Bishop Robert Stillington was imprisoned soon after Bosworth and died in captivity in 1491, definitely by 15 May. It is generally thought that this was a punishment for providing the copious evidence that convinced the Three Estates, in June 1483, of Edward IV’s bigamy. This rendered Elizabeth of York and all her siblings legally illegitimate, which was highly inconvenient for Henry “Tudor”, who sought to marry her. Stillington’s arrest and Catesby‘s summary execution fall into the first four days of Henry VII’s actual reign and the first five of the reign he claimed.
There has been an alternative view, based on the writings of Edward Hall, compiled after More but before Shakespeare. In 1475-6, just after the planned invasion of France was cancelled, an embassy was sent to Francis, Duke of Brittany, seeking to capture “Tudor”. Both Vergil and Hall comment that “the Bishop of Bath and Wells” was part of the party in question. Several Cairo dwellers rely on that interpretation, identifying Stillington as the man in question.
Oliver King the snooker player. For some reason, we couldn’t find a photo of the Bishop.
In 1475-6, Robert Stillington was indeed Bishop of Bath and Wells but there are several convincing reasons to conclude that he wasn’t the man in question. By the time Polydore Vergil put quill to paper, Oliver King (1495-1503) occupied that see and Hall “redialled” to King’s predecessor but one for convenience. King was among those arrested but released at the time of Hastings’ plot.
Secondly, Stillington was not a well man by the time Edward IV’s second reign began, taking leave of absence as Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor at least twice, and the Foedera evidence shows that he was never actually sent abroad. In the ODNB, based on the Yorkshireman’s early academic career, Hicks concludes that he was born by 1410 and ordained at a comparatively late age, living into his eighties. Based on this revelation, it is possible that his own children were actually legitimate and that their mother died before he took holy orders in c.1447.
Now think about the implications of this. Canon Stillington, who almost certainly witnessed Edward IV’s real marriage, was more than thirty years older than his monarch. Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, a probable witness born in about 1394, was nearly fifty years older than Edward, imprisoned from 1469-73 when he died, and Lady Eleanor herself was over six years older. In other words, Edward IV need only to have lived to 49 to ensure that all those with first-hand knowledge were dead, so the ceremony would have been deniable. He didn’t, of course, thereby ending Yorkist rule.
Here is an extract that I found interesting. It’s from a 1968 booklet titled Discovering London 3: Medieval London, by Kenneth Derwent, published by Macdonald, and while it doesn’t condemn Richard, a previous paragraph states that the disappearance of Edward V and his brother “were disposed of” and that “the circumstantial evidence points most strongly to the Duke of Gloucester”. Well, I have a huge quibble about that!
Anyway, to the extract:-
“RICHARD III. Brother of Edward IV and uncle of Edward V. Ruled from 1483 to 1485.
“After his brother’s death, the Duke of Gloucester stated that Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville had not been legal, since the king had been previously betrothed to a Lady Eleanor Talbot. In those days betrothal was as binding as marriage, and if this were so Edward’s subsequent marriage would be invalid and the children of it illegitimate. On these grounds Parliament offered the crown to Richard of Gloucester who, after modestly declining for a while, accepted it.
“In 1485 Richard III, as he was known, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth, near Leicester, by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who claimed the crown by reason of a distant descent from John of Gaunt.
“Richard was buried at Greyfriars, near Leicester, but no trace of his grave remains.”
Well, I have some more quibbles, of course. The word “modestly” implies falsity, when I think Richard really did hesitate about accepting the crown. Or am I being unduly picky? And, of course, Henry Tudor was NOT the Earl of Richmond.
But my main reason for posting this extract is that in 1968 Kenneth Derwent was right about where Richard had been laid to rest!
Putting aside the mystery of what ultimately happened to Edward IV’s two sons, one enduring difficulty for a student of history is whether Richard III used the proper legal procedure in having them declared illegitimate because of their father’s precontracted marriage to Eleanor Talbot. The most (and only) significant defect appears to be the failure to refer the issue to a church court for determination. But it seems no one has fleshed out how an ecclesiastical tribunal would have litigated such an extraordinary and unprecedented matter, let alone identified which church court would have had authority to hear it.
As a retired litigator of 20 years, I undertook the challenge of researching medieval English church court procedures and precedent cases to answer four questions: Which church court would have decided the precontract issue? How would it have conducted the litigation? What evidence would it have heard? How conclusive would…
The general consensus is that there never was an Edward de/of Wigmore. Indeed, many say that his supposed parents were never an item at all, let alone married. The parents are, of course, Edward IV and Lady Eleanor Talbot. Their marriage is the mysterious pre-contract, the revelation of which in 1483 catapulted Richard III to the throne, and led to another mystery, that of the boys in the Tower and what happened to them.
Lady Eleanor Talbot as she may have looked
I’m Richard’s supporter to the end, so do not believe he did away with his nephews, illegitimate or not. Nor do I agree with the statement in the following extract from Snow’s book below that “…There would have been no one whom those three monarchs [Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII] would sooner have seen out of their way to the throne than Edward IV’s eldest son [Edward de Wigmore] and any descendants of his, granted the validity at the end of the fifteenth century of precontract marriages…”
If Edward de Wigmore had existed, and survived, Richard would have regarded him as Edward IV’s rightful heir and the coronation being arranged for the elder of the two boys in the Tower, Edward V, would have been transferred instead to this other Edward. I have no doubt of this whatsoever. But, the situation did not arise, because the existence of Edward de Wigmore never came to light. The closest I can get to a possibility of his existence is that some believe he died not long after birth. (NB: Alison Weir claims that Edward de Wigmore was known as Giles Gurney before taking his more generally known name. I do not know her source for this.)
So, imagine my surprise when looking for something else (ah, those hallowed words!) Google took me to the publication A Time of Renewal by Philip Snow, published 1998. The book concerns Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow, CBE (15 October 1905 – 1 July 1980) who held several important positions in the British Civil Service and briefly in the government. Philip Snow, the author of the book from which I have taken the following passage, was C.P. Snow’s brother, an author and cricketer, who died in 2012.
Extract from A Time of Renewal:
[The story of Edward de Wigmore, possible son from Edward IV’s clandestine] “…marriage in 1462 to Lady Eleanor Talbot, widow of Lord Boteler (or Butler), daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and granddaughter of the Duke of Buckingham, never ceases to occupy us. But we fear we are up against Richard III and Henry VII and their bludgeoning supporters in our attempts to prove or establish direct [family] links with Edward de Wigmore, who reputedly survived by sanctuary in a convent (where Lady Eleanor died as a recluse) not too far from Stamford and demolished by Henry VIII…
“…There would have been no one whom those three monarchs would sooner have seen out of their way to the throne than Edward IV’s eldest son and any descendants of his, granted the validity at the end of the fifteenth century of precontract marriages. A subsidiary title of Edward IV was Lord of Wigmore. A Wigmore of the mid-eighteenth century living in Stamford where Edward IV frequently stayed—he was also Lord of Stamford—had drawn up a tree showing ancestry back to this first son of Edward IV, Edward de Wigmore, but there are still a couple of gaps which so far, not unexpectedly, defy filling in, except perhaps by some determined and diligent pedigree scholar, before achieving something no less sensational…
“…Charles was always amused by the thought of our possible descent from Edward IV but when Garter King of Arms was researching all the branches of the family for his baronial coat of arms Charles did not wish to spend the money necessary to have him look into the Plantagenets of around 1460. (I must say that Garter King of Arms did seem reluctant to upturn the stones along that particular path: it might have been more than his job was worth.) This was to the natural disappointment of his relatives who had done as much research as their resources and leisure allowed.”
Has anyone ever heard this version of events before? I thought Eleanor died (probably childless) in Norwich and was buried there, not that she lived and died in Stamford and left a hearty son behind. As for Edward de Wigmore eventually living there, openly presumably, and left children of his own… Oh, how interesting it would be to see the “tree” that the 18th-century Wigmore had drawn up.
This story makes me think of Richard’s son, John of Gloucester, who ultimate fate is not known for certain. What if he too had lived on, and like his cousin Edward de Wigmore, left a family from whom more generations descended. We will never know.
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.
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.
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.
18th century print of the Abbey Gatehouse.
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.
Interior of Great Gatehouse as it was in the 17th century.
18th century print of one of the Abbey rooms before demolition
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.
Remains of the Abbey revealed in 2006 prior to the Square being redeveloped
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
No, no – do not be put off by this dry old illustration, for it but masks the workings of an over-active mind. Mine!
Does anything about the following sound familiar?
“…The nickname John of London, given to Richard [II], alludes to a report spread by Henry that Richard was the illegitimate son of the Princess of Wales [Joan of Kent] by a canon of Bordeaux; (see Froissart;) but Mezeray remarks, that that reproach might have been cast upon Henry [IV] with more reason, seeing the queen his mother, on her death-bed, had confessed to a bishop that she had substituted him [Henry] in the place of her own true son, whom she had suffocated by accident, charging him [the bishop] to discover the secret if he [Henry] were likely to inherit the crown. (Mezeray, 983, fo. Paris, 1643)” Taken from Chronique de la Traison et Mort de Richart Deux, Roy Dengleterre.
OK, so the story was related by a Frenchman 250 years or so after the death of Richard II, whom the Black Prince certainly acknowledged as his son. And when it comes to Henry IV…his mother was never Queen. Blanche of Lancaster was Duchess of Lancaster.
Mezeray is therefore a hardly reliable source, but the scenario he paints is thought-provoking to someone like me. He wrote after the 15th century, when proof of some sort had come to light of Edward IV’s bigamy . Was a version of the Mezeray scenario then enacted? Was Stillington, or someone else in the know, charged to only reveal the proof of the Eleanor Talbot marriage if there was a chance of Edward V being crowned? And if so, who charged him? Who was in a position to make such a decision? How many of them were there? I know, I know, it sounds like The da Vinci Code, with some manipulative and arcane secret society pulling strings.
Perhaps whoever it was had hope that fate would step in and remove the need for such a revelation? The natural deaths of the boys, perhaps? Premature death was a common enough fate back then. And so was murder, of course. And the girls might well have been safely married to husbands no one would accept on the throne of England? International royal marriages were all very well when it was an English prince marrying a foreign princess, but not the other way around. Elizabeth of York, for instance, was at one time betrothed to Charles, the Dauphin of France. And Cecily was betrothed to the future James IV of Scotland. Grand contracts, but unsuitable for the English crown. If those marriages had taken place, I cannot believe either gentleman would be rapturously greeted in London. Another James of Scotland would eventually be crowned in Westminster Abbey, but not in the 15th century. So, if not the boys or the girls…who then?
Was the pre-contract being kept hidden as a contingency plan? Something to produce if and when the need arose? I do not know who might be behind such a thing. Certainly not Richard, who was in Yorkshire and did not even know Edward was on his deathbed until it was all over. If he’d been in on a secret masterplan, he’d have been ready and waiting in London. Maybe he wasn’t even the one the masterplanners had in mind. He just got in the way when the masterplan suffered a hiccup, and he was most inconveniently ended up as Richard III, which was NOT in the script. I don’t think Henry VII was the intended monarch either. When push came to shove, he was too lowly and unroyal, and so was another very inconvenient intrusion. The whole masterplan began to go pear-shaped when Edward IV died so suddenly, and from then on things did not go as the conspirators intended. Then, after Bosworth, I think they ripped up the whole idea up in disgust, walked away and let history take its Tudor course. Thank you, chaps.
Right, ladies and gentlemen, I can’t think why anyone conspire to such patient and determined lengths, or what their purpose might have been, but if there was a masterplan, who might they have intended to be the ultimate King of England? And who might have been the masterplanners?
On the understanding that there are holes in my reasoning (or lack of it), and that the above could be a suggestion for a movie, please let me know your suggestions for the actual identities of all these mysterious, shadowy figures. Answers on a postcard, please…
Recently, for this year’s anniversary of Bosworth Field, I had the pleasure of joining the Somerset branch of the Richard III society in a commemoration service held in the Bishop’s private chapel. King Richard’s personal prayer was recited, and the beautiful ‘In Memoriam: Ricardus Rex’ by Graham Keitch was sung to great effect by the talented choir. White roses were then laid before a candlelit portrait of Richard on a banner bearing the Arms of England.
Before the service, a tour of the ruins of the medieval Bishop’s s palace was also included. The palace was begun in about 1210 by Bishop Joscelin, with further structures added down to the 15th c. Thomas Beckington, who became Bishop in 1443, ordered these last features. These later buildings include the imposing Bishop’s Eye, a tall tower that still stands today within the beautiful gardens.
From the exterior of the palace, some of the structure has a slightly martial feel, with its deep moat, crenellations, and portcullis. The unpopular Bishop, Ralph of Shrewsbury, added this particular design in the 1300’s. Ralph imposed heavy taxation on the locals of the town, hence he feared potential retaliation from the mob.
For Ricardians, Bishop Stillington, who revealed Edward IV’s pre-contract with Eleanor Talbot, is the best known Bishop of Bath and Wells. However, like many churchmen of the day, Stillington spent relatively little time in his diocese; in his case, it is thought he lived in Wells only a few months if as long as that!
However, John Gunthorpe, Dean of Wells from 1472, did, in fact, live for some time in Wells from 1485 onwards. Gunthorpe, who had a long and eminent career, served three Kings, Edward, Richard and then Henry Tudor,and was, for a time, Edward IV’s chaplain, and a Cambridge scholar (he obtained a Batchelor’s degree in theology). During Edward’s reign, Gunthorpe was also almoner, clerk, councilor and ambassador, and served as secretary to Elizabeth Woodville.
Despite Dean Gunthorpe’s close connection with the Woodvilles, Richard seemed to trust him, and during the King’s short reign, Gunthorpe became keeper of the Privy Seal. He assisted with the completion of various treaties, including that with Scotland, and in 1484, Richard wrote a letter to Gunthorpe in which the King spoke out against bribery: “…discharge Richard Bele from his place in the office of the said Privy Seal, to which he had been admitted contrary to the old rule and due order, by means of giving great gifts and other sinister and ungodly ways in great discouraging of the under-clerks, which have long continued therein, to have the experience of the same – to see a stranger, never brought up in the said office, to put them by of their promotion“.
Gunthorpe’s loyalty to the new King must have been in no question, for apparently in 1485 he gave the Dean a gift of the ‘swans of Somerset.’ Some have imagined this might relate to the famous bell-ringing swans that have tenanted the Bishop’s Palace moat for many centuries, but I think it more likely that it is a general appointment to look after the King’s birds (swans had been ‘royal’ birds for centuries but obtained protected ‘royal status’ legally in the ‘Act of Swans’ in 1482) or even a gift of a swan or two for the table, which only Richard would have had permission to grant.
Gunthorpe seems to have definitely taken up residence at Wells by 1485, and was later visited there by Henry Tudor, who came to the town on several occasions. His house still stands in the cathedral close and it marked by a plaque.
Wells is also well worth visiting for its attractive cathedral and other medieval buildings, including ‘Vicar’s Close,’ thought to be Britain’s only complete surviving medieval street.
According to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the noun Ricardianism means ‘support for or advocacy of Richard III’. Even though I have been a supporter of king Richard III for almost six decades, I am reluctant to describe myself as a Ricardian since it implies a narrow interest in one man. I prefer to call myself a Revisionist, which implies a wider interest. This is a personal eccentricity, which I have to bear. I mean no criticism or offence to Ricardians and I sincerely hope none is taken by my frankness. However, the distinction is important to me because it has informed my personal search for the real king Richard. I have been looking for him since I was a pre-pubescent schoolboy in East London in the fifties. During that time I have met many different ‘Richards’; the purpose of this piece is to share a few of them with you.
Olivier’s Richard: the bravura baddie
Although William Shakespeare bears some responsibility for my interest in the last Plantagenet king, it was Laurence Olivier who fired my imagination with his electrifying performance of the king. The first thing to strike me about Olivier’s performance was his voice. It is, as he himself described, it “ …the thin reed of a sanctimonious scholar…it set the vision going thin and rapier like but all-powerful…the perfect hypocrite…. A mixture of honey and razor blades ” Olivier’s Richard is a baddie, but he was an irresistibly captivating baddie. He is witty, he is heroic, and he is sexually potent. The passage wherein he woos Anne, the mourning widow of the man he has just murdered is one of the most lascivious scenes in cinematic history. Olivier’s brilliant and irresistible theatricality is only the posturing of power. He knows how wicked his deeds are but he does them anyway. His opening soliloquy sets the scene:
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York…
“Since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well spoken days
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of the day
Plots have I laid…”
And he doesn’t disappoint: from the moment he walks on the set, he frames each event for us. He announces it in advance, providing a running commentary and evaluating its success. He seduces a grieving widow as she accompanies her dead husband’s coffin. He murders anyone who gets in his way: his brother, his wife, his nephews, his friend and comrade in arms. He lies, tricks, boasts, leers, jeers and laughs his way to the throne, delighting in his own malignity and making the camera a mirror for his vanity. And then he falls: spectacularly. Richmond invades from France and takes the initiative. His ‘supporters’ desert him and the hunchback metaphor rises to the surface; he is racked with the ghosts of those he has murdered. Typically, his courage is unimpaired. At Bosworth on his last day on earth he tells us “Richard is himself again”. Fighting with supernatural courage and ferocity to retain his life and crown; finally his enemies overwhelm him. In the end only his voice sours: “ a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse... Ultimately, Richard’s death is as much a performance as his life. Great stuff! I still watch that film today and I still have an almost irresistible urge to punch Stanley Baker’s lights out.
Inspector Grant’s Richard: on the bench and not in the dock
To be honest I have only read three Ricardian novels and I only enjoyed two of them. Pride of place must go to Josephine Tey. Her novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ set a very high standard for novelists to aspire too during the sixty plus years since Inspector Alan Grant made his first appearance in Ricardian literature. As an experienced Scotland Yard detective Grant has a reputation for being able to spot a criminal on sight. However, when, on being shown the NPG portrait of Richard III, he places him on the bench rather than in the dock, Grant begins to fret. From his hospitable bed and with the help of a young American researcher called Brett Carradine he begins an investigation into the allegations against king Richard, which Grant thinks changes history. Grant sees Richard as a man much traduced and he blames the historians for this. His Richard is a virtuous man, honest and loyal to a fault, brave and an able administrator. He is just, with a genuine care for the common weal. As a former soldier himself, Grant is hugely impressed with Richard’s military career (‘he was a brigadier at eighteen’). It took me a few years to find out that Inspector Grant’s version of Richard was based on the work of Sir Clement Markham. Published at the turn of the twentieth century. Markham’s account is an elegant but flawed defence of Richard, which modern scholars tend to regard like the ‘curates egg’: it is good in parts.
The Tudor Richard: the facts do not always speak for themselves
It is the Tudor based history of Richard started by Sir Thomas More and completed by William Shakespeare, which still dominates the public’s perception of him as a regicide, homicide, usurper and tyrant. This is the Tudor view of Richard that took hold immediately after Bosworth. Mindful of his weak claim to the throne, Henry VII ‘encouraged’ his subjects to believe that his victory and accession was the preordained ending of Richard’s tyrannical reign and, further, that his marriage to Elizabeth of York was the heaven-sent ending of thirty years of internecine civil wars. It is this doctrine that Professor EMW Tillyard calls the ‘Tudor Myth’ It is intended to promote the Tudor worldview not just by blackening Richard’s name but by directing what people should think about the Tudors, their claim to the throne and English history. It was a political necessity to blacken Richard’s name to enable the purity of the Tudor dynasty to shine ever brighter.
Professor Paul Murray Kendall describes the growth of this process: “In the court of king Henry VII…there existed among the men who conspired against king Richard III and bought his overthrow a body of opinion, continually enlarged by tales and conjectures concerning the past, which they had conquered. It was out of this amorphous mass of fact, reminiscence, hearsay growing ever more colourful and detailed with the passing years, that the authors of Henry VIII’s day fashioned the (Tudor) tradition.” The problem with the Tudor tradition is not simply that it represents the history of the victors, but also that it is confused and conflicting, and it is based on nothing more than rumour and gossip. It is also clear that Henry VII tampered with the historical record. He ordered Titulus Regius, Richard’s Act of Settlement, to be destroyed without being read, on pain of punishment. He also allowed his official Tudor historian to publish a false account of Richards’s title and his accession. This whole episode highlights the pivotal role played by historians in shaping our perception of history.
Self evidently, historical facts are the building blocks of history and historians must not get them wrong. It was the historian EH Clark who wrote: “I am reminded of Houseman’s remark that ‘accuracy is a duty not a virtue’. To praise a historian for his accuracy is like praising an architect for using properly seasoned wood and properly mixed concrete in his buildings.” Nonetheless, facts do not necessarily speak for themselves. Peoples’ opinions are influenced by the selection and arrangement of appropriate facts. And it is the historians who decide what facts are important, and their context. Necessarily, this is a subjective exercise; it is a mistake to think that facts exist independently of a historian’s interpretation. What constitutes an important ‘historical fact’ as opposed to an ordinary unhistorical fact depends on the historian’s viewpoint. For instance, our picture of England during Richard’s reign is incomplete. This is not just due to gaps in the sources or records but also to the fact that those we do have are largely written by a small number of people in southeastern England. We know quite a bit about the discontent of the Yorkist gentry in London and the south, but we know little or nothing about how his reign was viewed outside that area. Our view of Richard’s reign has been pre-determined for us by people who, for whatever reason, took a particular a view and preserved those ‘facts’ that supported their view. Not only are the facts we do have subjective; we almost certainly do not have all the facts.
The modern Richard: a study in polemics
These problems raise important ethical and professional questions about impartiality and objectivity. Can historians remain objective? Should they be objective? Professor John Gillingham explores these questions in an essay about Richard’s character. He identifies the dichotomy between Richard’s behavior before 1483 and the nature of his alleged crimes thereafter as the central problem in explaining his character, which he argue raises ‘unhelpful issues of guilt and innocence’. It creates a hostile, adversarial environment in which every scrap of information is heavily scrutinized in case it sheds light on the mysteries of Richard’s protectorship and reign. He argues that the whole process has developed the features of a courtroom trial (indeed it has). This is awkward because (in the words of historian David Knowles) “…an historian is not a judge, much less a hanging judge” Professor Gillingham adds that it is this reluctance to judge historical characters, allied (in this case) to a realization that “… the evidence base is non-existent” that has led to an accommodation between the traditionalist historians and Ricardians.
He may well be right, but I see little or no evidence of any such ‘accommodation’. Indeed, traditionalist and Ricardian literature and their respective websites are replete with strident and in some cases intolerant views on Richard’s guilt or innocence. Unfortunately for the disinterested observer, too much of this writing is polemical: some for him but most against him. Professor Charles Ross put his finger on the key issue for modern historians: “ The extraordinary problems of the evidence are highlighted by the difficulty historians have always found in providing an answer to the vital question: when and why did Richard seek the throne for himself?” Clearly, anybody wishing to write a balanced piece about Richard has to struggle with the paradox of his behaviour before April 1483 and the crimes he is accused of thereafter. Professor Ross assures us that the modern approach is to ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s “…character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” Ross further argues that modern historians have a much better understanding of the Tudor tradition and a wider knowledge of fifteenth century English politics, adding for good measure that this has resulted in “…a more critical appreciation of the value of the Tudor tradition and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence…” Even for a neutral observer, these comments raise two obvious issues. First, one wonders how closely the events of these times can be scrutinized given the ‘extraordinary problems’ of the evidence alluded to. Second, the suggestion that the Tudor tradition is confirmed by contemporary sources simply begs the question, since the probity of the contemporary material is precisely the issue disputed by Ricardians. The Tudor writers may simply be repeating the mistakes of fifteenth century sources.
The return of the king
The rescue of Richard’s bones from a municipal car park and their reinternment in St. Martin’s Cathedral, Leicester is a historic moment, which I welcome. It enables people to focus on his humanity, which is a much-needed balance to the Tudor inspired caricature we are familiar with. We know what he looked like, what he ate, what he drank, that he had scoliosis, and exactly how he died — in graphic detail. Nevertheless, his reinternment with honour has done nothing to close the rift between Ricardians and traditionalists. More worryingly from my perspective, is the impression I get that the drama surrounding his discovery and reinternment, and the keen debate it has provoked, may be transforming the last Plantagenet king into a cult figure. Moreover, the discovery of his bones, invaluable though this is, does not actually advance our knowledge and understanding of the defining events of his life: the bastardization and deposition of his nephew Edward V, and the disappearance of the two Princes in the Tower. A dearth of reliable contemporary sources, the growth of an enduring legend, epitomized by Shakespeare, and the passage of time have conspired to prevent us from being able to establish what truly happened during the critical period of Richard’s life. I accept that on the material we have now we cannot know the truth. We can interpret the material according to our personal agenda, we can analyse peoples’ movements and actions and we can infer their intentions and motives. But, as things, stand we can never know what the actual truth is.
For me, therefore, the search continues….
 Laurence Olivier – On Acting (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1986). I suspect Olivier was really a Ricardian. This is what the thought of Shakespeare’s history “I didn’t read any of the books that were around, protecting Richard from the false rumour written by this tinkerer with melodrama, whose name is William Shakespeare, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else, who got it from someone else. I just stayed with the man.” (p79)
. EMW Tillyard Shakespeare’s History Plays (Penguin 1944); pp. 29-32
. It was (and is) unheard of for a Parliamentary bill to be repealed without being read. It is indicative of Henry VII‘s desire to suppress the truth.
. EH Clark- What is History? (Palgrave Macmillan 2001 edition) at page 5
. John Gillingham (editor) – Richard111: a medieval kingship (Collins & Brown 1993) pp 11
. Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 64.
Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.
My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.
An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard
A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.
The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.
There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.
I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.
In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.
It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.
Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.
Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research
Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:
I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.
Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”
If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”
I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.
I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.
Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.
All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:
What is contemporary source material and what is not
How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.
Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.
Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel
If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.
If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.
If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]
You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:
Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.
Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.
Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.
Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.
The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.
The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.
The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.
We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.
Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock
Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?
In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:
Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.
The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:
I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…
So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am.[iii]
More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?
Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?
Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]
There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.
What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?
The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.
This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.
That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.
Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise
Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.
What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?
My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.
“Do you think he did it?” I asked.
That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.
I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.
[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:
or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:
[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.
[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.
[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.
Lady Eleanor Butler (born Talbot) probably knew that she was dying. In the early months of 1468, she transferred the lands that were hers to transfer to her sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk. Where these lands came from is something of a mystery. John Ashdown-Hill has demonstrated that they were not dower lands, could not have been inherited, and were almost certainly not bought by Lady Eleanor, as she lacked the resources. The most probable origin of this mysterious land is that it was a gift from Edward IV. As King Edward was not in the habit of gifting land to random females this is suggestive of a connection between them. Of course, some people have pointed out that the land was not particularly valuable. Oh, well that makes it OK then! The point is that land – even small amounts of it – was not just handed out for no reason. No one has satisfactorily explained where the land came from if it did not come from the King.
Anyway, no sooner was this sorted than King Edward appointed Duchess Elizabeth to go to Burgundy with his sister, Margaret of York, on the occasion of the latter’s wedding. This involved the Duchess being in charge of the whole female side of things – no mean responsibility when around one hundred women and girls were attached to Margaret’s train. The reason for Elizabeth’s selection was probably that she was the most senior English lady who was not either a member of the royal house or a Woodville, or both. It may also have been intended as a mark of favour to her husband, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who, although apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long way, was at least a loyal Yorkist.
So off they popped to sunny Burgundy, to the celebration and pageantry that John Paston felt there were no words to describe. Elizabeth’s brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot, went with her. The unfortunate Eleanor was left behind in Norfolk to die without any of her birth family around her, although one would like to think that Norfolk himself visited with the occasional bunch of flowers. She was buried in the house of the White Carmelites at Norwich.
Elizabeth had scarcely set foot back in England (round about July 1468) when two of her servants John Poynings and Richard Alford, were charged with having treasonable dealings with the agents of the Lancastrians in Kouer-La-Petite. Brought to trial, they were found guilty and were hanged, drawn and quartered.
Now, as I mentioned above, Elizabeth’s husband, Norfolk, was a loyal Yorkist. So why should his servants have been suspected of intrigue with the Lancastrians? It makes no obvious sense. Elizabeth herself – though one of the most charming individuals to appear in the Paston Letters – was in no position to do anything of significance for the Lancastrian cause even if she was that way inclined. She did not control her husband’s retainers, or his castles, or anything helpful.
One of the Lancastrian exiles present in Flanders was, however, Somerset, Elizabeth’s first cousin, and brother to her good friend Lady Anne Paston. It is possible that she sought to pass on family news to him – but if this is the explanation, the treatment of her servants was extremely severe.
So was this a shot across the bows, to warn Elizabeth to keep her mouth shut about – certain matters? Who knows.
What can be said is that on 8 December 1468 the Duchess took out a pardon for all offences before 7 December. It is quite unusual for a married woman to take out a pardon without the inclusion of her husband. In civil matters she had no separate legal standing, she was under coverture. It may simply have been an insurance for any errors or omissions committed while serving in the office of Margaret’s Principal Lady-in-Waiting. There was, after all, potentially a lot to go wrong, jewels to go missing, whatever. But it could also indicate something more sinister.
On 28 January 1469, the Duchess’ brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot also received a general pardon.
It looks to me as if in the autumn/early winter of 1468, Elizabeth and Humphrey were under royal suspicion for something. The question is, was it something they did, or something they knew?