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The King’s bishop? What did John Russell know in 1483?

 

“ ‘Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’

‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night time’

‘The dog did nothing in the night time’

‘That is the curious incident ‘ remarked Sherlock Holmes.”[1]

 

By applying his reasoning to this simple observation, the world’s foremost consulting detective was able to solve the mysterious disappearance of Silver Blaze and identify John Straker’s killer. Holmes’ recognized that the key to solving the case was to understand why the guard dog did not bark during the theft of Colonel Ross’ prize racehorse. It is a useful reminder for me that the key to a mystery often lies in understanding the patterns of behaviour of those involved: their actions and their inaction. The late Dr Pamela Tudor-Craig adopted a similar approach to the central mystery of King Richard’s life and reign: the disappearance of the Princess in the Tower. In a short essay entitled ‘People About Richard III’, she highlights Richard’s relationship with those bishops who accepted his patronage and invites the question, which is not altogether rhetorical, why did these holy men accept preferment at Richard’s hand if he was the monster of Tudor tradition? [2]

 

These bishops will be familiar names to students of the Wars of the Roses and especially to Ricardians: John Russell Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Stillington Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Langton Bishop of St David’s and later of Salisbury and John Shirwood Bishop of Durham. All these clerics served previously under Lancastrian and Yorkist kings; none could be described as Richard’s friend, and all were men of great learning and piety. Russell was the Lord Chancellor from 1483 until 1485; Stillington was, for a time, Lord Chancellor to Edward IV. It was Stillington who is purported to have reported Edward IV’s earlier marriage to Eleanor Talbot (the ‘pre-contract’). Shirwood owed his bishopric to Richard’s preferment. He was an early English humanist, an avid collector of classic Greek and Roman literature and a protégé of George Neville. During Edward IV’s reign his loyalty was suspect.[3] King Richard, who thought better of him, appointed Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Bishop Langton was also appointed at Richard’s behest.[4] He was a borderer and accompanied Richard in his first royal progress, writing approvingly of him to the prior of Christ Church Canterbury.[5] After Bosworth, Stillington was arrested for his part in Richard’s accession and then pardoned. Russell and Shirwood, however, continued in royal service; Russell, as a diplomat and Shirwood as envoy to the Vatican. Langton actually flourished under the first Tudor king, reaching the dizzy height of archbishop elect of Canterbury shortly before his death in 1500. Yet none of these men denounced Richard as a regicide or said anything about the disappearance of Edward IV’s sons, not even when it was a safe to accuse him of practically anything. Given the antipathy in the Tudor narrative towards the last Plantagenet, their silence is curious feature of the most famous of all English historical mysteries.

 

It is, of course, a moot point whether the bishops actually knew anything about what was happening to Edward’s sons in 1483. With the exception of Russell, none of them were at the centre of Richard’s government. Dr Tudor-Craig points to the chance that they might have known what was happening through a possible friendship between Shirwood and Dr John Argentine. It remains, however, no more than a possibility. The only known copy of Shirwood’s ‘Mathematical Game’ (no.106) is of particular relevance to this exhibition since it belonged to John Argentine, Edward V’s physician who gave such a foreboding report of his charge to Mancini.[6] Argentine may well have been an Italian and he was an industrious collector of books. The strong possibility that he knew Shirwood during the summer of 1483 in London reduces the likelihood that these distinguished prelates could have accepted patronage at Richard III’s hand in ignorance of the true state of affairs. Either Argentine’s words as reported by Mancini were not meant to carry a sinister gloss, or the clerics had accommodating consciences.[7]

 

Be that as it may, there was certainly one among them who was well placed to know the truth. It is likely that John Russell the Lord Chancellor was privy to Richard’s intention towards his nephews. Judging from the surviving signet and Chancery letters, their working relationship was close. Richard trusted Russell to deal with secret/confidential matters of great delicacy and moment, even those that occurred during his royal progress. Such trust is all the more remarkable since it appears that Russell was not, as some suppose, a trimmer or tame Ricardian but an outspoken critic of the petition presented to Parliament in 1484 setting out Richard’s royal title and also of Titulus Regius in the form it was enacted, and indeed, of the turbulence leading to Richard’s accession. It is not my intention to go into that issue now, since it is beyond my scope. I will confine myself to exploring Russell’s relationship with his king through three surviving letters from their correspondence. Obviously, the subject and the content of each letter is important because they each touch on events taking place between summer and autumn 1483, which is the critical period for analysing the disappearance of the two princes. All the same, they cannot be considered in a vacuum that ignores Russell’s constitutional position as Lord Chancellor and the evolving realpolitik of the times.

 

The Lord Chancellor

Professor Charles Ross describes the office of Lord Chancellor as ‘the most responsible clerical office in the gift of the crown’.[8] His use of the adjective ‘clerical’ perhaps betrays his ignorance of its several meanings (‘learned pertaining to the clergy, or clerk pertaining to copying and general office work’[9]) but more likely it reveals his unawareness of the constitutional importance of the Lord Chancellor. It was then, and remains, one of the great offices of state. Although Russell was indeed a cleric, his responsibilities were secular and serious; any implication that he was a glorified chief clerk is ludicrous. In the fifteenth century the Lord Chancellor was the nearest equivalent of a modern Prime Minister. He was a key official in the Royal Household the king’s principal advisor, and his formal link with parliament, and the machinery of government at Westminster. It was the Lord Chancellor who delivered the official sermon at the opening of parliament setting out the reason for its summons and the king’s plans. In addition, he had a judicial responsibility as the king’s liaison with the judiciary and presiding judge in the Chancery Court of England. It is true that Russell was a bureaucrat and not a politician; however, as an experienced, and talented administrator and lawyer he was eminently suitable for this office. His appointment had the unqualified approval of Sir Thomas More, probably the most famous Lord Chancellor of all, who described Russell as ‘ a wise man of much experience and one of the most learned men England had at this time’.[10] Dominic Mancini writing at the end of 1483 concurred with More’s opinion; he described Russell as a man of ‘great learning and piety.’[11]

 

‘The Chancellor is desperate and not content’

I need not describe the course of events between Edward IV’s untimely death in April 1483 and the bastardization of his heirs in June, since they are well known and, in any case, do not add to the substance of my argument. What matters from my perspective is Russell’s reaction to those events. For my purposes the narrative begins after lunch on Friday the 13 June 1483. William Lord Hastings had just been summarily executed on a convenient log for (it is alleged) plotting to kill the Lord Protector and Henry Stafford Duke of Buckingham, his henchman. The Archbishop of York (Thomas Rotherham), the Bishop Ely (John Morton) and assorted others have also been arrested. And there is panic on the streets of London. On the Monday following, the Queen was persuaded to allow her youngest son Richard the duke of York, the heir presumptive, to leave the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey to attend his brother’s coronation. That afternoon in council the coronation was postponed. The alarm of Londoners following these events is tangible and it seems from the evidence of two independent sources that the Chancellor John Russell was also deeply troubled by the turn of events.

 

The first source is an undated memorandum written by George Cely, an English wool merchant, which must have been written between the 13th and 25th of June 1483. It contains the key description of Russell’s mood: ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [harm] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor is desperate and not content, [my emphasis] the bishop of Ely is dead, if the king, God save his life were deceased, the duke of Gloucester were in any peril, if my lord prince, whom God defend were troubled, if my lord of Northumberland were dead or greatly troubled, if my Lord Howard were slain.[12]

 

The other account is a letter written by Simon Stallworth (one of Russell’s secretaries) on the 21 June 1483 to Sir William Stonor. It is worth quoting in full. ‘Worshipful sir I commend me to you and for tidings I hold you happy that you are out of the press, for with us is much trouble and every man doubts [the] other. As on Friday last was the Chamberlain [Hastings] beheaded soon upon noon. On Monday last was at Westminster a great plenty of harnessed men, there was the deliverance of the Duke of York to my lord Cardinal, my Lord Chancellor and many other lords temporal and with him met my lord of Buckingham in the midst of the hall at Westminster…It is thought there shall be 20 thousand men of  my Lord Protector and my lord Buckingham’s men in London this week to which intent I know not but to keep the peace. My lord [Russell] has much            business and more than he is content with, if any other way would be taken [my emphasis]. The lord archbishop of York and the bishop of Ely are at the Tower with master Oliver King (I suppose they shall come out nevertheless). There are men in their places for safekeeping [guards?] And suppose that there shall be men of my Lord Protectors sent to his lordship’s place in the country. They are not  like to come out of ward yet. As for Forster he is in hold for his mew for (to plead for?) his life. Mistress Shore is in prison. What shall happen here I know not. I pray you pardon me from writing I am so sick I may not well hold my pen…All the Lord Chamberlain’s men become my lord of Buckingham’s men.’ [13]

 

These strictly contemporary accounts do not support the conclusion that Gloucester’s actions marked the opening moves of usurpation. Even less do they justify Dr Alison Hanham’s (surprisingly defensive) proposition that ‘even the most committed Ricardian must agree that it was a time of alarms and uncertainties when the suspicions of Richard’s intentions previously disseminated by the Woodvilles must he seemed to many to receive confirmation.[14] The implication that Londoners feared Gloucester’s actions were the prelude to a coup d’état and the insinuation that Russell shared their anxiety is simply not true.[15] There is no doubt that there was a great commotion in the capital over the weekend of the 14 and 15 of June and in the week that followed, with armed gangs on the street. However, Londoners in general did not see the threat as coming from Gloucester but from Woodville inspired conspirators. The Cely memorandum is explicit on this point. And there is nothing in Stallworth’s letter to gainsay the view that the public feared the ambition of the Queen and her Woodville kin whom they blamed for the unrest. Professor Michael Hicks — a renowned anti-Ricardian — also believes that the citizens did not at this time fear Gloucester’s motive; indeed, they supported his actions against the conspirators. Hicks rejects Mancini and the other vernacular chronicle accounts as hindsight, preferring to rely on the events that followed as a better guide to public opinion of Richard in May and June.[16] It would seem that despite Professor Ross’ assertion that we only have Gloucester’s word for the Hastings conspiracy, people believed that he and the king were threatened in June 1483.

 

Russell was not a neutral observer of these events, he participated in them; to that extent he was partisan. He neither liked nor trusted the Woodvilles. He believed that if they were allowed to control the king it would result in civil war and disorder. Russell craved unity not division. All of this is clear from the sermon he drafted for Edward V’s abortive first parliament, in which he set out the Council’s plans for minority governance after Edward’s coronation. It was intended to continue the protectorship after the king’s coronation and exceptionally to invest Gloucester with regency powers. This would of course have been in accordance with the earlier view of the ‘more foresighted’ councillors that the King’s maternal uncles and stepbrothers should be ‘absolutely forbidden’ from having control of the monarch before he reached his majority.[17] It would seem from Russell’s extant draft that having examined the Woodvilles suitability for government he found them wanting.[18] He writes, for example, ‘Then if there be any certainty or firmness in this world, such as may be found in Heaven, it is rather in the islands and lands environed with water than in the sea or any great rivers (an allusion to Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers)’. Further on we have this: ‘And therefore the noble persons of the world, which some for the merits of their ancestors, some for their own virtues being endowed with great honours and possessions, and riches may be conveniently resembled unto the firm ground that men see in Islands (an allusion to Gloucester and to England) than the lower people, which for the lack of such endowments, not possible to be shared among so many and therefore living by their casual labours be not without cause [compared] to the unstable and wavering running water: aque multe populus multus (a lot of water, a lot of people)’. Towards the conclusion, he extols the Lord Protector’s virtues; ‘…The necessary charges which in the kings tender age must needs be borne and supported by the right noble and famous prince the duke of Gloucester his uncle, protector of this realm. In whose great puissance, wisdom and fortunes rests at this season the execution of the defence of the realm as well against open enemies as against subtle and faint friends of the same.’ However, this sermon was never delivered due to the dramatic events that occurred between the 22 and 26 June. On Sunday the 22 June, Edward IV’s heirs were denounced as bastards. Three days later, Gloucester was offered the throne. The next day he was king. I now turn to the relevant correspondence.

 

A warrant to arrest persons unknown dated 29 July 1483

King Richard was crowned on the 6 July and left for his first royal progress on the 18 July. He dictated this intriguing letter, whilst sojourning for two or three days with his friend Francis Lovell: ‘ By the King RR. Right reverend father in God right trusty and wellbeloved; we greet you well. Whereas we understand that certain persons had of late taken upon themselves an enterprise — as we doubt not you have heard — and are in custody, we desire and will that you take our letters of commission to such persons as you and our council shall be advised, for to sit [in judgement] upon them and to proceed to the due execution of out laws on  that behalf. Fail not hereof as our perfect trust is in you. Given under our signet at the manor of Minster Lovell the 29 July.’

 

This is not a routine letter. Judging by the last sentence, Richard is responding to what he believes is an emergency at Westminster. He does not name the conspirators or the nature of their offence because he assumes Russell knows what he means. The implication being, of course, that this matter was secret and the detail could not be committed to paper. It is for that reason that historical interest in the letter has largely concentrated on the search for answers to the inevitable ‘who’ ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions that arise. Important though those questions are, I need not answer them here, since others have already done so.[19] It is useful, nonetheless, to outline the options considered.

 

Dr Tudor-Craig submits several possible motives for the letter. First, it might have related to an attempt to remove Edward’s daughters from sanctuary and take them overseas out of Richard’s reach. The Crowland Chronicle reports the rumour of such a plot, which caused the King to strengthen security around Westminster Abbey ‘so that the whole neighbourhood took on the appearance of a castle or fortress’. John Nesfield, who was captain in charge of the operation, ensured that no one could get in or out without his permission.[20] Dr Tudor-Craig rejects that possibility, however, on the ground that ‘The tenor of the letter suggests that the criminals had accomplished their deed, even though they had been caught, and yet the princesses remained in sanctuary’.[21] Alison Hanham challenges that proposition; she argues that they were arrested before the fact and not afterwards. Her point being that the word ‘had’ (as opposed to ‘have’) suggests that the plot had not come to fruition.[22] If one accepts Dr Hanham’s construction of the letter it would seem reasonable to suppose that the plot to send the princesses overseas remains a possibility. However, such a plot hardly warrants a surreptitious letter of this kind since according to Crowland it was almost certainly common knowledge in London anyway. A similar point could be made in relation to Dr Tudor-Craig’s second possibility: that it concerned mistress ‘Jane’ Shore. I think we can safely dismiss this on the ground that there was nothing secret about her activities.

 

Dr Tudor Craig’s third and final possibility is that it relates to the disappearance of the two princes. Unfortunately, she does not look beyond the possibility that they were murdered. Such a plot would certainly require secrecy. The problem with this, however, is that Richard’s instructions to Russell to discuss the matter with the council and proceed according to the law are incompatible with secrecy. Dr Tudor-Craig recognized this problem but is nonetheless unable to disregard Thomas More’s assertion that the murder of the princes was ordered when Richard was at Gloucester, which he must have reached soon after this letter was written. Dr Tudor-Craig also sees significance in the parting of the ways between the King and Buckingham, which also occurred around this time and which she suggests might have been the result of a policy disagreement about what to do with ‘the certain persons who had taken upon themselves the fact of an enterprise’.[23] If her hypothesis is right it certainly adds credence to More’s account and also to the fears expressed for Edward V’s life reported to Mancini before he returned to France.[24]

 

Another possibility is that the letter referred to a plot to remove the boys from the Tower and to restore Edward V to the throne. The Crowland chronicler mentions such a plot, though his timing is problematic.[25] We also have a reference in John Stow’s ‘Annals’ of some such plot involving members of Edward IV’s former household with Woodville support.[26] ‘After this were taken for rebel against the king, Robert Russe sergeant of London, William Davy pardoner of Hounslow, John Smith groom of King Edward’s stirrup, and Stephen Ireland wardrober of the Tower, with many others, that they should have sent writings into the parts of Brittany to the earls of Richmond and of Pembroke and other lords; and how they were purposed to have set fire to divers parts of London, which fire whilst men had been staunching, they would have stolen out of the Tower the Prince Edward and his brother the Duke of York.’ [27]

 

Speculation that Lady Margaret Beaufort was involved in this conspiracy as the Woodville’s price for restoring Henry Tudor to his English dignitaries, is rejected by Professor Hicks on the ground that the link between the Beauforts, ‘the fact of a certain enterprise’ mentioned in the letter and the trial mentioned in Stowe is too tenuous to accept as evidence of the fact.[28] Certainly corresponding with Richmond was not per se treasonable (at this stage) and it seems from Hicks’ researches that there is no record of a commission of oyer & terminer or a trial, or even an indictment against these men. He postulates that although such a plot probably existed at this time, we do not have details of it.

 

Fortunately, I need not choose between these theories, since I am only concerned with Russell’s state of knowledge. Ironically, if the letter does relate to the boys’ murders, its tone and content tend to absolve the King from complicity. His instruction to bring the matter before the council and to judgement according to the law is only explicable on the basis that he was innocent and had nothing to hide or fear from a public airing of the facts. In that eventuality, Richard’s guilty secret would not be secret for very long. Alternatively, if the letter refers to a plot to remove the princes from the Tower, then it can be seen as a standard response to a treasonous threat to the crown. Of course, if such a plot existed, it confounds the contemporary suspicion that Edward V was dead before Mancini left England and demolishes More’s account of events. Either way, this letter raises some important questions about the state of Chancellor Russell knowledge, since he can hardly have been ignorant of the true state of affairs concerning the well-being or the fates of Edward IV’s sons in July. It also raises the questions of why Russell appears not to have been interrogated by the Tudor regime as to his knowledge of the fate of the princes or why there is no contemporary English accusation against King Richard.

 

 

Undated letter concerning the marriage of Thomas Lynom and Mistress Shore

I am referring to this this letter for two reasons; first, it gives us a brief but revealing ‘flash’ of Richard’s character and second, it gives rise to an equally illuminating difference of opinion between two of Richard’s many biographers; a difference of opinion, which, I might add, exhibits all the emotional prejudice that afflicts so much of Ricardian literature.

 

Thomas Lynom was King Richard’s solicitor; he sought permission to marry Mistress Jane Shore, who was languishing in Ludgate Prison for her part in the Hastings’ conspiracy. Richard’s moral rectitude caused him to take a hard line with Mistress Shore. She had, after all, plotted against him and she was a notorious harlot. Although it would have been easy for him to forbid the match in what he believed to be Lynom’s best interests, he wrote this letter instead.[29]…it is showed unto us that our servant and solicitor, Thomas Lynom is marvellously blinded and abused with the late wife of William Shore now being at Ludgate by our commandment, [and] hath made contract of matrimony with her, as it is said; and intends, to our full great marvel, to proceed to effect the same. We, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed and pray you therefore to send for him, in that you   may goodly may exhort and stir him to the contrary. And if you find him utter set for to marry her and none otherwise would be advertised, then if it may stand with the law of the church, we be content (the time of marriage being deferred to our coming next to London) that upon sufficient surety being found for her good behaviour, you send for her keeper and discharge him of our commandment by warrant of these; committing [her] to the rule of her father or any other by your discretion in the mean season.’

 

In his generally sympathetic biography of Richard III, Professor Paul Kendall uses this letter to illustrate Richard’s empathy with his fellows: ‘The harmony he never achieved within himself he did not cease to desire for others.[30] Richard’s use of vibrant phrases such as ‘marvellously blinded and abused’, and ‘to our full great marvel’ are testament to his astonishment and not his admonishment that his sober and correct solicitor should fall for the charms of the (no doubt) enchanting but wayward Jane Shore.

 

Professor Charles Ross in his less charitable biography of Richard III, uses the same letter to illustrate what he regards as the King’s bad character. Richard was, asserts Ross, the first English king to use character assassination as a deliberate instrument of policy. Richard’s ‘…public persecution of the delectable Mistress Shore has all the hallmarks of an attempt to make political capital by smearing the moral reputation of those who opposed him.’ Furthermore, he suggests that the ‘demure’ (his word) Mistress Shore would have been left to rot in Ludgate were it not for the fact that Richard’s solicitor wanted to marry her; a request which says Ross ‘obviously incurred Richard’s displeasure’. [31]

 

It is difficult to explain two such conflicting interpretations of the same letter. Ross represents the modern school of traditionalist historians who resist revisionist re-interpretations of Richard’s character. It seems obvious to me that he is entranced by the ‘delectable’ Mistress Shore whose virtues he extols at Richard’s expense. Professor Kendall writes more benevolently of Richard’s behaviour; though he has an occasional tendency to make excuses for him. His biography is now considered out of date by the academic establishment; nonetheless, it remains for me the most balanced and well-written account of King Richard’s life and reign yet published. Its strength is Kendall’s systematic use of BL Harleian Manuscript 433 to explain the events of 1483-85.[32]

 

Furthermore, professor Ross’ conclusion is based on a partial quote from the letter, starting at its beginning and ending with Richard’s comment ‘we, for many causes, would be very sorry he should be so disposed.’ This gives the false impression that King Richard was minded to prohibit the marriage because of his displeasure with Lynom and his vindictiveness towards Mistress Shore. Thus, Ross uses the letter as an example of Richard’s vindictive character. However, if one reads the whole letter, the absurdity of his argument becomes apparent. Indeed, there is nothing in the letter — even Ross’ edited version — that justifies his adverse characterization of Richard: quite the opposite in fact.

 

The letter is remarkable for its informality, Richard’s colourful language and his lightness of touch in dealing with the situation. He comes across as a concerned friend rather than an angry monarch. He has every reason to prohibit this marriage but his desire to do the right thing outweighs any animus he feels towards Mistress Shore. For Richard ‘doing the right thing’ means trying to save Thomas Lynom from his folly, which is why he asks Russell to urge him in a ‘goodly’ manner to think again. But if Lynom is ‘utter set to marry her and not otherwise’, then Richard consented. The letter is not indicative of a cruel or vindictive man. Its relaxed tone suggests that the king trusted his Chancellor and that they had a good rapport. After taking these factors into account, I prefer Kendall’s interpretation of the letter.

 

Letter dated the 12 October from King Richard to John Russell

Richard dictated this letter at Lincoln during his royal progress. It is considered to be one of the chief documents of his reign and contains a rare example of his handwriting: ‘By the King. Right reverend Father in God, right trusty and wellbeloved. We greet you          well. And in out heartfelt way thank you for the manifest presents that your servants on your behalf has presented to us here, which we assure you we took and accepted with a good heart and soul we have cause. And whereas we by Gods grace intend briefly [soon] to advance us towards our rebel and traitor the Duke of Buckingham to resist and withstand his malicious purpose as lately by our other letters we certified to you our mind   more at large. For which cause it behoves us to have our Great Seal here. We being informed that for such infirmities and disease you sustain you cannot conveniently come unto us in person with the same. Wherefore we desire and nonetheless charge you that forthwith upon the sight of these you safely do the same our Great Seal sent unto us and [by] such of the officers of our Chancery as by your wisdom shall be thought necessary. Receiving this our letter for your sufficient discharge in that behalf.  Given under our signet at our City of Lincoln the 12 day of October.   We would be most glad that you came yourself if that you may and if you may not we pray you not to fail but to accomplish in all diligence our said commandment to send our seal in contentment upon the sight hereof as we trust you with such as you trust the officers ‘pertenyng’ to attend with it praying you to ascertain us of your news here. Here loved be God is all well and truly determined and for to resist the malice of him that has best cause to be true the Duke of Buckingham the most untrue creature living whom with God’s grace we shall not be long till that we shall be in those parts and subdue his malice. We assure you that there was never false traitor better purveyed as this bearer Gloucester shall show you.”[33]

 

It is obvious that Richard and Russell were in touch and that Russell was aware of the King’s plans. Since Russell cannot bring the Great Seal himself owing to his illness, Richard added a postscript in his own hand (my emphasis above). It is one of the most revealing documents of Buckingham’s rebellion.

 

Dr Louise Gill considers that Richard’s request was unusual ‘since it put full control of the government in his hands‘ and implies that he no longer trusted his Chancellor.[34] Personally, I think Dr Gill’s appraisal of the situation is mistaken for two reasons: in the first place it is not supported by the facts and in the second place it offends against common sense. It was not in fact unusual for the Great Seal to be commandeered in times of crisis. Richard and the Council had done so in April/May 1483 after the then Chancellor, Thomas Rotherham archbishop of York, had improperly handed it to Elizabeth Woodville following the arrests of Earl Rivers and others. Richard was to call for it again in July 1485 when he was threatened by Henry Tudor’s invasion. The Great Seal was an instrument of strategic importance, to the king since it authenticated royal commands, documents and proclamations. Its close control was desirable at all times but absolutely essential when, as here, rebels aimed at deposing the king. If the king was at Westminster there was no problem, but King Richard was 150 miles from Westminster and his enemies were strategically placed to put themselves between him and the capital. He believed that the threat to him was mortal; Russell was well aware of this and of Richard’s plans from previous correspondence. Naturally, Richard wanted control of the Great Seal to authenticate his rule but just as importantly to deny it to his enemies. Similarly, the suggestion of a breakdown of trust between Richard and Russell does not bear close examination. Richard was many things but he was not stupid; it is inconceivable that he would entrust his plans ‘at large’ to someone he didn’t trust. There is also the evidence of Richard’s postscript wherein he expressed his faith that Russell would send the Great Seal to him. Its possession was of such overwhelming importance to Richard, and secrecy was so vital (There are obvious risks to it being carried by a single horseman.) that he is equally unlikely to have entrusted that task to anyone he didn’t trust. A distrustful Richard would probably have sent one of his own men of action to take possession of the seal. Indeed, in May, as duke of Gloucester, he sent his personal Herald to take it from Rotherham. If we judge men by their actions, the fact that Russell complied with the king’s wishes with such alacrity and that the Great Seal was later returned to him (Russell) before witnesses in the Star Chamber is a clear indication that the Lord Chancellor retained the king’s trust and confidence.

 

Conclusion

Although many people suspect Richard III of doing away with his nephews, suspicion is not evidence and there is no evidence that he murdered them or, indeed, that anyone murdered them. I do not know the princes’ fate and neither does anybody else. Nor do I pretend that these letters offer a solution to the mystery, since they leave too many unanswered and unanswerable questions for that. But they do sharpen our silhouette of England’s most enigmatic king and his relationship with his first minister of state during the crucial period of 1483-85. And they add substance to a neat epigram about those events, which I read somewhere. Those who knew most said least; those who knew least said most.

 

Quite what Holmes might have deduced from this correspondence is difficult to say, since he famously eschewed theorising without data. Of course, his prospect of solving the mysterious disappearance of the two princes would undoubtedly be enhanced if only John Russell was available to be interviewed.

[1] A Conan-Doyle – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin 1950) p.28

[2] Pamela Tudor-Craig – Brochure: Richard III (biographical exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery 1973) pp.39-41

[3] A. J. Pollard, ‘Shirwood, John (d. 1493)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25447, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[4] D. P. Wright, ‘Langton, Thomas (c.1430–1501)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/16045, accessed 25 Nov 2017]

[5] Charles Ross – Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.151 and note 16

[6] CJ Armstrong (Ed) – The Usurpation of Richard III by Dominic Mancini [1483] (Oxford 1969 edition) pp. 93 and 127 note 89. Mancini wrote: ’The physician Dr Argentine, the last of his servants whose services the king enjoyed, reported that the young king, like a victim prepared for sacrifice, sought remission of his sins by daily confession and penance, because he believed that death was facing him’. Armstrong argues that Dr Argentine and Mancini were well acquainted: they were social equals and Argentine spoke fluent Italian (pp.19-20).

[7] Tudor-Craig p.44; Shirwood wrote ‘De Ludo Arithmomachia; De Ludo Philosophorum; Ludus Astronomorum’ (Treatise on a Mathematical Game) in about 1475. Tudor-Craig postulates that Shirwood personally gave Dr Argentine a copy of his treatise in London during the summer of 1483.

[8] Charles Ross- Richard III (Yale 1999 edition) p.132

[9] Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (2005); see also Chambers Dictionary (13th edition, 2014)

[10] Richard Sylvester – The Complete Edited Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of Richard III (Yale 1963) p.25

[11] Armstrong p.85

[12] Alison Hanham – The Cely Letters (EETS Oxford 1975) pp. 184-85. See also Michael Hicks – Richard III (Tempus 2000 edition) p.45, for a different translation of this note ‘There is great rumour in the realm. The Scots have done great [damage] in England, the Chamberlain is deceased in trouble, the Chancellor [Rotherham] is deprived and not content, the bishop of Ely is dead (my emphases)’. Professor Hicks is wrong, however, to suggest that Thomas Rotherham was the Chancellor, he was the archbishop of York; Russell was the Chancellor. Neither can it be easy to confuse ‘desperate’ with ‘deprived’, though the professor managed it

[13] Christine Carpenter (Ed) – Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers 1290-1483 (Cambridge UP 1996) pp.159-60. See also Alison Hanham – Varieties of Error and Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers (Ricardian, Vol 11, No.142, Sept 1998) p.350

[14] Alison Hanham – Remedying a Mischief: Bishop John Russell and the royal title (Ricardian Vol.12, No.151, December 2000) p.149

[15] Hanham (Ricardian) ibid

[16] Hicks pp. 114-16; to be fair, Professor Hicks argues that Richard always planned to seize the throne, but at this time nobody else realised it. His support soon fell away after he deposed Edward V

[17] Nicholas Pronay and John Cox (Eds) – The Crowland Chronicle Continuations 1459-1486 (The R3 and Yorkist Historical Trust 1986) p.153

[18] S B Chrimes – English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century (Cambridge 1936) pp.168-78; Chrimes reproduces all three of Russell’s draft speeches.

[19] Tudor-Craig ibid; Michael Hicks – Unweaving the Web: the plot of July 1483 against Richard III and its wider significance (Ricardian Vol 9, No.114, September 1991) pp.106-109; see also Annette Carson – Richard III; the maligned king (The History Press 2013 edition) pp. 151-68 passim. Both of these authors provide useful discussion about the July 1483 ‘plot’

[20] Pronay and Cox p.163

[21] Tudor-Craig pp.54-55

[22] Hanham (Ricardian) p.236: Hanham describes the word ‘had’ as ‘a subjunctive accusation of past possibility or past unreality…plainly they had been stopped before they could put their alleged plan into effect’. See also Hicks (Unweaving the web,,,), passim.

[23] Tudor-Craig ibid.

[24] Mancini left England shortly after Richard’s coronation (6 July 1483). Interestingly, he records only a suspicion that Edward V was ‘done away with’; he does not record any suspicion about the fate of the duke of York who was heir presumptive. The other interesting point is how this squares with the Cely memorandum, which expressed fears for the lives of king Edward V, his brother the Duke of York and his uncle the Duke of Gloucester.

[25] Pronay and Cox ibid

[26] Rosemary Horrox – Richard III and London (Ricardian Vol.6, 1984) pp325-26 and 329 citing: John Stow – The Annals or General Chronicle of England (1615) p.460. Also, Michael Jones – Richard III and Lady Margaret Beaufort: a re-assessment, in – Richard III: loyalty, lordship and law (PW Hammond [Ed] (Richard III and Yorkist History Trust 1986) pp. 30-31; Carson ibid and Henry Ellis (Ed) – Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History: comprising the reigns of Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III (Camden Society 1844) pp. 194-95

[27] Hicks (Unweaving the web…) p.107

[28] Hicks pp.107-109

[29] Paul Murray Kendall – Richard the Third (Geo Allen & Unwin 1955) p.324

[30] Kendall ibid

[31] Ross p.137

[32] R Horrox and PW Hammond [Eds] – British Library Harleian Manuscript 433 in four volumes (Sutton Publishing and the R3S 1979); it contains the strictly contemporary Register of Grants and Signet Letters written during Richard III’s reign and passing through Russell’s hands.

[33] Peter and Patricia Hairsine – The Chancellor’s File: published in J Petre [Ed] Richard III, crown and people (The Richard III Society 1984) p. 418, which reproduces the original letter (PRO reference C/1392/6); see also Tudor-Craig p.79

[34] Louise Gill – Richard III and Buckingham’s Rebellion (Sutton 2000 edition) p.6

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The Scrope and Welles marriages of Edward IV’s daughter….

Ralph, 9th Baron Scrope of Masham, was—through his Greystoke mother—the great-grandson of Joan Beaufort and therefore great-great-grandson of John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roët.

The tombs of Katherine de Roet and her daughter, Joan Beaufort - Lincoln Cathedral

The tombs of Katherine de Roet and her daughter Joan Beaufort in Lincoln Cathedral

This made him the great-great-great-grandson of Edward III. (For the path, follow the purple line in the following chart.) What this blood did not do was give him expectations.

Scrope-Welles-Plantagenet

* I apologise for the poor resolution in the above chart. The problem just seems to be with this published version. It can be seen more clearly on my Facebook page, one of the entries for 6th August 2017. Click on the chart in the collage, and it will pop up in a crisper version. See https://www.facebook.com/sandra.heathwilson.9

As the third of four brothers, Ralph could not have expected to inherit the family title, nevertheless, as plain Ralph Scrope, he married a princess. Cicely of York was the daughter of the late Yorkist king, Edward IV, and therefore the niece of Richard III. She was also very beautiful, if Sir Thomas More’s description is anything to go by: Not so fortunate as fair. Some say she was the loveliest of Edward’s daughters.

Cicely, daughter of Edward IV

Cicely, daughter of Edward IV

However, this early Scrope marriage has only recently come to light. Until its unexpected discovery, it was thought that Cicely only married twice, first John Welles and secondly one Thomas Kymbe or Kyme. Now, it seems, she had three husbands.

It was Richard III who arranged this astonishingly advantageous marriage for Ralph. True, Cicely and her siblings had been declared illegitimate at the time, but they were still the acknowledged offspring of one king, and the nieces and nephews of another, and therefore considerable catches.

Richard III

Ralph was not exactly in the forefront of royal blood, but he did have some. His maternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ferrers, was the granddaughter of John of Gaunt, and half-sister of Cicely Neville, Duchess of York, who was the mother of Edward IV and Richard III. So Ralph had some very important royal connections indeed, but didn’t have the clout to go with it. He had no title at the time, and wasn’t expected to ever have one. The family seat at Masham was never likely to be his. So he would never be a great landowning noble who might develop designs on the throne. But he was safely Yorkist. Maybe all these were good reasons for Richard to select him for an illegitimate niece.

Whether desired or not, the marriage probably took place in 1484, when Ralph was about 23, and Cicely a mere 15, possibly 16. The only certain thing, apart from the marriage’s existence, is that when Richard was killed at Bosworth and Henry VII usurped the throne, the Scrope match was swiftly set aside, as if Cicely had never been a bride at all. But presumably it had been consummated? We can’t even say that, but by medieval standards she was certainly of age.

Henry VII

Henry VII

The reason for the jettisoning of the Scrope union is another thing that is not known, but the outcome was that Cecily was swiftly married off to Sir John Welles instead. He was not Viscount Welles at the time, that came later. Why did Henry choose John? Well, he was Henry’s half-uncle to start with, and a Lancastrian who had shared exile with him.

Bletsoe Castle - much altered since John Welles's day

Bletsoe Castle, a residence known to John Welles. His mother was born there.

Another reason is probably that Henry, by now married to Cicely’s elder sister, Elizabeth of York, had no desire at all to have his new sister-in-law married to a mere Scrope of no rank or expectation of a title. A Yorkist, to boot. All these things probably had a lot to do with it. Henry’s claim to the throne was by conquest, because his line of descent wasn’t exactly direct. His Yorkist queen—once made legitimate again—had a better title. He had no real blood claim at all, because his mother was a Beaufort, and the Beauforts had been forbidden the throne at the beginning of the century by John of Gaunt’s trueborn son, the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV. Who, as it happens, was another usurper. So the usurper at the end of the century, Henry VII, did all he could to bolster his personal prestige. Therefore, exit poor Ralph Scrope, stage left.

John Welles was about twenty years older than Cicely and had not been married previously, but Henry’s half-uncle or not, he wasn’t royal himself. He was related to royalty, because his mother’s first marriage had been to John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset, who was of course—like Ralph Scrope—descended from John of Gaunt. On the death of the duke, John’s mother married Lionel, 6th Baron Welles, and John was the result. Another piece of bad luck for John was that his father, Lionel, had also been married before, so the family title of Baron Welles and the lands went to the son of his first marriage. John got nothing from either parent.

It was John’s Beaufort half-sister, Margaret, who received the all-important royal blood and a huge fortune in money and lands, albeit through an illegitimate line that had been legitimised. She was perhaps the greatest heiress in the realm, and was snapped up at a very early age by Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond (another half-brother of a king, this time Henry VI). Their only child was to become Henry VII. Something useful for John at last? Yes, as it turns out.

John, Viscount Welles

John, 1st Viscount Welles

Ignoring Henry’s probable haste to be rid of an inconveniently lowly Yorkist brother-in-law-by-marriage, might it have been that John Welles actually loved the beautiful Cicely? Did he ask his half-sister to mediate with her son Henry? Or maybe Henry had some fondness for his half-uncle, and simply wanted to increase John’s importance with a royal wife, and then a title? Henry wasn’t exactly overloaded with blood relatives, so was obliged to keep and placate the few he had. Plus, of course, a royal wife for Uncle John would make Henry himself look better.

Certainly John Welles appears to have looked after and appreciated his highborn bride. His will was very affectionate, and according to one report (Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 163, p.33. Funeral of John Viscount Welles, 9th February 1498) she was quite distracted on losing him. The word used for her distress is actually “incontinent”, in its meaning of “distraught”. So I have reason to think that whatever her feelings for him at the outset of the marriage, there was warmth at the end. They had two daughters together, both of whom died tragically young.

One thing can be said of Cicely first two husbands: they were cousins. But not royally so, of course. Ralph’s great-grandfather, Stephen Scrope, 2nd Baron Scrope of Masham married Margery de Welles, the sister of John’s great-grandfather, the 5th Baron Welles.  John Welles also had the same Greystoke blood as Ralph, but alas, not from the member who married the granddaughter of John of Gaunt! Poor old John, missed out again. First because he wasn’t from his mother’s Beaufort marriage or his father’s first marriage, and also because he wasn’t from the right Greystoke marriage either. Dag nam it thrice times over!

However, that other Greystoke marriage was of great benefit to Ralph, upon whom it bestowed that royal Beaufort blood. What it did not do was bring him the family title, until he was nearing the end of his life and in a second childless marriage. He was the third of four brothers, who all failed to leave heirs—except for one, who produced a daughter, but she left no children either. So Ralph had to wait to eventually become the 9th Baron Scrope of Masham. His successor, the fourth brother and 10th baron, Geoffrey, also died childless, and on his death in 1517, the title fell into abeyance.

But Cicely did not stop at two husbands. She chose to marry again, and this time she certainly followed her heart. Not royal instructions! A few years after the death of John Welles, she married Thomas Kymbe or Kyme, a Lincolnshire gentleman of Friskney in Lincolnshire. His family home was probably Friskney Hall, the remains of which are shown in the map below.

Site of Friskney Hall - Kymbe residence

As may be imagined, Henry VII went blue in the face. He erupted into a fury, took away all her possessions (presumably to deny her upstart husband her wealth) and banished her. He was beside himself over what she’d done behind his back. His sister-in-law, married to a mere gentleman? It wasn’t to be tolerated!

The scandalous situation was smoothed by none other than Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who had formed a close friendship with Cicely. Margaret mediated with Henry, and managed to smooth his ruffled feathers. To a certain extent, anyway. He allowed Cicely some of her possessions, but he never again referred to her third husband. To Henry, and therefore the rest of the court, she was Viscountess Welles until the day she died. She did eventually appear at court again, but not often, and I imagine she kept out of Henry’s way.

She and Thomas went to reside in the Isle of Wight, where she eventually died as was laid to rest in old Quarr Abbey (although there is a school of thought that she died at Margaret Beaufort’s residence in Hatfield Old Palace).

Ruins of old Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight

Ruins of old Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight

It is thought that she and Thomas had children, a boy and a girl. There seems evidence of this, but all trace of any further descendants has been lost. So it is possible that there are folk around now who can trace their descent from this remarkable royal lady’s third marriage. But not, alas to her first two.https://www.facebook.com/sandra.heathwilson.9

English kings, queens and ladies of the late 15th century and their books….

On a whim, I acquired a copy of The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England, edited by Marion Glasscoe. It concerns the papers that were the proceedings of the Exeter Symposium IV: Dartington 1987. And the first of these papers concerns The Mystics and the Early English Printers, and is by George R. Keiser.

I confess this is not my usual territory, but I found it all very interesting. The objective of this particular paper is to argue about points regarding Wynkyn de Worde’s significance in printing in England. Wynkyn was a Dutch emigrant who first worked with Caxton, but in 1500 set up on his own to approach printing from his own perspective. Caxton was apparently not much inclined to print in English, but Wynkyn de Worde did just that.

That is not my interest here, because my Ricardian leanings take me down a side road. By that I mean, a little delve into the literacy, or lack of it, of the royals of the late 15th century.

Edward IV - Caxton

edward_iv_signature

Caxton had done well under the Yorkist kings. There is a famous Victorian painting of Edward IV and his family visiting Caxton’s printing press, and according to Weiser, it is generally accepted that the kings who preceded Henry VII were well educated and prepared for their royal role. According to me, this is especially true of Richard III, Edward’s youngest brother, who was particularly literate.

Richard's Books

Strangely, he doesn’t get a mention. I know he only reigned for two years, but that is no excuse for eliminating him, so I will rectify the omission by directing you to http://www.richardiii.net/2_1_0_richardiii.php where the section on his books reveals him to have been unusually steeped in literature. So, far from having little to do with printing, he was quite clearly very interested and involved. And he possessed a copy of the Bible in the English language.

Flourishing under the Yorkists meant life was not so easy after Bosworth, of course, and both Caxton and Wynkyn rather cannily approached Margaret Beaufort, who, whatever we may think of her, was a very literate woman. Wynkyn eventually styled himself “Prynter vnto the moost excellent Pryncesse my lady the Kynges mother”. She and Elizabeth of York were often approached together, and appear to have commissioned a number of book editions to give to their friends. It is not so well known how literate Elizabeth of York was, but there is, apparently, a surviving print book that contains the signatures of both ladies.

That the printers approached the ladies rather than King Henry VII might be explained by the following passage from Keiser’s paper: “…The new king had apparently come to the throne without the education and training that his predecessors had enjoyed (Chrimes Henry VII). Whether he had the literary, chivalric and devotional interests that might have inspired his patronage of the press remains an unanswered question; so too does the question why the new dynasty did not seize the opportunity to exploit the press for propaganda purposes…”

Huh??? Henry missed a chance for more propaganda? Hard to believe.

But I must be fair to Henry regarding his literacy. He spoke a number of languages, and was a highly intelligent man! Mind you, I must say that it is easier to speak a language than to write it. Even so, I have always regarded him as well educated, if not exactly well prepared to be king.

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, (mother of Edward IV and Richard III, and grandmother of Elizabeth of York, and Henry’s grandmother-in-law) was particularly distinguished for her pious life and collection of devotional writings which she bequeathed to various granddaughters.

So the royal ladies of the late 15th century were educated and literate, a fact that is often overlooked. The men are credited with being as deft with the quill as they were with the sword, while the women did nothing in particular. Is that not the usual image with which we are presented?

Finally, a rather favourite of lady of mine; indeed, the lady after whom I called myself ‘viscountessw’. Cicely, Viscountess Welles, was Elizabeth of York’s next sister in age, and therefore another daughter of Edward IV. She became the wife of John Welles, Viscount Welles, who was Margaret Beaufort’s half-brother. Thus Cicely was also Henry VII’s sister-in-law…and his aunt by marriage was well! A very highly connected lady.

Cecyll the kyng's dotther - 2

 

Cicely alone again.3

Above is an example of her signature, which has been described as ‘barely literate’. It has always grieved my modern self to think this description might indeed be appropriate. However, today, in this newly acquired book, I found the following:- “…A book-list preserved in British Library MS. Royal 15.D.2 attests that yet another of her [Cecily Neville’s] grand-daughters, Cicely Welles, had an extensive library of chivalric and devotional writings, some of which must have been printed books…”

Here is a transcript of the BL MS:-

“…Origin: England. Lionel de Welles (b. c.1406, d. 29 March 1461), 6th Baron Welles, perhaps owned by him (see M. Hamel, ‘Arthurian Romance’, Modern Language Quarterly, 51(1990)). John Welles, Viscount Welles (d. 1499), soldier and administrator, perhaps belonged to him: a list of woods sales mentioning John’s property in Well (now Welle Park, Lincolnshire) and other places in the proximity of his properties in Well and Belleau, including a reference to a personal property ‘a nacur in my nawn manour in modurwode [Motherwood, near Alferd]’, (f. 215v) (see Egbert, ‘The So-called “Greenfield” La Lumiere as lais’, Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 446-48); and a list of books in English, written probably in the same hand, including the present manuscript: inscribed, ‘In primus a boke in France clakld pokelypse / A boke of knghte hode / A boke of Caunturbere tlase / A boke of Charlman / A boke þe lyfe of our ladys lyfe / A boke the sheys of Thebes / A boke cald vita mixta / A boke cald þe vii poyntes of true love / A boke cald þe sheys of Jherusalem / A boke cald mort Arthro / A boke cald dyuys et paupar / A boke cald cronackols / A boke cald legend aure / A boke cald facekelus temporum [perhaps a text by the Carthusian Rolevink, printed in 1475]’, end of the 15th century (f. 211r).Cecilia Welles (d. 1507), daughter of Edward IV, king of England, wife of John Welles: inscribed with her name ‘Ciecyl Welles’ (now effaced…”

Well, the above paragraph does not say all the books were inscribed with Cicely’s name…or does it? I’m not quite sure. And yes, she may simply have liked looking at them, but on the other hand, perhaps she could read them perfectly well. I hope so. She became very close to Margaret Beaufort, which perhaps would not have been the case if Cicely had been an uneducated nitwit.

 

 

 

What do Matilda and Margaret, Eleanor and Elizabeth, plus two Henrys, add up to…?

To my mind, it adds up to two very similar situations that are two centuries apart.

Henry I deathbed - stand-in pic

Let us begin in the 12th century. On his deathbed, Henry I of England named as his successor his only surviving child, his daughter, the Empress Matilda. He obliged the nobility to agree. They reneged, of course. A woman as queen in her own right? Cue mass hysteria among the male upper classes and uncontrollable fits of the vapours in the Church. And cue a sharp move by her cousin, Stephen, who promptly had himself crowned before she could even return to England.

To cut a long story short, Matilda fought first for herself, supported by her powerful half-brother, Robert of Gloucester. When it became clear she would never be accepted because she was a woman, Matilda fought on behalf of her eldest son. He, thanks to her tireless efforts, eventually became Henry II—and yes, he is one of the two Henrys.

There was nothing Matilda would not have done to see her son on the throne, and her aim came to fruition. And when he was crowned, she became the highest woman in the realm. She wasn’t monarch in the own right, but came darned close!

Then came the time when Henry II chose a queen. Not just any queen, but beautiful, spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a powerful, troublesome lady with a mind very much of her own, but was also prepared to scheme and manipulate on behalf of her sons by Henry. Against Henry.

Eleanor’s reputation was not squeaky clean. She had been married to the King of France, only for the marriage to be annulled and custody of their two daughters given to Louis. She had been on a Crusade with her husband, and halted at Antioch, where she encountered her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, who was described by William of Tyre as “a lord of noble descent, of tall and elegant figure, the handsomest of the princes of the earth, a man of charming affability and conversation, open-handed and magnificent beyond measure“. There were whispers because Raymond and Eleanor spent such a great deal of time together and seemed so very intimate. She quite clearly found her uncle preferable to her husband. The whispers increased when she declined to leave Antioch with said husband, who eventually took her away by force. She was a lady to whom scandal seemed drawn, but it is only her ‘acquaintance’ with Raymond that is of interest for this article.

Raymond of Poitiers

Raymond of Poitiers

The difficulties between Henry and Eleanor commenced when the latter came up against Matilda, who was not about to surrender the position of First Lady. As far as Matilda was concerned, Eleanor was simply Henry’s wife, with no claim to any power. A baby-making machine, no more or less. Open warfare threatened.

fighting women

Was Henry caught in the middle? Well, in a way, but he loved his mother because of all she had done to put him on the throne. Then (so the story goes) he fell for one of his many mistresses, a lady known as Fair Rosamund Clifford. It was too much for Eleanor. Already furious about playing second fiddle to Matilda, she now had to endure his immense infatuation for younger  woman. Eleanor stormed off to her lands in Europe, there to plot with her sons against their father.

the lion in winter

If you have seen the film The Lion in Winter, you will know that Eleanor and Henry were played by Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole. Oh, how the sparks and flames flew when they were on screen together. Eleanor was indeed very beautiful, but I don’t think Henry resembled O’Toole. According to Gerald of Wales [he had} “a reddish complexion, rather dark, and a large, round head. His eyes were grey, bloodshot, and flashed in anger. He had a fiery countenance, his voice was tremulous, and his neck a little bent forward; but his chest was broad, and his arms were muscular. His body was fleshy, and he had an enormous paunch, rather by the fault of nature than from gross feeding.” Definitely not the gorgeous Peter.

* * *

Now we must fast forward to the fifteenth century, and Lady Margaret Beaufort, yet another mother who would stop at nothing to see her son on the throne. Meet that son, Henry VII, the second Henry concerned in this article. Unlike Henry II, who was a direct blood heir, Henry VII’s forebears descended through a rather convoluted and weak line that included the bastard strain of the Beauforts (illegitimate offspring of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine de Roët.

When Henry, taking for himself the role of legitimate heir of the House of Lancaster, was helped to Richard III’s throne by traitors, his formidable mother became First Lady—she was known as the King’s Lady Mother. Like Matilda, Margaret also had a helpful half-brother, John Welles, Viscount Welles, but he was hardly in the same class as the mighty Robert of Gloucester.

I could not find an illustration of John Welles, but this is his father, Lionel, Lord Welles, who died at Towton.

Henry always supported whatever Margaret did. She was, perhaps, the only person he ever trusted completely. His was a suspicious, secretive, paranoid character. He was not a mother’s boy, but came pretty close.

Then he too took a wife. He had to, he’d promised it in order to win the support of discontented supporters of the House of York (to which his defeated predecessor, Richard III, had belonged). If Henry had tried to wriggle out of it, there would have been uproar, because the promise entailed marrying the eldest Yorkist princess, Richard III’s niece, Elizabeth. Henry VII did not like having to do as he was told, but wasn’t given much of a choice.

Elizabeth of York - for WordPress

It is hard to imagine anyone less like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Elizabeth of York was reportedly lovely, but was mostly so quiet and apparently inactive that she barely offered a defiant squeak when Henry and his mother belittled her. She must have loathed Margaret, who swanned around almost as if she were the king, not Henry.

However, like Eleanor before her, Elizabeth had also been caught up in a scandal. It too involved an uncle, Richard III. There were strong rumours that something went on between uncle and niece—so strong that Richard was forced to deny it all in public. Whether there was any truth in it all will never be known, although I doubt very much that Richard returned any incestuous affection. That falls into the realm of fiction. He was intent upon arranging a foreign match for her. But the story clings to Elizabeth’s memory. Maybe she did love Richard, who, unlike his Shakespearean namesake, was actually a handsome young widower at the time in question.

Richard III for WordPress

Henry VII may have come to feel affection for his queen (perhaps because she was so unlike his domineering mother!) but she always took second place to Margaret. There is no known equivalent of Fair Rosamund in Henry’s life, so Elizabeth was never challenged on that score. Even if she had been, I doubt if she would have flounced off in a fury as Eleanor did. Perhaps Henry’s problem with his marriage was that he could not forget the rumours about Richard.

Maybe Elizabeth was one of those people who work quietly in the background, getting her own way when she wanted, but never openly defying either Henry or Margaret. Well, she did once, and Henry was so startled at the unexpected stamping of her Yorkist foot, that he backed down. I’d love to have been there, just for the joy of seeing his face.

So, there we have it. Two grimly determined mothers-in-law, two daughters-in law touched by rumours of incest and consigned to second place. And two Henrys who were loath to take on their mothers. Two M’s, two E’s and two H’s!

Matilda and Margaret could not have the throne in their own right, but were prepared to fight tooth and nail to put their sons there. Eleanor was another in the same mould, but Elizabeth of York was not. Neither daughter-in-law was afforded proper prominence in the eyes of her husband.

As for the Henrys, well, while their mothers could not rule alone as the true monarch (heaven forfend!) these sons were quite happy to lay claim the throne through the female line. So, a woman’s blood was good enough pass on to a son who would be crowned, but was next to worthless if she tried to assert herself by becoming “king”.

 

King Arthur, King Richard and the Wars of the Roses….

 

Arthur and Richard

The following is just a little diversion; the result of that strange half–world we go into when we’re dropping off to sleep. There I was, not counting sheep, but matching Arthurian characters with figures from the Wars of the Roses. Now, I am not an expert on Arthur, or indeed on Richard, just an amateur who likes both.

The list isn’t complete, of course, and I have picked out facts to suit my pairings, but it proved an interesting exercise. No doubt many will disagree with my choices (and my interpretation) but that’s fine, I’d love to see other suggestions – polite ones, that is! And if anyone notices glaring omissions, please, please fill in the gaps. The greatest omission, of course, is Merlin. I just couldn’t think of anyone to fit that particular bill.

One thing – it was difficult to always distinguish between Gorlois and Uther, so I apologise for the odd hop between the two.

Here goes:– 

Arthur – a great king betrayed and killed in battle – son of Ygraine and Uther Pendragon:

Richard III – a great king betrayed and killed in battle son of Cecily, Duchess of York and Richard, Duke of York.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Agravain – joined Mordred:

Thomas, Lord Stanley – joined Henry “Tudor”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Bedivere – survives Camlann and throws Excalibur back to Lady of the Lake, dedicated to Arthur:

Francis Lovell – survives Bosworth and fights on for House of York, dedicated to Richard.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Bors the Elder –Arthur’s ally:

John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Arthur’s ally.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Camelot:

Middleham and England under Richard.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Claudas – Frankish king hostile to Arthur:

Charles VIII, King of France, Richard’s foe.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Constantine II of Britain – Arthur’s grandfather:

Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, Richard III’s grandfather.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Dagonet, Arthur’s court jester:

Martin or John, Richard’s court jesters.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Elaine of Benoic, mother of Lancelot, sees him again after many years apart:

Margaret Beaufort – mother of Henry Tudor, sees him again after many years apart.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Galahad, Lancelot’s illegitimate son:

Roland de Vielleville – Henry Tudor’s rumoured illegitimate son – although, from all accounts, definitely lacking Galahad’s gallantry and purity.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Garlon a wicked, invisible knight who kills other knights:

John Morton, who works ‘invisibly’ behind the scenes to bring about Richard’s death. Nasty as they come!

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Gawain, Arthur’s brave nephew:

John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, Richard’s brave nephew

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Gawain’s brothers killed by Lancelot:

Lincoln’s brothers – persecuted and executed by Henry Tudor.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Gorlois of Cornwall, cuckolded by Uther Pendragon:

Richard, Duke of York, who was allegedly cuckolded by the archer Blaybourne, resulting in birth of Edward IV.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Guinevere – accused of destroying Camelot because of her affair with Lancelot:

Elizabeth of York – ended the hopes of the House of York by marrying Henry Tudor.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Hector – raised Arthur in his household:

Warwick the Kingmaker – in whose household Richard was trained as a boy.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Hector de Maris, younger half–brother of Lancelot:

John Welles, Viscount Welles, younger half–brother of Margaret Beaufort and half-nephew of Henry Tudor.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Holy Grail:

Crown of England

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Iseult of Ireland, wife of Mark of Cornwall and adulterous lover of Sir Tristan:

Margaret of Anjou, queen of Henry VI, but probable lover of Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, who might have been the father of Edward of Lancaster.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Kay – Arthur’s foster brother:

Robert Percy – close childhood friend of Richard III.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lady of the Lake/Nimue – provided weapon – Excalibur/Caliburn – for Arthur:

Margaret of Burgundy – provided weapons and finance for the House of York

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lynette – sister of Lyonesse:            

Isabel Neville, wife of George of Clarence

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lyonesse – Entrapped sister of Lynette; rescued by Gareth, whom she eventually marries:

Anne Neville, held by brother–in–law, George of Clarence but then rescued and married by Richard III.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Lancelot – unfaithful to Arthur with Guinevere and as a consequence brought down Camelot:

Henry “Tudor” – thinks Richard is his rival for Elizabeth of York, and is responsible for destroying Richard and the House of York at Bosworth – through treachery on the field.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Llamrei, a mare owned by Arthur:

White Surrey, said to be the name of Richard’s horse.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Loholt – Arthur’s illegitimate son:

John of Gloucester, Richard’s illegitimate son.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Madoc, Uther’s son–

Edward IV – Richard, Duke of York’s son or Blaybourne’s son, but still acknowledged as York’s. (I can’t find another son of Uther Pendragon, and so conflate George of Clarence with Edward IV. Sorry.)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Merlin – (Can’t think of anyone of WOTR suited to this important role!)

(Sara Nur has now suggested Stillington for Merlin, which I think is a good idea.)

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Mordred – who changed sides and killed Arthur at Camlann:

Sir William Stanley, who changed sides and was responsible for Richard’s death at Bosworth.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Morgan le Fay – Arthur’s implacable foe but is finally reconciled with him and is one of the queens who take him to Avalon:

Elizabeth Woodville – at first she is Richard’s implacable foe, but is then reconciled.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Nantres – a king married to Arthur’s sister and hostile to him:

Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham – Richard’s cousin and enemy.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Pinel – a knight who tries to poison Gawain to avenge Lamerok’s murder:

William, Lord Hastings – who almost certainly plotted to overthrow Richard to avenge (as he saw it) the children of Edward IV. Was beheaded for his treachery.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Red and white dragons – Merlin predicts that the white dragon will win:

Houses of York and Lancaster – York wins when Edward IV topples Henry VI.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The Green Knight, enchanted by Morgan le Fay:

Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, influenced by his sister, Elizabeth Woodville.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Tristan, lover of Iseult of Ireland:

Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset, probable lover of Margaret of Anjou.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Uther Pendragon – in the legends, Uther is transformed into the image of Gorlois in order to bed Ygraine:

Blaybourne – an archer – supposedly cuckolded the Duke of York and sired Edward IV – only a rumour.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Vortigern – king who eventually lost his throne to the ‘white dragon’:

Henry VI – his incompetence and inability led to the return to England of Edward IV.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Vortigern’s son, killed by Saxon invaders:

Edward of Lancaster, killed by the House of York at Tewkesbury.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Ygraine, Arthur’s mother through Uther Pendragon:

Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of Richard by the Duke of York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasmer’s Place, Sise Lane, London. An address fit for a king’s daughter and a king’s uncle . . . .?

Sise Lane - Map 

On 9th February 1499, John, Viscount Welles, half-uncle of Henry VII and half-brother of Margaret Beaufort, died at his home, Pasmer’s Place, in Saint Sithes Lane, London. I have read that he died of pleurisy, but I do not know if that is true. Welles was also the husband of Lady Cicely/Cecily/Cecyll/Cecille Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV and sister of Henry’s queen, Elizabeth of York. Viscount and Viscountess Welles were very well connected indeed, and yet lived in a little-known street in the City of London, only remnants of which now survive. A large portion of the middle of the lane was demolished for the formation of Queen Victoria Street.

Below is a map of the area in the second half of the 16th century. The so-called AGAS map – Civitas Londinum – is a bird’s-eye view of London first printed from woodblocks. So this is well over a century after the death of Viscount Welles in 1499.

St Syches Lane - AGAS map.

At present the street is known as Sise Lane, E.C.4, off Queen Victoria Street, and the Green Man pub stands on the corner. It has had many names over the centuries: “Seint Sythes lane,” 1401 (Ct. H.W. II. 351). “Seintsithes lane,” 1438 (ib. 484). “Seint Sydes lane,” 1439 (ib. 486). “Sythen Lane,” 1544 (L. and P. H. VIII. XIX. Pt. 2, p.316). “St. Sithes lane,” 1574 (Lond. I. p.m. II. 177). “St. Size Lane” (O. and M. 1677, and Strype, 1720 and 1755). “Syth’s Lane” (Rocque, 1746). “Sythes lane,” vulg. “Size lane” (P.C. 1732). All the names are believed to refer to St Osyth, about whom you may read a little at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osgyth.

Here below is a view of Sise Lane as it is today, courtesy of Google Maps.

Sise Lane in 1982 - Tim@SW2008 (2)

So what do we know of the St. Sithe’s Lane of the past? And why was it an apparently sought after address? I mean, even then royalty did not live just anywhere.

First of all, the lane is in Cordwainer Ward. For more information on this see:-

https://baldwinhamey.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/cordwainer/   and

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/survey-of-london-stow/1603/pp250-258) 

But does anything at those sites enlighten us as to why royalty would wish to live there? No. Not to me, anyway.

So, to delve a little more. My amateur research unearthed that the Welles residence, Pasmer’s Place, might very well have acquired its name from one John Pasmer, a member of the Skinner’s Company and of the Calais Staple. Skinners resided in the lane over the years, and in nearby Budge Row, so why should he not as well? Or someone in his family? He dealt in fells and furs, and was active during the reigns of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII. Perhaps the mansion was his residence at first, but then he chose to live elsewhere and rent out his luxurious pad in St Sithe’s Lane. If this is so, then he acquired illustrious tenants.

Showing 'Pasmer's Place' with garden

Above is the lane in a later century, when it is called St Size Lane. What interests me is that there appear to be at least three very large properties there. The legend of the map states that unnumbered courts or alleys are merchants’ houses, inns or places of no name. My hope is that the one at bottom left, with the garden behind it, might be Pasmer’s Place. OK, the Great Fire might have changed everything, and the garden might be that of Bucklersbury House (as suggested in the London Topographical Society’s 1979 volume of ‘The A to Z of Elizabethan London’), but it still could be the Welles residence. Don’t rain on my parade by proving it isn’t. Please.

Below, an earlier map of the 1560s is overlaid by the present-day site of Bucklersbury House, and lo! The garden was there then as well, so it wasn’t a later addition. Yes, yes, it still might be Bucklersbury House, but it was there about sixty years after John Welles’s death, and might have been there during the time he and Cicely were in residence.

1560s view of the site of present-day Bucklersbury House

The following is from Inquisitions 1592, pages 150-171. It may have nothing to do with Pasmer’s Place, but it is a tantalising thought:

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/abstract/no3/pp160-171

“…So seised, the said Sebastian made his will in November, 1591, as follows [here given in English]: I give to my wife Jane Briskett all my lands and tenements in St. Sythes Lane, being 6 houses in numbers, the one in occupation of Peter Van Lore, jeweller, the great messuage house in the occupation of [blank], the other tenements in the tenures of [blank]: all the said premises to remain until the marriage of my only daughter and child Elizabeth Bruskett to my said wife…”

“… The 6 messuages in St. Sythes lane are held of the Queen in free burgage, and are worth per ann., clear, £5 10s . . .   Chan. Inq. P. m. vol. 232, No. 9.”

Of course, “the great messuage house” might not be anything exciting at all, let alone Pasmer’s Place. And “blank” might have been a very ordinary, unremarkable person indeed!

Various professions and manufacturers have been situated in the lane over the centuries, so it was far from being purely residential. Several Members of Parliament have resided there, as well as an Architect and Surveyor to the Corporation of London. A publisher of pocket books was located at number 18, and at another property an artists’ colourman and member of the Wax Chandler’s Company manufactured and sold artists’ paints. A number of solicitors were to be found in Sise Lane, as was a metalworker and inventor. Wine merchants and their warehouses, tailors, wax chandlers and a white-lead manufacturer, all occupied premises in Size Lane at one time or another. Oh, and royalty too, of course.

The church of St. Antholin’s stood on the north side of Budge Row, on the corner of Sise Lane. It originally dated from the late 12th century, but was then destroyed in the Great Fire, as was the rest of the area, of course. It was rebuilt by Wren, and in 1829 the top of the spire was sold for £5 to a printer named Robert Harrild, who had it erected on his property, Round Hill House in Sydenham, now London S.E.26. It is still there today, amid modern houses.

Sise Lane - St Antholin's Spire

But, of course, the history of this part of London goes way back further than the mediaeval period, a 3rd Century Temple of Mithras having been discovered in the 1950s during excavations for the Bucklersbury House that has just been pulled down again, to be rebuilt once more. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/jan/19/roman-temple-mithras Below is a picture of the beautiful sculptured head of the god Mithras that was found at the site.

3rd century God-Mithras_Museum-of-London

Another interesting tale related to much earlier times is contained in the following picture:

coin hoard - Sise Lane

So, Sise Lane has a long and venerable history, and somewhere along the way, in the 15th century, a king’s daughter and a king’s uncle were married and lived there in a mansion called Pasmer’s Place. Were they happy together? I cannot answer that, of course, but he left everything to her in his will, and called her “my dere beloved lady and wife Cecille”, and she was said to be distraught when he died and she had to send urgent word to the king, who was her brother-in-law and John Welles’s half-nephew. This all sounds as if, at the very least, they were contented together.

As a final snippet, Sise Lane can be connected with those who sailed for the New World in the Mayflower in 1620:

“A number of the ‘Mayflower Planters’ and close friends, such as Brewster, Hopkins, Rogers, Southworth, Mullins, Martin, Carver, Cushman, Robinson, Bradford, Allerton and others, were frequent visitors in 1619 at Sir Thomas Smith’s house in Philpott Lane, and at Sir Edwin Sandy’s house near ‘Aldersgate’. This was in or near the famous ‘Duke Place’, and, of course, during the final decision in 1620, they were callers at Mr. Ferrar’s in St. Sithe’s Lane.”

I really cannot picture what Sise Lane looked like back then. It has even changed since 1982 (see below, a photograph from Flickr by Tim@SW2008) so picturing it half a millennium ago is quite a leap. We can all think of it as part of romantic Merrie Olde London, of course, but reality was probably very different. I’ll keep my rose-tinted glasses, however. Why spoil things for myself?

Sise Lane in 1982 - Flickr - Tim@SW2008

Myrna Smith, Ricardian Reading Editor, writes a review of the Cicely Plantagenet Trilogy by Sandra Heath Wilson…

Cicely Trilogy 

Princess Cicely (an alternative spelling of Cecily) is 16 as her love story commences in this trilogy, 18 at the end of the third book. During that time, she has cut quite a swath at the English court. Her lovers include two kings and three jacks. That is, three men named John, whom the author differentiates by calling John of Gloucester John, John de la Pole Jack, and John Welles Jon.  At the end of the third book, she has also met her last husband, Thomas Kymbe, but so far their relationship is still platonic. I’m sure he will wind up being aces with Cicely.

Cicely explains herself: “I am the way Almighty God made me.” Well, her creator (small c) has put plenty of spice in the mixture. The men in her life each have a signature scent: Richard’s is costmary, Henry’s cloves, Jack’s thyme. We are not told what Cicely’s perfume is, but it must be pretty heady. “I cannot help it that men seem to find me so desirable, but they do…” No wonder her big sister wants to hit her upside the head, and does, once. And she is not the only one. Not only that, but both men and women confide in her, and she rather wishes they wouldn’t.

Is this just a picaresque and picturesque recital of Cicely’s bedroom adventures, a bodice-ripper verging on soft porn? More than that, I think. There is a lot of action and derring-do, as well as many quieter and more poignant scenes, such as Henry VII unknowingly holding Richard’s unacknowledged son, and letting the child chew on his finger, as teething babies will.  There is witty dialogue. And there is adept characterization, although some may be controversial. Particularly that of Henry Tudor. He admits that he is “not virtuous,” but damn, he’s sexy!  Says the author: “This aspect of Henry’s character is yet more invention. He may have been a great lover, or he may have been very dull between the sheets…So, I have fashioned him as I wish. Such is the power of a writer of fiction.” Not to mention that without this invention, the trilogy would not be a trilogy.

Another way of stretching out the story (but not unduly) is having Richard III appear after he is dead. This is nothing paranormal, Ms. Wilson assures us. He is just a figment of Cicely’s imagination. “Through him she can talk of things that she already knows or thinks for herself.” Or would think, if she were using the organ intended for that purpose. At times, he can be a very real figment. He has to remind Cicely. “I am not real…I am within you….I made a mess of a lot of things. And look where it got me. In my makeshift grave at thirty-two. Please allow me down from the pedestal upon which you are so determined to place me.”

Ms. Wilson even pokes gentle fun at Ricardian hagiography in the words she puts in Lord Welles’ mouth:  “How can anyone compete with him, hmm? Young, handsome, tragic, brave, betrayed, bereaved, beloved, cultured, powerful, just, loyal, intelligent, sensitive….endowed with more attraction in his big toe than I have in my entire body…he could fight like a warrior, converse like an archangel, negotiate like a king, and dance like a courtier….He did not only wear a crown, he wore a damned halo!”

One or two small quibbles before I get to the summing-up: Henry employs a spy who is deaf (“not from birth”) and reads lips. I have reason to know that the art of lip-reading depends a lot on educated guesswork and knowing what the conversation is about, and it is increasingly difficult with greater distance. Also, how does one “kneel up?” (SHW: Regarding ‘kneeling up’. If one kneels and then sits back on one’s heels, one is kneeling, but not kneeling up. If one straightens from that position, without standing, one kneels up.)

The test of any multi-book series is, does the reader look forward to the next book? I do. In the next, Cicely’s Sovereign Secret, we will learn the identity of the woman who taught Henry Tudor the art of lovemaking. We will possibly learn the significance of Richard of York’s (Cecily’s little brother) small scar, and Edward of Warwick’s birthmark.  And although Henry tells Cicely, “I can no longer hoist anything with [Elizabeth],” they will eventually have six more children. Apparently someone was doing some hoisting. Maybe they will be reconciled in a future book. I just hope my eyes will hold out until Cicely gets to the Kymbe chapter in her life.

I always try to review books in the spirit in which they are written. Sandra Heath Wilson gives a clue to her spirit in the last line of one of the books: “Historical fiction is for entertainment; history itself is for serious study. Never mix the two.” Entertaining it most certainly is!

Myrna Smith

Ricardian Reading Editor

CICELY’S KING RICHARD:-

Publisher: Robert Hale/ Buried River Press, UK, 2014

Paperback: ISBN-10: 071981233X and ISBN-13: 978-0719812330

Kindle: ASIN: B00L19AGQ2

CICELY’S SECOND KING:-

Publisher: Robert Hale/Buried River Press, UK, 2014

Paperback: ISBN-10: 0719812615 ISBN-13: 978-0719812613

Kindle: ASIN: B00MNMBDAE

CICELY’S LORD LINCOLN :-

Publisher: Robert Hale/Buried River Press, UK, 2014

Paperback: ISBN-10: 071981362X and ISBN-13: 978-0719813627

Kindle: ASIN: B00O71JRFM

The next book in the series, CICELY’S SOVEREIGN SECRET, will be published in September 2015. ISBN-10: 191020837X and ISBN-13: 978-1910208373

Cicely's Sovereign Secret

Mediaeval women who got the man they wanted . . . .

 ©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

There was an interesting Facebook post on 2nd May, by Lyndel Grover, drawing attention to a blog about Joan of Acre, who lived in the 13th century. http://historytheinterestingbits.com/2015/04/30/rebel-princess/. It made me think about other mediaeval women who had done what Joan did. By that I mean, marry the man they wanted, not the choice of their families.

Joan was the daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and took as her second husband Ralph de Monthermer, who eventually became 1st Baron Monthermer. But he was a commoner who had been in the household of her first husband, Gilbert de Clare, 7th Earl of Gloucester, so King Edward was furious that Joan had made such a misalliance. He eventually relented, however, and Joan kept her chosen husband. She might be said to have got away with it. And so did Ralph, who could have paid a very high price for crossing Edward Longshanks.

In the 14th century, another princess, Joan of Kent, known as ‘the Fair Maid of Kent’, was also determined to have the husband of her choice. And she decided this at the age of only twelve, when she secretly married Thomas Holland of Upholland in Lancashire, who was seneschal in the household of William Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury. It was a love match, as was proved when Thomas went off to the Crusades and her family immediately forced her to married Montacute instead. He apparently had no idea she was already married to his seneschal. She fought against this marriage, and on Thomas Holland’s return, she went back to him. She was allowed to keep him, too. Well, this is all a potted version, of course, but the result was the same, Joan retained the husband she wanted. On Thomas’s death, she married the Black Prince and became the mother of Richard II.

Moving to the 15th century, another very highborn lady who got away with a commoner ‘husband’ was the French princess, Catherine of Valois, widow of Henry V. A very warm lady from all accounts, she was not content to remain the widowed Queen Mother, and if contemporary rumours are true, she took as her lover her late husband’s cousin, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. But legislation was passed, preventing a widowed Queen Consort from remarrying.

The next we hear—and rather quickly at that—she had a new lover a handsome Welshman named Owen Tudor, whom we are told she married, and by whom she certainly had a very prompt baby boy, Edmund Tudor. But there is no proof of an actual marriage. Yet again, Owen was a commoner who might have paid a very high price, but got away with it by the skin of his teeth. He was eventually beheaded, not for Catherine, but for being on the wrong side at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross.

It was from Catherine and Owen that the Tudor dynasty descended . . . although there is a persistent whisper that Edmund Tudor, their firstborn, was actually the son of the Duke of Somerset. So Edmund Tudor might well have actually been another Edmund Beaufort, and as he was also the father of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, it might well be that we should have had a House of Beaufort. But it’s a question of conflicting evidence, of course.

Another 15th century princess who rebelled and married a commoner was Cicely Plantagenet, daughter of Edward IV. She was the sister of Henry VII’s queen, Elizabeth of York, and also Henry’s aunt because she was married to his half-uncle, John, Viscount Welles. When the viscount died, Cicely upped and married a true commoner, one Thomas Kymbe, a gentleman of Lincolnshire. I can only imagine it was a love match, because she must have known what would happen when Henry found out. He went ballistic, and was so beside himself that he snatched her lands and did just about everything else except imprison her and her new husband. Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was John Welles’s half-sister, protected the newlyweds and interceded on their behalf, she and Cicely being on close terms. Margaret managed to calm Henry down sufficiently to persuade him to restore Cicely’s property. They were left alone after that, to live in obscurity, and Cicely never resumed her former high status. When she died, Thomas remained in obscurity. But at least she died married to the man she chose.

Interestingly, Margaret Beaufort, who was surely the most important woman of Henry VII’s reign, did not get her way at the end. Her first husband was the Edmund Tudor mentioned above as the apparent firstborn of Catherine of Valois and Owen Tudor, and by him Margaret had Henry when she was in her very early teens. She was very small, and the birth was so difficult that she never had another child, so you might expect her to abhor Edmund for what he had done to her. He was in the wrong, even by 15th-century standards, and should not have consummated the marriage until she was at least fourteen. However, even though she had a further three husbands after him, it was with Edmund that she wished to be laid to rest. Was it simply because he was Henry’s father? Or had she loved him? We will never know. But when she passed away, she was denied her desire, and was buried close to her son and daughter-in-law in Westminster Abbey. So Margaret, the most powerful woman in England, did not have her wish honoured.

We are all so used to hearing of aristocratic mediaeval women having little choice in the matter of husband, but a few pioneering spirits went after and got what they wanted.

To be married, or not to be married, that is the question . . . .

Before Bosworth, Richard III sent his heirs north to the safety of Sheriff Hutton, including his two eldest nieces, (daughters of his elder brother, Edward IV) Elizabeth of York and her sister Cicely/Cecily/Cecille/Cecilia/Cecylle. (For the sake of clarity and preference, I will call her Cicely.) With them were their male cousins, Lincoln and Warwick, and most probably, their brothers, Edward and Richard, the so-called ‘Princes in the Tower’.

This list is conjecture, of course, because no one knows exactly who was at Sheriff Hutton, although the only real uncertainties are the two boys from the Tower (or wherever Richard had kept them safety until this date, August 1485). The certainty appears to be that they were all under the protection of Richard III’s nephew, their first cousin, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.

Now, I realize there is a school of thought that believes Cicely was not among this group, because she was a married woman by then and presumably with her husband, but I think she was there, and with this post I am not concerned with that particular aspect of the question anyway. Even if she was with her husband, Ralph Scrope, I doubt it would have made one whit of difference to what transpired. I am more exercised by the implications of Sheriff Hutton (if Richard did send her there) and of subsequent actions by Henry VII, for the security of her marriage, and such marriages in general.

According to fairly recent knowledge, Cicely was by this time the wife of “Ralph Scrope, younger brother to Thomas 6th Lord Scrope of Masham and Upsall, who served in the King’s household”. (Horrox, Rosemary. Richard III. A Study in Service, Cambridge, 1992, p.295) Not much is known about this Scrope marriage, which must have taken place with Richard’s knowledge. Perhaps he even arranged it, for he had promised to find ‘gentlemen’ husbands for his nieces. Or maybe he merely approved a young love match. There is certainly no evidence that Scrope forced her into it, or indeed that Richard forced her, nor does it sound like Richard to have done so. The thing is, we don’t actually know anything about the circumstances of this marriage.

What we do know, however, is that when Richard was killed at Bosworth and Henry VII came to the throne, he saw to it that the Scrope match was annulled, and pdq at that: “On December 16th [1485] a general pardon was granted to Cecily’s husband,” Ralph Scrope, late of Upsall, co.York, Esq.…….late of the household of Richard III….. But this did not enable him to stay married. At the end of this year, the case for the annulment of “the noble lady Cecily Plantagenet against Radulphus Scrope of Upsall” came before the Consistory Court at York and the marriage duly annulled.” (Consistory Act Book, 1484-1489, CONS.AB. 4.ff. 88v. 891,90r) As far as I’m aware, the reason given for this annulment was non-consummation.

After this, Cicely was promptly married to Henry’s half-uncle, John Welles, who became Viscount Welles. This is said to have been “a political marriage”, although there is always the outside chance that she wanted to marry Welles. Again, we don’t know. Did Henry thus believe she had been ‘taken care of’, was off the marriage mart, and could no longer be snapped up by some troublesome nobleman with a large private army and aspirations to cause strife in the name of York? Did he think that what he had done to the Scrope marriage could not possibly be done to the Welles marriage too? No, I doubt it. Henry was nothing if not thoughtful and clever.

The story so far gives me pause for thought about the whole thing. Richard appears to have sent Cicely to Sheriff Hutton. If he did, the fact that she was a married woman did not stand in his way. Maybe he—and possibly Ralph too—was aware that young marriages, especially where there was no sign of a child, were easy enough to set aside by those with enough clout, and she was therefore as likely as Elizabeth of York to be marriage fodder for any Tudor regime. So, if things went against Richard, off to Burgundy she and Elizabeth would go, to his sister Margaret, the duchess, well out of Henry Tudor’s reach. Perhaps it would have been Ralph’s intention to follow her there? Maybe, too, she had indeed been forced into the marriage and appealed to Henry to free her from it. Anything is possible, but the fact remains that for whatever reason, the marriage was annulled, and in this case it suited Henry to see to it by placing her in his own family, not that of a Yorkist sympathiser.

So . . . could it almost be regarded as pointless to ever marry off such an important woman in order to secure her from the dynastic intentions of an enemy? Once that enemy was ensconced on the throne, he could legally dispose of any tiresome husband (no need for blood and gore) and see the lady ‘safely’ married to someone more agreeable to himself. Which is exactly what Henry did.

But just how safe would the Welles match itself have been if Henry had been deposed in turn? What if, say, Lambert Simnel/Edward VI had come to the throne in 1487? A new Yorkist king, especially under the tutelage of Cicely’s first cousin, John de la Pole, would hardly want such an important lady (the new king’s second senior sister) married to Henry Tudor’s half-uncle. It was a number of years after 1487 that Cicely had her first child by John Welles (although there could have been miscarriages or stillborn babies of which we do not know), so who was to say the marriage was consummated right away? Unless, of course, the wedding night was enacted in front of a royal audience! And if a new Yorkist king wanted to say it hadn’t been consummated, regardless, who was really going to risk arguing? So, might Cicely have then been returned to Ralph? Or perhaps intended for some important foreign match instead? (The fate of Elizabeth of York, by then Henry’s queen and the mother of his heir, is another matter, of course.) And let’s be honest, the Scrope marriage may well have been consummated, and it was simply pretended that it had not. Ditto the Welles marriage.

My thought about all of this was that marriage did not firmly secure a woman to her husband. At least, a royal woman. Cicely was a pawn, and may not have actually married from personal choice until her third husband, Thomas Kymbe/Kymbe, a commoner whose low rank ensured her eventual expulsion from upper circles and court. She definitely chose to do it without Henry’s knowledge or consent. He was beside himself with rage about it, but did not have the marriage annulled. Perhaps even he thought it would be once too often to impose annulment upon her again. He did other things to make her life difficult, and when she was buried, he saw to it that she was named as Viscountess Welles, as if her third husband did not exist. But when it came to Thomas Kymbe, Cicely the pawn seems to have rebelled, and if so, I do hope she was happy with her Thomas.

My conclusion? The marriages of royal women, and probably others, were not final, and if an excuse was needed to have them set aside, such an excuse was probably quite easy to produce. Henry doesn’t seem to have had much trouble with the Scrope match.

Acknowledgement: I have taken some of the above quotes and references from a http://www.iwhistory.com article entitled ‘Not So Fortunate As Fair’: The Life of Princess Cecily Plantagenet. The author, who is identified only as “Isle of Wight Enthusiast”, I now understand to be Sharon Champion. All thanks and credit to her.

Incidentally, the same article states that Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, was taken ill while in sanctuary with his mother and sisters in 1483. Quote: “The other distressed children must have been given time to take their leave of their brother, but he had become ill while in the narrow confines of the sanctuary whether from fear or the loss of his father and his isolation from his unhappy mother and sisters now threatened to break his spirit.”

We all know that this boy’s elder brother, Edward V, might have had poor health, but could the little Duke of York been sickly as well? This is clearly worthy of another post . . .

A possible explanation

Going by the searches here, many of you will have read the suggestion, in Baldwin’s “The Lost Prince”*, that “Anne Hopper” was a daughter of Richard III by an unknown mother from the Borders region, conceived during his marriage and provided for with a ring among other things. The problem with this argument is that his two known illegitimate children were both conceived before he married and acknowledged. Had this not been the case, the “sources” would surely have recorded and greatly exaggerated it. The Cairo brigade would be talking about it nonstop, in their persistent mistaken belief that repeating a conscious falsehood makes it true.

An alternative solution has been posted recently. We need to note that three of Richard’s nieces (Elizabeth and Cecilia of York and Margaret of Salisbury) were forcibly married to the descendants of Margaret Beauchamp (Henry “Tudor”, Baron Welles and Richard Pole) in order that there would be no descendants of Richard’s brothers and sisters except through the Beauchamp lines, although there were exceptions, generally not favoured in the following century. The last Plantagenet-descended Courtenay died in exile in 1556 and the Marquess of Dorset was among those executed in 1538/9.

We also know that James III’s eldest son and successor was betrothed to Anne de la Pole, another niece born in c.1476, but their engagement failed after the Gloucester-Albany invasion of Scotland in 1482. It is thought that she became a nun and died in 1495 but there is a possibility of confusion with other family members who did so. There is definite confusion enough about her brothers, one of whom may not have existed. Just as Cecilia, at Welles’ death, took a third husband and retired  from royal life to the Isle of Wight with her new family, could this Anne have become the wife of a Hopper, with descendants known in mid-Victorian times?

* Appendix Three, pp.177-180.

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