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Sir Thomas Vaughan (executed 1483)

If you try to research Sir Thomas Vaughan on the internet you may become quite confused. Some sites suggest he was of the Tretower branch of the Vaughans. Highly unlikely, you might think, given that that family were strong Ricardian Yorkists. Others link him with the Vaughan family of Hergest Court. There were of course several Vaughan families in Wales

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Vaughan, written by Professor R. A. Griffiths, should have removed this problem of identification. The fact is that Vaughan was the son of Robert Vaughan of Monmouth and his wife Margaret. Thomas Vaughan entered royal service under the Lancastrians and was granted the status of naturalised Englishman at the urging of the Earl of Somerset, which suggests that the Beauforts were his original patrons. Later he served as councillor of Jasper Tudor.

However, he was with the Yorkists at Ludford Bridge and subsequently attainted. Returning with the Yorkists in 1460, he recovered his office of Master of Ordnance and was also made Keeper of the Great Wardrobe. After Second St. Albans he fled abroad with all or part of the Yorkist treasure, but was captured by French pirates. Edward IV subsequently contributed £200 towards his ransom.

Vaughan continued in Edward’s favour and was given a number of important offices over the years. His role was by no means confined to Wales. For example, he was Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex in 1466-67. This may reflect his marriage to Eleanor, daughter of Sir Thomas Arundel and widow of Sir Thomas Browne, since this lady had significant landed interest in South-east England.

As is rather better known, Vaughan was also a key member of the Prince of Wales’ household, and was involved in the delegated government exercised by the Prince’s Council in the Marches of Wales.

Vaughan should not be thought of as an ‘obscure Welshman’ or simply as a grey-haired innocent killed for simple loyalty. He was a man of considerable influence with his own mansion in Westminster, and by no means to be written off as insignificant.

Although it is sometimes suggested that the Welsh gentry came to prominence as a result of Tudor favour, Vaughan’s career is proof that a Welsh gentleman could gain considerable advancement under the Yorkists, and indeed under the Lancastrians.

We do not have sufficient information to say whether Richard III was justified in executing Vaughan, but what is clear is that Vaughan was a figure of significant importance, whose career perhaps needs to be looked at in more detail, instead of his being regarded as a footnote to Anthony Woodville.

At some point Vaughan was interred in Westminster Abbey where his tomb may still be found.

 

 

 

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Richard, Duke of Gloucester: the Man Who Wouldn’t be King

Anti-Ricardians often partly justify their dislike of Richard III on account of his unattractive crown-hunger, claiming that he was always desperate to be king, spent his life plotting to this end and ruthlessly eliminating anyone who stood in his way, and cite as proof the prompt “usurpation” of his nephew Edward V in 1483.

I’ve always found this arrant nonsense. At the time of Richard’s birth in 1452, the throne was squarely occupied by the House of Lancaster; and while many people felt that his father Richard, Duke of York would make a better king than Henry VI, the Yorkist claim was not at this point being actively pursued. Moreover, having three healthy older brothers above him in the pecking order for titles, as a child Richard was but a minor princeling – and when Queen Margaret produced a Lancastrian Prince of Wales in 1453, neither he nor his brothers were remotely serious contenders for the crown.

The situation didn’t change until 1460, when Richard of York’s short-lived stint as heir-apparent raised young Dyckon to fifth in line to the throne. Then he edged a step closer when the Duke’s death at Wakefield was avenged at Towton in 1461 and his eldest brother confirmed as King Edward IV; but thereafter, his loyalty was absolute and his own best interests served by maintaining Edward’s position. I say this not as a ‘bride of St Richard’ who can believe no wrong of him, but because it doesn’t seem to square with the evidence. Think about it: their relationship made Richard of Gloucester the second most powerful magnate in the country, effectively king of the North, able to enjoy all the wealth and prestige without the dangers and burdens of wearing the crown. Edward was Richard’s protector and guarantor, his bulwark against Woodville ambitions; had he lived for another ten or twenty years, (by no means unlikely, given the robust health of their parents), his two sons would have been grown men with their own affinities, no doubt raised by their father to view their uncle as an indispensable political ally, and Richard would not have been king.

Ah, you say, but that didn’t happen – the black-hearted villain pinched his nephew’s crown practically before his brother’s body was cold! So he must have started planning his coup the moment he heard of Edward’s death – mustn’t he? Actually, no. Proceedings at the recent Richard III Foundation Inc. conference make it seem highly unlikely that Richard’s actions in the spring of 1483 were simply designed to lull the Woodvilles into a false sense of security while he laid his plans for usurpation. Susan Troxell, in her discussion of Richard’s heraldic emblem, showed the image of a gold angel naming Edward V as king and bearing a boar’s head mint-mark, dating it to the short period of the Protectorate. Surely issuing coinage is a step too far in terms of subterfuge; surely the implication is rather that Richard did indeed acknowledge his nephew as king, while simultaneously asserting his own intention to be firmly involved with the reign. Subsequently, he might have been satisfied with the role of Protector if he could have felt confident that the young king’s family would accept his pre-eminence. However, considering the dread fates of recent Protectors (Henry VI’s uncle Humphrey, the previous Duke of Gloucester, and his own father Richard), he had good reason to lack this confidence – especially as Professor Peter Hancock has now demonstrated, by an ingenious piece of historical detective work, that William Lord Hastings was not in London on 25th April 1483, but at his castle of Ashby where it seems likely that Richard met him as he travelled down from the north. There he would have received the unwelcome news that the Woodvilles thought they could rule very nicely without him – hence his precipitate actions in arresting Earl Rivers, Richard Grey and Thomas Vaughn and securing the person of Edward V at Stoney Stratford on 30th April.

Taking these two pieces of evidence together, I think it’s safe to say that in the immediate aftermath of Edward IV’s death, Richard of Gloucester had no thought of taking the throne for himself; this idea did not develop until the emergence of the pre-contract story and the dawning realisation that, just like his father, he had no choice but to press his own claim to the throne if he wanted to safeguard himself and his family’s future.

Chronicle of the Revolution

What happened in 1483 was certainly a revolution of sorts, however you dress it up. It is therefore rather naive to expect that everything ought to have been done in strict accordance with common and statute law. After all, it wasn’t in 1399 or 1461, was it? If you think Richard III’s election to the throne was a bit thin, please have a serious read-up on the election of Edward IV – it was a good deal thinner.

Let’s go through the events – again!

First, Richard did not act like a man who was planning to take the throne. After gathering the Yorkshire notables together to swear allegiance to Edward V, he went south with a following of about 300 men. This was probably a bit more than his normal riding-household, but it was certainly not an army, and Richard would have been well aware that Edward V had an escort of 2,000. The only immediate reinforcement he could expect was that of Buckingham (between 200 and 300, depending on who you believe). We have no reason to think Buckingham was, prior to this date, Richard’s lapdog or part of his affinity. At best he was a hoped-for ally. Northumberland, who was Richard’s associate in the north, and had vast resources in manpower, was left behind. Nor is there any evidence that Richard made any attempt to mobilise the rest of his own, considerable following.

Rivers, on the other hand, had taken care to check his own authority to raise men in the Marches. The only reason he did not raise more than 2,000 was that Lord Hastings had threatened to withdraw to Calais if he did. This demonstrates that something was going on at court to make Hastings suspicious. So Woodville plotting was not all in Richard’s head.

Richard met Rivers and Buckingham at Northampton, and here, undoubtedly, something happened. Richard’s suspicions may have been aroused by the fact that Rivers had sent Edward V forward to Stony Stratford, on the excuse (apparently) that Northampton could not hold all their retinues. Northampton was actually a (relatively) large place. Parliaments had been held there in the past. Richard may have assumed that Rivers was trying to delay the meeting between Richard and his nephew, or get Edward V that little bit closer to London.

Alternatively, what Buckingham said may have been the issue. For example, did Buckingham tell Richard that the Woodvilles were planning to ambush him? They were very close to what passed for Woodville country, so the general area would be a likely place for such an ambush. Next day, forewarned, did Richard take an alternative route to Stony Stratford to foil the ambush? It’s impossible to say, but such a scenario would help explain his sudden anger and his decision to arrest Rivers, Grey and Vaughan.

Another explanation is that Richard, having carefully hidden his plans up until this point, suddenly decided to usurp the throne. Perhaps his change of face was caused by a bad dish of lampreys. Anyway, on this explanation, Richard, going against every aspect of his character displayed to this point, inexplicably seized the perfectly innocent Rivers, Grey and Vaughan and had them thrown into custody. If this is the case, one wonders why he did not follow the example of his mentor, Warwick, and simply have his enemies executed on the spot. It would certainly have concentrated a few minds. But one must also wonder why he left so many men behind in Yorkshire if this was what he was planning all along. Why leave himself outnumbered by 2,000 to (at best) 600? It doesn’t make sense.

Surely the most likely explanation is that ‘something’ happened at Northampton which hardened Richard’s attitude. What that ‘something’ was exactly is impossible to say with assurance, but almost certainly it was something which he thought put his life in peril. A plotted Woodville ambush, or a tale of one, is a possibility.

THE DASTARDLY DEATH OF LORD HASTINGS?

It appears that the traditional assumptions surrounding the execution of William, Lord Hastings in June of 1483, generally incline towards the idea that the Lord Protector, Richard Duke of Gloucester, simply lost his temper and so, without lawful trial or consultation, ordered the immediate beheading of his previous friend, virtually on the spur of the moment.

This assumption is derived from depictions in Tudor literature claiming that the Duke of Gloucester was infuriated by Hastings’ rigid support of the uncrowned Edward V, contrary to the wishes of the wicked duke who was eager to usurp the throne in the prince’s stead. This account of these events was written down after many preceding decades of indoctrination, when the Tudor-era orthodoxy of the usurping, murdering king had become imprinted on popular consciousness.

The writer who invested the confrontation with its best-known dramatic scenario, later adopted by Shakespeare, was Sir Thomas More, whose various attempts at a ‘history of Richard III’ are loathed by some, beloved of many, and seriously analysed by all too few. Since there exists no official contemporary documentation of exactly what happened, More’s chatty details attract those searching for explanations. It is often further assumed that, although More’s various elaborate accounts concern a time when he was a child and certainly not present, on the occasion of Hastings’ death, John Morton, Bishop of Ely, was certainly present and must therefore have witnessed exactly what happened. More, it is said, would thus have been told the truth by Morton some years afterwards when the young Thomas later lived as a page in Morton’s household.

However, regardless of assumptions, Thomas More himself reveals no source of information for his dramatic construction concerning the Duke of Gloucester’s peremptory execution of Hastings pursuant to a hissy fit. It is unsupported by any contemporary source, although the execution itself was condemned by some contemporary chroniclers. Sadly, very few later commentators appear to have bothered to take into account the bias of those contemporary accounts, or the probable circumstances (leaving dramatics aside) that actually led to Hastings making an attempt on Gloucester’s life.

Let us take one point at a time:

1) The incident occurred in the context of two events which are generally agreed to have preceded it, i.e. the disclosure that there was an impediment to Edward IV’s marriage with Elizabeth Woodville which rendered their offspring potentially illegitimate, and the discovery by Gloucester of threats to his life which prompted him to call for protection in the shape of forces from the North, combining in an atmosphere of heightened tension and insecurity.

2) Contemporary accounts report that Hastings was officially accused of treason. The simultaneous arrests of several others support the existence of a treasonous conspiracy. Any assumption that this accusation of treason was untrue is unsupported by any existing evidence. The crime of treason at that time was the most serious in the land, and could not be slung at just anyone, in particular someone as powerful as Lord Hastings, without any substantiation. In days leading up to the arrest and execution, Hastings is reported to have been seen visiting the houses of Morton and others who were caught up in the arrests. Morton and Hastings were most unlikely companions and this report – if true – raises considerable suspicion.

3) Some people mistakenly suppose that the crime of treason related only and exclusively to violent actions against the ruling monarch’s person. This is untrue and there are many sources which indicate that treason took many and varied forms. The further assumption that Hastings was simply attempting to support the true king (the young uncrowned Edward V) against the actions of the Protector, and therefore his attack on the Protector was not treason but loyalty to the crown, is an even further exaggerated train of suppositions without support, evidence, or even logic.

4) Others accused of having been involved in the same treason were arrested at the same time:- three present in the council chamber, and several others across London – their arrests carefully timed to coincide. This points to the uncovering of a treasonous conspiracy and the planning of a lawful reaction which would stop that treason before it became any more dangerous.

5) There is an account of a public proclamation made immediately after the execution, regarding the treason and the culprits’ arrest. There was neither secrecy nor lack of explanation given to the public concerning the situation. The accusation of treason and its consequences remained undisputed by any legal challenge or recorded public outcry at the time.

6) More’s account, written so many years later, denies the legality of the Protector’s actions. But More had no possible way of knowing the details he recounted. The mighty and extremely busy John Morton (by then Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor) chatting at length with his insignificant page and telling him stories of what happened many years previously, is not only highly unlikely but somewhat ingenuous. Indeed, Morton would rarely even have been at home let alone conducting cosy discussions with one of his pages. However, if such an improbable little scene did take place, the fact that Morton himself was one of those arrested and accused of treason, would certainly place a huge doubt on the veracity of any tale he told.

7) Richard of Gloucester’s proven record of rationality, of intelligent administration and commitment to the rule of law, would make this supposed hissy fit exceedingly out of character.

8) The arrests and following events took place in a council meeting at the Tower, in front of members of the Royal Council – the most powerful and influential lords of the land, together with their attendant officers. It is both naive and absurd to suppose that Richard could behave in some highly improper and illegal manner in such company without consequences to himself including a virtual battle in the council chamber.

9) Kindly old Hastings, simply standing loyally by the rights of his old friend’s son, is a total illusion. Hastings was a massively ambitious man. His many years of fighting bitterly against Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, the queen’s elder son and Lord Rivers, her brother, (largely regarding disputed land borders) show him to have been ruthless and capable of cruelty. He had recently quarrelled with Edward IV and been deprived of some of his power, but this was – after warnings given – returned to him just before the king’s death. Hastings was certainly no cosy daddy-figure.

10) As for the allegedly illegal execution – and this is the most important ingredient in the murky soup of supposition – the accepted legal powers of the High Constable, (one of Richard of Gloucester’s long-held and most powerful offices) empowered him to hold an immediate trial of Hastings for treason in that place and at that time, and to pass sentence without leave of appeal. The other members of the council present would have stood witness, thus there was no outcry against the following execution. Since no documentation survives (and indeed the Court operated under the Law of Arms and was not required to keep records), it is impossible to say if any such trial took place. There is no specific evidence that it happened. Nor is there any specific evidence that it did not. However – since Richard of Gloucester was most certainly empowered to hold such a trial, it is logical and natural from what is known of his concern for the justice system, that he would have used the legal powers at his disposal. What is now doubted and frowned upon by modern judges with little or no comprehension of the medieval mind, would have seemed utterly right in those days – and in fact utterly necessary according to the situation. Summary courts with powers of life and limb, such as that of the High Constable, were important elements in the exercise of authority during the Middle Ages, and in fact Hastings himself presided over just such a summary court at Calais.

For this knowledge I am entirely indebted to Annette Carson and her recently published book RICHARD DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, AS LORD PROTECTOR AND HIGH CONSTABLE OF ENGLAND http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052369 which outlines with considerable clarity and detail, based on existing documentation and clear historical precedent, the official powers the Duke of Gloucester held in 1483. This book does not set out to prove the rights and/or wrongs of the situation regarding Hastings’s execution, nor does it prove that any trial took place. It does indicate, however, that a trial could immediately have been called, and that if the proceedings found him guilty of treason Hastings would have been justly and legally executed.

In the first months of 1483 after King Edward’s death, the country was in a perilous position, and it was the duty of the Lord Protector and Defender of the Realm to keep the land and its people safe. There had already been an attempt to raise an army and civil war might have ensued (certainly the queen’s family continued organising uprisings, which came to fruition in the autumn months). It was Richard’s principal responsibility to be aware of all dangers and put a stop to them before the risk might escalate. Such an attitude must have been paramount when faced with whatever treason was discovered. That his actions are now seen as suspicious is a function of the villainy later attributed to his actions, and appears to ignore the pressures and demands involved in his personal responsibility for national security.

Today, amongst those interested (whether or not they have researched the era or the life of Richard III at all) there is a somewhat irritating attitude by which if you argue and judge Richard III guilty of something, then you are being open minded and unbiased. Whereas if you argue and judge him innocent, then clearly you are prejudiced and are making an attempt to exonerate and justify him and treat him as a saint.

But most of those who exhibit the former attitude appear to think the powerful lords of the late fifteenth century must have been weaklings and brainless puppets, too stupid or frightened to stand up for themselves. They sat meekly, it seems, while the wicked Duke of Gloucester got away with anything and everything. It is unwise to so vastly underestimate the over-riding power of the lords and the church, the three estates of parliament and the Royal Council during this period. Had they so meekly acquiesced to apparent villainy, they would, in fact, have been complicit to it. Instead no single man ever held absolute total power, not even the king.

See Annette Carson’s book RICHARD III; THE MALIGNED KING http://www.amazon.com/Richard-III-Maligned-Annette-Carson/dp/0752452088/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436415497&sr=1-1&keywords=annette+carson which remains a reliable source for the arrest and execution of Lord Hastings and the other important events of 1483 following the death of King Edward IV.

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

Part 6 – “The peace of England, and our safety enforced us to this…”

“So mighty and many are my defects

That I would rather hide me from my greatness

Being a bark to brook no mighty sea

Than in my greatness covet to be had

And is the vapour of my glory smothered”

(William Shakespeare)

 

“ I am unfit for state or majesty”

Richard duke of Gloucester had to put his thinking cap on. His hopes for a peaceful transition from the reign of Edward IV to that of Edward V were dashed. The bishop of Bath and Wells’ revelation that Edward IV was still wed to Eleanor Butler when he married queen Elizabeth had cast a deep almost impenetrable shadow over the royal succession. If true, it meant that he, and not any of his brothers’ children, was the legitimate Yorkist heir.[1] All the while he believed that Edward’s children were legitimate, the duke saw it as his duty to work towards Edward V’s enthronement regardless of his personal feelings. However, the truth was that England was not ready for a boy king, especially a Woodville one. The knowledge that young Edward and all his siblings were illegitimate presented the best opportunity to secure the peace and stability of the realm by putting a proven soldier and administrator on the throne instead of a callow youth. Once the duke was sure that the pre-contract was true his course was obvious. He must take the crown in the national interest and his own. The problem was that that course cut right across the creed he lived by: ‘Loyaulte Me Lie’. Duke Richard was a soldier, a practical man, a ‘doer not a wooer’. The requests for help from York and from his northern adherents were Gloucester’s military solution to a security problem. However, Gloucester the politician was in denial. Catesby’s news that Hastings had joined the conspiracy to murder him and Buckingham and that he (Hastings) had known of the pre-contract for some time raised another practical crisis he could get his teeth into. He had faced danger and death many times in his relatively short life. Ironically, it put him in his comfort zone to deal with this problem like a good soldier rather than a savvy politician[2].

My contention is that since emotionally he was unable to solve the paradox between what he — in his heart of hearts — knew he must do and what he wanted to do about the pre contract he took it out on Hastings. This dilemma clouded his judgment and led him to make two huge mistakes. His first and most serious mistake was to underestimate the role of Margaret Beaufort with Morton in this and in other conspiracies. His second mistake was his failure to bring Hastings before a properly constituted law court for his treason. The outcome was that it allowed his opponents to circulate adverse rumours about him and to defame his posterity. Worst of all, it united disaffected Yorkists and ambitious Lancastrians against him. All this, however, lay in the future. For the moment, he had retained the trust of the council and the city fathers, who believed he was acting in Edward V’s best interest.   They were pleased that he had curbed Woodville power and removed the king from under their baleful influence.

“Look to see a troubled World”

We know from contemporary private sources that whilst there may have been an air of crisis over the weekend with armed gangs on the streets, Londoners in general (and I include the merchant middle class guilds and aldermen in this) and the councilors in particular did not see the threat as coming from the duke of Gloucester. Professor Hicks sums-up the situation nicely: “ Hastings’ death did not stir fears amongst the political leadership that Richard aimed for the throne, but, if anything served to reinforce fears of the queen and the Wydevilles (Woodvilles) and to strengthen trust in Richard.” Hicks also cites the enigmatic note of George Cely as evidence that Richard was not seen as the threat to the peace and stability of the realm: “There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [damage] in England. The Chancellor [Rotherham] is deprived and not content. The bishop of Ely is dead. If the king, God save his life, were to die; the duke of Gloucester were in any peril.   If my lord Prince, whom God protect, were troubled. If my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled. If my lord Howard were slain.” This is not only a good indication of the fear and rumour prevalent, but it also shows that Cely (a Lancastrian wool merchant) feared for the safety of Richard.[3] Notwithstanding Charles Ross’ assertion that the evidence of a Hastings/Woodville conspiracy rests entirely on Richard’s say so,[4] Michael Hicks and Annette Carson both provide evidence that people believed him at the time[5]. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the accounts of Mancini, Crowland and the vernacular London Chronicles included ex post facto embellishments of these events, which were added for partisan reasons to blacken Gloucester’s reputation. They seriously exaggerated the backlash against him.

 

“You break not sanctuary be seizing him”

It is early Monday morning the 16 June 1483: grey and cheerless. An unseasonal chill wind is blowing from the east as the king’s councilors gathered at the Tower. They were understandably wary and nervous. The sudden execution of the Lord Chamberlain last Friday has caused consternation in the city. Notwithstanding the Lord Protector’s calming proclamation, treason is in the air; ordinary people had their swords and daggers to hand; armed men roamed the city streets. Everybody was edgy and suspicious. The tension was tangible. Once the council had assembled and the royal dukes were ready, the whole party moved to Westminster in boats, accompanied by ‘eight boatloads’ of soldiers. Thomas Bourchier the Archbishop of Canterbury together with Lord Howard and other councilors preceded to the Abbots house at Westminster escorted by the soldiers. The dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham with the remainder of the council adjourned to the Star Chamber at Westminster Palace to await events.

After an emotional exchange with the Archbishop, the queen allowed her youngest son to leave sanctuary. She is said to have done so graciously, ‘as far as words went’. Nevertheless, she and the remainder of her family remained in sanctuary. Following a brief reception at Westminster Palace, the young duke of York was escorted to be with his brother in the royal apartments at the Tower. The council then turned to the other main business of the day: the king’s coronation. The councilors were satisfied that the Lord Protectors actions on Friday were justified. The Woodville faction was still regarded as the biggest danger to the stability of the realm. Two important decisions were made. First, the coronation was postponed from the 22 June until the 9 November 1483. Second, the Parliament fixed for the 25 June was cancelled. The business of the day was done[6].

It is obvious that Gloucester had prepared for the removal of York from sanctuary. The eight ‘boatloads’ of troops did not magically appear. They were organised and tasked for their role beforehand. Similarly, the decision to pierce the sanctuary boil had to have been taken over the weekend. Things like that cannot be done extempore. It suggests some basic rethinking by Gloucester. The presence of the young prince was desirable at his brother’s coronation; it was unthinkable that king Edward should be crowned without him there. Indeed, that was the reason given to the queen by the Archbishop when requesting York’s release. The subsequent postponement of the coronation and the cancellation of Parliament were the inevitable consequences of the events of the previous week. In theory it gave more time for reconciliation between the Lord protector and council, and the queen. However, the reality was that reconciliation was almost impossible now. Though in practical terms, the cancellations gave Gloucester more time to resolve the pressing problem of the pre-contract.

If Gloucester decided to seize the crown the possession of both Princes was a pre-requisite. This may explain the ambiguous use of troops. It’s true that the soldiers could have been there simply to protect the royal family and the councilors from the armed gangs in London. It might have been just happenstance, but there is little doubt that the presence of troops was meant to put pressure on the queen to release her son. Mancini reports that Gloucester intended to use force if necessary, and the credulous Professor Charles Ross believes that Gloucester would have risked the ‘moral obloquy’ of forcing sanctuary’ if need be[7]. I’m not so sure he risked obloquy by forcing sanctuary. It would not have been his preference, but he had tried all reasonable means to persuade the queen to re-join the court and she was obdurate. He was a deeply religious man, almost puritan in his piety and it would have grieved him. However, he had the backing of the council, and I doubt if the Archbishop of Canterbury would have acted as his spokesman if he thought Gloucester was a threat to Edward V; neither could Gloucester compel him to do so.

I have been thinking about what has happened over this weekend 532 years ago. What does it mean for Richard duke of Gloucester? Did he do the right thing? And what should he do next? I suspect that those were also his thoughts half a millennium ago. From his perspective, the weekend was a success. The plan was good and its implementation almost flawless.   He crushed a dangerous conspiracy with ease; three of the conspirators are in custody and Hastings is dead. Reinforcements from the north are being organised and he now has custody of both of Edward’s sons. Nevertheless, I have the feeling this was the weekend when Richard won a battle but lost the war. Fatally, his ‘victory’ was nor decisive. His most dangerous and inveterate enemies escaped, and those he did capture were allowed to continue their treasonous plotting unhindered. Even that peerless Ricardian Sir George Buck criticizes Richard for not executing John Morton and keeping Margaret Beaufort incommunicado under lock and key.

Anthony Woodville Lord Rivers, Sir Richard Grey and Sir Thomas Vaughan were executed on the 25 June 1483. Sir Richard Ratcliffe supervised their execution under the auspices of the earl of Northumberland and Ralph Neville. Both Mancini and Crowland say that they were executed without trial or justice. However, the presence of Northumberland suggests that there may have been some form of judicial process. Mancini says that Richard gave the order for this execution on his own authority and in defiance of the council’s earlier decision not to charge Rivers et al with treason. However, Gloucester had no reason to flaunt the council, nor was he likely to do so as he was dependent on their support.  He ordered their execution in his capacity as the Lord Protector and Defensor of the realm, with specific responsibility for defending England against external enemies and internal traitors. I have little doubt myself that Rivers, Grey and Vaughan fall into the category of traitors.

Be that as it may, more important to me in this essay, is what this tells us about Gloucester decision to claim the throne by right of strict inheritance. For the executions to take place on the 25 June, they had to have been ordered by the 16 or 17 June 1483 at the latest. Hicks infers that Sir Richard Ratcliffe carried the death warrants north on the 11 June 1483 with Gloucester’s urgent plea for help: but he is mistaken[8]. Crowland writes explicitly that Sir Richard Ratcliffe with the northern lords and their troops were moving south when they interrupted their journey at Pontefract to execute these prisoners[9]. Indeed, they bought Rivers and Grey with them from where they were incarcerated to the place of execution. This indicates to me that they knew the duke’s need for troops was no longer so urgent since he had already foiled the Woodville conspiracy. It is also clear that at the same time they received instructions to execute the Woodville traitors. The inference that I draw from this is that duke Richard sent another message north; one, which, by its secret nature, we may never know about. This contained not only the details of the arrest and execution of Hastings but also the warrants for the execution of Rivers Grey and Vaughan and it must have been sent after the 13 June and before the 17 June 1483. That is when I believe Gloucester decided to assume the crown in place of his nephew. He could not have contemplated executing Rivers and Grey unless he intended to become king of England.

[1] I have not forgotten Edward of Warwick, Clarence’s infant son. It is simply that he was never a serious contender for the throne. First he was the son of an attainted traitor and second, he had no support amongst the English nobility for the reversal of the attainder or for his succession.

[2] As the youngest son of a duke, Richard was not expected to succeed to the throne. Consequently, his upbringing, training and experience had done very little to prepare him for this situation.   Throughout his adult life he had served his brother faithfully and well in a subordinate capacity. His training and aptitude for soldiering, and his military experience, combined with his successful tenure as ‘Lord of the North’, demonstrated that duke Richard was a capable governor and certainly not a soft touch. However, his voluntary absence from Edward’s decadent court meant that he was unused to the intensity and causticity of Beaufort and Woodville intriguing when he had to deal with it. A shrewder politician might have seen the danger of the Beaufort/Tudor/Morton axis earlier, and dealt with it.

[3] Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 revised edition) at pages 114-116. Hicks’ analysis of the contemporary opinion of Richard during May and June 1483 supports the view that his action in curbing the Woodvilles was popular and the execution of Hastings was justified. In fact, Hicks makes a point of rejecting Mancini’s account as hindsight, along with other chronicle accounts. He observes, “The events that follow are a better guide.”

[4] Charles Ross- Richard III (Yale 1999) at page 81

[5] See Hicks, ibid. See also Annette Carson – Richard III: the maligned king (The History Press 2013 revised edition) at pages 102-104. Carson is a particularly useful reference since the author has helpfully collated the relevant sources for this episode in one place. It obviates the need for me to go into any more detail.

[6] I have followed the following sources in reconstructing this event. AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III [Oxford, 1969]) at pages 89 and 124, note 74. See also Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 159; and also Richard J Sylvester – The complete Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of King Richard III (Yale 1963) at pages 45-49 and note 46/7-47/1 page 216.

[7] Ross, page 87.

[8] Hicks, at pages 132-133; Hicks makes the point that Northumberland and Neville were hardly likely to comply with Gloucester’s instructions unless they were assured of immunity from any recriminations. His inference that they knew of Gloucester’s intended usurpation before they set out from the north is inescapable. However, and not for the first time, professor Hicks has failed to explore other possibilities. Instead, he confines himself to an inference that fits his pre-conceived conclusion that Gloucester was deceiving the council and manipulating public opinion. It is a conclusion based on the premise that usurpation was always his intention. A premise, which is not supported by the evidence of what actually happened between April and June 1483.

[9] Crowland at page 161

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

 

Part 2: The hearts of men are full of fear

“ My Lord, whoever journeys to the Prince,

For God’s sake let us two not stay at home;

For by the way I’ll sort occasion

As indexed to the story we late talked of,

To part the Queens proud kindred from the Prince.”

(Shakespeare: Richard III)

“Why this it is when men are ruled by women…”

Loyaulté me lie. That is Richard Duke of Gloucester’s personal motto. It means ‘loyalty binds me’ and it was much more than a motto to duke Richard; it was a lifestyle choice. Throughout his relatively short life he displayed a rigid and remorseless dedication to the chivalric code of personal loyalty. He was loyal to those he loved, and to those who served him well. He was loyal to those he trusted regardless of the circumstances, regardless of his personal feelings and, fatally for him, regardless of the consequences.

Every schoolboy should have a hero. Richard Plantagenet’s hero was his magnificent eldest brother, Edward. In late 1460, when he was in lodging in London with his other brother George and his sister Margaret, Edward used to visit them every day. To Richard, aged just seven “…he shone with the blaze of mighty affairs and was the companion of paladins. Yet he took care to watch over his brothers and sister, regaling them with tales of his adventures, warming them with his affection and his greatness. How could there be anything better than to follow forever and to serve this wonderful brother, so splendid, so kind?[1] Yet for all his devotion and loyalty to his brother, Richard was his own man: they argued. For example, in 1475 he disliked the fact that Edward had accepted a French bribe to such an extent that he returned to England, having himself refused the French king’s bung. And then there is the question of his relationship with the Woodvilles. We need not give too much credence to the notion that he hated the queen and her relations; his loyalty to Edward would not permit that. However, I think its fair to say he disapproved of the king’s relatives by marriage. When Richard left York on about the 23 April 1483 he was still in the service of the dead king and intent on ensuring that his wishes were fulfilled. He would work dutifully toward the enthronement of his nephew king Edward V because that is what his brother expected of him; that is what he expected of himself.

A lot had happened in the two weeks between Edward’s death and Gloucester’s departure from York. Hastings was keeping him informed of events in London by letter and messengers.[2] Gloucester had been corresponding with Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham who was in Brecon; they “… exchanged views and agreed to unite their resources…[3] Hastings was clearly aware of the Gloucester-Buckingham alliance and anticipated that they would both journey to London.[4] Finally, Gloucester had written to the king at Ludlow to arrange a rendezvous en route to London so that Gloucester and Buckingham could accompany him “…that in their company his entry to the city might be more magnificent. The king assented to this and did as they requested[5]. Gloucester’s predicament is beautifully summarized by Kendall “ Precisely what was happening in the capital he could not tell; precisely what attitude Lord Rivers and his two thousand men would take at Northampton he did not know. He did know that the authority of the protector was rightfully his, and he trusted in his abilities and the will of the realm to make good that authority. There is something at once naïve and formidable about Richard’s rigorous confidence in the face of opposition so aggressive and a political situation so complex and so explosive.”[6]

“Last night, I hear, they lay at Stony Stratford…”

The rendezvous at Northampton was a defining moment in a series of events that would lead Gloucester inexorably towards the throne. To his detractors, his actions are proof that he intended all along to usurp the throne; to his defenders, they mean the exact opposite. They are proof of a Woodville plot to ambush and kill the dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham. Given this gulf in opinion, it is all the more annoying that we have no eyewitness testimony or a trustworthy third-party report of events.   The versions subsequently published in the vernacular chronicles, in Mancini’s report and in the Crowland Chronicle are all based on hearsay. What’s more, the vernacular chronicles’ are brief and in some cases obviously inaccurate. Furthermore, the two main sources, those of Mancini and Crowland, differ significantly in their detail[7].   This makes it difficult construct a credible narrative of the sequence of events. Nevertheless, there are three things we can be sure of. First, The king did not wait for Gloucester and Buckingham at Northampton as agreed; given the context, it is understandable that the royal dukes might think that was suspicious. Second, Gloucester secured custody of the king’s person, which was the key moment in crushing the Woodville coup. Third, Gloucester arrested Rivers, Grey, Vaughan and others, and sent them to his castles in the north; his breach with the Woodville’s was now irrecoverable.

“ Those uncles that you want were dangerous…”

When Gloucester arrived at Northampton on the 29 April 1483, neither the king and his party, nor the duke of Buckingham was there to greet him. Later that day, Anthony Woodville, earl Rivers arrived and explained the King’s absence. He said that the accommodation at Northampton was insufficient for the needs of the king and his party, and those of the dukes Gloucester and Buckingham. Consequently, the king had moved on to Stony Stratford, fourteen miles closer to London. Gloucester accepted this excuse with good grace but it is certain that he was not fooled by what he regarded as Rivers’ deceit. In view of what Hastings had already told him, Gloucester most probably regarded this as a blatant attempt to prevent him from meeting the king, and part of the Woodville plot to rule through a compliant monarch.

Gloucester Buckingham and Rivers spent a convivial evening together. Later, after Rivers had retired to bed, the dukes discussed the situation: it was dangerous[8]. They were outnumbered three to one and they were no nearer meeting the king. Nevertheless, Gloucester, an able and experienced soldier, was not a man to lose his nerve or to be intimidated by the size of the ‘opposition’; he devised a good plan, relying on speed and surprise. Before dawn on the 30 April 1483, the dukes’ men surrounded Rivers’ accommodation. They disarmed his guards and posted their own. Nobody was allowed in or out. Meanwhile, they deployed men on the Stony Stratford road to prevent news of what was happening in Northampton reaching the king and his party. Rivers, on being told of this by his servants, protested but to no avail: Gloucester was in control of the situation.

Gloucester and Buckingham rode to Stony Stratford. There, they found the king and his retinue on the point of departing. Indeed, one detachment has already started for London. Dismounting, Gloucester, with his whole retinue kneeled in homage to the king.   After paying due condolence to him on the loss of his father, Gloucester explained in calm but plain terms what was happening. He told the king that some of his father’s ministers had encouraged his excesses and ruined his health. They must not be allowed to do the same thing to young Edward. Moreover, he “…accused them of conspiring his death and of preparing ambushes both in the capital and on the road, which had been revealed by their accomplices. Indeed, he said it was common knowledge that they had tried to deprive him of the office regent conveyed on him by his brother (the late king)[9]”.

Edward defended his ’friends’. He said that he was satisfied with the government his father had arranged for him; nevertheless, he was outmatched by the two dukes and had no choice but to acquiesce. Having gained control of the King, Gloucester ordered the escort of armed soldiers to disperse to their homes. His reputation as the first soldier of the realm, his calm authority and the loss of their leadership ensured that his order was obeyed; the Woodville ’army’ seems to have just turned around and gone home. Sir Richard Grey (the King’s stepbrother) and his servant Sir Thomas Vaughan were arrested, along with Rivers and some others, and sent in custody to Richard’s strongholds in the north. The king was escorted back to Northampton, where all contact was severed with his Woodville kin and his old servants.   Gloucester provided his own picked men to serve the king.

Richard’s coup at Stony Stratford was a neat mopping-up operation. He had gained custody of the kings person without bloodshed, using the minimum force to maximum effect. It could not have been handled better. For the first time, Richard had the initiative in the power struggle with the queen and her kindred. What’s more, his action to curb Woodville ambitions was popular — at least for the moment.   Lord Hastings is reputed to have boasted that the transfer of power had been achieved without so much blood as could be got from a cut finger.

After spending a few days at Northampton, tidying-up the kings affairs and writing to the Lord Mayor and Citizens of London explaining his action and assuring them of his good intentions, Richard escorted the King to London. His situation was transformed, but he still had problems. The power struggle was not over yet.

“The tiger now hath seized the gentle hind”

Most historians see only the guilty hand of Gloucester at work on the 29 and 30 April 1483. They regard his ‘ruthless seizure’ of the young king’s person as a prerequisite for his later usurpation. It is an opinion based largely on the near-contemporary hearsay accounts of what happened and the later Tudor embellishments. How anybody can be so certain of Gloucester’s motives after more than five centuries and in view of the ‘mosaic’ of conflicting and confused source material is a mystery, which is almost as baffling as the disappearance of the two princes. The conclusion that Gloucester was the villain in this power struggle seems perverse in the face of the contrasting behaviour of those involved.

The queen and her party acted provocatively, making a deliberate attempt to impose an unconstitutional regency government on the realm: by force of arms if necessary [10]. Gloucester, on the other hand, reacted with impeccable correctness. His response was loyal and measured. He affirmed his fealty to young Edward V on oath, and in a letter to the queen and the council. He made his leisurely way towards London after first hearing a requiem service in York for his brother. He was accompanied by only three hundred of his own retainers and he declined Buckingham’s pragmatic offer to bring a thousand men to the meeting at Northampton. Given that he probably knew the size of the king’s escort, his actions are hardly those of a man intent on seizing the throne. If they were, he could only hope for success without expecting it. There can be little doubt that Gloucester, supported by Buckingham, was intent on gaining control of the situation in order to ensure a constitutional settlement. However, it is irrational to conclude from those facts that Gloucester was intent on usurpation: unless, of course, one has a preconception of his male fides.

Mancini’s interpretation of the facts throughout his narrative is coloured by his assumption that Gloucester always intended to seize the throne[11]. There are also difficulties about Crowland, who had a clear prejudice against Gloucester, which may or may not be due to his unreasoning hatred of northerners[12].  Although Professor Ross assures us that modern historians discount the Tudor tradition in favour of inferring Gloucester’s “…character and motives from a close scrutiny of the events themselves, without preconception”[13], it seems obvious to me that the notion that all Gloucester’s actions were deceitful, regardless of the lack of objective evidence of his evil intent, suggests a predisposition to believe the worst of him no matter what.

The news that Richard had secured control of the King seems to have reached London sometime during the night 30 April-1 May 1483. According to Mancini: “ The unexpectedness of the event horrified everyone.   The Queen and the Marquis, who held the royal treasure, began collecting an army to defend themselves and to set free the young king from the clutches of the dukes. But when that exhorted certain nobles who had come to the city, and others, to take up arms they perceived that men’s minds were not only irresolute, but hostile to themselves. Some even said openly that it was more just and profitable that the youthful sovereign should be with his paternal uncle than with his maternal uncles uterine brothers.”

As Kendall points out, whatever men may have thought about the conflict between the queen and the, duke of Gloucester, few identified the Woodville cause with that of the young king.   In any event, the Woodville’s panicked:“ Lacking either the innocence or the courage to quietly await the king’s arrival, they could only think of flight.” These comments though harsh are probably correct. Panic or not, the Marquis of Dorset did not forget to loot the Tower of London of the king’s treasure before retreating to sanctuary[14].


[1]. Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen and Unwin 1955) at page 38; I accept that Kendall’s flowery writing style verges on the sentimental at times, but his biography of Richard brings him alive in ways other authors cannot hope to reach)

[2]. Dominic Mancini – The Usurpation of King Richard III (AJ Armstrong editor) (Oxford 1969 edition) at pages 71-73.

[3]. Mancini at page 75; see also Armstrong’s note 43 at page 115 for a detailed discussion of how the two dukes might have corresponded.

[4]. Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (editors) – The Crowland Chronicle continuations 1459-1486 (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) at page 155.

[5]. Mancini at page 75; see also the note 44 at page 115. Armstrong’s suggestion that Rivers went considerably out of his way to rendezvous with Gloucester and Buckingham is an unproven assumption. Notwithstanding that, Charles Ross (Richard III – Yale 1999 at page 71) and Michael Hicks (Richard III -The History Press 2009 edition at pages 161 and 162) both repeat it. Stony Stratford is situated on Watling Street (now the A5 trunk road), which itself passes within about five miles of Northampton. Watling Street was then and for many years afterwards, the main route from Shropshire to London. To journey by any other route was simply impracticable for such a large party as the king’s (2000 soldiers and their impedimenta, household officials and royal servants with their impedimenta). The alternative route through Worcester and Oxford was possibly shorter but it was hardly quicker for such a large body of men and equipment. The terrain through the Mendip and Chiltern Hills is problematic and the royal ‘snake’ would have been much longer, not to mention the logistical problems.   The rendezvous at Northampton made sense for its convenience if nothing else. However, it may have suited Rivers for other reasons. If he was planning to ambush Gloucester and Buckingham, this was the place to do it. It was close to the Woodville family seat at Grafton Regis and the terrain was ideal for an ambush. The key question is: who suggested Northampton? It is not a frivolous question because what happened in Northamptonshire at the end of April 1483 is regarded as proof either of Richard’s guilty mind or of the Woodville’s guilty minds, depending on one’s point of view.

[6]. Kendall at page 165: however, he is not quite right about Gloucester’s authority as Lord Protector.   The fact is that at this stage he had no authority as Lord Protector. Under the constitutional settlement  of 1422 a king has no power to determine the governance of the realm after his death; he could suggest but not direct.

[7]. I have adopted the Mancini sequence, which though different to Crowland and some of the vernacular sources, seems more plausible to me..

[8]. We do not have the detail of this discussion or what information Buckingham had. He may, for instance, have warned Gloucester of an ambush (See Gordon Smith – Stony Stratford: the case for the prosecution R3S Bulletin, spring 2004 at pages 27-32). www.richardIII.net/http://issuu.com/richard_third/docs/2004_03_spring_bulletin?e=7156033/4522512). Smith postulates the possibility that the RV at Northampton suited Rivers because it was close to Grafton Regis, which was situated on the shortest road between Northampton and Stony Stratford. Rivers sited a deliberate ambush on that road with a view to enticing the dukes into it. However, Buckingham who was following Rivers down Watling Street realized something was wrong after he turned off for Northampton at Weedon. It soon became obvious that the king with his large escort had had continued straight on to Stony Stratford, making no attempt to visit Northampton. Buckingham warned Gloucester, who acted as he did next day. The dukes avoided the ambush by moving to Stony Stratford via Towcester and taking the king’s party by surprise from behind (Smith’s article in the R3S Bulletin has two useful diagrams which explain how the ambush was planned and how it the two dukes foiled it.).

[9]. See Mancini at page 77; it is important to point out that neither Mancini nor the author of the Crowland Chronicle accept Gloucester’s assertion of a plot against him. Both regarded the seizing of the king as part of his plan to usurp the throne at any cost. They also note that despite Gloucester’s popularity in some quarters there were people who were suspicious of his intention even at this time.

[10]. Ralph A Griffiths – The Reign of King Henry VI (Sutton Publishing 1998 edition) at pages 19-24; see also Annette Carson ‘Protector and Defensor: the constitutional position’ at www.ajcarson.co.uk (27 Apr 14). Richard duke of Gloucester’s appointment as Lord Protector was based on a constitutional precedent set in 1422 following the untimely death of Henry V. On his deathbed, the victor of Agincourt appointed his youngest brother Humphrey duke of Gloucester as virtual regent (tutelage) in England during Henry VI’s minority. However, the concept of personal rule by a regent was unknown to English constitutional practice, which owned that ‘royal authority’ can only be exercised by the monarch in person   In council and in Parliament, the lords rejected Henry’s wish on the grounds that it was ‘repugnant’ to them, and also because, as a matter of principle, a king cannot be allowed to determine the governance of the realm after his death. The solution devised was to offer duke Humphrey the post of ‘Defender of the realm and Chief Councilor to the king’. The lords made it clear that his role imported his personal attendance to the defence of the realm against external enemies or internal rebels“…but no name of tutor, lieutenant-general, nor regent nor no name that should import authority of governance of the realm.” The Lords reserved to themselves the right to govern during the king’s minority and they left the personal upbringing of the king to his mother and the royal household. Not only that, but the appointment was in the gift of the king; the Lord Defensor (which would develop into the Lord Protector) must come and go at the whim of the king/lords. Gloucester’s father Richard duke of York knew this in 1454 and 1455 during Henry VI’s incapacity. He resigned his appointment as Lord Protector as soon as he was told to. This is the role that Edward V wished his brother to take-up in 1483. A king cannot rule from the grave, so Edward could only suggest Gloucester’s appointment: he could not compel. There was nothing irregular or unconstitutional about Edward’s deathbed codicil. He was, in fact, expressing his preference for a 1422 type minority rule. The difference between 1422 and 1483 was simply this: in 1422, the lords were moved to prevent the king dead from imposing an unconstitutional settlement, which they feared opened the door for despotism; whereas, in 1483 Gloucester, supported by the anti-Woodville lords, was moved to prevent the queen and her family from imposing an unconstitutional settlement on the realm, which they too feared might lead to despotism. That was a situation that Edward IV had not anticipated. Until his appointment was confirmed by the lords in council Gloucester held no constitutional authority as Lord Protector. The other point of note is that, under the terms of his appointment, Gloucester was not the ‘protector’ of the king’s person. Ordinarily that would be left to his mother and the royal household. Though in this case, the Woodvilles’ behaviour made it impossible for the king to remain in their custody, care and control.

[11]. Mancini at page 17; in his introduction, professor Armstrong notes that Mancini showed little animus to Gloucester “…save for his assumption that the duke of Gloucester was always aiming for the throne.” Such an assumption is so prejudicial that one wonders whether Mancini’s narrative has any historical value at all. It coloured his interpretation of events throughout his account. Every good act of Gloucester’s is regarded as evidence of his deceitful, dissembling nature; every firm or decisive act is proof of his cruelty and tyranny. There are other reasons for not accepting Mancini’s account at face value. Some basic errors of chronology and geography coupled with doubts about the provenance of his sources, and his misunderstanding of the workings of Parliament all suggest that ‘ Mancini is no more reliable that More or Vergil’.

[12]. See AJ Pollard – ‘North, South and Richard III’, an article published in ‘Richard III: crown and people’ – J Petre-editor (Richard III Society 1985) at pages 349-355, for a discussion of regional friction and differences in fifteenth century England. Interestingly, the author (no Ricardian) make a good case for the notion that those people who actually knew or had served Gloucester thought well of him. This article first appeared in the ‘Ricardian’ (volume 5, number 74, Sep 1981 at pages 384-388).

[13]. Ross at page 63: I cannot agree with professor Ross. I see little evidence of objectivity in Ricardian literature generally. Ross (page 64) refers to the “…extraordinary problems of the evidence…” and especially the problem of answering the vital question: when and why did Gloucester decide to go for the throne?   If, as Ross suggests, historians really do eschew the Tudor tradition in favour judging for themselves from peoples’ actions, then there is no rational basis for disbelieving Gloucester’s bona fides; unless you have a preconception that everything he did, was in bad faith. If historians are relying on hindsight to argue that the sequence of events and their timing indicate that Gloucester must have been planning usurpation, then their logic is flawed. That argument is quite simply a non sequitur.

[14]. Kendall at pages 178-179: it seems that Sir Edward Woodville had sailed with the Royal Navy and his share of the treasure on the day before news reached London of the events at Northampton. The loss of this treasure and the Royal Navy were to significantly hamper Richards attempt to carry out the essential government of England. In particular it undermined attempts to protect the south coast from French pirates.

Not to be missed …

John Ashdown-Hill’s piece in “History Extra”, defusing a few persistent myths:
http://www.historyextra.com/article/richard-iii/6-myths-about-richard-iii?utm_source=Twitter+referral&utm_medium=t.co&utm_campaign=Bitly

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