If Richard was planning to seize the throne all along why did he a.) start by getting everyone in Yorkshire to swear allegiance to Edward V and b.) set off south with only a modest retinue of 300 men? Given that he was in a position to raise most of the north in arms, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to do just that?
If we accept that Richard did not initially plan to seize the throne what made him change his mind? a.) An attempted ambush by the Woodvilles/Wydevilles? b.) The realisation that he ‘couldn’t work’ with Edward V? c.) The discovery of the precontract? d.) Or did he just wake up one morning and think ‘**** it, I’ve not got any supporters down here but I’ll take the throne anyway!’
Why did Elizabeth Woodville run off into sanctuary, given that the Woodvilles were (supposedly) innocent of any wrong-doing? As a woman and a Queen, no one was going to kill her, and by staying out and standing her ground, could she not have made Richard’s work a lot more difficult to achieve?
Why did Richard only send for his supporters when things had already kicked off and when it was actually too late for them to get to London to help him? Was he really that bad a planner or is it more likely that he was taken by surprise by some development?
Why did Anthony Woodville send off for an exemplification of his powers to recruit troops in Wales just at this particular time? Did he think Owain Glyndwr had come back or had he some other purpose for raising armed men?
It seems that some of the denialists are becoming even more sensitive than before and dislike being called Cairo dwellers. One Michael Hicks acolyte went to the point of giving Matthew Lewis well-researched biography of Richard III a one-star review. Sadly for “Alex Brondarbit”, the introduction to his own latest book (below) by the Professor has also appeared. Although the length and phraseology differs, few will believe that Hicks didn’t “inspire” the secondary effort.
In his review, Hicks cites his own mentor, Charles Ross, describing his work as the definitive biography – and herein lies the problem. Ross wrote nearly forty years ago, reciting all of the old discredited sources, ending by stating that Richard’s body was dumped in the Soar after the Reformation. Hicks has written at least a dozen books about Richard III in that time, still based on Ross’ research, but the history and the science have moved on.
In fact, we at Murrey and Blue have drawn attention to this stasis on several occasions, pointing to: Barrie Williams‘ painstaking research in the Portuguese archives that proved Richard’s remarriage plans soon after Anne Neville’s death, thereby contradicting the hoary old myth about Richard and Elizabeth of York, Marie Barnfield‘s proof that “affinity does not beget affinity” and that Richard and Anne had all the dispensations they required,
The conclusive identification of Richard’s remains, which were still under the former Greyfriars and nowhere near the river Soar, through research initiated by John Ashdown-Hill and others,
Ashdown-Hill’s work on the pre-contract, restoring Lady Eleanor to her rightful place in history as Edward IV’s legal wife.
The evidence adduced by Wroe, Carson, Fields and Lewis, inter alia, suggesting that either or both “Princes” survived beyond 1485 together with Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of their mtDNA.
As one who has read both Kendall and Ross on several occasions, it is surely the case that the former captures Richard III’s essence far better, notwithstanding the fact that it was the earlier book. We have a whole series of posts based on the book Kendall could have written today and we can be confident that he would take account of this new learning were he still alive. Ross both wrote and died more recently but I doubt that he would have changed a word, just as Hicks’ mind is unchanged in that interval, even as the evidence points in a different direction. He evidently has a lesser opinion of amateurs, as many of the above are, but it is they who have made the great discoveries since 1980. It is the amateurs who have conducted original research here and not relied on the flaws inherent in Mancini, Vergil and More.
As the Arabs, including those in Cairo, say: The dog barks, but the caravan moves on.
Astley Castle and church..photo taken 1976. Courtesy of Will Roe, Nuneaton Memories.
Astley Castle, Warwickshire, was the marital home of Sir John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville. Sir John often comes across as a shadowy figure, outshone in eminence by his wife, and later widow, who went on to catch the eye of a king. This story is of course well known and documented and I won’t go into it here but rather focus on Astley Castle itself. Astley has a long and rich history. Beginning life as a Manor House in 1266, the then owner, Warin de Bassingbourne was given a licence to crenellate and enclose with a moat. The medieval house was much added to during the 17th century but I’m sure John and Elizabeth would still have been able to recognise the old and original features.
Medieval fire place in Astley Castle..
In the 1960s the parts that had survived the centuries were in use as a hotel and perhaps the rooms used by John and Elizabeth deployed as rooms for paying guests. Alas in 1978 a disastrous fire took hold and Astley, reduced to a shell , was abandoned. Various proposals to rebuild proved to be too financially prohibitive and the ruins were declared a Scheduled Ancient Monument. However in 2005 the Landmark Trust came forward with a solution and what was left of Astley was saved by the novel idea of building and incorporating modern accommodation within the ruinous walls. Astley arose, like a Phoenix out of the flames, as they say, and today its possible to stay in what was once the marital home of the Greys.
Astley Castle. An old photo date 1900 showing the stone archway.
The same view during renovation works..
Built of local red sandstone. Although altered in the 16th century some original 12th century elements still remain incorporated in the building.
By a somewhat strange coincidence the church at Astley, St Mary the Virgin, has some interesting burials and monuments, for a Talbot lies buried there. Elizabeth Talbot later Viscountess Lisle, was a niece to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot, Elizabeth Wydeville‘s very own nemesis. This Elizabeth Talbot was to become the heiress to John Talbot, lst Viscount Lisle. John Talbot was the son of that staunch warrior, John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father and known in history as Great Talbot. Both father and son perished at the Battle of Castillion. Elizabeth Talbot, having married our John Grey’s brother, Edward, was also Elizabeth Wydeville’s sister-in-law. Elizabeth Talbot, having lived until 1487, saw the disastrous outcome of her former sister-in law, Elizabeth Wydeville’s bigamous ‘marriage’. What her thoughts on the matter were, frustratingly we will never know.
Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle. Historian John Ashdown-Hill suggests this portrait was painted in Flanders during the wedding ceremonies of Margaret of York (1). Certainly the likeness is very similar to Elizabeth’s effigy in the church. See below. Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. (no.532)
The effigy of Elizabeth Talbot Viscountess Lisle now lies between those of Cecilia Bonville, Marchioness of Dorset (wife to Thomas Grey, son of John and Elizabeth Grey nee Wydeville) and her husband Edward Grey. These effigies were not originally one monument and have been unfortunately moved together at some time (2). Thanks to Caroline Irwin for photo.
Astley Church was once much larger than it is now but some of the misericords have survived as well as the above effigies.
14th century misericords …
Eleanor the Secret Queen p.8. John Ashdown-Hill
2. Memorials of the Wars of the Roses p.188. W E Hampton.
I’ve decided to have a little go at some YouTube stuff. My first foray is a breakdown of my Top 10 problems with Sir Thomas More’s story of Richard III. It’s so full of problems that I’m left dismayed that academic historians I speak to still insist on relying on More’s evidence even today. There is a lingering insistence that More was a contemporary source, or at least had the chance to speak to witnesses so that he’s as good as primary material.
In truth, More was 7 during the events of 1485 and wrote 30 years later. He can’t possibly have remembered the complex political events of 1483 with clarity, or have been witness to any of the moments he describes in excruciating detail. Anyone he spoke to in Henry VIII’s England had reason to distance themselves from Richard III and his reign. Richard was already the monster from which the Tudors had rescued England. Who would have been brave enough to offer a different narrative?
I also think More, like Shakespeare, was never writing history in the way that we would recognise it – as a literal, factual retelling of events. He wrote allegory, a humanist exercise in moral tales veiled behind a convenient trope. More wrote about murderous tyranny and the dangers it posed, both to the kingdom and the king who indulged in it. In the years just after Henry VIII’s accession, when he had executed Empson and Dudley for following his father’s instructions, who might More have been really writing about? He could hardly name the king and risk his wrath. Richard offered a convenient front for what More had to say. Like Shakespeare, it has been wrongly accepted as the truth.
What else is wrong with More’s Richard III? Plenty. My top 10 problems are outlined here.
“….[executed in the Tower of London was] William Hastings, who tried to support the claims of Edward VI [sic] children to the throne in 1483….”
The above is a quote from this link – which contains boo-boos, as you can see from my quote. Well, was that why Hastings was executed? For trying to support the claims of Edward IV’s children, not those of the precocious Edward VI, who died at fifteen? Let’s be honest, no one really knows what Hastings did to warrant swift trial, sentence and execution, so such a broad statement is a little OTT, although the crime must have been pretty serious. Despite the history as claimed by traditionalists, Richard III was not a man to react in such a way lightly. His record of head-lopping was relatively small, unlike many other kings, who notched up quite a total in just as short a time. Nor was Richard the sort of man who would gladly murder his brother’s children, of that I feel certain. So why does he get all the opprobrium?
Forget the heartstring-plucking story of the boys in the Tower. No one knows what happened to them – certainly not that Richard had them exterminated in their beds.
There were may reasons why Hastings might plot against Richard, and one (in my opinion) was the realisation that in Richard’s reign he, Hastings, wouldn’t enjoy anywhere near the same position and influence as he had in Edward IV’s. The Hastings nose was out of joint, perchance?
He might also have known about Edward IV’s pre-contract with Lady Eleanor Talbot…which was what made Edward’s sons and daughter illegitimate and led to Richard ascending the throne. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be Richard who wanted him out of the way. Indeed, Richard would be one of the last people to sweep him into eternity. Step forward any number of Woodvilles, who wanted to be back in power and couldn’t be if someone could prove there’d been a pre-contract.
There’s also the possibility that supporters of Henry Tudor wouldn’t want Hastings around if he knew about the pre-contract. Very inconvenient when Henry pledged to marry Elizabeth of York and unite England’s warring Houses of York and Lancaster. Well, that was his noble claim, of course. In fact he resented having to marry her and just had a fancy to usurp the throne. He had to legitimise her and her siblings, and thus her missing brothers, giving them a much better claim to the throne than his own.
Hmm, Hastings was therefore an exceedingly inconvenient presence if he could somehow prove she was definitely illegitimate – um, not that Henry’s family history erred on the side of legitimacy, come to think of it. They may have been legitimised by Richard II and confirmed as such by Henry IV, but the latter also made a point of barring them from the throne. Henry VII’s blood claim was therefore very washy, and he relied upon conquest to justify his usurpation. Having to marry Elizabeth in order to satisfy the strong Yorkist element among his nobility must have stuck in his craw.
That’s not to say the ensuing marriage did not become a happy one, but I doubt very much if it started out that way. It wouldn’t have started out at all if Hastings had put his oar in and strengthened Richard’s case. With him vouching for the existence of a pre-contract, far more wavering Yorkists would have accepted in 1483 that Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s last remaining brother, was indeed the rightful occupant of England’s throne.
So, we have the Woodvilles and Henry VII as Hastings’ likely enemies. Who knows what “horrible plot” they may have cooked up and seen that Richard heard about it? That he believed Hastings was scheming against him is quite clear. He thought/accepted that his own life was in danger because of whatever it was Hastings was supposedly up to. Only a fool would do nothing about it, and stand idly by until the Grim Reaper struck. But contrary to traditionalist insistence, Hastings was not hauled out immediately and executed over a tree trunk or whatever. There was a trial, conviction and sentence.
No doubt many of you will not agree with my reasoning, but it’s what I genuinely think.
I know some people in Cairo are a little slow on the uptake, but there are several independent sources, as shown by the Revealing Richard III blog. In a recent series of articles in the Ricardian Bulletin, the team cite:
Titulus Regius, as composed from the petition to the Three Estates on 26 June 1483;
Richard III’s letter to Lord Mountjoy, Captain of Calais, two days later;
Eustace de Chapuys‘ (below left) 1533-4 letters to Charles V, showing that Henry VIII had a lesser dynastic claim to the English throne than Catherine of Aragon, his patron’s aunt;
A 1486 Year Book, detailing Henry VII’s attempts to persuade Bishop Stillington to confess so that Titulus Regius could be annulled and not just destroyed unread.
The last three all name Stillington or refer to the “Bishop of B”, such that only Bath and Wells fits that description in England during 1483-7. Birmingham, Blackburn, Bradford and Bristol didn’t have Bishops in those days.
Here is the second in my series of Top 10’s. This one is focussing on Dominic Mancini’s account of the events of 1483. It’s a hugely problematical source, both in terms of Mancini himself, who spoke no English, had no grasp of English politics and very limited sources, and in terms of the current translation in use which often chooses weighted words to make Mancini’s account darker.
It’s a negative source, without a doubt, written for a French audience hostile to England and Richard III and gripped by their own minority succession crisis, but it’s also misused and misunderstood. Mancini explains that he has had his arm twisted by Angelo Cato to write the account, which he had not wished to commit to paper. Cato worked at the French court, so had his own agenda is seeking to make Richard and his England seem like a land of murderous monsters.
More than this, Mancini admits, when complaining about being brow beaten into writing his account, that he knows almost nothing for certain. He wrote ‘I indeed decided that I ought not to expatiate so freely in writing as in talking, for, although on your account I did not shrink from pains, yet I had not sufficiently ascertained the names of those to be described, the intervals of time, and the secret designs of men in this whole affair.’ He adds ‘Wherefore you should not expect from me the names of individual men and places, nor that this account should be complete in all details; rather shall it resemble the effigy of a man, which lacks some of the limbs, and yet a beholder delineates for himself a man’s form.’
If Mancini had visited Torquay in the 1970’s, he might have given Manuel a run for his money.
I like to be fair. I really do. Even when I find it hard. Take Elizabeth Wydeville ..or not if you prefer. Although I am not and never will be a fan of this lady… ‘wife’ to Edward IV, illustrious Son of York, a golden warrior but a man prone to keeping his brains in his pants..I try to remain open minded. Of course the fact that Elizabeth swiftly skedaddled across the road from the Palace of Westminster into the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey upon hearing of the approach of Richard Duke of Gloucester, after he had taken her son, the uncrowned Edward V into his care following a failed assassination plot on the Duke’s life, looks extremely suspect. Taking her younger son, Richard of Shrewsbury, his sisters and Thomas Grey, her oldest surviving son , plus the royal treasure, Elizabeth prepared herself for a long stay.
The outcome of all that is well known and I won’t go into it here. Later, Elizabeth, sent into ‘retirement’ into Bermondsey Abbey, by an unforgiving son in law, paid a very high price for her propensity for plotting. But are other stories about her true..as they say give a dog a bad name..and one I have often wondered about is the story that Elizabeth was behind the judicial murder of Thomas Fitzerald, Earl of Desmond..and not only that ..his two small sons. The story goes, which is oft repeated in both fact and fictional accounts, is that she was mightily offended by a casual comment made by Desmond to Edward, which Edward foolishly and naively repeated to her (this was in the early days of their marriage and would imply he was not yet fully aware of the nastier and vindictive side to her nature) that he believed Edward had made a ‘mèsalliance‘ and that ‘he should have chosen a more suitable bride‘ and thus consumed by malicious spite, she misappropriated her husband’s privy seal, removing it from Edwards ‘purche’ while he slept, and sent instructions to John Tiptoft, first earl of Worcester, then Chancellor and Lord Deputy of Ireland, to have Desmond executed on trumped up charges including a ‘ridiculous and groundless allegation that he sought to make himself king of Ireland’.
Later Edward on finding out the terrible truth was not best pleased..as Rosemary Hawley Jarman put it so succinctly in her novel The King’s Grey Mare …‘I fear Madam, he saidvery slowly, I very much fear Bessy, that you have become unkind’and set out to pour oil on troubled waters for the execution caused much uproar, turmoil and rebellion in Ireland. Surely this story is too horrid to be true even for those violent times. I was thus pleased to discover an excellent article by Annette Carson and the late John Ashdown-Hill which they co-wrote for the Ricardian back in June 2005. For surely these two know their onions and would be able to discern truth from fiction. After reading the article I came away a little shocked for their in-depth investigation did not put this story to rest but rather made it seem more probable that Elizabeth Wydeville, with the connivance of Tiptoft, did indeed bring about the execution of a man merely because of words spoken that she took umbrage to.
The article can be found here for those of you who wish to explore more fully this unedifying story of Edward’s queen and a man who would be known as the Butcher of England and who himself was executed in 1470 by Desmond’s friend, Warwick the Kingmaker, Tiptoft’s former brother-in-law, and good riddance to him. Perhaps Warwick had another, more personal “axe to grind” – could it be that Tiptoft treated his first wife Cicely, Warwick’s sister, coldly for he requested in a letter to Henry Cranebroke, monk of Christchurch, Canterbury, following the death of his 2nd wife, Elizabeth Greyndour, prayers ‘with special remembraunce of her soul whom I loved best'(1) surely an unnecessarily slight to the memory of his first Neville wife. Tiptoft has been described as a man of culture, erudite and a reader and lover of books! Whoopi doo dah! More specifically he was a man who thought it perfectly acceptable to have impalement added to the already awful sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering. This was the fate 20 of Warwick’s men suffered at Southampton on Tiptoft’s command and which caused much revulsion in an already cruel age. No wonder he was described by a contemporary chronicler as ‘that fierce executioner and horrible beheader of men’ (2).
John Tiptoft’s memorial, Ely Cathedral. Effigy of Tiptoft with two of his wives probably Cicely Neville and Elizabeth Greyndour..
Nevertheless it would appear that Elizabeth Wydeville may have asked Tiptoft to aid and abet her undaunted by his reputation for harshness. The most appalling part of this story is the accusation that Tiptoft also executed Desmond’s two young sons. Another possibility is that Tiptoft was fooled by the forged letter. But in any event ‘this yeare the Earle of Desmond and his two sonnes were executed by ye Earle of Worcester in Drogheda'(3) the youngest one asking the executioner to take care as he had a boil on his neck.
MAGDALENE TOWER – ALL THAT REMAINS OF THE DOMINICAN FRIARY AT DROGHEDA. DESMOND WAS REMOVED FROM THE FRIARY AND SUMMARILY EXECUTED.
And so dear reader, do take time to read this most interesting article if you would like to explore the matter and draw your own conclusions. The authors of the article in-depth examination of the sources, some of which have been ignored by previous writers on the subject is compelling and persuasive. Among the somewhat damning points made are that Desmond was in fact in England, to give Edward his account of the coin and leverage accusation being made against him, at the precise time that the Wydeville marriage became public. Edward found in Desmond’s favour and gave him a grant of manors. Furthermore the other two men accused along with Desmond, including Kildare, his brother, only escaped execution because they managed to evade Tiptoft long enough until the matter reached the ears of Edward, who extended clemency to the pair, which implies that Tiptoft had acted without the ‘knowledge or consent of the king’. Edward went on to quell the rebellion begun by Desmond’s oldest sons who ‘raised their standards and drew their swords , resolved to avenge their father’s murder’ by promising them pardon if they lay their swords down ‘protesting at the same time Desmond had been put to death, without his order, nay his consent’. The king would later go on to ‘clearly acknowledge’ Thomas’ son, James’, title to the earldom despite Tiptoft’s act of attainder against his father.
The nave of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Dublin..Thomas Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond was finally laid to rest somewhere in the Cathedral (now known as Christ Church Cathedral).
Later Richard III wrote a conciliatory letter, which has survived, to Desmond’s son, James, followed up with instructions that his messenger, Bishop Thomas Barrett, was to ‘amplify’ the message that Richard’s brother, Clarence, had suffered a similar fate as Desmond in that his death had been brought about by ‘certain persons’. It must be concluded that the ‘certain person’ alluded to was Elizabeth Wydeville for according to Mancini writing in 1483 contemporary opinion at the time held her responsible for the death of Clarence… ‘the queen concluded that her offspring by the king would never come to the throne unless the duke of Clarence was removed and of this she easily persuaded the king..’
King Richard III sent a conciliatory message to Desmond’s son, James 8th Earl of Desmond comparing the judicial murder of his brother Clarence to that of Desmond ..
And so there we have it dear reader..if this indeed be the case, its very hard to feel pity for Elizabeth when fate’s fickle finger finally gave her the prodding she so richly deserved.
(1) W A Pantin, ( 3.103-4)
(2) Gairdner, (183)
(3) The Register of the Mayors of Dublin records (erroneously under the date 1469)
Richard Duke of Gloucester being offered the crown by the Three Estates at Baynards Castle, June 1483. Painting by Sigismund Goetze at the Royal Exchange…(or according to some.. Richard in the actual act of ‘usurping’ the throne)…
I came across this article on a forum devoted to late medieval Britain.
Unfortunately I read it..5 minutes from my life I will never get back again… but as I was laid up with a bad head cold I had nothing much better to do. I should have been warned by the photo of a little girl in what looked like an attempt at Tudor costume and the words ‘I have no idea who this little girl is but she is adorable. Little kids in this era were adorable and vulnerable too ..just like modern children..lets keep that in mind’. This should have alerted me to the fact the writer was a writer of rubbish. Nevertheless I cracked on. As it transpired the article has more holes in it than a hairnet…and worse was to come.
John Howard, having been cheated out of his inheritance, which ‘seems to have stuck in his craw’ then went on to become ‘one of the first men to help the new king’s uncle usurp his throne and become King Richard III’. When I challenged the word ‘usurp’ I received the reply of a emoji rolling on the floor laughing. It then became clear to me the quality of the author’s debating powers were going to be found somewhat lacking. But casting that aside for the moment lets look at the word ‘usurp‘ as used by the author to describe the actions of Richard. The late historian John Ashdown-Hill addressed this point very well. “Definitions of the verb ‘usurp’ include include terms as to seize power by force and without legal authority…Richard III did not gain the throne by fighting a battle nor did he seize the crown. He was offered the crown by the Three Estates of the Realm. Later the decision of the Three Estates of the Realm was formally enacted by the Parliament of 1484′ (1) . Thus to describe Richard as a usurper is incorrect and a nonsense.”
Not content with calling Richard a usurper, John Howard, later Duke of Norfolk is next in line to be maligned by the statement regarding Anne Mowbray, (the 4 year old heiress of John Mowbray who died just before her ninth birthday) ‘All that John Howard could do was wait and hope something happened to Anne…’! This is quite an offensive thing to say as well as ludicrous as no source has come down to us informing us of Howard’s personal thoughts on this matter and which I very much doubt would have been ‘hoping’ for the death of a small child. Incidentally, he was raised to the Duchy of Norfolk whilst the “Princes”, including the previous in suo jure Duke, were known to be alive – see p.78 and pp.117-124 of The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, also by Ashdown-Hill.
Howard later went on to fight and lay down his life for his king aged 60 years old. This colossus of a man could easily have wormed his way out of fighting, as others did, with his age as an excuse. He did no such thing and its a great pity that we have modern day pip-squeaks having the brass neck to disparage such a man. The author needs to hang their head with shame but I doubt if that will happen any time soon.
As we go on we see Lady Eleanor Butler nee Talbot – a lady of the nobility and daughter to the great John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury a, sister to the Duchess of Norfolk and a lady known for her piety – described as one of King Edward’s ‘side pieces’…(I know, I know..my guess is this is a stab at ‘bit on the side’ but your guess is as good as mine). She was in actual fact no such thing, being the legal wife of Edward who married her in order to get her into bed. Surely Eleanor deserves more respect than this….as I said pip-squeaks and all.
The writer then follows up with a message touching on the execution of Lord Hastings to prove her point that Richard was a Bad Man. I say ‘touching’ in a very loose way as she makes no attempt to explore, let alone mention, what reasons were behind the execution only pointing out, unnecessarily, that Hastings was executed ‘even though he was one of the most richest and powerful men in the country’..what has this got to do with it? Furthermore…’Richard had him dragged out and beheaded on a log’. Presumably Dickens, who was unborn, or More, aged five at the time, cannot be taken seriously as eye-witnesses? Is it not about time this myth was debunked? Three accounts survive of the dramatic events at the meeting at the Tower that day – those from Historical Notes of a London Citizen 1483/84, Mancini and Croyland (2) – none of which mention the infamous log.
A log, something that Lord Hastings was NOT beheaded on…
Hastings was probably, as Carson points out, executed under the Law of Arms (3), having tried to eliminate the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham and been judged by the Constable’s Court, Gloucester being Lord High Constable at the time. In much the same way, Rivers, Vaughan and Grey were judged by the Earl of Northumberland, the designated Vice-Constable.
The Mythology of Richard III chapter 6 p74 John Ashdown-Hill.
Historical Notes of a London Citizen 1483/8, English Historical Review, Vol. 96. p588 Richard Firth Green, Mancini p.89, Croyland p.479-80. I am indebted to Peter Hammond and Anne Sutton for their very useful book, Richard III The Road toBosworth Field, a complete and handy reference to all the primary sources covering Richard’s reign.
The Maligned King p.98, but Carson’s other book illustrates the powers of the Constable and Protector and the documents assigning the role to Gloucester.
The beautiful Cathedral of Wells is a medieval visual delight. It was, of course, the See of Bishop Robert Stillington who sought out Richard Duke of Gloucester and announced that King Edward IV had been secretly married to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, prior to wedding Elizabeth Woodville in a second secret ceremony, thus making his second marriage bigamous and invalid. He knew the matter was true, he said, because he was the one who had officiated at the marriage of Edward and Eleanor..
Stillington was Archdeacon of Taunton when Edward might have met and married Eleanor Talbot, probably around 1461. He was, of course, not then a Bishop but the Canon Stillington. He also served in Edward’s government as Keeper of the Privy seal. He was elected to his Bishopric in 1465–at King Edward’s insistence, as the the Pope initially proposed a different candidate. He was also intermittently Lord Chancellor, though he appears to have been dismissed in 1473. A few years later, Stillington was briefly imprisoned for unspecified offences which seem to have been connected with George of Clarence’s treason charges.
After Richard III’s death at Bosworth, Henry VII immediately ordered Stillington imprisoned . Upon his release, rather than retiring somewhere far from court or bowing to the new Tudor regime, he immediately involved himself in the Lambert Simnel uprising. Once Stoke Field was fought and Tudor victorious , Stillington fled to Oxford, where for a while the University protected him. However, eventually he was captured and thrown in prison in Windsor Castle–this time for the rest of his days. He died in 1491 and was taken to Somerset for burial at Wells Cathedral.
During his lifetime, Stillington did not spend much time in Wells but he did complete building work within the cathedral and raised his own mortuary chapel there in the 1470’s, complete with huge gilded bosses bosses of suns and roses. This chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, was built on one side of the cloisters near the holy springs that give Wells its name and on the foundations of an earlier Saxon church. During the Reformation, in the reign of Edward VI, Sir John Gates destroyed the chapel and tomb and, according to old accounts,ripped the Bishop’s remains out of his lead coffin.
Rather interestingly, Stillington’s Chapel is the ONLY part of Wells Cathedral that was severely damaged during the Reformation, the Bishop’s tomb not only being desecrated but the building itself razed to the ground – and some would have it that there’s no such thing as Tudor propaganda? Of course, the roof was later pillaged by Monmouth’s rebels to make ammunition for use at Sedgemoor.
The foundations of Stillington’s chapel have been excavated, and if you visit Wells Cathedral today, you can see scant stonework sticking out of the ground in Camery Gardens. Nearby, in the cloisters, several massive chunks of his tomb canopy are on display, decorated with symbols of the House of York.