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William “Waste-all” Berkeley, the lord who out-Stanleyed the Stanleys at Bosworth….!

Berkley_Castle_by_Jan_Kip_1712Here is the story of yet another lord who betrayed Richard III at Bosworth. Oh, but wait a moment, this one betrayed Henry Tudor as well, now there’s a feat!

The man in question was William, eventually Marquess of Berkeley, but nicknamed “Waste-all”. He was 43 when he won the Battle of Nibley Green, which was fought on 20 March 1469 or 1470, depending upon which calendar one uses. The battle is famous now because it was the last to be fought in England by private feudal armies. William “was of an unusually haughty and headstrong disposition, and made himself so much feared by all around him that for several years before his father’s death none of the tenants would accept any lease without William’s joining in it”. Not an endearing character.

north_nibley

The village of North Nibley, Gloucestershire

He had an even more famous feud with Margaret Beauchamp, Countess of Shrewsbury (1404–14 June 1468) was the eldest daughter of the 13th Earl of Warwick, and by her marriage to the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, as his second wife, she was the mother of Lady Eleanor Talbot, Sir Humphrey Talbot, and Lady Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, all names Ricardians will know well. But by her first marriage, she was the grandmother of Thomas Talbot, 2nd Baron Lisle , 2nd Viscount Lisle (c.1449-20 March 1470), who was aged 20 or 21 at the time of Nibley Green.Margaret Beauchamp, Countess of Shrewsbury (1404-1467) by James Basire the younger (London 1769 ¿ London 1822)

Margaret was a truly formidable woman who always fought tooth and claw what she considered to be hers and her children’s. She pursued years of feud with the equally formidable William Waste-all. They were “”two merciless natures not unevenly encountering”, as Smyth, the Berkeley family biographer and steward, recorded. The dispute was over manors and lands, including Berkeley Castle itself, which the Countess regarded as hers. Waste-all, needless to say, did not agree. One of the disputed manors was Wotton, not far from Berkeley, which Waste-all said the countess was occupying illegally. The dispute was not confined to legal means, including petitioning King Edward IV, but also by predatory attacks on each other’s territories, and fights between their servants and tenants. It was quite some quarrel, even by the standards of the day.

Berkeley (left) and Lisle (right)

Then, on 14 June 1468, the Countess Margaret died, and her estate—and the great dispute—passed to her grandson, the young Lord Lisle, who was eager to take up the cudgels. He plotted against Waste-all, using a treacherous Berkeley servant who then turned coat again and told Waste-all everything. The latter was monumentally furious. Lisle was livid. Letters were sent, threats made, and a challenge issued on 19 March 1469. The confrontation was set to take place the following day at Nibley Green, halfway between Wotton and Berkeley.

Re-enactment of Battle of Nibley Green

Re-enactment of the Battle of Nibley Green

Waste-all maintained a garrison at Berkeley Castle, which gave him an advantage over Lord Lisle. They faced each other at Nibley Green, 1000 men to 300 or so. It was an unequal conflict from the outset, and because his visor had not been lowered, hot-headed Lisle was shot with an arrow on the left side of his face. One of Waste-all’s supporters, named Black Will of the Forest of Dean, finished off the wounded man with a dagger. Lisle’s force fled, pursued by Waste-all’s. There was chaos as the latter and his great numbers descended on Wotton. Such was the ordeal for Lisle’s young wife, that sixteen days later she was brought to bed early of a stillborn son, thus ending her husband’s line.

All this took place as Warwick the “Kingmaker” was turning upon Edward IV. A few months later, Edward himself was a fugitive and Warwick had returned the displaced Lancastrian, Henry VI, to the throne. Then, the following year, Edward IV returned to overthrow Warwick and Henry VI at the Battle of Barnet. On 6 October 1473, the case was settled in favour of Waste-all, who must have thought it was all done and dusted.

However, he became mixed-up with Sir Edward Grey, brother-in-law (through her first husband) of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s manipulative queen. Grey married the sister of the late Lord Lisle of Nibley Green, and decided to take up the Lisle claim through his wife. William Waste-all was on shakier ground now, with Elizabeth Woodville obviously set on upholding her brother-in-law’s side of it. Edward IV was always one for a quiet time in his marriage – if marriage it was, considering he was first married to the old Countess’s daughter, Lady Eleanor Talbot, who selfishly stayed alive for four years after he’d uttered his vows to Elizabeth! Oh, tangled webs… In due course Sir Edward Grey would indeed be created Lord Lisle by Richard III.

In the meantime, anxious to stay in favour with Edward IV, Waste-all had conveyed many manors and lands to the king’s younger son, the little Duke of York (soon to be one of the boys in the Tower). When Richard III came to the throne, and the Duke of York (and his elder brother, known as Edward V) were declared illegitimate because of the Eleanor Talbot marriage, everything returned to Waste-all. Did he dance a jig? Probably.

But it was now that he really earned his nickname, Waste-all. After subsequently gaining 68 Mowbray manors and other property across the realm, he set about giving or granting everything away in order to gain honours and distinctions. He conveyed 35 manors to Richard III, in return for the title Earl of Nottingham, and when Richard faced Henry Tudor at Bosworth, it was said that William Waste-all out-Stanleyed the Stanleys, by supporting one side with men, the other with money. Henry Tudor won, and returned the 35 manors to William Waste-all. Was fate hell-bent on helping the fellow?

Next Waste-all conveyed two castles and 28 manors to Sir William Stanley, and then parted with many more to Sir William and others. In his will he entailed Berkeley Castle and all remaining family possession on the Tudor king, reserving only a life interest in them. In return he was created Marquess of Berkeley. He ended up as Great Mareschal of England, but by the time he died, on 14th February, 1492, he had disinherited his entire family. What a Valentine. Small wonder he gained the soubriquet Waste-all!

berkeleycastle

But there is a postscript. Waste-all had no legitimate children, and so his heir was his younger brother, Maurice, whom Waste-all considered to have married beneath his rank and thus brought shame on the family. What nerve, considering his own antics.

Was Waste-all giving everything away in order to punish Maurice, who eventually inherited the title, with nothing to go with it? If this is true, it was a terrible act of spite from nasty old Waste-all, who wasn’t exactly a dazzling adornment to the title of Berkeley.

You will find much more about him and the Battle of Nibley Green at

https://www.rotwang.co.uk/hob_chapter_05.html

 

 

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A talbot hound for a Talbot knight….?

Talbot

A curious point has been raised about whether or not many medieval knights chose a dog (or other animal) badge because of their family name. The main candidate to come to mind is Sir Humphrey Talbot, Marshal of Calais, who in 1475 carried a Renyngehonde (running hound) badge of a talbot, which breed may have taken its name from the Talbot family. The talbot is now extinct, but was apparently rather like a foxhound, but all over grey/cream, with much shorter legs. (See illustration below for a more accurate likeness than the one above.)

In Edward IV’s French Expedition of 1475 by Francis Pierrepont Barnard, Humphrey’s badge is described as follows: “ ‘Renynghonde filu [er] on fhau[l]d[er] a mollet.’ This ‘running hound’ was the talbot, the well-known punning badge of his house, and the mullet is his cadency mark, as, at this date, third surviving son. His father, slain at Châtillon in 1453, is alluded to by this badge about 1449: ‘Talbott oure goode dogge ;’ and again in  1450: ‘Talbot oure gentille dogge’.

In the same work, Sir Humphrey’s eldest half-brother, the 2nd Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury, is also called ‘dogge’, as is Sir Gilbert Talbot, who was Sir Humphrey’s half-nephew, and so on through various Talbots.

You can see a 1475 illustration of Sir Humphrey’s badge below. It is also from the above book:

Sir Humphrey Talbot's running hound badge - 1475

The inscription tells us that in the 1475 invasion of France he contributed for the first quarter 10 men-at-arms and 100 archers (for which he was paid £298 0s 6d). At that time he was a Knight of the Royal Body, but is not described as a Banneret.

So, does anyone know of another example of a knight/nobleman using a dog (or any other animal) as a pun on his name?

For anyone interested in the Talbot family, there is a very helpful site at http://www.talbotro.co.uk/trotlbtnBackNos.html

Why did she not speak out?

I have come across a few conversations on the net in which the question is asked: If Eleanor Talbot was married to Edward IV, why did she not speak out when he ‘married’ Elizabeth Woodville?

It’s a fair enough question, although in my view a tad on the naive side. 15th Century England was not a liberal democracy under a rule of law, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court and ultimately to the European Court of Human Rights. It was something very close to a dictatorship. Yes, there were certain restraints on the sovereign’s power, but these restraints were pretty limited. Parliament and Peers generally only cut up rough when their collective interests were threatened – for example if the King wanted to impose heavy taxation. They tended not to worry too much about what we would call ‘human rights’.

Even in our enlightened times, a private individual who had something to say about the sovereign which threatened the security of the state would not exactly have an easy ride. If they were not dismissed as a nutcase, they would certainly attract the attention of the security services, and at the minimum be given ‘advice’. They would also run a good chance of having their lives dissected in the Daily Mail and – who knows? – they might just find themselves conveniently committing ‘suicide’.

Let us consider a couple of people who gave Edward IV a little hassle. Bishop Stillington, for speaking words prejudicial to the King, was chucked in the Tower. It should be noted that this was a former Chancellor of England, not a nobody, a man who in addition enjoyed the virtual immunity of prelates from the death sentence, a convention only ever broken by kings called ‘Henry’. He also had the benefit of an ‘old boys’ network, including the University of Oxford that protected him – to an extent – under Henry VII. Stillington took note. Whatever ‘prejudicial’ words he wanted to give out, he kept them to himself for the rest of Edward IV’s reign.

Then there was Clarence, who was actually Edward IV’s full-blood brother. It’s not exactly clear what he did that justified his execution – although we can be sure it was something, as Edward was such a good chap who never did an unjust deed in his whole life. But part of it was certainly protesting to the King’s council about Edward’s actions.

Eleanor Talbot was not a prelate, she was not the king’s brother – she was just a little woman.

Some of you may not like that term, so let me go on to say at one that I am aware of a number of formidable women (mostly ladies actually) who were a force in fifteenth century England. Indeed, I’ve made quite a study of more than one of them. They usually had at least two of the following: very high-placed male relatives; considerable lands of their own; and last, but by no means least, a forceful personality. Most had all three. It’s quite possible that Eleanor Talbot did not have one. She certainly had no significant lands, and her nearest male relative, Sir Humphrey Talbot, was not a man with a great deal of political ‘kick’. Indeed, he was in need of royal patronage, which he eventually received.

Of course, the occasion when Eleanor should have spoken out was the formal, public wedding of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. But as no such public ceremony ever took place, she couldn’t, could she?

After that, I suspect any protest on her part would have been laughed at – if not, she might simply have been thrown into prison. She may also have been restrained by feelings of delicacy – opening the matter would have damaged her reputation and made her look a fool. Perhaps she simply preferred to ‘lie low and say nuffin’ rather than face such humiliation.

So I have no difficulty in understanding why Eleanor did not speak out. I think she was very wise not to do so.

A mysterious lost chalice….

Sir Humphrey's Chalice

Before I go further, let me point out that this is not the chalice I refer to, merely how I think it could have looked. The real thing might have been encrusted with pearls and rubies.

On December 13th, 2000, a gentleman named Adrian Fray posted an interesting item about a gold chalice that had once been at Glastonbury Abbey, and might also have once been owned by Sir Humphrey Talbot, Marshal of Calais, brother of Lady Eleanor Talbot. The post is as follows:-

In an English 15C ‘will’ there is mention of a gold standing cup / chalice, and the ‘will’ states that this chalice is chaced with rubies and pearls. I have been searching all references to chalices and I have been unable to find one that comes anywhere near to meeting this description. I am therefore posting this message to ask if anyone knows if there is might be one of this description in a museum, church, or private collection.

The item may be much older than the 15C. It may have been taken from France during the 100 years war, and it might have passed to Sir Humphrey Talbot, who was Marshall of Calais. Consequently it may have gone back to France. At one time it was held at Glastonbury Abbey.

If it can be located, it may help to validate what I believe to be a Medieval fraud.

How very intriguing! I have written to Mr Fray, to see if he learned anything more, but his message was posted almost fourteen years ago now. I would love to know about the suspected medieval fraud, and if Sir Humphrey actually possessed such a wonderful chalice.

The will in which Mr Fray found the reference is not disclosed, but Interestingly (although far from conclusively) a transcript of Sir Humphrey’s will contains the following:-

“ . . . . Which I bequeath vnto my Lady my suster to gedir with the gilt cuppe that she gave me nowe being in Calis?  . . . .”

The sister, of course, must be Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk, Lady Eleanor by then having been dead for a number of years. It really cannot be said that the two cups are one and the same, but it is a curious coincidence. If it should by any chance be the same cup, and Elizabeth gave it to Humphrey in the first place, how did it come into her possession? And what has Glastonbury Abbey to do with it? Of course, as soon as one mentions Glastonbury and chalices, the magical name King Arthur leaps to mind. Well, it leaps to mine, so I wonder if the abbey was presenting it as that legendary king’s cup. Not that I can say if it was at Glastonbury before or after it came into Sir Humphrey’s possession.

I do not even know what such a wonderful jewelled cup might have looked like. Like Mr Fray, I cannot find a similar example studded with those particular stones, hence the guesswork in the pictured chalice.

Does anyone know anything about this mysterious cup and its intriguing history?

Treason and plots – a tale of 1468

Lady Eleanor Butler (born Talbot) probably knew that she was dying. In the early months of 1468, she transferred the lands that were hers to transfer to her sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk. Where these lands came from is something of a mystery. John Ashdown-Hill has demonstrated that they were not dower lands, could not have been inherited, and were almost certainly not bought by Lady Eleanor, as she lacked the resources. The most probable origin of this mysterious land is that it was a gift from Edward IV. As King Edward was not in the habit of gifting land to random females this is suggestive of a connection between them. Of course, some people have pointed out that the land was not particularly valuable. Oh, well that makes it OK then! The point is that land –  even small amounts of it – was not just handed out for no reason. No one has satisfactorily explained where the land came from if it did not come from the King.

Anyway, no sooner was this sorted than King Edward appointed Duchess Elizabeth to go to Burgundy with his sister, Margaret of York, on the occasion of the latter’s wedding. This involved the Duchess being in charge of the whole female side of things – no mean responsibility when around one hundred women and girls were attached to Margaret’s train. The reason for Elizabeth’s selection was probably that she was the most senior English lady who was not either a member of the royal house or a Woodville, or both. It may also have been intended as a mark of favour to her husband, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who, although apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long way, was at least a loyal Yorkist.

So off they popped to sunny Burgundy, to the celebration and pageantry that John Paston felt there were no words to describe. Elizabeth’s brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot, went with her. The unfortunate Eleanor was left behind in Norfolk to die without any of her birth family around her, although one would like to think that Norfolk himself visited with the occasional bunch of flowers. She was buried in the house of the White Carmelites at Norwich.

Elizabeth had scarcely set foot back in England (round about July 1468) when two of her servants John Poynings and Richard Alford, were charged with having treasonable dealings with the agents of the Lancastrians in Kouer-La-Petite. Brought to trial, they were found guilty and were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Now, as I mentioned above, Elizabeth’s husband, Norfolk, was a loyal Yorkist. So why should his servants have been suspected of intrigue with the Lancastrians? It makes no obvious sense. Elizabeth herself – though one of the most charming individuals to appear in the Paston Letters – was in no position to do anything of significance for the Lancastrian cause even if she was that way inclined. She did not control her husband’s retainers, or his castles, or anything helpful.

One of the Lancastrian exiles present in Flanders was, however, Somerset, Elizabeth’s first cousin, and brother to her good friend Lady Anne Paston. It is possible that she sought to pass on family news to him – but if this is the explanation, the treatment of her servants was extremely severe.

So was this a shot across the bows, to warn Elizabeth to keep her mouth shut about – certain matters? Who knows.

What can be said is that on 8 December 1468 the Duchess took out a pardon for all offences before 7 December. It is quite unusual for a married woman to take out a pardon without the inclusion of her husband. In civil matters she had no separate legal standing, she was under coverture. It may simply have been an insurance for any errors or omissions committed while serving in the office of Margaret’s Principal Lady-in-Waiting. There was, after all, potentially a lot to go wrong, jewels to go missing, whatever. But it could also indicate something more sinister.

On 28 January 1469, the Duchess’ brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot also received a general pardon.

It looks to me as if in the autumn/early winter of 1468, Elizabeth and Humphrey were under royal suspicion for something. The question is, was it something they did, or something they knew?

 

 

A Little Piece of Alternative History

Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk, is a good height for a woman, but not tall – only her headdress make her seem so. As a recent widow, she is clad entirely in black, from head to foot, her furred gown made of the finest wool damask London mercers can supply. She is a handsome woman – some go so far as to call her beautiful – and on her lovely face there is an expression of sheer resolution. Nonetheless, she is calm, almost relaxed, nodding graciously in response to the bows and curtsies the lesser courtiers make as she passes.

Behind her by a single pace is her brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot. He is a knight, and an English gentleman, and so outwardly he also appears calm. In truth, he is close to shitting himself, because he knows what the Duchess is about to do. They have discussed it again and again, but he has failed to change her mind. However, as a knight and an English gentleman, he is still there to back his sister. He can do no other. Honour commands him, and it is as good a day as any other on which to die. The courtiers think she is here to attend the wedding of her little daughter to King Edward’s little son. Humphrey knows better. They are about to find out that Elizabeth is truly old Shrewsbury’s daughter, afraid of nothing on this earth.

The King is seated on his throne, a welcoming smile on his pudding-like face. He is very tall, and increasingly very fat. People still call him handsome, but those that do are relying on memory. These days he lives on charm, and when that fails, on threats and terror. He has lately thrown his brother, George, Duke of Clarence, into the Tower on very dubious grounds. No one doubts that Clarence is to die, though no one knows exactly what it is that he is supposed to have done. None dare question Edward on the matter. One does not question the King of England, and certainly not this particular King; a man ready to kill his own brother, for reasons that are not entirely clear.

He is a petty tyrant too. When he arranged, or rather ordained, the marriage for Elizabeth’s daughter, he forced Elizabeth to accept a reduced dower, so that his son would be the richer. The Duchess remembers that fact keenly. If you conversed with her you would find her an amiable woman, but she does not like to be cheated.

Around the King stand his leading men: His younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester looks to be in pain, because he is. He has been standing a long time, and his back is giving him agony. But he is a knight, and an English gentleman, and so he does his best to ignore it. Then there is Hastings, the King’s Chamberlain and life-long friend. All smiles, Hastings; everyone likes him, from the King to the lowest scullion of the court all will tell you what a splendid fellow he is. No one will tell you that he buys and sells favours, that his chief loyalty is to himself, and that he introduces whores to the King’s bed as part of his job. Next to him is Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers, the Queen’s eldest brother. A cultured man, Rivers, who writes poems and takes part in formal jousts, pleased because Clarence, whom he hates, is locked away and likely to have his head cut off. He flatters himself that this is because of his advice, and that of his sister. So he is the image of complacency and satisfaction. Even the Duke of Suffolk is here, the King’s brother-in-law, who rarely strays from his own manors. Well, there is a Parliament, and this is also a family occasion, so that is his excuse. He has the look of an over-dressed pig farmer, and Elizabeth recalls he has manners to match. Then there are the clergy; on this occasion Bishop Russell of Rochester and John Morton, Archdeacon of Leicester. They stand slightly in the background, their smooth, assured faces like masks. She is glad the Queen is not present. She does not enjoy cat-fights, and there is no telling how that ill-bred woman will react to her announcement.

Elizabeth advances, making the prescribed three curtsies along the way. If anyone notices they are not as profound as they might be, they put it down to her rank. Rank has its privileges at court. A duchess can get away with things a mere gentlewoman might not. They are only surprised when the duchess speaks without waiting to be spoken to.

‘Edward Plantagenet,’ she says, and her voice is surprisingly loud, given that she is a woman and that this is a very large room, ‘I am a Talbot by birth and a Mowbray by marriage, and my blood is as good as anyone in this presence, yours included. I have decided that I am not willing that my daughter shall be married to your bastard.’

 

A strange sound seems to echo about the great chamber, the result of collective intakes of breath. No one can quite believe his ears. King Edward’s mouth – surprisingly small and rosebud-like in that great moon of a face – falls open, but no sound emerges except a gentle choking. He gets a taste of the eels and white wine he had for breakfast, but no words form.

Before he can even find his anger, the Duchess goes on. ‘In the first year of your reign, the year of Our Lord 1461, you contracted an irregular marriage with my sister, a widow at that time, Lady Eleanor Butler. You swore her to secrecy, but nonetheless you consummated the marriage. And by that very act, made it binding. You eventually grew tired of her – perhaps, because there was no child, perhaps because you never intended anything more than to seduce her. It matters not. You were still married to her when you made your subsequent, purported marriage with Dame Elizabeth Grey.’

Anthony Woodville, furious with what he perceives to be an insult to his sister and his family, takes a step forward, but Gloucester holds him back before he can make a fool of himself by physically attacking a lady who is not even his wife. For which, under court etiquette, there is no excuse.

‘You have no proof of this, my lady,’ says William Hastings. His smooth tongue is the first to recover, and his voice brims with confidence. ‘What womanish fancy is this that you bring before us? Beware, lest you be accused of treason.’

Elizabeth looks at him as if he is something unpleasant she has stepped on. ‘Oh, I have proof enough my Lord Chamberlain, and now I am a widow, and free from my husband’s commands, I’m free to bring it forth. First, my sister was devout, and Shrewsbury’s daughter – no light woman. She told me all – swore to it. As far as I am concerned, that is proof enough in itself. Yet there is more. Bishop Stillington can vouch for the tale. Not long after the marriage he became Lord Chancellor, no doubt because of his merits. Yet now he has fallen from favour, and is lodged in the Tower, for speaking some words against the King. One wonders what those words were. Perhaps we can fetch him here and ask him. There are other proofs too. A whole box of them, which I shall be happy to place before Parliament.’

All eyes go to the King. Everyone expects him to explode with anger, but in fact Edward has his head in his hands. He is actually weeping.

Hastings persists. ‘Your sister died in 1468 did she not? Even if what you say is true, the King could remarry – indeed he could already have remarried, for all you know.’

Elizabeth smiles. It’s a very special smile, that of someone who has all the cards. ‘Do you think I came here without doing research? Without consulting men learned in the law? I have news for you all. You cannot repeat the sacrament of marriage without a dispensation. Next, you cannot get a dispensation for bigamy. Not even the Pope has that power. Thirdly – and this is the biggie – the relationship between the King and Dame Elizabeth Grey is what canon lawyers call ‘polluted’ by the bigamy. They can never make a valid marriage. Not. Ever. Did you get all that? I know it’s a lot to take in – especially when you’ve only got a little woman’s brain like mine. If anyone is interested, I’ve got it all written up. My clerk Helmholz has even put it into Latin.’

‘It’s true!’ Edward’s voice is practically a squeal. ‘It’s all true. She’s got me bang to rights, and it’s a fair cop. I done it all. And what’s more I took advice too – I’m not stupid – and all that stuff about getting married again is exactly what I was told. I just hoped it would go away. But I can’t live with it on my conscience any more. I’ve let you all down so badly.’ He turns to Anthony. ‘I’m sorry, Tony. I didn’t plan it like this. I never, ever thought it would come out. Now I just want to put it all right.’

‘You can make a start,’ says Elizabeth, ‘by releasing your brother Clarence and Stillington from the Tower.’

‘I agree,’ says Richard of Gloucester. ‘It makes eminent sense. In fact, Ned, I suggest that George acts as Regent until this unpleasant mess is sorted out. It seems to me that a lot of questions need to be asked.’ He gives Hastings a suspicious glance. ‘For example, which other people were involved in keeping this secret.’

The King, still weeping softly, pulls off a ring and passes it to his brother. ‘No time for a proper warrant, Dickon, but this will do. Go and get them. I just hope George hasn’t already drowned himself.’

Gloucester rushes off. After he has gone, everyone just stands in silence, waiting.

‘I suppose the wedding’s off then,’ Suffolk says into the silence. He has a booming voice. ‘Pity, I bought them a present and everything. Hey, Duchess, what about marrying your girl to one of my sons?’

No one answers him. Rivers squats on his haunches. He tries to formulate a poem, perhaps one about disaster, but nothing he can think of quite cuts it. He is ruined. His whole family is ruined. His sister is going to go mad! The only good thing is that no one wants to execute him.

Fortunately, they’ve all been trained in the art of keeping quiet and standing still. The hours go by, or at least it seems that way. Until at long last there is the sound of footsteps ringing on the tiles. Richard is back, with his brother, George Clarence and the rather shabby-looking Bishop of Bath and Wells.

‘George,’ says the King, his voice very low and his head even lower, ‘I’ve been a fool. I’m going to step down for a while – it’s only right. You can be Protector and Defensor, and all that stuff. Dickon will help you – in fact he suggested you for the job. I’m just so glad you didn’t drown yourself.’

Clarence was a broken man when he was imprisoned, but being rowed up the Thames from the Tower has cleared his head nicely. ‘Thank you, Ned,’ he says, in his usual informal way. ‘I had no intention of suicide, although I suppose that big butt of Malmsey in my room was your idea of a subtle hint.’ He turns to Elizabeth. ‘And thank you too, my lady. You have saved me, and saved England. And you have proved that our long tradition of free speech, liberty and the rule of law is not just an idle boast. My first act as Protector will be to introduce the law of Habeas Corpus even though I am not entirely sure what it means. There will be no more tyranny, no more cases of people being hanged, drawn and quartered just for saying the wrong thing. What’s more, we shall restore your dower lands in full. Won’t we Ned?’

‘Indeed,’ says the King, who by this time is recovering himself a little. ‘It is the least we owe to you, Duchess. Without your courage and example, I might have died with this hideous sin still on my conscience. Now I shall leave you all, and go to my closet to pray. Before I do, dear, brave lady, is there anything else you want?’

‘Just one thing,’ says Elizabeth. She beckons to the Archdeacon, whom she knows slightly through her family connection with Margaret Beaufort. She points accusingly at the King. ‘Book him, Morton. Bigamy One.’

It is, after all, an offence under church law. As the King is led away, Clarence stares at the Duchess in admiration.

‘Madam,’ he says, ‘you are the most amazing lady I have ever met, or even read about. I thought my mother was tough, but compared to you, she is a lamb. As you know, I am a widower, and you are a widow. Will you marry me?’

Everyone applauds, except Rivers, who is too upset, and Hastings who has gone off to look for a consoling cup of wine.

Elizabeth looks at George. He is really quite handsome, just a bit, well – eccentric. No one in the English aristocracy objects to that. ‘I will tell you my answer next Tuesday, Your Grace. For now, I just want to go outside into the air, and give my dear brother Humphrey a high five. I think I can say – without fear of contradiction – that we Talbots rock.’

 

Questions for Readers Groups

 

  1. This is a piece of Alternative History. Things did not really happen this way. However, when discussing the story, please assume that Eleanor Talbot really did marry Edward IV. (After all, even the 19th Century historian James Gairdner thought she did and the marriage was confirmed by Act of Parliament.) Can you think of any reasons why the secret did not emerge in reality until 1483, after Edward’s death?
  2. What do you think would have happened to the real Elizabeth if she had behaved this way?
  3. Do you think Humphrey Talbot, or Bishop Stillington, being men, would have fared better or worse?
  4. If you had lived in those times, as an ordinary person, would you have revealed the secret, and what do you think would have happened to you?
  5. How many people do you think would have known the secret, directly or indirectly.
  6. Do you know of any evidence that Edward IV had a conscience? Give examples.
  7. Taking into account your answers to the above, do you still find it strange the secret did not come out while Edward was alive?

 

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