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BOOK REVIEW

Stuart Bradley – JOHN MORTON: adversary of Richard III, power behind the Tudors (Amberley 2019)

 

John Morton served the English crown for a almost forty years during one of the most turbulent periods in English history. He wielded considerable influence at the courts of three kings. First, in the Lancastrian household of Henry VI: as an eminent lawyer, he was one of the draftsmen of the bill of attainder against the Yorkists in 1459, which triggered Richard, duke of York’s claim to the throne. In 1471, after the final defeat of the Lancastrians, Morton entered the service of the Yorkist king Edward IV, by whom he was pardoned. He soon became a valued member of Edward’s inner circle of advisors and was appointed Master of the Rolls in1472. Following the death of Edward IV in 1483, he rebelled against Richard III and became a pivotal player in the subsequent Tudor conquest of England. From 1485 until his death in 1500, Morton served as Henry VII’s Lord Chancellor, and as Cardinal Archbishop of Canterbury. At various time during his career, therefore, Morton had been head of the judiciary, head of the church in England and head of the king’s government. For the last fourteen years of his life he was, excepting the king, the most powerful man in England. He was the archetypal Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell, Cranmer and the Cecils. And yet despite his fame, a serious study of Morton’s life has been much neglected. Although historians have explored aspects of his career, Dr Stuart Bradley’s recent book is only the second biography of Morton to be published in the five centuries since his death and the first to be published since Victorian times. It seems strange that such an important historical figure is chiefly remembered — if he is remembered at all — for his association with a shabby piece of Tudor logic known as Morton’s Fork. A reassessment of his whole life is, therefore, well overdue.

 

A major difficulty facing any biographer of John Morton is that we know so little about the private man. What we know of his character and interests we get only from his public works and from what others tell us about him. We know of his personal interest in religious architecture from the church building works he commissioned or patronized. We know of his preoccupation with civil and canon law, and oratory from his few surviving books, and we can gauge his piety and his spirituality from his will. But we have little from him that provides insight into his political reasoning or actions. Even examples of his signature are rare. His cenotaph at Canterbury Cathedral was broken centuries ago and his bones scattered. All that remains of the earthly John Morton is his skull. We do not even have a painted portrait of him.

 

It is against that background that Dr Bradley has approached his task. He believes that John Morton was a “…man whose story needs to be told in full and who deserves to be brought from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden.” To that end he has published a volume containing 288 pages, of which less than half (125) are devoted to a narrative of Morton’s life. In addition, there are 75 pages of appendices, 44 pages of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. The narrative comprises a conventional rendering of people, dates and places in more or less chronological order, and is focused mainly on Morton’s contribution to the Tudor state. Consequently, the major part of Morton’s life and particularly his career during the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV, and his controversial rebellion against Richard III receive substantially less consideration. That is a regrettable lacuna in this biography, which is made worse, for me, by the author’s rather glib analysis of Morton’s political motives after 1471.

 

I mention these things now because they are relevant to a question that has puzzled me from the start: is Dr Bradley’s book aimed at the general reader or the scholar? The book’s subtitle, the presentation of the sleeve and the scarcity of detailed analysis in the narrative suggested to me that it is intended for a general readership; however, the quality and the quantity of the footnotes are more indicative of a book aimed at the specialist scholar. If Dr Bradley was writing for the casual reader, his tendency to quote from medieval manuscripts written in 15th century English or Latin, without a modern English translation, is baffling. It is a problem with the main narrative but more particularly with some footnotes, which are written in Latin. Moreover, some of the footnotes might in my personal opinion have been better incorporated into the main narrative, to aid the reading flow and prevent the crosschecking of footnotes becoming a distracting chore.

 

It would also have helped, I think, if Dr Bradley had included in his introduction information about the process of writing and publishing this book. There is no indication, for instance, whether other scholars saw the manuscript before publication, or commented on it with advice or correction.  Finally on this aspect, the schedule of Morton’s clerical and secular appointments was an invaluable source in helping me to quickly chart Morton’s career and his rewards. Similarly, the schedule overview of Henry VII’s and Morton’s itineraries, though long-winded, provided a visual representation of the author’s assertion that Henry VII relied completely on Morton to protect the crown’s interests during his own absence from London.

 

Even so, and despite my reservation, it is impossible not to admire the depth of Dr Bradley’s research of original manuscript and calendar sources, and of secondary works. This is nothing if not a thoroughly researched account of Morton’s life, which brings to life his learning and the softer, artistic side of his nature to counter the harshness of his reputation as a wily and inveterate schemer.

 

Dr Bradley makes a good case for Morton’s value and effectiveness as a royal servant. The longevity of his service, the speed with which he became one of Edward IV’s intimates, the trust placed in him by Henry VII and the rich rewards he received for his services are testament to his efficiency and capacity for hard work in a royal cause. His political acumen and his networking skills were particularly important to Henry VII in establishing his reign against the Yorkist remnants after Bosworth. Morton had learned the lessons of the past. He understood the damage done to the authority of the crown by ‘over-mighty subjects’ during the Wars of the Roses. Throughout the closing decades of the fifteenth century, therefore, he worked tirelessly to enforce law and order, and the primacy of royal authority. It was principally with his advice that Henry established his authority, rebuilt royal finances and founded the Tudor dynasty. Morton was also a restraining influence on Henry; a feature that is more obvious after Morton’s death, when Henry’s avaricious nature becomes more pronounced.

 

The claim that Perkin Warbeck was the youngest son of Edward IV had, if true, obvious, serious consequences for Henry and for Morton. When asked by the Milanese Ambassador if Warbeck was really one of the Princes in the Tower, as claimed by the King of Scots and the Duchess of Burgundy, Morton replied: ‘indeed he is nor reputed the son of King Edward in this kingdom.’ It is a curiously oblique answer and certainly not a plain denial of Warbeck’s claim. “Was this duplicity?’ asks Dr Bradley “Was Morton so implicated in the Tudor regime that recognizing the true claimant was impossible and that by standing with Henry he was seeking to save his own skin? “ Those are good questions and they are important ones. The fate of Edward IV’s sons is the defining mystery of the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII, and it is immensely disappointing that having asked these questions, Dr Bradley dismisses the various possibilities out of hand (“It seems highly unlikely”), on the basis that Morton believed the two Princes were already dead and that Warbeck was obviously an imposter – a ‘mawmet‘.

 

Dr Bradley’s treatment of Morton’s life and service during the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III is perhaps one of the least satisfactory aspects of this book. Central to his vindication of Morton’s behaviour is the notion that he was a honourable man whose loyalty to the crown was both absolute and principled. For example, he justifies Morton’s ten year rebellion against Edward IV after Towton thus: “This behaviour pre-figures his actions between 1483 and 1485 when he actively worked against Richard III during his second period in exile. When reviewing Morton’s career it seems he held firmly to principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy, and while Henry may [sic] have been defeated comprehensively in the field he was still the anointed king to whom Morton had sworn allegiance.” To be frank, this statement smacks of special pleading since it ignores the facts. Richard Duke of York claimed the throne in 1460 by right of inheritance; subsequently, the combined lords in parliament confirmed the superiority of his hereditary title over that of the Lancastrian incumbent. As York’s heir, Edward IV confirmed the lords’ judgement in trial by combat at Towton. The corollary of Yorkist legitimacy is, of course, Lancastrian illegitimacy. It was the central tenet of York’s claim that Henry VI, his father and his grandfather were — and always had been — usurpers. In that context, Morton’s adherence to the claim of a usurping Lancastrian and his efforts to gain the support of a foreign power against the legitimate Yorkist king of England can be seen for what they were: treason. To suggest that he remained loyal to Henry from his belief in ‘principles of heredity legitimacy’ is implausible. As an attainted traitor, he had no choice but to flee the realm and join Henry’s retinue if he was to avoid the consequences of his actions. The death of Henry’s heir in battle at Tewkesbury, followed soon afterwards by the death of Henry himself, marked the end of the Lancastrian cause but not the end of Morton’s political career. He accepted an offer to serve at the court of Edward IV.

 

Dr Bradley’s reason for this volte-face is simply that, “Henry [VI] was now dead and the dispensation of God had to be accepted. It was not what Morton had foreseen, or even wanted, but this was how events had transpired and now he must accept divine justice and accept the new status quo…He was there to serve and serve he did. The principles of hereditary and legal legitimacy came to the fore again.” It is, I have to say an unconvincing explanation, which ignores the possibility that Morton was motivated by political expediency and personal ambition to accept service with Edward IV, a motivation that might better fit what we know of his character. Mancini, writing about the events of the summer 1483 described Morton as being ‘trained in party intrigues under Henry VI’. Francis Bacon, Henry VII’s seventeenth century biographer wrote rather more on Morton’s character. “He was”, we are told “a wise man, and an eloquent, but in his nature harsh and haughty; much accepted by the king, but envied by the nobility and hated by the people.” He won the king by his ‘diligence and secrecy’, and his ‘subterfuge’. By contrast, Thomas More who knew him personally, thought Morton was be a great man and an exemplar of ethical and moral behaviour; I am, nonetheless, mindful of professor Sylvester’s sardonic caveat to More’s opinion: “A less shrewd man than More might well have seen a good deal of political conniving in Morton’s career

 

Similarly, Dr Bradley justifies Morton’s implacable disloyalty to Richard III on the rather limited ground of his unswerving loyalty to Edward V, who was the legitimate king (“Morton was clearly not swayed by the tales of bastardy…”). He is depicted as a leading member of the ‘resistance’, and his behaviour is rationalised only “…in terms of what he [Morton] regarded as Richard’s unacceptability as king…..He had no obligation of loyalty to the usurper; indeed, Richard’s actions gave him a moral responsibility to act against him, and the events of 1483 to 1485 show him doing just that.” A few weeks after being arrested and imprisoned by Richard, Morton transferred his allegiance to Henry Tudor. “The single logical explanation for this” suggests Dr Bradley ” is that he along with others …was convinced of the death of the two princes by this time.” It is a view that runs contrary to the opinion of Francis Bacon, who wrote that Morton won Henry Tudor’s favour because he had’…an inveterate malice against the House of York, under whom he had been in trouble.”

 

I am not going to enter the heated debate between Richard’s critics and his apologists, concerning the events of 1483. However, Dr Bradley’s analysis into Morton’s involvement in those events is, in my personal opinion, so punctuated with misconceptions and anomalies that it is positively misleading. No review could be complete if I didn’t at least mention some of these matters. For example, he dismisses without reason the possibility that Edward IV’s progeny were illegitimate. The Lords petition to Richard asking him to assume the throne and the parliamentary confirmation of his title in Titulus Regius are not even mentioned. Not only that, but Dr Bradley ignores the complex political dynamics of 1483. Edward IV’s legacy to his heirs was a kingdom divided. The force of his personality and his political acumen had held things together for many years. However, following his sudden and unexpected death, the fear of Woodville power resurfaced among the old nobility. William Lord Hastings and the other Yorkist lords were desperate for the duke of Gloucester to come south as Lord Protector to counter Woodville aspirations. The Chronicles and some private correspondence confirm that initially at least Richard was seen as a force for good, since the fear of another civil war was very real. Of course, support for Richard ebbed away once a rumour was spread that the ‘sons of Edward IV had been done away with’. Dr Bradley does not analyse or discuss these issues or the fact that the accusation of regicide against Richard III is based entirely on that rumour, which in all likelihood was started deliberately (possibly by Morton) to subvert a plot to seize custody of Edward V, into a rebellion aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne.

 

But most problematic of all is the absence of any critical analysis of Morton’s motive for transferring his allegiance from Edward IV’s sons to Henry Tudor and also of what he knew about the fate of the two princes. Dr Bradley recognizes the significance of these issues but does not address their complexities. He is satisfied simply to argue that Morton thought the boys were dead. In accepting this explanation so readily, he seems to have overlooked Vergil’s account of a conspiracy that took place during August 1483 between Morton, Henry Stafford the ambitious duke of Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort the equally ambitious mother of Henry Tudor. If it is true, the implication of Vergil’s account is that by early August at the latest Morton had decided to support a Tudor invasion to depose Richard III. Did he know then that the boys were dead?   If so, when, why and how did he know? What role did the Tudor conspirators play in the fate of the princes? Furthermore, the rumour of the boys’ death began only after Buckingham had joined the conspiracy. So, when Buckingham wrote to Henry Tudor on the 24 September, inviting him in effect to claim the English throne, he must have known the boys were dead, or he was keeping a guilty secret. It is disappointing that Dr Bradley chose not to explore these questions or to deal with the inferences arising therefrom.

 

Dr Bradley’s stated aim was to tell John Morton’s story in full. And, it would be churlish not to acknowledge the value of this contribution to that story. This is a reasonable, modern reassessment of John Morton’s life and career, which raises Morton’s historical profile beyond mere responsibility for Morton’s Fork.It demonstrates that despite his softer side, he was in fact the archetypal early Tudor enforcer: a model for the likes of Wolsey, Cromwell and Cranmer. Though by no means a panegyrical work, this biography lacks, in my opinion, a balanced critical analysis of the contentious aspects Morton’s actions and his behaviour prior to 1485: particularly his political motivation. I think, therefore, that the full story of Morton’s life and career is still not written.

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The Walbrook – river of mystery…!

Showing the area of Dowgate in the centre of the riverfront.

Ah, what a romantic picture the title of this post conjures. It is certainly not descriptive of the now invisible Walbrook , which had to be covered because it stank so much. Well, the smell was one of the reasons for it being enclosed. I have recently been researching the Walbrook’s exact course. Or, at least, trying to. From the wilds of Gloucestershire, I have been an armchair researcher. No tramping around sewer systems for me!

The area where the Walbrook begins, Finsbury and Moorfield, circa 1565

The stream has been covered over and built upon since the mid-15th century, but before then it was a very important feature, cutting the capital almost exactly in half from north to south. North being its source in the area outside the old city wall, now known as Finsbury; south being the shore of the Thames at Dowgate, where it is believed there was originally a delta. The Walbrook is thought to have split into two branches, and this lower portion of its course is called Dowgate, because it was a water gate in the Roman wall around the capital. At least, this is what I understand.

Roman London, showing the mouth of the Walbrook in the red circle, immediately to the left of the palace.
Drawing of the outfall area at Dowgate, showing Cannon Street Station in the background.
Dowgate Dock, illustration from Besant.

It wasn’t a long river, and the extent of its navigability is unknown. Some historians claim that barges could pass upstream as far as Bucklersbury (and Sir Thomas More’s first marital home at the Old Barge/Barge Inn).

From:- Ericawagner’s blog

“….We turn into Bucklersbury and stand outside St Stephen Walbrook, one of Wren’s fairest creations. In its earlier incarnation it was [Sir Thomas] More’s parish church, and his first wife was buried within its walls. Ackroyd dismisses the firm ground upon which we stand, indicating where the river Walbrook would have run, just past the church. ‘His house was called the Old Barge, and barges would come and dock just outside. It’s funny to think of it now. The river was the main means of communication. It wasn’t exactly like Venice, but closer to Venice than it is now.’

“Bucklersbury is now home to forbidding cliffs of offices, but More’s residence would have been as intimidating, in its way. He was a successful lawyer, close to the courts of two kings, and from 1510 under-sheriff of London. ‘It was a big house,’ Ackroyd says. A surviving inventory details ‘a gret cage fir birds’, ‘a gret mapp of all the world’ and ‘a table (picture) of Sir Thomas More’s face’.”

The sites of More’s Old Barge Inn at top right, and Cloak Lane at bottom left.

Now, I don’t know when the Old Barge/Barge Inn was built, but if the Walbrook was culverted in the mid-15th century, I can’t help thinking it would have invisible to More, who was born in 1478, married in 1505, and moved to Chelsea in 1520. This being so, I don’t really see how barges could still have been sailing there during his time at the Old Barge/Barge Inn.

The origin of the story of the Walbrook having been navigable to the Olde Barge appears to have been William Maitland, in his History and Survey of London:-

The author of a PhD thesis reasons that the Walbrook may only have been navigable as far as Cloak Lane, as also shown in the map above, and described as follows:-

From:- this thesis :-

“…Zone A carries the estuarine stretch of the Walbrook. The bed of the river flattens slightly south of Cannon Street and this trend continues through to the Thames. As HWST was 1.50m OD at the beginning of the Roman period and the riverbed was at 0.30m OD, the Walbrook would have been tidal through the whole of this stretch and into the southern half of the Bloomberg Development. However, HWST fell to 0.00m OD by the middle of the 1st C and remained at this lower level until the 4th C. Under these conditions, the Walbrook would have been tidal only as far as Cloak Lane to the south of Cannon Street…”

But this very detailed and technical thesis also concludes that in fact the Walbrook was only of service to vessels for about 50 yards from the Thames.

In The London Encyclopaedia, Christopher Hibbert insists that the Walbrook was never navigable. Anywhere. Full stop.

Someone has to be wrong. And yet, is the very name of More’s home an indication of its original situation? After all, why call something the Old Barge Inn if it had nothing whatsoever to do with barges? So, in Chaucer’s time, might the Walbrook indeed have been navigable to this point at Bucklersbury? As Maitland would appear to have believed?

Bucklersbury

Another disputed point about the Walbrook’s course is whether or not it formed a meander immediately north of the Chaucer residence in (Upper) Thames Street. This is because in 1873, F.J. Furnivall discovered an important document that had a bearing on Chaucer’s property. It was a quitclaim deed, dated 19th June 1381, in which [one] Geoffrey Chaucer named himself as the son of John Chaucer, vintner of London, and released his interest in a tenement once owned by his father, located in Thames Street in the City of London.

A busy medieval street, maybe resembling Thames Street

Thames Street is still a very long street, now divided into two portions, Upper and Lower, and so it is necessary to define this building’s whereabouts more accurately. The above deed, which was written in Latin, was printed in Life-Records of Chaucer, published by the Chaucer Society in 1900, and again in the Crow-Olsen Chaucer Life-Records, and describes the location of the tenement as follows:-

The whole area is now loomed over by Cannon Street Station, of course, but certain points in the translation above are important. I was always under the impression that the Walbrook simply flowed north to south, passing to the east of the Chaucer residence. Well, according to the image above, it did indeed pass to the east, but also to the north, because there was a meander there in Chaucer’s time. The Walbrook flowed quite swiftly from its source, but on nearing the Thames, the land flattened considerably, and the river seems to have indulged in a curve.

This now-lost river is also described as being crossed by many bridges. Right. Well, I have found vague references to unnamed bridges and some references to specific bridges, but there’s one bridge which I think must have existed, yet it is never mentioned. What happened when the Walbrook crossed (Upper) Thames Street?

The blue circle marks the intersection of the Walbrook/Dowgate and Thames Street

All this is important to me, because the characters in my work in progress have to move around in this very area. But there is a resounding blank when it comes to the intersection with Thames Street. I want my characters to proceed to and fro along this important thoroughfare, and if I am to describe their surroundings with any vividness and accuracy, I cannot ignore the Walbrook.

This map very definitely shows a bridge over the Walbrook, immediately north from the Thames, in Thames Street. But was there one?

Thames Street seems to have originated as the waterfront itself, but gradually the buildings and wharves on the Thames extended south, resulting in Thames Street becoming a little further inland. It was that much further inland in Chaucer’s time. So, what happened when the considerable traffic of the city came to the Walbrook? Did they all pole-vault? Of course not, so there must have been a proper crossing. Mustn’t there?

Well, two things. One, was there a fixed bridge? If the Walbrook was navigable for barges, then the flow must have been considerably lower than Thames Street, in order to permit vessels to pass beneath. Or two, the bridge must have been a drawbridge/swingbridge. I refuse to believe there was a ferry. Or a ford.

So, what is the answer? Which version of the Walbrook is the true one? Was there a meander behind the Chaucer residence? Did Sir Thomas More reside beside thronged waters that were the scene of commerce and bustle? What happened at the intersection between the Walbrook and Thames Street? Was the Walbrook even navigable at all?

See also: this map.

https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2015/10/26/walbrook-dock/

https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/walbrook-and-dowgate-overview/

http://www.lamas.org.uk/images/documents/Special_Papers/SP13%201991%20Middle%20Walbrook%20valley.pdf

https://guildhallhistoricalassociation.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/7-the-citys-rivers-the-walbrook-and-the-fleet.pdf

https://data.bloomberglp.com/company/sites/30/2017/11/BLA-web.pdf

If Thomas More isn’t too much for Ricardian stomachs….

More isn’t our favourite man by any stretch of the imagination, but he is important because of the immensely detrimental effect he has had upon the history and reputation of Richard III. He, the Tudors and Shakespeare conspired to ruin Richard’s honour, and we Ricardians will never forgive them. But, if you can bring yourself to go to to this source you will find some interesting documents that can be examined. Including The History of King Richard III in English and Latin.

NOT AGAIN! THE LATEST FROM A CAIRO DWELLER …

IMG_5444.jpg

Richard Duke of Gloucester being offered the crown by the Three Estates at Baynards Castle, June 1483.  Painting by Sigismund Goetze at the Royal Exchange…(or according to some.. Richard in the actual act of ‘usurping’ the throne)…

I came across this article on a forum devoted to late medieval Britain.

Unfortunately I read it..5 minutes from my life I will never get back again… but as I was laid up with a bad head cold I had nothing  much better to do.  I should have been warned by the photo of a little girl in what looked like an attempt at Tudor costume and the words ‘I have no idea who this little girl is but she is adorable.  Little kids in this era were adorable and vulnerable too ..just like modern children..lets keep that in mind’.  This should have alerted me to the fact the writer was a writer of rubbish.  Nevertheless I cracked on.  As it transpired the article has more holes in it than a hairnet…and worse was to come.

John Howard, having been cheated out of his inheritance, which ‘seems to have stuck in his craw’ then went on to become ‘one of the first men to help the new king’s uncle usurp his throne and become King Richard III’.  When I challenged the word ‘usurp’ I received the reply of a emoji rolling on the floor laughing.  It  then became clear to me the quality of the author’s debating powers were going to be found somewhat lacking.  But casting that aside for the moment lets look at the word ‘usurp‘ as used by the author to describe the actions of Richard.  The late historian John Ashdown-Hill addressed this point very well.  “Definitions of the verb ‘usurp’ include include terms as to seize power by force and without legal authority…Richard III did not gain the throne by fighting a battle nor did he seize the crown.  He was offered the crown by the Three Estates of the Realm.  Later the decision of the Three Estates of the Realm was formally enacted by the Parliament of 1484′ (1) . Thus to describe Richard as a usurper is incorrect and a nonsense.”

Not content with calling Richard a usurper,  John Howard, later Duke of Norfolk is next in line to be  maligned by the statement regarding Anne Mowbray, (the 4 year old heiress of John Mowbray who died just before her ninth birthday)  ‘All that John Howard could do was wait and hope something happened to Anne…’!  This is quite an offensive thing to say as well as ludicrous as no source has come down to us informing us of Howard’s personal thoughts on this matter and which I very much doubt would have been ‘hoping’ for the death of a small child. Incidentally, he was raised to the Duchy of Norfolk whilst the “Princes”, including the previous in suo jure Duke, were known to be alive – see p.78 and pp.117-124 of The Mythology of the “Princes in the Tower”, also by Ashdown-Hill.
Howard later went on to fight and lay down his life for his king aged 60 years old.  This colossus of a man could easily have wormed his way out of fighting, as others did, with his age as an excuse.  He did no such thing and its a great pity that we have modern day pip-squeaks having the brass neck to  disparage such a man.  The author needs to hang their head with shame but I doubt if that will happen any time soon.

As we go on we see Lady Eleanor Butler nee Talbot – a lady of the nobility and daughter to the great John Talbot lst Earl of Shrewsbury a, sister to the Duchess of Norfolk and a lady known for her piety – described as one of King Edward’s ‘side pieces’…(I know,  I know..my guess is this is a stab at  ‘bit on the side’ but your guess is as good as mine).  She was in actual fact no such thing,  being the legal wife of Edward who married her in order to get her into bed.   Surely Eleanor deserves more respect than this….as I said pip-squeaks and all.

The writer then follows up with a message touching on the execution of Lord Hastings to prove her point that Richard was a Bad Man.   I say ‘touching’ in a very loose way as she makes no attempt to explore,  let alone mention,   what reasons were behind the execution only pointing out, unnecessarily,   that Hastings  was executed ‘even though he was one of the most richest and powerful men in the country’..what has this got to do with it?   Furthermore…’Richard had him dragged out and beheaded on a log’. Presumably Dickens, who was unborn, or More, aged five at the time, cannot be taken seriously as eye-witnesses?  Is it not about time this myth was debunked?  Three accounts survive of the dramatic events at the meeting at the Tower that day – those from  Historical Notes of a London Citizen 1483/84, Mancini and Croyland (2) – none of which mention the infamous log.

 

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A log, something that Lord Hastings was NOT beheaded on…

Hastings was probably, as Carson points out, executed under the Law of Arms (3), having tried to eliminate the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham and been judged by the Constable’s Court, Gloucester being Lord High Constable at the time. In much the same way, Rivers, Vaughan and Grey were judged by the Earl of Northumberland, the designated Vice-Constable.

 

  1. The Mythology of Richard III chapter 6 p74 John Ashdown-Hill.
  2. Historical Notes of a London Citizen 1483/8, English Historical Review, Vol. 96. p588 Richard Firth Green,   Mancini p.89, Croyland  p.479-80.  I am indebted to Peter Hammond and Anne Sutton for their very useful book, Richard III The Road to Bosworth Field, a complete and handy reference to all the primary sources covering Richard’s reign.
  3. The Maligned King p.98, but Carson’s other book illustrates the powers of the Constable and Protector and the documents assigning the role to Gloucester.

A constitutionally important “Tudor” servant

Sir Richard Rich

We tend to have rather a negative view of Sir Richard Rich, or Baron Rich of Leez as he became in February 1547, nowadays. In this, we are somewhat influenced by Robert Bolt’s portrayal of him, as a “betrayer” of More, together with the history of Trevor-Roper. One Bolt line, memorably delivered by Paul Scofield as More, was “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but Wales?”, as Rich (John Hurt) becomes Attorney-General for Wales a few (film) minutes before More is executed. More is also quoted as saying that Parliament could make Rich King if it so wished.

Leez Priory

Rich, a lawyer, protege of Wolsey, Colchester MP, Speaker and Solicitor-General, was certainly involved in many of the events of the mid-“Tudor” period such as the prosecution of More and Fisher, accounting for Catherine of Aragon’s assets at Kimbolton Castle, supporting Cromwell in the Dissolution, quite possibly a personal hand in Anne Askew’s (unprecedented and illegal) torture, executor of Henry VIII’s will, the attempted prosecution of Bonner and Gardiner and the Seymour brothers’ fatal division. He then resurfaced under Mary I as an enthusiastic persecutor of heretics in Essex, before dying, nine years into the next reign, at Felsted where he donated money to the church and famous school in the village.

His descendants were granted the Earldom of Warwick and were heavily involved, on both sides, in the Civil War – one great-grandson, the Earl of Holland, fought for the Crown at the 1648 Battle of St. Neots and was beheaded the following March with the Duke of Hamilton (captured at Preston) and Lord Hadham (taken at Colchester).

The meeting of the three Estates, 25 June 1483

It was not the first time that a Convention Parliament had effectively determined the succession. We might look, for example, the precedent of 1399, when just such an assembly deposed Richard II and (in effect) elected Henry IV, who was not even Richard II’s right heir. (He was the heir male, but strangely enough did not claim on that basis.) Of course, in 1399 Henry’s very large army was in place in the London area, and it would have been difficult for the Parliament to have rejected him, even had it wished to do so.

Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had no equivalent army in London when the Three Estates met. It is worth remembering that Parliament could reject claims to the throne it did not care to approve. The obvious example is that of Richard’s own father, Richard, Duke of York, who had his very strong claim rejected in 1460. Peers did not show up at Parliament unattended, and if they had strongly objected to Richard’s claim they could easily have mobilised their forces against him, if necessary. The fact is, they chose not to do so.

It seems certain that evidence of Edward IV’s bigamy was presented to the Estates. Sadly, we do not know the details and never will. But it is certain that among the bishops there were no shortage of theologians, any one of whom could have stood up and protested against the accession of Gloucester at very little personal risk to themselves. True, they might conceivably have been imprisoned, but what is that to a senior churchman when the immortal soul is at risk? In 1399, the Bishop of Carlisle objected openly to Richard II’s deposition, and was imprisoned for it, but he survived. There is no evidence of any bishop speaking up for Edward V.

Finally, it is sometimes argued that the legitimacy of Edward V was a matter that ought to have been determined by a Church court. However, the idea that the Parliament of England in the late fifteenth century would allow the succession to be determined by one or more bishops, or even by the Pope, is rather naive. It was, after all, only half a century later that Thomas More and Richard Rich agreed between themselves that Parliament had the power to make Richard Rich king, if it chose to do so.

 

THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF EDWARD IV

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Edward IV 1442-1483

For a king whose reign is otherwise well documented it is curious that the cause of Edward’s death remains a mystery.  It would appear that his death was unexpected.  It seems he was first taken ill at the end of March and despite having access to some of the best medical care available at that time, died on the 9 April at his Palace of Westminster.

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Edward IV’s Coat of Arms, British Library royal manuscripts

Mancini attributed his illness to a cold caught while fishing.  Commynes mentions a stroke while the Croyland Chronicler wrote he ‘was affected neither by old age nor by any known kind of disease which would not have seemed easy to cure in a lesser person’ – in other words the doctors didn’t have a name for the illness that sent Edward to his grave.  How strange.  Rumours abounded of death by poisoning some even going so far as to blame it on a gift of wine from the French king.  Molinet ascribed it as the result of eating a salad after he had become overcome by heat (in April! in England!!)  which caused a chill, others said it was an apoplexy brought on by the treaty of Arras, malaria was even suggested.  Later,  Sir Winston Churchill in his History of the English Speaking Peoples,  would put it down fair and square to debauchery.  But at the end of the day , as Richard E Collins points out (1) most people were concerned with what happened AFTER Edward’s death, rather than what caused it.

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The Old Palace of Westminster where Edward died 9 April 1483

Collins wrote an essay on Edward’s death that was included in Secret History the Truth About Richard lll and the Princes.  He had a considerable knowledge of medical matters and having done some very through research into the death of Edward presented his findings to other medical professionals for their opinions.  They all concluded ‘that the cause of death which best explained all the known facts was poison, probably by some heavy metal such as arsenic’.

First of all an attempt to solve the mystery  was to run though Edwards symptoms but first of all deal with the timescale.  Given that the Croyland Chronicler wrote that Edward took to his bed around Easter and since Easter Sunday was on the 30 March ‘we are dealing with a period of around 10-12 days from inception to death.  If peoples behaviour was anything to go by his death came as a surprise to the Court’.    As Edwards body was laid out naked for viewing,  Collins was then able to rule out death caused by violence, there being no traumas/injuries, accidental or deliberate, no puncture wounds, bruises etc.,  Furthermore there were no marks to be seen of specific diseases such as mumps, smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, chicken pox, bubonic plague, typhus, enteric fever.  Other non-infectious conditions that mark the skin are also able to be ruled out such as purpuras (blotches caused by bleeding under the skin) which can be caused by leukaemia, haemophilia, plague and alcoholism.  Thirdly there was not the  ‘wasting’ caused by cancer, unrelated diabetes, septicaemia or starvation caused by malabsorption.

Anything sudden such as a massive coronary, stroke, pulmonary embolism or a perforated ulcer can be ruled out due to the timescale.  Long drawn out conditions such as ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis and cancer can also be ruled out.

Collins then considers the contemporary sources beginning with Sir Thomas More, who writing 30 years after the event makes no comment on the cause of death save ‘he perceived his natural strength was so sore enfeebled that he despaired all recovery’.  More, as was his wont, wrote a pages long speech delivered on his deathbed.  Collins who had been present at  least on 200 natural deaths had never heard a deathbed speech.  However as we know More never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.  The Crowland Chronicler also gave no cause while Vergil wrote that ‘he fell sick of an unknown disease’.  The only definite accounts actually come from those who were least likely to be in the know such as Mancini and de Commines,  Mancini puts Edward’s death down to a mix of ‘sadness’ plus a cold he caught while on a fishing trip.  According to Collins this does not add up as the suggestions of Edward dying of grief cannot be taken seriously and as for the chill he would not have been able to indulge in such a frivolity during Holy Week – therefore the latest this trip would have been taken place was the 22 March –  which would mean that Edward hung around in a fever for 10 days without treatment which is also unlikely.  Collins add ‘Mancini is remarkably popular with those who dislike Richard and it is sad to proclaim that their supporter is a speaker of Rubbish’ – priceless!  De Commines ascribes his death to apoplexy and ‘while it is possible to have a stroke 10 days apart, the second proving fatal, it is quite impossible to believe that no-one expected him to die after the first, but obviously they didn’t’.

Hall later wrote ‘whether it was with the melancholy and anger that he took with the French king…or were it by any superfluous surfeit to which he was much given, he suddenly fell sick and was with a grevious malady taken, yes so grievously taken, that his vital spirits begun to fail and wax feeble..’.  Basically Hall didn’t know how Edward died either.

Collins makes the observation that ‘medieval physicians had at best a poor understanding of medicine and at worse a ridiculous and dangerous one.  This represented a falling away from the common sense views and practices of the Greeks, which if they could not cure much knew how not to make a patient worse.  In 1483 most medieval practices were designed to do just that – make the patient worse that is – and they succeeded well.  Almost any condition was treated by drawing off a pint of blood or more and administering emetics and laxatives to ‘purge evil humours’.  Such a regime is seldom good for a sick person and will often kill rather than cure by dehydration if you go slowly or by shock if quickly.  Only rarely did they have a treatment that was effective, one case in point is apoplexy where bleeding will reduce the blood on the cerebral vessels…medieval medicine was more often more dangerous than the disease and most people avoided doctors if they could.  Despite this medieval doctors were rarely at a loss for a diagnosis and the terms they used are a joy to read – Chrisomes, Frighted, Griping-in-the-Guts (a small town in Gloucestershire?), Head-moult-Shot, Rising of the Lights Lethargy and meagrome’.

Collins sums up with it may well worth be listening to Crowland after all, he may have been present at Westminster at the time and spoken to physicians about the case, when he said that Edward was affected by ‘no known disease’.

As to why someone would want to send Edward to an early grave by poisoning, that dear reader is another story.  I have drawn heavily from R E Collins excellent treatise on the subject but would mention that anyone who is interested in this theory would do well to read (if they have not already done so) The Maligned King by Annette Carson, who also covers this theory thoroughly in chapter 1.

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ELIZABETH WYDEVILLE, EDWARD’S ‘QUEEN’ WHOM HE MARRIED BIGAMOUSLY

  1. Secret History Part II  R E Collins

 

 

 

More’s cryptic reference explained?

In his unpublished semi-satirical volume, More has the Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm, Richard Duke of Gloucester who was also Lord High Constable of England for life, call for some strawberries before the Constable’s Court could pronounce sentence on William Lord Hastings.
Many historians have struggled to understand the significance of the strawberries yet it is a detail surely too trivial to totally invent. Perhaps the fact that a Duke, Marquis or Earl would have strawberry leaves on their coronet explains the point in that Gloucester required assistance from a fellow peer? Although Gloucester was one of only two adult Dukes that June, the absent More wrote thirty or forty years later when Sir John Howard and his son had both been Dukes of Norfolk. Similarly, those present might have included Thomas Lord Stanley, later Earl of Derby. There were no Marquises in 1483.

Starkey on home territory

This BBC documentary was actually very good and it worked because Starkey spoke about a subject he knows inside out – the Reformation and Henry VIII, relating it to current affairs. From Luther’s theses, indulgences and translating the Bible, first into German then English, he moved onto Tyndale‘s efforts to smuggle it into England and Henry’s efforts, through More, to stop him. Then came Wolsey, Campeggio and the King’s “great matter”, followed by More’s downfall and Anne Boleyn’s rise, reminding us how Henry had three Catholics and three Protestants executed on the same day, whilst always actually remaining a Catholic.

Indeed the quality of this programme demonstrates why Starkey should concentrate more on broadcasting about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, not interpreting the “Roses” period on an “incomplete records” basis through a “Tudor” prism. Quite apart from Henry VII liking the accounting reference, he is the main reason that the records are now incomplete!

Tyndale and More – strange bedfellows….

 

Thomas More

Sir Thomas More

This link takes you to an interesting article about the fates of two great opposites, Sir Thomas More and William Tyndale. And, once again, Henry VIII’s lust for Anne Boleyn was at the heart of it.

 

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