I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Richard III’s brother, George of Clarence. You know the one–typical ‘middle child’, ‘false fleeting Clarence’, the one drowned in Malmsey who was also a drunk and quite possibly insane, hanging, as he did, old ladies on the vaguest of suspicions.
And I began considering–is George, like Richard, maligned, doomed forever to be hidden in an obscuring web of myth and invention?
Certainly he was disloyal, joining Warwick against his own brother, Edward IV. He created a fuss when Richard wanted to marry Anne Neville, his protests lasting several years. He did indeed accuse Ankaret Twynho, and others, of poisoning his wife and baby son–and hanged the old lady after a brief and decidedly unfair trial.
But mad? A drunk? And in regards to his wife and child…what if he were right?
Like Richard’s supposed hump, limp, withered arm and other defects, George’s ‘insanity’ and ‘drunkenness’ appear to have been exaggerated if not completely invented, mainly in fiction. (And yes, I admit I am guilty of adding to this stereotype myself.) There is no mention in primary sources of George drinking or being dissolute; that idea seems to have come solely from his supposed death in a vat of malmsey, and the questions it raised (ie. Did Edward have him drowned in booze because he liked a tipple and maybe even requested such an end as a macabre final joke?) Fickleness aplenty went on, certainly, and his last acts with the Twynyho affair were erratic, but he wasn’t spouting gibberish, having hallucinations, or lying catatonic like poor old Henry VI. He defended himself in regards to the charges laid against him by the King, and apparently one of Elizabeth Woodville’s main fears was that people would follow him and her children would never inherit the throne. The people of England were hardly likely to follow another mad king. This implies to me that George was not generally seen as a loony, treacherous lush, but someone who might have had some decent enough qualities, or at very least some kind of strong charisma.
So that brings us back to the whole mystery surrounding the death of George’s wife, Isabel Neville, and his infant son Richard of York. Many have claimed Isabel died of childbirth-related illness…but she actually succumbed two and a half months after the birth. Childbed fever, the biggest killer of women in her day, normally took its victims far sooner. TB has also been suggested, and it is certainly not impossible, for in some victims TB symptoms can appear with frightening suddenness and ‘gallop’ on to their bitter end, but there is no written evidence of her having such symptoms. In the interim between childbed and her death, she travelled from Tewkesbury to Warwick, which implies she was not grievously ill at that point. The baby too was alive and outlived its mother by about 10 days. So both mother and child lived more than two months after the birth and made a moderately long journey without incident before their deaths.
Ankaret Twynyho (nee Hawkeston) herself is also the subject of some myth-making. In fiction she is often portrayed as a simple ordinary local woman, perhaps the midwife who delivered Isabel’s baby. However, she was not a peasant woman, nor is their any evidence she was Isabel’s midwife. It is merely known the she ‘served’ in the Clarence household. She did leave George’s service rather quickly after Isabel’s demise however, going to her home in Keyford, Somerset in the days before George accused her of murder.
Of John Thursby, who was hanged alongside her, little is known, save that he was from Warwick and said to be her accomplice. The third person who was accused, managed (somehow and rather oddly) to escape any consequences, and is, interestingly, the one who George claimed to be the ‘mastermind’ behind the supposed poisoning. Strangely he is seldom mentioned in regards to the incident–and my feeling is his possible involvement needs to be re-assessed.
This suspect was Sir Roger Tocotes of Bromham, long time associate of George of Clarence. (Michael Hicks went so far as to suggest George might even have called him ‘friend.’) He had supported the House of York and fought at Towton, Barnet and Tewkesbury (where he may have been knighted). He even accompanied George on Edward IV’s ill-fated ‘invasion’ of France.
Why would George think this seemingly loyal supporter masterminded his wife and child’s death? What would be Tocote’s reason? What evidence existed at the time that made George believe him involved? Some writers say Tocotes ‘escaped’ George’s vengeance, others that he received an aquittal (from the king?) despite being the prime accused in Isabel’s ‘murder.’
Later, long after George’s death, Roger Tocotes would go on to be one of the Duke of Buckingham’s supporters in the October rebellion of 1483. (Richard pardoned him.) He then fought for Henry Tudor at Bosworth and did rather well for himself under the Tudor regime, becoming Sheriff of Wiltshire for a second time and also a Knight of the Body. He is buried in a very lavish chantry chapel in the parish church in Bromham, Wiltshire.
Could Roger Tocotes have indeed been a turncoat who went from friend to traitor and tried to bring Clarence and his family down? If so, who was behind it, what was the reason? After Isabel’s death, George was apparently afraid of being poisoned himself and blamed the King, his brother. He claimed Edward meant to ‘consume him in likewise as a candle is consumed by burning’. George’s seemingly wild claims have led over the years to a probably false view of him as being paranoid and mentally unstable. There is always a chance that he may have been genuinely afraid, not crazy–and that he may have truly had something to fear.
Maybe Roger Tocotes, lying in his graffiti-covered tomb in Bromham church, took a dark and unhappy secret to the grave.
In this article, about revising the reputation of Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, I wrote of the 2017 biography of the prince by Michael Jones, in which an undoubted stain on the prince’s memory was reconsidered. The prince apparently ordered the sack the city of Limoges, and slaughter of at least 3,000 inhabitants. This number, and the incredible accompanying cruelty, was reported by Froissart, who wrote later of course, and may have had a hidden agenda for blackening the prince’s memory. Whatever his purpose, blacken it he certainly did.
Anyway, the Jones biography mentions evidence in the form of a newly-unearthed French chronicle which reveals the French themselves to have been guilty of what happened at Limoges. See also here for another review of the Michael Jones book, which is now available in paperback.
I have been rambling around on Google, looking for something else, and have come upon this article which reveals that a French historian, Dr Guilhem Pepin, had discovered in a Spanish archive, a letter (illustrated top above) written by the prince himself, explaining what happened. This letter demonstrates that a maximum of 100 French soldiers and 200 French citizens perished at Limoges. A far cry from 3,000.
In the meantime I am left with the thought that Froissart did to the Black Prince what all that Tudor propaganda did to Richard III.
Well, well, this author appears to have expunged Lionel of Clarence and his line from the annals of history, in order to make the Lancastrian claim to the throne senior to that of York. When, thanks to Lionel, it ended up the other way around. Lionel was the 2nd son of Edward III, Lancaster the 3rd, and York the 4th. Put 2nd and 4th together, and you have something rather more superior than the 3rd. Yes? Yes.
This article is very interesting, because it re-examines Shakespeare’s perverted version of Richard III. Yes, it’s about the play, and a production of it, but toward the end it deals with the REAL Richard, and how he has been damned by the Tudors and their propaganda. Well worth a read.
Recent archaeological excavations in Kent by the University of Leicester have pinpointed the probable landing point for Caesar’s invasion of Britain. No full study on this important historical event has taken place in the last 100 years and it was widely thought amongst academics that both of Caesar’s incursions into Britain had been regarded as ‘failures’ in the Roman world ‘ With new evidence, it appears this may not have been the case, and they were perhaps seen as great advances for Rome in that the armies passed beyond the ‘known world’. (Britons and the Irish were the ‘people behind the North Wind.)
What is also becoming clear is that the Romans and Britons may not all have been outright enemies. There is evidence that treaties were made with local British petty kings and chieftains in Caesar’s time, and these led to the quick capitulation of southern England in the later Claudian invasion. Recent archaeology has shown that a number of tribes were already trading with the Mediterranean world and were quite welcoming of the Roman armies.
The Romans’ own propaganda has perhaps delayed some of the study into the interaction between the Romans and native Britons. In their records they speak of people wearing nothing but animal hides and ‘knowing not the use of raiment’ and yet we know from archaeology that people have woven clothes in Britain since the later Neolithic. No mention is made of the trade we also know happened (lots of fine imported wine and pottery!), and the Druids had a hatchet job done on them (quite literally at Anglesey.)
It seems important to remember that records, even if kept with some accuracy, will reflect the bias of the writers, and may have been used as propoaganda tools–here to convince that the Druids needed to be eradicated and that the Britons needed to be ‘civilised’ (ie Romanised and under Roman control.)
This post harks back to a previous one of 5th November 2014. Both concern the similarities between the lives and deaths of Richard II and Richard III, but I have now come upon a passage in a book that is actually about Richard II, but much of which could be applied to Richard III. The book is The Medieval Python, by and about Monty Python’s Terry Jones, Chapter 4, Terry Jones’s Richard II by Nigel Saul.
“For Terry Jones, Richard II is a much maligned ruler. Obstructed by a gaggle of obscurantist barons, deposed by a slippery usurper, and with his reputation besmirched by Lancastrian propaganda, Richard, in Terry’s view, is deserving of better in the eyes of posterity. Far from the self-centred, vengeful monarch portrayed in textbooks, Richard, for Terry, was actually a wise and beneficent ruler who sought the good of his people. In his final years, when he ruled without baronial constraint, he conducted what Terry calls ‘a bold experiment in ideal kingship’. Its aim was to shield the king’s humbler subjects from the policy of aggressive war with France that suited only the warmongering baronage. After 1399, however, when Henry IV seized the crown from his cousin, history was rewritten to blacken the former king’s name. Our assessment of Richard’s kingship, Terry argues, should be based not on the hostile Lancastrian accounts, but on sources that date from the king’s own lifetime. In particular, we should try to judge Richard’s achievement in the light of contemporary expectations of kingship for the common good. Viewed in this light, Richard can be seen for what he was—an exponent of the ideas in the ‘mirrors of princes’ literature, a monarch who triumphed over faction, ruling in the common interest. . .”
Saul goes on to argue against Jones’ judgement, but that is beside the point. I think you will have to agree that these two Richards (forget the so-called Lionheart) were subjected to very similar, very cruel fates.
As I said in my previous post (indicated above) the similarities are astonishing, even to both being married to Annes who died before them and left them childless, and both being removed from life by Henrys who proceeded to ruin their reputations with endless lies. Oh, and they both have the misfortune to attract Shakespeare, who is always on the wrong side! Well, I think he is.
The main attraction in writing a biography of the Black Prince was to bring to life his martial exploits, for Edward of Woodstock, the eldest son of Edward III, captured the imagination of fourteenth century Europe. The chronicler Jean Froissart described him as ‘the flower of all chivalry’; the Chandos Herald, who fought with him, saw him as ‘the embodiment of all valour’. Thomas Walsingham wrote: ‘He never attacked a people he did not conquer; he never besieged a city he did not take.’ Even the French were impressed. A Valois chronicler stated: ‘He was one of the greatest and best knights ever seen. In his time, he was renowned the world over and won the respect of all.’
The Black Prince won his spurs at Crécy, on 26 August 1346, aged just sixteen. Edward III’s army used the longbow to deadly effect – annihilating the French nobility – and the Prince fought with conspicuous courage that day. Nine years later he received his first independent command as king’s lieutenant in Gascony, conducting a brutal plundering raid that scorched the earth of Languedoc. But it was at Poitiers, on 19 September 1356, that he won a truly remarkable victory over the numerically superior French, capturing their king, Jean II. In the battle’s aftermath, Jean was forced to accept the terms of a treaty which marked the zenith of England’s dominance in the Hundred Years War.
Edward of Woodstock then became Prince of Aquitaine, ruling – from 1362 – over a vast swathe of territory in southwest France. Five years later, he led an Anglo-Gascon army into northern Spain on behalf of the exiled ruler Pedro of Castile and won his last great success. At Nájera – on 3 April 1367 – he routed the opposing Franco-Castilian army of Enrique of Trastamara and restored Pedro I to the throne.
In purely military terms, the battle of Nájera was the Black Prince’s most impressive achievement. He skilfully reconnoitred the terrain before making a daring night-time march around his opponent’s position, drawn up on a wide plain to the east of the town. As dawn broke, his army made a surprise attack upon Enrique’s left flank. This was instinctive generalship – the Prince deploying his bowmen and dismounted men-at-arms with devastating effect before throwing in his cavalry to pursue and cut down his fleeing foe. The chronicler Henry of Knighton said simply: ‘It was the greatest battle to have taken place in our time.’
Yet, in a broader context, Nájera represented a flawed triumph. The Prince’s conduct of the campaign was on occasions hesitant and lacklustre, and although this was redeemed by a fine victory, its consequences (in which the army succumbed to a dysentery outbreak and Pedro reneged on financial obligations he had promised to repay) left him struggling with sickness and massive debt.
It was the battle of Poitiers that made the strongest impression on contemporaries. Here the Prince showed the full range of his talents: tactical acumen and astonishing courage during the course of the fighting and praiseworthy chivalry – in his treatment of his captured opponent, King Jean II – in its aftermath. It was the summit of his career as England’s warrior-hero.
The Black Prince passed away on 8 June 1376 – just over a year before the death of his father – after enduring a long and painful illness. His body lay in state in Westminster Hall and his funeral was then held at Canterbury Cathedral, some three and a half months later, on 29 September, amidst an outpouring of national grief. ‘Thus died the hope of the English’, Thomas Walsingham remarked. The poet John Gower hailed the Prince as an exemplar of knighthood: ‘He was never discomfited in a fight…he was a wellspring of courage.’ And in his funeral sermon Thomas Brinton, bishop of Rochester, evoked an era that seemed to be passing: ‘His wisdom appeared not only in his habit of speaking prudently’, Brinton emphasised, ‘but also in his manner of acting, because he did not merely talk like the lords of today but was a doer of deeds.’
Yet an idealised picture was being created. The Prince had, after all, been seriously ill for a long time and it suited contemporaries to remember the glorious victories of his prime rather than his final years in France, which were tarnished by the levying of a hearth tax on his Gascon subjects, the ill-fated resumption of the war and the sack of the French town of Limoges – although here hostile propaganda would play a part in unjustly blackening the Prince’s reputation.
The Black Prince’s generosity towards his fellow fighters left him constantly in debt. A measure of financial prudence was necessary to be a successful ruler. However, if he had retained his health, his martial standing and easy rapport with the aristocracy would have been considerable assets as king. And at beginning of his rule as Prince of Aquitaine he did indeed show much promise, particularly in his commitment to justice and good government. In contrast, the last days of Edward III’s reign were beset by corruption and mismanagement, making the profound sense of loss at the Prince’s passing only too understandable.
Richard II was a very different man from his father. Intelligent and cultivated, he thought carefully about the dignity of kingship, possibly modelling some of his court protocol on what he had learnt of the magnificence of the Black Prince’s rule in Aquitaine. Yet he was no warrior – preferring instead to make peace with France – and his relations with his nobles were marred by distrust and outbursts of petty spite.
The period of ‘tyranny’, a description coined by the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, covered the last two years of Richard’s rule, from 1397-9, when the monarch took his revenge on the Appellants (a group of lords who had restricted his royal powers some eight years earlier), created a host of new aristocratic titles, imposed forced loans upon his subjects and strengthened royal power in the localities. In Richard’s eyes such measures were justified by his own concept of kingship, ‘an obligation laid upon him by God’, but political theory did not match practical reality. He ruled in a climate of fear, alienating many around him and ultimately sowed the seeds of his own downfall.
The Lancastrian dynasty began when Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposed the anointed king, Richard II, forcing him to abdicate. The Lancastrian claim to the throne derived from their descent from John of Gaunt (Henry’s father), the third surviving son of Edward III, through the male line. If the female line was given precedence the House of York had the better claim, through their descent from Lionel duke of Clarence (Edward’s second surviving son), through the marriage of Lionel’s daughter, Philippa, to Edmund Mortimer, earl of March – it was the granddaughter of this union, Anne Mortimer, Richard duke of York’s mother, who brought this claim into his family.
However enmity between the houses of York and Lancaster – founded upon this dynastic fault line – a feature of the drift to civil war in the 1450s, was by no means inevitable. Richard duke of York served Henry VI loyally as king’s lieutenant in France and it was only after his replacement by his hated rival Edmund Beaufort, duke of Somerset and fears that Somerset might manipulate the king and challenge York’s position within the realm as heir presumptive (evident in his articles against the duke in 1452) that the Mortimer claim, and the family’s descent from Lionel of Clarence, was once more considered. In short, it was Henry VI’s failure to dispense patronage and political influence even-handedly that propelled the house of York towards asserting its own claim to the throne.
It is a pleasure to see such a resurgence of interest in Margaret Beaufort – one of the great political survivors of the late middle ages – in fiction, non-fiction and TV. When I undertook my 1992 biography, with Malcolm Underwood, The King’s Mother, little was known about her political role and many of the key facts of her life misunderstood. Tudor historians would later insinuate that Margaret was always trying to advance her son’s claim to the throne but the reality was rather different.
Margaret Beaufort was always the pragmatist – and the archives of St John’s College, Cambridge, show her negotiating with Edward IV to secure a title and marriage for Henry Tudor within the Yorkist polity, a course of action that she continued to pursue at the very beginning of Richard III’s reign. It was only later in the summer of 1483 that Margaret began plotting against Richard. In the words of Polydore Vergil she ‘was commonly called the head of that conspiracy’, but whether her intention at this stage was to promote her son’s claim to the throne or merely to support Buckingham’s rebellion is far from clear. An accessible, recent account of these machinations can be found in the book I wrote with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, The Women of the Cousins’ War and in my piece ‘Mother of the Tudors’ in the BBC History Magazine (January 2017).
For Michael Jones’s author website see: www.michaeljoneshistorian.com
This excellent post from Nerdalicious, whose tabs appropriately include “History of Folk and Fairy Tales”, shows just how desperately ridiculous the Cairo case really is, particularly when they treat More’s first half as a Fifth Gospel and ignore his second.
After all, we have already shown that the small coffins buried with Edward IV are irrelevant, that several different discoveries were made during the seventeenth century, that Charles II benefited from the find in 1674 and that the “Princes” mtDNA could well be available soon.