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Eleanor again

John Ashdown-Hill’s Eleanor, the Secret Queen was first published in 2009, detailing Lady Eleanor Talbot’s family and early life, the circumstances in which she married Edward IV, her similarities to his mistress Elizabeth Woodville (they were dark haired, older and widows of Lancastrian-inclined men), canon law and how it affected Edward’s relationships and children together with the Clarence attainder, Stillington’s translation to Bath and Wells in 1461, his imprisonment and Titulus Regius 1484. Then it described the attempted cover-up of Titulus Regius (before a copy emerged through Buck), Catesby’s execution, More’s attempt to write another lady into the story, Chapuys’ knowledge of the case and the emergence of remains that may be Lady Eleanor in Norwich, judged by her age, status and the dental evidence. It proved the marriage almost completely to the satisfaction of most open minds.Eleanor

Seven years later, it has been reissued in paperback with even more evidence. We can now know, with confidence, exactly where and when Edward married Lady Eleanor. Our attention is additionally drawn to the circumstances of her death and the arrest of two of her sister’s servants a few weeks later, such that there are reports of their executions, whilst the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton leads to further deductions about the dental evidence in Norwich. The case for the 1461 marriage is now proven, even if her corpse cannot yet be conclusively identified.

The lady whose existence led Richard to the throne…

Lady Eleanor...maybe

This is all so exciting! Wouldn’t it be marvellous if the remains did indeed turn out to be Lady Eleanor? The woman whose status and existence made a king of  Richard of Gloucester. And to think, it’s not that long ago that we didn’t even know her name for certain. Now John Ashdown-Hill knows even more than he did ten years ago and has a reconstruction of her face:
http://tinyurl.com/j6oy32c

JFK Parallels

Photo of John F Kennedy

A Ricardian author, C J Lock, has long been interested in John F Kennedy and has kindly given permission to reproduce her post about the parallels between JFK and Richard III.

“On the anniversary of the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy , it struck me that there are many similarities between two of my personal fallen heroes – both of whom were brutally killed before being able to realise their full potential as leaders.

Both leaders were of the Catholic faith.

Both suffered the death of a young son whilst in power.

Both were accused of treason by those who killed them (Dallas press editorial accused Kennedy at the time of his visit to Texas – Richard laughably attainted by Henry Tudor after he dated his own reign from the day before he actually became king by usurpation).

Both had health problems which affected their spines. JKF suffered from a persistent problem after rupturing a disc in his spine and also had Addison’s Disease. He wore a protective corset which led to him remaining upright after the first shot in Dallas – making him a prime target for further shots where others may have crumpled forwards). Richard suffered from idiopathic scoliosis which we now know would have been barely discernible at the time he lived – both his clothes and armour being tailored to cover this condition. Very few knew of JKF’s health issues during his lifetime, either.

Both lost an elder brother before assuming power. (JFK’s elder brother, Joe Jnr, was originally the one groomed for Presidential power and lost his life in an aviation accident during WW2 – Richard’s elder brother was King Edward IV and was the heir of the York family after the death of the Duke of York at Wakefield in 1460).

Both came to power under a cloud of controversy – JFK’s father was seen to have “bought” votes which swung the result in his son’s favour. Richard assumed power after declaring his nephew (Edward’s son – Edward V should he have been anointed) illegitimate on the basis that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous after he had already entered into a former clandestine marriage with Eleanor Butler.

Portrait of Richard III

In pictures, JFK can be seen fiddling with his small finger – portraits show Richard doing the same.

JFK did military service for his country and was wounded whilst rescuing the crew of PT109 – Richard also served in military service for his country and was wounded at Barnet.

Both suffered a major crisis early in their short reign – the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Buckingham Rebellion in 1483

JFK picked the Texan LBJ as his Vice President which seemed an odd choice – Richard kept Lord Thomas Stanley on his council, despite knowing the man had shifting loyalties.

JFK was famously unhappy at the failed “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba for which planning was underway before he became President – Richard was famously unhappy at the failed invasion of France during his brother’s reign.

Both suffered a scandal towards the end of their reigns involving beautiful blondes. (JFK was involved with Marilyn Monroe – there were rumours that Richard was designing to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York).

Both were killed in the heartland of their enemies. JFK had never been popular in Texas – Richard died in Leicestershire, the Lancastrian heart of the country (and he’s still there!)

Both were in power for less than three years.

Both killed by treachery.

Both killed on the 22nd day of the month.

Both killed by fatal trauma to the head.

On the last day of JFK’s life – Jackie Kennedy was handed red roses at Love Field airport – where the symbol of Texas is the yellow rose. The red rose is recognised as the symbol of the House of Lancaster before Henry Tudor usurped the throne.

The man arrested for the murder of JFK – Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed by Jack Ruby, on the basis that he wanted to save Jackie Kennedy the distress of having to sit through a trial. The Duke of Northumberland, who famously did nothing at Bosworth, was killed whilst collecting taxes in Yorkshire for Henry Tudor. It is rumoured he was killed by those loyal to Richard’s memory because he did not engage in the battle. There is now speculation that he did not join battle because he could not – and not because he had previously been unhappy with Richard’s dominance in the north. (But this is only very recent thinking).

After JFK’s autopsy, samples taken went missing, including his brain. When Richard was discovered in 2012, his feet were missing.

Mystery and speculation have followed these two men through history as debate after debate rages on who actually killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy – and what actually happened to the Princes in the Tower whose final resting place, at whatever time they may have died, has never been discovered (unless of course you count the unidentified remains currently contained in an urn in Westminster Abbey).”

C J Lock is the author of ‘The Gloucester Chronicles‘ and ‘Desmond’s Daughter‘.

Image credits (JFK): By Cecil Stoughton, White House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

RIII:See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A GREENWOOD WEDDING ?

May 1 has just gone past–a date known in ancient Britain as the Feast of Beltaine, the ‘Fires of Bel (the Shining One)’. Of  all the old important pre-Christian dates, this is the one that the Church was never able to Christianise in any obvious way, retainings its traditions of merriment, dancing and bawdiness right down to the present. Even Halloween (All Hallows) had a vague Christian veneer placed over its supernatural and ancestral elements, and Midsummer’s Eve was associated with St John as well as with the summer Solstice several days earlier and the burning hilltop  bonfires.

It was of course on May 1 that Edward IV was supposed to have married Elizabeth Woodville, in a secret ceremony attended by her mother, a priest and child. The date is interesting, as May marriages were at one time considered to be unlucky. An old rhyme goes ‘Marry in the month of May and you will surely rue the day.’ The reason for this was that the time of the year was considered to be a frivolous one, connected with faithlessness and a lack of constancy.

May 1 in particular was the time for ‘greenwood weddings’–temporary ‘marriages’ that were of dubious legality. Often these, if they lasted longer than a few  nights, went on no longer than the traditional ‘year and a day’ of old-time fairy stories. The couple would then part, if they wished, and go on their seperate ways, no harm done.

Unless you were a king of England, of course, who may well have already pre-contracted a marriage in a similar style and who was expected to marry a foreign princess…

The fact that several sources quote May 1 as the date of Edward’s wedding is interesting. It may quite literally be the case…or it could well be that the writers (or those from whom they had gleaned the information from) were aware of the traditional significance of May 1 in regards to impermanent, irregular marriages.

Indeed, far be it from the idea some traditionalists seem to take, that Edward’s marriage was perfectly acceptable to all before Richard ‘invented’ the idea of a pre-contract, it seems that that many already had doubts of its legality. Mancini, for instance says that Elizabeth Woodville,  years before the events of 1483,  was  reproached with calumnies ‘namely that according to established usage she was not the legitimate wife of the king.’ He seemed to believe  this was because she had been married before and hence was not a virgin, but there was no such impediment to marriage within the English royal house–Eleanor of Aquitaine,for instance, had been married and had several children before espousing Henry II. So it had to be something else. Later Mancini mentions Edward being legally contracted to another woman. He mistakes this for Bona of Savoy, who Warwick sought as a bride for Edward, and he does not seem to doubt the veracity of  this ‘proxy marriage’, although he has the wrong woman.

Certainly, it seems that many people in late medieval England believed *something* was irregular about Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage, and giving it the traditional May 1st day may well be affirming that fact.

A recent article from History Today on Edward’s marriage and those of his infamous grandson Henry VIII:

http://www.historytoday.com/eric-ives/marrying-love-experience-edward-iv-and-henry-viiiedliz

 

 

“Henry VIII and his six wives” – Channel Five

Henry VIII and His Six Wives

This has been presented by two of Five’s favourite history presenters: Dan Jones and Suzannah Lipscomb. Perhaps the title isn’t the best of starts, as Ashdown-Hill (Royal Marriage Secrets, ch.10, pp.95-113) has shown that Henry may have contracted as few as two valid marriages, the third and sixth ceremonies.

Jones begins every episode by reciting the familiar mnemonic, although the fact that four of the marriages were annulled and none really ended in “divorce” is not mentioned. It is clear, from Jones’ description of Henry as “England’s most notorious King”, a “monster” and a “tyrant”, that he likes the “Tudors” no more than he does their Plantagenet predecessors.

The series starts well with a detailed discussion of Catherine of Aragon’s relationships with Arthur and Henry, including her years as a virtual prisoner from 1502-9 and her subsequent fertility, although Arthur’s boasts are not mentioned. Then the annulment campaign begins and Anne Boleyn is introduced. Here, the pace of the series moves on a little to her end and Wolsey is scarcely mentioned. Torture is shown being applied to one of her lovers but they are executed off camera. Jane Seymour’s time is used to illustrate Henry’s positive emotions although Anne of Cleves is portrayed like a badly-designed doll as Henry once again strives for a legal loophole and Cromwell is despatched for not finding one. As late as 1541, Henry is shown doing the sign of the cross.

Catherine Howard then flits across the screen, raising Henry’s blood pressure further, writing silly letters and having a block delivered to her Tower cell for “practice”, although her relationship with Dereham is not fully explored. Catherine Parr, Catherine of Aragon’s goddaughter, is then shown as restoring Henry’s equilibrium and giving the Reformation a further boost, as Bishop Gardiner tries to persuade him to complete a hat-trick of executed “wives”. Henry resists and dies peacefully.

This subject was covered in 2001 on Channel Four by Jones’ mentor David Starkey who, despite his misconceptions of the previous years , knows the reign of Henry VIII inside out.

Sherlock: The Mystery of the Princes

Giaconda's Blog

sherlock head

Sherlock and Watson are looking for a killer. There has to be a killer or killers because Dan Jones said that ‘The Princes Must Die’ (episode three of Britain’s Bloodiest Crown) and after the Christmas special they are able to time travel which is just as well as they need to whizz back to late C15th England in order to solve the case.

The Game is On!

The list of suspects is fairly normal – people who needed to remove them in order to get closer to the throne, the newly crowned king who feared they would remain figureheads, disgruntled nobles, people who didn’t want the ‘old royal blood’ diluted by ‘chav-bloods’ (thanks Dan – it’s just a touch of Harry Potter for the kids yet also relevant to TOWIE fans) and then there are hired killers who might have done it for the money, to get out of the…

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Song for the Denialists

He can rule the North well, and give justice to all,

Win over Lancastrians,

The great and the small,

Folk claim he was good, but I just do not see,

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

They can talk all they like of his wonderful laws,

He murdered the Princes, without any cause,

And Eleanor Talbot, she didn’t exist,

The tale of her marriage is clearly a twist

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

Oh, I believe Thomas More,

He was always so right,

Never told a tall tale.

Oh, so is Alison Weir.

The Ricardians can’t win,

They can’t change my closed mind.

 

They can talk all they like of his wonderful laws,

He murdered the Princes, without any cause,

And Eleanor Talbot, she didn’t exist,

The tale of her marriage is clearly a twist

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

I love all the Tudors, they help pay the rent,

But when we discuss them I’ll brook no dissent,

For freedom of speech applies only to me,

And not to Ricardians unless they agree,

Though saintly in novels, he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

If I could be with them, there back in the day,

I’d be Lady Rivers if I had my way,

Maybe I was her in a previous life,

Would help to explain why I give Richard strife,

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

Some say that the bones in the Abbey are toys,

That you can’t even tell if they’re girls or they’re boys,

But the truth of matter stands plainly to see,

Dick buried them deep with a big JCB,

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

 

 

 

Usurpation, Murder and More

Some thoughts on source material about events of 1483, the pre-contract and murder.

Matt's History Blog

I read a series of blog posts recently that sought to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Richard III ordered the deaths of his nephews. Whilst I don’t take issue with holding and arguing this viewpoint I found some of the uses of source material dubious, a few of the accusations questionable and some of the conclusions a stretch. There are several issues with the narrow selection of available sources that continually bug me. It is no secret that any conclusive evidence one way or another is utterly absent but I have issues with the ways the materials are frequently used.

There are four main sources that are often used, two contemporary and therefore primary sources and two near-contemporary which are habitually treated as primary. The farthest away in time from the events that it describes is also the one traditionally treated as the most complete and accurate account, which…

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Fabricating Precontracts: Richard III vs Henry VIII

On 10 and 11 June 1483, Richard duke of Gloucester wrote to his affinity in the North and asked for troops to support him against the Woodvilles who, he claimed, were plotting his destruction. On 22 June Ralph Shaa preached his “bastard slips” sermon, followed by similar speeches by the duke of Buckingham, and on 26 June a quasi-parliamentary assembly of the Three Estates of the Realm – the nobles, bishops and representatives of the commons who had come to London for the coronation and subsequent first Parliament of Edward V – offered Richard the crown in place of his nephew. Allegedly Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, had come forward and testified that the boy’s father, Richard’s brother Edward IV, had secretly entered into a legally binding marriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was still alive when he, again secretly, married his queen, Elizabeth Woodville. This second marriage was therefore invalid, which meant that young Edward was illegitimate and couldn’t inherit his father’s title.

This was a key turning point: Richard had been staunchly loyal to his brother and all surviving evidence suggests that up until mid-June he had every intention of pressing ahead with his nephew’s coronation. He had sworn allegiance to him, had spent the month and a half since his arrival in London preparing robes and food, issued letters of summons for the 40 esquires who were to receive the knighthood of the Bath on the occasion and even paid £800 of his own money towards the royal household, which appears to have been on the verge of bankruptcy. Moreover, his own political future in his nephew’s government seemed secure: a speech drafted by Chancellor John Russell for Edward V’s first Parliament proposed not only to extend his Protectorate beyond the coronation, but to expand its remit from keeping law and order to in the future also have “tutele and oversight of the king’s most royal person during his years of tenderness”, effectively making him regent.

Nevertheless, some believe that the sudden revelation of the precontract was too convenient to be true. They argue that the executions of William Hastings, Antony Woodville, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughan and the threat of troops advancing from the North terrified the council – the same council which only two months earlier had successfully persuaded the queen to limit her son’s escort from Ludlow to 2000 men – and the Three Estates into accepting a fabricated precontract so Richard could satisfy his hitherto secret ambition of becoming king. As brother and uncle of kings, Lord Protector, Constable and Lord High Admiral of England, Richard was indeed a powerful man, so could it be true?

The precontract that deposed Edward V tends to be viewed as some kind of exotic technicality, but precontracts were common not only in medieval England, but well past the Reformation and affected all levels of society, even kings. A well documented example is Richard’s great-nephew Henry VIII, who tried to have three of his six marriages annulled because of an alleged precontract. In all three cases the claim was highly dubious, but Henry was not only an anointed and firmly established – if not feared – King of England, but also head of the Church. So how did he fare?

Surprisingly, he failed in two out of three cases. Let’s look at each of them in turn:

1) Anne Boleyn

Henry had defied the Pope and changed his country’s religion in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but in early 1536 their marriage was one the rocks and Henry was looking for pastures new. One of the tools he tried to use to get rid of her was her former relationship with Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.

In 1527, when Anne had been lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, a romance had developed between her and Percy and they had become secretly “engaged”, presumbably by making a de futuro marriage vow (“I will marry you”). Henry, who had his eye on Anne for himself, asked his then Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, to intervene and “after much debate and consultation about lord Percy’s case it was finally decided that his engagement to Anne Boleyn should be dissolved and that he should instead marry one of the Earl of Shrewsbury’s daughters, Lady Mary Talbot, which he later did.”

The fact that the engagement had been dissolved at his own insistence didn’t stop Henry from claiming now, nine years later, that it was in fact a legally binding contract and therefore invalidated his marriage to Anne. His new Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, tried to persuade Percy to confess, but he refused to be bullied. On 13 May 1536 he wrote to Cromwell:

“I perceive by Raynold Carnaby that there is supposed a pre-contract between the Queen and me; whereupon I was not only heretofore examined upon my oath before the archbishops of Canterbury and York, but also received the blessed sacrament upon the same before the duke of Norfolk and other the King’s highness’ council learned in the spiritual law, assuring you, Mr. Secretary, by the said oath and blessed body, which afore I received and hereafter intend to receive, that the same may be to my damnation if ever there were any contract or promise of marriage between her and me.”

There’s little reason to doubt his sincerity. His marriage to Mary Talbot was extremely unhappy and in 1532 Mary had tried to get it annulled by claiming that Percy had blurted out during an argument that they weren’t really married as he had been precontracted to Anne. However, when the matter was investigated he swore on the Blessed Sacrament in front of the duke of Norfolk, the archbishops of Canterbury and York and Henry’s canon lawyers that this wasn’t the case. He should have jumped at the opportunity to regain his freedom, but de futuro marriage vows only became binding if followed by sexual intercourse, so if he hadn’t slept with Anne then there was no binding contract.

Faced with Percy’s refusal, the king had to find another reason why his marriage to Anne was invalid. In the end it was declared null and void due to unspecified impediments supposedly confessed by Anne herself, but if she had hoped that this would save her life it wasn’t to be. She was accused of adultery with a number of men, including her own brother, and of planning to replace Henry with one of her lovers, which was treason. All but one of the accused, a musician who had been pressured into confessing, pleaded not guilty, but to no avail. On 15 May Anne was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death. How she could have committed adultery if her marriage to the king was invalid was not explained. Percy, who sat on the jury that convicted her, fainted and had to be carried out. He died eight months later of natural causes. On 17 May the queen’s supposed lovers were executed, followed two days later by Anne herself, her sentence having been commuted from burning to beheading. Incredibly, Henry had been able to make the unlikely incest charge stick – the spectators at George Boleyn’s trial were betting ten to one that he would be acquitted – but not the claim of the precontract.

2) Anne of Cleves

Henry’s marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, was a political match and not a happy one. They were married in January 1540 and by June Henry was actively looking for a way out, complaining that he was unable to have sex with her because she was too ugly, that she wasn’t a virgin and even that she smelled bad. Sir John Wallop, the English ambassador in France, was therefore instructed to speak to the Cardinal of Lorraine about Anne’s former marriage negotiations with his brother, duke Francis of Lorraine.

Henry knew that many years ago Anne and Francis had been contracted to marry; in fact, he had questioned this after meeting her for the first time in a bid to call off the wedding, but her brother’s ambassadors had dismissed his concerns. They declared that they had not only read the agreement, but also been present when the ambassador of the Duke of Gueldres, who had arranged the match, declared it null and void, and promised to provide copies of both the agreement and its dissolution. However, all they had been able to produce was a notarised statement that they had investigated the Cleves archives and found a report which stated that the negotitations “were not going to take their course”. Crucially, they had been unable to confirm whether the marriage contract was per verba de praesenti (“I marry you”) or de futuro (“I will marry you”) and Henry now used this to his advantage.

On 6 July Anne was asked to agree for a church court to investigate her marriage, which she did. The following day a convocation presided over by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer began to consider the evidence and after two days of “mature deliberation” found the marriage “null by reason of a precontract between lady Anne and the marquis of Lorraine, that it was unwillingly entered into and never consummated, and that the King is at liberty to marry another woman, and likewise the lady Anne free to marry.” Specifically, it was argued that Anne’s marriage contract with Francis had likely been per verba de praesenti and therefore binding even without consummation and that, far from not being able to get it up, Henry had deliberately abstained from sleeping with Anne while awaiting clarification of the matter since, if the precontract turned out to be valid, it would have made their children bastards.

On 12 July Parliament announced Anne’s agreement to the annulment of her marriage to Henry, including her confirmation “that she remaineth not carnally known to the King’s Highness’s body”. Henry showed his gratitude by deciding “to endow you with 4,000l. of yearly revenue. We have appointed you two houses, that at Richemont where you now lie, and the other at Blechinglegh, not far from London, that you may be near us and, as you desire, able to repair to our Court to see us, as we shall repair to you. When Parliament ends, we shall, in passing, see and speak with you, and you shall more largely see what a friend you and your friends have of us.” In return Anne sent him the ring she had received for their “pretensed marriage”, asking for it to be broken into pieces. It was a good deal: although she endured public humiliation and had to give up her title as queen, her cooperation with Henry’s wishes not only saved her life, but made her one of the wealthiest women in England.

3) Catherine Howard

Only 19 days after his marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled, Henry married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, she was a niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and her fall from grace was just as spectacular. On 2nd November 1541 Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, passed a letter to Henry which alleged that while growing up in the household of her step-grandmother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk, Catherine had affairs with Henry Manox, her music teacher, and Francis Dereham, a servant of the Howard family and now the queen’s secretary. The claims were made by a chambermaid who had shared a dormitory with her. Stunned, Henry ordered an investigation.

The chambermaid and Manox were questioned and Manox admitted that he “had commonly used to feel the secrets and other parts of the Queen’s body”, but denied sleeping with her, unlike Dereham who “used to haunt her chamber rightly and banquet there until 2 or 3 a.m.” Dereham and a number of Howard servants were arrested and sent to the Tower. Dereham confessed under torture that he “had known her carnally many times, both in his doublet and hose between the sheets and in naked bed”, but insisted that this had ended before her marriage to the king and that Thomas Culpeper, a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, had “succeeded him in the Queen’s affections”. Culpeper was arrested, tortured and confessed that “he intended and meant to do ill with the Queen and that in like wise the Queen so minded to do with him.”

On 8 November, Catherine herself was interrogated and made a written confession, in which she admitted to sexual relations with Dereham, but denied that they were contracted to be married:

“Examined whether I called him Husband, and he me Wife.— I do Answer, that there was Communication in the House that we Two should Marry together; and some of his Enemies had Envy thereat, wherefore he desired me to give him Leave to call me Wife, and that I would call him Husband. And I said I was content. And so after that, commonly he called me VVife, and many times I called him Husband. And he used many Times to Kiss me, and so he did to many other commonly in the House… As for Carnall Knowledge, I confess as I did before, that diverse Times he hath lyen with me, sometimes in his Doublet and Hose, and Two or Thre Times naked: But not so naked that he bad nothing upon him, for he had al wayes at the least his Doublet, and as I do think, his Hose also, but I mean naked when his Hose were putt down.”

In a letter to Henry she implied that Dereham had forced himself on her:

“Also Frauncez Derame by many persuasions procured me to his vicious purpose and obteyned first to lye uppon my bedde with his doblett and hose and after within the bedde and fynally he lay with me nakyd and used me in suche sorte as a man doith his wyfe many and sondry tymez but howe often I knowe not and our, company ended almost a yere before the Kynges majestye was maried to my lady Anne of Cleve and contynued not past oon quarter of a yere or litle above. Nowe the holl trouythe beyng declared unto your majestye I most humble beseche the same to considre the subtyll persuasions of young men and the ignorans and fraylnez of young women.”

Catherine clearly hadn’t learnt from the experiences of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Admitting to a precontract with Dereham might have saved her life since, having been consummated, it would have invalidated her marriage to the king; denying it meant that her dalliance with Culpeper came dangerously close to treason. Henry’s advisors on the other hand were only too aware and interrogated the dowager duchess about a possible precontract between Dereham and her step-granddaughter.

Denying the precontract sealed Catherine’s fate. Henry now sought to establish adultery, which again proved easier than establishing a precontract. She had admitted to secret meetings with Culpeper, calling him her “little sweet fool” and giving him presents, but both denied a sexual relationship. Nevertheless, on 1 December Dereham and Culpeper were convicted of treason and on 10 December Culpeper was beheaded and Dereham hanged, drawn and quartered. Their heads were put on spikes and displayed on London Bridge, where they remained until 1546.

On 21 January an Act of Attainder was passed against Catherine, which found her guilty of wanting to “return to her old abominable life” with Dereham and to “bring her vicious and abominable purpose to pass with Thos. Culpeper.” Since a mere intention wasn’t actually treason, it also declared “that an unchaste woman marrying the King shall be guilty of high treason” and on 13 February Catherine was executed. The same bill found the elderly dowager duchess, her eldest son William, his wife, two of her daughters and several of their servants, who had all spent Christmas in the Tower, guilty of concealing this treason. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and their property confiscated.

As the above examples show, even a King and head of the Church couldn’t simply declare that a precontract existed; he had to prove it and there was no guarantee that he would succeed. Henry’s position was well-established – Anne Boleyn’s trial took place in the 27th year of his reign, that of Catherine Howard in the 32nd – and he had all the tools of his office(s) at his disposal to assemble evidence and intimidate witnesses, including imprisonment and torture, but he only succeeded in one case – Anne of Cleves – and only because the lady played along. Canon law hadn’t changed since the Middle Ages, so let’s compare Henry’s experience to Richard’s claim of a precontract between Edward IV and Eleanor Talbot.

While Richard had been confirmed as Lord Protector by the council and was working in co-operation with its members, he was in a considerably weaker position than Henry. He wasn’t an anointed king, merely de-facto regent, had only recently arrived in London and only had 200–300 retainers at his disposal (500–600 including Buckingham’s men). Unlike Anne of Cleves, neither Stillington nor Lady Eleanor’s family appear to have been rewarded for accepting the precontract. There’s also no indication that they were intimidated, imprisoned or tortured, like the families and supposed lovers of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

The Crowland Chronicle, written with hindsight in 1486, speaks of “armed men, in fearful and unheard-of numbers, from the north, Wales, and all other parts” marching on London in response to Richard’s letters, but Simon Stallworth, in his letter to Sir William Stonor dated 21 June 1483, doesn’t sound fearful or suspicious. On the contrary, he assumes they’re a peace keeping force:

“Yt is thoughte ther shalbe 20 thousand of my Lorde Protectour and my lorde of Bukyngham menne in London this weike to what intent I knowe note but to kep the peas.”

As it turned out, the 4000 men who answered Richard’s call didn’t arrive until his coronation and were sent home without seeing any action. Clearly he expected trouble, either due to a plot against his life, as he claimed in his letters, or the revelation of the precontract or both, but in the end reinforcements weren’t needed. The executions of Hastings, Rivers, Grey and Vaughan may have contributed to a general feeling of uncertainty, but a contemporary fragment in the Cely papers suggests that, far from seeing Richard as the culprit, people were worried about his safety:

“… there is great rumour in the realm, the Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, the Bishop of Ely is dead, if the King, God save his life, were deceased, the Duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my Lord Prince, who God defend, were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.”

The logical conclusion therefore has to be that the precontract was accepted because the evidence – at the very least Stillington’s testimony – was convincing.

Sources:

H. A. Kelly: “The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII”, Wipf and Stock; Reprint edition (2004)

Annette Carson: “Richard Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England”, Imprimis Imprimatur (2015)

Claire Ridgway: “Henry Percy Won’t Play Ball”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/13-may-1536-henry-percy-wont-play-ball

Marilee Hanson: “The relationship between Henry Percy & Anne Boleyn 1523”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/henry-percy-anne-boleyn-relationship

Claire Ridgway: “9 July 1540 – The End of Henry VIII’s Marriage to Anne of Cleves”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/9-july-1540-the-end-of-henry-viiis-marriage-to-anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Anne of Cleves: Facts, Biography, Information & Portraits”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/anne-of-cleves

Marilee Hanson: “Catherine Howard: Facts, Biography, Portraits & Information”, English History http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/catherine-howard

Claire Ridgway: “The Fall of Catherine Howard”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-fall-of-catherine-howard

Claire Ridgeway: “The Bill of Attainder against Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/21-january-1541-bill-attainder-catherine-howard-lady-rochford

Marilyn Roberts: “470 Years Ago – Terror for the Howards at Christmas”, The Anne Boleyn Files http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/470-years-ago-terror-for-the-howards-at-christmas

Breaking News: Richard III Did Not Pay Off Stillington With “Land for a School”

Willow: How is it you always know this stuff? You always know what’s going on. I never know what’s going on.
Giles: Well, you weren’t here from midnight until six researching it.

“Angel” – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

"Books of the Past" by Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

“Books of the Past” by Lin Kristensen from New Jersey, USA. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Bishop of Bath and Wells, Robert Stillington, is the man who informed Richard, Duke of Gloucester, of his brother Edward IV’s pre-marriage to Eleanor Butler in the spring of 1483. That revelation created a succession crisis which resulted in Edward IV’s children being declared illegitimate and the Three Estates offering Richard of Gloucester the throne of England.

It’s been stated elsewhere that there is no evidence Richard ever rewarded Stillington for his revelation. Recently, however, a handful of denialists have claimed that a charitable foundation connected to Stillington was supported by Richard after he became King, with the conclusion that this foundation was Richard’s reward to Stillington.

Hilary Jones, a member of the Richard III Society Forum[i], in a forum discussion said: “The Stillingtons founded and endowed a school at Acaster near York where our Robert hailed from. It’s usually used to defend [Richard III], not vilify him. Is this what they’re talking about?”

She quotes from the Close Rolls of Richard III 1483/4:

“Robert Stillyngton, bishop of Bath and Wells, to the provost and fellows of the collegiate chapel of St. Andrew, Netheracastre, co. York etc. Release and quitclaim of all the lands undermentioned, to wit forty acres lying separately in Netheracastre, formerly of John Stillyngton father of the grantor, and Thomas Broket esquire, which Robert erected the collegiate church aforesaid; and also of all those lands etc. formerly of Thomas Broket therein, now of the abbot of St. Germanus, Selby, the manors of Burneby and Fangfosse co. York, and all other lands and tenements, rents, reversions and services, meadows, lesues and pastures in Burneby, Fangfosse, Northcave, Southcliff and Northcliff co. York, which the said Robert granted and demised at farm to the provost and fellows, as in a deed dated 6 October, 22 Edward IV, 1482, is more clearly shown. Dated 20 August, 1 Richard III, 1483.”

Shall we unpack this?

  1. Stillington’s “school” was a collegiate chapel.[ii]
  2. Stillington granted lands previously belonging to his father, and some he had received through his mother, to the provost and fellows of St. Andrews Nethercastre.
  3. The demise of the land[iii] dates from 6 October 1482, six months before Edward IV died.
  4. Robert Stillington’s father, John, had been a wealthy merchant. Robert had also come into more land in 1468 through an inheritance entitlement of his mother.
  5. The Close Rolls entry indicates that Richard III was re-affirming Stillington’s land grant.

CONCLUSION

The denialists are claiming that Richard [permitted? allowed? bribed?] Robert Stillington to reward himself with his parents’ land and give a portion of it to St. Andrews Nethercastre eight months before Stillington revealed the fact of Edward IV’s pre-contracted marriage.

This claim is nothing more than an attempt to twist historical fact into an untruth that can then be used to vilify Richard. It is dependent upon no one bothering to research the accusation.

Once again, it would behoove the denialists to do some primary-source research before they attempt to frame an argument in support of any of their predetermined, prejudicial judgments regarding Richard III.

[i] Group is here: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/richardiiisocietyforum

[ii] A collegiate chapel is a church where the Divine Office is said daily by a college of canons, or a non-monastic or secular community of clergy that’s organized as a self-governing corporate body. This body is presided over by a dean or provost. It’s similar to a cathedral, but it’s not the seat of a bishop and it has no responsibilities over a diocese. They were supported by lands held by the church or tithe income. They also provided space for congregational worship and offices for their clerics.

[iii] The definition of “demise” is a conveyance of property, usually of an interest in land. It originally meant a posthumous grant. It evolved until the present day when is applied commonly to a conveyance that is made for a definitive term, such as an estate for a term of years. A lease is a common example of a demise; today the word is used synonymously with “lease” or “let.”

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