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A Weir(d) Myth-take: The Legend of Joan of York

After the time of long barrenness,

God first send Anne, which signifyth grace,

In token that at her heart’s heaviness,

He as for barrenness would from them chase.

Harry, Edward, Edmund, each in his place

Succeeded; and after twain daughter came

Elizabeth and Margaret, and afterwards William.

John after William next born was,

Which both be passed to God’s grace:

George was next, and after Thomas.

Born was, which son after did pace.

By the path of death into the heavenly place

Richard liveth yet; but the last of all

Was Ursula, to Him who God’s list call.

Above is the section of the famous Clare Roll where the children of Richard Duke of York and his wife Cecily Neville are all, quite clearly, listed.

 However, you could be forgiven in thinking that there was another York child who mysteriously got left off the list—a daughter called Joan. The eldest daughter of the Duke and his wife, no less.

A number of sites on the internet, both informational and genealogical,  firmly state Joan of York was Richard and Cecily’s firstborn child, a short-lived daughter named after her maternal grandmother, Joan Beaufort. Several books have appeared that mention Joan, mostly notably one by Alison Weir and a later one by Amy Licence. A birthdate of 1438 has appeared for the mysterious Joan, and York was posited as her birthplace.

 So what is the truth about this putative daughter? The truth is, it would seem—Joan of York never existed, and not only that, her ‘birth’ only took  place in the later 20th c!

The first mention of her was in Weir’s book Britain’s Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy. Now Alison Weir is a hugely well-known popular ‘historian’ and many of her acolytes believe her research is impeccable, and henceforth the misinformation about Joan passed, without being questioned,  into general ‘knowledge’ and remained undisputed for a considerable amount of time.

 Apparently, the unfortunate error occurred when erroneous information was gleaned from a 1960’s geneaology chart. I am quite stunned the author used the reference without any additional verification, since it is well-known that some compilers of family trees frequently hove in ‘ancestors’ such as King Arthur , Ivar the Boneless, Jabba the Hutt and any other number of unlikely figures. (In fairness to Alison Weir, she has now admitted that Joan’s existence is doubtful and will be removing her from future editions of the book. Whether Ms Licence will also remove references to Joan from her works is at present unknown.)

 It is quite mystifying why anyone would doubt the veracity of the  Clare Rolls (or the other medieval documents that published a similar list) especially when it was specifically stated that Anne was the first child, born after ‘long barrenness’, and all the other  short-lived York children such as Henry  and Thomas were accounted for.

 What is striking and of interest to me in particular is how such errors can be quickly accepted as canon without question. At least the odd myth that Richard III had seven, yes, seven, bastards, (also, I believe, included in an edition of Alison Weir’s Complete Genealogy book) including Tudor poet Stephen Hawes, whose only connection with Richard seems to be in a vintage novel, never seemed to gain much if any credence. (Richard surely has enough myth and rumour surrounding him without adding additional dubious stories.)

 So hopefully Joan of York, the girl who never existed, will finally be laid to rest, alongside many of the other myths  that have attached themselves to Richard and his family over the years…

 

mythnot-for-babies

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History of Royals Tackles the Princes

I was excited to be asked to contribute to an article in Issue 18 of History of Royals magazine about the fate of the Princes in the Tower. It helps when I have a book on the way next month called The Survival of the Princes in the Tower – and it probably gives away the theme of my contribution.

The other six contributors are full-on big hitters of medieval history: Derek Wilson, John Ashdown-Hill, Michael Hicks, Josephine Wilkinson, Alison Weir and AJ Pollard. Dizzying company to find myself in! That list of names will most likely give away the themes of each of their contributions too.

HistoryOfRoyalsArticle

There is a lot of traditionalist mantra on display, relying heavily on Sir Thomas More or the lack of evidence of their survival as damning proof of Richard III’s guilt. There is also plenty of interpretation and several statements to take pretty strong issue with, but I’m certain some readers will be saying the same about my contribution and writing it off as revisionist, Ricardian lunacy.

I wonder whether that’s because there’s no answer to the suggestion that the boys weren’t killed in 1483 at Richard’s instruction. Evidence? Well, that would be telling. You’ll just have to grab a copy of the book next month!

THEY DON’T LIKE IT UP ‘EM

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Lance Corporal Jones – Dad’s Army – referring to his trusty bayonet.

When someone on a Ricardian group mentioned that John Ashdown-Hill was receiving a right bashing on the BBC History Magazine page, I and a few other intrepid  Ricardian souls..you know who you are..trundled over there to take up the cudgel on said author’s behalf.  It felt a bit like:-

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and I for one certainly felt like:-

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However,  it turned out more like:

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Insults rained down thick and fast..I haven’t had so much fun for  a long time..it was hilarious and I thought I would never start laughing…but our little band held on steadfastly, ignoring the couple of sly digs made about Ricardians by the One who seems to be leader of the Cairo Dwellers..its not the first time we have been likened to fruit loops and we now take it in our stride.

When one of the Cairo Dwellers asked “Where is this ‘wealth of clear contemporary evidence?’ ”  I pointed out to her there were  “44 pages of notes and 11 pages of bibliography in the book” to which she replied “all I am asking is for citations”..mantra like..I  then knew it wasn’t going to be theIMG_3562.JPG

I first envisaged but more like wading through a bowl of porridge and I rapidly begun to lose the will to live.

Insults such as “piffle”, “what tosh”,  “utter nonsense IMO”,  “Total Rubbish” “eyes rolling”?? etc., rained down hard and fast but were quickly batted away by Doughty Ricardian No.1. who informed them that the said author of the ” well researched article was a proper, qualified historian, with an open mind and a record of success”. Counter claims that Weir was the bestest historian since sliced bread..not the exact words but you get my drift..were swiftly tossed to one side by Doughty Ricardian No.2. who reminded them that it was Weir who was the ”  ‘impartial’ person with the pink Henry VII Christmas ornament and cat memes saying ‘me no like Richard’ “..well.. it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in her being a good historian does it … or even a historian..and I use the term loosely.

The Cairo Dweller One who seems to be held in esteem by the other Cairoleans  (I have made that word up..I hope it passes muster)..opined that “Richard did, indeed, probably murder his nephews”..I pointed out that to use the words ” did, indeed, probably” together made no sense and was illogical.  He said I was a ‘little obsessed’ with the word ‘illogical’ but as it was he who looked the word up in his dictionary I felt that was a little bit of   pot calling the kettle black.  At that stage I think things began to feel a little surreal and I decided to go and do something more useful with my time.  I believe they are still telling me off at this very moment.   Oh well.

A great time was had,  but,  having said that, I don’t feel like I will be returning there any time soon…now.. where did I leave my

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This is not Anne Boleyn

NotAnneBoleyn WasAnneBoleyn NiddHall LadyBergavenny LadyBergavenny2

(re-blogged from Lissa Bryan’s guest post on The History Geeks, in response to this article)

This “new portrait of Anne Boleyn” has been making the rounds in social media, and now is being publicized in several news articles.

It is not Anne Boleyn.

The sketch that is circulating is a third-hand copy of a painting that used to be in the collection of Horace Walpole. He was given the painting by a lady of the court who identified it as Joan, Baroness Bergavenny. Walpole had no reason to doubt this identification, and added it to his collection. The painting was sold in the 1840s, and has apparently vanished from existence.

Now, a “historian” has identified it as being Anne Boleyn. But there are serious problems with this identification, which I will break down here.

The earliest sketch of the painting looks quite a bit different than the one that is circulating. The necklace is missing the “R” initial that sparked so much excitement. The description of the original painting when it was sold states that the necklace had only the initials “A” and “B.”) While that, on its own sounds exciting, we need to remember there were many women of the Tudor court that had those initials. The “R” initial was an invention of the sketch artist who either copied the image incorrectly, or decided to add his own touch of whimsy.

The woman’s clothing is completely wrong for an identification as Anne Boleyn. The style of the hood puts the image firmly in the early 1520s. The lappets – the white part of the hood – almost reach the woman’s collarbone. In the 1530s, lappets were chin length, as you can see in Anne’s portrait medal. They got shorter as the 1530s wore on, and by 1536 when Anne went to the scaffold, they were at about mouth level.

It was also fashionable in Anne’s time for the veil to be pinned up to the side of the hood, as you can see in the medal. The sitter in the sketch has a veil hanging straight down. (Look at the portrait medal and see how the veil is clumped on the left side of the head.)

The gown itself dates more to the 1520s, as well. The neckline is square and covers the shoulders. The necklines in the 1530s had gone wider, making them more rectangular and revealing more of the shoulders. The white bands at the shoulders had disappeared by Anne’s reign, as well.

Anne Boleyn was known to always be at the height of style and an innovator in fashion. She would not have worn something so out-of-date as queen.

Anne Boleyn was not rich enough in the early 1520s to afford the jewels the sitter wears, nor would she have been able to wear them due to the sumptuary laws. In the Hever/NPG portraits, the most famous and recognizable images of Anne, she is wearing jewels more appropriate to her station. It should be noted that those portraits were painted after Anne’s death, but they’re thought to be based on a lost original.

Anne was either thirteen years old or twenty years old in 1520 (depending on the birth date you believe.) The sitter in the sketch is clearly a middle-aged woman, not a young girl. Even the description of the painting says the sitter is a middle-aged woman.

The hood has the letter “I” and “A” repeated. The “I” initials are larger than the “A”s. This lady’s given name started with an “I” or a “J.” “A” was a secondary name, given less importance.There is simply no way to explain the “I” initials in the context of Anne Boleyn.

Anne favored the HA cipher after her marriage. She and Henry put it on everything from her personal jewels to the buildings erected during her reign. If it wasn’t “HA” it was “AR” or “ARS” for Anna Regina Sovereign. It’s inexplicable for her to revert back to a simple “A” with no mention of her marriage or royal status – via crown jewels or other symbols – anywhere in the image.

The sitter in the sketch is not royal. She’s obviously rich and titled, but she has no indications of royalty whatsoever. If this really was a coronation portrait, Anne would have worn some of the crown jewels, such as the “consort’s necklace” all of Henry’s queens after Anne are painted wearing.

The sitter is holding a carnation flower, which has been said by the historian to stand for “coronation.” I know of no other portraits in which that symbology was employed. The carnation generally stood for marriage or betrothal.

The most reasonable interpretation for the image is the one Walpole was given. This is a painting of Joan, Lady Bergavenny, likely painted posthumously. (It was common for posthumous paintings to be styled in the latest fashions. See the portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon for an example.) The painting was meant to celebrate the union of the Arundel and Bergavenny houses through the marriage of Lady Joan, hence the initials “A”, “B” and “I”, with the latter being the largest because it identifies the sitter. The carnation then has its usual meaning of marriage.

I cannot say that the identification of Lady Bergavenny is absolutely certain. But I am certain that the sitter in the sketch is not Anne Boleyn.

Song for the Denialists

He can rule the North well, and give justice to all,

Win over Lancastrians,

The great and the small,

Folk claim he was good, but I just do not see,

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

They can talk all they like of his wonderful laws,

He murdered the Princes, without any cause,

And Eleanor Talbot, she didn’t exist,

The tale of her marriage is clearly a twist

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

Oh, I believe Thomas More,

He was always so right,

Never told a tall tale.

Oh, so is Alison Weir.

The Ricardians can’t win,

They can’t change my closed mind.

 

They can talk all they like of his wonderful laws,

He murdered the Princes, without any cause,

And Eleanor Talbot, she didn’t exist,

The tale of her marriage is clearly a twist

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

I love all the Tudors, they help pay the rent,

But when we discuss them I’ll brook no dissent,

For freedom of speech applies only to me,

And not to Ricardians unless they agree,

Though saintly in novels, he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

If I could be with them, there back in the day,

I’d be Lady Rivers if I had my way,

Maybe I was her in a previous life,

Would help to explain why I give Richard strife,

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

(Chorus)

Some say that the bones in the Abbey are toys,

That you can’t even tell if they’re girls or they’re boys,

But the truth of matter stands plainly to see,

Dick buried them deep with a big JCB,

Though saintly in novels,  he’s always a villain to me.

 

 

 

Review of ‘The “Princes” in the Tower’ (Channel 4)

There were many good things about this programme. Dr. Janina Ramirez joined Dr. John Ashdown-Hill and the lawyer Bertram Fields. All three have studied the late medieval period in detail and in different ways.

Then there was Dr. David Starkey. He is a renowned expert on the 1509-1603 period but tends to derive his views on earlier monarchs such as Richard III from his admiration for the second and the last “Tudor” monarchs. Two years ago, in a BBC2 (“Tudor” Court season) discussion on Anne Boleyn, he totally “owned” Alison Weir, his only adversary. Here, however, he treated More (a joke in historical terms) as a Fifth Gospel although More was only five in 1483.

He described Lord Hastings as not having had a trial, although logic and evidence make this highly unlikely, and freely deduced from this false conclusion. He relied on More’s post hoc ergo propter hoc assumption of Richard’s past conduct being part of some Masterplan, although Ramirez and Ashdown-Hill were of the opposite view. They raised the importance of Edward IV’s bigamy, which he didn’t. He also spoke of Tyrrell’s “confession”, although we now know, thanks to Susan Leas (quoted in https://murreyandblue.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/perkin-again/) that this post-dates not merely Tyrrell’s life but that of Henry VII because the latter never referred to it in the (nearly) seven years by which he survived Tyrrell. Dr. Ashdown-Hill was able to mention that the illegitimacy of Edward V and his brother gave Richard a much reduced motive for disposing of them.

Many of you will have read Annette Carson’s “Maligned King”, particularly the chapters on Richard’s conduct in April-June 1483 before Stillington’s bombshell interrupts the plans to crown Edward V, removing all sources and then putting them back in chronological order. This was criticised in some denialist quarters, only for Dr. Josephine Wilkinson to carry out the same exercise with identical results.

Dr. Starkey, should limit his appearances a little more to his area of expertise – the “Tudors” – and preserve his reputation from the damage it suffered in the 1984 “Trial”. This era in particular looks to be in good hands among the younger generation, free of preconceptions as they are, however,

TO BELIEVE – OR NOT TO BELIEVE – THAT IS THE QUESTION

Most Ricardians have spent many years honing their beliefs and building up a knowledgeable sympathy and regard for the character and actions of Richard III during his lamentably shot life-time.

But even passionate supporters often disagree. Endless arguments (usually amicable I’m pleased to add) continue between supporters. Whether Richard had a wild romantic love affair with his wife Anne Neville, or just a friendly political arrangement, is a major disagreement. Some accept that Richard probably did design and order the murder of Edward IV’s two sons. Others strongly object to such an idea and have a certain amount of logic to back up their theories. But they are all theories, one way or the other. The death of Hastings is a point that arouses considerable emotion. Did Richard suffer a temper tantrum and send Hastings off to the block with little reason (and suffer for it in the end as he would have benefited from Hasting’s backing during Bosworth) – or was Hastings caught in major treasonous behaviour, and Richard simply reacted as he had to in order to keep the peace as was his duty as Protector and Defender of the Realm and High Constable of the Realm. Another argument which often surprises me, concerns the last cavalry charge at Bosworth – was this a well orchestrated and pre-planned manoeuvre, or was it a tempestuous and emotional last-minute decision on seeing that the battle was turning against him? I have even heard some people believing that it was a suicidal action, since he was distraught after losing his wife and child.

So if we Ricardians can’t agree, then why should it surprise us that others strongly believe Richard was some kind of manipulative monster? Well, for a start – it isn’t logical and doesn’t fit with contemporary pre-Tudor sources. But who cares about logic these days?

A statement by the avid anti-Ricardian Desmond Seward recently amused me. He said, without apparent shame, that it was much more fun to believe in the monster. What an amazing character, he crowed, this creature of utter evil – and what darkly delicious deeds which we can write about. How much more interesting, he insisted, to think of the villain than some boring paragon of virtue. He more or less admitted that his chosen attitude was inspired simply by a juvenile desire for a good adventurous romp.

Shakespeare has certainly influenced many. That charismatic villain is truly irresistible. Lovers of drama just don’t care whether it is fiction or fact. It’s simply a wonderful story. On the other hand, an acceptance of Thomas More’s odd scraps of ‘history’, is less a matter of belief than of pure ignorance, since no one who has genuinely studied those pages could actually take them as serious documentation. But the wicked scheming murderer who duped the whole of England until the shining Tudor heroes came along to save the world, honestly does make an appealing story. As long as you remember it is utter fiction. But that’s the crux of it. Who cares about truth these days?

I doubt many ardent anti-Richardians have ever actually studied the subject at all. They have picked up snippets and read the gossip – just as they do with the daily newspapers and T.V., preferring the scandal rather than the boring old political debates. It’s all to do with what celebrities wore yesterday – who is cheating on who – who is about to get a divorce – and so on. The more negative, the better! Most of them probably know it’s all rubbish – but that’s what they want to read and it’s what they want to devour. It makes their own boring lives seem a little less grindingly slow.

Those who have studied and still get it all wrong (Hicks and Weir) seem to feel a genuine antipathy which is harder to understand. For them, hating Richard almost becomes a passion. I find that sad. I would sooner be an ardent lover than an ardent hater. Hating someone who died over 500 years ago seems a rather unpleasant indication of anyone’s character.

But I also find many anti-Ricardians are actually inspired by a ‘holier-than-thou’ irritation with the Ricardians themselves. These set out to prove us idiots, simply because they can’t stand all our conviction and devotion. I know some authors who claim a considerable interest in Richard III, but who write frequent articles complaining voraciously and exclusively about the antics of Ricardians – yet hardly ever even bother writing about Richard himself. There’s something about determined and emotional support that makes others want to show a determined anti-support. To oppose, purely for the sport of opposition, appears to attract some people. Think of those who get drunk and immediately start a fight. If I get drunk (well, when I was young it happened sometimes) I wanted cuddles, smiles and sleep. Others want to punch you in the face. Anti-Ricardians don’t need to get drunk. They just have that sort of personality with a perverse desire to prove the opposite (even when they can’t prove anything at all.)

Maybe that’s just humanity. Sad, but true. Personally I find such a host of evidence supporting Richard’s compassion, loyalty and righteous behaviour, that I cannot imagine anyone with a serious and intelligent interest not eventually coming out strongly on Richard’s side. I came to my own conclusions based on lengthy study and deliberation – not on a whim of perversity.

But we are also hampered by a lack of contemporary documentation. And thanks to the Tudor victory there are far more later chronicles condemning Richard than supporting him. If only there was a more even playing field then perhaps there would be more understanding. Yet – surprisingly – the one very genuine and strongly worded document we do have from the period – Titulus Regius – is frequently discounted and disbelieved. Sometimes you just can’t win.

Doubts about Edward IV’s marriage – in the age of Henry VIII!

While browsing Royal Blood by Bertram Fields I noticed the following remarkable passage, (pages 116-117):

“…during the reign of Henry VIII, Charles V’s ambassador to England reported that people ‘say’ that Charles had a better claim to the English throne than did Henry VIII, since Henry could only claim through his mother and she ‘was declared by sentence of the Bishop of Bath [Stillington] a bastard, because Edward had espoused another wife before he married the mother of Elizabeth of York.”

This demonstrates that despite the suppression of Titulus Regius at least some people of England were still aware of the true basis of Richard III’s claim. Moreover, far from thinking it spurious, they were sufficiently impressed by its truth to pass the story to the Spanish Ambassador, despite the obvious risks associated with doing so. I think we can also assume that the informants were persons of some weight – not mere gossips in the London street – or the ambassador would scarcely have wasted his master’s time with such a report.

Royal Blood is an interesting and useful book, although not without its occasional faults of misunderstanding. I recently read a criticism of it that stated that the author spent too much time ‘attacking’ Alison Weir. In a sense, this is actually praise of Weir, as it demonstrates how influential her book has been in forming opinion, in that points made in it need to be addressed by those who take a contrary view. However, it is scarcely an ‘attack’ to rebut errors, as Royal Blood does on several occasions. It is indeed the very nature of historical debate.

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