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Was Lord Stanley present when Hastings was arrested….?

Thomas Stanley signature

Tomorrow is the 534th anniversary of the council meeting in the Tower that culminated in the arrest of Hastings. There have always been inconsistencies in accounts of that day, but the one I am concerned with is whether or not that treacherous snake, Thomas Stanley, was present. You see, according to whose version one reads, at the climactic moment of Hastings being accused of treason, Stanley could have:-

  • Dived under a table/been mildly hit with a pole-axe (!)/or had hands grab him.
  • Been imprisoned in the Tower/held in custody in his own London lodgings/taken to a separate room.
  • Wasn’t there at all.

You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

So, in an (ultimately unsuccessful) pursuit of the truth, I have tried to pinpoint mentions of him. To do this, the early chronicles etc. have to be consulted. I am not a historian or scholar, so I turned first to the truly excellent William, Lord Hastings, and the Crisis of 1483: An Assessment by Wendy Moorhen (Richard III Society). She examines these early accounts, and the following extracts are taken from her work.

“…[According to the Great ChronicleUpon the same [day] dyned the said lord hastynges with him [Richard] and afftyr dyner Rode behynd hym or behynd the duke of Bukkyngham unto the Towyr. When all were assembled a cry of treason was uttered and the usher burst upon ‘such as beffore were appoyntid’ and arrested Stanley and Hastings, the latter being executed without ‘processe of any lawe or lawfully examynacion’…

“…Mancini portrays the events as beginning with Hastings, Rotherham and Ely making a customary call upon Richard in the Tower at ten o’clock. The Protector at once accused them of arranging an ambush upon him ‘as they had come with hidden arms’ and again, by pre-arrangement, soldiers entered the room, this time accompanied by Buckingham, and despatched Hastings forthwith. ‘Thus fell Hastings, killed not by those enemies he had always feared, but by a friend whom he had never doubted…’

“…Crowland merely reported: ‘On 13 June, the sixth day of the week, when he came to the Council in the Tower, on the authority of the Protector, Lord Hastings was beheaded‘.

“…In More’s account…the most colourful and detailed version…During the scuffle Stanley received a blow that knocked him under a table, with blood about his ears, then with Rotherham and Morton, he was arrested. and they were taken to separate rooms while Hastings briefly made his confession, the Protector having declared he would not eat ’til I se thy hed of’…”

“…It is noticeable after reviewing these different accounts that Thomas Stanley only appears in the Tudor versions. Perhaps his fame was not so great in 1483 when Hastings, Morton and Rotherham took centre stage, but it is worth noting that although he is included with the plotters retrospectively, yet less than three weeks later he carried the constable’s mace at Richard’s coronation. Did Stanley, as the step-father of King Henry VII, need to be seen, in retrospect, as acting against Richard?…” 

I move on to other accounts, mostly modern. Next is a passage taken from Richard III and the Murder in the Tower by Peter Hancock. “……the Earl of Derby was hurt in the face and kept awhile under hold…” Hancock also says “…The consensus is that Lord Stanley (the Earl of Derby) suffered some injury to the face and that a number of blows were aimed at him. One account has it that he dived under the table to avoid attack…” 

Richard III by James Gairdner, who admits that his source is More, whose source in turn was Morton (“a statesman of high integrity” who must have told the truth! Eh?) “…The cautious Stanley had a blow aimed at his head with a pole-axe, but escaped with a slight wound in the face and was taken into custody…”) Hastings, of course, was beheaded immediately. Stanley was released on 4th July. A pole-axe??? And still the varmint survived!

Life of Richard III – Sir Clements Markham does not actually mention Stanley when Hastings was arrested. This writer does, however, say that Hastings was condemned and executed a week later, on 20th June. (Stallworthe to Sir William Stonor).

Henry VII by S.B. Chrimes apparently speculates that Hastings was killed during the confusion, not afterwards by execution. He also says “…for whatever precise reason, Richard ordered his [Morton’s] arrest along with Stanley and Hastings and others, in June 1483…”

Royal Blood – Bertram Fields. “…The other meeting was to take place in the Tower. It was to include Hastings, Morton, Stanley and Rotherham, as well as Richard and Buckingham…Lord Stanley, who was injured in the melee, was confined to his London home….”

Richard III by Paul Murray Kendall has it as follows. “…The second group was requested to attend in the council chamber in the Tower at ten o’clock in the morning. It consisted of Hastings, Stanley, Morton, Rotherham and Buckingham…Richard directly accused Hastings and Stanley and Morton and Rotherham of plotting with the Woodvilles against the protectorship…Perhaps Hastings and Stanley reached for a weapon…Stanley was put on detention in his own lodgings…Stanley’s art of landing on the winning side had not deserted him. In a few days he was not only released but restored to his place on the council….”

Richard III by Charles Ross. “…The two prelates were arrested and confined to the Tower; so too was Lord Stanley, who seems to have been slightly wounded in the affray…”

The Last Knight Errant – Sir Edward Woodville by Christopher Wilkins. “…There was a moment’s silence and then he [Richard] accused Hastings and the two bishops [Archbishop Rotherham and John Morton, Bishop of Ely] of treason. There was shock and fury, shouts of ‘treason’ and armed men rushed into the room. Stanley very sensibly fell to the floor. Hastings was grabbed, held by the guards and told he was to be executed immediately…” Wilkins gives no source for Stanley having flung himself to the floor intentionally. He goes on to say that Stanley was imprisoned in the Tower, as were the two bishops…”

At this point I decided that getting to the bottom of what happened on 13th June 1483 was going to be impossible. I should have known better, because these facts have eluded eminent historians, even though they give firm opinions of what went on and who was there.

So I will give an opinion too. Although Tudor accounts refer to him as the Earl of Derby, which he was not in 1483, other early accounts refer to him as Lord Stanley. I think he was there, that he was part of a conspiracy against Richard, and that it was amazing he not only survived but for some reason managed to be taken back into favour. Teflon Thomas. Richard was too trusting and/or a lousy judge of character. Why that pole-axe didn’t send Stanley into eternity I will never understand! There is no justice. The reptile actually died in his own bed, just like his equally serpentine and undeserving son-in-law, Henry VII!

Stanley's bed before restoration

Thomas Stanley’s bed, before restoration

Supposedly Thomas Stanley - Ormskirk

Believed to be Thomas Stanley and his first wife at Ormskirk church

Or, of course, he was never a conspirator and supported Richard loyally to the end,  which made him an embarrassingly Yorkist father-in-law for Henry Tudor, who was a bit cross about it. Margaret Beaufort adored her husband and feared for his life, so she doctored all the records and made Thomas vow to say he’d always opposed Richard and had even been wounded and arrested on 13th June. Henry believed his mother, made Thomas the Earl of Derby, and they all lived happily ever after. Oh, I don’t know. Over to you…

Stanley the Angel









Richard duke of Gloucester: courage, loyalty, lordship and law[1]


“ Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality that guarantees all others.”

(Winston Churchill 1931)



I do not suppose there are many men who in their heart-of-hearts would not rather be thought of as brave than by any other virtue ascribed to them. For medieval kings courage was not simply a virtue, it was the virtue: the physical courage to defend their throne was a prerequisite for a successful king, though not necessarily for a good one. As Field Marshall Lord Slim was apt to point out to young officer cadets at RMA Sandhurst, “It is possible to be both brave and bad, however, you can’t be good without being brave”. Slim was making the point that it needed more than battlefield courage to be a good man. Physical courage is important, especially to kings and soldiers, but it doesn’t guarantee a ‘good man’; to be a good man, one also needs moral courage. It was the possession of physical and moral courage, which Churchill believed guaranteed all the other human virtues.


King Richard III was a courageous soldier; even his enemies acknowledge that. However, the question is: was he also good man? Broadly speaking, the judgement of history is that he was at best deeply disturbed and at worst malevolent. It is a judgement based largely on the heinous crimes he is supposed to have committed during a six months period in 1483: the usurpation of the throne and the murders of king Edward’s male heirs. Although Richard is said to have committed or been complicit in many other serious crimes, I think it is fair to say that most historians accept that those allegations are not proven, and in one particular case (the death of Henry VI) it may have been more a question of raison d’état.


The trouble with this historical judgement is that it contradicts what Richard’s contemporaries said about him in 1483. Dominic Mancini an Italian priest visiting London during 1482/83 recorded what he was told about Richard duke of Gloucester. He is referring to the period after the duke of Clarence’s execution: “…he (Richard) came very rarely to court. He kept himself within his own lands and set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice. The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers. Such was his renown in warfare that whenever a difficult and dangerous policy had to be undertaken, it would be entrusted to his discretion and generalship. By these arts Richard acquired the favour of the people and avoided the jealousy of the queen from whom he lived far apart.[2]


Mancini’s testimonial also highlights the incongruity of Richard’s supposed crimes. The contrast between his blameless contemporary reputation and his purported crimes (particularly those after April 1483) perplexes historians; it is a dichotomy they struggle to explain.[3] Most of his critics rationalize it with a good dose of twentieth century cynicism: his good works are disingenuous and his mistakes are evidence of bad character. It is a constant theme of his harshest biographers that his ‘loyalty’ to Edward was feigned; that he was in reality a wicked and ruthless opportunist who was motivated by avarice and ambition. When the chance came, he used his great power — which he had either tricked or bullied from Edward — to usurp the throne and destroy the Yorkist line. It was the Yorkist doom that Edward whether purposely or inadvertently made his brother the most dangerous and the ‘mightiest of over-mighty subjects’.[4] This is, I believe a false and misleading argument, since it rests entirely on their interpretation of chronicles and later Tudor histories that are themselves controversial and of little probative value, being neither contemporary nor impartial. Furthermore, Anne Sutton makes a compelling case for the morality, if not the purity, of Gloucester’s motives, which stands against this modern cynicism.[5] Richard was an extra ordinarily complex human being. We know now that he faced some challenging physical problems and possibly some equally challenging psychological issues.[6] Furthermore, he lived in uncertain times. The circumstances under which he served the king were complex as were the difficulties he had to overcome. Problems of historical interpretation most frequently arise from misguided attempts to simplify his story by overemphasising some facets at the expense of others.[7] It is a defect in Ricardian historiography that cannot be corrected in this article; however, I hope to at least draw attention to the problem as I see it.


Inevitably, Richard duke of Gloucester’ was not universally popular: how could he be? His ‘dramatic intrusion into northern society’,[8] coupled with a monopoly of the public offices and the lion’s share of the Neville estates, was bound to ruffle the feathers of those northern magnates and prelates who resented the fact that the king’s largess had not fallen to them, and whose authority and independence were undermined by the presence of an assertive royal duke in northern society. Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, Thomas Lord Stanley and Laurence Booth bishop of Durham disliked him, to name but three: doubtless there were others. Neither do I ignore the possibility that Gloucester possessed human failings typical of active young men throughout the ages; he might have been a little headstrong and impetuous; he was probably also ambitious and possibly even acquisitive. However, these characteristics were no more nor less present in the duke than in any other fifteenth century magnate: certainly not any more than in Henry Percy or the Stanley brothers or any of the Woodvilles, or Margaret Beaufort, John Morton and Henry Tudor; nor indeed was he any more ambitious than any professional historian who aims to do well in his or her chosen discipline. Impetuosity and ambition are not crimes, nor is acquisitiveness. But if he was truly wicked and ruthless and cruel, then nobody who knew him said so at the time. There is a clear distinction to be made between the provenances and the probity of these opposite views of Richard’s character, which affect the weight we should give to each when making a judgement. The favourable opinions were almost all written during his lifetime by northerners who knew him. The unfavourable ones were almost all written after his death by southerners who did not know him personally. Horace Walpole identified the basic problem nearly three hundred years after Richard’s death: “Though he may well have been execrable, as we are told he was, we have little or no reason to suppose he was.[9]


It is a matter of historical record that, apart from the last two years, when he was king, Richard duke of Gloucester spent his entire adult life in the king’s service as ‘Lord of the North’. Quite what this meant for him and why it happened are less well appreciated. The term ‘Lord of the North’ embraced not only the duke’s inherited lands in the north and his associated responsibilities as a royal duke and a great magnate, but also a number of official offices held by him concurrently from 1469 until his own coronation in 1483. He was the Lord High Constable of England (1469), Warden of the West March ‘towards Scotland’ (1470), Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster (1471) Keeper of the Forests Beyond Trent and Steward of Ripon (1472) Sheriff of Cumberland (1475) and finally the King’s Lieutenant General of the North (1480 and 1482).[10] The consolidation of Gloucester’s inherited and appointed power was not gratuitous royal patronage. His promotions were acts of calculated policy by Edward. Having twice experienced the threat posed to the crown by the Scots and by his own ‘over mighty subjects’ in the north, Edward determined neutralize those threats by maintaining a truce with James III, and by securing the loyalty of his northern subjects. He wanted Gloucester to lead that vital task for the crown. It was no sinecure but a dirty, difficult and dangerous job, and his responsibility was great, since he was to be Edward’s mainstay in northern England.[11] Gloucester was the ideal man to implement that policy: he was brave, able and devotedly loyalty to Edward. Neither should it be forgotten that if Gloucester succeeded in stabilising the north, it would enable Edward to pursue his regal ambition in France. It is also worth noting, even at this stage, that Gloucester performed his duties so well that he set the standard of excellence for the governance of the north well into the sixteenth century.[12]


For all that, we should not exaggerate the scope of his powers or the impact of his achievements. First and foremost, he was only the instrument of his brother’s will. He could not make policy: Edward did that. Furthermore, his powers were constrained by feudal laws, liberties and customs. As a March Warden his military authority was limited to the West March. He did, however, have judicial powers in the West March and in his lands elsewhere by virtue of the king’s special commission as Justice of the Peace ‘es parties des north’. As Dr Rachel Reid points out, although the wardship of the West March was a necessary adjunct to the government of the north, ‘the sign and seal’ of Gloucester’s authority so to speak, and although his commission as a JP empowered him to act in civil and criminal matters, his greatest strength was the authority, power and influence he derived from being the greatest magnate in the region.[13] Gloucester’s estates and official offices gave him unparalleled influence and authority in the north, with the exception of those feudalities wherein the earl of Northumberland was lord; that is to say, in Northumberland and the East Riding of Yorkshire[14]


The northern ‘problem’ in retrospect

In the fifteenth century, the northern most counties of Westmorland, Northumberland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire were important because of their proximity to the Scottish frontier. Anglo-Scottish relations were characterised by invasions and raiding, which had affected both populations for centuries. Cross border reiving and lawlessness was deeply ingrained into the English and Scottish border culture. The society was insular and feudalistic in nature and the hatred between English and Scot was mutual. Important though the Scottish problem was, the troubles in the north went deeper. Fifty-one years after Richard III’s death, Robert Aske summed them up to leading Yorkshire denizens at Pontefract “ The profits of the abbeys suppressed, tenths and first fruits, went out of those (northern) parts. By occasion whereof, within short space of years, there should be no money or treasure in those parts, neither the tenant to have pay his rent to the lord, nor the lord to have money to do the king service withal, for so much of those parts was neither the presence of his grace, execution of his laws, not yet but little recourse of merchandise, so that of necessity the said county should either make terms with the Scots, or of very poverty make commotions or rebellions.”


The chief problems identified by Aske of remoteness, poverty and lawlessness were present in the fifteenth century and not just in the North. Wales, the West Country and East Anglia were also remote and lawless, and possibly some were poor. However, none of them formed the frontier to a hostile and aggressive foreign kingdom. It was this that made the northernmost counties uniquely important to the security of the realm. That said, not everybody had to sleep with their weapon to hand for fear of Scottish reiving. For instance, Yorkshire was set back from the border counties, ‘If the Scots crossed the Tees it was not a raid but an invasion’ wrote FW Brooks more than half a century ago. [15] Yorkshire’s importance was that it was the largest and most populace county north of the Trent and it was a base for operations against marauding Scots. This was especially true of York, which during the reigns of the first three Edwards served as the royal capital for a time. The fourteenth century division of the border region into West, Middle and Eastern Marches under the control of the two most powerful Northern families (the Nevilles and the Percies) was seen as the solution to the governance problem. The alternative was for the king to keep a standing army on the border, which for financial and military reasons was impracticable.


The joint powers given to the Neville and Percy families proved ultimately not to be the complete solution. By the fifteenth century the north was practically ungovernable from London. This was due in part to the deficiencies highlighted by Aske and especially to the ‘absence of the king’s presence (he means royal authority) and his justice in the north’. But that was not the only problem; the feudal nature of border society contributed to the  troubles of  a region that was sparsely populated and economically poor.[16] The trouble with the fourteenth century solution was not so much in the idea as in its execution. The belief that the two most powerful northern magnates could cooperate to ensure the peace and security of the north was naïve to say the least. Good governance foundered on their feuding during peace and their fighting during the Wars of the Roses. Northern gentry of the second and third rank regarded the wars between York and Lancaster as an extension of the Neville-Percy feud. They supported one side or the other based on ancient feudal loyalties, or an assessment of their own self-interest. Their prime loyalty was not to a distant king but to their feudal overlord, or to some other overlord, who best served their interest.[17]


Percy power was destroyed at Towton on Palm Sunday 1461. Despite the heavy losses inflicted on the Lancastrians it was not a complete Yorkist victory. The former king, Henry VI, his wife Margaret of Anjou, their young son Edward and a few of their adherents escaped to Scotland where James III gave them refuge and from whence they continued to oppose Edward IV[18]. Meanwhile, Richard Neville earl of Warwick and his brother John Lord Montagu continued to campaign against Lancastrian dissidents so as to secure Edward’s grip on the throne but mostly to cement their own grip on the north. In 1464, a force of ‘loyal northerners’ led by Montagu destroyed the Lancastrian cause at the battles Hedgeley Moor and Hexham. However, as Keith Dockray astutely points out, the ‘loyal northern retinues’ used by John Neville to defeat the Lancastrians were, in point of fact, loyal to the Neville family and not necessarily to the king. They demonstrated this in 1470 when they followed Warwick en block to the Lancastrian side during the Neville inspired rebellion of 1469-70, which started in the north.


‘He set out to acquire the loyalty of his people by favours and justice’

It is against that background that I now turn to consider Gloucester performance in the north in the context of the three virtues touched on by Mancini: loyalty, good lordship and justice.  I have added courage to these virtues on the basis that without courage, Gloucester was unlikely to have shown those other virtues .


Loyaulté me lie

Mancini’s reference to loyalty is interesting since it is a quality of particular importance to Gloucester. His personal motto was ‘loyaulté me lie’ (loyalty binds me) and it was the creed by which he lived. Mancini is, of course, referring to loyalty in its normal sense of ‘keeping faith’; however, Anne Sutton speculates that it was a word that might possibly have had other, additional, shades of meaning for Gloucester: legality, uprightness, obedience to the law and, maybe, justice. Dr Sutton’s speculation is based on the premise that Gloucester might have been familiar with ‘Piers Ploughman’, a work by William Langland in which loyalty carries those several meanings.[20] It is possible that Gloucester’s motto was subtler than we think, since the nuances of meaning found in ‘Piers Ploughman’ are all consistent with what we know of his character.


Whatever Gloucester may have meant by his mottos, it is clear from the contemporaneous records that he laboured hard to safeguard the interests and liberties of ‘his people’. [21] One historian writing in the twentieth century summarised his accomplishments as follows: “ Richard of Gloucester not only restored peace and stability to the north after the upheavals of the 1450s and 1460s but also provided sound government and administration. Frequently working in tandem with Henry Percy earl of Northumberland, he vigorously promoted the cause of impartial justice, whether by enforcing legislation more effectively than hitherto or arbitrating in private disputes[22]; his household council can evidently be regarded as a precursor of the Council of the North; the city of York certainly recognized the value of the duke’s good lordship and support;[23] and Dominic Mancini’s informants clearly left him to believe that Richard had deliberately ’set out to acquire the loyalty of his people through favours and justice.” [24]


‘A right high and mighty prince and full tender and special good lord’[25]

The York Municipal and City Records add substance to the view that the duke of Gloucester was a good friend to York and to other towns in the north. There are many examples of his integrity on the record. They demonstrate his personal interest in local affairs and his integrity in using his influence in a private capacity for the common weal. He settled many disputes between the city council and their fellow citizens, between the city council and neighbouring landowners, between citizens, and between towns, all of which were referred to him for advice, assistance or resolution.[26] I have chosen three representative examples:

  • In 1478 he arbitrated a dispute between Roland Place and Richard Clervaux over hunting rights. Neither Place nor Clervaux was a retainer of the duke, but they lived on his estates in the North Riding. Professor Pollard has helpfully reproduced the arbitration agreement written in English under Gloucester’s name and titles. Pollard notes as an afterthought that the ancestors of Place and Clervaux continued to observe a clause concerning the seating arrangements in the parish church, well into the twentieth century.[27] Gloucester obviously took great care over a dispute that some  might  consider trivial. The rights and privileges of each party are defined in minute detail in the agreement, which was probably drafted by  one of Gloucester’s lawyers, since the language is repetitious and typical of legal documents.
  • At the request of the York City Council, Gloucester took steps to have fishgarths throughout Yorkshire inspected to guard against poaching and to protect the regional economy. It was not a petty matter, since the high prices paid for Pike and other fresh water fish provided a significant income for the fishermen and the city.[28] The erection of fishgarths in Yorkshire was regulated by legislation intended to prevent illegal fishing. The City Council spent much time and money trying to eradicate the problem and they were very grateful to their ‘good lord’, the duke of Gloucester for his interest and efforts to stop the criminality. Nonetheless, it was a perennial problem, which was still being recorded in the council minutes in 1484.
  • He mediated in ‘a serious dispute over the result of the York mayoral election of 1482’.[29] There were two candidates for election: Richard Yorke and Thomas Wrangwyshe. York was elected but Wrangwyshe’s supporters would not accept the vote. The argument assumed ‘alarming proportions’ when the city magistrates sent the certification of Yorke’s election to the king.  When  the king heard of the dispute, he stopped the certification process and ordered the pervious  mayor to continue in office pro tem, whilst the election was investigated. The city magistrates turned to the duke of Gloucester for help; he acted so swiftly that within two weeks he had secured the kings approval to confirm York as the mayor. The interesting point is that Wrangwyshe was considered to be the best soldier in York and stood high in the duke’s estimation, being one of his comrades in arms. Nonetheless, Gloucester upheld the honour and dignity of the city magistrates by supporting what he considered to be their just case against his friend[30].



‘Good and indifferent justice for all’

For all his good works at a local level, it was in his capacity as the leading magnate in the north that he did his greatest and most enduring service for the north. Although the King’s Council in the North was not officially born until late July 1484, it was conceived from Gloucester personal household council during his tenure as Lord of the North. To understand how and why this came about it is necessary to explain, as briefly as possible, the dysfunctional nature of English justice at the time.


The problems for those living north of the Trent were as stated by Aske: ‘the absence of royal authority and of royal justice’. The Assize Judges sat not more than once a year; and anyhow, could only act on a formal indictment, which juries habitually refused to present. The breakdown of the judicial system made enforcement difficult and the work of the sheriff and bailiffs became very hard. Although there were some good judges, many were corrupt and in the pay of great lords. These judges gave judgement as directed by their patrons.  Also, juries were  easily corrupted by fear and favour. “ It was…” writes Dr Reid “…the hardest thing in the world to get a judgement against a great lord or any man well kinned (sic) and allied.[31] JP’s could try cases and punish crime at the Quarter Sessions without the need for an indictment, but the reality was that no ordinary court could cure this widespread and systemic breakdown  of  royal  justice.  Previously, the King’s Council had filled gaps by exercising  its  extraordinary civil and criminal jurisdictions through writs of oyer and terminer, to ‘hear and determine’ all trespasses and breaches of the peace, and all causes between party and party’. However, this usually meant the parties going to London, which was expensive and time-consuming. This defect could easily have been remedied by establishing district courts with the same jurisdiction as the King’s Council. However, for some reason, it was a reform that three Lancastrian kings never even considered.


But it was in the realm of civil party and party litigation that the want of justice was felt most acutely. Dr Reid argues that the common law “…had hardened in the hands of professional lawyers into a premature fixity and precision and had become incapable of devising rules to govern the transactions of a changing society”; whereby, ‘the poor were placed at the mercy of the rich’. [32] Furthermore, the common law courts were neither sufficient nor competent to protect peoples’ civil rights, which were recognised by law even in the fifteenth century. The development of the Chancery Court and the courts of equity eased the situation for those who could afford to litigate but did not help the bulk of the population and certainly not those residing north of the Trent. The common law lent itself to abuse by the litigious and the malicious. Consequently, there was hardly a transaction of life that could not be litigated. The delays, the cost and the insularism of the courts denied justice to many people. In the absence of the king’s justice, therefore, the household councils of the great lords became progressively the de facto courts for resolving local disputes.


These feudal courts had survived longer in the north due partly to its remoteness but also because they filled the vacuum left by the absence of royal justice. They were able to try a range of cases covering personal actions, contractual disputes, trespass, libel, slander, assault, breach of warranty of title and some defamation cases. Moreover, there was no restriction on them determining cases for which the king’s law had no remedy and even if there was a remedy, these seigneurial court could do justice between the parties by consent. For example, by ordering the specific performance of a contract entered into or by protecting a tenant from unlawful eviction. By the fifteenth century, seigneurial courts were, as a matter of course, also hearing complaints against court officials, appeals against judgement, applications for pardon or respite, bills against fellow tenants, and quarrels between tenants and retainers. Useful though they were in providing rough and ready justice, feudal courts had their drawbacks. First, their jurisdiction was limited to the lord’s domain. A lord might arbitrate between his tenants and retainers but it was quite impossible to interfere between a landlord and his tenant no matter how tyrannical the landlord was, unless he was in some way ‘tied’ to the lord. Second, they could not escape the censure  of the king’s  justices, who said that they ‘sacrificed law and justice for interest and favour.’[33] There is probably some truth in this accusation since the importance of patronage in local society was such that it encouraged the preference of personal interest over the law. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that an appeal to the king’s courts was usually beyond the means of most litigants.


Of all the baronial councils offering seigneurial justice, Gloucester’s was the most important.  The records show that the governors of York and Beverley and other towns in Yorkshire were encouraged to turn to it whenever they were in difficulty. This was not simply because he was the greatest magnate but also because his council was the most efficient and impartial. It was constituted from the men of his household council who usually met at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale (which, by the way, he insisted on calling his ‘home’). Their primary function was to help the duke administer his vast estates. However, as we have seen the council quickly assumed a very important judicial role as a seigneurial court of requests. Among Gloucester’s permanent councillors were Lord Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke (Scrope and Greystoke were related to the duke by marriage), Sir Francis Lovell his closest friend and comrade in arms, Sir James Harrington, Sir William Parre, Sir Richard Nele, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalfe. Nele was a King’s Justice of Assize and Metcalfe was the Recorder of York; Parre and Pygott were both practising lawyers ‘learned in the law’. Ad hoc Councillors called occasionally by Gloucester  included Sir James Tyrell (a man of action, used for ‘bold affairs’), Sir Ralph Assheton and (probably) Richard Ratcliffe. The secretary to the Council was John Kendall, son of a loyal servant to the house of York. It was on any view a powerful bench of judges and ‘shrewd men of affairs’. Having said all of that, we must be careful not to overestimate the extent of Gloucester’s achievements. He could neither reform the law to make it more just, nor improve its administration to make justice more accessible. He was unable to alleviate poverty. He was not a liberal reformer and he lived a privileged life that few northerners could even imagine, much less share. And yet he did a wonderful thing; without the need for bloody revolution he made justice more accessible by offering, on a case-by-case basis, “…good and indifferent (that is impartial) justice to all who sought it.“[34]


Gloucester demonstrated through his council that he was prepared to remedy an injustice even if he did not have the authority accorded by a strict interpretation of the law; moreover, he was prepared to use his power to enforce a just settlement. The best example of this is his council’s support for custom tenants against bad landlords. In the time of the Lancastrian kings, the judges held that tenants faced with extortionate fines and illegal eviction had no other remedy but to sue the landlord by petition. [35] The common law courts were too rigid and their officials too easily intimidated to be of help. Nevertheless, in 1482, Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian declared “that his opinion hath always been and shall ever be, that if such a tenant by custom paying his services be ejected by the lord he shall have action of trespass against him’. Brian CJ may, of course, have been expressing his personal view of the correct law as he saw it, which was in contrast to the accepted legal doctrine and practice of the courts. However, there are grounds for thinking that he might equally have been articulating the practice of Gloucester’s household council, which was to treat an illegal eviction by a landlord as a simple trespass. Although we don’t have a written record of such cases, Littleton in his treatise ‘Tenures’ assures us that they did try them.[36] Frankly, it is inconceivable that the council did not hear many petitions and requests from destitute tenants for relief against tyrannical landlords. If they dealt with them in the same way as the ‘King’s Council in the North’ was subsequently to deal with them after 1484, they must have generally upheld the rights of the tenant who had paid his services against the unjust landlord. If so, “ It is easy to understand how Gloucester won the love of the common people beyond the Trent, which was to stand him in such good stead’[37]


Lord High Commissioner

In 1482, on the verge of the invasion of Scotland, Edward made a significant change to the governance of the North. He issued a commission of oyer and terminer to Gloucester and Northumberland as ‘Lord High Commissioners’, which effectively combined their household councils. The composition of the Commission is interesting since it included not only Gloucester and Northumberland but also some significant members of their respective councils augmented by two important judicial appointments. However, there is no gainsaying that the bulk of its membership came from men associated with Gloucester’s council. Sir John Scrope of Bolton, Baron Greystoke, Sir Francis Lovell, Sir Richard Nele, Sir William Parre, Sir James Harrington, Richard Pygott and Miles Metcalf were all either legal or lay members of Gloucester’s council; of the remainder, Sir Guy Fairfax (an Assize Judge on the Northern Circuit) and (possibly) John Catesby were associated with Northumberland. The relationship of Chief Justice Sir Thomas Brian and Sir Richard Clarke to either of the Lord High Commissioners is unclear. The significance of this change is that it turned the essentially private function of seigneurial courts into the king’s justice  in criminal and party and party litigation.


Officially, the commissioners were the king’s servants and in the absence of the duke and the earl who were off fighting the Scots, the remaining members  took steps to enforce  the kings justice.   Their success in repressing rioting that might otherwise lead to insurrection was such that it served to highlight the continuing and endemic lawlessness, which was partly due to a lack of royal authority and partly to the deficiencies in the law to which I have already referred. They also examined and arbitrated effectively in party and party disputes. This commission was valuable experience for the duke of Gloucester since it served as a model for his futuristic ‘King’s Council of the North’ and the basis upon which he reorganised the governance of the north once he became king. It is a fact that no permanent commission designed to keep the peace and provide party and party justice for northern England was set up during the reign of Edward IV and that “the credit for this most necessary reform belongs wholly to Richard III ”[38]


The King’s Council in the North

When Gloucester came to the throne in 1483 he had considerable practical experience of governing in the north and the provision of  justice for all; however, he did not begin immediately to formalise the work of his council. The reasons for this may seem obvious; he was busy dealing with the aftermath of Buckingham’s rebellion and ratifying his title in parliament. It is also possible that he intended to follow the precedent set by Edward IV in 1472 and set up his young son Edward Prince of Wales as the King’s Lieutenant in the North with a council to govern in his name.[39] If that was Richard’s hope, it was to be dashed. Edward Prince of Wales died in April 1484 “not far off Edward’s anniversary.” [40] It was a loss that shook king Richard as nothing else could and for a time he and Anne were almost out of their minds with grief.[41] However, Richard was king and duty-bound to turn his mind to affairs of state.


He decided to make some fundamental change to governance in the north. First, he separated Yorkshire administratively from the border Marches.  The earl of Northumberland was appointed as Warden in Chief of the Marches and granted several estates in Cumberland, which made him the  dominant border lord.  It was his reward for acquiescence in Richard’s accession. Next, Richard appointed John De La Pole, earl of Lincoln as the King’s Lieutenant (he had already been nominated as heir to the throne). [42]The king createdThe King’s  Council of the North from his former ducal  council and Lincoln was its first President.  Northumberland was appointed a member of the Council but was clearly subordinate to Lincoln (It was a downgrading that the proud Northumberland took hard, which may explain his treachery at Bosworth a year later.). To make these changes lawful, king Richard issued two permanent commissions: one authorising the Council to sit as Justices of the Peace, the other of oyer and terminer. With these in place, the council had full civil and criminal jurisdictions and was fit to dispense the king’s justice. Richard allocated an annual budget of 2000 marks for the maintenance of the Council, which was to be paid from the income of his northern estates.[43] The council chamber was moved from Middleham to Sandal and regulations drawn up for the council’s conduct, especially, its judicial function. In particular the regulations directed that the Council must sit at least four times a year. The preamble to these regulations captures Richard’s attitude to justice perfectly “…the Regulations as they are here called, proceed to give general directions that no member of the council, for favour, affection, hate, malice or meed (a bribe) do ne speak (sic) in the Council, otherwise than the King’s laws and good conscience shall require but shall be impartial in all things, and that if any matter comes before the Council in which one of its members is interested, that member shall retire.” [44] There is no need to discuss the detailed regulations since Richard’s respect for the law of the land is clear from the above quote.


It is helpful, however, to briefly mention one important case that came before the Council, which illustrates how Richard thought the legal process should work. In 1484 there was a riot in York that arose from the enclosure of some common land. Roger Layton and two other men ‘riotously destroyed the enclosure’. After some careful thought the Mayor and Council arrested and imprisoned the ringleaders, and sent their man to learn the king’s pleasure. The matter came before the king’s Secretary and Comptroller, Sir Robert Percy[45]; at the same time Lincoln, then at Sandal was informed. A week later Sir Robert arrived at York with a message from the king. The king was willing that the citizens should enjoy their common pasture; however, he reprimanded them for seeking to recover their rights by a riotous assembly, instead of putting their case to the Mayor and Council. If they failed to get justice there, they should have referred the matter to the King’s Council of the North. And if they failed to get lawful redress there they could lay the case before the king. This message was  a clear indication that the King’s Council in the North was to be a court of first instance. Matters were only laid before the King’s Council of State if the King’s Council of the North failed to do justice.  The Council remained throughout its existence, pretty much as it was in 1484 “ Neither its jurisdiction nor its procedures underwent any serious modification. Such changes as came, were just the changes of time.” [46]  In 1640, the Long Parliament abolished the King’s Council in the North.



This article is not really about Gloucester’s governance of the north, or the state of English justice in the second half of the fifteenth century; it is about moral courage. The type of courage described by General Sir Peter de la Billiére in his introduction to ‘The Anatomy of Courage’ by Charles Moran: “Moral courage is higher and rarer in quality than physical courage. It embraces all courage and physical courage flows from it…it is applicable to business, in law, within institutions such as schools and hospitals. It takes moral courage to stand up against a crowd, to assist a victim of bullying, or to reveal negligence where others would prefer it to remain hidden. Moral courage implies the belief that what you are doing or saying is right, and are willing to follow through your conviction regardless of personal popularity or favour: so easy to expound, so demanding to achieve. In my experience a person of high moral courage will seldom fail to demonstrate an equally distinguished level of physical courage”.


The reality is that Richard’s valour in battle, whilst admirable, is not enough to save him from the accusation that he was a bad man. To be given the benefit of the doubt, it is necessary to demonstrate his goodness, with examples of his moral courage and acts of kindness, justice and mercy. That is what I have tried to do in this essay. The examples of Richard’s governance to which I have referred, are merely illustrations of what I regard as his high moral courage. They demonstrate not merely his potential for goodness, but that those who lived under his governance for more than a decade thought he was a good lord.  It is not, of course, a defence against the accusations of, regicide, infanticide, incest and usurpation levelled against him; but then, it can be argued that  an active defence is hardly necessary anyway, since those accusations are only the result of  gossip, rumour and hearsay.


[1] I have taken the liberty of borrowing the idea for this title from the book ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ (PW Hammond (Ed) (R3 and Yorkist History Trust i 1986). It is an excellent volume containing a number of erudite papers presented at a symposium to mark the quincentenary of king Richard III’s reign.

[2] CAJ Armstrong – The Usurpation of Richard the Third by Dominic Mancini (Oxford 1969 edition) p.65. There is a risk in inferring too much from a single source, especially as Mancini’s narrative is hearsay. Nevertheless, I am using it here for good reasons. First, Mancini provides a truly  contemporary assessment of Richard’s character (See Charles Ross–Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p. Lvii, for an opinion on the importance of Mancini’s narrative.). Second, Mancini was no friend of Richard’s; he never met or even saw him. What he knew of Richard’s character he heard from others. Third, given Mancini’s animus towards Richard (He assumed that Richard aimed to seize the throne all along.), this unsolicited testimonial suggests there was truth in his good reputation. Finally, there is contemporary, and independent evidence that corroborates this passage.

[3] Ross (R3) pp. Lxvi and 64: professor Ross acknowledges the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ (in deciding when and why Richard decided to assume the crown) and assures us that modern (20th century) historians ignore the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Richard’s character and motives “ …from a close scrutiny of the events themselves without preconceptions.” He further argues that they have a more critical appreciation of the worth of the Tudor tradition, ” …and a certain unwillingness to throw the whole bodily out of the window, especially when it can be confirmed by contemporary evidence.” It is not clear quite how closely the events are scrutinised by modern historians given the ‘extraordinary difficulties of the evidence’ already alluded to. Furthermore, the near contemporary material cannot corroborate the Tudor tradition since they are one and the same thing. Corroboration means evidence independently confirmed by other witnesses. The so-called ‘Tudor tradition’ is no more that an uncritical résumé of the earlier post Richard material and repeats their mistakes.

[4] Ross (E4) pp.199-203; Ross (R3) p.26; Hicks pp.83-86; Anthony Pollard – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (Bramley Books 1997 edition) pp.83-85; professor Hicks’ angst about Gloucester’s wickedness is so great that he couldn’t resist the following comment: “He was not a great soldier, general or chivalric hero, not a peacemaker, not even a northerner. The great estates he assembled, the north he united and the local tradition he fostered all resulted from a judicious mixture of violence, chicanery and self publicity” (p.85). Gloucester’s ‘dispute’ with Clarence over the Neville inheritance; his behaviour towards the dowager countess of Oxford whilst she was committed to his ‘keeping and rule’, his part in the trial and attainder  of Clarence and his preference for war against France are all cited as examples of his grasping, malicious  and violent  character. The trouble with this opinion is that its validity depends on accusations made after Bosworth by people with an axe to grind and at a time when it suited the Tudors to embroider his shortcomings for their own advantage. For a different opinion see Kendall pp.127-150. It is noteworthy that professor Kendall disregarded the Tudor myth, relying instead on contemporary source material to support his generally favourable interpretation of Gloucester’s behaviour as a duke.

[5] Anne F Sutton – A curious Searcher for our Weal Public: Richard III, piety, chivalry and the concept of the good prince’, published in ‘Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law’ pp.58-90. Ms Sutton’s essay provides an evidenced and balanced view of Richard as a good prince within the medieval context.

[6] Mark Lansdale and Julian Boon – Richard III: a psychological portrait (Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) pp.46-56. Professor Lansdale and Dr Boon offer a number of plausible hypotheses that might explain Richard’s behaviour. Although their professional opinions are necessarily speculative, they do not in my opinion go beyond what might be inferred from the available evidence.

[7] It is interesting (I put it no higher) to analyse the main biographies of Richard written in the last one hundred and fifty years. James Gairdner’s biography (1878) contains 332 pages, of which 52 relate to Richard’s life as duke of Gloucester; the remainder analyse Richard’s reign and the controversies surrounding it. Clement Markham wrote a biography (1898) in direct response to Gairdner’s work. Of its 327 pages, 42 deal with the period 1470-83. Paul Kendall’s biography (1955) is generally positive for Ricardians. Of its 393 pages (excluding appendices and notes), 152 are devoted to Richard as a duke, of those 49 are specifically about his time in the north. Charles Ross’ biography (1999) is — for the want of something better — considered to be the standard work on Richard’s life and reign. It contains 232 pages, of which 39 are devoted to Richard as a royal duke: including 20 pages as ‘Lord of the North’. Finally, Michael Hicks’ biography (2000 revised edition) analyses Richard’s actions in the context of a criminal trial in which Hicks’ prosecutes, defends, and is judge and jury. It contains 199 pages, the story of Richard’s life before April 1483 being compressed into 31 of them. My analysis is, of course, academic since it does no more than suggest that quantitatively, the first thirty years of Richard’s life get significantly less attention than the last two; it does not examine the reason for that. Nevertheless, it suggests to me that Ricardian studies may benefit from a new scholarly biography of Richard’s life and reign. Hopefully, it would be one that emulates in its breadth, thoroughness and objectivity Cora Scofield’s definitive account of Edward IV’s life and reign (including all that ‘merciless detail’ that professor Hicks found so tiresome), and Professor Ralph Griffiths’ equally comprehensive and objective biography of Henry VI. I live more in hope than expectation.

[8] Pollard (R3) p71-73

[9] Horace Walpole – Historic doubts on the life and reign of King Richard III (1768)

[10] Ross (R3) pp.24-26; Keith Dockray – Richard III: a source book (Sutton 1997) pp.32-33.

[11] Annette Carson – Richard duke of Gloucester as Lord Protector and High Constable of England (Imprimis Imprimatur 2015) pp. 23-26 and 61 contains a guide to the office of constable of England and Gloucester’s chivalric, martial and judicial powers. The duchy of Lancaster had held palatine status since 1351 and was independent of royal authority. Its lands in the north were vast and its power great; so much so that the Lancastrian kings retained the title of duke of Lancaster to themselves to prevent diminution of royal authority. On ascending the throne, Edward IV held the dukedom in abeyance but reserved to himself its authority, benefits and responsibilities. As Chief Steward of the duchy, Gloucester was the chairman of the council appointed by the king to administer the duchy territories.

[12] Paul Kendall – Richard III (George Allen & Unwin 1955) pp. 129,456 note 7 (citing Letters and papers of the reign of Henry VIII by JS Brewer, London 1864-76, 1, 2, pp.1054, 1260). Lord Dacre, Warden of the West March complained to Wolsey that he shouldn’t be expected to match the accomplishments of Richard duke of Gloucester. Predictably, he was told that he must provide the same standard of effective governance as the duke.

[13] Rachel Reid – The King’s Council in the North (Longman Green & Co 1921) p.27 et al

[14] Ross (E4) p.199; professor Ross argues that that it is not true that Northumberland was placed under Gloucester’s ‘supervisory authority’ as suggested by Cora Scofield and Paul Kendall. He relies on the indentures made between the duke and the earl in 1473 and 1474, which did indeed separate their authority. On his interpretation of those indentures any subordination was a private matter and not official, and the earl’s freedom of action was assured. Unfortunately, professor Ross (not for the first time) fails to read between the lines to understand what was really happening. There was indeed some early friction between the duke and the earl, arising from Northumberland’s resentment that Gloucester had inherited the Neville mantle and was an obvious threat to Percy hegemony and independence in the north. The indenture of 28 July 1474 (Dockray [sources] p. 34) was intended to calm the situation by confirming their relationship as being that of a ‘good lord’ and his ‘faithful servant’, which was the conventional arrangement, since a royal duke trumped a belted earl in status. However, the caveat inserted into the indenture that Gloucester would not to interfere with Northumberland’s duties as warden of the east and middle marches or poach his servants, was a sensible recognition of the feudal reality and a concession to the touchy earl (see Dockray [sources] p.35 for evidence of Northumberland’s touchiness). The Percy’s were notorious trimmers; they had fought against a Lancastrian king at the turn of the fifteenth century and for a Lancastrian king during the Wars of the Roses. Although their power was effectively destroyed at Towton, they played a major and distinctly treacherous part in the northern rebellions of the early 1460’s. Although, Edward never forgot their treachery, he needed Percy assistance during the 1470’s and was keen not to upset them: Gloucester obviously concurred. There can be little doubt that the indentures were a fiction to preserve Northumberland’s pride. In reality he had less influence in the north than Gloucester. Significantly, Edward was quick to clarify his brother’s supreme authority by appointing him the king’s Lieutenant General in the North when he decided to invade Scotland: not once but twice. By 1482 Gloucester was endowed with what amounted to quasi-royal authority to conduct the war (or peace) with Scotland.

[15] FW Brooks – The Council of the North (Historical Association 1953, revised edition 1966) p.6

[16] AJ Pollard – North, South and Richard III, published in ‘Richard III: crown and people (J Petre –Ed) (Richard III Society 1985) pp.350-51. Pollard refers to various local studies that show northern England to have been ‘economically backward’ at this time. Although the six counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire and Yorkshire occupied about a quarter of England’s total area, they accounted for only 15% of the population (Pollard’s best guess).

[17] Brooks p.10

[18] Ross (E4) pp.45-49

[19] Keith Dockray – Richard III and the Yorkshire Gentry 1471-85, published in Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law pp.38-57. Only the personal intervention of Henry Percy (heir to the earl of Northumberland killed at Towton) prevented the northerners from attacking Edward and his small entourage when they landed on the Yorkshire coast in 1471.

[20] Sutton (R3, piety etc.) p.62

[21] Robert Davies – Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (London, 1843); and the York Civic Records, supra; Chris Given-Wilson (Gen Ed) – The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England (Boydell Press 2005): Rosemary Horrox (Ed) Volume 14, pp. 412 & 425; Washington DC, Library of Congress, Thatcher 1004 (a letter from Gloucester to Sir Robert Claxton, 12 August 1480, which is reproduced in Pollard (R3) p.237) and Mancini supra

[22] Calendar Patent Rolls Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III -1476-85, p.339; T Stapleton (Ed) Plumpton Correspondence (Camden Soc 1839) pp.31-33 & 40 and A Raine (Ed) – York Civic Records (Yorkshire Archaeological Society Records Series 1939) Vol 1, PP.2-3.

[23] YCR pp.15-16, 51-52 & 54

[24] Dockray (R3 sources) pp. 30, 34-37

[25] Davies p.89; this is a quote from a letter from the York City Council to the duke of Gloucester.

[26] Reid p.58; Davies passim

[27] Pollard (R3) pp.231-32, and Appendix 1, pp.234-236. The original arbitration agreement is in North Riding County Record Office, Clervaux Cartulary, ZQH.

[28] Davies pp.80-95; the cost of Pike ranged from 10s.3d to 11s.3d ‘a piece’ old money, which equates to about 52-62p today.

[29] Kendall pp135-37; see also Davies pp140-41

[30] Dorothy Mitchell – Richard III and York (Silver Boar 1987) p.27; Alderman Thomas Wrangwyshe was a colourful character indeed. Aged about forty-five in 1482. He commanded a company of archers in Gloucester’s Scottish campaigns. In 1483 he personally led 300 men from York to be at the king’s side during Buckingham’s rebellion. He was a rough diamond, with a distinctly ‘Ricardian’ sense of justice. In one case in January 1485, when he was the Mayor, he sent a man to the gaol for being cruel to another man, who was, in the stocks. The sergeants were escorting the prisoner to the city gaol, when a ‘large group of his heavily armed friends’ tried to release him. Wrangwyshe, hearing the violent affray, stormed into the street and settled the fight with his fists; thereafter he grabbed the prisoner in ‘his strong hands’ and  dragged him off to the gaol. Wrangwyshe was a  formidable fighter in and out of the council chamber and seems to have won Gloucester’s friendship.

[31] Reid p.47

[32] Reid p.48

[33] Reid p.54

[34] Reid p.58: the sub-heading for this section is paraphrased from a sentence in Dr Reid’s work on the council of the north, which reads as follows “Richard did not reserve his favour for the victims of economic change. In his Council he offered good and indifferent justice to all who sought it, were they rich or poor, gentle or simple”.

[35] There was an upsurge in unfair fines and illegal evictions due to economic factors on the continent, which was driving-up the price of wool and hides (the North’s most marketable commodity). As a consequence, the value of pastureland increased. Tenants who held manor lands by feudal custom were liable to have their land enclosed by ruthless landlords intent on turning arable land or rough common land into valuable pasture.

[36] Reid pp. 57-58 citing Sir Thomas de Littleton- Tenures (published 1482) (1841 edition) Sec 77; Brian CJ’s dictum was incorporated into the 1530 edition of Littleton. Sir Thomas de Littleton (1407-1481) was an English judge and jurist. His treatise on ‘tenure’ was the standard legal textbook on the law of property until the nineteenth century.

[37] Reid, ibid

[38] Reid p.59

[39] Reid pp.59-61

[40] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) p.171

[41] Pronay; ibid

[42] Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond (Eds) – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1982), Vol 3, pp. 107-08 [f264b]. The Commission creating the Council and appointing the earl of Lincoln as its first president is undated. However, Lincoln was at the time Richard’s heir and so the Commission must have been signed after the death of the Prince of Wales, probably around the 24 July 1484.

[43] Harleian MS433, Vol 3, pp. 114-117 [f 270]); see also Reid pp. 58-70 for a detailed appreciation of Richard’s regulations governing the council’s conduct.

[44] Harleian MS433, ibid; I think there may be  a double negative in Richard’s regulations.

[45] Mitchell p.30; Sir Robert Percy (not a member of the Northumberland Percies) was king Richard’s closest personal friend after Francis Lovell; the three had trained together at Middleham. Faithful to the end, he died fighting beside his king in the final charge at Bosworth. Percy’s son was attainted after the battle of Stoke in 1487.

[46] Reid p.62

Insurrection: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace

insurrectionAn intriguing new book by historian Susan Loughlin is about to be published by The History Press on April 4th of this year (2016) detailing an event in world history that has perhaps gone unnoticed by some historians and those who run with the history blogs and bloggers.



Susan at The Angel and Royal Inn in Grantham outside the door of the room where Richard 3 signed Buckingham’s death warrant.



I first “met” Susan Loughlin  on the popular Facebook group “Ricardian” administered by author Stephen Lark that has over 1,000 members and counting.  (I’m one of the 7 moderators of that group.)  Susan has always brought her serious and knowledgeable input to issues relating to King Richard the Third and is known for her spunky attitude towards historians and others who dare to hand out misinformation about this much maligned king.  But her new book is not about Richard but relates the story of  Henry VIII and a popular rebellion that occurred in 1536 when 30,000 men took up arms against the king during the dissolution of the monasteries.  Her book “Insurrection:  Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace” is available for pre-order at and will be available in the USA/Canada in June/July:


I was lucky enough to interview Susan this past month.  Here are some of her thoughts on her life, her new book and Ricardian issues.

Susie, can you tell us something about where you were born and grew up?

I was born in London, the daughter of Irish immigrants and grew up in the northern suburbs of the city.  I was educated at primary and secondary schools in Muswell Hill and Finchley.

Tell us something about your education.

I am grateful to the wonderful teachers I was fortunate enough to have – in particular, Mr. Steven Lilly, who encouraged my curiosity and love of the Humanities.  I vividly recall being taught the ‘traditional’ version of the Wars of the Roses at secondary school and recently had a conversation about this with my old school friend, Lydia.  We both remember being unconvinced by the narrative we were told with regard to Richard III.

I received eight O Levels and three A Levels (including one in History) and obtained a place in three UK universities to study History.  However, I decided to go to work for a year and deferred my places.  I then got used to a regular salary:  I took driving lessons, holidays, and in particular, a wonderful trip to California.  I remained working and changed careers to work in Local Government in London.  I also studied for my professional qualification whilst working and spent a number of years delivering front-line services in the London Borough of Barnet; the second largest borough.  Of course, Barnet was the site of one of the most prominent battles of the Wars of the Roses.  There are many roads in the area which bear testimony to this:  Gloucester Road, Warwick Road, Plantagenet Road, York Road, Lancaster Road and Woodville Road!  In addition, the local County Court sessions were held in a building named Kingmaker House!

When I relocated to Ireland, I decided to embark upon my study of History at the National University of Ireland, Galway.  This institution began life by Royal charter in the reign of Queen Victoria and was originally known as Queen’s University, Galway – a sister to the institutions in Belfast, Dublin and Cork.  Following the establishment of the Irish Republic, Galway became known as University College of Galway and most recently, the National University of Ireland, Galway.

I decided to pursue my passion for History, Classical Civilizations and Political Science.  It would have been tempting to take a pragmatic approach and opt for a potentially safe and lucrative path, such as Law, but I decided to pursue my own interests, for my own pleasure.  Academia is incredibly competitive and most people do not enter it in expectation of materialistic dividends.  It is, in fact, a labour of love.

I studied many different modules of History, including Irish, European, and English.  My A Level included Early Modern history, so I was drawn, in particular, to these subjects.  I was fortunate enough to study under many fine lecturers, including Professor Steven Ellis, a Tudor expert and the head of both the History department and the School of Humanities.  I am grateful for being endowed with the title University Scholar during my BA degree and graduated with First Class honours in both History and Political Science.  I then began studying for my research PhD, under the direction of Professor Ellis and obtained a scholarship and the title Galway Doctoral Research Fellow.

And here I was so proud of my little BA!  But I’m so happy to hear you defend the study of History and other areas of intellect when so many of people think University’s raison d’etre is to end up in a well-paying job.  That attitude is one of my pet peeves.

Please tell us what made you a Ricardian?

As I mentioned, I remember being taught the standard version of events regarding Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth and how Henry VII reunited the Houses of Lancaster and York.  However, like my school friend, I had misgivings with regard to the portrayal of Richard III.  He just appeared like a pantomime villain character and actually reminded me of the cartoon character ‘Dick Dastardly’ from ‘Wacky Races’!  Something just didn’t sit right and I was left with a lingering curiosity about the man.  I met a friend at work, who had actually studied Richard’s reign for both her BA and MA.  She was utterly convinced that the king was a victim of a Tudor smear campaign.

When I started studying Henry VIII in depth, I realized what a deeply insecure individual he was.  His father’s ‘claim’ to the throne was, at best, flimsy and by all accounts, Henry VII was extremely paranoid.  This trait was evidently passed on to his son.  Henry VIII was totally obsessed with securing the Tudor dynasty by providing a male heir; something which eluded him until the birth of Prince Edward in 1537.  It occurred to me that only interlopers would be insecure and systematic in their attempt to conceal the truth and justify their own positions.  It is well known how Henry VII behaved in eradicating Plantagenet claimants; a task completed by his son with the obscene execution of the sixty-seven year old Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole.  (Margaret’s son, Reginald, was in exile on the continent and managed to avoid capture, despite Henry having assassins in pursuit of him.)

That has got to be one of the more grisly of Henry VIII’s many grisly acts!  There is a paucity of evidence for Richard’s reign – why is  this?

The contemporary accounts which do exist are contradictory and flawed.  It is not the place for a discussion of the sources here but I would recommend Annette Carson’s Richard III:  The Maligned King, The History Press, Stroud, 2013, pp. 330-348  for a succinct appraisal.  What I would add, however, is that it is simply preposterous to any serious historian to accept either Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III or Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of King Richard III (written in 1592) as sources.  More was born in 1478 and, as such, was five years old when Richard was crowned.  In addition, his mentor had been John Morton.  The same Morton who had conspired against Richard and was Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VII in 1486.

More’s work was never finished.  Why was this?

I find it incredulous that one of the leading Humanist scholars of the day (a frequent correspondent of Erasmus) should have included such demonstrably ludicrous ‘facts’ as Richard being born after a two year gestation, with a full set of teeth.  My own view is that Thomas More was, to use a London colloquialism, ‘having a laugh’.

A central tenet of my own personality is contempt for injustice.  Given the lack of credible sources and blatant Tudor propaganda, I believe Richard III has been vilified, without the evidence to support such claims.

Let me be clear, I do not hold a romanticized view of the man nor perceive him as a knight in shining armour.  He was not a saint.  Far from it.  But let us place him in the context of his times and not project our own values onto him.  Let us not assume to know him or his thoughts from small crumbs of evidence.  He was a medieval magnate and king.  He did things that were necessary to survive and protect his own interests.  Did he love Anne Neville or marry for land and wealth?  Frankly, I do not care!  We cannot speculate about his mind-set.  We cannot extrapolate grandiose theories from what little we have.  He was not a Lollard; neither was he a Renaissance prince.  He was simply a prince of the blood, forced into a situation where he had, I believe, no option but to accept the crown offered to him by the Three Estates of the Realm.  What was the alternative?  I leave you to ponder that.

I will!

Richard III is a ‘victim’ of injustice – caused not only by Tudor propaganda but the chaotic set of circumstances that his brother, King Edward IV bequeathed to him.

Yes, Edward certainly left a mess.  Given your Ricardian bona fides, how did you turn to the subject of Henry the 8th and the dissolution of the monasteries?

My university did not offer a module on The Wars of the Roses, so, as discussed above, I studied English, Irish and European Early Modern History.  Professor Ellis is a specialist in peripheral Tudor regions and administration and also in the religious aspects of Henry VIII’s reign.  We decided that I would research the Pilgrimage of Grace – it combined a study of the North of England and the Henrician religious experiment.

Let’s talk about your new book.  Perhaps because I’m American, I do not know much about the pushback of 30,000 men against Henry’s very famous actions.  Can you tell us a little about these men and what they did or did not accomplish?

That’s interesting, Maire, because I was completely unaware of the Pilgrimage of Grace until I studied it as an undergraduate under Professor Ellis.  It had obviously been ‘air-brushed’ out of conventional, general, Whig interpretations of the English Reformation.  Hence, only those in academia or with an avid and thorough knowledge of the reign of Henry VIII would be familiar with it.  And I shudder when I think of the inaccurate portrayal of the event in the TV series, ‘The Tudors’!

Essentially, the Pilgrimage was the largest popular rising against a Tudor monarch and had the potential to threaten Henry’s throne.  30,000 men, of all social orders took up arms against the king in the autumn of 1536.  Their intentions were abundantly clear – they wished for a return to the ‘old ways’ of religious worship, for the monasteries to stand and for Princess Mary’s reinstatement as Henry’s heir.

The Pilgrims succeeded in so far as the king was forced to agree to a truce in order to cease hostilities and a copy of the rebels’ grievances were taken to him by two of the rebel leaders.  Henry was indignant and felt that his honour was much diminished and reluctantly agreed to consider their grievances and convene a parliament in York to discuss the issues.  He issued a pardon but it is apparent that he had no intention of honouring it – he only wished to stop the rising’s momentum.  When some disenchanted rebels realized that the King and Duke of Norfolk had been duplicitous, further risings ensued in 1537.  This afforded Henry the opportunity to seek retribution for the events of the previous autumn.

The Pilgrimage was a missed opportunity for religious conservatives and the book discusses the pitfalls that prevented the movement achieving its explicit aims.  One rebel, however, is particularly interesting, in that he did not fit the usual Pilgrim ‘profile’ and is something of an enigma.  Sir Francis Bigod was a Yorkshire gentleman and a known Evangelical.  His behavior has been somewhat a puzzle to historians.  In 1536, he was a staunch defender of King Henry’s religious innovations and expressed his desire to be a priest and preacher in a letter to Cromwell in April.  A few months earlier, he had reported the Abbot of Whitby for denying the Royal Supremacy.  Thus his involvement as one of the leaders of renewed rebellion in January 1537 is hard to reconcile with his previous behavior.  He even wrote a treatise denouncing the Royal Supremacy and arguing the king could not have ‘cure’ of his subjects’ souls.  Needless to say, he paid the price with his life.

The book also examines the punishment handed out by a vengeful monarch and explains why some former rebels managed successfully to rehabilitate themselves.  The links between retribution and reward are examined in a study of patronage and the governance of the region in the aftermath of the rebellion.

Another rising in the North was not attempted against until 1569, in the reign of Elizabeth, but this, I would suggest, illustrates the latent conservative nature of the inhabitants and a lingering resentment with changes imposed upon them by force and betrayal.  Historians Michael Bush and David Bownes have argued that if the Pilgrimage had succeeded the Anglican Church was ‘certain’ to return to Roman Catholicism and that the dissolutions would not have occurred (see Bush & Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace, University of Hull Press, 1999).  Had the Pilgrimage been successful, the course of English religious history, would arguably have been very different.

As always, English history fascinates and perplexes at the same time.  Thank you, Susie and congratulations on your new book. Read more…

Usurpation, Murder and More

Some thoughts on source material about events of 1483, the pre-contract and murder.

Matt's History Blog

I read a series of blog posts recently that sought to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Richard III ordered the deaths of his nephews. Whilst I don’t take issue with holding and arguing this viewpoint I found some of the uses of source material dubious, a few of the accusations questionable and some of the conclusions a stretch. There are several issues with the narrow selection of available sources that continually bug me. It is no secret that any conclusive evidence one way or another is utterly absent but I have issues with the ways the materials are frequently used.

There are four main sources that are often used, two contemporary and therefore primary sources and two near-contemporary which are habitually treated as primary. The farthest away in time from the events that it describes is also the one traditionally treated as the most complete and accurate account, which…

View original post 4,469 more words

Are you serious, Mr Jones….?

Hairy, phallic Richard


Oh, good grief, now we have a bearded Richard (totally evil, of course) courtesy of Dan Jones. Mr Jones is having a laugh, right? Must be.


“There was a man …

… his name was Rouse. He had the key to every house.
He was suspected and then arrested …”

Alfred Arthur Rouse ( was an ostensibly happily married commercial traveller, to Lily May Watkins, when in London. In other regions, he was a bachelor or occasionally “married” to a different woman. To end his first “life” and , he killed a hitch-hiker but was caught and executed.

John Rous was a veteran Warwickshire prelate and writer of the Rous Roll, praising the House of York and Richard III in particular. After the accession of Henry VII, he wrote Historia Regum Angliae, reversing his earlier verdict ad absurdam, either at the behest of the first “Tudor” or in a vain attempt to save the life of Edward, Earl of Warwick.

The Maligned Ricardians

Part 2 – Sir George Buck

“The historiographer must be veritable and free from all prosopolepsies and partial respects; he must not add or omit anything, either of partiality or of hatred.”

(Sir George Buck – The History of King Richard III)



Sir George Buck (1560-1622) faithfully served two English Monarchs in a distinguished career spanning forty years. He was variously a sailor, soldier, diplomat, courtier, Member of Parliament, member of the Privy Chamber and last the King’s Master of Revels from 1610 until shortly before his death in 1622. He was also a noted antiquarian and highly regarded by other leading scholars of his day. The duke of Buckingham thought he was one of the few scholars qualified to compose an English Academy.[1] In addition, he was an author who wrote seriously about serious subjects. He published a number of historical treatises and other works, some of which are no longer extant. Those that we have show him to be a conscientious and thorough researcher and a learned scholar. His work in the Revels office is testament to his literary and gentlemanly qualities; during his tenure he made regulations and strictures about profanity, blasphemy, religious controversy, the presentation of royalty on stage and politically sensitive issues. And yet his notoriety is derived chiefly from the publication in 1646 of his magnum opus, the History of King Richard III, which for convenience I shall call ’Buck’s History’.


My idle curiosity about Buck was first aroused by something Paul Kendall wrote in his biography of king Richard III. His poor opinion of Buck’s History seems so incongruous compared to his good opinion of the author and his historical achievement that the circumstances are worth quoting in full: “The first substantial assault [on the Tudor tradition] was delivered about the same time by Sir George Buc (sic), Master of the Revels to king James I and a man of considerable learning and industry, one of whose ancestors had fought for Richard at Bosworth Field. His “History of King Richard III in five books, first published in 1646 and then included in White Kennett’s ‘ Complete History of England’ 1710, is so desultory in organisation as to make for grim reading; it is blundering and uncritical, and as prejudiced in its direction as the tradition it attacks. Yet it is Buc (sic) who first makes use of the manuscript of the Croyland Chronicle to point out some of the inaccuracies in Vergil and More, who seeks sources more nearly contemporary with Richard than the Tudor writers, and who was the first to reveal that the tradition was not inviolable.”[2], Kendall referred to Buck again In his introduction to the ‘Great Debate, describing him as a Yorkist partisan and his History as ‘cumbersome and capricious’.[3]


I was at a loss to understand how a man of such learning, industry and achievement could write something so dreadful that Kendal thought it desultory, blundering, uncritical, prejudiced and capricious. Sadly, idleness and not curiosity got the better of me. I did not bother to read Buck’s History until after the discovery of king Richard’s grave in 2012. The recovery of his earthly remains re-awakened my long dormant interest in his life and times. I soon realized that almost every historian who bothered to write about Buck’s History in the three centuries since its first publication shared Kendall’s disdain for it. The list of its faults and deficiencies is far too long for me to catalogue here. At the very least Buck is accused of partiality, of singularity and of being a professional panegyrist. His professional competence and integrity have been attacked by implications that he fabricated evidence and misread his sources. The consensus of historical opinion is that Buck’s History’ is worthless. The sharp contradiction between the good opinions of Buck’s learning and industry and the denigration of his History raises a literary conundrum, which I hope to explain in this piece and thereby showing why Buck’s reputation as a careless and irresponsible historian is undeserved.


The History of King Richard III 1646

Dr Arthur Kincaid has no doubt that “ The picture which critics over the intervening centuries have handed down to us of Buck as a careless and irresponsible scholar has attached to him accidentally from two major causes. The first is the carelessness of those who wrote about him and did not seek far enough for his sources.” I pause there simply to point out, as Kincaid does, that there may be many genuine reasons why documents referred to by Buck are no longer extant or cannot be found: fire, vermin and other calamities may have destroyed or damaged some documents, and miscataloguing might result in others being lost, It is worth also briefly referring to one example of the “extraordinary carelessness” of a t least one twentieth century historian when criticizing Buck. It concerns AR Myers’ introduction to the 1973 reprint of the 1646 Edition. Myers gives three examples of what he says is Buck’s unreliability. The first, is an assertion that Buck omitted ‘the crucial’ Latin word (violenti) when quoting from Croyland. Kincaid contends that quite apart from the question of whether ‘violenti’ was a crucial word in the context of Buck’s point, Myers fails to explain that there is no way anybody can ascertain whether Buck actually did exclude the word, since the section of the original manuscript where it would have appeared has been burned away. Myers second point is, in Kincaid’s opinion, “ so blatant an example of either carelessness or perversity on Myers part that it vitiates anything else he may have to say. It is a claim that Buck ‘quotes a statement from Camden that no one has seen since’.” Kincaid comments that, leaving aside the impossibility of proving that ‘nobody has seen a document’, the statement from Camden’s ‘Britannia’ to which Buck referred “ can be most easily be located in that work by looking-up ‘Richard III’ in the index and turning to the page number there listed.” It seems that Myers had not even bothered to check Camden’s ‘Britannia’ for himself. Myer’s third point cannot be investigated, since he cites an incorrect page number.[4] Another notable feature of Buck’s History, which his critics fail to mention is that of the many hundreds of sources he has cited only a handful remain unaccounted for.[5]


However, in Kincaid’s opinion: “by far the worst damage to Sir George’s scholarly reputation derives from the amazing alterations made to his work by the mysterious George Buck, Esq., who in the year 1646, twenty-four years after the author’s death published a truncated and heavily revised version of the ‘History’ under his own name.” [6] One gets a feel for just how truncated the 1646 edition is from the fact that it is less than half the length of Buck’s original. As usual, the devil is in the detail and Kincaid goes to considerable lengths to examine that detail.[7]. I can only summarise the changes. Some are stylistic and the work benefits from these since the original tends to verbosity and lacks “grammatical subordination”.[8] Unfortunately, the substantive revisions went too far; brevity was achieved only by drastically summarising important material. The result is a loss of nuance and a briefness that undermines the effectiveness of Buck’s arguments. Any criticism of John Morton is softened. Much of the marginal documentation (equivalent of today’s footnotes) is either omitted altogether or copied incorrectly. Information that Buck obtained by word of mouth (e.g. from the antiquarian John Stow) is reduced to the status of hearsay. Printing and copying errors abound and the younger Buck’s florid style masks the sense of the Buck original. The list of defects goes on.[9]


A good example of the damage done to Buck’s original can be seen in the treatment of the famous letter from Elizabeth of York to the duke of Norfolk in which, inter alia, she expressed her concern that Queen Anne would never die.[10] In his original manuscript, Buck is responding to the accusation that Richard murdered his wife and afterwards proposed marriage to his niece, Elizabeth. He offers this letter as a supplement to his main point that Richard had no reason to murder Anne if he wished to re-marry; he could have divorced her. The letter is merely indicative of Elizabeth’s youthful naivety in not realizing that a man did not need to kill his wife in order to re-marry. In the original, this letter is not offered as proof positive of anything.[11] In the 1646 edition, the context of Buck’s original discussion is changed. Now, the emphasis is on the accusation that Richard proposed marrying Elizabeth after murdering Anne and that Elizabeth detested the prospect, as if these were the main points to be disproved. The younger Buck then cites the letter as evidence disproving them. Regrettably, he fails to mention that the Sir George Buck had actually seen and read this letter, which was shown to him by his patron Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, a descendant of the Duke of Norfolk.   It was a crass misrepresentation Buck’s original argument and an omission that would cause later historians to question his integrity.[12]


The History of King Richard III 1979

The truth is that Scholars have known of the existence of Buck’s original manuscripts for centuries. However, they seemed to have casually assumed that the original and the printed edition were so similar as not to matter. It wasn’t until the first quarter of the twentieth century that Frank Marcham, whilst writing of Sir George Buck, suggested that “ because ‘the edition of 1646 is nearly worthless,’ and the original ‘contains a good deal of interesting information on literary matters’, the History’ should be carefully edited’”.[13] In the last quarter of the twentieth century Dr Arthur Kincaid produced such a work. His modern edition of Buck’s original manuscripts is both scholarly and comprehensive. From it we get a much more accurate appreciation of Buck’s contribution to the Ricardian narrative and his historiological achievement.

Although Buck was naturally sympathetic to Richard, he approached his ‘History’ like a defence lawyer: on the basis of evidence where it exists, and where it does not exist he attacks the prosecution’s lack of evidence. If he cannot exonerate Richard, he mitigates on the basis of precedent or raison d’état. His prolixity, which some complain of, is deliberate. It is a lawyerly characteristic, which though annoying to those who like a more analytical style, has the virtue of ensuring comprehensiveness by providing facts with explanation, thereby reducing the risk of misunderstanding caused by a casual précis. For example, Buck believes he has already produced sufficient evidence to prove that Perkin Warbeck is actually Richard duke of York.[14] However, more evidence is available if required, which from an abundance of caution Buck includes (abundans cautela non nocet). This was the method by which he constructed Richard’s defence and it was his thoroughness that enabled him, for instance, to be the first historian to recognize the irony underlying Sir Thomas More’s own History of king Richard III. Nonetheless, it is true that sometimes he allowed his enthusiasm too much scope; his long genealogical digressions add nothing to the Richard’s defence. The criticism that his style is pedantic is probably justified.


Buck’s research is truly extensive[15]. He uses classical and religious sources as well continental ones, which he deploys as evidence or precedents. For example, when he is arguing that the historic judgment of Richard is unduly harsh compared to the judgments passed on other kings who committed the same or worse acts, he uses Henry IV as an example of a king with a good reputation who actually deposed an anointed king and usurped the crown. Of the Tudor sources, he relies primarily on Thomas More and Polydore Vergil, supplemented by cross-references to the likes of Rouse, Fabyan, Grafton, Hall and Holinshed. He also trusted his friend, the antiquarian and historian, John Stow who was a discerning and relatively objective source with whom Buck could discuss his work.


Buck’s best contribution to the Ricardian debate is his use of the second continuation of the Croyland Chronicle to undermine the veracity of the Tudor tradition. The importance of Croyland lay in its independence from Sir Thomas More and the official Tudor sources. Buck was also the first to use Titulus Regius to prove both More and Vergil wrong about the basis of Richard’s title to the crown[16]. His documentation was methodical. He indicated in the margins of his manuscript all his primary sources and their whereabouts. He made a point of seeing sources for himself; where that was impossible, he quoted trusted colleagues who had seen the relevant source (e.g. Sir Edward Hoby who had seen Morton’s polemic).


Buck’s ethical approach to historiography is described in his dedication: The historiographer must be veritable and free from all prosopolepsies and partial respects; he must not add or omit anything, either of partiality or of hatred.” As Dr Kincaid observes that is an ethical standard any historian would be proud of.[17] Buck had no interest in concealing the truth. His motives are charitable, since he believed that all historians should show charity. He wrote the History of King Richard the Third because he believed the common chronicles were wrong. The accusation that he was uncritical, is not only unfair it is also untrue. He fully appreciated the difficulty of judging the reliability of sources. He had this general advice for those following Tudor sources: “And I advertise this by way of caution, because they that read their books should be well advised to consider and examine what they read, and make trial of such doubtful things as are written before giving credit unto them” and later “ For it is a hard thing to find that prince’s story truly and faithfully written, who was so hateful to the writers then; for when they wrote they might write no better. And therefore, these reasons being considered, their writings must be regarded and the author’s censured.[18]


His handling of Thomas More is an indication of his critical alertness and advocacy skills. He was the first historian to realise that More writes ironically and that if one ignores the irony and takes the statements seriously, a more sympathetic picture of Richard emerges; one that is much more in accord with the objective records we have of his life and reign. For example, in the scene where Buckingham, with the citizens, begs Richard to assume the crown for the common good, More writes: “These words much moved the protector, which else as every man may wit, he would never in likelihood have inclined to the suite.”[19] In writing this, he means the opposite. He is writing with what Kincaid calls a ‘knowing sneer’ at Richard’s dissimulation. Buck habitually disregards the sneers, and quotes More as if he wrote in all seriousness. By this means, he uncovers the basic matrix of fact upon which More’s History is based. As Kincaid writes: “The facts remain stable; only the interpretation varies, as Buck demonstrates. More chooses to attribute to these facts vicious motives, Buck to apply charity. Any good deed, Buck says, may be depraved by a foul interpretation.”[20] Nonetheless, and despite his undoubted accomplishments, it would be wrong to think that Buck was perfect, because he wasn’t. He made mistakes; some were inconsequential, others were crass but none were dishonest or malicious.


He got into a muddle about Bishop Stillington’s part in the pre-contract scandal. Having quoted Commynes that it was Stillington who told Richard that his brother’s marriage to the widow Elizabeth Grey was bigamous because Edward was already married to another English lady (Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot),[21] he got the chronology wrong. In Buck’s History, The Talbot family complained to Stillington about the wrong done by Edward to Lady Eleanor and her family, and sought redress. Stillington agreed to intercede with the king on their behalf; however, he was afraid to speak to Edward direct and raised the matter with Richard, then duke of Gloucester. Buck describes what happened next: “…the duke of Gloucester dealt with the king about this business, but he could do no good for all the affect thereof was naught, and that was that. The king grew exceedingly wrath with the bishop of Bath for revealing his marriage.” The outcome was a bad one for Stillington as he was disgraced and imprisoned; although, “not long after king Edward died.”[22] Dr Kincaid cannot say where Buck got this story. He suggests that it may have been something Stow (or somebody like him) had said or he may have constructed a plausible chronology from the few known facts, or he may simply have been “indulging his taste for elaborating dramatic scenes from meager suggestions.” Be that as it may, Buck’ s account is hardly credible since his own source, Commynes, makes it clear that Stillington told Gloucester about the pre-contract after the death of king Edward IV.[23]


It would be equally wrong to ignore the allegation that Buck is biased. Kendall thought he was. In his Ricardian biography he said Buck was prejudiced; later, he called him a Yorkist partisan.[24] The fact is, Buck is not a disinterested observer: how could he be? He came from a Yorkist family. His great grandfather was wounded at Barnet and killed at Bosworth fighting for Yorkist kings. His grandfather and his father had been taken under the wing of the Norfolk Howards who were also Yorkists by affiliation and temperament. Buck’s dislike of John Morton has an edge of loathing that only a confirmed Ricardian could replicate. He makes his views known in the opening paragraph of Book three: “…some politic and malicious clerks hating king Richard and seeking to be gracious to his enemies employed their wits and their pens to make king Richard odious and abhorred, and his memory infamous forever…for this purpose they devised and divulged many scandalous reports, and made false accusations of him. And they made libels and railing pamphlets of him…And so vehement and constant they were in their malicious prosecution thereof, as that they did not only defame and belie him in his lifetime, but as farforth as lay in them, they persecuted even his shadow and his ghost and they scandalised extremely the memory of his fame and name.” [25] However, despite his personal aversion to Morton, Buck remains true to his own creed and uses only evidence, particularly Titular Regius and the virtually contemporary second continuation of Croyland, to prove the factual errors of the Tudor tradition.


The question of the authorship of More’s History

It is not essential for my limited purposes to consider the question, of who wrote More’s History. However, it is a loose end, which in an earlier post I promised to deal with. We need not doubt that Buck believed that Morton wrote a polemical ‘book’ in Latin about king Richard. We have Buck’s word for it in a passage wherein he describes Morton as “…a good clerk who made his pen the weapon and instrument of his malice and of his rancour and of his hatred. And for this purpose he made a book in Latin of king Richard and reported his acts and charged him with many foul crimes and aggravated them. And on the other side he extenuated or suppressed all his virtues and good parts. And this book of Dr Morton came afterwards to the hands of Mr More.”[26] Neither, should we doubt that Buck thought that More had edited and adapted Morton’s book and added a bit to it before publishing it; we have Buck’s word for that also, in a subsequent passage: “…and this More having been a servant of Morton…accordingly, he translated and interpreted and glosed (sic) and altered his master’s book at his pleasure, and then he published it.”[27] And we cannot doubt that Morton’s book existed, since Buck’s closest friend Sir Edward Hoby (1560-1617) told him so. In a marginal note to his original manuscript Buck wrote: “This book was lately in the hands of Mr Roper of Eltham, as Sir Edward Hoby, who saw it, told me.[28] These comments and other circumstantial details have raised doubts about the authorship of More’s History (I shall continue to call it that) in the minds of some historians.


Professor Richard Sylvester in his definitive modern edition of More’s History has examined this issue carefully. [29] He is at pains to distinguish questions about the accuracy of More’s History from those about its authorship. This is important because the controversy surrounding the life and reign of king Richard and More’s account of that time is so inflammatory that any analyst commenting on these issues needs to keep a cool, objective head. First, we have what Sylvester calls ‘literary gossip’ in Sir John Harrington’s ‘Metamorphosis of Ajax” (1596): “ the best and best written part of all our Chronicles in all mens opinions; is that of Richard the third, written as I have heard by Moorton, but as most suppose by that worthy, and uncorrupt Magistrate Sir Thomas More.” [30]Next we have another marginal note written by Buck. This one is next to the entry for bishop John Morton in Buck’s copy of Francis Godwin’s “Catalogue of the Bishops of England’. It reads thus: “This Morton wrote in Latin the life of K.R.3, which goeth in Sir Thomas More’s name — as S. Ed. Hoby saith & that Sir William Roper has the original.[31] Last, we have an assumption that there are passages in More’s History, which he cannot possibly have written as he was a child at the time when the events described occurred . For example, there is a scene in the Grafton texts that appears to prove the author was present at Edward IV’s deathbed. [32]


I will deal with the last point first since it is a non sequitur. The fact that More could not have been present at some of the events he describes does not prove he was not the author. It serves only to confirm that he was not writing as an eyewitness. Harrington’s comment and Buck’s note in Godwin can be dealt with equally briskly since neither comment is proof of Morton’s authorship. In fact, they both emanate from the same source. Sir Edward Hoby was a fried of Harrington and buck’s closest friend: he is almost certainly the source for both these comments.[33]


The evidence against Morton’s authorship when taken together is almost overwhelming. First there is the objection that he could not have written any of the extant versions of the texts, since they contain details of events that took place after his death in 1500 (e.g. Tyrell’s confession in 1502). There are also stylistic similarities between More’s History and his other literary works, which suggest he is the author. Sylvester suggests “ …the man who could describe Pico’s complexion as ‘entermengled with comely ruddes’, was probably the same man who described Jane Shore walking through the streets of London’ while the wondering of the people caste a comely rud in her cheeks.” Of course, this argument by analogy might be inconclusive were it not supplemented be the testimonies of Halle (1458) and Bab (1557), A Scham (1552) and Harpsfield (1556) along with Rastell and Stapleton (1588) who all acknowledge More as the author.


Fortunately, Sylvester has an explanation that is much more sensible. He argues that Morton was an important source for More but he was not the only one. More may well have used part, or all, of Morton’s uncompromising tract as a source of information but he did not incorporate it wholesale and claim credit where it was not due. Such an opinion is not inconsistent with what Buck says himself. It is noteworthy also that More’s History was never finished, which may explain why he never mentioned it. He never mentioned any of his other literary works so why would he bother to mention an unfinished manuscript? It is impossible to escape the conclusion that More probably only used Morton’s polemic tract about Richard as a source of information in his own work.[34]



The solution to this literary riddle is now obvious to me. The criticism aimed at Buck and his History is based on what is a fake copy of his original, which was cobbled together well after Buck’s death. On that basis, the criticisms are justified since it is not even a good fake. However, now that original manuscript of Buck’s History is easily accessible in the form Buck intended, we get a much better idea of its merit and its flaws. As a defence of king Richard it is undoubtedly showing its age. Not only are Buck’s language and his writing style three hundred years out of date, he got a few things wrong. His History has been overtaken by the march of time and the discoveries made about Richard’s life and reign, about which Buck could never know.


Nevertheless, Buck’s achievement is impressive. He was the first Ricardian to use the second continuation of Croyland and Titular Regius to prove the falsehood contained in More’s and Vergil’s histories. Not only that, but the core of his defence of king Richard still forms the basis of Ricardian literature today. That is not to ignore Buck’s weaknesses: he was partial, he made mistakes and he loathed Richard’s accusers. He was the unashamed defence lawyer who believed passionately that his client’s had suffered a historical injustice and that his reputation was worth defending. However, he built that defence on evidence rather than innuendo, gossip and rumour.


[1] AE Kincaid – Dictionary of National Biography online version.

[2] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) at pp.427-428

[3] Paul Murray Kendall (Ed)- The Great Debate (BCA edition 1965) pp. 7-9

[4] AE Kincaid (Ed) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) pp. xcvii-xcviii

[5] Kincaid pp.cxii-cxiii; of the many hundreds of Buck’s sources, Dr Kincaid identifies eight (“not counting commonplace books and collections of proverbs”), which cannot be found. Of these eight, less than half are of material importance. They are: (i) the letter from Elizabeth of York to the duke of Norfolk concerning her marriage, which Arundel showed to Buck, (ii) a polemic tract about king Richard written by Morton and reputedly the source of Sir Thomas More’s ‘History of Richard III, which was seen by Sir Edward Hoby and (iii), ‘an old manuscript book’ referencing a plot by Morton and Margaret Beaufort to poison the Princes.

[6] J Petre (Ed) – Crown and People (Richard III Society 1984) p247. (Crown and People). George Buck Esq was Sir George Buck’s nephew. he was a man of straw and bad character who  came into possession of Buck’s original manuscript following a dispute over Buck’s will. Nephew George published Buck’s History as his own, along with some of Buck’s other writings.

[7] Kincaid at chapters 5 and 6, pp. Ixiv-ci; Dr Kincaid examines most, if not all the relevant changes to Buck’s text and sources of criticism in a detail I cannot emulate.

[8] Crown and People; ibid

[9] Kincaid; ibid

[10] Kincaid, p191

[11] Crown and People, p249; it is possible that Buck’s main reason for mentioning the letter was to compliment Arundel on his wonderful collection of documents; perhaps he shouldn’t have bothered. Correspondence between Dr Alison Hanham and Dr Arthur Kincaid in the pages of the Ricardian during 1987 and 1988 has raised the possibility that Buck had himself misunderstood the letter.   Dr Kincaid has suggested that Elizabeth was indeed referring to her ‘hoped-for marriage’, but not necessarily with king Richard. Buck may have confused ‘mediating with the king’ for ‘marriage to the king’. The judicious placement of a comma makes all clear. See Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (The History Press 2013) at pp. 297-303 for a comprehensive discussion and analysis of this point and also Dr John Ashdown-Hill – The last Days of Richard III (The History Press 2010) at pp.32-33 for a discussion of Richard’s negotiations for a Portuguese marriage after Anne’s death.

[12] See Kincaid pp. xc-xciv and Crown and people ibid

[13] Kincaid at p xcix, citing Frank Marcham – The King’s Office of the Revels 1610-1622 (London 1925) at p3.

[14] Kincaid at p 160

[15] Kincaid at pp. cviii-cxviii provides a detailed analysis of Bucks sources and his documentation

[16] Buck referred to Titulus Regius in his 1619 manuscript, which was not made public in its truncated form until 1646 and in its correct form until 1979. It was the historian John Speed who first drew public attention to Titulus Regius in his ‘History of Great Britaine (1623)’

[17] Crown and People at p248

[18] Kincaid pp. 125-126

[19] Richard S Sylvester (Ed) – The History of King Richard III by St Thomas More (Yale 1963) at p.79

[20] Kincaid pp. cxx-cxxi and 127

[21] Phillip Commynes: memoirs (Penguin 1972) at pp.353-354.

[22] Kincaid pp.183 and 184

[23] Kincaid p304, notes 183/44-184/9; there is nothing to substantiate the story that Stillington revealed the pre-contract to anybody before Edward’s death, or that his imprisonment in 1478 was due to his knowledge of the pre contract, or for revealing it to Clarence. The bishop’s imprisonment may have been due to an association with Clarence, as suggested by Kincaid. But it is more likely to have been for his criticism of the lack of due process at Clarence’s trial. See also MA Hicks – False, Fleeting Perju’d Clarence (Alan Sutton 1980) at pp.183-184. For a different theory see John Ashdown-Hill – The Third Plantagenet (The History Press 2014) at pp.141-146.

[24] The Great Debate; ibid

[25] Kincaid p120; Kincaid suggests that Buck’s dislike of Morton may have been exaggerated to deflect blame from Henry VII, from whom James I was directly descended. He overcame his difficulty by flattering James about his ancestry. By this means Buck achieves two things. First, he establishes that the breach in the English succession caused by Edward IV’s marriage, was repaired by Richard III and second he restores Richard to his proper place in history by not depicting him in his traditional role as the disruptor of the succession but as the restorer of it.

[26] Kincaid p121

[27] Kincaid; ibid

[28] Kincaid; ibid at 129v

[29] Sylvester at pp. Iix-Ixiii and Ixv-Ixvii

[30] Kincaid p.ciii; citing Elizabeth Story Dono (Ed)-Sir John Harrington; the Metamorphosis of Ajax (London 1962) at p 107f;

[31] Kincaid p. ciii, citing Francis Godwin – Catalogue of the Bishops of England (1601) p.5

[32] Sylvester pp. Ix-Ixi

[33] Hoby was probably Buck closest fried and comrade from their service together on the Cadiz expedition

[34] See also A E Kincaid and J A Ramsden – The Encomium of Richard III by Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (Turner and Devereux 1977) at p.vii


Why it had to be the Tower



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


Debunking the Myths – Richard III’s Execution of a Political Lampoonist

Richard III’s Execution of Collingbourne. A new take.


Ripon Cathedral misericord “And in another isle toward the south dwell folk of foul stature and of cursed kind that have no heads. And their eyes be in their shoulders.” – Sir John Mandeville (14th c.)

It’s funny how myths and legends become a part of history. This column – Debunking the Myths – is devoted to exploring the many false rumors, tales, and impressions that have embedded themselves into our modern perception of Richard III and his times.  Join us, as we hunt down the Loch Ness monsters, Sasquatches, and Blemyae that have roamed the Ricardian historical landscape for centuries.  No need to bring a weapon.  Just bring an open mind!

Today’s blog is about the infamous lampoon posted on the doors of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in July 1484, during the second year of Richard III’s reign.  Even the casual reader of Ricardian history can recite it from memory:

“The Cat…

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

     Part 8 – “Rumour it abroad…”


“ I, from the orient to the drooping west,

Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold

The acts commenced on this ball of earth;

Upon my tongues continual slanders ride;

The which in every language I pronounce

Stuffing the ears of men with false reports…

And no such matter? Rumour is a pipe

Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures:

And of so easy and so plain a stop,

That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,

Can play upon it”

(William Shakespeare)[1]

If William Shakespeare had any deficiencies as a historian, he surely compensated  for them with his dramatic and often beautiful insights into human behaviour. He knew full well that rumour was a nasty, insidious thing. It is dangerous to those who spread it and to its victims, but it is even more dangerous to those who believe it. Rumour sows the seed of doubt, fear and discord wherever it appears, which is precisely why it is such powerful social, political or military weapon in the hands of unscrupulous people.

In the early autumn of 1483 “a rumour arose” in southern England “that king Edward’s sons, by some unknown manner of violent destruction, had met their fate.”[2] This was a particularly damaging rumour, since ultimately it bought low the York dynasty and destroyed the last Plantagenet king’s life and reputation. The accusation that king Richard III murdered the princes in the Tower has its genesis in this rumour and the historical narrative of his life and reign is dominated by it. Beginning after Bosworth, professional historians and academics have consistently and briskly dismissed any attempt to defend Richard or to cast doubt on the veracity or probity of the material used against him. That he was a usurper, a regicide and an infanticide is now an established fact for most of the establishment of professional historians and scholars. It is a position based partly on their natural caution and dislike of revisionist history, partly on their trust of the sources and partly on their belief that Richard’s contemporaries thought he was guilty.

Professor Charles Ross speaks best for this traditional narrative of Richard’s life and reign in his biography of Richard. He begins the chapter on the fate of the princes by quoting the great English statesman (and no mean historian in Ross’ opinion) Winston Churchill ” … no fact stands forth more unchallengeable than that the overwhelming majority of the nation was convinced that Richard had used his power as protector to usurp the crown and that the princes disappeared in the Tower. It will take many ingenious books to raise this issue to the dignity of a historical controversy”[3]. So convinced is professor Ross of Richard’s guilt that he doesn’t think it would even be necessary to commit pen to paper were it not for the many ‘ingenious books’ written on the subject over the centuries[4]. I make no pretense that this essay is ingenious, and it is certainly not scholarly. It merely asks just the sort of silly question that an untrained, unqualified and disinterested observer might think was important: how can we be so certain king Richard was guilty of this crime if all we have is a rumour? For the avoidance of doubt, I should add that it is not my intention in this piece to explore the deeper issues concerning the actual fate of the boys: were they murdered, and if so by whom? Or did they escape to survive king Richard? I am interested only in the provenance and impact on English history of the Crowland rumour.

Expressions of concern for the fate of the boys can be found in the extant private papers, manuscripts and chronicles of the times. And certainly some writers were quick to point their accusing finger at king Richard. However, there is no extant eyewitness testimony; by and large the material we do have reports rumour and not events. The story begins with Mancini: “ I have seen many men burst forth in tears and lamentations when mention is made of him [Edward V] after his removal from men’s sight; and already there is suspicion that he had been done away with. Whether, however, he has been done away with, and by what manner of death, so far I have not at all discovered.”[5] Mancini does not vouch for the accuracy of the suspicions; neither does he mention any fears for the safety Richard duke of York, the king’s brother and heir presumptive. Since he is describing what he saw for himself, he must be referring to a time before he returned to France in July 1483. I think he is describing the fear and uncertainty in London following Hastings’ execution and the arrest of Morton, Rotherham et al. George Cely expresses similar concerns.[6] The absence of a direct domestic accusation against Richard is notable. In fact, the only allegations against Richard in his lifetime are foreign. Casper Weinreich writing in Germany in 1483 believes that Richard murdered the princes, as does Guillaume de Rochefort in France in January 1484. I think it is fair to say that both these sources (and others) can be traced to the Lancastrian rebels then exiled in France.[7] They are in fact a regurgitation of the Crowland rumour, to which I now turn.

Our main source of information for events during the summer and autumn of 1483 is the Second Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle. Its importance is threefold: it fixes the start of rumour in time, in place and in context. The anonymous author (who, by the way, was no friend to king Richard) wrote: “…the two sons of king Edward remained in the Tower of London with specially appointed guards.[8] In order to release them from such captivity people of the south and the west of the kingdom began to murmur greatly to form assemblies and to organise associations to this end”[9] And later: “When at last the people around the city of London and in Kent, Essex, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire and Berkshire and in some other southern counties of the kingdom, just referred to, began considering vengeance, public proclamation having been made that Henry, duke of Buckingham, then living in Brecknock in Wales, being repentant of what had been done would be captain-in-chief in this affair a rumour arose that king Edward’s sons, by some unknown manner of violent destruction, had met their fate.[10] “ What we learn from this is that the rumour began in the early autumn of 1483, in southern England and after the duke of Buckingham had joined the plot to restore Edward V[11].

The impact was almost immediate. Crowland continues: “…For this reason all those who had begun this agitation, realizing that if they could not find someone new at their head for their conquest it would soon be all over for them, remembered Henry, earl of Richmond who had already spent many years in exile in Brittany. A message was sent to him by the duke of Richmond on the advice of the lord [bishop] of Ely (i.e. John Morton), his prisoner at Brecknock, inviting him to hasten into the kingdom of England to take Elizabeth, the dead kings elder daughter, to wife and with her, at the same time, possession of the whole kingdom.”   The affect of the rumour was to subvert the insurrection from its original purpose of restoring Edward V, to one aimed at putting a Lancastrian pretender on the throne. This traditional narrative raises two important questions that deserve greater attention: who started the rumour and why?

I will come straight to the point. It has been suggested by Sir James Gairdner that the rebels started the rumour deliberately as political propaganda against the king.[12] If so, it means that on the 24 September 1483 when Buckingham invited Henry Tudor to come and take possession of the realm, he must have known beyond doubt that the boys were dead. If not, Henry had absolutely no title to the crown and was unlikely to be supported by the southern (Yorkist) malcontents. Gairdner believes that as the rumour was not reported until the verge of the revolt, Buckingham was probably keeping a guilty secret. Either he knew the boys were dead or he was lying. Of course, this doesn’t exculpate king Richard since Buckingham might have joined the rebellion genuinely in the belief that Richard had murdered his nephews. Nonetheless, his behaviour does cast doubt over the rebels’ intentions. Furthermore if Buckingham knew, it is inconceivable that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton did not also know the boys’ fates[13].

When the king left London on the 19 July 1483 on his royal progress, he left behind a web of Lancastrian and Woodville treachery that would have done justice to any Italian renaissance court. At its centre was Margaret Beaufort: self-styled countess of Richmond and mother of the Lancastrian adventurer Henry Tudor.   The ultimate victim of this treason was to be king Richard III, whose downfall she planned using Elizabeth Woodville and Henry Stafford as her unsuspecting tools. Margaret’s purpose was simple. One day her darling boy would rule England. The key to Tudor ambition was Buckingham’s defection to their camp. We can only speculate as to his reasons: remorse (Crowland), greed (Vergil) and ambition (More) are all possibilities, which fortunately, I need not trouble with in this essay. Buckingham’s motive is immaterial for my purpose; what matters to me are his actions. It is difficult to unravel the sequence of events as we are reliant on two Tudor histories (by Thomas More and Polydor Vergil respectively) both of which were written more than two decades after these events and neither of which has much (if any) value as historical evidence. Nonetheless, we have to do our best to reconstruct a plausible narrative with the material we have.

The king met Buckingham for the last time on the 2 August 1483 at Gloucester[14]. Nobody knows what they talked about but we do know that this meeting marked the end of their collaboration. The king continued his royal progress northwards to the heartland of his support. Buckingham continued his journey west to the Stafford family seat in South Wales. He arrived at Brecon on the 9 or 10 of August 1483;[15] waiting for him there was the ubiquitous John Morton: incorrigible Lancastrian intriguer and king Richard’s mortal enemy. In Thomas More’s view Morton (“a clever man”) turned the credulous Buckingham’s head by the simple stratagem of flattery; he suggested that Buckingham would probably make a better king than Richard. Sadly, More’s narrative breaks off just as it is getting interesting[16].

Vergil gives a more detailed account of the Morton-Buckingham plot. According to him, Morton was cautious and did not respond immediately to Buckingham’s treacherous talk. It was only when Buckingham produced his master plan for uniting the red and white roses by bringing Henry Tudor over from Brittany to marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter that Morton took control of the situation. Within a fortnight (around the 21 August 1483) he had informed Margaret Beaufort of the recruitment of Buckingham and welcomed Reginald Bray to Brecon. Bray was sent by Margaret to act as a go-between and to convey her instructions on the next steps. By the 26 or 27 August Bray was back in London, where Henry Tudor’s marriage to Elizabeth of York was already settled[17]. Henry, in Brittany, was informed by the end of the month of Buckingham’s recruitment and the plan for his proposed royal marriage.

It seems inconceivable to me that Elizabeth Woodville would consent to this marriage if she thought it would disinherit her two sons. She might have consented because she believed her sons were already dead. Equally, she might have simply believed that a royal marriage was the Tudor’s price for supporting Edward V’s restoration. Duke Francis of Brittany was sponsoring Henry and he could provide a powerful force of ships and soldiers to support the deposition of king Richard. By the ‘first weeks of September’ the duke had kitted out a force of fifteen ships and five thousand soldiers for the Tudor descent on England.[18] By giving duke Francis the benefit of the doubt, we can say that he might have believed he was supporting the restoration of Edward V and was buoyed by the news from England. However, the duke feared a French invasion of his Duchy and about this time had sent his envoy to England to blackmail king Richard into providing men and money for the defence of Brittany; otherwise, he said he could not guarantee that Henry Tudor would not fall into French hands. It seems that the Bretons and also the French regarded Henry as a pawn to be used in the furtherance of their foreign policy aims against England[19].

The implication of this conspiracy is obvious. If Margaret Beaufort’s son was to succeed to the throne, it could only be over the dead bodies of Edward V and his brother Richard duke of York[20]. The rumour that the boys were dead was a masterstroke for the Tudors. It didn’t matter for their purposes whether they were dead or alive. All that mattered was that people believed that king Richard had killed them and that the rumour spread doubt and mistrust in England. It would keep king Richard on the back foot and prevent him consolidating his reign. Professor Ross holds that the boys alive were dangerous to Richard as they would provide a rallying point for rebellion. If they were indeed dead or were simply not produced to scotch the rumours, it would confirm Richard as their murderer in peoples’ minds. Ross is right when he writes that Richard was placed in an almost impossible predicament: damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

I do not propose to enter the debate about what happened to the princes because that is a mystery. Nothing that I have referred to herein or have read or seen proves that the boys were even dead, much less that they were murdered. All we know with certainty is that they disappeared during the summer of 1483. Sir James Gairdner’s rhetorical question is illuminating: “ What could have induced Richard to time his cruel policy so ill, and to arrange it so badly? The order for the destruction of the children could have been much more easily and safely and secretly executed when he was in London than when he was in Gloucester or Warwick (or in York for that matter [21]. It’s a good question because it highlights a weakness in the case against Richard: the inherent improbability that he would have botched it so badly. There was no benefit to him in killing the boys and keeping it a secret. In fact, it would produce the worst of all worlds. The ruthless tyrant of Tudor tradition would have arranged for the boys to die tragically of natural causes. Their bodies would be displayed without a mark on them and with reverence, for all to see that they were dead. This could not of itself prevent Tudor conspiracies but it would have made it harder for them to depose Richard. Alternatively, he could simply have blamed Buckingham once he was captured. It is right that Richard should bear some vicarious responsibility for the death of his nephews. However, he could minimize this by arguing that the deed was done without his knowledge after he had left on his progress, and he that he had placed his trust in Buckingham.   Given the chance to consolidate his reign, his culpability in not protecting his nephews sufficiently would not have mattered[22].

Ultimately, I believe it was this rumour that undid king Richard III. His accession was not decidedly unpopular with nobles or the general the population: at least initially . Only some of the old Yorkist establishment and Lancastrian opportunists were opposed to him, and I think he could have defeated them. Things went wrong for the king after the rumour of his nephew’s deaths was spread.   He was never quite able to recover his equilibrium thereafter.

[1] PH Davies – Henry IV, Part 2 (Penguin 1979) at page 51, with the editors note at pages 164-167

[2] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors)–The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 163.

[3] Winston Churchill – A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956) Vol 1 at pages 383-384

[4] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 96.

[5] Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (CAJ Armstrong, editor) (Oxford 1969 ed) at page 93 and editors note 91, pages 127-128. Mancini returned to France shortly after Richard’s coronation on 6 July 1483. He did not write his narrative for his sponsor Angelo Cato, until December 1483. He had plenty of time to catch-up with events in London from the Lancastrian rebels in France.

[6] H E Malden (editor) – The Cely Papers (Camden Society, 3rd Series, 1980) at pages 132 and 133. See also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 revised edition) at page 115 for a modern language translation. This is a handwritten note by George Cely based on information he got from Sir John Weston. The note reflects the uncertainty in London after Hastings’ execution. Interestingly, Cely’ has concerns for the king (“…if the king, God save his life, were to die…) and the Lord Protector (‘[if] the duke of Gloucester were in peril”). As Hicks correctly points out, Cely did not blame Richard for the uncertainty of June1483.

[7] Josephine Wilkinson – The Princes in the Tower (Amberley 2013) at pages 129-152. Wilkinson analyses the provenance of these and later accusations against king Richard.

[8] See Rosemary Horrox and PW Hammond – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 (R3S 1979) 4 Volumes, Volume 2, at pages 2 and 211. This is a contemporary household account showing the final payment to the Princes’ own servants. Its existence indicates that the chronicler is referring to a time after the 18 July 1483, when king Richard’s men replaced the princes’ servants.

[9] See Pronay and Cox at page 163. See also Riley’s translation for a comparison between early Victorian and late twentieth century Latin-English usage. In addition to Crowland’s statement that there was a plot to liberate the sons of Edward IV from the Tower, we have a Privy Seal Warrant from king Richard to John Russell, his Chancellor (PRO, C81/1392/1).   This warrant was written whilst Richard was at Minster Lovell on the 29 July 1483. The original was exhibited at the NPG in 1973 and is transcribed at page 98 of the exhibition brochure. The king had learned that “…certain persons as such as of late had taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise as we doubt not you have heard, are attached and in ward…” Russell was instructed to place the matter before the king’s council for them to appoint somebody to sit in judgment on the criminals “…and to proceed to the execution of our laws in that behalf.“ Although we do not have a trial record, the antiquarian John Stow (The Annals, or General Chronicle of England (1615) at page 460) names those involved, adding that they were condemned and publicly beheaded on Tower Hill. There appears to have been a second Lancastrian plot to gain control of the boys in August 1483 (see Annette Carson – Richard III; the maligned king (History Press 2013 edition) at pages 152-156 for a discussion of these incidents).

[10] Crowland, ibid; it is illuminating to compare John Cox’s translation of the original Latin with Henry Riley’s 1854 translation, especially this passage: “…a rumour was spread that the sons of king Edward before named had died a violent death, but it was uncertain how.” This early Victorian translation creates a more explicit impression that the rumour was deliberate than does Cox’s modern translation.

[11] My best guess is that the rumour ‘arose’ in about mid-September 1483.

[12] Sir James Gairdner – History of the Life and Reign of Richard the Third (Longman Green 1878) at pages 169-170.

[13] It would be wrong to completely ignore the possibility that the boys were murdered, with or without Richard’s knowledge. Buckingham might have joined the rebels from remorse or he might have been trying to further his own ambition as a potential monarch in ‘leaking’ this damaging information. Personally, I am reasonably certain that Henry Tudor was not told what happened to the Princes (plausible deniability?). His actions and behaviour in the aftermath of Bosworth and throughout his reign suggests he was ignorant of their fate. Of course, it doesn’t follow that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton were also unaware of what happened: they might even have been responsible but kept it from Henry for obvious reasons.

[14] Kendall at page 266, and note 9, page 480. More and Vergil assert that Buckingham accompanied the king on his progress as far as Gloucester, where they split. However, I prefer Kendal’s suggestion that Buckingham remained in London for a few days after the king left on his progress and only joined the king later, when he was at Gloucester.   Kendall makes a cogent case for this, using contemporary records.

[15] Carson at pages 161-164 postulates this date and others. Although her reconstructed timetable is conjecture the assumptions are reasonable and based on Vergil’s account of the Morton- Buckingham conversations.

[16] I am ignoring Grafton’s later continuation of More’s ‘History’, which simply repeats Vergil.

[17] If Henry Tudor was to succeed to the throne he needed a legitimate title; the problem was he didn’t have one.   A marriage to Edward’s eldest daughter would give him a title of sorts, but that would only be true if Elizabeth’s brothers were dead. If they were alive, she had no royal title to pass to Henry. It is certainly possible to infer from these circumstances that either the boys were already dead, or they soon would be. Neither is it a great leap of the imagination to infer that Margaret had a clear motive for killing them and blaming Richard. The legitimacy of Henry’s title to the throne is a subject in its own right; one, that I cannot explore here. However, see John Ashdown-Hill – The Lancastrian Claim to the Throne (Ricardian Vol XIII, 2003) at page 27 for a full analysis of the issues. For a different opinion see Ian Mortimer – York or Lancaster: who was the rightful heir to the throne in 1460? (The Ricardian Bulletin, Autumn 2008 at page 20).

[18] Carson at page 164 cites R A Griffiths and R S Thomas – The Making of the Tudor Dynasty (Stroud 1993) at page 102 as evidence that a flotilla was being assembled and Vergil (page 201) for details of the ship and troop numbers. On her chronology it is obvious that these preparations were being made well before Crowland’s rumour of the princes’ deaths arose.

[19] Colin Richmond (1485 and All That: published in Lordship, Loyalty and Law [P W Hammond, ed] (R3S and the Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) at pages 172-206) has an interesting theory that French support for Henry Tudor was the last remnants of the Hundred Years War. Their implacable hostility to Richard arose from his opposition to the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475. Edward IV’s failure to wage a successful French campaign at that time turned the natural aggression of the English nobility inwards, resulting in the division that led to Bosworth ten years later and the collapse of the York dynasty. Richmond adds it is arguable that Bosworth was the last battle of the Hundred Years War.

[20] A.N. Kincaid (editor) – The History of King Richard the Third by Sir George Buck (Alan Sutton 1979) at pages ccxxvi and 163. Buck refers to ‘good testimony’ that Margaret Beaufort and John Morton murdered the boys “ For I have read in an old manuscript book it was held for certain that Dr Morton and a certain countess [he means Margaret Beaufort] conspiring the deaths of the sons of king Edward and some others, resolved that these treacheries should be executed by poison and, and by sorcery…” Unfortunately, the ‘old manuscript book’ seen by Buck is no longer extant. Nevertheless, his comment should not be dismissed out of hand. Thanks to Dr Kincaid we now know that Sir George was in fact an impeccably conscientious, diligent and honest writer. If he says he saw a manuscript, we have no reason to doubt his word.

[21] Gairdner at page154

[22] The enduring problem for Ricardians is that any theory which conceives the boys being killed, whether by Buckingham or Margaret Beaufort or by any one else, for that matter, makes Richard vicariously responsible even though he may have had nothing to do with it. The buck stops with the king: res ipsa loquitur.

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