This BBC documentary was actually very good and it worked because Starkey spoke about a subject he knows inside out – the Reformation and Henry VIII, relating it to current affairs. From Luther’s theses, indulgences and translating the Bible, first into German then English, he moved onto Tyndale‘s efforts to smuggle it into England and Henry’s efforts, through More, to stop him. Then came Wolsey, Campeggio and the King’s “great matter”, followed by More’s downfall and Anne Boleyn’s rise, reminding us how Henry had three Catholics and three Protestants executed on the same day, whilst always actually remaining a Catholic.
Indeed the quality of this programme demonstrates why Starkey should concentrate more on broadcasting about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, not interpreting the “Roses” period on an “incomplete records” basis through a “Tudor” prism. Quite apart from Henry VII liking the accounting reference, he is the main reason that the records are now incomplete!
On a whim, I acquired a copy of The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, edited by Marion Glasscoe. It concerns the papers that were the proceedings of the Exeter Symposium IV: Dartington 1987. And the first of these papers concerns The Mystics and the Early English Printers, and is by George R. Keiser.
I confess this is not my usual territory, but I found it all very interesting. The objective of this particular paper is to argue about points regarding Wynkyn de Worde’s significance in printing in England. Wynkyn was a Dutch emigrant who first worked with Caxton, but in 1500 set up on his own to approach printing from his own perspective. Caxton was apparently not much inclined to print in English, but Wynkyn de Worde did just that.
That is not my interest here, because my Ricardian leanings take me down a side road. By that I mean, a little delve into the literacy, or lack of it, of the royals of the late 15th century.
Caxton had done well under the Yorkist kings. There is a famous Victorian painting of Edward IV and his family visiting Caxton’s printing press, and according to Weiser, it is generally accepted that the kings who preceded Henry VII were well educated and prepared for their royal role. According to me, this is especially true of Richard III, Edward’s youngest brother, who was particularly literate.
Strangely, he doesn’t get a mention. I know he only reigned for two years, but that is no excuse for eliminating him, so I will rectify the omission by directing you to http://www.richardiii.net/2_1_0_richardiii.php where the section on his books reveals him to have been unusually steeped in literature. So, far from having little to do with printing, he was quite clearly very interested and involved. And he possessed a copy of the Bible in the English language.
Flourishing under the Yorkists meant life was not so easy after Bosworth, of course, and both Caxton and Wynkyn rather cannily approached Margaret Beaufort, who, whatever we may think of her, was a very literate woman. Wynkyn eventually styled himself “Prynter vnto the moost excellent Pryncesse my lady the Kynges mother”. She and Elizabeth of York were often approached together, and appear to have commissioned a number of book editions to give to their friends. It is not so well known how literate Elizabeth of York was, but there is, apparently, a surviving print book that contains the signatures of both ladies.
That the printers approached the ladies rather than King Henry VII might be explained by the following passage from Keiser’s paper: “…The new king had apparently come to the throne without the education and training that his predecessors had enjoyed (Chrimes Henry VII). Whether he had the literary, chivalric and devotional interests that might have inspired his patronage of the press remains an unanswered question; so too does the question why the new dynasty did not seize the opportunity to exploit the press for propaganda purposes…”
Huh??? Henry missed a chance for more propaganda? Hard to believe.
But I must be fair to Henry regarding his literacy. He spoke a number of languages, and was a highly intelligent man! Mind you, I must say that it is easier to speak a language than to write it. Even so, I have always regarded him as well educated, if not exactly well prepared to be king.
Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, (mother of Edward IV and Richard III, and grandmother of Elizabeth of York, and Henry’s grandmother-in-law) was particularly distinguished for her pious life and collection of devotional writings which she bequeathed to various granddaughters.
So the royal ladies of the late 15th century were educated and literate, a fact that is often overlooked. The men are credited with being as deft with the quill as they were with the sword, while the women did nothing in particular. Is that not the usual image with which we are presented?
Finally, a rather favourite of lady of mine; indeed, the lady after whom I called myself ‘viscountessw’. Cicely, Viscountess Welles, was Elizabeth of York’s next sister in age, and therefore another daughter of Edward IV. She became the wife of John Welles, Viscount Welles, who was Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother. Thus Cicely was also Henry VII’s sister-in-law…and his aunt by marriage was well! A very highly connected lady.
Above is an example of her signature, which has been described as ‘barely literate’. It has always grieved my modern self to think this description might indeed be appropriate. However, today, in this newly acquired book, I found the following:- “…A book-list preserved in British Library MS. Royal 15.D.2 attests that yet another of her [Cecily Neville’s] grand-daughters, Cicely Welles, had an extensive library of chivalric and devotional writings, some of which must have been printed books…”
Here is a transcript of the BL MS:-
“…Origin: England. Lionel de Welles (b. c.1406, d. 29 March 1461), 6th Baron Welles, perhaps owned by him (see M. Hamel, ‘Arthurian Romance’, Modern Language Quarterly, 51(1990)). John Welles, Viscount Welles (d. 1499), soldier and administrator, perhaps belonged to him: a list of woods sales mentioning John’s property in Well (now Welle Park, Lincolnshire) and other places in the proximity of his properties in Well and Belleau, including a reference to a personal property ‘a nacur in my nawn manour in modurwode [Motherwood, near Alferd]’, (f. 215v) (see Egbert, ‘The So-called “Greenfield” La Lumiere as lais’, Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 446-48); and a list of books in English, written probably in the same hand, including the present manuscript: inscribed, ‘In primus a boke in France clakld pokelypse / A boke of knghte hode / A boke of Caunturbere tlase / A boke of Charlman / A boke þe lyfe of our ladys lyfe / A boke the sheys of Thebes / A boke cald vita mixta / A boke cald þe vii poyntes of true love / A boke cald þe sheys of Jherusalem / A boke cald mort Arthro / A boke cald dyuys et paupar / A boke cald cronackols / A boke cald legend aure / A boke cald facekelus temporum [perhaps a text by the Carthusian Rolevink, printed in 1475]’, end of the 15th century (f. 211r).Cecilia Welles (d. 1507), daughter of Edward IV, king of England, wife of John Welles: inscribed with her name ‘Ciecyl Welles’ (now effaced…”
Well, the above paragraph does not say all the books were inscribed with Cicely’s name…or does it? I’m not quite sure. And yes, she may simply have liked looking at them, but on the other hand, perhaps she could read them perfectly well. I hope so. She became very close to Margaret Beaufort, which perhaps would not have been the case if Cicely had been an uneducated nitwit.
The above illustration is of Edward IV receiving a book from Anthony Woodville. With the king are his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and his heir, the future Edward V.
Looking at it, I found myself wondering if the man in blue and ermine, third from left, might be Richard III. As Duke of Gloucester, of course. Ermine suggests he has to be of royal blood, which means that it could also be George of Clarence. My search for the answer commenced.
To begin with, when was the illustration painted? After all, George died in 1478, so a later date would eliminate him from the puzzle. Prince Edward seems to be under ten. Seven/eight or so, perhaps? He was born in 1470, so it is still possible that the man in blue is George. Richard remains well and truly in the running, of course.
A Google image search followed, with me examining the “page” of every version of the illustration. That is how I hunted it down to being Lambeth Palace “Ms 265, f.VI v Edward IV, with Elizabeth Woodville, Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, from the ‘Dictes of Philosophers,’ c.1477 (vellum). It is of Earl Rivers (Anthony Woodville 1440-1483) presenting his translation of the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers to the king and his family.
So, it is Richard!
Now, I do not claim to be the first to discover this. Indeed not, so please don’t think I seek laurels. Not even a pat on the head. To begin with, it has already been positively identified as him. No, I am just pleased to think that I saw something and followed it through to find out I was right. Would I like to be the first to find a new anything about Richard? You bet your bottom dollar!
It is always a pleasure to visit the sumptuous J. Pierpont Morgan Museum and Library located in the Murray Hill section of New York City. Built in 1906, designed by the esteemed architectural firm of McKim, Meade and White, it is breathtakingly beautiful as well as a unique source of medieval riches, housing one of the smallest yet select collection of illuminated manuscripts and medieval art. Every once in a while, the curators dip into this archival treasure trove and fish out something that makes spending the exorbitant exhibition costs well worth it! This year, they have given us a tiny but interesting group of printed manuscripts from the late 15th century produced in Ghent and London from the printing press of English merchant and diplomat, William Caxton. Caxton came twenty years after Johann Gutenberg but apparently wasted no time learning the craft and using his knowledge of English, Latin and French to produce key works of literature, ranging from the Bible to Chaucer and Malory, an early encyclopedia as well as the first illustrated English book, “The Mirror of the World” published in 1481.
In this, of course, he was helped along by those highly intelligent royals – The Plantagenets – starting with Margaret of York (Duchess of Burgundy) who patronized the finest book artists in Europe. On display is one of her illuminated manuscripts called “Apocalypse” written or translated by the scribe, David Aubert, and published in 1475.
In 1476, probably encouraged by Margaret,Caxton set up a press at Westminster Abby with illustrious clients such as Earl Rivers and the future Richard the Third. Sadly, while much emphasis is placed on Margaret’s and Edward IV’s encouragement of Caxton, there is no mention of Richard the Third in the exhibit. As Ricardians know, Richard had a library of his own and was a great champion of the English language as well as a patron of Caxton. Two books on display – one an unusual Canterbury Tales with woodcuttings and a volume simply called”The Royal Book,” a much-used edition with a leather embossed cover and rubricated lettering, date directly from his reign (1483).
Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most intimate exhibit is a printed indulgence from the workshop of Caxton requesting that Richard Hopton, headmaster of Eton College, be forgiven for promoting war against the Ottomans. Included is the papal seal of Pope Innocent VIII – a blood-red wax replica of what looks like a mitre worn by a bishop. The seal was so carefully broken that it retains a perfect shape.
Perhaps the most important takeaway of this exhibition is Caxton’s work to help stabilize the English language by promoting one dialect – the so-called London dialect – which went on to form the basis of modern English.
The Exhibition last through September 20, 2015.
From time to time I have alluded rather obliquely to the fact that I see strong similarities between late 15th century English politics and early 21st century American politics and that is among the reasons I think that Richard III’s story needs to be told, and told NOW especially. I had been sitting on those revelations all this time because I felt that art needed to be given a chance to make its point, that the libretto and the music would bring those things to light; but I suspect I am putting too much faith in that. People will be struggling with the plot, the music, and the language on the first hearing so perhaps now is the time to make that statement.
To most people nowadays the Wars of the Roses seem to have been a Hatfield versus McCoy family feud of remote antiquity. Little do they realize that international diplomacy had a great deal to do with it, that Louis XI “the Spider” of France, Charles ‘the Rash” of Burgundy, Francis or Brittany, Maximillian of Austria, the Pope, the Doge of Milan, the Hundred Years War, gun powder and the printing press (technology), Spain and Portugal, Scotland and Ireland, the emergence of the middle class, gender roles and rights, religious ideology, the middle east, and international economics and trade agreements were key players in those events. Change is a constant; but the more things change, the more they remain the same in some ways. Having immersed myself in the politics of the 15th century for some time now, I am more aware of the similarities than ever, and the cyclic tendency of things.
Meanwhile, among the strong similarities between American politics and those of the late 15th century in Britain as I see it, are the House of Lancaster being somewhat equivalent to the Republicans, rewarding insiders and throwing money into costly and futile foreign wars (The Hundred Years War) while bankrupting the state and allowing its subjects to starve, doing anything in their power no matter how ridiculous/devious to malign and unseat the reigning house, and the House of York being similar to the Democrats who were allied with the Duchy of Burgundy and generally more progressive, more liberal, more populist, and tended to shake up the status quo by introducing commoners to court/inside the beltway.
The Medieval concept of Fortune’s Wheel is certainly apropos. It’s a wheel that twists on it axis as it turns, though, I think. We think of Mesopotamia as the Cradle of Civilization, but that civilization erupted through violence and competition for limited resources among peoples with conflicting and exclusive ideologies. East and Southeast Asia were also in the ascendant early on, and culture and civilization spread West to Europe gradually, via Turkey, Greece and Rome to Europe. The late 15th c. then saw the discovery of the Americas by Europeans (Richard III had died in battle just 7 years earlier, in fact.) The west appears to be in decline now and the East appears to be ascending, and the strife in the Cradle of Civilization, always at a dull roar, it seems, is increasing once again.
I DO think that this accounts for the popularity of shows like “Game of Thrones” which is loosely based on the Wars of the Roses, and “The White Queen”. And somehow I feel as though the discovery of the mortal remains of Richard III coincided with this time 530 years after his death for a greater purpose. As Joe Leaphorn character in the Hillerman mysteries says, (and I paraphrase) ‘I don’t believe in coincidences’. Or rather, I do, but I believe they have meanings and a significance that we may or may not grasp immediately.
Some of you may recall that I taught a course on musical rhetoric and politics a couple of years ago. The focus of that course had been of interest to me ever since I was a DMA student at University of Texas and wrote a paper on ‘protest music’–no, not the folk-pop music of the ’60s and ’70s, but protest music in 20th century classical art music by composers such as Hindemith, Dallapiccola, Britten, Berg, Schoenberg, and others. The course I taught in 2013 though, went back to the beginnings of European classical music–examining the nature and purpose of Gregorian chant as a tool of the church for subjugating, unifying, and pacifying the masses (!), through the development of word painting in the Renaissance, and structural abstractions as codes during periods of intense censorship in the late 18th century and in Soviet Russia in the 20th century, the use of quotation in masses by Josquin and in early Postmodern composers like George Rochberg, etc., the use of music dramas first to flatter the patron and teach moral and ethical lessons, not unlike early TV sit-coms, and the later use of them to lampoon aristocrats (the SNL of the 18th and 19th centuries!), and the emergence of music by women and composers of color during the mid twentieth century equal rights era, etc..
That, all of it, comes to bear in the opera, Richard III: A Crown of Roses, A Crown of Thorns. This isn’t just a romantic piece about a long-dead king, or pretty arias and exciting battle scene music, it isn’t just about rehabilitating his reputation through art (though that is certainly its mission), but it is about critically examining and understanding the world we live in and drawing attention to the patterns of repetition from history that we sometimes fail to recognize so that we can learn from them.