“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” (Marmion, Sir Walter Scott)
We all know that there was some deception in Thomas More‘s “History“, but how much? In Cairo, they think that the whole first half of his narrative is the gospel truth but the second half is an invention – because it conveniently fits with the discredited, soon to be disproved, theory of the “Princes”‘ burial.
Suppose More departed from the truth earlier than that. Successful deceit starts with some facts that the reader will know and continues with some that he or she can verify, before misleading them. In particular, when he accuses Sir Robert Brackenbury, Sir James Tyrrell, Miles Forrest and “Will Slaughter” (Slater?) of carrying out the killing of Edward IV’s illegitimate sons, is it not more likely that they transported them, probably separately, to safe locations? This would be far easier than digging a large hole, burying the “Princes”, filling it in and sending all the attendants away, even if we aren’t supposed to believe that a priest disinterred and reburied them – it doesn’t correspond with Charles II’s antics.
Forrest, by the way, was a Northerner who died by 1484 (1)(2a)(2b), Brackenbury at Bosworth and Tyrrell, who was abroad in 1485, was beheaded for a separate offence seventeen years later. Thomas Dighton, however, lived beyond 1502, as even More admitted.
Notes: (1) 9 September 1484: “Grant for life to Joan Forest, widow, late wife to the King’s servant Miles Forest, and Edward her son of an annuity of 5 marks from the issues of the lordship of Bernard Castell.” (CPR, p. 473). (2a) 12 September 1484: “Johanne Forest and Edward his (her) son an an annuytieof v markes during theire lyfes and of eithre of theim lenger lyving of thissues of the lordship of Barnardcastelle by the hands of the Receyvour etc.“(Harleian Manuscript 433, ed. Horrox and Hammond, vol.1, p.216). (2b) 14 September 1484: “A warrant to the Receivor of the lordshippe of Bernard Castelle to content and pay unto johanne Forest widow late wyf to Miles Forest deceased the somme of five markes sterlinges due unto the said Miles at Michelmase now next commying for keping of the warderobe theire yeven etc at Notingham the xijth dat of September A* secundo 2*.” (Harleian Manuscript, op. cit. vol.2, p.160)
Mary of York Royal Window, Northwest Transept, Canterbury Cathedral
Mary Plantagenet or Mary of York was the second daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydville. She was born at Windsor Castle in August 1467 and died at her mother’s favourite palace of Greenwich 23 May 1482 aged just 14 years. Strangely enough another royal child, even younger than Mary, Anne Mowbray Duchess of Norfolk, her sister in law – being the child bride of her brother Richard of Shrewsbury – had also died at Greenwich just six months earlier on 9th November 1481. Even at a time when child mortality was high it must have been heart rending to have 2 deaths so close together for the royal household and by horrible coincidence in the same royal apartments. Elizabeth Wydeville’s whereabouts at that time are unknown so its impossible to say if she was at Greenwich at the time of Mary’s death although it is known that her father had visited Canterbury on the 17th May and was back in London on the 23rd and thus it is possible he may, perhaps accompanied by the queen, have seen his daughter as she lay dying (1).
A print by an unknown artist now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich depicting the Palace c 1487.
A view of Greenwich Palace from a print published by the Society of Antiquaries 1767
The Royal Window, Canterbury Cathedral. Elizabeth Wydeville and her daughters. Mary is shown as the last figure on the right hand side.
The cause of death of neither of the girls is known. While Anne’s body had been taken by barge to her burial place in Westminster Abbey Mary’s was taken by stages to St Georges Chapel, Windsor, where she was interred next to her 2 year old brother George who had died in March 1479 possibly of the plague. Several Wydeville ladies were among the mourners including Jane, Lady Grey of Ruthin, sister to the queen and Jacquetta, another sister’s daughter, Joan Lady Strange, wife of George Stanley. Another niece, Lady ‘Dame’ Katherine Grey, possibly the daughter of Jane Wydeville was also present. Dinner for the funeral group was at the palace after which Mary’s body was taken from Greenwich parish church where it had been taken and begun its last sad journey to Windsor (2).
Over time the exact location of the graves became forgotten and lost but in 1810 during the course of building work their coffins were discovered in the area known then as Wolsey’s Chapel and now as the Albert Memorial Chapel. These were easily identifiable because George’s lead coffin was inscribed with “serenissimus princeps Georgius filiustercius Christianissimi principis Edvardi iiij” and it was known that Mary had been laidto rest alongside her little brother – her funeral accounts tell us that she was “buried by my Lorde George, her brother”. When Mary’s coffin was examined she was found wrapped in numerous folds of strong cerecloth (waxed cloth used for wrapping a corpse) closely packed with cords ( 3)
Mary and George were then reburied in the small vault close to their father’s. Their mother’s remains, a skull and pile of bones found lying on top of Edward’s coffin along with the remains of her cheap wooden coffin had disappeared between the time of Edward’s vault being discovered and resealed in 1789 (4). Edward’s remains had been thoroughly poked about and no doubt Elizabeth’s were appropriated by the dreaded Georgian souvenir collector along with numerous locks of Edward’s hair. A slab was already in place with their names on it as mistakenly it was believed they had already been buried close to their father in the small vault adjoining his.
St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Yorkist Mauseoleum photo @Roger Simon
Its not surprising that little is known about Mary of York a child of 14 who was hardly here ere she was gone. She was mentioned along with her sister Elizabeth in the will her father made prior to leaving for France in 1475 – ‘Item we wil that oure doughtre Elizabeth have x ml marc towards her marriage and that oure doughtre Marie have also to her mariage x ml marc , soo that they bee gouverned and rieuled in thair mariages by oure derrest wiff the Quene and by oure said son the Princeif Godfortune him to comme to age of discrecion’ but ‘if either of oure said doughtres doo marie thaim silf without such advys and assent soo as they bee therby disparaged, as God forbede, that then she soo marieing her silf have noo paiement of her said x ml marc, but that it bee emploied by oure Executours towards the hasty paiement of oure debtes and restitucions as is expressed in this oure last Will’ (5). Ah man makes plans while the gods laugh as they say for we all know how differently things panned out. However its rather gratifying to know, at a time when so many ancient and royal remains have been lost that at least Edward has two of his children with him.
Mary of York ‘Royal Window’ Canterbury Cathedral
If you enjoyed this post you might be interested in my post on Mary’s parents at
The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p58 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs
D. & S. Lysons, Magna Britannia, vol. I, pt. I, Berkshire (reprint of an 1806 publication), p. 471
Elizabeth had requested a modest funeral and that is exactly what she got. Even the herald reporting on the funeral was shocked The Royal Funerals of the House of York at Windsor p68 Anne E Sutton & Livia Visser-Fuchs
Excerpta Historica : Illustrations of English History p369 edited Samuel Bentley
Today, 10th August, is my birthday, and on this date in 1485, the last Yorkist king, Richard III, was in Nottingham preparing for the imminent invasion of his realm by his Lancastrian foe, Henry Tudor, who didn’t have much of a blood claim to the throne but touted himself as the last remaining heir of the House of Lancaster.
Richard hadn’t had an easy time since coming to the throne, in fact he’d been through some harrowing experiences. His only legitimate son, 10-year-old Prince of Wales, had died on 9th April 1483, closely followed in March 1485 by Richard’s much-loved queen, Anne Neville. He’d had to repel an earlier invasion by Tudor, which had been aborted at the last minute, and put down the Buckingham rebellion. He’d endured many unpleasant rumours about murdering his nephews, aged twelve and nine, and also of having incestuous/marital intentions toward his own niece.
All this on top of his eldest brother Edward IV’s sudden death in April 1483, the revelation that his, Edward’s, marriage had been bigamous and that consequently Richard himself was the rightful king. He and Anne were crowned on 6th July that same year. Now he was alone, a grieving widower and father, with another invasion imminent. Small wonder he took some time out at Nottingham to go hunting with friends at Bestwood (Beskwood, as it was called then) just north of the city.
It was while there that he heard of Tudor’s landing in Wales, and therefore the battle was fast approaching. On 22nd August 1485 the two armies met at Bosworth, where treachery brought about Richard’s violent death. He was only thirty-two, and was killed while fighting mightily to get at Tudor himself. Perhaps Richard was glad to go, to be with his wife and son again in a better place.
My purpose today is to discuss something that happened over a year earlier a month before his son’s sudden death….the March 1484 appearance at his court of the illegitimate daughters (and possibly their mother) of his late brother, Edward IV. The 19-year-old eldest girl, Elizabeth of York, was the one Richard was soon to be accused of wanting in a way no uncle should.
When Richard died he left behind some mysteries that consume us to this day. First and foremost, of course, is what happened to Edward IV’s two sons, Edward V, aged twelve, and Richard of York, aged nine. On their father’s death, Richard became Lord Protector and took Edward V into his custody. The younger boy had always been with his sisters and mother, Elizabeth Woodville, in sanctuary at Westminster, where they’d fled when the Woodville plot against Richard failed—she had a large family in high places thanks to Edward IV’s indulgence—and the new boy king fell into the Lord Protector’s hands while en route to London. The Woodvilles had intended to seize Edward V, rush his coronation and keep him under their control. Richard would have been assassinated, so Elizabeth Woodville had good reason to fear him. Fleeing into sanctuary probably seemed her only option. As did taking a lot of crown treasure with her! It’s understood she had a hole broken in the sanctuary wall in order to haul all the loot through.
The boy Richard of York was eventually given into Richard’s keeping, to join his lonely brother in the apartments of state in the Tower in May 1483 (it was a palace as well as a fortress). They both seemed to disappear from history after late summer that same year, but had been seen practicing archery and playing in the Tower grounds. And Richard was still issuing writs in Prince Edward’s name as late as 16th September. Richard has always been blamed for their deaths (the usual accusation is that he had them smothered) even though no bodies/remains have ever been found. No, they are not in that urn in Westminster Abbey! Many of those bones are from animals.
At the time it suited the Tudors, Lancastrians and Woodvilles—and still suits Tudorite historians to this day—to trumpet that Richard was the original murderous Wicked Uncle. If he was, why on earth didn’t he dispose of other awkwardly legitimate nephews and nieces too? The two boys weren’t the only Yorkists with claims to the throne. His other brother, George of Clarence, had a son and daughter too, but they were barred from the throne by their father’s treason and attainder. Attainders could be reversed, so these children were dangerous to Richard, if he wanted to view them that way. He could have binned the whole lot, his sisters’ offspring too, had he wanted, but he didn’t. It was left to the blood-drenched Tudors to rid the world of just about every Yorkist they could think of, women and all. Yet Richard is always accused as if he was a mass killer on a jaw-dropping scale.
Every single Tudor is much more deserving of being called a mass murderer. They even executed George of Clarence’s children, who had survived safe and well under Richard. The hero of Bosworth trumped up a charge against the by then 24-year-old Edward, Earl of Warwick, and chopped his head off. He beheaded Richard’s illegitimate son, John of Gloucester, as well. Among others. Henry VIII condemned to the block George of Clarence’s daughter, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, who was sixty-eight. But then, the delightful ‘Bluff King Hal’ liked to chop off his wives’ heads for good measure. Including the one for whom he’d caused such upheavals in the Church, leading to the religious bloodbaths of the following reigns.
Tudor propaganda also spouted that, to secure his nephew’s throne for himself, Richard falsely declared Edward IV’s children illegitimate (this was thanks to evidence provided by Bishop Stillington in 1483 that Edward IV had been married to someone else before his bigamous union with Elizabeth Woodville). Well, the children of bigamy couldn’t inherit the throne. Period. Then it was said that once Richard became a widower (having poisoned his now-infertile wife, Anne, of course) he intended to marry his eldest niece, Elizabeth of York.
It would seem that her illegitimacy didn’t bother Uncle Richard as much as it was to bother Henry Tudor, who turned legal cartwheels in order to make her trueborn again. Henry even tried to suppress/expunge all legal evidence of her illegitimacy by destroying royal and parliamentary documents. Indeed, if a copy of Richard’s right to the throne, known as the Titulus Regius, hadn’t survived, we might never have known what really happened. The Tudors were nothing if not thorough when it came to hiding their bloody tracks. See http://www.richardiii.net/2_7_0_riii_documents.php.
The warning signs were there from the moment Richard breathed his last at Bosworth, because Henry promptly declared his own reign to have commenced the previous day. Thus he branded traitor every man who had supported their anointed king, Richard III. It was a dangerous precedent to set, and ever afterward Henry remained jittery about suffering the same fate. Serves him right. But he’d set the guidelines for the Tudor prospectus and it should have alerted everyone who’d supported him that they’d made a monumental mistake! But England was to suffer over a century of the gruesome House of Tudor.
Richard III had every true claim to the crown of England. He was Edward IV’s only surviving brother and had a son and heir of his own whose destiny was to follow his father on the throne. The latter wasn’t to happen, of course, but at the time Titulus Regius was drawn up, Richard’s queen and son were still very much alive.
Contrary to an intention to marry Elizabeth, on being widowed Richard embarked on arranging royal Portuguese matches for himself and his niece. He had no option but to marry again because kings needed heirs to secure their thrones. So these Portuguese matches were purely practical matters. He was still a young man and had no reason not to hope for more children through a much more acceptable and conventional marriage, so why risk a dangerously incestuous match, the very idea of which was anyway bound to be abhorrent to him? He was conventionally pious. Conventional in every way. Marrying his niece would be a line across which he would never tread.
There was, of course, a now-lost letter supposedly written by Elizabeth to Richard’s friend, cousin and ally, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, begging him to intercede with Richard on her behalf. When referring to Richard, this letter was couched in what appeared to be rather inappropriately affectionate terms. Whether the letter ever existed, I don’t know, but it’s certainly lost now. Maybe Elizabeth did have improper feelings for her uncle (Richard was a handsome young man and had been kind to her), but I doubt very much if he returned those sentiments. When he at last felt compelled to deny publicly that he had intentions toward his niece, he was definitely telling the truth. We’ll never know what Elizabeth thought of Richard, except that she didn’t once speak out against him. Nor for him either, of course. She stayed silent. I’m sure Henry Tudor would have loved her to accuse Richard of all sorts crimes, but she held her tongue. In public, at least.
I know you’ve read all the preceding before and have concluded that if anyone really needed to marry Elizabeth of York, it was Henry Tudor, whose success at Bosworth was solely due to the two-timing Stanley brothers, one of whom pulled a sickie to avoid the battle . The other turned Judas and set his men on Richard at a pivotal moment. With allies like them, who needed enemies? But mere conquest wasn’t enough to make Henry safe. You’ll probably be relieved to learn that I don’t intend to drone on about his Beaufort antecedents. The heir of the House of Lancaster? Give me a break. Richard’s supporters weren’t about to take Bosworth lying down, and Henry’s blood-claim to the throne was gossamer thin.
It was this very tenuousness that meant he had to do something to secure for good the support of the countless disaffected Yorkists swarming around his stolen realm. They’d given him their aid at Bosworth solely because they wanted Edward IV’s blood on the throne again, and he had vowed to marry Elizabeth. Should she have died, then he’d marry the most senior surviving daughter instead. If he didn’t keep his word, his reign was going to be as brief as Richard’s, if not briefer. And the good old unreliable Stanleys were just as likely to switch sides again. They were great at watching their own backs and stabbing everyone else’s.
The younger of the brothers, Sir William Stanley, who’d struck the decisive blow against Richard, was said to be the man who found Richard’s crown in a bush and placed it on Henry’s head. I don’t think he stayed happy with the consequences, because he eventually turned coat again to join a Yorkist plot against Henry. Sir William believed the claimant Perkin Warbeck really was the younger son of Edward IV, Richard, Duke of York, and wanted Edward IV’s proper line back on the throne. Henry’s exertions with Elizabeth of York in the marriage bed weren’t enough for Sir William. Their offspring weren’t proper Yorkists, whereas Perkin was the Real McCoy! Hey-ho, what goes around comes around.
To return to the main narrative. Henry had realized before leaving exile in Brittany and France to invade England (France was financing him) on this, his second bid for the crown, that marrying Elizabeth of York was a necessary evil. Without her the clarion calls to the banners of the White Rose would soon echo across the countryside, and the lord regarded as Richard’s chosen heir, his sister’s eldest son, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had rather selfishly survived Bosworth.
Henry was to dither about Lincoln, at first trying to win him over (what a trophy he’d have been for Richard’s killer!) But Lincoln couldn’t stand Henry or what he embodied, and so the dithering eventually led to the last true battle between the warring houses of York and Lancaster. The Battle of Stoke in 1487 saw the end of Lincoln, and Henry dared to give a small sigh of relief. But the battle only went Henry’s way because Lincoln’s men believed (rightly or wrongly at that precise moment) that Lincoln had been killed. They fled the battlefield, and at some point Lincoln was indeed mown down, which didn’t please Henry, who wanted him alive to be “worked upon” for information..
Henry’s respite wouldn’t last, of course, the shadows and ghosts would always follow him. Lincoln (who had a number of brothers) was probably the reason why Henry began to systematically eliminate the remnants of the House of York, and why the succeeding Tudors continued the bloodfest.
Anyway, to return to 1485. As Henry prepared to sail with his army of English traitors, Frenchmen and other foreign mercenaries, he took a solemn vow in Rennes Cathedral that he would marry Elizabeth and through their children bring the warring factions in England together at last. Noble sentiments, but he just wanted the crown, make no mistake of that.
First, however, Elizabeth had to be legitimized again. Henry was in a delicate enough position already, without adding to it by marrying a baseborn queen, even if she was Edward IV’s eldest daughter. He had to be a legitimate king with a legitimate queen. But he made sure to have himself crowned first on 30th October 1485. He wasn’t about to be dubbed Elizabeth’s consort, so he didn’t marry her until 18th January 1486.
Elizabeth’s own coronation didn’t come until 25th November 1487, after she’d done the right thing and presented him with a son in the September. Hm, yes, the maths are a little iffy. The baby was a bouncing eight-monther. It was said to be a happy marriage, and that he didn’t stray from the marriage bed even once. I’d like to know how they can be sure of that! Was he followed 24/7?
What Henry didn’t need was his wife’s tiresome brothers, whose claim to the throne had become legal and vastly superior to his own from the moment he legitimized her. The boys’ whereabouts were unknown, of course. They certainly weren’t in the Tower, because one of the first things Henry did on reaching London after Bosworth was instigate exhaustive searches. No one knew anything at this point…and so Henry crossed his fingers, but if he had found the boys in the Tower you can bet your bottom dollar he’d have them disposed of. Hellfire, their claim to the throne was going to be infinitely better than his own because he was going to legitimize their big sister in order to marry her and produce the vital half-York, half-Tudor offspring!
So, if any such murdering of boys did go on in the Tower, my money would have been on Henry in the very early days of his reign. But there was no proof they died at all, let alone were murdered. It was all smoke and mirrors. Henry ordered the further spreading of rumours that Richard had done away with his nephews, but the Tudor fingers remained very tightly crossed. Richard murdered them! Richard murdered them! The mantra worked, in a great part because Richard had failed to produce the boys to refute the charges. Down through the centuries the same chant can still be heard by rote. And we all know Shakespeare’s part in the lies. But then, he did want to please a Tudor!
If Elizabeth knew that her brothers were still alive, she couldn’t have told Henry before she travelled south from Sheriff Hutton after Bosworth. They’d never met before then. Perhaps she did tell him—he was going to make her Queen of England, so it was in her interest to hitch her waggon to his. But by then he’d already set the ‘Richard was Evil’ ball rolling. And as he hadn’t found any bodies or any sign of where the boys were, he would ever afterward be angst-ridden that they were going to come after him for their throne. If Richard had set out to torment Henry from beyond the grave, he succeeded brilliantly!
Now, to my main point. (At last, did I hear you cry?) For me, Edward IV’s daughters appearing at Richard’s court presents an important and intriguing indication about their brothers. Two of the three youngest girls were children under Richard but made good marriages as Henry’s sisters-in-law. The youngest girl, Bridget, was little more than a baby in 1483, and became a nun. As for the two eldest girls, Richard not only welcomed them to his court, but treated them well—and he probably welcomed their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who’d schemed against him and whose family had almost certainly intended to assassinate him before he even reached London immediately after Edward IV’s sudden demise. Whether she returned to court or not isn’t quite certain, but she certainly accepted Richard, gave her younger son into his care in 1483 and permitted her two eldest girls to go to his court.
Would a woman like Elizabeth Woodville have all done that if she really believed Richard murdered her sons? I think not. She had reason to fear Richard, having worked against him, but she apparently came to trust him. It was to be her sour Tudor son-in-law who’d steal her property and kick her off to the wilds of Bermondsey Abbey for the rest of her days. Under Richard she—or at least her daughters—enjoyed the luxury, privileges and entertainments of court life.
Nevertheless, her two senior daughters, Elizabeth and Cicely had presented Richard with a problem. Or so it seems to me. Even though they were illegitimate, they were still a magnet to ambitious enemies (Henry, for one—and if Elizabeth had died, he had his eye on Cicely instead), and what’s more, they were not only marriageable, but of beddable age too. In less than a year they could produce annoyingly legitimate sons whose calculating eyes would soon slide pensively toward the throne. Henry should know, for hadn’t his eyes turned to someone else’s throne?
It seems that Richard solved the Cicely problem first, by marrying her to Ralph Scrope, younger brother of one of his northern supporters, Thomas, 6th Baron Scrope. It wasn’t a particularly grand union for a king’s daughter, even though she was baseborn, nor was it particularly lowly, but it still surprises me. To begin with it was low-key…its very existence was only discovered recently. Perhaps it was a lovematch? Perhaps they married behind Richard’s back? We’ll never know, and anyway, as soon as Henry stepped up to the throne, with Elizabeth of York safely tucked up as his wife, he had the Scrope marriage annulled. Cicely was the second surviving daughter of Edward IV, and had to be plucked from a dangerously Yorkist marriage and placed in the custody of a safe Lancastrian relative. Take one pace forward his dependable half-uncle, Sir John Welles (Henry’s mother’s half-brother), who was rewarded by elevation to the rank of Viscount Welles. And so Cicely became the first viscountessw! ☺
Thus, if we discount Cicely as being married to Ralph Scrope during Richard’s reign, and the three youngest girls as being too young, there remained the most important one of all, Elizabeth of York. There she was, beautiful, charming and desirable, welcomed by Richard and Anne, and wandering freely around court. Her importance would have been enhanced still more if Richard really had done away with her brothers. So, I have to ask, would he really have permitted her such freedom and access to court if her brothers were indeed dead?
Not everyone believed Edward IV’s children were illegitimate, nor did everyone want Richard on the throne. Yet Richard and Anne treated her and her sisters with overt generosity and kindness. Why? Simply because he was a benign uncle? Well, maybe—even probably —but I think he had an ulterior motive as well.
One of the first questions always asked is, if the boys were still alive why on earth didn’t Richard simply produce them and put a stop to the rumours? Why indeed. My feeling is that he couldn’t show them because they were no longer in the Tower or indeed in his personal care. No, they weren’t dead, rather do I think he’d sent them somewhere to safety very early on in his reign, well away from Lancastrians to whom they were a grave impediment to Henry’s ambitions…and from Yorkists who wanted Edward IV’s line back on the throne, illegitimate or not. But something eventually happened to the boys, I don’t know what, but believe it was after Richard’s death. Were they hidden with Richard’s sister, their aunt Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy? Did they die of some pestilence? Accidents? It could have been anything. Margaret—Yorkist to her elegant fingertips—loathed Henry, and certainly wouldn’t announce their deaths. She’d want him to stew in his own juice. Which he did.
Without her brothers, Elizabeth would be the Number One of Edward IV’s children, in the eyes of many the true Queen of England, and Richard would have had to keep a very tight grip on her. But what does he do instead? He promises publicly to do all he can for them and provide for their future, and to always treat them well. Thus he entices them from sanctuary into his care. But he wasn’t saying and doing this under false pretenses. No, he meant every word. He would take good care of them. And they were delighted to go to him. They trusted him, and so enjoyed the complete liberty of court, new clothes, fine company, dancing, music…Oh, how they must have been missing all that when they were banged up in sanctuary.
It’s my contention that after his treacherous cousin Buckingham’s unsuccessful rebellion in October 1483, Henry’s aborted invasion of the south coast at the same time (it seems a two-pronged attack was intended, Buckingham from Wales and the west, Henry from the south, Devon and Dorset) as well as the ever-louder whispers about the murders of the boys in the Tower, Richard felt he had to do something to deal with the rumours and let Henry know that even if a second attempt at invasion were successful, the path to the throne wasn’t quite as pretty and primrose as he hoped. The boys stood in his way.
Richard knew his ploy had to be subtle—guileful even—to persuade at least some Lancastrians, Woodvilles and Edwardian Yorkists not to be too hasty about throwing in their lot with the Lancastrian upstart. Bringing the girls out of sanctuary would certainly give pause for thought in the relevant circles. Surely Richard wouldn’t let Edward IV’s daughters wander freely at court if they were their father’s principal heirs. Therefore their brothers had to be alive and well, and still in Richard’s care.
Henry wasn’t deterred from invading again—I think he’d gone too far to back out—but he was convinced the boys still lived and so scoured the Tower for them after Bosworth. He had to get rid of them, and maybe he managed to do just that. But his subsequent behaviour suggests he hadn’t a clue where they were. They’d vanished. Impasse. Where were they? Safe in some Yorkist haven, soon to grow to manhood and return to claim their rights?
If Richard really had been a murdering monster, he’d have killed and buried the boys and then imprisoned the girls before burying them as well. But he wouldn’t be able to stop there. He had other nieces and nephews, and they were legitimate. They were to die once Henry got hold of them, but they all lived happily while Richard was king, including John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, who subsequently became useful as a temporary heir when Richard’s son and then his queen died. Richard obviously expected to have new heirs of his own when he remarried and didn’t for a moment think Lincoln would really become King John II, but if the worst happened, Lincoln was a man grown, experienced and a truly loyal Yorkist. He’d make a fine king.
There was no dark side to Richard III. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty monster or child-killer, but an honest man who in 1483 found himself in an impossible position. He would have become a great monarch if he’d lived long enough to prove it, but Henry got his way, stole the throne and married Elizabeth of York…having first made sure his coronation was safely over. He wasn’t about to be labelled her consort! He was kingy, and she had to wait to be his queeny. But he remained haunted by the missing boys throughout his reign. He dreaded their return. Maybe Perkin Warbeck was indeed the younger of the boys, Richard of York…in case he was, Henry sliced his head off. But there was still the older brother, the more important Edward V, who would have succeeded his father had his illegitimacy not come to light.
Is it a flight of Ricardian fantasy for me to perceive in Henry’s death mask the dying horror of seeing vengeful Yorkists coming for him at last? Yes, probably too much fantasy.
So there you have it. In my opinion, the arrival of Elizabeth of York at her uncle’s court suggests to me that Richard was letting his opponents know her brothers were still alive and under his protection. It was a risk, not least because Henry’s scheming mother, Margaret Beaufort, was also at court, and doing everything she could to support her son. Margaret was very definitely the enemy within, and there were others too, but Richard thought it worth the risk. And, as far as I’m concerned, it worked to some extent. But thanks to Tudor indoctrination, his not having actually produced the boys had the unwelcome side-effect of marring his reputation through the centuries.
Now I don’t doubt that many will disagree with this theory, and will probably say so. There may be holes in my reasoning, but I see these events as a strong indication that the boys in the Tower were still alive and remained so right to the end of Richard’s reign.
And for Henry, Richard’s ghost—and those of his nephews—always waited in the shadows, taunting the first Tudor king. Taunting the entire House of Tudor throughout its ascendancy.
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). 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. 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.’ 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. The unifying principle of the remaining impediments is encapsulated in the maxim affinitas non parit affinitatem (‘affinity does not beget affinity’).
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). 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). 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), 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, 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.
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.
 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.
 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.
 Mary O’Regan, ‘Marriage Dispensations According to St Augustine’, Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008, pp. 34-35.
 ‘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).
Elizabeth Wydeville The Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral.
Yes, this is a serious question. After reading several of the late John Ashdown-Hill’s books, particularly his last one, Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey, I think it’s time to give it some serious thought. Although prima facie it may appear absurd, after all we are talking about a real actual Queen, not a monster from a Grimms’ fairy story, I think it may be worthwhile to give some actual consideration to this question and its plausibility.
Edward IV, the Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral. Did a careless remark made to his wife unwittingly bring about the death of Desmond?
Lets take a look at the first death that Elizabeth has been associated with – that of Thomas Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond. The first port of call for anyone interested in this would be the excellent in-depth article co-written by Annette Carson and the late historian John Ashdown-Hill both of whom were heavily involved with the discovery of King Richard IIIs remains in Leicester. Here is the article.
Their assessment goes very deep but to give a brief summary – Desmond was executed on the 15th February 1468 by his successor John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, a man known for his cruel, sadistic nature and dubbed The Butcher of England by his contemporaries. The execution was immediately followed by armed rebellion, the Earl’s elder sons ‘raised their standards and drew their swords to avenge their father’s murder ‘ swiftly followed by King Edward, both alarmed and displeased in equal measures, promising that if the Desmonds laid their arms down they would be pardoned. Edward also assured them that he had neither ordered the execution or had any knowledge of it whatsoever. This begs the question if it was not Edward, who gave Tiptoft the go ahead to execute Desmond – as well as it is said his two small sons? This was swiftly followed by extremely generous grants to James, Desmond’s oldest son, despite the Act of Attainder against his father. Included in these grants was ‘the palatinate of Kerry, together with the town and castle of Dungarvan. This grant may be thought to signify that in Edward’s view an injustice had been done’. This was as well as an ‘extraordinary priviledge’ – that of the Desmonds being free to choose not to appear in person before Edward’s deputy or the council in Ireland but to be able to send a representative instead. Clearly Edward had grasped that the Desmonds were, understandably, extremely wary of putting themselves in the hands of the Anglo Irish authorities.
Richard Duke of York. His wise and just reputation in Ireland survived long after his death.
Various explanations have been given as to why Tiptoft had Desmond executed. It was given out that he had been guilty of ‘horrible treasons and felonies as well as alliance, fosterage and alterage with enemies of the king, as in giving them harness and armour and supporting them against the faithful subjects of the king’ as well as the ludicrous charge of plotting to make himself King of Ireland,
Upon Tiptoft’s arrival in Ireland in September 1467 he had initially co-operated with Desmond and other Irish lords. This was unsurprising as Edward IV was on extremely friendly terms with the Irish lords. This friendship carried over from his father, Richard Duke of Yorks time in Ireland where he had been held in high regard and in fact Desmond’s father, James, had been George Duke of Clarence’s godfather. However on the opening of Parliament on the 4th February a bill was immediately brought forward attainting Desmond and others including his brother in law, the Earl of Kildare. Desmond was removed from the Dominican friary at Drogheda on the 14th February and swiftly executed. The others managed somehow to avoid arrest and execution until Edward, finding out what had occurred, pardoned them. This also adds to the strength of the theory that the execution had been carried out without Edward’s knowledge. This might be a good place to mention that Desmond had indeed been in England around the time of Edward’s ‘marriage’ to Elizabeth and when much chatter was going on regarding her unsuitability as a royal bride. There is a surviving 16th century account of Edward while having an amicable chat with Desmond, asked him what his thoughts were regarding Edward’s choice of bride. It is said that Desmond at first wisely held back but pushed by Edward did admit that it was thought widely that the King had made a misalliance. This was relayed, foolishly by Edward to his new bride, perhaps oblivious in those early days of her capabilities. A spiteful, vindictive Elizabeth had stolen the seal from her husband’s purse as he slept and had written to Tiptoft instructing him to get rid of Desmond. This begs the question of whether Tiptoft himself may have been unaware that the order did not emanate directly from the King. The rest is history and a dark and terrible day at Drogheda.
Moving forward some 16 years later in 1483 we have an extant letter from Richard to his councillor the Bishop of Annaghdown in which he instructs the said Bishop to go to Desmond’s son, James, and among other things to demonstrate (shewe) to him that the person responsible for the murder of his father was the same person responsible for the murder of George Duke of Clarence (1). As Carson and Ashdown-Hill point out, this is a ‘ highly significant analogy’ because, in 1483, Mancini had written that contemporary opinion was that the person responsible for Clarence’s death was no other than Elizabeth Wydville. Elizabeth, no doubt having discovered that her marriage to Edward was a bigamous one – he already having a wife – namely EleanorButler nee Talbot – at the time of his ‘marriage’ to her, had ‘concluded that her offspring by the king would never come to the throne, unless Clarence was removed and this she easily persuaded the king’ (1). It is highly likely that Clarence, who perhaps was of a hotheaded nature, had also become aware that Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage was null and void having been informed of this fact by Bishop Stillington. Stillington was imprisoned and Clarence met the same fate as Desmond – an execution regularly described by historians, of all views, as judicial murder.
George Duke of Clarence from the Rous Roll. George was only 28 years old when he was executed in what has been described by some historians as a ‘judicial murder’
It should be remembered that shortly before his arrest Clarence had been widowed. Clarence had insisted that his wife, Isobel Neville, had been murdered – poisoned he said. One of the acts he was accused of at his trial was of trying to remove his small son, Edward, out of England and to safety abroad. He obviously genuinely believed that Isobel had indeed been murdered, why else did he attempt to get his son out of harms way? This story has been told in many places including Ashdown-Hill’s books, The Third Plantagenet as well as his bio of Elizabeth. If Isobel was indeed murdered the truth has been lost with time but it can safely be said that Clarence was a victim to Elizabeth’s malice although of course Edward has to take equal blame for that. Hicks, and Thomas Penn, are among the historians who have described Clarences’ execution as ‘judicial murder’. Hicks in his bio on George, states that the trial held before a Parliament heavily packed out with Wydeville supporters was fixed. George stood not a chance and was led back to the Tower to await his fate. He did not have to wait too long. Penn writes ‘…his brothers life in his hands, Edward pondered the enormity of his next, irrevocable command. A week or so later, with Parliament still in session, Speaker Allington and a group of MPs walked over to the House of Lords and, with, all decorum, requested that they ask the king to get on with it‘. Insisting that the king order his own brother’s liquidation was hardly something that Allington would have done on his own initiative. The source of the nudge could be guessed at (2). As Penn points out Speaker Allington’s ‘effusions about Queen Elizabeth and the little Prince of Wales were a matter of parliamentary record; the queen had awarded him handsomely appointing him one of the prince’s chancellors and chancellor of the boy’s administration’. Thus George Duke of Clarence was toast and it appears the second victim to the malignity of the Wydeville queen. Later it was written by Virgil that Edward bitterly regretted his brother’s ‘murder’..for thus it is described by Penn… and would often whinge when asked for a favour by someone that no-one had requested a reprieve for George (not even the brothers’ mother??? Really Edward!).
Elizabeth Wydville, The Luton Guildbook. Cicely Neville, her mother in law is depicted behind her. Cicely’s feelings on one of her son’s bringing about the death of another son are unrecorded.
Another damning point against Elizabeth is that Richard III in the communication mentioned above, granted permission to James, Desmond’s son to ‘pursue by means of law those whom he held responsible for his father’s death’. Both Edward and Tiptoft were dead at this time but Elizabeth was still alive and demoted from Queen to a commoner. As it transpired James did not pursue the matter at that time and a year later it was all too late – Richard was dead and Elizabeth had been reinstated as Queen Dowager. Further evidence regarding Elizabeth’s guilt came to light 60 years later in the 16th century in the form of a memorandum addressed by James 13th Earl of Desmond, Desmond’s grandson, to the privy council. In an attempt to get property that had been removed from one of his ancestors returned to him James referred to the great privilege that was awarded to his earlier Desmond relatives, that of not having to appear before Anglo Irish authorities that had been granted by Edward IV because ‘the 7th Earl of Desmond had been executed because of the spite and envy of Elizabeth Wydeville”. This memorandum also contained the earliest written account of the conversation between Edward IV and Desmond regarding Elizabeth’s suitablity as a royal consort, the repeating of which to Elizabeth had resulted in Desmond’s murder.
It’s now not looking good for Elizabeth at this stage. There are other names, other deaths, that begin now to look rather suspicious. After all if Elizabeth could be involved with two deaths could there have been more?
The next deaths that need consideration are those of Eleanor Butler and her brother in law, the Mowbray Duke of Norfolk. According to Ashdown-Hill who has researched Eleanor in depth, her death occurred while her family and protectors, particularly her sister Elizabeth Duchess of Norfolk, with whom she appears to have been close, were out of the country attending the marriage celebrations of Margaret of York to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. This marriage had been ‘pushed forward’ by Elizabeth Wydeville (3). Of course her death may have been the result of natural causes although it’s not hard to imagine Edward and Elizabeth breathing massive sighs of relief. However karma is a bitch, as they say, and the spectre of Eleanor would later arise with tragic results and the complete fall of the House of York.
Whether Eleanor died of unnatural causes of course can now never be ascertained. Ashdown-Hill compares her death to that of Isobel Neville in that after they first become ill it was two weeks before they died (4). Certainly it was unexpected and must have caused shock and grief to her sister on her arrival back in England – presumably the Duchess may not have left England and her sister if she had been seriously ill and close to death. In actual fact Eleanor died on the 30th June 1468 while Elizabeth Talbot only begun her trip back to England from Flanders on the 13th July. Coupled with this, two of the Norfolk household were executed around this time through treasonous activity but nevertheless this must have caused disconcertment and fear to the Duke and Duchess following on so soon from Eleanor’s death. Very sadly, the Duke himself was to die suddenly and totally unexpectedly. The Duchess of Norfolk, now bereft of her husband and sister, found herself forced to agree to the marriage of her very young daughter, the Lady Anne Mowbray, to Elizabeth Wydeville’s youngest son, Richard of Shrewsbury. This was much to her detriment being forced to accept a diminished dower in order to supplement the revenue of her young son in law. She thereafter lived out her days in a ‘great’ house in the precincts of the Abbey of the Minoresses of St Clare without Aldgate, poorer but surrounded by loyal and loving friends most of whom had also suffered at the hands of Edward IV and the Wydevilles (5).
In summary, I’m confident that Elizabeth was deeply implicated in the executions of Desmond, an entirely innocent man, and Clarence whom she feared because he knew or suspected the truth of her bigamous marriage. Could there have been others? The hapless Eleanor Talbot perhaps? Of course she was not a murderess in the sense that she actually and physically killed anyone but she did indeed ‘load the guns and let others fire the bullets’ as they say. There is little doubt that Richard Duke of Gloucester came close to being assassinated on his journey to London and close to the stronghold of the Wydevilles at Grafton Regis, in 1483. This was down to the machinations of the Wydevilles including of course the fragrant Elizabeth who by the time he arrived in London had scarpered across the road from Westminster Palace, loaded down with royal treasure, and taken sanctuary in Westminster Abbey, a sure indication of her guilt in that plot. Richard, in his well known letter, had to send to York for reinforcements “we heartily pray you to come to us in London in all the diligence you possibly can, with as many as you can make defensibly arrayed, there to aid and assist us against the queen, her bloody adherents and affinity, who have intended and do daily intend, to murder and utterly destroy us and our cousin the Duke of Buckingham, and the old blood royal of this realm” (6).
After that dreadful day at Bosworth in August 1485, and a bit of a tedious wait, Elizabeth now found herself exulted once again this time as mother to the new Queen. She would, one have thought, reached the stage where she could at last rest on her now rather blood soaked laurels. Wrong! She was soon found to be involved in the Lambert Simnel plot, which no doubt if successful would have resulted in the death of her daughter’s husband. Whether her daughter, Elizabeth of York, would have approved of this is a moot point and something we shall never know although surely she would hardly have welcomed being turfed off the throne and her children disinherited and my guess is that relationship between Elizabeth Snr and Jnr became rather frosty after that. Henry Tudor, who was many things but not a fool took the sensible decision to have his mother in law ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey, no doubt to protect her from herself but more importantly to protect himself from Elizabeth and her penchant for plots that mostly ended up with someone dead. And there at Bermondsey, a place known for disgraced queens to be sent to languish and die, she lived out her days no doubt closely watched, Karma having finally caught up with her.
Terracotta bust of Henry VII. Elizabeth’s son-in-law. Henry prudently had Elizabeth ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey.
John Tiptoft Earl of Worcester. Effigy on his tomb. Tiptoft’s propensity for cruelty did not deter Edward from appointing him Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1467 nor did it dissuade Elizabeth to involve him in her plotting to bring about the death of Desmond.
(1) Harleian Manuscript 433 Vol 2 pp108.9
(2) The Usurpation of Richard III Dominic Mancini. Ed. C A J Armstrong.
(3 ) The Brothers York Thomas Penn p405
(4) Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey p87 John Ashdown Hill
(5) Ibid p124 John Ashdown Hill.
(6) The Ladies of the Minories W E Hampton. Article in The Ricardian 1978
(7) York Civic Records Vol.1.pp 73-4. Richard of Gloucester letter to the city of York 10 June 1483.
Lurking among the many books around my home is a little booklet called A Calendar of Flowers and Their Saints, subtitled“A Flower for Every Day. A Saint for Every Flower.” It has no publication date, but is stamped Writers Service Bureau, London W.C. 1. Its pages are brown at the edges, there’s a teacup stain on its front cover, and it came from my aunt’s house. She had been a newspaper reporter in South Wales from the end of WWII to the 1980s. That is all I know of the booklet.
Anyway, when I came upon it again, I wondered what (1) Richard’s flower would be, and to which saint it was dedicated. As you know, his birthday was 2nd October, and according to the booklet his designated flower is the friar’s minor soapwort (saponaria dyginia). See above. This flower’s patron saints are the Guardian Angels. I tried in vain to identify this particular soapwort, and so the illustration is of the Saponaria officinalis. As to the Guardian Angels, they weren’t awake at Bosworth!
Next I decided to see what (2) Anne Neville’s flower would be. She was born on 11th June, for which the little book says it’s the ox-eye daisy (chrysanthemum leucanthemum). This flower is dedicated to St Barnabas.
From here I went on, and the following is a brief list of other birthdays and associated flowers/plants/saints. There is even a mushroom in there! Please remember that sometimes the saints are connected to the plant, not to the birth date or actual saint’s day. And if you query the absence of, say, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, it’s because his birthday isn’t known,
(1)Edward IV, 28th April, cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum), St Didimus/Didymus. Um, given Edward’s track record, I have to say that this plant seems rather appropriate!
(2)Elizabeth Wydeville, 3rd February, great water moss (fontinalis antepyretica), St Blaise. Might be fitting for the daughter of the “Lady of the Rivers”?
(3) Elizabeth of York Her birthday was today, 11th February, red primrose (primula verna rubra), St Theodora.
(4)Edward of Westminster (Edward V), 2nd November, winter cherry (physalis), St Marcian. This plant is known to me as Chinese lanterns.
(5)Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, 17th August, toadflax (linaria vulgaris), St Manus (St Magnus the Martyr?)
(6)George, Duke of Clarence, 21st October, hairy silphium (silphium asteriscum), St Ursula – George’s birthday and the saint’s day are the same. I’m not sure which plant is being referred to here, especially as a lot of the genus seem to be from the southern states of the US, where it is commonly known as cup plant. Suffice it that they are almost all yellow, with daisy-like flowers.
(7)Isabel Neville, 5th September, mushroom (agaricus campestris), St Laurence Justinian (who wasn’t a saint at the time of Isabel’s life).
(9) Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, 14th August, zinnia (zinnia elegans), St Eusebius. Unfortunately, the zinnia hails from America, and so would not have been known to Margaret. And St Eusebius’s feast day does not match her birthday.
(10) Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, 3rd May, poetic narcissus (narcissus poeticus). Saint – Invention of the Cross – indeed associated with Cecily’s birthday.
(11) Richard, 3rd Duke of York, 21st September, Cilcated Passion Flower (passiflora ciliata) St Matthew. The duke’s birthday and the saint’s day are the same.
(12) Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, 22nd November, trumpet-flowered wood sorrel (oxalis uniflora), St Cecilia. I’m afraid I do not know which sorrel is referred to here, and so the image is of the common wood sorrel, as found in British woodlands. In the Kingmaker’s case, his birthdate and the saint’s day are the same.
Oh, and we must not forget dear Henry VII, lucky number (13). His birthday was 28th January, double daisy (bellis perennis plenus) and the saint is St Margaret of Hungary (born 27th January, died and feast day 18th January). It’s rather hard to imagine him as any daisy, let alone a double one.
Reconstruction of a Medieval Painting from St Stephen’s Chapel. Possibly Queen Philippa with her daughter. Ernest William Tristram c.1927. Worked from original drawings made by the antiquarian Richard Smirke 1800-1811 before the fire of 1834. Society of Antiquities. Parliamentary Art Collection
St Stephen’s was the medieval royal chapel of the Kings and Queens of England and part of the old Palace of Westminster. What a jewel in England’s crown and what a loss. Destroyed by a fire in 1834 that also destroyed what was left of the old palace, which had already lost its royal apartments in a fire in the 1530s. King Stephen is said to have built the original chapel, first mentioned in the reign of King John 1199-1216, with Edward lst beginning a major refurbishment in 1292. The architect was Michael of Canterbury who also designed the beautiful Eleanor Crosses. On two levels the rebuild took over 70 years to complete which seems to have been because of the ebb and flow of the finances of the first three Edwards. The top level was for the use of the Royal Family and a door south of the altar lead to the royal apartments. It must have been a sight to behold…with it ceiling painted in azure and thousands of stars of gold. The lower chapel, darker because it was slightly below ground level, was known as St Mary Undercroft, and after being used for numerous purposes over the centuries , including some say Cromwell stabling his horses there, has managed to survive to this very day and back to its original use, that of a chapel.
Kings and queens who happened to die while residing in Westminster Palace were taken to the chapel to lie in repose. Among those to lie there before their burial, usually in the Abbey, was the ‘seemly, amiable and beauteous’ Queen Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker and consort to King Richard III (1). On a happier note St Stephen’s may also have been where their wedding took place. Several royal weddings did take place there for certain including that of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and also Edward IV’s youngest son Richard of Shrewsbury and Anne Mowbray. Anne was only 4 years old at the time, the groom being even younger at 3, and Richard Duke of Gloucester led Anne by the hand into the chapel.
The chapel was dissolved at the Reformation in the time of Edward VI and thereafter it became the first permanent home of the House of Commons. Certain abuses of the Chapel begun from then on including the removal of the beautiful soaring upper celestery by Wren. The final fire took hold at around 6 pm. on the evening of 16th October 1834. The final destruction by fire begun with the burning of two cartloads of wooden tally ‘Exchequer’ sticks which caused a furnace to overheat. Warnings of the danger of fire had been ignored by a ‘senile housekeeper and a careless Clerk to the Works’ leading to the Prime Minister to declare the disaster was one of the ‘greatest instances of stupidity on record’. During the course of the conflagration medieval paintings and decorations that had been hidden over the centuries were once again revealed and gawping crowds flocked to see them.
Wooden tally or Exchequer sticks. The burning of two cartloads of these caused a chimney to overheat which led to the destruction of Westminster Palace including St Stephen’s hall.
We are very fortunate that 30 years prior to the disaster life sized copies were made of the most important medieval paintings, which would have been to the east of the chapel where the alter was, while the chapel was being renovated by an antiquarian Richard Smirke. The art historian and conservator, Ernest William Tristram (1881-1952) meticulously reconstructed Smirke’s drawing in a collection of 20 paintings. The British Museum now holds fragments from the paintings and decorations salvaged from the fire and from them can be gleaned an impression of the quality and beauty of the lost works.
The new building, now called St Stephen’s Hall, was rebuilt in Neo Gothic style on the footprint of the old Chapel carefully adhering to the same measurements, 95ft long and 30 ft wide. Brass studs now mark where the Speaker’s Chair which in turn would have marked the place where the high alter once stood.
King Edward’s Sons. Reconstruction of medieval wall painting St Stephen’s Chapel. Ernest William Tristram. Worked from the original drawings by Richard Smirke.
King Edward and St George. Ernest William Tristram. Reproduction of medieval wall painting from St Stephen’s Chapel. From the original drawing by Richard Smirke.
Some of the 17 fragments of wall paintings salvaged from the fire and now in the British Museum. All came from the east end of the north wall.
Upon Westminster Hall. George Scharf. The intrepid Mr Scharf made this painting over four days after climbing on to Westminster Hall’s roof for a better view of the destruction of the chapel and palace..
The smaller chapel on the lower level. Known as St Mary Undercroft. Survived the fire and is once again in use as a chapel. Watercolour by George Belton Moore.
Another watercolour by George Belton Moore picturing a demolition of a doorway next to St Stephens. Ive been unable to ascertain where this doorway was situated.
The Ruined St Stephen’s from the East prior to demolition. Parliamentary Art Collection.
I am indebted to Sir Roy Strong’s book Lost Treasures of Britain for some of the above information.
Not content with accusing Richard III of the death of nearly every notable in 15th century England, it seems of late there has been more ‘confusion in Cairo’ as the the traditionalists attempt to drag in Richard’s friends and relatives in order to back up their position. Recently, the loyal John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and even Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville the Duchess of York have been thrust into the fray. Heavens, there was even a recent ‘history magazine’ feature on ‘the Princes’ with interior artwork of not only a shifty, lank-tressed Richard, but a scowling, gimlet-eyed John Howard with a villainous moustache just ripe to be twirled!
This article put Howard forward as a potential suspect in the ‘murder’ of the Princes. It is interesting that he was never considered a ‘suspect’ in any of the early accounts but he seems to have become one in the last few years. According to some, it is ‘proof’ that the ‘Princes’ were dead when John Howard was made Duke of Norfolk in 1483, since the title was held by the younger Prince through his marriage to the late Anne Mowbray. This seems a case of ‘two plus two equals five’. Young Richard of Shrewsbury had his titles forfeited due to being declared illegitimate; therefore, it is hardly unexpected that John Howard, who had unfairly lost his rightful inheritance due to Edward IV tinkering with the law to benefit himself, would be rewarded by Richard for his support by receiving the Dukedom back. That this happened in 1483 does not in any way ‘prove’ that Richard of Shrewsbury was already deceased; simply he was no longer eligible to hold the title.
Then there’s been much ado about Cecily Neville, Richard’s mother, perhaps because in modern times there has been attempts to emphasise—and sometimes over-emphasise—the behind-the-scenes roles of medieval women. She was undoubtedly a powerful and sometimes outspoken woman, but that does not make her some kind of ‘Lady MacBeth.’ Apparently, we are told, she supported George for King in 1469 because her eldest son was indeed a bastard and not fit to hold the throne. Again, this makes little sense. If there was any truth in the rumours about Edward’s parentage, why was his kingship suddenly a problem in 1469 and not when he first became King in 1461? Yes, Cecily supposedly cried out that he was no true son and she would publicly swear to it, when she found out about his ill-thought out “marriage” to Elizabeth Woodville…but if she truly declared such a thing, she never mentioned it in public again and (according to traditionalist accounts) was most ‘put out’ by the rumours of Edward’s illegitimacy being resurrected around the time Richard became King. Like so many denialist accounts, the stories conflict—she’s hardly likely to have admitted an adulterous sin then act as if she was shocked and affronted that it was repeated. So only one of the above scenarios can be true (or neither of them.) My personal belief is she did lash out verbally at Edward during an angry confrontation over his marriage, and futilely tried to hold him in check with what turned out to be an idle threat.)
Following on from this series of contradictions, Cecily has also recently been made out as some sort of ‘Kingmaker’ in regards to her youngest son, ruthlessly forgetting her grandchildren (but think of the chhilldreenn, Cecily!) in order to support Richard’s claim (this is assumed mainly, I presume, because she allowed his use of Baynard castle during his bid for the crown) but in the very next instance, we have others claiming she showed her disapproval of his kingship by not attending Richard’s Coronation. (Although the latter may be another falsehood—Cecily may well have been there. As the late John Ashdown-Hill wrote in his book on the Duchess, the assumption of her absence comes from the fact there is no record of her having received fabric for her robes—Well, there is also no record of Richard and Anne receiving any fabric either, as their clothes would have been supplied by the Great Wardrobe. Cecily’s garments could quite possibly have come straight from the Great Wardrobe too, since she was the King’s Mother.)
Now, there is certainly nothing wrong with debating either John Howard or Dame Cecily’s involvement in the events of 1483. But let’s not end up with either rumour or theory being presented as fact (we have enough of that already!), such as some of the elements in this article on Cecily Neville, which is on the National Archives page:
… on two of the major rebellions – Simnel and “Perkin” – against Henry VII. This article is from Voyager of History and we may soon be in a better position to know whether Richard of Shrewsbury could have been at Tyburn in 1499.
Putting aside the mystery of what ultimately happened to Edward IV’s two sons, one enduring difficulty for a student of history is whether Richard III used the proper legal procedure in having them declared illegitimate because of their father’s precontracted marriage to Eleanor Talbot. The most (and only) significant defect appears to be the failure to refer the issue to a church court for determination. But it seems no one has fleshed out how an ecclesiastical tribunal would have litigated such an extraordinary and unprecedented matter, let alone identified which church court would have had authority to hear it.
As a retired litigator of 20 years, I undertook the challenge of researching medieval English church court procedures and precedent cases to answer four questions: Which church court would have decided the precontract issue? How would it have conducted the litigation? What evidence would it have heard? How conclusive would…