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Edward IV, Dame Eleanor and the Phantom Web of Impediments

Introduction

The precontract (i.e. prior marriage) between Edward IV and Eleanor Butler, née Talbot, has long been a subject of debate, but what has not previously been claimed is that Edward and Eleanor were so closely related as to have been unable to make a valid marriage without a special dispensation from the Pope.  Recently, however, a writer using the pen name of Latrodecta has claimed (https://ricardianloons.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/the-trial-that-should-have-happened-in-1483/#comment-454)  that they shared a relationship within the prohibited degrees, viz. “3rd degree consanguinity, 3rd degree affinity”.

Latrodecta has identified this impediment as arising from Edward’s mother Cecily Neville being the first cousin of Maude Neville of Furnivall, the first wife of Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and the mother of Eleanor’s older half-siblings. The claim is apparently that – despite the relationship involving no blood tie between Edward and Eleanor – it counts as an impediment of both consanguinity and affinity because half-siblings are included in the prohibited degrees of kinship. The author further claims that “Corroboration can be found in the dispensation granted for the marriage of his son [i.e. Edward IV’s younger son] and her niece [i.e. Anne Mowbray] – the relationship between her sister [i.e. Elizabeth Talbot Duchess of Norfolk] and Edward would have been the same” (that is to say, the same as between Edward and Eleanor herself).

I shall return to these claims, but first it will be necessary to explain these two types of impediment, what they are and how they were calculated at the period under consideration.

Consanguinity and Affinity

Consanguinity and affinity are the chief types of relationship that, under canon law, can produce a diriment (nullifying) impediment to a marriage. Of these, consanguinity is the easiest to understand as it is a simple blood tie: where there is no common ancestor, there can be no impediment of consanguinity. Impediments of affinity arose in those days from sexual intercourse (now only from marriage).[1] The two sexual partners were deemed to have become, as it were, ‘one flesh’. Latrodecta should therefore not have been the least bit surprised to have ‘seen a case where the bridegroom had to obtain a dispensation because he’d already slept with his future mother-in-law’.

It is a common, indeed almost ubiquitous, misconception amongst ordinary historians that the relationship thus formed barred the couple’s respective blood relatives from marrying each other, but this is not so.[2] Prior to 1215, the impediment of affinity had, it is true, been slightly complicated by the rule that a person’s second partner contracted affinity not only with the consanguines of the spouse but also with his or her closest affines (i.e. their new step-kin); at no time, however, had any couple shared a relationship of affinity without one of them having had a prior sexual relationship to cause it; two virgins could never be each other’s affines. Hence, when St. Augustine asked of Pope Gregory: ‘Is it permissible for two brothers to marry two sisters, provided there be no blood ties between the families?’ the great pontiff had replied: ‘This is quite permissible.’[3] The rules had been further simplified by the Fourth Council of Lateran (1215 AD), which had abolished the impediment between certain blood relatives of a person’s two spouses.[4] The unifying principle of the remaining impediments is encapsulated in the maxim affinitas non parit affinitatem (‘affinity does not beget affinity’).[5]

By the 15th century, therefore, there were no longer any step relationships that created impediments other than those (such as stepfather and stepdaughter) that just happened to involve direct affinity. In fact, it was almost de rigueur at this period for a widow and widower to cement their own union with at least one marriage between the offspring of their former marriages.

In the late Middle Ages, both consanguinity and affinity created an impediment to marriage up to the level of third cousins (another rule brought in by the Fourth Lateran Council).[6] The method of calculation in use at the time – the so-called Germanic method – is extremely simple to use.

Edward and Eleanor: Consanguinity

To check for an impediment of consanguinity, one simply draws up two direct-ancestry trees, one for each party to the proposed marriage, with the prospective bride/ groom at one end, their parents (1st-degree consanguines) in the next row, after them their grandparents (2nd-degree consanguines), then their great-grandparents (3rd-degree consanguines), and lastly their great-great-great-grandparents (4th degree consanguines).[7] Then one stands back, looks for any names common to both trees and counts the generations from each partner up to the closest match in any given line. Most often, the common stock, as it is called, (stirps in Latin) will be a couple, but it can also be a single individual, as would occur if an ancestor had married twice and the bride was descended from one of those marriages and the groom from the other. This is what is meant, and all that is meant, by half-siblings counting in the same way as full siblings: the only relevant half-siblings are those who link the couple via their shared ancestor.

I have carried out this very exercise for Edward and Eleanor, highlighting any common ancestors in red. As can be seen, there are none.

Note that Maud Furnivall, identified in the above article as the route to the alleged 3rd-degree impediment, appears on neither Edward’s nor Eleanor’s table; this is because she was only a collateral relation of Edward and no blood relation of Eleanor at all.

Let us now turn to the assertion that the dispensation for Anne Mowbray and Richard of Shrewsbury corroborates this alleged 3rd-degree consanguinity. There are, I fear to say, two problems with this, one of them terminal. First (to be picky) the Anne Mowbray dispensation is for consanguinity in the 3rd and 4th degrees (i.e. one of them was 3 degrees removed from the common stock, and the other, 4 degrees),[8] whereas an even 3rd-degree consanguinity between Edward and the Talbot sisters would have resulted in an even 4th-degree consanguinity between little Richard and Anne. But rather more seriously, Latrodecta has overlooked the salient fact that all children have two parents. As the following consanguinity chart for Richard Duke of York and Anne Mowbray clearly shows, they were indeed related in the 3rd and 4th degrees but Anne’s relationship to Edward’s family lay on her father’s side and in no way involved her Talbot ancestry.

Edward and Eleanor: Affinity

Now let us turn to affinity. By sexual union, the consanguines of the one partner become the affines of the other. So, for instance, if Harry’s previous partner was Sally’s second cousin, then Harry and Sally would be related by affinity in the 3rd degrees. The check for affinity therefore works on the same principle as for consanguinity,[9] except that the bride/groom needs to compare her/his consanguinity tree with that of the prospective spouse’s previous partner(s). This exercise I have carried out for Edward and Eleanor by drawing up this chart showing Sir Thomas Butler’s ancestry. Unfortunately Thomas’s chart is not complete in all areas, and not 100% verified in others, because much of his ancestry is relatively humble and not recorded, but it is highly unlikely that any of these obscure Cheshire ancestors would feature on the table of Edward of March. In short, there was no affinity between them either.

Conclusion

There was no relationship preventing Edward Plantagenet and Eleanor Butler from marrying each other.  Readers do not need to take my word for this: there are plenty of sources available online that set out the different prohibitions and methods of calculating degrees of relationship in use by the Catholic Church at different periods. To be sure one has the correct understanding, all that is needed is to perform a few test calculations on couples whose ancestry and marriage dispensations are both known. Or some may wish to begin, as Edward IV’s councillors must have done in 1464, by checking for (non-existent) common ancestors on the trees of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Sir John Grey.  


[1] The impediment of affinity arising from extramarital relationships was also to be gradually abolished.  The first step was taken in the 16th century by the Council of Trent, which limited its effect to the 2nd degree (first cousins), but it was not until 1917 that this impediment was wholly confined to the consanguines of previous spouses. 

[2] The most notable recent intrusion of this error into late-fifteenth-century English history is Michael Hicks’ claim that Clarence’s marriage to Isabel Neville prohibited Richard’s marriage to Isabel’s sister.

[3] Mary O’Regan, ‘Marriage Dispensations According to St Augustine’, Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008, pp. 34-35.

[4] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[5] Thomas de Charmes, Theologica Universa ad Usum Sacræ Theologiæ Canditatorum, vol. 7 (1765), p. 357.

[6] https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/lateran4.asp, canon 50.

[7] A particularly clear explanation is given in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopaedia under ‘Consanguinity (in Canon Law)’: ‘Mode of Calculation’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04264a.htm).

[8] ‘Dispensation . . .  notwithstanding that they are related in the third and fourth degrees of kindred’ (Calendar of Papal Register Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, ed. J. A. Twemlow, vol. 13 [London, 1955], p. 236).

[9] Again, The Catholic Encyclopaedia gives a useful summary under ‘Affinity (in Canon Law)’ (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01178a.htm).

Eleanor: A reminder of the evidence

I know some people in Cairo are a little slow on the uptake, but there are several independent sources, as shown by the Revealing Richard III blog. In a recent series of articles in the Ricardian Bulletin, the team cite:

  1. Titulus Regius, as composed from the petition to the Three Estates on 26 June 1483;
  2.  Richard III’s letter to Lord Mountjoy, Captain of Calais, two days later;
  3. The Crowland Chronicle, which independently confirmed the above letter;
  4. Phillippe de Commynes‘ (above left) contemporaneous (1483) reports to Louis XI;
  5. Eustace de Chapuys‘ (below left) 1533-4 letters to Charles V, showing that Henry VIII had a lesser dynastic claim to the English throne than Catherine of Aragon, his patron’s aunt;
  6. A 1486 Year Book, detailing Henry VII’s attempts to persuade Bishop Stillington to confess so that Titulus Regius could be annulled and not just destroyed unread.
    The last three all name Stillington or refer to the “Bishop of B”, such that only Bath and Wells fits that description in England during 1483-7. Birmingham, Blackburn, Bradford and Bristol didn’t have Bishops in those days.

In fact, by building on John Ashdown-Hill’s decade of painstaking research, the Revealing Richard team even link to the text of Titulus Regius. These points don’t even mention Stillington’s imprisonment, the Desmond executions, Clarence’s imprisonment and execution, Catesby’s execution, Lady Eleanor’s land dealings and testament together with Lord Sudeley’s adverse treatment and More‘s “Lady Lucy” false trail.

‘Our Poor Subject’ – The Story of Katherine Bassingbourne

Researching my new novel, Distant Echoes, I found out about a court case that Richard was involved with concerning a woman called Katherine Bassingbourne. She brought a complaint before Richard’s Council because she couldn’t afford a lawyer and Richard seems to have taken her side, despite it being of no benefit to him to do so. She wasn’t powerful, influential or rich – he helped her simply because he believed in justice. So, what was her story?

 

She was the daughter of a York dyer, Thomas Worcester, who made a ‘nuncuperative’ will on his deathbed.  A nuncuperative will is a verbal will, usually made when the person involved was too ill or weak to write a normal one and required two witnesses. Richard writes to the mayor of York, Thomas Wrangwysh, in September 1484, ordering him to adjudicate impartially on the case, which was between Katherine and a Henry Faucet. He enclosed a petition from Katherine, whom he referred to as ‘our poor subject’ setting out a ‘grievous complaint’ against Henry. He tells Wrangwish to dispense justice in accordance with ‘our laws and good conscience’.

 

The case was deferred for a month so two witnesses could provide statements, confirming that Katherine’s father had made this nuncuperative will in 1452 (over thirty years before). He had bequeathed his house in York to his wife, Ellyn, until her own death, when he wanted it to revert to Katherine and any heirs she might have by then. It seems that Ellyn was probably Katherine’s stepmother.

 

We next hear about the case in March of 1485. It seems that Katherine had not yet received the house due to her, despite the testimony of the witness statements and had again petitioned King Richard to help her. He was then amidst a personal turmoil of his own, as his wife, Anne, was dying, but he still intervened again for Katherine and appointed John Lewes, ‘sergeant at arms unto the king’s highness’, to represent Katherine at the second hearing.

Medieval merchant's house

A mediaeval merchant’s house

We find out that after her father’s death his wife, Ellyn, had married Henry Faucet. Henry had also died by now and Ellyn was trying to bequeath the property to the surviving family of Henry after her own death, thus cutting Katherine off with nothing. This was Katherine’s complaint – a breach of the terms of her father’s will.

Annoyingly, the result of this hearing was also adjourned and there is no surviving record of the final verdict. I like to think that Katherine succeeded in her suit and that she was ‘relieved and helped’ by Richard, just as we know he helped ‘many a poor man’ gain justice.

 

With thanks to David Johnson, who steered me to his article in The Ricardian Bulletin of June 2017, where you can read all that is known of the story summarised here.

 

 

 

Image credit: By Jwkuyser [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

 

Is this the face of Lady Anne Mowbray….?

Anne Mowbray

Here is what little Lady Anne Mowbray may have looked like. She was the child bride of one of the so-called Princes in the Tower, the younger one, Richard, Duke of York. Her burial was recently extensively covered by sparkypus here. Now The Times has come up with an article about the reconstruction of this little girl’s face. Here is the article in full, for those who need to see past the paywall – note that it does not mention John Ashdown-Hill, whose research this is. His latest Lady Eleanor article is on pp.35-7 of the current Bulletin and Bruce Watson’s on pp.37-8.

“The face of a Plantagenet princess has been reconstructed from her skeleton, while her bones and hair have yielded data on her stature and health at the time of her death in 1481. The remains of Lady Anne Mowbray also have the potential to illuminate one of English history’s greatest mysteries: the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

“Lady Anne was the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, his only child and, after his death in 1476, the greatest heiress in England. Edward IV got papal leave to have her married to his younger son, Richard, Duke of York, in 1478, although she was related to the Plantagenets and both were legally too young to marry.

“However, Anne died before her ninth birthday, leaving Richard a widower at the age of eight. Interred in Westminster Abbey, she was later ejected by Henry VII in 1502 when he built his own mortuary chapel at the eastern end.

“Her coffin was then reburied in St Clare’s Abbey near Aldgate, the home of her mother, the dowager duchess of Norfolk.

“In 1964 a digging machine uncovered her vault while clearing wartime bomb damage, as Bruce Watson reports in Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society.

“Dr Francis Celoria of the London Museum (now the Museum of London) realised from the finely engraved plate on the lead coffin who was inside it and set up a multidisciplinary scientific investigation to study her remains.

“A fuss in parliament and in the press about the failure to obtain a burial licence curtailed the study, and its results have never been fully published. They do, however, show that she was about 4ft 4in tall — small for a modern child of nine, but the norm until the late 19th century due to deficiencies in diet.

Lady Anne Mowbray

“Her hair had high levels of arsenic and antimony, perhaps from her medicines, and she seems to have suffered from ill-health. When her body was prepared for burial her shroud appears to have been treated with beeswax and decorated with gold leaf or thread, and a separate cloth covered her face.

” “Individuals like Anne who are precisely dated are vital, so her remains are of international importance. A recent survey of more than 4,600 juvenile burials from 95 British medieval and early post-medieval sites included no named individuals”, so their precise dates of birth and death could not be ascertained, Mr Watson notes.

“Of more general interest was a congenital dental anomaly — missing upper and lower permanent second molars on the left side — that Lady Anne shared with the two juvenile skeletons found in the Tower of London in 1674, assumed to be those of her husband, Richard Duke of York, and his brother, King Edward V (the Princes in the Tower). The bones, which are interred in a splendid marble urn in Westminster Abbey, have not been examined since 1933, but reanalysis of photographs has suggested that the two juveniles were 13½-14½ and 11½-12½ years old when they died.

“If they were indeed the bones of Edward V and his brother, then the overlapping spans show that they could have died in 1484, pinning the blame on their uncle, King Richard III (The Times, May 21, 1987). A slightly later date in the reign of Henry VII is also possible, Mr Watson says, but “the debate over the identity of these undated juveniles will continue until their remains are re-examined. They could be radiocarbon dated and DNA extracted to confirm if they are related to each other and to Richard III.”

“Since Richard’s skeleton was discovered five years ago and intensively studied before his reburial in 2015, his DNA is available and a link through the male Plantagenet line could be established, Mr Watson notes.

Despite many suggestions in recent decades that the putative remains of the Princes in the Tower should be subjected to the minimal sampling needed using modern technology, the authorities at Westminster Abbey (a “Royal Peculiar” outside the Church of England’s control) have resisted.

” “It is extremely rare for the remains of named pre-Reformation individuals to be studied in England,” Mr Watson says. Richard III’s rapid interment without perhaps even a shroud was “completely untypical and can be attributed to the unexpected manner of his death”. Anne Mowbray’s burial was that of an aristocrat with royal links and “undoubtedly of value to our understanding of death and burial during the late 15th century”. The new reconstruction shows us how her princely bridegroom may have seen her. ”

 

Sutton Hoo and Raedwald of East Anglia (2011)

(originally published in the Ricardian Bulletin)

Saturday 30 July saw nearly twenty of us visit Sutton Hoo, a National Trust property that overlooks Woodbridge from across the Deben. Members travelled from London, Ipswich or by themselves, using booked taxis from Woodbridge station. We were there for three and a half hours, joining an official tour of the Burial Grounds and visiting the indoor Exhibition Hall.
The main grave is supposed to be that of Raedwald, at least a third-generation Anglo-Saxon immigrant from Angeln. Like his grandfather, Wuffa, Raedwald was a “Bretwalda” or high chief of all Saxons south of the Humber and east of about Birmingham, and his “Wuffing” successors became Kings of East Anglia as part of the Heptarchy. Raedwald ruled from 599 to 624/5 and converted to Christianity late in life, yet was still buried in pagan style, possibly at the behest of his sceptical widow. Two of his great-nieces are St. Ethelreda (aka St. Audrey) who is buried in Ely Cathedral and Sexberga, who married Earconbert, King of Kent, their great-granddaughter becoming the mother of Egbert III of Wessex, grandfather of Alfred. Raedwald’s brother Eni is, therefore, an ancestor of every undisputed monarch of England (except possibly from 1066-1154). The Wuffings ruled East Anglia until 20 November 869 when their last King, Edmund, was martyred by the Danes.
In summer 1938, the widowed Edith Pretty was overtaken by her own curiosity about the estate she owned and hired an amateur archaeologist and tenant farmer, Basil Brown, to investigate. Other authorities, at county, University of Cambridge (Charles Phillips) and University of London levels became involved – before war was declared and the task was suspended, the artefacts already discovered being stored in disused Tube stations. The British Museum, under Rupert Bruce-Mitford, resumed the process in 1965.
On arrival at Sutton Hoo (a Saxon word for hill), we booked our places on the official tour. It started at twelve thirty and was barely supposed to exceed an hour but lasted about ninety minutes. Our guide was Neil Montgomery of the Sutton Hoo Society, who was knowledgeable and enthusiastic with a good voice. We first passed Tranmer House, formerly the home of Colonel and Mrs. Pretty, and reached the seventeen mounds. In the first, Brown found a random selection of rivets because grave-robbers had beaten him to it and no other evidence remained.
In the second, he found rivets arranged in the shape of a wooden ship (a “clinker vessel”), together with soil that had absorbed the wood and changed its chemical characteristics. Knowledge of pre-conversion Anglo-Saxon burial rites, the personal possessions (a helmet, bowls and spoons by the head; weapons, a purse, shoulder-clasps and a great buckle by the torso; drinking vessels and other artefacts lower down) and the size of the ship showed that only a prominent chieftain could have been laid here. Brown found no human remains, save for phosphates in the soil, but many of Raedwald’s successors were Christians and thus would have been buried differently. The important mounds were reconstructed in the sixties, to heights calculated trigonometrically, but have started to erode again.
After viewing the principal mounds, we were shown the grave of a younger man, who died in his twenties during the same era and could be Raedwald’s son, buried with his horse. There are also the graves of a number of people who were hanged or beheaded in the later Saxon era. The Exhibition Hall features a lot more information and artefacts from the Wuffings’ era, including a recreation of the burial chamber and a film shown at regular intervals.
We expected to spend just under an hour exploring Woodbridge but there was insufficient time for this although there some old buildings such as the Shire Hall and C16 Bull Hotel, visited by Defoe. Edward Fitzgerald, the translator, is also commemorated in the town. During the summer, an open-top bus runs hourly around Woodbridge on Wednesdays and Saturdays, stopping at Sutton Hoo.

Further reading:
http://www.wuffings.co.uk/MySHPages/SHPage.html (Dr. Sam Newton)

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