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Witchcraft (3): Matthew Hopkins

matthew_hopkins_witch-finder-_wellcome_l0000812If the witchcraft trials at North Berwick in the 1590s and later in England, of which Pendle in 1610 is an example, happened because James VI/I fervently believed in witchcraft, as shown by the three characters in Macbeth, it can be argued that the subsequent decline in such cases came because judges and Charles I took a more sceptical approach, Charles being a more Anglican King than his father. There was, however, a significant case in his reign at Lancaster in 1634.

This trend was reversed in the early 1640s when the start of the First English Civil War saw Charles lose his authority over several parts of his largest kingdom but particularly Puritan-inclined counties such as Suffolk and Essex. To fill this vacuum, various individuals assumed some Parliamentary aut240px-st-_johns_church_great_wenham_suffolk_-_geograph-org-uk_-_213446hority in finding witches. Matthew Hopkins, born in about 1620, was the son of a Puritan vicar who had held the living of Great Wenham and land in Framlingham. By 1643, Matthew was an innkeeper near Manningtree but could also rely on an inheritance from his father and appointed himself Witchfinder General. With John Stearne and four followers, he began hunting witches the following year across the whole of East Anglia, subjecting them to the “swimming” ordeal, psychological torture and sending them for trial. By 1647, when his The Discovery of Witches was published, about three hundred people from Bury St. Edmunds to Chelmsford had been hanged, out of the five hundred such executions throughout England between 1400 and 1700.

Early that year, magistrates in Hopkins’ own region began to demand more evidence and the convictions stopped. Hopkins died that August, probably from tuberculosis. Stearne, a decade older, lived on in Bury St. Edmunds until 1670. Their methods had already spread to the New World Colonies, where there was a hanging in Connecticut in May 1647. The first American witch-hunt continued until 1663 but it wasn’t to be the last …

Witchcraft (2): The Pendle Trials

Lancashire, in the early 17th Century, was one of the poorest and least populated counties of England, where even many gentry families had an income of less than £100 a year. The Forest of Pendle, which lies between Burnley, Colne, Clitheroe and Whalley in a remote corner of the county close to the Yorkshire border, has been described as ‘wild, bleak and backward.’ (1)

Pendle was not a forest in the normal sense of the word, but a former royal hunting preserve with particular customs of its own. Much of it was moorland, and most of the rest pasture of moderate quality, with little in the way of arable farming, the climate and the quality of the soil imposing severe limitations. Although in the 21st Century it is a relatively prosperous area, few of its 17th Century inhabitants were well-off. Most survived as farm labourers or servants, and many were close to destitution, particularly those who were aged or infirm. Because of the customs of the area, it was however possible to enjoy a cottage with ‘squatter’s rights’, even though that cottage might be a miserable hovel.

There was also the matter of religion. It is commonly said that Lancashire at this time was one third Catholic, but this is probably an understatement, particularly in rural areas such as Pendle. The Puritan element in Lancashire tended to be clustered in towns such as Manchester and Bolton, where many of the inhabitants were independent cloth workers. Of course, it must be understood that not all Catholics were recusants; some attended the Church of England services from time to time in order to avoid fines, and the exact religious sympathies of many families is hard to discern with assurance. It is certain that some at least nominally Protestant families had a more benign attitude to their Catholic neighbours than did others. Equally it should be understood that practically all so-called ‘Puritans’ remained full, observant members of the Church of England and were not, at this time, a separate denomination. Indeed, the Jacobean Church of England was firmly Calvinist in outlook – something which is not always recognised – and the Armenian innovations of Charles I and Archbishop Laud were still some years in the future.

King James I saw witches as his enemies, not least because of the alleged attempt of the so-called North Berwick witches to drown him and his wife on their way back from Denmark. His obsession with witchcraft led him to write a book on the subject.  After the Gunpowder Plot, he had a similar view of Roman Catholics. Any magistrate who wanted to win the King’s approval could do no better than to crack down on supposed witches and Catholics. As far as witches were concerned, a great deal of firm evidence was not necessarily required. After all, a sovereign capable of believing that witches were able to sail the sea in sieves (as the North Berwick witches were supposed to have done) was not short of credulity in this matter. The best “evidence” (if it could be procured) was the confessions of the alleged witches themselves. The techniques for obtaining such confessions were not necessarily fair or pretty. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act was still far away in the future.

In Pendle there were two rival families of alleged witches, each headed by an elderly grandmother. In the red corner, so to speak, were Anne Whittle (alias Chattox) and her daughter, Anne Redfearn. In the blue corner, Elizabeth Southerns (alias Demdike) with her daughter, Elizabeth Device, and grandchildren, Alison Device, James Device, and Jennet Device. These people somehow eked out a living by a combination of begging (sometimes with threats), casual labour on farms, possible “outwork” for the local textile trade based in Colne and, doubtless, “healing services” for local animals and people. In an age before vets, farmers often relied on the local wise woman to heal their sick animals. Also, such doctors as existed were well beyond the pockets of the poor, who could only make use of herbal remedies or prayer if they fell ill.

It is quite possible that some of the alleged “incantations” of the “witches” were nothing more sinister than mangled versions of Latin prayers. In The Stripping of the Altars, Eamon Duffy describes the use of such prayers in Chapter 8, Charms, Pardons, and Promises. What was once seen as a harmless request for God’s assistance, was now seen as, at best, a form of superstitious magic and at worst an appeal to the Devil. The fact that Catholic belief still had a grip in rural Lancashire, and that “official” Christian ministry was rather thin on the ground in the area may also have contributed to the continuation of ancient traditions.

Matters came to a head in March 1612. Alison Device, who was visiting the Trawden area, either begging or procuring supplies from farms, or both. On the edges of Colne she met a pedlar, one John Lawe of Halifax, and asked him for pins. (It appears these were of the type used to fasten cloth “pieces” onto wooden frames, which demonstrates that the family were probably involved in the textile trade.) Unfortunately Mr Lawe, after a long journey with his pack on his back, was more interested in getting into the pub for a drink than making a small sale. Some sort of argument developed – possibly Alison set her dog on him – and a few moments later Lawe collapsed in the road. In all probability from a stroke. Locals carried him into the nearby Greyhound Inn. Alison took a last look at him and then departed in some haste.

There, had all things been equal, the matter might have ended. Unfortunately for Alison her reputation as a “witch” went before her, and when Lawe’s son arrived in Colne to see his father (who was paralysed on one side) the locals let him know of her history. Abraham Lawe went at once to the “Malkin Tower” (the Device family’s grandly-named residence) to confront Alison and take her to Colne to face his father, who accused the girl of bewitching him. Alison (who may genuinely have believed in her own power) admitted that she had, and begged John Lawe to forgive her, which he did.

Despite John Lawe’s generosity of spirit, Alison was hauled off to Read Hall (several miles away) and put in front of the local J.P., Roger Nowell. Her mother and brother were also brought there.

Somehow, and by whatever means, Nowell extracted a string of confessions from these people that involved Alison, her grandmother and the rival “Chattox” and her daughter and made up a juicy case of alleged witchcraft.

Alison’s grandmother “Demdike”, along with “Chattox” and the latter’s daughter, Anne Redfearn, were brought before Nowell on the basis of Alison’s evidence. Surprisingly (you might think) both “Demdike” and “Chattox”, both elderly and more or less blind, made full confessions, both admitting they had sold their souls to the devil. Anne was more reticent, but was accused by “Demdike” of making clay images of people with intent to injure them by witchcraft. All three, plus Alison, were committed for trial at Lancaster Assizes.

Even this was not the end of it. On Good Friday 1612 there was an alleged gathering of witches at the Malkin Tower, and a conspiracy was hatched to blow up Lancaster Castle and rescue the prisoners. The main evidence for this came from Alison Device’s brother and sister, the latter a girl of about eight. No one seems to have asked the obvious question – how on earth were a group of poor people supposed to obtain and transport sufficient gunpowder to blow up a castle?

On 27th April Nowell and his fellow J.P. Nicholas Bannister, on the basis of reports of this meeting, committed a further eight persons for trial: Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, John Bulcock, Jane Bulcock, Alice Grey and Jennet Preston. The “odd one out” among this group was Alice Nutter, a woman of some local consequence.

In fairness to the “legal system” of the time, such as it was, it must be said that not all witches sent for trial were convicted. Indeed, the three so-called Salmesbury witches, before the court at the same time as those from Pendle, were acquitted. Even Anne Redfearn was acquitted of the first  murder charge brought against her, but was immediately brought back and found guilty of another murder.

The star witness for the prosecution was the young child, Jennet Device. As for the rest of the accused, apart from Alison, found guilty of harming John Lawe by witchcraft, nearly all were found guilty of murdering one person or another by witchcraft. The exceptions were “Demdike” who died in prison awaiting trial, and Alice Grey, who was acquitted.

All were hanged; though Jennet Preston, a resident of Yorkshire, was both tried and executed at York.

It is strange to record that in later years James I began to have doubts about “witchcraft”. This was because his own examinations of sundry “witches” and their accusers had revealed examples of fraud that were obvious even to him. However, this change in his attitude came far too late to help the “Pendle Witches”.

(1) Bull, S., The Civil Wars in Lancashire, p.15.

Sources:

The Lancashire Witch Conspiracy, John A. Clayton.

The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology, Rossell H Robbins.

Website: http://www.pendlewitches.co.uk/  (This contains several of the alleged confessions and much detailed information about the case that cannot be included in so short a post as this.)

North Berwick Witch Trials: http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/trials_north_berwick.html

Are we still ruled by superstition….?

Above are the Venerable Bede and King Cnut, who are concerned in the following extract from Medieval Man by Frederick Harrison:-

“…Only Bede wrote about such subjects as astronomy and geography; and his knowledge of these was conditioned by the teaching of the Church. As time went on, as much reliance was placed on charms as on prayer and the skill of the leech. The need was met by the creation of the order of exorcists, which, in the third century A.D., was added to the other orders conferred by the Church. At certain periods of the year, evil spirits that were regarded as the cause of bodily or mental disorders were exorcised by the appointed ministers of the Church. The ministry was no sinecure, for the demand for it was great. Using his book of exorcisms, the exorcist would bid the evil spirit depart by invoking the Name of the Trinity.

“Side by side with the exorcist there lived and worked in Anglo-Saxon England the wizard, the witch and the “medicine man”, all of whom were ready to sell their skill in even such obscure and troublesome problems as unrequited love, to which end drugged beer and ale could work wonders.”

“…With the belief in witchcraft went a belief in elves, who were supposed to live on high land, in woods or near water. Anyone who suffered from the disease of the water-elf, one symptom of which was manifested by livid finger-nails and watery eyes, could be cured only by the used of certain herbs and incantations. There was a kind of hiccup known as the elf-hiccup. Dwarfs were shunned as workers of evil and as being in league with the devil. Their fabled power to make themselves invisible by wearing the “hell-cap” or “hell-clothing” made them specially fearsome. Storms and tempests and even death were caused by witches and wizards. An attempt was made by King Cnut to put a stop to these superstitious practices; his actual words are worth quoting as revealing his enlightened nature:

“…and we forbid earnestly every heathenship, that a man reverence idols, that is, that a man reverence heathen gods, the sun or the moon, fire or flood, waterwylls or stones, trees of the wood of any sort, or love witchcraft, or perform underhand work in any wise, either by way of sacrifice or divining, or perform any act of such delusions…

“Yet even Bede believed that storms could be raised by witches. He records that the ship in which Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, and Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, were voyaging home was driven out of its coursed by demons, who, however, dispersed when the two holy men bade them, in the Name of the Trinity, depart. Then the storm ceased.” Extract ends.

Cnut was indeed enlightened by the standards of his day, and although we smile when we hear the story of how he ordered the sea to retreat, he was actually teaching those around him a very wise lesson. Not that many were prepared to learn from it. And Bede not only believed in witches, but accepted that issuing orders in the Name of the Trinity would send demons packing. Why did it never occur to him that if that was all it took, how come the demons kept coming back for more?

For Christians, the Lord’s Prayer protects against evil, and is uttered in the Name of the Trinity, yet through the centuries, right until now, a great many continue to believe in witches, the black arts and Satanism.

In The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer writes:

“…The word which best sums up the medieval attitude to the Devil, miracles and everything in between, is superstition.” How true. There were all sorts of stories, such as so-and-so saw the Devil enter the local church, or in the dairy, souring the milk. Yet, a national disaster, which you might expect to be laid at Beelzebub’s door, would be taken as a sign of the Almighty’s displeasure with, say, wicked Londoners, or even humankind in general. One cannot help but wonder what Cnut might have had to say about the giant hailstones that fell during a terrible storm in 1360, killing many men and horses. How enlightened might he have been then?

Yet for all belief in witches, there were, apparently, no more than a dozen cases of supposed witches being executed for the whole period between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation, and most of these had been involved in plots against the monarch or his friends. (See Hibbert, The English – a Social History – 1066-1945, p.261) Witch-hunts and all that vile hysteria came to England in the Seventeenth Century.

So, what conclusion can be drawn from the above? Perhaps that for all their superstition and general gullibility, the people of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval England were more tolerant than those of Seventeenth Century. Witches appear to have mingled with the general populace, and been treated with a reasonably healthy respect. And yet, in 1487, came the Malleus Maleficarum. http://www.malleusmaleficarum.org/ Hardly a friendly treatise on witchcraft! Yet we are told there were only twelve executions of witches.

I don’t know what Cnut would have made or it all, because I’m darned if I know what even I think! Was witchcraft dreaded? Is it still dreaded? Does that uncertainty mean that beneath my modern veneer, I’m just as superstitious as my forebears?

Excuse me while I cross my fingers behind my back….

 

 

More blinkered traditionalist mumbling about Richard….

religious-life-of-riii

I quote” “This controversial study argues that although Richard was indeed guilty of, or implicated in, most, if not all of the crimes of which he has been accused, this ruthless, inscrutable man was also very religious, an austere practitioner of a chivalrous code of ethics, a public benefactor and protector of the Church, a founder of chantries and a follower of a strict, puritanical code of sexual morality. He emerges in part a conventional figure of his time, but also, in part, a very unusual, little-understood man, as compelling and yet more complex than Shakespeare’s mythical anti-hero…”

The quote above, by the author Jonathan Hughes, appears to tell you all you need to know about the book in question. “The Religious Life of Richard III”, published 2000, is yet another wearisome and unsuccessful attempt to meld the myth with the truth. The author wants to believe all the bad things about Richard, but then comes up against the quandary of what to make of the few actual facts he’s prepared to face. The two viewpoints just will not meld, I fear.

The facts point to Richard being the very opposite of the remorseless, conscienceless tyrant the traditionalists insist upon. So Hughes concludes, conveniently, that Richard was an even more complex man than Shakespeare’s monster. Why not just concede that Richard III was an honest man who was forced into a situation that eventually cost him his life. He adhered to the law and did everything that was right, and if he chopped off a few heads, their owners well deserved it! He was a good king who would have been great. Instead his memory has been ‘got at’ relentlessly for centuries. Until now!

We’re on to these numbnuts! One day, they will be seen for the utter fools they are, digging a hole that is slowly getting deeper. One day it will collapse upon them. And serves them right.

So, Mr Hughes, you’ll have to forget all the gruesome murders and other lies cooked up by the Tudors, More, Morton and Shakespeare, and just accept what your own research has clearly indicated. Take off that blindfold! Richard III was a far better man than Henry VII, but was hideously murdered through treachery.

Whilst researching my new biography of Henry III, a tantalising thought began to emerge from bits of evidence.

Was Henry III autistic?

https://mattlewisauthor.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/was-henry-iii-autistic/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Henry-III-Son-Magna-Carta/dp/1445653575

Julian of Norwich

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07l6bd0

I would highly recommend this documentary by Janina Ramirez, whose book on the subject will soon be available

. She showed how Julian, who was female by the way, was born during the fourteenth century. She may well have had a husband and children but lost both to the Black Death before becoming an anchoress at St. Julian’s, Norwich.

Ramirez spoke about Julian’s magnum opus: Revelations of Divine Love, the first known book in English by a female author, quite revolutionary in tone and probably composed during the reign of Richard II and prominence of John of Gaunt. On the deaths of these two men, the religious atmosphere changed dramatically. Under the Lancastrians, Lollards were regularly burned and already being dead, as Wycliffe could testify, did not ensure safety. Julian would have been in great danger if her manuscript had been read more widely at this time.

She died early in Henry V’s reign of natural causes and was probably in her seventies at the time but the story does not end here. Her manuscript was taken to France to avoid the Reformation only for the French Revolution to strike. The nuns caring for the document saw some of their French sisters mount a tumbril and return in two pieces for their burial. The manuscript re-emerged during the last century, to be viewed as a feminist tract.

A medical dictionary for Richard’s time as well…

Shakespeare's Medical Language

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shakespeares-Medical-Language-Shakespeare-Dictionaries/dp/1472520408/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1458901507&sr=1-1&keywords=shakespeare%27s+medical+language

As a writer of historical fiction, I use many publications to search for information, even just snippets. This book by Sujata Iyengar is a dictionary of the Bard’s medical references, and is superb. Each entry is described in with regard to the general period use of the item, then indicates its appearance in actual works by Shakespeare, and further mentions of other, generally later works that provide extra information.

The book is so packed full of interest that it is one to browse through at an idle moment, or indeed to read through intently, page by page. Easy to use and beautifully written (nothing boring here!) it is one I thoroughly recommend.

I do not doubt that its contents are equally applicable to the 15th century.

Oh, and it is also one of a series, e.g. Shakespeare’s Religious Language, and Shakespeare’s Political and Economic Language. I have not read them and so cannot comment on them, but I trust they are up to Sujata Iyengar’s standard.

What really motivated medieval minds?

Giaconda's Blog

Love, ambition, fame, self-interest, fear, religious conviction, physical desire for something or someone, patriotism, duty, compassion, self-sacrifice, revenge or bitter hatred.

Historians make a case for the various motivations of historical figures in order to try and understand these people themselves and then persuade their readership through their analysis as to why a particular figure acted in certain ways as borne out in the evidence of their deeds and the eye witness accounts of their contemporaries. These motivations tend to fall within a core range of basic drivers; well-known to psychologists and literary writers which most of us tend to believe control why humans do what they do.

Depending on which drivers you apply to the historical facts, a very divergent picture of the figure emerges and a very different set of emotional responses are engendered in the reader so these motivations are hugely important and often controversial in their application.

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The contemporaries of Henry VIII

Genealogy

HenryVIII220px-Francis1-1 ivan the terrible

Francois I of France died in the first quarter of 1547, after a reign of over thirty years, leaving only one legitimate son, Henri II. Whilst thought of as a cultured monarch, a patron of the arts and a linguistic reformer, he took an ambiguous approach to religious reform, (in which his sister Marguerite de Navarre took an interest). He organised several heresy executions (at the Place Maubert in 1523, in Paris in 1540 and at Merindol in 1545). The male line of the House of Valois became extinct in 1589, after his three grandsons had reigned.

Ivan IV of Russia was born in 1530 and is thus more a contemporary of Henry’s children. He succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Moscow in infancy and was made the first Tsar in January 1547, weeks before Henry VIII’s death and months before Francois I’s. He is also recorded as a patron of the arts but was increasingly mentally afflicted as his life progressed and was thus responsible for many deaths, including that of his elder son. Ivan, thereby known as “the Terrible”, is thought to have contracted seven marriages although he annulled three as the Russian Orthodox Church had a lifetime limit of four spouses. Like Henry and Francois, he died in his fifties and was succeeded by his son, Feodor I. In fact Ivan left two sons but Feodor was predeceased both by his daughter and his half-brother, ending the Rurik dynasty proper in 1598.

Although Henry VIII and Francois I were both descended from Charles V (and may have shared a mistress (Mary Boleyn), Ivan IV was not as closely related to either.

Part 2 of a review of Terry Breverton’s RICHARD III: THE KING IN THE CAR PARK….

Breverton - RIII Car Park

Part 2 of a review by Myrna Smith, Ricardian Reading Editor, of Richard III: The King in the Car Park.

EVISCERATING TERRY BREVERTON

Being an elaboration, with examples, of some of the points made in Part I. Let’s get the more trivial criticisms out of the way first.

Grammar: Pg. 82 –“Her son was only 14 years younger than her.” It should be “than she (was).” I can’t help it. I paid attention in English Composition.

Here’s one of my favorite gripes: “Devout believers in the Roman Church could literally get away with anything and still go to heaven if they confessed and paid enough to the Church. In Richard’s case his gifts to the Church, in exchange for forgiveness for his sins, came from illegal confiscations of properties and fees.” Literally? Literally?? You mean Richard is actually, literally, in Heaven right now, at the right hand of God? And more particularly, right next to Henry Tudor, who certainly made lavish gifts to the Church – which were a waste of good money, according to Mr. Breverton. More about that later. For right now, let’s just say that people who confuse ‘literally’ and ‘figuratively’ are quite annoying.

More a matter of syntax than grammar is the way the author , 99 times out of 100, uses ‘upon’ for ‘on’, as in ‘upon 20 January 1487.’ Another annoyance.

Further, he doesn’t seem to be able to count. Pg. 115: “Arthur was probably conceived two months before the couple wed. [My decimal digital computer says one month.] , and recent Ricardian novelists are attributing this to forcible rape.” [That’s one ‘Ricardian’ novelist, Philippa Gregory – who writes mostly about the Tudors.]

Did I mention that there are no footnotes or endnotes, and only a “Partial List of Sources?” And no index! Grr-rrr!

To go on to more factual criticisms: Terry Breverton hates Richard, to be sure, but not half as much as he hates Ricardians, it would seem: “Ricardians claim that [the Beaufort line] had been bastardised by Parliament” (not just Ricardians claim this) “so Henry, the son of Margaret Beaufort, had no claim to the throne. The same could be claimed against Richard – no recent books seem to mention that. Anti-Henry writers decry the fact that Henry’s real claim came via his mother, whereas in fact Richard’s real right also came via his mother. Both inherited through the female line.” No recent book mentions this, because it is simply not true. Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, had Beauforts in her family tree, but Richard’s, and his brother Edward’s, claim did not come through her. Breverton had just spent the better part of a paragraph telling us about Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, and Anne Mortimer, without mentioning that they were from senior lines. Richard’s father, from whom he derived his right to the throne, was the Duke of York, and he was descended from Edmund, Duke of York, the third son of Edward III. John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, Henry’s great etc. grandfather, was the fourth son. Even if the Beauforts were unquestionably legitimate, Richard had primogeniture on his side.

“(T)he Richard III Society had always disputed that Richard had a crookbacked appearance, as usual blaming ‘Tudor propaganda,”, but the skeleton is the same as the body depicted by Richard’s contemporaries and later writers.” Most Ricardians accepted that Richard may well have had uneven shoulders, though not knowing the cause until his skeleton was discovered. Breverton is careful to use the words ‘crookbacked appearance’ in the text, but the blurb on the back cover clearly calls Richard a hunchback. The author thus confuses scoliosis (curvature of the spine) with kyphosis (commonly called ‘hunchback”) and hopes we won’t notice. Or maybe he doesn’t notice himself.

“A blog was recently set up called ‘The Henry VII Appreciation Society. Unlike the Richard III Society, with its royal patronage, it is a one-man-band…..This is one person facing the members of two national groups of the Richard III Society, plus their American, Continental, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand branches.” He thus argues, on the one hand, that Richard was certainly guilty – “What we can say is that nearly every important death in his time was connected with Richard contemporaneously” – and the majority is always right – and also argues from poverty and minority status. Poor little brave David, against the Goliath of the Richard III Society. You’re not going to root for Goliath, are you? (I have checked out that blog, which seems to be mainly a recording of significant dates in early Tudor history.)

That’s not enough for Terry Breverton, who decries ‘hagiographies’ of Richard, but proceeds to author one of Henry. “…Henry in his long reign was never involved in any estate-grabbing scandals, Richard was immured in them.” The reader picks his/her jaw up off the floor, and reads on: “Henry redistributed estates illegally confiscated by Yorkists, but had no truck with upsetting the balance of the great houses and creating potential resentment and conflict. “ He contrasts Richard’s shabby treatment of his mother-in-law, Anne Beauchamp, with Henry’s: “In November 1487 [when Henry had been king for over two years – he was in no hurry to do right by our Nell] an Act of Parliament…restored to her the family estates. One month later, the countess conveyed most of her lands back to the Crown…This led to the effective disinheritance of her grandson, Edward, Earl of Warwick.” And Breverton doesn’t find that just a little peculiar? Doesn’t necessarily mean that Henry bullied her, as TB accuses Richard of doing. He may simply have been a king of flim-flam artists (a viewpoint I rather favor, since I thought of it myself!).

On those occasions when Richard III and Henry VII did pretty much the same thing, such as post-battlefield executions, Breverton finds excuses for the latter, or points out that they are not the same thing at all, or Henry only did it a little bit. Henry’s inactions are held up as virtues: He did not display Richard’s head on a pole, “as Plantagenets were wont to do.” Yes, and many of those Plantagenets were Lancastrians, Henry’s ancestors and partisans. He deserves some credit for not being Margaret of Anjou, I suppose.

There is also the ‘man of his times’ argument, sometimes used in defense of Richard III. Breverton turns that argument on its head: “Plantagenet history is drenched in bloodshed and intrigue, whereby power was more important that legitimacy. This is Richard III’s background….Several of Richard’s predecessors had murdered their way to the crown or been usurpers, so his so–called royal bloodline was tangential at best…” Henry Tudor’s background? “Over 200 years of fighters for independence.” Welsh independence, he means. Honesty compels him to admit that Henry was twice as English (Boo! Hiss!) as he was Welsh, but he elides the fact that Henry actually did very little for the independence of Wales, though he did remove some of the anti-Welsh laws.

Breverton quotes copiously from Welsh poetry, hardly an unbiased source when dealing with an English king. One bard refers to King Richard (“the boar”) as a ‘Jew,’ a “Saracen,” and an “ape,” none of which he was, and as “little,” which was no doubt accurate. Breverton would not use such racial epithets himself, but the fact that someone in his own, less enlightened, time did, proves how much Richard was justifiably hated, and deservedly so!

Finally, Terry Breverton gives an annotated list of Richard’s crimes. Some so-called crimes might more accurately be described as civil torts (such as the Countess of Oxford affair). Some were undone almost as soon as they were done (the arrest of Stanley, et al). Some are just plain reaching. George Neville, Richard’s ward, ‘died in mysterious circumstances,’ so he was murdered? The circumstances are a ‘mystery’ only because no record survives of his cause of death. If Richard did kill him, he did so at the worst possible time for his long-term benefit, so it can be put to simple bloodthirstiness. Same with the death of sister-in-law Isabel Neville, for which he had no motive whatever. (He does name Richard’s guilt in her death as “unknown,” which, translated, means “ridiculous.”) He forgets to list Isabel’s infant son, who died at the same time she did.

Terry Breverton does bring up some points that pro-Ricardian, or neutral, historians should probably give more attention to, such as the executions of Rivers, Grey, Vaughan, et al, But when one has said that, one has said just about everything. Not quite everything – the above is just a ‘partial list.’

Just to show how ecumenical and even-handed I am, I am now preparing to eviscerate John Ashdown-Hill – well, mildly anyway. If there is such a thing as a mild evisceration.

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