While searching for something else related to Richard III, I happened to notice a few interesting details I hadn’t noticed before, pertaining to the chronology of events leading up to his taking the throne. (Please note that the items below are a partial chronology of events.)
1. Late May/early June 1483. Years later, Phillippe de Commynes (a writer and diplomat in the courts of Burgundy and France) claimed that Robert Stillington (Bishop of Bath and Wells, who was also a member of Edward V’s council), went to the Council and provided evidence that Edward IV had been pre-contracted to another woman before marrying Elizabeth Woodville. However, Simon Stallworthe, reporting the events of the Council meeting in question immediately after the meeting took place, reported that nothing unusual had happened.
de Commynes is also the writer who states that Bishop Stillington privately told Richard of Gloucester about his deceased brother’s pre-contracted marriage to Eleanor Butler.
If this pre-contracted marriage was true, per medieval canon law it would have made Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville bigamous, and any children of that marriage illegitimate.
2. ~16 May 1483. In her book Richard III: The Maligned King, Annette Carson writes: “In the British Library Harleian record of items that passed under Richard’s personal seal of signet, there is a writ dating to about 16 May 1483. In it King Edward V, via the protector, calls upon Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, to summon at St Paul’s a convocation of the southern clergy to consider ‘certain difficult and urgent matters closely concerning us and the state of our realm of England and the honour and benefit of the English Church’. Further matters were to be raised at the time of the meeting.”
There is no record of this meeting actually taking place. Annette suggests that Richard and the boy-king’s Council may have decided “such explosive matters were best discussed by a more discreet private gathering of clerical experts on canon law.”[i] It should be noted that the Council itself had ecclesiastical members on it who were well-versed in canon law.
3. 16 May 1483 – 8 June 1483. Information was gathered and organized regarding all aspects of the alleged pre-contract.
4. 19 May 1483. Edward V moves into the Tower in anticipation of his coronation scheduled for 22 June 1483. Traditionally, kings and queens processed from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the morning of their coronation. Additionally, at that time the Tower was a royal residence without the violent, bloody reputation it gained in Tudor times.
5. 5 June 1483. Through his Protector, Richard of Gloucester, Edward V summoned 50 persons by writ, commanding them, “to prepare and furnish yourselves to receive the noble order of knighthood at our coronation.”
Below is a complete list of the esquires summoned to become Knights of the Bath on the eve of Edward’s coronation, as it appears in The Knights of England.[ii] There was no summons for candidates to become Knights of the Garter under Edward V.
- OTES GILBERT, esquire.
- JOHN SPEKE.
- EDWARD COURTENEY.
- [1483, June.] WILLIAM GARRAUNT.
- THOMAS ARUNDELL.
- WILLIAM BOLNEY.
- ALEXANDER CRESSEMERE.
- JOHN CLOPTON.
- HENRY HAYDEN.
- JOHN WYNKEFELD.
- CHRISTOPHER WILLOUGHBY.
- PHILIP CALTHORPE.
- THOMAS LEWKENORE.
- WILLIAM BARKELEY.
- JOHN STANLEY.
- WILLIAM BIRMINGAM.
- THOMAS BUTTELER, of Beawsey.
- JOHN BERON.
- WILLIAM TROWTBEK.
- Lord DORMOND [?Sir John Drummond, afterwards 1st lord Drummond]
- EDWARD (SUTTON alias Dudley), 6th lord Dudley, or lord Sutton de Dudley.
- [EDMUND] CORNEWALL, lord of Burford.
- [GEORGE] NEVILL, son of, and afterwards 5th lord Abergavenny.
- JOHN BROWN, of Stamford.
- [1483, June.] [GEORGE] (GREY), lord Grey, of Ruthin, afterwards 13th [sic] earl of Kent. (NOTE: Lord Grey was actually the 2nd earl of Kent)
- JOHN GIFFORD.
- WILLIAM CHENAY, of Shepay.
- ROBERT WHITE, of Southwarne Borrowe.
- GERVASE CLYFTON, of Oddisake.
- NICHOLAS LILE.
- WILLIAM BERKELEY, of Beverston.
- HENRY YERNON.
- NICHOLAS MONTGOMERY.
- WILLIAM OVEDALE.
- WILLIAM SAY.
- [? THOMAS BROOKE], son and heir of lord Cobhain.
- TH. HAMDEN, of Hamden.
- THOMAS DARCY.
- EAUF LANGFORD [SANFORD].
- HENRY COLET, alderman of London.
- JOHN PAWLET.
- THOMAS WYNDESORE.
- JOHN EOGER, of Frefolke.
6. 9 June 1483. Four-hour Meeting of the Great Council, with lords temporal and spiritual. Note that this was not merely a meeting of the boy-king’s Council; note also how long the meeting lasted.
Simon Stallworth (a member of the household of John Russell, Bishop of Lincoln and currently Lord Chancellor) wrote a letter to William Stoner reporting on the meeting. He mentioned that the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and her brother, Bishop Lionel Woodville, and others were still in sanctuary. He then went on to say, “My lorde Protector, my lorde of Buckyngham, with all other lordys as wele temporal as spituale wer at Westminstre in the councelchamber from 10 to 2 butt there wass none that spake with the Qwene. There is gret busyness ageyns the Coronacione wyche schalbe this day fortnyght as we say.”[iii]
Please note that the word ‘ageyn'” more often meant ‘again’ rather than ‘against’ as some writers have assumed.
Richard Grafton (the King’s Printer under Henry VIII and Edward VI) in his Chronicle at Large stated that Richard brought before the Council “authentic doctors, proctors and notaries of the law, with depositions from divers witnesses”.[iv] Of course, since Grafton was writing under Tudor monarchs, he also repeats the Tudor lie that Edward IV had pre-contracted himself to Elizabeth Lucy, rather than to Eleanor Butler.
All privy writs in the name of Edward V ceased on this day. The last was sent by Edward V’s secretary Oliver King this same day.
7. 16 June 1483. Richard of York joins his brother, Edward V, in the Tower.
Surely, by 16 June, Elizabeth Woodville would have known that the Council had decided her marriage to Edward IV was invalid and her son would not be crowned King of England on 22 June 1483? Yet she released young Richard of York into his uncle’s care on 16 June.
There is a Sherlock Holmes story called “Silver Blaze,” wherein the following exchange takes place:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
In the story, a race horse was removed from a stable in the dead of night, yet the dog that lived in the stable did not bark. The dog’s silence was an important clue in solving the mystery of who removed the horse.
Regarding Elizabeth Woodville, her silence is an important clue in solving the mystery of whether Edward IV’s pre-contracted marriage with Eleanor Butler was invented or actual. The widowed queen had easy access to religious canon expects while in sanctuary for weeks at Westminster Abbey, yet she failed to mount a defense. The fact that she did not strongly suggests that she knew very well that her marriage to Edward IV was indefensible — that it was indeed bigamous.
Elizabeth remained silent as her marriage to Edward IV was declared invalid and their children were declared bastards. Even after Henry Tudor took the throne as Henry VII, Elizabeth had every opportunity to denounce Richard III and proclaim to all and sundry that a ruthless usurper had invented the pre-contract, that his ill-conceived fantasy had accommodated his stealing her oldest son’s throne. Beyond that, Elizabeth also had the opportunity to reveal that Richard III had murdered Edward V, his brother Richard, and Elizabeth’s own brother, Anthony Woodville. Instead, she said nothing.
What explanation is possible for the former queen’s failure to mount a defense of her marriage and an accusation of child-murder against Richard III – before or after his death — other than that she already knew that Edward IV had pre-contracted marriage with Eleanor Butler?
Richard acceded to the throne on 26 June 1483 when he sat on the Marble throne. He was crowned on 6 July 1483, a mere four weeks after issuing the summons for Edward V’s prospective Knights of the Bath. Below is a list of those he summoned to become Knights of the Bath on the eve of his own coronation. It should be noted that the last two names were on Edward V’s list as well.[v]
- EDMUND DE LA POLE, afterwards 3rd duke of Suffolk.
- JOHN [sic for George] GREY, son of and afterwards 13th earl of Kent.
- WILLIAM ZOUCHE, brother of John, lord Zouche.
- WILLIAM or HENRY [sic for George] NEVILL, son of and afterwards 5th lord Abergavenny.
- CHRISTOPHER WILLOUGHBY.
- WILLIAM BERKELEY of Beverston.
- HENRY [ ? William] BANINGTON [Babington].
- THOMAS ARUNDELL.
- THOMAS BOLAYNE or Boleyn.
- EDMUND BEDINGFIELD [Beningefeld].
- GERVASE or BREWAS of Clifton.
- WILLIAM SAY.
- WILLIAM ENDERBY.
- THOMAS [James] LEWKENOR.
- THOMAS ORMOND.
- JOHN BROWNE.
- WILLIAM BARKELEY of Wyldy.
- EDMUND CORNWALL, baron of Burford.
- WILLIAM GARRAUNT
- GEORGE, LORD GREY OF BUTHEN, afterwards 2nd earl of Kent.
The last person on the list — George, Lord Grey of Buthen — was married to Elizabeth Woodville’s sister, Anne. He later became the 2nd earl of Kent and prospered under Henry VII. I could find no trace of William Garraunt — perhaps he lurks in the historical record under another surname.
After considering the chronology of events above, we may conclude that on 9 June 1483, after considering witness testimonies and the evidence presented, the Great Council concluded that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was indeed bigamous, which meant that under canon law the children of their marriage were illegitimate, which in turn meant that Edward V was not eligible to take the throne.
We may also conclude that at least through 5 June 1483, when Richard of Gloucester, acting as Protector, summoned 50 esquires in his nephew’s name to be made Knights of the Bath — esquires who were undoubtedly loyal to Edward rather than to his uncle — Richard was not acting to usurp his nephew’s throne. From all indications, Richard was still planning to see Edward of York crowned Kind Edward V a mere 17 days later.
[i] Richard III: The Maligned King, Annette Carson, The History Press, Gloucestershire, 2009, pgs 76-77.
[ii] The Knights of England: A complete record from the earliest time to the present day of the knights of all the orders of chivalry in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and of knights bachelors, incorporating a complete list of knights bachelors dubbed in Ireland (1906). The document is in the public domain and can be downloaded in many formats here: https://archive.org/details/knightsofengland01shawuoft . The complete list of the esquires to be made knights at Edward V’s coronation is on page 138 in the text version.
[iii] Stonor Letters and Papers, 1290-1483, ed. C.L. Kingsford (1919), ii, pp 1590-60.
[iv] Grafton’s Chronicle, Or History of England: To which is Added His Table of the Bailiffs, Sheriffs and Mayors of the City of London from the Year 1189, to 1558, Inclusive: in Two Volumes; Volume 2, London, (1809) (Google eBook available at http://tinyurl.com/ou3huhh). Quoted in Richard III: The Maligned King, pg 78.
[v] The Knights of England. The complete list of the esquires to be made knights at Richard III’s coronation is on page 141.