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A Tale of Three Mistresses – Mangled by More

mistress(from http://www.annettecarson.co.uk)

Our primary source of gossip about Edward IV’s mistresses is attributable to the pen of Thomas More (1478–1535), knight and latterly saint. While writing about Richard III, More found space for a lengthy diversion into the career of ‘Mistress Shore’, perhaps Edward’s most notorious extra-marital concubine, about whose present and past conditions the writer claimed much knowledge. Unfortunately it appears he never thought to consult the lady on the accuracy of what he wrote, strewn as it is with avoidable errors of fact.1 This article will refer to her by her proper name, Elizabeth Lambert. Her brief marriage to the London mercer William Shore was annulled in 1476 on grounds of non-consummation. And although she is almost always referred to as ‘Jane’, this forename was given her arbitrarily in the two-part True Tragedy of Edward IV (written around 1600 by Thomas Heywood), the writer being clearly ignorant of her proper Christian name and being concerned, like More, only with her notoriety. The prominence of his ‘Jane’ character may have led to the play afterwards being referred to as Jane Shore.2

Despite the high esteem in which More is held by historians, he was clearly too young to have had personal knowledge of reigns earlier than the Tudor period, and his family’s history reveals no intimacy with fifteenth-century royalty; whatever he wrote about them can only have been hearsay. Moreover, in the opinions of leading literary scholars Thomas More’s dissertation on Richard III was conceived and executed as a bravura exercise in satirical drama to which the facts of history had no particular relevance. Nevertheless, More’s reference to Edward and his ‘three mistresses’ is continually retold as if he had a direct line to the full facts. The relevant passage occurs after he has devoted several pages to Elizabeth Lambert:

“The king would say that he had three concubines, which in three diverse properties diversely excelled: one the merriest, another the wiliest, the third the holiest harlot in his realm, as one whom no man could get out of church lightly to any place but it were to his bed. The other two were somewhat greater personages, and nevertheless of their humility content to be nameless and to forbear the praise of those properties. But the merriest was this Shore’s wife, in whom the king therefore took special pleasure. For many he had, but her he loved …” (etc.).

That the king had three concubines is almost certainly an understatement, but More helpfully gives the name of one other as ‘Dame Lucy’. She appears in More’s questionable version of an incident from as far back as 1464 which seems to have become an urban myth. The original surviving record of this incident was related by the Italian Dominic Mancini in 1483 after visiting England for a few months: even so, nearly twenty years after the event itself.

Mancini’s story tells of how Edward IV’s mother Cecily, Duchess of York, was so scandalized by the king’s secret marriage to the widowed commoner Elizabeth Woodville, who became his queen, that she vowed the Duke of York was not the father of this disgraceful son. As the story ran in Mancini’s day, the duchess insisted she would voluntarily testify that Edward IV was no son of York.3 Mancini had been asked to write down, for the benefit of the French royal court, all that he had discovered about Richard III’s dramatic accession to the throne – which he admitted was little enough – so he was given to embellishing his narrative with extraneous details which we now know contained inaccuracies. Although we can accept it was probably based on a kernel of truth, we need to bear two things in mind: first, he may have been given a highly coloured account of some considerably less dramatic reality; and second, it suited him to disparage English royalty for his French readers and hence, like many writers of history before and since, he tended to exaggerate for effect. We have no idea how many tongues had embroidered the story between 1464 and 1483, so the wisest course is to reduce it to its essence: the duchess flew into a fury and went so far as to threaten some kind of legal challenge.

Edward IV’s affairs with women subsequently embroiled all England in a crisis, when it was discovered after his death and later confirmed by Parliament that his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was not his first such secret wedding. Some years earlier he had secretly married Lady Eleanor Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Briefly summarized, under the laws of the Church this meant that Lady Eleanor was still his wife when he secretly and bigamously married Elizabeth, and this combination of illicit actions rendered the children of his Woodville marriage illegitimate. The government of the day elected to offer the crown to Richard III as the senior qualified heir.4

Such high matters of state, of Parliament and of canon law were scarcely understood by the majority of Englishmen, and moreover they impugned the honour and dignity of the late king and his abandoned first wife; doubtless they were spoken of in hushed tones by those in the know. Thus the name of the long-deceased Lady Eleanor became consigned to obscurity. England soon had greater concerns when the pretender Henry Tudor revealed his designs on the English crown, eventually mounting a successful invasion under the patronage of France in 1485 when against all probability King Richard was killed. Since the new king had to devise some believable grounds for his invasion and some legitimate reason for aspiring to the throne, he declared Richard’s accession unlawful. He repealed the Act of Parliament which had set out Richard’s right to succeed, insisting it be repealed unread and every copy destroyed. His aim was to remove from history what was probably the only official government document that articulated Richard’s legitimacy as king, together with the grounds for setting aside Edward IV’s offspring owing to their father’s prior marriage (in legal terminology ‘precontract’) to Eleanor Talbot.5 Since Henry planned to appease Yorkist partisans by marrying Edward IV’s eldest daughter, this process was vital to removing public knowledge of her illegitimacy.

A century would pass before records began to be found which revealed the truth, but by then Richard III was indelibly cast as a usurper in the national consciousness. It was with this certainty that Thomas More embarked upon his literary polemic for which he chose Richard III as his exemplar of tyranny. This was more than fifty years after the Woodville marriage that caused Cecily so much wrath, and more than thirty years after Mancini wrote his tale of her angry outburst. Incidentally, we need not believe she ever volunteered to swear publicly to her own adultery! It is not difficult to conceive of at least one possible legal challenge she might have considered bringing against the match … but in all probability her real grounds of objection never formed part of the story picked up by Mancini. Nevertheless he would have been aware of a certain malicious calumny Louis XI delighted in putting about, that Edward IV was the bastard son of an archer named Blaybourne, so maybe it was Mancini who supplied this extra flourish knowing it would appeal to his readers.

If we turn to what More says about the same incident, we find that after three decades of Tudor rule the story has vastly changed. It is still recognizably a version of Mancini’s tale of the duchess raging and threatening to resort to law. But what makes this new version interesting is that it conflates some vestige of recollection that a precontract to an earlier wife was involved. Perhaps it had been thought politically advisable to incorporate this persistent memory into the well-known tale of ‘Proud Cis’ and her rage against her son, at the same time using it to repudiate that there ever was anything untoward about his Woodville marriage. It takes up a lot of space in More’s Richard III, with plenty of dialogue to and fro between mother and son debating her objections. At last, and as a ‘pretext’ says More, plainly undermining the integrity of the duchess’s final argument, she protests that Edward ought instead to marry ‘one Dame Elizabeth Lucy, whom the king had also not long before gotten with child’ making him in consequence ‘her husband before God’. So this ‘Elizabeth Lucy’ is duly called and ‘solemnly sworn’, says More. This portion of his tale obviously echoes the ‘public enquiry’ mentioned in the earlier Mancini version, only this time it is Dame Lucy who is subjected to examination and denies the precontract which Cecily is trying to foist on her son.6 With our current knowledge we can see this as a transparent ruse to discredit the existence of Edward’s genuine precontract with Eleanor Talbot. But thanks to More its effect is fully achieved: he declares it proves the falsity of the charges made in 1483 against Edward’s marriage.

There is another feature that also shows this to be a manufactured story: the incident supposedly occurs before Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, with Cecily trying to prevent it. The Mancini version correctly places Cecily’s outburst after their marriage, which famously took place in secret and remained totally unknown for several months. More is so much deceived as to write that the king’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was celebrated ‘with great feast and honourable solemnity’!

It has been important to emphasize how very little Thomas More really knew about the women in Edward IV’s life, because our next step demonstrates how thoroughly his stories have misled historians and commentators.7 Dispensations to marry granted by the Church are extremely helpful in establishing genealogies, and a recent article by Marie Barnfield and Stephen Lark cites one that adds new information to what was previously known, deduced or assumed about some of Edward IV’s mistresses and children.8

One of the king’s most well-known bastards was Arthur, later Viscount Lisle, hitherto almost universally believed to have been fathered on ‘Elizabeth Lucy’. However, references to Dame Lucy place her and her child in Edward’s life prior to his Woodville marriage. Whereas what is known of Arthur Plantagenet’s life and career is scarcely compatible with a birth date before mid-1464.9

If we seek an alternative identity for Dame Lucy’s child we find a much better candidate in a bastard daughter attributed to Edward hitherto known as Elizabeth, later Lady Lumley, thought to have been born in the 1460s. It has now been established that this child’s Christian name was not Elizabeth (as erroneously claimed in a herald’s visitation of 1530) but Margaret (in a grant dated 1479 where she is identified as the wife of Thomas, later Lord Lumley). Further genealogical research supports this identification.

These indications about the daughter have opened up more opportunities to identify her putative mother. The problems in pinning down information about Dame Lucy have always been compounded by assumptions about her. Copious evidence exists that Arthur, Lord Lisle, was certainly connected with the Wayte family, therefore he was known as a Wayte and it was assumed his mother was too. On the general presumption that his mother was Dame Lucy, she was automatically assigned the maiden name of Wayte. For example, this was propounded by Sir George Buck who described her as ‘the daughter of one Wayte of Southampton, a mean gentleman, if he were one. And she was the wife of one Lucy, as mean a man as Wayte. … And she was the mother of the bastard Arturus.’10 Arthur Plantagenet had verifiable links with the Waytes of Segenworth, near Southampton, but genealogical records cannot reconcile Dame Lucy as a member of the Wayte family at all, nor is there any evidence of any Wayte family member having links with a family named Lucy or even mentioning the name Lucy in correspondence. Which again strongly suggests that Arthur was not born to a mother surnamed Lucy.

It now appears that Dame Lucy may ALSO have been a Margaret misnamed Elizabeth! Her correct maiden name, if so, was Margaret FitzLewis, and she was the young widow of Sir William Lucy of Dallington and Richards Castle (d. 1460). This would fit with the child she bore Edward being not his bastard son Arthur but his bastard daughter Margaret, later Lady Lumley, born in the 1460s some time before Margaret FitzLewis’s own death in 1466. Contrary to Buck, the title ‘Dame’ Lucy suggests her husband was a knight or baronet, not a mean man.11 Other than Sir William Lucy of Dallington there existed one other knighted Lucy at that time, viz. Sir William Lucy of Charlcote (d. 1466). This Sir William Lucy certainly did marry an Elizabeth, but she was Elizabeth Percy who died in 1455; he remarried and was survived by a widow, but her name was Agnes.

It is impossible to be certain, of course, but the result of all this would suggest two distinct ladies who were erroneously conflated:

* Edward IV’s early mistress before his Woodville marriage. Dame Lucy, née Margaret FitzLewis (misnamed Elizabeth), daughter of Sir Lewis John (or John Lewis) of Welsh parentage, and widow of Sir William Lucy. Her probable liaison with Edward would have occurred after her husband’s death in 1460, resulting in a daughter Margaret Plantagenet in the early 1460s (also misnamed Elizabeth) who married Sir Thomas Lumley (c. 1458–1487).

* Edward’s later mistress during his Woodville marriage. She was a Wayte, probably a Wayte of Segenworth, and gave birth to Edward’s bastard son Arthur Plantagenet (who jousted with the young Henry VIII in 1510, married for the first time in 1511, was created Viscount Lisle in 1523, and died in 1542). It has been suggested that her father was a Thomas Wayte of Hampshire (d. 1482), but as far as we know Thomas died without legitimate issue (he left one bastard daughter, Alice); if he had any other children they must have predeceased him without legitimate issue of their own. Several other factors in the research by Barnfield and Lark also militate against Thomas as her father, including the obscurity of his family and its extreme southern location.

This leaves just one more mistress of whose existence we know, namely Elizabeth Lambert, married name Shore, misnamed Jane. She was current at the time of the king’s death but no offspring have been directly attributed to her. It is not impossible that Thomas More, sufficiently taken with this lady to devote several pages to her, may well have superimposed her name of Elizabeth on the ‘Dame Lucy’ of his false precontract story. Misled by his reputation as some kind of authority on fifteenth-century royalty, writers of history duly copied him unthinkingly.

Doubtless other mistresses existed, and indeed other bastards. But the purpose of this essay is not to rehearse the tedious details of Edward IV’s amours – nor yet to claim knowledge of precisely who they were – it is simply to demonstrate how easy it was (and is) for history to be misrepresented by placing uncritical faith in false prophets.

NOTES

1. He failed even to verify the full name of her later lover William Hastings, whose gifts to her became the subject of a court case reported by The Great Chronicle.

2. Appreciation to Dr A.N. Kincaid for this information.

3. Mancini, ed. C.A.J. Armstrong, De Occupatione Regni Anglie per Riccardum Tercium, Gloucester 1989, pp. 60–62: ‘Even his mother fell into such a frenzy that she offered to submit to a public enquiry, asserting that Edward was not the offspring of her husband the Duke of York but was conceived in adultery and therefore in no wise worthy of the honour of kingship.’

4. This matter is fully covered in Carson, Richard III: The Maligned King, Stroud, 2013, pp. 75–88.

5. Nor (perhaps unsurprisingly) has any official record survived of the deliberations of the King’s Council during that crucial succession crisis of 1483 when Edward IV’s bigamy and the illegitimacy of his children were debated.

6. More pp. 63–67.

7. Clearly More knew nothing of Lady Eleanor Talbot (married name Butler), pace R.S. Sylvester who supposed Eleanor was one of the ‘three mistresses’ More referred to; we now see Sylvester was also probably wrong in stating definitively that Dame Lucy was the mother of Arthur Plantagenet: The History of King Richard III, Yale University Press 1976, p. 57 fn. 3 and p. 65 fn. 2.

8. ‘The Paternity of Lady Lumley: Some New Evidence’, The Ricardian, Vol. XXVI, June 2016, pp. 113–20. Readers are referred to that article and its footnotes for sources of the information summarized here.

9. David Grummitt’ (ODNB) offers a birth date ‘before 1472’ but this is based on a reference in royal household accounts to ‘my Lord the Bastard’, unidentified, which may refer to some other person; a suggested birth date of 1462-1464 is rightly discounted as too early to be compatible with the known events of his life and career. Grummitt states without comment that ‘most authorities’ identify his mother as Elizabeth Lucy, ‘probably the daughter of Thomas Waite of Hampshire’.

10. Buck did know the truth that the lady of the precontract was Eleanor Talbot and realized that the alleged precontract with Dame Lucy was false; but he accepted Thomas More’s claim that Dame Lucy was Arthur’s mother: Sir George Buck, The History of King Richard the Third, ed. A.N. Kincaid, Gloucester, 1979, pp. 181–2. It is not correct that he named her as Lady Lumley’s mother.

11. And More in his Latin text states that she came from a noble family.

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Stephen Lark’s book on the Battle of Sedgemoor….

Stephen Lark - The Battle of Sedgemoor

The Battle of Sedgemoor 1685

by Stephen Lark

(Bretwalda Battles Book 19) [Kindle Edition]

ASIN: B00TEAO11G

Driving the M5 today, across the Somerset Levels, it is hard to imagine what the landscape used to be like, before rhynes and ditches drained much of the water. The rhynes were there in the 17th century, but they were nowhere near as efficient as they are now, and there were still wooden ‘paths’ among the reeds on the marshes. Folk used boats and skiffs a great deal, especially where the deeply channelled marshes had not surrendered to man’s attempts to drain them.

Even now, only a year or so ago, the Levels were under water for a long period. Television reporting showed film after film of the terrible scenes of prolonged flooding, and what the local people had to suffer.

So imagine having to fight a pitched battle in such surroundings. Having to not only strike down your bitter enemies, but save yourself from drowning as well.

James, 1st Duke of Monmouth, was the illegitimate (some say legitimate) son of Charles II, at whose death, the king’s brother, James II ascended the throne. James II was a Catholic in a Protestant land, and there was great resentment in a number of quarters. Monmouth—young, handsome, popular— raised a rebellion against him. After skirmishes, the two armies finally confronted each other on Sedgemoor. The conflict started in earnest on 6th July 1685. It all went wrong for Monmouth, who fled but was finally caught. He was executed on 15th July on Tower Hill, requiring a number of blows from the infamous executioner Jack Ketch to sever his head. Ketch often botched his task, so poor Monmouth suffered at his hands.

The irony of it all is that three years later, on 30th June 1688, James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution. Perhaps, if Monmouth had waited, his claim might have been accepted. We will never know, of course, because history unfolds and there is no folding it back again and putting it in another drawer.

This book by Stephen Lark is, as always with him, exceeding interesting and well told. If you want to know the story of Monmouth and the Battle of Sedgemoor, this is an excellent place to start. Recommended.

Pavia, a battle that changed Europe

The Battle of Pavia, 1525 (Bretwalda Battles)

Kindle ebook

ASIN: B00JJ4XEJW

Author: Stephen Lark

Published by Bretwalda Books, April 2014

 

For me, this little book’s initial attraction was that it features the rise—and eventual fall—of the noble de la Pole family of England, centring specifically on the sons of John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth Plantagenet, sister of both Edward IV and Richard III. It is the youngest son, Richard de la Pole, known to history by the sobriquet White Rose, who is of consequence here. Well, he is if the reader is, like me, deeply immersed in the Ricardian aspects of these events. But from the White Rose I have been lured into the broader, more intricate political wheeler-dealering in Europe that culminated in the famous battle at Pavia in Italy. A long way from home for poor Richard de la Pole, the last Yorkist claimant to the throne of England.

The de la Poles owed their political importance to a believed decision made by Richard III in 1485. Widowed and without a legitimate child, the king is said to have chosen his eldest nephew, Lincoln, as his heir. This changed everything for the de la Pole brothers. From the moment of King Richard’s bloody demise at Bosworth Field, the Earl of Lincoln became the rightful king, with a claim far greater in blood and legitimacy than that of the usurper, Henry VII, who set about ridding himself of the de la Poles, one by one.

On seeing the fates of his elder brothers, Richard de la Pole wisely skipped to France and stayed there. He fell in with the French King, Francis I, and became widely regarded as the true King of England. Francis saw in him a very useful weapon with which to prod and threaten the Tudors, who always feared a Yorkist challenge. Francis intended to aid the White Rose in an invasion of England, but first had other things to attend to.

France had designs upon parts of Italy which she believed were her property. Richard de la Pole joined Francis in this, and the scene was set for what was to come, including the swift and inexorable advance of the Renaissance. Everything, from religion and printing, to art and science, and much more, seemed to coalesce in a short period. Add this to the Italian wars, and the powder keg is primed.

The Spanish Habsburgs were powerful across Europe, and their army, joined by the garrison of Pavia, confronted the French outside the city on a February morning in 1525. The French were decimated, and Richard de la Pole, the White Rose, was left dead on the field. With him died the de la Pole claim to the English throne. There is no doubt that had he lived, he would have endeavoured to return to England in the hope of applying a Yorkist crowbar between the throne and the tenacious Tudors. But it was not to be. Pavia put paid to everything.

All this is related precisely in this book, and yet in full detail. I was impressed by the depth of the author’s knowledge. Not only does he write compellingly, but commands a wealth of invaluable research about the lead up to, and outcome of, the Battle of Pavia, which conflict is the undoubted star of the show.

And being Stephen Lark, he starts his book with a tantalising ‘hook’ concerning the marriage of a mysterious lady, Marguerite de la Pole-Suffolk. Then he leaves us wondering . . . until, at the very end, he explains a little more about her, offering the fascinating and exciting information that not only was she— Ah, but I think to tell more would be a spoiler. All I will say is that I venture to hope the author might delve a little more into Marguerite’s story

I am not a historian, but enjoy history, especially when it concerns events that touch in some way upon King Richard III. This book comes with my recommendation. I hope other readers enjoy it as I did . . . and that afterwards they realize how very much more they know than before they started. As I do.

 

 

Book Review: The Battle Of Bosworth 1485 And The Burial Of King Richard Iii

by Wednesday McKenna (writing as Merlyn MacLeod)

I just finished reading Stephen Lark’s The Battle of Bosworth & the Burial of King Richard III and found it a good read for anyone looking for a solid summary. Lark first summarizes the whole of Richard’s life, and then outlines the specific events leading up to his taking the throne in place of his nephew, Edward of York.

Lark’s analysis of the Battle of Bosworth is clear and precise. The book contains two illustrations to help the reader visualize the scene: the placement of the armies before engagement and at its climax. Since no reliable, detailed record of Bosworth exists, every author analyzing the battle is forced to decide what they believe happened and in what sequence it happened. Today, we’re more certain of where the battle took place than how. No one knows exactly how Richard drew up his three “battles”; we do know one was led by Richard himself; another by John Howard, Duke of Norfolk; and the third by Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland. The author has consulted current archaeological data to frame his analysis, but that data is incomplete since archaeology on the newly discovered battlefield is able to continue only in fits and starts.

Lark’s book is most valuable for any student of history who wants or needs a quick overview of Richard’s life, the battle in which he died, and the events that followed, right up to the discovery of his grave and re-interment of his bones as matters stood in July 2013. But be warned: rather than offering an in-depth analysis, publisher Bretwalda Books specializes in short books that summarize the historical events under discussion. So engaging is Lark’s style, however, that I found myself wishing the author had gone his own way to write a much more detailed biography of King Richard III.

Since the author has been forced to leave out much of the tangled details behind the events of Richard’s life, what Lark doesn’t cover almost speaks more loudly than what he does cover. Definitive statements made by him led to my asking endless questions, such as:

“Before [Edward V] could be crowned it emerged that the marriage of his parents had been invalid under Church law, so he was illegitimate and unable to inherit the crown.” How could Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s marriage have been invalid? And how did that bombshell emerge?

“That left the boy’s uncle, Richard, the only surviving male heir. He became king as King Richard III. However, some of Edward IV’s most loyal supporter suspected that Richard had fabricated the evidence against the marriage and, in due course, though he might have murdered Edward’s two sons. Unrest began to fester against the new king, especially among those nobles who found him to be just a bit too honest and diligent at rooting out corruption for their tastes.” Who suspected Richard had invented the evidence, and why? Did he murder his two nephews? If so, why? If not, why not? The Princes in the Tower disappeared; where did they go? How was Richard a bit too honest and diligent? And how could someone with a reputation for honesty and diligence be suspected of murdering his nephews?

“As yet Tudor had no chance of becoming king. But as unrest against Richard grew, Tudor decided his time had come.” How much unrest, and what sort? Who was involved and how did the unrest manifest itself?

I had many more questions as the book went on. This is not a shortcoming of the book; it’s due to the events being discussed and the page limitations set down by the publisher. And so, Lark was unable to explore anything in depth. But the answers underlying each question are part of the long journey that led to Bosworth, so I suspect that any serious readers of The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III will be inspired — or driven — to ferret out the answers for themselves, to understand who the players were in the battle and exactly why they were there.

The events of Richard III’s life create an intricate puzzle. When you learn one or two details of an event, you fit them into the puzzle and then find yourself chasing additional details because every detail interlocks with details in the lives of a score of other people. Even something that should have been simple, such as his burial after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, interlocks with matters in 2014 regarding his collateral descendants, a judicial review regarding where he is to be re-interred, ongoing DNA analysis after he’s been re-interred — and that’s only to name a few of the puzzle pieces up for discussion.

Stephen Lark has touched so briefly on the details of Richard’s life and death that the outcome for even the most casual reader is to realize that there is much more to Richard III’s story than the neat, clean legend of, “He killed the Princes in the Tower, usurped his nephew’s throne, died at Bosworth, and deserved what he got.” So after reading The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III, readers may find themselves pulled into in-depth research to find out what Lark didn’t have room to discuss.

Please be advised that the book contains no list of contemporary or modern historical sources; readers will need to seek their own sources if they want to know more about the events discussed. The book is available on Amazon in paperback (48 pages) and Kindle (58 pages).

Obligatory disclosure: Stephen Lark provided me with a reviewer’s copy of The Battle of Bosworth 1485 and the Burial of King Richard III. The opinions herein, however, are all mine.

 

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