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Significant opportunities missed?

Robert Stillington is likely to have been born in about 1420 and was consecrated as Bishop of Bath and Wells on 30 October 1465. As we know, in spring 1483, he confessed his knowledge of Edward IV’s bigamy. Based on Stillington’s evidence, the Three Estates voted to cancel the coronation of Edward V, inviting Richard Duke of Gloucester to become king instead, as described by the (otherwise hostile) James Gairdner as “almost a constitutional election”.

Richard III succeeded as a result of this decision but Stillington’s status remained unchanged during this reign. Edward IV had raised Canon Stillington to the first available see after his own second secret marriage ceremony and Richard could have rewarded him similarly on two, three, four or even five occasions.

As the late David Baldwin’s Richard III (pp.172-3) reveals, two Bishops died during Richard’s reign – had he been of similar character to the first Lancastrian, the second or fourth “Tudor”, there may have been three:
1) William Dudley (Durham) died on 29 November 1483 and John Shirwood was appointed. The Prince-Bishopric of Durham was the next highest see in the province of York and Thomas Wolsey (right) was to be translated there from Bath and Wells in 1523, although he had already been Archbishop of York for nine years and was really only an administrator in the other dioceses.
2) Lionel Wydeville (Salisbury), who had hitherto thought himself to be Edward IV’s brother-in-law, died some time in late 1484. Thomas Langton was translated from St. David’s and Hugh Pavy appointed there. Both of these diocesan livings were better than that of Bath and Wells. Earlier than this, he could have been deprived for treason. Langton was appointed as an administrator from March 1484.
3) John Morton (Ely) was arrested in June 1483 for treason and might have been deprived after his attainter, as Cranmer was summer 1553. Again, Ely was a more lucrative see.
4) Peter Courtenay (Exeter) joined the Buckingham rebellion in autumn 1483 and fled to Europe after attainder – another comfortable senior vacancy.

So there we have it. As we also showed here, Richard III had several good opportunities to promote Robert Stillington after his election by the Three Estates but took none of them, clearly implying that he regarded the cleric as having merely performed his conscientious duty, not a favour of any kind.

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CAN A PICTURE PAINT A THOUSAND WORDS?

It’s said a picture can paint a thousand words.  It certainly can but not always accurately.  It can distort the truth.  Art work based on the Ricardian period is certainly true of this.  Take for example the stunning painting by Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester and the Lady Anne.

800px-Edwin_Austin_Abbey_richard_duke_of_gloucester_and_the_lady_anne_1896.jpgRichard Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1896.

Here we have an angst ridden Anne, while a definitely humpbacked Gloucester offers her a ring.  It just makes you want to shout at the canvas ‘run, run Anne and don’t look back..!’ although it should in fairness be remembered the painting is based on a scene from Shakespeare’s version of Richard lll rather than the actual facts.

There have been numerous paintings of Richard of Shrewsbury being removed from his mother, a distressed looking Elizabeth Wydeville, and although for all I know Elizabeth may well have been distressed on that day,  it aint looking good for the ‘wicked uncle’ is it?

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This version is by Philip Calderon.  Young Richard gazes tenderly at his mother   while being yanked away by his arm by a portly gentleman in red..poor little blighter.

A couple of paintings of the ‘princes’ do stand out for me.  The beautiful one by Millais (he used his daughter as a model for one of the princes) where he has the boys, standing in a darkened stairway of the Tower (where,  to add poignancy to the scene, some believe their remains were found buried) clinging to each other while a dark shadow lurks ominously at the top of the stairs…Yikes!

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The Princes in the Tower,  John Everett Millais 1878.

Another one. this time by Paul Delaroche, King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower,  depicts the two young boys, gazing into the middle distance, unaware, hopefully,  of their impending doom, while their spaniel’s attention, tail between his legs, is drawn to the door.  These artists certainly knew how to twang on the old heart strings!  Great stuff but  maybe not very helpful to some in forming positive perceptions of Richard’s character.

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King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower, Paul Delaroche 1831.

But finally, one that is actually closer to the truth, from a mural in the Royal Exchange by the artist Sigismund Goetz, and one   I can clearly remember, as a small child, from its inclusion in Cassell’s History of the English People.  I would gaze at it, not properly understanding what it actually represented, but nevertheless entranced.  It was not until years later that I could understand what was going on and who the people were in the painting.  A grave, noble,  and rather handsome humpless Duke of Gloucester being offered the Crown at Baynards Castle.  Beautiful ladies in butterfly headdresses look down at the scene from the top of the stairs….its Cicely and Anne!.  A rather frivolous looking young man, leaning nonchalantly against the stairs,  as an elderly man, almost hidden from sight, leans over and surreptitously whispers in his ear..ah!..tis Buckingham and Morton..meanwhile in the background Gloucester supporters , in harness, roar their approval.  Splendid stuff and about time too.

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Mural in the Royal Exchange,  Offer of the Kingship to Richard Duke of Gloucester at Baynards Castle June 26 1483 Sigismund Goetz

Paul Delaroche also painted The Execution of Lady Jane Grey..not one of our Ricardian characters… but a descendant of  one, Elizabeth Wydeville, via her son Thomas Grey, lst Marquess of Dorset.  Delaroche again gave his artistic license free reign..Jane was in fact executed in the open air, in the part of the Tower that is known as Tower Green where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and also Margaret of Salisbury, Clarence’s daughter were executed.

330px-PAUL_DELAROCHE_-_Ejecución_de_Lady_Jane_Grey_(National_Gallery_de_Londres,_1834).jpg

The execution of Lady Jane Grey, Paul Delaroche 1833

So at least one of these extremely gifted artists managed to get it right in terms of accuracy as to what actually happened.    What gifts for the art world but for the greater part, I do wonder if in the past,  these paintings proved for some people  to be rather a hindrance for the rehabilitation of Richard’s character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even more evidence of Richard III’s innocence….?

edward-v-angel-coinc

I confess to not knowing that Edward V coins had ever been minted. There doesn’t really seem to have been time to have reached that point. However, as it’s clear they were coined and distributed, I have cause to consider the implication.

We have the old, old story that Richard was a dastardly, murderous uncle who intended all along to snatch his nephew’s throne. Well, if that were so, would he really authorise the preparation and issue of coins bearing said nephew’s name? Surely he would regard it as a pointless waste of money? Cut the Edward V and go straight from Edward IV to Richard III. (Cue cunning snigger and rubbing together of evil, clawed hands.)

But no, Edward V coins were issued, and promptly. To my mind this is yet more evidence that Richard was innocent of any wickedness. He had every intention of seeing his nephew crowned, and was as shocked as everyone else when the truth about Edward IV’s dealings with Lady Eleanor Talbot came to light.

To read about the recently discovered coin, go here.

Since I originally found the newspaper article about the discovery in Tolpuddle of the Edward V Angel, I have been in touch with Susan Troxell who, in December 2015, delved into the very same point about the unlikelihood of Richard ordering the minting of such coins if he had designs upon stealing the throne. She has written a detailed and considered blog about it (being much more knowledgeable and erudite than me!) and I cannot encourage you enough to take a look. While it deepens the mystery in some ways, with boar’s head symbols appearing on some coins, in others it flings the curtains aside and lets a lot of light in!

 

 

The Private life of Edward IV, by John Ashdown-Hill….

There are some very gooNed Fourd biographies of Edward IV, by the likes of Pollard, Ross, Kleinke and Santiuste but surely none have tracked his movements, sometimes month by month, like this book does. This is not a full biography and it does not claim to be, but focuses on Edward’s romantic life – his known partners including his legal wife, Lady Eleanor Talbot, Henry Duke of Somerset (!), Elizabeth Lambert and Elizabeth Woodville, as well as the more … elusive … ones.

Edward had other children, apart from those born to Elizabeth Woodville, and Ashdown-Hill tries to identify their mothers. Two of these children were Lady Lumley and Arthur Wayte.

Having devoted much of his nine previous books to explaining the context of the Three Estates offering the throne to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the writer now goes further into the mystery of “Princes” through an excellent appendix by Glenn Moran, which takes their female line forward to a lady who died earlier this year. It also encompasses the complication of someone who definitely ended his life in the Tower about sixty years later and whose mtDNA would almost certainly be identical.

Together with this discovery, we know somewhere else that Edward V and his remaining brother cannot be found. It seems that we only have to wait for the urn to be accessible to determine its contents, one way or the other.

So Richard SEIZED the throne, did he….?

Skidmore and Pinnochio

“I’ve spent four years writing a biography of Richard III, which will be out in April 2017, so I’m looking to give the audience a taster of some of the research that I’ve conducted into Richard’s life, focusing in particular on why he decided to seize the throne in June 1483.”

Seize the throne? SEIZE the throne…..????????  What happened to the facts of the matter? Clearly the forthcoming book will be a little short on such things! Bah Mr Skidmore! Stick to the day job.

http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/york-and-winchester-history-weekends-5-minutes-chris-skidmore

Why it had to be the Tower

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Many Ricardians, although convinced of Richard’s innocence in certain matters, have been perplexed by his apparent uncharacteristic actions concerning the precipitous execution of William, Lord Hastings at the Tower.

Annette Carson has investigated the contemporary evidence and come up with a very plausible theory – she admits it is just that, a theory, but it is very interesting nevertheless and just as probable as all the other theories out there.

Have a look at it here: Annette Carson’s Website

 

A Time for Truth, a Time for Lies…or for Pretended Obliviousness and Bullying Tactics

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

Riding the medieval pre-contract horse into the ground.

 My thanks to everyone at Murrey & Blue who helped with this article. It was very much a team effort, and you know who you are.

An Elizabethan Professor Introduced Me to Richard

A long time ago, at a university far away, I took a class on medieval history from a professor who thought Elizabeth I walked on water. He assigned a paper, and I didn’t know what to write about. He suggested Richard III, about whom I knew nothing. Our text didn’t mention him, and the professor’s lectures hadn’t, either, so off I went to the uni library to correct that deficit in my education. There are times I’m grateful to him. There are other times I wish he’d given me another, less controversial subject to write on.

The first source I consulted was Thomas More. Because hey, he was a knight and a saint, and surely he could be trusted? Ten minutes in, I had the same reaction to him that I had to Frank Harris’s biography on Oscar Wilde: This reads like backstairs gossip. I went looking for other sources. And thus I learned that all sources are not alike, and the difference goes far beyond whether a source is primary or secondary.

There are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III, and there are those you have to approach with squinty eyes. You stick the latter’s work under a mental microscope because their research and their conclusions are suspect, if not twisted, by a prior agenda, or by the ruler under which they wrote, or because they must publish or die as an academic and have to adhere to whichever slant is fashionable at the time. Seldom do you find a gem in the form of independent researcher who has the time and the independence to research original 15th-century documents, relay the facts, and doesn’t twist what they find into personal fantasy.

I learned to appreciate and respect the gems, and to treat the others like especially nasty viruses because their brand of Whisper-Down-the-Alley tended to replicate itself in books, articles, treatises, and novels from the 1500s on down to the present day.

In that long ago time, I had only to contend with academic journals and library holdings. Now there’s The Internet, which provides a whole other world-stage for untrustworthy writers and bloggers who do sloppy or selective research on Richard III, slap down some sentences, upload them to their blog, and want to call it Case Closed. I learned that even if someone considers themselves an historian – armchair or otherwise – they often write with personal prejudice. A few of these writers are mean and nasty, grow bully-fangs, and sharpen their teeth on those who don’t agree with them.

It would go so much better for these people if they could frame a proper argument, but most of them can’t. Come to that, most don’t even quote their sources. Perhaps they can’t be bothered. Perhaps they don’t know how to use citations. Perhaps they’re happy to shout their position over and over – as if they do it often and long enough, their selective stance will become The Absolute Truth – in blog post after blog post. Perhaps they’re just happy hiding behind a computer and thwack anyone who challenges what they say.

Silly bloggers. There are no Absolute Truths when it comes to history. Any history, not just Richard’s. The fun is in the debate, but some people don’t know how to have fun, except by bullying others.

Before Shooting Yourself in the Pre-Contract Foot, You May Want to Do Your Research

If you’re wise, you’ll stop reading this article and go read Annette Carson’s blog post entitled, “Proof … evidence … report … gossip … rumour,” and then get thee a copy of her Richard III: The Maligned King.

Remember how I said above that there are historians and other writers whose research and conclusions you can trust when it comes to Richard III? You can trust Annette Carson. Why? Because she’s a respected professional who lives up to her own words:

I always urge interested enquirers to research for themselves and not take my word for anything. My book Richard III: The Maligned King makes a serious effort to enumerate and summarize as many relevant sources as possible so that readers may consult them and reach their own conclusions.

Another blog post to examine regarding proof vs. evidence of the goings-on in the spring of 1483 and how to frame a proper argument regarding same is Matthew Lewis’s “Evidence, Evidence, Evidence.”

If you’re still with me (oh, Foolish Mortal), then onward we go, to beat a very dead horse called “The Pre-contracted Marriage of Edward IV.”

I’ve written about this before, and recently. I’d like to go on to other things, like researching the structure of the Prince’s Tower at Middleham Castle, because I can’t figure out its three- or four-story layout. Or investigating Richard’s shoe size since his skeleton doesn’t have feet. Or holding a séance to ask him whether he’s had enough of everyone discussing him. But noooo, I seem to be stuck endlessly discussing the stupid marriage Edward contracted with Eleanor Talbot-Butler because a Certain Blogger With a Mean Reputation is making a great many people roll their eyes in exasperation because of her inability to frame a decent argument or engage in an honest debate when it comes to this subject.

I present the following points for your consideration when you want to frame a valid argument regarding Edward’s prior marriage.

Do your medieval and renaissance research. This includes knowing who said what and when regarding the pre-contract; thoroughly acquainting yourself with the medieval Church canon law directing marriages and impediments to same; knowing the clerical members of Edward V’s council; and knowing the members of Richard III’s Parliament.

All of this so you can intelligently weigh and argue your points regarding:

  1. What is contemporary source material and what is not
  2. How unreliable some sources are due to personal agendas
  3. How and why medieval Church law would have declared Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville invalid, and why their children were declared bastards
  4. Which members (cleric, merchant, or noble) of the king’s council in May 1483 and of Parliament in January 1484 would or would not have been receptive to Richard of Gloucester manipulating or threatening them (and why), and which members (if any) profited through Richard after he became king
  5. Who Robert Stillington was, why his career and positions under Henry VI and Edward IV mattered, which chronicler cites him as the source of the pre-contract marriage accusation, whether Stillington was a witness to the marriage or if he only brought hearsay to Edward V’s council table, and why he was not a two-bit player on the contemporary stage, and how the king’s council would have reacted to his revelation. You’ll also need to know why and how all of this matters. And you might also want to look into Stillington’s family because they had some personal connections with the Talbots.

Yes, that’s a lot. You want your position and your arguments to be taken seriously? Then do the footwork and pay your dues. Take the time to learn what you need to know to frame a decent argument, and don’t take someone else’s bloggy or published word for it. And please, I beg you, cite your sources like you were taught to do when you wrote your first term paper at the age of twelve.

Realize there is a difference in genres: writing about history is not the same as writing an historical or fantasy novel

If you are writing fiction, you can change historical facts as you go along. If you do so, you are writing a subgenre of historical or fantasy fiction known as alternate universe or alternate history.

If you are writing about actual historical fact, medieval canon law is not open to your changes. Nor is it open to your interpretation. Medieval canon law existed for over four hundred years, and its tenets are clear. Its requirements for the dissolution of marriages and the declaration of bastards is written in stone. No one’s opinion can alter these facts. If you want to alter the facts, invent your own world and write a fantasy novel. Your world, your rules. Medieval world, medieval rules.

If you cared to research medieval law and Lady Eleanor Butler-Talbot, you’d learn that the woman conducted herself legally like a wife and not a widow long after the death of her first husband because a widow was free to make a will, but a wife was not unless she had her husband’s permission. And so it was that only a few weeks before her death, Eleanor did not will her lands to her sister Elizabeth, but deeded them outright to her. As for those who might have known about Eleanor’s marriage to Edward IV, Eleanor’s father, John Talbot, died in 1453, so he didn’t know about the marriage. Her mother Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, did not die until 1468, so she may or may not have known about Edward’s marrying her daughter. But you can be sure that other members of her family were alive and well, and they likely knew that she had a second husband, however secret that husband wished to be. There may also have been land in Wiltshire bestowed from Edward IV to Eleanor.[i]

You could posit that Edward IV conducted himself as a bigamous husband three years after his marriage to Eleanor. How’s that? Consider:

  1. Edward did not marry Elizabeth Woodville openly, he did not seek his councilors knowledge or the Church’s support.
  2. Edward married Elizabeth in secret, with only a priest (or Bishop Stillington) and Jacquetta Woodville, Countess Rivers, present.
  3. Why did Edward marry in secret [twice]? When a couple did this, it was usually to avoid the prohibition of authority, be that father, brother or king. Obviously this did not apply to Edward who was the king. So we have to look around for another motive.
  4. Either he was scared of offending Warwick, or he was acting in bad faith (initially with Elizabeth and for years with Eleanor).
  5. The truth was bound to emerge if he kept Elizabeth as a wife, Edward could avoid offending and/or humiliating Warwick (who was in negotiations for Edward to marry a foreign bride) only in the short term.
  6. Either way, Edward was acting in bad faith with Elizabeth. Again we have to ask why.
  7. One reason might be that he was determined to bed Elizabeth at all costs and thought he could repudiate the ceremony without much trouble. This wasn’t an unusual medieval scenario when a man already had a wife.
  8. If Edward intended Elizabeth to be his queen, he acted with gross irresponsibility when he married her in private, clandestinely, without witnesses rather than openly, in a grand royal wedding inside a cathedral, with all of his leading advisers present.
  9. There can be absolutely no doubt that Edward knew, since he was born and raised in the medieval Church, that he was making a marriage (or two marriages) that canon law decreed irregular. His marriage(s) also had issues under the English laws of inheritance.
  10. I’ll leave it to you to think up other reasons why Edward felt it necessary to marry in secret and present those arguments if you so choose.

Stillington was said by one chronicler to have conducted the marriage between Eleanor Butler and Edward IV. Which chronicler? It shouldn’t be hard for you to find out, if you want to. I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t More, the Croyland Chronicle, or Mancini. I’ll also leave it to you to find out why an eye witness to an event was valid evidence to a 15th-century court or king’s council. Again, you’ll need to know such things if you want to frame a valid argument regarding such things.

Saying Bishop Robert Stillington was no one of consequence does not make it so.

Men of no consequence do not become Keeper of the Privy Seal for seven years, nor serve twice as Lord Chancellor. Men of no consequence could not and did not influence the Three Estates.

The Three Estates, which included several bishops and archbishops, at the very least decided in the spring 1483 that the allegation of bigamy against Edward IV matched what they knew of the king’s character and behavior. To suggest that Stillington adduced[ii] no evidence is wishful thinking, a deliberate attempt to mislead your reader, or a desperate act of denial. There was evidence, it was recorded at the time, and the conclusions drawn by the Three Estates are clearly outlined in the Act of Settlement (commonly known as Titulus Regius), recorded and still preserved in the original sewn parchment roll of Richard III’s Parliament of January 1484.

The fact that Edward V’s council records are missing do not negate their original existence, just as the fact that many town, city, county and other royal records are missing do not negate their original existence. Medieval England’s archives were not like the Library of Congress which has the wisdom to vault their original materials far underground in a dry, temperature-controlled environment, safe from mildew, insects, and fire. You also seem ignorant of the fact a 16th-century fire in Westminster took out a great many medieval records.

The only reason we have one of Richard’s expense books is because someone had removed it from the Westminster archive and had it in his possession when the fire occurred. It does not logically follow that the reason we have only one of Richard’s expense books is because there weren’t any others, just as it does not logically follow that the reason we do not have the records of Edward V’s council meetings is because there weren’t any. Edward’s records and Richard III’s records aren’t the only ones missing. Some may have been deliberately destroyed, others may have been victims of time, mould, fire, or whatever else fate came up with.

We work with what is left, and we frame possibilities and probabilities. If we’re wise, we do not frame absolutes because that is not possible. Even if you choose a side, the fun is in the ongoing debate…if you let it be.

Richard, His Spies and His Minions Must Have Worked Round the Clock

Have you any idea of the logistical burden and collateral deceivers you created when you suggested out of your imagination that Richard came up with a ‘false bride’ for Edward IV?

In only a few days in the spring of 1483, with less than three weeks to go before Edward V’s coronation and while managing to govern England as Protector of the Realm through endless meetings, dictating drafts of documents and correspondence, reviewing and changing documents, reviewing and signing final versions of documents, and other sundry responsibilities and claims on Richard’s time that none of us can begin to imagine, the Duke of Gloucester would have had to:

  1. Violate Church law and the English common laws we know Richard was sworn to keep and worked to uphold all of his adult life, first as Constable of England; secondly in weekly, if not daily, councils and courts in the North; and finally as Lord Protector.
  2. Come up with a woman of suitable pedigree.
  3. Make sure her surviving family, friends, and servants were willing to enter into the deception.
  4. Coerced witnesses or forged written evidence – both of which had to hold up to the scrutiny of Edward V’s unfriendly, suspicious, learned council.

The possibility of the truth leaking out in such a scenario is obvious. Also, Richard was a child when Edward married Eleanor Butler-Talbot, so it’s doubtful that adult Richard could make a list on his own of likely candidates from 20+ years past. At the beginning of his scheme, he’d have to ask someone to recommend suitable imaginary brides – alive or dead. He’d then have to contact her and/or her family and make the necessary arrangements – promises delivered like a villain in a Disney musical for a scheme that might or might not work with the Three Estates:

I know it sounds sordid, but you’ll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues,
And in justice deliciously squared…

So prepare for the coup of the century,
Prepare for the murkiest scam.
Meticulous planning, tenacity spanning,
Decades of denial is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed respected, saluted,
And seen for the wonder I am
.[iii]

More than a few people would know of the matter. Others would have been asked to commit perjury, and for what? No evident or sure reward from a royal duke who’d spent the last twelve years in the North, and at great risk to themselves, their families, their present and future security?

Why Seek to Become King When You Were Already Going to Be Given the Quasi-Regency of England?

Annette Carson points out that Richard’s appointment as Protector and Defender of the Realm was not meant to end with the coronation of Edward V on 22 June. The king’s council had assigned John Russell (Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Chancellor, and no admirer of Richard), to draft a sermon to be presented at the opening of Edward V’s Parliament on 25 June. This 14-page sermon makes it clear that the king’s council wanted Richard to not only continue defending the realm, but also to take over the teaching and oversight of the boy-king until he reached his majority. Richard’s Protectorship was to be extended, in Carson’s words, to “take on the nature of a quasi-regency.”[iv]

There isn’t space here to reiterate all that Carson has researched and revealed about protectorships and regencies, and not just Richard’s. You would do well to consult her work – all of her work – before framing any future rebuttals.

What Did Stillington Gain from Speaking Out?

The French diplomat Philippe de Commines never met Richard or Stillington, and de Commines is the one who says Stillington brought the pre-contract to Richard’s attention.

This man had served both Henry VI and Edward IV as Lord Chancellor for a great many years. When Stillington came forward, he was effectively retired on a very comfortable pension. Did he obtain additional goodies from Richard for his trouble? One would think so.

That would be a no. There is no evidence that Richard rewarded Stillington in any way.

Mocking an Historian’s Sexual Orientation is Not a Valid Premise

Arguing canon law by directing homophobic jokes and cartoons at an acknowledged and honored historical expert is no argument at all. It only reflects badly upon your own character.

What About that Professor of Mine Who Adored Elizabeth I?

My professor was so enamored of The Virgin Queen, his office seemed a shrine to her. She looked down from her lofty poster when I, a baby-researcher when it came to Richard III, submitted my paper to my professor.

“Do you think he did it?” I asked.

“Probably.”

That was all my professor said, and he was kind enough to give me an “A” on the paper. He could have sneered at my arguments, shafted my conclusions, and sent me back to researching until I agreed with him. But he was a professional who managed to respect even the opinions of lowly undergraduates.

I like professionals. They’re the ones who teach you not to take anybody’s word for anything. They teach you to go and see for yourself, to make up your own mind, and not simply regurgitate what you’ve heard before or read on badly written blogs.

__________

Notes

[i] A good place to begin researching Edwards possible grant(s) to Eleanor are two works by John Ashdown-Hill. The first is a book he wrote called Eleanor the Secret Queen: The Woman Who Put Richard III on the Throne. Pages 91-94 specifically deal with Edwards grants to Eleanor. The second is paper Ashdown-Hill wrote called, “Lady Eleanor Talbot: New Evidence; New Answers; New Questions,” which can be found on the Richard III Society page here:

http://www.richardiii.net/6_3_1_the_ricardian_archive.php

or downloaded direct by copying the following URL into your browser:

http://www.richardiii.net/downloads/Ricardian/2006_vol16_ashdown_hill_lady_eleanor_talbot.pdf

[ii] Please note the deliberate use of the word adduced. The verb means to bring forward in argument or as evidence; to cite as pertinent or conclusive.

[iii] “Be Prepared,” from The Lion King. Lyrics by Tim Rice.

[iv] Carson, Annette. Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England, Imprimis Imprimatur, Horstead, 2015. Discussion regarding the contents of Russell’s planned sermon and the council’s planned quasi-regency for Richard is on pages 57-60. The sermon draft is on pages 101-106. The entire volume is invaluable.

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

Part 7 – Long live king Richard, England’s worthy king!

“ Cousin of Buckingham and sage grave men,

Since you will buckle fortune on my back

To bear her burden whe’er, I will or not

I must have patience to endure the load

(William Shakespeare)

 

“ Touched you the bastardy of Edward’s children?”

Bastard slips shall not take root. That was the uncompromising theme of Dr Ralph Shaa’s sermon on the 22 June 1483 at St Paul’s Cross. Taking his text from the Old Testament[1], Dr Shaa preached to the dukes’ of Gloucester and Buckingham, and a ‘huge audience of lords spiritual and temporal[2] on the illegitimacy king Edward IV’s children. Exactly what he said, however, is a source of great controversy.

The crux of the problem is the paucity of reliable, objective chronicle accounts of what was said between 22 and 26 June 1483. The chronicles that we do have are, to quote Paul Kendall, a “mosaic of conflicting detail “[3]of king Richard’s title to the throne.   This is in marked contrast to the certainty and clarity of the parliamentary roll and Titulus Regius, which set out the chain of events and king Richard’s title with admirable certainty and clarity. However, some historians believe that Titulus Regius is a fraud that was only enacted because the members of parliament were coerced. So, what are we to think? The best way to answer that question is to begin at the beginning and follow events chronologically.

Dr Shaa’s sermon was not a spontaneous outpouring of public indignation at the illegitimacy of Edwards’s offspring. It was pre-arranged by duke Richard or by others on his behalf to bring to public notice the illegitimacy of the dead kings children and to put forward the duke’s royal title. I think Gloucester’s presence at the sermon is a clear indication of his intention to replace his nephew as king. Though, naturally he was keen to distance himself from the question of deposition at this stage. Mancini describes Gloucester’s actions thus: “…he so corrupted preachers of the divine word that in their sermons to the people they did not blush to say in the face of decency and all religion that the progeny of king Edward should be instantly eradicated, for neither had he been legitimate king, nor could his issue be so. Edward, said they, was conceived in adultery…”[4] The thing to note about this is that it is almost certainly not an eyewitness account. Furthermore, although Mancini does not mention a pre-contract at this point he does refer to one later on, as we shall see. The Great Chronicle follows Mancini in alleging that Shaa preached the illegitimacy of king Edward, whereas Fabyan says that Shaa also declared the bastardy of Edward’s children. Mancini’s narrative is the only account written during Gloucester’s lifetime; indeed, it is the only extant description of this meeting written in the fifteenth century. Consequently, it cannot be taken literally as a reliable report of Shaa’s sermon. It may or may not be correct. Similarly, the reliability of the two vernacular chronicle accounts is questionable given that they were written two decades after Gloucester’s death at a time when Tudor propaganda against the last Plantagenet was rife.

“ How now! How now! What say the citizens?”

Shaa’s sermon never settled anything; its importance lay in the fact that it set in motion a train of events that were to put Richard duke of Gloucester on the throne with astonishing speed, even by modern standards. Within four days of this sermon, duke Richard was offered the crown. The next day he was king of England. With the exception of Mancini all the other sources refer to a meeting, which took place on Tuesday the 24 June at the Guildhall, with Buckingham in the chair. Present were the Mayor, his brethren ‘and a good many’ London citizens. Buckingham is supposed to have spoken wonderfully well for “a good half hour” on behalf of the duke of Gloucester, extorting the audience to admit the Lord Protector as their liege lord. The audience ‘”…to satisfy his mind more in fear than for love, had cried in small number yea! Yea![5] Following this, Buckingham left. Fabyan and the London Chronicles also report this meeting. Indeed, Fabyan said that Buckingham was so eloquent that he never even stopped to spit.

“ We heartily solicit your gracious self to take on the charge and kingly government of this your land”

Mancini does not refer to a meeting at the Guildhall with the Lord Mayor and citizens of London. Instead, he refers to a speech made by Buckingham to the lords on the 24 June, in which Buckingham argued that “…it would be unjust to crown this lad, who was illegitimate, because his father king Edward [IV] on marrying Elizabeth, was legally contracted to another wife to whom the [earl] of Warwick had joined him. Indeed on Edward’s authority the [earl] of Warwick had espoused the lady by proxy — as it is called — on the continent.[6] This is an undoubted reference to a pre-contract, although Mancini has managed to get Edward’s amour wrong.

The following day, that is the 25 June 1483, the Lords Spiritual, Temporal and the Commons (the three estates of the English community) met at Westminster. Gloucester’s decision to stop the writs of supersedeas cancelling parliament was obviously deliberate. He saw the value of having representatives from the ‘three estates’ in London to consider his claim to the throne. Although this was not a properly constituted parliament, pretty much all its members were present. Neither was this a tame Ricardian quorum; the lords spiritual, temporal and the commons who attended were those who would have constituted Edward V’s first parliament.   On any view this was a gathering of national authority. Gloucester’s claim was put forward precisely; some parts were good, others not so good. The evil done to the realm by the Woodvilles, the falseness of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey and the pre-contract with Eleanor Butler were all put forward, and discussed by the three estates. The meeting drafted and approved a petition to the duke of Gloucester that he should assume the seat royal. On the following day (26 June 1483) at his mother’s London house (Baynard’s Castle) the petition was presented to the duke who was pleased to accept it. He dated his reign from that day.

It all happened so quickly that it was natural that some of Richard’s subjects did not fully understand what had occurred. Subsequently, in January 1484, a properly constituted parliament noted the terms of the petition for the record, clarified the king’s title and ratified his succession to remove doubt. Nonetheless, even the constitutional authority of parliament is insufficient for some folk to accept the propriety and the legality of king Richard’s succession. Professor Charles Ross has no doubt that Titulus Regius was a “highly tendentious piece of propaganda (which) failed to carry conviction at the time and has not stood up under modern scrutiny.” [7] If ever that eminent and learned professor has made a sillier comment, I have yet to see it. Not only has he got the 15th century matrimonial law wrong and underestimated the nature of a parliamentary statute but also his analysis defies common sense. I am not going to enumerate the professors many misconceptions because others have long since consigned his comments to a metaphorical dustbin. The arguments against king Richard’s lawful accession only makes sense if you prefer the ex post facto chronicle accounts, comprising elements of hearsay, propaganda, rumour and plain old tittle-tattle, to a solemn parliamentary statute, which is contemporary with events and has the supreme force of English law, superseding judge-made canon law and common law. Anybody who takes the trouble to read the Parliamentary Roll for this parliament together with Rosemary Horrox’s excellent introduction to the Roll will see that this was a mature and thoughtful Act of Settlement, which did not come from Richard but from Parliament itself. Moreover one does not get the sense that the members were forced to come to this decision through fear.

Personally, I believe that king Richard’s intention was to recover the Yorkist vision for the rule of England. On the first day of his reign he spoke to the Kings Bench Justices emphasising the need for them to dispense justice without fear of favour and declaring that all men (and women) are equal before the law (A human right we take for granted now.). Paul Kendall describes his hopes in emotional terms when reflecting the events that had bought king Richard III to this point: “ …thus did Richard try to identify himself with the authentic tradition of his house; thus did he grope to regain the brother he had lost to Dame Elizabeth Grey, Hastings and Mistress Shore and to redefine his loyalty to the Edward he had worshiped as a boy” and “…was it not possible for him to set aside Edward’s heir and yet be truer to Edward than Edward had been to himself?” And further: “ he would succeed his brother to redeem his brothers rule.[8] Sadly, for king Richard and for England his was a reign of unfulfilled promise. He was, as Kendall suggests, an unsubtle man who perhaps had yet to acknowledge the reality that it was “…easier to keep a crown through the exercise of power than by the merits of his rule.”

[1] The Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, Verse 3 “ Bastard slips shall not take deep root, nor take firm hold.” Scholars generally agree that the book of Wisdom deprecates any compromise with false idolatry

[2] AH Thomas et al [Eds] – The Great Chronicle of London (London 1938) pages 231-233

[3] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin, 1955) at page 477, note 21

[4] CJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III (Oxford, 1969) at page 95

[5] The Great Chronicle; ibid

[6] Mancini at page 97

[7] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale edition 1999) at page 91. Professor Ross (1924-1986) was a distinguished scholar. He was a historian and Professor of Medieval History at the university of Bristol (Michael Hicks and Ralph Griffiths were among his pupils). His biography of Richard first published in 1981 has, in most opinions, replaced Paul Murray Kendall as the standard work on Richard. Ross relied on primary sources in preference to the Tudor histories. His declared aim was to portray Richard in the context of his times. Although his writing style is less floral and more functional than Kendall’s, he does provide extensive research and considerable historical of detail about the period.   Whilst in general terms he abjured the confrontational approach of other authors, he is prone to express his irritation with Ricardians in somewhat petulant terms. He is sympathetic to Richard’s plight and his difficulties though ultimately he is against him on the key issue of how he seized and kept power

[8] Kendall at page 226

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

 Part 2 – “… the corruption of a blemished stock “ (continued)

Whatever the truth of bishop Stillington’s revelation, it could be argued that the passage of Titulus Regius through Parliament put the matter beyond doubt. However, that would be an overly simplistic argument as there were and still are legal objections to the disinheritance of Edward IV’s children, Indeed, the law governing this issue is as controversial as the facts. In the twentieth century the arguments against king Richard’s succession seem to have coalesced into three broad elements:

  • First, under fifteenth century Canon law the pre-contract even if true does not on these facts bastardize Edward IV’s children;
  • Second, even if Edward IV’s children were correctly declared to be bastards, it does not raise Gloucester’s position in the line of succession, he was still behind Clarence’s son Edward of Warwick as heir to the throne; and
  • Third, neither the assembly of MP’s who petitioned Gloucester on the 25 June 1483, nor the subsequent Parliament that approved Titulus Regius had jurisdiction to determine the validity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey, or the legitimacy of their children.

Professor Mortimer Levine raised these issues first in 1959 and again in 1973[1]. Since then, historians on both sides of the debate about king Richard have followed him slavishly.

 

On these facts even if true, 15th century Canon law does not bastardize Edward IV’s children

Under this heading, Levine makes three subsidiary points, which I will deal with individually[2]. First, he argues that as Lady Eleanor Butler died on the 30 June 1468 the pre contract could not bastardize either Edward V or his brother Richard duke of York who were both born after her death. He relies on the principle in English matrimonial law that bigamy ceases once one of the spouse’s dies. On this argument it follows that after 30 June 1468, no objection could be raised against the validity of Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey (nee Woodville) or against the legitimacy of their children born after that date.

That, of course, is the law today. However, it was not the law in 1483. Then, under canon law, adultery when coupled with a present contract of marriage was an impediment to the subsequent marriage of the adulterous couple. Based on these facts, the law presumed that Edward had ‘polluted’ Elizabeth by adultery; consequently, they were forbidden from marrying at any time in the future, even after the death of Eleanor Butler. To modern eyes, this seems harsh, even unjust, and so it also seemed to medieval canonists. There were exceptions to this rule, which were intended to mitigate its effect on an innocent party in a bigamous marriage. For example, if Elizabeth Grey did not know of Edward’s previous marriage to Eleanor Butler, she would not be committing adultery knowingly and there would be no impediment to her marrying Edward after Eleanor’s death. Of course, whether this exception applied depends on facts we cannot now prove: did Elizabeth know about the pre contract when she ‘married’ Edward? Unhappily for Edward and Elizabeth no investigation of the facts was or is necessary since the application of this exception rested on another legal presumption: that Elizabeth acted in good faith. As her marriage to Edward was clandestine, the law presumed bad faith on her part. Thus, she could not (in 1483) avail herself of its protection.

Second, Levine dismisses the clandestinity of this marriage as a matter of no consequence. He argues that clandestine marriages are indisputably valid, binding on the parties and enforceable in law. He is right in principle, but he has over simplified the law in 1483 and, in Prof Helmholz’s words, “moves too quickly to the conclusion that the children were legitimate”. Unlike modern times, in the fifteenth century, questions of legitimacy were not determined solely on the basis of whether the parents were validly married. There were many subsidiary rules used to determine legitimacy, the most famous being ‘legitimization by subsequent marriage’. This rule also relied on the parents’ good faith. The reasoning was that parents and children should not be penalized for their ignorance of an impediment. If one of the parents was unaware of the impediment, the children of that union were presumed to be legitimate in law. However, it is unnecessary to delve into this issue too deeply as the clandestinity of Edward and Elizabeth’s marriage raises the presumption of bad faith, which puts them outside this rule. If the marriage had been open, with banns declared, people would have had an opportunity to object and Edward’s previous marriage to Lady Eleanor Butler may have come to light. Contrary to what Levine says, the secrecy of their wedding is far from irrelevant; it goes to the heart of the problem of their children’s illegitimacy.

Third, Levine argues that king Richard’s claim has come too late.   Edward and Elizabeth “ had lived together openly and were accepted by the Church and the nation as man and wife.” That is true. Then as now, matrimonial law recognized the validity of what we would call a ‘common law marriage’. It was also possible to presume the legitimacy of any offspring in certain circumstances. However, the problem for Edward’s children continues to be the secrecy of their parent’s wedding. The presumption of validity only extended to marriages conducted in facie ecclesie. Furthermore, canon law specifically allowed questions of bastardy to be raised after the parents’ deaths, in order to settle issues of inheritance. Finally, on this point it was and is a precept of English law that any act that is inherently wrong cannot be made right by its continuation over a long time. Far from making things better, Edward’s nineteen-year cohabitation with Elizabeth made them worse.

Edward of Warwick was the rightful heir to the throne

As the youngest son of Richard duke of York,  Gloucester did  not expect to inherit the throne. Before him in the line of succession  events were his  brothers and their heirs. However, in 1483,  Edward had died and his children were declared to be bastards. Clarence was executed in 1478 for treason, and attainted. According to Titulus Regius, Clarence’s eight-year-old son Edward of Warwick was barred from succeeding due to his father’s attainder.

Levine challenges  the view that young Edward of Warwick was barred from succeeding. “The bastardization of Edward IV’s children was not enough”, he argues, “to give Richard the throne. Still before him in the hereditary order were the children of his elder brother Clarence: 8 year old Edward and 10 year old Margaret.” There are two limbs to Levine’s argument. First that Clarence’s Act of Attainder only specifically barred Edward of Warwick from inheriting his father’s ducal title and second, the common-law principle against attainted people from inheriting, does not apply to the royal succession. By way of example, he cites Henry VI and Edward IV, both of whom succeeded to the throne after being attainted.

Levine regards Clarence’s attainder as unimportant, as an excuse to bar Warwick from succeeding and a legal pretext for Gloucester’s usurpation. I believe that he has seriously underestimated the importance of the attainder and the difficulties posed for young Warwick. Professor Lander provides an apt appreciation of the nature of the attainders passed on the Yorkists in 1459 “ They were to suffer the most solemn penalty known to the common law. Treason was the most heinous of all offences. Its penalties ruined the traitor’s descendants as well as the traitor himself. The offender was held worthy of death inflicted with extremities of bodily pain…his children, their blood corrupted, could succeed to neither the paternal nor the maternal inheritance. The traitor died in the flesh, his children before the law.”[3] The children of an attainted traitor lost all their civil rights. They had no status.   Its true, that that Henry VI and Edward IV succeeded to the throne after they were attainted, but they both had powerful armies at their back to enforce their right. In 1483, nobody was interested in supporting the attainted eight-year-old Warwick, who was incapable of ruling England. It is quite possible that if a strong faction of nobles had supported him, his attainder might have been reversed. However, that never happened[4].

Parliament had no jurisdiction to determine the legitimacy of Edward IV’s children

Based on a proper construction of canon law in England in 1483, only an ecclesiastical court could determine the legitimacy of Edward IV’s children, and they had not been asked to do so. As a secular assembly, Parliament had no authority to determine the issue of legitimacy. That is the gist of the argument against Titulus Regius. It is essentially little more than a lawyer’s point based on the notion that the succession of the English crown could be decided  by a court of law. It is true that English common law courts when hearing inheritance disputes habitually remitted questions of legitimacy to the ecclesiastical courts for judgment.[5] It is also true that in the fifteenth century civil Judges were usually careful not to encroach on the church’s rights or authority, especially where spiritual matters were concerned. Nonetheless, the exclusivity of canon law in the ecclesiastical courts had not stopped Parliament passing statutes, which not only restricted the jurisdiction of that court but also superseded canon law[6]. By the last quarter of the fifteenth century statute law had surpassed common law and some canon law in importance. The view that parliamentary statutes bound judges was prevalent even then.   The point is that, in the rush for a judicial decision, we cannot ignore the constitutional power and position of Parliament as the country’s supreme legislative body . Anyhow, even if the matter had been decided in court, king Richard had the stronger case.

The draftsman of Titulus Regius was obviously a lawyer who appreciated the jurisdictional point, since he provided a legal answer to it. By inserting clauses stating that the invalidity of Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Grey was a matter of public notoriety, the draftsman reversed the burden of proof. [7]. In law, if something was so well known as to be notorious ‘neither witness nor accuser is necessary’.[8] In this case, the draftsman of Titulus Regius was putting the onus on Edward IV’s children to make the case that they were legitimate. That meant there was no need for king Richard to test the children’s’ illegitimacy in a Church court. However, no application for relief was made by or on behalf of the children.

This case was, in legal terminology, sui generis (unique). Quit apart from the underlying secular questions of inheritance under feudal law, it involved the royal succession for which there was no legal precedent. It was not just a legal problem; it was also a political one. The royal succession was a matter of national importance. Following the death of a king, time was of the essence. His successor had to assume the reins of government speedily to ensure the peace and defence of his realm. Litigation in this situation would have been unduly time-consuming given the urgency. Moreover, a purely legal judgment was unlikely to resolve the factional dispute underlying this whole episode. The question of the succession could not be decided in a legal vacuum that ignored the political context in which the whole question of Edward V’s legitimacy arose. Ultimately, a purely legal solution was not viable in the political environment of 1483[9].

Actually, king Richard’s succession was never even debated by parliament. There may well have been discussion on the 25 June when the petition was drafted, but that was a meeting of MPs; it was not a parliament. The Parliamentary Roll for the 1484 sets out the bill (Titulus Regius) in full. It adds simply that the bill was read, heard and fully understood by everybody present, and that the lords and commons agreed to it. As Rosemary Horrox points out “The enrolled text becomes a statement of the king’s right (and a very detailed one), but there is no suggestion that it was the king’s statement of that right. As presented here (in the Parliamentary Roll), Richard is entirely passive: his only input to receive the bill and send it to the commons for approval.   The lords then gave their assent, and the king, with that assent declared the contents of the bill (and therefore the Roll) to be true.” It would seem that king Richard was deliberately distancing himself from the bill. This may have been in part due to his realization that the decision to allow Parliament to determine the validity of Edward IV’s marriage was contentious[10]. It is also worth noting Horrox’s later opinion that although parliament seems to be acquiescent “… the impression from the Roll is that this was something to be earned. There is no suggestion, as the hostile Crowland Chronicler insisted, Richard was browbeating parliament from a position of strength.”[11] I have little doubt in my own mind that Parliament was entitled to pass king Richard’s Act of settlement[12]. The overriding constitutional importance of Parliament as the supreme English law–maker enabled it by virtue of its statute making powers to change (in this instance) the jurisdiction for dealing with the royal succession. That was a question of such weight and importance that it transcended the law of the ecclesiastical or civil courts.   It is no coincidence that it was thought necessary to get Parliamentary consent to every deposition of an English king since Edward II.

It is inevitable that some people will think there is something unjust and dishonest about depriving these children of their rights without them being heard. It is this perception of legal trickery and sharp practice that does so much to harm king Richard’s reputation. The notion of ‘due process’ is the cornerstone of our justice system and the British sense of fair play.   Sympathy for Edward IV’s children is understandable; however, to blame king Richard rather than the situation is a sentimental view that flies in the face of the political reality in fifteenth century England. There was clearly no appetite in Parliament for a boy-king in such highly charged times, especially one controlled by the Woodvilles. His accession in these circumstances would have led to the continuation of civil war.

[1]. Mortimer Levine- Tudor Dynastic Problems 1460-1571 (George Allen and Unwin 1973), especially at pages 28-31. Professor Levine is a historian and not, in the legal sense, an expert witness on 15th century Canon law in England.

[2]. In this essay I am, merely summarising three Ricardian articles responding to Levine’s arguments. First. Mary O’Regan – The Pre-contract and its Effect on the succession in 1483 (The Ricardian) Vol IV, No 54 (Sept 1976) at pages 2-7; this is reproduced in J Petre (ed) – Richard III: crown and people (Richard III Society 1985) at pages 51-56; also, Anne Sutton- Richard III’s ‘tytylle & right’. A new discovery (The Ricardian) Vol IV, No 57 (June 1977) at pages 2-8 , which is also reproduced (with subsequent correspondence) in Richard III: crown and people at pages 57-65. Also R H Helmholz – The Sons of Edward IV, a Canonical Assessment of the Claim they were Illegitimate, which is published in PW Hammond (ed) – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (Richard III and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) at pages 91-103.

[3]. J R Lander – Government and Community 1450-1509 (Edward Arnold 1980) at page 203; see also Professor J G Bellamy – The Law of Treason in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge UP 1970) at pages 8-9, 13 and 21. Although the punishment of traitor depended on royal clemency, it usually involved a particularly gruesome, humiliating and painful death and forfeiture of everything the traitor owned. The children of an attainted man could inherit nothing from their father; as professor Bellamy points out, if he succeeded to anything after the attainder, it would happen by grace rather than right. One commentator even questioned why a traitor’s children should be suffered to live at all.

[4] See Charles Ross – Edward IV (BCA 1975) at page 155, in which professor Ross discusses Clarence’s exemplification as Henry VI’s heir. See also Levine at pages 26-27 for his opinion. It is interesting to ponder young Warwick’s wider significance as a Yorkist heir once Titulus Regius was repealed.   Henry VII’s response was to keep the hapless Warwick imprisoned in the Tower until he was old enough to be decently executed.

[5] Interestingly that was not the law or the practice in continental Christendom, where secular courts had long been determining issues of legitimacy and inheritance together.

[6]. SB Chrimes- English Constitutional Laws in the fifteenth century (Cambridge 1936) at pages 285-288. See also RG Davies and JH Denton (eds) – The English Parliament in the Middle Ages (Manchester UP 1981) at pages 146,149 and 153.

[7].RE Horrox (ed) – Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (ed C. Given-Wilson) in sixteen volumes; Vol XV, Richard III Parliament, 24 January 1483, at pages 14 and 15. (PROME).

[8]. See PROME; ibid. See also Helmholz at page 98.

[9]. Anne Curry and R.E. Horrox – Henry VI Parliament, October 1460 in PROME, Vol XII at pages 510 and 518. On the 18 October 1460, Parliament asked the judges to give their opinion about the respective merits of Henry VI’s royal title and that of the duke of York’s, which has been presented in Parliament.   After considering the matter for two days, the judges refused to give an opinion on the grounds that they could only judge cases bought before them in the courts party against party, and could not advise as counsel. They added for good measure that “…in particular because the matter was so high and touched the king’s high estate and regality which was above the law and surpassed their learning that they dared not enter a discussion of it for it pertained for the lords of the king’s blood and the peerage of this land to discuss and intervene in such matters.“ Even though the situations in 1460 and 1483 were different, the principle that the royal accession was not susceptible to a judicial  decision, but could only be decided by the king and his peers was well established.

[10]. See PROME (R Horrox Ed) Introduction- Richard III Parliament, 24 January 1483, Vol XV at pages 5 and 7

[11]. See Chrimes at pages 185-195 for the transcript of John Russell’s speech for the opening of king Richard’s only Parliament. See also Davies et al at pages 145-157 for an excellent summary of the constitutional importance of this parliament. It was the ultimate expression (at the time) of the evolving concept of parliament as the supreme representative assembly of the country and the king’s highest court in the land. The responsibility of the monarch to rule with the consent of the three estates of parliament was spelt out in unequivocal terms.

[12]. For the text of Titulus Regius see Rolls of Parliament (Rotuli Parliamentorum), 6 volumes (London 1776-77) vol. 6, at pages 240-42.  A photographic facsimile of the original (with the seal shown) is available online at http://partyparcel.co.uk . There are two versions: the first in Middle English and the second with modern spelling. Despite some suggestion that Titulus Regius is not an ‘Act of Parliament’, it clearly is. It states the unarguable ‘law’ of the land insofar as it relates to king Richard’s title and is described in the Statute Book as an ‘Act of Settlement’. An ‘Act of Parliament ‘ is defined at: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/acts/

The Tragedy of King Richard 111 (not by William Shakespeare)

Part 4 – “… the corruption of a blemished stock “

A beauty-waning and distressed widow,

   Even in the afternoon of her best days,

   Made prize and purchase of his wanton eye

   Seduced the pitch and height of his degree

   To base declension and loathed bigamy. “

   (William Shakespeare)

 

“ Is all things ready for the royal time?”

There is very little contemporary material about what was happening in May 1483, after the Council meeting. The picture we have is of everybody busy preparing for the king’s coronation on the 22 June. The council, led by the Lord Protector, was in a difficult if not an impossible position trying to govern and defend the realm without the royal treasure (stolen by the Woodvilles) and the fleet (commandeered by the Woodville’s)[1]. Nevertheless, the Lord Protector continued to act with propriety and it is evident that he intended to crown Edward V. Despite the queen’s intransigence, he acted lawfully and was especially careful to try and negotiate a peaceful end to her sanctuary[2].

As late as the 5 June 1483, the Protector summoned all those who were to be knighted, to come to London at least four days prior to the coronation. The same day he wrote to the citizens of York apologizing for the fact he that was too busy with the coronation preparations to deal with their recent request for financial relief. The significance of this letter is its ordinariness, which is in stark contrast to his letter to the same citizens five days later. In the second letter, the Protector requested troops to help against the queen and her blood adherents who were planning to murder him and Buckingham. It was a noticeable change in tone. The inference that he was suddenly alarmed by this murderous conspiracy is doubtful, as he had known of the threat to his life since Stony Stratford or earlier. If it was in response to that threat, he has left it too late; York’s troops could not reach London much before the end of June. I believe that something else has happened between the 5 and 10 June 1483, which alerted the Protector to a new and very serious threat to the stability of the realm and to him.[3]

The ‘wicked bishop’

It is Philippé De Commynes a Flemish knight in the service of Louis XI who provides a possible explanation for his change of attitude. “ The Bishop of Bath and Wells (Robert Stillington) revealed to the duke of Gloucester that king Edward, being enamoured of a certain English lady promised to marry her provided he could sleep with her first and she consented. The Bishop said that he had married them and only he and they were present. He was a courtier so did not disclose this fact and helped to keep the lady quiet, and things remained like this for a while. Later king Edward fell in love again and married the daughter of an English knight, Lord Rivers.” [4] It would be wrong to say, as James Gairdner did, that the evidence of this pre contract rests on the ‘single testimony’ of Robert Stillington, since the truth is we do not have his testimony: not a word of it. We do not know when or where Edward and Eleanor were married[5], or even when Stillington revealed all to the protector. What we do know is that this revelation, if true, had serious implications for the royal succession. It would make, Edward’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Woodville bigamous and their offspring illegitimate, and unable in law to succeed to the throne[6]. I believe it was this news that worried the Protector.

Sir Clement Markham suggests that Stillington told Gloucester and the council about the pre-contract on Sunday the 8 June 1483[7]. All we know about this meeting is what we get from a letter written by Simon Stallworth to Sir William Stonor, in which he writes: “My Lord Protector, my Lord of Buckingham and all other Lords, as well temporal as spiritual [sic] were at Westminster”. It’s a pity that Stallworth either doesn’t know or declines to reveal what was actually discussed. The meeting lasted for four hours, which is unusually long for an update on preparations for the coronation. Also, Stallworth writes that they discussed great business about the coronation’. I infer from this phrase that this was not a routine meeting. It is also interesting to note that nobody spoke to the queen’, which suggests that negotiations between the Lord Protector and the queen had broken down and something important was happening.

Stallworth’s phrase”…great business against the coronation…” is ambiguous: perhaps deliberately so. Most historians think he meant ‘in preparation for or in anticipation of the coronation’. However, the word ‘against’ has eighteen different meanings in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, five of which use the word in the sense of ‘resistance to or opposition to…’ Is it possible that Stallworth is referring obliquely to a discussion about the pre-contract, including the propriety of proceeding with the coronation? However, Stallworth could just as easily have been disseminating a sanitized version of events meant for publication. It is also likely that the Protector needed more time to investigate the veracity of Stillington’s claim. Whilst there may well have been a serious discussion about the situation, it was more likely to take place in camera[8].

I think that by the 10 June 1483, Gloucester was convinced that Stillington’s story was true. In his letter to York of the same date he is not reacting to a new threat from Dorset and Hastings, but preparing himself for the possibility of a Woodville counterstroke, once the existence of the pre-contract became public knowledge. He was obviously worried about the increased prospect of civil war breaking out again. Neither can there be any doubt that the personal consequences were also on his mind. The letter to York provides a convenient cover story, which gives nothing new away if it falls into the wrong hands.

Robert Stillington (d1491)[9] rose from humble origins to become Edward IV’s Chancellor in 1467. This suggests that Kendall’s description of him, as “a man of mediocre talents, not remarkable for strength of character” was both unfair and untrue[10]. He served Edward IV as Chancellor until 1473, when he retired through ill health. Thereafter he fell from favour. In 1478, he was imprisoned for “uttering words prejudicial to the king and state”.[11] After paying a ‘round sum’ he was forgiven and released. However, he never worked for Edward IV again. It is possible that he revealed the pre-contract in 1483 out of resentment over his fall from grace and a desire for revenge against the Woodville’s. If so, he received no discernible reward from Gloucester. It is equally possible that he felt bound to raise such a grave impediment to the succession of Edward V once it became obvious that he would be a figurehead under the control of the Woodvilles. We simply don’t know, essentially. There is nothing in his private or public life to suggest he was untrustworthy. Neither has anybody been able to produce evidence that he invented the pre-contract story either on his own or as part of a conspiracy with Gloucester, or that he allowed Gloucester to put him up to it.   There are no grounds for doubting Stillington’s credibility as a truthful eyewitness to the marriage of the king and Eleanor Butler. Neither is there much force in the argument that Stillington’s story was known to be false at the time. The only doubts that were expressed came from sources in southern England, which was a region hostile to king Richard during his lifetime. Furthermore, they were written after his death at a time when Henry VII was actively trying to re-write the official history of king Richard’s protectorship and reign.

“He that filches me of my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor”

It is unfortunate, that whatever proofs of evidence Stillington provided have not survived. It is this gap in the paper trail that encourages some historians to believe that the pre-contract story was a fabrication. Even if we disregard the illogicality of such a belief (It does not necessarily follow from the absence of written proof that Stillington was lying, much less that he and Gloucester conspired to tell lies.), it overlooks or disregards the fundamental importance of Titulus Regius (The King’s Title) in ratifying king Richard’s election by the ‘three estates’ and his title to the crown. In the absence of evidence of coercion or deception it requires more that Crowland’s cavalier comment that Parliament acquiesced through fear, to convince me that king Richard’s election was a fraud[12].

There are other circumstantial details, which taken together indicate the truth of Stillington’s story. Henry VII’s actions after Bosworth are of special importance. In his first Parliament (November 1485), Henry repealed Titulus Regius without being read. This was unheard of in Parliamentary history. Furthermore, the king ordered all existing copies of Titulus Regius to be destroyed on pain of punishment[13]. This was a deliberate attempt by Henry VII to pervert our understanding of historical events.   It is obvious that he had to repeal Titulus Regius, since he relied on his wife’s (Elizabeth of York) title to bolster his own weak title. There was no question of allowing the declaration of her bastardy to remain. However, his attempt to expunge Titulus Regius from the official record, as though it had never existed calls into question his motive. His own explanation, that he could not bear to have this infamy of his wife and her family remembered, is no doubt the truth, but it is not the whole truth. If we combine this parliamentary manoeuvre with his treatment of Robert Stillington, we gain some insight into the king’s possible motive. Almost before king Richard’s corpse was cold on the field of Bosworth, Henry Tudor issued a warrant for the arrest of Robert Stillington. The bishop was arrested, convicted of ‘horrible and heinous offences imagined [This means ‘planned: Stillington was not convicted for his naughty thoughts.] and done’, and imprisoned.   And then Henry pardoned him: why? He also refused a request by his judges to examine Stillington as to the facts of the pre contract: why? It may well have been due to Stillington’s age and infirmity; though such considerations never usually stopped Henry from ruthlessly enforcing his interests. It may equally be that he believed the story was true and feared that a formal investigation would fatally undermine his own pretensions to the crown.

“He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber “

Finally, the existence of the pre-contract was plausible. In fact, king Edward IV’s lascivious behaviour was notorious. Crowland describes him in general terms as “ …a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance and passion…”[14] Mancini is more descriptive: “ He was licentious in the extreme: moreover it was said that had been most insolent to numerous women after he had seduced them, for, as soon as he grew weary of the dalliance, he gave up the ladies much against their will to the other courtiers [Hastings, Rivers and Dorset?]. He pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the noble and the lowly: however he took none by force. He overcame all by money and promises, and having conquered them, he dismissed them.”[15] That is strong stuff indeed.   And if we want an example of how he used his power to promise anything to get into bed with women, we need look no further than his clandestine ‘marriage’ to Elizabeth Grey. It is a classic example of the king’s modus operandi.  The question of the notoriety of Edward’s behaviour and his marriage to Eleanor Butler is also important in a legal context and it is something I will be dealing with in another essay.

I leave the last word to Sir James Gairdner: “ The story of the pre-contract has been generally discredited by historians; but without pretending that it rests on very satisfactory evidence, we may still affirm that there are no sufficient grounds for regarding it as a mere political invention.”[16]

[1]. Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1979) 4 Volumes, V3 at pages 29-30. Lord Dynham, the commander of the Calais garrison wrote to the Lord Protector, explaining his intention to petition Parliament to find ways for ensuring the continuing payment of the Calais garrison.

[2]. BL Harl 443, V1 at page 16; the Protector wrote to Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury sometime between the 16 and 19 May. He wanted an urgent meeting with all the senior clergy to discuss “certain difficult and urgent matters”, which would be made clearer at the meeting: a crisis? It is possible that the Protector was trying to secure a peaceful and legal end to the queen’s sanctuary. Unfortunately, we do not know that outcome of this request.

[3]. The tendency to regard Gloucester’s change of attitude as being due to the recent discovery of a plot to kill him and Buckingham is understandable since that is what he wrote in his letter to York.   However, there is another possible explanation. It is based on the premise that Gloucester was alarmed by the consequences for the realm if Stillington’s revelation proved true. No doubt, he wanted to test the truth of Stillington’s story and think about those consequences. Viewed in this light, his request to York was a sensible and timely call for reinforcements to guard against the possibility of civil disorder once the pre-contract became common knowledge. He used the murder plot as an excuse to ensure that the citizens of York took him seriously and to keep his knowledge secret. I accept that this is speculation, but it does explain why Gloucester apparently waited until it was too late to get help. If the ‘plot’ was so alarming and urgent, his delay bordered on incompetence: not what I would expect from a man acknowledged by all to be an efficient soldier and administrator.

[4] . Phillipé De Commynes – Memoirs: the reign of Louis XI 1461-1483 (Penguin 1972) at pages 353-354.

[5] See John Ashdown-Hill- Eleanor: the secret queen (The History Press 2009) at pages 99-116 for intriguing speculation about when and where Edward and Eleanor met, became lovers and were secretly married. See also Peter A Hancock – Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) at 33-43 for an alternative theory about Eleanor and Edward’s marriage. Like all conjecture these are based on inferences drawn from the surrounding circumstances, which may or may not be true. Though both theories are conceivable they differ considerably in their detail, which suggests that at least one of them may be wrong.

[6]. Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard III (Longman Green 1878) at pages 113-115.

[7] Sir Clement Markham –Richard III: his life and character (Alex Struick 2013 paperback edition) at page 101.

[8]. Stallworth’s correspondence is helpfully reproduced in full in Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – (The History Press 2011) at Appendix 1, pages 158-59.

[9]. Michael Hicks -Robert Stillington BNG entry.

[10] Paul Murray Kendal – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) at pages 217-219 and the note 14, page 475; this contains an excellent analysis of Stillington’s reliability as a witness.

[11]. See MA Hicks – False, Fleeting, Perjured Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) at pages 163-164; and Dr John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet (The History Press) at pages 138-146. There is speculation that Stillington had earlier told George Duke of Clarence about the pre-contract, which was the secret reason for Clarence’s execution in 1478. Both Hicks and Ashdown-Hill demolish that theory, though they differ from each other in their explanation of what happened. Personally, I think that the words ‘prejudicial’ uttered by Stillington are much more likely to have been an objection to the lack of ‘due process’ at Clarence’s trial.

[12]. I am not going into the detail of the legal and political problems of king Richard’s constitutional title. I hope to deal with those issues and Titular Regius in another essay.

[13]. See Rotuli Parliamenterum AD1485, 1 Henry VII. The language of Henry’s Act repealing king Richard’s Titular Regius is revealing. First: “ That the original be destroyed and that any copies should be either destroyed or returned to Parliament on pain of fine or imprisonment.” And in case that was not clear enough, second: “ That the said Bill, Act and Record be annulled and utterly destroyed, and that it be ordained by the said authority that the said Act be taken out of the Roll of Parliament and be cancelled, burned and be put into oblivion.” See also R.E. Horrox – Henry VII Parliament, November 1485 in Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (ed C. Given-Wilson), 16 volumes, Vol XV at pages 97 and 328; and Nicholas Pronay et al – Parliamentary Texts of the Late Middle Ages (Clarendon, Oxford 1980) at page 186 (“A Colchester Account of Proceedings in Parliament 1485, by representatives of the Borough of Colchester Thomas Christmas and John Vertue’). This latter (diary) account contains an interesting entry for Wednesday the 15 November 1485, the sixth day of parliament: “there ware qwestionns moved for the commonwel of thise false persons whiche hath reyned many dayes amongs us, and (non) conclusion”. This entry also appears in the appendix of PROME but not in the Roll itself: is it an oblique reference to the discussion surrounding Henry’s Act?

[14]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 153.

[15]. Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (AJ Armstrong, editor) (Oxford 1969 ed) at page 67.

[16]. Gairdner at page 115.

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