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Does Richard II lie in an obscure grave in Stirling….?

“There was nothing at Westminster Abbey yesterday to alert visitors to the renewed speculation that one of its most revered sites may not be what it seems. To the unwary, King Richard II still lies in the south aisle of the Lady Chapel just where he has for nearly six centuries. A sign points out the tomb, wedged snugly between those of Edward III and of Anne Neville, Richard III’s queen. It is topped by a gilded effigy of the monarch, whose remains were moved to the Abbey from Hertfordshire in 1413. But all that glisters is not gold, and there are fresh claims that the remains of one of England’s most tragic kings may not rest at Westminster at all. In fact they may be 400 miles away, under a pedestrianised shopping centre near Stirling railway station.

“Legend and Shakespeare say that the last of the Plantagenets was murdered by Sir Piers of Exton in Pontefract Castle in early 1400, only weeks after he was forced to resign in favour of Henry of Lancaster, who then crowned himself Henry IV. But that story has always been disputed. Almost immediately after the king’s death,there were rumours that the body which was so openly brought south was not thatof Richard but a lookalike, perhaps his chaplain Richard Maudelyn. From as early as 1402 there were claims that the real Richard had escaped to Scotland, where he supposedly died in 1419 (six years after being reburied at Westminster). Now the archaeologist Ron Page is leading an effort to get to the truth of what would be one of English history’s greatest cover-ups.

“If Mr Page is right, then Shakespeare’s Richard, who offered “my large kingdom for a little grave, a little, little grave, an obscure grave,” may indeed have had his wish these many years. But then whose remains have been at Westminster for so long? And how can we be sure which of them is Richard? “Not all the water of the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king,” says Shakespeare’s Richard. If only it was that simple.”

The above is taken from a 2002 article in The Guardian,

It is a very intriguing thought that here we have another medieval King of England who may not be where he is supposed to be. I’m thinking of Edward II, and the dispute over whether he really did die when he was said to have, and whether he was laid to rest in Gloucester Abbey on the date he is supposed to have been. And I also think, of course, of Richard III, who really was where he was said to have been, and not lost in the River Soar as a legend claims.

If it was a cover-up, it was a Lancastrian one! What a surprise. Well, there is one thing to be said of poor Richard II, a railway station is a refreshing change from car parks. Since Richard III, there has been a positive rash of burials found or suspected under car parks. But then, his predecessor, Richard II, always did like innovation and being different.

PS: As the above article was written in 2002, and I haven’t heard anything more of a great discovery in Stirling, I can only imagine that Richard II does, after all, lie at rest with his beloved Queen Anne in Westminster Abbey. Unless, of course, someone else knows something the rest of us do not….?

PPS: Um, when did they locate Anne Neville’s tomb so precisely? I thought the whereabouts of her last resting place were only vaguely known…? The actual location has been lost.

Tomb of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia in Westminster Abbey
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The Epiphany Plot of 1400

Following the deposition of Richard II, his leading supporters among the nobility were put on trial before Henry IV’s first parliament. Well, all apart from the Earl of Wiltshire who had – in plain terms – been murdered at Bristol on Henry’s orders before Henry became king. (As a Lancastrian, Henry was of course allowed to do this sort of thing without receiving any criticism from historians.)

Some brief pen-pictures of the men in question may be helpful, since they will be unfamiliar to many readers:-

Edward, Duke of Aumale, highest ranking of the accused, was the elder son of the Duke of York, and was thus first cousin to both Richard II and Henry IV. Despite his relative youth (26 in 1399) he had been high in Richard’s counsels since the early 1390s and had received an astonishing array of offices from the king, being, among other things, at one point both Lord High Constable and Lord High Admiral. A devious man of considerable ability, described by one chronicler as a ‘second Solomon’, his contribution tends to be underrated by historians. He was also a survivor. Despite involvement – or alleged involvement – in several plots against Henry IV, he was to survive long enough to be the leading English casualty of Agincourt. Nevertheless, in the Parliament of late 1399 he had a most torrid time. It is likely that Richard II intended Edward to be his heir.

John Holland, Duke of Exeter was King Richard’s half-brother – they shared the same mother, Joan of Kent. He was married to Henry IV’s sister, Elizabeth of Lancaster. Exeter was at this time in his late 40s. He had not always been a strong supporter of Richard, and had at one point been quite closely associated with his father-in-law. However, during the 1390s he had become increasingly important as a member of Richard’s inner circle.

Thomas Holland, Duke of Surrey was Exeter’s nephew, the eldest son of Thomas Holland, late Earl of Kent. Another relatively young man, he had recently replaced his deceased brother-in-law, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March (killed 1398) as Lieutenant of Ireland. He had also replaced Aumale as Lord High Admiral.

John Montagu (or Montacute) Earl of Salisbury, who was in his late 40s, had only succeeded to his uncle’s earldom in 1397, having been for many years merely Sir John Montagu. His uncle had alienated many of the family estates – there was bad blood between them – and Salisbury was by some way the least wealthy of the accused. Nor had he received any particular rewards in land from King Richard. Acting as Richard’s ambassador to France, he had been unfortunate enough to earn Henry Bolingbroke’s personal enmity because of the message he had brought to Charles VI on Richard’s behalf – which was essentially that Henry should be treated as persona non grata. Salisbury was known to be a Lollard – an early Protestant – and attracted some hostility for that reason. King Richard himself was generally hostile to the Lollards but nevertheless tolerated Salisbury and a few other followers of that movement at his court.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester was married to Constance of York and was thus Aumale’s brother-in-law and the Duke of York’s son-in-law. 26 years old at this time, he had commanded King Richard’s rearguard in the 1399 campaign in Ireland and been one of the king’s strongest supporters during the upheaval of 1397. Even without the rewards given to him in 1397, he was a very wealthy man, in terms of landed income much more so than his father-in-law. The jewel in his crown was the very valuable Marcher Lordship of Glamorgan.

They had all served as ‘counter-appellants’ in 1397, when Richard II had taken his revenge on his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester and the earls of Arundel and Warwick. All, except Salisbury, had received generous grants of forfeited lands. All except Despenser (Gloucester) and Salisbury had also participated in the partition of the Lancastrian estates earlier in 1399. As a group, they were very much Richard’s ‘Party’ and it cannot be denied that most of them had been very handsomely rewarded for their loyalty. Apart from Salisbury they were all closely linked to Richard by blood or marriage or both.

The outcome of the trial – to cut a long story short – was that the accused lost the lands granted to them in 1397 and those who had received upgraded titles (everyone except Salisbury) lost them and reverted to their pre-1397 status. For the purpose of this article, I shall continue to refer to them by their Ricardian titles, to avoid unnecessary confusion.

The group were placed into the temporary custody of the Abbot of Westminster, who was a Ricardian himself. It appears that they immediately began to conspire against Henry, although on the face of it the King meant to rehabilitate them fairly quickly. With the exception of Salisbury – against whom Henry maintained a rather obvious grudge – they were, for example, very quickly restored to the Council. Edward of Aumale even received confirmation of some valuable land grants, including the Lordship of the Isle of Wight. Of course, Edward was rather a special case, being the King’s cousin, and perhaps more importantly, York’s son. The Duke of York (who had been Richard’s Keeper of England during the King’s absence in Ireland) had given Henry quite strong support, almost from the minute he surrendered to him near Berkeley Castle a few months earlier.

In addition, Edward had not been aligned politically in quite the same way as the others. Richard divided his army in Ireland – allegedly on Edward’s advice – sending the smaller portion to North Wales under Salisbury while returning himself to South Wales with the remainder. When Richard broke up his army near Carmarthen he actually left Aumale behind, possibly fearing that his cousin was no longer reliable in view of the defection of the Duke of York at Berkeley. It seems likely that this defection was a principal cause – if not the main cause – of the King’s panic and his decision to join Salisbury in North Wales. (This decision led to the collapse of his cause and his eventual capture by Bolingbroke.) The other lords involved were all with the King to the bitter end.

A note on sources. The main sources for the Epiphany Rising are Walsingham and Traison et Mort. Both have their issues. Walsingham (though used as a principal source for the reign) is hopelessly biased against Richard II, and frequently reports rumours, however ridiculous, if they tend to Richard’s discredit. He can not infrequently be caught out in direct falsehoods. Traison, on the other hand, was written by a French member of Queen Isabelle’s household. He is heavily biased towards Richard, tends to blame Edward of York for the King’s downfall, and reports details of matters of which he cannot possibly have had direct knowledge, such as the manner of Richard’s death.

The key to the plot was an attempt to assassinate Henry IV (and perhaps his sons) at Windsor Castle. The great army that Henry had assembled to place himself on the throne had, for the most part, gone home. Therefore the King was vulnerable to an attack from a small force, which was all the conspirators could assemble. (Many of their retainers had found alternative patrons by this time, or were otherwise unreliable, and in any event, for obvious reasons, only the most loyal could be trusted in a scheme of this kind.)

At the same time, a number of risings were to be provoked across England, and King Richard was somehow to be released. (His exact location was almost certainly not known to the conspirators.) Richard was to be represented, in his absence, by his clerk and double, Richard Maudelyn, who was probably either a half-brother or cousin of the deposed monarch.

By one means or another, the plot was revealed to Henry at the last moment. Traison blames Aumale, who accidentally revealed the plot to his father, York. The pair of them then hurried to warn the King, Edward being immediately pardoned. Walsingham merely says that Henry was ‘forewarned’ but does not disclose the method. Another source, Continuatio Eulogii, says that one of the King’s squires picked up the intelligence from a prostitute who had previously slept with someone involved in the plot. A final possibility must be that Elizabeth of Lancaster got wind of her husband’s dealings and sent warning to her brother.

Most modern historians tend to dismiss Aumale’s ‘serious’ involvement in the plot. Even so, it is hard to see how he, with his connections, could have remained innocent of what was going on. On the other hand, it must be recognised that many in England (and even more in France!) were deeply suspicious of his motives throughout, and accusations or mutterings of treason against him continued regularly for some years. It is hard to discern how much of this was smoke and how much fire.

Be this as it may, the fact remains that Henry and his sons escaped from Windsor with only hours to spare, so whatever warning was received came at the last minute, in true dramatic style.

The King’s escape was, in effect, equivalent to the defeat of the conspiracy, as the rebels did not have the forces to match those which Henry was soon to raise from London and the surrounding counties. According to Traison they held the bridge at Maidenhead for some hours, which was probably as good a fight as they could make of it. They also sought to recruit from the various towns and villages they passed, and according to Walsingham also visited Queen Isabelle (Richard’s very young wife) at Sonning, seeking her support and that of her household.

Unfortunately, the news that Henry was not far behind them with a large and growing army could not be long concealed, and tended to put a damper on recruitment. The rebels’ retreat rapidly turned into flight, which came to an end at Cirencester, where, exhausted, their ‘army’ camped in the fields while the lords took up lodgings in various inns. What happened next is unclear, but it appears the inhabitants of the town realised that the lords were fugitives, and besieged them in their lodgings. A fire started, and Surrey and Salisbury surrendered, and were initially lodged in the abbey. However, when the townsfolk of Cirencester grasped the measure of the damage done to their town by the fire, they dragged the two lords out again, and summarily executed them without legal authority. Walsingham states that Salisbury, who was a Lollard, refused to make confession before his death.

The mystery of Exeter and Gloucester.

According to Traison these two lords were at Cirencester, escaped their burning inn by climbing out of the window, and fled in different directions. In the case of Exeter in particular this seems most unlikely. Walsingham states that he remained in London, which makes sense if his role was to raise the Ricardian element among the citizens. Such men were in a minority, but they certainly existed, and if Henry had not escaped they might well have put themselves forward. Exeter was eventually captured in Essex. He was also murdered by the local population without lawful authority, at Pleshey Castle, seat of the late Duke of Gloucester, the uncle Richard II had (possibly) had murdered in 1397. The location was, of course, highly significant.

Had Exeter been in Cirencester, he would surely have been wiser to flee towards Devon, where he had extensive land holdings, than eastward, directly into the teeth of Henry’s forces. I therefore conclude it is most unlikely he was at either Windsor or Cirencester. Though, as an experienced warrior and tough fighter he would have been something of an asset if he had been.

Thomas Despenser, Earl of Gloucester, is barely mentioned by Walsingham at all, except in the matter of his escape and capture. Again, there is at least a possibility he was not at Windsor or Cirencester and that he never left Cardiff. Indeed, it may be he was guilty of nothing more than misprision of treason at worst. Hearing that the King’s men were on their way to arrest him, he took ship from Cardiff, carrying a considerable amount of portable wealth. However the ship’s captain refused to take him anywhere but Bristol, where the citizens chose to prove their loyalty to Henry by murdering him.

If Despenser was indeed innocent of any active involvement in the plot, it might help explain his widow’s bitter hatred of Henry, which culminated in her plot, in 1405, to remove the Mortimer heirs from Windsor Castle and place them in the protection of Owain Glyndwr.

Many of the lesser supporters of the plot were assembled at Oxford for trial. Maudelyn, Sir Bernard Brocas and William Feriby were brought to London, to be hanged and beheaded at Tyburn. Sir Thomas Blount and twenty-five others from Cirencester were hanged, drawn and quartered at Oxford. Another thirty-seven received pardons, and at least one, Salisbury’s stepson, was actually acquitted. Roger Walden (the deposed Archbishop of Canterbury), the Bishop of Carlisle and the Abbot of Westminster were all imprisoned for a short time, and Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, fell beneath an uncomfortable level of suspicion, but was not proceeded against.

A number of small risings broke out across England in support of the plot, but all subsided with little fuss. The one in Chester was perhaps the most serious and led to a brief siege of the castle. Ironically the man who put it down, the Bishop of St. Asaph, was soon to number among Henry’s enemies as a firm supporter of Owain Glyndwr.

As for the widows, Henry treated Elizabeth of Lancaster and Constance of York with considerable generosity – of course they were his sister and first cousin respectively. These two remained very rich ladies indeed, and did superbly well compared to the widows of ‘traitors’ in the Tudor period or even the Yorkist era. The other widows had less kindly provision, although the worst treated of all, the Countess of Wiltshire, had suffered from Henry murdering her husband before he even became king, and had no connection to the plot.

In the aftermath of the plot it appears that Henry (and almost certainly his Council) decided that King Richard’s life should be cut short to discourage any further rebellions in his favour. Richard died at Pontefract on 14th February 1400. Various explanations are given, but the most likely seems to be that he was starved to death. Despite this, and the public display of his body in St. Paul’s, rumours that he had escaped and was alive and well in Scotland continued to plague Henry – and indeed his son. That a ‘Richard’ was living at the court of Scotland is an undoubted fact – whether he was the real Richard is quite another matter.

Sources

The most useful source by far is Chronicles of the Revolution 1397-1400 by Chris Given Wilson.

Other sources:

The Usurper King – Marie Louise Bruce

Fears of Henry IV – Ian Mortimer

Richard II – Nigel Saul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard II and his ‘Double’.

The “official” version of Richard II’s death is straightforward. After his deposition he was imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, and, following a rebellion of his followers in early January 1400, starved to death. The date of death is usually given as 14th February 1400. His body was subsequently taken by stages to London, being publicly exhibited (as is the tradition for deposed, dead kings in England) culminating in a final display in St Paul’s Cathedral prior to a relatively obscure burial at King’s Langley, Hertfordshire. However, rumours persisted that he was still alive, and the promise of his return was often, if not invariably, attached to the various conspiracies of Henry IV’s reign.

Although Richard’s body was displayed, only part of his face was actually visible, and he was presented on a high catafalque. This may have led to some suspicion that the corpse had been substituted as it would have been impossible for anyone to study the King’s features with any degree of thoroughness.

Richard II had a known “double”, his clerk, Richard Maudelyn, the son of no less a person than Hawise Maudelyn, sometime waiting-woman to Katherine Swynford, mistress and later third wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The family resemblance suggests that Maudelyn’s father may well have been John of Gaunt himself, or perhaps one of the other royal uncles, and it is reasonable to assume that Maudelyn was at the least a cousin to Richard II, and maybe rather closer in blood to Henry IV.

Maudelyn was used by the January 1400 conspirators to impersonate Richard II in the hope of drawing out support. This suggests that the resemblance was at least strong enough to deceive country gentlemen and the like, if not people who knew Richard really well. Maudelyn was captured and executed by the usual method of hanging, drawing and quartering. It seems improbable that his body could have been used as a substitute for Richard’s, unless this was decided upon almost immediately and the remains embalmed. One might expect the bones of Maudelyn would show signs of his violent execution. As far as I am aware, no such signs were discovered when (what is presumed to be) Richard II’s body was examined in the 19th century.

The “Scottish Richard II” was found wandering about on the island of Islay, of all places. He was “recognised” by a woman who claimed that she had seen him while visiting Ireland the previous year, and following this was conveyed to the Scottish Court, where he lived out his life as a pensioner of the Scottish Crown.

Islay is a small and relatively remote island off the west coast of Scotland, nowdays best known for the production of the incomparable Laphroaig whisky. Assuming that Richard II escaped from Pontefract, is it likely that he would make his way to such an obscure place? Surprisingly, the answer is – yes, he might.

Richard saw himself primarily as emperor of the British Isles, and his complex diplomacy in the 1390s had as one of its principal objectives the detachment of Scotland from the Franco-Scottish alliance and its subordination to England. This proved impossible because of the attitude of the French, and the Scots were eventually included in the 28 year truce concluded in the autumn of 1396. However, as part of his diplomacy Richard had secured an alliance with the semi-independent Lord of the Isles, valuable in strategic terms for both his Scottish and Irish pretensions. (Since the Lord of the Isles came close to destroying the Scottish Crown’s forces at Harlaw, 1411, it seems likely that the Lord of the Isles plus England would have been able to complete the job!)

Therefore Richard had some reason to expect help in the Western Isles. That the supposed imposter should turn up there is surely significant.

The Grey Friars in England were persistent in spreading the rumour that Richard II was alive, and several were executed for their trouble. Several nobles are known to have received letters from “Richard II”, bearing one of his authentic seals, which had somehow been carried away to Scotland. And in 1403 the Percys – in effective alliance with Scotland – promised the men of Cheshire that Richard II would appear at their rendezvous at Sandiway, Cheshire. Needless to say he did not, and the Percys were defeated, but the rumours of his survival went on.

Bolingbroke claimed that the “Scottish Richard II” was one Thomas Warde of Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, and continued to execute those foolish enough to spread the word that Richard was alive. (It is not explained how Thomas Warde came to be on Islay.) As late as 1415 the Southampton Conspirators were still talking of bringing “Richard II” back from Scotland while in December 1417 Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, refused to recognise the authority of his judges “so long as his liege lord King Richard was alive in Scotland.”

Thomas Warde was a real person. His few acres of land in Trumpington were forfeited in 1408. However the evidence to prove he was the same individual as the Scottish Richard II no longer exists, if it ever existed in the first place.

It appears that the man responsible for many, if not all, of the rumours of Richard II’s survival was William Serle who had been a minor member of Richard’s household. When captured he admitted he had stolen Richard’s seal and forged a number of letters. Of course it entirely possible that this confession was extracted by torture so it is not necessarily conclusive. Bolingbroke, who was rarely generous to traitors unless they shared his blood, had Serle half-hanged several times in different locations before his eventual execution.

When the “Scottish Richard” died at Stirling in 1419 he was buried with full honours close to the High Altar of the Blackfriars. Whether he was the “real Richard” we shall probably never know, but it remains a fascinating possibility.

(Reblogged from English Historical Fiction Authors).

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