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Why did Richard III allow Elizabeth of York such liberty at his court….?

 

Medieval Court – detail of a 15th-century miniature. (Royal 16 F II, f. 1) British Library

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.

Published by John Player & Sons, after Unknown artist.
Colour relief halftone cigarette card, 1935

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.

Richard III, Queen Anne and their son, Edward, Prince of Wales from Rous Roll

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.

from Livre de La Chasse by Gaston Phoebus

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.

Henry Tudor’s arrival at Mill Bay 7 August 1485, by Graham Turner

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.

Elizabeth of York and her sister Cicely/Cecily

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.

The Princes in the Tower. Cigarette card, from series on Famous Boys, published by Godfrey Phillips, early 20th century

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.

Extract from Titulus Regius

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.

Picture by viscountessw

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.

Sir William Stanley places Richard’s crown on Tudor’s head

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.

Perkin Warbeck

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.

Rennes Cathedral

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.

Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty

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.

Elizabeth Woodville

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?

Edward IV

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! ☺

Cicely/Cecily of York, second surviving daughter of Edward IV

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.

Margaret of York, Duchess of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III

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.

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln – well, not really, there are no portraits of him. This picture has been adapted from Portrait of a Man with a Red Hat, Titian (15th century) by viscountessw in the 21st century!

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.

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour from a mural that was destroyed by fire at Whitehall Palace

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 Battle of Bosworth fought again in the sky by ghostly armies
illustration by viscountessw

 

Elizabeth Wydeville…Serial Killer?

UPDATED VERSION AT sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/06/08/elizabeth-wydeville-serial-killer/

IMG_6008.JPGElizabeth 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.

 

IMG_4380.JPG

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.

IMG_4865.JPG

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 Eleanor Butler 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.

IMG_2534.JPGGeorge 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!).

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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.

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Terracotta bust of Henry VII. Elizabeth’s son-in-law.  Henry prudently had Elizabeth ‘retired’ to Bermondsey Abbey. 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Wells Cathedral, in glorious Medieval Technicolor…!

 

from the BBC

We’re often told that the medieval period was one of bright colours. The interiors of castles and great houses were painted with vivid scenes, and the churches and cathedrals were brilliantly decorated. It’s one thing to know this, but quite another to actually see what it might have been like. The above illustration of Wells Cathedral shows how it might have appeared prior to the 14th/15th century addition of the two West Front towers we know today and that Stillington would have seen. It really is quite incredible.

The picture below is how Turner saw the cathedral in 1795, after Monmouth’s rebels stripped it of lead for ammunition, when it was more or less as we see it now.

 

Ralph Boteler, Lord Sudeley, father-in-law to Lady Eleanor Talbot.

UPDATED POST ON sparkypus.com A Medieval Potpourri https://sparkypus.com/2020/06/01/ralph-boteler-lord-sudeley-father-in-law-to-lady-eleanor-talbot/

image.pngThe arms of Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley ..

 Take a trip to the lovely Cotswold town of Winchcombe and there you will find Sudeley Castle.  Some of those that lived in the castle are well known such as Queen Catherine Parr and the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey.  Their stories are well documented elsewhere and I won’t touch upon them here as I want to focus on an earlier owner Ralph Boteler, Lord of Sudeley who was born around 1393 and was to become father-in-law to Lady Eleanor Boteler, or Butler as she is more commonly called, nee Talbot.  Eleanor was married to Ralph’s son Thomas.

Ralph, from aristocratic stock, led an illustrious life.  He had rebuilt Sudeley after fighting in the France where its most likely he would have met John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, Eleanor’s father.  Among the titles he held were Baron Sudeley, Captain of Calais, Lord high Treasurer of England and Chamberlain of the King’s Household.  He was also a generous benefactor to St Peter’s Church, in Winchcombe, enabling it to be rebuilt in 10 years after the earlier church  fell into disrepair.

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John Talbot, lst Earl of Shrewsbury – father to Eleanor Butler nee Talbot.  Both `John and Ralph fought in France.

As Eleanor was only a child of about 13 when she married Thomas, who was a fair bit older than her at about 28, their marriage would not have been consummated immediately  and therefore she would have lived with her in-laws at Sudeley for the first few years of her marriage.  It would seem an affection grew between her and her father in law, for later, after the death of Thomas, it would appear that she either persuaded her second, and secret husband,  the young Edward IV to act generously towards her former father in law, or he did so to make his new bride happy for, within 6 months of the secret marriage, which took place around February 1461, Edward issued a grant –  ‘exemption for life of Ralph Botiller, knight, Lord of Sudeley, on account of his debility and age from personal attendance in council or Parliament and from being made collector assessor or taxer….commissioner, justice of the peace, constable, bailiff, or other minister of the king, or trier, arrayer or leader of men at arms, archers, or hobelers. And he shall not be compelled to leave his dwelling for war’.  Three months later Edward further granted ‘Ralph four bucks in summer and six in winter within the king’s park of Woodstock’ ( 1 ) Sadly all this good will evaporated on the death of Eleanor in 1468.  Historian John Ashdown-Hill has described this volte-face as a ‘hostility’ resulting in Ralph having to surrender his properties, including Sudeley, which went in the main, to the voracious relatives of his new and bigamous ‘wife’, Elizabeth Wydeville.  For following a pardon granted to Ralph on the 17 December 1468 when two properties Griff and Burton Dassett, taken earlier by Edward,  were returned to him, Ralph was ‘induced to issue the following grant:

‘Know all men present and to come that I, Ralph Boteler, Knight, Lord Sudely, have given, granted and by this my present charter have confirmed to Richard, Earl Rivers, William, Earl of Pembroke, Anthony Wydevile, Knight, Lord Scales, William Hastings, Knight, Lord Hastings, Thomas Bonyfaunt, Dean of the Chapel Royal, Thomas Vaughn, one of the Esquires of the King’s body and to Richard Fowler, the castle domain and manor of Sudeley, with all its belongings in the county of Gloucester, and all lands, rent etc., in Sudeley, Toddington, Stanley, Greet, Gretton, Catesthorp and Newnton and also the advowson of the church or chapel of Sudeley, to hold the same to them and their assignees’ ( 2)

Sadly , Edward, not content with taking Ralph’s properties he may have, according to John Ashdown-Hill also sent him to prison, where he died in 1473 (3).  People (and history)  will have to judge for themselves the true reason Edward took such a heavy hand with Ralph after Eleanor’s death and whether it was, as some say, because of his loyalty to the Lancastrian cause (having supported the redemption of Henry VI)  or did it perhaps have something more to do with Ralph being privy (or a reminder)  to the illegality of the Wydeville marriage?

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Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.  Rebuilt by Ralph Boteler ..

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St Peter’s Church, Winchcombe.  Ralph Boteler gave generously enabling the church to be rebuilt after the original one fell into a ruinous state.

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St Mary’s Church at Sudeley Castle..

( 1 ) Elizabeth Widville, Lady Grey p38 CPR 1461-1467, pp.72,191.  John Ashdown-Hill.

( 2)  Eleanor: The Secret Queen p150.   Close Roll 8 Edward IV,  no.3. dorso, 23 February 1469.              John Ashdown-Hill.

(3)  Elizabeth Widville Lady Grey p51.  John Ashdown-Hill.

Eleanor: A reminder of the evidence

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

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

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

Matthew Lewis on YouTube: 2) Mancini

Here is the second in my series of Top 10’s. This one is focussing on Dominic Mancini’s account of the events of 1483. It’s a hugely problematical source, both in terms of Mancini himself, who spoke no English, had no grasp of English politics and very limited sources, and in terms of the current translation in use which often chooses weighted words to make Mancini’s account darker.

It’s a negative source, without a doubt, written for a French audience hostile to England and Richard III and gripped by their own minority succession crisis, but it’s also misused and misunderstood. Mancini explains that he has had his arm twisted by Angelo Cato to write the account, which he had not wished to commit to paper. Cato worked at the French court, so had his own agenda is seeking to make Richard and his England seem like a land of murderous monsters.

More than this, Mancini admits, when complaining about being brow beaten into writing his account, that he knows almost nothing for certain. He wrote ‘I indeed decided that I ought not to expatiate so freely in writing as in talking, for, although on your account I did not shrink from pains, yet I had not sufficiently ascertained the names of those to be described, the intervals of time, and the secret designs of men in this whole affair.’ He adds ‘Wherefore you should not expect from me the names of individual men and places, nor that this account should be complete in all details; rather shall it resemble the effigy of a man, which lacks some of the limbs, and yet a beholder delineates for himself a man’s form.’

If Mancini had visited Torquay in the 1970’s, he might have given Manuel a run for his money.

Manuel

I know nothing…

Busting yet another Cairo myth

Bishop Robert Stillington was imprisoned soon after Bosworth and died in captivity in 1491, definitely by 15 May. It is generally thought that this was a punishment for providing the copious evidence that convinced the Three Estates, in June 1483, of Edward IV’s bigamy. This rendered Elizabeth of York and all her siblings legally illegitimate, which was highly inconvenient for Henry “Tudor”, who sought to marry her. Stillington’s arrest and Catesby‘s summary execution fall into the first four days of Henry VII’s actual reign and the first five of the reign he claimed.

There has been an alternative view, based on the writings of Edward Hall, compiled after More but before Shakespeare. In 1475-6, just after the planned invasion of France was cancelled, an embassy was sent to Francis, Duke of Brittany, seeking to capture “Tudor”. Both Vergil and Hall comment that “the Bishop of Bath and Wells” was part of the party in question. Several Cairo dwellers rely on that interpretation, identifying Stillington as the man in question.

Oliver King the snooker player. For some reason, we couldn’t find a photo of the Bishop.

In 1475-6, Robert Stillington was indeed Bishop of Bath and Wells but there are several convincing reasons to conclude that he wasn’t the man in question. By the time Polydore Vergil put quill to paper, Oliver King (1495-1503) occupied that see and Hall “redialled” to King’s predecessor but one for convenience. King was among those arrested but released at the time of Hastings’ plot.

Secondly, Stillington was not a well man by the time Edward IV’s second reign began, taking leave of absence as Lord Privy Seal and Lord Chancellor at least twice, and the Foedera evidence shows that he was never actually sent abroad. In the ODNB, based on the Yorkshireman’s early academic career, Hicks concludes that he was born by 1410 and ordained at a comparatively late age, living into his eighties. Based on this revelation, it is possible that his own children were actually legitimate and that their mother died before he took holy orders in c.1447.

Now think about the implications of this. Canon Stillington, who almost certainly witnessed Edward IV’s real marriage, was more than thirty years older than his monarch. Ralph Butler, Lord Sudeley, a probable witness born in about 1394, was nearly fifty years older than Edward, imprisoned from 1469-73 when he died, and Lady Eleanor herself was over six years older. In other words, Edward IV need only to have lived to 49 to ensure that all those with first-hand knowledge were dead, so the ceremony would have been deniable. He didn’t, of course, thereby ending Yorkist rule.

h/t Marie Barnfield

The Trial That Should Have Happened in 1483

RICARDIAN LOONS

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.[1]  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…

View original post 5,008 more words

Bishop Stillington’s Lost Chapel

The beautiful Cathedral of Wells  is a medieval visual delight. It was, of course, the See of Bishop Robert Stillington who sought out Richard Duke of Gloucester and announced that King Edward IV had been secretly married to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, prior to wedding  Elizabeth Woodville in a second secret ceremony, thus making his second marriage bigamous and invalid. He knew the matter was true, he said, because he was the one who had officiated at the marriage of Edward and Eleanor..

Stillington was Archdeacon of Taunton when Edward might have met and married Eleanor Talbot, probably around 1461. He was, of course, not then a Bishop but the Canon Stillington. He also served in Edward’s government as Keeper of the Privy seal. He was elected to his Bishopric in 1465–at King Edward’s insistence, as the the Pope initially proposed a different candidate. He was also intermittently Lord Chancellor, though he appears to have been dismissed in 1473. A few years later, Stillington was briefly imprisoned for unspecified offences which seem to have been connected with George of Clarence’s treason charges.

After Richard III’s death at Bosworth, Henry VII immediately ordered Stillington imprisoned . Upon his release, rather than retiring somewhere far from court or bowing to the new Tudor regime, he immediately involved himself in the Lambert Simnel uprising. Once Stoke Field was fought and Tudor victorious , Stillington fled to Oxford, where for a while the University protected him. However, eventually he was captured and thrown in prison in Windsor Castle–this time for the rest of his days. He died in 1491 and was taken to Somerset for burial at Wells Cathedral.

During his lifetime, Stillington did not spend much time in Wells but he did complete building work within the cathedral and raised his own mortuary chapel there in the 1470’s, complete with huge gilded bosses bosses of suns and roses. This chapel, dedicated to the Virgin, was built on one side of the cloisters near the holy springs that give Wells its name and on  the foundations of an earlier Saxon church. During the Reformation, in the reign of Edward VI, Sir John Gates destroyed the chapel and tomb and, according to old accounts,ripped the Bishop’s remains out of his lead coffin.

Rather interestingly, Stillington’s Chapel is the ONLY part of Wells Cathedral that was severely damaged during the Reformation, the Bishop’s tomb not only being desecrated but the building itself razed to the ground – and some would have it that there’s no such thing as Tudor propaganda? Of course, the roof was later pillaged by Monmouth’s rebels to make ammunition for use at Sedgemoor.

The foundations of Stillington’s chapel have been excavated, and if you visit Wells Cathedral today, you can see scant stonework sticking out of the ground in Camery Gardens. Nearby, in the cloisters, several massive chunks of his tomb canopy are on display, decorated with symbols of the House of York.

 

Talbot Country

There is a pub in Bridgnorth, near where I live. Well, let’s be honest, there’s about a hundred. If you have ever been to Bridgnorth, aside from the Severn Valley Railway, the funicular railway from Low Town to High Town and the remains of the slighted castle, which lean at a greater angle than the Tower of Pisa, the sheer number of pubs will strike you. The one I was referring to is The Bell and Talbot on Salop Street in High Town. The hanging sign shows a dog lying beneath a bell while the one on the wall looks a bit more like a coat of arms, with two hounds rearing up either side of a bell.

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The Bell and Talbot, Bridgnorth

The symbol of the Talbot Hound is easy to miss but is significant in Shropshire. Talbot dogs were small white hunting hounds, extinct now, but understood to be an ancestor of the beagle and the bloodhound. The origin of the breed, its emergence in England and the reason for the name are all lost in the mists of time, but they have an enduring connection to the most prominent Shropshire family of the last five centuries.

Henry VI is believed to have referred to John Talbot in 1449 as ‘Talbott, oure good dogge’: I’m sure he meant it as a compliment, but I wouldn’t appreciate such a label! Did the name of the hound emerge from this quip? Or was it a reference to the already-established Talbot breed, coincidentally sharing a name with Henry’s premier general in France? John Talbot became Earl of Shrewsbury and his family inextricably linked with the title and surrounding county for generations. The 1445 Shrewsbury Book, commissioned by Talbot, has an image of the earl presenting his book to Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s queen, with a little white Talbot hound standing behind him.

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The Shrewsbury Book, presented by John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury

In 1569, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury was one of the few English noblemen wealthy and trusted enough to house Mary, Queen of Scots during her period under house arrest at Elizabeth I’s instruction. Shrewsbury was a prominent Protestant and Elizabeth made him a Privy Counsellor as part of the arrangement because of ‘his approved loyalty and faithfulness, and the ancient state of blood from which he is descended’. Mary was initially held at Tutbury Castle and although Elizabeth would not meet the costs of her prisoner’s keeping, Mary’s French incomes covered her hosts expenses for a while. She was moved two months later to Wingfield Manor, a more suitable, well-kept lodging than the dilapidated Tutbury with its inadequate drains. Although he would discharge his duty diligently, Shrewsbury was censured any time he left Mary’s company for his own business and despite his wealth, he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick found themselves financially embarrassed by the cost and Elizabeth’s refusal to help meet them. Mary was eventually removed from Shrewsbury’s care before her eventual entrapment and execution at Fotheringhay Castle.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots

Alton Towers lies just north of Shropshire, across the border into Staffordshire, and even as a theme park, it retains a link to the Talbot family who made it their ancestral home. The buildings that lie ruined today were built by Charles Talbot, 15th Earl of Shrewsbury in the early nineteenth century. The ride Hex is contained within the ruins and tells the story of that earl’s battle with the supernatural to lift a curse placed in him and his family.

For anyone interested in the fifteenth century, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, remembered as Old Talbot, is a towering figure sadly eclipsed by later events. He was one of the few Englishmen Joan of Arc is reputed to have known by name. His fearless, often reckless leadership made him the most successful English general in France over many years. He was probably in his mid-sixties when he was eventually killed at the Battle of Castillon in 1453. His loss was such a blow that Castillon is considered the last battle of the Hundred Years War and there is a memorial in France to him, set up where he fell in recognition of a foe worthy of respect.

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The Talbot Monument at the site of the Battle of Castillon

For those with an interest more precisely focussed on Richard III and the events of 1483, the Talbot family have a vitally important role to play. Unfortunately, there is little solid fact on which to hang any opinion of the controversy of Edward IV’s marital status. Where hard, written evidence is lacking – and we should expect it to be lacking, given the systematic destruction of Titulus Regius after Bosworth – I tend to fall back on the actions of people affected by events. In their reaction, or even inaction, we can often glean an idea of what must have been going on and what people thought of it.

The Talbot family come into sharp focus because the basis of Richard’s charge that Edward IV’s children were illegitimate is a claim that Edward was a bigamist. It was alleged that prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, he had already contracted a marriage to Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. We have no solid evidence that this is the case, but as I said, we probably shouldn’t expect to. Look at what people in London in June 1483 did, though. They accepted the evidence we are told they were shown. We cannot examine it and for the most part, historians dismiss it as fantasy. Yet those who could read it accepted it so completely that they deposed a king and offered the crown to his uncle. Why would they do that? Fear of Richard? Hardly. He had no army in London or anywhere nearby. He was mustering a few hundred men at Pontefract, but they had not left by then and London was well versed in resisting thousands, never mind a few hundred. Fear of a minority? Maybe, but Richard had shown himself willing to act as regent for his nephew, and he was the senior royal male of the House of York, an experienced governor and successful general (within his limited opportunities). Could it be that, just maybe, the allegations looked true?

Edward IV’s reputation, deserved or otherwise, surely made it seem plausible. None would doubt that he was capable of contracting a secret marriage to a relatively unsuitable older lady. That was, after all, how he ended up married to Elizabeth Woodville. By 1483, George Talbot was 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, the first earl’s great-grandson. He was probably too young to fight at Bosworth, but definitely supported Henry VII during the Lambert Simnel Affair. The Talbot family were Lancastrian in their sympathies; after all, their patriarch had built his reputation and title on defending that House. They are often considered hostile to Richard III, probably because of his accusation against one of their number, but I’m not sure that was the case. By the time of the Lambert Simnel Affair, supporting Henry VII was the natural position for the 4th Earl. Besides, if, as I strongly suspect, the Affair was an uprising in favour of Edward V rather than Edward, Earl of Warwick, then the Talbot family perhaps opposed it because they were perfectly well aware of Edward V’s illegitimacy.

Back in 1483, the Talbot family made no move against Richard or his accusation about Eleanor Talbot and Edward IV. When Simon Stallworth wrote his newsletter to Sir William Stonor as late as 21 June 1483, the day before Dr Shaa’s sermon at St Paul’s Cross, he knew nothing of the impending bombshell. He did, however, note that Lord Lisle ‘is come to my Lorde Protectour and awates apone hym’. This is more significant that it is often deemed to be.

Lord Lisle was Edward Grey. He was not only the younger brother of Sir John Grey of Groby, the first husband of Elizabeth Woodville and therefore uncle to her two oldest sons, but he was also married to Elizabeth Talbot, a niece of Eleanor Talbot. If Richard was looking for evidence to substantiate or refute the charge he had been made aware of, Lord Lisle was a sensible person to consult. He might know whether there was any family tradition that Eleanor had married Edward and whether any evidence remained in Talbot hands.

Lord Lisle was from a Lancastrian family and Richard was about to offend the family of his wife, yet Lord Lisle remained with Richard and offered no opposition. Indeed, Lord Lisle attended Richard’s coronation, as did the Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth. Elizabeth had married John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and was the mother of Anne Mowbray, the ill-fated bride of Edward IV’s younger son. She had been born Elizabeth Talbot, though, the youngest daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and a sister of Eleanor Talbot. She was not so outraged by Richard’s accusations that she boycotted his coronation. Was this because Richard was, in actual fact, righting a wrong that the Talbot family perceived had been inflicted on one of their number by a deceitful young king?

There are many other elements to the precontract story. The timing is always cited as too convenient, but I would counter that George, Duke of Clarence seems to have been on the verge of revealing it in 1477 and it cost him his life. Who else would have been brave enough to trumpet the allegation during Edward IV’s lifetime? It would have been tantamount to signing your own death warrant. This piece of the puzzle is interesting though. We cannot be certain of the truth of the allegation of bigamy. We can, however, be entirely certain that the charge was made, that evidence was gathered (or fabricated), that what evidence existed was unanimously accepted by those able to examine it, that this evidence has subsequently been lost or destroyed and that there was no backlash from the Talbot family in 1483 (accepting that in 1485 Sir Gilbert Talbot, younger son of the 2nd Earl, joined Henry Tudor’s army).

It amazes me that such certainty in the fraud of the bigamy allegation is espoused today. There is no hard evidence for it, but there is also none against it. Expanding our consideration to more circumstantial elements, it is probable that the story nearly emerged in 1477, costing George his life, and it is certain that those who were exposed to the evidence in support of it entirely accepted it. It may have been a well-constructed lie, but it is at least as likely, if not more so, that it was true.

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