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Hey diddle diddle, it’s Richard III….!

hey diddle diddle

Sometime ago I read that the words of the old Hey Diddle Diddle nursery rhyme were in fact a reference to the story of Richard III. There are other theories, of course, including this of Elizabeth I:

“The story goes that Elizabeth, was often called a cat for the treatment of her court, the mice. When Elizabeth’s cousin Lady Catherine Grey eloped with Edward Seymour represented by the dish running away with the spoon, Elizabeth was not particularly impressed. The ‘dish’ and ‘spoon’ of the rhyme are sometimes said to be the Queen’s private server and food taster, but this theory too lacks evidence.” (This extract is from https://treasuryislands.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/origins-hey-diddle-diddle/)

The suggestion that the rhyme might be to do with Richard’s so-called usurpation of the throne connects Sir William Catesby with the cat (the fiddle being to kill the boys in the Tower), the Kingmaker with the cow (no idea about the moon!) Francis Lovell with the dog, and Richard himself as the dish running away with the spoon (anointing spoon at his coronation). Why the Kingmaker is in there, I can’t imagine, for he was dead and gone by 1383, which is when the presumed events of the nursery rhyme took place.

Mind you, if you go here, you’ll find Richard’s name cropping up in all sorts of places, including Humpty Dumpty! See also here.

A Google search for Hey Diddle Diddle or Humpty Dumpty with Richard III will bring up numerous sites that repeat/debate/pooh-pooh the likelihood of the rhymes’ origins in Richard’s story.

Humpty Dumpty - RIII

The king in the above illustration is presumably Henry VII?

Anyway, it’s all an interesting theory, but I do not know how much faith to place in it. Take a look, and see what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DID RICHARD LOVE ANNE?

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Thanks to the contemporaneous accounts given by Croyland (1) and the Acts of Court (2) we have a good insight into the events that followed, almost immediately, the death of Queen Anne i.e. the rumours that Richard, in his eagerness to marry his niece, hastened the death of his wife with the aid of poison – his denial, made publically, ‘in a loud and distinct voice’ (3) in the Great Hall of the Priory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John, Clerkenwell – pushed to it by Sir Richard Ratcliffe and William Catesby, although Croyland adds, rather slyly, it was not what he really wished himself..and there is no need to go into all the detail here as it is well known.

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The Gate House of the Priory of the Knights Hospitaller of St John at Clerkenwell.

 

I would have thought, hopefully , that nowadays, the idea that Richard could have poisoned Anne is now perceived as ridiculous, a complete and utter nonsense.  However, not entirely so.  Indeed Prof Hicks in his biography of Anne –  Anne Neville Queen to Richard lll (“The first time in ages that a publisher has sent me a book that I actually want to read” opines David Starkey – well he would wouldn’t he?)  wrote, in a chapter headed ‘Past her Sell By Date’ that ‘she was unwell, languishing and died, unattended and indeed unregretted by her husband”(4).  What?  Anne the Queen, dying a lonely death, cruelly neglected by her uncaring husband? – its a Scandal!.  And where was Richard at that desperately sad time?  One way to find out..check Rhoda Edwards wonderful little book – The Itinerary of King Richard lll 1483 – 1485(5).  And there we have it..the truth of the matter.  From the onset of Anne’s fatal illness, not long after Christmas 1484 to her death on Wednesday 16 March 1485, Richard never left the Palace of Westminster, where she lay dying, except for a total of ll days when he was at Windsor.

I would say that there could be no stronger indication than this, that, yes, Richard did love his wife and was loyal to her to the end.  He could have gone elsewhere, made his excuses, got away from it all but he didn’t.  He stayed with her until the day she died – finally leaving Westminster on Thursday 12 April – never to return.  Five months later, he too was dead.  Clearly he gave to Anne the loyalty that he was to find so disastrously lacking in others to himself.  But then again, this was a man whose motto was Loyaltie me Lie.

  1. Croyland p.499
  2. Richard lll The Road to Bosworth, P W Hammond & Anne F Sutton, Acts of Court pp 173-4.
  3. Croyland p.499
  4. Anne Neville Queen to Richard lll, Michael Hicks, Chaper 7, Past Her Sell by Date, p.212.
  5. Itinerary of King Richard lll  1483-1485, pp29, 30, 31, 32, 33.  Rhoda Edwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor again

John Ashdown-Hill’s Eleanor, the Secret Queen was first published in 2009, detailing Lady Eleanor Talbot’s family and early life, the circumstances in which she married Edward IV, her similarities to his mistress Elizabeth Woodville (they were dark haired, older and widows of Lancastrian-inclined men), canon law and how it affected Edward’s relationships and children together with the Clarence attainder, Stillington’s translation to Bath and Wells in 1461, his imprisonment and Titulus Regius 1484. Then it described the attempted cover-up of Titulus Regius (before a copy emerged through Buck), Catesby’s execution, More’s attempt to write another lady into the story, Chapuys’ knowledge of the case and the emergence of remains that may be Lady Eleanor in Norwich, judged by her age, status and the dental evidence. It proved the marriage almost completely to the satisfaction of most open minds.Eleanor

Seven years later, it has been reissued in paperback with even more evidence. We can now know, with confidence, exactly where and when Edward married Lady Eleanor. Our attention is additionally drawn to the circumstances of her death and the arrest of two of her sister’s servants a few weeks later, such that there are reports of their executions, whilst the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton leads to further deductions about the dental evidence in Norwich. The case for the 1461 marriage is now proven, even if her corpse cannot yet be conclusively identified.

Did Richard III Really Say That?

RICARDIAN LOONS

My morning ritual involves making a pot of coffee: I can’t function without it! Normally, I don’t connect Richard III with the process of brewing a pot of Joe, but today, I happened to reach for a coffee mug that I’d received as a gift upon graduating from law school in 1993. I laughed to myself, because it was emblazoned with the quote “Kill all the lawyers” and it attributed that statement to King Richard. My friends obviously had a wicked sense of humor in giving me the mug, but they didn’t know it was doubly relevant to me, both as a lawyer and a history buff with a fascination for that monarch.

Richard III mug Did Richard III hate lawyers?

Twenty years later, I was attending a continuing legal education course on advanced trial techniques, and – much to my surprise – the lecturer brought up the “Kill all the lawyers” quote.  …

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

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

RICARDIAN LOONS

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

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

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

“The Cat…

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Band of Brothers

godfather 2When Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo began to write their classic Godfather movies, based on Mario Puzo’s pop novel, did they have the Plantagenet Brothers, Edward, George and Richard in mind as the prototypes of Sonny, Fredo and Michael Corleone?  Whether they did or not, the parallels among the characters and their historical counterparts are quite interesting and in several instances, astonishing.

In Godfather 2, considered the masterwork of the trilogy, we meet the handsome, elegant Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro), father of the trio, as a young Italian immigrant who learns to survive the mean streets of Manhattan in the early 20th Century.  After many trials and error, he succeeds by eventually seizing authority from the corrupt, wealthy power-brokers and extortionists of the poor, exemplified by Don Fanucci (Gastone Muschin), and proceeds to build a power base of his own from which he can exercise both justice and punishment as well as accumulate land and riches.  That this land is in the Borough of Queens, New York and not Lincolnshire or Yorkshire does not lessen the fact that it bears some similarity to the life of Richard of York in his ongoing quest to seize power from the naïve Henry the Sixth and his corrupt court.  Where they differ, aside from location and time, is that Don Corleone did not have to contend with the scary Margaret of Anjou.  In almost all cases in these movies, with perhaps the exception of Kay played by Diane Keaton, the women take a backseat to the men of the Costa Nostra.

godfather 6

Where the parallels get much stronger is the introduction of the three brothers in the first Godfather film.  The youngest, the quiet, scholarly Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is back from fighting in the Pacific and hopes to graduate from college and go into politics.  A bit of an outsider within his family (“That’s my family, Kay, not me”), he is nonetheless keeping a silent watch on the frenzied actions of his landsman.  In this, we see an inkling of the young Duke of Gloucester, a soldier who may originally have been slated to become a priest, who had an active interest in law, literature and music but one who had no logical chance of rising within the royal family.  But through twists of amazing fate and fortune’s ever-spinning wheel, as most Ricardians know:  just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in!

godfather 4Brother Sonny Corleone (James Caan), the oldest of the clan, is the golden boy of the family, the apple of his father’s eye (Marlon Brando) and the successor to his father’s dynasty.  But Sonny has a problem not unlike his Plantagenet model, King Edward IV:  he’s a slothful womanizer with several mistresses, one of whom, Lucy, is so tempting that Don Corleone scolds his son for becoming soft and decadent and not looking after business.  Sonny’s insistence on bringing narcotics into his crime syndicate – a quick way to make a buck – surely has a parallel to Edward’s Treaty of Picquigny, which easily brought thousands upon thousands of crowns into the English treasury and was much disdained by the straight-laced Richard.  We also know that Edward came to value Richard’s loyalty and work ethic in carrying out his orders as Constable of England, head of the Admiralty and Lord of the North and so, too, does Sonny esteem his youngest brother when Michael volunteers to kill his father’s would-be murderers after Corleone Pére becomes the victim of an assassination attempt.  While we cannot compare Richard’s actions to that of the murderous Michael, we do know that Richard remained a loyal family man and admirer of his brother Edward – perhaps until he was set upon by a brace of Woodvilles.

Was there ever a character more like George, Duke of Clarence than Fredo played by the late, great John Casale?

godfather 5This is the weak middle brother who drunkenly screams “I’m your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!” when confronted about his bad behavior.  He’s the overlooked, jealous and distrusted son and sibling, constantly protected by Michael but continually betraying his family in wrong-headed alliances with Las Vegas and Havana mobsters culminating in a plot to assassinate his younger brother who is now head of the family.  How similar to the unstable and drunken Clarence joining with the Earl of Warwick in rebellion and again implicated in various plots to overthrow the king and seize the crown.  Just as Clarence was hauled off to the Tower by Edward IV, Fredo is consigned to purdah at Michael’s Lake Tahoe secluded retreat.  At this point, the parallel diverges in that we know that Richard was adamantly opposed to his brother being executed while Michael Corleone delivers Fredo’s death warrant with a kiss.  (“It was you, Fredo, it was you.”)  Yet both brothers, historical and fictional, deeply regret the loss of a childhood playmate and blood relative.

Once Fredo is executed and Sonny and Vito are long dead, an embittered Michael stands alone as the head of his family.  He is left with fractured friendships and interests which must somehow be glued together in order to keep “the business” going.  Michael becomes involved with shady Italian politicians and Vatican financiers as Richard welcomed the overtures of the dicey Duke of Buckingham.   Both have unhappy outcomes that do not bode well for the future of either man.  Lastly, there is an eerie similarity between Richard and Michael when his daughter, Mary, played by Sofia Coppola in Godfather 3, is brutally murdered on the steps of the Palermo Opera House by a bullet meant for her father.  In his guilt and frenzy, we see Michael silently scream in what must surely echo Richard’s own agony when confronted with his own son’s unexpected death.  Michael cannot be comforted by his ex-wife and I suspect Queen Anne also could not help her grieving husband.

godfather 7

Truly, a medieval bloodfest filmed by Gordon Willis in somber, handsome shades of ruby red, cobalt blue and black that might easily hint at a touch of Yorkist murrey and blue.

Oh, and could this be Richard and his lawyer William Catsby?  Played by Robert Duvall.

godfather 1

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

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

“So mighty and many are my defects

That I would rather hide me from my greatness

Being a bark to brook no mighty sea

Than in my greatness covet to be had

And is the vapour of my glory smothered”

(William Shakespeare)

 

“ I am unfit for state or majesty”

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

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

“Look to see a troubled World”

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

 

“You break not sanctuary be seizing him”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Ross, page 87.

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

[9] Crowland at page 161

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

Part 5 – …” these dukes showed their intention, not in private but openly…”

 “Catesby hath sounded Hastings in our business

And finds the testy gentleman so hot

That he will lose his head ere give consent

His master’s child, as worshipfully he terms it,              

Shall lose the royalty of England’s throne’

(William Shakespeare)

 

“A black day will it be to somebody”

It is 9 o’clock on Friday the 13th June 1483. William Lord Hastings, the Lord Chamberlain enters the council chamber at the Tower for a meeting with the Lord Protector. Already there and seated are the duke of Buckingham, Lord Stanley, the earl of Derby, Thomas Rotherham the Archbishop of York, John Morton the Bishop of Ely and others. Hastings doesn’t notice three men standing ominously in the shadow: the Rat, the Cat and Lovell the dog. Hastings sits down at the head of the table. Nobody speaks to him.

The clock ticks and still Richard has not arrived, it is now past the time appointed for the meeting. The silence is becoming oppressive and the tension palpable. Hastings plays anxiously with his chain of office. He is right to be nervous; last night he had a visit from Lord Stanley’s man. Stanley had dreamt ‘the boar razed off his helm’. Was it a sign they were discovered? Hastings’ palms are sweating and his mouth is dry. Gloucester’s personality dominates the chamber despite his absence. The silence is now thunderous, the tension physical.

Hastings shuffles nervously in his chair, coughs and speaks hesitantly: “Now noble peers, the cause why we are met is to determine of the coronation. In God’s name speak. When is the royal day?” Buckingham suggests that the Lord Chamberlain probably knows the Lord Protector better than anyone present; what does he think Gloucester would say? Hastings demurs: “…I know he loves me well, but for his purpose in the coronation I have not sounded him, nor he delivered his gracious pleasure in any way therein. But others may name the day and in the Duke’s behalf I’ll give my voice, which I presume he will take in good part”. Suddenly the door flies open. Gloucester, dressed in black, hunched and intimidating stands framed in the doorway. He fixes Lord Hastings with a demonic stare and steps purposefully into the chamber, grinning malevolently. He is dangerously cheerful: “ My noble lords and cousins all, good morrow, I have been long a sleeper…” After asking Morton to fetch some strawberries from his garden, Richard takes Buckingham outside for a private conference. Hastings, Stanley and Rotherham remain seated. They look at each other nervously, their fear unspoken. As Ratcliffe and Lovell step out from the shadows to stand threateningly behind Hastings, Stanley and Rotherham shuffle along to the other end of the table. The returning Morton sits with them. Their faces drawn and pale, they are all dreading what is to come and wishing themselves anywhere but in this chamber at this time.

On his return, Richard’s mood has changed. He asks pointedly “Pray you all tell me, what they deserve that do conspire my death with devilish plots?” Hastings gulps and fidgets in his chair. Richard is looking straight at him. He stammers “The tender love I bear your grace makes me most forward to doom the offenders. I say they have deserved death”. Richard moves forward, his hot breath on Hastings’ face: he roars: “ Then let your eyes be the witness of the evil. See how I am bewitched! Mine arm is like a blasted sapling all withered up…” Hastings can barely control his panic now; he stutters, “If they have done this deed — If! Talks thou to me of ifs! Though art a traitor! Off with his head, now by Saint Paul I will not dine till I see it done.” And that according to William Shakespeare (and Laurence Olivier) was how Lord Hastings met his end.

Thanks to Olivier’s definitive performance as Richard in his 1955 film, the sheer drama of this scene has overshadowed any doubts I may have had as to its accuracy. From the perspective of dramatic art, I doubt if it can easily be bettered. But is it historically correct?   Shakespeare got this version of events from Thomas More, who got it from John Morton, who was an eyewitness[1]. Yet, as we all know, John Morton was Richard duke of Gloucester’s mortal enemy: an inveterate dissembler and traducer of his posthumous reputation. Can we trust his account?   The answer to that question is an unequivocal ‘probably’.   Although there are differences between the various accounts, they generally confirm the gist of the Morton/More/Shakespeare version. That said, More’s history contains obvious falsehoods. For example, we now know from the recent medical opinion of Richard III’s scoliosis that there was no withered arm or claw hand. Also, Mancini is wrong to say that Hastings was killed in the scuffle and there is disagreement about whether Stanley was wounded, and whether Gloucester’s accused the queen of witchcraft. But generally, it seems to have gone pretty much as described in the sources. The Protector revealed his knowledge of the plot, the conspirators’ response was heated, the word treason was used, swords were drawn, the room was flooded with the Protector’s men, there was a scuffle and the plotters were swiftly overwhelmed. It was over in a trice. Stanley et al were taken into custody; Hastings was rushed outside to meet his maker.   The conspiracy was crushed[2].

However, the cries of ‘treason’ roused the city. There was consternation amongst the citizens. The tension was racking-up. Shortly, a herald appeared with a proclamation and the citizens listened in stunned silence to the Protector’s communiqué. It seemed to everybody that the Yorkist regime was imploding. So much for the deed: what about the consequences? To answer that question, we have to go back in the chronology to Wednesday 11 June 1483.

 

“ My friends are in the north…”

It was on the 11 June 1483 that Richard duke of Gloucester wrote to Ralph Neville of Raby. “My Lord Neville, I recommend you to me as heartily as I can; and as you love me and your own weal and security and this realm, that you come to me with that ye may make, defensibly arrayed, in all haste that is possible and that you give credence to Sir Richard Ratcliffe, this bearer that I now send to you, instructed with all my mind and intent”. The tone of this letter is so completely different from the duke’s earlier letter to the citizens of York that it suggests something else has happened since the 10 June to persuade him to move quickly. That and the fact that the letter was sent north immediately, suggests that the ‘something ‘ was of supreme importance and urgency.   In his earlier letter, Gloucester requested the Mayor and citizens of York to send troops with due diligence. Whereas, he asked Neville, to come as soon as possible with whatever troops he can muster. Is he panicking? I think not. Everything we know about Richard duke of Gloucester suggests that he is good at handling this type of situation. We will never know what knowledge of Gloucester’s private ‘mind and intent’ Sir Richard Ratcliffe carried north, but I think he is probably relaying verbal messages to the duke’s northern adherents with the real reason for his urgent request. The duke had just discovered that Hastings was involved with the Woodville’s in the plot to kill him. The revelation of the pre-contract had forced them to bring forward their plan to murder the Lord Protector and the duke of Buckingham, and to crown Edward V[3]. It seems that Hastings had known of the pre-contract for some time but had neglected to tell the Lord Protector. It was the most unforgivable example of a breach of trust that Richard duke of Gloucester could imagine

Whilst the knowledge of Hastings treachery had infuriated Gloucester, it also alarmed him. Hastings was a seasoned soldier. He was Captain of Calais; he had fought in Edward’s battles for the throne. He was a man of power and influence with a posse of armed retainers in London. And he was ferociously loyal to the dead king. Unlike the Woodville dilettantes at Stony Stratford, Hastings posed the most serious threat yet to Gloucester’s life.   He knew he must act quickly and decisively if he was to survive. The arrangement of two meetings fixed for the 13 June suited his purpose precisely. It separated the conspirators from the remainder of the Council. Bishop Russell would chair one meeting at Westminster with the non-aligned council members, who could discuss routine arrangements for the coronation. Richard, Buckingham and the conspirators would attend the other meeting in the Tower; ostensibly, they were going to give the formal go-ahead for the coronation. The reasons for holding this meeting at the Tower are self-evident. The Protector would face the conspirators on ground of his own choosing, in a place where the presence of his armed men would not be taken amiss and where he was secure from interference. He knew who the conspirators were, he knew about the pre-contract and —decisively— he knew what they knew. They were at a disadvantage because they only had part of the story: they had no idea what he knew or what he was planning.

If we look at this from Hastings’ point of view he believed that the conspiracy was going well and that time was still on his side. He knew of  the pre-contract before anybody else and he is anxious to keep that under wraps. Hastings’ interest is in the preservation of the status quo ante, which means ensuring that Edward V is crowned on the 22 June 1483. His alliance with the Woodville’s is one of convenience but he is confident he can thrive once he has disposed of Gloucester and Buckingham. However, Stillington’s revelation of the pre-contract was a setback. Gloucester was always going to be an obstacle to his plans. But now that he knew of the pre-contract, his uncompromising nature meant that he was unlikely to turn a blind eye to Edward IV’s bigamy[4].  It didn’t need a genius to see the threat to Edward V’s coronation. To ensure that the coronation did take place, Hastings was prepared to do anything; even to murder the man he had campaigned with and who shared his devotion to Edward IV.  Neither do I think Hastings motives were entirely driven by loyalty. Like other over-mighty subjects he was acquisitive; a grateful Edward V was his best chance of retaining and even enlarging the gifts, privileges, offices and the influence he had enjoyed during Edward IV’s reign.   It was an outcome not to be sniffed at and one he was unlikely to achieve should the morally conservative and pious duke of Gloucester extend his Protectorship after the coronation[5].

For the duke of Gloucester the execution of Hastings and the arrest of Stanley, Rotherham and Morton was a Rubicon. From his perspective the day was a success. He has crushed a dangerous conspiracy with ease. Of course, he doesn’t have the benefit of knowing what the future holds, as we do, and his mistakes are not yet apparent to him. Furthermore, he still has to grapple with the pre-contract problem and especially it’s bearing on the succession. He has yet to consider whether to depose his nephew, exclude Edward’s children from the succession and take the crown himself. He is not sure what to do. His inclination, as always, is ‘to do the right thing’ but what is the right thing? Is it doing right by Edward’s children, or doing right by the realm?

[1] Richard J Sylvester – The complete Works of St Thomas More, Volume 2: the History of King Richard III (Yale 1963) at page Ixvi. Morton was not More’s only source but he was an important one. There is much in the ‘History of King Richard III’ that is not taken from eyewitness testimony and is not from Morton. For instance, he was not present at Stony Stratford or during the disappearance of the Princes. However, More’s version of the events on the 13 June 1483 does have the ingredients of an eyewitness account: its obvious errors and embellishments notwithstanding.

[2] The main primary and Tudor sources support the gist of More’s version despite their differences of detail. See Mancini at pages 89-91 (AJ Armstrong (ed) – Dominic Mancini: the Usurpation of King Richard III [Oxford, 1969]). See also the Great Chronicle at page 231 (AH Thomas et al [Eds] – The Great Chronicle of London [London 1938]) and the London Chronicle at page 190 (C L Kingsford – Chronicles of London [Oxford 1905]). The remaining primary sources need not trouble as they add little or nothing to the above. The only other worthwhile source is Vergil at page 180 (Sir Henry Ellis (ed) – Three books of Polydore Vergil’s English History; comprising the reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III [The Camden Society 1844]). Vergil is the only source to suggest that Gloucester attributed his ‘blasted sapling’ to the queen’s witchcraft. It is worth pointing out however, that their credibility as accurate recorders of events is challenged by their collective failure to get the chronology right (Thomas More also got it wrong). They all Place the duke of York’s release from sanctuary before the council meeting on the 13 June 1483, whereas it actually happened on the Monday after Hasting’s execution. Thankfully, we have Simon Stallworths letter of the 21 June 1483 (See Peter A Hancock- Richard III and the murder in the Tower – [The History Press 2011] at Appendix 1, pages 158-59) and an entry in the duke of Norfolk’s household accounts to fix the correct dating sequence.

[3] Two possible reasons have been offered for Hastings’ involvement in this murder: one noble, the other ignoble. The noble reason is that owing to his loyalty to Edward IV, he would not countenance the deposition of Edward V. The ignoble reason was that he saw the coronation of Edward V as his best chance of continuing the licentious lifestyle of Edward IV’s courtiers, and preserve the privileges, grants and power he had enjoyed during the dead king’s reign.   It matters not for my purpose what Hastings reasons were. High treason is an absolute offence: if it is proved, there is only one outcome. For Gloucester’ enemies (then and later) the summary execution of Hastings is definitive proof of his intention to usurp the throne and that would stop at nothing to achieve his aim. The protector’s actions are also problematic for Ricardians. Even the staunch old Ricardian Sir George Buck is unable to exonerate him for that action, though he offers reasons of state (artes imperii) as mitigation.

[4] See Prof Mark Lansdale and Dr Julian Boons psychological profile of Richard III (The Ricardian Bulletin March 2013) at pages 46-56.

[5] Due to the absence of hard evidence, Ricardian history is a fruitful subject for personal speculation. I do not apologize for theorizing. What I offer is an explanation of events on the 13 June 1483 ; though I appreciate it may not be the explanation.

The Hundred Years’ Grudge?

William Catesby, a Northamptonshire lawyer, was one of only three people executed in the aftermath of Bosworth, the others being a West Country father and son. From this and other circumstantial evidence, we are inexorably drawn to the conclusion that this happened because he was the only surviving layman who knew the details of Edward IV’s bigamy. In this respect at least, by not executing members of the clergy, Henry VII conducted himself as had his Yorkist and Plantagenet predecessors but not as his descendents were to act.

A hundred and twenty years later, his descendant Robert (Robin) Catesby was one of the ringleaders of the “Gunpowder Plot” and was shot dead, resisting arrest, at Holbeche House in Staffordshire, just three days after the Plot had been discovered. An ardent Catholic recusant, he had already survived participating in the Essex Rebellion of 1601.

As you can see here (Catesbys2), the family’s ancestors can be traced back to another William, who died in 1383. From 1375 until 1605, with a short interruption, they lived at the Manor House, Ashby St. Ledgers.

To what extent were the actions of the younger Catesby influenced by his ancestor’s fate?

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