceptable balance among his subjects competing interests — as contemporaries recognised who stressed his simplicity. Not that he was uneducated or unintelligent but he was the least experienced of English medieval kings at his succession and never shook off his youthful dependence on others in the routine and detail of affairs…With his naively defective judgement, Henry’s advisors were too often unworthy of his confidence.[6] Griffiths’ explains this last sentence later in his book. “Those contemporaries who …[observed]...Henry VI as a boy were agreed that he grew into a personable, intelligent and even precocious youth. His years as a minor between the ages of one and fifteen were naturally of considerable importance to his education as a monarch of two realms. His relatives had already created for him an atmosphere of political bitterness, even personal hatred, and after Bedford’s death, both (Humphrey duke of) Gloucester and (Henry) Beaufort (bishop of Winchester) strove to be the single most dominant influence on him as he grew older. They would be reluctant to allow him the exercise of free will as an adult king. The end result of these intense personal pressures was to accustom Henry to dependence, to being told what to do. Even after Gloucester and Beaufort had receded into the background he found other pillars on which to lean: the earl of Suffolk. Archbishop Kemp, the duke of Somerset and finally, when he was least able to fend for himself, the Queen.”[7] In Griffiths’ view, therefore, Henry is far less culpable for the disasters of his reign than those relatives and other advisors who instead of supporting the king betrayed his trust in them.

 

John Watts’ appraisal of Henry, which first appeared in 1999, is the antithesis of Wolf’s ‘active’ king.[8] He also questions Griffiths’ negative assessment of Henry’s relatives and advisors. Watts argues simpliciter that Henry was so passive that he created difficulties for the nobility, who in their own interactions tried to compensate for a king who was chronically unable to exercise royal authority, and was especially ‘incapable of giving judgements, managing the counsel of his advisors and making policy appear his own.’ This depiction of Henry as a simpleton is not a new one. In the opinion of at least one anonymous fifteenth century commentator, Henry was simple and easily led: “In the same time the realm of England was out of all good governance as it had been before, for the king was simple and led by covetous counsel and owed more than he was worth. His debts increased daily but payment there was none. All the possessions and lordships that pertained to the crown the king had given away, some to lords and some to other simple persons so that he had almost nothing left. For these misgovernances and for many others, the hearts of the people were turned away from them that had the land in governance and their blessings were turned to curses” [9]

 

Watts contends that what others describe as “‘the king’s unfair and unwise distribution of patronage and the opportunistic behaviour of his household servants’, should be judged in the context of ‘how this [patronage] was turned into power in the localities or why the nobility who might have been expected to resist the king’s agents did nothing until the 1450’s.[10] His own explanation is that: “The England of the 1440’s was governed by a very extensive network of men, including most of the old nobility; their difficulties stemmed more from lack of co-ordination and lack of authority than from partisanship.” Central to this thinking is late twentieth century research carried out by Christine Carpenter, Anthony Pollard, Helen Castor and others into the dynamics of local politics and relationships in the fifteenth century. These several studies suggest a different and more complex regional dynamic from the factional politics of the greater nobility.[11]

 

Local cooperation between landowners, merchants, farmers, artisans and labourers, coupled with the complex inter-relationships of the gentry forged by their arranged marriages, were the bonds that held English society together. The importance of these local transactions, whether they were commercial, legal, social, successional or familial, is that often they transcended the politicking of the great nobles. In view of Henry’s inability or unwillingness to govern and on the basis that ‘something had to be done’, it is argued that rather than fleecing Henry, his closest advisors were in fact trying to maintain the everyday cohesion of national and local life from collapsing into anarchy. This is an important new hypothesis; since even though the English nobility were a turbulent and quarrelsome bunch, their relationship with the king was based on mutual cooperation and benefit.[12] In the absence of a national police force or standing army, or civil service the king relied on the nobility to enforce his law, his peace and his policies through their network of local officials and law officers. In return, the king was expected to provided the national leadership that ensured “…an outward calm for the defence and surety of the realm”.[13]

 

Professor Christine Carpenter in her own leading study of this period holds the view that Henry was so deficient in kingly qualities that whilst he might be allowed to approve some insignificant grants and pardons, though not necessarily as an act of personal rule, he was hardly likely to be allowed to formulate foreign policy for the war in France, which “…was absolutely central to the domestic politics of England…It is scarcely conceivable that they would have allowed the king to dictate policy on which their very lives depended when they seem to have been able to dictate to the king on everything else that mattered.” [14] However, she does not deny the possibility that Henry’s wishes may be seen in some of his ‘over-generous grants and pardons and in the foreign policy of the 1440’s’, which may be the result of Henry’s genuine desire for peace rather than an example of his capriciousness.

 

It seems, therefore, that though modern scholars agree that Henry was in the general sense incompetent, there is less certainty about whether he was culpable for the deficiencies of his reign. In considering that question, it is important to bear in mind that Henry VI is unique among English monarchs. He was not only born to the purple, but also surrounded with the divinity of kingship from the cradle. The untimely death of his father Henry V bought baby Henry to the throne of two kingdoms before he was a year old. He is the only English king to have presided at his first parliament sitting on his mother’s lap. Consequently, his character and his performance can only be judged in a regal context and by bearing in mind that in respect of both his kingdoms he never had the benefit of growing-up under the wing of his father from whom he might have learned the art of kingship.

 

Kingship

The English had high expectations of Henry. He was, after all, the only son of a successful warrior king. They expected him to rule in the common interest and they recognised his absolute, personal and inalienable authority to do so. There was no conflict between these principles if the king was competent. Ideally, such a king was prudent and took representative advice before acting. He made sound decisions and implemented them efficiently. Sir John Fortescue in his treatise on fifteenth century governance noted with smug pride that though in theory English kings had the powers of a tyrant, they generally ruled responsibly ‘in the common weal’.

 

Much depended on the vigour and personality of the king. He was expected to devise his own foreign and domestic policies, conduct affairs of state, make peace or declare war, lead the army against enemies foreign and domestic, dispense justice, and live off his income from crown lands and feudal dues. In theory, baby Henry was expected to do all these things from the moment he ascended the throne. In practice, of course, that was impossible. Henry could neither walk nor talk, nor control his bodily functions, nor even chew his own food much less govern his realms. This practical problem was complicated by the established constitutional doctrine, which held that the person of the king and the institution of king (the Crown) were indivisible. Royal authority, therefore, rested solely in the king’s person from the very instant of his accession. No other person could exercise royal authority on behalf of the king under any circumstances; to do so, was treason.[15] In 1422, therefore, the king’s true subjects were wondering how their baby king could rule them if he was physically and intellectually incapable of exercising his authority.

 

‘The king’s tender years’

On his deathbed, Henry V entrusted the governance of England to his youngest brother Humphrey duke of Gloucester, signifying that the duke should have the principal safekeeping and defence ’of his beloved son’ (tutela et defensionem nostril carissimi filii principales).[16] These words implied that duke Humphrey was to have the powers of a regent answerable only to the king and then only after Henry reached his majority. It was a settlement that recognised the indivisibility of the person and office of king, and devolved royal authority to the regent. However, when the matter came before the lords in parliament in 1422 they disregarded Henry V’s will and rejected Gloucester’s claim to be regent[17]: they did so again in 1428.[18] Distrusting Gloucester’s motives and preferring a conciliar minority rule to his autocratic regency, the lords determined on legal advice that exceptionally during Henry’s minority the indivisible estate of the king was incomplete since it lacked will or reason, which must perforce be supplied by the lords of the King’s Council, who would exercise the king’s authority collectively, whether assembled in Parliament, in the king’s continual council or in the Great Council, until the king was able to assume his personal rule.[19] John duke of Bedford the heir presumptive was appointed to the specially created and limited position of Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm, and chief councillor to the king. Gloucester was allowed to hold that position only during Bedford’s absences abroad. Professor Watts regards this as a paradox in which the lords are both the king’s servants and his representatives, but in reality, it was a practicable solution to a practical problem. It was a settlement that prevented a non-regal autocracy, whilst enabling the realm to be governed during the king’s incapacity. It did not transfer royal authority to the lords and its legitimacy was founded squarely on the English lords’ collective responsibility. Moreover, this constitutional model stood the test of time. It was used again when Henry was incapacitated by mental illness in 1453, and also in 1483 when the child king Edward V succeeded to the throne. I am labouring these points now because of their importance in understanding the nature of Henry’s reign.

 

A minority council was therefore appointed to govern the kingdom collectively during the protectorship and throughout the king’s minority.[20] From the start, the council’s work was undermined by two long-term problems. First, a conflict of interests between the king’s relatives Gloucester and Beaufort soon became apparent. Gloucester, acting head of the council vice his absent elder brother, was overly ambitious and used his position to influence the direction of policy. Beaufort, the king’s Chancellor, was wealthy and used his wealth to promote his own policies. Their differences, which were personal as well as political, were irreconcilable. And their disgraceful behaviour did much to bring the council into disrepute. Second, many of the minority councillors exploited loopholes in the council’s financial regulations and abused their authority for their aggrandisement. There can be little doubt that Henry’s relatives and his venal councillors set a very poor example for the impressionable king. Even so, it is unlikely that Henry’s inadequacies were apparent when he was a child, since his involvement in affairs of state was notional.

 

A personable, intelligent and precocious youth

Henry’s transition from child king to adult king was a complex, and for some an arcane process. Unfortunately, a definitive appreciation of those events is hardly possible due to an academic disagreement between historians about what really happened and why. The undeniable facts that can be elucidated from the minutes and archives of government are straightforward. On the 1 October 1435, two months before his fourteenth birthday, Henry attended his first council meeting. Gloucester and Beaufort were also present since it was a strategically important gathering to appoint a new captain for the Calais garrison. Evidence of Henry’s subsequent attendances at minority council meetings and also at the less frequent but larger assemblies of his Great Council can be gleaned from the minutes of those meetings. In addition, petitions and warrants signed by the king signify that he regularly exercised his royal prerogative in matters of grace from at least the 28 July 1436, which was well before his fifteenth birthday. [21] For example, between the 7 November 1436 and the end of the month, he signed twenty-seven petitions and warrants.[22] Nor was Henry’s involvement in government restricted to matters of grace. There is evidence that he played a significant part in substantive foreign policy decisions such as the Duke of Orleans peace mission to France.[23] Despite the council’s natural concern about the liberality of Henry’s grants,[24] there was no obvious reason at this stage and on this evidence for anybody to think that Henry would not make a satisfactory king. He was young and could reasonably be expected to become more prudent as he gained experience and wisdom.

 

Following a meeting of the great Council, which lasted from the 12 to the 14 of November 1437, Henry declared the formal ending of his minority and assumption of his personal rule; he was not yet sixteen and the youngest English king since the Conquest to do so.[25] All the existing councillors were reappointed on oath to ‘counsel (Henry) well and truly and to keep his secrets, and to put forward their whole labours and diligence for his worship’.[26] Their terms and conditions of service were changed. Payment was now at the king’s discretion. The most contentious part of Henry’s declaration was the description of his future relationship with the new council, which was set out in a series of detailed ‘ordinances’ taken partly from those established for the council by Henry’s grandfather in 1406.[27] As far as I can see, the core of the declaration amounts to this: i) Henry’s prerogative on matters of grace is unfettered. ii) The council will continue to discuss ‘weighty matters’ moved before them, though no decision will be made or action taken without the king’s ‘advice’. iii) The council will continue to discuss and dispose of routine matters unless the council is divided or unable to make a judgement; in which case, the matter will be referred to the king for judgement. So much for the facts, I now turn to the debate about their meaning.

 

Professor Griffiths considers Henry’s declaration to have been no more than “…an announcement that Henry VI would take a prominent part in affairs henceforth, though without jettisoning the councillors who had served him during his youth.”[28] He dismisses the idea put forward by Watts et al that it was prompted by conciliar apprehension; neither does he accept that it was an attempt to restrain the king. It was, he argues, a material restraint on the council’s power vis-à-vis royal authority, as all matters of grace were in the king’s prerogative. “Pardons were his to give, all collations and benefits his to bestow, royal offices his to fill and anything pertaining to the Crown estates, bounty or favour were reserved to him”. [29] Moreover, though matters of weight might be discussed in council, nothing could be moved without reference to the king. Even routine matters must be referred to the king if the council were divided or unable to make a decision. Griffiths’ further suggests that the outcome was no more than Henry’s personal assumption of powers delegated to the council in 1422. The vagueness of the term ‘great weight or charge’ is an indication of Henry’s intention to intervene in anything important. Griffiths does not see this as a forceful return to personal rule or a wilful thrusting aside of wise councillors. Even less is the council attempting to preserve its authority by ‘ encircling the king with restrictions devised thirty years before’. “Henry’s declaration...[heralded]…the re-establishment, after fifteen years of conciliar government, of traditional royal rule in which the king’s councillors had an acknowledged part. Perhaps the only surprising feature was that it was published so soon in the young king’s life.”[30]

 

Bertram Wolffe’s conclusion is not materially different from that of Griffiths on this issue. Though, he is more vigorous in his assertion that, as far as could be judged in 1437, Henry possessed some kingly qualities such as physical strength, piety and ambition, and that there was a reasonable chance that wisdom and judgement would follow in due course. Henry was keen to assume the reins of power “just as soon, if not sooner than his advisors approved“.[31] Wolffe came to this conclusion after a careful and thorough analysis of the official record, minutes, petitions, warrants commissions and ‘the workings of government’, which demonstrate that Henry was not merely a cipher authorising everything and anything they put before him. In Wolffe’s opinion there were no grounds for the minority council to cling to their powers once the king determined he had come of age. The ordinances of 1437, though based on those of 1406, indicate that the council was shedding power, not increasing it. I do not think that either Wolffe or Griffiths is arguing that Henry was not an ineffectual adult king, or that his incapacity was not an important factor in the catastrophes of his reign. Their point is that these things were not necessarily obvious in 1437.

 

Professor Watts takes a completely different line.[32] For reasons I have already touched on, he argues that Henry insufficiencies were apparent before 1437. He rejects the notion that between 1435 and 1437 Henry was initiating his personal rule. The impetus for that, he argues, was coming from the council who managed his exercise of favour: “from grants made by the king and council in 1435-36 to grants made by the king alone but only during pleasure in 1436-37 and finally grants made for life from the spring of 1437 onwards.”[33] Watts adds that the council and wider nobility were worried that Henry was both unable and unwilling to rule the kingdom independently. He writes: “…if he had been behind the events of 1436, the whole tiresome process of recognition, definition and tentative restriction could have been avoided. The king would have begun to exercise his free will over the full range of royal responsibility, while counsellors, those of 1422 and others, advised him[34]

 

The emerging problems of 1437 were twofold. First, it was next to impossible to prevent individual petitioners seeking patronage from the young king, whose largess was well known. Second, the effective formulation of state foreign and justicial policy depended on active royal leadership and authority; in the absence of these two prerequisite, the effective management of the realm could only be achieved if the various factional groupings and vested interests reconciled their differences in a common approach. It was for these reasons, Watts suggests, that the council devised the 1437 declaration. “ [Since] the impetus for royal activity came from below…It was for the political community, if they could not bind the king, to define and govern the exercise of royal power.” [35]

 

The Suffolk years

The period between 1437 and 1450 saw the gradual but inexorable erosion of conciliar government and the establishment of an oligarchy based on the royal household and headed by William De La Pole earl (later duke) of Suffolk. As Steward of the King’s Household he had unrestricted access to the king and unrestrained influence over him.[36] As a result of this centralisation of government and the staff changes introduced by the council, state affairs were increasingly determined by only a small number of royal advisors, usually comprising Beaufort, Suffolk and their henchmen. Further administrative ordinances in 1444 aimed at streamlining administrative procedures and tightening the purse strings further reduced the number of royal advisors to, sometimes, not more than one or two. Finally, the deaths of Beaufort and Gloucester in 1447 consolidated Suffolk’s dominating position as the king’s chief advisor — sometimes his only advisor.[37]

 

Regardless of whether their motive was benign or malign, it is questionable whether the shift in power promoted by Suffolk’s and his affiliates was in the national interest. Even if the bulk of the English nobility acquiesced in the establishment of an oligarchy that pretended to be a monarchy, and even if the nature of the Henry’s incapacity was so desperate that ‘something had to be done’, Suffolk’s effort to prop up a non-functioning king by acting as his proxy was as reckless as it was treasonable.[38] It reduced the royal household to the status of a ‘faction’ and was the cause of such angst that it led eventually to civil war. If for whatever reason, the king lacked the will or reason to exercise his authority, then his royal estate was incomplete. In which case, the only proper course open to the lords was to resurrect the protectorship and the conciliar regime ratified by parliament in 1422.[39] Though this solution was not perfect, it had the dual benefits of legitimacy and utility. By thus broadening the government’s base and unblocking the king’s access to advice from the wider nobility there was a better prospect of consensual government during the king’s disability. Suffolk’s perseverance with the pretence that Henry was a functioning king damaged the Crown and fuelled public suspicions that he was acting in bad faith. Even professor Watts concedes that “Towards the end of the decade the court actually began to resemble the small body of household intimates and administrators depicted by its critics.”[40]

 

Of all the problems facing the English at this time, the most pressing were maintenance of the dual monarchy and Crown finances. These two problems were inextricably linked and could not be resolved separately. Moreover, an acceptable solution was more difficult to achieve owing to a conflict between the king’s peaceful ambition for his realms and the aspirations of his English subjects, for whom the conquest of France was a matter of national pride, prestige and power. Nevertheless, the key drivers that convinced Beaufort and the council (except Gloucester) of the need for peace were practical and not moral. The war was going badly for English arms. They were on the defensive everywhere. The conquest of the isle de France was no longer achievable or affordable. The burgeoning cost of defending the dual monarchy was pushing the Crown towards bankruptcy.

 

Negotiations for a permanent peace treaty began under Beaufort in 1437 and dragged on until 1444, when Suffolk agreed a temporary truce, which was only secured at the cost of two major English concessions. Henry was to marry a minor French princess, Margaret daughter of Renee of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar, and titular king of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem. From the English point of view, it was an inauspicious choice for their queen. Though Margaret was related to Charles VII, she was not an heiress and her family were not important in diplomatic terms. Besides, the attitude towards her in England was likely to be suspicious, it not downright hostile. The second — and secret — English concession was the surrender of Maine, which Suffolk is supposed to have promised to Charles verbally. Henry confirmed the promise secretly in writing in 1445, at the entreaty of his French wife. The English, when they finally heard of this concession were naturally suspicious that Margaret aided by Suffolk had put undue pressure on the king. The English army refused to cooperate and Maine was not actually ceded to the French until 1448.

 

There was a third problem, which though not quite as pressing as the other two was important and getting worse. There is evidence of clashes between local gentry and also between national magnates in the north, in the midlands, in south wales, in the west and in the Home Counties.[41] The use of private armies to resolve local grievances and disputes alienated lords and commoners alike. Their resentment was aggravated by the belief that the king’s ministers and servants condoned this anarchy. These problems were about to come to a head and would change the course of history.

 

Annus horribilis

The year I have called annus horribilis began on the 6 November 1449 with the hasty recall of Parliament. Such was the magnitude of the emergency at home and abroad that only nine weeks after the dissolution of parliament in July, another was summoned in September. The members of parliament who assembled at Westminster on the 6 November 1449 had the crisis in Normandy and misgovernment at home uppermost in their minds, and they were looking for the culprits.[42] As the king’s most influential counsellor, it was Suffolk who bore the brunt of their resentment. His fall from power was triggered by his attempt to block a complaint by Lord Cromwell against William Tailboys from going before the King’s Council.[43] The infuriated Cromwell drew the matter to the attention of the Commons who included it in a list of charges they were compiling against Suffolk. Meanwhile, during the parliamentary recess, English sailors murdered the much-hated Adam Moleyns bishop of Chichester. As he lay dying, Moleyns ‘confessed’ to Suffolk’s many misdeeds. Following this, Suffolk felt it necessary to make a statement answering Moleyns allegations and the many ‘…slanders and misconceptions running throughout the land’.

 

The Lords’ refusal to commit Suffolk for trial on the basis that there were no specific charges provided the Common with the opportunity to present a formal petition (indictment) containing eight specific articles (counts) of high treason against the duke. The most serious charge was that Suffolk conspired with Charles Valois to destroy Henry and put his own son, John De La Pole, on the English throne. The other charges amounted in general terms to examples of his treason by aiding and abetting the king’s enemies. However, after Suffolk was called to answer the charges, the king put the whole matter in abeyance. Whereupon, the Commons presented Henry with a second petition containing eighteen articles setting out the details of Suffolk’s corruption (including Cromwell’s complaint) and financial mismanagement. For which “…offences, misprisions, faithless acts and false deceits specified“ the Commons “accused and impeached” Suffolk.[44] Henry tried to delay the proceedings but was unable to stop Suffolk’s impeachment. In a desperate attempt to save his most important advisor from a traitor’s death, Henry exercised his prerogative to declare the first indictment for high treason ‘neither declared nor charged’. In other words, he was simply not prepared to accept it. On the second indictment of misprision, he exercised his prerogative for clemency by banishing Suffolk for five years. Nevertheless, Henry’s effort to save Suffolk was unavailing. On the 1 May 1450, somewhere in the English Channel off the Kent coast, Suffolk’s ship was intercepted by a small flotilla, which included the Nicholas of the Tower. The Captain and crew of the Nicholas boarded Suffolk’s ship and ignoring his royal safe-conduct tried, convicted and executed him with a rusty sword. His headless body was dumped on the shore by Dover.[45]

 

Suffolk’s death did not alleviate England’s crisis in 1450 but it did pave the way for the Commons to petition Henry for a resumption of Crown lands alienated since the beginning of his reign, and the termination of all annuities, corrodes and pensions.[46] This Act would enable Henry to resume his economic and hereditary rights to all Crown properties, offices and custom taxes he gave as patronage. It was strongly resisted and there is no record in the Parliamentary Roll that Henry assented to it. However, without Suffolk to stiffen the king’s sinews it was passed into law; albeit, with 186 individual exceptions granted by Henry, which rendered it ineffective.[47] The Commons also made supplication to the king about purveyance abuses. They were concerned that money allocated for the defence of the realm was being used to pay the royal household’s subsistence expenses: this had to stop. It was the price Henry had to pay for the life of Suffolk and for obtaining a tax subsidy from the Commons.[48]

 

Charles VII invaded Normandy in 1449 and drove the English out. The English garrison were deficient in all the basic necessities of fifteenth century siege warfare except fighting spirit.[49] The professional French army was superior in numbers, leadership, tactics, arms, equipment and organisation. This situation is all the more discreditable since the English politicians were warned in good time by the English commander, Edmund Beaufort duke of Somerset, that the French were amassing a large army on the Normandy border and that the Duchy was defenceless without a large reinforcement of men and equipment. Measures were hastily put in hand to recruit and equip a force under the command of Sir Thomas Kyriell for service in France, but it was too little too late. On the 15 April 1450 the small English field army under Kyriell’s command was overwhelmed at Formigny near Bayeux; though outnumbered, they fought hard until virtually the last man.[50] The loss of Normandy was regarded as a national disgrace by most of the king’s subjects. There was also a general feeling that the heart of government was corrupt, and doubts that royal authority was being exercised properly.

 

Anybody looking for a connection between local and national politics need look no further than the rebellion that began in Kent in May 1450, and spread through the Home Counties and beyond during the summer. Jack Cade’s rebellion was short, sharp and brutal. Inevitably, the rebels were crushed and their leader killed. However, while it lasted, the rebellion shook the Lancastrian regime to its very core. The king fled from London, his household panicked and gave-up a few defenceless scapegoats to the rebels, and four hundred royal soldiers were defeated in the Kent Weald. Cade occupied London and in a series of quasi-judicial tribunals meted out rough justice to those whom he regarded as traitors. The rebellion was supported by a broad cross section of English society from powerful landowners to rural peasants. And they had put their grievances in writing. The ‘Complaints of the Poor Commons of Kent’ and “The Articles of a Captain of Kent’ are distinguished by their intelligent articulation of local and national grievances and for their proposals for reform. The rebels’ grievances are neatly summarised: “…the king had false counsel for his laws are lost, his merchandise is lost, his commons destroyed, the sea is lost, France is lost, himself so poor that he may not have [pay for] his meat or drink…[51] It is clear that the rebels did not blame the king for this misgovernment; they, blamed his advisors.

 

Although Cade’s rebellion did not produce instant results, it was the catalyst for Richard duke of York’s intervention in English politics as a champion for reform. York did not hold a formal constitutional position within England. He was not a member of the king’s inner circle, nor did he have a natural line of communication to the king. He was, however, the king’s heir presumptive and the senior royal duke, and as such, neither the king nor his inner circle of advisors could ignore York. He served as the King’s Lieutenant in Normandy (twice) and also in Ireland, where he proved himself to be a brave soldier and an excellent administrator: in fact, the quintessential ‘good lord’. His sudden return from Ireland (where he had been sent by the king for ten years in 1447) in September 1450 still troubles scholars: was it due to private grievance or public right? Interesting though that question is, it is irrelevant for my purpose. My point is simply that York’s intervention, for whatever reason, was bound to change the whole nature of English politics, which it did. His criticisms of the government were essentially the same as those of Cade’s rebels. He did not question the king’s competence and embellished his own comments with the suggestion that Henry was the innocent victim of evil councillors. It was a situation from which York — the king’s true and loyal subject — would recue him; thus, allowing him to rule properly as he always intended. It is difficult to regard this approach as anything other than a tactic intended to prevent the imputation of treason against York. It was also an approach guaranteed to antagonize the duke of Somerset who had succeeded Suffolk as Henry’s chief advisor.

 

The hostility between York and Somerset, which had been an undercurrent in English politics from the late 1440’s, became dominant in 1451. Their mutual dislike matured into personal and intense hatred that expressed itself through the medium of opposing Lancastrian and Yorkist factions. And there was worst to come: soon Gascony would be lost, leaving Calais as the last remnant of the first English overseas empire. At home the violent disturbances and aristocratic lawlessness continued, together with real or imagined conspiracies against the king. There was and is a suspicion that York was behind these plots, for which the evidence is ambiguous to say the least. However, it is unlikely that he condoned efforts by his supporters to remove the king. He wanted to rescue Henry from the clutches of his evil advisors, not replace him. The problem with York’s simplistic approach is that it ignored the much profounder question of the king’s fitness to rule, which nobody — least of all York — was prepared to consider at this stage. More worrying from York’s perspective was the fact that whilst his power and influence waned, Somerset’s waxed. By 1452, York was politically isolated. The bulk of the unaligned lords regarded him as an incorrigible troublemaker with no constitutional legitimacy to challenge the king’s choice of advisors. The pretence that Henry was a fit to rule England persisted until he was deposed in 1461.

 

The king was ill. We know nothing about the illness except that it caused mental collapse and it was kept secret until after the birth of his heir on the 18 October 1453. Just prior to the birth, a Great Council meeting was called, from which York was excluded. Nevertheless, in Somerset’s absence on business, a group of non-aligned lords sent for York. Their decision was made on the grounds of his legitimate right to be involved in the discussion about the governance of the realm. It was their hope was that the dukes of York and Somerset would be able to work together and with the Great Council in the public interest: some hope! The mental collapse of Henry and the appointment of York as Lord protector and Defender of the Realm marks the end of this narrative. It is doubtful whether Henry ever recovered from this collapse and nobody even pretends that he was an independent functioning monarch thereafter. After Somerset’s death at St Albans in 1455, Henry was helpless and in the grip of his wife. After York’s death at Wakefield in 1460, Henry was deposed.

 

‘Chide him for faults, and do it reverently’

Personally, I doubt the historical significance of the various interpretations of Henry’s reign. Whether he was a malicious interventionist (Wolffe), a well-meaning duffer (Griffiths) or an inert simpleton (Watts et al) matters not in reality, since the outcome was the same on each case. Henry was a bad king. In fact, it is hard to imagine a man less suited to rule the kingdoms he inherited by an accident of birth. He did not look or behave like a king. Plainly he was incompetent and often disinterested in the minutiae of government. He failed to exercise royal authority properly and lacked the force of personality to uphold the king’s justice in his English kingdom. His shortcomings created a vacuum at the heart of government, which some of his overly ambitious subjects were quick to occupy and keen to exploit to the detriment of the common interest. It is unsurprising therefore that by the middle decade of his reign many of Henry’s English subjects were offended by the losses in France, oppressed for the want of royal justice at home and impoverished by the burden of taxation. These things are all matters of historical record and a blot on his rule. Nonetheless, despite his faults, Henry’s critics tend to underestimate contemporary evidence of the almost insuperable problems he faced from the moment of his accession, which would have tested even his renowned father. For all his heroic stature, Henry V’s legacy to his baby son was not a happy one.

Any hope the English had of conquering Valois France went to the grave with Henry V in 1422. Any realistic hope they had of preserving Henry VI’s sovereignty over his French possessions disappeared with the death of John duke of Bedford in 1435 and the defection of Burgundy from their English alliance that same year. Militarily and diplomatically, the tide had turned irretrievably against the English while Henry VI was still a minor. Their tactics were outmoded, their army was outmatched and the cost of the war was becoming unsustainable: none of this was Henry’s fault. Nonetheless, the subsequent failure to negotiate a realistic and workable peace treaty with Charles VII did bear his hallmark. Henry’s negotiating position was unrealistic. He thought that Charles would stop fighting and allow him to retain sovereignty of his French inheritance: that was a Lancastrian ‘red line’. It was one thing for Henry to be ejected from his French inheritance by the fortunes of war but he could never concede that he was not the king of France by right. In reality, of course, Henry had no leverage over Charles who was winning the war anyway. Besides, he regarded it as a war of liberation and could not allow Henry to retain his possessions except as a vassal of the French king: that was the Valois ‘red line’.

 

The truce with Charles VII that was agreed in 1444 and then extended, was broken by the Duke of Somerset, who enraged the Duke of Brittany by attacking his territory. It is unclear whether Somerset was ‘encouraged’ by the king to do that, but it seems likely. Even if Henry was dealt a bad hand, he played it badly. His pacifist nature was unsuited to the task of defending his French realm in the face of a warlike and implacable foe, and his lack of judgement showed in the promotion of commanders whose only qualification for the task was that they were his favourites. Henry was also hampered by a lack of money to pay for the war and the normal expenses of government.

 

The Crown’s financial difficulties began soon after the battle of Agincourt. The lay and clerical subsidies granted by parliament for 1415-1416 raised £216,868. However, the overall costs of maintaining Harfleur, negotiating with the Duke of Burgundy, the naval expedition of 1416 and fitting out a flotilla for service in 1417 came to £256,885. The deficit of £40,017 was made-up from loans at commercial rates and the ransom payments of French prisoners. These figures do not include expenses incurred during the Agincourt campaign, but not yet met.[52] By the end of Henry V’s reign, the English exchequer had a deficit of £30,000 and outstanding debts of £25,000 due mainly to war costs.

 

It was Henry V’s policy after 1418 to transfer the burden of the war to Normandy. The Duchy was supposed to pay for itself and also contribute money to the general war effort. However, the first complete financial accounts for the Norman Estates shows that all but 5,000 livre (li)[53] of Norman revenue was spent on the administration and defence of the Duchy; nor did finances improve over time. In fact, they deteriorated even further during Henry VI’s minority. In 1423, for example, the accounts show that of the 90,000(li) granted to Bedford by the Norman Estates, only 29,000(li) was available for defence. Between 1419 and 1435, the Norman estates met twenty four times and made impositions totalling 3,150,000(li). Even so, this revenue fell short of costs. The idea that Normandy could be self-funding was illusory; their treasury could only just about cover its own administrative costs if they did not also have to pay for military operations. Moreover, these financial demands alienated the Normans against their English overlords and demonstrated that without an English subsidy the Duchy was, more or less, defenceless.[54]

 

Whilst there is no doubt that Henry VI’s foolish generosity did not improve Crown finances, there is convincing evidence that even had he been judicious and thrifty with the grant of patronage, his means were barely sufficient for his needs. The inherited costs of defending his French inheritance, the expansion of the royal household, the costs of his marriage and the Queens household expenses were more than the Crown could bear without tax subsidies from parliament and the convocation. Significantly, during Henry’s minority neither parliament not the convocation gave generous subsidies; furthermore, the revenue raised was unpredictable. Exemptions given to poor towns and villages reduced the amount raised, as did fraud and administrative incompetence. The alternative of individual taxation was so unpopular that it was only imposed twice (1428 and 1436). Even then, the revenue raised was erratic due to resistance, fraud and administrative incompetence. It seems that the Crown was expected to manage cash flow and income by borrowing, using the Crown Jewels as security.[55]

 

So appalled was Ralph Lord Cromwell by the state of public finances in 1433 that he presented to parliament a highly detailed and precise analysis delineating to the last farthing the Crown’s insolvency. Having just succeeded Lord Hungerford as Treasurer, Cromwell was keen to highlight the problems he had inherited and to impose some fiscal discipline on the government by, for instance, vetting all requests for expenditure and patronage. The demands placed on the royal purse during the king’s minority were many: the royal household, the Queen’s household, Calais, France, Ireland, Scotland, Aquitaine, Fronsac, grants of Henry V’s will, and prisoner expenses etc. In summary, ordinary expenditure exceeded income by £47,887. 7s. 4d farthing, to which must be added provision for the repayment of debts totalling £164,814. 11s.1d halfpenny.[56] To control debt, Parliament set an arbitrary annual limit on Crown borrowing, which could now be secured against tax revenue. These measures under Cromwell’s capable stewardship delayed the inevitable but could not prevent it. By 1449, Cromwell had moved on from the Treasury and the Lancastrian regime was bankrupt. When Parliament met again later that year, the main thrust of the Commons’ criticisms was the belief that corruption and fraud were partly responsible for the crown’s bankruptcy. Their priority now was to put Henry’s finances on a sustainable basis.[57]

 

The aristocratic violence and lawlessness, and the corruption in high places that so oppressed Henry VI’s subjects were not unique to his reign. In fact, the preservation of law and order was a recurrent problem for most, if not all, medieval English monarchs. Late medieval England had an unenviable reputation among the rest of Christendom for lawlessness. While studying the legal records for 1348, the historian L O Pike was so shocked by what he found that he described that part of Edward III’s reign as a period of widespread depravity. E G Kimball, studying the Shropshire Peace Rolls for 1400-1414 concluded that ‘serious crime was not being punished in Shropshire or for that matter anywhere in England’. There are many scholarly studies and records of late medieval crime, none of which has identified even a few consecutive years of effective law enforcement between 1290 and 1485.[58] Neither is this simply a question of policing, since such lawlessness touched on the general lack of public confidence in the integrity of royal justice and the corrupt exercise of power that pre-dated Henry VI’s reign.[59]

 

The reasons for such pervasive criminality are many and complex, and are such that I cannot hope to address them all in this essay. However, there is a combination of circumstances that are part systemic and part behavioural, which I should explore in the context of Henry VI’s reign. The failure of successive medieval kings to outlaw ‘livery and maintenance’, coupled with the collapse of royal justice encouraged the lords and gentry to take grievances into their own hands.[60] The result during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was the creation of ‘over mighty subjects’ with their affinities, which very often included organised criminal gangs of violent men with a penchant for feuding and ignoring the law of property.[61] This undesirable situation was further aggravated by the king’s reliance on local magnates and gentry to administer, dispense and enforce the king’s justice. Chief among these royal officials were the permanent county Sheriff’s who were each had judicial and administrative responsibilities for overseeing and dispensing justice in their county. They presided in the Shire Courts and also framed and selected indictments for hearing in the king’s courts. Moreover they were also responsible for selecting and empaneling jurors to sit on Grand Juries and Trial Juries in the various courts within their bailiwick. Unfortunately, owing to the system of livery and maintenance, Sheriffs were themselves more often than not in the service of a lord and, therefore, were hardly likely to be impartial judges or administrators in any cases involving their lord or members of his family and affinity.[62]

 

Aristocratic lawlessness was a problem, even for strong monarchs such as Edward I and Edward III. A parliamentary petition of 1331 complained that gangs of men were “kidnapping for ransom and killing the king’s lieges, churchmen and royal judges…” [63] Edward tackled the problem with his customary vigour, which, nevertheless brought only temporary success. By 1443 even Edward had to admit that the law of the land was not well kept; it was a problem that only got worse during the king’s absence at the wars. Although Henry VI inherited a situation that was not of his own making, it is hard to refute professor Bellamy’s assertion that the criminality was worse in the fifteenth century than it had been during the fourteenth. Crime had not actually increased but it was more pernicious during Henry’s reign. I don’t think anybody can seriously dispute that this was due primarily to Henry’s lack of kingly qualities as previously discussed

 

My final point is about Henry’s mental health during his adult years prior to 1453, when we know he had some form of mental breakdown, which lasted until 1455 at least. The precise nature of his mental collapse cannot now be known. There is no evidence that Henry suffered mental ill-health prior to 1453, but the inference that he had inherited his grandfather’s (Charles VI) ‘melancholia’ is almost irresistible. It would explain his detachment from temporal affairs and the comments about him made by some of his subjects. It is not impossible, therefore, that he suffered from a mental illness: I put it no higher[64].

[1] John Harvey – The Plantagenets (T Batsford Ltd 1948): I have quoted from the 1967 Fontana edition (p.169)

[2] M R James [Ed] – Henry the Sixth: a reprint of John Blacman’s memoirs (Cambridge 1919): Blacman was a precentor at Eton College (1445-52) and subsequently of King’s Hall Cambridge. There is no evidence that he is the unnamed author who writes in the first person, since his name does not appear in the list of Henry’s chaplains or clerks. It is possible that the tract was simply found among his papers after death.

[3] Sir Henry Ellis [Ed] – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III (Camden Soc 1844) pp. 70-71

[4] Bertram Wolffe – Henry VI (Yale 2001 edition)

[5] Wolffe; pp.12-18 and passim

[6] RA Griffiths – The Reign of Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) pp.253-254

[7] Griffiths pp.231

[8] John Watts – Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship (Cambridge 1999)

[9] Griffiths p.2 note 5: Griffiths cites JS Davies [Ed] – An English Chronicle of the Reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI (Camden Soc 1856) p.79

[10] Wolffe pp. xxiv-xxv; introduction by John Watts

[11] Watts chs.5-7; Christine Carpenter – The Wars of the Roses: politics and constitution in England 1437-1509 (Cambridge 1997) passim; Christine Carpenter – Locality and Polity: a study of Warwickshire landed society 1401-1499 (Cambridge 2009; AJ Pollard – North Eastern England during the Wars of the Roses: lay society war and politics (Oxford 1990); Helen Castor- The King, the Crown, and the Duchy of Lancaster: public authority and private power (Oxford 2000).

[12] JR Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) p.3

[13] Lander pp. 33-34; Lander is here quoting the words of Robert Stillington in 1468, when he was Lord Chancellor to Edward IV.

[14] Carpenter (WOTR) p.90

[15] Chris Givern-Wilson [General Ed] The Parliamentary Rolls Of Medieval England (Boydell 2005), Vol 10 (Anne Curry ed) PROME ibid; SB Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge 1936) pp. 35-37; by the fifteenth century the courts had declared that the royal prerogative ‘ must be intact in the king’s person alone’ (p.35, citing VYB. SEIV, Micho.fo 118-23 [App No 48]).

[16] PROME Vol 10 p.6; citing P Strong and F Strong – ‘The Last Will and Codicils of Henry V, (EHR, 96 [1981] 99) et al.

[17] PROME Vol 10 pp. 3 and 23-24; ‘it was not the English custom’, they said

[18] PROME Vol 10, pp. 347-348, items 24-27

[19] PROME ibid; Chrimes p.37

[20] JF Baldwin – The King’s Council in England during the Middle Ages (Oxford 1913) p.169; Henry VI’s first minority council comprised a representative body of twenty-one men, all of whom had served as councillors to his late father. The original list is as follows: the duke of Bedford (protector), the duke of Gloucester (protector in Bedford’s absence), the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Durham (Chancellor), William Kinewelmersh (Treasurer), John Stafford (Keeper of the Privy Seal), the bishops of London, Winchester, Norwich and Worcester, the duke of Exeter, the earls of March, Warwick, Northumberland, Westmorland and the Earl Marshall, Lord Fitzhugh (Chamberlain), Ralph Cromwell, Walter Hungerford, John Tiptoft and Walter Beauchamp, knights. In the absence of any specific instructions from parliament, the council defined its own terms of reference, which were intended to safeguard their superiority under the king by nullifying the autocratic ambitions of Bedford and Gloucester (p.172).

[21] Wolffe pp.87-88; Griffiths pp. 275-278 and Watts pp.127-131: Henry’s first recorded grant of patronage was to his uncle Cardinal Beaufort at Canterbury in July 1436. The king was in Kent to witness the embarkation of English reinforcements for the Calais garrison.

[22] Wolffe p.188: see also Watts p.130, Griffiths p.275 and Baldwin p.184. Baldwin notes: “already in1435-36 the king’s personal intervention in the matter of favours may be observed, as in his own boyish hand the royal signature appears upon various bills ‘R.H. nous avons graunte’.”

[23] Wolffe p.90: in the autumn of 1437, the council was divided on whether the king should pay Orleans’ expenses for his peace mission to France. They were worried that it might be construed as a concession and encourage Charles Valois to make further demands. The matter was put to Henry for a decision. He decided to pay the duke’s expenses from taxation.

[24] Baldwin; ibid

[25] Henry III was eighteen when he assumed his personal rule. Edward III was twenty before he shook off Mortimer’s yoke. The more problematic Richard was twenty-two before he ended his minority.

[26] Baldwin; ibid: the eighteen councillors were as follows: the duke of Gloucester, Cardinal Beaufort, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the bishops of Lincoln and St David’s, the earls of Huntingdon, Stafford, Salisbury, Northumberland, Suffolk and Devon, Lord Hungerford, Lord Tiptoft, the bishop of Bath (Chancellor), Lord Cromwell (Treasurer), William Lindwood (Keeper of the Privy Seal), William Phillip (Chamberlain), John Stourton (knight of the household) and Robert Rolleston (Keeper of the Wardrobe)

[27] PROME Vol 8 pp.321, 323 and 337-67: contains a useful analysis and details of the 1406 ordinances. They appear to have little relevance to the circumstances of 1437, since in 1406 a concerned parliament was seeking to restrain the king’s autocratic tendencies by increasing the council’s powers: arguably, that was not the case in 1437.

[28] Griffiths p.276

[29] Griffiths pp.274-278: see also Wolffe pp.87-92

[30] Griffiths p.277

[31] Wolffe p.92

[32] Watts chps. 4-7; see also Carpenter chps.1- 5, passim, which makes many of the same points

[33] Watts p.30, notes 27-30

[34] Watts p.132: this is a reference to Suffolk’s successful attempt to secure his personal hegemony of the council and of the royal household.

[35] Watts p.133

[36] Baldwin pp.190-191″ Suffolk did not frequently show himself in council but with excessive disregard of his enemies carried his policy with the king independently of colleagues.

[37] Griffiths pp. 284-286; Baldwin ibid; the Council Ordinances of 1444 were only intended to improve the government’s administrative efficiency. However, Henry’s more unscrupulous officials used the ordinances to consolidate the move of government from the council to the household.

[38] Watts chps 5 & 6, pp.181-254; contains detailed and complex arguments in defence of Suffolk’s actions. Put briefly, Watts’ argues that Suffolk’s service to the king forced him to exercise royal authority because the king was incapable of doing so. The real problem he suggests was not venal counselors but a useless king. Such a narrative suggests that England was governed by a group of aristocrats who abandoned the rule of law in favour of the edict ‘might is right’. The image of these royal officials and court favourites disposing of power, wealth and privilege among themselves in order to maintain a privileged status quo and regardless of the rights of others, whether noble or commoners is unedifying to say the least. It brought royal justice into disrepute and was the cause of the social unrest that erupted with catastrophic consequences in the summer of 1450. Watts’ detailed analysis of the working of government and interesting tables and statistics on attendances are meant to support his contention that between 1435 and 1445 Suffolk was acting with the tacit consent of almost all of the English nobility. That may be so, but it doesn’t make Suffolk’s ‘rule’ legitimate nor does it explain why Watts seems to think that such criminal behaviour was in the national interest. By ‘the later 1440’s, even Watt’s acknowledges the lords’ support for Suffolk’s policy was falling away and in any event was ‘insufficiently visible to the rest of political society’.

[39] That is exactly what happened in the 1454 and 1455 when Henry’s metal health collapsed. One wonders whether Henry was of sound mind earlier than this. Did he inherit his maternal grandfather’s ‘melancholia’?

[40] Watts P.240

[41] Griffiths Chapter 20, p.562-609, contains a detailed analysis of the lawlessness and aristocratic violence during Henry’s reign; see also Wolffe pp.106-125; IMW Harvey – Jack Cade’s Rebellion of 1450 (Oxford 1991) Chp.2; and RL Storey – The end of the House of Lancaster (Sutton 1999 2nd Edition) passim for further extensive details of lawlessness

[42] PROME Vol 12, PP 72,73 & 159

[43] Roger Virgoe – William Tailboys and Lord Cromwell: crime and punishment in Lancastrian England (Bulletin of John Ryland’s Library 55, 1972-71973) pp. 459-482; the first charges brought against Suffolk were that he plotted with William Tailboys to murder Lord Cromwell on the 28 November 1449 at Westminster. Even though the incident might have been exaggerated, the fact that this offence was included in Parliament’s second petition for Suffolk’s impeachment is an indication of its seriousness.

[44] PROME Vol 12, pp. 75,76, 93-105 & 154-156 appendix1, article1; this is easily the most comprehensive account of Suffolk’s impeachment with the detailed petitions and and proof, and Suffolk’s own response. See also EF Jacob – The Fifteenth Century (Oxford 1987) pp. 492-495 for an excellent summary of these events.

[45] James Gairdner (ed) – The Paston Letters 1422-1509 (Cambridge Library edition 2010) six volumes, Vol 2 pp.146-147. This letter from William Lomer to John Paston is dated the 5 May; it contains a vivid and detailed account of Suffolk’s death at the hands of the hands of the Captain and crew of HMS Nicholas at Tower. This being a royal ship, it is inconceivable that they acted independently. It is impossible for obvious reasons that they either the king or the queen were behind this murder. However, the Duke of York is a suspect; though there is no evidence.

[46] PROME ibid

[47] PROME ibid; Wolffe p.230; Harvey p.189.

[48] PROME p.78

[49] Alfred H Burne – The Agincourt War (Greenhill Books 1991 edition) chp18 pp. 306-330: contains a useful summary of this campaign with a common sense assessment of numbers and tactics etc. Colonel Burne would, he wrote, gladly have passed over the loss of Normandy in silence since it was such a discreditable period in English history, for which he blamed Suffolk whom he described as ‘shuffling’, even ‘shifty’.

[50] Burne pp. 318-322

[51] Harvey ibid

[52] Jacob pp.202-220, & 255; Jacob provides a useful analysis, with tables, of the monetary grants made to Henry V from 1415 until the end of his reign. This information is extrapolated from the English and Norman exchequer records of the time and includes the detailed costs of in defending and administering Normandy.

[53] Livre: ‘old French currency equivalent to a pound of silver.’ (SOED)

[54] Jacob ibid

[55] Griffiths pp. 376-394 contains a detailed analysis of the crown’s financial problems and the measures taken to overcome them. Griffiths also provides useful tables of taxation trends and prominent Crown creditors.

[56] PROME Vol 11 pp.69, 70 and 102-113; Cromwell’s lengthy schedule is in the form of a petition to the king, which provides a fascinating and detailed description of the Crown’s estate and sources of income in 1433, together with its expenditure and indebtedness. See also Griffiths pp.107-122 for a instructive discussion of these financial problems and some very useful tables of taxation, loans etc. during the minority. It is clear from the evidence and Griffiths’ analysis that parliament underestimated the cost of the war and overestimated the ability of the French territories to pay for it. One consequence of borrowing was that any imbalance between unpaid debts and taxation would inevitably lead to bankruptcy. Significantly, in 1433 the Crown’s indebtedness was two-and-a-half times greater than its annual revenues.

[57] PROME Vol 12, p.77

[58] John Bellamy – Crime and Public Order in England in the Late Middle Ages (Routledge 1973) pp.4-6 citing LO Pike – A History of Crime in England (London 1873-73) i p.297; EG Kimball – The Shropshire Peace Rolls 1400-1414 (Shrewsbury 1959) p.45; RH Hilton – A Medieval Society (London 1966) p.258, who from an analysis of the Assize Rolls for the reign of Edward I formed the opinion that the sanctions of common law were ineffective in curbing violence and corruption; GO Sayles (Ed) – Select Cases in the Court of King’s Bench, Edward II (Selden Society,74 1955) p.iii. See also PROME 1275-1504 all volumes, which contain hundreds of petitions attesting to the lawlessness and corruption of the Middle Ages. Finally, there is also a mass of unpublished material in the National Archives as described in Bellamy’s bibliography (pp. 205-206). “Every verdict seems unfavourable” (Bellamy p.4).

[59] Bellamy passim

[60] Livery and maintenance was the practice whereby individual lords recruited large numbers of retainers who were personally loyal to them and wore their livery. These men were expected to respond to calls for military and other services in return for their lord’s protection (‘maintain their part’) in litigation and/or any other disputes they were involved in, and their preferment on matters of patronage Prime examples of these over-mighty subjects during Henry VI’s reign were the dukes of York and Somerset, and the earls of Suffolk and Warwick. Livery and maintenance continued to plague the monarchy until Henry VII outlawed it.

[61] Bellamy pp.1-36 and 69-88

[62] A Harding – The Law Courts of Medieval England (Geo Allen and Unwin 1973) pp.51-53; see also Bellamy passim; from the twelfth century, civil and criminal cases in the country were dealt with under the general eyre. This was an itinerant system of justice introduced by Henry II, whereby professional judges and legal administrator’s from the curia regis (the King’s Court) accompanied the king during his progress around the kingdom and paid prolonged visits to individual counties. Their jurisdiction was wide-ranging and superior to that of the Hundred and Shire courts. The king’s judges were entitled to hear all pleas presented to them and not just those from a special group. Furthermore, their hearings were very thorough by medieval standards. More particularly, these judges were authorised to investigate any and all excesses, misdeeds, taking of bribes and other dishonest practices of sheriff’s and bailiffs, and to review the work of previous eyres. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the demands placed on the general eyre were too great for the limited number of professional judges available and the system fell into abeyance during the thirteenth century. It was a pity as the misconduct of the sheriffs’ was no longer monitored and corrected.

[63] Bellamy p.6; PROME Vol 4, pp. 164 and 166

[64] Wolffe pp.152-153; Griffiths pp. 715-718; Watts pp.301-325 passim and Storey p136 note 13

THE DEATH OF HENRY VII

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Henry VII on his deathbed : Wriothesley’s Heraldic Collection Vol 1 Book of Funerals.

And so, on 21 April 1509, Henry “Tudor” finally expired.  He had been ill, obviously, for some time and perhaps his death was something of a relief to him. I’m sure it was for the rest of the country who probably breathed a collective sigh of relief. He had managed to keep his bony posterior on the throne for 24 years since that diabolical day at Bosworth when an anointed king was slaughtered.  It does nothing for Henry’s  reputation that he allowed the dead king’s body to be horrendously  abused  as well as the ignoble and deplorable  act of having his reign  predated from the day before the battle. But no doubt there were some that lamented his passing especially his mother Margaret Beaufort, a  most highly acquisitive woman and probably one of the most greediest.     She adored him and the pair must hardly have been able to believe their luck that he had survived the battle unscathed, probably due to the fact that he took no active part in it.

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Unknown artist’s impression of Tudor being crowned in the aftermath of Bosworth..

It must have seemed surreal to him as he wandered through the dead kings apartments at Westminster that had now, overnight, become his.

 

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Bust of Henry VII : National Portrait Gallery

He had some worrying times with bothersome pretenders to the throne popping up with annoying regularity as well as various uprisings. Whether he was plagued by his conscience we do not  know although Margaret was prone to bursts of weeping at times when she should have been happy which must have been very tedious  for those around her.

However moving on from that , what actually did see Henry off?     His health seems to have gone into a decline when he reached his 30s.   His eyes began to trouble him and he tried various eye lotions and eye  baths  made of fennel water,  rosewater and celandine ” to make bright the sight” but to no avail ..his teeth were a source of trouble with Polydore Vergil describing him as having ‘teeth few, poor and blackish’ (1).  His eye problems must have caused him dismay as he like nothing more than to pour over his account books to see where the pennies were going and how much he was amassing. He was predeceased by his wife, whom it is said he was fond of, and four children including his oldest son and  heir,  Arthur,  but fortunately for him,  if not the country and the Roman Catholic Church he had a surviving spare.

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Henry VII death mask: Westminster Abbey

 

In his interesting book, The Death of Kings, Clifford Brewer writes   “Henry had developed a chronic cough which was particularly severe in springtime.  The  condition became progressively more severe and associated with loss of weight and a general wasting . In 1507 and 1508  Henry’s spring cough become more troublesome.  He  is described as having become troubled with a tissic,  or cough,  he also suffered from mild gout.  In his Life of Henry the VII , Bacon writes ‘ in the two and 20th year of his reign in 1507 he began to be troubled with a gout but the defluxation  taking also unto his breast wasted his lungs so that thrice in a year in a kind of return and especially in the spring he had great fits and labours of the tissick’.   This suggests that Henry suffered from chronic fibroid phthisis ( chronic tuberculosis infection)  which became more and more active with  resultant wasting and debility.  This  is found in several of the members of the Tudor line…Henry made a great effort to attend divine service on Easter Day 1509 but he was exhausted and retired to his palace at Richmond where he died on 21 April  from chronic pulmonary tuberculosis (2)”

According to Holinshed Chronicle “….he was so wasted with his long malady that nature could no longer  sustain his life and so he departed out of this world the two and 20th of April’.

Thomas Penn in his biography of Henry, The Winter King, describes Henry as ‘unable to eat and struggling for breath,  Henry’s mind was fixated on the hereafter …on Easter Sunday 8th April,  emaciated and in intense pain he staggered into his privy closet, where he dropped to his knees and crawled  to receive the sacrament… later as Henry lay amid mounds of pillows,  cushions and bolsters,  throat rattling,  gasping for breath,  he mumbled again and again that  ‘ if it please God to send him life they should find him a very changed man’.  Henry  made an exemplary  death,  eyes fixed intensely on the crucifix held out before him,  lifting his head up feebly  towards it,  reaching out and enfolding in his thin arms,  kissing it fervently,  beating it repeatedly upon his chest.   Fisher said that Henry’s promises took a very specific form.  If he lived, Henry promised a true reformation of all them that were officers and ministers of his laws (3)’.  However,  as they say , man makes plans and the gods laugh and Henry did not survive to bring about the changes he  was so eager on his death bed to make.  He had left it too late.

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Richmond Palace, Wynguerde c.1558-62 

And so Henry Tudor shuffled off this mortal coil..the King is dead, long live the King..and so begun the reign of his son..Henry VIII..and that dear reader is another story.

 

 

 

 

  1. The Death of Kings, p110 Clifford Brewer.
  2. ibid p110.111
  3. Winter King Thomas Penn p339

 

Ricardian Heavy Metal & Tyrell’s Rotten Rap

RUNNING WILD–BLOODY RED ROSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bloodyred

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

‘Not exactly the horse’s mouth’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Five years old?’

‘Yes.’

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

 

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

 

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

 

‘This child will prove a marvelous man’

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

‘An intensely practical and decisive man’[5]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

‘A man for all seasons’

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

 

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

 

“One thing pretended and another meant”

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

[2] Ackroyd p.28

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

[4] Ackroyd p.52

[5] Ackroyd p.148

[6] Sylvester (Roper) p.200

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

[8] Ackroyd p.152

[9] Ibid

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

[11] Ackroyd p.127

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

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

[14] Sylvester (History) p. lxvii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Sylvester (History) p.lxx

[23] Sylvester (History) p.lxxviii

[24] Kendal p.25

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

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

[27] Kendal p.170

[28] Ackroyd p.157

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Reginald Bray – not by L.P. Hartley

Reginald Bray was born in Worcester in around 1440. He was the second son of Sir Richard Bray, a surgeon, and Joan Troughton. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School at Worcester. Leland mentioned that his father, Sir Richard Bray was Henry VI’s doctor. Reginald was married to Catherine Hussey.
Bray is described by The History Jar as “Margaret Beaufort’s man of business” and then as “Henry VII’s advisor – a sort of Tudor Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer all rolled into one politically astute package”.
Bray was Receiver-General for Sir Henry Stafford, third husband of Margaret Beaufort. After Stafford’s death Bray continued to serve Margaret Beaufort. In 1483 Bray acted as go between for Margaret and John Morton, Bishop of Ely, who was then drawing his jailer, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, into the conspiracy to dethrone Richard III in favour of Margaret’s son Henry Tudor. Bray raised much needed funds for Richmond and won several key gentlemen to the Tudor cause including Giles Daubeney and Richard Guildford.

Annette Carson reports in her book “The Maligned King” that “Margaret’s household included several useful people who later played a leading part in the secret preparations that led to her son’s invasion of England. One was her receiver general, Reginald Bray, who would become one of the Tudor king’s most prominent councillors”. This was on page 98 of the updated version of Annette’s book and dealt with Hastings and his fall from grace. Annette also reports that Bray was a close relative of Hastings’ wife, Catherine.

After Buckingham’s rebellion Richard pardoned Bray and some sources maintain that this was for being associated with Henry VI, however, others say that it was because of his part in Buckingham’s rebellion. Annette Carson, on page 162 of the updated version of her well researched book “The Maligned King”, tells us that according to Vergil it was Buckingham’s idea to marry Tudor to a female heir of Edward IV. According to Vergil after Buckingham had persuaded Morton of his plan Morton procures Bray as a messenger by presumably sending word to Margaret Beaufort in London that he needs a confidential go between. Vergil then produces a second version of the marriage negotiations where the plan for the marriage is hatched between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville. I think that there can be no doubt that Bray was engaged in spying for Margaret Beaufort and probably Morton too.

Bray was created Knight of the Bath at Henry Tudor’s coronation and afterwards Knight of the Garter. In the first year of Tudor’s reign he was given the Constableship of Oakham in Rutland and was appointed joint Chief Justice with Lord Fitzwilliam of all the Forest south of the Trent and chosen for the Privy Council, then made High Treasurer and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. So while we cannot be certain of the exact events of the summer of 1483, the fact that Bray was so well rewarded by Tudor surely means that he played a big part in securing Tudor’s usurpation of the throne. He eventually died in June 1503.

Where did the Tudors come from….?

HENRY AND MODEL OF OLD LONDON BRIDGE

For those of us who may wish to know where the name Tudor comes from, here’s a thorough explanation.

 

Murrey and Blue interviews Michael K. Jones

  • Which of the Black Prince’s military achievements is the most impressive and why?

The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’

The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.

Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.

In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’

Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.

It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.

  •  Do you think the Black Prince would have made a good king?

 The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’

Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.

The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt.  A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.

  • Was any part of Richard II’s ‘tyranny’ justified?

Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.

The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.

  • In the fifteenth century, did the Yorkists or the Lancastrians have a better claim to the throne?

 The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.

However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.

  • Did Margaret Beaufort consistently plot to put her son, Henry Tudor, on the throne, or was she – initially at least – trying to engineer his return to England, and a position within the Yorkist realm?

It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.

Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).

For Michael Jones’s author website see: www.michaeljoneshistorian.com

BERMONDSEY ABBEY AND ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE

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Elizabeth Wydeville, by an unknown artist, Royal Collection.

If anyone today wandering around Bermondsey, South London, should find themselves in redeveloped Bermondsey Square they may be surprised to find that they are standing on the spot where once stood the quadrangle of the Abbey of Bermondsey, the entrance  to the square being the site of the Abbey gatehouse.

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Nothing much hardly remains today above ground (after the archaeologists had completed their study of the Abbey remains in 2006 they were once again covered over)  other than some remains of the south western tower which can be seen below the glass floor of a restaurant and nearby houses on Grange Walk, 5, 6 and 7 which incorporate in their structure remains of one wall of the Abbey’s stone eastern gatehouse, particularly No.7,  where the chamfered south jamb with two wrought iron gate hooks still project.

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5, 6 and 7 Grange Walk, Bermondsey incorporating the remains of the Abbey gatehouse seen in 18th century engraving below.  Note the roof line still recognisable today and windows still in original positions. 

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18th century print of the Abbey Gatehouse.

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Drawing by C R B Barrett 1906 where the two Gatehouse hinges can clearly be seen with the remains of a third one still visible.

It is intriguing to remember that in this Abbey,  Edward lV’s queen lived out the last five years of her life, in the Clare guest suite, dying there on 8 June 1492,  She was the second queen to both retire and die there, the first being Katherine of Valois, Henry V’s widow.  Elizabeth commenced her retirement there in 1487 and debate still rages as to whether she retired there willingly or unwillingly with some good reason to be believe that her withdrawal there was forced upon her by her son-in-law, Henry Vll.  Certainly her removal there and the arrest of her son Thomas Grey followed hot on the heels of the news of the outbreak of the Lambert Simnel  rebellion and a council meeting at Sheen so that it might be reasonable to deduce that  Elizabeth and Thomas were implicated in that plot.  MacGibbon, Elizabeth’s biographer wrote ‘Henry is reported to have deprived Elizabeth of all her lands and estates, conferring them on her daughter, his queen, on the l May 1487, and finally to have induced her to spend the rest of her days in seclusion in Bermondsey Abbey in very reduced circumstances ‘(1).  Vergil, the Tudor historian was later to say that this was because Elizabeth had reached an understanding with King Richard three years earlier  upon which she removed herself and her daughters from sanctuary.  This is absurd and it may be that Vergil knew full well that Elizabeth’s retirement was not voluntary but did not know the precise circumstances or  chose not to repeat them it being unwise to record that Elizabeth and Grey may have got themselves involved in the Simnel rebellion because they both believed that Edward of Westminster and/or Richard of Shrewsbury were alive and well. Certainly it does seem a strange decision on Elizabeth’s part if she herself decided on the move to Bermondsey as she had only in the previous year taken out a 40 year lease on the Abbots House, known as Cheyneygates, at Westminster Abbey, conveniently  close to the Palace of Westminster ( 2 ).  Ah, man makes plans and the Gods laugh as they say.  MacGibbon also opines, rather contradictorily, as he seems rather besotted with Elizabeth, that ‘It is possible, if not probable, that Henry disliked his mother-in-law and in this he was no means singular, for there never was a woman who contrived to make more personal enemies’ but he adds as an afterthought, ‘but he ever deprived her of either property or dignity, remains to be proved’.  Furthermore, ‘far from being exiled from her daugher’s court, she was in that same year chosen as Prince Arthur’s godmother and attended at the font’ ( 3).  Finally, he plucks his ripest plumb from the tree, that on the 28 November 1487 Henry and James lll of Scotland agreed that the latter should marry Elizabeth as well as two of her daughters marry James’ sons.  However it must be remembered that at the time of James death, June 1488 none of these marriages had actually taken place and so it cannot be taken as a given that either King, particulary Henry fully intended these marriages to take place.  Indeed David Baldwin points out that ‘the proposed marriages had been mooted before the Simnel rebellion,  at least as early as the Three Years Truce signed on the 3 July 1486’ ( 4 ).

It has been said that it is unlikely that Elizabeth would involve herself in the Simnel plot, which would have culminated not only in the eviction of Henry, her son-in-law.  from the throne but also her daughter not to mention have robbed  her small grandson Arthur of his future   inheritance.  But on the other hand if she believed that the true intention of the plot was not to put Simnel/ young Warwick on the throne but one of her surviving sons, then it is highly likely that this is the very course she would have taken.  This may also explain any coolness that Elizabeth of York may have felt towards her mother and, if this were the case,   Elizabeth’s retirement,  brought about by  her diminished  financial circumstances,  leaving her with little choice, may have proved very  convenient for the royal couple, .  Certainly from Henry’s point of view Bermondsey must have seemed the perfect solution.  The accommodation itself, the Clare Suite, may have been deemed suitable by some  for an ex-queen although to Elizabeth, who had lived a life of luxury in many sumptuous properties  it must have seemed a massive case of downsizing, as we call it today, with a close watch on her movements and an occasional outing to keep any murmuring/speculation down.

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Interior of Great Gatehouse as it was in the 17th century.

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18th century print of one of the Abbey rooms before demolition

In summary

A)  1485.  Elizabeth is treated with deference by Henry, her title of Queen Dowager being restored to her in Henry’s first parliament which met a week after his coronation on 7 November 1485.  Acted as godmother to her grandson Arthur.

B) 1486.  Titulus Regius declaring the invalidity of Elizabeth’s marriage to King Edward was repealed in Henry’s first parliament  and on the 5 March 1486 she received annuities and a life interest in a raft of properties in southern England in full satisfaction of her dower (5)

C) 1486 July 10th.  Elizabeth takes  out a 40 year old lease on the Abbots House, Cheyneygates, at Westminster Abbey.

D) 1487.  February.  Shortly after news of the Lambert Simnel plot reached England Elizabeth retired to Bermondsey Abbey and her son Thomas Grey is arrested and put into the Tower of London.  Elizabeth’s biographer David Baldwin wrote Henry ‘deprived Elizabeth of all her properties, and confined her to Bermondsey on the unlikely grounds that she had imperilled his cause by surrendering her daughters, including his bride, to King Richard three years earlier’.

E)  1487 November 28th.  An agreement between Henry and James lll of Scotland for the latter to marry Elizabeth.  However, James died in June 1488 without this proposed marriage taking place.

F)  1489 November.  Elizabeth is present when Francois, Monsieur de Luxemboug, head of a visiting French embassy, met Elizabeth of York and her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort.  Although this might appear prima facie to indicate that all was well within the royal family, as it was surely intended to do,  the possibility exists that Francois, her kinsman,  had insisted on meeting Elizabeth and to avoid suspicion and gossip the meeting was duly arranged with the presence of Margaret stiffling any chance of a private conversation taking place which might have occurred had he met her in private at Bermondsey.

G)  1492 April 10th.  Elizabeth makes her will in Bermondsey Abbey.  There is no dispute, with her will still in existence, that her  condition was, for a dowager queen, extremely impoverished.  I do not have to go into the entire content of the will which is well know other than to repeat the words ‘I’tm where I have no worldly goods to do the queens grace, my dearest daughter, a pleasure with, neither to reward any of my children, according to my heart and mind, as is to me possible….’

H)   1492 June 8.  Elizabeth dies at Bermondsey Abbey.

It could be said that Elizabeth was the human rock that the House of York foundered, and finally, crashed upon, taking with it her two young sons, although this in no way pardons Edward with whom the buck must stop.  Perhaps he was giddy with his triumphs but certainly raging testosterone overcome common sense.  Edward seems to have kept his brains in his pants and the ensuing problems and tragedy that this later caused is well documented elsewhere and I need not go into it here.  Perhaps it would be hard hearted not to feel some glimmer of compassion when reading the pitiful will made at Bermondsey.  Elizabeth asked for a humble funeral and that is exactly what she got – even the herald reporting it was shocked – and so she was laid to rest in a wooden coffin without the usual inner lead one so that when the vault  in which she and Edward were interred was opened in 1789 all that remained of Elizabeth was a pile of bones and the remains of the coffin which had rotted away.  When the vault was resealed once again there appears to have been nothing left of Elizabeth, her bones having been stolen by Georgian souvenir collectors.  So Elizabeth remains a footnote in history, taking any secrets she may have had to the grave with her, including perhaps the whereabouts/fates of her two young sons.  She died knowing that her daughter was queen and that her blood would run through the future Tudor monarchs and perhaps she gained some comfort from that..but I wonder, did she ever muse on what might have been and what had been lost.  I leave you dear reader to make your own mind up about that.

 

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Remains of the Abbey revealed in 2006 prior to the Square being redeveloped

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Abbey staircase..

1. David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville, a Life p.134

2. J Armitage Robinson The Abbots House at Westminster pp22-23

3. David MacGibbon, Elizabeth Woodville, a Life p 135

4.  David Baldwin Elizabeth Woodville Mother of the Princes in the Tower p115

5. Ibid  p109

Annette Carson: in sympathy with King Richard

To the delight of travelers across the globe, tired of lugging all those hard-copy books on planes, trains and automobiles, Annette Carson’s Richard III The Maligned King has just been released in ebook form and can now be purchased on Amazon.com.  Along with John Ashdown-Hill, Carson is part of a new generation of historians who have pushed forward new-found information that has helped to rehabilitate Richard the Third’s reputation in the 21st century with an energy matched only by their scholarship and dogged research.

Originally published in 2008, Richard III The Maligned King is not a biography but an examination of what happened from the moment his brother, Edward IV, died to his own untimely death.  It relies almost solely on contemporary accounts and moves in a direct timeline that makes enthralling reading.  Carson displays a ready wit and is not afraid to take on the hoary myths that cling to traditional historians like Spanish moss on a crumbling hacienda.

Although busy with new projects, Carson was able to spend a few moments with The Murrey and Blue to share her thoughts on Richard the Third and her background which led her to write about the maligned king.

Can you give us a little information on your background, Annette?

Like many people of my generation (I was born in 1940 and grew up in a single-parent family) I couldn’t afford a university education.  Music ran in my family and I was guided towards the Royal College of Music but I soon knew it wasn’t for me.  I married an actor and joined the staff of RADA as Front of House Manager, and then spent the next twenty years working the entertainment industry, including spells at Equity and Thames TV.

By 1984, having been involved for ten years in the sport of aerobatics and produced a fair amount of aviation writing and journalism, I was invited to co-author a book on aerobatic technique which was well received.  I was then commissioned to write a world history of aerobatics, which kicked off my professional writing career.  I enjoy technical writing and the research that goes with it, which in this case entailed learning Russian and took me to four continents.  That book sold 14,000 copies and my next book, a biography of the rock guitarist, Jeff Beck, is still in print and has sold over 15,000.

As you can tell, I follow where my muse takes me…so when other authorial ideas didn’t take off (I was JUST beaten to the draw on a proposed biography of Alan Rickman!) it occurred to me to put my ideas about Richard III into a book.

I’d been fascinated by Richard since 1955 when I was taken to see Olivier’s film of Richard III on a school trip.  Already a great lover of Shakespeare, I had never thought to doubt his mesmerizing portrayal of villainy.  So it hit me like a thunderbolt when my teacher said that many people considered him to have been a very good king whose reputation was deliberately blackened.  I’m something of a campaigner at heart – I took a particular injustice as far as the House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights – so from my schooldays onwards I read as much as possible to try to uncover the truth.

Can you tell us something about your research methods?

Obviously, the ideas in my book had been germinating throughout decades of reading, so I had a lot in place by the time of the first draft in about 2002.  Fortunately, many of the standard sources were in print long before the internet became the resource it is today and my research entailed mining the documents and articles referenced by writers from Paul Murray Kendall onwards.  That’s my advice to anyone wanting to delve into where our ideas about history stem from:  become a reader of footnotes!

Paul Murray Kendall’s footnotes alone are worth the price of the book and often overlooked when traditionalists criticize him.  You did not write a biography of Richard.  Why?

I specifically didn’t want to write a biography because I was interested only in certain aspects of the years 1483-1485.  I had formulated several original ideas I wanted to explore, starting with what was known of the bones discovered in the 17th century and thought to be Richard’s nephews.  A major item of interest was to visualize exactly where they were found and what the staircase was like and the terrain around that area.  For this I got plans from Historic Royal Palaces and called on expert help from a civil engineer in order to commission an illustration – the only image I know that accurately depicts the discovery site based on contemporary descriptions, aided by illustrations, surveys and plans of the Tower.  I also wanted to highlight the importance of the jaw disease of the elder skull, and how significant this would have been if it had belonged to the heir of the crown.

Another thing I was keen to research was witchcraft in England in the 15th century, something which, because it already interested me, I knew the usual run of historians got completely wrong and still do.  There were many other original ideas – too many to mention – but several have now entered the general Ricardian discourse:  e.g. my taking apart all the myth-making in Vergil like Henry Tudor’s supposed oath to marry Elizabeth and the story that her mother meekly gave him her hand thinking her sons were dead.  Until then it had always been recited as genuine ‘history’.  And then, of course, my introduction of Richard’s bride-to-be Princess Joanna of Portugal, complete with colour portrait, whose existence had been known to readers of scholarly works but only as a shadowy figure.  I still maintain (with support from Arthur Kincaid) that my reading of Elizabeth of York’s letter in the Portuguese context is the only one that satisfactorily explains what the young Elizabeth was referring to.

Joanna must be one of the most under-reported stories in the history of Richard III.  Do you consider yourself a Ricardian?

By the time I finished in 2005 I had already written 160,000 words, so you can imagine how long a biography would have been!  My overall concern was (and is) always to set 15th-century events firmly in the relevant 15th century context.

I like to call myself a Ricardian because I am in sympathy with King Richard but I have to be careful of the word these days because it’s beginning to be used to signify blinkered adulation.  As recently as last year the President of the Richard III Society used the term ‘Ricardian translation’ to mean a pro-Richard whitewash.  I have no problem with anyone who admires Richard or with novelists who fictionalize him but it’s worrying when the boundaries get blurred and even Ricardians sometimes fail to make a distinction.

Occasionally I have to check your book and other non-fiction to see whether ‘a fact’ I’m using in an argument is indeed true or was inserted in one of the many novels written about the king.  It gets confusing.

Let’s be clear that I’m all in favour of speculation, because it can open up startling new trains of thought – and the Ricardian ground is so well-trodden that any new way of looking at something can be good for broadening horizons!  It’s sad, actually, that so many readers want a book about history to be a history lesson, and so many historians want to give them precisely that, right down to psychological profiling.  Whereas my job as a non-fiction writer is to explain how few and tenuous are those things that could be deemed factual, and to offer alternative constructions to conjure with and ponder upon.  I say what I think, and what others think but I don’t tell you they are the only conclusions.

What are you working on now?

I’m afraid there won’t be any new work on Richard III.  Unfortunately, I’ve found the atmosphere around Ricardian studies growing distinctly uncongenial and egocentric, so I’ve returned to aviation.  I am presently researching a biography of a courageous young World War I pilot which I hope to be ready for his commemoration in 2018.

My last Ricardian outing is assisting Arthur Kincaid with his updated and revised edition of Sir George Buc’s History of Richard III, which involves many interesting discussions and much repeated proof-reading.  Interestingly, the reason for Dr. Kincaid’s departure from the Ricardian community thirty years ago resembles mine.  It took considerable encouragement and persuasion for him to return to Buc, and I promise that when it’s published it will contain a treasure-trove of accurate and illuminating footnote references to delve into.

So you haven’t completely moved on from the maligned king!  I look forward to being able to buy both of your new books.  Thank you so much for sharing your time with the Murrey & Blue and I hope everyone purchases this new electronic edition .

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